Recommendations: The Patriotic Edition

Some things to listen to, watch, and read to celebrate Independence Day.

July 2, 2014

In honor of the holiday approaching, I thought I’d make some recommendations for listening, watching, and reading. I have plenty of beach read suggestions, but first - here are three for the fourth.

The Internet's Own BoyLast night I watched the recently-released documentary about Aaron Swartz, the brilliant and prickly young man who played a role as a kid in developing Creative Commons, RSS, and Reddit. He spent some time at Stanford, but making money wasn’t interesting to him; he wanted to fix the world. Among his political acts were helping liberate case law from the clunky PACER system, defeating a law that had virtually no opposition in Congress until activists made it clear that it was unacceptably bad for the Internet, and downloading a massive number of JSTOR articles, an act that got him arrested. After the federal prosecutor made it clear that he would be made into an example, Swartz killed himself. The film, The Internet’s Own Boy, is fascinating, moving, upsetting, and ultimately inspiring. It raises questions about the power of the state and the potential for resistance. You can stream it via a variety of services or watch the Creative Commons version at the Internet Archive. It’s well worth watching.

On the Media. Today, the weather was unusually fine so I took a long walk and listened to my favorite radio program, On the Media. You could use this show as a textbook for a course on critical thinking and public affairs. Every week it tackles fascinating issues in the news and analyzes how the news itself is shaped and how we sometimes don’t get the whole story. This week’s show covered the suppression of the press in Egypt (where three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced after a bogus show trial), what’s wrong with the way we are interpreting the conflict in Iraq and Syria as intractable sectarian differences (interviewing a historian who knows a lot more about the region than the usual talking heads on TV), how Pew’s recent report about polarization in American politics is being misinterpreted (the parties are more separate than ever, but most Americans are far more moderate than party posturing suggests), whether student debt is really worse than ever and whether we’re paying attention to the wrong students (a working class student who racks up $17,000 in debt before dropping out is in bigger trouble than the Ivy League grad with $50,000 in debt), and more. This is smart journalism. You can listen to it on your local public radio station or download podcasts, which I do to make sure I don’t miss any episodes.  

No Place to Hide. I’ve just started No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, Glenn Greenwald’s account of his encounter with the former intelligence contractor who grew concerned about the scope of government surveillance and thought the American people deserved to decide if we are in favor of it. I’m just about 50 pages in, but it’s gripping stuff, well told, and much scarier than any thriller I’ve read recently. Though I’ve been following the story ever since it broke, it’s great to have it in a single, tight narrative. My only minor complaint is that the references and index are not in the book, but on the author’s website. Did he run up against a deadline? I hope future printings and editions include this material.

If you get to a point where you’ve had enough of fireworks, hotdogs, and the Bill of Rights and need a little escapism, here is some cool crime fiction.

  • M.J. McGrath  has a new book out in her Edie Kiglatuk series set in the high arctic. The first, White Heat, has some of the coldest weather you can imagine, as well as a fascinating view of an Inuit community that was forcibly relocated from their traditional home alongside Hudson Bay to a part of Canada that was uninhabited for a reason. The third in the series, The Bone Seeker, is out this month, and it’s very good. The author has also written a non-fiction account of the Inuit community's relocation, The Long Exile.
  • For some reason, I never got around to reading Alan Glynn’s trilogy, Winterland, Bloodland, and Graveland when they were first published, even though I kept hearing good things. I recently picked up the copy of Graveland that I’d bought last spring. (Why are the books we buy always the last ones we read?) I wasn’t sure I’d care for it at first – rich Wall Street fellas getting murdered? I prefer stories in which I have sympathy for the victims. But it swept me up and became quite compelling. Now I need to go back and read the other novels by this talented Irish writer.
  • Norwegian author Anne Holt has written some cracking mysteries. I particularly favor her Vik and Stubo series, including Death in Oslo and Fear Not, but for sheer icy temperatures, I recommend a book that came out a few years ago,1222. ​It's an homage to Agatha Christie-style isolated manor house mysteries, only in this case the location is a (real) hundred-year-old hotel in a mountain pass between Oslo and Bergen. In the story, an irritable disabled ex-detective is stranded with other passengers when their train derails, a blizzard bears down, and then (of course) there’s a murder. While playing with a familiar formula, the author does an interesting job of probing Norwegian attitudes toward immigrants and takes a poke at American foreign policy as well. 

Happy independence day. Let's keep our republic, shall we? 

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