“i Am Become Death…”

The Agony of J. Robert Oppenheimer

In the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer-the American physicist and scientiststatesman who directed the building of the first atomic bombs at Los Alamos, New Mexico, during World War II, whose government, discerning “fundamental defects” in his character, denied him security clearance in 1954, who died of throat cancer in 1967—some have professed to see embodied the moral ambiguities of twentieth-century science, science charging breakneck over human institutions, scientists waking compromised from Faustian dreams.Read more »

Solving The Energy Crisis

Long before the energy crunch became a crisis, Rube Goldberg was lampooning the American fascination with gadgetry that helped bring it about. His first invention—an “automatic weight reducing machine ” that employed a doughnut, a bomb, a balloon, a hot stove, and a giant hell to strip pounds from a fat man—appeared in the New York Evening Mail in 1914. Thereafter, until his death in 1970, Goldberg was a national favorite, and his name became synonymous with any complicated device intended to perform a simple task. Read more »

George Washington Carver And The Peanut

New Light on a Much-Loved Myth

The election of a peanut-growing President has evoked much journalistic analysis of his rural Southern roots.Read more »

The Giant In The Earth


One morning in early November of the year 1868 three men appeared at the railroad depot in Union, New York, just outside Binghamton. The most imposing of the trio, a tall, heavily bearded figure in his mid-forties, dressed in funereal black, identified himself to the station agent as George Hull and explained that he wanted to collect a shipment being held for him.Read more »

The Memorable Bartrams

They were botanists, but not of the dull variety: William’s journals inflamed the imaginations of the European romantics, and John may have inadvertently touched off the American Revolution

You can sum up the beginnings of natural history in America in one name: Bartram. John Bartram and his son William laid the groundwork for American botany and either directly or indirectly taught most of our early naturalists. Their combined lives spanned a hundred and twenty-four years. Sir Isaac Newton was still in his prime when John Bartram was born. Audubon was a young man and Thoreau a child when William Bartram died. Read more »

Science, Learning, And The Claims Of Nationalism

We have come a long way from the philosophy of the Enlightenment...a shift that represents a retreat rather than an advance, argues the noted historian.

We think of our own time as an Age of Enlightenment, but it flouts and even repudiates two essential principles of the Enlightenment: first the priority of the claims of science and culture over those of politics, and second the cosmopolitan and even universal nature of science and culture. Read more »

Professor Cope Vs. Professor Marsh

A bitter feud among the bones

In the early 1870’s two American scientists began a vicious personal contest for position and eminence in the world of science. As vertebrate paleontologists they delved into the crust of the earth for evidence of ancient life, at a time when the surface had barely been scratched and popular interest in such discoveries was intense. In the infancy of a new science, both men sought immortality.Read more »

Dos Passos: The Wizards Meet

Steinmetz was a hunchback, son of a hunchback lithographer. He was born in Breslau in eighteen sixtyfive, graduated with highest honors at seventeen from the Breslau Gymnasium, went to the University of Breslau to study mathematics; mathematics to Steinmetz was muscular strength and long walks over the hills and the kiss of a girl in love and big evenings spent swilling beer with your friends; on his broken back he felt the topheavy weight of Read more »

The Deadly Dust: The Unhappy History Of DDT

Everyone knows a little about the rise and fall of DDT—how it was once hailed as a great boon to mankind; how useful it was in field and garden, house and yard; and how at last to our dismay it was unmasked as a killer, the chemical Al Capone, a threat to our environment and possibly our very existence. Everyone knows that the federal and state governments are acting to end the DDT menace, saving us, if narrowly, from disaster. We can breathe easy again. . . . Or can we? Read more »

Here Comes Superplane

For a very long time it has been supposed that man could adjust himself to almost anything in the way of speed, noise, or financial outlay, just to get from one place to another in the least possible time.Read more »