Jean-Baptiste van Loo, Alexander Pope,  circa 1742

Some years ago, at a large publishing firm, I worked with a Harvard-trained geologist in his early forties who had left an academic post at the University of New Mexico to go into educational publishing. On a rainy afternoon over drinks he told me why. He had published widely and reasonably well, he said, but when he turned forty he came to the conclusion that, as a scientist, he was not first-rate. By “first-rate” he meant a giant in his field. Science, in his view, really was only a place for giants, and to be a second-line...

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