The Invention of Nature

I’m neck deep in Andrea Wulf‘s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, and it’s absolutely riveting.  Von Humboldt was some kind of scientific maniac, who caught the interest of everyone from Goethe to Thomas Jefferson to Simon Bolivar.  Von Humboldt was arguably the first naturalist to think ecologically, as well as one of the earliest abolitionists.  He didn’t get to go everywhere, and he didn’t get to meet everyone, but damn close.


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Two-fourths of a good idea

Uncle Sam wants kids to read more, so he blankets the web with ads like this:

Which I think is pretty cool because

(1)  I’ve been an Edgar Rice Burroughs junkie since junior high school; John Carter and Tarzan turned me into the voracious reader am I today, and

(2) I can’t wait to see the movie, and I’m sure a whole generation of boys are going to read the books to get “the rest of the story.”

But it’s also not so hot an idea because

(3) It wouldn’t hurt to get GIRLS to do a bit more reading, as well, and

(4) There’s more to reading–even for young folks–than pulp fiction.  Long before the pulps, one of my heroes was the “real” Indiana Jones, Dr Roy Chapman Andrews, who popularized paleontology with, among others, his “All About” books.


Worrying about princesses is a “princess problem”

Virginia Postrel explains why girls are still fascinated with being princesses.

For all its Victorian stoicism and sense of duty, this princess dream shares the mixture of openness and elitism that gives princesses their contemporary appeal. Like the superhero, the princess has a special identity and destiny. She is more than an ordinary girl. But her value is not determined by playground hierarchies. You don’t have to be popular to be a princess. You can be an iconoclast, even an outcast, but you must be worthy. You must be good. In this version, as my then-5-year-old niece once wrote me, “Anyone can be a PRINCESS.”

Learn more: read Francis Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess online.

Tip from the Instapundit.

My latest self-improvement book

My students frequently complain that I stay up late at night dreaming up fiendishly difficult homeworks and exam questions for them.  To which I reply, I do much of my best work in the morning.  But now I have help and inspiration! 

During a recent visit to the local Barnes and Noble to pick up the latest Erast Fandorin mysteries, my wife spotted Justin Rosenholtz’ delicious little volume, Deliberate Acts of Needless Meanness.  It contains 366 suggestions of creatively mean things to do to friends, family, co-workers, and complete strangers.  Two of my favorites:

Day 78:  Think people are going to look into your medicine cabinet at your next party?  Fill it with marbles, and the first person who snoops will cause a tremendous ruckus…

Day 128:  Don’t you just hate those organized people who like to fold over the end of their Scotch tape roll?  Make it your life’s work to go around with scissors snipping off the ends, so they have to pick away with their fingernails like the rest of us.

How inspirational.