Essential Books for the Critic’s Library

The National Book Critics Circle has a blog and they've asked some of the country's best literary critics to list the "five books a critic believes reviewers should have in their libraries." The series provides a new list every week, and so far the choices are interesting not just for the books picked (and some of the overlaps in picks), but also for the explanations that the critics offer for their choices. Here's John Updike on Eric Auerbach's Mimesis:

a stunningly large-minded survey from Homer and the Old Testament up to Woolf and Joyce. Quoting a lengthy paragraph or two from each classic, Auerbach gives us an essential history of, as his subtitle has it, “the Representation of Reality in Western Literature.”

Debating Religion The Dawkins Way

When debating religion, you can take the low road (e.g., Ann Coulter's recent flirtation with anti-semitism) or the high road. Here's Richard Dawkins, an avowed atheist and evolutionary biologist at Oxford, having a high-minded conversation about the existence (or non-existence) of God with Alister McGrath, who is Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University and also has a background in molecular biophysics. We've posted the videotaped debate below. (And, by the way, you can download the video to an iPod by accessing the video here, looking to the right where it says "Download to Video iPod" and following these instructions).

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More Swapping

After we mentioned Book Mooch last week, one of our faithful readers alerted us to another site -- PaperBackSwap is reportedly easier to use than Book Mooch, and the actual process of exchanging books runs more smoothly. Meanwhile, despite the site's name, you can swap both paperback and hardback books there. In case you missed our last piece, the idea of these sites is simple. You can trade your old books for ones you haven't read. The only cost is the postage for shipping. Not a bad deal. Thanks Maggie for the tip.

Got other tips? Write us any time.

Better Thinking Through Podcasts

ipodwithclass_2.jpgYesterday it was science podcasts; today it's podcasts that encourage better, deeper thinking.

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has posted a feature that highlights podcasts (scroll down the page) that will take you beyond sound bites and into the realm of deeper thinking. The list, which has a noticeable Canadian bent, mentions programs that are certainly worth your time. (Our University Podcast Collection gets a very small mention, by the way.) But, to be sure, many other great podcasts could also have been listed here — ones that you can find in our collection of Ideas & Culture Podcasts. Some of the honorable mentions on our list include the following:

1) SALT - Seminars About Long Term Thinking (iTunes - Feed - Web Site): This podcast grows out of an award winning speaking series hosted by Stewart Brand and organized by the Long Now Foundation, which is dedicated to providing a counterpoint to today’s “faster/cheaper” mindset and promoting “slower/better” thinking. The podcasts feature many well known thinkers, and, at least in my view, it's one of the more thought-provoking collections you'll find on the Net.

2) NPR: Intelligence Squared (iTunes - Feed - Web Site): Intelligence Squared brings Oxford-style debating to America – one motion, one moderator, three panelists for the motion and three against. Past topics have included religion in America, Hamas, and Hollywood. A new season begins with a discussion of undocumented immigrants in the US.

3) Bill Moyers Journal (iTunes - Feed - Web Site): Veteran journalist Bill Moyers returns to PBS with Bill Moyers Journal, a weekly program that takes a deep look at a wide range of subjects, including politics, arts and culture, the media, the economy, and important issues facing democracy today.

4) Start the Week (iTunes - Feed - Web Site): A BBC production, Start The Week "sets the cultural agenda for the week ahead, with high-profile guests discussing the ideas behind their work in the fields of art, literature, film, science, history, society and politics."

5) Public Radio Fan (Web Site): This is not a podcast, but rather a web site that features links to over 900 public radio programs (including many outside of the US) that are available via podcast. Name your favorite public radio show - Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, or whatever - and you are likely to find it here. This page hits the mother lode.

Bonus: France Culture - Répliques (iTunes - Feed - Web Site): A French language podcast, this program, led by the well known philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, features an engaging panel discussion on a different cultural topic each week.

