Brain Pickings

Introducing Book Pickings: A Visual Bookshelf

By:

A bookshelf of discovery for the visual bibliophile.

One of the web’s greatest obstacles to discovery is the linear chronology of most publishing platforms — great for news, where going from the latest to the oldest makes sense, but not so great for rich archives of evergreen content where the date stamp has no correlation with the item’s interestingness, meaningfulness, or relevance.

As a hopeless book-lover, I’ve spent the past few years sharing my reading list with you, but I’ve grown increasingly frustrated by that same linear, chronological, non-visual structure of the book archive. So I’m thrilled to introduce Book Pickings, a small but, I hope, lovely and highly usable upgrade — a perpetual bookshelf* that invites you to explore the extensive Brain Pickings book archive in a visual way.

Clicking each book on the shelf will reveal a little bit more about it. There, the “Take a closer look” link will take you to the original Brain Pickings article about the respective book for further context, additional images, quotes, and more.

To the left of each expanded book, you’ll see a list of tags. Clicking any of them will take you to a shelf of all books on that subject.

You can follow Book Pickings directly on Tumblr, or access it anytime from the sidebar link (top left) here on Brain Pickings.

Many thanks to my wonderful intern, Sarah Ngu, for the help in putting this together, to Andrew LeClair and Rob Giampietro for designing the stellar Otlet’s Shelf, and to the fine folks at Typekit for the tireless typographic magic they make.

* Because there are hundreds of books in the archive, this is just a beginning — only a fraction of past reviews have been added yet, but they’re coming, and new reviews are being added in near-real-time.

Donating = Loving

In 2011, bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings took more than 5,000 hours. If you found any joy and stimulation here this year, please consider a modest donation.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Steve Jobs on Why Computers Are Like a Bicycle for the Mind (1990)

By:

A 20-year-old antidote to modern-day digital pessimism.

The future of libraries — and of information, curiosity, and knowledge at large, of which the library has always been a bastion — is something I think about a lot, particularly the struggles of intellectual institutions like libraries and museums in bringing their vast analog archives into the digital sphere in an intelligent and useful way. In this excerpt from the film Memory & Imagination: New Pathways to the Library of Congress, essentially an extended 1990 infomercial for The Library of Congress starring such icons as Francis Ford Coppola, Julia Child, Penn & Teller, and Gore Vidal, Steve Jobs talks about the future of libraries in the digital age, video games as simulated learning environments, and why a computer is like a bicycle for the mind — a metaphor that I, as a bike lover, a curiosity jockey, and a techno-optimist, want to shake in the face of every false prophet pedaling techno-dystopia.

I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.

And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” ~ Steve Jobs

For a related treat, don’t miss this recently uncovered 1995 interview, in which Steve Jobs opens the door to his philosophy on life and failure.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Annie Dillard on Winter and the Wonder of Life

By:

“The wind won’t stop, but the house will hold.”

How easy it can be to lose our sense of wonder, and how tragic. On those days when we’re particularly fettered to defaults, boggled down by over-intellectualization, or enveloped in cynicism, there is hardly an antidote more potent and more welcome than Annie Dillard. In 1974, she published, and subsequently earned the Pulitzer Prize for, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (public library) — a profound series of essays blending science, philosophy, humanism, and a thinker’s thoughts on life. This particular excerpt from the essay “Footfalls In A Blue Ridge Winter”, a celebration of winter originally published in the February 1974 issue of — of all places — Sports Illustrated, manages to capture in some 200 words just about everything that’s magical and poetic about life, innocence, curiosity, presence, and even the memes that permeate the Internet, a kind of vision for the currency of the web long before the web as we know it existed.

I’m getting used to this planet and to this curious human culture which is as cheerfully enthusiastic as it it cheerfully cruel. I never cease to marvel at the newspapers. In my life I’ve seen one million pictures of a duck that has adopted a kitten, or a cat that has adopted a duckling, or a sow and a puppy, a mare and a muskrat. And for the one millionth time I’m fascinated. I wish I lived near them, in Corpus Christi or Damariscotta; I wish I had the wonderful pair before me, mooning about the yard. It’s all beginning to smack of home. The winter pictures that come in over the wire from every spot on the continent are getting to be as familiar as my own hearth. I wait for the annual aerial photograph of an enterprising fellow who has stamped in the snow a giant valentine for his girl. Here’s the annual chickadee-trying-to-drink-from-a-frozen-birdbath picture, captioned, ‘Sorry, Wait Till Spring,’ and the shot of an utterly bundled child crying piteously on a sled at the top of a snowy hill, labeled, ‘Needs a Push.’ How can an old world be so innocent?”

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is just as fantastic in its entirety. Complement it with Dillard on writing and how to live with presence.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.