Think Different: Read the Arts & Letters Daily

To me, this is one of the most dangerous web sites around. It threatens to swallow me whole regularly, when I go back to its text-only succession of short paragraphs, set into three columns.

Doesn’t sound terribly exciting, when you describe it that way, right? Yet those tiny paragraphs are terrific teasers, wonderful windows into vast vistas of thinking.

Since 1998, the Arts & Letters Daily, founded by New Zealand philosopher and polymath Denis Dutton (who sadly passed away last December, at only 66 years old), has been churning out hundreds and hundreds of these smart and witty introductions to some truly awesome online content. Reviews of remarkable new books, essays about politics, humor, technology, social mores, reports on the arts, philosophy, fashion, food, culture, religion, economics – you name it, Arts & Letters Daily’s got it.

And it presents its material really well. Take this one teaser:

Apple sells more than sleekly designed toys; it sells a way of life. Call it Appleism. Google calls it a competitive threat… more»

Or this rather provocative one:

Natural is not always good. Nature is in fact cruel, brutal, and odious; and living naturally is an ugly, amoral, and awful business… more»

And also this:

Among other faults, Mao lacked a sense of humor. Sarcasm, parody, and mockery were snuffed out of communist China. Irony, however, is now making a comeback… more»

This morning, a great interview between British historian Eric Hobsbawm and young Labour MP Tristram Hunt quickly caught my attention. As did an article on Frank Sinatra, another one about Claude Lévi-Strauss and, looking back, one I’d missed about the shades of blue in the Hope Diamond.

I’ve always been a generalist, curious about everything, always willing to entertain a new point of view on social, political, cultural issues and more. And that’s why Arts & Letters Daily is so dangerous for me – in a very stimulating, but potentially schedule-smashing way. There’s always more great stuff to read than I have time for.

And that’s the way it should always be, to keep us on our toes, looking at all the great thinking going on out there, making us aware of just how rich and nuanced, provocative and lively human science, art and imagination can be.

My New Year’s resolution was to go back more regularly to A&L Daily, and I must say that I have managed to, without screwing up my deadlines too much more than usual.

And I’m enjoying it enough to tell you to go ahead and live dangerously: read the Arts & Letters Daily… well, daily.

By the way, they’re also on Twitter, if you need them to call to your attention in a social-media kind of way.

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