Books

Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Becoming Wise

About Joshua Prager's TED Talk

We all stumble across similar ideas as we age, and some of these revelations have passed into the books we love. Journalist Joshua Prager explores the stages of life through quotes from great writers.

About Joshua Prager

When Sandra Aamodt talks about dieting, people listen ... or, they stick their fingers in their ears and go la, la, la. Aamodt's neuroscientific take on why diets backfire is that divisive.

Aamodt is a neuroscientist, book author and former editor of a leading brain research journal. She also has become a prominent evangelist of the message that traditional diets just don't work and often leave the dieter worse off than before. And she's an enthusiastic proponent of mindful eating.

Google's philosophy about building a successful workforce is based on a simple assumption: people are fundamentally good. So, Google tries to give each of their 62,000 employees as much autonomy and ownership of the work they do as possible. That means taking power away from managers, making each employee a shareholder, and giving everyone direct access to Google's top executives. How's it working out?

Onaje X.O. Woodbine grew up in inner city Boston and was on the path to his own NBA dreams — as a sophomore at Yale he was the team's highest scorer. He was voted one of the top Ivy League players, but in a move that provoked the ire of his coach, he quit — to devote more time to his studies. He wanted to become, as he wrote in a letter to his coach, "the person I was meant to be."

When you look up at a starry night sky, it may make you feel small and insignificant — but it's also beautiful and awe inspiring. That's the feeling author Virginia Heffernan thinks we should be getting when we behold the Internet.

"Google organizes all the world's information," Heffernan tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "There's no way that one small person in our small, fathom-long bodies, could imagine containing all that information."

Emma Straub was raised in a house of horror — horror fiction, that is. Her father is Peter Straub, a writer who specialized in the genre. But there's no hint of horror in Emma Straub's work; her fiction tends more toward genial explorations of marriage and family and friendship. Her last book, The Vacationers, was a best-seller. Her new one is Modern Lovers, and it's set in Brooklyn's Ditmas Park neighborhood, where we met up for a stroll.

Yaa Gyasi's highly anticipated debut novel, Homegoing, follows two branches of a family tree as it grows over three centuries. Half-sisters Effia and Esi were born in different villages in 18th-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman (though the British soldiers call their local women "wenches" instead of wives) and she goes to live in the regal comfort of the Cape Coast Castle, which is also used to hold slaves before they were sent across the Atlantic.

Science writer Mary Roach is not easily repulsed. While researching her latest book, Grunt, Roach learned all about the medicinal use of maggots in World War I. She also purposely sniffed a putrid scent known as "Who me?" that was developed as an experimental weapon during World War II.

For Roach, it's all in the name of research. "I'm kind of the bottom-feeder of science writing," Roach jokes to Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I'm just someone who is OK with being very out there with my curiosity."

You could call it the parenting trap. Being a parent comes part and parcel with being judged by other parents. And parents aren't always shy about giving their opinions on others' parenting style — be it on parenting blogs, articles, books or at the playground.

Last year the major controversy was over "free-range parenting." This year, two parenting writers are offering new, and sometimes opposing, ideas.

At the beginning of Stephanie Danler's new Sweetbitter, there's an image of a girl, Tess, driving over the George Washington Bridge. We don't really know much about her. She's come to New York City to leave her past behind — a common experience. She falls into a job at a landmark restaurant, loosely modeled on Union Square Cafe.

Pages