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kottke.org posts about lists

The New York Public Library’s List of “125 Books We Love”

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2020

NYPL 125 Books

To celebrate their 125th anniversary, the New York Public Library has created a list of 125 Books We Love, books published in the past 125 years “that made us fall in love with reading”. First on the list (alphabetically) is 1984, which was the first adult book I fell in love with. Other personal favorites on the list include The Warmth of Other Suns, The Devil in the White City, Cleopatra: A Life, Wolf Hall, My Brilliant Friend, and The Remains of the Day.

You can check out the entire list or read about how the books were selected. (via open culture)

Was the World’s Oldest Person a Fraud?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2020

Maybe it was all the Guinness Book of World Records reading when I was a kid, but I probably pay more attention than many people to the list of the world’s oldest people. At 122 years and 164 days, Jeanne Calment is the oldest person to have ever lived. At the time of her death, she had lived for almost 5 years longer than the previous record-holder, which I have always found a little fishy. So it was with great interest that I read Lauren Collins’ New Yorker piece on a recent challenge to Calment’s age.

The passage of time often quells controversy, but, in the Calment case, it only unsettled the dust. As the world’s population continued to grow, the cohort of people living to the age of a hundred and twenty-two did not. More than two decades after Calment’s death, her record still stood, making her a more conspicuous outlier with every year that went by. Either she had lived longer than any human being ever or she had executed an audacious fraud. As one observer wrote, “Both are highly unlikely life stories but one is true.” In “Les 120 Ans de Jeanne Calment,” her validators had reproduced the only picture known to exist of the two Calment women as adults. In it, Yvonne appears to be sitting on a windowsill. Jeanne stands to her left, behind a table, looking down at a basket of flowers and a wrapped gift. The women are both wearing white shirts and dark sweaters. Accompanying the photograph was a tantalizing caption: “Jeanne and Yvonne, her daughter. Which one is which?”

I won’t spoil the ending, but if you’re aware of Betteridge’s law you may already have a good idea what it is.

Recommended Soundtracks from Mobile Games

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2020

I am always on the lookout for good music to write, design, and code to and video game music is definitely one of my go-to genres. Chris Gonzales wrote up a pair of guides to Mobile Games with Fantastic Soundtracks (part 2). Represented soundtracks include those from Monument Valley, Alto’s Odyssey, Gorogoa, and Stardew Valley.

Andy Cheung made a Spotify playlist of all the recommendations:

One that I listen to a lot that’s not on either list is Ben Prunty’s Ftl soundtrack (on Spotify).

Jim Lehrer’s Rules of Journalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2020

The long-time host of PBS NewsHour Jim Lehrer died this week at the age of 85. In this age of news as entertainment and opinion as news, Lehrer seems like one of the last of a breed of journalist who took seriously the integrity of informing the American public about important events. In a 1997 report by The Aspen Institute, Lehrer outlined the guidelines he adhered to in practicing journalism:

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.*
  2. Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
  3. Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
  4. Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.*
  5. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.*
  6. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.*
  7. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.*
  8. Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
  9. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.*
  10. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.*
  11. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.*
  12. Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  13. Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  14. Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers.
  15. My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice.
  16. I am not in the entertainment business.*

In his 2006 Harvard commencement address, Lehrer reduced that list to an essential nine items (marked with an * above).

These are fantastic guidelines; as veteran journalist Al Thompkins said recently: “I would like to add a 10th rule: Journalists should be more like Jim Lehrer.”

Addendum: Even though this is a mere blog that has different goals and moves at a different pace than traditional journalism, I try (try!) to adhere to Lehrer’s guidelines on kottke.org as much as possible. I found out about his rules on Twitter in the form of a context-free screenshot of an equally context-free PDF. Lehrer would not approve of this sort of sourcing, so I started to track it down.

All initial attempts at doing so pointed to the truncated list (as outlined in the Harvard speech and in this 2009 episode of the NewsHour), so I wrote up a post with the nine rules and was about to publish — but something about the longer list bugged me. Why would someone add more rules and attribute them to Lehrer? It didn’t seem to make sense, so I dug a little deeper and eventually found the Aspen report in bowels of Google and rewrote the post.

In doing all this, I rediscovered one of the reasons why Lehrer’s guidelines aren’t followed by more media outlets: this shit takes time! And time is money. It would have taken me five minutes to find that context-free PDF, copy & paste the text, throw a post together, and move on to something else. But how can I do that when I don’t know for sure the list is accurate? Did he write or say those things verbatim? Or was it paraphrased or compiled from different places? Maybe the transcription is wrong. Lehrer, of all people, and this list, of all lists, deserves proper attribution. So this post actually took me 45+ minutes to research & write (not counting this addendum). And this is just one little list that in the grand and cold economic scheme of things is going to make me exactly zero more dollars than the 5-minute post would have!

Actual news outlets covering actual news have an enormous incentive to cut corners on this stuff, especially when news budgets have been getting squeezed on all sides for the better part of the last two decades. It should come as no big surprise then that the media covers elections as if they were horse races, feasts on the private lives of celebrities, and leans heavily on entertaining opinions — that all sells better than Lehrer’s guidelines do — but we should think carefully about whether we want to participate in it. In the age of social media, we are no longer mere consumers of news — everyone is a publisher and that’s a powerful thing. So perhaps Lehrer’s guidelines should apply more broadly, not only for us as individuals but also for media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter that amplify and leverage our thoughts and reporting for their own ends.

