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Preview: WGBH News: Books

WGBH News: Books

Books News from WGBH, Boston

Published: Sun, 02 Dec 2012 12:14:00 EST


'Kickstart Shakespeare': Of Sonnets, Beer, And Online Fundraising

Wed, 16 May 2012 15:15:00 EST

"It was written for the masses," says the director of a New York organization raising money to bring Shakespeare's work to new audiences.The New York Shakespeare Exchange says its goal is "to encourage an enthusiastic appreciation of classical theater and to expand the reach of the art form within new and existing audiences." More specifically, it's interested in the question of "what happens when contemporary culture is infused with Shakespearean poetry and themes in unexpected ways."What, exactly, does that mean?The founder and artistic director of the company, Ross Williams, told me that in large part, it means exploring "how we can get Shakespeare to work for a new generation, for new audiences." And they're serious about changing up the setting where necessary: their projects include a Shakespearean pub crawl, where at each location, a scene breaks out. They call it ... Shakesbeer. (C'mon. Wouldn't you?) Here's the video from one of their past events.At the moment, their mission means the same thing it means for a lot of artists and arts organizations trying to come up with funds for small, medium-sized, and large projects. It means taking their plea to Kickstarter - a plea that ends Thursday night at 11:00 p.m.The effort resides, logically enough, at It's a drive to raise $45,000, in large part to support a pair of upcoming undertakings. The first, called the Sonnet Project, means to create 154 videos of 154 actors reading 154 of Shakespeare's love poems in 154 locations in New York. The idea is that they'll look a little like this prototype.That's Vince Gatton, who appeared in the 2011 Shakespeare Exchange (or NYSX) production of The Life And Death Of King John, a Shakespeare play there's a decent chance you don't know much about and an excellent chance you've never seen performed.For the sonnets to come, while Williams stresses the Sonnet Project is not intended to be a parade of celebrities, they've signed up a few folks more likely to be known outside New York, like Michael Urie (Ugly Betty's delightful Marc St. James), Austin Pendleton (who has been in ... everything), and Patrick Page, currently the Green Goblin in Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. The hope is that during the run of the project, if you have the app, you'll get a new minute-long sonnet reading to look at every few days, and sometimes, you might see someone you recognize.There are ambitious plans for the release of the videos at a rate of two or three per week over a year leading up to Shakespeare's 450th birthday (or thereabouts) in April 2014. There will also be walking tours, special features, and plenty more. (The words "Sonnet Project mobile app" probably sum up what's going on here about as well as anything could.)The money raised will also help pay for the production of Island, an original comedy written as a riff on Shakespeare's style and most commonly encountered elements. Here's the plot synopsis for Island as the company describes it:When a ferocious tempest shipwrecks two girls from 21st century America onto an island inhabited entirely by Shakespeare's greatest tropes and archetypes, a hilarious clash of cultures ensues. An enchanted island; an ineffectual king and his usurping younger brother; a band of bumbling constables; a lovelorn, melancholy prince; a shipwrecked, cross-dressing lover in search of her twin; and plenty of other Shakespearean familiars come face-to-face with modern sensibilities as the mayhem of Kevin Brewer's classically-entrenched psyche comes to gut-busting comedic life.Well, naturally. It's not Shakespeare without cross-dressing and royal power struggles.Kickstarter fundraising has been a "crash course for everybody," Williams says, in raising money for an organization that's only two years old and isn't as steeped in fundraising experience as other companies might be.It has a catch, though: you only get the money if you make it to your goal. (As of this writing, they're at a little less than $34,000 out of their $45,000 target with 32 hours to go.) But Williams told me that while th[...]

Breasts: Bigger And More Vulnerable To Toxins

Wed, 16 May 2012 11:24:00 EST

In her new book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, Florence Williams offers her take on why breasts are getting bigger and arriving earlier, why tumors seem to gravitate towards the breast and how toxins from the environment may be affecting hormones and breast development.When science journalist Florence Williams was nursing her second child, she read a research study about toxins found in human breast milk. She decided to test her own breast milk and shipped a sample to a lab in Germany.What came back surprised her.Trace amounts of pesticides, dioxin and a jet fuel ingredient - as well as high-to-average levels of flame retardants were all found in her breast milk. How could something like this happen?"It turns out that our breasts are almost like sponges, the way they can soak up some of these chemicals, especially the ones that are fat-loving - the ones [that] tend to accumulate in fat tissue," Williams tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "Unfortunately, the breast is also masterful at converting these molecules into food in the way of breast milk."Learning that breasts soak up lots of chemicals made Williams wonder just what else was going on with breasts. A lot, as it turns out. In her new book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, Williams offers her take on - among other things - why breasts are getting bigger and arriving earlier, why tumors seem to gravitate towards the breast and how toxins from the environment may be affecting hormones and breast development.She says many of those toxins, including the flame retardants found in her breast milk, may come from ordinary household items like couches and household electronics, which often contain flame retardants. Some animal studies have shown that certain types of flame retardants interact with hormone levels."The flame retardants are known to react with the thyroid receptor, and it turns out that thyroid hormones are responsible for all kinds of important functions in our body, from neuro development in our brain to temperature and metabolism," she tells Gross. "We don't know at what levels these substances may be affecting humans, but it's certainly enough to make us stand back and say, 'Do we really need to have this furniture covered in flame retardants, or is there a better way here?'"Breast CancerWhile researching her book, Williams also learned that more tumors form in the human breast than anywhere else in the body except for human skin. "The breast is not even fully developed until the last stages of pregnancy, and that's when the mammary gland forms," she tells Gross. "And for many years, breast tissues are sitting around not being fully differentiated. That's one of the theories about why the breast might be so vulnerable to carcinogens."She says scientists are now studying whether the plastic additive BPA, which acts like the sex hormone estrogen, may be linked to cancer and reproductive problems in animals. Most plastic products, from package wrappers to water bottles, contain BPA."We know that if pregnant rats are dosed with BPA, their pups will grow up with altered mammary glands ... in ways that predispose that animal to breast cancer later on," she says. "A lot of people would say, 'A rat is a rat, it's not a human. What do we know about humans?' And we actually don't know that much. But recently a study just came out doing the same experiment but using Rhesus monkeys and unfortunately, the results were very, very similar. Those monkeys ended up developing mammary glands that were altered by the chemical in ways that made it more likely to get breast cancer."Williams says she likes plastics and wouldn't tell her kids to stay away from Legos, but still cautions women in their child-bearing years from using an abundance of plastic products."I think we should be most concerned if we're pregnant or if we're lactating," she says. "But if we're beyond that - if we're a middle-aged man, for example - I think we can feel fairly comfortable that it's OK to keep using the yogurt containers."Interview HighlightsOn gettin[...]

