Arthur C. Clarke Creates a List of His 12 Favorite Science-Fiction Movies (1984)

Many thinkers enjoy science fiction, and some even create it, but Arthur C. Clarke seemed to possess a mind precision-engineered for every aspect of it. When not writing such now-classics of the tradition as Childhood’s EndRendezvous with Rama, and 2001: a Space Odyssey, he predicted such actual elements of humanity’s future as 3D printers and the internet. He must also have possessed quite a discerning ear and eye for other works of science fiction — an ability, in other words, to separate the art and the insight from the nonsense. (A useful ability indeed, given that, in the words of sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon, “ninety percent of everything,” his and Clarke’s field not excepted, “is crap.”)

Asked in 1984 to name his favorite science-fiction films, Clarke came up with this top-twelve:

  1. Metropolis (1927, watch it above)
  2. Things to Come (1936)
  3. Frankenstein (1931)
  4. King Kong (original version) (1933)
  5. Forbidden Planet (1956)
  6. The Thing from Another World (original version) (1951)
  7. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  8. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  9. Star Wars (1977)
  10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1980)
  11. Alien (1979)
  12. Blade Runner (1982)

The request came to him on the set of 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Peter Hyams’ sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which appears on Clarke’s list. This selection may at first seem self-serving, given his own involvement in the film’s genesis, but Clarke’s 2001 and Kubrick’s 2001, parallel projects derived from a collaborative idea, ended up as very different works of science fiction.

Clarke’s choices, “which include some obvious titles, classics and modern sensations, are a well-rounded group that would serve any neophyte well in studying and experiencing the best that Hollywood has to offer in that corner of cinema,” writes SyfyWire’s Jeff Spry. He adds that Clarke couldn’t quite decide whether to include Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, the picture credited with turning Star Trek movies into much more than a one-off proposition; and, in addition to Star Wars, which had already made his list, he considered Return of the Jedi — though not, intriguingly, The Empire Strikes Back, now perhaps the most respected Star Wars movie of them all.

This top-twelve list, in any case, shows that Clarke knew a classic when he saw one, and that he must have had a fairly expansive definition of science fiction, one that encompasses even “monster movies” like Frankenstein and King Kong. (Some purists even insist that Star Wars belongs in the fantasy column.) But he also showed, as always, a certain prescience, as evidenced by his selection of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, now recognized as one of the most influential films of all time, sci-fi or otherwise, but then still a fresh victim of commercial and critical disaster. Only Philip K. Dick himself, author of the novel that provided Blade Runner its source material, could see its future more clearly. Dick and Clarke’s work may have had little in common, but great science-fictional minds, it seems, think alike.

Related Content:

In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Internet, 3D Printers and Trained Monkey Servants

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Internet & PC in 1974

Isaac Asimov Predicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

The Letter Between Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke That Sparked the Greatest SciFi Film Ever Made (1964)

Philip K. Dick Previews Blade Runner: “The Impact of the Film is Going to be Overwhelming” (1981)

Metropolis: Watch Fritz Lang’s 1927 Masterpiece

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Yale Presents a Free Online Course on Literary Theory, Covering Structuralism, Deconstruction & More

It’s been a hallmark of the culture wars in the last few decades for politicians and opinionators to rail against academia. Professors of humanities have in particular come under scrutiny, charged with academic frivolity (sometimes at taxpayer expense), willful obscurantism, and all sorts of ideological crimes and diabolical methods of indoctrination. As an undergrad and graduate student in the humanities during much of the nineties and oughts, I’ve witnessed a few waves of such attacks and found the caricatures drawn by talk radio hosts and cabinet appointees both alarming and amusing. I’ve also learned that mistrust of academia is much older than the many virulent strains of anti-intellectualism in the U.S.

As Yale Professor of British Romantic Poetry Paul Fry points out in an interview with 3:AM Magazine, “satire about any and all professionals with a special vocabulary has been a staple of fiction and popular ridicule since the 18th century… and critic-theorists perhaps more recently have been the easy targets of upper-middle-brow anti-intellectuals continuously since [Henry] Fielding and [Tobias] Smollett.” Though the barbs of these British novelists are more entertaining than anything you’ll hear from current talking heads, the phenomenon remains the same: “Special vocabulary intimidate and are instantly considered obfuscation,” says Fry. “Reactions against them are shamelessly naïve, with no consideration of whether the recondite vocabularies may be serving some necessary and constructive purpose.”

