Robert Crumb illustrates the Book of Genesis, and It Rules


The Book of Genesis Illustrated – R. Crumb (2010)


            I was gifted this amazing book by my brother.  As a life-long fan of Robert Crumb and the big-butt, thick-legged femeninas he obsessively drew and lusted over, I wondered how his obsessive drawing style would lend itself to the stories contained within the Bible’s Book of Genesis.  As with any genius artist, the results are more enjoyable than the actual source material.

            The Book of Genesis is, like the rest of the Bible, a composite.  The stories told within it are drawn from so many ancient sources that the words of Genesis constantly contradict or negate each other.  For example, Genesis tells two different stories about the origin of the world.  In one, god created everything all at once, and seeing it good, created man to rule it all.  In the other version, told right after, god creates the universe bit by bit, day by day, until finally creating man on the 6th day, and resting on the 7th.  This contradiction is never explained by the devout, who parrot the Bible as a holy book directly transcribed from the mind of god, infallible in all ways.  These people are idiots, seeking to turn everyone else into the mindless drones they themselves have become. (To read a review of Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, where he discusses the many source materials for the sections of the Bible, click here: https://rxttbooks.blogspot.com/2014/09/isaac-asimov-tackles-biggest-book-there.html )

            Robert Crumb is a very interesting person to undertake this difficult task.  He was born to a Catholic household, but never sought religion or spirituality after his youth.  In fact, as a devout teenager, his father admitted that the Catholicism he raised the Crumb family under was a lie, and that he was an atheist all along, just pretending at religion.  Robert Crumb’s involvement in the underground comic books of the 1960’s helped make him a seminal figure in the alternative media world.  Nothing in his work of that period showed a predilection toward Bible subjects.

            One of Crumb’s collaborations, the many issues of American Splendor he drew for Harvey Pekar, pointed the way to how his art could serve the needs of a narrative structure.  Harvey Pekar’s work consisted of vignettes, detached scenes of his everyday life.  Crumb drew these scenes in his inimitable crosshatch, but without any of the sensational or outrageous imagery commonly associated with ZAP or WEIRDO comics.  It is this method he employs for the book of Genesis.

            What a beautiful book it is.  Each page, each panel, is carefully structured and drawn, allowing for maximum storytelling.  Crumb draws everything, even the preternaturally dull sections of Genesis listing endless “begets.”  His art does not editorialize.  It does not seek to magnify or diminish the words of Genesis, merely to portray them in a straight-forward manner.  As a life-long fan of the Illustrated Classics comic book series, I felt right at home ingesting the first chapter of the Bible in comic book format.  Those Illustrated Classics were my first exposure to Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, and many other works of literature.  I can imagine this great book serving the same purpose for anyone interested in actually reading the Bible, instead of analyzing it for divine proclamations.  I also see it as a great stepping stone for other comic book artists to explore the canon of classic literature.  Robert Crumb has always kept himself at the leading edge of sequential storytelling art.  We are better off for it.



A Reformed Thief and Safecracker Shares His Personal Story of Crime and Redemption


You Can’t Win – Jack Black (1926)


            Books are magic.  Every time I enjoy a new one I am reminded of this fact.  Before humans assigned symbols to the sounds made as they spoke, all knowledge and information was dispersed orally.  For you to learn how to braid rope, for example, you had to live near someone who knew how to braid rope, and have them teach you the technique through spoken words and physical demonstrations.  This allowed knowledge and wisdom to pass along familial and then tribal lines, as humans shared their ever-growing store of knowledge with their offspring and neighbors.  Everything changed once humanity figured out how to use symbols to communicate information.  This was a change infinitely more monumental than the current change from physical media (books, magazines, DVD’s, LP’s) to digital file-storing media. 

            The ability to write down your experiences, have them printed or published, and put them out into the world at large changed us for the better. It removed the old taboos about sharing knowledge with outsiders.  Anyone can pick up a book by Mark Twain and gain a deep understanding of what life was like at the time he wrote his books.  This is time-travel, pure and simple.  A human consciousness reads the symbols on the page, and instantly, they are conversing in a very real manner with a person from the past.  Far too often humans assume that everyone’s lives are the same, that what happens to “me” is bound to happen to “you” as well.  This is a fallacy.  The world is so infinitely complex that no two individuals, even if identical twins, will have the same life and the same experiences.  Reading personal memoirs and accounts helps us realize the infinite variety of human life, and human experience.

