The Wonderful World of Oz…and Science

Lately I’ve been reading my way through the series of Oz books. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is only the first in a series of 14 books, and it’s not remotely the best. It’s fascinating to reread books I loved as a child. Some are still great. Others have inexplicably morphed into poorly-written, preachy duds. […]

Chasing Transits

CELESTE: How long this time? LE GENTIL: How long will I be gone? Three years. I swear to you, Celeste, on everything that’s holy: three years, no more. CELESTE: What if you miss it? LE GENTIL: The transit? I won’t. CELESTE: You missed the last one. Venus (the small dark dot) crosses the Sun. That […]

Guest Post: Death’s Eternal Logistics

I spent several hours on Sunday afternoon in what has to be the most charming cemetery in New York City. If I didn’t know what I was looking for, I would have missed its arched iron gate, tucked into 2nd Avenue just north of East 2nd Street, where the East Village meets the Lower East Side. Once through, […]

The Flower of Dangerous Love

Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated 2 million Cambodians — 20 percent of the country’s population at the time — died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime. Some 17,000 victims were held in the regime’s most notorious prison, a former high school known as Tuol Sleng (“Hill of the Poisonous Trees”) or S-21. […]

On the Road

Some sad-yet-happy news: I’m leaving the people of LWON. Next week I’m launching my own blog at a new network hosted by National Geographic. I’ll be sharing a web neighborhood with some amazing writers (and they’ll post their own announcements soon). My blog, called Only Human, will be all about people — our genes, cells, brains, behaviors, […]

The Not-So-Feeble Frédéric Chopin

How would you describe the Minute Waltz, by 19th-Century composer Frédéric François Chopin? Lighthearted and whimsical? Dainty, delicate, fragile? In some classical music circles, Chopin’s work has a sissy reputation. As a Washington Post critic wrote last year, “Chopin’s music has sometimes been branded effeminate, or ‘salon music’: not quite serious, not quite healthy.” Chopin […]

Napoleon’s legacy: ashes, tombs and DNA

In perhaps the same way that Americans prattle on about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the French never tire of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte. In fairness, the circumstances surrounding the Little Corporal’s later years, death and burial are…unusual. At age 46, he was exiled to the godforsaken island of St. Helena. He was […]

Henry VIII Meet Julia Child

When Henry VIII wasn’t off wooing new wives and attending to the pressing affairs of state, he was well…eating. Check this out: it’s a look behind the scenes at Hampton Court’s massive, factorylike kitchen. Now here’s a monarch who would have absolutely loved Julia Child.