Jay Walker is an intriguing man, having a curiosity that has led him to amazing success in all sorts of creative ventures.
He is known for starting Priceline.com and Walker Digital, as well as for his inventive mind, filing hundreds of patents in a number of fields. Invariably, this creativity and drive has led to financial success, which in turn allowed Jay to construct a library that embodies his curiosity.
Last weekend, a group of previous TEDMED attendees came by invitation to Jay Walker’s Library. We were part of the group to visit this incredible place billed as The History of Human Imagination. The library is part of Jay’s house, and, though huge and absolutely phenomenal, it is somehow not imposing.
Jay welcomed us to browse through his books, and encouraged everyone to explore everything else in this place which is clearly not a library, a museum, and as Jay was adamant in pointing out, is not a collection. Collections are focused and limited, while Jay’s library is an embodiment of everything fascinating and forward looking.
After a quick introduction, Jay asked us to go on our own way and look around , while he and a few excellent guides were answering questions about individual objects. The library has thousands of things that we could spend hours exploring, but considering the limited time here’s very much abridged view at what’s inside the library.
The architectural design is based on Escher’s famous staircase sketches and glass panels forming the rails are each a puzzle connected to a different invention or discovery of something profound.
Walking in, you pass over a glass floor that gives a view of the library’s lower level.
One of the first objects we came across was this lie detector packaged inside a Samsonite case manufactured by Lafayette Instrument. It has an ECG for heart and respiratory monitoring, as well as a blood pressure cuff. Since nothing is labeled inside the library, you’ve got to use your imagination. We’re imagining an 1970’s undercover CIA agent questioning a Cuban defector about Brezhnev’s sexual mores, with the help of the Diplomat DC III.
Here’s Jay Walker showing off one of Gautier D’Agoty’s incredible anatomical masterpieces.
The following two drawings hang opposite each other, also by Gautier D’Agoty.
Here’s Phil Pirages, Jay’s antique book expert, explaining the unique nature of one of the finer gems.
This is a 900-year-old bible with small, finely drawn inlaid images that help narrate the text.
This is a lunar module surface checklist that astronauts took with them on the Apollo 16 mission. Imagine preparing this document, handing it to an astronaut — this simultaneously captures the thrill, and the banality, of the massive Apollo program. Written inside are all kinds of cryptic notes to check various parameters, switches, knobs, and dials.
A page from a book full of anatomical images. We’re not sure what this is, but it’s quite detailed and full of symbolism. There’s text in at least Latin, German, Hebrew, and Greek.
When we saw this tremendous tome laying on the ground (editor’s size 9 shoe in the image for scale), we had to find out what it could be. Turns out it’s a huge music score, perhaps so an entire orchestra can read it.
Here’s an odd book of drawings, in which each page starts with a different animal and proceeds to morph it with a human face. Strange stuff.
This is a Congressional Space Medal of Honor given posthumously to Edward Higgins White, who died in a pre-launch test of the first mission to the moon. Jay says he’s simply holding on to it for now, and it will eventually be donated to the Smithsonian or another American institution.
Here’s an export Soviet periodic table with ampules containing the corresponding elements. We can believe that argon is in the Ar slot, but plutonium, fermium, uranium? The half life of fermium’s most stable isotopes are measured in days.
And that’s our short tour of a few gems within the Walker Library. The space is truly inspiring and we’d like to thank the Walkers and everyone at TEDMED for making this event possible.
Finally, here’s a video from Walker Digital that gives a great overview of the library: