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.

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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.

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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.)

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.