kottke.org posts about books

Some of the Most Interesting and Weird Manuals in the Internet Archive

manual for an IBM typewriter featuring a woman sitting on the corncer of a desk with a typewriter on it

a line-up style photo of the inhabitants of McDonaldland

book cover for 'The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock'

a heavily marker-up cover for the CIA's Simple Sabotage Field Manual

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One could spend several hours delving into the Manuals Showcase over at the Internet Archive. Among the collection of handbooks, manuals, and guides, you’ll find gems like the IBM Model B Electric Typewriter User Manual 1954, The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock, CIA Simple Sabotage Field Manual, NJ Transit Graphics Standards Manual, and the McDonalds McDonaldland Specification Manual (1975).

I’ve written about the CIA Simple Sabotage Field Manual before — “some of these things are practically best practices in American business, not against enemies but against their employees, customers, and themselves”.


America Is Quickly Becoming More Nonreligious

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research recently conducted a poll asking Americans about their religious beliefs and found that about 30% of American adults are non-religious (which they refer to as “the nones”, presumably after the book by Ryan Burge).

The decades-long rise of the nones — a diverse, hard-to-summarize group — is one of the most talked about phenomena in U.S. religion. They are reshaping America’s religious landscape as we know it.

In U.S. religion today, “the most important story without a shadow of a doubt is the unbelievable rise in the share of Americans who are nonreligious,” said Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University and author of “The Nones,” a book on the phenomenon.

The nones account for a large portion of Americans, as shown by the 30% of U.S. adults who claim no religious affiliation in a survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Other major surveys say the nones have been steadily increasing for as long as three decades.

So who are they?

They’re the atheists, the agnostics, the “nothing in particular.” They’re the “spiritual but not religious,” and those who are neither or both. They span class, gender, age, race and ethnicity.

While the nones’ vast diversity splinters them into myriad subgroups, most of them have this in common:

They. Really. Don’t. Like. Organized. Religion.

But a dislike of organized religion among the nonreligious doesn’t necessarily translate into atheism or agnosticism: 43% of “the nones” say they believe in God.


Making It So, a Memoir by “Severe Bastard” Patrick Stewart

Fall always brings brisker days, earlier sunsets, and a whole raft of new books that are impossible to find the time to read. Add this memoir by Patrick Stewart to the pile next to your bed: Making It So (bookshop.org). The Hollywood Reporter has a great video excerpt with audio from the audiobook (narrated by Stewart himself, naturally) about his early days on Star Trek: The Next Generation:

From an accompanying article:

So when he was on set shooting the show’s debut season and co-stars like Jonathan Frakes, Denise Crosby and Brent Spiner would tease him or ad-lib a joke or laugh when they flubbed their lines, it would low-key infuriate him.

“I could be a severe bastard,” he writes. “My experiences at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre had been intense and serious… On the TNG set, I grew angry with the conduct of my peers, and that’s when I called that meeting in which I lectured the cast for goofing off and responded to Denise Crosby’s, ‘We’ve got to have some fun sometimes, Patrick’ comment by saying, ‘We are not here, Denise, to have fun.’”

“In retrospect,” Stewart continues, “everyone, me included, finds this story hilarious. But in the moment, when the cast erupted in hysterics at my pompous declaration, I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t enjoy being laughed at. I stormed off the set and into my trailer, slamming the door.”

Update: Gideon Lichfield has a great interview with Stewart for Wired.

Q: There’s a passage where you say that, from your father, “I drew Picard’s stern, intimidating tendencies. But I like to think that my mother is in the captain too, in his moments of warmth and sensitivity.” Do you see Picard as your way of reconciling that conflict between your parents?

A: Very much so, yes. Both Star Trek and therapy have been responsible for that. Having to open the doors into my childhood in order to be an actor became utterly intriguing to me in a way that it never had been before. And I regret that when I look back on some of the roles I played, what I might have brought to them if I just released myself a little bit more.

(via @samuelwade)


The Origins of the Socialist Slur

The Atlantic has an adapted excerpt from Heather Cox Richardson’s new book, Democracy Awakening: The Origins of the Socialist Slur. It begins:

For years after World War II, the “liberal consensus” — the New Deal idea that the federal government had a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure — was a true consensus. It was so widely popular that in 1950, the critic Lionel Trilling wrote of the United States that “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.”

But the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional tied the federal government to ensuring not just economic equality, but also civil rights. Opponents of the liberal consensus argued that the newly active federal government was misusing tax dollars taken from hardworking white men to promote civil rights for “undeserving” Black people. The troops President Dwight Eisenhower sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957, for example, didn’t come cheap. The government’s defense of civil rights redistributed wealth, they said, and so was virtually socialism.


Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson

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Heather Cox Richardson, author of the excellent Letters from an American newsletter, has a new book out today about the health of American democracy: Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America. From Virginia Heffernan’s review of the book in the Washington Post:

She has an intriguing origin point for today’s afflictions: the New Deal. The first third of the book, which hurtles toward Donald Trump’s election, is as bingeable as anything on Netflix. “Democracy Awakening” starts in the 1930s, when Americans who’d been wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash were not about to let the rich demolish the economy again. New Deal programs designed to benefit ordinary people and prevent future crises were so popular that by 1960 candidates of both parties were advised to simply “nail together” coalitions and promise them federal funding. From 1946 to 1964, the liberal consensus — with its commitments to equality, the separation of church and state, and the freedoms of speech, press and religion — held sway.