Maybe you’re scratching your chin, shaking or nodding your head, or glazing over. But if you’ve come this far, read on. Fry, after all, acknowledges that jargon-laden scholarly vocabularies can become “self-parody in the hands of fools,” and thus have provided justifiable fodder for cutting wit since even Jonathan Swift’s day. But Fry picks this history up in the 20th century in his Yale course ENGL 300 (Introduction to Theory of Literature), an accessible series of lectures on the history and practice of literary theory, in which he proceeds in a critical spirit to cover everything from Russian Formalism and New Criticism; to Semiotics, Structuralism and Deconstruction; to the Frankfurt School, Post-Colonial Criticism and Queer Theory. Thanks to Open Yale Courses, you can watch the 26 lectures above. Or you can find them on YouTube, iTunes, or Yale’s own web site (where you can also grab a syllabus for the course). These lectures were all recorded in the Spring of 2009. The main text used in the course is David Richter’s The Critical Tradition.

Expanding with the rapid growth and democratizing of universities after World War II, literary and critical theories are often closely tied to the contentious politics of the Cold War. Their decline corresponds to these forces as well. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent snowballing of privatization and anti-government sentiment, many sources of funding for the humanities have succumbed, often under very public assaults on their character and utility. Fry’s presentation shows how literary theory has never been a blunt political instrument at any time. Rather it provides ways of doing ethics and philosophies of language, religion, art, history, myth, race, sexuality, etc. Or, put more plainly, the language of literary theory gives us different sets of tools for talking about being human.

Fry tells Yale Daily News that “literature expresses more eloquently and subtly emotions and feelings that we all try to express one way or another.” But why apply theory? Why not simply read novels, stories, and poems and interpret them by our own critical lights? One reason is that we cannot see our own biases and inherited cultural assumptions. One ostensibly theory-free method of an earlier generation of scholars and poets who rejected literary theory often suffers from this problem. The New Critics flourished mainly during the 40s, a fraught time in history when the country’s resources were redirected toward war and economic expansion. For Fry, this “last generation of male WASP hegemony in the academy” reflected “the blindness of the whole middle class,” and the idea “that life as they knew it… was life as everyone knew it, or should if they didn’t.”

Fry admits that theory can seem superfluous and needlessly opaque, “a purely speculative undertaking” without much of an object in view.  Yet applied to literature, it provides exciting means of intellectual discovery. Fry himself doesn’t shy away from satirically taking the piss, as a modern-day Swift might say. He begins not with Coleridge or Keats (though he gets there eventually), but with a story for toddlers called “Tony the Tow Truck.” He does this not to mock, but to show us that “reading anything is a complex and potentially unlimited activity”—and as “a facetious reminder,” he tells 3:AM, that “theory is taking itself seriously in the wrong way if it exhausts its reason for being….”

Introduction to Theory of Literature will be added to our list of Free Online Literature Courses, a subset of our meta collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Study Shows That Teaching Young Kids Philosophy Improves Their Academic Performance, Making Them Better at Reading & Math

Should we teach philosophy to children? You’d have a hard time, I imagine, convincing many readers of this site that we shouldn’t. But why? It’s not self-evident that Kant’s ethics will help Johnny or Susie better navigate playground politics or lunchroom disputes, nor is Plato’s theory of forms likely to show up on an elementary school exam. Maybe it’s never too early for kids to learn intellectual history. But it’s less clear that they can or should wrestle with Hegel.

Perhaps the question should be put another way: should we teach children to think philosophically? As we noted in an earlier post, English educators and entrepreneurs Emma and Peter Worley have answered affirmatively with their Philosophy Foundation, which trains children in methods of argumentation, problem-solving, and generally “thinking well.” They claim that practicing philosophical inquiry “has an impact on affective skills and… cognitive skills.”

Peter Worley also argues that it makes kids less prone to propaganda and the fear-mongering of totalitarians. While one reader astutely pointed out that several philosophers have had “authoritarian tendencies,” we should note that even some of the most anti-democratic—Socrates for example—have used philosophical methods to hold power to account and question means of social control.

But while this noble civic motivation may be a hard sell to a school board, or whatever the British equivalent, the idea that philosophical thinking promotes many kinds of literacy necessary for children’s success has found wide support for decades in England and the U.S. as part of a movement aptly named “Philosophy for children” (P4C), which “began with the work of Professor Matthew Lipman, who founded the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair State University, USA in 1974.”

Inspired by an earlier American pedagogical thinker, John Dewey, Lipman and co-authors published Philosophy in the Classroom, under “the assumption,” writes Temple University Press, “that what is taught in schools is not (and should not be) subject matter but rather ways of thinking.” Lipman and his colleagues have had significant influence on educators in the UK, prompting a huge study by the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) that tracked nine and ten year old students in England from January to December of 2013.

