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The Two Americas: The White Lotus Fans and Reacher Fans
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained.Today’s special guest is David French, a contributing writer and the author of the newsletter The Third Rail. He’s a football fan who has critiqued what he calls the NFL’s “good ol’ boy problem” and extensively covered First Amendment issues, including the Republican turn against free speech. David loves living in the worlds of both The White Lotus and The Terminal List, and claims that true history dads read books about World War I, while true nerds read Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series.But first, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic: You should probably wait to buy a home. Instagram is over. What kind of man was Anthony Bourdain? David French’s Culture SurveyWhat my friends are talking about most right now: One of the things that most interests me about American culture is a different formulation of the “two Americas” concept. Instead of red and blue, it’s online and offline. As Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy demonstrated in their brilliant 2019 analysis of the Democratic primary electorate, there are distinct political differences between people who spend considerable time on social media versus those who do not. That exact principle applies to entertainment as well.In my online world, I see a conversation dominated by debates over The Rings of Power versus House of the Dragon. If you’re really into prestige television, you’ll have participated in more than one conversation about Apple TV+’s show Severance (which is marvelous, by the way).Offline, to the extent anyone talks about streaming more than they talk about football (which is rare), I hear far more about Amazon Prime shows such as Reacher or The Terminal List, action-packed shows that can be essentially summed up with the description “Deadly warrior on a quest for justice.”Frankly, I love living in both worlds. So let’s start the night with college football; check out Amazon Prime’s latest action thriller, The Peripheral; and then end with HBO Max’s The White Lotus and a discussion about the exploitative amorality of America’s elite. And if you’re wondering how you can do your job, raise your kids, and maintain that kind of pop-culture commitment, always remember that sleep is for the weak. [Related: The powerful, unlikely force shaping modern TV]My favorite blockbuster and favorite art movie: I’ve got a confession. I don’t watch art movies. I haven’t really seen many since I was dating my wife and tried to convince her that I had a sophisticated cinematic palate by watching Woody Allen movies. As soon as she said yes, it was back to blockbusters. The first movie we watched together after we exchanged vows was the original Independence Day, a film far more glorious than anything I’ve ever seen with subtitles or set in the sitting room of an English aristocrat.But a blockbuster art movie? That’s the stuff. Those are the best films of all time, and the apex of the genre used to be the original Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece. I’m still haunted by the beauty and finality of Rutger Hauer’s death soliloquy as Roy Batty: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe … Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion … I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain … Time to die.”But there’s a new champion for best blockbuster art film, and that’s Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 film, Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. The premise is simple—aliens arrive, and the world needs linguists to try to communicate with the interstellar visitors. What you watch is one of the most moving and thought-provoking films ever placed on the silver screen. My family still talks about the concepts of time and destiny embedded in the film, and it contains a message of profound meaning—fierce love is worth deep pain. [Related: Arrival’s timely message about empathy] Arrival "contains a message of profound meaning—fierce love is worth deep pain." (Jan Thijs / Paramount Pictures) The best work of nonfiction I’ve recently read, and the best novel: As a middle-aged dad and young grandfather, in some ways my reading habits are completely clichéd. I like World War II histories (I just finished Paul Kennedy’s new history of the naval war in World War II, Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II), but everyone knows the true hard-core history dads read books about World War I.I highly recommend a 2014 book by Alexander Watson. I just discovered Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I, and it’s one of the relatively few books that tracks the war from the perspective of the Central Powers. I don’t view the Allied victory as inevitable in either world conflict, so it was fascinating for me to gain greater insight into the strategic choices and grave mistakes that led to Germany’s defeat and Austria-Hungary’s dissolution.As for fiction, if you claim to be a nerd and haven’t discovered Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive series, then I doubt your credentials. It’s got everything I love—compelling characters, rich world-building, powerful magic, and epic battles. And after you catch up on the The Stormlight Archive, read his older series The Mistborn Saga. But set aside a month or so—there are a lot of pages in those stories. [Related: The imperial mind: A historian’s education in the ways of empire]A quiet song that I love, and a loud song that I