But Republican businessmen, who had caused the crash, despised the consensus. Richardson’s account of how right-wingers appropriated the word “socialism” from the unrelated international movement is astute. When invoked to malign all government investment, “socialism” served to recruit segregationist Democrats, who could be convinced that the word meant Black people would take their money, and Western Democrats, who resented government protections on land and water. This new Republican Party created an ideology that coalesced around White Christianity and free markets.

Heffernan calls this first part of Richardson’s book “the most lucid just-so story for Trump’s rise I’ve ever heard”. I’m in the midst of two other books right now (The Vaster Wilds & The Mountain in the Sea) but I might have to make room for a third.


Antique Book Patterns

a pattern of light green spirals on an orange background

a pattern of red spiral shapes on a light red background

paper with a marbled pattern

a pattern of dark green shapes on a light green background

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From the Bergen Public Library Norway, a collection of antique book patterns from front or end papers. The books in question are from 1890-1930. Lovely.

Of course, this reminds of one of my favorite videos I’ve posted: a 1970 short film on how to make marbled paper.


Birds of the World: The Art of Elizabeth Gould

cover of a book called Birds of the World: The Art of Elizabeth Gould with an illustration of a pair of toucans

illustrations of two pairs of colorful birds

”illustration

Birds of the World: The Art of Elizabeth Gould is a new book documenting the work of early 19th century naturalist artist Elizabeth Gould.

Artist and illustrator Elizabeth Gould is finally given the recognition she deserves in this gorgeous volume that includes hundreds of her stunning and scientifically precise illustrations of birds from nearly every continent.

For all of her short life, Elizabeth Gould’s artistic career was appreciated through the lens of her husband, ornithologist John Gould, with whom she embarked on a series of ambitious projects to document and illustrate the birds of the world. Elizabeth played a crucial role in her husband’s lavish publications, creating beautifully detailed and historically significant accurate illustrations of over six hundred birds -many of which were new to science. However, Elizabeth’s role was not always fully credited and, following her tragic death aged only thirty-seven, her efforts and talent were nearly forgotten.

Birds of the World: The Art of Elizabeth Gould is available for pre-order from Amazon or Bookshop.org and comes out on November 7. (via colossal)


Trailer for Errol Morris’s The Pigeon Tunnel

Oh yay, I had been wondering just the other day what Errol Morris has been up to and it turns out to be a project with Apple TV+ called The Pigeon Tunnel, which is billed as the final interview with espionage novelist John le Carré (born David Cornwell).

It’s terribly difficult to recruit for a secret service. You’re looking for somebody who’s a bit bad, but at the same time, loyal. There’s a type. And I fit it perfectly.

The movie has the same title and covers some of the same ground as le Carré’s 2016 memoir, probably with more of an emphasis on Morris’s general obsession with what constitutes truth. More info on the film from the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie is premiering on Sept 11:

Cornwell once worked for the British spy agencies MI5 and MI6. He sparingly gave interviews, but accepted Morris’ invitation because he saw it “as something definitive.” He had already begun a process of opening up in his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life.

Crucial to the narrative is the author’s relationship to his father Ronnie, an inveterate gambler and con artist. Cornwell’s mother disappeared when he was five, so his main frame of reference was the world of his father, who was endlessly on the run from the mob or the police. The title The Pigeon Tunnel comes from Cornwell’s experience as a child going to Monte Carlo with Ronnie. Imprinted on his memory was a shooting range on the top of a cliff. Beneath the grass was a tunnel from which trapped pigeons were ejected over the sea as targets.

The Pigeon Tunnel will be out on Apple TV+ on Oct 20, 2023.


Trump’s Prosecutions Are About Repairing Our Social Norms

From Dell Cameron and Andrew Couts in Wired, Trump’s Prosecution Is America’s Last Hope:

The Trump administration’s ever-broadening palette of ethics violations caused Americans to realize, perhaps for the first time on a national scale, that truly there are few if any laws against some of the most basic forms of corruption; that, instead, conventions and norms — an honor system, essentially — is all that stand between presidents and the gross abuse of their power.

This is a good, short piece, riffing off of the 2018 book by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die. The Republicans, Trump, the Supreme Court, billionaires, corporations, and corporate shareholders are using America’s legal system to substantially weaken our democracy. It’s not a new thing for the powerful to place themselves above the law, but the pace and openness with which it’s happening right now is alarming.


Oppenheimer: More Science and More Heist Please

Craig Mod has my favorite take to date on Oppenheimer: that it should have been more like Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb:

My ideal version of this film would have begun in the 1900s or ’10s, with flashes of Relativity and then the steps of Quantum Mechanics with Planck, Bohr, and Heisenberg. Quantum tunneling with Gamow and Gurney. The nuclear shell model with Maria Goeppert Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen. Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron. Anderson’s positron unveiling. Hold the camera longer on Lawrence and his cyclotron. What’s going on there? (I mean, ya got Josh Hartnett’s pretty head, plaster it up!) Shoot in high-grade mega-IMAX-bokeh the oddly simple experimental setups, the beakers, the blips, the radiation tick-tick-ticks, the iterations, the step-by-step expansion of understanding the fabric of everything around us. Give us an hour of this, this arguably greatest moment of human insight. You can still call the film Oppenheimer. Let the man loom, weave him between it all as he makes his way through Europe, sets up at Berkeley, is selected to lead Los Alamos. Ramp up the Nazi threat. Show the diaspora of brilliance more clearly. Believe the audience is willing to sit through more than just “Is it a wave … or is it particle?” Oh! There is so much excitement, so much incredible science to be mined, and Nolan mined so little.

