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Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine July/August 2019

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

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United States
Smithsonian Institute
11 Issues

in this issue

2 min.

Geraldine Brooks The author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel March eagerly participated in a unique travel experiment: visiting the Holy Land on a tour led by a Palestinian and an Israeli guide (p. 30). “I was lucky to travel with such an open-minded, intellectually curious group,” she says. “It was a privilege to watch as they unraveled the complicated threads of history, emotion and spiritual connection.” Brooks’ Middle East expertise is deep. Her first book, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, drew on her years of covering the region for the Wall Street Journal. Her most recent novel, The Secret Chord, is about King David. William T. Vollmann A National Book Awardwinning novelist, Vollmann turns what New York magazine calls his “hellaciously worldly” gaze on another singular American author—Herman…

3 min.

FROM THE EDITORS PAUL THEROUX’S PROFILE in June of Francisco Toledo, Mexico’s greatest living painter, showed “there are still many good people in the world working to make it a better place,” an Oakland, California, reader said. But our story about Stockton Rush’s plan to shuttle commercial passengers to the Titanic in a submarine gave Chuck Enzenauer a sinking feeling: “I’d suggest we leave deep-ocean exploration to the professionals, and not promote the ocean floor as a tourist destination,” he said on Facebook. Our cover story, a penetrating look at the Apollo 11 mission, ignited the greatest reactions. “Like Neil Armstrong, I am a naval aviator and knew him pretty well,” says Robert Dunn. “Apollo 11 remains one of the greatest American achievements even after 50 years.” Dennis Fakes of Huntsville,…

5 min.
under fire

LAST YEAR, THE DEADLIEST wildfire season in history swept across the western United States and parts of western Canada. In California alone, more than 8,000 fires burned nearly two million acres and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to suppress. In a matter of minutes, a town named Paradise was engulfed in flame and almost completely destroyed; 85 people died. The United States had been living in fear of such devastation since the early years of World War II when fire was seen as a weapon of war. And for almost as long, we’ve had Smokey Bear, sweetly but insistently reminding each of us of our role in protecting the country from this danger: “Remember—only you can prevent forest fires.” In 1942, Japanese submarines shelled an oil field outside Santa Barbara, near…

1 min.
slogans’ heroes

BERT 1952 During the Cold War, the Federal Civil Defense Administration created Bert the Turtle to show children how to respond if they witnessed an atomic flash. WELLBEE 1962 The CDC’s cheerful bee (drawn by a former Felix the Cat animator) promoted vaccinations. His slogan—“Be wise. Immunize”—seems just as relevant today. MR. ZIP 1964 Introduced by the post office to explain the ZIP code system, Mr. ZIP popped up everywhere from Dick Tracy cartoons to Ethel Merman-voiced TV ads. WOODSY OWL 1971 Woodsy still spreads the Forest Service’s message—now via social media and rap lyrics about composting (“It’s the rubbish rot!”). ENERGY ANT 1975 The Federal Energy Administration chose a tiny, “industrious creature” that “uses energy wisely” to lead a big conservation push during the oil crisis. MCGRUFF 1980 Inspired by the rumpled TV detective Columbo, the crime dog still helps…

1 min.
beautiful blunders

IN THE ERA before filters and Photoshop, photography handbooks showed idealized images that set the standards by which we still judge photos—and offered up tips on how to avoid pitfalls such as red eye. These classic tropes—the glamour shot, the perfect landscape—influence how we see the world, including what’s normal or deviant, notes Clément Chéroux, curator of a show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that explores what happens when artists deliberately ignore the rules. To create her 2013 image Girl from Contact Sheet (Darkroom Manuals), Sara Cwynar selected a portrait outtake published in a 1970s guide as an example of an imperfect image—the subject wasn’t looking at the lens—and introduced more “errors” by jiggling the page on a flatbed scanner. “I wanted to pull apart something really…

6 min.
sweet science

OF ALL THE GREAT DEBATES—Coke versus Pepsi, boxers versus briefs, shaken versus stirred—few have been more polarizing than chocolate versus vanilla. Those of us aligned with chocolate—the product of ground, roasted cacao beans—find it warm, comforting, ambrosial, and generally dismiss all things unchocolate as “vanilla,” meaning bland and boring. Those who prefer vanilla, a climbing orchid that bears long podlike fruit, praise its aromatic sweetness and note that it enhances the flavor of chocolate, which unembellished would be dull and kind of flat—in short, vanilla. The one aspect of the chocolate-and-vanilla divide that has seldom been disputed is the question of provenance. But over the last year two new studies have radically rejiggered the origin stories of both. On the chocolate front, the earliest chemical evidence of cacao use has been…