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Introducing the Prestigious Awards: ‘Kindly Inquisitors’ by Jonathan Rauch

The Eternally Radical Idea

Each month at the Eternally Radical Idea blog I will recommend a favorite book, album, and assorted nerd treat. With the vast powers vested in me as president & CEO of FIRE and in honor of the my great childhood mailman Claudius Larry Prestigious, I hereby dub:

    • The Prestigious Ashurbanipal Award: My recommended book of the month, named for the ancient Assyrian king who established one of the first libraries in the world. Ashurbanipal’s library included 30,000 clay tablets. Some parts of “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” thought to be the earliest surviving work of literature, only survived because of the library. NOTE: Pretty much every book I recommend will also be available in audiobook format as that is how I do most of my reading. (Yes, I just call listening to a book “reading.” Word police be damned.)
    • The Prestigious Fats Waller Award: My recommended album of the month, named for one of my favorite early jazz artists, the innovative and always entertaining Thomas “Fats” Waller. Waller was one of a handful of piano players who took the buttoned-up traditions of ragtime and evolved them with a combination of improvisation, precision, and humor. His work would influence the direction of styles like swing and bebop, and thus, become a cornerstone of all the American music that followed.
    • The Prestigious Jack Kirby Award: A bit of a wild card, this is the random, monthly “treat for nerds” named after one of the greatest comic book creators and artists of all time. Among the characters he created or co-created are Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, the X-Men (with Magneto), and the Fantastic Four (plus Doctor Doom).

And who are the inaugural winners?

The first ever Prestigious Ashurbanipal Award goes to Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rauch. Published in 1993, it is one of the most important books on the philosophy of freedom of speech written in decades. I will be referring back to the book constantly on this blog, so it’s not a bad idea to read it. Bonus: The audiobook version is read by Penn Jillette!

The first ever Prestigious Fats Waller Award goes to the Amy Pickard & the Cradlers album Cut From the Hopeless,” released in 2007. A beautiful, poetic, sometimes melancholy, sometimes hopeful country/bluegrass-style album. While I knew Amy when I lived in Philadelphia, I am NOT grading this album on a curve. It has become one of my all-time favorites, which is made all the more remarkable for the fact I generally don’t really enjoy country music. 

The first ever Prestigious Jack Kirby Award goes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the whole damn series. If you, like me, grew up writing fiction, but were told you had to pick a genre or that you can’t make fiction that is an action/soap opera/comedy with vampires, robots, demons, and killer fight scenes — the seven seasons of Joss Whedon’s masterpiece are a long lesson in proving those conformists wrong. Sure, I could point you to the best episodes (“Once More With Feeling,” “The Body,” etc.), but they just won’t land the same way unless you’ve seen every episode.

Thanks for reading. Future awards will try to replicate what I’ve done here, highlighting both essential pieces of cultural literacy (like Prestigious Jack Kirby Award-winning “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) with deep cuts that deserve to be elevated to the same level (like the Prestigious Fats Waller Award-winning album “Cut From the Hopeless”). Over time, we can build toward our own Ashurbanipal-like library together.

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