Mod and I both share a love for that masterpiece of a book and I would watch the hell out of an 10-part HBO series (in the vein of Chernobyl) based on it, American Prometheus, and John Hersey’s Hiroshima.


Always Worth a Look: the AIGA’s Best Book Covers of the Year

You know me; I love a good book cover. The AIGA’s annual roundup of the best designed books and covers is usually aces and the results of the 2022 competition (announced at the beginning of July 2023) is no exception. Here are a few I picked out that I didn’t feature in The Best Book Covers of 2022 back in December.

book cover for Butts: A Backstory

book cover for Sound Within Sound: Radical Composers of the Twentieth Century

book cover for Sabit Fikir

book cover for No hay nadie en casa

Uh, I guess I’m really into orange today? Anyway, these covers are from:

Butts: A Backstory by Heather Radke.
Sound Within Sound: Radical Composers of the Twentieth Century by Kate Molleson.
Sabit Fikir by Paul Valéry.
No hay nadie en casa by Isabel Díaz Alanís.


My Recent Media Diet, Barbenheimer Edition

Hey folks. I’m trying to get into the habit of doing these media diet posts more frequently than every six months so they’re actually, you know, somewhat relevant. Here’s what I’ve been watching, reading, listening to, and experiencing over the last two months.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. One of the most visually stunning movies I’ve ever seen. A worthy sequel to the first film. (A)

On Being with Krista Tippett: Isabel Wilkerson. I will take any opportunity to listen to Isabel Wilkerson talk about her work. (A)

Deep Space Archives. Been listening to this album by A.L.I.S.O.N on heavy rotation while working recently. (A-)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Bleak and powerful, science fiction at its finest. (A)

Asteroid City. I liked Wes Anderson’s latest effort quite a bit. Not quite as much as The French Dispatch but more than many other folks. (A-)

Dunkirk. Rewatched for the 5th time. For my money, this is Nolan’s best movie. (A+)

Beef. I wanted to like this but I only lasted two episodes. Not for me, YMMV. (C)

Antidepressants. It took a bit to home in on the right one, but even my relatively low dose has helped me out of a particularly low point over the last few months. (A)

The Diplomat (season one). Burned through this one in just a few days — an entertaining political thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (B+)

Ooni Volt 12. Ooni was kind enough to send me this electric pizza oven to test out, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve been having a lot of fun making no-fuss pizza. Need to work on my dough game tho. (A-)

Silo. This hooked me right away and didn’t let go, although it got a little bit ridiculous in places. I’m eager to see where things go in season two. (B+)

Interstellar. Watched this with the kids and we all enjoyed it. The musical score does a lot of heavy lifting in all of Nolan’s films but in this one especially. (A-)

The Age of Pleasure. My only complaint about this album from Janelle Monáe is that it’s too short. (A-)

Barr Hill Gin & Tonic. The best canned cocktail I’ve had. And it’s turned me into a G&T fan. (A)

VanMoof S3. *sigh* Figures that I finally pull the trigger on getting an e-bike and the company that produces it files for bankruptcy. No matter: this thing is fun as hell and has flattened all the hills out around here. (A)

Átta. You always know what you’re going to get with Sigur Rós: atmospheric, ambient, abundant crescendos, ethereal vocals. (B+)

Air. Ben Affleck has a bit of a mixed record as a director, but this Air Jordan origin story is really solid and entertaining. Viola Davis is great as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris. (A-)

The Bear (season two). There are aspects of The Bear that I don’t like (the intensity seems forced sometimes, almost cheesy) but the highs are pretty high. Forks was a fantastic episode. More Sydney and Ayo Edebiri in season three please. (A-)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Solid Indy adventure and I love Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the sidekick/partner. I know some folks didn’t like the climax but seeing Jones get what he’s always wanted was satisfying. (B+)

Rebranding beloved brands. Max? X? No. So dumb. (F)

65. Oh dear. Adam Driver needs to choose his projects more wisely. Interesting premise but the rest was pretty lifeless. (C+)

Pizzeria Ida. The pizza is expensive (esp for Vermont), the ingredients top-notch, and the service rude (if you believe the reviews). We had a great time and this is probably the best pizza you can get in VT; it wouldn’t be out of place in NYC. (A)

Oppenheimer. Epic. Almost overwhelming at times. Don’t see this on anything but a big screen if you can help it. Perhaps not Nolan’s best but it still packs a wallop. (A-)

Barbie. I enjoyed this very much but found it uneven in spots. And no more Will Ferrell please. But it was great seeing people dressed up for the occasion — Barbenheimer felt like the first time since before the pandemic that you could feel the buzz in the audience, an excitement for what we were about to experience together. (B+)

Currently I’m reading American Prometheus (on which Oppenheimer is based) and Wool (on which Silo is based), so I’ll have those reviews for you next time hopefully. I don’t have a TV series going right now and nothing’s really catching my eye. Maybe I’ll dig into season three of (the underrated) The Great — I’ve heard it’s back to top form after a s02 dip.