'The Chemistry Of Tears' And The Art Of Healing

Wed, 16 May 2012 07:03:00 EST

After a museum conservator's lover dies, she becomes consumed with reanimating a 19th-century silver swan automaton. Critic Heller McAlpin says that Peter Carey's new novel is part historical, part fanciful and completely wonderful.Peter Carey's dazzling new novel, The Chemistry of Tears, encompasses heartbreak, the comfort of absorbing work, the transformative power of beauty and the soul of an old machine. If you've never read the Australian-born, two-time Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang - or, most recently, Parrot and Olivier in America - his 12th novel is a terrific introduction to his work. Once again, Carey demonstrates an artful ability to capture a two-way interplay between past and present that is part historical, part fanciful and completely wonderful.The day after BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, Catherine Gehrig, a tall, elegant, 40-something London museum conservator specializing in horology - clocks and windup automatons - learns of the sudden death of her beloved, miserably married lover. Because their blissful 13-year affair was a secret, there is no one she can turn to in her grief. Her boss, a friend of her darling Matthew who condoned their relationship, sets her up with a new project in the museum's isolated annex, away from prying eyes. He hopes the complex reassembly of a magnificent, mid-19th century automaton of a silver swan will distract and buoy her. He also provides a phenomenally able if unbalanced young assistant, whose spying presence Catherine resents from the get-go. Catherine and the pretty girl lock into exquisitely rendered terse, tense battles over the import and control of their project.Boxed up with the swan's hundreds of screws, rods and rings are 11 notebooks densely filled with "handwriting as regular as a factory's sawtooth roof." These are the journals of Henry Brandling, a British railroad heir who, desperate for a divertissement for his sickly young son, traveled deep into the land of expert clock makers in the German Schwarzwald in 1854 to commission a mechanical toy duck. "High on grief and rage," Catherine becomes increasingly caught up in Henry's fantastical tale about his dealings with Herr Sumper, a mechanical genius and probable con man, and his strange household - a story that alternates and ultimately intertwines with her own. "Eviscerated by love," she wonders if Henry is "building some mad monument to grief, a kind of clockwork Taj Mahal? Or was that me?" Her unhinged anguish evokes the state of mind Joan Didion describes in The Year of Magical Thinking.Automatons (also central to Martin Scorcese's recent film Hugo) are fascinating in their eerie, lifelike realness. Carey raises questions about "what is alive and what cannot be born," intense identification with machines, and the damage caused by industrialization - including the Gulf oil spill. Catherine rails at her well-meaning boss that "it was highly 'inappropriate' to give a grieving woman the task of simulating life." As for souls, she and Matthew, "conceited about [their] ecstatic pragmatism," had no truck with them. Carey's narrator adds beautifully, "That we were intricate chemical machines never diminished our sense of wonder, our reverence for Vermeer and for Monet, our floating bodies in the salty water, our evanescent joy before the dying of the light."Liberally adorned with descriptions such as a sky "black and bleeding like a Rothko," Carey's gorgeously written, intricately assembled book runs as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. It considers what it means to search for "deep order" in a random universe and "attempt to give meaning to a mess." Yet as tightly engineered as it is, The Chemistry of Tears also leaves room for "fuzziness and ambiguity," mystery and wonder, especially in the realm of our bodies and feelings.Watch a video of the mechanical Silver Swan housed in the Bowes Museum in Northern England, which inspired by Peter Carey. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio][...]

In Writing, Fuentes Shed Light On Poverty, Inequality

Tue, 15 May 2012 21:48:00 EST

Carlos Fuentes, one of the most influential Latin American writers, died Tuesday at a hospital in Mexico City at the age of 83. He was instrumental in bringing Latin American literature to an international audience, and he used his fiction to address what he saw as real world injustices.

Carlos Fuentes was the son of a Mexican diplomat and spent years living abroad, including the United States. But Mexico - the country, its people and politics - was central to his writing.

Fuentes, one of the most influential Latin American writers, died Tuesday at a hospital in Mexico City at the age of 83. He was instrumental in bringing Latin American literature to an international audience and he used his fiction to address what he saw as real world injustices.

Fuentes' style has been called "cinematic," like in his 1962 novel The Death of Artemio Cruz, when a Mexican millionaire lies on his deathbed describing his body's decay:

Your chin will tremble. Your breath will be bad. Your armpits will smell. Everything between your legs will stink, and you'll be left there without a bath, without a shave.

The fictional Artemio Cruz, however, is not to be pitied. He begins as a young revolutionary fighting for ordinary Mexicans, but greed takes over and Cruz becomes a corrupt business mogul.

And then you will sit down with Padilla to count your assets. That will amuse you a great deal. An entire wall of your office is covered with the diagram of the vast businesses you control: the newspaper, the real estate investments.

The fictional Artemio Cruz represents all that Fuentes despised about the ruling classes that took over Mexico after the revolution, says Raymond Williams, a professor of Latin American literature at the University of California, Riverside.

"Mexico was being applauded in the international scenario for its 'progress,' but at the same time Fuentes saw the massive, uneven distribution of wealth and the poverty," Williams says.

Carlos Fuentes was born in 1928, and spent much of his childhood in Washington, D.C., while his father was in the foreign service. In 2002, Fuentes told NPR he wanted to be a writer for as long as he could remember, but his father the diplomat discouraged it.

"Of course, my father said, 'listen, Carlos, a writer in Mexico will die of hunger. You'd better have a law degree,'" Fuentes said.

So Fuentes got a law degree, and said it helped his writing. In the 1970s, Carlos Fuentes was even Mexico's ambassador to France.

One of his most famous novels was The Old Gringo, about an American writer who travels to Mexico to die. It was made into a Hollywood movie starring Gregory Peck as the writer and Jimmy Smits as a Mexican general.

The Old Gringo became the first novel by a Latin American writer to make it to the New York Times bestseller list. Carlos Fuentes was extremely prolific, but he told NPR that even though Mexico figured prominently in his work, he had difficulty writing when he was there.

"Mexico City, you know have lunch from three to six. Then you have dinner from 11 to two," he said.

In other words, when Carlos Fuentes was in Mexico City, he was too busy enjoying life to write about its heartaches. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Remembering Mexican Writer Carlos Fuentes

Tue, 15 May 2012 17:46:00 EST

Robert Siegel talks to literary critic Alan Cheuse, a writing teacher at George Mason University, about the legacy of Carlos Fuentes. The Mexican writer died Tuesday at the age of 83.

