Sunday 11.22.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Red, Reich and Blue: Building the World of The Man in the High Castle

“What if Hitler had won?”

2. Turn Off Your Devices? Sometimes Plays Turn Them On

“Theaters, of course, spend a lot of time warning audience members to shut off their cellphones, sometimes to no avail. But onstage, mobile communication has become so integral to contemporary theater that a Tony-winning sound designer, Robert Kaplowitz, collaborated with a programmer, Jay Konopka, to design an app that makes iPhones ring or beep, or both, on cue. Next: figuring out how to make phones light up on cue, so that they cast a lifelike glow on actors.”

3. In California, Stingy Water Users Are Fined in Drought, While the Rich Soak

“‘We wash clothes once a week. We flush every third time. Sometimes we go to the laundromat because we’re afraid.’ Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the city’s superrich have been able to keep multiple pools filled. Neighborhoods like Bel Air are verdant, as if the drought were happening somewhere else.”

4. Vocal Strain Poses Long-Term Risks for Coaches. Anyone Have a Lozenge?

“College basketball coaches do more yelling than coaches in almost any other sport, and they do it whether the players are a few feet away or at the other end of the court.”

5. Not So Fast, 1 Percent Whippersnappers

“Over the last 20 years, the wealthy have broadly been getting older at a faster rate than the rest of the population.”

6. Why Are Student Protesters So Fearful?

“Rumbling under the surface of some recent protests is something besides indignation: an assumption of grave vulnerability. The victims too often present themselves as weak, in need of protection. Administrators are held, like helicopter parents, wholly responsible. To a veteran of movements of the ’60s like myself, this is strikingly strange.”

7. Stopping WhatsApp Won’t Stop Terrorists

“Law enforcement agencies can’t weaken encryption for terrorists without weakening it for everyone. And making it easier for malicious hackers and foreign governments to spy on us is not a good idea.”

8. Are Good Doctors Bad for Your Health?

“One thing patients can do is ask four simple questions when doctors are proposing an intervention, whether an X-ray, genetic test or surgery. First, what difference will it make? Will the test results change our approach to treatment? Second, how much improvement in terms of prolongation of life, reduction in risk of a heart attack or other problem is the treatment actually going to make? Third, how likely and severe are the side effects? And fourth, is the hospital a teaching hospital? The JAMA Internal Medicine study found that mortality was higher overall at nonteaching hospitals.”

9. Coney Island: The Cyclone! The Hot Dogs! The Art!

“Unlike world’s fairs, which were largely meant to educate and elevate, the early parks at Coney — Luna, Steeplechase and Dreamland — were accessible attractions. Instead of installations on the progress of technology, there were dancing dwarves and deep-fried clams.”

10. Why Snapping Is the New Clapping

“In a culture ruled by the instant feedback loop of retweets, likes and hearts, the snap (and by “snap” we mean the old-fashioned act of brushing the thumb and middle finger against one another in an effort to make a popping sound) is more often being used as a quiet signal of agreement or appreciation in conferences, university auditoriums, poetry slams and even at dinner tables.”

11. Mary Beard’s SPQR and Tom Holland’s Dynasty

“Long after the Republic had fallen, when some crusty senators were moaning about foreigners taking over the city, the emperor Claudius reminded them that Rome had always been open to immigrants and that if they had any sense, they should allow more of those rude and hairy Gauls into the Senate. By contrast, in Athens, even the great Pericles was obsessed by the need to tighten up the qualifications for citizenship to those who could boast of two Athenian parents. Rome prevailed, Athens did not.”

12. Augustine: Conversions to Confessions, by Robin Lane Fox

“The most absorbing and rewarding chapters are those devoted to Augustine’s intellectual quest and, in particular, the ones about Manichaeism. Fox gives the clearest short exposition of Mani’s bizarre doctrines that I have ever read, no easy task given that his visions involved things like divine messengers who appear as beautiful naked girls, causing demons caught in the zodiac to ejaculate into the sea, producing monsters. But he also explains plausibly why someone like Augustine might have been attracted to this teeming myth. Christians could never explain adequately why God permitted evil. Mani claimed that evil was never created, it was always there, even before God.”

13. Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World, by Tim Whitmarsh

“The major thesis of Tim Whitmarsh’s excellent Battling the Gods is that atheism … isn’t a product of the modern age but rather reaches back to early Western intellectual tradition in the ancient Greek world.”

14. Custer’s Trials, by T. J. Stiles

“He was a West Point graduate (although he was last in his class, a position now known as the ‘goat’), a hero in the Civil War, a brigadier general at just 23 and a major general at 24. He tried, and failed, to be a Wall Street tycoon in the same league as John Jacob Astor and a writer of the renown of Mark Twain. He fought for the North but identified with the South. He was kind to his black servant, a recently freed teenage girl, but often harsh with his own men. As many loathed as loved him, begrudgingly admiring his courage while openly ridiculing his vanity.”

15. These United States, by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue

“This admirably ambitious book seeks to distill a generation’s worth of scholarship into a fresh history of ‘the long 20th century’ from the 1890s to the present — the epoch triumphally heralded by Henry Luce in 1941 as the ‘American century.’”

16. Aural Sex

“Audio recordings of erotic fiction are a booming business. Long-haul truck drivers — who buy audiobook CDs at travel centers on the road — are just some of the enthusiastic listeners. The explosion of sex-infused books (much of it self-published) and the popularity of MP3 downloads have combined to produce a vast universe of fictional aural sex. The books range from fantasy romance with rose petals on the bed to raunchier fare with lots of rough sex.”

17. What Early Job Later Informed Your Work as a Writer?

“In the past 15 years, I’ve worked as a juice barista, a Gap clerk, an assistant to an asylum lawyer and then to an Emerson scholar and then to a mean­spirited self-help guru; I’ve worked as an office temp, an SAT tutor, an innkeeper, a medical actor, and a teacher at six different universities. The fantasy that ‘making it’ as a writer will render other jobs financially unnecessary is usually just that — a fantasy.”

18. The Women of Hollywood Speak Out

“Hollywood’s toxic brew of fear and sexism has kept women even more confined than those in legendary male bastions like Silicon Valley, where 10.8 percent of executive officers are women; corporate America, where about 16 percent of executive officers at S.&P. 100 companies are women; and Congress, where 20 percent of the House and Senate are women.”

Don’t Ignore the Background

Sunday 11.15.2015 New York Times Digest


1. Strategy Shift for ISIS: Inflicting Terror in Distant Lands

“Defying Western efforts to confront the Islamic State on the battlefield, the group has evolved in its reach and organizational ability, with increasingly dangerous hubs outside Iraq and Syria and strategies that call for using spectacular acts of violence against civilians.”

2. As Paris Terror Attacks Unfolded, Social Media Tools Offered Help in Crisis

“Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, which allows users in an area affected by a crisis to mark themselves or others as safe. Facebook created the tool to help in times of crisis, a spokeswoman, Anna Richardson White, said on Saturday, and it has activated it five times in the last year after natural disasters. But this was the first time it was activated for something like this, she said.”

3. Many Say High Deductibles Make Their Health Law Insurance All but Useless

“We have insurance, but can’t afford to use it.”

4. Men’s Lib!

“Women have learned to become more like men. Now men need to learn to become more like women.”

5. The Seduction of Safety, on Campus and Beyond

“I am now always searching for safety, and I appreciate safe spaces — the ones I create for my students in a classroom, the ones I create with my writing and the ones others create, too — because there is so much unsafe space in this world.”

6. Teaching Peace in Elementary School

“A growing number of educators are trying to bolster emotional competency not on college campuses, but where they believe it will have the greatest impact: in elementary schools.”

7. America, the Not So Promised Land

“In spite of the rhetoric of globalization, we still live with the passports and border controls introduced after the First World War. This system, a response to xenophobic agitation, created the current distinction between legal immigrants and ‘illegal’ aliens.”