Past installments of my media diet are available here.


Barack Obama’s 2023 Summer Reading List

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It’s always fun to see what the former President is planning on reading over the summer. Here’s his full list:

I’ve read The Wager (so good!) and have been wanting to dig into Matthew Desmond’s book but most of the rest of these are new to me.

Right now, I’m reading Hugh Howey’s Wool (after inhaling the first season of Silo) and American Prometheus (after seeing Oppenheimer last night) — I’m sensing a pattern here…


The Prescience of Octavia Butler

I just finished reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (so good!) and while doing a little customary post-read research on it, I discovered that Butler wrote a sequel in 1998 called Parable of the Talents and, uh… (from Wikipedia):

The novel is set against the backdrop of a dystopian United States that has come under the grip of a Christian fundamentalist denomination called “Christian America” led by President Andrew Steele Jarret. Seeking to restore American power and prestige, and using the slogan “Make America Great Again”, Jarret embarks on a crusade to cleanse America of non-Christian faiths. Slavery has resurfaced with advanced “shock collars” being used to control slaves. Virtual reality headsets known as “Dreamasks” are also popular since they enable wearers to escape their harsh reality.

Well, our present reality certainly checks a remarkable number of those boxes, including an absolute bullseye on “Make America Great Again”.


Duck & Cover: Ukrainian Book Fair Poster

”poster

This is a poster for the 2023 International Book Arsenal Festival which recently took place in Kyiv, Ukraine. The poster was designed by Art Studio Agrafka from an illustration they originally did for the cover of Linkiesta Magazine.

A book festival. During a war. In a city under martial law. While schools and legislatures here in the US ban books about Black and LGBTQ+ experiences based on bad faith complaints of tiny fundamentalist parent groups. Tell me, who’s doing democracy better right now? (via @gray)


Patricia Lockwood on David Foster Wallace

“it’s what everyone wants in the year 2023: 8000 words on david foster wallace” ⬅️ That’s how Patricia Lockwood shared her piece about the complicated legacy of David Foster Wallace on Bluesky. Turns out, it is what we want; this piece is brilliant. But it’s also unexplainable, so I’ll just post these three snippets and let you work out whether you want to read the rest of it or not.

As I read, I thought Wallace must have been taken by something very simple, the smallest sensual fact: that as an IRS worker you are issued a new social security number, in essence a new identity, a chance to start over. The old number, the old life, ‘simply disappeared, from an identification standpoint’. A whole novel could take flesh from that fact, one about the idea of bureaucratic identity as opposed to individual identity: memories, mothers, sideburn phases, the way we see ourselves. That we are, at our core, a person; in the bed of our family, a name; and out in the world, a number. Of course, as so often with Wallace, on actual investigation this turns out not to be true. The fact withdraws itself, and only the epiphany remains.

—-

Infinite Jest — man, I don’t know. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had the rhetorical move not so often been ‘and then this little kid had a claw.’ It’s like watching someone undergo the latest possible puberty. It genuinely reads like he has not had sex. You feel not only that he shouldn’t be allowed to take drugs, but that he shouldn’t be allowed to drink Diet Pepsi. The highlights remain highlights: the weed addict Ken Erdedy pacing back and forth while reciting ‘where was the woman who said she’d come,’ the game of Eschaton, the passages where Mario is almost the protagonist, the beatified ex-thug Don Gately being slowly swept out to sea over the course of a hundred pages. Every so often Wallace offers you a set piece that’s as fully articulated as a Body Worlds exhibit — laminated muscles pinwheeling through the air, beads of plasticine sweat flying — or pauses the action to deliver a weather bulletin that approaches the sublime. The rest is Don DeLillo played at chipmunk speed. You feel it in your hands: too heavy and too light, too much and not enough. In the end, it is a book about the infiltration of our attention that was also at the mercy of itself, helpless not to watch itself, hopelessly entertained.

—-

Time will tell who is an inventor and who is a tech disruptor. There was ambient pressure, for a while, to say that Wallace created a new kind of fiction. I’m not sure that’s true — the new style is always the last gasp of an old teacher, and Infinite Jest in particular is like a house party to which he’s invited all of his professors. Thomas Pynchon is in the kitchen, opening a can of expired tuna with his teeth. William Gaddis is in the den, reading ticker-tape off a version of C-Span that watches the senators go to the bathroom. Don DeLillo is three houses down, having sex with his wife. I’m not going to begrudge him a wish that the world was full of these wonderful windy oddballs, who were all entrusted with the same task: to encompass, reflect, refract. But David, some of these guys had the competitive advantage of having been personally experimented on by the US military. You’re not going to catch them. Calm down.

Lockwood wrote a book called No One Is Talking About This; I read it last year and excerpted some of my favorite quotes from it.


The Full Trailer for Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon

Oh boy. I thought the teaser trailer was good, but the full trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon just dropped and I am. So. Excited. To. SEE. THIS!