Send Your Comments For May's 'Backseat Book Club'

Tue, 15 May 2012 17:46:00 EST

Melissa Block and Robert Siegel solicit questions and comments for the May edition of "Backseat Book Club." The upcoming book is Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus. Send your thoughts to

'Home': Toni Morrison's Taut, Triumphant New Novel

Tue, 15 May 2012 07:03:00 EST

Toni Morrison's latest novel revisits the story of the prodigal son as a Korean War veteran returns to his hometown in the pre-Civil Rights era South. Critic Heller McAlpin says Home is as accessible and visceral as anything Morrison has written.

There are topics you may think you've had enough of - racism, slavery, antisemitism, the Holocaust - but then you read a book like Toni Morrison's new novel and realize, as Samuel Beckett put it, "All has not been said and never will be." Home is gorgeous and intense, brutal yet heartwarming - and could only have been written by the author of Beloved and Sula. Deceptively slight, it is like a slingshot that wields the impact of a missile.

Morrison's last novel, A Mercy (2008), set on a farm in 17th century New York, focused on the roots of slavery and racism. With Home, the Nobel laureate jumps forward some 275 years, to the mid-20th century, pre-Civil Rights era south, where African-Americans were still treated, as several characters note, "like dogs. Change that. They treat dogs better." Like fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson's novel of the same name, Morrison's Home revisits the theme of the prodigal son.

Her hero - and he is a hero - is 24-year-old Frank Money, recently returned from the horrors of the Korean War. He's haunted by the deaths of his two "homeboys" and a moral lapse that has shaken him to his core. He has no intention of returning to Lotus, Georgia, the hometown he's always loathed, until he receives a letter about his younger sister, which reads: "Come fast. She be dead if you tarry."

Home tells the story of Frank's journey home to rescue his beloved sister and save himself in the process. Along the way, he's helped by good Samaritans, who provide train fare, food, and clothes, but he's also frisked by cops, jumped by gangsters and provoked into pummeling a pimp. Short chapters in Frank's own voice provide periodic direction to the unspecified person "set on telling" his story. One such interjection describes an earlier odyssey when Frank was four: his family's miserable, famished trek from Texas to Louisiana after a pogrom-like attack that gave fifteen households 24 hours to vacate Bandera County "or else": "Write about that, why don't you?"

Home is as accessible, tightly composed, and visceral as anything Morrison has written. The lush, biblical cadences for which she's known have partially given way to shorter, more direct sentences - which still have the capacity to leave a reader awestruck. The book opens with Frank's recollection of a shocking burial he and his sister witnessed as children when they snuck into a local stud farm to gape at the magnificent horses that "rose up like men." It's a scene that becomes horrifyingly clear to him - and the reader - much later.

Morrison raises our gall repeatedly at sickening abominations routinely inflicted on African-Americans: unsafe medical experiments, exclusion from public restrooms, enforced gladiator-like knife fights for the amusement of betting spectators. In contrast, she presents an idealized picture of the hard-working, salt-of-the-earth, illiterate yet wise women with "seen-it-all eyes" who tend to Cee. Morrison writes, "they practiced what they had been taught by their mothers during the period that rich people called the Depression and they called life."

I'm not asthmatic, but there were several times when I felt I needed an inhaler or defibrillator or something to catch my breath while reading this devastating, deeply humane - and ever-relevant - book. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Exclusive First Read: 'Gone Girl' By Gillian Flynn

Mon, 14 May 2012 08:22:00 EST

Darkly funny, suspenseful and cunningly plotted, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl will be published June 5. In this exclusive selection from the book's opening, we meet Nick and Amy, the perfect couple, whose alternating chapters soon reveal them to be unreliable narrators - and spouses.Darkly funny, suspenseful and cunningly plotted, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl will be published June 5. In this exclusive selection from the book's opening, we meet Nick and Amy, the perfect couple, whose alternating chapters soon reveal them to be unreliable narrators - and spouses. NICK DUNNETHE DAY OFWhen I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very ?rst time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a ?nely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily.I'd know her head anywhere.And what's inside it. I think of that too: her mind. Her brain, all those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast, frantic centipedes. Like a child, I picture opening her skull, unspool­ing her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do? My eyes ?ipped open at exactly six a.m. This was no avian ?utter­ing of the lashes, no gentle blink toward consciousness. The awaken­ing was mechanical. A spooky ventriloquist-dummy click of the lids: The world is black and then, showtime! 6-0-0 the clock said-in my face, ?rst thing I saw. 6-0-0. It felt different. I rarely woke at such a rounded time. I was a man of jagged risings: 8:43, 11:51, 9:26. My life was alarmless.At that exact moment, 6-0-0, the sun climbed over the skyline of oaks, revealing its full summer angry-god self. Its re?ection ?ared across the river toward our house, a long, blaring ?nger aimed at me through our frail bedroom curtains. Accusing: You have been seen. You will be seen. I wallowed in bed, which was our New York bed in our new house, which we still called the new house, even though we'd been back here for two years. It's a rented house right along the Mississippi River, a house that screams Suburban Nouveau Riche, the kind of place I aspired to as a kid from my split-level, shag-carpet side of town. The kind of house that is immediately familiar: a generically grand, unchallenging, new, new, new house that my wife would-and did-detest."Should I remove my soul before I come inside?" Her ?rst line upon arrival. It had been a compromise: Amy demanded we rent, not buy, in my little Missouri hometown, in her ?rm hope that we wouldn't be stuck here long. But the only houses for rent were clustered in this failed development: a miniature ghost town of bank-owned, recession-busted, price-reduced mansions, a neighborhood that closed before it ever opened. It was a compromise, but Amy didn't see it that way, not in the least. To Amy, it was a punishing whim on my part, a nasty, sel?sh twist of the knife. I would drag her, caveman-style, to a town she had aggressively avoided, and make her live in the kind of house she used to mock. I suppose it's not a compromise if only one of you considers it such, but that was what our compromises tended to look like. One of us was always angry. Amy, usually.Do not blame me for this particular grievance, Amy. The Missouri Grievance. Blame the economy, blame bad luck, blame my parents, blame your parents, blame the Internet, blame people who use the Internet. I used to be a writer. I was a writer who wrote about TV and movies and boo[...]

