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Music and the Mystery of Aliveness

“We are a music-making species — always have been, always will be — and music’s capacity to explore, express and address what it is to be human remains one of our greatest communal gifts.”

Music and the Mystery of Aliveness

“Sound is sea: pattern lapping pattern… Matter delights in music, and became Bach,” the poet Ronald Johnson wrote as he contemplated matter, music, and the mind.

A generation after him, a young woman discovered that when the mind is suddenly unmattered, Bach remains.

One midwinter day shortly before the pandemic paralyzed the world, Clemency Burton-Hill — an underground London garage DJ turned BBC host turned creative director of America’s oldest public radio station for classical music, and a lifelong lover of Bach — suffered a catastrophic hemorrhage in her left frontal lobe. She was thirty-nine, her children one and five. She survived, but was left unable to see, move, or speak.

Clemency Burton Hill (Portrait: Matthew Septimus / WNYC)

Multiple surgeries and weeks of rehabilitation began restoring Clemency’s comprehension and sight, but the right side of her body remained paralyzed and her speech voided. Slowly, slowly, the words started forming again out of the primeval matter of the mind. Eventually, we spoke — Clemency still in her hospital bed, skull bandaged and face radiant with life, each word a triumph, as deliberate and precise as a Bach note. I found myself wondering what the world might look like if we spoke to each other that way, our words tender with our mortal fragility, resolute with reverence for the aliveness in us and in each other, this grand shared mystery.

Not long before her hemorrhage, Clemency had made a passionate case for a daily dose of music as “a form of sonic soul maintenance” in her book Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day (public library) — the music counterpart to Tolstoy’s Calendar of Wisdom and poet Ross Gay’s yearlong journal of delights. She wrote:

We are a music-making species — always have been, always will be — and music’s capacity to explore, express and address what it is to be human remains one of our greatest communal gifts… We evolved by coming together around the fire every night, singing songs and telling stories — invariably, telling stories through singing songs. That’s what our ancestors did; that’s how they made sense of the world and each other; that’s how they learned how to be.

It is an impulse that is still fundamental to who we are.

Fittingly, the musical calendar of wonder begins with a Bach liturgy for January 1. Bach punctuates Clemency’s sonic year as a maker of music that “contains all of everything” and maker of “the blueprint for everything that was to come,” his influence reverberating through the hallway of time to shape genres as diverse as techno and funk. As the year unfolds, there are his Goldberg Variations with their exquisite mathematical precision, rumored to have been composed as an insomnia cure, their original manuscript bearing an inscription in Bach’s hand: “Prepared for the soul’s delight of lovers of music.”

There is his violin solo in E major that always comes as “a shot of musical caffeine” for Clemency: “In just a hundred seconds or so,” she writes, “this piece has the effect of apparently rearranging the molecules around me, making me see and think more clearly.”

There is his Ave Maria in early June, and his Partita no. 2 in D Minor on my late-summer birthday, and on my father’s autumnal equinox birthday a chorale cantata translating to “As a father has mercy.” (This, too, is Bach’s singular enchantment — how we project ourselves onto him and focus our own existence through his lens.)

Bach’s diurnal presence took on a new form after Clemency’s hemorrhage and became an embodied testament to philosopher Josef Pieper’s soulful case for how Bach can save your soul. At first, with her life so brutally transformed, she found it difficult to even listen to his music, hearing in it the echoes of her former life and former self. But she eventually came to see Bach for what he always had been and always would be — the existential soundtrack to aliveness itself.

Along the protracted trajectory of her recovery, both physical and psychological, Clemency began not only listening to but playing Bach every single day. “To recover the Bach in me,” she says in her stunning BBC piece about the experience — her first word-work since that savage January day, and the most moving audio artwork I have heard in epochs.

With her hard-won words, she invites the voices of people from various walks of life, people who all play Bach daily to move through their own very different and differently challenging lives — from an elderly organist in Germany to a young cellist and community organizer in Kenya’s largest slum: Bach as meditation, Bach as motivation, Bach as calibration of being. (When we spoke that day from the hospital, I shared with Clemency something hardly anyone in my life knew: that I was a secret cellist, still learning the instrument, playing a single Bach cello suite day after day as I waded through a very different personal loss.)

