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Numbers, Numbers

Don't Believe the Hype on Big Data

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A new book heralds the promise that big data will reveal more and more about how we live our lives and what we think, but is it really that useful?

In 1996, the artist Karen Reimer alphabetized the entire text of a romance novel and published the results as the book Legendary, Lexical, Loquacious Love. By listing every instance of each word in the original novel, she allowed the frequencies of words to tell a subversive story about the entire genre of the romance novel. The word “beautiful” appears 29 times, and “breasts” occupies one-third of a page. “Her” fills eight pages, while “his” fills only two and a half.

Longreads

The Week’s Best Reads

From the man who miraculously survived falling overboard to the crazy micro-genres Netflix uses to suggest movies, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

A Speck in the Sea Paul Tough, The New York Times Magazine John Aldridge fell overboard in the middle of the night, 40 miles from shore, and the Coast Guard was looking in the wrong place. How did he survive?How Netflix Reverse-Engineered Hollywood Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic To understand how people look for movies, the video service created 76,897 micro-genres. We took the genre descriptions, broke them down to their key words… and built our own new-genre generator.

Just Think

Transform Your Sad Life

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It’s a new year, and once again Americans will stuff their heads with mindless optimism and pathological hope. Try reading these books instead to find real wisdom about life.

As the New Year dawns, let’s admit that the American psyche is a dilapidated maze of funhouse mirrors that leads nowhere. It should not shock even the most credulous patriot that many people who spend their internal lives within this maze of narcissism and dysfunction have major problems. One in five Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The New York Times recently reported that suicide rates are rising so rapidly and steadily that more Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents.

Get Excited

The New Year’s Big Culture Moments

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There’s a lot to be stoked about in pop culture this year. From ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ to ‘Inherent Vice’ and ‘Divergent,’ here’s what we can’t wait for.

2014 Winter Olympics—Feb. 7-23 The XXII Winter Olympics—the 22nd edition of the Winter Olympic Games—will take place in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7-23. And, with a price tag estimated at $51 billion (and climbing), it’s supposed to be the most expensive Olympics ever. There are a total of 15 sports in the games, including skiing, bobsleigh, and figure skating, and the event will be broadcast on NBC in the U.S. It’s also not without controversy. U.

Superpower

The Person of the Year

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Time magazine picked the pope, but look to China and you’ll see a new leader playing for big stakes at home.

In the league of major global power players nobody has had a stronger year than Xi Jinping, the stocky, 60-year-old boss of the world’s rising superpower. Since becoming head of the monopoly Communist Party 13 months ago, he has established himself as China’s strongest leader since Deng Xiaoping and aims to carve out a historical role for himself to equal the man who set the world’s most heavily populated country on its rise to become the world’s second largest economy.

Those Were the Days

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 1913

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It was a magnificent year—a year of innovation and triumph. Perhaps the best year of our lives. Charles Emmerson reflects on the year passed and what 1914 has in store for us all.

Dear Reader,That time of year is now upon us when old Father Time seems to slow his pace a little and a reflective cast of mind steals over us all. Even the scribblers of The Daily Beast are allowed a day or two away from their ink-wells, from the tap-tap-tap of the telegraph and from the daily avalanche of events with which the news reporter of the twentieth century must contend.Either fondly or with curses, it is a time to look back at a year grown familiar to us now.

Don't Miss

The Year's Best Hot Reads

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From a collection of Iranian short stories to a tale of a self-style prophet's post-frontier standoff in Alaska, here are the books you might have missed in 2013.

The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons by Goli TaraghiBorn in Tehran in 1939, Goli Taraghi was a teenager during Iran’s 1953 coup and a grown woman during the 1979 revolution. Both upheavals feature prominently in her writing, but the stories collected in The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons are hardly polemical. Political tumult instead merely provides the backdrop of the transformations of her characters, young and old. The adolescent girls of “Flowers of Shiraz” can hardly comprehend the change underway in their country: In the run-up to Mossadeq’s ouster, they ride their bikes through the city, meeting for ice cream, flirting with boys, and racing through the hills, despite the protests on the streets.

Your Move

How to Lead Better

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Empires rise and fall, leaders fail and succeed, but the art of strategy is forever. James Warren on the ultimate history to Western strategy and what it teaches us about our history.

