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J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel “The Catcher in the Rye” has long been a staple of high school reading lists, though it has also frequently been banned from them. The story is told by Holden Caulfield, a rebellious 17-year old who has just been expelled from prep school. The novel is considered a classic of American literature, and Holden is thought to be a character every teenager can relate to—but is this still true today? Listen to hear about how this novel earned its status as a classic and the arguments in the debate about whether it should still be required reading for high school students.
“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.
The Dust Bowl was one of the worst man-made environmental disasters. It turned the southern Great Plains of the U.S. into a desert. When the native prairie grass was pulled out and replaced with wheat fields, the loose soil had nothing to hold it. The dirt blew away in the wind, and as it traveled it gathered into enormous dust storms that choked people and animals with dirt. In this public radio story you will hear archival interviews with people who lived through the Dust Bowl. You also hear an early recording of the poem "Hard Luck Okie" which examines the reasons why people moved West.
Most scientists agree that human beings originated in Africa. The first humans to come to North and South America have long been believed to be the Clovis people. But a 2002 discovery in the Paisley Caves in Oregon has challenged this view. Archaeologists discovered animal bones and fossilized excrement, known as coprolites. Some of these coprolites included human molecules, providing the earliest human DNA ever found in the Americas. This discovery has given archaeologists new clues to better understand the earliest humans found in North America.
Ellis Island is the symbol of our immigrant nation. This small island is where the ancestors of millions of Americans entered the United States. Immigration built our nation, immigrants peopled it, and their descendants often remember their immigrant past with pride. But many Americans do not know what their ancestors experienced upon arriving in the United States and starting their next big journey in a new land. Listen to this story to learn about the first immigrant to enter the United States through Ellis Island and how a case of mistaken identity kept her story buried.
Earthquakes can have far-reaching consequences not just on homes but on the power infrastructure. A 2008 earthquake in Southwest China left officials and engineers monitoring the structural integrity of enormous hydroelectric dams built to generate power. A fear of flooding caused by a cracked dam led some to wonder if they had taken the strengths of the region, its rivers and irrigation systems, and turned them into a potential threat. Listen to learn how hydroelectric power systems impact places and people.
Walter Mosley, an African-American writer, is one of the country’s best-known mystery writers. The Los Angeles-based private detective, Easy Rawlins, is his most popular character. Rawlins has been the main character in over a dozen mystery novels that examine the black experience in postwar Los Angeles. In this interview, Mosley discusses Easy Rawlins’ journey and the importance of Los Angeles in his novels. Listen to learn more about how Mosley uses Easy Rawlins to tell the stories of a hidden Los Angeles.
Across the globe, people consume many different types of foods, but some food choices are better for the environment than others. This audio story introduces cricket protein, a different food source than many of us are used to eating and a more sustainable option than animal proteins such as beef or lamb. Listen to learn more about cricket protein and why it is a good protein choice for the planet.
For early European Americans, daily life was about making sure you had enough food to survive. At various points, this was almost a day-to-day process. In places like Dutch New Amsterdam, settlers’ diets consisted of whatever they could hunt and forage for. This audio story is about a New York City restaurant who designed a menu to mirror the daily diet of 17th century Dutch settlers. The story highlights both the differences from and similarities to our diets today, and sheds new light on the lasting impact of the Dutch settlers in American history.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has inspired widespread fear throughout the U.S. and in many other countries. In reality, the threat of Ebola is actually quite small with only 1,700 deaths since 1976. The rarity of the Ebola virus has given major pharmaceutical companies very little incentive to develop a treatment for the virus given that the market for such a drug would be almost nonexistent. However, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, a small pharmaceutical company based in Frederick, MD, has been given government help to develop a cure for the virus. Listen to learn more about the complexity of the Ebola virus and what is being done to develop a cure.
