Strange MapsOCT 29 2009

Strange Maps

The Strange Maps book is out today. The book is based on the awesome Strange Maps blog, one the very few sites I have to exercise restraint in not linking to every single item posted there. The content of the book is adapted from the site, so of course it's top shelf.

My only reservation in recommending the book is the design. When I cracked it open, I was expecting full-bleed reproductions of the maps, large enough to really get a detailed look at them. The maps *are* the book, after all. But that's not the case...only a few of the maps get an entire non-full-bleed page and some of the maps are stuck in the corner of a page of text, like small afterthoughts. The rest of the design is not much better, cheesy at best and distracting at worst. I wasn't expecting Taschen-grade production values, but something more appropriate to the subject matter would have been nice.

The 50th LawJUN 23 2009

The 50th Law

Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power, which has been influential in both halls of business and hip-hop circles, has written a new book with rapper 50 Cent called The 50th Law. Greene was initially skeptical of 50 Cent as a co-author but was impressed by their initial meeting.

He was in the midst of a power struggle with a rival rapper and he talked quite openly about the strategies he was employing, including mistakes he had made along the way. He analyzed his own actions with detachment, as if he were talking about another person. Over the last few years he had witnessed a lot of nasty maneuvering within the music business, and he seemed to want to discuss this with somebody from the outside. He was not interested in myths but reality. Contrary to his public persona, he had a Zen-like calmness that impressed me.

The main theme of the book is about fear and "the reverse power that you can obtain by overcoming [it]".

We found stories from his own life that would illustrate these ideas, many of them culled from his days as a hustler and even highlighting mistakes along the way that taught him valuable lessons. Later, from my own research, I would bring in examples from other historical figures who exemplified this trait. Many of them would be African Americans--Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Hurricane Carter, et al--whose fearless quality was forged by their harsh struggles against racism. Others would come from all periods and cultures--the Stoics, Joan of Arc, JFK, Leonardo da Vinci, Mao tse-tung, and so on.

The Evolution of GodMAY 11 2009

The Evolution of God

Robert Wright has a new book out soon called The Evolution of God. Andrew Sullivan has a review.

From primitive animists to the legends of the first gods, battling like irrational cloud-inhabiting humans over the cosmos, Wright tells the story of how war and trade, technology and human interaction slowly exposed humans to the gods of others. How this awareness led to the Jewish innovation of a hidden and universal God, how the cosmopolitan early Christians, in order to market their doctrines more successfully, universalised and sanitised this Jewish God in turn, and how Islam equally included a civilising universalism despite its doctrinal rigidity and founding violence.

Last month's issue of The Atlantic contained an excerpt.

For all the advances and wonders of our global era, Christians, Jews, and Muslims seem ever more locked in mortal combat. But history suggests a happier outcome for the Peoples of the Book. As technological evolution has brought communities, nations, and faiths into closer contact, it is the prophets of tolerance and love that have prospered, along with the religions they represent. Is globalization, in fact, God's will?

I loved two of Wright's previous books, The Moral Animal and especially Nonzero. (via marginal revolution)

The Final Four of EverythingAPR 28 2009

The Final Four of Everything

In a post on his great blog, The Year in Pictures, James Danziger discusses some of the photography featured in a forthcoming book, The Final Four of Everything, including Danziger's own selections for Iconic American Photographs. The Final Four of Everything seems to be a sequel of sorts to The Enlightened Bracketologist by the same authors...or perhaps just the same book with a much better title.

Create Your Own EconomyAPR 22 2009

Create Your Own Economy

I don't think he's talked about it on his site yet, but Tyler Cowen has a new book coming out called Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World.

As economist Tyler Cowen boldly shows in Create Your Own Economy, the way we think now is changing more rapidly than it has in a very long time. Not since the Industrial Revolution has a man-made creation -- in this case, the World Wide Web -- so greatly influenced the way our minds work and our human potential. Cowen argues brilliantly that we are breaking down cultural information into ever-smaller tidbits, ordering and reordering them in our minds (and our computers) to meet our own specific needs.

Create Your Own Economy explains why the coming world of Web 3.0 is good for us; why social networking sites such as Facebook are so necessary; what's so great about "Tweeting" and texting; how education will get better; and why politics, literature, and philosophy will become richer. This is a revolutionary guide to life in the new world.

I never properly reviewed Cowen's last book (sorry!), but I found it as enlightening and entertaining as Marginal Revolution is. (via david archer)

Green Eggs and HamFEB 20 2009

Green Eggs and Ham

After writing The Cat in the Hat in 1955 using only 223 words, Dr. Seuss bet his publisher that he could write a book using only 50 words. Seuss collected on the wager in 1960 with the publication of Green Eggs and Ham. Here are the 50 distinct words used in the book:

a am and anywhere are be boat box car could dark do eat eggs fox goat good green ham here house I if in let like may me mouse not on or rain Sam say see so thank that the them there they train tree try will with would you

From a programming perspective, one of the fun things about Green Eggs and Ham is because the text contains so little information repeated in a cumulative tale, the story could be more efficiently represented as an algorithm. A simple loop would take the place of the following excerpt:

I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam I am.