At the turn of the 20th century, oil brought a fortune to the Osage Nation, who became some of the richest people in the world overnight. The wealth of these Native Americans immediately attracted white interlopers, who manipulated, extorted, and stole as much Osage money as they could before resorting to murder.

Once again, it’s based on David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, which I highly recommend. Grann + Scorsese appears to be a potent combination — the latter is already signed on to adapt Grann’s latest bestseller, The Wager.


The 40 Greatest Tech Books of All Time

”books

The Verge has published a list of the 40 best nonfiction books about “tech” (which relates to the industry centered around Silicon Valley & the internet and not technology in general). I was pleased to see Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire Evans and Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs on there, as well as Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman and Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. I’m baffled that Tracy Kidder’s amazing The Soul of a New Machine didn’t make the top 5 or even 10.

But reading through the rest of the list, it occurred to me that I don’t really read tech books — and if I did, I didn’t get a whole lot from them. When I was younger and trying to understand the industry and momentous period I was participating in, I generally looked to books outside of tech as guides. I read things like How Buildings Learn by Steward Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, Chaos by James Gleick, The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander, and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

Anyway, back to the list — it seems incomplete in a way that I can’t quite articulate. I would have liked to have seen Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet on there. What else? I would like to hear about your favorite books about tech (or non-tech books that are sneakily about tech anyway) or what you think might be missing from the list. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Update: Some great additional suggestions from the comments:

As many commenters noted, it’s hard to see how Hackers was left off this list. And My Tiny Life…it anticipated so much about how social media was going to function.


Chris Ware Does Candide

extremely detailed comic cover of Voltaire's Candide by Chris Ware

This is apparently extremely old news (like almost 20 years old), but I ran across the cover that Chris Ware did for Voltaire's Candide in the bookstore yesterday and it still slaps.

P.S. The book covers tag is pretty good if you want to get distracted/inspired by fantastic design for 30 minutes.


The Trailer for 3 Body Problem

I loved Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem trilogy (read it twice!) and was excited/apprehensive when Netflix announced they’d partnered with Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff to adapt the books into a TV series. Well, the first trailer is here and has tipped my scales more towards excited. Really looking forward to when this premieres in January March 2024 — if they get it right, this could be something really special.


Book of Earth: A Guide to Ochre, Pigment, and Raw Color

Heidi Gustafson is the curator of Ochre Sanctuary, a collection of iron-based earths that are the oldest natural pigments used by humans. In her new Book of Earth, Gustafson details where these pigments come from and how to use them to create art. Here are a few images from the book and the Ochre Sanctuary:

a collection of differently colored pigments

a collection of differently colored pigments

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Looks like a gorgeous book. Check out her Instagram for more colorful photos of ochres.


Apollo Remastered

lunar rover on the Moon

Earth rising over the surface of the Moon

”boot

NASA keeps the original film negatives from the Apollo program sealed in a frozen vault in Houston, TX and rarely grants access to them. As a result, nearly all of the photos we see of those historic missions were made decades ago or are copies of copies. Recently, the film was cleaned and digitally scanned at “an unprecedented resolution”.

Using these new high-res scans, image specialist Andy Saunders remastered each of the 35,000 photographs, resulting in this incredible-looking book, Apollo Remastered: The Ultimate Photographic Record. From the book’s website:

The photographs from the lunar surface are as close as we can get to standing on the Moon ourselves, and for the first time, we were able to look back at Earth from afar, experiencing the “overview effect” — the cognitive shift that elicits an intense emotional experience upon seeing our home planet from space for the first time. The “Blue Marble” photograph, taken as Apollo 17 set course for the Moon, depicts the whole sunlit Earth, and is the most reproduced photograph of all time. Along with Apollo 8’s “Earthrise,” which depicts Earth above the lunar horizon, it was a catalyst for the environmental movement that continues today.

Saunders is also selling prints of some of these remastered photos, which look absolutely stunning.


My Recent Media Diet, Summer 2023 Edition

”Mad

Oh no. It’s June? Where what how?!? I did not mean to let this much time elapse since the last installment of my media diet, all the way back on Dec 2 in a completely different calendar year. But there’s nothing to be done about it, we’re all here now, so tuck your arms inside the carriage and let’s do this thing. Here’s what I’ve been watching, reading, listening to, and experiencing over the last six months. Enjoy.

Fire of Love. Superb documentary on volcanos and obsession. The footage, mostly shot by the subjects, is unbelievable. (A)

Star Trek: First Contact. Maybe my favorite Star Trek movie? Ok, maybe not favorite but I like it a lot. (A)

Splendor. This is one of my favorite engine-building games that I’ve played — it strips the concept down to the bare bones. That makes it easy to get the hang of but there’s a lot of room for different strategies as skill levels rise. (A-)

Ted Lasso (season three). I almost didn’t watch this because season two was not my favorite and the critics were just tearing into season three, but I’m so glad I did…this is one of my favorite things I watched over the past few months. This was more like free therapy than a “sitcom”, which probably explains why some people didn’t care for it. (A)

Mercado Little Spain. José Andrés’ Spanish version of Eataly. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but omg the food. The pan con tomate is the simplest imaginable dish — bread, tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt — but I could easily eat it every day. (A)

Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure. Such a gift to see so much of Basquiat’s art in one place. Loved it. (A+)

Wood stove. An actual fire inside of your house that warms and captivates. Perfect, no notes. (A+)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. A memoir about loss, grief, food, and the Korean American experience. (A-)

The Bourne Identity. Over 20 years old and still a great action thriller. (A-)

AirPods Pro (2nd generation). I’ve been using the first-gen AirPods Pro for the last few years and they’ve been great. But these 2nd-gen ones are next-level: the noise cancelling is way better and they are much more comfortable…been wearing the hell out of these since I got them. (A+)

Succession (season four). Has any show ever hit it out of the park on every episode like this? The whole last season, including the finale, was just fantastic. (A+)

China’s Van Goghs. A Chinese man who’s been painting replica van Goghs for half his life visits Holland and France to see the original paintings and the locations where van Gogh painted. Fascinating. What makes someone a “real” artist? (A-)

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Got to ski here with my kids a couple of times this winter and I can see why they love it. (B)

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. Better than I expected and perhaps better than a superhero holiday special has any right to be. (B+)

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. If you’ve ever enjoyed a long collaborative creative partnership with another person or group of people and that collaborative frisson felt like the highlight of your life, you will probably like this book. (A)

Glass Onion. Super fun. (A-)

Andor. I really enjoyed this but was also kind of perplexed about the hype around how much better this series was than the rest of Star Wars. Again, I liked it but it didn’t seem too far apart from the whole. (A-)

The 2022 World Cup. This whole thing gets an F for the corruption, human rights abuses, and idiotic TV coverage in the US, but as a long-time fan of Lionel Messi, watching Argentina win the trophy was 💯. The final against France was one of the peak sports viewing experiences of my life. (F/A+)

Rogue One. Had to rewatch after Andor. Still a favorite. (A-)

1899. This gave me Lost and Westworld vibes (that’s bad) but I’d heard good things so I stuck with it for two more episodes than I should have. Stopped watching halfway through and then read the Wikipedia page and, yep, thankful I didn’t spend anymore time on it. I have to stop watching these puzzle box shows. (C-)

Bullet Train. People seemed to like this more than I did. Seemed like a Guy Ritchie Tarantino sort of thing, but a bit flashier? It was fine? (B)

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. This movie gets better and better every time I watch it. Two world-class hams, William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban, trying to see who can chew the most scenery, the first movie scene wholly generated by computer, and Scotty playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes? Come on! (A+)

White Noise. Fine, I guess. But the end credits were the best part. (B)

Acupuncture. I tried acupuncture to address a chronic injury. It didn’t end up working for that purpose, but each time I went, I felt an incredible sense of relaxation and calm after the session. (B)

Wonderland Dreams. I posted about Alexa Meade’s “living still lifes” more than 13 years ago and I finally got a chance to see her work in person in NYC. (A-)

Edward Hopper’s New York. Always good to visit the Whitney. (B+)

Avatar: The Way of Water. Oh dear. Amazing effects but the plot & dialogue were right out of a B movie. And yeah, just a few months after seeing it, I can’t name a single character. (B-)

Fleishman is in Trouble. This wrecked me and I loved it. So much of this rhymed with my life — very uncomfortable at times! (A+)

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Read this straight after I finished the show. (A)

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. Entertaining time travel adventure from the author of Station Eleven. (B+)

Ambient 23. Moby made an 2.5-hour-long ambient album and it’s pretty good. (B+)

The Fablemans. I liked this quite a bit — it’s one of those films that grows in your esteem as you think back to it. Curious to see it again in a month or two to see how it holds up. (A-)

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I hadn’t read any Hemingway since high school and ok, I get it now. Enjoyed the first half more than the second though. (A)

Minions: The Rise of Gru. I enjoy the Minions more than, what, I should? And what’s not to like about Steve Carell doing a funny voice? (B+)

The White Lotus (season two). I didn’t care for the first season of this (I stopped watching halfway through), but I loved this season. I did think the ending was a little weaker than the rest of it. (A-)

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Picked this book up after a viral tweet by Bigolas Dickolas sent it screaming up the Amazon bestseller charts. Not bad (time travel, causality, etc.) but the writing style was not my favorite. (B+)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. My kids and I went to see this the other day and afterwards had an interesting chat about how you can make a movie where one of the themes is animal cruelty and then the rest of the movie is just a lot of hyper-violence with a surprising amount of yelling (at children!) and also mindless killing of some cyborg animals (during the rescue of other cyborg animals). Honestly disappointing and kind of a muddle. (B)

The Rihanna Halftime Show at Super Bowl LVII. It’s been years since I watched the Super Bowl (or American football), but my daughter and I were excited to catch Rihanna’s halftime show. We both loved it, a great performance. (A)

Raiders of the Lost Ark. A perfect action/adventure movie. (A+)

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie. Listened to this on audiobook with my mystery-loving daughter — it made some long drives fly right by. (A-)

The Last of Us. Some of the episodes showed their video game roots (side quests, NPCs, etc.) a little too much but maybe that’s just how most action drama is written now? (A)

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. The kids and I agreed this was just fine but wasn’t as fun as the other two Ant-Men. (B)

The Book of Mormon. Live things are always a hell of a lot of fun, but I think this played a lot differently when it premiered in 2011 than it does today. (B+)

