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Not just a nightly ritual

Issue Date: Apr 30, 2014
Sleep is usually seen as the domain of physicians, psychiatrists and mental health specialists, even writers and folklorists. Historical accounts of sleep are rare. In 2001, American historian Roger Ekirch published a seminal paper revealing a wealth of historical evidence showing that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks at night.

Kitchen gadgets

Issue Date: Apr 30, 2014
Traditionally, the wooden spoon is given as a prize to the loser of a competition. It does not look like sophisticated “technology”. It does not switch on and off or make funny noises. It has no patent or guarantee. There is nothing futuristic or shiny or clever about it. But the humble eating tool has science on its side. Wood is non-abrasive and, therefore, gentle on pans—you can scrape away without fear of scarring the metal surface.

An uncelebrated genius

Author(s): Pratul Raturi
Issue Date: Mar 31, 2014
This is a somewhat unique book. Plague and Cholera belongs to the almost extinct genre of fictionalised biography. Its protagonist Alexandre Yersin is remembered as the discoverer of the bacillus responsible for the bubonic plague.

The pros and cons of four wheels

Issue Date: Feb 15, 2014
As a student in the 1980s in Kolkata—it was then called Calcutta—I looked forward to the Statesman Vintage and Classic Car Rally as a break from the tedium of school life. I was not much of a car buff and my parents did not have a car. But the Austins, Buick and Roll Royces at the show exerted an ineffable pull. It was fascinating to know that Stalin, one of the biggest critics of fascist Germany, used a Mercedes.

Star among star gazers

Author(s): Pratul Raturi
Issue Date: Jan 31, 2014
The trouble with being the world’s most celebrated scientist is that when you come to write your own memoir, much of it has been said before. Including trivia. For example, many books about Stephen Hawking point out that he was born exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo. In his memoir, My Brief History, Hawking repeats the line, but only in jest. He reckons that 200,000 other babies were born on January 8, 1942 and then quips, “I don’t know whether any of them was later interested in astronomy.”

Assam and its notion of nationhood

Author(s): Rajkamal Goswami
Issue Date: Jan 15, 2014
Assam, like the other north-eastern states, has had a long-standing grouse about being marginalised in popular and academic discourses. Jayeeta Sharma’s Empire’s Garden: Assam and the making of India is a step towards addressing this grouse.

The dying kitchen story

Author(s): J Asha 
Issue Date: Dec 31, 2013
Around 250,000 years ago, a piece of raw meat fell into a fire. It was easier to chew and tasted good. Historians believe this to be the most plausible explanation for the genesis of cooking.

Media was always social

Issue Date: Dec 15, 2013
Imagine an author who does not expect payment for his work, who circulates his writing for free and craves for a large readership. Sounds like a blogger. But in Tom Standage’s Writing on the wall, this description is actually that of Cicero. The 10th century BC Roman philosopher was one of the most prolific writers of his time.

A doctor at the pole

Issue Date: Nov 30, 2013
After finishing medical school in Edinburgh, Gavin Francis did not want to be another run-of-the-mill physician. A life spent in slavish dedication to careerism was not for him. The young medical graduate saw Antarctica as the place where he would work for the rest of his professional life. He enlisted himself as a doctor at the Halley Research Station, a British Antarctic Survey base formerly known as Ice Station Zebra.

Cyber dystopia

Author(s): R Sridhar 
Issue Date: Nov 15, 2013
Social media is the rage among people of diverse persuasions. It is acclaimed as the critical agency behind last year’s political revolutions in the Arab world. Politicians, scientists, activists, artists, even sportspersons find it indispensable. Last heard, Iran’s political establishment was trying to shed its bellicose attitude towards Facebook.
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