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Biography and Memoir

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The Real Life and Celestial Adventures of Tristan Tzara

Tristan Tzara, one of the most important figures in the twentieth century’s most famous avant-garde movements, was born Samuel Rosenstock (or Samueli Rosenstok) in a provincial Romanian town, on April 16 (or 17, or 14, or 28) in 1896. Tzara became Tzara twenty years later at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, when he and others (including Marcel Janco, Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, and Hans Arp) invented Dada with a series of chaotic performances including multilingual (and nonlingual) shouting, music, drumming, and calisthenics.

The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman

The Juilliard-trained cellist Charlotte Moorman sat nude behind a cello of carved ice, performed while dangling from helium-filled balloons, and deployed an array of instruments on The Mike Douglas Show that included her cello, a whistle, a cap gun, a gong, and a belch. She did a striptease while playing Bach in Nam June Paik’s Sonata for Adults Only.

An Indian Woman's American Journey

Padma Desai grew up in the 1930s in the provincial world of Surat, India, where she had a sheltered and strict upbringing in a traditional Gujarati Anavil Brahmin family. Her academic brilliance won her a scholarship to Bombay University, where the first heady taste of freedom in the big city led to tragic consequences—seduction by a fellow student whom she was then compelled to marry. In a failed attempt to end this disastrous first marriage, she converted to Christianity.

On September 2, 1971, the chemist Paul Lauterbur had an idea that would change the practice of medical research. Considering recent research findings about the use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) signals to detect tumors in tissue samples, Lauterbur realized that the information from NMR signals could be recovered in the form of images—and thus obtained noninvasively from a living subject. It was an unexpected epiphany: he was eating a hamburger at the time. Lauterbur rushed out to buy a notebook in which to work out his idea; he completed his notes a few days later.

A Pataphysical Life

When Alfred Jarry died in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, he was a legendary figure in Paris--but this had more to do with his bohemian lifestyle and scandalous behavior than his literary achievements. A century later, Jarry is firmly established as one of the leading figures of the artistic avant-garde. Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Jean Baudrillard, Philip K. Dick, Paul McCartney, DJ Spooky, Peter Greenaway, and J. G. Ballard are among his many admirers.

An Experimental Memoir

J. Allan Hobson's scientific experimentation began in childhood, with a soot-filled investigation into the capacity of a chimney to admit Santa Claus. (He discovered that even with the damper open the chimney was far too narrow.) Hobson’s life as an experimentalist has continued through a pioneering career devoted to aligning psychology and biology and to investigating the relationship of dreaming and consciousness. In Dream Life, Hobson conducts an experimental investigation into his life and work.

From Enlightenment to Neuroscience

Although Hermann von Helmholtz was one of most remarkable figures of nineteenth-century science, he is little known outside his native Germany. Helmholtz (1821–1894) made significant contributions to the study of vision and perception and was also influential in the painting, music, and literature of the time; one of his major works analyzed tone in music.

Zhores Alferov's Life in Communist Science

In 2000, Russian scientist Zhores Alferov shared the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of the heterojunction, a semiconductor device the practical applications of which include LEDs, rapid transistors, and the microchip. The Prize was the culmination of a career in Soviet science that spanned the eras of Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev--and continues today in the postcommunist Russia of Putin and Medvedev.

Days and Nights of an Anarchist Whore

They have to come back to us, because we know every detail of their orgasms, their little caprices, their little weaknesses and strengths. We know all of them. I mean, where do you expect them to go? They'll be disappointed anywhere else. Except for with us, because we know them like the back of our hand. As soon as they get in the door, it's like we'd made them ourselves. We know all the right things to say, all the gestures, there're no surprises.
—from The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal

A Hollywood biopic about the life of computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992) would go like this: a young professor abandons the ivy-covered walls of academia to serve her country in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and finds herself on the front lines of the computer revolution. She works hard to succeed in the all-male computer industry, is almost brought down by personal problems but survives them, and ends her career as a celebrated elder stateswoman of computing, a heroine to thousands, hailed as the inventor of computer programming.

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