love: We’ve been living through a season of loss, and there’s an older song by a Northern Irish Christian musician named Robin Mark that has affected me from the first moments I truly faced my own mortality when I deployed to Iraq. It’s called “When It’s All Been Said and Done,” and its simple lyrics challenge us to consider our legacy. When it’s all been said or done, did we live for truth or for treasure?As for a loud song, I just finished creating a playlist called “Old and Awesome,” and it includes all of my favorite songs from my teen years to my life as a young adult. The newest song is “The Rising,” by Bruce Springsteen. It can be loud or quiet, but I prefer the loud version. There are precious few songs about tragedy (in this case, the doomed “rising” of the firefighters up the burning World Trade Center towers on 9/11) that are quite so defiant, demonstrating there is something majestic about courage and that we live our lives with both a sense of purpose and eternal hope. It’s magnificent. [Related: Bruce Springsteen and the art of aging well]The Week Ahead Stella Maris, the second of Cormac McCarthy’s interconnected new novels (Tuesday) George & Tammy, a series about country music’s George Jones and Tammy Wynette, starring Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon (premieres tonight on Showtime) Empire of Light, Sam Mendes’s new film starring Olivia Colman (in theaters Friday) Essay (ScreenProd / Alamy) The Most Overhyped Space MovieBy Marina Koren As the outer-space correspondent at The Atlantic, I spend a lot of time looking beyond Earth’s atmosphere. I’ve watched footage of a helicopter flying on Mars. I’ve watched a livestream of NASA smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid on purpose. I’ve seen people blast off on rockets with my own eyes. But I have never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is an enormous oversight, apparently. The 1968 film is considered one of the greatest in history and its director, Stanley Kubrick, a cinematic genius. And, obviously, it’s about space. Surely a space reporter should see it—and surely a reporter should take notes. Read the full articleMore In Culture Seven books that will make you smarter The strangest medical drama you’ll ever see Unfortunately, the sexy teen-cannibal romance is a letdown. Ode to the French baguette Stubborn, determined, and dying The strength of the “soft daddy” Christine McVie’s most miraculous song RM of BTS is embracing the silence on his new solo album Read the latest culture essay by Jordan Calhoun in Humans Being.Catch Up on The Atlantic Mark Leibovich: Just wait until you get to know Ron DeSantis. The Supreme Court case that’s all about Donald Trump A group of thinkers is cheering for humanity’s end. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and Joseph DePasquale (STScI)) Keep up with our photo editor’s Space Telescope Advent Calendar. Every day until Christmas, he will add a new image of the universe.Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.Explore all of our newsletters.
theatlantic.com
How We Survived Winter in Wartime
As millions of Ukrainians face their first winter of the war, I share in their dread because I know how brutal a winter war can be. As a child in Sarajevo, Bosnia, I survived three long winters in a city under siege. I endured the cold and deprivation alongside the constant anxiety that I might lose my parents to a bullet or a mortar shell every time they went out to forage for wood or water. War and winter are relentless, but so is the human spirit. This is why I have hope that the Ukrainian people will survive this winter with grit—and even some grace.The siege of Sarajevo started in the spring of 1992, and during the first few months, the daily onslaught of thunderous explosions made our apartment building shudder, forcing us to seek refuge in the moldy basement. By the end of the summer, we gave up hope that the Serbian blockade would end anytime soon and began readying for winter. At 13, I dealt with the ordeal by keeping a diary. On November 6, 1992, I wrote: Most of the trees have been cut down for firewood, so we can’t see the leaves changing to beautiful autumn colors … Death is the most frequent passerby on the streets. Life seems cheaper than a slice of bread or a cup of water. Although everyone dreaded the first snowfall, I was secretly excited. In my childish naivete, I hoped that the snow would act as a cushion for the mortar shells, preventing them from exploding. The first time I saw scarlet splatters in the snow, all that remained of my innocence melted away.In early November, we managed to get a small wood-burning stove to heat our home, which was already freezing because all of the window panes had been shattered. In their place, we taped plastic sheeting in the bare frames. That kept us protected from the snow and rain, but did little to insulate the apartment from the plummeting temperatures. Like most families, we quickly ran out of firewood and had to find other things to burn. People resorted to burning furniture, books, shoes, picture frames, even musical instruments. The constant damp made the wood flooring of the apartment warp and lift, so we started burning squares of lacquered parquet. But they burned so quickly that before long, we had stripped all of the floors, exposing cold, bare concrete. After our car was destroyed by an explosion, we started burning chunks of the tires, even though they gave off thick smoke and a horrible smell.