Fill Your New Kindle, iPad, iPhone, eReader with Free eBooks, Movies, Audio Books, Online Courses & More


Santa left a new KindleiPad, Kindle Fire or other media player under your tree. He did his job. Now we’ll do ours. We’ll tell you how to fill those devices with free intelligent media — great books, movies, courses, and all of the rest. And if you didn’t get a new gadget, fear not. You can access all of these materials on the good old fashioned computer. Here we go:

Free eBooks: You have always wanted to read the great works. And now is your chance. When you dive into our Free eBooks collection you will find 700 great works by some classic writers (Dickens, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare and Tolstoy) and contemporary writers (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Kurt Vonnegut). The collection also gives you access to the 51-volume Harvard Classics.

If you’re an iPad/iPhone user, the download process is super easy. Just click the “iPad/iPhone” links and you’re good to go. Kindle and Nook users will generally want to click the “Kindle + Other Formats links” to download ebook files, but we’d suggest watching these instructional videos (Kindle – Nook) beforehand.

Free Audio Books: What better way to spend your free time than listening to some of the greatest books ever written? This page contains a vast number of free audio books — 630 works in total — including texts by Arthur Conan Doyle, James Joyce, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, George Orwell and more recent writers — Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, Raymond Carver, etc. You can download these classic books straight to your gadgets, then listen as you go.

[Note: If you’re looking for a contemporary book, you can download one free audio book from Find details on Audible’s no-strings-attached deal here.]

Free Online Courses: This list brings together over 1100 free online courses from leading universities, including Stanford, Yale, MIT, UC Berkeley, Oxford and beyond. These full-fledged courses range across all disciplines — historyphysicsphilosophypsychology, business, and beyond. Most all of these courses are available in audio, and roughly 75% are available in video. You can’t receive credits or certificates for these courses (click here for courses that do offer certificates). But the amount of personal enrichment you will derive is immeasurable.

Free Movies: With a click of a mouse, or a tap of your touch screen, you will have access to 700 great movies. The collection hosts many classics, westerns, indies, documentaries, silent films and film noir favorites. It features work by some of our great directors (Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Luc Godard and David Lynch) and performances by cinema legends: John Wayne, Jack Nicholson, Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, and beyond. On this one page, you will find thousands of hours of cinema bliss.

Free Language Lessons: Perhaps learning a new language is high on your list of New Year’s resolutions. Well, here is a great way to do it. Take your pick of 46 languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin, English, Russian, Dutch, even Finnish, Yiddish and Esperanto. These lessons are all free and ready to download.

Free Textbooks: And one last item for the lifelong learners among you. We have scoured the web and pulled together a list of 200 Free Textbooks. It’s a great resource particularly if you’re looking to learn math, computer science or physics on your own. There might be a diamond in the rough here for you.

Thank Santa, maybe thank us, and enjoy that new device….

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus 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.

Ayn Rand Helped the FBI Identify It’s A Wonderful Life as Communist Propaganda

If you wanted to know what life was really like in the Cold War Soviet Union, you might take the word of an émigré Russian writer. You might even take the word of Ayn Rand, as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) did during the Red Scare, though Rand had not lived in her native country since 1926. Nonetheless, as you can see above, she testified with confidence about the daily lives of post-war Soviet citizens. Rand also testified, with equal confidence, about the nefarious influence of Communist writers and directors in her adopted home of Hollywood, where she had more recent experience working in the film industry.

The 1947 HUAC hearings, writes the blog Aphelis, led to “the systematic blacklisting of Hollywood artists.” Among the witnesses deemed “friendly” to capitalism were Gary Cooper, Walt Disney, and Ayn Rand. Prior to her testimony, the FBI had consulted Rand for an enormous, 13,533-page report entitled “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry” (find it online here), which quoted from a pamphlet published by her group:

The purpose of the Communists in Hollywood is not the production of political movies openly advocating Communism. Their purpose is to corrupt non-political movies — by introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories and to make people absorb the basic principles of Collectivism by indirection and implication. Few people would take Communism straight, but a constant stream of hints, lines, touches and suggestions battering the public from the screen will act like drops of water that split a rock if continued long enough. The rock that they are trying to split is Americanism.