As Jenny Anderson writes at Quartz, “More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another’s thoughts and ideas.” The results were pretty astounding. “Overall,” the study concludes, “pupils using the approach made approximately two additional months’ progress in reading and maths.” This despite the fact, notes Anderson, that “the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy.”

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported a beneficial impact on students’ confidence and ability to listen to others.

The rigorous study not only found immediate improvement but also longitudinally tracked the students’ development for two additional years and found that the beneficial effects continued through that time; “the intervention group continu[ed] to outperform the control group” from 22 of the schools “long after the classes had finished.” You can read the study for yourself here, and learn more about the Philosophy for Children movement—“inspired by a dialogical tradition of doing philosophy begun by Socrates in Athens 2,500 years ago”—at the Philosophy Foundation, the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, and the Center for Philosophy for Children at the University of Washington.

via Quartz/Big Think

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

For Sale: The Building Blocks of Albert Einstein’s Creative Mind

Calling all parents with a hedge fund–or big trust fund. If you really love your kids (wink), you can let them play with the building blocks that once belonged to young Albert Einstein. According to Einstein’s own sister, Albert used these blocks to build “complicated structures” during his childhood in Germany, sowing the seeds of his creativity. Now, after having been recently auctioned off by Einstein’s descendants, they’re being sold online for $160,000–plus $3 shipping within the US). AbeBooks, the online vendor of rare books and ephemera–has a blog post with more information on this collectible.

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Albert Einstein Archive Now Online, Bringing 80,000+ Documents to the Web

Stanford University Launches Free Course on Developing Apps with iOS 10

Whenever Apple releases a new version of iOS, Stanford University eventually releases a course telling you how to develop apps in that environment. iOS 10 came out last fall, and now the iOS 10 app development course is getting rolled out this quarter. It’s free online, of course, on iTunes.

You can now find “Developing iOS Apps with Swift” housed in our collection of Free Computer Science Courses, which currently features 117 courses in total, including some basic Harvard courses that will teach you how to code in 12 weeks.

As always, courses from other disciplines can be found on our larger list, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Cormac McCarthy Explains Why He Worked Hard at Not Working: How 9-to-5 Jobs Limit Your Creative Potential

Last summer, a rumor circulated that Cormac McCarthy, one of America’s most beloved living writers, had passed away. In the midst of a devastating year for famous artists and their fans, the announcement appeared on Twitter, but it “was, in fact, a hoax.” As McCarthy’s publisher—recently merged juggernaut Penguin Random House—confirmed, the author of such modern classics as Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, and No Country for Old Men “is alive and well and still doesn’t care about Twitter.” The literary community is better off not only for McCarthy’s good health, but for his disregard of what may be the most fiendishly distracting social media platform of them all. He is still hard at work, on a novel called The Passenger, tentatively slated for release this year.

You can hear excerpts of The Passenger read in the dim, shaky video below, from an event in 2015 at the Santa Fe Institute, an independent scientific think tank where McCarthy keeps an office and where he has plied a secondary trade as a copy-editor for science-themed books, including Quantum Man, physicist Lawrence Krauss’s biography of Richard Feynman. (McCarthy’s “knowledge of physics and maths,” writes Alison Flood at The Guardian, is said to exceed “that of many professionals in the field.”) McCarthy’s latest work seems like a departure for him.

His earlier novels mined the richness of Southern Gothic and Western traditions, and “have subtly woven in science,” writes Babak Dowlatshahi at Newsweek. But The Passenger “will place science in the foreground.” Santa Fe Institute president David Krakauer calls it “full-blown Cormac 3.0—a mathematical [and] analytical novel.”

So we know Cormac McCarthy is a genius, but how is it that he found the time to become a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowship-winning novelist and, on the side, a student of theoretical physics and math? His secret involves more than staying off Twitter. As McCarthy tells Oprah Winfrey in the video at the top of the post, excerpted from his first television interview ever in 2007, he has made his work the central focus of his life, to the exclusion of everything else, including money and public adulation from fans and admirers. For example, he answers a question about why he turned down lucrative speaking engagements with, “I was busy. I had other things to do.”

It’s not that I don’t like things, I mean some things are very nice, but they certainly take a distant second place to being able to live your life and being able to do what you want to do. I always knew that I didn’t want to work.