            I found this book while scrolling through the Project Gutenberg website (I love Project Gutenberg!!).  Jack Black wrote a memoir about his life and his long-standing years as a Bum and Thief, riding the rails, visiting Hobo encampments, and surviving on the fringes of society.  He travelled multiple times across the US, and into Canada.  He describes his life and its many ups and downs in an honest, heartfelt matter, never bragging about the crimes he committed, or the people he stole from.  Instead, he often discusses reaching crossroads in his life, moments and situations where he could have chosen to go “straight,” and instead went back into the transient criminal life.  He also covers the “mistakes” he made, times when his greed or hunger got the best of him, despite the many warnings given and lessons taught to him by older road-warriors.

As with any and all memoirs, these tales must be taken with a grain of salt.  Our narrator is a self-defined criminal, transient, and ex-convict.  While he does not shy away from bluntness when it comes to himself, it is inescapable that such an author would omit specific details, either to protect himself, or someone close to them.  Even so, Jack Black’s account of his life does not hide away the self-reflection, understanding, and wisdom gained through suffering and hardship, even the self-created kind.  It makes perfect sense that, in reading about this book, I found out it was a seminal piece of writing for many of the Beat poets, William S. Burroughs specifically. Black’s tales of riding the rails, escaping police, finding big scores, losing big scores, and the general ability to live an outlaw life appealed to the counterculture writers of the 40’s and 50’s. 

As with many things, such a life was much easier to achieve in the past.  Small towns did not have the type of bank safes, police, or any other preventative to deter petty crime.  Mr. Black details the many methods he used in acquiring a “bank roll.”  From pickpocketing and petty thievery, to burglary, breaking and entering, and safe-cracking, it appears that not a single moment was spent in leisure activity. Every second was either an attempt to get information on a new mark, casing out a joint to either rob it or help someone else rob it, finding out the best “hop-joints” in town (for 25 years Jack Black nursed an addiction to smoked opium), secreting away stolen material, laying low for days or weeks until the stolen goods can be safely recovered, finding people to buy such stolen goods, etc.  It is a busy life, and Jack Black himself states that if any of his fellow “yeggs” (thieves specializing in safecracking), and hobos would just get a normal square job, they would have had far more free time, leisure, money, and prestige after ten years than what normally happens a decade into that outlaw life.  However, the goal is not safety and societal prestige.  It is complete and total autonomy.  To live in total autonomy in America means becoming an outlaw.  The government does not allow one to live without oversight of a thousand kinds, or so felt Jack and his fellow rail riders.

While Black was definitely a criminal, he details repeatedly the many ways that their subculture would provide and look out for each other.  They were fastidious about paying their debts to one another.  Those that did not were quickly ostracized.  This meant that every time Black scored big, he would first off send money to various people whom he owed, whether it was someone doing time in Folsom prison, or some kind underworld person that had previously lent Black some money or assistance.  As Black put it, an honest hobo would give you his last dollar if you needed it.  He details many occasions were this was true.  He also describes the kindnesses paid to him by his fellow rail-riders.  Once, while serving a long term in an unfamiliar prison, Jack began to receive care packages with food and money.  He did not find out who paid him this kindness until way later, and he busted his ass to repay every cent of it.  When you live on the rails, you own nothing, and your only collateral is your word.  Are you an honest thief?  Do you pay back your debts?  Do you keep your mouth shut?  These traits are far more valuable than a fancy car or a big home when you live life outside of normal society.

Jack Black wrote only one book, this one, after ten-plus years going straight, working as a librarian in a newspaper office owned by and old friend.  It became a giant bestseller, affording him an affluent life he never dreamed of.  The 1920’s saw a rise in the popularity of “true tales” of crime, prisons, and all aspects of the underworld.  It was not to last and the transient life does not provide lessons in saving and frugality.  The Great depression destroyed the last of his wealth and he sadly committed suicide sometime in the late 1930’s.