Nina, my cello.

In exploring Bach as a daily ritual, Clemency draws on the legacy of the legendary Spanish Catalan cellist and conductor Pablo Casals (December 29, 1876–October 22, 1973) — Yo-Yo Ma’s hero and formative influence, widely considered the greatest cellist of all time, who at the age of ninety-three reflected so tenderly on how working with love prolongs your life. Casals began his autobiography by sharing the daily practice that had anchored him to his own life since the day he first fell under Bach’s enchantment:

For the past eighty years I have started each day in the same manner. It is not a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. I cannot think of doing otherwise. It is a sort of benediction on the house… It is a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being a human being. The music is never the same for me, never. Each day it is something new, fantastic and unbelievable.

Pablo Casals

In Bach, Casals found an analogue for the miracle of nature. Echoing the poet and philosopher of science Loren Eiseley’s poignant observation that “we forget that nature itself is one vast miracle transcending the reality of night and nothingness… that each one of us in his personal life repeats that miracle,” Casals reflected on his profound personal connection to nature, of which his love of music was an expression — a way to feel more alive, more awake to the wonder of aliveness:

I do not think a day passes in my life in which I fail to look with fresh amazement at the miracle of nature. It is there on every side. It can be simply a shadow on a mountainside, or a spider’s web gleaming with dew, or sunlight on the leaves of a tree. I have always especially loved the sea. Whenever possible, I have lived by the sea.

The sea and Bach were always intimately connected for Casals, who fell under Bach’s spell at thirteen. One saltwater-scented afternoon, his father bought him his first full-sized cello — an instrument looked down upon in Bach’s day, too unworthy to compose solos for. Father and son then walked to a musty old music shop in the nearby harbor — Casals never forgot “its faint smell of the sea” — where he acquired his other great portal into the “magic and mystery” of music: a yellowed sheaf of scores, faded with age, bearing the title Six Suites for Violoncello Solo, imprinted with “J.S. Bach.” They became his most cherished music.

A lifetime later, looking back on how these cello suites had grown to be regarded as “academic works, mechanical, without warmth” in the century and a half since Bach’s death in 1750, and how no cellist or violinist had performed any of them in its entirety, Casals exclaimed:

How could anyone think of them as being cold, when a whole radiance of space and poetry pours forth from them! They are the very essence of Bach, and Bach is the essence of music.

Casals and his generation had awakened to the radiance of Bach thanks to his contemporary and hero Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875–September 4, 1965). Although Schweitzer received the Nobel Peace Prize for his ethical-ecological philosophy of “Reverence for Life” — the philosophy that inspired sea-serenader Rachel Carson to dedicate her epoch-making Silent Spring to Schweitzer — music always remained his greatest animating passion.

Albert Schweitzer, early 1900s.

Schweitzer — born almost exactly 200 years after Bach, to a minister and a pastor’s daughter — was five when his father began giving him music lessons on the piano inherited from his organist grandfather. Before his legs were long enough to reach the pedals, the boy began playing the organ himself. By nine, he was substituting for the church organist at service.

And then he discovered Bach.

During the Classical and early Romantic eras that followed Bach’s, his music fell out of favor and slipped into academic obscurity, relegated to a thing of theory, syphoned of transcendence. The young Schweitzer, serving as an organist to the Paris Bach Society that he had co-founded while completing his doctoral dissertation on the spirituality of Kant’s philosophy at the Sorbonne, grew increasingly restless at this erasure of wonder and took it upon himself to remedy it. In those first years of the twentieth century, the only Bach material available to French readers — even those who cherished and played music — were only dry biographies that presented him as a cold mathematician of sound. A musician himself, Schweitzer longed to talk to other musicians and lovers of music about “the real nature of Bach’s music and its interpretation” — to resurrect Bach the artist, the enchanter, the virtuoso of feeling, the prophet of transcendence.

