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A Collection of 100 Years of US National Parks’ Graphical Ephemera

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2019

From the folks that produced the NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual and the NASA Standards Manual comes a new book, Parks, about the art, maps, and printed materials produced to support American’s national parks.

Parks Book

Parks Book

Parks Book

From the book’s introduction by Lyz Nagan-Powell:

If, as Wallace Stegner famously declared, the national parks are “America’s best idea,” how can we explore this idea? There is the historical aspect: America invented the concept of nationally owned and operated parks in 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant signed Yellowstone National Park into existence. But there is more to Stegner’s sentiment than just the invention of the parks. The rest of the quote goes on to say that the parks are “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

The national parks story isn’t simple or easy. It’s full of splendor and glory, as well as greed and exploitation. For every person who loves one of the parks like it’s their own home, there is another who resents the federal government for owning it. Even before Yellowstone became the first national park, park history was fraught with tension. Tension between preservation and use, between indigenous people and white explorers, between local rights and federal oversight, between wild freedom and human control, between park purists and park recreationists, and between commercial exploitation and historic value.

With this tense backdrop, or maybe because of it, art, imagery, writing, and design have played a vital role in the history of the national parks. Compelling creative materials that celebrated the land — including books, paintings, performances, and advertisements — have marked developments and milestones. These items have brought the rich landscapes and their scientific and historical significance to life.

Perhaps together, the tension and celebration make the National Park System - parks, monuments, natural areas, historic sites, and more - the perfect embodiment of America itself, and what the “best idea” of the parks is really all about.

Parks is out in October but you can pre-order it now.

Le Corbuffet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

Le Corbuffet was a series of performances by artist Esther Choi that sought to bring together food with notable artists and designers, along with a healthy dose of puns. A cookbook based on the project will be out in October: Le Corbuffet: Edible Art and Design Classics. Here’s the page for Quiche Haring:

Le Corbuffet

Other dishes include Rhubarbara Kruger Compote, Shigeru Banchan Two Ways, Yokonomiyaki, Rem Brûlée, and the Robert Rauschenburger. Here’s the full menu/table of contents:

Le Corbuffet

Says Choi about where the idea for the project came from:

In 2014, I stumbled across an elaborate menu crafted by László Moholy-Nagy. The multi-panelled bill of fare was for a dinner held in tribute to the Bauhaus founder and architect, Walter Gropius, in 1937. Inspired by the menu for Gropius’s dinner, and the questions that it raised about the elitism of cultural production, I decided to conduct a social experiment a year later.

Overview, Young Explorer’s Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

In 2016, Benjamin Grant published Overview, a book of high-definition satellite photos of the Earth that were drawn from his site, Daily Overview (also on Instagram). This fall, a version for younger readers is coming out: Overview, Young Explorer’s Edition: A New Way of Seeing Earth.

Overview, Young Explorer's Edition

When astronauts look down at our planet and see its vibrant surface shining against the blackness of space, they experience the Overview Effect — a sense of awe, an awareness that everything is interconnected, and an overwhelming desire to take care of our one and only home.

This is a no-brainer pre-order…my kids often pull Overview off the shelf just to look at the photos. I’m also adding this to the list of Adult Nonfiction Adapted for Younger Readers.

Barack Obama’s Summer 2019 Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2019

As he does every so often, President Obama shared a list of the books that he’s reading this summer in this Facebook post. I am not ashamed to admit that Obama’s recs have pushed me to read quite a few books, including Pachinko and the Three-Body Problem trilogy, and not once have I been disappointed. This time around, he recommends anything and everything by Toni Morrison and a few other things.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang is a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s epic fictionalized look at Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, came out in 2009, but I was a little busy back then, so I missed it. Still great today.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a beautifully written memoir about the life of a woman in science, a brilliant friendship, and the profundity of trees. Terrific.

I still recommend Wolf Hall (and her follow-up, Bring Up the Bodies) to almost everyone who asks me what they should read next and am looking forward to tackling Chiang’s collection soon.

Urban Nudges

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2019

Urban Nudges is a site that documents small efforts by cities and the people who live in them to slightly change the behaviors of their inhabitants in some way. A 2008 book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein defines a nudge as “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives”. That sounds a bit academic but some examples from the site clarify things. For instance, protected bike lanes encourage bike riding:

The study “Lessons from the Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S.” was conducted in eight protected bike lanes in Austin, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, DC and the major findings were that bike lanes induced new bikers, mostly because they feel safer about the experience.

The researchers interviewed 2,283 cyclists using the bike lanes and found out that nearly ten percent of the users would have taken another mode of transportation if the bike lane hadn’t existed and around one percent of the interviewed said they would not have taken the trip at all.

Dancing zebras in Bolivia cajole motorists into minding crosswalks and other rules of the street:

Zebra Bolivia

Inspired by the Colombian experience, in Bolivia the Department of transportation developed a program where urban educators get dressed as zebras, teaching children and adults urban values through empathy and comedy. The project’s initial concept was to teach pedestrians and drivers the appropriate use of the pedestrian crossing and reduce congestion: urban zebras rejoice when pedestrians wait for green light and grab their head in agony when pedestrians jaywalk. Empathy, humility and comedy made them popular.

A speedometer in Amsterdam raises money for the neighborhood when drivers do the speed limit:

Every driver that passes by the speedometer below the speed limit of 30 km per hour raises EUR0,03 for the neighborhood. “The city’s slogan: Max 30 — Save for the Neighborhood” (Pop Up City). The money raised by this initiative is granted by the city of Amsterdam and is meant to be invested in local community projects.

What kind of nudges could you imagine in your town or city?

The Mosquito: Humanity’s Greatest Enemy

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

For the New Yorker, Brooke Jarvis reviews Timothy C. Winegard’s The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator.

It turns out that, if you’re looking for them, the words “mosquitoes,” “fever,” “ague,” and “death” are repeated to the point of nausea throughout human history. (And before: Winegard suggests that, when the asteroid hit, dinosaurs were already in decline from mosquito-borne diseases.) Malaria laid waste to prehistoric Africa to such a degree that people evolved sickle-shaped red blood cells to survive it. The disease killed the ancient Greeks and Romans — as well as the peoples who tried to conquer them — by the hundreds of thousands, playing a major role in the outcomes of their wars. Hippocrates associated malaria’s late-summer surge with the Dog Star, calling the sickly time the “dog days of summer.” In 94 B.C., the Chinese historian Sima Qian wrote, “In the area south of the Yangtze the land is low and the climate humid; adult males die young.” In the third century, malaria epidemics helped drive people to a small, much persecuted faith that emphasized healing and care of the sick, propelling Christianity into a world-altering religion.

And then there’s this:

In total, Winegard estimates that mosquitoes have killed more people than any other single cause — fifty-two billion of us, nearly half of all humans who have ever lived. He calls them “our apex predator,” “the destroyer of worlds,” and “the ultimate agent of historical change.”

Two other recent reviews of the book: In ‘The Mosquito,’ Humans Face A Predator More Deadly Than The Rest (NPR) and The mosquito isn’t just annoying — Timothy C. Winegard says we’re at war (LA Times).

The Greta Thunberg Effect

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

According to recent statistics, the number of books published about the climate crisis & the natural world aimed at children has more than doubled over the last year. Children’s publishers are crediting climate activist Greta Thunberg with igniting interest in the climate among the younger set.

“I absolutely would say there has been a Greta Thunberg effect,” says Rachel Kellehar, head of nonfiction. “She has galvanised the appetite of young people for change, and that has galvanised our appetite, as publishers, for stories that empower our readers to make those changes.”

I’d give David Attenborough’s recent run of nature documentaries some credit as well…the young people in my household are big fans of Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II.

Here are a few recent and upcoming children’s books about climate and nature, in addition to Thunberg’s own No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, of course.

Climate Books Kids

A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals by Millie Marotta. “A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals highlights the plight of 43 endangered species from around the world, including rare and well-known animals living in freshwater, oceans, forests, mountains, tundras, deserts, grasslands, and wetlands.”

Earth Heroes: Twenty Inspiring Stories of People Saving Our World by Lily Dyu. “With twenty inspirational stories celebrating the pioneering work of a selection of Earth Heroes from all around the globe, from Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough to Yin Yuzhen and Isatou Ceesay, each tale is a beacon of hope in the fight for the future of our planet, proving that one person, no matter how small, can make a difference.”

Ninita’s Big World: The True Story of a Deaf Pygmy Marmoset by Sarah Glenn Marsh. “Published in partnership with the RSCF, this charming true story of how one little orphaned monkey got a second chance to have a family gently introduces kids to disability, biodiversity, and wildlife conservation.”

Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari. “The few live in luxury, whilst the millions like them crowd together in compounds, surviving on meagre rations and governed by Freedom Fields — the organisation that looks after you, as long as you opt in. The bees have long disappeared; instead children must labour on farms, pollinating crops by hand so that the nation can eat.”

America’s National Parks by Lonely Planet Kids. “With awesome facts, photos and illustrations on every page, you’ll discover erupting geysers, exploding volcanoes, howling wolves, soaring eagles, mountains, glaciers, rainforests and more throughout the continental USA, Hawaii, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands.”

Climate Books Kids

Kids Fight Plastic: How to be a #2minute Superhero by Martin Dorey. “Read this essential book and find out how you can become a #2minutesuperhero by completing 50 missions to fight plastic at home, school and on your days out.”

