How to conjure a forest out of thin air

This summer, I became slightly obsessed with the Ring. Not the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, not the Japanese horror movie (which I have vowed never to see), but the epic four-opera series by Richard Wagner. Der Ring des Nibelungen spans about 17 hours and features a cast of gods, dwarves, giants, mermaids, and a dragon, all […]

Let a Vast Assembly Be

In 1908, a young Lithuanian immigrant named Pauline Newman got a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, then one of New York City’s biggest garment factories. She worked as a “cleaner,” trimming threads off the new clothes and boxing them for shipment. It was dull, tiring work, with bullying bosses who forced the workers to […]

Remembering Randy Udall

Late last month, 61-year-old Randy Udall shouldered a backpack and set out, alone, into the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. It was a habit of his: Randy was an experienced outdoorsman, and he periodically retreated from his busy, public life into the solitude of the Wind Rivers. He told his family that he would be […]

Plugging In

Two weeks ago, for the first time in 15 years, I flushed the toilet inside my house. This — and by “this” I mean the 15 years of non-flushing — was not quite as gross as it might sound. Until very recently, my family and I lived off the electrical grid in rural Colorado, in […]

Conversation: Girls Reading Boy Books

Ann:  May I introduce my friend and colleague, Sharon Weinberger. She once wrote a book about her trips to the world’s various nuclear test sites and it sold reasonably well, probably to boys.  But recently somebody else’s book, The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold History of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, […]

Your Guide to the Future

I used to think M.T. Anderson was prescient. Now I’m convinced he’s psychic. Anderson is the author of the young-adult novel Feed, a very funny — and deeply disturbing — book about the seductive power of social media. In the world of the novel, the fortunate have a “feed” implanted in their brains at birth, […]

Soap Operas versus the Population Bomb?

It’s early morning in a Mumbai train station. The video is grainy, but you can clearly make out a dense swarm of humanity along the platform.  By my count, the crowd stands at least ten or twelve people deep, males for the most part, many dressed in light short-sleeved shirts, the kind you’d wear in […]

Bell, Berners-Lee, and the Promise of New Technology

More than a century ago, Alexander Graham Bell recorded his voice on a waxed cardboard disc at a laboratory in Washington DC. This week, we got to hear this scratchy recording—and Bell’s voice—for the first time. Much of the recording involves Bell counting. He counts all the way up to 50, carefully enunciating each numeral. […]