“Pathogens are among the most ancient, numerous and powerful forms of life (and near-life) on the planet. These replication machines possess the power to shape not only our societies, but all life on earth. From the benign to the lethal, viruses, bacteria, prions and other disease-causing agents are the perfect literary subjects.”
“Antarctica is a place of extremes: coldest place on earth; home of the world’s largest desert; land of constant sun and constant night. So it stands to reason that Antarctica draws only the most intrepid and unique individuals.
While the continent has no permanent population, numerous scientists and support staff are scattered across its surface. It is here, by design, that Antarctica is meant to avoid at least one polarizing factor: politics. Operated under the Antarctic Treaty System, the South Pole is meant to be a brumal Eden of science, where research centers are freed from the political binds that exist in the world above.”
Blatt’s approach sounds unorthodox, because, as he so aptly notes, we are used to studying literature in a granular way. We spend days, weeks, months on the reading and analysis of one work. We draw conclusions about culture and place until we exsanguinate it, and then we place it within a broader canon. What Blatt’s numbers can do is study the aggregate, massive swaths of work that can reveal broader trends than any single book can. More data, as far as science is concerned, is always better. The more points one can make coalesce into a picture, the better the odds of that picture being accurate.
“Athletes, like everyone else, suffer from mental-health issues—ailments generally far more difficult to assess than a pulled muscle or broken bone. Unlike everyone else, however, athletes perform in controlled, quantified environments. A person who isn’t in training doesn’t always have crystal-clear markers for how an anxiety disorder impacts their life, but an athlete faces cold numbers every time they step on the field: distances run, assists made, goals scored, games won.”
“Lisa Randall is a Great Spider, in the most generous and pulchritudinous way such an analogue can be extended. She gathers a great many threads—some immediate, sticky, miring us in our day-to-day lives, and others thin, invisible, the incomprehensible ligature of existence—and weaves them into a web encompassing, in this particular instance, nothing less than the entirety of the Universe. She then shares this entirety with academic grace in the telescopic Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe.”