[Read: From Sarajevo to Aleppo: lessons on surviving a siege]At night, we closed off my bedroom to conserve the little heat we had in the rest of the apartment; I slept on a makeshift bed in the hallway near the front door. Being tucked in that narrow corridor offered at least an illusion of shelter, especially to my mother, who agonized over my safety. I spent many sleepless nights there, shivering, listening to the crackle of sniper fire. At daybreak, before my father got up to stoke the fire, I could see my breath as if I were outside. The only thing that got me out from under the covers was the thought of being with my friends.At school, too, everyone was freezing despite hats and gloves, but we were determined not to fall behind in our education. Classes were held in the basements of apartment buildings, and everyone brought something to burn in the stove. Afterward, I attended singing lessons. I wore my winter coat and as I sang, I gazed through the hole that a mortar had made in the ceiling of my music school. Three decades later, I see myself in every image of a Ukrainian child playing or studying in a dank basement.In Sarajevo, the winter’s darkness seemed unrelenting. When our supply of candles dwindled, we improvised lamps: a little cooking oil and a cork with a shoelace strung through it for a wick, floating in a cup of water. Despite the risk from snipers and mortar shells, everyone foraged for things to burn amid the wreckage of our city. When our neighbor found several crates of plexiglass, we broke it into long, narrow pieces and lit one end to use as torches in the dark stairwells. The smell was acrid and intense, stinging our eyes and noses. Most mornings, I awoke with black circles around my nostrils from the soot.One day, I accidentally shifted one of the paintings in our living room, which we refused to feed to the stove, and was shocked to discover the pure white wall behind the frame, unstained by smoke. It was a small reminder of what our lives had been before the siege.Some days, I felt wilted and my lungs ached for fresh air, but the bombardments kept us inside for days at a time. While my parents were asleep, my brother and I would sneak into his room and open one of the windows with taped-plastic panes. The city was in complete darkness except for the artillery explosions that lit up the sky with orange-yellow flashes. It was dangerous standing there, but we felt better for expelling the stale, putrid air of our confinement.[From the April 2000 issue: Midnight in Sarajevo]On the rare occasions when the electricity came back on, we were stunned by the lights and noises from our now useless appliances. The dishwasher had become a locker for our paltry supply of pasta, rice, and lentils; the washing machine had not run for months. With the power back on, we scrambled to complete as many chores as we could: cooking, cleaning, and vacuuming. Even then, the water pressure was too weak to reach our 14th-floor apartment, so we used the elevator to carry up buckets of water.My brother and I would be in a frantic rush to finish all our household tasks because we longed to watch just a few minutes of MTV or the movie Top Gun, which we had on VHS. All too soon, the power would go again, we’d be plunged into darkness—and a cry of disappointment would echo around the whole neighborhood. Such scenes have already been playing out in cities across Ukraine as they contend with blackouts and the deepening cold and darkness.Of all the privations, the shortage of water was the hardest to bear. Sarajevans resorted to collecting rain and snow, and filling up containers at public fountains and wells. Sometimes, a water truck would park in our neighborhood, inviting a long line of people with their buckets and canisters. My dad insisted on being the only one of our family to go out to get water, because it was the most dangerous task. Every few days, he would gather up all our containers, strap them to a sled, and walk into the night to stand in line for hours. The tanks encircling the city frequently targeted these gatherings. On January 15, 1993, I wrote: A deadly missile exploded in front of the Sarajevo Brewery where citizens were collecting water. Eight killed and fifteen wounded! In a single second, two children were injured and lost both their parents. Considering the dangers, each drop of water became precious, and we made every effort to conserve and reuse as much as possible. Above our bathtub, we hung a 10-liter metal container with a brass spigot, and we kept a plastic basin below to catch the water we used to wash our hands, so that we could reuse it to flush the toilet. When I washed my hair by pouring freezing cups of water over my head, I agonized over every drop spilled, because it meant my dad would be in danger again that much sooner.[Eliot A. Cohen: The words about Ukraine that Americans need to hear]During that first winter, we focused so much on surviving, it would be easy to think that we weren’t actually living. Yet Sarajevans went to work and school, published newspapers and books, and performed concerts. We put on theater productions that mirrored our grim reality, always peppered with black humor because laughter helped stave off the misery. We banded together, and eventually the winter always relented. This way we survived not one but three brutal winters.I imagine there will be many such months ahead for the Ukrainian people. But my hope is that they will survive the hardship to experience the moment we Sarajevans dreamt of in the darkest days of winter: Despite the war’s infinite callousness, at the spring’s first thaw, we walked into the sunlight and warmed our faces. We were weary and scarred—but unbroken.
