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Love of Life: Albert Camus on Happiness, Despair, the Art of Awareness, and Why We Travel

“There is no love of life without despair of life.” “Those who prefer their principles over their happiness,” Albert Camus (November 7, 1913–January 4, 1960) wrote in his notebook toward the end of his life, “they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.” Indeed, our principles tend to harden into habits and although habits give shape to our inner lives, they can mutate into the rigidity of routine and create a kind of momentum that, rather than expanding our capacity for happiness, contracts it.

Margaret Mead’s Beautiful Letter of Advice to Her Younger Sister on Starting a Family in an Uncertain World

In praise of “living more intensely and doing better work” whatever life may throw your way. “All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured,” beloved children’s book author and artist Tove Jansson wrote in her marvelous parable of uncertainty and self-reliance.

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: Harvard Physicist Lisa Randall on the Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe

A thrilling cosmic detective story of how the universe evolved and what made our very existence possible.

The Art of Self-Culture and the Crucial Difference Between Being Educated and Being Cultured: John Cowper Powys’s Forgotten Wisdom from 1929

“The art of self-culture begins with a deeper awareness … of the marvel of our being alive at all; alive in a world as startling and mysterious, as lovely and horrible, as the one we live in.” “In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and learnt a monologue from ‘Faust,’ Anton Chekhov wrote in an 1886 letter to his brother, outlining the eight qualities of cultured people — among them sincerity, “no shallow vanity,” and a compassionate heart that “aches for what the eye does not see.” This essential difference between being educated and being cultured is what the great British novelist, philosopher, literary critic, educator, and poet John Cowper Powys (October 8, 1872–June 17, 1963) examined in greater dimension a generation later in the 1929 masterwork The Meaning of Culture (public library) — one of the most thoughtful and beautifully written books I’ve ever encountered.

How the Clouds Got Their Names

How a boy who spent his schooldays staring out the classroom window shaped the science of the skies. “Clouds are thoughts without words,” the poet Mark Strand wrote in his breathtaking celebration of the skies.

Gratitude: Oliver Sacks on the Meaning of Life and the Dignity of Dying

“I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” “Living has yet to be generally recognized as one of the arts,” proclaimed a 1924 guide to the art of living.

The Intelligence of Emotions: Philosopher Martha Nussbaum on How Storytelling Rewires Us and Why Befriending Our Neediness Is Essential for Healthy Relationships

“Emotions are not just the fuel that powers the psychological mechanism of a reasoning creature, they are parts, highly complex and messy parts, of this creature’s reasoning itself.” “The power of ‘the Eye of the Heart,’ which produces insight, is vastly superior to the power of thought, which produces opinions,” the great British economic theorist and philosopher E.F.

We’re Breaking Up: Rebecca Solnit on How Modern Noncommunication Is Changing Our Experience of Time, Solitude, and Communion

“Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it.” Recently, while packing to move, I came upon a stack of letters from my Bulgarian grandmother.

The Silent Friends: A Beautiful Short Film Celebrating Our Abiding Bond with Trees

A cinematic ode to our oldest living companions. “Trees speak to the mind, and tell us many things, and teach us many good lessons,” wrote a 17th-century gardener in contemplating the spiritual uses of our arboreal companions, which Hermann Hesse called “the most penetrating of preachers.” Perhaps because they have been our silent friends since the dawn of humanity and remain the oldest living things in the world, trees have been central to our ancient mythology and our sensemaking metaphors of science.

James Baldwin and Margaret Mead on Religion

“If any particular discipline … does not become a matter of your personal honor, your private convictions, then it’s simply a cloak which you can wear or throw off.” NOTE: This is the fifth installment in a multi-part series covering Mead and Baldwin’s historic conversation.

Tchaikovsky on Depression and Finding Beauty Amid the Wreckage of the Soul

“Life is beautiful in spite of everything! … There are many thorns, but the roses are there too.” “An artist needs a certain amount of turmoil and confusion,” Joni Mitchell once told an interviewer.

Marcus Aurelius on Mortality and the Key to Living Fully

“The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don’t.” “Death is our friend,” Rilke wrote in an exquisite 1923 letter, “precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love.” And yet one of the defining features of the human condition is that we long for immortality despite inhabiting a universe governed by impermanence.

The Still Point of the Turning World: T.S. Eliot Reads His Timelss Ode to the Nature of Time in a Rare Recording

“Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind cannot bear very much reality.” “[Is] only the present comprehended?

Gustav Mahler’s Love Letters to His Wife

“I could sense the bliss that springs from love when one loves with total conviction and knows one’s love to be reciprocated.” “Music,” Oliver Sacks wrote, “can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.” It a great love letter, itself a high feat of composition, accomplishes the same — a parallel that might explain why great composers are also great writers of love letters, as evidenced by Mozart’s magnificent missive to his wife and Beethoven’s epistle to his “immortal beloved.” In November of 1901, the great Austrian late-Romantic composer Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860–May 18, 1911), then director of the Vienna Court Opera, met Alma Schindler, a gifted aspiring composer herself.

Henry Beston’s Beautiful 1948 Manifesto for Reclaiming Our Humanity by Breaking the Tyranny of Technology and Relearning to Be Nurtured by Nature

“Oh, work that is done in freedom out of doors, work that is done with the body’s and soul’s goodwill, work that is an integral part of life and is done with friends — is there anything so good?

What Higher Consciousness Really Means, How We Attain It, and What It Does for the Human Spirit

“At such moments, the world reveals itself as quite different: a place of suffering and misguided effort … but also a place of tenderness and longing, beauty, and touching vulnerability.

Unfinished Business: Anne-Marie Slaughter on Our Limiting Mythology of Success and the Multiplicity of the Meaningful Life

A courageous challenge to the stories we tell ourselves about what should make us happy. In 1926, Nikola Tesla gave an interview later published under the title “When Woman Is Boss,” in which he predicted women’s “gradual usurpation of leadership.” His vision was enormously progressive and prescient half a century before the pinnacle of the equality movement, but it also presaged a more ominous cultural groundswell — the rise of workaholism as the accepted path to a dignified life.

Tallulah Bankhead Reads “A Telephone Call,” Dorothy Parker’s Brilliant Satire of How Infatuation Drives Us Mad

“It’s silly to go wishing people were dead just because they don’t call you up the very minute they said they would.” “All love stories are frustration stories,” psychoanalyst Adam Phillips wrote in his fantastic exploration of why frustration is essential to satisfaction in romance.

Norman Rockwell’s Stunning Illustrations for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Two of the greatest commentators on culture and sociological observers of American life, together. Something magical happens when a beloved book is given a new dimension in the hands of a great visual artist — the sort of magic emanating from William Blake’s paintings for Milton’s Paradise Lost, Maurice Sendak’s formative etchings for Blake’s “Songs of Innocence,” Gustave Doré’s striking art for Dante’s Inferno, and Harry Clarke’s haunting interpretation of Goethe’s Faust.

Kafka on Appearance vs. Reality and How the Media Commodify Truth

“Truth, which is one of the few really great and precious things in life, cannot be bought. Man receives it as a gift, like love or beauty.” Franz Kafka (July 3, 1883–June 3, 1924) spent twelve years working at an insurance company, where he remained well after The Metamorphosis was published.