Mamma Mia! A Mother Tougher Than The Godfather

Mon, 14 May 2012 07:03:00 EST

Mario Puzo isn't known for his strong female characters - but if you've read his pre-Godfather work, The Fortunate Pilgrim, you might think otherwise. Author Zoe Ferraris recommends this book, which is based on Puzo's own mother. Do you have a favorite literary matriarch? Tell us in the comments.Zoe Ferraris' latest book is called Kingdom of Strangers.I grew up in frank adoration of The Godfather, entranced by Don Corleone's dark charisma. He reminded me of the Italian men in my own family, the kind who could silence you with a dead-eyed look and who seemed to have some deep, silent, absolute authority. It would either inspire you or crush you, but either way it kept you in line.But however much I adored all that was dramatic and Italian about The Godfather, I was also female enough to ask: Why are there no interesting women in this book? Why would a novel that popularized an Italian concept of family portray its women as forms in the background, cooking pasta, and crying and acting as ridiculous foils to their men?Many years later, I stumbled on one of Puzo's early novels, The Fortunate Pilgrim. First published in 1964, it predates The Godfather by five years. I was still smitten enough with the author to buy it, but I cracked it open expecting some sloppy precursor with guns, macho posturing and sex. Instead, I found a gorgeous literary novel that is fierce and brilliant, and that tackles the big stuff unreservedly - life, love, poverty, death - without any silly linguistic flourish.Fortunate Pilgrim is the story of Lucia Santa Angeluzzi-Corbo - a wretchedly poor mother of six who is living in Hell's Kitchen back when the name actually fit. The Depression is looming, her husband is in a madhouse, and her family is hungry. Her oldest daughter, Octavia, has been acting like an American, and her son, Larry, is flirting with the mafia. In the rigid social structure of the Italian neighborhood, she has few allies.But Lucia Santa is not going to cook pasta and cry. This single mother struggling to survive is utterly cold-blooded and savage. The children tremble before her, because they understand what violence underpins her life. Yet they live by the omerta code of silence and protect her just as passionately as they race to avoid her beatings with the Tackeril.Lucia Santa is vulnerable, and Puzo shows her self-doubt with surprising tenderness - seeing her husband in the hospital, his face one of "hopeless satanic madness," she crumples inside. But when she has to decide whether to bring him home, her humanitarian impulses clash with the brutal reality of her situation. She cannot afford to be generous. What emerges is cold strength: In order to keep her family intact, she sentences her husband to an institution for the rest of his life.Puzo once said that he could never have created the Godfather without Lucia Santa. "Whenever the Godfather opened his mouth, in my own mind I heard the voice of my mother. I heard her wisdom, her ruthlessness, and her unconquerable love for her family and for life itself, qualities not valued in women at the time."Mannaggia Gesu Crist! After all these years to discover that the all-powerful Don is actually based on a woman!Even though The Godfather was a huge success, Puzo looked back to The Fortunate Pilgrim as the work that made him most proud. Writers do retrospective looks all the time - and readers usually disagree with them. But here I think Puzo was right: This is his best work. The Godfather may have its dark men with their strange charisma, but Pilgrim has something better - an unflinching grasp of human darkness.Plus, as it turns out, Puzo really can write women - flawlessly, and in all fullness.You Must Read This is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Rose Friedman with production assistance from Andrew Otis. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio][...]

Lessons In Counterterrorism From The Octopus

Sun, 13 May 2012 16:18:00 EST

Ecologist and "natural security expert" Rafe Sagarin thinks our systems for dealing with natural disasters and terrorist attacks need to be updated. The best place to turn for advice? Other organisms.

In 2002, Rafe Sagarin was working in Washington, D.C., as a science adviser. It wasn't long after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Sagarin started paying attention to the security measures on Capitol Hill.

"I'd watch these other Capitol Hill staffers and I noticed that they'd just put their hand over the keys in their pockets so they didn't have to waste 30 seconds putting it on the conveyer belt though the security screening - and that didn't set off the alarm when they did that," Sagarin tells host of weekend All Things Considered Guy Raz.

"It just made me think, adaptable organisms" - like terrorists - are "going to figure out a way to get around this," he says.

So Sagarin, a marine ecologist, turned to what he knew. His new book, Learning from the Octopus, tells how we can learn from organisms in nature to improve our security systems.

Interview Highlights

On why he focused on the octopus:

"Most adaptable systems, and the octopus is a great example, have a decentralized organization where a lot of almost independent parts are allowed to sense and respond to the environment. So the octopus doesn't use that great brain to tell arm one to turn purple and arm two to turn blue as it swims over a coral reef, but rather millions of cells spread across its body are each individually responding to that change in the environment and then giving camouflage to the octopus as a whole. That combination gives you a lot of what you need to be an adaptable organism."

On what the military can learn from the octopus:

Sagarin says the U.S. military took a long time to adapt in war zones to the challenges posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are still among the biggest killers of our troops.

"You had the Department of Defense, which planned for and predicted a certain kind of war, which turned out to be not the war at all that they were fighting. And it was all those soldiers on the ground who are acting as these semi-independent sensors - just like the skin cells on the octopus - who almost immediately recognized that the IED threat was the big problem. It took the Department of Defense, with a centralized, top-down control system, three years to bring up armored vehicles to Iraq, during which 1,300 soldiers died due to IEDs."

"Those soldiers on the ground had to adapt in the meantime, and one of the things they did which they did, which is very important and seen throughout nature, is develop symbiotic partnerships. And they were developing partnerships even with people that were previously shooting at them, and it was through these partnerships that they started to get the intel about the IEDs and who were the bomb makers ... and you see a big drop in IED deaths before these up-armored vehicles come into Iraq."

On the benefits of decentralization:

"There's a very simple thing we can do in wherever we work that can shift us into this mode of having more sense of how the world is changing and having more ability to respond to it. And that is shifting from a mode of giving orders to issuing challenges, which is when we say, 'Here's a problem we're all facing; who among you can solve this problem best?' And every time we've seen a challenge-based attempt at problem solving, you get many more potential responses and potential solutions. You get them much quicker and much much more cheaply than the model where a small group of experts decides or a single contractor has decided to develop something." [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]


Sun, 13 May 2012 07:12:00 EST

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Had Ellen been a less sentimental person, she would have left the revolver as well, but it had been with her since the beginning, and she found it a comfort.

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Had Ellen been a less sentimental person, she would have left the revolver as well, but it had been with her since the beginning, and she found it a comfort.

Outside the air was fresh, and the mailman touched his hat to her. She began walking in the direction of the dock. Twice she allowed herself to look back at the green facade of the old house, its size diminishing by one half between the two glimpses. After that, she kept her eyes straight ahead and felt a chill when she reached the point at which she imagined the house pinched out of the landscape by perspective, but she dared not look back. Now that part is over, she thought.