Don’t Let Them Disappear by Chelsea Clinton. “Taking readers through the course of a day, Don’t Let Them Disappear talks about rhinos, tigers, whales, pandas and more, and provides helpful tips on what we all can do to help prevent these animals from disappearing from our world entirely.”

Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig. “Eleven-year-old Evie has a talent. A SUPERTALENT. A talent that can let her HEAR the thoughts of an elephant, and make friends with a dog and a sparrow. The only problem is, this talent is dangerous. VERY dangerous. That’s what her dad says.”

If Thunberg doesn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize in the next few years for her efforts, I’ll be very surprised.

An annotated “Frankenstein” brings lessons for today

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 02, 2019

Amidst all the calls for more ethics and considerations for social issues on the part of tech companies, this looks like quite an interesting and innovative way of approaching the problem. This review of the book Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds gives a good overview of the contents and thinking.

The critical essays accompanying the text are eclectic, cross-disciplinary, and incisive, and they include contributions from beyond the academy, such as the essays by science fiction authors Elizabeth Bear and Cory Doctorow.

Using the novel as a canvas on which to think through contemporary issues.

These annotations often raise novel questions about technology and society, extrapolating from the technological conditions suggested by the novel into terms that might emerge today, alongside the more usual role of explanatory footnotes in a student text.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein’s Monster in another time of technological transition, the Industrial Revolution.

It is an important part of what gives “Frankenstein” its enduring hold on our contemporary imagination: Both the novel and the cultural icon derive their special pathos from what Heather E. Douglas’s critical essay shrewdly calls the “bitter aftertaste of technical sweetness”—tragedy set in the distinctly modern conditions of secular science and technology.

The piece and the book it refers also cover how Shelley’s work is regarded by many as the first work of science-fiction and how it was made possible not only by her great talent but also her education. She studied the humanities—literature, philosophy and classics, as well as the science of the day. Today these two aspects of education are often times presented as opposites, and in some kind of fight, where on the contrary they need to coexist and feed from each other. It’s something that more and more people realize and integrate in their teaching, planning, and hiring but which is still regularly disregarded in many technology circles.

From Elizabeth Bear’s essay, this sounds familier:

Victor, she says, is morally culpable for not taking responsibility for his creation and for his refusal to acknowledge his responsibility because he cannot see it for what it is. He runs away from it and refuses to engage with it. He refuses to engage with the creature and flees, and he does so because he is not able to see its essential nature, its needs and his part in their fulfilment—and that, Bear says, is on account of his monstrous “narcissism, this inability to engage with other creatures” as creatures like himself.

And brings two kinds of cautionary tales, both very much worthy of deeper reflection and of today’s challenges:

We can thus discern two kinds of cautionary tales in “Frankenstein” (there are others): one Miltonian and the other Promethean. The former is a warning to “creators”—scientists, engineers and what this new edition of “Frankenstein” calls “creators of all kinds”—of the risks of hubris: reaching to exercise knowledge and powers that are not fully understood, whose consequences cannot be predicted and which cannot be controlled. The latter, however—the Promethean—is a warning to these same creators that, when they *do* exercise that knowledge and power, they must be willing to take responsibility for the things they create, for the work of their hands, which is what Prometheus did and what Victor failed to do. [Emphasis mine.]

(Via Stuart Candy.)

Update: Sam Arbesman (who write a mean newsletter) sent me Frankenbook, an open access version of the book referenced above. It’s powered by PubPub which you should also check out.

Desert libraries of Chinguetti

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

Al Ahmed Mahmoud Library in Chinguetti

I did not know about these wonderful places. For hundreds of years, families in Mauritania have been maintaining libraries of old Arabo-Berber books. Originally on the route of pilgrims travelling to Mecca, the libraries are now at risk from the spreading Sahara and ever dwindling numbers of visitors, in part because of security restrictions due to terrorism.

This thread by Incunabla brought their existence to my attention.

Most of Chinguetti consists of abandoned houses which are being swallowed up by the ever encroaching dunes of the Sahara. But this was once a prosperous city of 20 000 people, and a medieval centre for religious and legal scholars. It was known as “The City of Libraries”.

Library in Chinguetti

Lower down the thread, we are directed to this piece at the Guardian, Mauritania’s hidden manuscripts.

The bone-dry wood creaks as the book opens at a page representing the course of the moon, framed by black balls and red crescents. The manuscript contains 132 pages of Arab astronomy bound in well-worn leather, a 15th-century treasure stored, with similar items, in a cardboard box in a traditional dwelling in Chinguetti.

Seen as a legacy from their ancestors, the families feel it’s an honour for them to care for these books.

About 600km north-east of the capital, in Chinguetti, once a centre of Islamic learning, the Habott family owns one of the finest private libraries, with 1,400 books covering a dozen subjects such as the Qur’an and the Hadith (the words of the Prophet), astronomy, mathematics, geometry, law and grammar. The oldest tome, written on Chinese paper, dates from the 11th century.

Also linked in the thread, more pictures at Messy Nessy.

Ghosts on her shelves

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 30, 2019

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

It’s always interesting to see how people feel about books. Some don’t read them, some always have one in hand, even walking. Some read everything, some pile the unreads endlessly. Some read them with purpose, to learn something, get better at some tasks; others to escape, dream, discover some new imaginary universe. Karen Olsson at the Literary Hub wonders why she doesn’t read all her books, and, contrary to her husband who diligently reads anything written by a friend or given to him, she has multiple unread books. They remind her of past interests, past lives, future intents, projects, they whisper to her.

I keep this book around even though I don’t wish to make anything of it in a literal sense—I don’t want to write fiction or nonfiction or a nutty screenplay about a mesoamerican document, but I wish for it to somehow whisper in my ear while I write something not at all about the map, for its enigmatic presence to leave some ineffable trace.

I love this idea of books as biographies, including alternative ones.

I’ve become conscious of the alternative biography my books represent, a history of stray intentions, youthful aspirations, old interests that have run their course but not quite expired, since there’s always that chance I might decide to learn at last about portrait miniatures, or neuroscience, or the Battle of the Alamo.

In some cases, there’s even some kind of fear of the real thing not matching up to the mystery.

Perhaps in some cases it has actually meant more to me to possess a book than to read it, because as long as its contents remain unknown to me, it retains its mystery. The unread book is a provocation, a promise of something that might dissipate if I slogged my way through the text.

Chuck Klosterman On How He Chooses Books To Read

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 26, 2019

I superficially resemble Chuck Klosterman — we’re redheaded dudes with glasses and beards — but wouldn’t call myself a fan. I’ve enjoyed his writing from time to time as it’s popped up from here to there, but I’ve never read any of his books, nor am I particularly pressed to. It’s okay. He’s doing fine.

What I am struck by in this interview is the criteria Klosterman poses for liking writers and choosing their books. There’s two parts to it. Here it goes.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

This is an odd answer, but when I think about writers I “admire,” it has almost nothing to do with their books. It has more to do with how they manage their life. Writing seems to attract a lot of psychologically unhinged people, so I’m always impressed with authors who are able to view their career accurately, who are able to reconcile the inherent dissonance between commercial and critical success, and who seem to enjoy the process of writing without cannibalizing every other aspect of their existence in order to get it done. Jonathan Lethem seems like this kind of guy. George Saunders. Maria Semple. It’s possible, of course, that these writers aren’t the way they appear on the surface, and maybe if I knew them intimately I’d conclude they were all crazy. But then again, not seeming like a self-absorbed sociopath is 75 percent of the way to actually being a normal person.

Whose opinion on books do you most trust?

Part-time bookstore employees and research librarians. They have no agenda and plenty of free time. The research librarians are especially good, because they don’t even care if their suggestions make them seem cool.

1) What’s weird is we spent the better part of the twentieth century enshrining genius sociopaths at the top of the author pile. Some of this was necessary pushback against 19th century criticism that tended to be overly moralizing, equating the goodness of an author with the naively perceived goodness of their personal lives. But I wonder now whether we’re swinging back to that, by way of politics an everything else. Good writers should first and foremost be good people. Or at least, in Klosterman’s formulation, reasonably normal people.

2) This might be the most interesting piece of it for me. Librarians and bookstore employees. It makes a good deal of sense; they are the people who are closest to the books. But it also makes me wonder: whose opinion do you trust most when it comes to books? Friends? Critics? Publishers? Academics? Who’s got your number?

Archaeology of the 99%

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2019

Archaeologists are increasingly looking past the splashy artifacts of ancient elites to seek & find the dwellings and possessions of commoners. For Knowable Magazine (good title), Bob Holmes talked to retired archaeologist Jeremy Sabloff about the Archaeology of the 99%.

Archaeology frequently focused on big buildings and objects owned by elites because they were easier to find and more durable & abundant (elites had money to spend on nice things). But it was also a question of where the funding came from:

Before World War II, archaeological research was funded mostly by museums or wealthy individuals or foundations. They wanted spectacular finds — temples and palaces, not the remains of perishable structures of everyday life. They wanted royal burials, such as King Tut’s tomb, the royal treasures of Ur, great sculpture, murals, beautiful pottery, jade, what have you. They were looking for materials that they could bring back and display in museums.

Then a shift happened:

The makeup of the field changed significantly after World War II, and its practitioners became much more middle class. One reason is there were a lot more jobs available, particularly at state universities. And you started to be able to get grants for fieldwork that wasn’t based on looking for objects or spectacular finds.