Strategy: A History, is an ambitious and sprawling book by a British military historian who has written widely, and very well, about nuclear and cold war strategy, the Falklands War, and contemporary military affairs, among other subjects. Sir Lawrence Freedman prefaces his more than 700-page investigation of a vast and important topic with a telling aphorism from an unexpected corner: “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.

What Will Come

The Novel of the Year

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Ken Kalfus’s unjustly overlooked Equilateral speaks to the delusions of our time in its depiction of a man bent on communicating with Mars.

The novel published this year that speaks most eloquently about America in 2013 takes place in Egypt’s Great Sand Sea, in 1894. In the middle of the vast desert Professor Sanford Thayer, one of the world’s leading astronomers, is presiding over “the greatest international peacetime undertaking in the history of man.” But even that’s an understatement. At twice the expense of the Suez Canal, 900,000 men have been employed to carve into the white sand an enormous equilateral triangle.

Moon Landings

The Year in Sci-Fi, Chinese Style

Reuters, via Landov

In 2013 China joined the short list of countries who have landed on the moon, but Chinese science fiction had been dreaming of just that for decades. Jeffrey Wasserstrom on the People’s Republic’s new wave of speculative fiction.

Thanks to China joining the elite club of countries that have carried out successful moon landings, 2013 will definitely be remembered as a special year in the annals of Chinese science. What’s likely less widely appreciated in some quarters is that it’s also been a banner year for Chinese science fiction.This genre has had its share of dramatic ups and downs in the past, with the Communist Party literary establishment treating it as a suspect form for much of the last half-century.

Desolation

While the World Watched

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A masterful new history tells the story of the doomed 1944 Warsaw uprising as no other book yet has writes Ilana Bet-El—and the contemporary parallels are haunting.

Poland and Syria do not immediately appear to have much in common, but the people in both have been abandoned to untold violence with the full knowledge of the world. And while Poland and Ukraine do not share a common history, they have undoubtedly suffered the common problem of being considered a Russian possession: in 1939 Poland was partitioned between Germany and the USSR, then taken by the Soviets at the end of the war as if no more than a Russian province.

Longreads

The Best Longreads of 2013

From Deadspin’s unmasking of the Manti Teo hoax to Ariel Levy’s harrowing account of losing her baby in Mongolia to Stephen Rodrick’s poignant portrait of Lindsay Lohan on set, The Daily Beast picks the best long-form journalism of the year.

The Lonely Quiet After Newtown Eli Saslow, The Washington Post, June 8 Six months later, the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, fades into the past, and the parents left behind try to make the country remember.Thanksgiving in Mongolia Ariel Levy, The New Yorker, November 18 A journalist’s harrowing, heartbreaking story of her miscarriage while on assignment in a remote corner of Asia.On Smarm Tom Scocca, Gawker, December 5 From literature to politics, smarm—an insistence on civility, a finger-wagging disapproval of negativity—is doing its best to keep the cultural elite insulated from criticism.

Bottoms Up!

Best Books on Booze

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From John Cheever’s haunting story ‘The Swimmer’ to the eloquent hangovers of Kingsley Amis, here are the 10 best books and stories on drinking and booze. Sip carefully.

Over the past few years, I’ve become a connoisseur of literary drunkenness. Once you start looking, alcohol is everywhere in literature, streaming dangerously through the books of sots and teetotallers alike. Here are ten of the greatest fictional takes on drinking, catching both the pleasures of a good night’s boozing and the troubles it can bring crashing down upon a life. Be warned, though: some of these might put you off the sauce for good.

This Way and That

To Dream a Dream

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Everyone else’s dreams are boring, but for a writer like Georges Perec his dreams can be a way to understand his other writing. Lauren Elkin journeys into Neverland with the Oulipian writer.

2013 really has been Georges Perec's year. With the first English translation of his dream journal, La Boutique Obscure, out earlier this year from Melville House, and a new collection of Oulipian responses to his story A Winter Journey published last month by Atlas Press, Perec, who died much too young in 1982 of lung cancer, is finally becoming a major cultural reference point in the English-speaking world.  Last month, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco hosted an Oulipo festival (or "laboratory"), partly organized by Daniel Levin Becker, translator of the dream journal and contributor to the Atlas Press volume.

