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kottke.org posts about books

The Tree Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2017

Tree Alphabet

The Tree Alphabet was made by Katie Holten and was used in her book, About Trees (Amazon), which features writing from Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Darwin, Ada Lovelace, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Robert Macfarlane.

In ABOUT TREES, Katie Holten invites us to enter some of these forests. She has created a Tree Alphabet and used it to translate a compendium of well known, loved, lost and new writing. She takes readers on a journey from ‘primeval atoms’ and cave paintings to the death of a 3,500 year-old cypress tree, from Tree Clocks in Mongolia and forest fragments in the Amazon to Emerson’s language of fossil poetry, unearthing a grove of beautiful stories along the way.

The Trees font file is available for free download and prints of the Tree Alphabet are available as well.

Euclid’s Elements of Geometry done in a modernist Swiss Style

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2017

Euclid Geometry Book

From Kronecker Wallis, the folks who brought you this reissue of Newton’s Principia, comes a new edition of Euclid’s Elements designed in a modernist Swiss Style.

Euclid’s Elements has been referred to as the most successful and influential textbook ever written. It was one of the very earliest mathematical works to be printed after the invention of the printing press and has been estimated to be second only to the Bible, in the number of editions published since the first printing in 1482.

The Elements is a mathematical treatise consisting of 13 books attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid. It is a collection of definitions, postulates, propositions (theorems and constructions), and mathematical proofs of the propositions. Elements is the oldest surviving large-scale deductive treatment of mathematics. It has proven instrumental in the development of logic and modern science.

The design and implementation of the book is based off of Oliver Byrne’s edition of Elements from 1847, of which Megan Mulder of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library writes:

Byrne’s Euclid is admired as much for its surprisingly modernist design and color palette — which seems to anticipate Bauhaus and De Stijl — as for its innovative pedagogy.

I have a copy of their Principia reissue (it’s beautiful), so I’m looking forward to this one.

100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2017

Dystopian Books

Vulture has compiled a list of 100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction, “tales about a world gone wrong”. Entries on the list include some of the earliest examples like Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, classics like Huxley’s Brave New World and 1984, modern classics like Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and some newer books like On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee and A Planet for Rent by Cuban author Yoss. Even Infinite Jest makes an appearance. As does It Can’t Happen Here, a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis that sounds particularly relevant right now:

As the old saying goes, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” — and Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here is proof. This 1935 satire chronicles the career of fictitious U.S. politician Buzz Windrip, a populist senator who wins the presidency. As it turns out, he’s a bit of a fascist, but more frightening than his actions is the speed — and eagerness — with which Americans join him in his authoritarian crusade. Lewis understood the American soul better than most, and he makes a compelling case that fascist tendencies would make a horrifyingly good fit for our polity if presented with the right amount of good, old-fashioned patriotism.

See also a reading list for the resistance.

My recent (and not-so-recent) media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Somehow it’s been almost two months since my last installment?

Paterson. I would pay to watch Adam Driver read the phone book and that’s kinda what this is so I was satisfied. (B)

Despicable Me 3. I have a soft spot for the Minions movie (don’t know why, afraid to ask myself) but not for this one. (C+)

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. This was my favorite book to read to my kids, but both of them can read by themselves now, so this is perhaps the last time I will get to sit down and read it with them and oh no I’m crying right now. (A+)

Mr. Holmes. This could have been good but 24 hours after watching, I’d forgotten everything about it. (C)

Spider-Man: Homecoming. My brain let out a big ol’ “ohhhhhh” after I realized two-thirds of the way through where they got the title. (B)

The Defiant Ones. Great. But I felt Dre’s apology for his violence against women was lacking. As with many apologies from the wealthy and powerful, it had more to do with him than with his victims. (A)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I love reading weirdo books with my kids. (A)

Game of Thrones (season 7). Pure pulp and soap at this point. (A-)

Hey, Cool Job Episode 21: Wellness Expert And Swole Woman Casey Johnston. I LOL’d at “I’m going to remain poor and right”. (B+)

Dunkirk. I feel like Christopher Nolan watched Mad Max: Fury Road and said, “I can do that…but my way.” Also reminded me strongly of Run Lola Run. (A-)

Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack contributed heavily to my enjoyment of this film. (A)

Baby Driver. A 2-hour music video. If were 25 and had never seen a Tarantino movie, I would have thought this was the coolest shit ever. (B)

The total solar eclipse. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will attempt to replicate at the earliest opportunity. (A+++)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Hey Ladies! the book

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2017

The Hey Ladies! column from The Toast is coming out in book form in May 2018 (pre-order here).