Reading “You Can’t Win,” it was evident that the author was an intelligent, conscious human being, despite all the obvious flaws of a criminal life.  I believe he owes it to his life-long love of reading and learning.  During an early stay in a Canadian jail, far out in the country, he found the jail to have a tremendous library, containing all of the best English authors.  He devoured these books.  In this jail, a very interesting policy was in effect.  Based on an English method, the entire population of inmates was kept silent.  Any speaking was met with severe punishment.  Ironically, it is this jail that Black describes as the most peaceful, safe, and orderly he ever saw.  There were no beatings, no fights, and no contraband because without the ability to speak to each other the inmates could not plot or set up schemes.  The only options for the prisoners were reading the classics, or silent contemplation of their lives and crimes.  I wish the USA would try this method, but it probably works only in jails or prisons containing 200 or less inmates.  In a world that currently seeks to close libraries, both public and in prisons, and to prevent access to books and ideas, Jack Black’s words of warning are key.  He states that a world that focused on inmates reading, expanding their minds, and creating new dreams, such as the jail in Canada, would do more to stop crime and suffering in the world than a thousand lashes.  At one point, sometime during a different decade-long stay in prison, he discusses reading an entire Encyclopedia Britannica, something I tried to do in Middle School.  Books can help you create yourself anew.

It is nearly one hundred years since this book was published, and I was able to find it as it is now in the public domain, and the wonderful saints at the Project Gutenberg provided all of us with a digital version.  Jack Black is immortal.  He now lives in my head, and in anyone’s head who’s read this great book.  I highly recommend it.

(This book can be downloaded here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/69404 )


Walter Gibson Teaches Us About Magic and its History, Along with Many Great Tricks


The Encyclopedia of Magic & Conjuring – Walter Gibson (1976)


            It was during a quick visit to the local used bookstore that this wonderful book jumped out at me.  I have always loved stage magic, although I am more of a fan and audience member that a practicing magician.  Magic, like all difficult endeavors, requires a patience I do not possess. 

I knew the author of this book, Mr. Walter Gibson, from my previous reading.  To me, he will always be the creator of the most-awesome pulp hero The Shadow, one of my favorite characters.  Under an assumed name, “Maxwell Grant,” he wrote over two hundred and eighty Shadow books.  It turns out that, apart from prolifically writing novels, Walter Gibson was an avid practitioner of the mystical stage arts!  Not only was he a lifelong member, Walter Gibson also served as Vice-President of the Magicians Guild of America.

Magic, stage magic, is an abode for the lonely, at least at first.  Many magicians spent much of their childhood and young adulthood alone, practicing and perfecting legerdemain, card tricks, stage patter, and the many other aspects of being a good stage magician.  Unlike other endeavors, such as sports, music, etc., there are no magic teachers.  There are no magic classes one can attend at the local community college.  Everything about magic must be learned by doing, by trial and error.

It is in this aspect that this book is a masterpiece.  The first half of this book collects articles and essays from various noted magical periodicals.  These were printed between 1920 and 1960.  They provide a great history of the stagecraft of magic.  Many working magicians wrote for these magazines, describing their travels, their shows, and various other magicians and magic shops they come across while performing around the country.  Nothing takes me back in time more than reading personal accounts and seeing the photographs of these talented magicians.  The start of the 20th century was a time when show business took place on stages, from bands, to showgirls, to comedians, to actors, to magicians, they all competed for stage time on the vaudeville and theater stages around the country.  Magic has always found a place among nighttime entertainers.  Consider Las Vegas and its many magic shows, many of which still draw full crowds.

While the first half of this book is a great resource for the history of magic in the early 20th century, it is the contents in the back half of this book that provide the true gold.  Divided up into sections, Walter Gibson includes precise instructions on how to perform countless magic tricks.  Proceeding from simple to complex, these chapters cover everything from card magic, coin magic, and sleight-of-hand magic to the biggest of illusions.  Each trick is first described as the “effect,” or what an audience member would see when the trick is performed.  The second section then describes the mechanics of the trick, and how to best achieve success in presenting it. 

