Amazon Goes Head-to-Head with iTunes (and How to Get iTunes Freebies)

amazonmp3.pngThe digital music market is big, and so far Apple has owned it. But now Amazon may be quickly emerging as a viable competitor.

Tuesday, Amazon launched Amazon MP3, which gives you access to 2 million songs and more soon to come. Amazon's product has several nice advantages over iTunes. Let's list them briefly:

  • It delivers songs in MP3 format, not a proprietary format, with the real plus being that you can play songs on any music player - the iPod, the Zune, you name it.
  • There are no digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, so you can take the music you buy and download/burn it to CDs. And it doesn't expire.
  • The songs have better sound quality on average.
  • And the prices are generally lower. Many songs go for 89 cents; while many albums are in the $5.99 to $9.99 range, and the 100 best-selling albums are all under $8.99.

Give Amazon MP3 a hard look and, for more details, check out these reviews - here, here, and here.

Related Note: From Oct. 2 to Nov. 7, Starbucks will be giving away 50 million free digital songs to help promote a new wireless iTunes music service that's being rolled out in conjunction with the recent release of Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch. Songs by 37 artists will be featured. Artists include Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Annie Lennox and Bob Dylan. Get more info here.

Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter

David Halberstam’s no stranger to writing big books about big wars, and he reportedly thought of his final work, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, as a “bookend” to his classic on Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest. The book comes out this week with a very unusual publicity blitz.

Halberstam died in a car crash last spring and so, remarkably, a group of his friends are doing a publicity tour for him. Authors like Joan Didion, Seymour Hersh, Bob Woodward and Anna Quindlen are taking up legs of the grueling publicity trek in honor of Halberstam. According to the New York Times they will be “offering personal reminiscences and readings” in an interesting combination of festschrift and promotion. The tour will start on Tuesday and run until October 15th. In the words of Sy Hersh, “Listen, ain’t nothing like David — you don’t need this to keep David alive. You’ve got to market a book, let’s market a book, but he transcends that. He was a great war reporter and a great baseball reporter, and the most loyal person in the world.”

Related: See our piece from April, David Halberstam’s Last Speech and Supper.

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Classic Films on Google Video

Here's a little something for the film buffs out there: TheListUniverse has posted a collection of ten classic films from the 1920s, 30s and 40s that you can watch on Google Video. Just click and watch. On the list, you'll find Fritz Lang's M, the 1922 German silent film Nosferatu, The Gold Rush with Charlie Chaplin, The General with Buster Keaton, and three films by the great Frank Capra It Happened One Night (with Clark Gable), It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (both with Jimmy Stewart). Being one of our favorites, we have posted "Mr. Smith" below.

Note: For more great films, please see our collection of Free Movies Online, which features more than 120 films, many of them classics.

Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History

tendiscoveries.jpgHere are a few facts to know about the adventurous Patrick Hunt. He's a Stanford archaeologist who has spent more than a decade trying to unravel the mystery of how Hannibal, the great ancient military leader, crossed the Alps in 218 BCE with 25,000 men and 37 elephants. (Listen on iTunes to the course he gave on this adventure, and get more info below). He has broken more than 20 bones while doing fieldwork, fought off kidnappers, and twice survived sunstroke-induced blindness. And now he has just published an exciting new book called Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History. It's published by Penguin/Plume and starts shipping tomorrow. I asked Patrick what makes these discoveries ranging from the Rosetta Stone to the Dead Sea Scrolls to Machu Picchu so important. Below he gives us a brief glimpse into what makes each discovery historically significant and fascinating. Read on, and check out his captivating new book for the fuller picture.

Patrick Hunt: "First I should say that not every archaeologist would agree that these are the ten most important discoveries of all time. On the other hand, the ten stories retold in this book are often regarded as among the most exciting archaeological discoveries of the modern era (since 1750). And no one would deny that these ten vital discoveries have forever changed the world of archaeology, transforming how and what we know about ancient history. Let me tell you a little about them.

Rosetta Stone: This exciting discovery in 1799 was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs and unlocking the history of the ancient world texts. It provides a window into the real history of Egypt rather than an imaginary one; all other decipherings of ancient languages since the Rosetta Stone's initial decoding in 1822 are based on its precedents. (See photo here.)