Based on the column of the same name that appeared in The Toast, Hey Ladies! is a laugh-out-loud read that follows a fictitious group of eight 20-and-30-something female friends for one year of holidays, summer house rentals, dates, brunches, breakups, and, of course, the planning of a disastrous wedding. This instantly relatable story is told entirely through emails, texts, DMs, and every other form of communication known to man.

From the column, here’s some Friendsgiving planning:

In terms of NBT aka night before thanksgiving AKA thanksgiving eve, i’m sorry to say that I won’t be here. My dad bought me a flight home (yay daddy’s girl forever haha!) and I’m leaving Monday. I saw a post on Buzzfeed about doing a friendsgiving? Is anyone interested in this? was thinking we could skip the food and just go out for tequila shots? hahah I love the holidays!

I also don’t know if anyone recalls but I will NOT be going out the night before tgiving in my hometown and that is mostly because I do not want to run the risk of seeing Jacob, my high school ex. I keyed his car in 2001 and I’m almost positive he knows it was me. What’s the statute of limitations on a crime like that? I’ve been listening to too much Serial.

Oddly, both the Times and the New Yorker have run knockoff “Hey Ladies!” pieces in the past couple of months. Not so cool.

Knausgaard’s four-book series on the seasons

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2017

Karl Ove Knausgaard is writing a series of four books, one for each one of the seasons. The first one, Autumn, just came out yesterday.

Autumn begins with a letter Karl Ove Knausgaard writes to his unborn daughter, showing her what to expect of the world. He writes one short piece per day, describing the material and natural world with the precision and mesmerising intensity that have become his trademark. He describes with acute sensitivity daily life with his wife and children in rural Sweden, drawing upon memories of his own childhood to give an inimitably tender perspective on the precious and unique bond between parent and child. The sun, wasps, jellyfish, eyes, lice—the stuff of everyday life is the fodder for his art. Nothing is too small or too vast to escape his attention. This beautifully illustrated book is a personal encyclopaedia on everything from chewing gum to the stars. Through close observation of the objects and phenomena around him, Knausgaard shows us how vast, unknowable and wondrous the world is.

Ah, so that’s what the chewing gum thing was about. The NY Times review is positive overall with a few caveats. The Times also did a By the Book with Knausgaard in which he shares “books I want to read, books I have to read and books I believe I need to read […] we are talking about id, ego and superego books”. Among his book picks are Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett and The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman. There is also this:

I hardly ever laugh.

LOL Knausgaard.

This Book Is a Planetarium

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2017

Planetarium Book

Planetarium Book

A couple of years ago, I told you about designer Kelli Anderson’s upcoming book, This Book is a Planetarium. It took awhile to get everything just right, but I’m happy to report the book will finally be out in early October.

Defying every expectation of what a book can be, this pop-up extravaganza transforms into six fully functional tools: a real working planetarium projecting the constellations, a musical instrument complete with strings for strumming, a geometric drawing generator, an infinite calendar, a message decoder, and even a speaker that amplifies sound. Artist Kelli Anderson contributes enlightening text alongside each pop-up, explaining the scientific principles at play in her constructions and creating an interactive experience that’s as educational as it is extraordinary.

Here’s a video of Anderson playing with two of the six contraptions. She sent me a preview of the book in the form of the planetarium pop-up page (accompanied by one of these cool cards) and when I cracked it open, I actually squealed. Seriously, this thing is super awesome. We took it and my iPhone flashlight into the darkest room in the house and sure enough, there was the Big Dipper projected onto the ceiling…my kids could barely stop saying “this is so cool”. Really looking forward to seeing the real thing in October.