8. The Virtue of Contradicting Ourselves

“Intelligence is often defined as the ability to learn, and a sign of learning is changing your views over time.”

9. To Weld, Perchance, to Dream

“Philosophers don’t know the answers, but we do know the questions and the fact that we keep on asking them is evidence to the fact that human beings are still perplexed by the major issues of truth, reality, God, justice and even happiness.”

10. A Crisis Our Universities Deserve

“The protesters may be obnoxious enemies of free debate … but they aren’t wrong to smell the rot around them.”

11. Meet the Instamom, a Stage Mother for Social Media

“Instagram, which Pew Research says is the fastest growing major social network among adults in the United States, has become an express track for parents interested in sharing and sometimes capitalizing on the visual story line of their children’s lives.”

12. The Microcomplaint: Nothing Too Small to Whine About

“The same technology that allows people to voice their displeasure with dictatorships, police brutality and prejudice also enables them to carp about mediocre meals, rude customer service and that obnoxious guy at the next table who won’t shut up.”

13. Using High Heels for Self-Defense

“Her argument is that women shouldn’t have to alter their physical appearance or ‘compromise their femininity,’ she said, to ensure their ability to protect themselves.”

14. Cuffing Season Is Here: Till Spring Do Us Part

“Leaves fall off the trees, the sun sets before 5 p.m., and Starbucks transitions from pumpkin spice lattes to red holiday cups: The advent of cuffing season is upon us. This is the time of year when temperatures drop, going outside becomes a hassle and having someone to cuddle with becomes a priority.”

15. In Letters to Véra, Vladimir Nabokov Writes to His Wife

“One of Nabokov’s most striking peculiarities was his near-pathological good cheer — he himself found it ‘indecent.’ Young writers tend to cherish their sensitivity, and thus their alienation, but the only source of angst Nabokov admitted to was ‘the impossibility of assimilating, swallowing, all the beauty in the world.’”

16. Nabokov in America, by Robert Roper

“Let me say, then, right off, that Nabokov in America — a scholarly romp that should engage admirers of Nabokov as well as fans of first-rate literary sleuthing — is not only necessary, it’s exhilarating: a reminder that some of the closest, most discerning readers of what have come to be called ‘texts’ remain outside the academy.”

17. Robert Reich’s Saving Capitalism

“Upward mobility has largely vanished. Sometime in the 1970s, wages began to stagnate, though productivity gains and economic growth continued. By 2013, the median American household, after adjusting for inflation, was earning less than it did in 1989. Last year, more than two-thirds of Americans were living from paycheck to paycheck. The winnings at the top, meanwhile, have piled up. In 1978, the chief executives of America’s big companies took home 30 times the pay of their average workers; in 2013, that multiplier was 296. Most people don’t have a shot at even getting close to such wealth. Middle-income children are half as likely to climb to the top quintile as those born there are to stay; for children of the poorest families, the odds of reaching the financial top are just 6 percent.”

18. Economists, Biologists and Skrillex on How to Predict the Future

“The problems that most haunt our world today — climate change and pollution, inequality and war — are problems for which technology, long our spur to envisioning better futures, looks more like a cause than a solution.”

19. The Cult of the ‘Amateur’

“Since 1990, most Americans have told Gallup that we get our sense of purpose through our work, but in recent years we also say that we hate our jobs, which must mean on some level that we hate ourselves. Amateurs get their name from the Latin amator, or ‘lover,’ and we turn to them to model a type of work freed from the constraints of the workplace. Win or lose, Ohio State’s football players end their games by rushing to the end zone, joining arms and belting the school’s alma mater with the crowd. We click through videos of supposedly amateur porn performers and feel safe in the fantasy that they’re really getting off. We suspect that traditional politicians have been squeezed by special interests, filtered through focus groups and massaged by advisers before being cleared to approach the podium, whereas the amateurs saunter up to the stage and express who they really are.”

