Arthur Conan Doyle Names His 19 Favorite Sherlock Holmes Stories


Sherlock Holmes has become such a cultural fixture since he first appeared in print that all of us have surely, at one time or another, considered reading through the London detective’s complete case files. But where to start? One can always begin at the beginning with that first print appearance, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet. But how best to progress through the Sherlock Holmes canon, a body of 56 short stories and four novels (and that number counting only the material written by Conan Doyle himself), some more essential than others?

You might consider reading the adventures of Sherlock Holmes according to the preferences of Sherlock Holmes’ creator. We know these preferences because of a 1927 competition in The Strand Magazine, where the character’s popularity first blew up, which asked readers to name the twelve best Sherlock Holmes stories. They asked Conan Doyle the same question, and the list he came up with runs as follows:

  1. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” (“a grim story” that “I am sure will be on every list”)
  2. “The Redheaded League”
  3. “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” (due, as with “The Redheaded League,” to “the originality of the plot”)
  4. “The Final Problem” (“we could hardly leave out the story which deals with the only foe who ever really extended Holmes, and which deceived the public (and Watson) into the erroneous inference of his death”)
  5. “A Scandal in Bohemia” (since, as the first short story in the series, “it opened the path for the others,” and “it has more female interest than is usual”)
  6. “The Adventure of the Empty House” (“the story which esssays the difficult task of explaining away the alleged death of Holmes”)
  7. “The Five Orange Pips” (“though it is short it has a certain dramatic quality of its own”)
  8. “The Adventure of the Second Stain” (for its treatment of “high diplomacy and intrigue”)
  9. The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” (“grim and new”)
  10. “The Adventure of the Priory School” (“worth a place if only for the dramatic moment when Holmes points his finger at the Duke”)
  11. “The Musgrave Ritual” (for its inclusion of “a historical touch which gives it a little added distinction” and “a memory from Holmes’ early life”)
  12. “The Reigate Squires” (in which “on the whole, Holmes himself shows perhaps the most ingenuity”)

He later added seven more favorites, including some he’d written after The Strand‘s contest took place:

  1. “Silver Blaze”
  2. “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”
  3. “The Crooked Man”
  4. “The Man with the Twisted Lip”
  5. “The Greek Interpreter”
  6. “The Resident Patient”
  7. “The Naval Treaty”

“When this competition was first mooted I went into it in a most light-hearted way,” wrote Conan Doyle, “thinking that it would be the easiest thing in the world to pick out the twelve best of the Holmes stories. In practice I found that I had engaged myself in a serious task.” And those who call themselves Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts know that, though they may have begun reading the stories with an equally light heart, they soon found themselves going deeper and deeper into Holmes’ world in a much more serious way than they’d expected. Starting with Conan Doyle’s selections may set you down the very same path; when you finally come out the other side, feel free to name your own top twelve stories in the comments below.

For a quick way to read Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, get The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

NBC University Theater Adapts Great Novels to Radio & Gives Listeners College Credit : Hear 110 Episodes from a 1940s eLearning Experiment


Creative Commons image by Joe Haupt

Before the internet became our primary source of information and entertainment—before it became for many companies a primary revenue stream—it promised to revolutionize education. We would see a democratic spread of knowledge, old hierarchies would crumble, ancient divisions would cease to matter in the new primordial cyber-soup where anyone with entry-level consumer hardware and the patience to learn basic HTML could create a platform and a community. And even as that imagined utopia became just another economy, with its own winners and losers, large—and free—educational projects still seemed perfectly feasible.

These days, that potential hasn’t exactly evaporated, but we’ve had an increasing number of reasons—the threatened status of net neutrality prominent among them—to curb our enthusiasm. Yet as we remind you daily here at Open Culture, free educational resources still abound online, even if the online world isn’t as radical as some radicals had hoped. Frequently, those resources reside in online libraries like the Internet Archive, who store some of the best educational material from pre-internet times—such as the NBC University Theater, a program that comes from another transitional time for another form of mass media: radio.

