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 / Science
Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine January/February 2019

Smithsonian Magazine takes you on a journey through history, science, world culture and technology with breathtaking images from around the world.

United States
Smithsonian Institute
Read More
11 Issues


3 min.

Jennifer Percy At the height of the Iraq War, Percy remembers reading about PTSD and soldiers’ suicides, and “feeling isolated as an American during the war.” To understand the war on terror, the renowned writer traveled to the Middle East and wrote Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism about the aftermath of a Special Operations rescue mission in Afghanistan. On Page 44, she profiles Joshua Casteel, an interrogator-turned-conscientious objector. “When it comes to war—and the search for the end of war—his path should give people hope.” A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Percy won the 2017 National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. Mark Bowden In 1993, Bowden begged his editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer to send him to Somalia. “I felt that if I could tell the story of a battle…

3 min.
from the editors

TWITTER: @SmithsonianMag INSTAGRAM: @smithsonianmagazine FACEBOOK: smithsonianmagazine “I HAVE NEVER been more proud of kids that were not my own,” Teresa Zieminski-Myers said of the Parkland, Florida, students (“Fighting for Their Lives”), who were among the recipients of our 2018 American Ingenuity Awards, the subject of December’s cover. Our investigative piece about public money spent on Confederate sites and monuments (“The Costs of the Confederacy”) sparked an outpouring of passionate commentary (and more than 25,000 shares on Facebook). Supporters of such memorials objected, saying the story was “liberal,” “biased,” a “diatribe” that succumbed to “political correctness.” But others welcomed the article as “well researched,” “eye-opening” and “fascinating.” Taxpayer money, said Laurie Wilding of Anaheim, California, “shouldn’t be spent on glorifications of people that made their livelihoods on the backs of enslaved people.” Remembering the Rebellion I…

4 min.
the imp of the perverse

ELISABETH BECKER WENT ALL THE WAY from Wisconsin to Philadelphia last July to introduce her two young children to America’s sacred text—not the Declaration of Independence, but Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” She walked the kids into one of the most important shrines of the Poe cult, a dark and dreary hallway in the Central Library, and sat them in front of a glass case holding Grip, the raven believed to have inspired Poe’s great poem, published in 1845. Becker, sitting on the floor with her charges, read aloud from a pop-up book of “The Raven.” Then she posted the photos on Facebook, where more than a million fans of some 100 Poe-themed Facebook pages lurk. It was just another suitably weird tribute to the most influential American author ever, a…

1 min.
our favorite haunts

Douglas Adams 1952 – 2001 In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams wondered where lost pens go. The answer: Fans leave them at his London grave. Frederick the Great 1712 – 1786 As king of Prussia, Frederick II issued 15 decrees promoting potatoes. Today they crop up at his tomb in Potsdam. Susan B. Anthony 1820 – 1906 After the recent election, hundreds of women traveled to Rochester, NY, to put “I voted” stickers on the suffragist’s grave. Jean-Michel Basquiat 1960 – 1988 Fans bring markers and paint to the New York City cemetery. Some carve his signature crown design into a nearby stump. John Wilkes Booth 1838 – 1865 In 1869, the assassin was buried beneath a blank tombstone in Baltimore. Now it is marked by piles of Lincoln pennies. Marilyn Monroe 1926 – 1962 The actress’s LA crypt is stained with red lipstick kisses.…

8 min.
the new philadelphia story

THESE WERE THE EARLY FIGHTERS, mostly men, a few women, their faces and thin frames captured in the watercolor portraits hanging in a hallway at Action Wellness in Philadelphia. They’re all gone now, lives cut short by a plague. “These were done by a local artist who would come in and ask our hospice clients if she could paint them,” says Kevin J. Burns, the executive director of the pioneering health center, which until June 2016 was called ActionAIDS. Other ActionAIDS clients, the healthier ones, were also immortalized, as extras in Jonathan Demme’s revelatory film Philadelphia. Of them, Burns says, “only one of them is still alive.” In all, some 50 people with AIDS appeared in the influential courtroom drama, which opened across the country 25 years ago this month. “Our…

2 min.
the last first on earth?

LEKSANDR KOLCHAK is best known as the man who led the White Russian government that opposed the Communists in the revolution and who was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1920. But explorers and geography nerds remember Kolchak as the young Russian Navy officer who, just 11 years earlier, calculated the whereabouts of the most remote place in all of the vast Arctic—a spot some 400 miles from the geographic North Pole that he said was “permanently covered with the ice fields of the Arctic Pack and inaccessible to navigation.” Because nothing is more alluring than a place that supposedly can’t be reached, the “pole of inaccessibility” would become an irresistible challenge for generations of adventurers. And it still is. Numerous expeditions have tried to cross the churning sea ice to reach…