Rand and her associates helped design a “film regime” that dissected other post-war movies like William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and George Cukor’s Keeper of the Flame. These McCarthy-era film critics sought to root out “ideological termites” in the industry; they were especially distrustful of movies that elevated what Rand called, with contempt, “the little man.” One of the films identified as particularly pernicious to the “rock” of Americanism was Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life, a movie that today seems built on bedrock U.S. nationalist values—commitment to family, redemption through faith, contentment with modest small-town living….

Listening to Capra’s motivation for the film—as quoted in The Los Angeles Times—makes it hard to believe he had anything like promoting a worker’s paradise in mind: “There are just two things that are important,” he said, “One is to strengthen the individual’s belief in himself, and the other, even more important right now, is to combat a modern trend toward atheism.”

But in the FBI’s analysis—and possibly Rand’s, though it’s not clear how much, if any, of the report she authored directly—the tale of George Bailey manifested several subversive tendencies. Flavorwire sums up the charges succinctly: “Written by Communist sympathizers,” “Attempting to instigate class warfare,” and “Demonizing bankers.”

Wonderful Life FBI File

We live in odd times, such that this rhetoric—which seemed so quaint just a couple short decades or so ago—sounds jarringly contemporary again as the politics of the mid-20th century reappear everywhere. The charges against the seemingly innocuous Capra film hinged in part on the alleged Communist ties of its principle screenwriters, Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett. In their report, part of which you can see above, the FBI wrote that the screen writers “practically lived with known Communists and were observed eating luncheon daily with such Communists as Lester Cole, screen writer, and Earl Robinson.” Palling around, as it were.

In addition to naming the writers’ acquaintances and lunch buddies, the report quotes a redacted individual who “stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class.” Another blacked-out source “stated in substance that the film represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.” Finally, a third redacted source compares the plot of Capra’s movie with that of a Russian film called The Letter, screened in the U.S. fifteen years earlier.

We cannot say for certain, but it’s reasonable to assume that many of these hidden FBI sources were associates of Rand. In any case, Rand—in vogue after the success of her novel The Fountainhead—appeared before HUAC and re-iterated many of the general claims made in the report. During her testimony, she focused on a 1944 film called Song of Russia (you can hear her mention it briefly in the short clip at the top). She chiefly critiques the film for its idealized portrait of life in the Soviet Union, hence her enumeration of the many evils of actual life there.

Curiously, many critical treatments of It’s A Wonderful Life have said more or less the same thing of that work, calling the film “sentimental hogwash,” for example, and a representative of “American capitalist ideology.” These readings seem persuasive to me, but for those like Rand and her followers, as well as J. Edgar Hoover and his paranoid underlings, no film it seems—no matter how celebratory of U.S. nationalist mythology—could go far enough in glorifying heroic capitalists, ignoring class conflict, and minimizing the struggles of “the little man.”

As Raw Story notes, testimony from others at the HUAC hearings brought “redemption of an odd sort” for Capra’s movie, which “has been more than redeemed as it slowly became a sentimental and beloved holiday perennial.” But even if It’s A Wonderful Life may now look like apple pie on celluloid, Flavorwire points out that it’s still liable to raise suspicions among certain aggressive pundits and culture warriors who push a “war on Christmas” narrative and see socialist subversion even in acts of charity, like those displayed so extravagantly in the film’s mushy ending (above).

It’s A Wonderful Life “is a holiday movie that doesn’t mention Christmas until the 99-minute mark…. It takes a mostly secular reading of the holiday as a time to take stock of your life, of the true blessings of family and friends. To those obsessed with the preferred holiday greeting or the color of Santa’s skin… this must sound like quite the Communist subversion indeed.”

