Category Archives: Lists

My Kid Could Paint That, But If She Did, I’d Be Concerned: The Contemporary Art List

When did we decide that some art was modern art?  Did modern art began at the dawn of the 20th Century, or some time before?  Was Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907 the defining moment or was it some earlier work by Matisse or Kandinsky?  One would think that modern would stay current, but apparently it got old, and we needed a new term to describe what came after modern.  (Does postmodern follow modern? Yes and no.  They’re in a relationship and it’s complicated.)  The near-universally accepted term for the most recent art and artists is contemporary.  We even have museums devoted exclusively to contemporary art.  When did we go from modern to contemporary?  The term ‘contemporary art’ has been defined in a variety of ways, all of which seek to distinguish newer art and artists from the modernists who came before.  Because those Picassos, Matisses and Kandinskys are over 100 years old – and that doesn’t sound very modern, does it?  Contemporary is the new modern, but how do we establish boundaries for a present tense that keeps moving into the past?

For some critics and art historians, contemporary art encompasses all the postwar movements of the 1950s and 1960s – Abstract Expressionism (think Jackson Pollock), Neo-Dada/Pre-Pop (think Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg) and Pop Art (think Andy Warhol) – and continuing all the way to the present.  Others say ‘contemporary’ means art since 1970.  Still others define it as art by artists living today, which means that the scope of contemporary art changes every time we see an artist’s obituary.  Once we’ve defined the time period covered by ‘contemporary art’, we must try to comprehend not only the artists and their particular works of art, but also struggle with what generalizations we can make about the various means, techniques, movements and ideas employed by these artists (and by the critics, curators and historians who think and write about them).  As an example of the difficulties involved in making such generalizations, consider just a few of the contemporary art ‘movements and styles’ identified by the obsessive-compulsive folks at Wikipedia: environmental art, holography, postminimalism, wildstyle,  froissage, culture jamming, transgressive art, transavantgarde, neo-expressionism, hyperrealism, pseudorealism, toyism, stuckism, superflat and metamodernism.  Where to find an umbrella big enough to cover all these and many more disparate paradigms?

Considering the breadth of contemporary art, it is foolish (even dangerous) to attempt generalizations.  We can only point to some common trends.  It is almost a cliché to say that contemporary artists seek to challenge our understanding of what art is and can be and what the artist’s role is in ‘creating’ the art, but many contemporary artists are interested in exploring (and challenging assumptions about) the nature of art – what is art?, is this art?  They also like to draw attention to (and challenge our assumptions about) the nature of the creative process and the relationship between the artist and the person who interacts with the artwork, or buys the artwork.  While some contemporary artists create works of art that require sophisticated artistic skills, others deemphasize technical skill and instead focus on what is simple, easy or already visible (everyday objects, advertising, etc.) – they appropriate the work of others or use assistants or the public to execute their ideas.  Others use high-tech techniques that permit the creation of stunning visual effects that could not have existed in the days before computers and digital manipulation.  The age-old questions about the relationship between the artwork and external reality (if they even concede its existence) continue to be asked but in new ways.

Contemporary artists use contemporary media.  Instead of painting a canvas, framing it and hanging it on a wall, or shaping a sculpture from stone, bronze or clay, many of them create performances and installations that live temporary lives; after the happening happens, it exists only in various forms of documentation: videos and photographs, preparatory sketches and props.  They create artworks that reshape the environment or change with time.  They make artworks about their own artworks or the artworks of others.  They blur boundaries between trash and art, art and commerce, lowbrow and highbrow, painting and sculpture, word and picture, sight and sound, performance and exhibit.  (Is this photograph art or is it a photograph of art?)  They take a tradition and add something that doesn’t belong, or subtract something that does.  They break the rules or they draw your attention to the rules they are following.  While some contemporary artists may only want you to come away from their work thinking “What pretty art” or “Wow is he talented!”, it is more likely that they want to send you away from an encounter with their art filled with questions: ‘Why this?”, “What for?” and perhaps, ultimately, “Why not?”

All this is prelude for my latest meta-list: Best Contemporary Visual Artists – the Critics’ Picks.  To make the list, I collected a number of lists of the best contemporary artists (mostly still living, but a few who have recently passed) and arranged them with the most-listed artists at the top.  Then, for each artist, I compiled their most highly-regarded works of art.  These range from relatively traditional paintings and sculptures to a man with gold paint on his face explaining artworks to a dead rabbit, a shark floating in formaldehyde, a room full of light, pictures cut out of biker magazines, a portrait created from thousands of magazine pictures, instructions for painting a wall and many more.  I hope you enjoy the list and use it to explore the world of contemporary art.

Poetry in Motion: Introducing the Revised Poetry Meta-Lists

I have completely revised my poetry meta-lists.  The most significant difference is that the ranked list contains links to the texts of nearly every poem, from the haikus of Bashō, Issa and Buson, to the epic poems of Homer, Dante, John Milton, and Ferdowsi.  As you will see from the introductions to the revised lists, I tried very hard to include poets and poems from all over the world in order to counteract the persistent bias in favor of poems originally written in English.  While I recognize that translating poetry is enormously challenging and that there may be dozens, even hundreds of legitimate translations for some non-English language poems, I am not willing to accept the notion that poetry is immune to translation.  On the other hand, I recognize that in some ways, a poem’s translator becomes a collaborator of sorts, and that some translations are more ‘poetic’ than others.  For an example, take a look at this website showing over 30 different translations of Matsuo Bashō’s most famous haiku (my favorite is by Alan Watts).  Most of the links to translated poems include the name of the translator.  In spite of my diligent efforts to be inclusive, the majority of the poems on the lists were originally written in English.

