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The ancient ruins of Pompeii are facing many problems as a result of being exposed to bad weather—and possibly neglect. Italian art experts and archaeologists blame the Italian government for skimping on maintenance of the famous city, exploiting the ruins instead of protecting them. This audio story looks at how weather and even budget cuts threaten the historic ruins of Pompeii.
President Abraham Lincoln is regarded by many historians as the best American president. Interestingly, his presidency was preceded by one considered among our worst: President James Buchanan. During his one term in office, Buchanan is judged for having secretly helped bring about the Dred Scott decision, among the most unjust Supreme Court decisions in history, and for his unwillingness to try to halt the secession crisis of 1860-61. In this audio story, an historian makes the case for Buchanan being the worst of our presidents, and considers his legacy and influence in what would become the American Civil War.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the youngest man elected as the President of the United States, and the first and only Roman Catholic to serve as president. His election represented a departure from the status quo. The message Kennedy delivered in his inauguration speech on January 20, 1961 served as inspiration for an entire generation. Listen to hear excerpts of his speech and learn how it inspired four young people to action.
Over the course of American history, the Executive Branch and, in particular, the presidency, has grown in scope and influence. As the U.S. has become more heavily involved in foreign affairs over the past century, presidents have benefitted from daily briefings that inform them of potential global trouble spots and the pros and cons of intervention in various locations. This audio story is about the beginning and growth in importance of the presidential daily briefing. Specifically, the story tells how global crises have shaped its importance as part of the president’s responsibilities.
More money is spent on treating cancer than preventing it within the United States. However, scientists are getting closer to finding out if cell growth within our bodies promotes already existing cancer. Scientists are examining microscopic cells to test if certain spices and foods affect the reduction of cell growth. Listen to learn about the budget behind cancer research and how human behavior can increase the chance of cancer.
The luxury goods company Hermes makes and sells a high-end purse it calls the Birkin Bag. The Birkin costs $10,000—often more—and it is nearly impossible to find one to buy. The Birkin has become a status symbol, something only very few people can buy. Its scarcity raises its value, which could explain why a purse can cost so much money. Listen to find out why a retail company, that by definition wants to sell things, makes it so difficult to buy their product.
When “The Red Badge of Courage” was published in the 1890s, 30 years after the U.S. Civil War, it was one of the first novels to address the psychological effects of combat. The book’s central character is Henry Fleming, a teenager who joins the Union Army with high hopes of glory and adventure. The realities of war soon hit, and Henry must juggle the conflicting emotions of fear, pity, envy, pride, outrage, and eventually, courage. Listen to learn more about a book many consider a coming-of-age novel, while others question whether war is the best way to turn a boy into a man.
Promposals – over-the-top performances of asking someone to prom – have become more and more common in recent years as teens seek to outdo one another in extravagantly asking their date to prom. While some people feel that promposals are just cute wastes of time, others feel differently. Listen to hear one student’s experience with promposals at her high school in Berkeley.
On the morning of April 12, 2015 Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man from Baltimore, was arrested by police and fell into a coma as a result of spinal cord injuries sustained while in police custody. He died a week after his arrest. The officers involved have been suspended with pay but there have been no public answers about what happened. Peaceful protests in Baltimore turned violent, leading to riots and property destruction. This incident tapped into anger and resentment in a city known for racial segregation, economic marginalization and police violence. The six police officers involved in Gray's death were charged with a range of crimes including murder. They have pled not guilty. Listen to learn more about the way these tensions played out in one neighborhood in Baltimore during the violence.
In the early 20th century, a French novelist named Marcel Proust wrote a massive, seven-part novel called “Remembrance of Things Past,” that attempted to capture the strange and subjective nature of time and memory. It is considered by many to be one of history’s greatest novels and Proust’s greatest literary achievement. In this audio story, an author and a philosopher discusses the concepts of time and memory in Proust’s work. Listen to learn about Proust’s ideas about time and memory, and what those ideas might have to teach us today.
Bullying can happen to anyone in any place. One former bully explains how she bullied, the reasons why she bullied, but she also reflects on her experience as the victim of a bully. A professional psychologist also offers her perspective on why kids bully and ways in which we can increase empathy and support both for the bully and the bullied. Listen to learn more about Alice, her experiences and transformation, and the ways in which community building can lessen the incidence of bullying for everyone.
What should the government spend its money on? With a growing national debt this has become an important question. Economists see the government’s role in providing goods and services to be one that fills a need. The government should pay for things that make our lives better but that the private market cannot or will not provide. Listen to this story from Planet Money to learn the reasons why government has decided to pay for public goods such as lighthouses and autopsies.
Puritans who arrived in New England in the 17th Century faced a harsh and brutal new existence. The conditions were so brutal that, as this story reminds us, many newborn babies died. Puritan settlers dealt with the reality of their lives by turning to religion and, in the case of Anne Bradstreet, to writing. Anne Bradstreet was a woman who became one of America’s earliest popular poets in a time when few women could read and write. Listen to this story to hear about the circumstances that led Anne Bradstreet to begin her life as a poet and the challenges she overcame during her life.