For a young person seeking professional stage magic training, this is an invaluable resource.  This book alone can help a young magician move from simple coin tricks to large scale illusions, all the while offering great hints and suggestions about how to present each trick, what is important to remember, and what need not be considered.  These are normally things learned through long periods of trial and error, but Walter Gibson specifically aimed to provide young magicians with true knowledge.  What an interesting person he was.


Nicolo Machiavelli's The Prince, reviled by many, may be the most important book ever written about Power and Leadership


The Prince – Nicolo Machiavelli (1532)

            Where can I begin? It is hard to say when it comes to the  diplomat, politician and writer Nicolo Machiavelli.  For one, he lived at a time of great tumult in the peninsula we now refer to as Italy.  City-states would war against each other.  Princes from foreign countries would take turns assisting and then attacking various fiefdoms and principalities.  Naples hated Florence.  Pisa hated Naples. The Tuscans hated Pisa.  It was endless.  Nicolo Machiavelli, considered a good public servant, was at times placed in powerful and prestigious political positions, where he availed himself very well.  When revolts happened, as they so often did back then, Nicolo would end up displaced and exiled, only to be asked back by a new leadership.  Eventually, Nicolo Machiavelli was arrested and placed in custody.  He was a middle-aged man at that time, and this is when he began to write the works we know him for today.  Preeminent among them is The Prince, an amazing work of political genius, detailing the lessons Nicolo learned watching, assisting, and escaping from, various princes and kings.

            I learned all of the above once I started reading The Prince, as I did some research into Nicolo Machiavelli’s life.  I mention this because the general knowledge I had on Machiavelli was nearly complete hyperbole.  The name Machiavelli, and the term “Machiavellian,” have come to signify a person without scruples, willing to do anything, even hurt his own people, in order to gain and keep power.  This is a massive over-simplification of what Machiavelli states in his book.  It helps to understand that Nicolo Machiavelli did not begin to write the works we know him for until a regime change in his home forced him into incarceration.  It was as a prisoner that he focused his thoughts and had the time to write, distilling the chaos of the warring nations of Europe and the Italian city-states, as well as the various traits witnessed in the countless princes, kings, regents, governors, etc. whose fortunes rose and fell with the political tide.

            During his incarceration, Machiavelli had time to process his experiences.  Using the books he brought with him, he proceeded to distill the wisdom learned during a lifetime of study and civic duty.  The work that ensued, The Prince, is a masterpiece of political wisdom.

            The first chapters are devoted to explaining the different types of state, and how they are acquired.  He describes the two basic ones, Republics and Principalities, and goes into greater detail about the principalities.  Machiavelli discusses hereditary principalities, those received through a family line, and describes how these type of states have the least difficulty in being held by their prince.  The country and people are long-accustomed to the reigning family, and will continue to support the Prince, unless he is of an extremely low character. 

Mixed principalities are also discussed.  These arise either as new states, or as part of an older country that has decided to form its own government.  New leaders burden the people, forcing them to accommodate strangers, feed invader armies, etc.  Many enemies are created, both the locals who have seen their leaders killed and replaced, and the previous enemies of the new prince, who rail at seeing the prince gain new territory and wealth.  This makes for a very unsteady prince, ripe for revolution, or invasion.  Referring to a new principality located in a foreign land with foreign language, Machiavelli suggests it is far better to create a colony than to erase the old rule completely.  The successful new prince will relocate himself to the new land, to better allow the people to see him, and to better cut off any rise in revolt.  The new prince should make himself the defender and leader of the less powerful neighbors as well, for this keeps a new foreigner from taking over once the people are fed up with the latest prince.

Machiavelli, often in this book, will distill his ideas into statements that, when read out of context, seem like the stereotypical “Machiavellian” ideas.  For example, in discussing the situation explained above, Machiavelli states the following, “…one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.  This seems cold and calculating, but the mind and decisions of a prince cannot be held to the same morality as that of a peasant.  The enemies of a common person can cause much harm, but the enemies of a prince can destroy whole nations.