Troy: Its discovery and excavation beginning in 1870 proved once and for all that Troy was not just a myth based on Homer; Troy was a historical site where real people lived and fought. Its earliest excavator, the oft-maligned and often-unethical Heinrich Schliemann has been mostly credited right or wrong as being the "Father of Archaeology" and his techniques became the foundation of archaeological research, however greatly improved, afterward.

Nineveh and the Royal Assyrian Library: This riveting find beginning in 1849 by Austen Henry Layard, a sleuth of antiquity, eventually unearthed a whole lost library of cuneiform texts, including ones not only from ancient Assyria but also from far older Sumer, Akkad, Babylon and other great civilizations. This had a very significant impact on world literature, introducing such seminal works as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

King Tut's Tomb: The dramatic opening of this royal tomb in 1922 sought for years by a determined Howard Carter was the first time in millennia a pharaoh's tomb had actually been found intact; its treasure gave the world a unique opportunity to actually account for staggering Egyptian royal wealth. [Dan's note: National Geographic has a nice web site on this archaeological find.]

Machu Picchu: The remarkable high jungle mountain discovery in 1911 of the remote Lost City of the Inca by Hiram Bingham made it possible for the world to finally see an undisturbed Inca royal city mysteriously abandoned on a mountaintop but neither conquered nor changed by the colonial world. (See photo here.)

Pompeii: Preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 and not dug out for almost two millennia, Pompeii (probably accidentally found by a farmer digging a well) is the single most important Roman site in the world; its artifacts offer the largest and fullest record of life in a Roman city. Pompeii's misfortune is our great fortune. It preserves a city with thousands of objects virtually unchanged. (See images here.)

Dead Sea Scrolls: Since 1947, when two Bedouin boys in the desert stumbled upon the first cave at Qumran, these hidden desert texts have revolutionized our perceptions of early Jewish and Christian religion; their finding has pushed back our knowledge of biblical manuscripts by a thousand years. This discovery and the off-and-on secrecy of the finds reads like spy fiction but is real instead. (See photo here.)

Akrotiri on Thera: Archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos had been laughed at by his peers for his theories and was finally vindicated 30 years later (circa 1967). Like Pompeii, ash from the volcanic eruption in 1620 BC preserved a whole Aegean city that might have been the source of the Atlantis myths but was certainly a wealthy city with fabulous wall paintings depicting Bronze Age life. It gives us for the first time a whole new body of Minoan art and understanding of Mediterranean sea trade. (Images here.)

Olduvai Gorge: Since the 1920's, the Leakey family doggedly persisted searching in East Africa for the most ancient human origins; dramatic unearthing of bones and tools in 1959 from Olduvai and other sites in Great Rift Africa forever showed the world how long at least a million years antecedents to human life have persisted, finally providing proof of Darwinian evolution from earlier primate and hominid finds.

Tomb of 10,000 Warriors: This staggering tomb from around 220-210 BC, spreading over hundreds of acres, single-handedly awakened Western interest in Chinese history and revitalized Chinese archaeology. The opulence and grandeur of an emperor's tomb astonished the world. Archeotourism in China has profited immensely from the accidental 1974 find of a pre-Han tomb where lies the authoritarian emperor who forcibly united and rewrote Chinese culture in many ways that still survive today."

Related Content: Above, I mentioned that you can listen to Patrick Hunt's Stanford course on Hannibal on iTunes. The course is going to be rolled out in installments over the next several weeks. Separately you can listen to a standalone lecture that he gave on Hannibal shortly before the start of the course. (Listen on iTunes here.) This lecture gets referenced in the course at several points. Patrick's work on Hannibal is sponsored by National Geographic Society.

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The War: New Ken Burns’ Documentary Starts Sunday

wwiiburns.jpgMark this on your calendar. Ken Burns, who has produced some of America's most acclaimed historical documentaries, will air his latest film starting Sunday night on PBS. The War is a seven-part, 15-hour documentary that "tells the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four quintessentially American towns. The series explores the most intimate human dimensions of the greatest cataclysm in history — a worldwide catastrophe that touched the lives of every family on every street in every town in America — and demonstrates that in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives."

You can get more information on the documentary from the PBS web site and this accompanying "Viewer's Guide (PDF)." You may also want to watch this series of video outtakes from the film, plus (see below) the trailer that previews Burn's ambitious project.

Weekly Wrap – September 22

Here's a quick snapshot of what we served up this past week (and the one before that). Have a good weekend.

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