Download Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as a Free Audiobook (Available for a Limited Time)

When Ralph Ellison published his first novel, Invisible Man, in 1952, it took the literary world by storm. Orville Prescott, a literary critic at The New York Times, wrote in April of '52:

Ralph Ellison's first novel, "The Invisible Man," is the most impressive work of fiction by an American Negro which I have ever read. Unlike Richard Wright and Willard Motley, who achieve their best effects by overpowering their readers with documentary detail, Mr. Ellison is a finished novelist who uses words with great skill, who writes with poetic intensity and immense narrative drive. "Invisible Man" has many flaws. It is a sensational and feverishly emotional book. It will shock and sicken some of its readers. But, whatever the final verdict on "Invisible Man" may be, it does mark the appearance of a richly talented writer.

Invisible Man won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction the following year. And the belief that Ellison wrote something special hasn't diminished since. Case in point: When Modern Library created a list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, they placed Invisible Man at number 19.

As Don Katz tells us above, the book touched him deeply during his college years at NYU. Now the founder and CEO of, he's letting you download Invisible Man as a free audiobook. The free download is available at Audible and at Amazon until December 31st. (Audible is an Amazon subsidiary). Please note that you'll need to create an account to get the download. But apparently no payment/credit card info is required.

Separately, I should also mention that Audible offers a free 30-day trial program, where they let you download two professionally-read audiobooks. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether to become an Audible subscriber or not. Either way, you can keep the two free audiobooks. Find more information on that free trial program here.

Again, the links to download Invisible Man are here: Audible - Amazon. And remember, we have more free audiobooks in our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Mostly classics.

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How to Recognize a Dystopia: Watch an Animated Introduction to Dystopian Fiction

Literature and film can open up to the depth and immensity of social truths we find profoundly difficult, if not impossible, to articulate. If our political vocabulary (as Oxford Dictionaries suggested in their word of the year) has become “post-truth,” it can seem like the only honest representations of reality are found in the imaginary.

Amidst the violent upheavals of the last couple decades, for example, we have seen an explosion of the dystopian, that venerable yet modern genre we use to explain our contemporary political conditions to ourselves. It has become common practice in serious debate to gesture toward the outsized cinematic scenarios of Snowpiercer, or The Hunger Games and Harry Potter series, as stand-ins for disturbing present realities.

You may have also encountered recent references to literary speculative fiction like William Gibson’s The Peripheral, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Olivia Butler’s Parable series, and Philip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth, the first novel Dick wrote before VALIS about his supposed religious experience. Drafted in 1976 but only published posthumously in 1985, Dick's prescient novel takes place in an alternate U.S. (like The Man in the High Castle), in which paranoid right-wing zealot Ferris Fremont, a Joseph McCarthy/Richard Nixon-like figure, succeeds Lyndon Johnson as president.

There is no point in dwelling on the ethics of Ferris Fremont.... The Soviets backed him, the right-wingers backed him, and finally just about everyone... Fremont had the backing of the US intelligence community, as they liked to call themselves, and exigents played an effective role in decimating political opposition. In a one-party system there is always a landslide.

The stifling totalitarian control Fremont exercises is very much a hallmark of dystopian fiction. But does Dick’s novel---set in an alternate present rather than a frightening future, and with an alien/supernatural invasion---qualify as dystopian? What about Harry Potter, with its fairy tale intrusions of the magical into the present? The TED Ed video at the top, narrated by Alex Gendler, sets flexible boundaries for a category we’ve mostly come to associate with prophetic, futuristic science fiction, and offers a broadly comprehensive definition.

The word dystopia, a Greek coinage for “bad place,” dates to 1868, from a usage by John Stuart Mill to characterize the industrial world’s moral inversion of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. That word, Gendler points out, is a term More invented to mean either “no place” or “good place.” Gendler dates the emergence of the dystopian to Jonathan Swift’s satire Gulliver’s Travels, a book, like Harry Potter, set in an alternate present featuring many monstrous intrusions of the fantastic into the real. Unlike the boy wizard's saga, however, the monsters in Gulliver serve as allegories for us.

Swift, Gendler argues, “established a blueprint for dystopia.” His Lilliputians, Bobdingnagians, Laputions, and Houyhnhnms all represent “certain trends in contemporary society... taken to extremes.” In later examples, the form continued to reflect the pernicious thought and science of the age: the extreme eugenics of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, the prison-like factory conditions of Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis, the repressive hyper-rationalization in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1924 Soviet-based dystopia We, and the medical technocracy of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Borrowing liberally from Zamyatin and competing with Huxley, George Orwell’s 1984 set a new standard of verisimilitude for dystopian fiction, starkly reminding thousands of post-war readers that “the best-known dystopias were not imaginary at all,” Gendler says. The historical nightmares of World War II and the following Cold War dictatorships birthed horrors for which we can never find appropriate language. And so we turn to novels like 1984 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, both of which aptly show us worlds where language has ceased to function in any ordinary communicative sense.