The revised poetry lists are:

The Best Poetry of All Time – A List with Links
The Best Poets and their Best Poems
The Best Poems of All Time – Chronological

In the process of developing the revised poetry lists, I created a meta-list of the Best Poets of All Time.  As with the poetry lists, I used some affirmative action techniques to overcome the overwhelming bias towards English-speaking poets (except for the list on one website, which appeared to have been commandeered by Germanophiles).  Here are the results, ranked, of the poets on three or more of the “Best Poets” lists I found:

On 16 “Best Poets” Lists
Emily Dickinson
(US, 1830-1886)

On 15 Lists
William Shakespeare
(UK, 1564-1616)

13 Lists
Dante Alighieri
(Italy, 1265-1321)
Walt Whitman (US, 1819-1892)
W.B. Yeats (Ireland, 1865-1939)

12
William Blake
(UK, 1757-1827)
Robert Frost (US, 1874-1963)

11
John Keats
(UK, 1795-1821)

10
William Wordsworth (UK, 1770-1850)
Percy Bysshe Shelley (UK, 1792-1822)
Edgar Allan Poe (US, 1809-1849)
Rainer Maria Rilke
(Czech Republic, 1875-1926)
T.S. Eliot (US/UK, 1888-1965)

9
Homer (Ancient Greece, c. 800-700 BCE)
John Donne (UK, 1572-1631)
John Milton (UK, 1608-1674)
Robert Burns (UK: Scotland, 1759-1796)
Pablo Neruda (Chile, 1904-1973)
Sylvia Plath (US, 1932-1963)

8
Geoffrey Chaucer (UK, c. 1343-1400)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Germany, 1749-1832)
Robert Browning (UK, 1812-1889)
Wallace Stevens (US, 1879-1955)
Langston Hughes (US, 1902-1967)

7
Virgil (Ancient Rome, 70-19 BCE)
Li Bai (Li Po) (China, 705-762 CE)
Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (Persia/Iran, 1207-1273)
George Gordon, Lord Byron (UK, 1788-1824)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (UK, 1809-1892)
Charles Baudelaire (France, 1821-1867)
E.E. Cummings (US, 1894-1962)

6
Du Fu (Tu Fu) (China, 712-770)
Petrarch (Italy, 1304-1374)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (UK, 1806-1861)
Thomas Hardy (UK, 1840-1928)
Ezra Pound (US, 1885-1972)
W.H. Auden (UK/US, 1907-1973)
Dylan Thomas (UK: Wales, 1914-1953)

5
Sappho (Ancient Greece, c.630-c.570 BCE)
Ovid (Ancient Rome, 43 BCE – 18 CE)
Alexander Pope (UK, 1688-1744)
Alexander Pushkin (Russia, 1799-1837)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (US, 1807-1882)
Arthur Rimbaud
(France, 1854-1891)
Rudyard Kipling (UK, 1865-1936)
William Carlos Williams (US, 1883-1963)
Elizabeth Bishop (US, 1911-1979)

4
Ferdowsi (Persia/Iran, 940-1020)
Omar Khayyam (Persia/Iran, 1048-1131)
Matsuo Bashō (Japan, 1644-1694)
Friedrich Schiller (Germany, 1759-1805)
Friedrich Hölderlin (Germany, 1770-1843)
Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg) (Germany, 1772-1801)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (UK, 1772-1834)
Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff (Poland/Germany, 1788-1857)
Victor Hugo (France, 1802-1885)
Ralph Waldo Emerson (US, 1803-1882)
Oscar Wilde (Ireland, 1854-1900)
Rabindranath Tagore (India, 1861-1941)
Carl Sandburg (US, 1878-1967)
Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, 1899-1986)
Allen Ginsberg (US, 1926-1997)
Maya Angelou (US, 1928-2014)

3
Horace (Ancient Rome, 65-8 BCE)
Wang Wei (China, 699-759 CE)
Hafez (Persia/Iran, 1325-1390)
Sir Thomas Wyatt (UK, 1503-1542)
Luís Vaz de Camões (Portugal, 1524-1580)
Sir Walter Raleigh (UK, 1552-1618)
George Herbert (UK: Wales, 1593-1633)
Heinrich Heine (Germany, 1797-1856)
Giacomo Leopardi (Italy, 1798-1837)
Henrik Ibsen (Norway, 1828-1906)
Lewis Carroll (UK, 1832-1898)
Mark Twain
(US, 1835-1910)
Robert Louis Stevenson (UK: Scotland, 1850-1894)
A.E. Housman (UK, 1859-1936)
Fernando Pessoa (Portugal, 1888-1935)
Anna Akhmatova (Russia, 1889-1966)
Marina Tsvetaeva (Russia, 1892-1941)
Edna St. Vincent Millay (US, 1892-1950)
Wilfred Owen (UK, 1893-1918)
Ogden Nash (US, 1902-1971)
Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1914-1998)
Philip Larkin (UK, 1922-1985)
Ted Hughes (UK, 1930-1998)
Shel Silverstein (US, 1930-1999)
Seamus Heaney (Ireland, 1939-2013)
Billy Collins (US, 1941- )

Oscar Preview: My Favorite Films of 2010-2014

With the Oscars coming up this Sunday, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of my favorite and least favorite movies from the last few years.  As always, your comments are welcome!

– John

Highest Rated Feature Films: 2010-2014

5 stars
The Tree of Life (Terence Malick, 2011) US
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012) US
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) US

4 1/2 stars
The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010) US
جدایی نادر از سیمین [A Separation] (Asghar Farhadi, 2011) Iran
Le gamin au vélo [The Kid With a Bike] (Luc & Jean-Pierre Dardenne, 2011) Belgium
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012) US
Des hommes et des dieux [Of Gods and Men] (Xavier Beauvois, 2012) France
Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) France
Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012) US
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013) US 
Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) US
Nebraska (Alexander Payne, 2013) US 
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013) US
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013) US 
Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013) US
La grande bellezza [The Great Beauty] (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013) Italy
Ida (Pawel Pawikowski, 2013) Poland
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013) UK 
Happy Christmas (Joe Swanberg, 2014) US
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014) US
Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, 2014) UK