In 1902, Schweitzer spent his autumn vacation writing an essay to get the students at the Paris Conservatory excited about Bach. He quickly found himself with much more to say — so much more that, after using his meager funds to purchase a copy of Bach’s hard to find and extravagantly priced complete works, he spent the next two years turning the essay into a 455-page book that introduced the world to Bach the artist; the book that magnetized a largehearted embrace when Casals met Schweitzer in the 1930s.

In it, Schweitzer rescued Bach from the theorists who had coopted him for their ideologies of “pure music” — composition devoid of poetry, created solely as a mathematical exercise in harmonic perfection — and instead helped people see him as “a poet and painter in sound” who uses the language of music to paint entire landscapes of thought and feeling. He wrote:

The impulse to express poetic and pictorial concepts is the essence of music. It addresses itself to the listener’s creative imagination and seeks to kindle in him the feelings and visions with which the music was composed. But this it can do only if the person who uses the language of sound possesses the mysterious faculty of rendering thoughts with a superior clarity and precision. In this respect Bach is the greatest of the great… A soul that longs for peace out of the world’s unrest and has itself already tasted peace allows others to share its experience in this music.

Schweitzer observed that there are two types of artists: the subjective, who use their personality as the wellspring of their art and live as “a law unto themselves,” and the objective, whose “artistic personality exists independently of the human” and whose art is “not impersonal, but superpersonal,” channeling the universal and the eternal through the vessel of their being. Bach was such an artist:

It is as if he felt only one impulse, to express again what he already finds in existence, but to express it definitively, in unique perfection. It is not he who lives, it is the spirit of the time that lives in him. All the artistic endeavours, desires, creations, aspirations and errors of his own and of previous generations are concentrated and worked out to their conclusion in him.

[…]

Bach is thus a terminal point. Nothing comes from him; everything merely leads up to him…. This genius was not an individual, but a collective soul. Centuries and generations have laboured at this work, before the grandeur of which we halt in veneration. To anyone who has gone through the history of this epoch and knows what the end of it was, it is the history of that culminating spirit, as it was before it objectivated itself in a single personality.

He adds a poetic corollary to this eternal and aggregate nature of art:

We feel it to be a matter of course that some day a Bach shall come in whom all those, other Bachs shall find a posthumous existence.

The book project interrupted the young Schweitzer’s theological writings and accompanied him on the path to medical school, with Bach as his bridge between spirituality and science. Struggling financially, he paid for his medical education with proceeds from the Bach book and income from his Bach concerts.

Albert Schweitzer at his organ. LP cover art by Ben Shahn.

His passionate appreciation of Bach never left him. A decade later, as he headed for Africa to do the work out of which his philosophy of “Reverence for Life” arose — the work that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and Rachel Carson’s devotion — Schweitzer brought with him a pedal piano the Paris Bach Society had given him as the closest thing to an organ one could bring to the tropics so he could continue his daily Bach. In his autobiography, he reflected:

During the many peaceful hours I was able to spend with Bach during my four and a half years in the jungle I had penetrated deeper into the spirit of his works.

Hatcheting her way through the synaptic jungle, Clemency too found herself in more intimate contact with the spirit of Bach’s music, unfolding “the ultimate expression of anything and everything” — aliveness and mortality cleaved into the edge of being, the edge on which we are all perched every instant of every living day, each moment more precarious than we dare think, each more precious than we dare feel. How poignant to reread now this passage from Year of Wonder — a book Clemency wrote out of her belief, then only mental but not yet matter-tested, that “music holds the mystery of being alive”; that something singular happens “when we open up our lives to let such music in”:

Bach’s brain was clearly some kind of supercomputer: he wrote at least three thousand pieces whilst holding down a number of jobs, a couple of wives and twenty children.

[…]

The essence of what makes Bach the greatest eludes words, but it lies, I think, in the way he combines technical precision with socking great emotion. People often describe Bach as ‘mathematical’ because of the complex, intricate patterns in his music. But he is not clinical or scientific: as a human being he knew intense joy but also wild grief, and there’s never been a composer or songwriter more attuned to the vagaries of the human heart.

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Richard Dawkins on the Luckiness of Death

“The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia.”

