Daily Archives: August 12, 2011

Brush off the Dust Best of the Web, Week of 8/7-8/12/11

This week’s recommended online reading includes Russian mobsters and faraway islands, a radical poet and his Great Books journey to the priesthood, a retrospective on the Berlin Wall, a practical guide to traveling by bike, the international popularity of America’s civic organizations, mischievous and vaguely illegal wordplay of our British-American forefathers, Britain’s role in the American Civil War, and a curious monument near Buckingham Palace remembering Yuri Gagarin.

1. The Billion-Dollar Shack

Written by Jack Hitt in December of 2000 for the New York Times Magazine, this is a fascinating piece about the fall of small tropical island, Nauru, destroyed by greed and transformed into a pariah when it became a crucial site for offshore banking… by the Russian mob.  Read it by clicking here.

2. Cloth Bound

Published in the The Core: College Magazine of the University of Chicago, written by Benjamin Recchie, “Cloth Bound” is the story of an American intellectual journey that began with humanistic atheism, continued through radical Marxism and ended with the Dominican Order.  Incorporating some of the luminaries of American literature, philosophy and intellectual heritage, this is a fascinating piece Father Benedict Ashley and his development in 1930s Chicago at the University.  To read it click here.

3. The Berlin Wall: A Secret History

This retrospective, marked by the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, reflects on the construction and the city during 1961 and the Cold War; a great read and reflection.  Read it by clicking here.  You may also want to check out the English-language, interactive site at Der Spiegel‘s website by clicking here.

4. Traveling by Bike, Practically Speaking

The beach at Sandpoint, Idaho.

Bruce Weber, of the New York Times, is cycling across the country.  In doing, many people have asked about the practical side of his venture, which is the impetus for this post at on the publication’s “In Transit” blog.  In turns useful and humorous it is an instructive read in many ways!  Read it by clicking here.  You can also follow him on Twitter: @nytbruceweber.

5. The Lions of Lagos, the Rotarians of Rawalpindi

From The Washington Monthly, John Gravois writes about the decline of American civic organizations within the United States and the rise of these organizations internationally.  The numbers are surprising and Gravois is curious about what it tells us regarding American culture, today.  Particularly, interesting to me are the graphs which show a recent peak in U.S. membership right after 9/11, before the line graph heads back to sea level.  Read it by clicking here.

6. When America was a Lady

Now, this is a clever bit of fun wordplay!  Before there was Uncle Sam, there was Columbia.  In a post that traces the clever wordplay that foiled British law, and with references to Gulliver’s Travels, the Antiquarianation blogger reveals our softer persona and the origins of our association as Columbia.  Read it by clicking here.

7. C-Span’s “After Words” - A World on Fire

Watch this episode of “After Words” on Britain’s involvement in the Civil War.  Decorated American historian, Eric Foner, interviews the author of A World of Fire: British’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War, Amanda Foreman.  Click here and look in the sidebar on the right-hand side to view the program.

8. Yuri Gagarin: Mankind’s First Giant Leap

From the Economist’s Prospero blog, there is a post about a new statue that went up on the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace, remembering Yuri Gagarin.  In honor of Gagarin’s feat, the first man leaping beyond the bonds of Earth’s gravitational pull, the British Council put up the statue.  It is a curious piece, reminiscent of Soviet-style, government sponsored artwork, although better than that.  Read Prosepero’s take on it by clicking here.

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