And new technology has helped as well:

The richer picture we’re getting of the 100 percent is aided by tools that archaeologists 50 years ago just didn’t have available. In terms of settlement-pattern mapping, one of the huge technical breakthroughs in recent years is remote sensing, particularly LIDAR, where low-flying aircraft or drones send down laser beams and you can see the ground without the trees. You can see stone courses. You can see the remains of houses, causeways, roads, defensive fortifications. That’s going to make the mapping of sites much simpler, particularly in difficult situations like tropical rainforest or a heavily wooded area. We’re able to cover much bigger areas with much greater detail and accuracy than ever before.

I am reading Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome right now and in the first chapter she touches on what we know about ordinary Romans:

The reasons why we can tell this story in such detail are very simple: the Romans themselves wrote a great deal about it, and a lot of what they wrote has survived. Modern historians often lament how little we can know about some aspects of the ancient world. ‘Just think of what we don’t know about the lives of the poor,’ they complain, ‘or of the perspectives of women.’ This is as anachronistic as it is deceptive. The writers of Roman literature were almost exclusively male; or, at least, very few works by women have come down to us (the autobiography of the emperor Nero’s mother, Agrippina, must count as one of the saddest losses of classical literature). These men were also almost exclusively well off, even though some Roman poets did like to pretend, as poets still occasionally do, that they were starving in garrets. The complaints, however, miss a far more important point.

The single most extraordinary fact about the Roman world is that so much of what the Romans wrote has survived, over two millennia. We have their poetry, letters, essays, speeches and histories, to which I have already referred, but also novels, geographies, satires and reams and reams of technical writing on everything from water engineering to medicine and disease. The survival is largely due to the diligence of medieval monks who transcribed by hand, again and again, what they believed were the most important, or useful, works of classical literature, with a significant but often forgotten contribution from medieval Islamic scholars who translated into Arabic some of the philosophy and scientific material. And thanks to archaeologists who have excavated papyri from the sands and the rubbish dumps of Egypt, wooden writing tablets from Roman military bases in the north of England and eloquent tombstones from all over the empire, we have glimpses of the life and letters of some rather more ordinary inhabitants of the Roman world. We have notes sent home, shopping lists, account books and last messages inscribed on graves. Even if this is a small proportion of what once existed, we have access to more Roman literature — and more Roman writing in general — than any one person could now thoroughly master in the course of a lifetime.

Highlights from In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2019

You may know of Erik Larson from his excellent book on the 1893 World’s Fair, The Devil in the White City. Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin was published in 2011 and tells the story of William Dodd, America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany, roughly from the time of his appointment in 1933 to the events of the Night of the Long Knives, the July 1934 purge that consolidated Adolf Hitler’s power.

Reading it, I couldn’t help but notice several parallels between what was happening in 1933 & 1934 as Hitler worked to establish an authoritarian government in Germany and some of the actions of our current government and its President here in the US. If you think that sort of statement is hyperbolic, I urge you to read on and remember that there was a time when Nazi Germany and its rulers seemed to its citizenry and to the world to be, sure, a little extreme in their methods, fiery in their rhetoric, and engaged in some small actions against certain groups of people, but ultimately harmless…until they weren’t and then it was too late to do anything.

Here’s everything I highlighted on my Kindle presented with some light commentary…much of it speaks for itself and the parallels are obvious. I apologize (slightly) for the length, but this book provided a very interesting look at the Nazi regime before they became the world’s canonical example of evil.

Page 19 (The practiced good cop/bad cop of the tyrant.):

And Hitler himself had begun to seem like a more temperate actor than might have been predicted given the violence that had swept Germany earlier in the year. On May 10, 1933, the Nazi Party burned unwelcome books — Einstein, Freud, the brothers Mann, and many others — in great pyres throughout Germany, but seven days later Hitler declared himself committed to peace and went so far as to pledge complete disarmament if other countries followed suit. The world swooned with relief.

Page 28 (There is much in the book about anti-Semitic attitudes in the US in the 1930s and the indifference to what was happening to the Jews in Germany.):

But Roosevelt understood that the political costs of any public condemnation of Nazi persecution or any obvious effort to ease the entry of Jews into America were likely to be immense, because American political discourse had framed the Jewish problem as an immigration problem. Germany’s persecution of Jews raised the specter of a vast influx of Jewish refugees at a time when America was reeling from the Depression. The isolationists added another dimension to the debate by insisting, as did Hitler’s government, that Nazi oppression of Germany’s Jews was a domestic German affair and thus none of America’s business.

Page 29 (After reading the book, I couldn’t help but think that if Japan had not bombed Pearl Harbor in late 1941, the US might not have entered the war against Germany and may have gone down an isolationist path that led towards fascism.):

Indeed, anti-immigration sentiment in America would remain strong into 1938, when a Fortune poll reported that some two-thirds of those surveyed favored keeping refugees out of the country.

Page 38:

When the conversation turned to Germany’s persecution of Jews, Colonel House urged Dodd to do all he could “to ameliorate Jewish sufferings” but added a caveat: “the Jews should not be allowed to dominate economic or intellectual life in Berlin as they have done for a long time. “In this, Colonel House expressed a sentiment pervasive in America, that Germany’s Jews were at least partly responsible for their own troubles.

Page 40 (This is in reference to Dodd’s daughter Martha, who was 24 when he was named ambassador and accompanied him to Berlin.):

She knew little of international politics and by her own admission did not appreciate the gravity of what was occurring in Germany. She saw Hitler as “a clown who looked like Charlie Chaplin.” Like many others in America at this time and elsewhere in the world, she could not imagine him lasting very long or being taken seriously.

Page 41:

In this she reflected the attitude of a surprising proportion of other Americans, as captured in the 1930s by practitioners of the then-emerging art of public-opinion polling. One poll found that 41 percent of those contacted believed Jews had “too much power in the United States”; another found that one-fifth wanted to “drive Jews out of the United States.” (A poll taken decades in the future, in 2009, would find that the total of Americans who believed Jews had too much power had shrunk to 13 percent.)

Page 54 (The “if it’s not happening to me, it must not be happening” response to injustice.):

When Martha left her hotel she witnessed no violence, saw no one cowering in fear, felt no oppression. The city was a delight.

Page 56 (Read more about Coordination):

Beneath the surface, however, Germany had undergone a rapid and sweeping revolution that reached deep into the fabric of daily life. It had occurred quietly and largely out of easy view. At its core was a government campaign called Gleichschaltung — meaning “Coordination” — to bring citizens, government ministries, universities, and cultural and social institutions in line with National Socialist beliefs and attitudes.

Page 56 (This paragraph, and the one that follows below, about “self-coordination” was one of the most chilling I read…I had to put the book down for a bit after this.):

“Coordination” occurred with astonishing speed, even in sectors of life not directly targeted by specific laws, as Germans willingly placed themselves under the sway of Nazi rule, a phenomenon that became known as Selbstgleichschaltung, or “self-coordination.” Change came to Germany so quickly and across such a wide front that German citizens who left the country for business or travel returned to find everything around them altered, as if they were characters in a horror movie who come back to find that people who once were their friends, clients, patients, and customers have become different in ways hard to discern.

Page 57:

The Gestapo’s reputation for omniscience and malevolence arose from a confluence of two phenomena: first, a political climate in which merely criticizing the government could get one arrested, and second, the existence of a populace eager not just to step in line and become coordinated but also to use Nazi sensitivities to satisfy individual needs and salve jealousies. One study of Nazi records found that of a sample of 213 denunciations, 37 percent arose not from heartfelt political belief but from private conflicts, with the trigger often breathtakingly trivial. In October 1933, for example, the clerk at a grocery store turned in a cranky customer who had stubbornly insisted on receiving three pfennigs in change. The clerk accused her of failure to pay taxes. Germans denounced one another with such gusto that senior Nazi officials urged the populace to be more discriminating as to what circumstances might justify a report to the police. Hitler himself acknowledged, in a remark to his minister of justice, “we are living at present in a sea of denunciations and human meanness.”

Page 58:

“Hardly anyone thought that the threats against the Jews were meant seriously,” wrote Carl Zuckmayer, a Jewish writer. “Even many Jews considered the savage anti-Semitic rantings of the Nazis merely a propaganda device, a line the Nazis would drop as soon as they won governmental power and were entrusted with public responsibilities.” Although a song popular among Storm Troopers bore the title “When Jewish Blood Spurts from My Knife,” by the time of the Dodds’ arrival violence against Jews had begun to wane. Incidents were sporadic, isolated. “It was easy to be reassured,” wrote historian John Dippel in a study of why many Jews decided to stay in Germany. “On the surface, much of daily life remained as it had been before Hitler came to power. Nazi attacks on the Jews were like summer thunderstorms that came and went quickly, leaving an eerie calm.”

Page 66 (LOL, a “moderate nationalist regime”):

Neurath saw himself as a sobering force in the government and believed he could help control Hitler and his party. As one peer put it, “He was trying to train the Nazis and turn them into really serviceable partners in a moderate nationalist regime.”

Page 68:

It was a problem Messersmith had noticed time and again. Those who lived in Germany and who paid attention understood that something fundamental had changed and that a darkness had settled over the landscape. Visitors failed to see it.

Page 81:

Dodd reinterated his commitment to objectivity and understanding in an August 12 letter to Roosevelt, in which he wrote that while he did not approve of Germany’s treatment of Jews or Hitler’s drive to restore the country’s military power, “fundamentally, I believe a people has a right to govern itself and that other peoples must exercise patience even when cruelties and injustices are done. Give men a chance to try their schemes.”

Page 84 (Yeah, where did all those nice houses come from?):

The Dodds found many properties to choose from, though at first they failed to ask themselves why so many grand old mansions were available for lease so fully and luxuriously furnished, with ornate tables and chairs, gleaming pianos, and rare vases, maps, and books still in place.