The Best Best Picture Lineups in Oscar History

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2020

Using their extensive database of member ratings, Letterboxd averaged the ratings for the Best Picture nominees for each year to determine which years ranked highest. The top five are (official Academy winners marked w/ an asterisk):

  1. 1975 (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest*, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville)
  2. 2019 (Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite)
  3. 1976 (Rocky*, All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network, Taxi Driver)
  4. 1974 (The Godfather Part II*, Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, The Towering Inferno)
  5. 1994 (Forrest Gump*, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption)

1975 was apparently the clear winner but 2019 in the #2 spot is a very strong showing, especially considering there are the ratings of nine nominees to average instead of just five. But as this analysis shows, the Academy and Letterboxd users do not often agree on which Picture is “actually” Best:

It is often said that The Academy doesn’t always choose the nominee that *actually* deserves Best Picture. And according to the average ratings of the nominees on Letterboxd, that is true about 76% of the time!

I’d guess there’s also a recency bias at work (newer films tend to get rated higher), as well as age-related (I’d guess Letterboxd skews young-ish?) and gender-related (majority male, but probably not as much as IMDB) biases. It would be neat to see how controlling for those effects would affect the average ratings. (via @mrgan)

Five Ways to Ditch Your Climate Stress and Be Part of the Solution

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2020

Emma Marris has a five-point plan for dealing with the psychological toll of climate change — the constant news of fire! famine! war! floods! Republicans! — and working towards solutions to our collective global problem. Step 1, she writes, is to let go of the shame:

The first step is the key to all the rest. Yes, our daily lives are undoubtedly contributing to climate change. But that’s because the rich and powerful have constructed systems that make it nearly impossible to live lightly on the earth. Our economic systems require most adults to work, and many of us must commute to work in or to cities intentionally designed to favor the automobile. Unsustainable food, clothes and other goods remain cheaper than sustainable alternatives.

And yet we blame ourselves for not being green enough. As the climate essayist Mary Annaïse Heglar writes, “The belief that this enormous, existential problem could have been fixed if all of us had just tweaked our consumptive habits is not only preposterous; it’s dangerous.” It turns eco-saints against eco-sinners, who are really just fellow victims. It misleads us into thinking that we have agency only by dint of our consumption habits — that buying correctly is the only way we can fight climate change.

Marris’ focus on systems (political, capital, etc.) mirrors that of other climate thinkers (like David Wallace-Wells) and is exactly right IMO:

My point is that the climate crisis is not going to be solved by personal sacrifice. It will be solved by electing the right people, passing the right laws, drafting the right regulations, signing the right treaties — and respecting those treaties already signed, particularly with indigenous nations. It will be solved by holding the companies and people who have made billions off our shared atmosphere to account.

Steven Soderbergh’s Media Diet for 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2020

Every year, director Steven Soderbergh publishes a list of the movies, books, TV series, short films, and short stories he’s watched and read over the course of the year (one of the inspirations for my media diet posts). For many creators, the key to making good work is to read and watch widely with an emphasis on quality — it’s difficult make great work if your ingredients are poor — so Soderbergh’s 2019 list is a fascinating look at the director’s inputs for the next year’s creative endeavors.

Some observations:

The 100 Best Books Written By African American Women

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2020

The editors of ZORA, a publication for women of color, have published a list of the 100 greatest books written by African American women: The ZORA Canon.

To our knowledge, however, no one has ever compiled a comprehensive list specifically featuring the finest literary works produced by African American women authors. We decided to undertake that effort both to honor that still underappreciated group of writers and to provide ZORA readers — you — with a handy reference guide to their work.

Here are a sampling of the books on the list — click through to peruse them all.

Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson. “The first novel written by an African American woman, Our Nig focuses on the fictional character Frado and her servant-girl life in New England during antebellum slavery.”

The Red Record by Ida B. Wells. “This tome by the groundbreaking writer, Mathis says, is ‘an exhaustively researched publication about lynchings in the U.S. after the abolition of slavery.’”

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. “This groundbreaking novel by the Harlem Renaissance novelist and anthropologist focuses on the emerging autonomy and maturation of Janie Crawford as she endures multiple marriages, poverty, and various other associative trials to reach a state of clarity.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. “The first of a multivolume series, this much-loved autobiographical tale recounts Maya Angelou’s early life…”

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. “As he grows up, Milkman Dead strives to take flight as he sets out on a pilgrimage to reclaim his family history…”

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. “The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist traces the lives of three people — a sharecropper’s wife, an agricultural worker, and a doctor — who embark upon one of the greatest movements of African Americans within American history: the Great Migration.”

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. “This series of poems chronicles Woodson’s experiences in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and ’70s under Jim Crow and with the civil rights movement.”

I have read several of the more recent books on this list but not enough.

The Final Chart Topper of the Decade Perfectly Summarizes the Current State of Media

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2020

The number one song on the UK singles chart for the last week of 2019 was Ellie Goulding’s River, despite it not being available on Spotify, Apple, Google, or anywhere but Amazon (with one important exception). How the heck did that happen? Chart Watch UK has the story.

River was simply a prominent part of just about every “Christmas songs” playlist curated by Amazon themselves, a default choice for everyone muttering “Alexa, play Christmas songs” as they basted the turkey and cursed the sprouts. People have been spoon-fed a contemporary hit single like no other before it, and the result of that has been to propel it almost by accident to the top of the charts.

