The Thinking Man’s iPod

Spend some time on iTunes, and you’ll find some excellent cultural podcasts, simply hours worth of high-touch intellectual content. And the excellent part is that the trove is growing, and the quality content keeps on coming.

The rub is that it takes time to separate the wheat from the chaff — too much time, if you honestly ask me. So, for the benefit of our readers, we’ve rolled up our sleeves, sifted through it all, and isolated the high-value content that’s worth your time. Spend some time rummaging through our iTunes Cultural Podcast Collection, and you’ll be sure to find among the cultural programs and audio texts something that piques your interest. Separately, you can also explore our University iTunes Collection, another collection of podcasts from 25 of America’s leading educational institutions. Together, they should keep you thinking, learning and growing for a while.

Also check out our list of University Podcasts on iTunes. It includes lots of great campus lectures and full-fledged courses.

The 10 Best Books of the Year

Last week, The New York Times’ Book Review published its list, 100 Notable Books of the Year and it has since followed up with a whittled down list, The 10 Best Books of 2006. It’s boiled down to 5 works of fiction, and 5 non-fiction, and here’s what it looks like:


ABSURDISTAN – Gary Shteyngart
THE LAY OF THE LAND – Richard Ford


FALLING THROUGH THE EARTH: A Memoir – Danielle Trussoni
THE LOOMING TOWER: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. – Lawrence Wright.
MAYFLOWER: A Story of Courage, Community, and War – Nathaniel Philbrick
THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA: A Natural History of Four Meals – Michael Pollan

(Note: This list won’t appear in print until the December 10th.)

The Nobel Prize in Literature: Who is Orhan Pamuk?

We now know the list of Nobel Prize winners for 2006, and the award ceremony in Stockholm is not far off (December 10th). This year’s prize in literature went to Orhan Pamuk, who is almost a rock star in his home country, Turkey, but less well known outside. But that’s clearly about to change. If you’re not already familiar with Pamuk’s work, we’ve pulled together some resources for you. Born in Instanbul in 1952 (check out the Nobel bio here), Pamuk has written 10 books in Turkish — of which 7 have been translated into English — and, through complex plots and post-modern devices, his books repeatedly come back to exploring a duality — the relationship between East and West, Islamic values and Western values, religion and secularism. As John Updike puts it in a review of Snow, a particularly acclaimed work, what Pamuk delivers is an artistic look at "the tension between the secularism established by Kemal Atatürk in the nineteen-twenties and the recent rise of political Islam; … the cultural divide between a Westernized élite and the theistic masses."

Much to his chagrin, Pamuk has gained public stature not simply because of his literary achievements, but because he has taken strong public stands against the repressive tendencies of his government and Islamic radicalism more generally. And he has paid a personal price. Notably, he was the first writer in the Muslim world to denounce the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Also, when he declared in a 2005 interview that "Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands [Turkey between 1915 and 1917] and nobody dares to talk about it," the Turkish government responded by harrassing him and then bringing him up on charges — charges it was eventually forced to drop because of international pressure. As this interview makes clear, Pamuk is not exactly what you’d call an eager dissident. Rather, you get the strong sense that it’s a moral obligation for him, the ethical cost of being famous in a country that has too few people willing to call on the government to account for its actions.




Finally, you can find Pamuk in conversation with Arthur Danto.

The Wealth of Nations

Open Culture has been up and running for less than a month, and we’ve been monitoring traffic for about two weeks, thanks to Google Analytics. So far, here’s what we’ve seen: Roughly 70% of readers come from within the US, leaving 30% to an international audience, which is itself very diverse. The readership represents almost 40 countries (and every continent, except Antartica), and it includes Brazil and Colombia in South America; France, Poland, Bulguria and Greece in Europe; Morocco Egypt, and Qatar in Africa and the Middle East; and then India, Bangladesh, China and Japan in Asia. Australia is part of the picture, too. Click here to see the full list.

The point of mentioning this is simply to illustrate with hard facts just how thoroughly the internet makes the world flat and borderless, and quickly lets information flow to wherever it wants to go. In some sense, we shouldn’t be surprised. For years, we’ve heard about how the Net is globalizing information. However, did we really realize just how complete the globalizing effects have been? Tracked in real time, the flow of information is breathtaking. A lecture presented in an American classroom gets turned into a podcast and, within days, finds listeners in Vietnam first, then Ireland, and next Egypt. Instantly, the information reaches its audience, provided that — and this is a big caveat — users know where to find the information they want and need.

