Temma Ehrenfeld Articles

With Pen in Hand

Onward and upward—"and the disappearance of handwriting.
Dec 14, 2015

New York

The Morgan Library and Museum, an antique among museums, retains a rare group of documents purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, beginning in the 1890s, the great era of American fascination with handwriting. We can see Beethoven's manuscript for his Violin and Piano Sonata in G Major, op. 96, with the composer's ferocious scrawl obliterating a section. A couple of cases away is a manuscript of Mozart, famously free of any corrections, proving that music came through him as if it were the very voice of God.

In a Morgan exhibit of diaries, there is Einstein, writing in German, breaking off abruptly and continuing in algebra that seems to spill from his pen. The shock is seeing that he was truly multilingual, math simply

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The Phonespinners

Are bicycles built for two?
Sep 14, 2015

Fire Island, New York
Here on Fire Island we must steer carefully around each other​—​​and until this summer, I never saw anyone text on a bike.

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Hogs in Whole

Mankind has yet to meet the pigs halfway.
Aug 24, 2015

Ask which domesticated animal is most like humans, and the answer comes quickly: “Dogs!” Like us, dogs live in hierarchical packs, thrive on affection, and are smarter than the average cow, sheep, or goat. Yet all this is also true of the pig. 

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Gray Matters

The brain knows what people think, and vice versa.
Apr 20, 2015

Our fascination with the brain seems to come from a longing to make psychology more like a hard science and hence, we assume, more useful. Physics gave us electricity, skyscrapers, and the Internet. Chemistry gave us medicine and more fresh food. Psychology is still taking baby steps, designing empirical tests of unsurprising observations. It may be too much to expect science to reliably save marriages, but how desperately we need the secret to stopping people from burning others alive. 

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Once and Future Kings

A vertebrate’s tribute to our numerous cohabitants
Jan 05, 2015

How easily the small eludes the big. We say that bugs will inherit the Earth, as if it wasn’t theirs already. Bugs made the Earth. Long ago, tiny spineless creatures with legs arrived on the wet shoreline, probably to escape predators at sea, and made land habitable for plants. The simultaneous accommodation and war between plants and insects, the six-legged descendants of those first crawlers, would shape the terrestrial ecosystem. 

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Agony and Ivory

Following the elephants to victory in Burma
Nov 10, 2014

The fighting in Burma would be the longest campaign of World War II, under conditions so bad that the Japanese called the place jigoku—hell. Soldiers hiked across hot, dry plains one day and slogged through mud under pelting rain the next. They fought off blackflies, mosquitoes, ticks, and leeches, as well as dysentery, cholera, dengue fever, scabies, trench foot, yaws, and malaria.

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Honey Trap

The buzz about bees is not necessarily good
Sep 08, 2014

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, / And live alone in the bee-loud glade, wrote W. B. Yeats while living in London. Nearly a century later, Sylvia Plath, who kept hives with her husband, composed five poems about bees in the very same house.

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Natural Design

The birds and the bees and the engineering instinct
Jul 21, 2014

Louis Sullivan, an early advocate of office towers, called rooms “cells,” meaning the cells of plants, not those of monks or prisoners. Plants inspire architecture, as do structures built by animals and insects. Call them nests, hills, reefs, hives, or something else—homes in nature efficiently use the materials at hand to meet idiosyncratic needs. For the 120 color photographs here, the German wildlife photographer Ingo Arndt spent two years seeking out in-situ shots, as well as subjects for studio compositions.

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Hello, Suckers

What you don’t know about the versatile octopus.
May 12, 2014

This volume is full of unexpected revelations, not for the squeamish, starting with the fact that the preferred plural of “octopus” is “octopuses,” not “octopi.” Octopuses, we learn, can lurch onto land and can change color and shape in seconds. After 272 pages in the company of these animals, they no longer seem weird because of their four pairs of arms lined with suction cups. They’re weird because of the ways they contradict our ideas about intelligence. 

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Doing Harm

The alternatives to medicine can be sickening.
Dec 02, 2013

My mother, who admired Linus Pauling, kept three rows of bottles filled with vitamins and herbs in her kitchen, as well as stacks of newsletters with advice about “natural” remedies. She maintained an admirable figure on a low-fat, low-meat diet and enjoyed a full, happy life. So when she died of a rare cancer at 78, people were especially surprised. “It was all that chlorine at the pool,” one griever surmised. 

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Fathers and Sons

‘Special’ children in a less-than-special world.
May 13, 2013

Every Christmas I receive a charming letter from a college friend I’ll call Doug. Because we live far from each other, I have never met his three children. Reading his letters carefully, I could see that one child wasn’t flourishing as well as the others. So this past winter, when Doug and I met in person for the first time in years, I wasn’t surprised when he told me that this son was “special.” On certain tests, the boy is as bright as his siblings, who are racing through honors programs—yet he cannot remember the names of his classmates or teachers.

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Perchance to Dream

One-third of a lifetime in a twilight of the mind.
Oct 15, 2012

David K. Randall begins this glide through dreamland with a quote from Aldous Huxley: “That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all natural graces, sleep.” 

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Genes Don't Fit

Deciphering the code of DNA and identity.
Jun 04, 2012

Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford, confesses that when he began this book he was influenced by Easy Rider, which he had seen again for the first time in years, and was drawn to the aimless wandering of its three male characters.

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