4 stars
Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010) US
The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010) US
Greenberg (Noah Baumbach, 2010) US
Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2010) UK
Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010) US
The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011) US
Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011) Denmark
Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011) US
50/50 (Jonathan Levine, 2011) US 
Hugo (Martin Scorcese, 2011) US
Win Win (Thomas McCarthy, 2011) US 
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) France 
The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev, 2011) US
Bonsái (Cristián Jiménez, 2011) Chile
Like Crazy (Drake Doremus, 2011) US
Margin Call (J.C. Chandor, 2011) US
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Glenn Ficarra, 2011) US 
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011) Canada
Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012) US
The Paperboy (Lee Daniels, 2012) US
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) US 
Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012) US
Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, 2012) US
A Late Quartet (Yaron Zilberman, 2012) US
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorcese, 2013) US 
The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt, 2013) US
American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013) US
The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013) US
Short Term 12 (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2013) US
All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor, 2013) US
Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh, 2013) US
Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, 2013) US
American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014) US
The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014) Australia
Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014) US
The Theory of Everything (James Marsh, 2014) UK

Highest Rated Documentary Films: 2010-2014

5 stars
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, 2012) Germany/US

4 1/2 stars
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, 2010) US
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010) US
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life (Werner Herzog, 2011) Germany/US

4 stars
Restrepo (Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington, 2010) US/Afghanistan
Buck (Cindy Meehl, 2011) US
Pina (Wim Wenders, 2011) Germany
Muscle Shoals (Greg “Freddy” Camalier, 2013) US
Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling, 2013) US
Particle Fever (Mark Levinson, 2013) US/Switzerland

Lowest Rated Films: 2010-2014

2 stars
Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) US

2 1/2 stars
Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011) US
House at the End of the Street (Mark Tonderai, 2012) Canada/US

Why King Aethelred Was Unready and Other Tales of Royal Epithets

While the demise of the absolute monarchy and the decline of the aristocracy have generally been heralded as progress in human events, they have deprived us of a most ingenious way of labeling our rulers: the epithet. Gone are the days when one could refer to leaders as Barack, the Osama-Killer, Vladimir, the Crimea Annexer, or Angela, the ATM of Europe. To recapture some of the strangeness, braggadocio and occasional hilarity contained in royal and aristocratic epithets, I took a look back at the epithets of yesteryear. The practice, which goes back to at least the 6th Century BCE seemed to reach its peak in the Middle Ages, between about 1000 and 1500. Here’s what I found.

1.  They’re Grrrrrrrreat!

For much of history, the best thing you could say about a ruler was that he or she was “Great.” From the Persians Cyrus and Darius and the Macedonian Alexander to the Russians (Peter and Catherine), the designation “Great” signified a ruler whose accomplishments – often in the area of empire building – were unparalleled in their time. The list that follows shows a few of those designated as “the Great.”

Cyrus the Great                      (King of Persia, 559-530 BCE)
Darius I, the Great                 (King of Persia, 522-486 BCE)
Alexander the Great              (King of Macedon, 330-323 BCE)
Mithradates II, the Great      (King of Parthia, 123-87 BCE)
Constantine I, the Great       (Roman Emperor, 324-337 CE)
Theoderic the Great              (King of the Ostrogoths, 493-526 CE)
Justinian I, the Great             (Byzantine Emperor, 527-565 CE)
Charles I, Charlemagne (the Great)   (Holy Roman Emperor, 800–814 CE)
Alfred the Great                     (King of England, 871–899 CE)
Otto I, the Great                     (Holy Roman Emperor, 936–973 CE)
William V, the Great               (Duke of Aquitaine, 993–1030 CE)
Canute the Great                    (King of England, 1016–1035)
Knud I, the Great                    (King of Denmark, 1019–1035)
Sancho I, the Great                (King of Castile, 1029–1035)
Ferdinand I, the Great           (King of Castile, 1035–1065)
Valdemar I, the Great            (King of Denmark, 1157–1182)
Peter III, the Great                  (King of Aragon, 1276–1285)
Albert II, the Great                  (Duke of Mecklenburg, 1329-1379)
Ivan III, the Great                    (Grand Prince of Russia, 1462–1505)
Peter I, the Great                    (Tsar/Emperor of Russia, 1682–1725)
Frederick II, the Great            (King of Prussia, 1712-1786)
Catherine II, the Great           (Empress of Russia, 1762–1796)

Only one prominent ruler ever earned an epithet that exceeded “the Great” – Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire for 46 years in the 16th Century, must be granted a special place in the book of epithets, for “the Magnificent”, even if hyperbolic, must outrank “the Great” on any scale.  (Giving Suleiman a run for his money, though, is Otto I, the Illustrious (Duke of Saxony, 880-912), although while Suleiman the Magnificent works for the Sultan of a giant empire, “Otto the Illustrious” seems a little too much for the Duke of Saxony).

2.  Not Great, But… 

Most rulers did not reach greatness, and their epithets reflect an attempt by followers to pick out a quality – preferably a positive one – that represented the best or most characteristic aspect of the ruler.  For some, this quality was goodness, presumably a moral quality, not just a step down from “Great.”

Magnus the Good                   (King of Denmark, 1042–1046)
John III, the Good                    (Duke of Brittany, 1312–1341)
John II, the Good                     (King of France, 1350–1364)
Philip the Good                       (Duke of Burgundy, 1419–1467)
René the Good                        (King of Naples, 1434–1480)

In some cases, “Good” wasn’t good enough, so ancient peoples found other epithets to describe the goodness of their ruler.  Three kings of Aragon, in Spain, for example, were Alfonso III, the Generous (reigned 1285-1291), Alfonso IV, the Benign (reigned 1327-1336) and Alfonso V, the Magnanimous (reigned 1416-1458).  Assuming that “benign” refers to kindness and generosity and not a diagnosis, all three Alfonso’s had goodness running in their Aragonese blood.  The folks seeking an epithet for 12th Century Danish King Erik I decided he was not just good now, but good always, so they named him, “the Evergood.”  (I have yet to find a ruler with the epithet “the Ever-ready”, but I will keep looking.)

  1. Here I Come to Save the Day! 

After “the Great” and “the Good”, those affixing epithets to their rulers’ names had to pick from several paths: (1) war; (2) religion; (3) physical characteristics; or (4) going negative.  Going on the ‘war’ path could mean focusing on the ruler’s personal strength and bravery.  Polish King Augustus II, the Strong (reigned 1694-1733) got his epithet in part by breaking horseshoes with his bare hands.  We assume that William IV, the Strong-Armed (Duke of Aquitaine, reigned 963-993 CE) earned his sobriquet by feats of strength, not by having someone take advantage of him.  William VII, Duke of Aquitaine (reigned 1039-1058) was “the Brave”; John, Duke of Burgundy (reigned 1404-1419) was “the Fearless”, and Alfonso VI, King of Castile (reigned 1072-1109) was “the Valiant.”  Defying categorization are Alfonso I, the Battler (King of Aragon, 1104-1134) and Alan IV, the Iron-Gloved (Duke of Brittany, 1084-1112).