theatlantic.com
What the Jerry Jones Photo Reveals About the NFL
If you’re wondering why, in professional football, so few Black coaches get hired and Black players struggle to be heard, you can learn a lot from a 65-year-old image of Jerry Jones. In a 1957 photo published late last month by The Washington Post, the future owner of the Dallas Cowboys, then 14, stood among a group of white teenagers who were blocking six Black students from desegregating his Arkansas high school.In an interview with the Post, Jones minimized his role in the event. “I don’t know that I or anybody anticipated or had a background of knowing … what was involved. It was more a curious thing,” Jones told the newspaper, which has published a series of stories about the NFL’s failure to promote Black coaches over the course of decades.Jones was a sophomore at North Little Rock High when the photo was taken. You could argue that Jones only was a kid. But as an adult, he hasn’t adequately reflected on what his presence in a crowd of hostile white teens would have meant to Black students, and he hasn’t fundamentally disavowed the narrow, bigoted attitudes that once surrounded him and are still a force in football today.Jones isn’t just any NFL owner. He may be the most powerful owner in the NFL. The Post’s David Maraniss and Sally Jenkins wrote that Jones is “sometimes referred to as a shadow commissioner, more powerful than Roger Goodell, who holds that title. He has not been shy about exerting his clout as a financial and cultural virtuoso working to shape the league more in his image.”The racial hierarchy of the NFL is glaring. The majority of NFL players are Black, but owners and head coaches disproportionately are conservative white men. Every now and then—such as after the murder of George Floyd in 2020—the league makes performative statements about racial healing. But outside the public spotlight, the NFL and prominent figures in it have been caught showing bigotry in a variety of forms, including using race-norming to determine concussion settlements and making racist, sexist, and homophobic comments over email.[Jemele Hill: The NFL is suddenly worried about Black lives]The old photo of Jones is jarring in part because it confirms what so many Black players and coaches find so unsettling about the NFL. They are navigating a league permeated with both hidden and overt racism, along with other forms of discrimination, and they naturally wonder if the equity they seek will ever be truly prioritized.Jones could not remotely have been oblivious to the racial tension surrounding desegregation in 1957. Three years earlier, the Supreme Court had unanimously ruled in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Around the time Jones and his schoolmates were making Black students feel unwelcome, then-Governor Orval Faubus summoned the Arkansas National Guard to block nine Black students from entering nearby Little Rock Central High School. That group eventually needed federal intervention to attend the school.I would be willing to extend the 14-year-old Jones some grace, because I believe people can overcome the prejudices they grew up with. When I was a teenager, my friends and I commonly ridiculed LGBTQ people. My views evolved dramatically starting during my college years, when I interacted more closely with that community and simply read more about the world.[Devin Gordon: America ruined college football. Now college football is ruining America]I’ve been transparent about that history. In contrast, where Jones stands today on matters of race and prejudice isn’t entirely clear. Jones has employed Black players and made many of them very wealthy. But those same players have also helped Jones build the Cowboys into the most valuable franchise in the NFL. The close relationships that Jones has built with individual Black players don’t absolve him of how he has consistently shrunk in those moments when he’s had an opportunity to be a real force for racial progress.Jones has hired eight head coaches in his 33 years of ownership, and none of them has been Black. He’s hired just two Black coordinators, a position that is considered to be a launching pad to a head-coaching job. In fact, the Cowboys are one of 13 NFL franchises that have never hired a Black head coach.While Jones has acknowledged that the NFL needs to have a better track record with Black coaches, he also has participated in the sham interviews that many Black coaches are subjected to during the hiring process. In 2003, the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule, a policy that originally required every team searching for a head coach to interview at least one nonwhite candidate. (The league has since expanded the rule to include general-manager, coordinator, and quarterback-coach positions, and now requires teams to interview two nonwhite candidates for head-coaching positions.)The year the Rooney Rule started, the Cowboys were in search of a head coach. Jones spent two days interviewing the legendary coach Bill Parcells, who was the clear favorite. To satisfy the Rooney Rule, Jones interviewed Dennis Green, who is Black, for 20 minutes by phone.Since then, he has brushed aside racial-equity concerns in other ways. In 2017, Jones said that he would cut any player who chose to