In reference to the mighty Roman Empire, Machiavelli states that the reason the empire lasted so long, and was able to annex and absorb countries and peoples from far and wide, was because, for the most part, Rome was not a conqueror of nations.  Rome, instead, would be asked to come take over a region, which they would do via the use of colonial methods.  They would support the neighboring states, but not let them get too powerful.  They kept down the greater powers of their strong enemies, and never allowed them to gain any authority.  The Romans, foreseeing trouble, would immediately take action, never letting any resentment breed into revolution.

Throughout the Prince, Machiavelli provides detailed examples from history.  During his life, France had detached itself from the Roman Catholic Church, which caused the church to rise in power in the neighboring states of Spain and Italy.  The church then helped the princes of Spain and Italy attack France at every turn.  Machiavelli states the following, “From this a general rule is drawn which never or rarely fails: that he who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined; because that predominancy has been brought about either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.

There are too many examples throughout human history showing this to be a truth. New leaders distrust those that helped them achieve their goal, for they may very easily help someone else replace them.  The true genius of Machiavelli was his ability to distill wisdom and experience down to the bare bones.  The most complex of ideas are shared in a way that allows us, nearly half a millennia later, to understand the concepts in a rich and subtle manner.

Machiavelli discusses how and why princes use soldiers and mercenaries.  He details why homegrown soldiers are always preferable, and gives examples of lords and princes whose demise came about due to their injudicious use of their armies.  For example, a chapter is devoted to the ways that the descendants of Alexander managed to maintain control of the kingdom taken from Darius after the great Alexander’s death.  Other chapters explain the difference in holding a kingdom won by one’s own arms and people, a kingdom won by the use of other’s arms and people, or a kingdom won by wickedness. 

Just as there are many ways to gain power, there are an equal number of ways to lose it.  Machiavelli goes into great detail discussing the many issues princes must face and the best ways to handle them.  It is here that many interpreters and readers seem to misunderstand Machiavelli’s intent.  Much like the naturalist who seeks to describe the life of an apex predator, (and most princes and lords are indeed apex predators), Machiavelli needs to explain in an unbiased and, to modern ears, callous manner exactly what works and does not work in maintaining a kingdom.  He is not discussing how to best be a “good” king.”  He is merely expounding on how to best become, and stay, a king. 

A normal person’s actions may affect a few dozen people, but a prince’s actions affect whole nations.  There is not one decision that a prince makes that does not injure someone, either by actual physical, fiduciary, or psychological harm.  Choosing an ambassador, for instance, can grant a person great prestige and rank, but, to those considered but not chosen for the position, enmity and hate can and do arise.  Deciding to send aid to an ally can enrage the people of one’s kingdom who are hungry, or desperate.  Marrying a princess from one nation can cause another nation to wage war on you.  It is for these situations, unusual or unknown to the common man, that Machiavelli applies his wisdom.

A key chapter discusses whether it is best to be loved or feared as a leader.  Machiavelli does not hold back.  Even though love is the Christian virtue, and what all men should seek to share and spread amongst each other, a prince that is loved is in a far more tenuous position than one who is feared.  All it takes is one mistake, one error in judgement, one scandal, and the people whose love was taken for granted can and do turn on a leader with vehemence.  A prince who is loved has a hard time determining who may be lying or plotting.  A prince who is a fair man, but harsh in his punishments, will come to be feared and respected.  The fear comes from an honest place of not wanting to offend or draw the ire of the prince.  The trick for both loved and feared leaders is to work hard to make certain that the fear or love does not transmute into Hate.  A hated prince is in the worst position, for both his allies and enemies can easily find common ground.  There is no safety for a hated prince.  If lucky he may just get deposed, but for the most part, hated leaders end up in tragedy.  They are tortured and killed.  Their families are killed.  Their friends are killed.  Those in the government that worked closely with them are killed.  A hated leader will bring the worst out in humanity.

