summer 2023 with literature & music

July 17th, 2023

Started in February 2020, the SAJO blog is providing information about pandemics, pathogens, infectious diseases and further important topics.

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Dear readers,

summer is here, and so is Jörg’s list of books worth reading this summer of 2023 and Sabine’s musical highlights. Personal recommendations by Sabine & Joerg.

My personal no. 1 this year is “Foolproof” by Sander van der Linden (2023).

What is it about? The world is being bombarded with fake news and conspiracy mysticism. The author shows us, that we are not defenseless aginst such a danger.

A great book by the “Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher” of Cambridge University. He is a professor of psychology, and he is trying to prepare the reader for the onslaught of disinformation in our age of never-ending information warfare. Be it the “Fauci-funded laboratory origin” of the COVID-19 pandemic, the child-trafficking face-shifting reptile impersonating Hillary Clinton, or the invisible floating spaghetti-monster: There are too many “truths out there” (to cite Fox Mulder of the popular TV series “X-Files”) to be counted. Sander van der Linden does not try to, anyway. He takes a more general approach. First, he dissects the appearances of false or fake news so the reader may easily identify these works. On the way, he shows us, how and why we fall for such “bullshit” (see recommendation #2 below), even if we think we are smart enough not to. He then proceeds to give us some tools to immunize ourselves and the society against such “ideas”. I hope this book will receive a lot of attention, since it needs a lot of people to be aware of these dangerous developments and to be able to withstand disinformation to have a significant effect on the society. So, you better go read the book 😊

Some more great reads that I highly recommend:

Harry G. Frankfurt: „On Bullshit“ (1986).

In a nutshell: Frankfurt is trying to make us familiar in all brevity with the concept of bullshit.

An all-time classic would be Harry G. Frankfurt: “On Bullshit” (1986). A phenomenal, concise description, written by a leading American philosopher. With a mere 67 pages, this is a quick read with huge impact. In 2019, for reasons you may guess, I re-read it, and it is still a timely piece of work. The 45th president of the United States was and is a prime example of Frankfurt’s description. So are the Russian and Chinese presidents, and the Russian president’s lackey Lavrov. And far too many other politicians (in Germany, the current Bavarian Governor comes to mind). This book deserves a lot of attention and a lot of readers. It is one of the most important reads I may think of.

Dave Goulson: „Silent Earth“ (2021)

What is it about? About nothing less than the destruction of our own foundation of life.

Should the book’s title sound familiar, this might not be a coincidence. 60 years ago, Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring”, dealing with the threat by insecticides such as DDT (please see my summer reading list of 2021 here: While DDT use was abolished in the 1970s, countless new pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and other -cides were developed and have been deployed in the meantime. Most importantly, their activity is more than a thousandfold stronger than the one of DDT. With dire consequences: Numbers of insects are declining at a scary pace worldwide. Dave Goulson is a British entomologist with four decades of experience in this field. His writing is captivating. He loves the subject he is writing about: Insects. Insects as a group of the phylum of arthropods are the most diverse group of animals on Earth. They are fascinating in appearance, in lifestyle, in numbers, in pretty much every aspect you may think of. And yet, now they are facing a foe that might just annihilate them: Human civilization – with its thirst for constant growth. Constant growth of one species on a finite planet inevitably leads to trouble for all the other inhabitants of Earth. Goulson makes a lot of strong points regarding the negative human impact on our ecosystem. This book is a very loud call to action. Highly recommended read.

Sean B. Carroll: „A Series of Fortunate Events” (2020)

In a nutshell: It is about all the fortunate events necessary for you and me walking on this Earth.

This book is a roller coaster ride through Earth’s history. Carroll gathers some of the most painful events having taken place on Earth over a period of hundreds of millions of years. Throughout its 4-billion-year existence, Earth was hit on multiple occasions by disastrous events: Impacts of big asteroids and giant volcano eruptions destroyed life, as did several flips of Earth’s magnetic field, to name just a few. This way, Carroll is making clear to the reader the difference between chance and contingency. Some of the chance events that ultimately led to human beings (hence the “fortunate events”) roaming Earth are nicely depicted. My favorite one is the notion that the Chicxulub asteroid smashing into Yucatan peninsula 66 M years ago (oh, history!), abruptly ending the 100-million-year reign of dinosaurs, could have hit an ocean instead of the continent had it decided to crash just 30 minutes sooner or later. The dinosaurs would not have gone extinct in that case. Which means some rodent-like small mammalians that with time developed into humongous-headed fur-less bipeds would still lead a life in obscurity. Carroll makes this a very entertaining yet educating read on many levels.

Samin Nosrat: „Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” (2017)

The less I am working at the bench in the lab, the more I am spending some spare time at our stove – very much to Sabine’s delight, she enjoys being served my creations. Over the past ten years we have been taking up a more sincere approach to cooking. Scientists love to know what they are doing, so obviously, we chose to get some expert advice. One of the advisors is Samin Nosrat. In her book she is focusing on the four pillars of good cooking. This is neither a recipe collection nor a textbook. It is almost like a companion, leading you through the intricacies of the four core aspects of cooking. It is a good read with many anecdotes from her own experience in kitchens around the world. There are excellent (and fun) illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton helping explain some of the concepts. And of course, there are recipes to try out your newly found knowledge and skills. The book is occupying a prominent place on my shelf dedicated to cooking.