A basic rule of economics is that the price of products increases when demand exceeds supply, and the price decreases when supply exceeds demand. But producers can tinker with that formula. If they want to get around the supply-and-demand cycle, they can stockpile supplies and decide how much of a product to make available for consumers. Listen to find out how maple syrup producers in Quebec, Canada keep prices high for this prized commodity.
This public radio story describes the Julian calendar, developed during the rule of Julius Caesar in Rome in the first century BCE, and how this calendar failed to keep accurate time for the Catholic Church centuries later. You will hear how Pope Gregory called on modern science to create an accurate calendar in the 1500s, and that became the calendar we use today.
Do you ever wonder what happens to the trash you throw away? Jenna Jambeck is an environmental engineer specializing in waste management, and she is on a crusade to raise public awareness of plastic waste and its impact on the environment. As she takes a reporter on a tour through a landfill, she explains what happens to different types of trash. Listen to this story to hear about how scientists and their research shape public policy and behavior, and what everyone can do about the problem of too much plastic.
In Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee, a twelve-year-old orphan runs away in search of a home and finds himself in a small Pennsylvania town segregated by race. There, the mysterious stranger, who earns the nickname “Maniac” for his legendary athletic feats, confronts prejudice and breaks down racial barriers. Listen to hear a fifth grade book club discuss how the lessons of Maniac Magee could be applied to their own communities.
For some, John Brown is a venerated historical figure. For others, he is divisive. His famous raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859, meant to induce an enslaved people's rebellion, could be seen as both a righteous act in support of the liberation of enslaved people and as an act of domestic terrorism. No matter how one views Brown, it is indisputable that his raid was a major turning point as the nation drew closer to civil war. In this story, a journalist discusses Brown, going into great detail into the story of his raid and its historical legacy.
The War of 1812 was, at the time, the greatest national crisis America faced since the adoption of the Constitution. During the war’s worst period, the British burned much of Washington D.C. to the ground. The war ended months after the burning with a treaty that ensured America’s survival, but the burning of Washington remains a critical experience in the history of American warfare. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of that event, journalists illustrated what it would have been like to report something like that today. In the story, the British attack on Washington is revisited as if it were a breaking news event. Listen to learn more about the burning of Washington D.C. during this war.
Harry Potter is a popular series of fantasy novels written by British author J.K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the life of a young wizard as he makes his way through magical schooling, forming friendships and fighting supernatural enemies. The title character, Harry Potter, has a tremendous impact on the wizarding world. It turns out that the boy wizard may also have an effect on the real world. According to a recent study, reading Harry Potter books could influence readers’ empathy and attitudes. Listen to find out how J.K. Rowling’s work might make a real difference to readers.
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.”
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama commemorates the history of racial terror in the U.S., including slavery and the lynching of thousands of African Americans following the Civil War. The memorial is frank about the brutality and violence of this chapter in American history, and therefore the experience of visiting it might be painful and difficult. However, curators hope that the discomfort of the memorial might spark reflection and conversation that could help America heal. Listen to learn more about how memorializing America’s history of slavery and lynching can inform the present day.
While J.D. Salinger still receives acclaim for his novel "The Catcher in the Rye”, few Americans know about the regret he felt after writing it. “The Catcher in the Rye” was a huge success for the aspiring writer, but that fame came at a price. A new biography and accompanying documentary explore Salinger’s life and the experiences that inspired him to write as well as those that led him to desire a more private existence. Listen to learn more about J.D. Salinger’s life, the effect “The Catcher in the Rye” had on him and on America, and the release of previously unpublished works that may shed new light on this reclusive American author.
Scientists interested in learning what prehistoric animals and humans sounded like may get some answers from art. The artist featured in this audio story researched the anatomy of extinct animals, including the woolly mammoth. She used her findings to reconstruct vocal chords that emit woolly mammoth blasts, sounds that she believes are close to the way the animals sounded in prehistoric times. Listen to hear the reconstructed sounds of a woolly mammoth, and learn about the art and science of rebuilding ancient voice boxes.
The "cash for clunkers" program was a limited federal government program in the U.S. that gave people credits to trade in their old, gas guzzling, polluting cars for newer ones. The goal was to get older cars off the road to improve pollution. Because the “cash for clunkers” program did not allow the re-sale of old car engines, junkyards were forced to turn the cars into scrap metal. Listen to learn what this scrap metal can be turned into.
Born in 1821, Clara Barton took the role of caring for others to a new level. As a young girl, she helped her brother heal from a head injury even after doctors had given up. As a young woman, Clara worked tirelessly helping to care for soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War. Later, after working with the International Red Cross in Europe, Clara founded the American branch of the Red Cross. Listen to hear about Clara Barton’s life-long dedication to helping those in need.
