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A very special edition: Black Hole Blues

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WelcomeHello, Blue! This is a Very Irregular Mailing, the kind I send once or twice a year when I have something particularly thrilling to share outside of Brain Pickings. (If you missed last week's regular edition – a 9th-century illustrated ode to the joy of uncompetitive purposefulness, James Baldwin on the artist's struggle, the women who powered space exploration, and Erich Fromm on human nature – you can catch up right here.)

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

In this week's New York Times Book Review, I write about Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by astrophysicist and novelist Janna Levin. It's a miraculously beautiful book about the story of one of the most important scientific discoveries ever made – the detection of gravitational waves, first imagined by Einstein in 1915 and finally a reality that opens up a new era of exploring the universe through sound after 500 years of knowing it only through light.

I enjoyed the book so thoroughly that this is how my galley ended up:

Since Brain Pickings takes nearly every waking moment of my day, I partake in such time- and thought-consuming extracurricular adventures only rarely, when a book so rivets me that I feel a kind of civic duty to get it into the hands, hearts, and minds of as many people as possible. This particular book is one of the finest I've ever read – the kind that will be read and cherished a century from now. Dr. Levin is a splendid writer of extraordinary intellectual elegance – partway between Galileo and Goethe, she fuses her scientific scrupulousness with remarkable poetic potency.

From the review, a labor of love months in the making:

Levin profiles the key figures in this revolution with Dostoyevskian insight into the often irrational human psychology animating this rigorous project of reason. She counters the mad-genius archetype with evidence that trailblazing scientists accomplish great feats not because of their idiosyncrasies and ferocious egos but despite them, often skirting self-destruction with only a measure of luck and a generous dose of forgiveness from sympathetic peers.

[...]

But as redemptive as the story of the countless trials and unlikely triumph may be, what makes the book most rewarding is Levin’s exquisite prose, which bears the mark of a first-rate writer: an acute critical mind haloed with a generosity of spirit.

You can read the rest here. I hope you find as much joy in reading it as I did in writing it.

You can find Dr. Levin on Twitter under @JannaLevin.

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