The Conversation

Readers Respond To The February Issue

A fine old English gentleman commenting on our cover story, “Mad for Dickens,” Susan Scott of Hanover, Pennsylvania, a self-described “Dickens freak” since she was 10, worries that making a big-screen version of Great Expectations will keep people from a great experience. “Why would a young student want to read the book when he can see the movie?” she asks. Maybe because the movie piques interest? “Mystique of the Mother Road,” insist several readers who live along Route 66, failed to mention key Arizona towns in which to get kicks. Nancy Brooks hailed her hometown of Williams and John A. Breckenridge pegged Kingman. Several readers with a remarkable knowledge of British cryptology efforts during World War II challenged Ron Rosenbaum’s usage of the term “Enigma machine” in his essay “Explaining Evil.” They pointed out that it was the German code that was called Enigma, not the device the British used to decipher the code. True enough—technically. But Rosenbaum explains that over the years the term “Enigma machine” has become common, and justified, usage: “Just about every historian uses it.” Puzzle solved.

Growth? There’s an app for that
I am happy to see that Smithsonian is indeed evolving the brand with the introduction of the magazine’s app for the iPad. I know it is often difficult for older generations to embrace new technology and envision the possibilities when merging print and multimedia. I would be dismayed to see the magazine fall behind in the way that Kodak failed to recognize and embrace emerging technologies.
Cleve Gray
Dover, Tennessee

The Cost of Gold
Sixteenth-century conquistadors pillaged and plundered their way through the Americas in a frenzy of gold lust. To judge by Donovan Webster’s report on what’s going on in Peru’s Madre de Dios region today, gold is still giving rise to criminal behavior. Investors in wealthy countries who point merrily to handsome returns on their gold mining stocks may not think of themselves as complicit in evil, but death and destruction in places like the Peruvian jungle are an obvious indication that they are. The shameful spirit of the conquistadors lives on.
Frank Goheen
Camas, Washington

In “Explaining Evil,” Rosenbaum’s essay about The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, listing Auschwitz and Hiroshima in the same sentence was a bit of a shock. Terrible events occurred during World War II. Certainly no side in that conflict escaped with its innocence intact. But most Americans who are members of the Greatest Generation would be appalled to consider the bombing of Hiroshima comparable to an act of “communal frenzy.”
Bryan L. Klaenhammer
River Falls, Wisconsin

Cooling Off
In “Mystique of the Mother Road,” the author says cars on Route 66 had “canvas water bags slung on their hoods to keep radiators from overheating.” In fact, these were drinking- water containers. Their slightly porous sides permitted some water to seep out onto the canvas and evaporate, cooling the water inside.
Bill Johnson
Organ, New Mexico

On Twitter
We can exist without gold but not without Nature.

Let’s face it orchids are seducers aren’t they?

My #FridayReads? The cover story on Charles Dickens at 200 (even though I don’t care for his books)

On Facebook
I’m such a fan of Leonardo da Vinci’s engineering and mechanical sketches [“The Other Man”]. His inventions still play with the imagination.
Justin Hall

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