Dates and Places

How to Write About History

The Daily Beast

When we pick up history books today what exactly do we expect from them? Historian Lincoln Paine considers what should be in our history.

The term globalization entered the popular lexicon in the 1980s, but the phenomenon of globalization, which has effects not only across space but also through time, is not a spontaneous novelty. Despite what many partisans of the present day would have us believe, most spheres of human activity—trade, culture, migration, foodways, environmental crises, disease, language, and religion, to say nothing of diplomacy and war—have been globalized for centuries.

Must See

What You Shouldn’t Have Missed

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This year was one of the best in recent memory for movies, TV, music, and everything else in culture. Here’s what you probably overlooked but shouldn’t have.

MOVIE: The Place Beyond the Pines by Derek CianfranceAn ambitious, three-part, multi-generational look at the rivalries of a stunt motorcyclist-turned-bank robber (Ryan Gosling) and a cop (Bradley Cooper). The film is a bit unruly in its overly dramatic twists and turns, but savor Gosling’s performance—among his last, with Only God Forgives, before his self-imposed sabbatical from acting.MOVIE: A Touch of Sin by Jia ZhangkeLeave it to Jia, perhaps the best director on the planet today, to find a new way to critique China as it becomes like the Wild West, a corrupt land full of outlaws and people pushed to the brink.

Collaborations

This Week’s Hot Reads

From a biography of Beethoven focusing on his relationships, to the best of McSweeney’s.

Beethoven: The Man Revealed By John Suchet Scholar John Suchet has written six books about the classical music’s most revered composer, Ludwig van Beethoven; his latest, out now, is Beethoven: The Man Revealed. Suchet himself admits that he has not uncovered any new information about the oft-written about composer; however, his focus on Beethoveen the man is departure enough to justify his book’s existence. The most interesting facet of The Man Revealed is Suchet’s investigation into the interlay between Beethoveen’s life and his art, the relationships that were so strained by his volatile genius inspired some of his greatest work.

Global Views

Around the World in 10 Books

The Daily Beast

From the catastrophe unfolding in Pakistan to a great novel about Yugoslavia, here are 10 books about the rest of the world that deserve your attention writes Kapil Komireddi.

Would Gandhi tweet? Is there any hope for the US-Pakistan relationship? Why did the Syrian revolution fail? When is imperialism imperialism? These are some of the questions answered by this idiosyncratic round up of books concerned with the world beyond America. Many of them were published this year. Some were published years ago. All of them deserve a wide readership.1. Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, by Husain HaqqaniHusain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington between 2008 and 2011, has written the most clear-eyed history of the U.

Worst of Times

Charles Dickens’ Tragic Love

David Appleby

It was the secret affair that threatened the image of Britain’s famous family man. Ralph Fiennes talks about the unearthed cruelty at the heart of his new film, ‘The Invisible Woman.’

“There was a sort of frustrated sexual energy in Dickens,” Ralph Fiennes says—frustrated at least until the years covered in The Invisible Woman.Fiennes directed and stars in the film, which explores Charles Dickens’  intense-but-secret love affair with a young actress, Ellen Ternan, known as Nelly, a liaison that endured for the last 13 years of his life. This is no stilted period piece, though. Based on Claire Tomalin’s scrupulous, enthralling 1990 book, also called The Invisible Woman, the film captures Dickens’ yearning passion, Nelly’s ambivalence, the fraught ups-and-downs of any genuine long-term love.

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

2013 Surprises & Disappointments

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Remember when you were actually looking forward to ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’? Or when you thought ‘Bangerz’ would be a disaster? A look back at the biggest pop culture surprises and disappointments of 2013.

For every Gravity in 2013, there was a Grown Ups 2; for every Breaking Bad, there was a Dads. It was a year of highs and lows, but it was also a year of happy surprises (Bowie! Beyonce!) and crushing disappointments (an Oz movie so bad it would make Dorothy blush, and an abysmal adaptation of a beloved book). These are the pop culture happenings we expected more from—and the ones we thought we’d hate but ended up loving. Disappointment: Super Fun Night It should have been comedy gold.

How I Write