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"A Wrinkle in Time," a famous novel by Madeleine L’Engle, is the story of teenager Meg Murry. Meg is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother and friend as they try to rescue her father. When it was originally published in 1963, no publisher knew how to promote it. What is it about “A Wrinkle in Time,” and why is it so controversial 50 years after its publication?
George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was published in 1945. Its message was explicitly political as a statement and a satire against Stalinism and the dictatorial socialism of the Soviet Union. Understanding this allegory gives deeper meaning to the talking animals who take control of their farm. Seventy years later, does this message of failed revolution resonate in a communist nation with a similar revolution and trajectory? Listen to learn how a later theatrical adaptation of the book is being understood in modern day China.
"Beowulf" is the oldest surviving long poem in Old English. It tells the story of a 5th century Nordic warrior who defeats monsters and becomes a king. In 2000, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney released a celebrated new translation of the epic poem. In this interview, Heaney discusses “Beowulf” and his approach to translating this famous text. Listen to learn more about “Beowulf’s” lasting appeal, and what the old poem tells us about Nordic pagan and early Christian values.
Though Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch 22” was published more than a half century ago, its ideas and attitudes remain relevant today. The book’s title has even become a part of our language. The novel, which takes place on the battlefield during World War II, was inspired by Heller’s own experiences in war. He decided not to write a typical war novel, though, and early critics were surprised and even offended by the book’s tone and content. Listen to hear why “Catch 22” felt new and different at the time it was published, and learn how its ideas have continued to endure today.
“Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes, marked the first time a character’s inner life evolved from the beginning to the end of the story. Cervantes’ masterpiece is considered by many to be the first—and best—modern novel. In an era where 140 characters are the limit, it might be difficult to imagine how a 1,000-page book about a man having a midlife crisis has endured for more than 400 years. The title character’s message of optimism and authenticity resonates with readers, who root for Quixote, the imperfect, everyman hero.
In Suzanne Collins’ "The Hunger Games" Trilogy an all powerful Capital controls and exploits the districts of Panem for resources. The inequality and concentration of power in Panem has struck a nerve for readers, reflecting on their lives and their governments. Heroine Katniss Everdeen has become a symbol of resistance adopted by political parties and protest movements across the globe. Why and how does this dystopian novel reflect the real world? Listen to learn more about the link between “The Hunger Games” and our world today.
"The Giver" is a story about a world without memories. A new movie version of the novel depicts this world as a sterile, emotionless place. In this story, public radio talks with author Lois Lowry and how she came up with the idea to write the book. The book asks, “wouldn’t it be easier if we didn’t have memories?”
A new source of energy is being developed by using Michigan's industrial food waste. Using existing technology for converting manure into electricity, these anaerobic digesters are doing their work on pudding packs and canned peaches, among other delicacies to turn waste into electricity.
In 1949, the Communist Revolution under Mao Zedong transformed China from the monarchy it had been for centuries, to a Communist nation. The “People’s Revolution” relied heavily on the passion and vigor of China’s young people, and the Chinese government looked poorly on anyone who was critical of China or the Communist Party. This audio story introduces a man who was only three when Chairman Mao came to power. In his 20’s he worked for the Communists in rural Mongolia. His experiences there formed the basis for his hugely successful 2004 novel “Wolf Totem”, which earned him both praise and criticism in Communist China. Listen to learn more about his experiences in Mongolia, the impact of “Wolf Totem”, and about Rong’s criticisms, and hopes, for his country.
Two famous authors, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, had a deep friendship. CS Lewis helped JRR Tolkien get published, but Tolkien admitted he didn’t even like Lewis’ work, especially "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," which he thought was terrible. Both were Christians and heavily influenced by Christian ideology. Tolkien says "Lord of the Rings" was a deeply Catholic book, while Lewis was more influenced by writers of the Renaissance who were fascinated by Pagan mythology. Listen as this radio story explores the two authors' friendship and motivations.
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel "The Great Gatsby" James “Jimmy” Gatz becomes Jay Gatsby. Gatsby creates a false identity for himself to enter the world of wealth and power that his beloved, Daisy Buchanan, lives in. The novel explores this world of excess and what it takes for Gatsby to truly enter it. This premise of false identity has moved from fiction to reality. Listen to learn about a real life Gatsby who called himself “Clark Rockefeller.”
On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced acts of terrorism. But the response on that day included countless acts of heroism, big and small. Friends, co-workers, emergency workers and strangers did what they could to protect the people around them. Michael Benfante is one of these heroes, though he is uncomfortable with being called a hero. Benfante worked in the second tower of the World Trade Center and as he fled down the staircase he encountered a woman in a wheelchair who needed his help. Listen to learn more about his decision to help carry her out of the doomed building and the lasting impact it’s had on his life.
The famous ring featured in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” may have actually existed. This story reveals how Tolkien encountered a supposedly cursed ring from the Roman period shortly before he wrote “The Hobbit.” Many believe that this ring and the details surrounding it might have inspired Tolkien’s novels. Today, the ring is on public display at an English estate. Listen to learn more about the fascinating connections between history, archaeology and J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy series.
In Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella "Heart of Darkness," an English sailor tells the tale of his voyage on the Congo River in Africa. The novel, which is set during the height of British imperialism in Africa, contrasts “civilized” Europeans with “uncivilized” African natives and describes the brutal treatment of Africans by European traders. Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel "Things Fall Apart" provides a contrast to Conrad’s story, describing the British colonization of Africa from the perspective of Africans. In this audio story, Achebe talks about how his understanding of "Heart of Darkness" changed over time.
In 1992, a civil war in Afghanistan turned the country upside down. It also littered the country with landmines. In this Public Radio story, we hear from a man who lost his father in the war, and also saw many childhood friends killed by these landmines. Landmines were a part of his everyday life. He eventually fled Afghanistan with his mother, and soon immigrated to the Netherlands. The wind in the Netherlands was the inspiration for the device he made that allows for the safe detonation of old landmines that are hidden all over Afghanistan.
An African spirit bundle—a group of items believed to have spiritual power wrapped in cloth— was found in Annapolis, Maryland in 2008. It dates back to the early 18th century. This public radio story examines what the bundle was for and who may have put it there. It hung at a crossroads, which in the Yourba tradition is a place of great danger.
Children born in the U.S. to poor, undocumented immigrants face many problems. The children are American citizens, but their parents are not. Without a passport or proof of residency, those parents can’t apply for benefits for their children, and those children go without food, shelter, and other necessities. Listen to learn about the challenges facing the children of immigrants today.
Archeologists have long explored the ruins of the middle east to learn more about the cultures that once existed there. This story follows archaeologists into ancient burial sites in Israel to study graffiti written on walls and tombs thousands of years ago. The tomb, Beit She'arim dates back to the first century B.C. It is the largest burial ground from the Roman and early Byzantine periods in the region. The next place they find graffiti is in a cave in the Judean foothills, where they find an inscription in Greek. Listen to learn more about these ancient writings and what they reveal about the ancient world.
We owe a lot to Ancient Greek civilization. Everything from architecture to medicine to music, is based on Greek culture. This public radio story describes the influence of ancient Greek culture primarily on music.
In southeastern Turkey, archaeologists are studying ruins of what may be one of the first human places of worship. Archaeologists have long thought that humans began participating in religious rituals only after they invented agriculture. But ancient site of Gobekli Tepe, which dates back 11,500 years, may suggest otherwise. Gobekli Tepe is home to the world’s oldest temple. Listen to the story to learn more about what the site reveals about the beginnings of human civilization.
Kendo is the name of the centuries old martial art of Japanese fencing. It’s still being practiced today. This public radio story describes the popularity of kendo. The college tournament, held annually at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the largest intercollegiate kendo competition in the U.S., and it reflects the growing popularity of this sport.
Toys play an important role in children's development. They are also important to animals, even elephants. This public radio story is about how artists designed and built toys of elephants that were based on animal behavior and their environment. You’ll be inside the zoo with the elephants, hearing their joy when playing with the new toys.
In 2011, a crested macaque, a species of monkey found in Indonesia, used photographer David Slater’s camera to take several selfies. Slater posted the monkey’s selfies online, and one photo went viral. When animal activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) heard about the situation, they felt the macaque’s rights were being violated. After all, they argued, the monkey took the photo, not Slater, so the monkey owns the copyrights and should receive all royalties earned. Slater could not disagree more. The case eventually went before a federal judge. In this audio story, reporters and an attorney discuss the case and provide some context regarding the rights of animals before the law.
From "Shiloh" to "Lassie" and "Old Yeller," young adult literature is full of stories about friendship between people and man’s best friend—dogs. People love animals but what do animals feel? There is a debate in the scientific community and in popular culture about what emotions animals are capable of and how they display these emotions. Does recognizing that animals can feel take away from human emotion? Or does it help us recognize where these traits came from? This story discusses recent research on the emotions of animals. Listen to learn more about what researchers discovered, and the controversy surrounding the emotional lives of animals.
A rising tide of anti-Jewish sentiment has the German government chastising Germans for their prejudice. Anti-Semitism is a particularly volatile topic in Germany because of the Nazi-led Holocaust during World War II. Some blame the rising anti-Semitism in Europe on the conflict in Israel. Others believe it’s because of an influx of Muslim immigrants. This public radio story takes you to a protest against the attacks on Jews in Germany and explores how the present-day incidents refer to a dark past.
On September 11, 2001 nineteen terrorists checked in for flights, boarded four planes and then hijacked them. The use of our own air travel system to attack the United States was a shock to Americans and led to big questions about the effectiveness of airport security checks that allowed these men to board airplanes with small hand weapons and tear gas. Airport security immediately changed in an effort to make air travel safer, but have these changes really made us safer? Listen to learn about the ways security has changed since 9/11 and ways it can continue to improve.
Forty years ago, a military coup in Argentina triggered what has since become known as the Dirty War. During the seven-year dictatorship that followed, as many as 30,000 Argentines either disappeared or were killed. In this story, you will hear about human rights activists who want the United States to reveal what it knew about the Dirty War, and about President Obama’s recent trip to Argentina. Listen to learn more about possible U.S. involvement in the Dirty War, and what activists hope to discover from newly declassified government documents.