Page 85 (Dodd’s Jewish landlord, who lived in the attic, rented his house to Dodd at a significant discount to gain protection from state persecution of Jews.):

Panofsky was sufficiently wealthy that he did not need the income from the lease, but he had seen enough since Hitler’s appointment as chancellor to know that no Jew, no matter how prominent, was safe from Nazi persecution. He offered 27a to the new ambassador with the express intention of gaining for himself and his mother an enhanced level of physical protection, calculating that surely even the Storm Troopers would not risk the international outcry likely to arise from an attack on the house shared by the American ambassador.

Page 94 (Nazi forces would often beat people who failed to “Heil Hitler!”, even non-Germans. This order did not stop the beatings.):

The next day, Saturday, August 19, a senior government official notified Vice Consul Raymond Geist that an order had been issued to the SA and SS stating that foreigners were not expected to give or return the Hitler salute.

Page 97:

She too had been shaken by the episode, but she did not let it tarnish her overall view of the country and the revival of spirit caused by the Nazi revolution. “I tried in a self-conscious way to justify the action of the Nazis, to insist that we should not condemn without knowing the whole story.”

Page 105:

Messersmith met with Dodd and asked whether the time had come for the State Department to issue a definitive warning against travel in Germany. Such a warning, both men knew, would have a devastating effect on Nazi prestige. Dodd favored restraint. From the perspective of his role as ambassador, he found these attacks more nuisance than dire emergency and in fact tried whenever possible to limit press attention.

Page 108:

Göring too seemed a relatively benign character, at least as compared with Hitler. Sigrid Schultz found him the most tolerable of the senior Nazis because at least “you felt you could be in the same room with the man,” whereas Hitler, she said, “kind of turned my stomach.” One of the American embassy’s officers, John C. White, said years later, “I was always rather favorably impressed by Göring. … If any Nazi was likeable, I suppose he came nearest to it.”

Page 115:

Martha’s love life took a dark turn when she was introduced to Rudolf Diels, the young chief of the Gestapo. He moved with ease and confidence, yet unlike Putzi Hanfstaengl, who invaded a room, he entered unobtrusively, seeping in like a malevolent fog.

Page 117:

Yet under Diels the Gestapo played a complex role. In the weeks following Hitler’s appointment as chancellor, Diels’s Gestapo acted as a curb against a wave of violence by the SA, during which Storm Troopers dragged thousands of victims to their makeshift prisons. Diels led raids to close them and found prisoners in appalling conditions, beaten and garishly bruised, limbs broken, near starvation, “like a mass of inanimate clay,” he wrote, “absurd puppets with lifeless eyes, burning with fever, their bodies sagging.”

Page 118:

During a gathering of foreign correspondents at Putzi Hanfstaengl’s home, Diels told the reporters, “The value of the SA and the SS, seen from my viewpoint of inspector-general responsible for the suppression of subversive tendencies and activities, lies in the fact that they spread terror. That is a wholesome thing.”

Page 130 (“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” -Maya Angelou):

Dodd said, “You cannot expect world opinion of your conduct to moderate so long as eminent leaders like Hitler and Goebbels announce from platforms, as in Nuremberg, that all Jews must be wiped off the earth.”

Page 134 (“A kind of daily suspense” is definitely a tool in the political toolbox today. The news media practices this as well.):

Klemperer detected a certain “hysteria of language” in the new flood of decrees, alarms, and intimidation — “This perpetual threatening with the death penalty!” — and in strange, inexplicable episodes of paranoid excess, like the recent nationwide search. In all this Klemperer saw a deliberate effort to generate a kind of daily suspense, “copied from American cinema and thrillers,” that helped keep people in line. He also gauged it to be a manifestation of insecurity among those in power.

Page 135:

Persecution of Jews continued in ever more subtle and wide-ranging form as the process of Gleichschaltung advanced. In September the government established the Reich Chamber of Culture, under the control of Goebbels, to bring musicians, actors, painters, writers, reporters, and filmmakers into ideological and, especially, racial alignment. In early October the government enacted the Editorial Law, which banned Jews from employment by newspapers and publishers and was to take effect on January 1, 1934. No realm was too petty: The Ministry of Posts ruled that henceforth when trying to spell a word over the telephone a caller could no longer say “D as in David,” because “David” was a Jewish name. The caller had to use “Dora.” “Samuel” became “Siegfried.” And so forth.

Page 136 (George Messersmith was the head of the US Consulate in Germany from 1930 to 1934 and was one of the few people at the time who properly diagnosed the Nazi threat. In a 1933 letter to the US State Department, he called Hitler and his cronies “psychopathic cases” that would “ordinarily be receiving treatment somewhere”.):

Messersmith proposed that one solution might be “forcible intervention from the outside.” But he warned that such an action would have to come soon. “If there were intervention by other powers now, probably about half of the population would still look upon it as deliverance,” he wrote. “If it is delayed too long, such intervention might meet a practically united Germany.” One fact was certain, Messersmith believed: Germany now posed a real and grave threat to the world. He called it “the sore spot which may disturb our peace for years to come.”

Page 148 (On a speech Dodd gave in Berlin in October 1933 in front of an audience that included Joseph Goebbels.):

He gave the talk the innocuous title “Economic Nationalism.” By citing the rise and fall of Caesar and episodes from French, English, and U.S. history, Dodd sought to warn of the dangers “of arbitrary and minority” government without ever actually mentioning contemporary Germany. It was not the kind of thing a traditional diplomat might have undertaken, but Dodd saw it as simply fulfilling Roosevelt’s original mandate.

Page 149 (The reaction to Dodd’s speech):

“When the thing was over about every German present showed and expressed a kind of approval which revealed the thought: ‘You have said what all of us have been denied the right to say.’” An official of the Deutsche Bank called to express his own agreement. He told Dodd, “Silent, but anxious Germany, above all the business and University Germany, is entirely with you and most thankful that you are here and can say what we can not say.”

Page 154 (Hanfstaengl, a confidant of Hitler, tried to set up Hitler with Martha Dodd as a moderating influence.):

Putzi Hanfstaengl knew of Martha’s various romantic relationships, but by the fall of 1933 he had begun to imagine for her a new partner. Having come to feel that Hitler would be a much more reasonable leader if only he fell in love, Hanfstaengl appointed himself matchmaker.

Page 154 (Shocker that Hitler was controlling and abusive when it came to women.):

Hitler liked women, but more as stage decoration than as sources of intimacy and love. There had been talk of numerous liaisons, typically with women much younger than he — in one case a sixteen-year-old named Maria Reiter. One woman, Eva Braun, was twenty-three years his junior and had been an intermittent companion since 1929. So far, however, Hitler’s only all-consuming affair had been with his young niece, Geli Raubal. She was found shot to death in Hitler’s apartment, his revolver nearby. The most likely explanation was suicide, her means of escaping Hitler’s jealous and oppressive affection — his “clammy possessiveness, “as historian Ian Kershaw put it.

Page 157 (The banality of evil…):

Apart from his mustache and his eyes, the features of his face were indistinct and unimpressive, as if begun in clay but never fired. Recalling his first impression of Hitler, Hanfstaengl wrote, “Hitler looked like a suburban hairdresser on his day off.”

Page 159 (On Dodd’s meeting with Hitler):

Though the session had been difficult and strange, Dodd nonetheless left the chancellery feeling convinced that Hitler was sincere about wanting peace.

Page 159:

“We must keep in mind, I believe, that when Hitler says anything he for the moment convinces himself that it is true. He is basically sincere; but he is at the same time a fanatic.”

Page 161 (Martha Dodd met Hitler once briefly):

At this vantage, she wrote, the mustache “didn’t seem as ridiculous as it appeared in pictures — in fact, I scarcely noticed it.” What she did notice were his eyes. She had heard elsewhere that there was something piercing and intense about his gaze, and now, immediately, she understood. “Hitler’s eyes,” she wrote, “were startling and unforgettable — they seemed pale blue in color, were intense, unwavering, hypnotic.”

Page 165 (I didn’t highlight this, but at several points in the book, officials from the US and other countries acknowledged that they also had a “Jewish problem”, i.e. the Jews had too much power, money, and influence.):

Dodd believed that one artifact of past excess — “another curious hangover,” he told Phillips — was that his embassy had too many personnel, in particular, too many who were Jewish. “We have six or eight members of the ‘chosen race’ here who serve in most useful but conspicuous positions,” he wrote. Several were his best workers, he acknowledged, but he feared that their presence on his staff impaired the embassy’s relationship with Hitler’s government and thus impeded the day-to-day operation of the embassy.

Page 186 (Again with the belief that you can control an irrational & psychopathic nationalist.):

Papen was a protege of President Hindenburg, who affectionately called him Franzchen, or Little Franz. With Hindenburg in his camp, Papen and fellow intriguers had imagined they could control Hitler. “I have Hindenburg’s confidence,” Papen once crowed. “Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far into a corner that he’ll squeak.” It was possibly the greatest miscalculation of the twentieth century. As historian John Wheeler-Bennett put it, “Not until they had riveted the fetters upon their own wrists did they realize who indeed was captive and who captor.”

Page 189 (Relevant to this are Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on lies. See also Donald Trump’s “fanciful thinking” about 9/11 and his continuing condemnation of the Central Park Five.):

An odd kind of fanciful thinking seemed to have bedazzled Germany, to the highest levels of government. Earlier in the year, for example, Göring had claimed with utter sobriety that three hundred German Americans had been murdered in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia at the start of the past world war.

