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The Heroism of Being a Contrarian: Jacob Bronowski on the Essential Character Trait of the Creative Person


“The creative personality is always one that looks on the world as fit for change and on himself as an instrument for change.” “If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes,” Van Gogh wrote in a magnificent letter to his brother about how taking risks and making inspired mistakes moves us forward.

Polish Poet and Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska on How Our Certitudes Keep Us Small and the Generative Power of Not-Knowing


“Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know.’” “Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later.

This Is a Poem That Heals Fish: An Almost Unbearably Wonderful Picture-Book About How Poetry Works Its Magic


“A poem … is when you are in love and have the sky in your mouth.” “Poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility, restore numbed zones to feeling, recharge desire,” Adrienne Rich wrote in contemplating the cultural power of poetry.

The Sane Society: The Great Humanistic Philosopher and Psychologist Erich Fromm on How to Save Us From Ourselves


“The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born, when we die.” “Every advance of intellect beyond the ordinary measure,” Schopenhauer wrote in examining the relationship between genius and insanity, “disposes to madness.” But could what is true of the individual also be true of society — could it be that the more so-called progress polishes our collective pride and the more intellectually advanced human civilization becomes, the more it risks madness?

The Measure of All Things: How Two French Astronomers Nearly Lost Their Lives Revolutionizing the World with the Invention of the Meter


“The fundamental fallacy of utopianism is to assume that everyone wants to live in the same utopia.” In her memoir, the trailblazing astronomer Caroline Herschel recounted frequently having to “measure the ground with poles” when she first began making astronomical observations in the 1780s.

Beloved Artist Agnes Martin on Our Greatest Obstacle to Happiness and How to Transcend It


“No-one knows what your life or life itself should be because it is in the process of being created. Life moves according to a growing consciousness of life and is completely unpredictable.” Perhaps the greatest paradox of human life is that although happiness is the most universal of our longings, it is unobtainable by striving.

Six Dots: The Remarkable Life and Legacy of Child Inventor Louis Braille, Illustrated


How a tenacious boy created one of the most life-changing inventions in human history. “Communication is health; communication is truth; communication is happiness,” Virginia Woolf wrote in contemplating the elemental human need for communication.

Anthony Burgess on What Gives Art and Science Their Immeasurable Value


“[The] excitement we derive from a work of art is mostly the excitement of seeing connections that did not exist before, of seeing quite different aspects of life unified through a pattern.” “Because of their outstanding permanence, works of art are the most intensely worldly of all tangible things,” Hannah Arendt wrote in contemplating the difference between how art and science illuminate the human condition.

Rebecca Solnit on Breaking Silence as Our Mightiest Weapon Against Oppression


“We are our stories, stories that can be both prison and the crowbar to break open the door of that prison.” “To sin by silence, when we should protest makes cowards out of men,” the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote in her 1914 anthem against silence — an incantation which fomented biologist and writer Rachel Carson’s courage to speak inconvenient truth to power as she catalyzed the environmental movement.

Diseases of the Will: Neuroscience Founding Father Santiago Ramón y Cajal on the Six Psychological Flaws That Keep the Talented from Achieving Greatness


“Our neurons must be used … not only to know but also to transform knowledge; not only to experience but also to construct.” “Principles are good and worth the effort only when they develop into deeds,” Van Gogh wrote to his brother in a beautiful letter about talking vs.

The Telling: An Unusual and Profound 1967 Manifesto for Truth


“The task of truth is divided among us, to the number of us… We must grasp the Subject with the tongs of our individual littleness; take the measure of it with what we are.” “Teller and listener, each fulfills the other’s expectations,” Ursula K.

Intoxicated with Freedom: Pioneering Sculptor Anne Truitt on the Epiphany That Revealed to Her the Purpose of Art


“I saw myself stretched like brown earth in furrows, open to the sky, well planted, my life as a human being complete.” Artist have different ways of arriving at their life’s purpose.

Hooked on the Heavens: How Caroline Herschel, the First Professional Woman Astronomer, Nearly Died by Meathook in the Name of Science


How a paragon of persistence in the face of hardship discovered eight comets and paved the way for women in science.

Rebecca West on Storytelling as a Survival Mechanism and How Art Transforms Mere Existence into Meaningful Being


“Art is not a plaything, but a necessity, and its essence, form, is not a decorative adjustment, but a cup into which life can be poured and lifted to the lips and be tasted.” “Seeing the world from the position of the weak person is a great education,” Chinua Achebe observed as he contemplated how storytelling helps us survive history’s rough patches.

How to Live Life with Fantastic Aliveness: Remembering Amy Krouse Rosenthal


In praise of the precious miraculousness of the mundane. “Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going?

Happy Birthday, Einstein: The Physicist’s Remarkable Letter to a Grief-Stricken Father Who Had Just Lost His Son


A poignant perspective on “the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.” To outlive one’s children is arguably the most unbearable of human miseries.

Living and Loving Through Loss: Beautiful Letters of Consolation from Great Artists, Writers, and Scientists


Words of comfort and compassion from Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin, Alan Turing, Johannes Brahms, and Charles Dickens.

How I Fell in Love with Marianne Moore: Or, Elizabeth Bishop on What Her Eccentric Mentor Taught Her About Writing


“I never left Cumberland Street without feeling happier: uplifted, even inspired, determined to be good, to work harder, not to worry about what other people thought.” I fell in love with the poet Marianne Moore (November 15, 1887–February 5, 1972) in three pivotal palpitations.

Atom, Archetype, and the Invention of Synchronicity: How Iconic Psychiatrist Carl Jung and Nobel-Winning Physicist Wolfgang Pauli Bridged Mind and Matter


Two of humanity’s greatest minds explore the parallels between spacetime and the psyche, the atomic nucleus and the self.

Virginia Woolf on the Defiant Truthfulness of the Soul and Our Elemental Human Need for Communication


“Communication is health; communication is truth; communication is happiness. To share is our duty… if we are ignorant to say so; if we love our friends to let them know it.” “Dismiss whatever insults your own soul,” Walt Whitman counseled in his timeless advice on living a vibrant and rewarding life.


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