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kottke.org posts about books

The winners of the 2016 50 Books/50 Covers competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

50 Books 2016

Design Observer and the AIGA have announced their selections for the 50 best designed books and 50 best designed book covers for 2016. You can browse the entire selection in the AIGA archive. Lovely to see Aaron James Draplin’s Pretty Much Everything, Koya Bound, and the Hamilton book on the list. Oh and I love this cover for The Poser.

Poser Book Cover

A collection of free coloring books from libraries and museums

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

A bunch of libraries and museums have banded together for the Color Our Collections campaign, offering up free coloring books that let you color artworks from their collections. Participating institutions include the NYPL, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Smithsonian, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford.

An appreciation and reevaluation of Contact, 20 years after its theatrical release

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, is on its face a movie about science vs. religion. On the 20th anniversary of its release, Germain Lussier rewatched the film and came away with a different impression: director Robert Zemeckis wanted viewers to think about our relationship to media and technology.

Once Ellie and her team discover the signal from Vega, seemingly every scene in the film features a monitor or some kind of television-related paraphernalia. Whether that’s unpacking a TV to unveil the Olympic footage, people watching news reports on CNN, a terrorist videotaping himself, or multiple scenes in the screen-filled Mission Control, Contact is filled with monitors, forcing both the characters and the audience to watch them. Full scenes of the film are made up of fuzzy TV footage. There are numerous press conferences on TV. The selection of the Machine representative unfolds via the news. Ellie’s interactions with Hadden are almost entirely done over a monitor. Even in scenes where the camera is in a room with the characters, Zemeckis often films them watching TV, or simply puts TV monitors in the frame to constantly remind us they’re there.

But that’s not it. People video chat regularly, which was not common in 1997. The terrorist attack on the Machine is first discovered on a TV monitor and subsequently played out there too. Then, finally, what’s the smoking gun of Ellie’s whole trip at the end of the movie? Eighteen hours of video footage. I could go on and on with examples where Contact uses television and monitors, but once you start seeing the film’s obsession with video, it’s almost comical how often it’s used. Which poses the obvious question, “Why?”

In this light, the organized religion & organized science depicted in the film are just other forms of mediated experience, separate from the personal experience of seeing something with your own eyes.

Contact is one of my favorite movies — I watch it every 12-18 months or so — and this makes me appreciate it all the more. And I had forgotten how good the trailer was:

It’s dead simple: that amazingly resonant Vega signal sound over a series of quickly cut scenes that tells the story in miniature. Surely this belongs on best movie trailers lists as much as any of these.

Oh, and while I’m not generally a fan of reboots, I would love to see what Denis Villeneuve could do with Sagan’s story. I’m also not crazy about Jodie Foster — I find her less and less tolerable as Arroway with each viewing — so it would be cool to see another actress in the role. Arrival’s Amy Adams is almost too on the nose…how about Lupita Nyong’o, ?Emma Watson, Janelle Monáe, Brie Larson, or Emma Stone?

A 2017 summer reading list from TED speakers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

Back in May I shared a list of books that TED speakers had mentioned on Twitter. That list was a little uneven because a mention isn’t necessarily a recommendation and some speakers aren’t on Twitter while others tweet books constantly. This list of 101 books to dive into this summer compiled by TED is much more cohesive and useful. Among the picks that sounded interesting:

Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will by Judith Schalansky.

The Atlas of Remote Islands, Judith Schalansky’s beautiful and deeply personal account of the islands that have held a place in her heart throughout her lifelong love of cartography, has captured the imaginations of readers everywhere. Using historic events and scientific reports as a springboard, she creates a story around each island: fantastical, inscrutable stories, mixtures of fact and imagination that produce worlds for the reader to explore.

The More They Disappear by Jesse Donaldson.

There’s a lot of talk about the opioid crisis these days, but what’s missing from the statistics is the human story, the understanding of why people are making the choices they do. This novel, which focuses on Kentucky in the 1990s, gave me that understanding. After I finished it — which didn’t take long because I couldn’t put it down — I felt like I had physically been transported to that time and place.

Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds by Lisa Messeri.

In Placing Outer Space Lisa Messeri traces how the place-making practices of planetary scientists transform the void of space into a cosmos filled with worlds that can be known and explored. Making planets into places is central to the daily practices and professional identities of the astronomers, geologists, and computer scientists Messeri studies.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky.

Due to my work filming with former jihadis, I’ve become very interested in understanding more about human interaction. Behave explores human nature, from the firing of a synapse all the way to the broader effects of culture. Based on a wide and multidisciplinary knowledge of science, this book provides a fascinating exploration of humanity, which might give us some important information on how we can work towards a better future for us all.