Then there were The Bold Ones:
Philip III, the Bold   (King of France, 1270–1285)
Philip the Bold        (Duke of Burgundy, 1363–1404)
Albert the Bold       (Duke of Saxony, 1464-1500)
Charles the Bold    (Duke of Burgundy, 1467–1477)

Leaders who were known for a particular victory or conquest often acquired the epithet “the Victorious”:
Erik the Victorious                   (King of Sweden, 980–995)
Valdemar II, the Victorious    (King of Denmark, 1202–1241)
John I, the Victorious              (Duke of Brabant, 1267–1294)

or “the Conqueror”:
William I, the Conqueror      (King of England, 1066–1087)
James I, the Conqueror        (King of Aragon, 1214–1276)
John IV, the Conqueror        (Duke of Brittany, 1364–1399)

In a deviation from the standard procedure, after Danish King Erik II (reigned 1134-1137) led his troops to victory in a successful rebellion, he was given the epithet “the Memorable.”

Another way to recognize your ruler for his military feats is to give him an epithet that is the name of an ancient Greek warrior:
Albert III, Achilles     (Elector of Brandenburg, 1440-1486)
Albert, Alcibiades    (Margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, 1527-1553)

Another way to show the bravery and boldness of your leader is to compare him to a ferocious animal.  We all know about Richard I, the Lion–Hearted (King of England, 1189–1199), but what about these other lions:
Henry III, the Lion (Duke of Saxony, 1142-1180)
Louis VIII, the Lion (King of France, 1223–1226)
Henry II, the Lion (Lord of Mecklenburg, 1287-1329)

In second place, far behind ‘lion’, is the bear, as exemplified by Albert I, the Bear (Duke of Saxony, 1139-1142).  A more confusing animal epithet belongs to Erik III, the Lamb (King of Denmark, 1137–1146).  Is there a religious connection (Jesus as the Lamb of God?) or was he seen as meek and mild, not usually qualities valued in 12th Century kings?

(While on the animal comparisons, take a look at Harold I, Harefoot (King of England, 1035–1040) who was renowned for his speed and skill as a hunter.  Eric II of Denmark was also known as Harefoot for a time.)

  1. Holy, holy, holy. 

Before the separation of church and state, the religiosity of a leader could go a long way toward winning him or her support.  For that reason, many epithets refer to religious and spiritual qualities, the most common being piety:
Louis I, the Pious             (Holy Roman Emperor, 814–840 CE)
William I, the Pious         (Duke of Aquitaine, 898–918 CE)
Robert II, the Pious         (King of France, 996–1031 CE)
George, the Pious           (Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, 1536-1543)
Frederick II, the Pious    (Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1756-1785)

Holy Roman Emperor Henry II (reigned 1002-1024), known as “the Saint”, was canonized in 1146.  Spanish King Ferdinand III, the Saint (reigned 1217-1252) was canonized in 1671.  King Edward of England, who reigned from 1042-1066, received the epithet “the Confessor” because he led a saintly life but was not a martyr.  (Even after Edward was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1161, he was not called “the Saint”).  Though of royal blood, Ramiro II, the Monk (King of Aragon, 1134–1137) actually grew up in a Benedictine monastery and after three years as king, he returned to the contemplative life.  John I, the Theologian (Lord of Mecklenburg, 1227-1264) was a religious scholar in his spare time and Henry I, the Pilgrim (Lord of Mecklenburg, 1264-1271, 1298-1302) liked to travel to religious sites.

It is a bit puzzling why both Ferdinand, King of Aragon (reigned 1479-1516), and his wife Isabella, Queen of Castile (reigned 1474-1504), received the epithets “the Catholic”, when the Reconquista of Iberia from the Muslims was nearly complete and the Protestant Reformation had not yet begun.  I have also been unable to find the basis for the epithet given to Alfonso II, the Chaste (King of Aragon, 1164–1196).  Alfonso appears to have had a long married life, which produced many children.  There is even some hint that he may have engaged in extramarital affairs.  Maybe they meant “chased.”

5.  Now It Gets Ugly

The physical appearance of the ruler was apparently fair game for epithets, whether merely descriptive or downright insulting.

Some rulers were known for their height:
Knut the Tall         (King of Sweden, 1229–1234)
Albert the Tall      (Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. 1252-1269)
Philip V, the Tall   (King of France, 1316–1322)

And others, not so much:
Pepin the Short                      (King of the Franks, 751-768 CE)
Władysław the Elbow-high   (King of Poland, 1320-1333)

Some were handsome and fair (meaning fair in appearance, not in meting out justice):
Albert VII, the Handsome    (Duke of Mecklenburg, 1503-1547)
Philip I, the Handsome        (King of Castile, 1504-1506)
Philip IV, the Fair                  (King of France, 1285–1314)
Charles IV, the Fair              (King of France, 1322–28)

Redheads were distinctive, then as now:
Haaken the Red           (King of Sweden, 1066–1079)
John I, the Red             (Duke of Brittany, 1221–1286)

Light hair was also a mark of distinction:
William III, the Towhead      (Duke of Aquitaine, 934–963 CE)

Beards were notable:
Godfrey I, the Bearded      (Count of Louvain, 1106–1128)
George the Bearded          (Duke of Saxony, 1500-1539)

Red beards were even more notable:
Frederick I, Barbarossa (Red-Beard)      (Holy Roman Emperor, 1155-1190)

And so were beards with unusual shapes:
Alan II, Twistedbeard     (Duke of Brittany, 937–952 CE)
Svend I, Forkbeard        (King of Denmark, 986–1014 CE)

