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Jane McGonigal on Gaming for Productivity

We recently featured The School of Life — the brainchild of an eclectic group of London artists, writers and philosophers, who attempt to address the needs of the modern self in the familiar college class format. Every Sunday, the School invites prominent cultural figures to “preach” about contemporary values and vices, in an attempt to bring back the Sunday Sermon within a modern secular context.

The School’s latest speaker was acclaimed game designer Jane McGonigal, who delivered one of our favorite TED talks this year — a provocative perspective on gaming and how it could change the world. In her sermon, On Productivity, Jane McGonigal uses her personal experience with games to challenge our definition of productivity. She urges us to examine the real value in our “productive” activities and whether they produce something that truly matters in the great scheme of humanity. She also shares the findings of a brand new, still unpublished, psychological study on happiness shedding light on the things we need in order to flourish.

We have this warped, moralistic view of productivity thanks largely to the faithful intertwining of these two things: the protestant work ethic, which is the idea that God wants us to be busy all the time, lest we have enough spare time to find ourselves sinning, intertwining it with the rise of modern capitalism where every person’s duty is to spend the precious days and hours of their lives, contributing to the gross domestic product, instead of enjoying them.” ~ Jane McGonigal

The talk is engaging, fun yet thought-provoking and well worth the full 45 minutes — think of it as a productive investment in your personal productivity.

McGonigal’s highly promising new book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, comes out in January and is already available for pre-order on Amazon.

Teddy Zareva is a young filmmaker and photographer currently located in Sofia, Bulgaria. She is prone to excessive dancing and impulsive traveling. Her favorite activities are eating chocolate, hunting for music, and shooting humans.

BP

And The Pursuit of Happiness: Maira Kalman Illustrates Democracy

“We hope. We despair. We hope. We despair. This is what governs us. We have a bipolar system.”

And The Pursuit of Happiness: Maira Kalman Illustrates Democracy

I do love Maira Kalman. In 2009, the celebrated visual storyteller released a wonderful and quirky illustrated twelve-part meditation on democracy in her New York Times blog. The series is now released as an equally wonderful illustrated book.

And the Pursuit of Happiness begins with Barack Obama’s inauguration on Chapter One, with each subsequent chapter representing a month in Kalman’s yearlong quest to explore the underpinnings of contemporary democracy.

In February, she travels to both costs, so the respective chapter is dedicated to Abraham Lincoln. In March, she goes to an actual town meeting, the quintessential haven of democracy. In April, she visits the Supreme Court and the office of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which prompts a rumination on women breaking social barriers. For December, she concludes with a chapter on George Washington and a thoughtful reflection on happiness itself.

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Brimming with Kalman’s childlike aesthetic, delightfully kooky typography and subtle wordplay, And the Pursuit of Happiness takes you on a playful yet philosophical journey into the human side of politics and democracy — a genuine treat for eye, mind, and heart.

BP

Jet Age: Entrepreneurship Lessons From The Sky

A drama-driven revolution, or what Sillicon Valley can learn from 1950s test pilots.

If you’ve ever seen Louis C.K.’s now-iconic Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy bit (which you absolutely should), you know not to take air travel for granted. And yet we still do. (For some meta-ironic full disclosure, we’re writing this from aboard Virgin America.) But a new book by New York Times correspondent Sam Howe Verhovek, released for the 50th anniversary of the Jet Age, pulls us back from our modern aero-complacency and reintroduces mystery, exhilaration and fascination into the world of human flight.

Jet Age: The Comet, the 707, and the Race to Shrink the World is as much a design and engineering epic as it is a timeless manifesto for entrepreneurship and risktaking.

Though it explores the rich and turbulent history of commercial air travel as a force of globalization, Jet Age is not a history book per se. Rather, it’s part adventure story, part detective book, in which the technological marvels of the era are but a mere vehicle for the electrifying human spirit that underlies them, from the remarkable engineers to the brilliant businessmen to the fearless test pilots.

It is also a David and Goliath story we all love to hear, the one about the nimble little guy, in this case Boeing, taking a big gamble to eventually defeat the slow-moving behemoth.

The insight and inspiration in that story make it required reading for any modern entrepreneur struggling to break through with nothing but passion, character and — never to be understimated — the right team. Jet Age is a powerful reminder that it can be, and has been, done.

BP

5 Cross-Disciplinary Cookbooks

What Dracula, liquid nitrogen and hackers have to do with IKEA furniture.