But I don't know...foreach (\$items as \$value) doesn't quite have the same sense of poetry as the original Seuss.

Art and FearFEB 17 2009

Art and Fear

On the long list of books I would read if I had the time for such a thing, reading, is Art & Fear. Ted Orland, one of the authors and a working artist himself, describes the book thusly:

This is a book about the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn't get made, and about the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way.

Kevin Kelly called the book "astoundingly brilliant" and pulled this excellent excerpt from it.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot -- albeit a perfect one -- to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes -- the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Special heads-up to Merlin Mann: the first book in the Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought list for Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit that you've been going on and on about is, bum bum bum, Art & Fear. You should maybe 1-click that sucker right into your book-hole. (via modcult)

Black Like MeFEB 16 2009

Black Like Me

In 1959, John Howard Griffin altered his appearance to look like a black man and travelled through the South documenting his experiences, which he collected into a 1961 book called Black Like Me.

"[Whites] judged me by no other quality. My skin was dark. That was sufficient reason for them to deny me those rights and freedoms without which life loses its significance and becomes a matter of little more than animal survival." He became depressed, and his face lapsed into "the strained, disconsolate expression that is written on the countenance of so many Southern Negroes." He "decided to try to pass back into white society" and scrubbed off the stain; immediately "I was once more a first-class citizen." The knowledge gave him little joy.

Contemporary reviewer Jonathan Yardley says that the book has "lost surprisingly little of its power" since its publication. (via 3qd)

2666NOV 07 2008

2666

2666 is a novel written by Roberto Bolaño and published posthumously in Spanish in 2004. The English translation hits stores next Tuesday and the reviews couldn't be better, especially considering the book's 912 pages. From Jonathan Lethem's review in the NY Times Book Review, reprinted in the IHT:

"2666" is the permanently mysterious title of a Bolaño manuscript rescued from his desk after his passing, the primary effort of the last five years of his life. The book was published in Spanish in 2004 to tremendous acclaim, after what appears to have been a bit of dithering over Bolaño final intentions -- a small result of which is that its English translation has been bracketed by two faintly defensive statements justifying the book's present form. They needn't have bothered. "2666" is as consummate a performance as any 900-page novel dare hope to be: Bolaño won the race to the finish line in writing what he plainly intended as a master statement. Indeed, he produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what's possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world. "The Savage Detectives" looks positively hermetic beside it.

Lethem also compares a part of 2666 to Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which means, like, hey sign me up. (thx, matt)

Update: The Times has posted the original review by Lethem...looks like the IHT version was slightly abridged. Here's a missing comparison to Wallace's Infinite Jest:

By bringing scents of a Latin American culture more fitful, pop-savvy and suspicious of earthy machismo than that which it succeeds, Bolaño has been taken as a kind of reset button on our deplorably sporadic appetite for international writing, standing in relation to the generation of Garcia Márquez, Vargas Llosa and Fuentes as, say, David Foster Wallace does to Mailer, Updike and Roth. As with Wallace's "Infinite Jest," in "The Savage Detectives" Bolaño delivered a genuine epic inoculated against grandiosity by humane irony, vernacular wit and a hint of punk-rock self-effacement. Any suspicion that literary culture had rushed to sentimentalize an exotic figure of quasi martyrdom was overwhelmed by the intimacy and humor of a voice that earned its breadth line by line, defying traditional fictional form with a torrential insouciance.

Indie PublishingOCT 20 2008

Indie Publishing

Someday I'm going to make my own book, from start to finish. It's something that I've wanted to do for awhile, a physical parallel to building a web site from scratch. When I do, Ellen Lupton's Indie Publishing will be my guide. At 170-some pages it's not exhaustive, but the book does briefly touch all the bases: typography, cover design, binding types, and examples of several different types of books. There's also a section on handmade books with hands-on directions for making your own book -- folded books, stitched pamphlets, or stab bound -- without having to visit the printer.

More books

Here is New York by E.B. White
Old Masters and Young Geniuses by David Galenson
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman
Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden
The Warhol Economy by Elizabeth Currid
Arsenals of Folly by Richard Rhodes
The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross
Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists by Casey Reas and Ben Fry
The Best American Essays 2007 by David Foster Wallace
How to Read the Bible by James Kugel
The Case Against Adolescence by Robert Epstein
The Most Beautiful House in the World by Witold Rybczynski
Hand Job by Michael Perry
Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages by Alex Wright
True Films by Kevin Kelly
The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders
My Boring Ass Life by Kevin Smith
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
Pieces for the Left Hand by J. Robert Lennon
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte
Play Money by Julian Dibbell
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Turning the Tables by Steven Shaw
Emergence by Steven Johnson
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson
Electric Universe by David Bodanis
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
McSweeney's #13 by Chris Ware, et. al.
Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs
Genius by James Gleick
Interface Culture by Steven Johnson
Everything and More by David Foster Wallace
The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
Chip Kidd by Veronique Vienne
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Best American Science Writing 2003 by Oliver Sacks, et. al.
Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Nonzero by Robert Wright
House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis
A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel De Landa
The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett
The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten
It Must've Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

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