Page 213 (Subtle oppression is still oppression and sets the stage for the later acceptance of overt & violent oppression.):

But Schweitzer understood this was in large part an illusion. Overt violence against Jews did appear to have receded, but a more subtle oppression had settled in its place. “What our friend had failed to see from outward appearances is the tragedy that is befalling daily the job holders who are gradually losing their positions,” Schweitzer wrote. He gave the example of Berlin’s department stores, typically owned and staffed by Jews. “While on the one hand one can observe a Jewish department store crowded as usual with non-Jews and Jews alike, one can observe in the very next department store the total absence of a single Jewish employee.”

Page 223 (Even rumors are enough to change behavior when dealing with an authoritarian regime.):

A common story had begun to circulate: One man telephones another and in the course of their conversation happens to ask, “How is Uncle Adolf?” Soon afterward the secret police appear at his door and insist that he prove that he really does have an Uncle Adolf and that the question was not in fact a coded reference to Hitler. Germans grew reluctant to stay in communal ski lodges, fearing they might talk in their sleep. They postponed surgeries because of the lip-loosening effects of anesthetic.

Page 225:

You lingered at street corners a beat or two longer to see if the faces you saw at the last corner had now turned up at this one. In the most casual of circumstances you spoke carefully and paid attention to those around you in a way you never had before. Berliners came to practice what became known as “the German glance” — der deutsche Blick — a quick look in all directions when encountering a friend or acquaintance on the street.

Page 226:

An American professor who was a friend of the Dodds, Peter Olden, wrote to Dodd on January 30, 1934, to tell him he had received a message from his brother-in-law in Germany in which the man described a code he planned to use in all further correspondence. The word “rain,” in any context, would mean he had been placed in a concentration camp. The word “snow” would mean he was being tortured. “It seems absolutely unbelievable,” Olden told Dodd. “If you think that this is really something in the nature of a bad joke, I wonder if you could mention so in a letter to me.”

Page 229 (Hitler had been saying this shit since the 1920s and no one took him seriously.):

First Hitler spoke of broader matters. Germany, he declared, needed more room in which to expand, “more living space for our surplus population. “And Germany, he said, must be ready to take it. “The Western powers will never yield this vital space to us, “Hitler said.”That is why a series of decisive blows may become necessary - first in the West, and then in the East.”

Page 241 (A reminder that the US was also treating millions of people as second-class citizens at this time.):

After studying the resolution, Judge Moore concluded that it could only put Roosevelt “in an embarrassing position.” Moore explained: “If he declined to comply with the request, he would be subjected to considerable criticism. On the other hand, if he complied with it he would not only incur the resentment of the German Government, but might be involved in a very acrimonious discussion with that Government which conceivably might, for example, ask him to explain why the negroes of this country do not fully enjoy the right of suffrage; why the lynching of negroes in Senator Tydings’ State and other States is not prevented or severely punished; and how the anti-Semitic feeling in the United States, which unfortunately seems to be growing, is not checked.”

Page 265:

He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small bag of candy fruit drops. Lutschbonbons. Bella had loved them as a child.” Have one,” Hanfstaengl said. “They are made especially for the Führer.” She chose one. Just before she popped it into her mouth she saw that it was embossed with a swastika. Even fruit drops had been “coordinated.”

Page 270 (Wow, “inner emigration”.):

In the months following Hitler’s ascension to chancellor, the German writers who were not outright Nazis had quickly divided into two camps — those who believed it was immoral to remain in Germany and those who felt the best strategy was to stay put, recede as much as possible from the world, and wait for the collapse of the Hitler regime. The latter approach became known as “inner emigration,” and was the path Fallada had chosen.

Page 273:

Even so, Fallada made more and more concessions, eventually allowing Goebbels to script the ending of his next novel, Iron Gustav, which depicted the hardships of life during the past world war. Fallada saw this as a prudent concession. “I do not like grand gestures,” he wrote; “being slaughtered before the tyrant’s throne, senselessly, to the benefit of no one and to the detriment of my children, that is not my way.” He recognized, however, that his various capitulations took a toll on his writing. He wrote to his mother that he was not satisfied with his work. “I cannot act as I want to — if I want to stay alive. And so a fool gives less than he has.” Other writers, in exile, watched with disdain as Fallada and his fellow inner emigrants surrendered to government tastes and demands. Thomas Mann, who lived abroad throughout the Hitler years, later wrote their epitaph: “It may be superstitious belief, but in my eyes, any books which could be printed at all in Germany between 1933 and 1945 are worse than worthless and not objects one wishes to touch. A stench of blood and shame attaches to them. They should all be pulped.”

Page 279 (Nazi leaders had already begun using their power to amass opulent wealth.):

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Göring said, “in a few minutes you will witness a unique display of nature at work.” He gestured toward an iron cage. “In this cage is a powerful male bison, an animal almost unheard of on the Continent. … He will meet here, before your very eyes, the female of his species. Please be quiet and don’t be afraid.” Göring’s keepers opened the cage. “Ivan the Terrible,” Göring commanded, “I order you to leave the cage.” The bull did not move. Göring repeated his command. Once again the bull ignored him. The keepers now attempted to prod Ivan into action. The photographers readied themselves for the lustful charge certain to ensue. Britain’s Ambassador Phipps wrote in his diary that the bull emerged from the cage “with the utmost reluctance, and, after eyeing the cows somewhat sadly, tried to return to it.” Phipps also described the affair in a later memorandum to London that became famous within the British foreign office as “the bison dispatch.”

Page 282:

The next day Phipps wrote about Göring’s open house in his diary. “The whole proceedings were so strange as at times to convey a feeling of unreality,” he wrote, but the episode had provided him a valuable if unsettling insight into the nature of Nazi rule. “The chief impression was that of the most pathetic naivete of General Göring, who showed us his toys like a big, fat, spoilt child: his primeval woods, his bison and birds, his shooting-box and lake and bathing beach, his blond ‘private secretary,’ his wife’s mausoleum and swans and sarsen stones. … And then I remembered there were other toys, less innocent though winged, and these might some day be launched on their murderous mission in the same childlike spirit and with the same childlike glee.”

Page 306 (during the aforementioned Night of the Long Knives purge):

In Munich, Hitler read through a list of the prisoners and marked an “X” next to six names. He ordered all six shot immediately. An SS squad did so, telling the men just before firing, “You have been condemned to death by the Führer! Heil Hitler.” The ever-obliging Rudolf Hess offered to shoot Röhm himself, but Hitler did not yet order his death. For the moment, even he found the idea of killing a longtime friend to be abhorrent.

Page 321 (in the aftermath of the purge):

As the weekend progressed, the Dodds learned that a new phrase was making the rounds in Berlin, to be deployed upon encountering a friend or acquaintance on the street, ideally with a sardonic lift of one eyebrow: “Lebst du noch?” Which meant, “Are you still among the living?”

Page 328:

Throughout that first year in Germany, Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.

Page 333:

Hitler’s purge would become known as “The Night of the Long Knives” and in time would be considered one of the most important episodes in his ascent, the first act in the great tragedy of appeasement. Initially, however, its significance was lost. No government recalled its ambassador or filed a protest; the populace did not rise in revulsion.

Page 334 (Hitler cracked down on the Storm Troopers because their leadership was against him, but their doing of bad deeds were soon replaced by the SS.):

The controlled press, not surprisingly, praised Hitler for his decisive behavior, and among the public his popularity soared. So weary had Germans become of the Storm Troopers’ intrusions in their lives that the purge seemed like a godsend. An intelligence report from the exiled Social Democrats found that many Germans were “extolling Hitler for his ruthless determination” and that many in the working class “have also become enslaved to the uncritical deification of Hitler.”

Page 336 (on the good treatment of horses in Germany):

“At a time when hundreds of men have been put to death without trial or any sort of evidence of guilt, and when the population literally trembles with fear, animals have rights guaranteed them which men and women cannot think of expecting.”

Page 340 (Dodd eventually came to see the danger of Nazi Germany):

He became one of the few voices in U.S. government to warn of the true ambitions of Hitler and the dangers of America’s isolationist stance. He told Secretary Hull in a letter dated August 30, 1934, “With Germany united as it has never before been, there is feverish arming and drilling of 1,500,000 men, all of whom are taught every day to believe that continental Europe must be subordinated to them.” He added, “I think we must abandon our so-called isolation.” He wrote to the army chief of staff, Douglas MacArthur, “In my judgment, the German authorities are preparing for a great continental struggle. There is ample evidence. It is only a question of time.”

Page 351:

Dodd’s sorrow and loneliness took a toll on his already fragile health, but still he pressed on and gave lectures around the country, in Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland, and Ohio, always reprising the same themes — that Hitler and Nazism posed a great risk to the world, that a European war was inevitable, and that once war began the United States would find it impossible to remain aloof. One lecture drew an audience of seven thousand people. In a June 10, 1938, speech in Boston, at the Harvard Club — that den of privilege — Dodd talked of Hitler’s hatred of Jews and warned that his true intent was “to kill them all.”

Dodd died in February 1940. He lived long enough to witness the start of Hitler’s war on Europe but not long enough to see America’s isolationist come to an end or Hitler’s attempt to kill all the Jews.

Character Routing Maps of Famous Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2019

Illustrator Andrew DeGraff makes what he calls Cinemaps, maps of movies and their plots in the style of the dotted-line wanderings of The Family Circus comic strip or Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map. He’s done maps for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Princess Bride.