Maybe you will find the one or other of these books inspiring. They are all excellent reads with quite some entertaining quality.

Dear readers, now I also want to comment on Joergs book recommendations. For this summer, I had been looking for interesting books. However, most book recommendations by reputable journals and newspapers ranged from euphuistic nonsense to unsubstantial shallow drivel. Hence, I accepted Joerg’s recommendations and am looking forward to the one or other book I hadn’t had time to read yet. Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat Acid, Heat” lends itself to read about cooking. Only the Book’s second half is holding recipes. If you are interested in a good preparation of food and in cooking with all your senses, this is the book of choice. It is fun to read, and it is fun to try certain recipes, opening your senses and broadening one’s horizon. Enjoy!

Dear readers,

Here, we have selected some of the pearls we found in music, that are not just outstanding in their virtuosity, but also bring a lot of joy to the listeners. The both of us love a broad array of musical styles. Sabine loves to play the piano herself too.

We are admirers of Yuja Wang for her unbelievable virtuosity in combination with her phenomenal musical expression. Get yourself an impression of this great artist, one of the greatest of our time:

Yuja Wang plays Carmen variations composed by Bizet, arranged by Horowitz, at the Carnegie Hall in 2017:

Yuja Wang plays the ALLA TURCA by Mozart at the Carnegie Hall, 2017:

Yuja Wang is playing Mozart‘s „Turkish Dance“ a bit different from my own version that I played at the age of 11. Hear for yourself:

Yuja Wang plays the Flight of the Bumble Bee:

Her virtuosity and speed in “Flight of the Bumble Bee” have yet to be outperformed:

Le Concert des Paris 2023 in front of the Eiffel Tower:

„Le Concert de Paris“ at the Eiffel Tower every year provides one of the best unforgettable musical highlights – a sensational event with magnificent international musicians. This year, as in last year Cristian Macelaru was the conductor. In contrast to some concerts in Germany that often leave us wishing time was up, this is a feast for the ears. Here we have selected some of the pearls:

Ermonela Jaho and Ludovic Tezier, two wonderful voices in soprano und baritone, who harmonize very well:

Marie-Laure Garnier is captivating the audience with her voice and a version of „Summertime“ of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess:

Edith Piaf‘s „La vie en rose“ made it to the international stage in a wonderful interpretation by Pretty Yende:

Passionate Boogie-woogie

Now we are turning to another of our favorite music styles, the Boogie-woogie. We had a great experience many years ago in the restaurant “Alter Gasthof” in List on the island of Sylt in Northern Germany. The restaurant no longer exists, which we regret very much. One evening, just after our return from the US, Bob Seeley took the stage at the piano. Within mere seconds of Bob’s playing the audience in the general room was „on fire“. Best wishes to you, Bob!

You may listen into the CD he had recorded together with Lluis “Machine Gun Fingers” Coloma. Please support these artists by purchasing the music instead of just listening for free. The CD is phenomenal.

The phantastic and mesmerizing piano duo Anderson & Roe

Ever since we had recommended the “Hallelujah” variations by the wonderful piano duo Anderson & Roe in a Blog post on Easter, you know that we are fans of these two artists.

Here are some more recommendations, played by Anderson & Roe. If you like the recordings, please feel free to purchase the CDs for their superior sound quality.

The Sabre Dance by Aram Khachaturian is an experience in itself:

Freddie Mercury’s „Bohemian Rhapsody“ is wonderfully interpreted by the duo as well:

PARANOID ANDROID played by Anderson & Roe is even better than the original by Radiohead:

Better sound is found on the CD “When Words Fade” by Anderson & Roe.

BILLIE JEAN also is phenomenal and very expressive:

SCHUBERT – Impromptu no. 3 played by the one and only Maestro Vladimir Horowitz (1903 – 1989)

At the end of my recommendations of course, I have to add the one pianist unbeaten, whom the both of us admire. His interpretations are unique.

There are few interpretations of „Mephisto Waltz“ by great pianists. To me this one stands out; played, of course, by Vladimir Horowitz. It is one of my favorite pieces, which I like to play myself; with much goodwill, my technique just barely trails his 😉

I want to thank my former piano teacher Thomas, a great jazz pianist, for this piece and its transcript, and for the whole education in classical piano he provided me with. It was one of the biggest gifts I received in my life – the love and fascination for music and thanks to you, to be able to play all this music with dedication and passion. Thank you so very much!

Now I wish you a lot of fun with the dancing Mephisto – an extraordinary, crazy, and eclectic piece by Liszt, that still captivates me after 26 years:

We wish you an enchanting summer with compelling literature and entrancing music. We are going back to spending time on science – fascinating and of itself a gift for those who understand and love it, with passion of course.

Yours, Joerg and Sabine

Dr. Sabine Breun and Dr. Joerg Baumann, both Ph.D.s, virologists, immunologists, molecular biologists and founders of SAJO. Both are specialized in infectious diseases. Since the 90s, Dr. Baumann has been working on zoonoses and how pathogens overcome the species barrier. Since 2000, Dr. Breun works on the interaction of viruses with the immune system. Both work as team. SAJO enables new antivirals – antivirals of the next generation to fight pandemics.
During their scientific carreers, both performed scientific work for 5 years at the National Cancer Institute in a US elite program on competitive US scholarships.

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