Arts and Letters Daily
[ Issue 27 ]

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Arts and Letters Daily

In the Web Line column for Issue 27 Tony Rogers reviews a site well worth mining for its gold — Arts and Letters Daily.

These days the site has a cult following and gets more than 20,000 visitors a day.

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Web Line — Tony Rogers

Copyright


Arts & Letters Daily is one of my favourite places on the Net. Philosophy, aesthetics, language, ideas, criticism, culture, history, music, art, trends, breakthroughs, disputes, gossip . . .

Likening the Internet at this stage in its evolution to an Australian goldfield, where there are “vast mountains of low-grade ore”, Arts & Letters Daily has as its mission to extract “the precious nuggets of real content . . . to pan and select from among the most intellectually stimulating sites on the Internet, updating daily, and making the best of the Web available at a click”.

Yes, six days a week they update it, a few items at a time. So what you get is a slowly but ever-changing series of tantalising “headlines” (never less than 150), each with a link to the full article in question. They keep archives, too.

How did Arts & Letters Daily get started? It was Denis Dutton, a professor of philosophy in NZ, who designed it. It went live on September 28 1998. Despite its very low-tech appearance, the site was quickly adopted by the global intelligentsia.

The simple page design is based on that of the typical 18th century broadsheet, which according to Dutton “tries to pack the maximum content on the minimum amount of paper”.

These days the site has a cult following and gets more than 20,000 visitors a day —

. . . the kinds of people who subscribe to the New York Review of Books, who read Salon and Slate and the New Republic — people interested in ideas.

The more-than-170 sites it scans on a regular basis include:

Agence France-Presse
Atlantic Monthly
The Australian
BBC
Frankfurter Allgemeine
Guardian/Observer
Jerusalem Post
Melbourne Age
Ms Magazine
New Scientist
New Statesman
New York Times
The Occasional
Quackwatch
Salon
Scientific American
The Spectator
Spike
Sydney Morning Herald
Time
Times of London
Washington Post
Web de Sol
Wired.

Finally, to give you some idea of its vast range of coverage, here are a few tempting headlines that attracted my eye over a typical seven-week period in 2000:

At 98, she’s a little old lady with a colossal and unforgiving past. Leni Riefenstahl is both proud and ashamed . . .
It’s a miracle, says the exiled Chinese writer Gao Xingjian, who has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature . . .
How did Sydney, a city not noted even in Australia for elegance or charm, manage to snare that beautiful Opera House? . . .
Most of the languages of the world will vanish in the next hundred years. Do we need to cultivate more biolinguistic diversity? . . .
It’s easy to poke fun at Oprah’s book club, but her impact on the reading habits of the English speaking world rivals that of Samuel Johnson . . .
Trying to separate the roles played by nature and nurture is like trying to separate the roles played by length and width in shaping a rectangle . . .
Errol Flynn, bad actor and worse chap, had everything, of every sex, within sight. By page 57 of this new bio, he’s got VD for the third time . . .
Being taken seriously by someone is like rocket fuel for the spirit, but taking yourself too seriously is like a poison, says Hugh Mackay . . .
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Drop his name in a fashionable literary crowd and you’ll get a harsh verdict: “mawkish,” “shallow,” “trite” . . .
William Hazlitt was England’s supreme essayist and brave defender of radical causes. He was also the pathetic victim of his passion for the landlady’s daughter . . .
Giacomo Puccini knew how to write for voice and how to pen a good tune. Is it his fault he was so popular? . . .
When Doug and Dave showed that it was they, and not little green men, who had created crop circles across Britain, believers still refused . . .
Willfully unaware of the facts of her life, music fans persist in thinking that Billie Holiday felt their pain, says Francis Davis . . .

In short, an exceptional, absolutely-must-visit site for all of us who don't have time to do the trawling ourselves.

(Arts & Letters Daily has a sibling, too — SciTech Daily Review — which is equally compelling and useful.)

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