Cinemaps

Cinemaps

Cinemaps

My favorite DeGraff drawing is probably Back to the Future, with Hill Valley represented twice on the same page: 1955 in pink underneath 1985 in blue.

Cinemaps

DeGraff collected these maps (and several more) into a book called Cinemaps. (via fairly interesting)

The Korean Invention of the Printing Press, Almost 200 Years Before Gutenberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

Jikji

M. Sophia Newman writing for Literary Hub: So, Gutenberg Didn’t Actually Invent the Printing Press.

It is important to recognize what this means. The innovation that Johannes Gutenberg is said to have created was small metal pieces with raised backwards letters, arranged in a frame, coated with ink, and pressed to a piece of paper, which allowed books to be printed more quickly. But Choe Yun-ui did that — and he did it 150 years before Gutenberg was even born.

This piece is also a good reminder that the spread of technology (and culture) depends on more than just how useful it is.

However, Korea’s printed books did not spread at a rapid pace, as Gutenberg’s books would 200 years later. Notably, Korea was under invasion, which hampered their ability to disseminate their innovation. In addition, Korean writing, then based closely on Chinese, used a large number of different characters, which made creating the metal pieces and assembling them into pages a slow process. Most importantly, Goryeo rulers intended most of its printing projects for the use of the nobility alone.

The image at the top of the post is of Jikji, the oldest existing book printed with movable metal type, made in 1377.

The Forgotten Power of Government

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2019

David Remnick recently interviewed Robert Caro and if you’ve read Caro’s book, Working, or the New Yorker article based on the book, there’s not much new here, but this exchange at the end is worth highlighting:

Remnick: We are living in a political moment, and when you watch the current President it seems that one of the saving graces is that, for all his erratic thinking, insulting thinking, his insults directed at minority groups — and, well, practically everyone — that he’s not that good at the exercise of power. He won the election, but if he had Johnsonian capacities in terms of the exercise of power, we might be even in deeper trouble than we already are.

Caro: Well, I think that that’s correct. And I think, [what] you say about Johnson, what does it mean to [be like] Johnson? You say, well, he wins election over Barry Goldwater, in 1964, by this tremendous majority. So the next morning he’s on the phone — or the morning after, he’s still hoarse the day of the election — calling the House Majority Leader and saying, “You know, the only thing that can hold this up here is the Rules Committee. Now is the moment to change the Rules Committee. Here’s how to do it.” And in the next couple of months he passes Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the voting-rights bill… I’m forgetting the rest of it. The most amazing — he could seize a moment because of this political genius that he has, and change, really, the face of America. It’s hard to remember a day when there wasn’t Medicare or Medicaid.

Remnick: You write in “Working” that there is evil and injustice that can be caused by political power. But there’s also great good that can come out of it. It seems to me sometimes that people have forgotten this, you write. Why have we forgotten it?

Caro: You ask very good questions. I think we’ve forgotten it because we’ve had too many Presidents who don’t use political power — you say, what are things that change people’s lives? In the last century, Social Security, Medicare-like, right now I’m working on a section that, you could say, if I wanted to call it this, is what it was like to be old and sick in America before Medicare. And as I’m doing this I’m thinking, People aren’t even going to be able to imagine this. What was it like to be old in America before Social Security? People can’t imagine it. The power of government to do good for people is immense. And I think we have forgotten that power.

My Recent Media Diet, Summer Solstice 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month. I just started reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson; I loved his The Devil in the White City. On the TV front, I’m holding off on season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and season 2 of Big Little Lies for some reason…don’t want to get sucked into anything right now, I guess. Ditto for catching up on the Historical Cinematic Universe…just not feeling it at the moment. As always, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades…they’re higher in the summer than in the cold, depressing winter.

Deadwood: The Movie. A fitting end to one of the best shows on TV. It was great to be able to spend a little more time with it. (A-)

Booksmart. I loved this movie. Great soundtrack too. (A)

Thermapen Mk4. Finally got tired of my anxiety about overcooking my meat. Been using it with the reverse sear to great effect. (B+)

Serial season 3. I couldn’t make it through more than two episodes of each of the previous two seasons, but I went the distance on this one. Is the American system of justice just? I doubt it. (A-)

Working by Robert Caro. The DVD extras for The Power Broker and the LBJ books. I don’t have time to read a 3000-page biography of Lyndon Johnson right now, but Working made me want to do it anyway. (A-)

Persuasion System. The latest album from Com Truise. Great for working to. (B+)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. An idiosyncratic and deeply personal little museum. I felt very much at home there. (A)

Small Steps, Giant Leaps. Apollo 11 artifacts paired with historic scientific tomes from the likes of Galileo & Newton go together like chocolate and peanut butter. (A-)

Mary Queen of Scots. Nothing much here to distinguish this from your usual historical drama. (B)

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris. Great show at the MFA. Was not a particular fan of Toulouse-Lautrec before but perhaps I am now. (A-)

Street Food. Interesting to compare this to David Gelb’s other show, Chef’s Table. Same focus on quality ingredients and serving great food, but very different ends of the economic spectrum. (B+)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Caught the peak of the cherry blossoms. Beautiful. But crowded. (A-)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. This wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I can see what other people love about it. The final episode is the strongest and I thought Nosrat’s emphasis on shopping as a vital part of cooking was interesting. (B)

Summer in Vermont. It’s been spectacular here lately. (A)

Normal People by Sally Rooney. I burned through this in only two days. (A)

Cumulonimbus Mammatus

Cumulonimbus mammatus. They’re no asperitas clouds, but cumulonimbus mammatus is still one of the best clouds around. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show interview with Alison Gopnik. Gopnik’s ideas about gardeners vs carpenters and explore vs exploit are fascinating frameworks for thinking about human creativity. (A-)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s tough to maintain a coherent story told over several generations, but Lee manages it easily. (A-)

No Country for Old Men. Masterful. (A)

Chernobyl. Sometimes bureaucracy is no match for the truth. See also the accompanying podcast. (A-)

The Lives of Others. Got on a bit of a Cold War kick. (A-)

Always Be My Maybe. Strong ending. (B+)

Toy Story 4. Hollywood is often accused of being super liberal, but I thought the values depicted in this movie were quite conservative. (B+)

Anima. Thom Yorke’s solid third solo album. (B+)

13 Minutes to the Moon. There’s lots of Apollo stuff out there right now and some of it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But this podcast from the BBC is substantial, with interviews from key players, including Apollo software engineer Margaret Hamilton, who doesn’t give many interviews these days. (A-)

Bad Times at the El Royale. Rhymes with Tarantino but not that well. This should have been 90 minutes long. (B-)

Long Shot. Why did this flop? It’s not exactly great but it works fine. (B)

Whitney Biennial 2019. Things that caught my eye were Christine Sun Kim’s hand-drawn graphs about “deaf rage” and Jeanette Mundt’s paintings of Olympic gymnasts based on these composite photos in the NY Times. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Highlights from Normal People by Sally Rooney

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2019

Normal People

Based on a recommendation from *gestures around at almost everyone*, I started and finished Sally Rooney’s Normal People in the space of a couple of days last week. Her prose is straightforward yet somehow not, and I found plenty to highlight on my Kindle. Here’s everything I highlighted for one reason or another:

Page 10:

Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it.

Page 12 (on the appeal of sports):

They were cheering together, they had seen something magical which dissolved the ordinary social relations between them.

Page 12:

It occurred to Marianne how much she wanted to see him having sex with someone; it didn’t have to be her, it could be anybody. It would be beautiful just to watch him. She knew these were the kind of thoughts that made her different from other people in school, and weirder.

Page 25:

But why Marianne? It wasn’t like she was so attractive. Some people thought she was the ugliest girl in school. What kind of person would want to do this with her? And yet he was there, whatever kind of person he was, doing it.

Page 26 (and yet…):

This “what?” question seems to him to contain so much: not just the forensic attentiveness to his silences that allows her to ask in the first place, but a desire for total communication, a sense that anything unsaid is an unwelcome interruption between them.

Page 27:

Lately he’s consumed by a sense that he is in fact two separate people, and soon he will have to choose which person to be on a full-time basis, and leave the other person behind.

Page 34:

Connell always gets what he wants, and then feels sorry for himself when what he wants doesn’t make him happy.

Page 46:

You make me really happy, he says. His hand moves over her hair and he adds: I love you. I’m not just saying that, I really do. Her eyes fill up with tears again and she closes them. Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

Page 50 (hard same):

Connell wished he knew how other people conducted their private lives, so that he could copy from example.

Page 68 (re: toxic masculinity):

Denise considers this a symptom of her daughter’s frigid and unlovable personality. She believes Marianne lacks “warmth,” by which she means the ability to beg for love from people who hate her.

Page 71 (stories are stories are stories):

And in a way, the feeling provoked in Connell when Mr. Knightley kisses Emma’s hand is not completely asexual, though its relation to sexuality is indirect. It suggests to Connell that the same imagination he uses as a reader is necessary to understand real people also, and to be intimate with them.

Page 76 (love these little meta descriptions of the characters: “the kind of person he’d turned out to be”):

He felt a debilitating shame about the kind of person he’d turned out to be, and he missed the way Marianne had made him feel, and he missed her company.

Page 78:

He had thought that being with her would make him feel less lonely, but it only gave his loneliness a new stubborn quality, like it was planted down inside him and impossible to kill.

Page 99:

I mean, when you look at the lives men are really living, it’s sad, Marianne says. They control the whole social system and this is the best they can come up with for themselves? They’re not even having fun.

