Much more than your basic Roy G. Biv primer, this concise treatise on colors is as straightforward and as intoxicating as colors themselves. At the most basic physiological level, seeing a color is simply “the particular visual experience triggered by the detection of electromagnetic waves between about 390 and 700 nanometers.” At every other level, colors are more complex. There’s even something slightly miraculous about them; Newton saw just five colors in the rainbow, but because the world was created in seven days, he thought there should be seven, as in fact there are. Is believing seeing, or is seeing believing? “What we see are the colors of the mind,” Kastan says, since color vision is a mysterious interaction among the eye, the brain, light, objects, and any number of cultural associations. These various emotional, political, racial, and literary meanings are often contradictory and are constantly shifting. Many seem universal, like the equation of melancholy with blue (though blue is also part of the sky and water, so it’s no less true to call it transcendent and buoyant). Others are illusory: no actual flesh corresponds to white, black, or yellow, as Kastan’s discussion of Byron Kim’s “Synecdoche” brilliantly shows. For each of the ten colors Kastan discusses—the rainbow shades plus gray and the achromatic black and white—he has dozens of fascinating observations, from the etymology of the colors’ names to their artistic champions to their individual personalities. Violet is “purple lit from within,” for instance, and Indigo has a dark history. Orange took a long time to distinguish itself as a color, separate from the fruit. Which begs the question: do colors have an independent existence, apart from the objects that reflect them? And if so, where would that be? “Color happens rather than exists,” Kastan suggests. Think about that the next time you watch a sunset bursting into a color chart of reds.
If you’re like me, you pick up Henry Fountain’s new book, The Great Quake, and you immediately assume it’s about some California disaster. It’s not. This one happened in Alaska on March 27, 1964. At 9.2 on the Richter scale, it was the biggest earthquake ever recorded in North America and the second most powerful in world history. The human tragedy and physical damage of it all are dramatically and vividly captured by Fountain, a New York Times reporter, but that’s only part of the story. Fountain also explores how this major natural disaster ended up spurring scientific inquiry, largely thanks to the efforts of one individual, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey named George Plafker. The study that Plafker produced to explain what caused the earthquake in Alaska helped confirm idea of plate tectonics, which was then a controversial notion but is now widely accepted.
Drawing on decades of experience in Europe, initially as a journalist and later in the nonprofit world, William Drozdiak examines the unraveling of the dream of a united European order. While this dream had been fostered by such post-Cold War developments as the expansion of NATO and the creation of the Euro, it’s now being eroded by a range of challenges, including Britain’s move to leave the EU, the refugee surge and backlash to it, Russian aggression, and the renewed strength of authoritarian, populist, and nationalist alternatives. Compounding matters, the Trump administration is pursuing an America First agenda that calls into question U.S. security guarantees and existing trade pacts and is straining ties with European allies. In Fractured Continent, Drozdiak provides a concise, engaging narrative of how the threat to European cohesion is being experienced differently in each European capital.