She took the ferry over to the island. In a snack bar no bigger than a bathroom stall, she bought two cellophane-wrapped tuna sandwiches on white bread, and used them to cushion the revolver in her bag. The man at the opposite dock who opened the gate to allow the ferry passengers entry smiled in a familiar way, though she did not know him.

Certain pale roses lining the path to the rocky beach also had a familiar look, as did the worn gray boardwalk, and the color and tilt of three beach umbrellas, a red one sloping west and the other two, a green stripe and a solid blue, to the east. She walked between the red and the green stripe down to the shore, stepping over a curving line of seaweed stranded by the tide. A small silver button shone within the cage of its tendrils.

For almost an hour she walked east along the shore, the backsliding waves filling her footprints with foam, and sometimes minute, opalescent shells. She looked back three times; the three umbrellas diminished from colored shapes, to dots, and finally to points of indeterminate color and orientation. She knew she was approaching the next part.

Directly in front of her, a long-legged bird (perhaps a plover?) traveled crookedly along the waterline. It darted behind her as it chased its quarry. Turning her head to follow it, the diminished umbrellas clipped her peripheral vision. She jerked her head forward immediately, but it was too late. She closed her eyes in exasperation.

Why must there be all these rules, and why was she forbidden to take the book? She did not know, but she did know that she could not proceed. She would have to go back and read the book. Again. But first, she would eat one of the tuna sandwiches, which by now would have taken on the pleasing imprint of the revolver. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Letting Go

Sun, 13 May 2012 07:12:00 EST

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. She cast her gaze upon the scene outside the window; the rhythmic swaying of the zombies transfixed her. As she watched, their number seemed to grow. They were an expanding mass of unfocused aggression.

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. She cast her gaze upon the scene outside the window; the rhythmic swaying of the zombies transfixed her. As she watched, their number seemed to grow. They were an expanding mass of unfocused aggression.

She feared their arrival, but found herself lost among the individual characteristics contained within the lifeless hoard. Each member of the undead congregation seemed to retain features that told a little story about who they had been in life.

There was a zombie dressed to play tennis; another was a policeman in uniform. One was balding, but clearly favored a "comb over" hairstyle; another had beautiful, shiny, long black hair. The one with the lovely hair seemed to be smiling, a death grimace really. She wondered what lay beyond that disturbing grin.

Who had these zombies been? What had brought them to this disturbing place? Were they gone completely, or were they still inside their earthly containers, trapped by fate?

She turned away from the frightening view the window held and back to the hospital bed. Her friend, lying comatose in the bed, made her ask many of the same questions. Was he there, or had he already departed? Had he been allowed to move on, or was he trapped? Was it her need that was holding him here? Could she bring herself to let him go, to let him move on? Are there really zombies outside? She returned to the window, yes, zombies, closer now. Why do zombies always moan? Do they always have to sound so dead and creepy; can't they control that?

Zombie moans, punctuated by the respirator sounds made for a strange orchestration to what she figured would be the final music of her life. She hugged her friend, thanked him for all the terrific memories and stepped away from the bed. She found herself hoping that she would be a distinctive zombie, one with good hair or the ability to moan on key at the very least.

The zombies were in the hall now, moaning and unfocused, yet somehow able to find their target. Moaning and approaching. She unplugged the life support machine from her friend and waited. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

History, Heartbreak And 'The Chemistry Of Tears'

Sun, 13 May 2012 06:24:00 EST

The hero and the heroine of Peter Carey's new novel are separated by 150 years - and are brought together by an enormous, 19th-century, mechanical duck. The Chemistry of Tears is the 12th novel by the Australian-born, two-time Booker Prizewinning author.

In Peter Carey's new novel, The Chemistry of Tears, the hero and the heroine are separated by 150 years. It is an object - a piece of technology - that brings Catherine and Henry together: An enormous, 19th-century, mechanical duck.

Catherine, a horologist - an expert on the inner workings of clocks - is restoring it in the present day. It's a distraction from the sudden death of her married lover. Henry, more than a century earlier, commissions the duck as a giant toy for his beloved, but very sick child.

As the two narratives unfold, the duck becomes a swan, and many of its inner workings are revealed. This is not exactly true for the difficult, mysterious characters who populate the book. Carey, a two-time Booker Prize winner, talks with NPR's Rachel Martin about his 12th novel.

Interview Highlights

On humans as inventors and victims of technology

"I began thinking about how all of that wonderful, bright invention of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution and before that demonstrates human beings as playful and inventive and capable of amazing things, and how all of that has really led us to the present plight we face on the planet, where we appear to be poisoning ourselves. So that's the relationship between humans and technology, in which the humans are at once the pure inventors and pure souls and then also the victims of technology."

On the use of a dual narrative

"I was interested in the present, and I was interested in the past. And the only reason I'm ever really interested about the past is because of its affect on the present. And although part of this book is set in the 19th century, with characters living in the 19th century, we too are living in the consequences of the 19th century. So, it's really quite simple in this case. I mean, you have one character who's living in 2010 and one character who's living in 1858, and these are ways to know them directly, to know them from inside."

On tears and combining science and feeling

"I shouldn't really admit this, but what the title came from was a Google search. Because I thought, I don't know anything about tears, but I bet you they do all sorts of things I don't know about. And indeed, they do. ... It seemed to me to encapsulate the book, in the sense that we are looking at human yearning and human pain and loss and fear of death and searches for other meanings. And at the same time, the notion of chemistry, which seems to sort of go against the feeling of things. So I wanted to combine science and feeling, I suppose." [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Three Pilgrimages To Gain 'A Sense Of Direction'

Sun, 13 May 2012 06:22:00 EST

Gideon Lewis-Kraus didn't know what to do with his life, so he took three very long walks. In his new memoir, he describes his journeys in Spain, Japan and Ukraine. "The whole idea of pilgrimage is that you're hoping that you're going to rise to the occasion in some way," he says.

Gideon Lewis-Kraus was confused. A few years ago, the American 20-something was living in Berlin, hanging out in art galleries and nameless speak-easies, preoccupied with living a creatively meaningful life, but unsure what that meant or how to make it happen.

So when a friend asked him to come along on a pilgrimage - the ancient Camino de Santiago in Spain - Lewis-Kraus went, hoping to find some answers on the 550-mile journey. "It was a fairly serious religious pilgrimage for 1,000 years, and then in the last 30 years it's become strangely, ahistorically popular with a young, mostly secular crowd," Lewis-Kraus says.

After Spain, Lewis-Kraus went on to complete two other famous pilgrimages: First, he embarked on a 900-mile, circular, solo walk that visits 88 Buddhist temples on the Japanese island of Shikoku. "I was very, very alone," he says. "I met almost nobody. I went weeks without talking to anyone."