This is a fitting choice for the final chart topper in the 2010s because it encapsulates a number of trends in media that have played out over the past decade. To wit:

  1. The song is a remake. Remakes and sequels dominate our viewing and listening.
  2. It is exclusive to a single platform. The entire media world seems to be headed in this direction.
  3. The platform is operated by one of the handful of tech behemoths that took control of more and more of the media landscape as the decade wore on.
  4. Amazon. Arguably the company of the decade. Led by the world’s richest man, a symbol of the decade’s growth in inequality.
  5. Ok, the song is exclusive to Amazon but is also on YouTube. YT has simply grown so popular for young people listening to music that media companies can’t ignore it, even when they’re direct Google competitors (and who isn’t these days).
  6. Voice assistant devices were instrumental in making the song popular. Since Siri was first released in 2011, voice assistants have become increasingly embedded in our homes and pockets.
  7. Amazon’s editorial team added the exclusive song to several of their Christmas playlists. Amazon has access to the song, compiles the playlists, and sells the devices to play them. This sort of BigCo “synergy” became standard operating procedure in the 2010s.
  8. There was an algorithm involved (Billboard’s). They increasingly determine what we read, watch, and listen to.
  9. And that algorithm was gamed. See also the role of Facebook’s algorithms in the 2016 US Presidential election (and many many other examples of “impartial” algos being manipulated).

It is tough to imagine a more perfect example of how media functions (or doesn’t) today. (via @tedgioia)

Flowing Data’s Best Data Visualizations of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2020

Nathan Yau of Flowing Data picked his ten favorite data visualization projects for 2019. All the projects listed are worth a look … but maybe, just maybe, this post is really just an excuse to let my eyes feast upon Scott Reinhard’s historic topographic maps once again.

Scott Reinhard

Designer Scott Reinhard takes old geological survey maps and combines them with elevation data to produce these wonderful hybrid topographic maps. From top to bottom, here are Reinhard’s 3D versions of a 1878 USGS Yellowstone map, a 1904 USGS map of Acadia National Park, and a 1899 USGS map of the Grand Tetons.

The Best of the Best-of-the-Decade Lists

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2019

Rex Sorgatz has been compiling a collection of lists related to the 2010s decade — best movies, worst TV shows, top inventions, the defining memes, that sort of thing. There are over 500 lists in the collection, so Sorgatz has helpfully posted the best of these lists in a Twitter thread.

From this list of the most popular baby names, we learn that the top boys names tend toward the biblical and traditional (Noah, Jacob, William, Elijah) while girls names are less so (Emma, Olivia, Ava, Mia, Madison).

Among the top 20 scientific discoveries of the decade is CRISPR, detecting gravitational waves, and fleshing out the human family tree.

Serial and Missing Richard Simmons were two of the podcasts that defined the 2010s. Not sure how you can leave Slow Burn off of here though…

The 100 Best Shoes of the Decade. Counterpoint: almost all of these shoes are terrible — gaudy celeb-driven collectables about as classy as commemorative plates.

The Tesla Model S and the Chevy Volt both made it on Car & Driver’s list of the 10 Most Significant Cars of the 2010s.

Check out the thread for all of the best lists.

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2019

As he does every year, President Obama has shared his favorite books of the year for 2019. His picks include Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, and The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. I wonder what he reads that he doesn’t like.

He also did a list of his favorite movies (Parasite, Booksmart, Little Women) and “TV shows that I considered as powerful as movies” (Fleabag!).

The 25 Best Films of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Hey, Merry Ehrlichmas! David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his top 25 films of the year is one of my most anticipated end-of-the-year thingers. Viewing it always makes me want to watch movies for three straight days. As a companion, Ehrlich listed the movies here, along with the most memorable moment from each.

Watching “The Irishman,” especially for the first time, you get the sense that it’s teeming with hidden moments that will cling to you like barnacles for the rest of your life. Some of them are more apparent than others: Pacino chanting “Solidarity!” Pesci saying “It’s what it is.” Ray Romano asking De Niro if he’s really guilty at heart. The film’s most indelible treasures are lurking a bit deeper under the surface. On my second viewing, nothing hit me harder than the rhyme between two distant confrontations: As a child, Peggy suspects that her father is hiding some demons, but Frank directs his daughter back to her breakfast. Years later, Peggy wordlessly confronts her dad with daggers in her eyes, and Frank is so far beyond salvation that his only recourse is to keep eating his cereal like nothing ever happened.

Some random thoughts on the list and the year in movies: Surprised to see Ad Astra so high — I didn’t hear great things so I skipped it. I thought I saw a lot of movies this year, but this list once again proves me wrong. I can’t wait to see Uncut Gems. No Booksmart? I really loved Booksmart. I did not like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Knives Out as much as everyone else did. I mean, they were fine, but… Great to see Hustlers on the list — when Jennifer Lopez gets good roles, she knocks the cover off of the ball. Give Jennifer Lopez more good roles!

See also these two 2019 movie trailer mashups:

(thx, brandt & david)

The Year in Good News 2019 (and the Bad News About Good News)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

From Future Crunch, 99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2019. Here are a few representative entries:

8. In Kenya, poaching rates have dropped by 85% for rhinos and 78% for elephants in the last five years, in South Africa, the number of rhinos killed by poachers fell by 25%, the fifth annual decrease in a row, and in Mozambique, one of Africa’s largest wildlife reserves went an entire year without losing a single elephant.

16. China’s tree stock rose by 4.56 billion m^3 between 2005 and 2018, deserts are shrinking by 2,400 km^2 a year, and forests now account for 22% of land area. SCMP

38. Type 3 polio officially became the second species of poliovirus to be eliminated in 2019. Only Type 1 now remains — and only in Pakistan and Afghanistan. STAT

We definitely don’t hear enough good news from most of our media sources. It’s mostly bad news and “feel good” news — that’s what sells. (Note that “feel good” news is not the same as substantive good news and is sometimes even bad news, e.g. heartwarming stories that are actually indicators of societal failures.) In the past few weeks I’ve also posted links to Beautiful News Daily and The Happy Broadcast, a pair of sites dedicated to sharing positive news about the world.