Before payola and television took over in the fifties, radio also showed great potential for democratizing education. In 1942, at the height of the Golden Age of Radio, NBC “reinaugurated” a previous concept for what it called the NBC University of the Air. “Throughout the mid-1940s,” writes the Digital Deli, an online museum of golden age radio, “NBC produced some twenty-five productions specifically designed to both educate and entertain. Indeed, many of those programs were incorporated into the curricula of high schools, colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and Canada.”

After 1948, the program was retooled as NBC University Theater, then simply NBC Theater. “Irrespective of the title change,” however, the program “continued to maintain the same high standards and continued to expand the number of colleges offering college credit for listening to and studying the programs’s offerings.” Digital Deli has the full details of this proto-MOOC’s curriculum. It consists of listening to adaptations of “great American stories,” great “world” stories–from Voltaire, Swift, and others–and adaptations of modern American and British fiction and “Great Works of World Literature.”

In short, the NBC University Theater adaptations might substitute for a college-level literary education for those unable to attend a college or university. In the playlist above, you can hear every episode from the show’s final run from 1948 to 1951. We begin with an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street and end with Thomas Hardy’s “The Withered Arm.” In-between hear classic radio drama adaptations of everything from Austen to Faulkner and Hemingway to Ibsen. There are 110 episodes in total.

Each episode features commentary from distinguished authors and critics, including Robert Penn Warren, E.M. Forster, and Katherine Anne Porter. “Apart from the obvious academic value” of the series, writes Digital Deli, “it’s clear that considerable thought—and daring—went into the selections as well.” Despite the tremendous increase in college attendance through the G.I. Bill, this was a period of “rising hostility towards academics, purely intellectual pursuits, and the free exchange of philosophies in general.”

The ensuing decade of the fifties might be characterized culturally, writes Digital Deli, as an “intellectual vacuum”—anti-intellectual attitudes swept the country, fueled by Cold War political repression. And radio became primarily a means of entertainment and advertising, competing with television for an audience. Quality radio dramas continued—most notably of excellent science fiction. But never again would an educational program of NBC University Theater‘s scope, ambition, and radical potential appear on U.S. radio waves.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Animated Map Lets You Watch the Unfolding of Every Day of the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)

The border-obsessed map animator known as Emperor Tigerstar views war from a distance. The Emperor leaves such details as journal entries, letters home, and tales of valor and cowardice for other history buffs.

His niche is meticulously clocking the defeat and triumph in terms of shifting territories, by year, by fortnight, and, in the case of World War I and World War II, by day.

His five minute take on the American Civil War, above, leaves out most of the hair-raising small scale skirmishes familiar from the pages of The Red Badge of Courage.

Trans-Mississippi Theater aside, it also makes plain how little ground the Confederates gained after 1861.

The Blue and the Gray are here represented by blue and red, with the mustard-colored disputed border states picking sides before the first minute is out. (The Union’s Naval Blockade is in formation within seconds.)


Maroon = Confederate States of America and territories

Red = Areas occupied by Confederate forces

Pink = Gains for that Day

Dark Blue = United States of America and territories

Blue = Areas occupied by Union forces.

Light blue = Gains for that day

Yellow = Border states / disputed areas.

The magnitude is moving, especially when paired with ground-level observations, be they fictional, historical or eyewitness.

Even the place-names on the map, which now were merely quaint, would take on the sound of crackling flame and distant thunder, the Biblical, Indian and Anglo-Saxon names of hamlets and creeks and crossroads, for the most part unimportant in themselves until the day when the armies came together, as often by accident as on purpose, to give the scattered names a permanence and settle what manner of life future generations were to lead.  

Historian Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play, Fawnbook, opens in New York City later this fall. Follow her @AyunHalliday

The Periodic Table of Elements Scaled to Show The Elements’ Actual Abundance on Earth


When you learned about The Periodic Table of Elements in high school, it probably didn’t look like this. Above, we have a different way of visualizing the elements. Created by Professor William F. Sheehan at Santa Clara University in 1970, this chart takes the elements (usually shown like this) and scales them relative to their abundance on the Earth’s surface. In the small print beneath the chart, Sheehan notes “The chart emphasizes that in real life a chemist will probably meet O, Si, Al [Oxygen, Silicon and Aluminum] and that he better do something about it.” Click here to see the chart — and the less abundant elements — in a larger format. Below we have a few more creative takes on the Periodic Table.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

via Pickover

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226 Ansel Adams Photographs of Great American National Parks Are Now Online

