Five (or Ten) Books I Am Reading Now
The Measure of All Things by Ken Alder
The Five Books of Moses trans. and comm. by Robert Alter
Leonardo Da Vinci by Sherwin Nuland
Heraclitus trans. By Brooks Haxton
Patriot Reign by Michael Holley
The last of these books is the one I have finished. Although its title sounds like a spy novel, it is, in fact, the story of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots during the 2002 and 2003 seasons (football, for you non-sports types). The others, I think, are self explanatory with the exception of the first on the list. The Measure of All Things tells the story of two French astronomers on search of the perfect measure (the meter as it turns out) and all the trials and tribulations they encounter during the French Revolution.
What these books have in common is that they are all about smart people. Some of them, (Heraclitus, Moses, Da Vinci) are indisputably large figures who have influenced the way the world works and the way we think. They are also mysterious figures glimpsed dimly behind their achievements.
The pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus is probably the least known of the three. I first encountered him as a philosophy student at the University of Maine. Reading Heraclitus again has reminded me of how much this old poet has influenced the way I see the world. Of course, you do not need to be a Philosophy major to be influence by him. What we have of Heraclitus is wisdom literature similar to that of his contemporaries Lao-Tzu, Confucious, the writer of Ecclesiastes and others then and since. “For wisdom, listen not to me but to the Word, and know that all is one.”
The other books are about lesser-known figures. Yes, as hard as it may be to admit it, Leonardo Da Vinci was probably smarter than Bill Belichick is. These books tell the stories of smart people who struggle with adversity, who fail as much as they succeed and who, in their own way, help us to understand the world and our place in it. They also, particularly the two astronomers in Alder’s book, have to compromise and settle for imperfection (for the record, the astronomer’s names are Mechain and DeLambre). In fact, Moses had his bad days. Da Vinci had his spectacular failures and, probably, Heraclitus did, too!
We all, I think, dream sometimes of being the sort of person who can write the great novel, paint the great picture and think the great thought. We even wish that we could go to the Super Bowl again and again. Most of us, of course, will not. Like these famous (and not so famous) “geniuses” we pay homage to today, all we can hope for is to do our best to contribute to the progress of life. If we work hard, we might even reach some level of understanding and enlightenment for ourselves. Hey fellow non-geniuses, there is no shame in that! Really, these heroes of the intellect and Napoleons of the gridiron are more like us than not. Truly that is a blessing and a wonder.