The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone.

I recently reread this children’s classic. It’s surprisingly relevant now, and shows us the irrational fears we can have of various groups.

The US far right’s game plan? A suppression of the majority.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

Rebecca Onion recently interviewed Nancy MacLean, who has written a book about economist James McGill Buchanan, whose work MacLean believes is the origin of the ideas & strategy of the far right in America (most notably represented by the Koch brothers). As told by MacLean in her book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, the goal of this coalition is to switch the US to a “totally new vision of society and government, that’s different from anything that exists anywhere in the world”.

When the Supreme Court decided, in the 1954 case of Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Tennessee-born economist James McGill Buchanan was horrified. Over the course of the next few decades, the libertarian thinker found comfortable homes at a series of research universities and spent his time articulating a new grand vision of American society, a country in which government would be close to nonexistent, and would have no obligation to provide education-or health care, or old-age support, or food, or housing-to anyone.

This radical vision has become the playbook for a network of people looking to override democracy in order to shift more money to the wealthiest few.

I suspect MacLean’s argument is much more fleshed out in her book than in the interview and criticisms are easy to find (although I don’t know how ideologically motivated they are), but what she says could explain what’s happening in our government right now. As I wrote back in December:

More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws.

In the interview, McLean says that Buchanan advised Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the structure of his country’s constitution:

This document was later called a “constitution of locks and bolts,” [and was designed] to make it so that the majority couldn’t make its will felt in the political system, unless it was a huge supermajority.

That feels like where we’re heading in this country right now. Perhaps slowly and perhaps it won’t come to that, but it’s difficult to escape the conclusion these days that Republicans (or at least the ascendant far right arm of the party) want anything less than to rule the US no matter what the majority of its citizens might want.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Lots of music & TV and fewer movies & books this time around.

Enemy of the State. Ripe for a remake. (B-)

Cafe Society. Jesse Eisenberg is the worst version of Woody Allen yet. (C+)

Behave. I’ve barely started reading this (and then stopped because I was in the mood for fiction instead) but aspire to finish because I’ve heard really great things from a diverse array of trusted sources. (n/a)

Narcos. Season 2 is less compelling than the initial season, but Wagner Moura as Escobar is flat-out amazing. If you skipped this show, do yourself a favor and try season 1. (B+)

My Struggle: Book 2. I generally don’t find myself in characters in books, historical figures, or working artists, but the degree to which I identify with Karl Ove Knausgaard as depicted in the first two My Struggle books scares the shit out of me. On practically every page, he writes something that resonates with me and how I approach the world. I’m not sure any other book has helped me identify and understand the good and bad parts of myself as much as this one. (A+)

Zen Shorts. A recommendation by several kottke.org readers after the story of the Chinese farmer post. (A-)

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray. The only Dave Eggers book I’ve read in recent years. Sparked an interest in Art Deco in my kids a couple years ago. (A-)

Melodrama. After such a strong debut, it’s great to see Lorde come back with such a strong sophomore effort. (B+)

It Will Be Forever. Recommended by a friend who never gets it wrong. (He also put me onto this.) Tycho-esque. (B+)

Ctrl. Haven’t listened to this much but want to give it more attention. (B)

Cars 3. Way better than the deplorable Cars 2 but it felt very much like a sequel in a way that the Toy Story movies didn’t. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire. Rewatching from season one, which ppl will tell you to skip, but they’re wrong. I had forgotten how good it is, right away. Looking forward to their final season starting in August. (A-)

GLOW. Enjoyable television: really fun and just a little meaty. (B+)

OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. A reissue of one of the best albums of all time? Sure. (A+)

Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve seen all of these multiple times, and I just love them. Even the ones where Troi is possessed and Geordi falls in love with Holodeck characters. (A)

Iteration. If you love Com Truise, you will love this. (B+)

Big Fish Theory. The album of the summer? I haven’t been able to stop playing this in the car. (A-)

Okja. I wanted to like this way more than I did. Felt muddled. Never a good sign when you stop a movie halfway through to go to bed. (C+)

4:44. But I liked this way more than I thought I would. It’s no Lemonade (the fingerprints of which are all over 4:44), but Jay-Z has reminded everyone that he’s still a formidable artist. And the way he says “okay” after “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” is pitch perfect. Further reading: ‘4:44’ is a Shawn Carter album. Jay-Z is dead., ‘4:44’ Producer No I.D. Talks Pushing Jay-Z, Creating ‘500 Ideas’, and Jay-Z’s Pitch for Generational Wealth. (A-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Google search data shows “a crisis of self-induced abortions”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

For his book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz combed through data on Google Trends for five years, looking for data on searches that Google users “don’t tell to possibly anybody else, things they might not tell to family members, friends, anonymous surveys, or doctors”.