The paradox of tolerance

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2017

Corey Long Charlottesville

In his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, political philosopher Karl Popper asserted that tolerance need not be extended to those who are intolerant.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

The last part bears repeating:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

The photo above was taken by Steve Helber of Charlottesville resident Corey Long pointing an improvised flamethrower at a group of white supremacists this past weekend. Yesha Callahan of The Root interviewed Long about that moment:

“At first it was peaceful protest,” Long said softly as he spoke. “Until someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”

Long said the only weapon he had was a can of spray paint that a white supremacist threw at him earlier, so he took a lighter to the spray paint and turned it into a flame thrower. And a photographer snapped the photo.

But inside every photograph is an untold story. If you look closely at Long’s picture, there’s an elderly white man standing in between Long and his friend. The unknown man was part of the counterprotests, too, but was afraid, and Long and his friends were trying to protect him. Even though, Long says, those who were paid to protect the residents of Charlottesville were doing just the opposite.

A digital archive of Soviet children’s books 1917-1953

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2017

Soviet Childrens Books

Soviet Childrens Books

Playing Soviet is an online interactive database created by Princeton of children’s books from the Soviet Union.

In the selections featured here, the user can see first-hand the mediation of Russia’s accelerated violent political, social and cultural evolution from 1917 to 1953. These conditions saw the proliferation of new styles and techniques in all the graphic arts: the diverse productivity of the Russian avant-garde, photomontage, experimental typography, and socialist realism. As was clear both from the rhetoric of the arbiters of Soviet culture — its writers and government officials — the illustration and look of Soviet children’s books was of tantamount importance as a vehicle for practical and concrete information in the new Soviet regime. Directives for a new kind of children’s literature were founded on the assumption that the “language of images” was immediately comprehensible to the mass reader, far more so than the typed word. Illustrators were raised as equals to the revered Russian author, bringing artists such as Alexander Deineka, El Lissitzky, Vladimir Lebedev, and numerous other graphic designers to the pages of children’s books to create imaginative models for Soviet youth in the new languages of Soviet modernism.

The bottom image is from a book called For Children About Lenin, a 71-page illustrated book about Lenin and the Russian Revolution published 2 years after his death.

Yes, barbed wire fenced cows but also provided telecommunications

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2017

Barbed wire is one of the most important inventions of the past 150 years. It tamed the Wild West and solidified the concept of land ownership in America. Tim Harford, author of Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, writes:

After Europeans arrived and pushed west, the cowboys roamed free, herding cattle over the boundless plains.

But settlers needed fences, not least to keep those free-roaming cattle from trampling their crops. And there wasn’t a lot of wood — certainly none to spare for fencing in mile after mile of what was often called “The American Desert”.

Farmers tried growing thorn-bush hedges, but they were slow-growing and inflexible. Smooth wire fences didn’t work either — the cattle simply pushed through them.

Barbed wire changed what the Homestead Act could not.

Until it was developed, the prairie was an unbounded space, more like an ocean than a stretch of arable land.

Private ownership of land wasn’t common because it wasn’t feasible.

With demand came fierce competition; there were dozens of different types of barbed wire:

Barbed Wire Types

Just two years after Joseph Glidden patented his design for barbed wire in 1874, another of the 19th century’s great inventions burst onto the scene in the form of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. The two world-changing technologies would combine in a surprising way in the western United States. Because of the expense of running dedicated telephone services over long distances, some farmers opted to run their telecommunications over the hundreds of thousands of miles of barbed wire criss-crossing the land.

It was in building the network connecting homestead to homestead that the farmers’ ingenuity came to the fore. Instead of erecting new poles and wires, many either ran phone wires along the top of wooden fence posts or used the barbed wire itself to carry signals. The latter hardly worked as well as insulated copper wire, but with the lines already in place, installation and operating costs could be kept to a minimum. By one estimate, service ran a mere $3 to $18 a year, far less than the regional phone companies charged, and labor for maintaining the network was supplied by volunteers.