Even in the era of Google, search engines still have a long way to go before they push the limits of artificial intelligence and truly understand and answer our questions. Google is good, a big improvement upon what we had, but it still doesn’t make the discovery of quality information a seamless proposition. Until it does, there’s still plenty of room for people to stay in the mix and organize slices of the web for you. So, for now, Open Culture will keep bringing smart cultural and educational media & resources your way. Thanks for visiting and come back often.


Thomas Friedman is someone who has written a great deal about technology (particularly the internet) and globalization. The last half of this short, home-brewed interview gets succinctly at some of what we’re talking about here.

I’d also strongly recommend a serious/substantive 23-minute interview with Friedman, conducted by Nayan Chanda of YaleGlobal Online. He talks in interesting ways about who will succeed in the new flat world.

Podcasting Taking Off Slowly … But Certainly

There is a lot of buzz around podcasting these days. Last December, the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary selected "podcast" as the word of the year (and they defined it as "a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player"). Since then, the chatter has only picked up. However, just how many people regularly download and use podcasts is a somewhat different story.

This week, the Pew Internet & American Life Project issued a new study showing that podcasting hasn’t quite been integrated into the fabric of everyday life. Although 12% of those surveyed have downloaded a podcast at some point, only 1% do so on a daily basis. That’s a far cry (in terms of frequency) from how people use their cell phones, TVs and the Internet.

Despite these low numbers, I strongly suspect that daily podcast usage will inexorably climb in the coming few years. Just think about it. Over 20 million Americans now own an iPod or mp3 player, and those figures will almost certainly continue to rise. The ever-increasing number of iPod/mp3 owners will get more comfortable adding content to their players. And broadcasters will continue the trend of using sites like iTunes as an alternative means of distributing their content. Fast forward a few years, and here’s what you’ll have: A country awash with iPods and digital content, and a nation of consumers who realize that they can use their mp3 players to access content/information fully on-demand. You’ll be able to access whatever content you want (no matter how specific your interest), wherever you want, whenever you want, without commercials and often for free. Content without compromises. Who would want to miss out on that?

Check out Open Culture’s University Podcast Collection

100 Notable Books of the Year

Gift buying season is upon us, and it’s time to start thinking about a thoughtful gift for friends and family. On December 3, The New York Times Book Review will publish in print its list, "100 Notable Books of the Year." However, you can catch it online beforehand and use it to start making your list.

UPDATE: The New York Times has since followed up with its whittled down list, The 10 Best Books of 2006. Click here for more info.

iTunes – Podcasts from 25 Leading Universities

Universities pump out knowledge every day, and thankfully, many of the best universities and colleges are now starting to tape important lectures, if not full courses, and make them available as podcasts. We’ve spent the past few weeks finding the best podcast collections, both on iTunes and off. If you visit the University iTunes/Podcasts Collection (which can always be found in the Free Learning Portal on the right side of the page), you’ll find sets of podcasts from 25 leading educational institutions, most in the US, but some outside. As the universe of educational podcasts grows, so will our list. So pay us a visit here and there, and keep your iPod poised to add new content.

Beyond Belief

These days, the Enlightenment project finds itself in a tense cultural competition with religion. Go around the US and ask, "how did we come to be?" and you will get different answers. Some, appealing to science and reason, the children of the Enlightenment, will look to evolution for answers. Others, with a religious bent, will refer you to the Bible or intelligent design — which is another way of saying, God is behind it all.

Is the Enlightenment
project nearing an end? Can science and reason eventually reassert themselves, perhaps as powerfully as religion recently has? Or, can science and religion at least co-exist and address different questions?

Earlier this month, an impressive list of scientists and philosophers got together at the Salk Institute for a conference called, "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival." The presenters ranged from Richard Dawkins (Oxford’s well-known evolution theorist), to Joan Roughgarden (a Stanford professor who recently wrote Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist), to Craig Venter (who helped decode the human genome). Thanks to The Science Network, the so-called "C-SPAN of science," you can watch the videos of the different conference presentations for free online. (Note: To watch the videos, you’ll need QuickTime. If you don’t have it, you can download it for free here.)

More in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.