But at this point I feel obligated to remind myself (and perhaps you as well) that focusing mostly on positive news isn’t great either. A number of thinkers — including Bill Gates, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Kristof, Max Roser — are eager to point out that the world’s citizens have never been safer, healthier, and wealthier than they are now. And in some ways that is true! But in this long piece for The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman addresses some of the reasons to be skeptical of these claims.

But the New Optimists aren’t primarily interested in persuading us that human life involves a lot less suffering than it did a few hundred years ago. (Even if you’re a card-carrying pessimist, you probably didn’t need convincing of that fact.) Nestled inside that essentially indisputable claim, there are several more controversial implications. For example: that since things have so clearly been improving, we have good reason to assume they will continue to improve. And further — though this is a claim only sometimes made explicit in the work of the New Optimists — that whatever we’ve been doing these past decades, it’s clearly working, and so the political and economic arrangements that have brought us here are the ones we ought to stick with. Optimism, after all, means more than just believing that things aren’t as bad as you imagined: it means having justified confidence that they will be getting even better soon.

See also other critiques of Pinker’s work: A letter to Steven Pinker (and Bill Gates, for that matter) about global poverty and The World’s Most Annoying Man.

136 Mindblowing & Groundbreaking Internet Videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

Joe Sabia is a VP for Conde Nast Entertainment and he and his team have been the creative force behind some of the most interesting video series of recent years, including Vogue’s 73 Questions (Sabia is the questioner), the Billie Eilish time capsule interviews, Wired’s Autocomplete Interviews, and Gourmet Makes.

Recently Sabia shared a list of 136 internet videos which he says “left some sort of impression on me since the dawn of the internet video explosion (which I’ll define as 2006)”. So the collection is personal, but it’s also an expert’s record of creative people & orgs playing around with the internet video form, breaking new ground, or contributing significantly to culture.

I’ve spent my entire career inside internet video. If I didn’t mess around with it in college, I’d be a law school drop out. Back then, so much of YouTube began as a bunch of weird hobbyists making things we were curious about. Meeting people who saw the same popular videos you did felt like meeting someone who genuinely shared a bit of your identity. It was special. It was authentic. It was unusual. Everywhere you looked was some sort of bizarre concept that may have existed in weird avant garde museum galleries decades before, or from DVD curations like Wholphin — and most certainly never in shareable form on your computer.

I’ve posted a lot of these videos over the years, which is not surprising — while I’m not a video creator, Sabia and I are often on the lookout for stuff that is new or creative in some way. Fair warning: this list could occupy your attention for hours. HOURS. Here are a few videos I pulled out:

If this were my list, I would have included Primitive Technology. Even though it’s such a simple premise, I’d never seen anything like it before: a long-ish silent how-to video that felt tight and never boring.

52 Things Learned in 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2019

One of my favorite end-of-the-year lists comes from writer, consultant, and curious human Tom Whitwell: 52 things I learned in 2019.

8. Drunk shopping could be a $45bn/year industry, and only 6% of people regret their drunk purchases.

25. In the US Northwest, rain can damage the fruit on cherry trees. So helicopter pilots are paid to fly over the orchards, using their downdraft to dry the fruit as it ripens. For the pilots, it’s a risky but potentially profitable job.

31. Using machine learning, researchers can now predict how likely an individual is to be involve in a car accident by looking at the image of their home address on Google Street View.

52. Asking ‘What questions do you have for me?’ can be dramatically more effective than ‘Any questions?’ at the end of a talk.

I will add a 53rd item: Whitwell used a machine learning tool trained on his lists from previous years to find a couple of the interesting stories this year. I’ve often wondered if I could do the same with kottke.org…sort of a bot’s-eye view of the daily link zeitgeist.

The Best Books of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2019

Best Books 2019

I made an effort to read more books in 2019 and mostly succeeded (I think). But there are so many good books out there I couldn’t get to, which is at once both panic-inducing (OMG, the endless bedside stack of books) and exciting (so much to look forward to reading). It’s in this spirit that I went through a bunch of end-of-the-year books lists to pull out some of our collective favorite books of the year for 2019.

The NY Times has published two lists so far: The 10 Best Books of 2019 and 100 Notable Books of 2019 (I think their critics’ picks are forthcoming). Ben Lerner’s third novel, The Topeka School, is on both lists and almost all of the others linked here as well. I read Lerner’s 10:04 a few years ago and really enjoyed it. Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist made the longer list and is on my to-read-soon list as well.

As many others did, The Times Literary Supplement recommended The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong made the Washington Post’s Best Books of 2019. I pick up Vuong’s book every time I see it on a bookstore shelf…one of these days I’m going to actually buy & read it.

Book Riot’s list of the Best Books of 2019 includes Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski & Amelia Nagoski. Their talk at XOXO 2019 about the stress cycle was my favorite — it seemed at times they were talking directly at me.

In their Best Books of 2019 list, Kirkus Reviews highlighted Exhalation by Ted Chiang and Internment by Samira Ahmed.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk is on Time magazine’s 10 Best Fiction Books of 2019 list.

Library Journal has a number of lists in many categories — Chris Ware’s Rusty Brown and Mira Jacob’s Good Talk appear on their graphic novels list.

The lists from Goodreads always present a broader view of what’s being enjoyed by readers. See for instance: Most Popular Books Published In 2019 and Best Books of 2019. On the list of books for kids are Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and Yoon Ha Lee’s Dragon Pearl.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and Taffy Brodessner-Aker’s Fleishman Is in Trouble both made the New York Public Library’s list of Best Books of 2019.

Two lists from Five Books: Best Science Books of 2019 and Best Math Books of 2019. Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez topped the first list and Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus by Steven Strogatz made both lists. I wrote about Perez’s book back in February.

The Guardian selected the best science, nature and ideas books of 2019. Among those mentioned are Greta Thunberg’s No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (which oddly didn’t make many other lists) and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.

