Brain Pickings

5 Fantastic Daily Email Newsletters for a Better Life


What world peace has to do with dog soap and why everything you knew about baby carrots is wrong.

For all its wonders and curiosities, the web can be an overwhelming place. And, for some of us, so can the inbox. But the fact remains that email is still the most manageable way of consuming information, so the past few years have seen a boon of smart, thoughtfully curated email newsletters that serve the web’s best on a silver platter. (You’re getting the free Brain Pickings weekly newsletter, right? Good.) Here are five fantastic, free daily email newsletters to inject a potent blend of utility, optimism, and curiosity into your information and inspiration diet.


Very Short List is easily the granddaddy of the modern curated newsletter, offering one must-see gem a day: a website, a book, a film, a sweet animation, a photoessay — you get the idea, but you can mine the archives for a taste of the goodness. VSL launched shortly after Brain Pickings, with a very similar editorial-curatorial vision, so I have an added layer of affectionate kindred-spirit sentimentality towards it.

The only downside: VSL never give credit for their finds, the kind of failure in attribution of discovery that I’ve been very vocal about and some go as far as saying is killing kittens.


TBD, named after the idea that our collective future is yet to be decided, goes beyond mere sit-back inspiration to offer one world-changing idea per issue paired with one action you can take about it, right now, to improve the future. From spotlighting smart social enterprises to featuring beautifully designed products with a social good component, TBD may not be daily per se, but when it does come — I’m yet to figure out the pace of their cycle — it’s very much worth it.

You can sample the archives via their Facebook feed.


Milkshake calls itself “a daily edition of good finds that give back” — a discovery engine for causes, people, and companies that have positive impact on the world. (If it sounds a bit like TBD, it should be noted TBD came first by a long stretch.) From handmade dog shampoo bars to cooperative foods produced by Israelis and Arabs, the daily picks are as wonderfully varied as they are uniformly worthwhile.


From the good people who bring us the Webbys comes Netted — a daily serving of the best sites, apps and online services that “make life better.” From productivity apps to gadget hacks to eclectic digital delights, the finds blend utility, playfulness and sheer can’t-wait-to-tell-friends-aboutness.

Poke through the archives here.


Every day, Dan Lewis follows his own curiosity is some esoteric direction, from the great baby carrot sham to how Tetris therapy works, and shares his findings with the world in Now I Know — a wonderful daily treat of knowledge you probably don’t need but will feel exceedingly cool having. Bonus points: Dan has the marvelous day job of heading new media communications for Sesame Street, which sort of explains his penchant for all things quirky-cool.

The treasure trove of archives can be found here.

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 an example. Like? Sign up.

Everything is a Remix, Part 3: The Elements of Creativity


What Gutenberg has to do with Thomas Edison and the secret sauce of Apple.

Kirby Ferguson’s excellent Everything is a Remix project is, as I’ve previously written, one of the most important efforts to illuminate the mechanisms, paradoxes and central principles of creative culture in modern history — an ambitious four-part documentary on the history and cultural significance of sampling and collaborative creation, reflecting my own deep held belief that creativity is combinatorial. Today, Kirby releases the highly anticipated third installment in the series, titled The Elements of Creativity.

Enjoy — this is a cultural treasure:

The most dramatic results can happen when ideas are combined. By connecting ideas together, creative leaps can be made, producing some of history’s biggest breakthroughs.” ~ Kirby Ferguson

From derivative work in art to incremental innovation in technology, Kirby tells the lesser-known stories of history’s greatest innovators to illustrate the point that creativity builds on what came before rather than crystallizing from thin air under the touch of a mythical muse.

Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb — his first patent was “Improvement in Electric Lamps,” but he did conduct trials with 6,000 materials for the filament until he created the first commercially viable bulb. Apple didn’t invent the first desktop computer — it copied Xerox (oh, the irony…), but was the first to combine the computer with the household appliance, sparking the personal computing revolution.

What started it all was the graphical interface merged with the idea of the computer as household appliance. The Mac is a demonstration of the explosive potential of combinations.” ~ Kirby Ferguson

Creativity isn’t magic: it happens by applying ordinary tools of thought to existing materials. And the soil from which we grow our creations is something we scorn and misunderstand even though it gives us so much — and that’s… copying.” ~ Kirby Ferguson

The fourth and final episode, coming this fall, will tackle the most complex question of all: How our legal, ethical and artistic burdens are hindering our collective ability to embrace technology as a true enabler of creativity. You can support the project here — I happily did.

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.

The Medium is the Massage: Shepard Fairey + Marshall McLuhan


Presaging the digital revolution by a half century, or what Telstar has to do with global wisdom.

I have a longstanding obsession with iconic media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and I love equally iconic graffiti artist Shepard Fairy, so I was instantly in love with The Medium is the Massage — a phenomenal little book by McLuhan and designer Quentin Fiore, synthesizing McLuhan’s meatiest ideas in a powerful combination of words and images, with a stunning new cover by Shepard Fairey. The original book was published in 1967, but the remarkable art direction and distinct style are equal parts timeless and timely — so much so, some say, that Wired appropriated stylistic elements from the book in its acclaimed editorial design.

When information is brushed against information… the results are startling and effective. The perennial quest for involvement, fill-in, takes many forms.

The book is divided into several sections, each exploring a different facet of how “electric media” are changing everyday life, from self to family to education to government.

your family

The family circle has widened. The worldpool of information fathered by electric media — movies, Telstar, flight — far surpasses any possible influence mom and dad can now bring to bear. Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world’s a sage.

McLuhan explores the big-picture significance of worldwide connectivity, best articulated in his concept of the global village, presages today’s discussions about the death of books by a half-century, and blends information theory and existential philosophy with such poetic grace it’s hard not to surrender to his words with full transcendence.

The stars are so big,

The Earth is so small,

Stay as you are.

Perhaps most notably, reading McLuhan’s observations from 1967 feels eerily like reading the latest intellectual debate on media theory today, bespeaking our culture’s chronic and patterned conditioned response to new technology: resistance, subversion and, eventually, surrender.

These are difficult times because we are witnessing a clash of cataclysmic proportions between two great technologies. We approach the new with the psychological conditioning and sensory responses to the old. This clash naturally occurs in transitional periods. In late medieval art, for in stance, we saw the fear of the new print technology expressed in the theme The Dance of Death. Today, similar fears are expressed in the Theater of the Absurd. Both represent a common failure: the attempt to do a job demanded by the new environment with the tools of the old.

The Medium is the Massage is a pocket-sized cultural treasure, the kind you’d want to share with all your friends and keep by your side at all times as a timeless lens on the evolution of contemporary culture.

via @kirstinbutler

Donating = Loving

This year, bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings took thousands of hours and lots of thought, dedication, and love. If you found 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.