emulate Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who the year prior had begun kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence against Black people. “We cannot in any way give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag,” Jones said then. “We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues, but there is no question in my mind that the [NFL] and the Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag.” (Full disclosure: I am a producer of an ESPN documentary series that Kaepernick and the director Spike Lee are making about the former quarterback’s banishment from pro football.) Rather than support his players’ right to speak out, Jones chose to flex his power—even though none of the Cowboys had knelt or indicated that they would kneel during the anthem. Jones’s comment was even more disappointing because it came right after then-President Donald Trump urged NFL owners to fire the protesting players. “Get that son of a bitch off the field,” Trump said at a rally. (Jones was among Trump’s financial backers.)[Jemele Hill: The NFL can’t fight racism when owners support Trump]Jones later somewhat softened his view of protests on the field. In 2020—following the trauma-causing deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Floyd—Jones asked Cowboys fans to show compassion toward players who protested during the national anthem. “I’d hope that our fans—and I think they will—understand that our players have issues that they need help on,” Jones said. “They need help from the majority of America.”What Jones fails to realize, though, is that he is in a better position than almost anyone to promote healing and equity. If Jones really wanted to prove he’s not the boy gawking as a white mob intimidates and threatens Black students, he would have given a Black coach an opportunity to lead the Cowboys, signed Kaepernick when no other NFL owner would touch him, or at the very least publicly advocated for the quarterback’s freedom to express himself without sacrificing his career.The surfacing of the North Little Rock photo gave Jones yet another opportunity to lead a transparent discussion about race. Instead, Jones chose the cowardly option of blaming youthful curiosity for his presence at the 1957 confrontation. That image can’t just be chalked up to an unfortunate part of the past. Not when the boy in that photo isn’t sufficiently different from the man he is now.
theatlantic.com
The American Soccer Bar Wakes Up
This is an edition of The Great Game, a newsletter about the 2022 World Cup—and how soccer explains the world. Sign up here.When the Polish team captain Robert Lewandowski stole the ball from Abdulelah Al-Malki in last Saturday’s World Cup match between Poland and Saudi Arabia, and went on to score his first goal ever in the tournament, the Poland fans at Cleos Bar and Grill in Chicago erupted in cheers.“Oh, that’s it! That’s it!”“Lewangoalski!”Fans ordered shots to celebrate. It wasn’t yet 9 a.m.Two hours earlier, just before the sun had fully risen, I joined the 20 to 30 soccer fans already settled at the pub’s bar and high-top tables, watching the teams warm up on numerous TV screens as they nursed water, coffee, and Bloody Marys. As one might expect, the early-morning crowd cared deeply about the tournament and their chosen teams. What struck me most was that virtually everyone was either a first- or second-generation American.The world’s game has been infamously slow to come into its own, stateside. But America’s taste for the sport is growing. Regular-season MLS viewership is up 16 percent over last year and, over its past two seasons, the Premier League increased its American audience by an even greater margin. And this World Cup already has one of the largest U.S. audiences in FIFA’s broadcast history—more than 15 million viewers watched the U.S.-England game on November 25.Dedicated soccer bars are nonetheless relatively uncommon in American cities. People come from all over the Chicago area, and beyond, to catch games at Cleos. The pub offers a rare midwestern window into a global sport obsession. It also attracts a breadth of immigrant cultures that infrequently come together in one place. Majed Al Turki and Fawaz Al Wael, a pair of Indiana University students from Saudi Arabia, were there on Saturday morning with rolling suitcases in tow. Following the Saudi team’s triumph over Argentina in one of the biggest upsets of World Cup history, the duo rescheduled their bus tickets back to Bloomington so they could watch their country’s next game among fellow soccer fanatics. Although I was surprised that they were the sole Saudi Arabia supporters in the house, it made sense to find most people rooting for Poland. Illinois accounts for nearly one-third of the total Polish-immigrant population in the entire United States.Greg Gaczoi, one of the many Poland fans I talked with at Cleos, characterized his ilk as “pessimistic, loud, and proud.” The description matched the energy in the bar that morning—arms were thrown in the air after missed shots and fans were yelling at the flatscreens in front of them. But Gaczoi was happy to be watching the game at Cleos, rather than a bar in his native Poland, because of how its crowds reflect the city’s dynamic immigrant mix. The matchup between Poland and Mexico was a perfect case in point: Chicago has one of the largest Mexican populations in the U.S., including more than 200,000 Mexico-born residents.