A number of rulers are identified by their substantial girth:
Charles III, the Fat      (Holy Roman Emperor, 881–887 CE)
William VI, the Fat      (Duke of Aquitaine, 1030–1038)
Louis VI, the Fat         (King of France, 1108–1137)
Conan III, the Fat       (Duke of Brittany, 1112–1148)
Henry IV, the Fat       (Duke of Mecklenburg, 1422-1477)

At least one by his leanness:
Henry, the Gaunt       (Duke of Mecklenburg-Stargard, 1417-1466)

Others by lack of hair:
Charles II, the Bald      (Holy Roman Emperor, 875–877 CE)
John II, the Bald           (Lord of Werle-Güstrow, 1316-1337)

Or possibly too much hair:
Bernard II, Plantapilosa (hairy or hairy-footed)     (Count of Auvergne, 872–885 CE)

Some rulers were crippled by disease.
Sigobert the Lame       (King of the Franks, 483-507 CE)
Charles II, the Lame    (King of Naples, 1285–1309)

Others were missing parts:
Frederick II, the One-Eyed      (Duke of Swabia, 1105-1147)

Or had dental issues:
Harald I, Bluetooth (King of Denmark, 940–986 CE)

Other epithets can only be regarded as insults:
Nicholas IV, Pig’s Eyes (Lord of Werle, 1350-1354)

6.  It’s What’s Inside that Counts

Physical characteristics were visible to all, while other qualities could only be revealed by the ruler’s actions.

One of the most popular such qualities was wisdom:
Leo VI, the Wise         (Byzantine Emperor, 886-912 CE)
Robert the Wise         (King of Naples, 1309–1343)
Charles V, the Wise   (King of France, 1364–1380)
Frederick the Wise    (Duke of Bavaria-Landshut, 1375-1393)

Is it better to be wise or learned?  Ask Alfonso X:
Alfonso X, the Learned     (King of Castile, 1252–1284)

Not sure where to put this one but I’m sure Peter IV would know the protocol:
Peter IV, the Ceremonious      (King of Aragon, 1336–1387)

It’s hard to tell whether some epithets are meant as praise or denigration:
Peter, the Cruel          (King of Castile, 1350–1369)
John III, the Pitiless    (Duke of Bavaria-Straubing, 1418-1425)
Ivan IV, the Terrible   (Russian Tsar, 1533–1584)

Are these epithets referring to the rulers’ treatment of their enemies or their own subjects?  (Maybe their own subjects are their enemies.)  My guess is that “cruel”, “pitiless”, and “terrible” were meant as high praise.

We all know that pride goeth before a fall, but what if it follows a ruler’s name?  Once again, my guess is that the quality of pride is here seen as positive.
Henry X, the Proud   (Duke of Bavaria, 1126-1138)
Henry II the Proud   (Duke of Saxony, 1137-1139)

It is difficult to find the positive spin on the next set of epithets, which describe unpleasant traits of the ruler.  I don’t think these were run by the publicist first.
Arnulf the Bad                        (Duke of Bavaria, 937-938 CE)
Aethelred II, the Unready     (King of England, 978–1016 CE)
Louis V, the Sluggard            (King of Western Francia, 986-987 CE)
Henry II, the Quarrelsome   (Duke of Bavaria, 955-976 CE)
Louis X, the Stubborn           (King of France, 1314–1316)
Otto VII, the Lazy                   (Duke of Bavaria, 1347-1351)

The hope at the bottom of the box:
Henry V, the Peaceful      (Duke of Mecklenburg, 1503-1552)

  1. Miscellany

Because of the rules of royal and aristocratic succession, it was not uncommon for an infant or small child to become a king.
Louis III, the Child             (Holy Roman Emperor, 899–911 CE)
Otto the Child                   (Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, 1235-1252)
Nicholas I, the Child         (Lord of Rostock, 1282-1314)

In one case, the baby was only king for five days:
John I, the Posthumous      (King of France, November 15-20, 1316)

Rulers could be young…
Louis VII, the Young      (King of France, 1137–1180)

Or old.
Emund the Old      (King of Sweden, 1050–1060)

Adopted:
Childebert the Adopted      (King of the Franks, 656-657 CE)

Or born out of wedlock (at least I think that’s what they mean):
Ebalus the Bastard      (Duke of Aquitaine, 927–934 CE)

Sometimes, there is a story attached to the epithet.  Queen Mary of England (reigned 1553-1558), earned the name “Bloody Mary” after executing Protestants.  Holy Roman Emperor Henry I (reigned 919-936 CE) was called “the Fowler” because he was fixing his birding nets when informed that he was to be king.  Ferdinand IV, King of Castile (reigned 1295-1312) was given the epithet “the Summoned” after two brothers about to be executed specified a time for him to answer for their deaths in the afterworld.  Danish King Erik IV (reigned 1241-1250) earned notoriety for his hated tax on ploughs, and is now known as “Ploughpenny.” Henry III, the Sufferer (King of Castile, 1390–1406) died at the age of 16 after a long, painful illness.

Regarding Joanna I, the Mad (Queen of Castile, 1504-1555), there is conflicting evidence about whether Queen Joanna was mentally ill, but the move to have her relinquish her rights after the death of her husband Philip I in 1506 and confine herself to a convent seems like a naked power grab.

Sometimes the epithet indicates a favorite pastime:
William IX, the Troubadour        (Duke of Aquitaine, 1086–1126)
John, the Alchemist                     (Margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, 1440-1457)
William IV, the Sailor–King        (King of England, 1830–1837)

Regarding Conan I, the Crooked (Duke of Brittany, 990–992), it is unclear whether “Crooked” refers to a physical ailment or some character trait.

Regarding Charles III, the Simple (King of Western Francia, 898-922), it is unclear whether King Charles suffered from a mental ailment or whether he was merely straightforward and uncomplicated.

