Historical

The myth of Darwin’s ‘eureka!’ moment

January 11, 2011

The “eureka!” moment came for Charles Darwin in October 1838, as he was reading something Thomas Malthus had written about population. All of a sudden, the basic algorithm of natural selection popped into his head. At least, that’s how the story goes. In truth, there was no single aha moment.

Mathew Brady picture of failure?

December 29, 2010

Much of what we know about the American Civil War comes from the photographs of Mathew Brady, who together with his employees took thousands of photos of Union and Confederate soldiers alive and dead. Brady is credited with inventing photojournalism, yet he died almost penniless. Why?

Robert Bradford’s one great idea

December 7, 2010
Robert Bradford served one term as Massachusetts governor in the 1940s and was not re-elected. But his otherwise-nondescript political career did spawn a memorable program, which has blossomed into SOS Children’s Villages.

How to improve upon your best ideas

November 29, 2010

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel né Bönickhausen is famous for designing the Eiffel Tower. But Eiffel wasn’t content with simply designing one of the world’s most visited landmarks; he continued to find ways to use it.

Henri Becquerel and overwork

November 25, 2010
If you said that Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radiation, you’d be almost right. They were following up on Henri Becquerel’s discovery of radioactive particles emanating from uranium. But with dedication to one’s work often comes disregard for one’s health. Becquerel died suddenly at age 55, probably from handling radioactive stones.

Hadrian, a leader for the ages

October 28, 2010

The Roman emperor Hadrian, who ruled just after 100 A.D., is a model for leaders to this day. Examples of his good governance: wisdom, tolerance, modesty, legacy.

Look for the simplest solution

October 21, 2010

As he surveyed the skies one night in 1781, William Herschel noticed an object he first thought to be a comet. Upon moving to a bigger telescope, though, Herschel realized that this was an undiscovered planet, subsequently named Uranus. The peculiar thing about Herschel’s discovery isn’t so much the discovery itself …

Building the Brooklyn Bridge

October 19, 2010

Emily Roebling was a working mother ahead of her time. Her father-in-law—a serious, humorless, severe man—was the visionary who designed the Brooklyn Bridge. Enlisted into service after her father-in-law was killed and her husband injured, she eventually was considered the bridge’s chief engineer. It took 14 years and the pretense that her husband was still in charge. Here’s how she defied naysayers who called the bridge a “wild experiment.”

Churchill beat more than one demon

September 13, 2010

For obvious reasons, we think of Winston Churchill as a great leader in wartime, defying all odds to save Britain from the Nazis. Churchill also was a great leader from the start, defying odds to push legislation through Parliament. Here’s a taste of that earlier time, roughly 1908-1911:

Treat your subjects as Akbar would

September 13, 2010
For a 16th century conqueror, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar—who ruled most of northern India and Afghanistan between 1556 and 1605—was surprisingly tolerant of his subjects. Akbar provides a model of benevolent leadership.