Cookbooks are no longer the fascination of foodies alone. After featuring the designerly The Geometry of Pasta, we began noticing the deluge of incredibly exciting and cross-disciplinary treats disguised as cookbooks being released this season, spanning domains as diverse as art, molecular science, travel photography, hisotry, classical literature, and geek culture. Here are 5 of our favorite new cookbooks inspired by more than just food.

RECIPE FOR MURDER

From culinary journalist Estérelle Payany comes Recipe for Murder: Frightfully Good Food Inspired by Fiction — an absolutely delightful anthology of signature recipes delivered by 32 of literature’s greatest hero-villains.

The book features original artwork by illustrator Jean-François Martin, whose work has graced the pages of The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, The Los Angeles Times, and a slew of other beacons of modern journalism.

From caramel apples from Snow White’s stepmother to The Big Bad Wolf’s pig-in-the-blanket special to Brutus’ Caesar salad, this scrumptious gem of a book, fresh out of the Flammarion & Rizzoli publishing oven, delivers unexpected home-style recipes by way of your favorite fairy tales and literary classics.

Images © Jean-François Martin; courtesy of Flammarion & Rizzoli via Artslope

via @AmritRichmond

COOKING FOR GEEKS

If curiosity is your favorite ingredient and you’re more interested in the science of what happens to food beyond the blind following of recipe instructions, then Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food is your new favorite pastime. Part science book, part playground for culinary experimentation, the book offers more than 400 pages of recipes, tips and — our favorite part — interviews with some of today’s most iconic geeks across all disciplines: Writers, hackers, food scientists, knife experts, chefs, researchers and more.

Not surprisingly, this treat comes from an author with a fittingly cross-disciplinary background and indiscriminate curiosity — Jeff Potter, who studied computer science and visual art at Brown University, has used cooking with friends as a sanity anchor throughout his prolific career as an entrepreneur.

THAI STREET FOOD

Thai Street Food from scholar David Thompson takes us on an exciting journey into one of the Far East’s most widely adored cuisines with recipes that are both authentic and approachable.

It also doesn’t hurt that the book features some of the best food photography we’ve seen in years, making it as much a self-standing photography coffeetable book as it is a practical cookbook.

OAXACA AL GUSTO

Legendary British writer and researcher Diana Kennedy may be best-known as the Julia Childs of Mexican cuisine and in her latest book offers an ambitious exploration of one of the world’s most colorful cuisines. Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy features over 300 rare recipes and exclusive photographs of Oxaca’s little-known yet outstanding foods and their preparation, often guarded for centuries in family recipe books.

Among the highlights is a special chapter devoted to the three pillars of the Oaxacan regional cuisines — chocolate, corn, and chiles.

MODERNIST CUISINE

Nathan Myhrvold may be better-known as Microsoft’s former Chief Technology Officer, who studied quantum science alongside legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, but his true passion lies at the intersection of science and food. Myhrvold trained as a chef at LaVarenne in Burgundy, France, and has spent the past three years in a laboratory in Bellevue, Washington, perfecting — with his seven full-time chefs — the elaborate cooking techniques of gastronomy’s recent mega-obsession: molecular cuisine.

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking is the pinnacle of his experimentation, a 2,400-page, six-volume behemoth with over 1,000 recipes that transform the kitchen into a lab. Needless to say, expectations for the ambitious undertaking have been gargantuan, which made gastronomers all the more unsettled by the recent announcement that due to packaging concerns, the book — which weighs over 48 pounds — won’t be available until March, nearly four months past the publication date originally promised.

Modernist Cuisine isn’t for everyone — besides the hardcore foray into ingredients like methylcellulose and agar approached with cooking techniques that involve liquid nitrogen and rotary evaporators, the book comes with a hefty $625 price tag. (Though Amazon is currently running a preorder discount of 20%, which clocks in at the non-negligible sum of $125 in savings.)

BONUS

Granted, this book isn’t for sale yet, but it’s too cool for us not to mention — IKEA has recently partnered with legendary art photographer Carl Kleiner to produce Hembakat är Bäst (Homemade Is Best), a new baking book featuring absurdly beautiful, artful photographs of deconstructed ingredients accompanying the recipes. Arranged by color and touched with the magical art direction wand of brilliant minimalism, the ingredients are photographed before their preparation into pastries, presenting a peculiar retroappreciative approach to food as art.

No word yet on when and where the book will be available, but it’s now firmly planted on our to-hunt-down-and-devour list.

BP

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