How to balance the contagiousness of raw enthusiasm with the humility of knowing we’re all in this together.
“Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.” In the mid-1950s, literary iconoclast and beat icon Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922–October 21, 1969) became intensely interested in Buddhism, which began permeating his writing.
A cautionary tale of what happens when religious dogmatism attempts to subvert science. Human sexuality has a long history of intellectual fascination, from the first ejaculation on Earth to Malcolm Cowley’s parodic vintage prediction for sex in the techno-future to Susan Sontag’s poignant meditation on the gap between love and sex.
“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.” The commencement address is a special kind of modern communication art, and its greatest masterpieces tend to either become a book — take, for instance, David Foster Wallace on the meaning of life, Neil Gaiman on the resilience of the creative spirit, Ann Patchett on storytelling and belonging, and Joseph Brodsky on winning the game of life — or have originated from a book, such as Debbie Millman on courage and the creative life.
The humility of understanding how Earth’s most monumental creations crumble to the bottom of the sea.
A prescient admonition from the pioneer of Eastern philosophy in the West. “If the remission of pain is happiness, then the emergence from distraction is aesthetic bliss,” Saul Bellow wrote in his poignant 1990 essay “The Distracted Public.” Nearly a century earlier, in his funny and wise reflection on feeding the mind, Lewis Carroll admonished that “mental gluttony, or over-reading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite.” And yet, cut off from both our bodies and our brains, we constantly oscillate between distraction and mental gluttony, seething in a cauldron of our own making, unwilling or unable to still our minds long enough for the truly meaningful to settle and coalesce.
The lost art of learning to stand “where we would rather not and expand in ways we never knew we could.” “You gotta be willing to fail… if you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far,” Steve Jobs cautioned.
How artist Steve Powers made sign painting the voice of the community and the shared narrative of urban life.
“Man is first animated by invisible solicitations.” In December of 1940, a little more than two years before he created The Little Prince on American soil and four years before he disappeared over North Africa never to return, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry began writing Letter to a Hostage (public library) while waiting in Portugal for admission into the United States, having just escaped his war-torn French homeland — a poignant meditation on the atrocities the World War was inflicting at the scale of the human soul, exploring questions of identity, belonging, empathy, and the life of the spirit amidst death.
“The world is a dynamic mess of jiggling things, if you look at it right.” When you see an ordinary rubber band stretched around and holding together a stack of stuff over a long period of time, you’re actually witnessing a miraculous force of physics at work — a perpetual pounding of the atoms as they struggle to hold these chains together against the outward push of the stack, vibrating with extraordinary vigor just to accomplish this seemingly mundane task.
From Homer to home health, by way of Shakespeare, conceptual physics, and a gender-imbalance lament. On the heels of Brian Eno’s reading list comes another installment in the Long Now Foundation’s effort to assemble 3,500 books most essential for sustaining or rebuilding humanity, as part of their collaboratively curated library for long-term thinking, the Manual for Civilization.
“Every day I tell myself that reading newspapers is a waste of time, but then … I cannot do without them.
How an American who married into the most powerful family in Europe became a model of empowered womanhood in the nineteenth century.
A prophetic vision for mobile, time-shifted, tele-commuted, on-demand education. In 1962, Buckminster Fuller delivered a prophetic lecture at Southern Illinois University on the future of education aimed at “solving [educational] problems by design competence instead of by political reform.” It was eventually published as Education Automation: Comprehensive Learning for Emergent Humanity (public library) — a prescient vision for online education decades before the web as we know it, and half a century before the golden age of MOOCs, with elements of TED and Pandora mixed in.
Why the same amount of time can seem to fly or slow to a crawl depending on the context. In 2013, a mind-bending read on the psychology of why time slows down when we’re afraid, speeds up as we age, and gets warped when we’re on vacation became one of the year’s most popular articles.
“The writer cannot make the seas of distraction stand still, but he [or she] can at times come between the madly distracted and the distractions.” In 1990, fourteen years after he received the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize, and two years after being awarded the National Medal of Arts, Saul Bellow delivered a lecture at Oxford University titled “The Distracted Public.” Eventually included in It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future (public library), Bellow’s talk laments the “moronic inferno” — a phrase he borrowed from Wyndham Lewis — produced by the “contemporary crisis” of distraction, “the apocalypse of our times,” calling on artists and writers to raise their voices in countering that “massive and worldwide” “hostile condition” of humanity.
“What is this spirit in man that urges him forever to depart from happiness, to toil and to place himself in danger?
A vibrant dance across the global spectrum of the popular imagination. “Legendary lands … have only one characteristic in common: whether they depend on ancient legends whose origins are lost in the mists of time or whether they are an effect of a modern invention, they have created flows of belief,” Umberto Eco wrote in his illustrated meditation on imaginary places.
Deconstructing a magnificent mind through his reading diet for intellectual survival. There is something inescapably alluring about the reading lists of cultural icons, perhaps because in recognizing that creativity is combinatorial and fueled by networked knowledge, we intuitively long to emulate the greatness of an admired mind by replicating the bits and pieces, in this case the ideas found in beloved books, that went into constructing it.
Mastering the balance of restriction and imaginative play, or why unbridling your self-worth from your professional success is essential for happiness.