And next, he invited his father and brother to join him as he went on a pilgrimage to pay homage to the tomb of a Hasidic mystic in Ukraine.

The result of his three treks is a new memoir called A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful. Lewis-Kraus speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin about his journeys.

Interview Highlights:

On whether secular backpackers walking traditionally religious pilgrimages is "inauthentic":

"One of the questions that I talk about in the book is what does this authenticity even mean? Because there are a lot of people who say: 'This isn't authentic anymore. It used to be this religious thing, and now it's just this kind of backpacker jaunt.' And ultimately these are all distinctions I reject. ... Your feet are coming apart ... You've been walking for eight hours in the rain. Authenticity is the last thing you care about."

On pilgrimage as pretext, and why he used a pilgrimage as a way to work things out with his father:

"As I'd gone on, the book had really become about the idea of pilgrimage as pretext: That it was always a pretext to leave home, it was a pretext to take some time to think about your life, it was a pretext to think about forgiveness ... and I thought, well, if this is about the kind of pretext you need to make to try to change your life, I'm going to use this Jewish pilgrimage as a pretext to have all the conversations with my dad about his life and his sexuality ... my dad came out with I was 19. So I thought, we're going to use this ridiculous Jewish pilgrimage that I basically have no interest in, full of all these Hasids that I definitely don't identify with, to have these conversations with my dad."

On rising to the occasion:

"The whole idea of pilgrimage is that you're hoping that you're going to rise to the occasion in some way. You hope that there is going to be something structural about the idea of making a miserable trip ... all of these minor but real austerities I think primed us to be like, we're in a special place, doing a special thing, we're going to rise to the occasion of having really serious and candid talks that we would not have in a deli on the Upper West side." [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

The 12 Days Of Disaster That Made Modern Chicago

Sat, 12 May 2012 17:23:00 EST

In 1919, Chicago was called the "youngest great city in the world." World War I had just come to a close, troops were coming home, industry was booming and crime was down. But in mid-July of 1919, just about everything that could go wrong in Chicago did.In 1919, Chicago was called the "youngest great city in the world." World War I had just come to a close, troops were coming home, industry was booming and crime was down. Chicago's mayor at the time, William Hale Thompson - known as Big Bill - had just been re-elected and was spearheading an ambitious urban improvement program.But in mid-July of 1919, just about everything that could go wrong in Chicago did. Among the headlines were a deadly dirigible crash, a bizarre kidnapping, major race riots and a major public transit strike.This is the setting for Gary Krist's new book, City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth To Modern Chicago.A Blimp-Sized DisasterBy the summer of 1919, Chicago's economy was winding down from its wartime peak.Soldiers were returning from Europe, looking for jobs that had been filled in large part by African-Americans who were moving north in what is now called the Great Migration."So there was intense competition for jobs, for social services and especially for housing," Krist tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "Really, all of these tensions were just coming to a head," he says.The series of strange events began on Monday, July 21, when a Goodyear blimp was making an exhibition flight over the city. It mysteriously caught fire and crashed in the downtown loop. It came through the skylight of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank and ended up killing 13 people inside. Krist says it set off a wave of hysteria in the city.Krist says people wondered, "If you're not safe working in the middle of a bank, where are you safe?"Race RiotsOnly six days after the dirigible crash, five African-American boys were rafting along the lakefront when they drifted towards a whites-only beach. A fight broke out and one of the boys drowned after being hit in the head with a rock.Krist says that's when the race riots took a turn for the worse."It really just spiraled into a five-day orgy of violence that was really revolting in many ways," he says. "The police seemed incapable of doing anything about it. There were rumors that some of the white rioters were politically protected and so the police weren't touching them."Krist points out that these were the first race riots in which African-Americans aggressively fought back, and he says that was seen as a positive by many community leaders."There was this sense among the black community that black soldiers had performed in a stellar fashion in the war in Europe and they had come back and they were ready to claim their rights as American citizens. And what do they get? They get race riots and abuse," Krist says.The violence on the streets got so bad that Mayor Big Bill Thompson had to call in the National Guard."Within hours there were thousands of troopers heading into the streets with howitzers and rifles and bayonets - and they met a lot of resistance. A lot of the athletic clubs put up a fight, but really within 24 hours they had more or less restored order," Krist says.The LegacyIn the period of 12 days Krist writes about, 38 people in Chicago died, over 500 were injured, and thousands were left homeless, many as a result of fires that destroyed their homes.Each disaster had a lasting impact on the people living in Chicago, but Krist says the race riots in particular affected the city's future."It really had the effect of hardening the color line that had just really been developing in the city over the p[...]

How A 'Daily Show' Writer Grew Up Funny

Sat, 12 May 2012 08:07:00 EST

Lizz Winstead has always looked at life a little differently. She's written a book of essays that takes readers through the different chapters of her life: growing up, becoming a comic and helping to create The Daily Show.Lizz Winstead has always looked at life a little differently. She never believed that stork story, for example. She says she loved her Barbie doll when she was a little girl, growing up in Minnesota, but Barbie didn't mean impossibly perfect pulchritudinous plastic beauty to young Lizz. It meant something different.She's written a book of essays that takes readers through the different chapters of her life: growing up, becoming a comic, helping to create The Daily Show, which has gone on to be a huge success - albeit mostly after she left - and Air America, which she loved, but fell apart. Her new book of essays is called Lizz Free Or Die.Interview HighlightsHow She Discovered She Was Funny"It's genetic in my family. My father is from Mississippi and a long line of storytellers. And all of my siblings are incredibly gifted at telling stories. And I think I wasn't really like a goofball, or didn't really tell jokes as a kid. I think more in high school did I realize, if I can crack wise, I can get away with some stuff. It's easier to be funny than it is to be angry. Because there's this interesting thing - if you make someone laugh, you have a bond. And so if you can make someone laugh who you disagree with, they have to acknowledge that on some level they like you, and sometimes then you can work things out."On Working At 'The Daily Show'"We were in a place where the news was so out of control at the time, in a different way than I might characterize it now. It was very tabloidy. It was very trial-of-the-century-of-the week, and they could find any three weird oddities and create it as a trend to scare people. 'Dental floss might strangle your baby!' You know, just crazy pieces that were on all the time. We wanted to combat it so badly that I think oftentimes I would go for the jugular rather than the joke."On Going To The Prom"I was stood up for my own high school prom by a lovingly delightful hockey player with a mullet. And he stood me up for my prom as I was there in my dress and my corsage and mortified.""He decided to go with another girl, so no prom for me. A little bit of a sore spot. Cut to age 35, and this sweet young fan of the show - he was, like, the first audience member to ever come to the show - he was, like, the first person in line. He had watched the show for about a year and become a superfan, and he would occasionally write me notes: 'I really love this joke!' And he really got nuanced, and he was that great nerdy kid that you go, 'Oh I wish you could see yourself in 10 years because you're going to be so excited!'"So when it came time for his prom, he asked me to prom. And I was like, 'How can I not go?' So I said yes, I will absolutely go, and we'll film the show. So I wore this inappropriate red dress. It was one of those, like, built-for-sin dresses, so that all these jocks would be jealous of him. And so we went to the prom and I decided that I was going to have a prom experience. We could've just shot the little pieces we wanted for the show, but I sat with the dinner, and I danced to 'Rock Lobster,' and he kissed me on the cheek, and then he requested a song called 'Lady in Red,' and we slow-danced to it. It was absolutely a delightful evening because he was such a great kid, and he was really fun."On Her Father's Last 'Dielarious' Days"Yes, dielarious: laughing with or at the expense of someone who is dying. And it is a word that I didn't ever use until my father passed aw[...]

