It’s really tough to stay focused for all of us right now. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about doomed explorers and trying to keep focused. Here’s a bit from my latest newsletter:

“A lovely surprise last month from Washington University in St. Louis. A year ago, in the midst of an exchange about some correspondence in the papers of physicist Arthur Compton, I asked about his cosmic ray logbooks from 1932. The archivist promised to take a look and see if there was anything tucked away within them that pertained to the Mt McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition. She warned me it would take some time but I was happy for the chance at a discovery and last month she emailed on what she found. These included a few pages of financial notes about planned costs for the expedition which will be very helpful. (Not exciting information but answered several questions I have had.) Tucked in the pages there was also a letter from one of Allen Carpe’s closest friends, William Ladd, which included not only some very specific info but a closing paragraph that I think is quite poignant.”

Follow the link to see what I received.

At some point, research is a distraction and it really is time to get down to the writing. That’s where I’m at with the Cosmic Ray Expedition book right now.

“If I let myself, I would research forever. (I think I belong more in [Austin] Kleon’s “resistance” camp rather than “perfectionist” although I wish there was a “paranoid I might be missing something” camp I could claim.) I feel this quote from Greil Marcus very much: “I began to poke around, and the more I found, the less I knew.” That is so true – not so much about the mountaineering but about Allen Carpe’s varied career (I still can’t believe the degree to which he has been forgotten) and the battle among physicists over cosmic rays. But more than anything, all of this comes down to fear, of course, which is what stops every writer from writing. We are afraid of the blank page and our inability to put everything the subject demands onto it. Research is just another way to put off the challenge presented by the blank page.”

There is a great mountaineering archive at Princeton University from a former president and longtime member of the American Alpine Club, J. Monroe Thorington. (He was a Princeton alumni and gifted all of his correspondence in addition to many other materials.)

In my recent newsletter I write about a stack of correspondence I was emailed from the archive that includes a great deal of information about the men I am writing about. Archives are amazing places; there is no way this book would be written without them.

See my latest newsletter here.

(You can also sign up to receive the monthly-ish newsletter, which will keep you up on my latest research finds, here.)

In writing about the physicists who were involved in early cosmic ray research, I came across this photograph of (l-r) Bruno Rossi, Robert Millikan and Arthur Compton. It was taken at an international conference in Rome in October, 1931, and was likely the last time the three men were together. (Millkikan never spoke to Rossi again after the conference and his relationship with Compton also deteriorated dramatically.)

The problem was ego—or the clash of ego and scientific ownership of cosmic rays. To read more about what happened at the conference and how it affected the establishment of the 1932 Mt McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, read my latest newsletter.

(You can also sign up to receive the monthly-ish newsletter, which will keep you up on my latest research finds, here.)

In my latest newsletter I share some surprising information from the notebooks of physicist Arthur Compton. This is a draft letter of condolence to the mother of mountaineer Allen Carpe, something I never expected to find in a notebook of cosmic ray measurements. But as biographer Robert Caro says, “turn every page,” and yep, you never know what you might find.

Read the full newsletter here.

A very odd and unexpected connection has appeared between mountaineer Allen Carpe and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Carpe’s step cousin, Dorothy Kenyon, was an inspiration for Ginsburg and is portrayed by Kathy Bates in the new movie about Ginsburg’s life, On the Basis of Sex. Although “step cousin” doesn’t sound like much of a connection, Carpe actually lived with the Kenyon family for years, from the time he returned to New York City after WWI and until he married. He was quite close to them and the Kenyons, all of whom were lawyers, took the reins after his death in Alaska and helped to handle issues raised by the inability to recover his remains from McKinley.

Dorothy Kenyon’s career was incredibly inspiring—check out what I uncovered in my latest newsletter and also read about her in her NYT obituary (she ultimately became a judge).

In my latest newsletter I reveal a discovery regarding Kathleen MacBain, the wife of mountaineer Allen Carpe. Most of my book is about men (the scientists and the mountaineers), but I very much wanted to make sure that that the few women who are part of this story are well represented. Kathleen has proven to be incredibly interesting, especially after I lucked into the above letter from the archives at Cornell University which she attended prior to marriage. More on what I found about Kathleen (and her equally intriguing sisters) can be found here.