The love of the subjects for their king is the focus of these French epithets:
Charles VI, the Well–Beloved       (King of France, 1380–1422)
Louis XV, the Well–Beloved         (King of France, 1715–74)

These French kings have well-known nicknames:
Louis XIV, the Sun King                    (King of France, 1643–1715)
Louis–Philippe, the Citizen King    (King of France, 1830–48)

Two more for good measure:
Henry IX, the Black      (Duke of Bavaria, 1120-1126)
Henry XVI the Rich      (Duke of Bavaria-Landshut, 1392-1450)

NOTE: THIS IS ONLY A SMALL CROSS-SECTION OF THE ROYAL AND ARISTOCRATIC EPITHETS GIVEN TO RULERS IN THE PAST. 

Oh, and about Aethelred the Unready – the term “Unready” is a mistranslation, but it has stuck for several hundred years and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.  Scholars now say that a better term would be “Ill-advised”, which is a critique of Aethelred’s participation in a failed coup attempt, which forced him to flee England for a while.

 

 

 

 

It’s About Time: The Timelines of Human History

A timeline is a sort of chronological list and so it is fitting that Make Lists, Not War should include some timelines.  I’ve already published a timetable of scientific discovery, so now I’ve created a much larger set of timetables covering human history, beginning with our hominid ancestors 6.5 million years ago and concluding (for now) with 2014 in the Common Era (CE).  I’ve included scads of photos and maps, and tried to reduce the text to a minimum.  Where there are multiple items with the same date, I have followed a rough hierarchy, as follows:

Climate/Natural Disasters
World Population
Political Events
Religious Events
Cultural Events (incl. sports)
Scientific Discoveries
Exploration
Inventions
Architecture
Sculpture
Painting & Other Visual Arts
Literature: (1) Non-fiction, (2) Fiction/Poetry
Music: (1) Classical; (2) Jazz; (3) Other
Film
Photography
Deaths
Births

I realize that some (perhaps most) historians would find these timelines anathema to the true study of history, and I would have to agree, to some extent.  Anyone familiar with the study of history will tell you that the days of memorizing names and dates are long gone.  This is the time of understanding causes and movements, even going so far as to analyze the various ways in which scholars have studied particular historical events or trends over time.  Concepts, ideas, meaning and purpose are the substance of today’s history, not who invented this and which general won what battle.

But I suspect even the most up-to-date historian or history teacher would admit that a few facts now and then can anchor those theories and movements to real people at real times.  A concept or an idea, after all, must be thought of by a mind of a specific person who must communicate it or act it out.  It is true that a list of events without a deeper context lacks the threads of the narratives that carry them from person to event to person, etc. (e.g., there is no timeline event labeled “nationalism”, “humanism”, or even “Industrial Revolution”).  Should I hit  the delete button, then?  Is publishing these timelines going to do more harm than good?  I somehow doubt it.  To me, they constitute a treasure chest of interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing facts about human history, with the political events of the day set alongside scientific and technological achievements, the great works of art and literature and various aspects of culture (from sports to gay rights to the labor movement).  The timelines have rekindled a passion for history; instead of sending me back to the “just the facts” mode of  studying history, these lists have made me want to read more about the deeper narratives that weave these disparate facts together.  I hope they do the same for you.

Timeline of Human History I: Prehistory-1499
Timeline of Human History II: 1500-1799
Timeline of Human History III: 1800-1899
Timeline of Human History IV: 1900-2014

Favorite Movies Seen in 2014*

The following is a list of movies I saw for the first time in 2014 that I rated 4.5 or 5.0 stars out of 5.  The list includes movies that were made in 2014 and before, and also includes a couple of 2014 movies that I saw in January 2015 (hence the asterisk above).  The idea of reducing one’s opinion about a movie to a single 1-5 rating has always seemed a bit ridiculous to me – there are so many facets to filmmaking that I sometimes wish we could rate each facet separately: the writing, cinematography, editing, sound, soundtrack, acting, etc.  (Or just discuss them without ratings – there’s an idea.)  But I do find it useful to rate the movies, if only for occasions like this list.

5 Stars
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
Transcendent – Linklater and his actors have the power to create moments of true life that are evocative without being melodramatic; it is as much a story about parenting as growing up.
Sherlock, Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
An unevenness almost brought it down to a 4.5, but the chase sequence is the best I’ve ever seen, and the surreal section in which Buster steps into the movie screen is a timeless work of genius.

4.5 Stars
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
Joanna Newsom reading Thomas Pynchon as a manic pixie voice over; Omar in a cameo; Josh Brolin gruff but lovable; Owen Wilson, wacky but lovable; Katherine Waterston deceptive but lovable; and over them all is Joaquin’s Doc in a haze of pot smoke continuing to prove that he is the best of his generation (not just Her and The Master, go back to Gladiator, and Inventing the Abbotts and especially To Die For)
Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, 2014)
Remember Topsy-Turvy?  This is that history-buff Mike Leigh, not the contemporary working class dramedy director of Secrets & Lies (OK, they’re the same person). Timothy Spall gives the performance of a lifetime, but just as important are the women in his life – each of whom is etched in acid.  Thankfully, Leigh never tells you who to vote for.
The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
Like Fellini before him, Sorrentino is not afraid to let you know there is a real person behind the camera as well as in front of it; he has a photographer’s eye for great shots; the aging central character has many loves, not the least Rome and himself.
Ida (Pawel Pawlikowksi, 2013)
In early 1960s Poland, a young novitiate has a chance to explore the secular world before taking her vows – she goes on the road with an aunt and a journey of self-discovery, through the gray snowy towns and forests.  The tone is never sentimental or cliche – but there are secrets and surprises.
Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)
Alright alright alright! This has been an amazing run for Matthew McConaughey – I’ve seen this, Mud, The Paperboy, and Bernie in the past couple of years and he is stellar in every one.  Once again, the writing, direction and acting manage to take a potentially maudlin, sticky-sentimental tale and keep it real.
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013)
Almost every Coen brothers movie is a bit of a disappointment to me, because they are usually very close to perfect, but just miss the mark somewhere.  Still, they are so good that a near miss still rates a 4.5 from me.  Is Goodman right on the money or way over the top?  What does the cat symbolize?  (It symbolizes his pet.)  Are the songs his voiceover?
Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Spike Jonze likes to start with an out-there concept (his own or Charlie Kaufman’s), but it doesn’t work without real human emotion.  The conceit here is that the ‘real’ relationship is with a machine, a kinder, gentler HAL 9000 who sounds just like Scarlet Johansson.
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
The third part of the trilogy that might be called Boyhood: The Prologue.  Every 10 years or so, we check in with a couple we met on a train so long ago.  This one is about marriage and so there is of course, a big fight.  And a reconciliation?
The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011)
A heartbreaking unpredictable tale of an abandoned boy and the woman who tries to make a home for him.
Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog, 2011)
Werner Herzog doesn’t get the death penalty.  And he is not afraid to voice his criticisms in his Werner Herzogian way while interviewing two boys who committed a random murder, one of whom is on death row.
Crazy Love (Dan Klores & Fisher Stevens, 2007)
A typical American love story, except for the part about hiring someone to throw acid in your girlfriend’s face.
Caché (Hidden) (Michael Haneke, 2005)
Hitchcockian suspense tale about a family that is being watched, but they don’t know why.  Keeps you thinking right until the very last frame.
Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
Just young people doing what they do, except for the raping maybe.  The Thing that Wouldn’t Leave.
The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)
Casting Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe was like casting Woody Allen as Superman – and Robert Altman knew exactly what he was doing.  Altman’s 70’s rethinking of the detective flick involves self-indulgence, ennui and worshipping lots of false idols.  Oh – and Marlowe’s cat is missing (what does that symbolize?).
A Woman Is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)
Take Belmondo and Seberg’s conversations from Breathless and convert them into a parody of sit-com dialogue and you’ll get an idea of this light-hearted experiment from Godard.
Earth (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1930)
Wheat, wheat, fields of wheat.  And a tractor.  Change comes to the Ukraine.
Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst, 1929)
American actress Louise Brooks made her best movie in Germany.  It’s a morality tale about a good-time girl who gets her comeuppance, but it’s the fun times we remember.
Safety Last (Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor, 1923)
The famous climb up the side of the building is the highlight, but there are lots of gags before and after, and even a fair amount of character development.