Eddie Huang is an American chef, lawyer, and author. Both of Huang’s parents are Taiwanese immigrants. Huang’s father owned a number of restaurants when Huang was growing up, where Huang would often work after school. As an adult, Huang visited China to reconnect with his roots, and, while there, he cooked and served food to locals. Following this trip, Huang wrote his second memoir, Double Cup Love (his first, Fresh Off the Boat, was turned into a popular television series). Listen to learn more about why Huang went to China, what he learned while there, and how he views the connection between food, culture, and identity.
Edgar Allan Poe, poet and American master of the macabre, was recently celebrated in Baltimore, Maryland where he sometimes lived. It was the 200th anniversary of his birth, and it was celebrated with readings of his works. Hear from actor John Astin, who played Gomez Addams in a television series, about his lifetime appreciation for Poe. Listen to find out why Baltimore played such an integral part in Poe’s life, and what types of items are left at his grave each year.
Author Edgar Allan Poe was a master of the creepy and macabre, with a focus on death and grim topics. His famous poem, “The Raven,” concerns a heartbroken man who is visited by a talking raven who begins to drive him mad. Despite the poem’s fame, including its catch phrase “Nevermore,” fans and historians are not sure what inspired Poe or how he wrote the poem.
We live in an age when genetic engineering has the capacity to affect the course of human evolution. Scientists can edit human DNA, which could have profound benefits for society, but this ability also comes with dangers. Editing human DNA can allow for the treatment and prevention of disease, but this modified DNA can also become a permanent part of human genes, passed down from generation to generation. The scientific community met to discuss these issues. While experts agreed that creating a baby with edited DNA is unsafe, the support continued research to see what is possible. Listen to hear more about this issue and what scientists have concluded.
Jane Austen wrote a new type of female character. Emma Woodhouse of "Emma" and Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice" are two memorable characters. They were charming but normal, flawed but winning. The legend of Austen is that she wrote her novels exactly as they were published, but the release of her original manuscripts suggests she had an active editor. Does it matter that an editor helped clean up Austen’s prose or is it her genius that shines through?
The United States declared war on Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But Afghanistan had already been a troubled and war torn country for many, many years. In 1996, the Taliban seized control of the country, imposing strict rule over all of its citizens. This story focuses on how the strict rules of society in Afghanistan continue to affect its people--especially children and girls. Listen to this interview with the author of “The Kids of Kabul” and learn more about the challenges faced by Afghan children and women, especially in the area of education.
Margot had planned to vacation with her rich prep school friends, but instead, she’s spending the summer working at her parents’ supermarket in the Bronx. This is where Lilliam Rivera’s novel, “The Education of Margot Sanchez,” begins. It’s a tale of a teen who’s caught between two different worlds, trying to decide who she really is. Listen to hear the author of the book describe what she loves about writing “unlikable” characters like Margot and how her own experiences shaped the story.
Animals adapt to their environment in ways that protect them from predation and allow them to find prey. Electric eels look like water snakes but use electricity to hunt. New scientific studies have gained insight into how electric eels use different electric volts to find and kill their prey. Listen to learn how the eel’s hunting method is adapted to their environment.
Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 to very religious Jewish parents. But in 1944 World War II came to his hometown and he and his family were put in cattle cars headed for concentration camps as prisoners of Adolph Hitler. He never saw his family again. Years later, in 1960, he wrote a memoir called “Night” about his time in the camp. Maybe more than any other survivor of the Holocaust, Wiesel became the memory of the genocide and a champion of fighting indifference. Listen to this story to understand Wiesel’s sphere of influence.
“Death of a Salesman” has been one of the most enduring plays on the American stage. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949 when it was first produced and has been described as the first great American tragedy. The success of Arthur Miller’s play is in no small part due to the fascination Americans of every generation have had with its main character, Willie Loman. In many ways, Loman is a metaphor for the human condition in 20th century America. Listen to find out why this story of Willie Loman and his family has fascinated so many Americans for so long.
In this story, we hear from the head of Ecovative, a company that uses mycelium fibers from fungi to create useful and environmentally-friendly products. There are advantages of using mycelium fibers in place of plastics and foams, as well as challenges faced by the inventors in trying to create useful products. Listen to this story to hear how the engineering design process is described, as well as how scientists used this method to get to where they are today.