So cool. I’m reading A Mind at Play right now. It’s a biography of Claude Shannon, “the architect of the information age”. As a boy, Shannon wired the half-mile stretch of barbed wire fence between his family’s farm and a friend’s house:

He charged it himself: he hooked up dry-cell batteries at each end, and spliced spare wire into any gaps to run the current unbroken. Insulation was anything at hand: leather straps, glass bottlenecks, corncobs, inner-tube pieces. Keypads at each end — one at his house on North Center Street, the other at his friend’s house half a mile away — made it a private barbed-wire telegraph. Even insulated, it is apt to be silenced for months in the ice and snow that accumulate on it, at the knuckle of Michigan middle finger. But when the fence thaws and Claude patches the wire, and the current runs again from house to house, he can speak again at lightspeed and, best of all, in code.

In the 1920s, when Claude was a boy, some three million farmers talked through networks like these, wherever the phone company found it unprofitable to build. It was America’s folk grid. Better networks than Claude’s carried voices along the fences, and kitchens and general stores doubled at switchboards.

(via mr)

Update: See also the Devil’s Rope episode of 99% Invisible. (thx, dave)

Obama, An Intimate Portrait by White House photographer Pete Souza

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2017

For all eight years of Barack Obama’s Presidency, Pete Souza was Chief Official White House Photographer and took over 2 million photos of the President and his activities in office. Souza has collected some of those photos into a book: Obama: An Intimate Portrait, out in November.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait reproduces Souza’s most iconic photographs in exquisite detail, more than three hundred in all. Some have never been published. These photographs document the most consequential hours of the Presidency — including the historic image of President Obama and his advisors in the Situation Room during the bin Laden mission — alongside unguarded moments with the President’s family, his encounters with children, interactions with world leaders and cultural figures, and more.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite photo of Souza’s, but these two are right near the top:

Souza Obama Book

Souza Obama Book

What’s Souza up to these days? Trolling the current inhabitant of the White House on Instagram, as you do.

Photos documenting unusual laws across all 50 US states

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

Olivia Locher Law

When a normal person finds out that it’s illegal in Alabama to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket, they might say, huh, that’s interesting. But photographer Olivia Locher took that strange fact and turned it into a project documenting the weirdest laws across all 50 US states (aided by a 70s children’s book called Crazy Laws). Locher has collected the photos into a book, I Fought the Law, which is out in September. Laws depicted in the photos above:

In Alabama, it is illegal to have an ice-cream cone in your back pocket.

In Ohio, it’s illegal to disrobe in front of a man’s portrait.

In Pennsylvania, it’s illegal to tie a dollar bill to a string and pull it away when someone tries to pick it up.

See also you commit three felonies a day.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

From an excerpt of Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Those two sentences are a pretty good way to sum up the human experience. As an exercise, think about how the world’s major religions and philosophies are attempts to help people manage these desires and acceptance.

A big list of the best feminist children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2017

Feminist children's books

Buzzfeed recently asked their readers for their favorite feminist children’s books. Their responses included Matilda by Roald Dahl, Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, and, of course, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Harry Potter is also on the list because Hermione Granger is amazing.

The winners of the 2016 50 Books/50 Covers competition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

50 Books 2016

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

Poser Book Cover

A collection of free coloring books from libraries and museums

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2017

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

Library Coloring Books

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A 2017 summer reading list from TED speakers

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

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

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

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

The More They Disappear by Jesse Donaldson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My recent media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

Totoro Little Prince

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

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

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

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

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2017

50 Things Economy

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

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

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

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

Narrative flowcharts for Choose Your Own Adventure books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure map

Choose Your Own Adventure map

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

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

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

(via @RLHeppner)

There’s gonna be a Black Mirror book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Black Mirror Book

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

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2017

Feynman Blackboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feynman was also quoted as saying:

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

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

What I cannot create, I do not understand.

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

What Are We Even Doing Book

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

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

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

Information Age automation is coming for your job

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2017

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

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

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

The 100 best solutions to reverse climate change, ranked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2017

Climate Change Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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