31st Selected Links

Happy weekend! Here are some links to things I've been reading or watching that you might also enjoy:

1. 'Newton, the Man', the superb essay by noted newtonphile John Maynard Keynes. Its best-remembered line: "Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians".

2. Pliny the Younger's two letters to Tacitus about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. In the first letter (6.16), Pliny recounts the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who was consumed by the pyroclastic surge spewing from the mountain after he went to rescue friends trapped at its base. In the second letter (6.20), Pliny, pressed by Tacitus, provides his own eyewitness account of the eruption from his vantage point in Misenum, at the northwest end of the Bay of Naples. (He was 18 at the time of the eruption, and was writing to Tacitus nearly thirty years later, in 106 or 107 A.D.) I first read Pliny's description of the eruption when I was in high school. I still find it haunting:

"[A]bout one in the afternoon, my mother desired [Pliny the Elder] to observe a cloud which appeared of a very unusual size and shape. He had just taken a turn in the sun and, after bathing himself in cold water, and making a light luncheon, gone back to his books: he immediately arose and went out upon a rising ground from whence he might get a better sight of this very uncommon appearance. A cloud, from which mountain was uncertain, at this distance (but it was found afterwards to come from Mount Vesuvius), was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a pine tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a very tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of branches".

The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, by John Martin (1822)

3. 'Flying Machines Which Do Not Fly', aNew York Timesarticle published on October 9, 1903. It argued, by disanalogy to the "immeasurable deliberation" of the evolution of wings and to the purposeful effort of organisms like birds, that man-made flying machines were "one million to ten million years" away and thus that "the problem [of flight] has attractions for those it interests, but to the ordinary man it would seem as if effort might be employed more profitably." A little over two months later, theWright Flyerlaunched off a sand dune just south of Kitty Hawk. I reflect on thisNYTarticle when I hear people bag space-junkies Musk, Bezos and Branson as boondoggling billionaires.

4. Two of my favourite passages from the King James Bible:Ecclesiastes 3:1-8andEcclesiastes 9:11. They exemplify great writing.

5. Advice from Steve Martin: "Be so good they can't ignore you."

Have a great weekend,