Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter

David Halberstam’s no stranger to writ­ing big books about big wars, and he report­ed­ly thought of his final work, The Cold­est Win­ter: Amer­i­ca and the Kore­an War, as a “book­end” to his clas­sic on Viet­nam, The Best and the Bright­est. The book comes out this week with a very unusu­al pub­lic­i­ty blitz.

Hal­ber­stam died in a car crash last spring and so, remark­ably, a group of his friends are doing a pub­lic­i­ty tour for him. Authors like Joan Did­ion, Sey­mour Hersh, Bob Wood­ward and Anna Quindlen are tak­ing up legs of the gru­el­ing pub­lic­i­ty trek in hon­or of Hal­ber­stam. Accord­ing to the New York Times they will be “offer­ing per­son­al rem­i­nis­cences and read­ings” in an inter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion of festschrift and pro­mo­tion. The tour will start on Tues­day and run until Octo­ber 15th. In the words of Sy Hersh, “Lis­ten, ain’t noth­ing like David — you don’t need this to keep David alive. You’ve got to mar­ket a book, let’s mar­ket a book, but he tran­scends that. He was a great war reporter and a great base­ball reporter, and the most loy­al per­son in the world.”

Relat­ed: See our piece from April, David Halberstam’s Last Speech and Sup­per.

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Classic Films on Google Video

Here’s a lit­tle some­thing for the film buffs out there: The­Lis­tU­ni­verse has post­ed a col­lec­tion of ten clas­sic films from the 1920s, 30s and 40s that you can watch on Google Video. Just click and watch. On the list, you’ll find Fritz Lang’s M, the 1922 Ger­man silent film Nos­fer­atu, The Gold Rush with Char­lie Chap­lin, The Gen­er­al with Buster Keaton, and three films by the great Frank Capra It Hap­pened One Night (with Clark Gable), It’s a Won­der­ful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton (both with Jim­my Stew­art). Being one of our favorites, we have post­ed “Mr. Smith” below.

Note: For more great films, please see our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online, which fea­tures more than 120 films, many of them clas­sics.

Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History

tendiscoveries.jpgHere are a few facts to know about the adven­tur­ous Patrick Hunt. He’s a Stan­ford archae­ol­o­gist who has spent more than a decade try­ing to unrav­el the mys­tery of how Han­ni­bal, the great ancient mil­i­tary leader, crossed the Alps in 218 BCE with 25,000 men and 37 ele­phants. (Lis­ten on iTunes to the course he gave on this adven­ture, and get more info below). He has bro­ken more than 20 bones while doing field­work, fought off kid­nap­pers, and twice sur­vived sun­stroke-induced blind­ness. And now he has just pub­lished an excit­ing new book called Ten Dis­cov­er­ies That Rewrote His­to­ry. It’s pub­lished by Penguin/Plume and starts ship­ping tomor­row. I asked Patrick what makes these dis­cov­er­ies rang­ing from the Roset­ta Stone to the Dead Sea Scrolls to Machu Pic­chu so impor­tant. Below he gives us a brief glimpse into what makes each dis­cov­ery his­tor­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant and fas­ci­nat­ing. Read on, and check out his cap­ti­vat­ing new book for the fuller pic­ture.

Patrick Hunt: “First I should say that not every archae­ol­o­gist would agree that these are the ten most impor­tant dis­cov­er­ies of all time. On the oth­er hand, the ten sto­ries retold in this book are often regard­ed as among the most excit­ing archae­o­log­i­cal dis­cov­er­ies of the mod­ern era (since 1750). And no one would deny that these ten vital dis­cov­er­ies have for­ev­er changed the world of archae­ol­o­gy, trans­form­ing how and what we know about ancient his­to­ry. Let me tell you a lit­tle about them.

Roset­ta Stone: This excit­ing dis­cov­ery in 1799 was the key to deci­pher­ing Egypt­ian hiero­glyphs and unlock­ing the his­to­ry of the ancient world texts. It pro­vides a win­dow into the real his­to­ry of Egypt rather than an imag­i­nary one; all oth­er deci­pher­ings of ancient lan­guages since the Roset­ta Stone’s ini­tial decod­ing in 1822 are based on its prece­dents. (See pho­to here.)

Troy: Its dis­cov­ery and exca­va­tion begin­ning in 1870 proved once and for all that Troy was not just a myth based on Homer; Troy was a his­tor­i­cal site where real peo­ple lived and fought. Its ear­li­est exca­va­tor, the oft-maligned and often-uneth­i­cal Hein­rich Schlie­mann has been most­ly cred­it­ed right or wrong as being the “Father of Archae­ol­o­gy” and his tech­niques became the foun­da­tion of archae­o­log­i­cal research, how­ev­er great­ly improved, after­ward.