According to a recent interview with Stephens-Davidowitz, right now the data is showing an increase in search queries on how to perform abortions at home and, no surprise, the activity is highest in parts of the country where access to abortion is most difficult.

I’m pretty convinced that the United States has a self-induced abortion crisis right now based on the volume of search inquiries. I was blown away by how frequently people are searching for ways to do abortions themselves now. These searches are concentrated in parts of the country where it’s hard to get an abortion and they rose substantially when it became harder to get an abortion. They’re also, I calculate, missing pregnancies in these states that aren’t showing up in either abortion or birth rates.

That’s pretty disturbing and I think isn’t really being talked about. But I think, based on the data, it’s clearly going on.

Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

Totoro Little Prince

Back in 2010, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki picked his 50 favorite books for children and young adults. Here are the top five:

1. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
3. Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren
4. When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson
5. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

It’s easy to see the influence of the books from the list on the movies he made. Indeed, two of the top five books were actually made into Studio Ghibli films (The Borrowers and When Marnie Was There).

P.S. The Totoro / Little Prince illustration is from Pinterest, but I couldn’t find the original source. Anyone?

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

50 Things Economy

Tim Harford, aka The Undercover Economist, is coming out with a new book called Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

New ideas and inventions have woven, tangled or sliced right through the invisible economic web that surrounds us every day. From the bar code to double-entry bookkeeping, covering ideas as solid as concrete or as intangible as the limited liability company, this book not only shows us how new ideas come about, it also shows us their unintended consequences — for example, the gramophone introducing radically unequal pay in the music industry, or how the fridge shaped the politics of developing countries across the globe.

It’s based on his BBC podcast 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy.

Fun fact that I just discovered: Harford and I share the same birthday, both date and year.

Narrative flowcharts for Choose Your Own Adventure books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure map

Choose Your Own Adventure map

The newest editions of Choose Your Own Adventure books come with maps of the story structure that depicts all the branches, endings, and links of each story.

On the official maps, however, the endings aren’t coded in any way that reveals their nature. Instead, they operate according to a simple key: each arrow represents a page, each circle a choice, and each square an ending. Dotted lines show where branches link to one another.

Mapping the bones of the books can have other purposes, too. Nick Montfort, a poet and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies interactive fiction, has a habit of asking people what they know about “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. “They often say, ‘You have two choices after every page,’” he says. “That’s not true. Sometimes you have one choice. Sometimes you have more than two. When you show the maps, you can see that these books don’t look exactly the same.”

(via @RLHeppner)

There’s gonna be a Black Mirror book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Black Mirror Book

Gird your loins, Prime Minister. Charlie Brooker is bringing his mind-warping TV series to bookstores in early 2018. Brooker is editing a book version of Black Mirror (the first in a promised series) “featuring original stories from leading fiction writers, all set in the world of the cult series”.

Smart move and after all, Brooker was influenced by Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (which appeared first in book form).

If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Feynman Blackboard

In the early 1960s, Richard Feynman gave a series of undergraduate lectures that were collected into a book called the Feynman Lectures on Physics. Absent from the book was a lecture Feynman gave on planetary motion, but a later finding of the notes enabled David Goodstein, a colleague of Feynman’s, to write a book about it: Feynman’s Lost Lecture. From an excerpt of the book published in a 1996 issue of Caltech’s Engineering & Science magazine:

Feynman was a truly great teacher. He prided himself on being able to devise ways to explain even the most profound ideas to beginning students. Once, I said to him, “Dick, explain to me, so that I can understand it, why spin one-half particles obey Fermi-Dirac statistics.” Sizing up his audience perfectly, Feynman said, “I’ll prepare a freshman lecture on it.” But he came back a few days later to say, “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t reduce it to the freshman level. That means we don’t really understand it.”

John Gruber writes the simple explanations are the goal at Apple as well:

Engineers are expected to be able to explain a complex technology or product in simple, easily-understood terms not because the executive needs it explained simply to understand it, but as proof that the engineer understands it completely.