 

The Best of 2014: Your Meta-Lists Have Arrived

When historians look back on 2014, they will probably remember it for one event: Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.  Putin’s action hearkened back to a long line of precedent of unilateral annexation by such power-mongers and empire builders as Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Tughril Beg, Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and so many more. But for those who follow pop culture, the highlights of the year involved names like: FKA Twigs, Taylor Swift, Perfume Genius, Flying Lotus, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Anthony Doerr, Leslie Jamison and Marilynne Robinson.

Here are the meta-lists of the best movies, music and books of 2014, as determined by a critical consensus.

Best Films of 2014
Best Books of 2014
Best Music of 2014

 

They Blinded Us with Science

“So little time – so much to know!”  – Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D.

I’ve been taking a break from blogging about the arts to spend some time with the sciences. I’ve immersed myself in discoveries, inventions, explorations, and observations.  I’ve been learning (or relearning) about black holes, internal combustion engines, photosynthesis, neurotransmitters, planes, trains and automobiles, the Krebs cycle, the ozone layer, dinosaurs, gravitation, the periodic table, inertia, entropy, psychoanalysis, safety pins, parachutes, plate tectonics, washing machines, sewing machines, evolution, radio waves, the speed of light, hydrothermal vents, animal domestication, genetic modification and The Pill.  I watched the rise and fall of catastrophism, vitalism, phlogiston, luminiferous aether, spontaneous generation, the oar-powered submarine and the steam-powered automobile.  For those easily intimidated by science, I promise you that lying just beneath all the names and dates, technical terms and and chemical and mathematical formulas, are lots of fascinating stories and unforgettable characters.  I even sneaked in a couple of jokes here and there – extra points for those who find them.

Here are my four new science lists:

Most Important Scientific Discoveries of All Time
This meta-list contains all the discoveries and inventions on three or more of the 17+ lists I found.  They are organized by rank, with the most-listed discoveries on top.  Accompanying each discovery is an illustration of some kind and a short essay about the topic.

Most Important Scientific Discoveries – Chronological
Similar to the first list, but this one is organized chronologically, so you can get a better sense of the history of science, and it includes all the discoveries/inventions that were on two or more of the 17+ original source lists.  Because this list was so long, I decided not to add illustrations, although I may change my mind on this.

The Greatest Scientists of All Time
If you’ve been following along, you know how this works.  I found lots of ‘greatest scientists of all time’ lists and combined them into a meta-list.  This list is organized by rank, meaning that the scientists on the most lists are at the top.  For each scientist, I’ve included a short description of his or her achievements, as well as birth and death dates, country of origin and a picture.

Timeline of Science and Technology
If you’re short on time and want an overview of scientific knowledge, this is the list for you.  I combined the Scientific Discoveries, Greatest Scientists and Best Inventions lists, mixed in some of the Art and Architecture lists, and then threw in some random information (worst floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; milestones of human evolution; the formation of the universe, our solar system, etc.).  The result is a somewhat eclectic selection of events that have occurred over the last 13.8 billion years, with emphasis on the last 400 years or so.   Each entry is only a sentence long, so this one is perfect for those with short attention spans.  And there are pictures.

I hope you’ll  take a look.  And feel free to leave a comment.

Don’t Adjust Your Set – Introducing the Best TV Shows List

Television in the English-speaking world has always been a medium with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove.  It’s been called the ‘boob tube’ and the ‘idiot box’, and social scientists remind us regularly how much time we spend watching it, while social critics condemn us for watching too much.  As early as 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow called television a “vast wasteland”, although, in a less often quoted line from the same speech, he added, “When television is good, nothing … is better.”