Adams Yellowstone

Like many American stories, the story of the National Parks begins with pillage, death, deep cultural misunderstanding, and venture capitalism. According to Ken Burns’ film series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, we can date the idea back to 1851, with the “discovery” of Yosemite by a marauding armed battalion who entered the land “searching for Indians, intent on driving the natives from their homelands and onto reservations.” The Mariposa Battalion, led by Captain James D. Savage, set fire to the Indians’ homes and storehouses after they had retreated to the mountains, “in order to starve them into submission.” One member of the battalion, a doctor named Lafayette Bunnell, found himself entranced by the scenery amidst this destruction. “As I looked, a peculiar exalted sensation seemed to fill my whole being,” he wrote in his later accounts, “and I found myself in tears with emotion.” He named the place “Yosemite,” thinking it was the name of the Indian tribe the soldiers sought to force out or eradicate. The word, it turned out “meant something entirely different,” referring to people who should be feared: “It means, ‘they are killers.’”

Zion Adams

In 1855, a failed English gold prospector turned the place into a tourist attraction, and people flooded West to see it, prompting New York worthies like Horace Greeley and Frederick Law Olmsted to lobby for its federal protection. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln deeded Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove, with its giant sequoias, to the state of California. Ever since then, National Parks have been threatened—if not by the occasional political candidate and his billionaire backers hoping to privatize the land, then by oil and gas drilling, and by fire, rising seas, or other effects of climate change. Though the U.S. emptied many of the parks of their inhabitants, it is ironically only the actions of the federal government that prevents the process begun by the Mariposa Battalion from reaching its conclusion in the total despoliation of these landscapes. It is these landscapes that have most come to symbolize the national character, whether as background in Frederic Remington’s paintings of the Indian Wars or in the photographs of Ansel Adams, who began and sustained his career in Yosemite Valley. “Yosemite National Park,” writes the National Park Service’s website,” was Adams’ chief inspiration.”

Grand Canyon Adams

Adams first became interested in visiting the National Park when he read In the Heart of the Sierras by James Hutchings—that failed English gold prospector. Thereafter, Adams photographed National Parks almost ritually, and in 1941, the National Park Service commissioned Adams to create a photo mural for the Department of the Interior Building in DC. The theme, the National Archives tells us, was to be “nature as exemplified and protected in the U.S. National Parks. The project was halted because of World War II and never resumed.” It must have felt like an especially sacred duty for Adams, who traveled the country photographing the Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Kings Canyon, Mesa Verde, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Carlsbad Caverns, Glacier, and Zion National Parks; Death Valley, Saguro, and Canyon de Chelly National Monuments,” and other locations like the Boulder (now Hoover) Dam and desert vistas in New Mexico.

Mesa Verde Adams

The photographs you see here are among the 226 taken by Adams for the project. They are now housed at the National Archives, and you can freely view them online or order prints at their site. At the top, we see a snow-covered tree from an apple orchard in Half Dome, Yosemite, where Adams had his first photographic “visualization” in 1927. Below it, the “Court of the Patriarchs” in Zion National Park, Utah. Further down, we have a breathtaking vision of the serpentine Grand Canyon, and just above, one of the few manmade structures, “Cliff Palace” at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. And here can you see a photograph of the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park.

adams grand teton

The mural project may have been abandoned, but Adams never stopped photographing the parks, nor advocating for their protection and, in fact, the protection of “the entire environment,” as he told a Playboy interviewer in 1983. “Only two and a half percent of the land in this country is protected,” said Adams then: “Not only are we being fought in trying to extend that two and a half percent to include other important or fragile areas but we are having to fight to protect that small two and a half percent. It is horrifying that we have to fight our own Government to save our environment.”

You can peruse the collection of Ansel Adams’ national park photos here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Inmates in New York Prison Defeat Harvard’s Debate Team: A Look Inside the Bard Prison Initiative

If you want to prepare for a career practicing law, you could do much worse than joining Harvard University’s debate team. But if, far on the other end of the spectrum of the American experience, you end up deep on the wrong side of the law, going to prison rather than college, you need not relinquish your dreams of excelling at this traditional intellectual sport. We now have the precedent to prove it: “Months after winning a national title,” reports the Guardian‘s Lauren Gambino, “Harvard’s debate team has fallen to a group of New York prison inmates.”