Page 108:

She had been sad before, after the film, but now she was happy. It was in Connell’s power to make her happy. It was something he could just give to her, like money or sex.

Page 117:

Marianne, he said, I’m not a religious person but I do sometimes think God made you for me.

Page 118 (pairs well w/ the above quote from page 46):

Marianne looked on, slightly drunk, admiring the way Sophie and Connell looked together, his hands on her smooth brown shins, and feeling a strange sense of nostalgia for a moment that was already in the process of happening.

Page 127 (on having money):

She bought him things all the time, dinner, theatre tickets, things she would pay for and then instantly, permanently, forget about.

Page 132 (ah, the friends-with-your-ex conundrum):

Connell can’t figure out what kind of relationship they are supposed to have now. Are they agreeing not to find each other attractive anymore? When were they supposed to have stopped?

Page 138:

I mean, I don’t enjoy it. But then, you’re not really submitting to someone if you only submit to things you enjoy.

Page 165:

That’s money, the substance that makes the world real. There’s something so corrupt and sexy about it.

Page 168:

He’s not sure what friends are allowed to enjoy about each other.

Page 176 (there were several other descriptions of various blues throughout the book):

The sky is a thrilling chlorine-blue, stretched taut and featureless like silk.

Page 187 (the obligatory titular reference):

I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people.

Page 189 (this had at least two different meanings and was simply brutal in context):

But Marianne has already turned away.

Page 195 (also a saying in Vermont):

In Sweden we have a saying, he says. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

Page 195:

He has managed to nurture a fine artistic sensitivity without ever developing any real sense of right and wrong. The fact that this is even possible unsettles Marianne, and makes art seem pointless suddenly.

Page 198:

There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love.

Page 219:

But that was their world then. Their feelings were suppressed so carefully in everyday life, forced into smaller and smaller spaces, until seemingly minor events took on insane and frightening significance.

Page 224:

What we can do here in counseling is try to work on your feelings, and your thoughts and behaviors, she says. We can’t change your circumstances, but we can change how you respond to your circumstances.

Page 225 (a counterpart to the famous Groucho Marx line):

They were attended only by people who wanted to be the kind of people who attended them.

Page 231:

Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

Page 237 (quietly devastating, given that it occurs right near the end of the book):

It’s different for men, she says.

Yeah, I’m starting to get that.

Page 242:

Her body is just an item of property, and though it has been handed around and misused in various ways, it has somehow always belonged to him, and she feels like returning it to him now.

I should go back through my book highlights more often. Too often, I just jump from finishing a book into the next thing (book, movie, sleep, work); reading through my notes (and writing about them, briefly) really solidified this book in my mind. I’m curious though: was it helpful/interesting for you? And did you read the book or not?

The 50 Best Memoirs of the Last 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2019

Best Memoirs

The NY Times has compiled a list of the best memoirs published since 1969. Here are a few that caught my eye:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. “At the age of 6, Marjane Satrapi privately declared herself the last prophet of Islam. At 14, she left Iran for a boarding school in Austria, sent away by parents terrified of their outspoken daughter’s penchant for challenging her teachers (and hypocrisy wherever she sniffed it out). At 31, she published ‘Persepolis,’ in French (it was later translated into English by Mattias Ripa and Blake Ferris), a stunning graphic memoir hailed as a wholly original achievement in the form.”

Hold Still by Sally Mann. “The photographer Sally Mann’s memoir is weird, intense and uncommonly beautiful. She has real literary gifts, and she’s led a big Southern-bohemian life, rich with incident. Or maybe it only seems rich with incident because of an old maxim that still holds: Stories happen only to people who can tell them.”

Boyhood by J.M. Coetzee. “The child of Afrikaner parents who had pretensions to English gentility, he was buttoned-up and sensitive, desperate to fit into the ‘normal’ world around him but also confounded and repulsed by it. He noticed how his indolent relatives clung to their privileged position in South Africa’s brutal racial hierarchy through cruelty and a raw assertion of power. Out in the world, he lived in constant fear of violence and humiliation; at home he was cosseted by his mother and presided like a king.”

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin. “Grandin, a professor of animal science who is autistic, describes the ‘library’ of visual images in her memory, which she is constantly updating. (‘It’s like getting a new version of software for the computer.’) As Oliver Sacks wrote in an introduction to the book, ‘Grandin’s voice came from a place which had never had a voice, never been granted real existence, before.’”

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. “William Finnegan, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, recalls his childhood in California and Hawaii, his many surfing buddies through the years and his taste for a kind of danger that approaches the sublime.”

Uncompetitive Purposefulness and Infinity Cake

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2019

In her post about the book The White Cat and the Monk, Maria Popova uses this great phrase, “uncompetitive purposefulness”, which is one of those things that you hear and you’re like, riiiight, that’s how I want to be living my life.

Written as a playful ode in the ninth century, today the poem lives partway between lamentation and celebration — it stands as counterpoint to our culture of competitive striving and ceaseless self-comparisons, but it also reminds us that the accomplishments of others aren’t to the detriment of our own; that we can remain purposeful about our pursuits while rejoicing in those of others; that we can choose to amplify each other’s felicity because there is, after all, enough to go around even in the austerest of circumstances.

Just this morning I ran across a tweet from Jonny Sun:

if you cheer for people you like instead of envy them the world gets better for you and for them and for everyone involved i promise

And Jenna Wortham’s response:

the cake is big enough for everyone to have a slice. ten slices. the sheet cake can feed us all. infinity cake. infinity rewards and wins.

The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

It started in mid-April, barely 3 and 1/2 months into the year. To hit expectant readers before Memorial Day with suggestions for beach reads, summer reads, roadtrip reads, and just plain read reads, publications started rounding up the best books released in 2019:

Best books of 2019 so far (The Guardian)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Vulture)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Real Simple)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Glamour)
The Best Books of 2019 to Add to Your Reading List (Marie Claire)
The Best Books of 2019 (So Far) (Esquire)

I love that almost everyone uses the same title — it’s economical and the “(So Far)” is a wink that, yes, it’s a more than a little absurd to be talking about the best books of the year in freaking April. Of course, I couldn’t resist using it too.

But never mind the meta crap, what books are actually on these lists? Here are some that caught my eye or featured on one or more of these lists.

Normal People by Sally Rooney. This one is going to be on all the year-end lists, so it’s almost required reading at this point.

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon. “This contemporary story mirrors the ancient legend of Antiochus, whose love for the daughter of his dead wife was discovered by the adventurer Appolinus of Tyre. The tale appeared in many forms through the ages; Apollinus becoming the swashbuckling Pericles in Shakespeare’s eponymous play.”

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi. “Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories — equal parts wholesome and uncanny; from the tantalizing witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can — beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.”

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. A retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women in the story. In the same vein as Circe and Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey, both of which I loved.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. I wrote about Cirado Perez’s book back in February. “In her new book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez argues that the data that scientists, economists, public policy makers, and healthcare providers rely on is skewed, unfairly and dangerously, towards men.”

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. “A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup.”

Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. “Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes?”

The History of the Bible by John Barton. “In our culture, the Bible is monolithic: It is a collection of books that has been unchanged and unchallenged since the earliest days of the Christian church. The idea of the Bible as “Holy Scripture,” a non-negotiable authority straight from God, has prevailed in Western society for some time. And while it provides a firm foundation for centuries of Christian teaching, it denies the depth, variety, and richness of this fascinating text.”

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang. “Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life.”

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian. A collection of stories from the author that broke the internet with Cat Person. Included in the collection is The Good Guy, also very much worth a read.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl. Reichl’s memoir about her time at Gourmet magazine. “This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat.”

Update: Here are a few more lists I’ve run across, along with the books recommended therein.

Best books of the year so far (Amazon)
5 good books I read this spring (Austin Kleon)
Most Popular Books Published In 2019 (Goodreads)
Best Books of 2019 So Far (Book Riot)
The 10 best books of 2019…so far (Entertainment Weekly)

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. “His new collection of nine stories — theming free will and choice, virtual reality and regret — is so provocative, imaginative, and soulful that it makes Black Mirror look drab and dull by comparison.”

Internment by Samira Ahmed. “This book inspires me to be more active in my engagement with the struggle for equality. Change can happen. In that respect, despite its horrifying moments, Internment is a hopeful dystopia. Layla, in defiance of being imprisoned in the first internment camp for Muslim Americans and living under dehumanizing conditions, maintains enough hope and resolution to protest.”

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. “Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity… doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance. So argues artist and critic Jenny Odell in this field guide to doing nothing (at least as capitalism defines it). Odell sees our attention as the most precious-and overdrawn-resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.”

Update: Book Marks compiled their own meta-list: The Best Reviewed Books of 2019 (So Far). The runner-up to Normal People on the list is Marlon James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf.

Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both.

How to Draw Animals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2019

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Robert Lambry

Les Animaux Tels Qu’ils Sont is a 1930s book by Robert Lambry that contain instructions for drawing all kinds of animals, from elephants and snakes to birds and horses. Each drawing starts with basic forms — circles, rectangles, etc. — which Lambry builds into simple line drawings of each animal. I love the dogs drawn with parallel lines.

Update: A new English edition of Lambry’s book is being released this fall as The Draw Any Animal Book. (thx, matt)

Salvador Dali’s Illustrations for Alice in Wonderland

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2019

Salvador Dali / Alice Wonderland

In 1969, surrealist Salvador Dali provided a set of 12 illustrations for an edition of Alice in Wonderland, a seemingly perfect match of artist to subject matter. It was released in a limited edition and copies are now a coveted collector’s item — here’s a signed copy on eBay for $10,000. Luckily, Princeton Architectural Press put out a 150th anniversary edition a few years ago that’s more manageable (Amazon).