In the 1950s, anti-communism dominated American life. The “red scare” launched political careers while destroying those of people accused of being either spies or members of the Communist Party. In some cases, real threats were exposed while in others, innocent Americans were targeted for their beliefs. In this audio story, writer David Maraniss talks about his father, Elliot Maraniss, a journalist who was blacklisted for his association with the Communist Party. The story details his father’s struggles and addresses the larger questions of the time: What does it mean to be an American, and who gets to decide?
Machu Picchu is an ancient city high in the Peruvian Andes. Sometimes referred to as a “cloud city,” it is one of the most significant archeological sites in the world. It was built around 1450, with an incredible architectural design that allowed it to remain standing for centuries, despite being situated atop multiple fault lines. There are many theories about the purpose of the city, but many believe it was a once sacred center for the Incas, the ancient civilization that lived there. In 1911, an explorer discovered Machu Picchu and brought this amazing city to the attention of the United States. This audio story discusses an author who retraces the steps of the person who discovered Machu Picchu. Listen to learn about this journey and more about the city of Machu Picchu.
For many, Henry David Thoreau is best known for his 1854 experiment on simplicity, where he lived in the woods of Massachusetts on Walden Pond. The resulting book Walden; or, Life in the Woods, has connected generations of readers to his vision of self-reliance, closeness to nature and transcendentalism. An art museum located near Walden Pond has launched a show, Walden Revisited, with works inspired by and responding to Thoreau’s work.
Toni Morrison, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature, believes in addressing reality in her writing, no matter how painful. In this audio story, she reflects on writing about unfortunate truths, such as racism. Morrison’s stories are full of complicated characters and interesting dialogue while portraying harsh realities. Listen to hear Morrison reflect on the realities of racism today and learn what Morrison's writing means to one admirer who values Morrison's talent for storytelling.
The Protestant Reformation in western Europe was a 16th century challenge to the practices and authority of the Catholic Church. Tradition holds that the Reformation began when a monk, Martin Luther, posted 95 "theses” questioning papal authority on the door of his church in Wittenberg, Germany. What followed were decades of religious and political conflict that would reshape Europe for centuries to come. Recently Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, helped commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Listen to learn what the pope’s participation shows about current Catholic-Lutheran relations, and hear how the two branches of Christianity keep working to heal divisions.
Girls growing up in America often receive conflicting messages about ambition. In her new children’s book, Ambitious Girl, author Meena Harris redefines the meaning of ambition for girls. Her story empowers girls to become leaders and encourages them to pursue their dreams. Listen to hear how the experiences of the author’s aunt, Vice President Kamala Harris, inspired the book, and learn why the author wants Black and brown girls, in particular, to see themselves reflected in its pages.
When economists track the performance of the U.S. economy, they pay attention to factors like economic growth, inflation, and unemployment. One economic model, the Phillips Curve, suggests that when unemployment is low, inflation increases, and vice-versa. But is that always true? Listen to learn about the relationship between unemployment and inflation, and about how economists’ interventions can actually change it.
A group of items wrapped in cloth and believed to have spiritual power is known as an African spirit bundle. Found in Annapolis, Maryland in 2008, the African spirit bundle gives us insight into who would have used it and why. It dates back to the early 18th century and is most surprising because of where it was placed. It hung at a crossroads, which in the Yoruba tradition is a place of great danger. Listen to hear more about the items in the bundle and who may have put them there.
The separation of church and state is part of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was intended to ensure religious freedom. It’s been debated and challenged for decades. Most recently, the debate centered around what role religious beliefs should have on what students learn in biology class. Should schools teach evolution or intelligent design? Or should schools note evolution is a theory? Listen to learn more about the first major legal challenge to a policy on how to teach biology in Pennsylvania.
Note: Since this public radio story first aired a U.S. District Judge rules the Dover school system could not insert intelligent design into the science curriculum because it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
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.
In the age of American imperialism, perhaps the most well-known event was the Spanish-American War. One of that war’s most recognizable figures was Theodore Roosevelt, who organized and led the volunteer regiment known as the Rough Riders in battle during the war before he became president. Listen to this story to learn about the legacy of the Rough Riders and the parallels between the Spanish-American War and the 2003 Iraq War.
In 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic group in the African nation of Rwanda carried out a genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group. Over 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, often by their neighbors. This story looks back at the Rwandan genocide on the tenth anniversary of this terrible chapter in world history.
When one thinks about the great Renaissance artists from Italy, names like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo typically come to mind. Tintoretto is not nearly as well known but in his time, he was one of the most successful of the great Renaissance painters. The Venetian artist was famous for the speed with which he created his dramatic paintings. This story features a retrospective on Tintoretto’s work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Listen to learn about Tintoretto’s life, reputation, and legacy, and hear descriptions of some of his most famous works.
Was there a single event that launched the modern Civil Rights Movement? Some argue that it was the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy viciously beaten and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s murder gained national attention, in large part because of his mother’s decision to hold an open casket funeral. After years of appeals by the Till family, the Justice Department recently decided to reopen its investigation into the killing. Listen to hear a cousin of Emmett Till describe the impact of the murder on her family and the nation and question how justice can be served in a case more than a half-century old.