The Guardian also asked a number of writers and celebs for their 2019 favorites. Hilary Mantel highlighted Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout, comparing the author favorably with Jane Austen. Anand Giridharadas picked Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, the only book on any of these lists in which I am quoted (as far as I know). Yotam Ottolenghi liked The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland.

Speaking of cooking, I couldn’t find a good list of the year’s best cookbooks, but I’ll update this if Eater or someone else publishes one. (see update below)

The top two books on Amazon’s Best Books of 2019 list are The Testaments by Margaret Atwood and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I haven’t gotten around to Whitehead’s latest (The Underground Railroad was great) but I did read The Testaments and loved it.

Voracious reader Tyler Cowen weighs in with two lists: favorite fiction of 2019 and best non-fiction books of 2019. He mentions Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which I really enjoyed, and Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power by Pekka Hämäläinen.

Update: Alright, we’ve got a couple of lists of the year’s best cookbooks, In her list of the best baking cookbooks of 2019, Melissa Clark highlights Tartine: A Classic Revisited by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. On the SF Chronicle’s best cookbooks of 2019 is Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s I Can Cook Vegan and Alison Roman’s Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over. And Samin Nosrat (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) recently published a selection of her favorite fall cookbooks as a gift guide, including Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral. (thx merrill & connor)

Update: NPR has updated their Book Concierge for 2019, adding 369 books spread out over a variety of categories from “Love Stories” to “The Dark Side”. I jumped right to the “Staff Picks” (the best section of any bookstore for people who like reading blogs) and found Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, a finalist for the National Book Award this year. I also spotted Mary H.K. Choi’s Permanent Record.

The NY Times Critics picked their Top Books of 2019, including Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise (the winner of the National Book Award).

Not all of the books on Boing Boing’s 28 favorite books in 2019 were actually published in 2019, but Olivia Jaimes’ Nancy: A Comic Collection was. So was Arcade Game Typography by Toshi Omigari.

Update: Along with Oprah and President Obama, Bill Gates has somehow become known for his reading. He periodically publishes lists of what he’s been reading on his website, and to his credit, he seems to be reading a bit more widely than he used to. Compare 2019’s list with this one from five years ago. The 2014 list (and the 2013 list) is mostly business & economics, almost all nonfiction, and all written by white men. This year is still mostly non-fiction but the majority of the books are by women (like These Truths by Jill Lepore), mostly not about business, and includes An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Perhaps it’s a low bar to clear, but it’s definitely progress for the world’s ur-nerd.

The 50 Best Nonfiction Books from the Past 25 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2019

Slate recently compiled a list of the 50 best nonfiction books published in the past 25 years and it could not possibly be more up my alley. Let’s take a look at some of the books on the list:

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. “Through his reporting of McCandless’ passionate and foolhardy journey into transcendence — and writing about his own, similar youthful experiences — Krakauer explores our modern relationship to the wilderness and the deep desire many young people feel to seek out unthinkable danger.”

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace. “His editors at Harper’s sent him to a state fair and on a holiday cruise, pastimes whose reputations for carefree, middle American fun seemed hopelessly alien to Wallace himself, a hyperactive observational machine desperate to shed his own self-consciousness but incapable of doing so.” A personal favorite of mine, my book-length introduction to Wallace.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I loved this when it came out. I wonder how it holds up…

The Night of the Gun by David Carr. “In 2008, David Carr had been a respected New York Timesman for years, the paper’s media reporter and a beloved mentor of countless young journalists. But two decades before that, Carr was a junkie — a crack addict who washed out of journalism jobs, who was rung up by the Minneapolis cops nine times, and whose twin daughters were born 2 1/2 months premature to a mother who’d smoked crack the night before their delivery.”

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. A wonderful masterful book, one of my all-time favorites.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. “Barbarian Days is a masterpiece of sports writing, focusing its lens on the smallest unit of both athletic and artistic achievement: the single human body, attempting to do something difficult and beautiful.”

I’ve read fewer of the listed books than I would have thought. Time to remedy that.

The Most Important Pieces of Code in the History of Computing

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

Bitcoin Code

Slate recently asked a bunch of developers, journalists, computer scientists, and historians what they thought the most influential and consequential pieces of computer code were. They came up with a list of the 36 world-changing pieces of code, including the code responsible for the 1202 alarm thrown by the Apollo Guidance Computer during the first Moon landing, the HTML hyperlink, PageRank, the guidance system for the Roomba, and Bitcoin (above).

Here’s the entry for the three lines of code that helps cellular networks schedule and route calls efficiently and equitably:

At any given moment in a given area, there are often many more cellphones than there are base station towers. Unmediated, all of these transmissions would interfere with one another and prevent information from being received reliably. So the towers have a prioritization problem to solve: making sure all users can complete their calls, while taking into account the fact that users in noisier places need to be given more resources to receive the same quality of service. The solution? A compromise between the needs of individual users and the overall performance of the entire network. Proportional fair scheduling ensures all users have at least a minimal level of service while maximizing total network throughput. This is done by giving lower priority to users that are anticipated to require more resources. Just three lines of code that make all 3G and 4G cellular networks around the world work.