Finally, I should mention that Elizabeth's piece yesterday includes a couple of podcasts that are also particularly relevant here, including WNYC’s RadioLab and In Our Time. And, in at least my view, I think you can give your mind a good workout with our collection of free university courses. And why not through in there our list of 100 Culture Blogs. That'll make for some smart reading.
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Science for The Rest of Us: Podcasts At a Glance

Today, Elizabeth Green Musselman has penned a guest blog post that you’re bound to enjoy. Elizabeth is a professor and historian who works on the history of science, and she has recently launched a thoughtful podcast on the history of science, medicine, and technology. It’s called “The Missing Link” (iTunes - Feed - Web Site). Below, she highlights for us a range of podcasts that will appeal to everyday science enthusiasts. (If you’re interested in doing some guest blogging, drop us a line.) Thanks Elizabeth and take it away:

These can seem like dark days for those people who love science but who neither specialize in the field nor can quite stomach the gee-whiz factor that plagues so much popular science writing and broadcasting. Now that Stephen Jay Gould is cavorting somewhere in the Beyond with Charles Darwin, and ever since the New York Academy of Sciences put the ax to its inspired magazine The Sciences, where is a levelheaded lover of the sciences to turn?

The podcast world has begun to develop a niche market for just such listeners, that is, listeners who like their science relatively non-technical but still high-minded – listeners who think of science as a part of human culture, rather than an arcane temple. Not surprisingly, some of the best content comes from radio programs that have been re-released as podcasts. These include WNYC’s RadioLab, an hour-long show whose serious investigations on a theme (such as sleep or mortality) take on an intriguingly funhouse quality through the program’s inventive use of sound and the humorous interaction between co-hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. NPR has also released Krulwich’s solo reports in podcast form as Hmmm… Krulwich on Science.

Another longstanding NPR favorite, The Engines of Our Ingenuity, began broadcasting brief, thoughtful reflections on technology and culture in 1988. Written and hosted by John Lienhard, a retired professor of mechanical engineering and history at the University of Houston, the show now airs five days a week on 30 NPR affiliates in the U.S. The brief programs are also available in podcast form.

On the other side of the pond, the BBC 4’s long-running, popular show, In Our Time, frequently considers scientific topics and can also be heard in podcast form. Most recently, the program explored antimatter. On each hour-long program the host, Melvyn Bragg, keeps a panel of three scholars moving at a pace that skirts neatly between brisk and contemplative.

Finally, several podcasts produced by individuals have begun to appear, each of which considers science in context. Exploring Environmental History features Jan Oosthoek’s smart interviews with his fellow environmental historians and scientists, often focusing on how historical study can point us toward stronger environmental policy solutions. The most recent episode considers Arctic climate conditions both today and in the Little Ice Age. My own monthly podcast, The Missing Link, considers those fascinating moments in the history of science, medicine, and technology, when our intellectual and technical prowess rubs up against our very human dreams and failings. The most recent episode visits Berlin, Germany, where the gruesomeness of a pathology museum’s collection masks a centuries-long history of both inequitable medical care and brilliant microbiological research. The program also discusses the Berlin Phonogram Archive, one of the first attempts to record the world’s music for posterity, designed originally to demonstrate the evolutionary scale of primitive to civilized humanity.

500 Years of Art in Morphing Action (Excellent Video)

This video takes you on a fairly amazing tour of the great portraits of women in Western art. It moves from da Vinci to Picasso, and, along the way, the portraits seamlessly morph one into another. This morphing allows you to see how artistic styles changed over time, and also how the human face has been artistically treated during different periods. Watch the video below, which is accompanied by Bach's Suite No. 1 performed by Yo-Yo Ma. For information on the paintings covered in the clip, click here. And also see the related video, Women in Film.

PS Thanks to BoingBoing for highlighting our interview today with Satoshi Kanazawa.

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Information R/evolution: The New Video

Earlier this year, Michael Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State, released a smart video that immediately went viral on the internet. It was called Web 2.0... the Machine is Us/ing Us and it cleverly explained the often vague concept of Web 2.0 and why it matters. Now Wesch has launched another video under the title Information R/evolution (see below). Influenced by the recent book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, Wesch's new clip offers a creative look at how the digital age fundamentally changes our relationship to information and how information gets organized. Have a look.

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