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100 Best Nonfiction

Modern Library announced its list of the 100 Best Nonfiction books of the 20th century (published in English) last month at the opening night party of BookExpo America, the annual bookseller's convention in Los Angeles. The list was a follow-up to Modern Library's controversial and criticized list of 100 Best Novels last year, and efforts were taken this time to conduct a more rigorous voting process. The selections were made by members of Modern Library's editorial board including A. S. Byatt, Stephen Jay Gould, Elaine Pagels, and Carolyn See.

The board's list is led by Henry Adams' The Education of Henry Adams. Books on the list of scientific or technical interest include Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 5th place, James D. Watson's The Double Helix in 7th place, Lewis Thomas's The Lives of a Cell in 11th place, Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica (23rd), Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man (24th), Bert Hoelldobler and Edward O. Wilson's The Ants (27th), Albert Einstein's Ideas and Opinions (35th), Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff (52nd), Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (69th), G. H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology (87th), Richard P. Feynman's Six Easy Pieces (88th), and James George Frazer's The Golden Bough (90th).

As it did last year for the century's best novels, Modern Library has set up a website where readers can vote for their own nonfiction favorites. Voting is partially regulated: a voter must register and receive a password in order to vote, and then may vote for up to ten different books each day, but nothing prevents voters from submitting the same ten books every day. Earlier in May the reader's list was dominated by titles by Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard -- even moreso than last year's best novels list was -- but recently the list has grown more diverse, though it is still led by Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness. L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics is currently in 9th place; Lawrence Sutin's Divine Invasions (about Philip K. Dick) is at 34th place; Samuel R. Delany's Silent Interviews is in 56th place.

100 Best Writers

Writer's Digest is seeking nominations for its compilation of the 100 Best Writers of the 20th Century, to be published in its October 19th issue. Readers are asked to submit the names of up to three writers and must provide a brief explanation of why each nominee deserves to be included. Final selections will be made by the Writer's Digest staff and an editorial advisory board, who will rate nominees on their influence in the writing world, the quality of their work, and the degree to which their writing exhibits originality and experimentation. The final list will rank the top ten in numerical order and then list the remaining 90 alphabetically. Nominations can be made from the magazine's website, and must be received by June 15th.

§ Salon May 28th
Scott Rosenberg's Technology column discusses weblogs (which is what several pages of Locus Online, like this one, more-or-less are), and the disdain of traditional journalists for links.

No one's suggesting that weblogs are any sort of replacement for the old-fashioned virtues of good journalism. But the defensive hostility of some journalists does make you think a bit about how much today's "professional" media are already behaving like the link-happy new medium they fear. After all, magazines and TV stations pick up most of their stories from newspapers. Newspapers troll the Web for gossip and leads. The press became a giant echo chamber long ago; the Net just boosted the volume and cranked up the speed. The big difference between online and offline news is that the offline press will "pick up" a story without bothering to credit it -- let alone link you to the original source.

You, too, can search for extraterrestrial life, by letting your PC or Mac run a piece of software that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data. Instructions are available on this website. In the first week since the program became available, 298,000 home computers contributed 9.5 million hours of processing time, according to NASA officials.

(Fri 28 May 1999)

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