“The showdown,” which revolved around the question of whether public schools should be allowed to turn away undocumented students, “took place at the Eastern correctional facility in New York, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club.” They call this program the Bard Prison Initiative, under which inmates have the chance to earn a Bard College degree (through a non-vocational “liberal arts curriculum, including literature, foreign language, philosophy, history and the social sciences, mathematics, science, and the arts”) at satellite campuses established in six New York state prisons. You can see this selective, rigorous and highly unusual educational institution in action in the Washington Post video above. And also in a 2011 PBS News Hour profile below.

The Bard Prison Initiative’s debate victory over Harvard made for a notable event in the program’s history indeed. “But it’s also worth pointing out,” writes Peter Holley, author of the Post article, “the fallacy of our underlying assumptions about such a matchup — the first (and most pernicious) being that criminals aren’t smart. If a definitive link between criminality and below-average intelligence exists, nobody has found it.” The Bard Prison Initiative has operated on that premise since 2001, and its debate team’s previous high-profile win saw it beating that of West Point — all, you may hardly believe, through old-fashioned research, without any kind of access to the internet. If you’d like to leave your condolences for the Harvard College Debating Union, you may do so at their Facebook page. You can also make a worthwhile financial contribution to the Bard Prison Initiative here.

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Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women: See Selections from Sight & Sound Magazine’s New List

UK film monthly magazine Sight & Sound’s most recent issue is dedicated to “The Female Gaze: 100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women.” The list of 100 films runs some 20 pages, and the edition also collects mini essays from actors like Greta Gerwig, Isabelle Huppert, and Tilda Swinton; directors like Jane Campion and Claire Denis, and critics like Amy Taubin and Camille Paglia, all focusing on female-directed films that deserve a second look.

Many of the filmmakers are fairly obscure, but even better known directors are represented here with lesser-known selections, like Ida Lupino’s Outrage (and not her noir classic The Hitchhiker) and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless, her first feature co-directed with Monty Montgomery and featuring a young Willem Dafoe. (Fact: Until Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker in 2010, no woman had earned a Best Director Oscar).

Presented in chronological order, the list of 100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women features many landmarks in film history, like Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the first feature-length animated film, which we recently highlighted here. Open Culture has also previously discussed Germaine Dulac’s 1928 surrealist film The Seashell and the Clergyman.

Lois Weber’s 1913 Suspense, her short film co-directed with Philippe Smalley (view it at the top of the post), is one of the first examples of cross-cutting to create tension, and it even features a three-way split frame. Cross-cutting is a technique all thrillers have used since. (And Weber stars in the film as well.)

Sight & Sound also profiles Stephanie Rothman, the first female director to work for Roger Corman, and her 1971 film The Velvet Vampire, a West Coast take on a gothic genre. Jessie Maple, who made Will in 1981, was the first African-American woman to become a part of New York’s camera operator’s union.

Then there’s the careers of filmmakers whose lives were cut short: Soviet director Larisa Shepitko died in a car crash at 40, leaving behind two masterpieces, while Elia Kazan’s wife Barbara Loden made her debut with Wanda in 1970 and passed away soon after, too young.

Many of these films are difficult or impossible to find, and Sight & Sound includes an online article of eight more films that might be lost for good, like the aforementioned Lois Weber’s only color film White Heat, or the only film actor Lillian Gish directed, Remodeling Her Husband.

The Sight & Sound issue is available on newsstands and as a digital edition to subscribers. As noted at the end of the article’s introduction, “a season related to this project will take place next year at BFI Southbank, London.”

Readers interested in the contributions of women filmmakers will want to explore the Women Film Pioneers website hosted by Columbia University.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s Death: 19 Theories on What Caused the Poet’s Demise 166 Years Ago Today

poe cause of death

One my very first acts as a new New Yorker many years ago was to make the journey across three boroughs to Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx. My purpose: a pilgrimage to Herman Melville’s grave. I came not to worship a hero, exactly, but—as Fordham University English professor Angela O’Donnell writes—“to see a friend.” Professor O’Donnell goes on: “It might seem presumptuous to regard a celebrated 19th-century novelist so familiarly, but reading a great writer across the decades is a means of conducting conversation with him and, inevitably, leads to intimacy.” I fully share the sentiment.

