Ingenious, lucid and revealing look at the lives of two brilliant men who changed our way of seeing the world.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

JOHANNES VERMEER, ANTONI VAN LEEUWENHOEK, AND THE REINVENTION OF SEEING

A fine addition to the burgeoning genre of dual biography of great figures whose lives were related, if often distantly.

Snyder (Philosophy/St. John’s Univ.; The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World, 2010, etc.) chronicles the lives of two significant Dutchmen: Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), founder of microbiology, and his contemporary, painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). Born almost simultaneously in 1632, they worked barely a block apart. Leeuwenhoek was executor of Vermeer’s estate after his death, but historians still debate whether they were more than just mere acquaintances. A prosperous merchant, Leeuwenhoek grew fascinated by lenses. Spectacles and magnifying glasses had existed for centuries and microscopes for decades, but the existing crude compound microscopes were limited to about a tenfold magnification. Using a technique he kept secret (only rediscovered in 1957), Leeuwenhoek made tiny glass beads that magnified 200 to 500 times. His microscopes were complex devices that were difficult to use, but through them, Leeuwenhoek discovered formerly invisible bacteria and other unknown organisms, flabbergasting but ultimately convincing Britain’s Royal Society, whose members read his letters, his only scientific publications. Aiming at an accurate depiction of nature, 17th-century Dutch painters were as obsessive in their studies as scientists. Snyder accompanies her biography of Vermeer with an intense, relentlessly detailed analysis of his technique and use of color, arguing that his sublime, luminous style accorded with the new optical theories. He certainly used technical devices, including the camera obscura, much as early scientists did to experiment with light and uncover its properties. “[A]rtists—like Vermeer—have always relied upon science and technology to push the limits of their arts,” writes the author, “and they will always do so, especially when science opens up a new way of seeing the world.”

Ingenious, lucid and revealing look at the lives of two brilliant men who changed our way of seeing the world.

Pub Date: March 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-07746-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

HUMANS OF NEW YORK

STORIES

Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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