Map of Alexandria (1575)

When you take a road trip analog style with a piece of paper that shows where you are, are you using a map or an atlas? Here’s the difference.

A map is designed for traveling. It shows the ways of travel, especially for motorists, from one location to another. Roads and highways are typically shown on a map, but there are different kinds of maps for different means of travel. …


Cachuma Ranch by Eyvind Earle

The difference between a farm and a ranch is a matter of size and scope.

While a farm can occupy hundreds of acres, ranches often require much more acreage to operate. Waggoner Ranch, the largest ranch in the United States, for example, has 535,000+ acres (800+ square miles!). The largest farm in the U.S., by contrast, is ~190,000 acres.

A ranch is dedicated to livestock-raising operations, especially for cattle, sheep, and horses.

Though farms often have livestock such as pigs and cows, the primary activity is dedicated to growing…


Aldo Leopold in the Rio Gavilan region of the northern Sierra Madre (Wikicommons)

The complete text of the classic essay.

In 1939, as part of the Wisconsin Farm and Home Week observance at the University of Wisconsin, the philosopher, scientist, forester, and conservationist Aldo Leopold gave a lecture called “The Farmer as a Conservationist.” It was a seminal moment in the American environmental movement.

Leopold is often credited with founding the science of wildlife management. His work and career emphasized biodiversity and influenced the development of what we know as environmental ethics and wildlife conservation. Among his best-known ideas is the “land ethic,” which calls for an ethical, caring relationship between people and nature.

In this masterful lecture, Leopold put…


Isamu Noguchi’s plans for a Japanese memorial were scrapped when it was discovered he was American

On this day, August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb — Little Boy — on Hiroshima, Japan. The coyly nicknamed weapon destroyed a city; more than 150,000 civilians were murdered. Three days later the U.S., the only country to use nuclear weapons in war, dropped an even bigger bomb (Fat Man) on the city of Nagasaki, killing another 80,000 Japanese people. Soon after, Japan surrendered.

In the 1950s, the Japanese government sought designs for a memorial in Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park stands today in the epicenter of the atomic explosion, in what was once Hiroshima’s…


With three examples from literature of each one

a painting with three bridges in a landscape
a painting with three bridges in a landscape
“Bridges” (1905) by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (public domain)

Excellent writers in every genre — fiction and nonfiction alike — naturally use several literary devices. Symbolism, metaphor, allegory, and allusion are common instruments in the writer’s kit, elegant shorthands and poetic means to evoke something that the English language just can’t capture, no matter how many ways you write it.

This essay’s title is self-explanatory, so let’s get to it.

Symbolism

A symbol is a signifier that communicates something beyond itself, such as “the wedding ring, the cross, the national flag, the colors of a traffic light, the red rose, the black of mourning, the candles on a dinner table…”…


I would prefer not to
I would prefer not to

A 19th-century modernist novella that resonates in a time of Instagram, Mars rovers, and communication by emoji

Why does a mid-19th century modernist novella about an obstinate copyist continue to resonate in a time of Instagram, Mars rovers, electric cars, and communication by emoji?

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street was first published anonymously in two installments in Putnam’s Magazine, in November and December 1853. The combined story was subsequently included in Melville’s short story collection The Piazza Tales, published in 1856 by Dix & Edwards.

In the story, a Wall Street lawyer hires a clerk whose job it is to hand copy legal documents. From the moment the employer-narrator first sees Bartleby, he is…


Detail of “Orange, Red, Yellow” (1961) by Mark Rothko
Detail of “Orange, Red, Yellow” (1961) by Mark Rothko
Detail of “Orange, Red, Yellow” (1961) by Mark Rothko

Rothko’s signature work reflects a life without definition or a center, a life unmoored

There are no edges in Rothko’s sublime abstractions, only liminal spaces. The boundaries between the multiforms[1] for which he is most well known are unfixed, allowing colors to blend into each other softly, much the same way that smoke gently fills and empty room. Could it be that because Rothko never fully belonged anywhere or to any group that his work is subconsciously ambiguous? Like his feather-edged paintings, the contours of his own life aren’t sharp; they’re indistinct. Rothko’s signature work reflects a life without definition or a center, a life unmoored.

Rothko did not start out painting sublime art…


What do artists say when they paint backbreaking work?

The peasant engaged in backbreaking work is a common motif in paintings. Characteristics of the theme include peasants bent and crumpled (often below a horizon, earthbound), faces hidden (anonymous), and painted realistically (rather than in exalted or virtuous tones). What are artists telling us when they use such imagery?

Gustave Courbet’s painting “The Stone Breakers”
Gustave Courbet’s painting “The Stone Breakers”
Gustave Courbet’s “The Stone Breakers”

The Stone Breakers

Gustave Courbet’s “The Stone Breakers” (1849–50) was a groundbreaking work when it premiered. (Sadly, the painting was destroyed during WWII.) Previous to its showing, classicism and romanticism, which depicted noble and triumphant religious, moral, and cultural themes, dominated painting (as exemplified by the work of Delacroix). Courbet saw — and painted…


50 literary recommendations from a master wordsmith

William Gass reading in his library. Photo by Frank Di Piazza.

William Gass — novelist, critic, philosophy professor — was a magnificent writer. As is the case with any giant of letters, he was also an insatiable word worm. As Gass wrote in St. Louis Magazine:

Now in my own home I am surrounded by nearly 20,000 books, few of them rare, many unread, none of them neglected. They are there, as libraries always are, to help when needed, and who knows what writer I shall have to write on next, what subject will become suddenly essential, or what request will arrive that requires the immediate assistance of books on —…


And Melville talks economic inequality.

The Empty Picture Frame by Rene Magritte
The Empty Picture Frame by Rene Magritte
“The Empty Picture Frame” (1934) by Rene Magritte

Herman Melville is no stranger to symbolic writing. Merely uttering the title of his most famous work (you know the one) conjures boundless interpretations of the color white, to say nothing of religious, romantic, maniacal, and other symbolism and allegory — too many to count. Suffice to say that the American bard knows precisely how and why to use imagery, if for nothing else than to challenge the generations of writers and critics dog-paddling in his wake.

So it’s no surprise that Cicero, the ancient Roman orator, has two cameos in Melville’s masterful novella Bartleby, the Scrivener. Melville, who studied…

Shaun Randol

Shaun Randol is the founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher of The Mantle (www.themantle.com).

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