Perhaps one of the most-referenced of dystopian novels in U.S. political discourse, Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 It Can’t Happen Here, gave little but its title to the popular lexicon. “Lewis," writes Alexander Nazaryan in The New Yorker, “was never much of an artist, but what he lacked in style he made up for with social observation.” The novel “envisioned how easily,” Gendler says, “democracy gives way to fascism." The crisis point comes when the people want “safety and conservatism again,” as Roosevelt observed that same year---a year in which "the promise of the New Deal,” Nazaryan remarks, “remained unfulfilled for many.”

The irony of Lewis’ scenario is that those left behind by Roosevelt's policies are those who suffer most under the fictional presidency of authoritarian Senator Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip. Meanwhile, the more comfortable console themselves with hollow denials: "it can't happen here." Extreme economic inequality and social stratification have been an essential feature of classical utopian fiction since its first appearance in Plato’s Republic. In the modern literary dystopia, the science, technology, and political mechanization that philosophers once celebrated become implacable weapons of war against the citizenry.

For all the malleable boundaries of the genre—which strays into science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, and satire—dystopian fictions all have one unifying theme: “At their heart,” says Gendler, “dystopias are cautionary tales, not about some particular government or technology, but the very idea that humanity can be molded into an ideal shape.”

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

Hieronymus Bosch’s Medieval Painting, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” Comes to Life in a Gigantic, Modern Animation

For the 500-year anniversary of Hieronymus Bosch's death, the MOTI Museum in Holland commissioned a modern re-interpretation of the Dutch painter's famous medieval painting, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (circa 1490). If you're not familiar with Bosch's enigmatic creation, explore these two items before you do anything else:

Take a Virtual Tour of Hieronymus Bosch’s Bewildering Masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights

New App Lets You Explore Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” in Virtual Reality

Then check out the video above, which gives you a glimpse of the gigantic video installation that's on display at the MOTI through December 31st.

Here's how the Dutch animators behind this project explain what's unfolding before your eyes:

[We] cleared the original landscape of the middle panel of Bosch’s painting and reconstructed it into a hallucinatory 4K animation. The creatures that populate this indoor playground embody the excesses and desires of 21st century Western civilization. Consumerism, selfishness, escapism, the lure of eroticism, vanity and decadence. All characters are metaphors for our society where loners swarm their digital dream world. They are symbolic reflections of egos and an imagination of people as they see themselves - unlike Bosch's version, where all individuals more or less look the same. From a horny Hello Kitty to a coke hunting penis snake. From an incarnate spybot to headless fried chickens. These characters, once precisely painted dream figures, are now digitally created 3D models. All of them have been given their own animation loop to wander through the landscape. By placing them altogether in this synthetic fresco, the picture is never the same. What the animation and Bosch’s triptych have in common is that you’ll hardly be able to take it all in, you can watch it for hours.

If you happen to find yourself in Holland, you can experience the installation firsthand (again before 12/31). Find directions to the MOTI here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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New Animation Brings to Life a Lost 1974 Interview with Leonard Cohen, and Cohen Reading His Poem “Two Slept Together”

Leonard Cohen was graced with a distinctive slow burn of a voice, a manly purr well suited to the louche mysteries of his most famous lyrics.

His death prompted a post-election outpouring from his already crestfallen fans, who sought catharsis by sharing the myriad ways in which his music had touched their lives.

As Cohen remarked in a 1995 interview with the New York Times

Music is like bread. It is one of the fundamental nourishments that we have available, and there are many different varieties and degrees and grades. A song that is useful, that touches somebody, must be measured by that utility alone. 'Cheap music' is an uncharitable description. If it touches you, it's not cheap. From a certain point of view, all our emotions are cheap, but those are the only ones we've got. It's loneliness and longing and desire and celebration.

Rolling Stone dubbed Cohen the Poet Laureate Of Outrage And Romantic Despair. It’s far from his only nickname, but it manages to encompass most of the other 325 that super fan Allan Showalter collected for his Cohencentric site.

Have you used Cohen's music to “illuminate or dignify your courting” (to borrow another phrase from that Times interview)?

If so, you deserve to know that those seductive lyrics aren’t always what they seem.

For one thing, he never got carnal with Suzanne.