See also a couple of Dali’s other books: a wine guide and a cookbook.

Conduction by Ta-Nehisi Coates

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2019

The New Yorker has published an excerpt of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ forthcoming novel, The Water Dancer. In Conduction, we meet Hiram Walker, a slave who has escaped his bondage in Virginia and traveled to Philadelphia to work on the Underground Railroad.

I followed the river as it bent inward then curved back out. Its banks were crowded with workshops, small factories, and drydocks. The oppressive scent of the city eased some against the cool river breeze. Now I came upon a promenade, a large green field dissected by walkways lined with benches. I took a seat. It was about nine in the morning, Friday. The day was clear and blue. The promenade was filled with Philadelphians of all colors and kinds. Gentlemen in boaters escorted ladies. A circle of schoolchildren sat in the grass hanging on the words of their tutor. A man rode past on a bicycle, laughing. It occurred to me that this was the freest I had ever been in my life. And I knew that I could leave right then, right there, that I could abandon the Underground, and disappear into this city, float away on the poisonous air.

The Water Dancer is out in September.

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2019

Mirror Light Cover

Hear ye, hear ye! The third book in Hilary Mantel’s excellent Thomas Cromwell trilogy has been announced. The Mirror & the Light picks up where the previous book left off, with (spoilers!) the execution of Anne Boleyn, and covers the final years of Cromwell’s life.

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

I loved both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and am really looking forward this one coming out next March. Preorder now!

My Recent Media Diet, The “It’s Not Life or Death, It’s Just Tacos” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two months. I never wrote a proper report on my trip to Mexico City, so I put some of the highlights in here. I’m in the middle of several things right now. On TV, I’m watching Our Planet, In Search of Greatness, Street Food, Chernobyl, The Clinton Affair, Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, and This Giant Beast That is the Global Economy. I don’t normally watch 19 different things at one time, but life’s felt a little scattered lately. For books, I’m listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond on audiobook and I’m making good progress on Robert Caro’s Working (highly recommended).

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan. Hard to summarize but there’s certainly something interesting on almost every page. (A-)

Fleabag. Bitingly funny and poignant, a real gem. (A+)

Skyscraper. Die Hard + the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal in Bohemia + #sponcon for Big Duct Tape. I love a good disaster movie. (B+)

Mexico City. Great food, vegetation everywhere, beautiful architecture, culturally fascinating, super walkable/bikeable/scooterable. I am definitely visiting here again as soon as I can. (A)

Puyol Taco Omakase. Delicious & fun & a great experience, but I’m not sure the food was obviously so much better than some of the best street food I had in Mexico City. I had this same experience in Bangkok years ago…street food is tough to beat when there’s a thriving culture of markets, carts, and stalls. (B+)

The National Museum of Anthropology. One of my new favorite museums in the world. The only thing possibly more impressive than the collection is the architecture of the building. (A+)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacán. I had high hopes for this archeological site and I was still blown away by it. (A+)

AirPods. This is my favorite gadget in years, the first real VR/AR device that feels seamless (and not like a Segway for your face). The freedom of wireless headphones feels similar to when I first used a laptop, wifi, and dockless bike share. (A+)

Homecoming. So many things to love about this, but one of my favorites is the shots of the audience watching Beyoncé and the rare moments when she watches them back: “I see you.” And also the way they put a cohesive show together while showcasing individual talents and styles. (A-)

Homecoming: The Live Album. Come on, a marching band playing Beyoncé hits? That this works so well is a small miracle. (A-)

Avengers: Endgame. I liked but didn’t love it. It was like the ST:TNG finale and the Six Feet Under finale mashed together and not done as well. It also seemed too predictable. (B)

Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that the Thanos narrative arc is complete, this is an underrated installment. (B+)

Casa Luis Barragán. This was like being in someone’s creative mind. The layering of the garden reminded me of Disney’s use of the multiplane camera in the forest scene in Bambi. (B+)

Gelatin Sincronizada Gelitin (NSFW). I was skeptical of this art performance at first — a bunch of half-naked people painting on a moving canvas using paintbrushes coming out of their butts — but it ended up being a really cool thing to experience. (B+)

Game of Thrones. I’m not quite as critical of the final season as everyone else seems to be. Still, it seems like since the show left the cozy confines of George RR Martin’s books, it has struggled at times. (B+)

Wandering Earth. Based on the short story by Liu Cixin (author of the Three Body Problem trilogy), this disaster movie is a little uneven at the start but finishes strong. (B)

Halt and Catch Fire Vol 2. The music was one of the many great things about this show. (A-)

Running from COPS. A podcast about how media and law enforcement in America intersect to great and terrible effect. (B+)

Eating bugs. I tasted crickets, grasshoppers, and grubs at the market: mostly just salty. I had beef tartare and guacamole with grasshoppers on it. They added a nice crunch to the guac. Wouldn’t exactly go out of the way for them, but they weren’t bad. (B)

Panaderia Rosetta. Did I have one of the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever had here? Yes. Yes, I did. Also extremely delicious: everything else I tried. (A-)

Against the Rules. A podcast from Michael Lewis about what’s happening to the concept of fairness in America. The episode about Salvator Mundi, the supposed Leonardo masterpiece, is particularly interesting. (A-)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth. I have a new appreciation of how much Tolkien did in creating his books: writing, map making, world building, art, constructing languages. (B+)

Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. A striking house with a lush courtyard, but the highlight was seeing Kahlo’s work area much the way she left it when she died. (B+)

Street Food Essentials by Club Tengo Hambre. Mexico City is a huge place with so much to do that I wanted to hit the ground running right away, so I booked this street food tour. Definitely a good idea. We sampled so many different kinds of tacos & gorditas & quesadillas that I lost count. Highlights: huitlacoche quesadillas, al pastor tacos, fresh Oaxaca cheese at the Mercado de San Juan, and the blue corn masa used to make tlacoyos at one of our last stops — probably the best tortilla I’ve ever eaten. (A-)

The Matrix. This came out 20 years ago. I watched it with my 11-yo son the other day and he thought the special effects “held up pretty well”. (A)

Electric scooters. I used the Lime dockless electric scooters for the first time when I was in Mexico City and I loved experience. Easier than a bike and a fun & fast way to get around the city. Cons: the combo of the speed & small wheels can be dangerous and cities generally don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them yet. (B+)

Paprika. Inventive and visually dazzling. Purportedly an influence on Christopher Nolan’s Inception. (B+)

Oh and just because, here’s a photo I took recently in my backyard that makes it seem like I live in Narnia or The Shire:

Ollie Shed

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

This wonderful site presents animations of 507 mechanical movements first published in a book by Henry T. Brown in 1868, the full title of which is:

Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements: Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines, Mill and Other Gearing, Presses, Horology, and Miscellaneous Machinery; and Including Many Movements Never Before Published and Several of Which Have Only Recently Come Into Use

The site is a work-in-progress…not all of the movements have been animated yet. This short video shows movement #123:

You can buy a paperback version of the original book or browse/download the entire thing at the Internet Archive.

See also this great explanation of differential gears and especially Ralph Steiner’s 1930 short film Mechanical Principles, in which we see many of the mechanisms from Brown’s book actually working:

Warning: if you start Steiner’s film, you’ll probably end up watching the whole thing…it’s mesmerizing, particularly when the gears come in around ~2:30.

The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2019

I am here for any metaphor linking the internet and Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem trilogy. Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler writes that netizens are retreating from the public square of the internet, resulting in many private & isolated worlds that don’t communicate with each other, a la the dark forest condition in Liu’s books.

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).

These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.

Explore Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus Online

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2019

Codex Atlanticus

Codex Atlanticus

Codex Atlanticus

An 1119-page collection of papers known as the Codex Atlanticus has been completely digitized and put online to explore. The codex showcases Leonardo’s impressive range of interests and abilities, from flying machines to anatomy to weaponry to astronomy to engineering.

Several more of Leonardo’s notebooks have been put online as well…I’ve listed all of them in this post about the Codex Forster. (via open culture)

One-Word Book Titles

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2019

Merriam-Webster asked 11 authors how they came up with their single-word book titles. Here’s A.S. Byatt talking about Possession:

The book began with a word — the title — Possession. Earlier novels have begun with characters, or themes, but Possession began when I was watching the great Canadian Coleridge scholar, Kathleen Coburn, working in the British Museum and thought — “she cannot have had a thought that was not his thought for the last 30 or 40 years.” And then I thought — “and what I know about him is mediated through her - she edited all his notebooks, checked the sources of the quotations, etc.”

And then I thought, “I could write a novel called Possession about the relationship between a dead poet and a living scholar.” And the word possession would have all sorts of senses — daemonism, ownership, obsession……

And Jeffrey Eugenides on Middlesex:

A good title tells you what the book’s about. It reminds you, when you lose heart, why you started writing it in the first place. I saw an interview with Francis Ford Coppola once where he said that he likes to boil down his films into one word. For The Godfather, the word was “succession.” Whenever Coppola decided something, even a small thing like a costume detail, he reminded himself of his theme in order to make everything cohere, from the storyline right down to the gangsters’ hats.

With two of my novels, The Virgin Suicides and The Marriage Plot, I knew the titles before I even started writing. I wasn’t so lucky with Middlesex. For years I had a terrible working title for that book, so bad I won’t even mention it here.

(via @john_overholt)