Feynman was well known for simple explanations of scientific concepts that result a in deeper understanding of the subject matter: e.g. see Feynman explaining how fire is stored sunshine, rubber bands, how trains go around curves, and magnets. Critically, he’s also not shy about admitting when he doesn’t understand something…or, alternately, when scientists as a group don’t understand something. There’s the spin anecdote above and of his explanation of magnets, he says:

I really can’t do a good job, any job, of explaining magnetic force in terms of something else you’re more familiar with, because I don’t understand it in terms of anything else you’re more familiar with.

Feynman was also quoted as saying:

I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.

Pretty interesting thing to hear from a guy who won a Nobel Prize for explaining quantum mechanics better than anyone ever had before. Even when he died in 1988 at the end of a long and fruitful careeer, a note at the top of his blackboard read:

What I cannot create, I do not understand.

Some things kottke.org readers have recently read/watched/heard/experienced

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

Every once in awhile, I send out an email newsletter to the kottke.org members. I’ve been having fun doing my media diet posts recently, and I’m always on the lookout for new things to try, so I used the most recent newsletter to ask them: “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read/watched/heard/experienced in the past few weeks?” Here’s a sampling of what they said, accompanied by some of their short thoughts.

I’ve mentioned Dreaming the Beatles on the site before, but Celia offered up a short but compelling review: “In any group of 2-4 people, I mentally assign each person the role of John, Paul, George, or Ringo. This book has changed most of my assignments.”

Quoting Lars Gotrich, Robb recommends Green Twins by Nick Hakim: “it’s soul music for outer-space”.

Several people suggested Master of None’s season 2 on Netflix. I watched the first two episodes when season 1 came out and didn’t take to it.

Mind. Blown. Not only was the NBA on NBC theme song composed by John Tesh, he left himself a message singing the tune on his answering machine. Thanks, Alex!

Ben says of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: “Minimalism is appealing, but often not simple. This feels more simple, and helpful to me.”

Sarah praised Rami Malek’s performance in Mr. Robot as well as the show’s rich visuals. See also the off-kilter cinematography of Mr. Robot.

The A.V. Club’s A History of Violence series was highlighted by Chris. “As a fan of quality action movies (and occasionally cheesy ones) it was great to see an in-depth review of every year’s best of the genre, including things I’ve seen and some I haven’t.”

A few people recommended Tim Urban’s epic post on Elon Musk’s newest venture, Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future. Neuralink is working on “a way for our brains to communicate directly with one another”.

Rich shares that Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind “moved me profoundly and I continue thinking about it months after reading it”.

Benjamin recommends Magnum Manifesto, an exhibition at the International Center of Photography Museum in NYC: “Amazing history of photojournalism and documentary photography. Emphasized the importance of journalism in this specific medium.”

I have friends who rave about Pop-up Magazine and Mary agrees: “It’s a live performance of California Sunday magazine. Insane.”

Big fan of 99% Invisible here and Jessie recommends this recent episode, Squatters of the Lower East Side. “I’m familiar with squatting and adverse possession. However, I have never heard of a city/county working with squatters to legally adversely possess properties, especially those are city-owned.”

Sean recommends The Barkley Marathons, a documentary “about a crazy race, eccentric organizer, and lunatic participants”.

Les Cowboys is a recommendation from Joao: “devastating beautiful take on immigration, terrorism and family”.

HBO’s The Leftovers got many recs. I think I watched most of season 1 and it didn’t stick.

Neil is a doctor and recommends Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back: “nothing has come closer to capturing how dysfunctional things are in American medicine”.

Suzanne has been enjoying True Story, a monthly publication delivered monthly to your home — what a concept! She particularly enjoyed the first issue, Fruitland.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is broadcasting its production of Julius Caesar to theaters around the world. Says Steve: “A play about the overthrow of a dictator and the rights and wrongs of the method chosen seems more resonant than ever!” (FYI, my query and Steve’s response predated the recent controversy about The Public Theater’s production of the play.)

Diana recommends the audiobook version of Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime (review). Although not normally an audiobook listener, she says: “I have been listening to this for weeks now and am so impressed. It’s the best book of the year for me (and I typically read 100+ books a year).”

Of New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Jeff says, “I’m just thrilled that an author as smart as this thinks there will even BE a New York in 2140”. I almost started this the other day after a recommendation from a pal…perhaps I’ll pick it up if my current book sputters.

And last, but perhaps not least, this heartbreaking clip from Clickhole: Hibachi Chef Tries To Make Meal On A Regular Table. Sez Mike: “Having seen teppanyaki food cooked with such drama and precision, this was a nice piece of satire… especially with the music.”

Thanks to everyone who responded and for supporting the site by becoming members!

