Primo Levi, Slavery, Eggs, Beach Boys, James Baldwin, Crows

Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Uncertain Death

Diego Gambetta | Boston Review | 24th May 2016

Reflections on the death of Primo Levi. His fatal fall could well have been accidental. Why are all of his biographers so insistent that it was suicide? Because doing so suits their interests. “Death by accident is a literary dead-end. An intentional act, by contrast, is a rich vein for interpreters eager to display their prowess in imagining and deciphering the minds of others. They never need prove the accuracy of their claims — indeed, they never could. In this sense, a suicide is productive” (1,560 words)

When Slaveholders Controlled Government

Timothy Shenk | Dissent | 27th October 2016

Princeton historian Matthew Karp, author of This Vast Southern Empire, discusses how slaveholders’ interests drove America’s early domestic and foreign policy. “Between 1789 and 1850, the United States had twelve presidents. Ten owned slaves; the only two that didn’t were both named John Adams. The US was a pioneering democracy, but its democracy was shaped by the demands of a slaveholding elite that had immense — often decisive — authority over government” (2,800 words)

The Science Of Eggs

Harold McGee | Lucky Peach | 27th October 2016

“A deeply coloured yolk is beautiful to behold and reflect on, but it doesn’t really tell you anything about how the hen was raised, or how flavourful or nutritious the egg is. Sorry. Egg producers in different regions formulate their feeds to match consumer preferences, which are measured on scales like the Roche Yolk Colour Fan. Ireland and Sweden prefer light yellow yolks of Roche 8–9, France and England a deeper 11–12, and northern Europe and Spain an orange 13–14” (1,600 words)

Looking For The Beach Boys

Ben Ratliff | New York Review of Books | 26th October 2016

The Beach Boys are “a kind of philosophical problem”. An artistic institution that has been accumulating prestige for 50 years should have “some kind of fixed identity”, and “some kind of essential rightness” for which it is admired. But “what is, or was, the essence of the Beach Boys, and what were they right about? In this time of curation and reassessment we have cash in hand and we are here to understand the Beach Boys. What are we paying into? What are we understanding?” (2,090 words)

Love, Jimmy

Hilton Als & Jacqueline Goldsby | Paris Review | 26th October 2016

Conversation about James Baldwin touching on writing, race, and sexual identity. Interesting throughout. “Baldwin wrote in arias of feeling and thought, and when he’d get bored with one idea, he’d go on to another. This took me years of reading to understand. I was so taken by his certainty of feeling. It was the thing that really made me see that it was possible to live a life that had value in literature. Baldwin proved that if he wrote it down, it could have power beyond the moment” (2,600 words)

Study The Crow

Grigori Guitchounts | Nautilus | 22nd September 2016

Crows, ravens and other corvids are among the most intelligent of animals, yet neuroscientists rarely study them, because neuroscience is concerned primarily with the neocortex, the most recently evolved portion of the mammalian brain, which appears to be the seat of intelligence and cognition. Corvids have no neocortex. They have evolved differently. Somehow, corvids have arrived at the same clever behaviours by other chemical and biological means. What can we learn from this? (1,200 words)

Video of the day: A Sketchy History Of Pencil Lead

What to expect:

Explainer for five-year-olds tracing the history of the pencil back to the origins of the universe. From NPR (4’05”)

Thought for the day

You need an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea
Pablo Picasso

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