I promised Melville I would visit regularly but, alas, the pleasures and travails of life in the big city kept me away, and I never returned. No such petty distraction kept away a friend-across-the-ages of another 19th-century American author. “For decades,” writes the Baltimore Sun, “Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday was marked by a mysterious visitor to his gravesite in Baltimore. Beginning in the 1930s, the ‘Poe Toaster’ placed three roses at the grave every Jan. 19 and opened a bottle of cognac, only to disappear into the night.” The tradition, which continued until 2009, is currently being revived with an American Idol-style competition (do you have what it takes?). The identity of the original “Poe Toaster”—who may have been succeeded by his son—remains a tantalizing mystery.

Today, October 7th, marks Poe’s death-day, and in honor of his macabre sensibility, we visit another morbid mystery—the mystery of how Edgar Allan Poe died.

Most of you have probably heard some version of the story. On October 3, 1849, a compositor for the Baltimore Sun, Joseph Walker, found Poe lying in a gutter. The poet had departed Richmond, VA on September 27, bound for Philadelphia “where he was to edit a volume of poetry for Mrs. St. Leon Loud,” the Poe Museum tells us. Instead, he ended up in Baltimore, “semiconscious and dressed in cheap, ill-fitting clothes so unlike Poe’s usual mode of dress that many believe that Poe’s own clothing had been stolen.” He never became lucid enough to explain where he had been or what happened to him: “The father of the detective story has left us with a real-life mystery which Poe scholars, medical professionals, and others have been trying to solve for over 150 years.”

Most people assume that Poe drank himself to death. The rumor was partly spread by Poe’s friend, editor Joseph Snodgrass, whom the poet had asked for in his semi-lucid state. Snodgrass was “a staunch temperance advocate” and had reason to recruit the writer posthumously into his campaign against drink, despite the fact that Poe had been sober for six months prior to his death and had refused alcohol on his deathbed. Poe’s attending physician, John Moran, dismissed the binge drinking theory, but that did not help clear up the mystery. Moran’s “accounts vary so widely,” writes, “that they are not generally considered reliable.”

So what happened? Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center theorize that Poe may have contracted rabies from one of his own pets—likely a cat. This diagnosis accounts for the delirium and other reported symptoms, though “no one can say conclusively,” admits the Center’s Dr. Michael Benitez, “since there was no autopsy after his death.” As with any mystery, the frustrating lack of evidence has sparked endless speculation. The Poe Museum offers the following list of possible causes-of-death, with dates and sources, including the rabies and alcohol (both overimbibing and withdrawal) theories:

  • Beating (1857) The United States Magazine Vol.II (1857): 268.
  • Epilepsy (1875) Scribner’s Monthly Vo1. 10 (1875): 691.
  • Dipsomania (1921) Robertson, John W. Edgar A. Poe A Study. Brough, 1921: 134, 379.
  • Heart (1926) Allan, Hervey. Israfel. Doubleday, 1926: Chapt. XXVII, 670.
  • Toxic Disorder (1970) Studia Philo1ogica Vol. 16 (1970): 41-42.
  • Hypoglycemia (1979) Artes Literatus (1979) Vol. 5: 7-19.
  • Diabetes (1977) Sinclair, David. Edgar Allan Poe. Roman & Litt1efield, 1977: 151-152.
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase (1984) Arno Karlen. Napo1eon’s Glands. Little Brown, 1984: 92.
  • Porphryia (1989) JMAMA Feb. 10, 1989: 863-864.
  • Delerium Tremens (1992) Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar A1lan Poe. Charles Scribner, 1992: 255.
  • Rabies (1996) Maryland Medical Journal Sept. 1996: 765-769.
  • Heart (1997) Scientific Sleuthing Review Summer 1997: 1-4.
  • Murder (1998) Walsh, John E., Midnight Dreary. Rutgers Univ. Press, 1998: 119-120.
  • Epilepsy (1999) Archives of Neurology June 1999: 646, 740.
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (1999) Albert Donnay

The Smithsonian adds to this list the possible causes of brain tumor, heavy metal poisoning, and the flu. They also briefly describe the most popular theory: that Poe died as a result of a practice called “cooping.”

