The U.S. Embassy Literature Series
A Reading from The Organs of Sense
Adam Ehrlich Sachs, writer and fellow, American Academy in Berlin 2019
In 1666, an astronomer makes a prediction shared by no one else in the world: at the stroke of noon on June 30 of that year, a solar eclipse will cast all of Europe into total darkness for four seconds. This astronomer is rumored to be using the longest telescope ever built, but he is also known to be blind―and not only blind, but incapable of sight, both his eyes having been plucked out some time before under mysterious circumstances. Is he mad? Or does he, despite this impairment, have an insight denied the other scholars of his day?
These questions intrigue the young Gottfried Leibniz―not yet the world-renowned polymath who would go on to discover calculus, but a nineteen-year-old whose faith in reason is shaky at best. Leibniz sets off to investigate the astronomer’s claim, and over the three hours remaining before the eclipse occurs―or fails to occur―the astronomer tells the scholar the haunting and hilarious story behind his strange prediction: a tale that ends up encompassing kings and princes, family squabbles, obsessive pursuits, insanity, philosophy, art, loss, and the horrors of war.
Adam Ehrlich Sachs lives and works in Pittsburgh. He has an AB in atmospheric science and an MA in the history of science from Harvard University. The author of two books of fiction, Sachs’s writing has appeared in the New Yorker, n+1, and Harper’s, among other publications. His first book, Inherited Disorders: Stories, Parables, and Problems (Regan Arts, 2016), was a finalist for the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. His story “The Philosophers” was named a Distinguished Story in The Best American Short Stories 2017. In 2018, Sachs received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in literature. His novel The Organs of Sense was published in May 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.