The War of the Worlds on Podcast: How H.G. Wells and Orson Welles Riveted A Nation

Today, by popular demand, we’re running an updated version of one of our more popular posts to date. Enjoy…

At hastened speeds during the past year, we have seen book lovers recording homegrown audiobooks and posting them on sites like Librivox (see our collection of free audiobooks here). For obvious copyright reasons, these audio texts largely come from the public domain, and, yes, they’re sometimes of uneven quality. Some good, some okay. Among the recent releases, you’d expect to find great classical works — the major plays by Shakespeare, the essential treatises by Plato and other philosophers, etc. — and you do get some of those. However, far more often you get texts by more modern writers who wrote within the thriller, sci fi and adventure genres. Here, I’m talking about Washington Irving, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H.G. Wells. (Find these podcasts here.)

It seems rather fitting that Wells, the father of science fiction, would be among the first to have his writings digitally recorded and distributed. Nowadays, you can download, sync and listen to his major works – The New Accelerator (mp3), The Invisible Man (iTunesfeed), The Time Machine (iTunesfeed), and The War of the Worlds (iTunes). But what’s better than all of this, at least in our minds, is this vintage gem …

Here you can download the version of The War of the Worlds that Orson Welles famously adapted and aired on national radio in October 1938. Presented so that it sounded like an actual news broadcast, the Orson Welles version was mistaken for truth by many listeners who caught the program midstream (more info here), and, soon enough, they found themselves fleeing an unfolding Martian invasion, running down into their basements with guns cocked and ready to fire. You can catch the mp3 version of the famous Welles recording here (and also alternatively here). Have fun with this broadcast. It’s a classic.

Related content: For more old time, sci-fi radio broadcasts, check out this nice collection on iTunes.

Also see: Vintage Radio Archive: The Lone Ranger, Abbott & Costello, and Bob Hope

The Digital Encyclopedia of Life

In 2003, the Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson wrote a widely read essay that called for an “Encyclopedia of Life.” Summed up simply, Wilson had in mind “an online reference source and database” that catalogued “every one of the 1.8 million species that are named and known on this planet,” not to mention the many organisms that aren’t yet known. When fully compiled, the web-based database would offer a “macroscope” of sorts, a way to do comparative biology and ecology on an unprecedented scale, allowing scientists to gain new insights into the immense biodiversity of our planet.

Wilson is still pushing this vision, and he laid it out most recently at the TED Talks conference in Monterey, California. (Watch the video below.) The envisioned encyclopedia will be a collaborative enterprise, modeled somewhat along the lines of Wikipedia (see some demonstration pages here). And it’ll be accessible anywhere, anytime, to whoever could benefit from it. It’s expected to take close to a decade to complete the project, although some key components of the database will be available in 2008. (See this FAQ for more details.)

For more information on E.O. Wilson, I would encourage you to listen to Bill Moyers’ profile of Wilson (iTunesFeedMP3) which recently aired on PBS. You may also want to give some attention to Wilson’s latest book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth.

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The Worst Sentence Awards

Every year the folks at the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest celebrate their love for bad prose by running “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” They’ve just announced this year’s champion sentences and they’re well worth a read. The contest accepts entries year-round, so if you think you’ve got what it takes to write the worst sentence of 2008, feel free to take your shot.

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The New Yorker Magazine Crosses the Digital Divide

completeny2.gifWhen you think of The New Yorker, you don’t generally think of a magazine with a substantial digital footprint. But, ever so gradually, under David Remnick’s editorial direction, this institution in American journalism and cultural commentary has launched a series of digital initiatives that complement the traditional print journal. And when you add them all up, you realize the magazine is pretty far along the digital curve. How else can you look at it when The New Yorker now offers a fairly robust website, which combines full pieces from the current print edition with specialized online features (take for example the new blog by George Packer)? And then consider the fact that you can now buy on DVD the complete historical archive of the magazine, going back to 1925, and then search and read through it on your computer — all for a fairly scant $63. (Get your own copy here.)

More minor, but nonetheless interesting, forays into the digital world include some recent experiments on the podcast front. Not long ago, we mentioned that The New Yorker’s trademark cartoons have been animated and can be watched as video podcasts (iTunesFeed). Then there’s The New Yorker Fiction (iTunesFeed), another relatively new podcast that features famous fiction writers reading out loud selected short stories from the magazine’s fiction archives. (It’s issued only monthly.) Finally, to round things out, another podcast has recently emerged, and it’s simply called Comment (iTunesFeed) and that’s because it lets you listen to a weekly reading of the magazine’s “Comment” essay, often written by Hendrik Hertzberg, Nicholas Lemann, or David Remnick himself. For a complete list of New Yorker RSS feeds, click here.

You can find the podcasts mentioned above, and others like them, in our Arts & Culture Podcast Collection.

Ingmar Bergman Dies at 89

Ingmar Bergman, one of the great filmmakers of the last century, has died at 89. You can read the full obit in the NY Times here, and catch a piece of his masterwork Persona below (or buy the film in full here). Film buffs may also want to check out Bergman’s autobiography, The Magic Lantern.

America’s Philosopher President

What’s gone wrong with America’s democracy? It’s a question that Al Gore takes a hard look at in his recent (and well-reviewed) book, The Assault on Reason. Below, Gore gives you the gist of his argument in a half-hour video. It’s a bit heady. He’s invoking the Ancient Greeks, the Enlightenment, Edward Gibbon, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. What’s more, his thinking is heavily informed by Jurgen Habermas and his writings on rational political discourse. And it all loops into an explanation of how we’ve taken a wrong turn on the Iraq war, the environment, civil liberties and beyond. Yes, it’s heady stuff. But if Open Culture readers can’t handle it, who can?

The link to the original video is here.

Wolf Brother: Serial Literary Entertainment

Chronicles of Ancient Darkness #1: Wolf Brother (Chronicles of Ancient Darkness)The Guardian Books Podcast has started offering an audiobook version of the young adult novel Wolf Brother as a serial podcast. The story is the first in a series of books by Michelle Paver called Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. It makes good audio since it’s gripping and not hard to follow (or get back into if you get distracted). But what really makes it worthwhile is Ian McKellan’s voice, which lends the tale just the right level of ancient, magical atmosphere. The Guardian has released 9 out of 13 episodes so far, at a rate of one a week. (Site, iTunes)

Click here for more free audiobooks. 

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The Plot Against FDR: Stranger than Fiction

fdr200.jpgIn 2004, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America imagined an alternative American history. The year is 1940, and Charles Lindbergh, an American hero and Nazi sympathizer, beats FDR in the presidential election and takes America down the path toward fascism, importing to the US the worst that Europe has to offer.

An implausible historical scenario? Not entirely, not according to this BBC investigative report (listen here with Real Player). In 1933, when America was mired deeply in the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office and launched federal policies to revive the economy. Many now remember well his New Deal policies. But, there were some at the time — particularly well-heeled leaders in the American business community — who adamantly opposed the federal government involving itself in the private sector. Based on research in the national archives, the BBC investigation suggests that titans of the industrial and financial world, including Prescott Bush (the grandfather of our sitting president), were linked to, if not directly backing, a plot that would have Maj.-Gen. Smedley Butler, a highly decorated Marine, lead a 500,000 private army and push Roosevelt out of power. It was a move taken straight from Hitler’s and Mussolini’s playbook. To get more on the coup and how it played out, give the 30-minute investigative report a listen.

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