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Astronomers have discovered nearly 6,000 planets in the last 20 years. And Neanderthals had red hair and freckles.

We are living in a great age of natural science.

In “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” John Keats described the wonder he felt on reading the translations of The Iliad and the Odyssey published in 1616 by Shakespeare’s contemporary George Chapman (1559-1634):

	Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
		When a new planet swims into his ken;
	Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
		He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
	Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
		Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

It was Balboa, not Cortes, who was the first Spanish explorer to see the Pacific from Central America (Keats was corrected but let the line stand). The “watcher of the skies” who delights “when a new planet swims into his ken” was the astronomer William Herschel, who discovered Uranus in 1781.
More… “Our Silver Age of Natural Science”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
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Sometimes the smell of body odor means more than just “Wash me!” A person whose sweat starts to smell fruity may have developed diabetes, and an ammonia smell may indicate liver or kidney disease. Odor of rotting fish may signal trimethylaminuria — a rare syndrome caused by a defective gene that prevents people from metabolizing trimethylamine, a natural byproduct of digestion of certain foods like saltwater fish, eggs, and liver.

Body odors have a way of making a lasting impression, even when they don’t signal illness and even when we try ignore them. I’ll never forget the powerful scent emanating from Father Brady, the Irish priest at the church where I grew up. He never looked sweaty, but whenever he would lean over to shake my hand with his own squat, papery one, a smell that made me… More…

 

It starts when you’re in the first grade. All of a sudden, reading is no longer this exciting thing you just figured out how to do, it has become “good for you.” You’re given free books through a program that says Reading Is Fun-damental, way before any of your teachers will tell you what “fundamental” means. Soon after you’re bribed with a free pizza from Pizza Hut if you can finish five whole books. The message is clear: reading is not something you’re supposed to enjoy, it’s something that will make you a better person.

It continues on into adulthood. We’re given continuous updates on the state of reading in our country as if it were the unemployment rate. Orlando Bloom shows up on posters in libraries, holding a book that you’re slightly surprised to see is right… More…

The Mediterranean island of Sardinia is dotted with prehistoric stone ruins called nuraghi. Little is known about the nuraghi, or the ancient people who built them, except that they predate the earliest invaders to Sardinia, the Phoenicians, who arrived here about 9,000 years ago.

I passed a number of nuraghi as I drove up into the island’s interior through mountains of limestone and granite, on a terrifying road, into a region called the Ogliastra. It’s never been an easy ramble into Sardinia’s mountains. Neither the Phoenicians nor any of other invaders who came to Sardinia later — Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Carthaginians, Arabs, Genoese, Catalans — were ever able to the penetrate them. The villages of Ogliastra have had very little contact with the outside world since about the 11th century. Even now, the region is considered by many to be a wild, dangerous place and travelers like me are regularly… More…