From 1882 to 1943, Chinese immigrants were legally barred from entering the United States. It was the only time American Federal Law shut out people based on their nationality. The law, known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, forced some Chinese to enter the U.S. using false names and documents. Many Chinese-Americans today are just learning that their ancestors came to America under false identities. Listen to learn more about what has come to be called the “paper children” of these immigrants.
American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway exemplified his literary style with novels like, “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” Hemingway’s adventurous life inspired these stories. From running with the bulls in Spain to fighting in World War II, Hemingway was a larger than life celebrity known for his machismo and literary skill. Hemingway’s talent was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. His writing style, which consists of short sentences that describe the external world, changed American literature forever.
The Bosnia war started tragically with the siege of the capital, Sarajevo, in 1992. The takeover lasted longer than any siege of a capital city in modern European history. The growing nationalism among the 6 republics of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia sparked hostilities, and in 1991, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia declared their independence. When Bosnia declared independence in 1992, the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and Serbian leaders Radovan Karadžić and Slobodan Milosevic attacked Bosnia and caused two million Bosnians to flee their homes. The people of Croatia also attacked the country and claimed Bosnian possessions. The war lasted three and a half years and cost more than 100,000 people their lives. This audio story, recorded in 2012, describes relations among Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups—Muslims, Serbs, and Croats—at that time and 20 years later.
Euphonious means pleasing to the ear, and this audio story examines the many ways that pleasant sounds can spark feelings of delight. Some sounds represent wonderful experiences, others, like the sound of crashing waves, serve to soothe and relax. Listen to learn more about the origin and meaning of the word “euphonious,” and hear what kids and adults say when asked about their favorite sounds.
Everywhere in America deals with the ongoing legacy of slavery, but one historic plantation in Louisiana is actually making an effort to memorialize that legacy from the point of view of slaves. When it was purchased from a petrochemical company and re-opened in 2014, the Whitney Museum became the first museum in America dedicated to telling the story of slaves, specifically discussing the experience of individual slaves who lived and worked on this historic plantation. Listen to hear how this museum aims to tell the true story of slavery, and what we as a nation can learn from it.
In recent decades, Afghanistan has been a country plagued by war. Author Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, “The Kite Runner,” is set in Afghanistan in the 1960s and 1970s through the 2000s. The book tells the story of two young friends, Amir and Hassan, who are from very different classes and ethnic groups. The story follows them as they navigate life before and after the coup that toppled the Afghan king in 1973, the Russian occupation in the 1980s, and the rule of the Taliban in the 1990s. Listen as the author Afghan-native Hosseini describes how his life experiences are significant to his novel and how he has set out to change the public perception of this Middle Eastern country.
Our bodies react differently to extreme heat depending on how much humidity is in the air. Heat index is a measure of how hot it feels outside, taking into account both air temperature and relative humidity. As the humidity rises, the heat index rises. In dry heat, our sweat quickly evaporates, which helps lower our internal temperature; but on a humid day, our sweat cannot fully evaporate as the air is already damp, and this prevents us from effectively cooling off. It also raises our risk of heat stroke and even death. To illustrate the science, this podcast considers the case of a man who was lost for three weeks in a remote desert in southern Utah and survived. Listen to hear more about dry versus wet heat and how it affects the human body.
Scientists are using computer computations to link cases of extreme weather to global warming. Scientists set out to link major flooding in England and Wales in the fall of 2000 to climate change. This task was undertaken by scientists and citizens alike - running thousands of computer simulations and comparing the result in a world with climate change and one without it. Listen to learn what these simulations found.
Decades of Americans are able to remember where they were at the moment they heard President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Fifty years later, this radio story relives the events with two Dallas reporters who were there. Hugh Aynesworth was a local reporter for The Dallas Morning News and Sid Davis was a White House correspondent traveling with the president's press corps. Put yourselves in their shoes as they take you through how they learned about and covered the assassination.