“What’s great is that there’s so many Polish and Mexican people in Chicago that it [created] this incredibly diverse, but weird, dynamic,” Gaczoi said of that match. “Before the game actually happened, there were jokes going on about how the city is going to burn down.”Joanna Szczudlo also watched Poland, her team of choice, play Mexico in a packed—and divided—Cleos. Though she was still lamenting Lewandowski’s saved penalty kick in that game, which was blocked by the goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, she couldn’t help but cheer for the great play. “If Mexico goes further, it’s kind of like a part of our city is going further,” Szczudlo told me. (On Wednesday, Poland advanced to the next round of matches and Mexico was eliminated.)Alex Lopez, who arrived at Cleos at 9 a.m. to secure a comfortable spot for the afternoon’s Mexico-Argentina match, attributes the swell in support to the diversification of America’s top players. He told me that it finally seems as though the United States team “represents the country we live in—a country built off immigrants.” According to a survey conducted by Morning Consult, soccer’s U.S. fan base is similarly more diverse—and younger—than that of any other American sport.For some, the global element of soccer is part of the game’s appeal. “Seeing the Mexico fans crying in the stands of happiness after Lewandowski missed that free kick is just something you can’t, as a U.S. fan of sports, relate to,” Mark Wojtowicz, a second-generation Polish American who’s cheering for Poland and the U.S, told me. “You might see meathead, drunk college fans crying because they’ve been tailgating since seven in the morning, but not, We saved the free kick. I’m so happy that I’m bawling. That’s what I’m here for, to catch a slice of that.”
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theatlantic.com
How Vast Are the Cosmos, Really?
This is an edition of The Wonder Reader, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a set of stories to spark your curiosity and fill you with delight. Sign up here to get it every Saturday morning.There are billions of planets in our galaxy, and billions of galaxies in the observable universe. Those numbers are impossible to picture, but NASA’s newest space telescope is helping us see the universe’s depths in unprecedented detail. Still, there’s one big mystery that humans might never be able to solve: How vast are the cosmos, really, and what do they contain?If humans were to find evidence of life elsewhere in the universe, it would be a scientific marvel, but also an emotional and spiritual one, the physicist Alan Lightman noted in an essay earlier this fall. Our questions would multiply: “Where did we living things come from? Is there some kind of cosmic community?”Lightman explains why life in the universe is likely really, really rare. “We living things are a very special arrangement of atoms and molecules,” he writes. But these questions aren’t just about other planets and galaxies; they’re also about us, here on Earth, and why we may want to believe that our lives and our stories are one of a kind. What follows is a reading list on why things are the way they are—from life on Earth down to creepy coincidences at the coffee shop—and how we deal with the unknowable.The Cosmic Dice Erik Carter / The Atlantic; Getty Life Is an Accident of Space and TimeBy Alan LightmanEven if life existed on every planet that could support it, living matter in the universe would amount to only a few grains of sand in the Gobi Desert. Zoë van Dijk Why Earth’s History Appears So MiraculousBy Peter BrannenThe strange, cosmic reason our evolutionary path will look ever luckier the longer we surviv Hein Nouwens / Shutterstock / Kara Gordon / The Atlantic Coincidences and the Meaning of LifeBy Julie BeckThe surprising chances of our lives can seem like they’re hinting at hidden truths, but they’re really revealing the human mind at work.Still Curious? Don’t be afraid of the multiverse: A scientist gets quizzed on the idea that different realms of the universe have different properties of physics. (From 2018) Shifting beliefs in fate and chance: Ancient dice were often visibly biased, but to gamblers who believed in divine intervention, that might not have mattered. (From 2018) Other Diversions A pocket-size time machine Dolphins might have elite spice tolerance. The mobster who bought his son a hockey team (From 2018) P.S.I’ll leave you with an interesting tidbit from Julie Beck’s article on coincidences: Beck cites research showing that certain personality traits are linked to a greater likelihood of experiencing coincidences. People who self-describe as religious and people who seek meaning, for instance, are especially prone to finding coincidences in their daily lives.(One group that might not see as many coincidences? Residents of the U.K, according to one professor Beck spoke with. “Coincidences never happen to me at all, because I never notice anything,” he said. “I never talk to anybody on trains. If I’m with a stranger, I don’t try to find a connection with them, because I’m English.”)— Isabel
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