Richard Dawkins on the Luckiness of Death

We are born into the certitude of our eventual death. Every once in a while, something — perhaps an encounter with a robin’s egg, perhaps a poem — staggers us with the awful, awe-filled wonder of aliveness, the sheer luck of it against the overwhelming cosmic odds of nonexistence. But alloyed with the awe is always the half-conscious grief that one day the light of consciousness will be extinguished. It is a heavy gift to hold, this doomed delirium of aliveness. It is also a buoyant gladness, if we are limber enough to stretch into the cosmic perspective that does not come naturally to us small, Earth-bound bipeds corticed with tender self-importance.

Consider this.

For each of us, one thing is true: Had any one variable been ever so subtly different — had your parents mated on a different day or at a different altitude, had the early universe cooled a fraction of a second faster after the Big Bang, you would not exist as the particular constellation of atoms configuring the particular consciousness that makes you you. Because chance plays such dice with the universe, and because the die dictates that the vast majority of energy and matter never had the luck of cohering into this doomed delirium of aliveness, it is, in some profound and practical sense, a staggering privilege to die — one that betokens the privilege of having lived. To lament death, then, is to lament our luck, for any negation of the possibility of death is a negation of the improbable miracle of life, a wish for there to be nothing to do the dying — nothing to have partaken of the beautiful, bittersweet temporality of aliveness.

Possible Certainties. Photograph by Maria Popova. (Available as a print.)

It is easier to bend the intuitive mind into this correct but counterintuitive perspective while walking in a cemetery at the height of summer. Doing this very thing while thinking these very thoughts, I was reminded of a passage from one of the most lucid and lens-clearing books written this side of Darwin — Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (public library) by the visionary and often controversial (which is the social fate of every visionary) British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

A civilization after Marcus Aurelius celebrated mortality as the key to living fully, half a millennium after Montaigne observed that “to lament that we shall not be alive a hundred years hence, is the same folly as to be sorry we were not alive a hundred years ago,” and a scientific epoch after Darwin contemplated the meaning of mortality in the wake of his beloved daughter’s death, Dawkins writes:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?

Complement with astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson’s exquisite “Antidotes to Fear of Death,” Nick Cave on grief as a portal to aliveness, and Christopher Hitchens on how to live with our mortality, then revisit the science of how alive you really are, examined through the curious lens of trees and Alan Turing.

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Can People Change? The Psychological Möbius Strip That Keeps Us from Ending Painful Relationships

Facing the logical fallacies that fuel painful emotional patterns and what it takes to break them with dignity, mindfulness, and emotional maturity.

“Across the morning sky, all the birds are leaving,” Nina Simone sang in 1969. “How can they know that it’s time to go?”

A decade earlier, a young Swiss psychologist traversed the Atlantic to begin a new life in America. Watching the migratory geese from the salt-stained railings of her own migratory vessel, she wrote in her journal: “How do these geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we, humans, know when it is time to move on?” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross would go on to revolutionize our understanding of what it means and what it takes to move on through her epoch-making 1969 model of the five stages of grief.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from a rare 1913 English edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

While the death of a loved one can make the notion of moving on unfathomable at first, it also makes it, by definition, inevitable — there is no other recourse, for such loss is unambiguous and irreversible. But there is a species of grief, spawned of a type of loss that is more ambiguous and elastic, that muddles the notion of moving on into an impassable and disorienting swamp: the cyclical grief of loving someone on the grounds of their highest nature and watching them fall short of it over and over, in damaging and hurtful ways, which you excuse over and over, because of their impassioned apologies and vows of reform, or because of the partly noble, partly naïve notion that a truly magnanimous person is one who always has the breadth of spirit to forgive — a notion rooted in a basic misapprehension of what forgiveness really means.

Art by Margaret C. Cook for Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.)

To move on from such relationships is one of life’s most difficult, triumphant feats of maturity — largely because we enter them and stay in them for reasons that far predate the particular person or situation, reasons rooted in our earliest attachments, those formative relationships in which perpetual optimism is both part of a child’s natural innocence and a necessary survival strategy for the helplessness of being in the care of a damaged and damaging adult.