Nin­eveh and the Roy­al Assyr­i­an Library: This riv­et­ing find begin­ning in 1849 by Austen Hen­ry Layard, a sleuth of antiq­ui­ty, even­tu­al­ly unearthed a whole lost library of cuneiform texts, includ­ing ones not only from ancient Assyr­ia but also from far old­er Sumer, Akkad, Baby­lon and oth­er great civ­i­liza­tions. This had a very sig­nif­i­cant impact on world lit­er­a­ture, intro­duc­ing such sem­i­nal works as the Epic of Gil­gamesh.

King Tut’s Tomb: The dra­mat­ic open­ing of this roy­al tomb in 1922 sought for years by a deter­mined Howard Carter was the first time in mil­len­nia a pharao­h’s tomb had actu­al­ly been found intact; its trea­sure gave the world a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to actu­al­ly account for stag­ger­ing Egypt­ian roy­al wealth. [Dan’s note: Nation­al Geo­graph­ic has a nice web site on this archae­o­log­i­cal find.]

Machu Pic­chu: The remark­able high jun­gle moun­tain dis­cov­ery in 1911 of the remote Lost City of the Inca by Hiram Bing­ham made it pos­si­ble for the world to final­ly see an undis­turbed Inca roy­al city mys­te­ri­ous­ly aban­doned on a moun­tain­top but nei­ther con­quered nor changed by the colo­nial world. (See pho­to here.)

Pom­peii: Pre­served by the erup­tion of Vesu­vius in AD 79 and not dug out for almost two mil­len­nia, Pom­peii (prob­a­bly acci­den­tal­ly found by a farmer dig­ging a well) is the sin­gle most impor­tant Roman site in the world; its arti­facts offer the largest and fullest record of life in a Roman city. Pom­pei­i’s mis­for­tune is our great for­tune. It pre­serves a city with thou­sands of objects vir­tu­al­ly unchanged. (See images here.)

Dead Sea Scrolls: Since 1947, when two Bedouin boys in the desert stum­bled upon the first cave at Qum­ran, these hid­den desert texts have rev­o­lu­tion­ized our per­cep­tions of ear­ly Jew­ish and Chris­t­ian reli­gion; their find­ing has pushed back our knowl­edge of bib­li­cal man­u­scripts by a thou­sand years. This dis­cov­ery and the off-and-on secre­cy of the finds reads like spy fic­tion but is real instead. (See pho­to here.)

Akrotiri on Thera: Archae­ol­o­gist Spyri­don Mar­i­natos had been laughed at by his peers for his the­o­ries and was final­ly vin­di­cat­ed 30 years lat­er (cir­ca 1967). Like Pom­peii, ash from the vol­canic erup­tion in 1620 BC pre­served a whole Aegean city that might have been the source of the Atlantis myths but was cer­tain­ly a wealthy city with fab­u­lous wall paint­ings depict­ing Bronze Age life. It gives us for the first time a whole new body of Minoan art and under­stand­ing of Mediter­ranean sea trade. (Images here.)

Oldu­vai Gorge: Since the 1920’s, the Leakey fam­i­ly dogged­ly per­sist­ed search­ing in East Africa for the most ancient human ori­gins; dra­mat­ic unearthing of bones and tools in 1959 from Oldu­vai and oth­er sites in Great Rift Africa for­ev­er showed the world how long at least a mil­lion years antecedents to human life have per­sist­ed, final­ly pro­vid­ing proof of Dar­win­ian evo­lu­tion from ear­li­er pri­mate and hominid finds.

Tomb of 10,000 War­riors: This stag­ger­ing tomb from around 220–210 BC, spread­ing over hun­dreds of acres, sin­gle-hand­ed­ly awak­ened West­ern inter­est in Chi­nese his­to­ry and revi­tal­ized Chi­nese archae­ol­o­gy. The opu­lence and grandeur of an emper­or’s tomb aston­ished the world. Archeo­tourism in Chi­na has prof­it­ed immense­ly from the acci­den­tal 1974 find of a pre-Han tomb where lies the author­i­tar­i­an emper­or who forcibly unit­ed and rewrote Chi­nese cul­ture in many ways that still sur­vive today.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: Above, I men­tioned that you can lis­ten to Patrick Hunt’s Stan­ford course on Han­ni­bal on iTunes. The course is going to be rolled out in install­ments over the next sev­er­al weeks. Sep­a­rate­ly you can lis­ten to a stand­alone lec­ture that he gave on Han­ni­bal short­ly before the start of the course. (Lis­ten on iTunes here.) This lec­ture gets ref­er­enced in the course at sev­er­al points. Patrick­’s work on Han­ni­bal is spon­sored by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Soci­ety.