25 Fun Facts About Food from Gastropod

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2019

The Gastropod podcast turns five years old this month and to celebrate they’ve compiled a list of 25 of their favorite fun food facts from the show’s archives. Here’s the entire list with links to each of the shows (shared with permission):

1. The Mafia got its start in the 1860s, in the lemon groves of Sicily. At the time, growing lemons was the most lucrative form of agriculture in Europe, thanks to scurvy and the British Navy. (Museums and the Mafia: The Secret History of Citrus)

2. Using gold (or gold-plated) cutlery makes food taste sweeter. (Episode 1: The Golden Spoon)

3. Olive oil is fruit juice. (Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive Oil)

4. Saliva is filtered blood. (Guts and Glory)

5. The enamel on our teeth is the hardest tissue in our entire bodies — at 95 percent mineral, it’s basically a rock. (The Truth is in the Tooth: Braces, Cavities, and the Paleo Diet)

6. The invention of forks changed the shape of our jaws. (Episode 1: The Golden Spoon)

7. Medieval nuns used to get high on saffron, to help them get through their prayer marathons. (Meet Saffron: The World’s Most Expensive Spice)

8. In the absence of kitchen timers or affordable clocks, recipes in the earliest cookbooks gave timings in the form of prayers, like two Lord’s Prayers or four Hail Marys. (Cooking the Books with Yotam and Nigella)

9. True wasabi (most wasabi in the U.S. is just colored horseradish) has a flavor “window”: it has no taste for the first five minutes after being grated, then the flavor explodes — but it fades after another ten to fifteen minutes. You have only a few minutes to enjoy wasabi at its peak! (Espresso and Whisky: The Place of Time in Food)

10. The word “avocado” comes from the Nahuatl word for testicle. (Ripe for Global Domination: The Story of the Avocado)

11. The word “cocktail” comes from the practice of putting a piece of ginger up a horse’s butt to make it cock its tail up, and seem younger and friskier. (The Cocktail Hour)

12. Jell-O was originally sold as a patent medicine that was good for hair and nails. (Watch it Wiggle: The Jell-O Story)

13. The earliest recorded recipe for ice-cream was flavored with ambergris, which is a salt- and air-cured whale excretion (no one is quite sure whether it’s vomit or poo). (The Scoop on Ice Cream)

14. New York City’s first soda fountains used marble scraps left over from building St. Patrick’s cathedral to produce their carbonation. (Gettin’ Fizzy With It)

15. The superiority of New York City’s bagels has nothing to do with the city’s water. (The Bagelization of America)

16. Donald Rumsfeld was the man behind the launch of Nutrasweet. (Sweet and Low (Calorie): The Story of Artificial Sweeteners)

17. George W. Bush and a trade deal involving Harley Davidsons were the reason that the Indian Alphonso, the so-called “king of mangoes,” can now finally be imported to the U.S. (Mango Mania: How the American Mango Lost its Flavor — and How it Might Just Get it Back)

18. Jack Daniel learned how to make whiskey from an enslaved African, Nearest Green, who went on to become the company’s first master distiller. (The Secret History of the Slave Behind Jack Daniel’s Whiskey)

19. The first pasta machine was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. (Remembrance of Things Pasta: A Saucy Tale)

20. In England in the 1600s, a special breed of dogs were used to turn spits of roasted meat in front of the open fire. These turnspit dogs are now extinct; their closest relation is thought to be a corgi. (Hotbox: The Oven from Turnspit Dog to Microwave)

21. In America in the early 1900s, the pawpaw was voted the native fruit most likely to succeed, ahead of the blueberry. (Pick a Pawpaw: America’s Forgotten Fruit)

22. The story that carrots are good for eyesight was World War II military disinformation, spread by the British to prevent the Germans from realizing that the Royal Air Force were shooting down so many enemy planes because their cockpits were now equipped with radar and red lighting. (How the Carrot Became Orange, and Other Stories)

23. Mustard became spicy over the course of a 90-million-year evolutionary arms race against caterpillars. (Cutting the Mustard)

24. Plants can hear themselves being eaten. (Field Recordings)

25. A raw human male contains, on average, 143,770 calories. (Cannibalism: From Calories to Kuru)

The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

Best Books 21st Guardian

The Guardian recently compiled a list of the best books of the century (with a British bent). Here are a few of the picks that caught my eye:

87. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood — “This may not be the only account of living in a religious household in the American midwest (in her youth, the author joined a group called God’s Gang, where they spoke in tongues), but it is surely the funniest. The author started out as the “poet laureate of Twitter”; her language is brilliant, and she has a completely original mind.”

82. Coraline by Neil Gaiman — “From the Sandman comics to his fantasy epic American Gods to Twitter, Gaiman towers over the world of books. But this perfectly achieved children’s novella, in which a plucky young girl enters a parallel world where her “Other Mother” is a spooky copy of her real-life mum, with buttons for eyes, might be his finest hour: a properly scary modern myth which cuts right to the heart of childhood fears and desires.”

78. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin — “Jemisin became the first African American author to win the best novel category at the Hugo awards for her first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. In her intricate and richly imagined far future universe, the world is ending, ripped apart by relentless earthquakes and volcanoes. Against this apocalyptic backdrop she explores urgent questions of power and enslavement through the eyes of three women. ‘As this genre finally acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalised matter and that all of us have a future,’ she said in her acceptance speech, ‘so will go the world. (Soon, I hope.)’”

71. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware — “At the time when Ware won the Guardian first book award, no graphic novel had previously won a generalist literary prize. Emotional and artistic complexity are perfectly poised in this account of a listless 36-year-old office dogsbody who is thrown into an existential crisis by an encounter with his estranged dad.”

42. Moneyball by Michael Lewis — “The author of The Big Short has made a career out of rendering the most opaque subject matter entertaining and comprehensible: Moneyball tells the story of how geeks outsmarted jocks to revolutionise baseball using maths. But you do not need to know or care about the sport, because — as with all Lewis’s best writing — it’s all about how the story is told.”

32. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee — “‘Normal cells are identically normal; malignant cells become unhappily malignant in unique ways.’ In adapting the opening lines of Anna Karenina, Mukherjee sets out the breathtaking ambition of his study of cancer: not only to share the knowledge of a practising oncologist but to take his readers on a literary and historical journey.”

13. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich — “In this modern classic of reportage, Ehrenreich chronicled her attempts to live on the minimum wage in three American states. Working first as a waitress, then a cleaner and a nursing home aide, she still struggled to survive, and the stories of her co-workers are shocking. The US economy as she experienced it is full of routine humiliation, with demands as high as the rewards are low. Two decades on, this still reads like urgent news.”

11. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante — “Powerfully intimate and unashamedly domestic, the first in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series established her as a literary sensation. This and the three novels that followed documented the ways misogyny and violence could determine lives, as well as the history of Italy in the late 20th century.”

Ok, that ended up being more than a few, but there’s so much good stuff on that list! You’ll have to click through to see the #1 choice but needless to say, I was pleased.

Nine Things a Woman Couldn’t Do in 1971 in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

Twitter user @WPCelebration recently compiled a list of nine activities and rights denied to women in America in 1971, just 48 years ago. The list includes:

Ms magazine published a similar list back in 2013 that also included the difficulty in getting a divorce without cause and obtain a safe & legal abortion in all 50 states. Bustle talked to several women about what discrimination was like before many of these changes took place.

I was denied a job in 1970 because I was newly pregnant. They actually had a question on the application regarding the date of your last menstrual period. Also, with my second child in 1974, they were not required to hold your position while you were on maternity leave, and I was told that my job was no longer open and I had to file for unemployment.

As a reminder, women only gained the right to vote in America fewer than 100 years ago.

The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

I love cross-disciplinary lists like this: The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25 Years.

We polled critics and other culture obsessives from Slate and beyond to assemble an enormous master list of influential characters. They were animated and live-action, wizard and Muggle, human and avian, fictional and based on actual persons, living and dead. They came from movies, books, TV series, video games, tweets, podcasts, comics, songs, and (in a surprise to us) more than one musical. Reflecting our franchise-driven time, many of them came from many of those media at once. The only rule was that they must have originated in a work of culture sometime in the past quarter-century, which meant no Simpsons or hobbits or diner-dwelling New Yorkers who argue about nothing. Then we ruthlessly winnowed down the list to the most crucial of those characters, the ones who have left an outsize mark on our planet circa 2019, to assemble this new pantheon.

Hermione Granger

Many of my favorite characters made it on there: Thomas Cromwell from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies; Omar Little from The Wire; Tracy Flick from Election; and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, a much more inspired pick than the titular hero for reasons I’ve already articulated. The full list is worth a read.

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.

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.

Climate Change Is a Humanitarian Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

From The New Humanitarian, a mid-year update on 10 humanitarian trends and crises to watch in 2019 (here’s their initial post). The #1 item on the list, deservedly so, is climate displacement:

Vulnerable communities around the world have long known what the aid sector is just beginning to articulate: climate change is a humanitarian issue, and its fingerprints are all over today’s emergencies.

Climate shocks and disasters continued to fuel displacement around the globe through the first half of the year, from tropical cyclones to slow-burning droughts. Pacific Island nations were on high alert early in the year as storm after storm swept through the region in quick succession. Conflict is as dangerous as ever in Afghanistan, yet the number of people displaced by drought and floods in recent months is on par with the numbers fleeing war. Drought has left 45 million in need in eastern, southern, and the Horn of Africa. This, along with conflict, has spurred new displacement in countries like Somalia, where at least 49,000 people have fled their homes so far this year, according to UNHCR. The UN’s refugee agency warns of “growing climate-related displacement” - a sign of the continuing shift in the aid sector as humanitarian-focused agencies increasingly underline the links between climate change and crises.

Our rapidly changing climate has either caused or exacerbated several of the other crises on the list — Syria, Ethiopia, infectious diseases, the global refugee population. This isn’t stuff that’s going to happen…it is happening, it has happened. And it’s going to get worse. (via tmn)

101 Things Changing How We Work

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

From the BBC, a list of the 101 people, ideas, and things changing how we work today. I pulled out a few of things I thought were interesting.

5G — So the whole 5G thing seems like a marketing gimmick to me, but I used its inclusion on this list to finally read about why anyone should care. From this PC Magazine article:

5G brings three new aspects to the table: greater speed (to move more data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices).

Ok, I get it now. Sounds good.

Adaptability quotient (AQ) — One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in my adult life is that people have all sorts of different abilities that contribute to how “smart” they are, and most of those things have little to do with how well they did in school or what their IQ is.

The good news is that scientists agree AQ is not fixed — it can be developed. Theory U by Otto Scharmer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests three elements can help provide a framework: keeping an open mind, so you see the world with fresh eyes and remain open to possibilities; keeping an open heart, so you can try to see any situation through another person’s eyes; and keeping an open will, letting go of identity and ego to sit with the discomfort of the unknown.

The ‘FIRE’ (financial independence, retire early) movement — You obviously need a certain type of job (and likely a privileged background to obtain that job) to do this. And perhaps no children. Oh and maybe a social safety net…one significant medical issue and you can kiss your savings goodbye.

The ‘FIRE’ (financial independence, retire early) movement sees its adherents live as cheaply as possible in their 20s and 30s, squirreling enough money away to retire by middle age. These extreme savers are working longer hours to save up overtime payments while also spending less leisure time out of home to avoid costly activities.

Ghost work — Tech companies employ millions of people who are often underpaid & mistreated to do menial work.

Workers crowdsourced over the internet are paid below minimum wage to label data to train algorithms. Contractors at risk of immediate termination screen our social media feeds to keep them free of violence, hate speech and sexual exploitation. But a technology industry keen to portray itself as based on technical wizardry rather than human labour has kept its crucial contributions hidden, aided by automated workflows that treat humans as just another step in a computational pipeline.