Machiavelli clearly states that it is best for a leader to be feared.  If not feared, it is better for him to be loved.  These are both abstract and concrete truths.  Machiavelli writes, “…men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.  Machiavelli was not an idealist.  He understood that man is driven by need and desire.  Most people do not care who their prince is.  They just want stability and fairness, regardless of who is in power.  They will only love you if it is to their advantage to do so.  Princes work by rules and so do the people.  A prince whose people see as soft or weak will have his wealth and power slowly and surely eaten away, especially by those closest to him.  A feared prince, however, helps maintain a level of order and place, for a subject must know and accept that they are a subject, just as a leader must know and accept that they are a leader, and fear comes with the territory.  We all know parents whose children pay them no mind, who lack the inherent respect a child should have for their mother or father.  Machiavelli knew that princes see themselves as the father figure for their nation or kingdom.  A smart prince will see that his children/subjects have a healthy fear and respect of his powers.

Frankly, I could write so much more about this relatively short book.  I feel I have just scratched the surface of the countless subjects Machiavelli touches on.  There are writers I have come across who use language freely, writing endless pages and chapters, merely to share a wisdom better served through a short, succinct statement.  Machiavelli is the exact opposite.  He brings so much knowledge, experience, and wisdom to the writing of the Prince that each sentence is loaded with meaning.  This is best type of writing.  It has survived to be read, studied, and pilloried these many centuries because of its inherent value.  Anyone who will rise, or seeks to rise, to a position of power, whether as a leader of a company, city, state, or nation, should read this book carefully.  It provides the most sage advice and profound warnings while sharing the best historical precedents.  There is no fluff in this work.  These doughnuts are all jelly.  I highly recommend this to anyone willing to ignore the cult of personality built around Nicolo Machiavelli.  It will expand your mind and provide you with a deeper understanding of the politics and power plays we experience today, almost five hundred years after Machiavelli laid it all down in his prison cell, (especially if you have just finished watching the series finale of Succession on the HBO). 

(This book can be downloaded and/or read here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1232/1232-h/1232-h.htm )



Lawrence M. Krauss Shares How Far We Have Come, and How Much Further We Have To Go


The Known Unknowns: The Unsolved Mysteries of the Cosmos – Lawrence M. Krauss (2023)


            If I could define myself with just one word, it would be “reader.”  Everything in my life either stems from, or draws from, the many books I have read in my 49+ years on this planet Earth.  My biggest heroes, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Anton Wilson, Richard P. Feynman, etc., came into my life through the written page.  When I began RXTT’s Book Journey almost ten years ago, I dreamed of the possibility that book publishers and authors would appreciate my reviews and want to share their soon-to-be-released work with me.  Dreams do come true.

            The latest advance copy received by the RXTT household is physicist Lawrence M. Krauss’ forthcoming book, The Known Unknowns. (That is the UK title.  The book will be titled The Edge of Knowledge in the USA, probably because Donald Rumsfeld’s use of the phrase “known unknowns” became such a joke in ignorant America.)  After requesting it from Mr. Krauss himself, he contacted his publisher on my behalf and I was sent the book.  MIND BLOWN.

            The reason I read is to enlighten myself, both with new ideas and new information, for I am a curious mind.  Sometimes, the most useful and valuable books are not the ones with the most data, but instead the books with the best questions.  One such book, among many faves, is Richard Feynman’s The Character of Physical Law, a book full of ideas and questions which, it turns out, was also a guiding light for Lawrence M. Krauss.  Feynman’s spirit, willing to share ideas in a thoughtful manner, directly engaged with the toughest questions, and able to explain the most obtuse scientific thought in a manner where a layperson can grasp the fundamentals, is alive and well in Mr. Krauss.  We are all very fortunate.

            Krauss divides this book into five chapters, each one concerning itself with a specific topic where science has shed some light, but where there are still far more questions than answers.  Time, Space, Matter, Life, and Consciousness are the guideposts for Lawrence M. Krauss to not only sum up our current knowledge, but to also point out the vast gaps.  Our collective ignorance is the greatest impetus towards science, scientific discovery, and new knowledge.  The very worst of humanity arises when humans feel absolute certainty, whether political, religious, or social.  Not knowing is the greatest gift to an inquisitive mind.

