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

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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.

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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.

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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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.