Those dynamics — and how to break them with dignity, mindfulness, and emotional maturity — is what the soulful philosophical writer and School of Life founder Alain de Botton examines in one of his animated essays exploring the beautiful complexity of human relationships:

Because the unwillingness to walk away from a hurtful person is rooted in the belief that people change, the predicament gnaws at the fundaments of human nature and our ongoing effort to better understand what we are made of. Because relationships are the most fertile crucible of growth and transformation, because decades of research into psychology and the science of limbic revision have demonstrated that “who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love,” this wager we place on the prospect of change is a transcendently optimistic belief. It is also a dangerous belief, for optimism can often metastasize into willful blindness. (To say nothing of the counterpoint possibility that, across a span of time and unfaced trauma, people can change for the worse, their good qualities eroded, for instance, by the twin metastasis of addiction and unhappiness feeding each other as they destroy their host.)

Mary McCarthy captured the optimism in asking her friend Hannah Arendt: “What’s the use of falling in love if you both remain inertly as-you-were?” Arendt captured the danger in cautioning her against the “crooked corkscrews of the heart” that keep us in painful relationships — a phrase she borrowed from her poet-friend W.H. Auden, who struggled with the paradox himself, oscillating between the aspiration to be “the more loving one” and the lucid awareness that false enchantment can poison a life with its toxic staying power.

De Botton explores the bipolar pull of the can-people-change question in another animated essay that illuminates the logical fallacies into which emotion drags us:

Perhaps Arendt captured this best — this great paradox and great heartbreak of relationships with unhealed people, this false and dangerous optimism that we can ever love someone out of their trauma — in her observation that “you can’t expect somebody who loves you to treat you less cruelly than he would treat himself.”

Complement with Alain de Botton on what emotional maturity really means, then revisit Shel Silverstein’s sweet illustrated allegory for the secret to healthy relationships.

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The Vast Wonder of the World: An Illustrated Homage to Ernest Everett Just’s Trailblazing Life and Life-Redefining Science

How a visionary turned the art of noticing into a leap of science.

The Vast Wonder of the World: An Illustrated Homage to Ernest Everett Just’s Trailblazing Life and Life-Redefining Science

“I have marveled at the green urchins on a Maine shore, clinging to the exposed rock at low water of spring tides, where the beautiful coralline algae spread a rose-colored crust beneath the shining green of their bodies,” Rachel Carson wrote as she was revolutionizing our understanding of the marine world with her poetic science and preparing to awaken the modern environmental conscience. “At that place the bottom slopes away steeply and when the waves at low tide break on the crest of the slope, they drain back to the sea with a strong rush of water. Yet as each wave recedes, the urchins remain… undisturbed.”

So too with deepest discoveries of science, adhering to the bedrock of culture ideas that remain through the ebb and flow of ideologies. So too with the minds who produce them — the rebels, the visionaries, the pioneers who stand strong and undisturbed against the tide of their time.

Exactly twenty years before Carson began honing her urchin mind at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts — the JPL of marine biology — a young fellow urchin alighted there to do the same.

Ernest Everett Just (Marine Biological Laboratory Archives)

Ernest Everett Just (August 14, 1883–October 27, 1941), who soon came to be admired as the “black Apollo” of science by the Italian women working at the Neapolitan laboratory for which he left Woods Hole, is the subject of The Vast Wonder of the World (public library) by librarian-turned-author Mélina Mangal and Colombian illustrator Luisa Uribe — a lovey addition to the growing corpus of picture-book biographies of cultural heroes to foment young hearts with inspiration for growing vast minds and tenacious spirits.

The story begins in Woods Hole in 1911:

At twilight, a man lay on a dock, luring marine worms with a lantern. He scooped them out with his net and placed them in a bucket. He couldn’t wait to look at them more closely.

He knew the ways of the sea, though he was not a fisherman. His grandfather had built wharves, but he was not a dockworker…

He was a scientist.

But Ernest Everett Just was not like other scientists. Half a century after another researcher with a similar name and a similar scientific passion (the German marine biologist Ernst Haeckel) coined the word ecology and half a century before another marine biologist with similar outsider status (Rachel Carson) made it a household word, Ernest Everett Just “saw the whole, where others saw only parts.” Like Carson, he wrote poetry — that supreme art of interrelation; like every true visionary, he was above all a noticer — “he noticed details others failed to see.”

