Relatively Interesting | Newberry

Relatively Interesting

We are encouraging donations this month. April used to be a No Donations Month, but we’re having such fun we decided to throw caution to the winds and just let you send us more presents.

We feel you are taking advantage of our good nature, however, when you play an April Fool’s joke on April 2. That’s when the truck pulled into the parking lot, entirely unannounced, with 90 boxes of books for us. It was KIND of funny, yes, but when they followed it up on April 3 with a second truck, our laughter was a bit forced. Particularly when it developed that they had run out of boxes and had instead used row upon row of plastic garbage cans. These had to be dumped into boxes we brought up: a sight distressing to any real book person’s eyes, even when the garbage cans are cleaned out before the books are tossed in.

Don’t worry: these were just garbage cans they had used for the dust they’d swept out of the library they were cleaning. It was a LOT of dust, but dust is curable (a lot of it was kept in the parking lot.) And the books turned out to be memorable for us, as we hope they will be memorable for you come July.

The late owner of the books was a man of many parts. One large part seems to have been a lifelong quest to get to the bottom of things. (It can’t be done, but don’t tell book buyers.) The sheer quantity of Mathematics, Science, and Philosophy, particularly the Philosophy of Mathematics and Science, is stunning. Descartes filled about three boxes, Galileo another two. Sir Isaac Newton accounted for one box, and Albert Einstein two so far. Bishop Berkeley (the fellow who discussed trees falling in the forest) takes up a couple of boxes, while Locke and Hume each probably accounted for a box. And there was plenty of room for Wittgenstein, Gauss, Planck, Bohr…and I don’t know who-all else. There was a nice little collection of books by J.L. Austin, the philosopher whose How To Do Things With Words was featured in the Newberry’s most recent Edible Book Contest (as How to Do Things With Curds.)

And most of these were books for reading, too. He doesn’t seem to have bothered much with first editions, except by accident. He honestly wanted to know about those areas where physics, higher mathematics, and philosophy meet. (Yeah, he also read hardboiled mysteries and had a LOT of books about guns, but one can’t always contemplate the abstract without referring to the concrete.)

So there haven’t been a lot of collectibles coming out of this collection. (So far: we’ve only made it through about two-thirds of the trucks, and they were threatening a third truck to come…perhaps when they bought more garbage cans.) There are a few: a very early book on Relativity, by Albert and his friends, some early things by Max and Niels and that lady who wrote mathematics textbooks entirely in verse. Oh, and there’s this pamphlet.

Somehow, it survived the tumble from garbage can to box without being bent or crumpled. It’s not that old, dating from 1980, but it’s so thin and ephemeral that it might have easily been smashed into a ball of wrinkles. I’m glad it didn’t, for the folks who sell things on Amazon will not let you have this dainty for less than $1200. (Nobody has one for sale at the moment. I always knock things down to about $1,000 when they’re out of stock.)

It’s nothing but a lecture on the future, if any, of theoretical physics, an inaugural piece by Cambridge’s newest professor in 1980. Kid named Stephen Hawking.

Okay, we forgive the truck. Maybe even the garbage cans.

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