What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives?: The Most Honest Children’s Book of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

What Are We Even Doing Book

Chelsea Marshall and Mary Dauterman are coming out with a satirical children’s book called What Are We Even Doing With Our Lives?. It’s Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town crossed with HBO’s Silicon Valley.

Welcome to “Digi Valley,” the epitome of twenty-first-century urban life! The animal-people who call it home do cool things: life coach, cat landlord, baby DJ teacher, app developer, iPhone photographer, new media consultant, beauty blogger, and, of course, freelancer. On the street, in the coffee shop, at the farmer’s market, or the local vegan cafe, you’ll meet new friends like Frances and Sadie, Freelance Frank, Realtor Rick, and Bethany the Beauty Blogger as they bike, drive, bus, hoverboard, and Uber their way around town-or just sit and enjoy a latte while doing important things on their devices.

This is good, but surely this book owes a debt to the prior art of Ruben Bolling and Business Business Town?

Information Age automation is coming for your job

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

This new video by Kurzgesagt examines automation in the past (“big stupid machines doing repetitive work in factories”) and argues that automation in the information age is fundamentally different. In a nutshell,1 whereas past automation resulted in higher productivity and created new and better jobs for a growing population, automation in the future will happen at a much quicker pace, outpacing the creation of new types of jobs for humans.

Their two main sources for the video are Martin Ford’s Rise of the Robots and The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

  1. The German phrase “kurz gesagt” means roughly “in a nutshell”, so this is a pun. Laugh now!

The 100 best solutions to reverse climate change, ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2017

Climate Change Solutions

Environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken has edited a book called Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming which lists “the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world”.

In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here-some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. If deployed collectively on a global scale over the next thirty years, they represent a credible path forward, not just to slow the earth’s warming but to reach drawdown, that point in time when greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peak and begin to decline.

On the website for the book, you can browse the solutions in a ranked list. Here are the 10 best solutions (with the total atmospheric reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions in gigatons in parentheses):

1. Refrigerant Management (89.74)
2. Wind Turbines, Onshore (84.60)
3. Reduced Food Waste (70.53)
4. Plant-Rich Diet (66.11)
5. Tropical Forests (61.23)
6. Educating Girls (59.60)
7. Family Planning (59.60)
8. Solar Farms (36.90)
9. Silvopasture (31.19)
10. Rooftop Solar (24.60)

Refrigerant management is about replacing hydro-fluorocarbon coolants with alternatives because HFCs have “1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”. As a planet, we should be hitting those top 7 solutions hard, particularly when it comes to food. If you look at the top 30 items on the list, 40% of them are related to food.

If, somehow, we could get to a place where we are talking about dealing with climate change not as “saving the planet” (which it isn’t) but as “improving humanity” (which it is), we might actually be able to accomplish something.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Come on now, don’t take the letter grades so seriously.

The Wright Brothers. A surprising amount of what you’ve heard about the Wright Brothers is wrong. David McCullough sets the record straight. (B+)

Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories. I really wish I could get Martin’s Potato Rolls in Vermont. (B+)

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. A good book to have around when you need a creative kick in the pants. (B+)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I wasn’t even going to see this, but the power went out in my house for three hours due to a 45-second wind/rain storm, so I went to the movies. It is exactly what you’d expect from a medieval action movie directed by Guy Ritchie, and I left entertained. (B-)

Alien: Covenant. More entertaining and felt more like an Alien movie than Prometheus. Why are the people so stupid though? (B)

Lemonade. Still great. (A+)

Mad Men. I rewatched all seven seasons in just under three months. The middle part lagged in places, but the final seasons were as strong as the first seasons. IMO, Mad Men is among the best ever TV shows. (A+)

Passengers. J. Law and Chris Pratt stranded together in space? Yes, please. But the filmmakers should have found a way around the stalker plot point…it was unnecessarily disturbing and uninteresting. (B-)

Moana. Long-time readers might remember Pamie, one of the most well-known OG online diarists from the late 90s. I noticed her name in the credits…she co-wrote screenplay. Also, I was not the only person to immediately think of Beyonce when I saw Te Fiti. (A-)

The Keepers. Disturbing in more ways than one and well worth watching. (B+)

The Americans. The fifth season did not quite live up to the high standard of the previous seasons. (B)

She Persisted. The day this arrived, my daughter cracked this open and said, delighted, “Harriet Tubman!” (A-)

Emotions Part One of Invisibilia. The classical view is that emotions happen to you. But according to guest Lisa Feldman Barrett, “the way emotion works is opposite of what you think — emotions aren’t reactions to the world; emotions actually construct the world”. See also Barrett’s recent book How Emotions Are Made. (B+)