The story follows him from his childhood in South Carolina — where he watched the river become ocean, attended the school his mother founded in the town she established, and nearly lost his life to typhoid fever — to the laboratory where he developed his greatest scientific contribution: the understanding of how life begins from an egg.

Along the way, we see his mother’s school destroyed by a fire, we see Ernest leave home on a segregated steamship to continue his education in the North, we see him study with grief-redoubled focus after his mother dies of tuberculosis.

At Dartmouth, a biology class concentrates and consecrates his devotion to science as he looks through a microscope for the first time and discovers the miniature universe of the cell.

Born not long after the development of cell theory began revolutionizing our understanding of life, at a time when the cell was known to be the basic biological unit but its working parts were a mystery, Just devoted the rest of his cellular existence to illuminating the mystery.

He became a biology professor. He traveled to Woods Hole each summer to deepen his research and train young scientists. In an era when most biologists treated marine creatures as inanimate samples for study, he tenderly removed sea urchins and sand dollars from their habitat to transport them to the lab and encouraged his students to study them right there in the tide pool.

Day after obsessive day, night after late night, he peered at sea animals through the microscope, squinting at the edges of a radical idea, until it blazed with the empirical clarity of a discovery: Studying a sand dollar during fertilization, he observed how the egg cell was directing its own development — anathema to the accepted view that the sperm cell was responsible for the changes that coalesce into new life.

Despite the scientific esteem the discovery brought him, Just felt increasingly stifled by the swell of racism in his nation’s bosom, which kept him from obtaining a teaching position at a major university worthy of his talent and credentials. (Since history is not the factual record of events but the dramatic narrative our species superimposes over events, it is historical irony, in the classic Ancient Greek literary sense, that Just was among the biologists whose work laid the foundation for genomics and its sobering revelation that we share 98% of our DNA with a head of broccoli, dwarfing to absurdity the sub-negligible biological differences on which humans peg the artificial othernesses of their senseless biases.)

In his mid-forties, Just emigrated to Europe, where he completed and published the groundbreaking results of his research as the twin triumphs Basic Methods for Experiments on Eggs of Marine Animals and The Biology of the Cell Surface, both published in 1939, as the world’s deadliest war was syphoning life from humanity and syphoning the humanity from Life.

All biography is more like sculpture than like portraiture, tasked with the creative challenge of what to cut away from the immense monolith of a whole life in order to render a representative depiction of personhood — a challenge especially trying when sculpting a life-story for young readers, balancing beauty and complexity. The Vast Wonder of the World is more Grecian sculpture than Guernica, composed in the spirit of beautification and celebration — Just did, after all, live a beautiful and inspiring life — without wading into the confusions, controversies, and complexities that haunt any human life and haunted his. (My own orientation to writing nonfiction for young humans, especially dealing with science, is to lean on the side of truth; to trust that any truth, handled with basic sensitivity and humanity, is in the larger service of beauty — the beauty of reality — and that E.B. White was right in his life-tested conviction that anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time.”) The book, while lovely, ends on an abruptly and artificially upbeat note with the publication of Just’s magnum opus, leaving a great deal out: how he, like Frederick Douglass before him, fell in love with a German woman — a philosophy student — while still married; how, unlike Douglass, he had the moral courage to rise against the stigma of divorce; how the Nazis invaded Germany months after the landmark publication of his life’s work and interned him in a camp; how he was soon released and headed back to America, not knowing his own cells had been silently mutating along the way; how within months of his return he was dead by that metastatic mutation, leaving behind the stunning urchin spine of his trailblazing life and his life-redefining science.

Special thanks to my friend Stephon Alexander for bringing Ernest Everett Just’s story into my life.

For other lovely picture-book biographies of science visionaries who broadened the humanistic landscape of possibility with the example of their lives, savor the illustrated lives of astronomer Maria Mitchell and astronaut Ronald McNair, then revisit the inspiring story of Wangari Maathai, who became the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize with her tenacious work at the intersection of activism and ecology.

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