First and Last Lines

The boundaries of the American West are a series of doors pretending to be walls.

Such imaginings, profound and silly, cannot be detached from what the West is, has been, and will become.

Richard White, “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own

The September sun beat down hotly on Le Bourget aerodrome as the passengers crossed the ground and climbed into the air liner Prometheus, due to depart for Croydon in a few minutes’ time.

Ca, c’est très gentil!’ said Hercule Poirot.

Agatha Christie, Death in the Clouds

The autumn I turned fourteen, I came down with whooping cough.

We stood in line, the late-November chill frosting our breaths, and someone looked at me, looked right through to the jacket and the tie, knew them as he had known his own palm, opened his lips and closed them, silently, only the white air coming from his mouth.

Seth Lerer, Prospero’s Son



Randall Munroe, Thing Explainer

In this story of the three important decades of Lee de Forest, it is his inventions of the vacuum tube and the radio that will make the talking picture possible.

That is the story of Lee de Forest, the man who would be King of Radio, Television, and Film.

Mike Adams, Lee de Forest

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar.

We laughed for a long time.

Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress

Two charged images dominate American life from the end of World War II to this moment.

It’s worth waiting around to see how it turns out.

Peter Hales, Outside the Gates of Eden

Tempest Landry didn’t see himself as a bad man.

“You want a apple?” he replied.

Walter Mosley, The Tempest Tales

The frontier as a determining factor in modern Western civilization has never been fully examined by historians or other scholars.

Our inspiration may come from history, in looking back to the early sixteenth century when the lamp was lifted beside the golden door of the Great Frontier to change the destiny of mankind.

Walter Webb, The Great Frontier

To recant the degeneracy tale with the proper panache, we first need to understand who was involved in gathering information on American natural history in the eighteenth century, why they gathered this information, and how the study of natural history was conceptualized at the time.

In the face of all that, support of the theory of degeneracy—in the sense that Buffon and his followers used the term—diminished and then disappeared.

Lee Dugatkin, Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose

In spite of myself, my heart is racing toward Africa.

Look through the eyes of another species and perhaps the occasional good we do will stand out from the constant stream of wreckage.

Craig Packer, Into Africa

Delegates from forty-four nations met in the New Hampshire resort of Bretton Woods in July 1944 to construct the postwar international economic order.

These last have very little to do with the discipline of economics, but everything to do with reality.

Dani Rodrik, Economic Rules

Senator Deschle’s comment is more colorful than most, but its basic conclusion is not unique.

If negativity ever happened to disappear from our electoral battles, we can safely assume that so would our freedoms and any chance we have to lay claim to being a democratic nation.

John Geer, In Defense of Negativity

Back then, Moving Day in L.A. was a phantom holiday that occurred, for many Angelenos, every other month or so.

Maybe it’s time I learn to count my blessings.

Walter Mosley, Rose Gold

The hallmark of the Unites States has been growth.

But that is a question for subsequent volumes in this series to ponder.

James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom

Shopping for food: we all do it, whether at the supermarket, or from traditional neighborhood shops, or in a market.

Our ability to survive as a species and to coexist with the myriad other species with which we share the planet depend on our recognizing the fruits of the Enlightenment and defending its spirit: its rationality, its empiricism, and its call to everyone’s right to life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Noel Kingsbury, Hybrid

Here is a recipe for clotted cream.

But first we all need some light.

Eugenia Cheng, How to bake π

Since The Zen of Seeing appeared, I have been asked to give workshops on “seeing/drawing as meditation” at many colleges, universities and other such institutions.

And it is brief.

Frederick Franck, The Awakened Eye

“Yeah, brothah,” Billy Psalms said before he downed half a paper cup of Blue Angle red wine, “Freddy Bumpus made a big mistake when he married Vanessa Tremont.”

I guess we bettah be gettin’ back to the war.

Walter Mosley, The Right Mistake

We are all forecasters.

And that, too, is why he is a superforecaster.

Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting

To observe your mind in automatic mode, glance at the image below.

They will make better choices when they trust their critics to be sophisticated and fair, and when they expect their decision to be judged by how it was made, not only by how it turned out.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Very little is known, though much has been written, about the true nature of the jinn, the creatures made of smokeless fire.

Sometimes, for we have not wholly rid ourselves of perversity, we long for nightmares.

Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

I have never stopped being slightly anxious about the premise of this book.

Even as you proclaim yourself “Safe behind walls” there is always a revelatory anagram of your self in the mottos you hide behind.

Simon Goldhill, Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Brontë’s Grave

2017 2015

This page last modified on 2016 April 15.