Read much more about the HUAC investigation of Hollywood at Aphelis, who include links to a redacted version of the FBI “Communist Infiltration” report and many other fascinating documents.

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

A Sun Ra Christmas: Hear His 1976 Radio Broadcast of Poetry and Music

Everybody spreads holiday cheer in their own way. On Christmas Day 1976, the eccentric jazz composer and bandleader did it by appearing on Blue Genesis, a show on the University of Pennsylvania’s radio station WXPN, reading his poetry with music. “The choice of poems and their sequencing offers what Sun Ra thought was most important in his writing,” writes John Szwed in Space is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra. “Here are key words like ‘cosmos,’ ‘truth,’ ‘bad,’ ‘myth,’ and ‘the impossible'; attention to phonetic equivalence; the universality of the music and its metaphysical status; allusions to black fraternal orders and secret societies; biblical passages and their interpretation; and even a few autobiographical glimpses.”

Though read on Christmas, these poems have no particular religious slant — nothing, that is, but Sun Ra’s usual mixture of the Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, numerology, Freemasonry, ancient Egyptian mysticism, Gnosticism, and black nationalism. Fans of Sun Ra would expect no less. But those more recently acquainted with the jazzman born Herman Poole Blount may find this an unusual half-hour of listening, for the holidays or otherwise. “A pioneer of ‘Afrofuturism,’ Sun Ra emerged from a traditional swing scene in Alabama, touring the country in his teens as a member of his high school biology teacher’s big band,” wrote Open Culture’s own Josh Jones earlier this year. “While attending Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, he had an out-of-body experience during which he was transported into outer space.”

In that post on Sun Ra’s 1971 UC Berkeley Course “The Black Man in the Cosmos,” you can learn more about the numerous nonstandard experiences and philosophies that went into the production of his words and his music, which converge in this special broadcast you can hear at the top of the post or on Ubuweb. It’ll make you regret that Sun Ra and his free-jazz “Arkestra” never produced a full-length Christmas album — though maybe, on whichever distant planet his immortal spirit reached after the end of his Earth-life two decades ago, he’s recording it as we speak.

via Ubuweb

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Bob Dylan Reads “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” On His Holiday Radio Show (2006)

Allow me to name just a few of the people I want to hear hosting and curating radio shows—former Sex Pistol’s singer John Lydon, former Clash frontman Joe Strummer, former Woody Guthrie impersonator Bob Dylan….

Luckily for me, this ain’t just fantasy baseball; at various times, and with varying levels of commitment, each of these tastemakers has hosted a program showcasing their own favorite artists. In Dylan’s case, the commitment was pretty substantial. His show, Theme Time Radio Hour, ran for almost three years—once a week from 2006 to 2009—on satellite radio.

Each episode centered on a general theme, hence the title, but the selections were all over the place—more or less what you’d expect from Dylan: an eclectic collection of folk, blues, gospel, soul, country, modern pop, and rock ‘n’ roll mixed with oldtime radio jingles, novelties, and promos, and the host’s oddball commentary and hokey humor. Recorded while Dylan was on the road, then edited together with phony “listener calls” and emails, Theme Time Radio Hour aimed, Dylan said, “to expand the musical taste” of his listeners. That it did, even in its most traditional episode, namely the holiday special on Christmas and New Year’s, or as Dylan calls it, “a Yuletide extravaganza.”

In his 2006 Christmas broadcast, above, Dylan bounces from Bob Seger to the Staples Singers to Lord Nelson, “uncrowned king of Soca,” and Mabel Mafuya, who plays “a Morabi style, sort of like South African ragtime.” The wide variety of well- and lesser-known artists—all playing Christmas music—combined with Dylan’s wry interjections, makes for delightfully weird listening. But when it comes time for his own contribution, he goes for the obvious and recites Clement Clarke Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” You may not have thought much of this the first time you heard it, much less the millionth. But in Dylan’s reading, the stockings sound like they were hung with care in some dim, smoky beatnik coffeehouse and the sugar plums dance to the finger-snapping bop rhythms of jazz poetry while a harpsichord plays “O Tannenbaum” in the background.