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The War: New Ken Burns’ Documentary Starts Sunday

wwiiburns.jpgMark this on your cal­en­dar. Ken Burns, who has pro­duced some of Amer­i­ca’s most acclaimed his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­taries, will air his lat­est film start­ing Sun­day night on PBS. The War is a sev­en-part, 15-hour doc­u­men­tary that “tells the sto­ry of the Sec­ond World War through the per­son­al accounts of a hand­ful of men and women from four quin­tes­sen­tial­ly Amer­i­can towns. The series explores the most inti­mate human dimen­sions of the great­est cat­a­clysm in his­to­ry — a world­wide cat­a­stro­phe that touched the lives of every fam­i­ly on every street in every town in Amer­i­ca — and demon­strates that in extra­or­di­nary times, there are no ordi­nary lives.”

You can get more infor­ma­tion on the doc­u­men­tary from the PBS web site and this accom­pa­ny­ing “View­er’s Guide (PDF).” You may also want to watch this series of video out­takes from the film, plus (see below) the trail­er that pre­views Burn’s ambi­tious project.

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The Writing Rooms of Famous Writers

Here’s where great writ­ing gets done. The Guardian has post­ed a nice col­lec­tion of anno­tat­ed pho­tos of the work­ing spaces used by famous writ­ers, includ­ing Sea­mus Heaney, AS Byatt, Michael Frayn, and Alain de Bot­ton. (Get the full list here.) My favorite selec­tion is Jonathan Safran Foer’s, the Rose Read­ing Room of the 42nd Street Branch of the New York Pub­lic Library, a beau­ti­ful place to work.

Anoth­er quick obser­va­tion to men­tion: Most all of these rooms are paint­ed com­plete­ly white. For most of the world, that’s hard­ly strange. But if you live in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the site of one white room after anoth­er is fair­ly jar­ring. It’s pas­tels here all the way. Source: Boing Boing

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Also check out our list of Free Uni­ver­si­ty Cours­es and For­eign Lan­guage Les­son Pod­casts.

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NBC Leaves the iTunes Fold

Apple took the world of dig­i­tal enter­tain­ment by storm when it start­ed offer­ing new tele­vi­sion shows on iTunes in 2005. The big net­works signed on (even­tu­al­ly) and it was sud­den­ly pos­si­ble to catch an episode of The Office or Lost for $1.99 on a video iPod or a PC.

NBC was one of the ear­ly adopters, and appar­ent­ly they’re not hap­py with the mod­el. They want to charge more than $1.99 an episode: Apple refus­es. So now the net­work has announced its own iTunes killer (or at least com­peti­tor). The net­work already offers stream­ing ver­sions of its shows for a lim­it­ed peri­od after each one airs. Now fans will be able to down­load and watch new episodes for up to a week after air-date.

Clear­ly, this is all about mon­ey. As Tivos and their ilk pro­lif­er­ate, few­er peo­ple than ever are both­er­ing to watch tra­di­tion­al TV ads, and the net­works are strug­gling to find new ways to make mon­ey. NBC hopes to make mon­ey by run­ning ads (that you can’t skip) dur­ing each show and, in 2008, by charg­ing peo­ple to “own” episodes they down­load beyond a week. Is NBC mak­ing the right move? Would you rather watch some ads and deal with a new set of soft­ware and video play­back issues or pay for some­thing that already aired for free?

Bob Dylan Video Goodness

dylancard.jpgMark Octo­ber 1 on your cal­en­dar. That’s when Bob Dylan will release a new box set of his “great­est songs.” Now, cut over to the web­site designed to mar­ket the album, and you’ll find a cou­ple notable pieces of video. First up, you can watch the video that accom­pa­nies Mark Ron­son’s remix­ing of “Most Like­ly You Will Go Your Way (& I’ll Go Mine).” (Watch it on the web­site here or on YouTube here.) It’s appar­ent­ly the first time Dylan has allowed a remix of any of his songs, and the song has been get­ting some air­play this week.

And then there is this video con­cept. Back in 1967, D. A. Pen­nebak­er released Don’t Look Back, a well-known doc­u­men­tary that cov­ered Dylan’s first tour of Eng­land in 1965. The open­ing seg­ment of the film has Dylan stand­ing in an alley, flip­ping through cards inscribed with lyrics from Sub­ter­ranean Home­sick Blues. (Also the beat poet Allen Gins­berg looms in the back­ground. We’ve includ­ed the orig­i­nal video below.) Now, I’m men­tion­ing this because the afore­men­tioned web­site lets you re-work this video seg­ment. Click here and you can re-write the cards that Dylan flips through, and then watch your edit­ed ver­sion. It’s anoth­er form of re-mix­ing, I guess.

Last­ly, I want to direct your atten­tion to the trove of videos that Google put togeth­er back when Google Video was a real liv­ing, breath­ing thing. Cre­at­ed to coin­cide with the release of Dylan’s last stu­dio album, Mod­ern Times (2006), this col­lec­tion lets you watch 11 videos in total, rang­ing from unre­leased footage from D. A. Pen­nebak­er’s Don’t Look Back, to Dylan’s appear­ance on The John­ny Cash Show, to his per­for­mance of “Dig­ni­ty” on MTV’s Unplugged. Good stuff, to be sure.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.