How did he pull off not working? “You have to be dedicated… I thought, ‘you’re just here once, life is brief and to have to spend every day of it doing what somebody else wants you to do is not the way to live it.’” McCarthy doesn’t “have any advice for anybody” about how to avoid the daily grind, except, he says, “if you’re really dedicated, you can probably do it.” As Oprah puts it, “you have worked at not working?” To which he replies, “absolutely, it’s the number one priority.”

Lest we immediately dismiss McCarthy’s philosophy as cluelessness or privilege, we should bear in mind that he willingly endured extreme and “truly, truly bleak” poverty to keep working at not working—or working, rather, on the work he wanted to do. There’s a bit more to becoming a multiple award-winning novelist and MacArthur “Genius” than simply avoiding the 9-to-5. But McCarthy suggests that unless artists make their own work their first priority, and material comfort and economic security a “distant second,” they may never truly find out what they’re capable of.

Related Content:

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Werner Herzog and Cormac McCarthy Talk Science and Culture

Werner Herzog Reads From Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Petite Planète: Discover Chris Marker’s Influential 1950s Travel Photobook Series

“In another time I guess I would have been content with filming girls and cats,” said Chris Marker. “But you don’t choose your time.” Though the inimitable filmmaker, writer, and media artist couldn’t choose his time, he did enjoy a decently sized slice of it, passing away in 2012 on his 91st birthday. His six-decade career’s best-known achievements include the innovative science-fiction short La Jetée and the semi-fictional travelogue essay-film masterpiece Sans Soleil, but Marker’s vast body of work, most all of it deeply concerned with the combination of words and images, covers a much wider territory — aesthetic territory, of course, but given Marker’s peripatetic tendencies, also physical territory, scattered all across the globe.

Perhaps that sensibility landed Marker, 33 years old and with his most famous work ahead of him, a job as an editor at Paris’ Editions de Seuil, where he conceived and designed a series of travel guides called Petite Planète. He considered each volume “not a guidebook, not a history book, not a propaganda brochure, not a traveller’s impressions, but instead equivalent to the conversation we would like to have with someone intelligent and well versed in the country that interests us.” Launched “nearly a decade after World War II,” writes Isabel Stevens at Aperture,” the first time when “foreign locales seemed tantalizingly within reach, Éditions du Seuil introduced the books rather charmingly as ‘the world for everyone.'”

“Apart from the ambition to provide something different from run-of-the-mill guidebooks, histories, or travelers’ tales,” writes Catherine Lupton in Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, “the most innovative aspect of the Petite Planète guides was their lavish use of illustrations, which were displayed not merely as support to the text but in dynamic layouts that established an unprecedented visual and cognitive relay between text and images.” Though Marker contributed some of his own photographs (as did his French New Wave colleague Agnès Varda), his chief creative contribution came in blending these and a variety of “engravings, miniatures, popular graphic illustrations, picture postcards, maps, cartoons, postage stamps, posters, and advertisements” into “a heady and heterogenous mix of high cultural and mass-market scenes,” all arranged with the words in “a manner that engages knowingly and playfully with the parameters of the book.”

True Marker exegetes will find plenty of connections between Petite Planète and the rest of his oeuvreThough no cats ever made the covers, plenty of girls did — or rather, plenty of women did, since a local female face fronted every title he oversaw. One of those faces, gazing statue-like from one volume on Japan, will look awfully familiar to anyone who’s seen Le mystère Koumiko, Marker’s documentary on a young lady he met in the street while in Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics. And in Toute la mémoire du monde, Alain Resnais’ short on France’s Bibliothèque Nationale made in collaboration with a certain “Chris and Magic Marker,” we witness the cataloging and shelving of Petite Planète never written — and one that actually departs from the planet at that.

Around the same time, Marker published Coréennes, a highly Markeresque visual travelogue of war-torn North Korea. I recently wrote about its Korean edition for the Los Angeles Review of Books, though the long-out-of-print English version remains hard to come by. The same goes for the Marker-designed Petite Planète books, translations of which London’s Vista Books put out in the 1950s and 60s, and about which Adam Davis at Division Leap has begun a series of posts with a look at Germany. You can examine more of the originals at Let’s Get LostIndex GrafixSÜRKRÜT, and this slide show from The Ressiabator. Our hyperconnected era, at a distance of sixty years, places us well to understand the meaning of Marker’s statement on his travel-guide project: “We see the world escape us at the same time as we become more aware of our links with it.”