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remix album. This sounds like a whole new record. As Sippey says, “now you can simply, finally, hear it”. (A)

Zodiac. Some say this is Fincher’s best film. Not sure I would, but it’s damned fine. (A-)

Wonder Woman. I would happily watch 100 sequels to this. (A-)

Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2017

That’s the title of a forthcoming book edited by Cass Sunstein (Harvard professor, former Obama regulatory administrator). On Twitter, Sunstein says he’s the editor not the author and that the essays will “offer diverse views”. But by the time this book comes out in March 2018, we might already know the actual answer to the title’s question. (via @tylercowen)

101 books about where and how we live

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

Resurfaced recently by Austin Kleon in his weekly newsletter, I missed this Nov 2016 list from Curbed of 101 books about where and how we live the first time around. The list is organized by category:

Urban Classics includes The Death and Life of Great American Cities*, The Works: The Anatomy of a City*, and Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town*.

Why We Build features Geoff Manaugh’s A Burgler’s Guide to the City* and Building Stories* by Chris Ware.

Cities We Love includes Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, and Make Way for Ducklings.

Changing Places highlights The Devil in the White City* by Erik Larson and The Levittowners: Ways of Life and Politics in a New Suburban Community by Herbert Gans.

Planning the Future includes Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)* by Tom Vanderbilt and Annalee Newitz’s Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction.

Understanding People features Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns*, and Working by Studs Terkel.

And How We Live Today includes The Power Broker* and Robert Putman’s Bowling Alone.

I love the inclusion of Busy, Busy Town and Make Way for Ducklings. Books marked by an asterisk I have read or can otherwise personally vouch for. If I could recommend just one book to read from this list, it would be The Warmth of Other Suns.

Putin’s playbook for discrediting America and destabilizing the West

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2017

Last week, journalist Jules Suzdaltsev wrote:

Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on “taking over the world” and Putin is literally crossing shit off.

The book in question is The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia by neo-fascist political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, whose nickname is “Putin’s Brain”. The book has been influential within Russian military & foreign policy circles and it appears to be the playbook for recent Russian foreign policy. In the absence of an English language translation, some relevant snippets from the book’s Wikipedia page:

The book declares that “the battle for the world rule of [ethnic] Russians” has not ended and Russia remains “the staging area of a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution.” The Eurasian Empire will be constructed “on the fundamental principle of the common enemy: the rejection of Atlanticism, strategic control of the USA, and the refusal to allow liberal values to dominate us.”

The United Kingdom should be cut off from Europe.

Ukraine should be annexed by Russia because “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness, its certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics”.

The book stresses the “continental Russian-Islamic alliance” which lies “at the foundation of anti-Atlanticist strategy”. The alliance is based on the “traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilization”.

Russia should use its special services within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements — extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”

Ukraine, Brexit, Syria, Trump, promotion of fascist candidates in European elections (Le Pen in France), support for fascism in the US…it’s all right there in the book. And they’ve done it all while barely firing a shot.

Murder on the Orient Express

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

Kenneth Branagh is directing and starring in (as uber-detective Hercule Poirot) a movie adapted from Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I mean, what more do you need?

Oh. More? Alright. The movie also stars Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. I mean…

More? Did you miss the part where I mentioned Judi flipping Dench? Well, the movie comes out in November so there’s no Rotten Tomatoes score yet. You know what, just watch the trailer and go about your business.

Dronescapes: beautiful photography from drones

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Dronescapes

Dronescapes

Dronescapes

Dronescapes is an art book of some of the most visually arresting drone photography collected from Dronestagram.

Readers will see the planet from entirely new vantage points, whether it’s a bird’s-eye view of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, a photograph taken inches away from an eagle in midflight, or a vertiginous shot taken above Mexico’s Tamul Waterfalls. There are extended commentaries on how individual images were created and a separate, concise guide containing technical advice on how to use a drone and select the right model.

God knows we can all use a shot of the mini-overview effect right now.

Bill Gates’ book recommendations for summer 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2017

Just as he did last year, Bill Gates has recommended five books for people to read this summer. Among the picks:

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal. Gates, who usually reads nonfiction, says:

While you’ll find this book in the fiction section at your local bookstore, what de Kerangal has done here in this exploration of grief is closer to poetry than anything else. At its most basic level, she tells the story of a heart transplant: a young man is killed in an accident, and his parents decide to donate his heart. But the plot is secondary to the strength of its words and characters.