            My biggest surprise as I devoured this book was its readability.  There are many amazing minds in the world of science, and physics specifically, but very few have the ability to provide us their thoughts and knowledge in such a fun and engrossing manner.  Some books, even great ones, can be a chore to read.  Lawrence M. Krauss has succeeded in creating a book that will enlighten young and old alike, while also opening up their minds to the myriad possibilities yet available for exploration and research.  This may be this book’s most valuable contribution, sparking the mind of some young students out there, and starting their paths toward new discoveries, new fields of research, and, hopefully, new questions.  Questions are truly important.  Anyone claiming to have all the answers is trying to rip you off, and should be treated accordingly.

            Each chapter begins with questions.  For example, the chapter titled Matter starts with these:

What is the World Made of?

How Many Forces are there? 

Is Anything Fundamental?

Is Quantum Mechanics True? 

Will Physics Have an End?

Will Matter End?

Krauss perfectly encapsulates our current state of knowledge in each chapter, sharing it with the reader through the specific details of past scientific achievement.  He then explores how we came to find that knowledge, use it, and seek to understand the underlying principles involved.  One of the best attributes of scientists is their humility in the face of new data.  It allows for self-correction, which is why the scientific method has been such a valuable tool for humanity.  Krauss details the baby steps taken in our human search for knowledge, steps often met with wildly erroneous interpretations, each of them critical points in our collective knowledge.

            Krauss brings his physics knowledge to bear on what is the most complex and mysterious part of our everyday world, the quantum realm.  He guides the reader through the many different steps us humans required to comprehend that the sub-atomic world even existed, and details plainly why it remains such a difficult science to explain.  Everything in our modern world is touched by subatomic processes, from the manufacture of medicine, to the Global Positioning Satellite System, to the various smart phones and gadgets we all take for granted.  None would work without our collective understanding of the processes involved in the quantum realm.  The irony remains that, even as we use quantum science to create new wonders, we still do not fully grasp exactly what processes allow for these modern marvels to function.  We are much like the ancient humans who used fire to bake clay, cook food, warm their home, and provide light, but had no clue as to what caused the fire to exist in the first place.  We now know that free oxygen atoms in our atmosphere combine with the carbon in wood, and that this reaction creates new compounds (Carbon dioxide, water vapor) and energy (light, heat).  It seems common sense to us now, but to a human living 500 years ago this would be utter nonsense.  They “knew” that fire was but one of the four basic constituents of everything that exists, along with Water, Earth, and Air.  For centuries, this basic explanation served its purpose, but it did not actually provide verifiable, repeatable truth.  Only the scientific method does that.

            I hope that this book receives a very wide readership, for it is as equally valuable to a young scientist as it is to a layperson interested in big ideas.  Our world bounces back and forth from close-minded totalitarian fundamentalism to wide-open progressive ideals.  It is very easy for a society to lose ground, to lose hard-earned knowledge and wisdom, because someone, or something, claims to know all the answers.  Beware of anyone telling you to stop asking questions.  RUN AWAY from anyone telling there are no new answers out there and we already know all we need to know.  They are Liars and con-artists and only seek to control you so they can line their pockets.  Find those among us who are kind, who seek new answers and new questions, who understand that, for all we know as humans, our knowledge is dwarfed by the vast amounts we do not know.  Lawrence M. Krauss has crafted an amazing book, one that not only tells us what we know and how, but informs us of what we have yet to find out.  I highly recommend it.

(This book will be published in the UK and the USA in early May, 2023)


Edward Tufte Shows Us How to Properly Share Data That Combines Text, Numbers, and Images


Beautiful Evidence – Edward Tufte (2006)

            Sometimes the book lords look down upon us lowly humans and grace us with tomes we would otherwise not read or know about.  Such was the day I found this amazing work by professor, author, and sculptor, Edward Tufte.  As one of my co-workers cleaned out her office, she stacked a bunch of books aside for anyone who wanted them.  I grabbed three that caught my eye, and immediately began devouring Edward Tufte’s masterpiece.

            The introduction to this work explains Tufte’s focus, the intersection of science and art, specifically as it relates to the dissemination or presentation of raw data.  One of the thoughts in his Introduction really hit home for me, “Making an evidence presentation is a moral act as well as an intellectual activity.”  This goes for the consumers of these presentations as well.  One must be ready, when faced with a presentation of evidence, to think and judge not only what data they discuss but also how they present it.  This analytical thinking is crucial to the proper dissemination of knowledge in our data-packed world.

