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The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

First Abraham Flexner revolutionized medical education in the U.S. Then he founded the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. His seminal essay about “useless” knowledge continues to stand as the most eloquent defense of primary research. The companion essay by the Institute’s current director, Robbert Dijkgraaf, provides fascinating historical background on Flexner and his views on the relationship between research and public policy.

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Posted on Sep. 3, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

The Hawkline Monster : a Gothic Western

Richard Brautigan spent his most productive years as a writer in San Francisco, although he was born in Tacoma Washington. He once admitted that all he could do at all well was hunt and write. His writing always reflected his life in the American West and its frontier character. With The Hawkline Monster : a Gothic Western he takes the western genre, scrambles it with horror, then adds his trademark dark humor and imagination, resulting in one the best 20th century novels most people have never heard of. The last 5 or so pages elevates this from just an amusing story to a great novel.


For a more expansive description and critique of Brautigan’s work, see The Poetry Foundation’s biography: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/richard-brautigan

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Posted on Sep. 1, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

Great resource for writers!

Do you have an idea for a book or story that involves invisibility? Philip Ball wrote the book for you. Invisible : The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen covers nearly everything about the idea of making yourself or other objects invisible throughout history and different cultures: from magic to physics. Would you like to use a historically authentic spell? Perhaps you would like to incorporate "Crooke's dark space" into a novel taking place during the Victorian age? And how do you arrange mirrors to hide half of a person's body? You will find answers to these questions and more.

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Posted on Aug. 31, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

Who hates whom

Bob Harris, writer of quirky television shows, decided to learn about all the conflicts in the world, why they started and “who hates whom.”. Although this book is a bit outdated (published in 2007, before ISIS, the fall of Gaddafi or the Syrian Civil War) many of the conflicts described in this book continue to this day. Harris applies a somewhat irreverent sense of humor to his description of many of the wars and long-simmering international feuds he discovered in his research. He shows an appreciation for the absurdity of many of the world’s conflicts, such as the dispute between India and Pakistan over which country rightfully includes inside its borders  a barren, resourceless, uninhabitable wasteland visited by only the most intrepid mountain climbers. A short and enjoyable read that will inform your understanding of current events.

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Posted on Aug. 29, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

Cambodia : a book for people who find television too slow

Canadian writer and cultural analyst Brian Fawcett uses an innovative format to combine fiction and non-fiction in order to convey his ideas on modernity and the changes we have experienced in the 20th century. A single essay shares each page with a series of short stories as one runs along the lower have of the page while the others take the upper half, making you think about the imaginary and the factual at the same time. 

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Posted on Aug. 28, 2018 by Steven Dunlap

Fool on the Hill

Matt Ruff’s strange and often hilarious book has so many unusual characters that telepathic dogs look relatively ordinary in the larger scheme of things. He writes a vividly strange story that includes rats poised for conquest fighting fairies you can only see when you’re drunk or crazy. This novel starts with a few oddball students at Cornell University, adds some unusual people who come to campus then grows progressively stranger.

 

Through the “man who tells lies for a living” you read a story that strongly evokes the time in everyone’s lives when desires, expectations, hopes and figuring out what to do with the rest of your life all come crashing together. And you will never see dogs the same way again.

 

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Posted on Aug. 24, 2018 by Steven Dunlap