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Tag: 5-minute books

Printed Pandemic: Plague Books

The Black Death of the fourteenth century, a disease named after the symptomatic boils and darkened skin caused by internal bleeding, claimed as many as 200 million lives. Even by the fifteenth century, when populations were just beginning to recover, outbreaks of the same plague were still regularly reoccurring throughout Europe.

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Point, don’t point

The pointed finger must surely be one of the oldest human gestures. In deep prehistory, long before the evolution of spoken language, and when we were considerably hairier, it is not difficult to imagine one of our primitive human ancestors pointing to a lion, a landmark, or a lemon.

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The Oldest Book in America

Printing was introduced into the Americas by the Italian Giovanni Paoli, better known as Juan Pablos. The first book issued from his press in Mexico City was Doctrina breve, a Spanish handbook of Christian doctrine, written by Juan de Zumárraga, Mexico’s first bishop, and printed in 1539 — making it the Western Hemisphere’s first printed […]

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The Geometer’s Compass

The European Renaissance was obsessed with classical antiquity. For many of its intellectuals it marked a cultural and scientific golden age. Many classical authors, among them the likes of Lucretius and Cicero, were rediscovered and celebrated. And among the disciplines given a new lease of life during the Renaissance was geometry. A branch of mathematics […]

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Hera’s Milky Way & the Origins of the Multiverse

To the Egyptians, it was a reflection of the Nile; for the Babylonians, a giant serpent or length of rope. In Greek mythology, the infant Heracles was brought to suckle at the breast of a sleeping Hera, goddess of childbirth. Suddenly awake, she pushes the child away and her milk splashes against the sky. The […]

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Long-Haired Stars & the End of the World

For the best part of 2,000 years, the earth stood at the center of the universe. It did not move but was surrounded by a series of embedded transparent spheres. Each hollow sphere, for the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and an outermost sphere or firmament of fixed stars, rotated around our […]

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Underground World & the man who (thought he) knew everything

Often described as the man who knew everything, Athanasius Kircher (1602–80) was a German Jesuit polymath of international renown during his own lifetime. He was a prolific author with an astoundingly broad range of interests, writing about everything, from geology and geography to sinology and egyptology, biology, medicine, engineering, theology, anthropology, music theory and linguistics.

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