Ten years old, I reached behind my head on the pillow and felt the rough black wooden walls of my bedroom, the cool smooth copper in the spaces between the boards. The square window, up by the ceiling, slowly filled with soft, white snow, but we were warm, underground. Upstairs, from the kitchen, the sounds of my mother loading the dishwasher. Closer, my father’s voice flew up and circled and perched; back then it was capable of whispers, fluid modulation. Now, 40 years later, he no longer reads to me; also, his voice has changed — it falters and breaks and catches, escalates beyond his control.
I stand on the long, golden grass of Watership Down, wind rushing around me, tears in my eyes. When I was told I could visit any place I had read about but never physically visited, I first thought of Earthsea, of Narnia — landscapes that cannot be reached by car or boat or airplane. Watership Down can be reached more easily. It is in Hampshire, 60 miles from London, near the village of Kingsclere. Standing on the Down, I squint at that distant village of 3,000 humans. Closer, the buildings of a stable: An array of paths, horse gallops, stretch toward me. I turn a slow circle, then stumble all tharn with a huge paper map blown around my head, across my face, as every animal mocks and flees from me.
On the walk home, while the sky pissed rain, I slipped the cards under my sweater. It occurred to me that I knew approximately zilch about how an identity could be apportioned in ten parts the size of petals.
Thumb marks were used as personal seals to close business in Babylonia, and, in 1303, a Persian vizier recounted the use of fingerprints as signatures during the Qin and Han Dynasties, noting, “Experience has shown that no two individuals have fingers precisely alike.” The Chinese had realized that before anyone: a Qin dynasty document from the third-century B.C.E, titled “The Volume of Crime Scene Investigation—Burglary,” pointed up fingerprints as a means of evincing whodunnit.
The dream is of a day when we’ll each have a Doritos of our own.
Yes, the processed food industry has gotten pretty good at making food to please the masses. New Yorker staff writer Helen Rosner once argued that anyone who’s tasted chicken tenders loves them, even if they no longer choose to ingest them. New York Times reporter Michael Moss famously explained how snack food companies have learned to lure us by tweaking proportions of salt, sugar, and fat to a “bliss point” ratio most human beings find irresistible. But Cohen’s argument is that existing models of flavor design only work in crude broad strokes. And he thinks his artificial intelligence (AI) tool is the doorway into a new landscape where food and beverage companies know more about us than ever before, with product offerings that respond ever more individualized hungers.
Few ideas have had a racier history than the idea of infinity. It arose amid ancient paradoxes, proceeded to baffle philosophers for a couple of millennia, and then, by a daring feat of intellect, was finally made to yield its secrets in the late 19th century, though not without leaving a new batch of paradoxes. You don’t need any specialized knowledge to follow the plot: the main discoveries, despite the ingenuity behind them, can be conveyed with a few strokes of a pen on a cocktail napkin. All of this makes infinity irresistible meat for the popularizer, and quite a few books in that vein have appeared over the years. The most extraordinary figure to try his hand at this was David Foster Wallace. As readers of Infinite Jest might suspect, its author had a deep and sophisticated grasp of mathematics and metaphysics. Everything and More: A Compact History of ∞—written five years before Wallace’s suicide in 2008 at the age of 46—was his attempt to initiate the mathematically lay reader into the mysteries of the infinite.
“What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys?” sings Scott Hutchison, found dead at age 36 last week in Edinburgh, on the opening track of Frightened Rabbit’s debut album. Instantly he marks the border between melancholy and depression, anguish and the art it creates. But already he’s blurred that line. This is a shredding, stomping indie-rock single that recounts Scott’s worst weeks in unromantic terms — the sweat-stained bed, self-enforced solitude, and that visceral, permeating nausea with no relief: “I’m sick of feeling sick and not throwing up, and you sit in my stomach and you seem to be stuck.”
Above all, though, The Burning Chambers is a tour de force, a compelling adventure that views the past with insight, compassion and humour, and reminds us of the variety of women’s voices so often forgotten in the official accounts.
Holt is an amphibious kind of writer, so capably slipping from theology to cosmology to poetry, you’re reminded that specialization is a modern invention.