While humans need food and water to survive, plants are able to get their energy from the sun through a process known as photosynthesis. Engineers are now trying to replicate this process of converting sunshine to power through artificial photosynthesis. They are trying to create an artificial leaf. Listen to learn how these problem solvers are approaching the challenge step by step.
During World War II artists helped the war effort by creating a "Ghost Army." This was a battalion of artists, including painters, designers, and music technicians. They built rubber tanks, jeeps, barges, and other decoys to divert Nazi soldiers from real U.S. troop movements after D-Day. This public radio story is about a documentary about the army of artists who worked to fool the enemy.
Jacqueline Woodson’s free verse memoir, "Brown Girl Dreaming," won the National Book Award in 2014. Woodson has published 30 books and won three Newbery Honor Medals. This book explores different perspectives in a desegregating America. In this interview, Woodson talks about her experience of segregation of race and religion, and how her experiences are often similar to students who she talks with today. She talks about the need for more diverse literature in schools, along with her book being appropriate for a wider audience-- not only brown students. Listen to hear her discuss how she integrates her personal experiences into her writing.
Hundreds of years ago, the Aztec people established their capital, Tenochitlan, on top of a lake. They used mud to create islands, and channelled the lake into canals. It became the capital of the Aztec Empire in the 15th century, until Spain captured and destroyed the city. Since then, the city has supplied its many residents with water from the canals which still remain. Mexico City was built on top of this ancient city. Unfortunately, retrieving water from underground has created problems, and today, many residents do not have access to the water they need. Listen to the story to learn more about Mexico City’s history and water troubles.
The people of Ancient Mesopotamia practiced mathematics from the early days of Sumer to the fall of Babylon in the 6th century. Until recently, most evidence suggested that math was used primarily for things like measuring land. A new discovery by a researcher in Berlin has shed new light on how Babylonians used geometry to measure the changes in the velocity of Jupiter over time as it moves across the sky. Prior to this discovery, the use of geometry in this manner was thought to have come in the middle ages. Listen to hear how this new discovery shows that Babylonian mathematics was more sophisticated than previously thought.
Before the European Renaissance (14th–17th centuries), loaning money, or usury, was considered sinful and strictly prohibited by the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, the banking industry flourished. In time, the idea started that one could pay for salvation. “Sinners” began donating money and artworks to the Church as a way of gaining favor with both the Church and God. As these indulgence flooded in, the Church didn’t protest. The massive influx of wealth to the church provided the fertile ground for the birth of the Renaissance. In this audio story, learn about the birthplace of banking and how many of today’s banking terms come from 14th century Florence.
What happens when human structures and nature come into conflict? Ocean Beach in San Francisco is naturally eroding, but the consequence of this shifting shoreline is that a sewage treatment plant is put in peril. Without intervention, raw sewage could be dumped into the ocean. A rock wall has temporarily stabilized the pipeline, but not without complications. Now other solutions are being considered, including construction of an artificial dune.
Chinese foot binding was a common practice in the 1800s. The practice created tiny stumps of feet by breaking bones and wrapping the feet tightly. It was very painful, and made the women unable to walk properly. But the bound feet were prized by the wealthy class as the ultimate sign of feminine beauty. The custom was banned in 1919. This public radio story features women whose feet were bound talking about the pros and cons of the old tradition.
Over the past several years honeybee colonies have declined dramatically. There is no consensus over a single cause, and in fact scientists point to multiple causes for this problem. An important, yet often overlooked, factor is basic land use decisions. This public radio story explores the importance of the symbiotic relationship between honeybees, flowers and humans, and what kids can do to help promote honeybees and other pollinators.
Flowers have many ways of attracting bees for the purpose of pollination. Bees are looking for nectar and pollen when they visit plants and flowers, as well as various colors, patterns and shapes. Recently scientists have discovered a new way that flowers attract bees. They can sense the electric fields around flowers. Listen to hear about the natural positive charges of bees, the negative charges of flowers, and how the electric attraction works for pollination to happen.
The civil war endangers cultural artifacts in Syria. Aleppo, Syria's largest cities and one of the world's oldest continually inhabited urban areas, is now the site of heavy fighting, damage, and death as a result of the Syrian civil war that began in 2011. In this audio story you will hear about a museum exhibit of ancient Aleppo to understand what's at stake with the violence of the civil war.
Copying the way a desert beetle gets water, scientists have designed a membrane that can extract water from the air. Since all air contains water, even in the desert, this could provide a very inexpensive way to supply drinking water. This audio story describes an application of the idea of “biomimicry,” or using ideas from nature to solve technological problems. This can help solve the problem of scarce drinking water.
Blood diamonds are typically mined in war zones and used to finance some of Africa’s most brutal civil wars. The uncut diamonds are sometimes mined in areas controlled by rebel forces in Africa. This public radio story is about an effort in 2003 to certify that uncut diamonds that can be proven to come from countries that support basic human rights are given a special classification.