What is the world’s best website? What do we mean by best, anyway? Most educational, newsworthy, provocative, challenging, creative, technologically innovative, …? Of course there’s been plenty of efforts over the years to answer this question, often through the simple expedient of voting, or even more simply as defining it as the one with the biggest number of hits (i.e. the most popular).
For my money, the best is the Arts & Letters Daily, which in fact did win one of the ‘best website’ competitions, sponsored by The Guardian. It was created in 1998 by Denis Dutton, whose recent death at the relatively young age of 66 (prompting this blog post) was noted worldwide by his friends and admirers. And it was Denis who avowed, concerning Arts & Letters Daily, that “we will never have horoscopes”. The site is a ‘simple’ aggregator, meaning that it consists of annotated links to selected articles. The key to its success and immense appeal is the way that it achieves those two tasks: selecting and annotating. The articles are marvellous, and the brief commentary/annotation is witty, wry and winsome. As the New York Times eruditely noted, as a “vast, labyrinthine funnel, the site revels in profusion, diversion, digression and, ultimately, the interconnectedness of human endeavor of nearly every sort”. You can lose yourself for many happy hours browsing its contents.
It’s layout is also simple: three-columns, linking to ‘Articles of Note’, ‘New Books’ and ‘Essays and Opinions’. Current highlights (actually, they’re all highlights) include:
- an article from The Economist on the battle of Towton (medieval warfare);
- the Wall Street Journal informing us about ‘boredom enthusiasts’;
- discussion of the question ‘Does America have a national character?’;
- a critical book review of Tariq Ramadam’s The Quest for Meaning;
- an essay on evangelical Christianity; and
- an opinion piece on suicide bombers.
Read and learn about the lives and contributions of Naomi Alderman, John Mearsheimer, Walter Benjamin, Martin Peretz, Cass Sunstein, Edward Hopper, Francis Fukuyama, Giacomo Liapardi, Terry Castle and others.
What else can I say about this true gem? Well, they do take suggestions, and I must admit deriving great pleasure when I suggested a link to an article I’d enjoyed – Denis personally responded and included it.
To finish, listen to (and watch!) his TED talk from just under a year ago.
Thank you, Denis Dutton.