I have said it here before, and I will doubtless say it again: I hoard collect reference books. There is something about the words “atlas,” “dictionary,” or “encyclopedia” in a title that causes me to stop and take a second look at a remainder table, second hand bookstore or library sale.* I own dictionaries for…

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One of the unexpected things I learned during our visit to Nuremberg over the holidays is that the city was the home to the first mass-produced graphite lead pencils, beginning in 1662. Before we visited Nuremberg, I hadn’t given the history of pencils much thought.* In fact, the only piece of pencil history that I…

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  Several years ago, I reported on an excellent book  about how pianist Van Cliburn’s victory at Russia’s first Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 helped change the course of the Cold War. It was a revelation, but I didn’t realize that the culture battles of the Cold War were only one example of the role that…

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