Related Content:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Kurt Vonnegut Gives a Sermon on the Foolishness of Nuclear Arms: It’s Timely Again (Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1982)

Image by Daniele Prati, via Flickr Commons

Many writers recoil at the notion of discussing where they get their ideas, but Kurt Vonnegut spoke on the subject willingly. “I get my ideas from dreams,” he announced early in one speech, adding, “the wildest dream I have had so far is about The New Yorker magazine.” In this dream, “the magazine has published a three-part essay by Jonathan Schell which proves that life on Earth is about to end. I am supposed to go to the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, where all the people are waiting, and say something wonderful — right before a hydrogen bomb is dropped on the Empire State Building.”

It stands to reason that a such a vivid, frightening, and somehow funny scenario would unfold in the unconscious mind of a man who wrote such vivid, frightening, and somehow funny novels. (Vonnegut’s own interpretation? “I consider myself an important writer, and I think The New Yorker should be ashamed that it has never published me.”) As it happens, he did deliver these words in a cathedral, namely New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the spring of 1982.

This was just months after Schell’s three-part essay “The Fate of the Earth” (all three parts of it still available online) really ran in The New Yorker, and Cold War fears about the probability of a hydrogen bomb really dropping on America ran high. Vonnegut’s speech was one of a series of Sunday sermons the Cathedral had lined up on the subject of nuclear disarmament, assembling the rest of the roster from military, scientific, and activist fields. The author of Cat’s CradleSlaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Championsfresh off a trip to the Galapagos Islands with the St. John the Divine’s Bishop Paul Moore—presumably represented the realm of letters.

“At the time, NYPR Archives Director Andy Lanset covered the Vonnegut sermon as a volunteer for the WNYC News Department,” wrote WNYC’s William Rodney Allen in 2014 on the rediscovery and posting of Lanset’s recording. (The same public radio station, incidentally, would fifteen or so years later commission Vonnegut for a series of reports from the afterlife.) Now we can not only read but also hear Vonnegut, in his own voice, trying to imagine aloud a series of “fates worse than death.” Why? Not simply to indulge his famous sense of gallows humor, but in order to put the nuclear threat, and the anxieties it generated, into the proper context.

“I am sure you are sick and tired of hearing how all living things sizzle and pop inside a radioactive fireball,” Vonnegut says, going on to assure his audience that “scientists, for all their creativity, will never discover a method for making people deader than dead. So if some of you are worried about being hydrogen-bombed, you are merely fearing death. There is nothing new in that. If there weren’t any hydrogen bombs, death would still be after you.”

In any event, despite having shuffled through several candidates (“Life without petroleum?”), Vonnegut can come up with no fate believably worse than death besides crucifixion. But given that non-crucified human beings nearly always and everywhere prefer life to death, perhaps “we might pray to be rescued from our inventiveness” which gave us the ability to destroy all life on Earth. But “the inventiveness which we so regret now may also be giving us, along with the rockets and warheads, the means to achieve what has hitherto been an impossibility, the unity of mankind.”

Vonnegut sees this promise mainly in television, whose terribly realistic sounds and images ensure that “the people of every industrialized nation are nauseated by war by the time they are ten years old.” A veteran of the Second World War, he himself remembers a very different time, back when “it used to be necessary for a young soldier to get into fighting before he became disillusioned about war,” back when “it was unusual for an American, or a person of any nationality, for that matter, to know much about foreigners.”

Even before the 1980s, “thanks to modern communications, we have seen sights and heard sounds from virtually every square mile of the land mass on this planet,” and so “know for certain that there are no potential human enemies anywhere who are anything but human beings almost exactly like ourselves. They need food. How amazing. They love their children. How amazing. They obey their leaders. How amazing. They think like their neighbors. How amazing.”

Modern communications have, of course, come astonishingly far in the 35 years since Vonnegut’s Sunday sermon, but our fears about nuclear annihilation have had a way of resurfacing. In recent months, the American people have even heard talk of a reinvigorated nuclear arms race from their new president, a man whose rise detractors partly blame on modern communication technology — not a lack of it, but an excess.

“The global village that was once the internet has been replaced by digital islands of isolation that are drifting further apart each day,” writes Mostafa M. El-Bermawy in a Wired piece on the threat social-media “filter bubbles” pose to democracy. “We need to remind ourselves that there are humans on the other side of the screen who want to be heard and can think and feel like us while at the same time reaching different conclusions.” Recent developments would probably disappoint Vonnegut (not that they would surprise him), but he’d surely get a kick, as he always did, out of the irony of it all.

Related Content:

Kurt Vonnegut: Where Do I Get My Ideas From? My Disgust with Civilization

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Hear Kurt Vonnegut Visit the Afterlife & Interview Dead Historical Figures: Isaac Newton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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