'In One Person': A Tangled Gender-Bender

Sat, 12 May 2012 06:19:00 EST

Desire can have a profound effect on young adults during their formative years. Novelist John Irving turns 70 this year, and his latest novel is a coming-of-age story about loss, identity and AIDS - told by a bisexual narrator named Billy Abbott.The star of John Irving's new novel, In One Person, is Billy Abbott. Billy is a character at the mercy of his own teenage crushes, which are visited upon by a whole repertory company of gender-bending characters.It's a repertory company in the most literal sense, too. Billy spends many days backstage at the local theater - where gender can also fluctuate and where his family members are regulars.One of the pivotal characters, Billy's grandfather Harry Marshall, is a lumberman to most of the townspeople in First Sister, Vt., but for Billy's imagination, he plays "all kinds of women" at the theater. Another, the librarian Miss Frost, is Billy's schoolboy crush and what he describes as "a sexual suspect."At its base, In One Person is a coming-of-age novel, and much of Billy Abbott's growing up occurs in his relationships - some with women - others with men.Irving tells NPR's Scott Simon that, as a writer well into his adult life, he was comfortable being frank about sexuality. "I just think as an older person you can be more candid with yourself about who you were and how thoroughly intimidating and confusing and conflicted the world of adult sexuality seemed when you were on the doorstep of it but still standing outside," he says.Interview Highlights On being honest about the difficulties of identity "There's a moment, I think, in most of our childhood years those pre-pubescent - boarding on puberty years - those aren't the easiest parts of ourselves for many of us to remember, but I remember that in my imagination, I was at one time or another, attracted to just about everyone - to my friend's mothers, to girls my own age, even to some older boys on the wrestling team. Well, as it turned out, I liked girls but I think a part of our tolerance for sexual differences surely comes from being honest about what we remember of ourselves. So, I just try to be in this novel faithful to what utter havoc the mutability of gender can be for many young people in their formative years."On how theater influenced In One Person"I got my storytelling from the theater. My mother was a prompter in a small town theater and I did grow up - much as Billy does - backstage. As a child, every play I saw I had seen in rehearsal - sometimes for months. I knew everything that happened. I knew what the actors said before they spoke their lines."On foreshadowing and 'collision course stories'"People have commented - sometimes with irritation, sometimes nicely - on the amount of foreshadow that there is in my novel. Well, yeah, it's not that hard to foreshadow what's coming when you know what's coming. When you are writing to - as I do - a pre-determined ending, I begin my novels knowing what happens. I write endings first. I write last sentences - sometimes last paragraphs - first. I know where I am going. I write collision course stories. There is always something coming that the reader anticipates, what you can't know is when and who the casualties will be and who the survivors will be but you see the what. You know what's coming. The collision that's coming in In One Person, I think it's pretty evident in the early going. You're hearing a story about the development and the growing self-awareness of a bisexual boy. It's the 1950s and '60s and you know you're listening to the voice of an older man who is - he tells you - almost 70. You know that many of these characters that you a[...]

Deford: How Sportswriting Has Changed 'Over Time'

Fri, 11 May 2012 02:50:00 EST

NPR sports commentator Frank Deford says he has always been "more interested in the people than in who was winning the games." In his new memoir, Over Time, he says it used to be easier for writers to get close to athletes.NPR listeners normally hear from sports commentator Frank Deford for three minutes at a time Wednesday mornings, as he opines on the latest follies of the sporting world. But Deford fans have been getting to hear the veteran sportswriter at greater length lately. He's on a book tour for his new memoir, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter. When Deford stopped in Washington, D.C., NPR's Steve Inskeep had the chance to interview him in front of a lively crowd.Deford says he was always "more interested in the people than in who was winning the games." He never wanted to follow one team through an entire season, so he didn't find beat reporting appealing.But Deford says he greatly admires beat reporters. "The hardest thing in the world is to write something critical about someone and then show up the next day in the locker room," he says. "I mean that is not fun, and that takes an awful lot of guts."He recalls the fallout from writing an article that was very critical of Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain. "As huge as he was, [Wilt] was not a man of confrontation," says Deford, but he didn't take criticism lightly. The next time Chamberlain saw Deford in the Lakers locker room, he sent his teammate Jerry West over: "Frank, Wilt would like you to leave," West told him.Since press had the right to be in the locker room, Deford didn't have to leave. But, out of respect for Chamberlain, he did. "I said, 'OK, Jerry,' and I made a very quick exit," he remembers. "When I went by Wilt, he dropped his eyes. ... But that's the sort of thing that a beat writer has to do a lot of, and I never could have done that."Deford has spent his career up close and personal with "a lot of tall, big guys" like Chamberlain. But he's found that the biggest players are often the most mild-mannered."The big guys - and I'm talking about any sport - don't feel the need to be tough guys," he says. "It's the little feisty guys ... the little terriers. They're the ones who're going to feel like they've got to puff their chest up and so forth."Deford has culled such insights from his many close relationships with sports stars. Starting his career in the '60s, Deford says he had much more access to players, coaches and managers than journalists are afforded today."I was so lucky," he says. "If you watch TV, at the end of the game now, the manager will be shown now in what amounts to a press conference. He sits there with a bottle of water next to him and a microphone and a PR guy. When I was covering games ... you'd go into the manager's office."Deford had long, unguarded interviews with Earl Weaver, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles (one of "the feisty little guys," Deford recalls). "I can just see Earl now in his underwear with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, holding court," he says. "That was the way it was done then, and you could sit and chat forever."These days, Deford has been enjoying seeing his radio listeners in person. "I'm looking out, and everybody has their clothes on," he observed at the Washington, D.C., event. "Usually, people tell me they're undressed when they listen to me in the morning. So this is very unusual ... It's nice to see everyone dressed, listening to me, and not brushing your teeth or otherwise performing your morning ablutions." [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio][...]