Since ancient times, people around the world have used fairy tales, fables, and folktales to capture the imagination of and entertain an audience. However, these tales were meant to do more than entertain: they were used to teach morals. Fairy tales, fables, and folktales share other elements, such as talking animals, mythical creatures, and/or inanimate objects that think or feel emotions. Such tales are still being written and enjoyed today. Listen to hear how a professional writer transformed one boy’s story idea into a fantastic fable, complete with three edible houses and one hungry wolf.
Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, was used as a prison for many years and held some of the most notorious criminals, including the mobster Al Capone. But inmates weren’t the only ones who lived on the island. The book Al Capone Does My Shirts follows the story of a boy who lives on the island with his family because his father works as a guard. He takes advantage of living on this island to make some money and liven up his life. This story explores life on the island and discusses the elements that make the book an exciting historical fiction read.
The Spanish Empire is a story of global power. From the 15th through 19th centuries, the Spanish controlled territory all over the Atlantic world and as far east as the Philippines. However, Spanish conquest has also sparked historical debate and criticism because of the brutality the Spanish often inflicted on those people and places they conquered. Listen to hear an historian and author discuss stories of Spanish power and conquest and offer a broader assessment of how the Spanish Empire should be judged.
Since World War II, fast food has been central to American food culture. Hamburgers and fries have come to be at the very center of many Americans’ diets. But fast food changed the way we raise and process beef and grow potatoes. It’s also added to the problem of obesity. The growth in fast food culture over the past fifty years has changed many fundamental things about culture, health, and the economy. Listen to hear how fast food has affected life in America by listening to this interview with the author of the book “Fast Food Nation”.
Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, is required reading in many high schools and colleges around the country. But in a new take on how to view the poem, an author, translator and Homer scholar took his father on a cruise that retraced the route of the Greek hero Odysseus from Troy to Ithaca as laid out in Homer’s epic. Prior to this adventure, the son had taught The Odyssey in a course at Bard College, which his father had attended. In this audio story, and author and translator discusses a trip he made with his father, not long before the older man’s death.
The Great Depression of 1932 was the worst economic crisis in American history. President Herbert Hoover was blamed for the government’s failure to pull America out of the depression. During his campaign for president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “New Deal” for America. He knew little at the time of what that New Deal would include, but the term would come to define his response to the Great Depression. Listen to hear about President Roosevelt’s campaign for president, the qualities that made him an effective communicator, and the obstacles he faced as he struggled to present himself as a credible candidate for president.
America’s founding was fraught with conflict. America in 1787-88 was a place of deep political divisions. Much of the root of those divisions was disagreement over how much power should be given to the central government. After the Constitutional Convention, political leaders split between supporters of the Constitution (Federalists) and opponents (Antifederalists). In an effort to sell the new Constitution to the country, three Federalists (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay) wrote a series of arguments, in essay form, we now call the Federalist Papers. These essays were designed to explain the Constitution. Today, they are regarded as America’s greatest contributions to political philosophy as is explained in this audio story.
In Ernest J. Gaines’s 1993 novel "A Lesson Before Dying," the central character, Jefferson—a young black man living in the segregated South in 1948—is accused of murder and faces the possibility of the death penalty. Readers learn that Jefferson is illiterate, and that, as a result, he lacks confidence and self-worth. To spare him the pain of facing death without dignity, his family hires a teacher to help him learn to read and write. Listen to the audio story to learn how Gaines’s character develops “pride through learning.”
The novel The Book Thief is narrated by Death. He tells the story of a young German girl saving books from Nazi bonfires to read to the Jewish man hiding in her home. Listen to this audio story to hear an interview with author Markus Zusak, who explains his choice of Death as the narrator and the message he hopes teenage readers get from the novel.
The abolition of slavery in the United States didn’t happen all at once. Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery, in 1777, and most Northern States followed suit. This meant that escaped slaves could come North and rebuild their lives as free men and women. From the Underground Railroad, to even mailing yourself in a box, slaves found ways to escape their circumstances and come North. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act changed all that. Why was this Act approved and what was its result? Listen to learn more about escaping slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.