A Full Life by Jimmy Carter. Gates:

Even though the former President has already written more than two dozen books, he somehow managed to save some great anecdotes for this quick, condensed tour of his fascinating life. I loved reading about Carter’s improbable rise to the world’s highest office.

Last year, I took Gates’ advice and read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Amazon’s data-driven bookstores

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

Amazon Bookstore

Over at Recode, Dan Frommer has a look inside Amazon’s first NYC bookstore, opening Thursday in the mall in the Time Warner Center. I haven’t visited any of Amazon’s stores yet (they’ve got several around the country), but what I find interesting from the photos is how up-front they are about the shopping experience being data driven. There are signs for books rated “4.8 Stars & Above”, a shelf of “Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less”, a section of “If You Like [this book], You’ll Love [these other books]”, and each book’s shelf label lists the star rating and number of reviews on Amazon.com. Another sign near the checkout reads “Over 7950 Goodreads members like this quote from Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Prince: ‘We live and breathe words.’”

Other bookstores have books arranged according to best-seller lists, store-specific best-sellers, and staff recommendations, but I’ve never seen any store layout so extensively informed by data and where they tell you so much about why you’re seeing each item. Grocery store item placement is very data driven, but they don’t tell you why you’re seeing a display of Coke at the end of the aisle or why the produce is typically right at the entrance. It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon’s approach works or if people will be turned off by shopping inside a product database, a dehumanizing feeling Frommer hints at with “a collection of books that feels blandly standard” when compared to human curated selections at smaller bookstores.

P.S. So weird that there’s no prices on items…you have to scan them with a store scanner or a phone app. Overall, the store feels less oriented towards its book-buying customers and more towards driving Prime memberships, Amazon app downloads, and Kindle & Echo sales (which might be Amazon’s objective).

Update: Jia Tolentino on Amazon’s stores.

The store’s biggest shortcoming, though, is that it is so clearly not intended for people who read regularly. I normally walk into a bookstore and shop the way a person might shop for clothes: I know what I like, what generally works for me, what new styles I might be ready to try. It was a strange feeling, on Thursday, to do laps around a bookstore without feeling a single unexpected thrill. There were no wild cards, no deep cuts, no oddballs — just books that were already best-sellers, pieces of clothing I knew wouldn’t fit me or that I already owned.

Tolentino also notes that the fiction section in the NYC store contains fewer than 200 different titles.

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   May 16, 2017

This Is How We Do It

This Is How We Do It is a children’s book by Matt Lamothe that follows the daily lives of seven real kids from different countries around the world (Japan, Peru, Iran, Russia, India, Italy, and Uganda).

In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days — and this one world we all share — unites them. This genuine exchange provides a window into traditions that may be different from our own as well as a mirror reflecting our common experiences.

Watch the trailer. This is exactly the sort of book I love getting for my kids: it’s What Do People Do All Day plus What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets.

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, and heard in the past few weeks. Don’t take the letter grades too seriously (that’s just good life advice).

The Simpsons. Watched some old episodes w/ the kids. I can’t tell if they’re still any good or not because I can still recite most of the dialogue by heart. (A-)

Dr. Strangelove. Superb. (A+)

DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. I said I wanted to listen to this more and I have. Great. (A)

Citizen Jane. Watching this at a theater a short walk from the West Village and Washington Square Park was a powerful experience. (B+)

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. As good as everyone says. As a country we’ve never reckoned with what we did (and continue to do) to Native Americans and I doubt we ever will. (A-)

Pleasure by Feist. I had kinda forgotten about Feist but I will definitely remember this one. (B+)

S-Town. This didn’t go where you expected it to and it was all the better for it. Still, by the last two episodes, I’d run out of steam a little. (B+)

Nukes. Radiolab asks if there are any checks on the President ordering a nuclear strike and the answer is as terrifying as you might imagine. (B+)

True Love Waits by Christopher O’Riley & Radiohead. An old favorite. Good for when you’re feeling down. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Sequels are hard. (B)

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke. Mindfulness Lite, not that that’s a bad thing. (B-)

Mad Men. Still plugging away at watching this all the way through a second time. The later seasons lack a little something but it’s still great overall. (A-)

Is This It by The Strokes. Great NYC terroir. This album is all mixed up with my first few months/years in the city. (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

The struggle with the self

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

This is a passage from Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight, which takes the form of a fictional diary of lessons and anecdotes from a 15th century squire learning how to behave like a knight from his grandfather.

One time, on a sweltering August night, Grandfather and I made camp down by the ocean. He said, “While I teach you about the ways of war, I want you to know that the real struggle is between the two wolves that live inside each of us.”