'Freeman': A Liberated Slave In Search Of Family

Thu, 10 May 2012 16:21:00 EST

The end of the Civil War marked a pivotal moment for slaves in America, but newfound freedom arrived as a bittersweet victory. Longing to find their displaced families, freed slaves placed classified ads in newspapers. In his new novel, Leonard Pitts Jr. explores the chaos of the era through a love story.A new novel from writer Leonard Pitts Jr. jolts you back to the chaos of post-Civil War America. At a time when families of slaves were freed - but not necessarily together.In hope of reuniting with their families, some freed slaves placed classified ads in newspapers:"$200 Reward. During the year 1843, Donald Hughes carried away from Little Rock as his slaves, our daughter Betsy and our son Thomas, Jr., to the state of Mississippi, and subsequently, to Texas and when last heard from they were in Lagrange, Texas. We will give $100 each for them to any person who will assist them, or either of them, to get to Nashville, or to get to us any word of their whereabouts, if they are alive. Thomas and Georgia Smith""Information Wanted of Hessy Carter, who was sold from Vicksburg in the year 1852. She was carried to Atlanta and she was last heard of in the sales pen of Robert Clarke (a human trader in that place) from which she was sold. Any information of her whereabouts will be thankfully received and rewarded by her mother, Lucy Pickens, Nashville"In Freeman, Pitts explores the turbulent and violent time after the official end of war and assassination of President Lincoln. He draws from historical classifieds to emphasize the steadfast efforts of freed slaves looking to reconnect with their loved ones. Pitts tells NPR's Audie Cornish that most people weren't aware of what was going on at the time."To me, it's such a fascinating and little known fact that all of these African-Americans newly freed slaves went to such lengths to reconstitute their marriages and reconstitute their families," he says."Nobody really talks about this, but you've got - 20 years after the war - people placing ads and walking across counties and states. And I just liked the idea of using real ads to emphasize that this was a real story. These were real people who were looking for their loved ones."At the center of the novel is a love story. Sam Freeman, a liberated slave, embarks on a 1,000-mile journey to Mississippi in search of his wife Tilda. As Sam travels through the South, he encounters many different stories: slaves who are searching for their families, masters who won't give loved ones back and slaves who are killed on their way out of the South.With these anecdotes, Pitts wanted to recognize the struggle of freed slaves by "giving the full dimension" of their story."We tend to have this image of the end of the Civil War as being the slaves said, 'OK, we're free now,' and hallelujah and jubilee and threw their hoes down and went on to begin building whatever freedom was going to be," Pitts says. "It was a lot more difficult, painful and complex than that."Pitts details in Freeman how some slaves had a difficult time walking away from their masters."There were a lot of slaves who, either because of fear - which is what it was in Tilda's case - or because of devotion, [so] freedom had to be a decision for a lot of slaves," he says. "Freedom was not just this automatic thing that came because somebody came and read a notice that said you all are free now."For other slaves, grasping the notion of freedom presents a bewildering challenge."In terms of the emotional aspect of it, if I've been owned all of my life and I'm 20, 30, 40 years old, I have to define for mys[...]

Thomas Jefferson's Vegetable Garden: A Thing Of Beauty And Science

Thu, 10 May 2012 15:24:00 EST

Thomas Jefferson's garden was a vast a beautiful science experiment involving over 300 varieties of 90 different plants. And no gardening detail was too small for Jefferson to note in the gardening journal he kept for nearly 60 years.When you listen to All Things Considered Host Melissa Block's story about Thomas Jefferson's garden, you'll hear how he cared about putting peas on the table and sharing seeds with his friends. But he also set loftier goals for his vegetable garden: Monticello's south-facing expanse was a living laboratory for a lifelong tinkerer and almost obsessive record keeper. Jefferson was, in many ways, a crop scientist.After Jefferson retired from public life to his beloved Virginia hill-top plantation, the garden "served as a sort of this experimental testing lab where he'd try new vegetables he sought out from around the globe,"says the estate's head gardener Peter Hatch. Hatch recently wrote a book about Jefferson's garden and its history called A Rich Spot of Earth.Somehow, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation's third president found spare time to meticulously document his many trials and errors, growing over 300 varieties of more than 90 different plants. These included exotics like sesame, chick peas, sea kale and salsify. They're more commonly available now, but were rare for the region at the time. So were tomatoes and eggplant.In the nearby South Orchard, he grew 130 varieties of fruit trees like peach, apple, fig and cherry.All the time, he carefully documented planting procedures, spacings of rows, when blossoms appeared, and when the food should come to the table. Behind Jefferson's "zeal to categorize the world around him" was a patriotic mission, Hatch says.Jefferson wrote, "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture."Hatch says, "He believed that plants could transform society." Jefferson even mused that the slavery of African Americans in the Deep South might be replaced if sugar maple trees could replace sugar cane. He said they'd be so simple to tend, children could do it.Despite those words, Jefferson used slave labor to construct the garden, and worked there daily with his enslaved African American Wormley Hughes, the same man who later dug Jefferson's grave.Lots of things failed in the garden. His entries from 1809 show the carrots, beets, sorrel and okra, the cauliflower, tarragon and Chinese melons missing the mark. Jefferson cites Windsor Beans as "killed by bug" and notes on August 21st: "From the 7th of Apr. to this day, excessive drought and cold. Now a good rain."Peter Hatch gives some hope to home gardeners who might want to experiment themselves. "The use of the word 'failed' is repeated throughout [Jefferson's] garden book, and one wonders if any gardener has written about failure as much as Thomas Jefferson. He once also wrote that if he failed 99 times out of a hundred, that one success was worth the 99 failures." Hatch says.These days, some of the Jefferson garden bounty is sold to the cafe at Monticello, some goes home with employees, and many plants in the garden are allowed to go to seed. Hatch says Jefferson's once pioneering garden now acts as a seed bank to perpetuate rare lines and varieties like Prickly-seeded Spinach and Dutch Brown lettuce, all for sale at the gift shop.Despite the diversity of vegetables Jefferson's garden produced, the recipes unearthed by scholars and attributed to his family were quite typical for the day: Boil everything. Some of the recipes survived, [...]