Today’s birthdays are way worse than they were yesterday. At least we had some good songs then.
On this day in 1731, the surveyor and astronomer Benjamin Banneker was born. He wrote a number of the most popular almanacs of his day. But he is most notable for being a free black man. His father was a former slave and mother was free born. He was self-taught in science and no doubt brilliant. It’s the anti-Tagg-Romney syndrome. No one hires a poor black man unless he’s brilliant—then or now.
Other birthdays: Russian writer Ivan Turgenev (1818); mathematician Theodor Kaluza (1885); British film director Anthony Asquith (1902); Futurama politician Spiro Agnew (1918); the murderer (who shall remain nameless) of Medgar Evers (1920); poet Anne Sexton (1928); chess grandmaster Mikhail Tal (1936); singer-songwriter Tom Fogerty (1941); actor and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno (62); one of the decent politicians Sherrod Brown (61); and character actor Tony Slattery (54).
The day, however, belongs to the writer and scientist Carl Sagan who was born on this day in 1934. If you ask 10 scientists of my generation, 7 of them will tell you they went into science because of Sagan. It wasn’t just Cosmos. (Which is still quite watchable today!) His books were great, especially The Dragons of Eden. He was, I would say, the Mr. Rogers of teen nerds. Science has moved on since he was around, so his books are kind of out of date. But they are still good reading. He had a happy talent for composition and singular felicity of expression. Here is the opening of Cosmos for those who have not seen it:
Happy birthday Carl Sagan!