It’s a very cool rendition, in other words, of a very corny piece of writing. Throughout the special, Dylan displays a real knack for sussing new sounds and angles from old, tired holiday cliches. His extensive knowledge of holiday tunes may place him in the company of John Waters and the many other “men who love Christmas music” profiled in the new documentary Jingle Bell Rocks! Whether he is a collector or just an avid listener, I do not know, but by the time you’ve finished listening to his 2006 Theme Time Radio Hour Christmas special, you will find your appreciation for the holiday genre thoroughly expanded. See the full playlist here, with occasional annotation from Dylan’s commentary.

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

The Making of the Famous Jive Talk Scenes from Airplane!

Like films by the Marx brothers, Airplane! creates a feeling of giddy, exuberant anarchy by hurling a non-stop barrage of jokes at you. It is the sort of movie that viewers risk hyperventilating from laughing so much. Yet among the all gags and one-liners — “I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”– possibly the most memorable is the famous jive talking bit. You can watch it above.

The gag features two African American guys speaking with each other in an impenetrable patois of jive. Later, one of the guys — the characters are simply credited as First Jive Dude and Second Jive Dude — is suffering from a stomach ailment. When the stewardess can’t understand what they are saying, Barbara Billingsley – A.K.A. June Clever, A.K.A the whitest lady on the planet – stands up and starts to talk to the guys in fluent jive. It’s a jarring and hilarious moment. Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker, the writers and directors of the movie talk, about that scene below.

“The whole notion for jive dialogue originated from when we saw Shaft,” said Abraham. “We went and saw it and didn’t understand what they were saying. So we did our best as three nice Jewish boys from Milwaukee to write jive talk for the script.”

During the audition, Norman Alexander Gibbs and Al White, old high school friends, delivered a spot on exchange in jive. They were immediately cast as First Jive Dude and Second Jive Dude respectively. “We had to apologize for what we had written,” said David Zucker.

“We came up with the individual dialogue in the movie,” said White. “They wanted jive as a language, which it is not. Jive is only a word here or a phrase there.”

“We actually created a language,” said Gibbs.

“I was sent the script and I thought it was the craziest script I’ve ever read,” recalled Billingsley in an interview you can see below. “My part wasn’t written. It just said I talked jive. I met the producer and I said I would do it. I met the two black fellows that taught me jive. … It wasn’t hard for me to learn.”

Thanks to Erik R. for sending this our way.

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The Interview Now Available on Google Play, YouTube Movies, the Xbox & the Web

It looks like America will get to see The Interview on Christmas Day after all — heck, even before. After Sony announced yesterday that the Seth Rogen-James Franco film will be shown in select US cinemas on Christmas, the announcement came this morning that Americans can exercise their freedom and watch the film online too — right now.

According to an announcement on the official Google blog, “starting at 10 a.m. PST in the U.S., you can rent or buy The Interview on Google Play and YouTube Movies. It will also be available to Xbox Video customers and via”  The film can be rented in HD for $5.99, or bought in HD for $14.99.

It’s a little victory for the arts and Hollywood. Now let’s hope the film delivers the laughs.

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Watch Art on Ancient Greek Vases Come to Life with 21st Century Animation

Every student of history surely feels impressed by one achievement or another of the ancient Greeks, whether in the field of engineering, art, or the convergence of the two. Even a bored college undergrad in a thousand-seat lecture hall has to admire ancient Greek vases when they pop up in the lecturer’s Powerpoint slides. That much-studied culture’s penchant for stylizing images of their society on their pottery has allowed us to see their world as, in some sense, a living, breathing one — or to see it through the eyes of the artisans who lived to see it themselves. But for all their mastery of the art of the vase, they never actually got their images to live nor breathe. For that, we must turn to 21st-century technology, specifically as applied by Panoply, a project animator of Steve K. Simons and ancient Greece scholar Sonya Nevin, which was designed to bring these vases to life.