“Two wolves?” I asked, seated on an old log near the fire. My eyes were transfixed by the flames twisting uncomfortably in the night air.

“One wolf is evil,” he continued. “It is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, deceit, false pride.” He paused, poking at the embers of our fire with a long stick he’d been carving.

“The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, humility, loving-kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith.”

I considered that for a minute, then tentatively asked, “Which wolf will win?”

Sparks danced towards the stars as the old man stared into the glare of the flames and replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

A helpful reminder that I’ve been feeding the wrong wolf recently. He’s so hungry and there’s been a lot of available food, but I’ve got to get back on track.

Update: As stated on the back cover, in writing this book Hawke borrowed liberally from “the ancient teachings of Eastern and Western philosophy and on the great spiritual and political writings of our time”. The story of the two wolves appears to originate from Billy Graham or perhaps from the Cherokee tribe. (thx, everyone)

Shake Shack releases an official cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2017

Anatomy of a ShackBurger

Big news around these parts: the Shake Shack is coming out with their first cookbook next week. Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories details how the Shake Shack came about and spills the beans with recipes for almost all of the food, burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries included. According to Eater, the recipes have been tweaked for the home cook:

Rosati shares almost all of the company’s recipes, though unfortunately he isn’t giving away any real secrets here. The processes have been adapted for the home cook, and Garutti told Eater that only “six people” in the world know the real recipe for Shake Shack’s signature sauce.

The recipe in the book for Shack sauce is a mixture of Hellman’s, Dijon, Heinz, pickle juice, salt, and pepper. “We make our own from scratch,” Garutti says, but when he and Rosati first started testing recipes for the book they came to the conclusion that these weren’t recipes “most people would want to make at home,” because they were labor-intensive, “messy,” and time-consuming.

Immediate pre-order. See also Kenji’s Fake Shack burger recipe.

Update: Here’s the recipe for the ShackBurger and sauce from the book. The ShackSauce recipe includes “¼ teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine”, which is also the secret ingredient in my homemade tuna salad.

The 2017 TED reading list

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2017

ParrotRead has compiled a list of books recommended on Twitter by the speakers at the recently concluded TED 2017 conference in Vancouver. Some highlights:

Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple by Def Jam cofounder Russell Simmons. “Simmons shares the most fundamental key to success — meditation — and guides readers to use stillness as a powerful tool to access their potential.” Recommended by Serena Williams, who also recommended Eat Yourself Sexy (which sounds like a Troy McClure self-help infomercial).

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies so it’s high time I delve into Mantel’s older novels. This work of historical fiction about the Frech Revolution seems like an ideal place to start. Recommended by Atul Gawande.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. Classic sci-fi about humans living underground with all their needs being met by machines. Recommended by Elon Musk, who kinda wants to do that for realsies?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Lacks’ cells were taken without her knowledge and used to develop medical breakthroughs worth billions of dollars. Now an HBO movie starring Oprah Winfrey. Recommended by Lisa Genova.

SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully by Jane McGonigal. “She explains how we can cultivate new powers of recovery and resilience in everyday life simply by adopting a more ‘gameful’ mind-set.” Recommended by Tim Ferriss.

The Field Study Handbook

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2017

Field Study Handbook

Jan Chipchase runs Studio D, which I’ve previously described as “a modern day A-Team, except with more field research and fewer guns”. He and the studio are publishing a book called The Field Study Handbook and financing it through Kickstarter. Here’s how Chipchase describes the book:

The comprehensive how-to, why-to guide to running international field research projects.

But it’s not just for professionals. It’s for anyone who has travelled and has felt missed opportunities—

In understanding what is going on.

Experiences that didn’t sit right.

Conversations that fell short of their potential.

Questions left unanswered.

I wanted to create an artefact. A beautiful thing that takes up space in your life, and nudges you with its presence.

To travel, and experience the world with an open mind, and fresh eyes. So that when you return you too are ready to shape the world.

And from the rough table of contents, a preview of the chapter about conducting interviews:

Types of interview. Interview roles. Guides versus scripts. Interview setup. Client assumptions around data, note-taking. Focus, expansion, evidence, rapport, repetition, defensiveness, hostility and other in-depth interview techniques. Interview preparation. The importance of social parity. Native languages. Projecting and reading body language. Being non-judgemental. Embracing judgment. Dissecting emotional responses. The long pause and the grand tour. Leading questions. Running bilingual interviews. The nine stages of in-depth interview.

This looks great…can’t wait to get my copy.