The Washington Post

Life in the stacks

Just a quick note: I’m on my way to Aspen, if wildfires and flight controllers and United Airlines permit. I’m moderating three talks at the Ideas Festival, which is, yes, quite an easy gig and a boondoggle for the ages. But I could use an Aspen fix. Mountains. Tumbling rivers. Big ideas. Those nifty modernist rooms at the Meadows. The Ute trail. Maybe a jaunt to the Maroon Bells? Just get me there, please.

On the flight to Denver I read a terrific piece by Ben Ratliff in the Times about browsing the stacks in Butler Library at Columbia University. Please read. I think I wrote something along those lines a while back. Hang on...Googling...hmmm...can’t find it. But I did find this thing about sleeping in the library.

And speaking of libraries, there’s a big one on Capitol Hill and it now houses the Carl Sagan papers, as I wrote in this morning's paper. I had an exclusive look at the material and it’s pretty cool, and vast.

My favorite line is in a letter from Sagan to a fellow Cornell professor, Roald Hoffman, on Oct. 2, 1996, just a couple of months before Sagan died:

“I believe the reason that science has proved unsatisfactory is because what it serves up is what’s true – or at least the best approximation to what’s true – rather than what feels good.”

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."


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