Ditto the “Sisters of Mercy.” Turns out they really “weren’t lovers like that.” Cohen varied the facts a bit over the years, when called upon to recount this song's origin story. The location of the initial meeting was a moving target, and early on, vanity, or perhaps a reputation to uphold, caused him to omit a certain critical detail regarding the night spent with two young women he bumped into in snowy Edmonton.

The 1974 radio interview with Kathleen Kendel, above---straight from the horse’s mouth, and freshly animated for PBS’ Blank on Blank series---brings to mind that pillar of young male sex comedy, the close-but-no-cigar erotic encounter.

PBS’ Blank on Blank animator, Patrick Smith, wisely employs a lightly humorous touch in depicting Cohen’s wild imagining of the delights Barbara and Lorraine had in store for him. Whether or not they looked like the Doublemint Twins is a question for the ages.

The animation kicks off with a reading of his 1964 poem, "Two Went to Sleep," an elliptical journey into the realm of the unconscious, a setting that preoccupied Cohen the poet. (See the far less platonic-seeming “My Lady Can Sleep” and “Now of Sleeping” for starters…)

You can hear the interview Blank on Blank excerpted for the above animation in its entirety here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker, Leonard Cohen fan and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The 10 Favorite Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Despite living for only 37 years, and within that having a career that lasted for only fifteen, the German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder created so prolifically that his final list of accomplishments includes directing forty feature films, three shorts, and two television series, as well as appearing in 36 different roles as an actor — to say nothing of his works in other media and his considerable influence on subsequent generations of filmmakers around the world. Sheer productivity aside, many of these works have either stood the test of time, like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and Berlin Alexanderplatz or, like philosophical science fiction World on a Wire, enjoyed recent rediscoveries.

What could have inspired in Fassbinder such unrelenting creativity? His list of ten favorite films, drawn up a year before his death in 1982, provides some clues. "Fassbinder’s very favorite was Visconti’s The Damned, a visually sumptuous panorama of societal collapse and decay in Third Reich Germany and no doubt an influence on the German auteur’s own "BRD Trilogy," in particular the bawdy, bordello-set Lola," writes Indiewire's Ryan Lattanzio. He also "loved Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes, the sad story of a kept woman shot in the kind of gloriously rendered color Fassbinder would later employ in his own work. As with many top 10 lists compiled by confrontational filmmakers, Pasolini’s beautifully ugly descent into hell Salò was also close to his heart."

Fassbinder's final favorite-films list runs, in full, as follows:

  1. The Damned (1969, Dir: Luchino Visconti)
  2. The Naked And the Dead (1958, Dir: Raoul Walsh)
  3. Lola Montes (1955, Dir: Max Ophuls)
  4. Flamingo Road (1949, Dir: Michael Curtiz)
  5. Salò, or the 120 Days Of Sodom (1975, Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini)
  6. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, Dir: Howard Hawks)
  7. Dishonored (1931, Dir: Josef von Sternberg)
  8. The Night Of The Hunter (1955, Dir: Charles Laughton)
  9. Johnny Guitar (1954, Dir: Nicholas Ray)
  10. The Red Snowball Tree (1973, Dir: Vasili Shukshin)

If one quality unites all of Fassbinder's motion pictures of choice, from all the aforementioned to the stark, near-Expressionist noir of Night of the Hunter to the superhumanly snappy comedy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to the Western genre reinvention, highly appreciated in Europe, of Johnny Guitar, it might well be vividness. All of these movies, each in their own way, allowed Fassbinder to release the vividness — and cinema history has remembered him as a master of the vivid as well as the visceral — resident in his imagination. Alas, no matter how much he managed to realize, a great deal more of it surely passed away with him.

via Indiewire

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

We’re Gonna Build a Fourth Wall, and Make the Brechtians Pay for It


By now, you undoubtedly know what happened when Mike Pence went to see Hamilton on Friday night. And the brouhaha that unfolded from there, particularly on Twitter.

Tweets came and went throughout the weekend. But, if you're keeping score at home, none outfunnied this tweet from Jeremy Noel-Tod. We're suckers around here for Brechtian humor.

Find us on Twitter at @openculture.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Watch Them Watch Us: A History of Breaking the “Fourth Wall” in Film

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Five Short Stories by Leo Tolstoy: A Free AudioBook

tolstoy rules 2

Though known for his long epic novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote short stories too. Below, you can stream readings of five such stories, "The Three Hermits," "Three Deaths," "Albert," "Ernak, and "God Sees the Truth But Waits." They're read by Bart Wolfe, and made freely available on Spotify. (If you need Spotify's software, download it here.) If you want to get it from iTunes, it will run you $6.95.

This three-hour recording will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Meanwhile, if you'd like to download two professionally-read audiobooks from Audible for free, get more information on that here.

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