- The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow, by Gabriel Banat. This is probably the most authoritative biography of Joseph Bologne, the Franco-Guadeloupean composer, violinist and swordsman. Born of an enslaved mother and plantation-owning father on the island of Guadeloupe, Bologne’s fencing skills earned him both a place in the royal guard of King Louis XV and the royal designation Chevalier, but he made his mark on history as a composer. Banat was a professional violinist not a historian, but this is a well-researched book. There is not much in the historical record about Bologne’s life (he did not have extensive correspondences like Mozart did), and Banat relies a little too much on speculation and colorful historical episodes in late 18th century French history to fill out the narrative. But it is a very meticulously researched book and if anything it makes Bologne into an even more interesting historical figure than I had thought. His music is also very good.
- The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. One of the most harrowing fictional narratives of the historical American experience I’ve read. It relies on the machinery of literary fantasy and alternate history to amplify (only slightly) the lived experience of enslaved people in the United States.
- Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street, by Sheelah Kolhatkar. A page-turning blow-by-blow account of the investigation and prosecution of Steven A. Cohen, the head of the hedge fund SAC Capital. Preet Bharara, erstwhile federal prosecutor for the southern district of New York, features prominently.
- Inside Psycho. A six-episode series on the history of the movie, Psycho. I heard about this podcast from the host of another podcast, Crimetown. It’s a bit uneven and in need of an editor but the against-all-odds story it tells of Hitchcock’s struggles to make this movie made me want to pick up a book-length biography of the director.
- Startup Podcast two-episode series on Friendster (part 1 and part 2). Have you ever asked yourself “Whatever happened to Friendster?” Here’s your answer.
- Joe Rogan interviews Dan Flores. I had never heard of historian Dan Flores before this interview, but now I have his books on hold at the library. Flores discusses his interest in the environment and ecology of the western United States, urban fauna, especially the foxes of Los Angeles, and the American Prarie Reserve.
- Song Exploder episode on “Slip Away” by Perfume Genius. I’ve never heard of the bands, let along the songs, that Song Exploder profiles, and I can’t say I love them all (and I don’t love this one), but the stories of how they were made are usually fascinating.
- And the Writers Is, with Benny Blanco. This is the first episode of a relatively new podcast interviewing popular songwriters. Benny Blanco is about as big a name in song writing as there is, and this interview gives an interesting glimpse into what it takes to break into this industry and how popular music is made today.
- Exponential View with Scott Santens on UBI. I’m not familiar with Santens’s work, but this interview does a good job making the case that universal basic income is not only the morally right thing to do but that it makes economic sense.
- Track Changes, Sic Transit Gloria—Talking About Tech and Transportation. A good discussion on Uber, the ride sharing ecosystem, and the role that MTA Bustime and other public APIs are playing in improving transportation and knitting people together.
- The making of a prison town, by Sarah Tory at High Country News, by Sarah Tory at High Country News. A fascinating and sad report about the relationship between private prisons and down-at-heel municipalities, told through the story of a formerly detained Ghanaian asylum-seeker. Here’s a quote: “When the men asked for better food and more respect from the GEO guards, ICE officials were unreceptive. ‘You guys are refugees,’ they were told, according to Khan, ‘you can’t ask for things.'”
- Climate change is shrinking the West’s water supply, Emily Benson also at High Country News. TL;DR climate change is causing a swift and worrisome drop in water levels in the American west.
- Remembering Cordwainer Smith, by Ted Gioia at The Atlantic. A good overview of Paul Linebarger, aka Cordwainer Smith, one of the stranger science fiction writers in the genre. After describing some of Smith’s representative stories Gioia concludes, “In short, people who don’t like science fiction will really hate these stories.” I for one love them, but haven’t read much. I need to fix that.
- The Return of Magical Thinking, by John Foster on Souciant. A thoughtful take on the post-truth, fake news issue, with reference to the historical role of religion.
- Silicon Valley: A Reality Check, from Slatestar Codex. A contrarian view of Silicon Valley as more than just out-of-touch billionaires funding cupcake app startups. Here’s a quote: “If you’re an average well-off person, leading your average well-off life, consuming average well-off media and seeing ads targeted at the average well-off demographic, and going over to your average well-off friends’ houses and seeing their average well-off products, which are you more likely to hear about? A structured-light optical engine for cytological research? Or a juicer?” See also: Silicon Valley Rebrands Itself as Good for the Rest of America, from Nitasha Tiku at Wired.
- Urban Evolution: How Species Adapt, or Don’t, to City Living, A Conversation With Jonathan B. Losos at Edge.org. An interesting discussion of insular biogeography as it manifests in urban environments.
- The Economics of the Stans, by Timothy Taylor at the Conversable Economist blog. An interesting survey of the economies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. (Fun fact: “Other than Uzbekistan, only one other country is double-landlocked. It’s Liechtenstein, sitting between Switzerland and Austria.”)
- Satellites find “hidden forests” helping fight against global warming, from Reuters. “Vast tracts of land previously considered barren are actually covered by forests “hiding in plain sight”, scientists said on Friday, a discovery that could help the fight against climate change and desertification.” Good news.
- Has French politics changed for good?, By Claudia Chwalisz at CAPX. “Macron did not simply rely on those who voted for François Hollande or Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012: he really did build a new coalition.” Very hopeful, but, as I keep hearing from every news source much depends on the legislative elections on June 11 and June 18.
- Africa is urbanising without globalising, By Daniel Knowles also at CAPX. Quote: “The problem with African cities is that they are generally built for the rich elite.” Here’s the study it pulls from.