A site called The Medical Bag expands on the cooping theory, a favorite of “the vast majority of Poe biographies.” The term refers to “a practice in the United States during the 19th century by which innocent people were coerced into voting, often several times, for a particular candidate in an election.” Oftentimes, these people were snatched unawares off the streets, “kept in a room, called the coop” and “given alcohol or drugs in order for them to follow orders. If they refused to cooperate, they would be beaten or even killed.” One darkly comic detail: victims were often forced to change clothes and were even “forced to wear wigs, fake beards, and mustaches as disguises so voting officials at polling stations wouldn’t recognize them.”

This theory is highly plausible. Poe was, after all, found “on the street on Election Day,” and “the place where he was found, Ryan’s Fourth Ward Polls, was both a bar and a place for voting.” Add to this the notoriously violent and corrupt nature of Baltimore elections at the time, and you have a scenario in which the author may very well have been kidnapped, drugged, and beaten to death in a voter fraud scheme. Ultimately, however, we will likely never know for certain what killed Edgar Allan Poe. Perhaps the “Poe Toaster” was attempting all those years to get the story from the source as he communed with his dead 19th century friend year after year. But if that mysterious stranger knows the truth, he ain’t talking either.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Innovative Film Visualizing the Destruction of World War II Now Available in 7 Languages

Back in June we highlighted Neil Halloran’s 15 minute film, The Fallen of World War II, which used “innovative data visualization techniques to put the human cost of WW II into perspective, showing how some 70 million lives were lost within civilian and military populations across Europe and Asia, from 1939 to 1945.” It’s a pretty staggering illustration of the deadliest war. As the film went viral, Halloran raised money that would enable him to develop new films exploring “other trends of war and peace – from drones and terrorism to democracy and peacekeeping.” He has also translated the film into six different languages. They all went online in the last few weeks. Here they are: Russian, Japanese, Polish, FrenchGerman, and Serbian.

Above, you can watch the original in English (certainly worth doing if you were vacationing in June), and you might also explore the accompanying interactive web site here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

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The Great Leonard Nimoy Reads H.G. Wells’ Seminal Sci-Fi Novel The War of the Worlds

As you know if you saw our previous posts featuring Leonard Nimoy’s readings of stories by Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, the late Star Trek icon could — unsurprisingly, perhaps — tell a science-fiction tale with the best of them. It turns out that he could also give masterful readings of science fiction from other eras too, as far back as the earliest works to define the genre, which we’ve discovered after hearing his performance of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, an out-of-print edition recently digitized from cassette tape and posted to Youtube in two parts.

With this story of Earth invaded from “across the gulf of space” by aliens with “minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic,” Wells did much to help give science fiction the form we recognize today. The War of the Worlds came out in book form in 1898, preceded by such similarly speculative and innovative works as The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, and then followed by the likes of The First Men in the Moon and The Shape of Things to Come. (Find most of these works neatly packaged in the HG Wells Classic Collection.) This Leonard Nimoy recording originally came out in 1976, published by the record label Caedmon, known for doing plenty of innovation of their own in the then-yet-unnamed field of audiobooks.

Caedmon put out not just this album and the one with Nimoy reading Bradbury, but others featuring Kurt Vonnegut, Vincent Price, Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath. As much as science-fiction die-hards will enjoy hearing this pairing of Nimoy and Wells here, some will certainly want to track down the actual LP — not just for the collectors’ value, but because it features liner notes by none other than that other vastly influential creator of sci-fi as we know it, Isaac Asimov. It looks like there’s one used copy on Amazon. The reading, we should note, is an abridged version of the original text.

Related Content:

Leonard Nimoy Reads Ray Bradbury Stories From The Martian Chronicles & The Illustrated Man (1975-76)

Isaac Asimov’s Favorite Story “The Last Question” Read by Isaac Asimov— and by Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy Narrates Short Film About NASA’s Dawn: A Voyage to the Origins of the Solar System

Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.