“Panoply covers a lot of aspects of culture as method tying the artifacts to information about Greek life,” writes io9’s Katharine Trendacosta. “There are ones on myths, sport, and warfare,” the last of which, “Hoplites!,” you can watch at the top of the post. Simons and Nevin made this seven-minute battle scene out of the foot soldiers actually depicted on a vase dating to about 550 BCE currently held by the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading. Just above, we have “The Cheat,” a short and humorous scene from the ancient Olympics that plays out on the surface of a shard. The animation below features a figure of Greek myth that even the most inattentive student will know: a certain Pandora, and far be it from her to resist the temptation to open a certain box. (Actually it was a vase/pithos.) You can watch more on Panoply’s Youtube channel. As unconventional means of visualizing ancient Greece go, it’s got to beat 300 for accuracy.

via io9

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Bowie & Bing Crosby Sing “The Little Drummer Boy” (1977)

We like to bring this chestnut back from time to time. Watch it, and you’ll know why.

In 1977, just a short month before Bing Crosby died of a heart attack, the 40s crooner hosted David Bowie, the glam rocker, on his Christmas show. The awkwardness of the meeting is palpable. An older, crusty Crosby had no real familiarity with the younger, androgynous Bowie, and Bowie wasn’t crazy about singing The Little Drummer Boy. So, shortly before the show’s taping, a team of writers had to frantically retool the song, blending the traditional Christmas song with a newly-written tune called Peace on Earth. (You can watch the writers tell the story, years later, below.) After one hour of rehearsal, the two singers recorded The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth and made a little classic. The Washington Post has the backstory on the strange Bing-Bowie meeting. Also find a Will Ferrell parody of the meeting here. We hope you enjoy revisiting this clip with us. Happy holidays to you all.

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New Parody of Downton Abbey Features George Clooney & the Cast of the Show

Season 5 of Downton Abbey will begin (in the US) on January 4th. But before the main course, we get a little appetizer, which comes in the form of a nine-minute parody starring George Clooney, Jeremy Piven and the cast of Downton Abbey. Borrowing from It’s a Wonderful Life, the fun film asks us to imagine daily life at the Abbey without Lord Grantham in the picture. That’s when we get to see Lady Grantham cavorting with George Clooney, the Marquis of Hollywood (who kind of resembles Gomez from the Addams Family). And then the rest of the family and staff letting their hair loose.

The parody — find Part 1 above and Part 2 below — was made for Text Santa, an initiative that supports UK charities during the Christmas period. You can learn how to donate here.

Thanks Kim L. for the tip!

Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus 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.

A Computer Gets Delivered in 1957: Great Moments in Schlepping History


Photograph via Norfolk Record Office

Once upon a time, computers with less horsepower than your mobile phone, were big. Real big. How big? This big.

From the Norfolk Record Office comes a description of the photo you see above:

Norwich City Council’s first computer, being delivered to the City Treasurer’s Department in Bethel Street, Norwich in 1957. The City of Norwich, and its forward-thinking Treasurer, Mr A.J. Barnard, were pioneers in the application of computer technology to the work of UK local authorities and businesses. In 1953-4, Mr Barnard and his team began looking for an electronic system to handle its rates and payroll. They began discussions with Elliott Brothers of London in 1955, and the City Council ordered the first Elliott 405 computer from them in January 1956. It was delivered to City Hall in February 1957 and became operational in April 1957. The event was celebrated by a demonstration of the machine in front of the Lord Mayor of Norwich and the press on 3 April 1957.

For more vintage moments in computing, please enjoy some of the “relateds” below.

via Twisted Sifter

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