Speed Racer. Not a fan of the visual style of this movie. (B)

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout. I’ve been in a mode of my life for awhile now where I identify with the characters of books I read and movies/TV that I watch and it makes it difficult to actually be objective (ha!) about it, even with myself. Did I like this or did I just identify strongly with the characters? And what does it matter if I got something valuable out of it even if it wasn’t “good”? (B+)

Ivory. I’ve mostly quit Twitter and this app from Tapbots makes Mastodon feel a lot like Twitter for me. Well, without the right-wing owner and increasingly fascist rhetoric. (B+)

Triangle of Sadness. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to everyone, but I loved it. The dinner scene had me hyperventilating with laughter. (A)

Combustion Predictive Thermometer. I preordered this years ago when I was doing a lot more grilling. Mixed results so far. The thermometer is designed to stay in the meat while you cook it, but the heat of my hardwood charcoal grill was too much for it (I run it *hot*) and I had to take it out. But doing the oven part of the reverse sear is a total breeze with this thing…worth it just for that. (B+)

The Complete History & Strategy of LVMH. I am not usually a VC/startup bro podcast listener, but my pal Timoni strongly recommended this episode on luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and it ended up being really fascinating. The episode is 3.5 hours long and I wanted more. (A)

ChatGPT. I wrote about this extensively back in March and I’m still using it several times a week, mostly as a programming assistant. (A)

The Mysterious Benedict Society. Watched with the kids and I think we all agreed it was a bit better than the first season? But Disney cancelled the show and removed it completely from Disney+ 👎 so good luck watching it… (B+)

Star Trek: Picard (seasons two & three). I’d heard not-great things about season two so I wasn’t super-curious to watch but with the buzz around season three, I decided to give it a try. I ended up watching both seasons in the space of a couple of weeks during a particularly tough period. I just really like spending time in that universe with those people. (A-)

The Mandalorian (season three). This season really dragged in spots — I guess I don’t care about the Mandalorian back story that much? (B+)

Crossword puzzles. I’ve never been a crossword puzzle person, but I’ve been doing the NY Times crossword with a friend for the past few months (mostly over FaceTime) and I’ve become a fan. (B+)

The Wager by David Grann. The beginning is sort of unavoidably slow due to having to explain global geopolitics and how the British Navy functioned in the 18th century, but the rest of the book is just plain masterful and unputdownable. (A)

The Five Lives of Hilma af Klint by Philipp Deines. A graphic novel based on the diaries and art of Hilma af Klint — better than I was expecting. (B+)

Nuun Sport Tablets. I drink a lot of water during the course of my day but also too many sugary drinks. I don’t like seltzer so I’ve been on the lookout for a beverage that tastes good (or at least not terrible) without a lot of sugar. In her excellent newsletter, Laura Olin recommended these and I’ve been enjoying them so far, particularly the citrus flavors. (B+)

Superman. Christopher Reeve would be just 70 years old right now if he hadn’t died in 2004. Wish he were still around; he was a hell of an actor. (A-)

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Strong word-of-mouth got me to sit down and watch this and it didn’t disappoint. Solid action/adventure that reminded me of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. (B+)

Poker Face. I’m only a little more than halfway through this, but Natasha Lyonne solving mysteries while on the lam across America in a TV series by Rian Johnson? In. (B+)

Mrs. Davis. I wanted to like this! I’d heard good things! But it was giving me Lost vibes so I had to stop after two episodes. I do not know how to describe it, but I do not like television shows that are confusing/mysterious in the particular way that this show is. See also Lost, The Leftovers, and Watchmen – all, not coincidentally, written and created by Damon Lindelof. (C)

The Great (season two). I loved season one but season two took me forever to get through – like 7-8 months – and I still have the last episode left. I’ve heard season three gets good again, so I’m gonna push through and give that a chance. The leads are marvelous. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.


The 100 Greatest Children’s Books of All Time

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Relying on the choices of 177 book experts from 56 different countries, BBC Culture recently chose the 100 greatest children’s books of all time. The top five are:

1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
3. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
5. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

In terms of Sendak, I always preferred In the Night Kitchen to Where the Wild Things Are. Here are a few of my personal favorites from the list:

14. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
20. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
31. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
45. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
92. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Is the Lord of the Rings a children’s book? Young adult? And I would have liked to have seen Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go on the list. And perhaps some Frog and Toad?


Unboxing a 400-Year-Old Copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio

The First Folio is a collection of 36 plays by William Shakespeare that was published in 1623. One of the most influential books ever published, only about 230 copies are known to have survived. The Victoria and Albert Museum has three copies, and in this video, they lead the viewer on a tour through one of them.

There are 36 plays by Shakespeare in this book and half of them had not been previously printed. So this book preserves really half of Shakespeare’s complete works — plays that would probably have been completely lost to us include the Tempest, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, many others that are among people’s favorites today.

(via aeon)


Watch the Trailer for Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon

I’ve been waiting patiently on this one: the teaser trailer for Killers of the Flower Moon, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s based on the fantastic book by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.

The movie will be out in theaters on October 6. Oh, and Scorsese & DiCaprio have already signed on to adapt Grann’s latest book, The Wager, which I recently read and loved.


