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Biographies Of Failures

Henry Oliver | Common Reader | 15th March 2021

Persuasive argument that we should publish more biographies about failures, rather than allowing successes to dominate the record. For example, a Belgian lawyer called Paul Otlet spent decades compiling what he termed a "Universal Bibliography" that would allow everyone to "become his own editor" and answer any question. He failed, but his efforts deserve to be better known (1,349 words)


Cherokee Numerals

Stephen Chrisomalis | MIT Press Reader | 18th March 2021

Interesting throughout. The Native American polymath Sequoyah invented a script for the Cherokee language which gained acceptance in the early 19th century and is used to this day. But Sequoyah's next project, a Cherokee numerical system, was a flop. There is no surviving evidence that anybody ever used it, probably because the economic costs of shunning Arabic numerals were too great (3,500 words)


John Muir In Native America

Rebecca Solnit | Sierra | 2nd March 2021

Reappraisal of Scottish mountaineer and botanist John Muir. He was an early advocate for preserving North America's "untouched" wilderness post Civil War, with little regard for the dispossessed Native American people who had lived there. "Asking whether these long-gone figures could have known better is asking whether the past itself could have been better," Solnit writes (4,319 words)


Thoughts On 2050 And Beyond

Martin Rees | American Philosophical Society | 1st December 2019 | PDF

A tour of the distant horizon, full of interesting and challenging points. "Unlike our remote forebears, we expect the lives and priorities of new generations to be unpredictably different from ours. That’s why we, and our governments, react with torpor to the compelling concerns about the future: we retreat into inaction because we’re not confident enough of any scenario to commit to it" (4,500 words)


Fantasy And The Buffered Self

Alan Jacobs | New Atlantis | 1st December 2014

Sagas and fantasies pander to our atavistic desires and also to our modern fears. "Fantasy is an instrument by which the late modern self strives to avail itself of the unpredictable excitements of the porous self while retaining its protective buffers. Fantasy, in its most recent forms, may be understood as a technologically enabled, and therefore safe, simulacrum of the pre-modern porous self" (6,690 words)


Audio: The Rich And The Very Very Rich | Guardian Long Read. Samanth Subramanian tells what happened when a billionaire from China bought a posh British golf club, ratcheted up the fees, and tried to squeeze out the locals (39m 35s)

Video: The Antikythera Cosmos | Tony Freeth. Spellbinding attempt to explain and reverse-engineer the most intriguing object in human history (29m 57s)

Wonder Of The Week: Of the 10,027 books published in 1930, only 174 were still in print in 2001

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