October 02, 2014

Robert M. Palter

Some sad news this morning; Robert Palter (known to many as Bob and to his family as Buck) passed away last evening. I was privileged to get to know him through my former partner, Alex - Buck was his father. They have lived near each other for as long as I have known them, after many years of living apart, and it's been sweet to get to know Buck through the years.

The bio from his magnum opus, The Duchess of Malfi's Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits, gives an overview of a full and varied life:
Born in Queens, New York, Robert Palter earned a degree in chemistry at Columbia University. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army, working on the Manhattan Project. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is currently Dana Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. A scholar with wide-ranging interests, Palter has throughout his academic career published on the philosophy and history of science as well as eighteenth-century intellectual history. He lives in New Britain, Connecticut.
He was a fascinating man, an intellectual who could be brusque especially when debating some subject of science or philosophy. He had an unusual medical condition, possibly Gustatory Sweating or Frey's Syndrome, resulting in sweating during a meal  - when I first met him, not knowing there was a physiological reason, I kept wanting to open a window or find a cooler restaurant. Going out to dinner with the Palter clan was often overwhelming, a lively (some would say raucous) mix of humor, intellectual debate, and a fair amount of raised voices. My "don't make a fuss, don't draw attention" attitude was always challenged by Buck and his offspring.

Buck was a passionate collector of literature and art, filling his small condo with books (over 10,000 volumes, reportedly), prints (he has multiple architectural flat files devoted to his collection) and sculpture (often primitive or along the lines of folk art). He remained active until has last days, eating out, visiting museums, art galleries, and performances. 

I have not seen Buck much over the past few years, but we did get out for dinner a few weeks back; and I have an unread copy of his book of short stories / essays, Twosomes, sitting on my "to be read" pile. I am grateful that the threads of our lives have intertwined, and sad today to say farewell.

Because there's not a lot of consolidated material about him (wikipedia entry, etc.) I thought I'd spend some time this morning pulling together his online life, in his honor and memory.

June 1960 - University of Chicago Press
Whitehead's Philosophy of Science 

1960, Philosophy of Science
Book Review:Frontiers in Science Edward Hutchings, Jr

1961, Noonday Press
Toward Modern Science, Volume I: Studies in Ancient and Medieval Science (Editor)

1961, Noonday Press
Toward Modern Science, Volume II (Editor)

1961, Ethics
Book Review:Theories of the Universe. Milton K. Munitz; From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Alexandre Koyre; Space, Time, and Creation. Milton K. Munitz

1964, Ethics
The Ethics of Extermination

1970, MIT Press
The Annus mirabilis of Sir Isaac Newton, 1666-1966

Nov 1984 - Science Magazine
Relativity and Other Issues (Review of Understanding Relativity, by Stanley Goldberg)

1994 - University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign, School of Chemical Sciences
Bulletin for the History of Chemistry
A Note on Joseph Black and the Smell of "Fixed Air" 

April 1995 - Hume Studies, Volume XXI, Number 1
Hume and Prejudice

April 1996 - UNC Press
Black Athena Revisited (Contributor, Edited By Mary R. Lefkowitz and Guy MacLean Rogers)

Dec 1, 2002 - University of South Carolina Press
The Duchess of Malfi's Apricots, and Other Literary Fruits - Amazon 

Review by Jacqueline M. Newman in Flavor and Fortune 

Nov 2, 2006 - The New York Review of Books
What Happened at Oak Ridge? 
Letter to the editor in response to Jeremy Bernstein's "The Secrets of the Bomb"  
2012, Monroe Publishing

Dec 11, 2014
Selected Essays - eBook

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