Reverse mentoring — Mentors can and should be found anywhere, up and down the chain of wisdom and experience.

Mentoring used to mean older colleagues guiding younger workers up the career ladder. But the earliest adopters of new technologies are often young people, and so big names like Microsoft, Roche and Atkins have embraced reverse mentoring; harnessing young people to close knowledge gaps within organisations. Other benefits include promoting inclusion, increasing discussion across peer groups, and empowering future leaders.

Office farming — I am in favor of more plants in offices and more urban farms. Buildings in major cities should all have rooftop gardens.

With advances in hydroponics — growing plants in something other than soil — New York firm Kono Designs created an urban farm inside a nine-story office building in Tokyo that harvests over 280 types of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers. Tomato vines are suspended above conference tables, lemon and passionfruit trees are used as partitions for meeting spaces, salad leaves are grown inside seminar rooms and bean sprouts are grown under benches. With support from agricultural specialists, the employees assist in its daily upkeep that contribute to the preparation of ingredients served at its on-site cafeterias.

The 100 Best Movies of the 2010s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

Indiewire is early out of the gate with their list of the 100 best movies of the decade, betting that anything coming out in the next 5 months will not be worthy of inclusion. There are a few eyebrow raisers on there — 75. A Star Is Born? 26. Magic Mike XXL?? 5. Inside Llewyn Davis??? 2. Under the Skin?????!!? (reader, I didn’t like it) — but mostly this list is a goldmine for good movies I haven’t seen. Here are some that I have seen and enjoyed seeing on the list:

92. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
78. Inside Out
72. The Handmaiden
63. Inception
60. Black Panther
37. Roma
32. The Grand Budapest Hotel
23. O.J.: Made in America
13. The Tree of Life
9. Mad Max: Fury Road
7. Carol

I love that Fury Road made its way into the top 10…it might be my favorite film of the past decade.

Update: Also from Indiewire, the 25 Best Movie Scenes of the Decade.

Oh, and I thought of some films that definitely should be on that list but weren’t: Arrival, Dunkirk, Selma, Upstream Color, Senna. And I will continue to stubbornly go to bat for Cloud Atlas.

25 Essential Artworks of the Past 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2019

The NY Times convened a group of curators and artists to decide on a list of the 25 artworks made since 1970 “that define the contemporary age”. At various times, the panelists objected to the futility of such an exercise, but eventually ended up with a list that’s highly subjective, grossly incomplete, and full of great work.

Essential Artworks

Essential Artworks

Essential Artworks

Nan Goldin, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, and Kara Walker all made the list. Jeff Koons is listed, somewhat reluctantly both by the panel and himself: “The artist did not grant permission for the named work to be published.”

Perhaps just as interesting as the artworks is the panelists’ discussion, a mini-tour of recent art history. Artist Martha Rosler said of Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”:

“A Subtlety” made lots of people furious because it was about the history of labor and sugar in a place that was already about to be gentrified. It was this gigantic, mammy-like, sphinxlike, female object, and then it had all these little melting children. “A Subtlety” is part of a very longstanding tradition that began in the Arab world that had to do with creating objects out of clay but also out of sugar. So it’s the impacted value of extractive mining, but it’s also the impacted value of the labor of slaves. And it’s also on the site where wage slavery had occurred — sugar work was the worst. The Domino Sugar factory was once owned by the Havemeyers, and Henry Havemeyer was one of the main donors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The sugar king was the art king. So it had all of these things — and then there’s the idea of all these people taking selfies in front of it. It was extremely brilliant without having to say a thing.

(via @sippey)

The Most Influential Black Americans in History

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2019

Influential Black Americans

The Undefeated has complied a list of some of the most influential black Americans — 44 African Americans Who Shook Up the World.

This is a list of The Undefeated 44, a collection of dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.

A dashing lawyer who redefined fearlessness and broke Jim Crow’s back. The most gravity-defying, emulated athlete the world has ever produced. A brilliant folklorist of fierce independence who was a proudly “outrageous woman.”

This is not a list of The Greatest African-Americans of All Time or The Most Influential Blacks in History. Or even The Dopest Brothers and Sisters Who Matter Most This Week. It is a list — fervently debated among our staff, chiseled and refined — of 44 blacks who shook up the world or at least their corner of it. We recognize that this is not a complete list of jaw-dropping black achievers; we know that such a list would never run out of names. Why limit ours to 44? It’s an homage to the first African-American president, whose own stunning accomplishment was something our mothers and grandfathers and great-grandmothers never thought they’d see in their lifetimes.

The list includes many household names like Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, and Jean-Michel Basquiat but also some lesser-celebrated people like Dr. Charles Drew:

After becoming the first African-American to get his doctorate from Columbia University in 1940, Drew was the world’s leading authority on blood transfusions and storage, just as the United States and Great Britain were becoming deeply involved in World War II. His research established protocols on how blood should be collected and refrigerated, how donors should be recruited and screened, and training methods for people who would collect and test blood.

As medical director of the American Red Cross National Blood Donor Service, Drew led the collection of tens of thousands of pints of blood for U.S. troops. Some historians say his work might have saved the world from Nazism, since battlefield blood storage and transfusions didn’t exist before he was asked to manage two of the largest blood banks during the war.

And Madam C.J. Walker:

As she traveled throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Central America, teaching her Walker System and training sales agents, she shared her personal story: her birth on the same plantation where her parents had been enslaved, her struggles as a young widow, her desperate poverty. If she could transform herself, so could they. In place of washtubs and cotton fields, Walker offered them beauty culture, education, financial freedom and confidence. “You have made it possible for a colored woman to make more money in a day selling your products than she could in a week working in white folks’ kitchens,” one agent wrote to her.