New and noteworthy – 6 December 2018

When the press turned left, how artists turned on to Einstein’s universe and the ins and outs of illuminations

December 6, 2018
Source: iStock

On Press: The Liberal Values That Shaped the News
Matthew Pressman
Harvard University Press

Something dramatic changed in American journalism between 1960 and 1980, claims Matthew Pressman. Instead of just a bald catalogue of what politicians and officials were doing and saying, news coverage in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, for example, began to reflect a distinctive set of values: “mistrust of the wealthy and powerful, sympathy for the dispossessed, belief in the government’s responsibility to address social ills”. Although “not designed to serve any ideological agenda”, the result, Pressman admits, was “a news product more satisfying to the centre-left than to those who are right of centre”. On Press explores this decisive liberal turn and its enduring impact down to today.

Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein
Edited by Vanja V. Malloy
MIT Press and the Mead Art Museum

In 1936, a Hungarian poet called Charles Sirató brought together a group of leading artists – including Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp and Wassily Kandinsky – to launch a Dimensionist Manifesto. This argued that “all the old borders and barriers of the arts disappear” in response to the new four-dimensional universe revealed by Einstein and his fellow physicists. How the artists responded to the challenge is explored in an exhibition at Berkeley Art Gallery. This accompanying book considers both “modern science in American art” and “revolutions in art and science”. It also includes the first English translation of Sirató’s “History of the Dimensionist Manifesto”.

Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts: A Guide to Technical Terms
Michelle P. Brown; revised by Elizabeth C. Teviotdale and Nancy K. Turner
Getty Publications

This standard work was published close to a quarter of a century ago and has often been reprinted. It has now been substantially revised, updated and lavishly illustrated with images of manuscripts drawn largely from the Getty Museum’s collection. Exploring techniques, materials, processes and styles, it includes short, sharp definitions of everything from antiphonals, blind tooling, canon pages and carpet pages to volvelles, watermarks, xylographs and zoomorphic initials. Equally useful for scholars, students and casual museum visitors, it provides many of the essential tools for both understanding and enjoying these beautiful books.

Germany’s Ancient Pasts: Archaeology and Historical Interpretation since 1700
Brent Maner
Chicago University Press

An archaeologist called Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931), writes Brent Maner, “claimed that a ‘Germanic’ people had continuously inhabited central and northern Europe from the Bronze Age to his present day”. The Nazis, as is well known, promoted similar ideas in even more noxious forms. Yet despite an undeniable link between archaeology and racism, this is only half the story. Many German archaeologists were far more interested in local or pan-European history and, unlike fiction writers, very cautious in making any claims about their “ancestors”. This book examines the often ignored “non-national approaches to archaeology [that] endured alongside the racist and nationalist perversion of prehistory”.

Einstein’s Monsters: The Life and Times of Black Holes
Chris Impey

Black holes, says Chris Impey, are “the best known and least understood objects in the universe”. Despite being “co-opted by pop culture”, they are not “cosmic vacuum cleaners”, and we really don’t need to worry too much about them – the nearest examples are several hundred trillion miles away. Yet despite the reservations of many physicists, they certainly exist – even if, as Impey puts it, “there are only about three dozen stellar corpses proven to be black holes beyond reasonable doubt”. Einstein’s Monsters cuts through the “fiendishly complex” mathematics to set out the evidence for black holes, and how they are born and die.

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