Despite occasional sporadically-enforced bans on television on ‘school nights’, I managed to watch an enormous amount of television while growing up in the ’60s and ’70s.  While I have curbed my TV appetite significantly in recent years, during my adulthood I have sat on a couch staring at a screen for more hours than I can count.  My tastes as a small child ran to cartoons (Tom & Jerry, Caspar, Roadrunner & Coyote, Bugs Bunny), the Little Rascals and Saturday morning live action shows (Banana Splits, H.R. Pufnstuf, anyone?)  By the time Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street came along in 1968, I was moving on to live TV series – Batman, Get Smart, Time Tunnel, Gomer Pyle – and movies.  My father and I had a ritual of going through the TV Guide every week so he could pick out great movies for me to watch.  Back then, the local stations and PBS played lots of old feature films – horror and science fiction particularly, but it could be anything from The Gold Rush to The Searchers to Gidget Goes Hawaiian.  (And of course the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz.  I’ll never forget the shock I got when my parents bought a color TV and I found out that Kansas was in black and white, but Oz was in dazzling Technicolor.)  The local stations also played reruns of cancelled series from the ‘50s and ‘60s, giving me the chance to see I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone and The Burns and Allen Show.  (Only later as an adult did I discover the joys of Your Show of Shows and the warped genius of Ernie Kovacs.)  Of course, television brought a lot more into the house than dramas and sit-coms, kids’ shows, and old movies.  Between 1968 and 1974, I watched battlefield coverage of the Vietnam War on the evening news, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the Miracle Mets winning the World Series, Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon, the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky chess match, the terrifying Munich Olympics, the Watergate hearings, and Nixon’s resignation – all live on TV.

While I always had my favorite shows, the omnipresence of programming, even before the explosion of channels with cable, meant that sometimes I settled for less – and there was plenty of it.  For every M*A*S*H, there was more than one One Day at a Time (ahh, Valerie Bertinelli…).  For every Columbo, there was a Charlie’s Angels.  By the mid-1970s, we had imported some British television (Monty Python, Masterpiece Theater) and raised sketch comedy to another level with Saturday Night Live.  But by the late ‘70s, American TV seemed to be in a slump that was only relieved somewhat by innovative series like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere in the early 1980s.  But a renaissance was coming, and it was heralded by two events: the rise of paid cable, particularly HBO, and Rupert Murdoch’s 1986 launching of Fox Television to challenge the big three TV networks.

In 1987, Fox premiered two landmark comedies: Married … with Children and The Tracey Ullmann Show (the latter included a Matt Groening cartoon feature that in 1989 would become The Simpsons.)  While they may seem tame now, these irreverent, push-the-envelope series and those that followed on Fox in the early 1990s (Beverly Hills 90210, Get a Life, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Melrose Place, The Ben Stiller Show, The X-Files, Party of Five, MadTV) shook up the rest of television and injected new life and creativity into the medium, leading to a sustained upsurge that may not have peaked yet.  When HBO abandoned its original purpose of showing theatrically-released movies and began producing consistently excellent original series in the late 1980s, the bar was raised even higher, as the major networks and even smaller cable channels like AMC, A&E, FX, TNT and TBS rose to the challenge set by The Larry Sanders Show, Oz, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Band of Brothers, The Wire, Deadwood, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.  We’re at a point now when serious critics will occasionally announce that the writing for the best television shows is better than that found in Hollywood’s latest releases.  I don’t feel qualified to agree or disagree, but I do think that Mr. Minow may have been right: if you were forced to watch a few hours from every one of the hundreds of available channels on your television (not to mention streaming content on Hulu, Netflix, etc.), you might decide that television is still a vast wasteland.  But if you choose carefully, and select the best that TV can offer, it would not surprise me if you concluded that the quality and entertainment value available is as good as anything else out there, if not better.

The above is just a prelude to my meta-list of the Best TV Shows of All Time, based on a compilation of numerous lists by critics, writers and experts (click on link below).  Disagree with the top vote-getter?  Don’t have a cow, man.

BEST TV SHOWS OF ALL TIME – THE CRITICS’ PICKS

Let The Games Begin: The Best Athletes Lists

At this point in my life, I’m not much of a sports fan.  I usually tell people it’s because I peaked too early.  As a young boy growing up in northern New Jersey, I had three favorite teams:  the New York Mets, the New York Knicks and the New York Jets.  On January 12, 1969, the Jets, led by Joe Namath, won the third Super Bowl.  This 7 1/2 year old was thrilled.  On October 16, 1969, the Miracle Mets beat the Orioles to win the World Series.  At 8 1/2, I was ecstatic.  Then, on May 8, 1970, the Knicks won the NBA championship.  Now aged 9, I was in heaven.  Several times over the next three years, my father took me to Madison Square Garden to see the Knicks play, and my uncle took me to Shea Stadium to see both the Mets and the Jets.  For a pre-teen fan, these experiences were life-changing.  (I have the programs to prove it.)  In the next years, I had occasional bursts of sports energy: the rivalry of Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg sparked a tennis craze while I was in high school in the mid-70s, and I followed the rise of the 49ers in college in the early 1980s, culminating in a San Francisco Super Bowl party I will never forget).  But as I entered adulthood, my interests slowly dwindled until my sports-watching was reduced to a few March Madness games, portions of the Summer and Winter Olympics (despite the often obnoxious network coverage), the Super Bowl, and various soccer, baseball, basketball and lacrosse games of my nieces and nephews.  Despite my ‘peaked too early’ excuse, the real reason for my retreat from sports fandom was time: it takes a lot of time to follow even one team closely, and there’s usually something else I’d rather be doing (or need to be doing) than watching sports.  On the other hand, I do appreciate the athleticism, strategy and competitive excitement of sporting events – basketball, football and tennis in particular – and if I sat down and watched a game right now, I’m pretty sure I would enjoy it.

All of which is prelude to my latest set of lists: The Best Athletes of All Time.  When I say “all time”, I’m really talking about recent history: the oldest athletes on the list were born in the 1870s, and the youngest in the mid-1980s.  Milo of Croton is not on the list, for example, nor are any other competitors from the Olympiads of Ancient Greece.  The emphasis is on the most popular sports in the U.S. (baseball, football, basketball, soccer/football, tennis, track & field, boxing) and there is a distinct U.S. bias generally, which seems to be a flaw in all the lists on this blog.  That being said, there is a significant amount of diversity in terms of sports (28) and countries of origin (43!).  There are two lists.  The first is Best Athletes of All Time – The Experts’ Picks, which tells you which athletes were ranked the highest overall.  This one has lots of pictures.  The second is Best Athletes – By Sport, which takes the first list and rearranges it so you can see the best athletes in a particular sport.  Sorry, no pictures on this one.