Readers Respond to Our September Issue

Your feedback on our coverage of Pompeii, John Steinbeck and Saturn’s rings

New excavations at the archaeological site of Pompeii captivated readers like Rita Polidori O’Brien, who says the September story about life and death in the ancient city was “fascinating and grotesque at the same time.” W. Caleb McDaniel’s account of the largest reparations payment to a slave—the $2,500 Henrietta Wood received in 1878—sparked lively dialogue. “In reality, what can compensate a person for being owned, mistreated and dishonored?” asks Gail Stewart of Arizona. Doreen Henricks of Georgia says, “This story tells exactly how reparations should have been done: with former slaves and families, on an individual basis, and at the appropriate time.” Though some readers said a cash payment would not heal slavery’s wounds, Robyn Darbyshire of Oregon noted that Wood’s story is “a great example of how even a relatively small amount of money had a long-lasting effect.”

Steinbeck and the Scientist

I can only imagine what John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts (“From the Tide Pool to the Stars”) would have to say about the plight of the vaquita, [a porpoise] about to go extinct in the Gulf of California, and the many other species not far behind. We need to look closely at the world described by these giants and act now to preserve what is left. Putting the Western Flyer back in service is a meaningful step in the right direction.

— Dale T. Steele | Sacramento, California

My interest in marine biology took a leap forward after reading Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. Doc [a character in Cannery Row based on Ed Ricketts] forever romanticized what it was to be a marine biologist. Ed, wherever you are, I truly hope you are enjoying your beer milkshakes.

— David Zittin | Cupertino, California

I had no idea that this side of Steinbeck existed. It gave me hope that with people like John Gregg, with the help of the Western Flyer, there may yet be hope for our oceans.

— Deanna Cluck | Austin, Texas

Aboriginal Origins

“The Homecoming” is a masterfully crafted story that caused me to think more seriously about the issue of repatriation of bones.

— Tom Bowers | Ashburn, Virginia

I appreciate the importance of returning ancient remains to their descendants, but I worry about the loss of scientific knowledge.

— Susan Ryan | Wheaton, Maryland

Cosmic Concern

It was inspirational to read about the unconventional background of the young astrophysicist James O’Donoghue in “Saturn’s Surprise.” But I doubt anyone alive today is sweating bullets over the predicted demise of Saturn’s rings in a mere 100 million years. By then California will most likely have become an island off the coast of Nevada and people will have gone the way of the dinosaurs—because of the Yellowstone explosion.

— Eileen Mericle | Santa Clara, California

Breakfast of Champions

My great-grandfather was a baker who served leftover pie (“Life of Pie”) for breakfast. Every morning after Thanksgiving someone in our family will be eating pie and mumbling, “It’s a tradition, right?”

— Laura Peebles | Arlington, Virginia

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This article is a selection from the October 2019 issue of Smithsonian magazine

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