Oppenheimer

Finally: a full-length trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, easily the movie I am most looking forward to seeing this summer. Dunkirk was one of my favorite films of the past few years, I’ve done quite a bit of reading about the Manhattan Project over the years, and I studied modern physics in college, so I am all the way in for this. Fingers crossed!

P.S. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin. Might have to read this one before the movie comes out.


Emily Wilson’s Translation of the Iliad!

”the

Emily Wilson’s eagerly-awaited translation of Homer’s Iliad will be out on September 26 and is finally available for pre-order! I loved her version of The Odyssey (I read it to my kids and we all got a lot out of it).

Wilson posts a lot about her process on Twitter but hasn’t said too much about the finished book yet, aside from this tweet back in February:

It feels bittersweet to be at the end of my eleven-year labor of love, creating verse translations of the Homeric epics. I’m working through Iliad proofs, and full of gratitude that I have had this magical opportunity, to work so closely for so long with these sublime poems.

I’m excited to read the complete Homeric epic in the fall! In the meantime, you can pre-order it at Amazon or Bookshop.org.


How Tolkien Conceived of the One Ring - By Muddle Not Masterstroke

Inspired by a reread of The Lord of the Rings, Robin Sloan has been reading The History of The Lord of the Rings, a four-volume book series that details Tolkien’s process of writing LOTR. As he read, the idea of Tolkien as Middle-earth master planner fell away and the text revealed a writer who muddles through and revises, just like the rest of us. Here’s Sloan on Tolkien’s conception of the One Ring’s backstory (“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”, etc.):

In a single stroke, we get: a mythic backstory, a grand MacGuffin, a sense of language and history, the sublimely satisfying train of magic numbers - three … seven … nine … ONE! - plus something graphically weird and beautiful on the page.

It’s all just tremendous — the perfect kernel of Tolkien’s appeal.

And, guess what:

Not only was the inscription missing from the early drafts of LOTR … the whole logic of the ring was missing, too. In its place was a mess. The ring possessed by Bilbo Baggins was one of thousands the Dark Lord manufactured, all basically equivalent: they made their wearers invisible, and eventually claimed their souls. They were like cursed candies scattered by Sauron across Middle-earth.

Tolkien’s explanation of this, in his first draft, is about about as compelling as what I just wrote.

It’s fine, as far as it goes; he could have made it work, probably? Possibly? But it is not COOL in the way that the final formulation is COOL. It has none of the symmetry, the inevitability. It does only the work it has to do, and nothing else. It is not yet aesthetically irresistible.

There are several revised approaches to “what’s the deal with the ring?” presented in The History of The Lord of the Rings, and, as you read through the drafts, the material just … slowly gets better! Bit by bit, the familiar angles emerge. There seems not to have been any magic moment: no electric thought in the bathtub, circa 1931, that sent Tolkien rushing to find a pen.

It was just revision.

I find this totally inspiring.


An Excerpt From David Grann’s Forthcoming Book, The Wager

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David Grann’s newest book, The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder (ebook), comes out next month. It tells the story of a British shipwreck that happened during the war with Spain in the 1740s. The New Yorker, where Grann is a staff writer, is running an excerpt from the book to whet your appetite.

Each man in the squadron carried, along with a sea chest, his own burdensome story. Perhaps it was of a scorned love, or a secret prison conviction, or a pregnant wife left onshore weeping. Perhaps it was a hunger for fame and fortune, or a dread of death. David Cheap, the first lieutenant of the Centurion, the squadron’s flagship, was no different. A burly Scotsman in his early forties, with a protracted nose and intense eyes, he was in flight — from squabbles with his brother over their inheritance, from creditors chasing him, from debts that made it impossible for him to find a suitable bride. Onshore, Cheap seemed doomed, unable to navigate past life’s unexpected shoals. Yet, as he perched on the quarterdeck of a British man-of-war, cruising the vast oceans with a cocked hat and spyglass, he brimmed with confidence — even, some would say, a touch of haughtiness. The wooden world of a ship — a world bound by the Navy’s rigid regulations and the laws of the sea and, most of all, by the hardened fellowship of men — had provided him a refuge. Suddenly, he felt a crystalline order, a clarity of purpose. And Cheap’s newest posting, despite the innumerable risks that it carried, from plagues and drowning to enemy cannon fire, offered what he longed for: a chance to finally claim a wealthy prize and rise to captain his own ship.

The problem was that he could not get away from the damned land. He was trapped-cursed, really-at the dockyard in Portsmouth, along the English Channel, struggling with feverish futility to get the Centurion fitted out and ready to sail. Its massive wooden hull, a hundred and forty-four feet long and forty feet wide, was moored at a slip. Carpenters, caulkers, riggers, and joiners combed over its decks like rats (which were also plentiful). A cacophony of hammers and saws. The cobblestone streets past the shipyard were congested with rattling wheelbarrows and horse-drawn wagons, with porters, peddlers, pickpockets, sailors, and prostitutes. Periodically, a boatswain blew a chilling whistle, and crewmen stumbled from ale shops, parting from old or new sweethearts, hurrying to their departing ships in order to avoid their officers’ lashes.

Grann is so good at both telling the larger tale and inserting wonderful turns of phrase throughout. Can’t wait to read this one.


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