            Tufte begins his exploration of this subject by focusing on what he calls “Mapped Pictures: Images as Evidence and Explanation.”  He, much like I do, deplores the out-of-context images used by periodicals when writing about scientific subjects. An example of a well-mapped image is the type used in visual catalogues of flora and fauna, where, for example, the fish in question is portrayed in both profile and overhead views, which provides much more data than a single image.  Those images may also contain data about the subject, such as the length of the fish, the coloring of the fish, the species’ Latin name, etc.  Many of these animal catalogues fail to provide much data, apart from the image of the animal itself.  This is a disservice, both to the scientists that catalogued the animals, and to the reader wishing to encounter useful and correct information about them.

            Tufte provides beautiful examples of many types of mapped picture, from images detailing which stars make up the constellations in the sky, to diagrams showing the horrendous conditions that Africans were placed into by their captors who sought to pack as many onto these ships as possible.  Such an image shows not only the extent of the horror, but specific details of the horror, allowing the reader to grasp a far bigger idea than just the image itself.

            The author analyzes other methods of information exchange.  From sparklines (a graphic showing a change in value over time, such as a line graph representing the temperature in a given city over a month) to word and arrow diagrams (such as a family tree, or an evolutionary line), each is discussed at length.  Mr. Tufte seeks to show the best possible ways to convey information, keeping in mind each method’s weaknesses and strengths.

            In the chapter on the confluence of words, numbers, and images, Tufte’s first example is from the genius of Leonardo da Vinci.  In his countless notebooks, where he wrote and drew about his constant explorations, vivid drawings live right next to explanatory text and data in number form.   The ability to combine all three into a work so profound shows the reasoning and ability of da Vinci’s deep skill.  As Tufte proclaims, it is a shame that more scientists have not taken up the model provided by Leonardo.

            Another aspect of publishing that upsets Tufte, for it derails the hard work of the scientists, is what happens when publishers create new editions of classic books.  For some reason, the editors feel they need to re-arrange the layouts of the books, shifting all the text into one section, and placing the images in another.  When the purpose of the book is to educate, using words and images concurrently, such as in Galileo’s “Siderius Nuncius” (The Starry Messenger), too many publishers fail to see the importance of both text and images living side by side.  Moving images to an appendix reduces the capability of the reader to grasp what the author intends.  The worst example of this is in the editions of Isaac Newton’s “Opticks.”  Tufte shows how, from the initial pressing in London, the pertinent images were placed in a separate section from the text they belong to.  It was not until the first German edition (1898) that the images and text were fully integrated.  In 1952, the first proper printing in English occurred.  Sadly soon after four more badly edited editions would see the light of day.  As Tufte states, it is a shame that “…it took 258 years to combine word and image in the original English.”

            The latter half of this book explores the fundamental principles of analytical design, and provides some amazing examples of quality work.  The best part of the second half of the book is where Edward Tufte patiently explains the many ways that data is corrupted in evidence presentations, with the most vitriol aimed at the ubiquitous and hated Power Point software.  The damage that PP has done to professional information exchange is hard to calculate, but Mr. Tufte does a great job of explaining it.  The saddest fact I read was how, when the space shuttle Columbia accident occurred, an independent body analyzed NASA’s information exchanges, focusing on how warnings about the shuttle were ignored or avoided altogether.  The analysis showed that nearly 90% of all data shared at NASA was in the form of PP slides.  HORRENDOUS.  Tufte explains how these slides, containing minimal information, and allowing for minimal understanding, corrupt the very processes intended to inform and educate, leading to tragic errors and human suffering.

            As it should be, this book is a beautiful production.  Edward Tufte uses all of his skills and knowledge to construct a perfect blending of image, numbers, and text.  He sets a great example for anyone writing in the sciences, and anyone seeking to share information properly.  For a visually oriented person book lover like myself, this was an amazing discovery.  The book angels were looking out.  I highly recommend this book and hope it influences many to think deeper about how to portray their data, and how to engage the mind of the reader.

(This book can be purchased from the Author here: https://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_be )