20. The Secrets in Greenland’s Ice Sheet

“When it comes to understanding the implications of ice-­sheet collapse, the speed of that breakdown is everything. It could mean sea levels that rise slowly and steadily, perhaps a foot or two per century, which might allow coastal communities to adapt and adjust. Or it could mean levels that rise at an accelerating pace, perhaps five feet or more per century — forcing the evacuation of the earth’s great coastal cities and producing millions of refugees and almost unimaginable financial costs. The difference between slowly and rapidly is a crucial distinction that one scientist recently described to me as ‘the trillion-­dollar question.’”

21. You, Only Better

“He wants to push humanity past its biological limits — but his sell is a little more palatable: We need only think of our bodies as hardware in order to improve upon them.”

22. The Dream Life of Driverless Cars

“As the first wave of autonomous vehicles emerges, engineers are struggling with the complex, even absurd, circumstances that constitute everyday street life.”

23. Can a Trip Ever Be ‘Authentic’?

“The ‘reality’ we crave … is itself a fantasy.”

Sunday 11.8.2015 New York Times Digest


1. The Case for Melancholy

“Whatever happened to experiencing the grace of melancholy, which requires reflection: a sort of mental steeping, like tea? What if all this cheerful advice only makes you feel inadequate? What if you were born morose?”

2. Web Poets’ Society: New Breed Succeeds in Taking Verse Viral

“Mr. Gregson belongs to a new generation of young, digitally astute poets whose loyal online followings have helped catapult them onto the best-seller lists, where poetry books are scarce. These amateur poets are not winning literary awards, and most have never been in a graduate writing workshop.”

3. A Family Team Looks for James Bond’s Next Assignment

“For the last 20 years, ever since their father handed over the keys to the series, the ferociously private Barbara Broccoli, 55, and her half brother, Michael G. Wilson, 73, have micromanaged Bond’s every move. While moviemaking is a collaborative process, Ms. Broccoli and Mr. Wilson have final say over every line of dialogue, every casting decision, every stunt sequence, every marketing tie-in, every TV ad, poster and billboard.”

4. A Seismic Shift in How People Eat

“Eating habits are changing across the country and food companies are struggling to keep up.”

5. The Cyberthreat Under the Street

“When we talk about the Internet, we talk about clouds and ether. But the Internet is not amorphous. You may access it wirelessly, but ultimately you’re relying on a bunch of physical cables that are vulnerable to attack. It’s something that’s been largely forgotten in the lather over cybersecurity. The threat is not only malicious code flowing through the pipes but also, and perhaps more critically, the pipes themselves.”

6. For Taylor Swift and Drake, Friends Serve the Brand

“The two most important pop figures of the last five years, Drake and Ms. Swift have both gone further by bringing others along for the ride, with varying degrees of intensity and sometimes different aims. Friendships versus partnerships: Whatever the nomenclature, they have been effective for both artists. In both cases, the alliances are loud, ingenious, public.”

7. The Big Bang of Art and Tech in New York

“‘Silicon City,’ opening Friday, Nov. 13, begins with Samuel Morse’s telegraph and the many wonders that sprang from Thomas Edison’s New Jersey laboratories. In contrast to Silicon Valley (which was still largely made up of fruit orchards as late as the 1960s), such early inventions did not lead to wave after wave of entrepreneurial innovation. Instead they gave rise to vast, monopolistic or quasimonopolistic enterprises that helped define 20th-century America — chief among them IBM and AT&T. But during the ’60s, improbably enough, this spawned a fusion of art and technology that could only have begun in New York.”

8. In All-Gender Restrooms, the Signs Reflect the Times

“Public restrooms didn’t become commonplace in this country until the late 19th century. A cholera epidemic during the Civil War made people realize that it was inappropriate to throw the contents of a chamber pot out the window, and generated a deep commitment to public hygiene. Ever since their introduction, restrooms have been a curious ground zero for civil rights, whether for African-Americans or people with disabilities. Discrimination against transgender people has brought the issue into sharp new focus.”

9. GoFundMe Gone Wild

“I think online begging has become the new economy.”

10. Steve Deace and the Power of Conservative Media

“Deace and others like him boast of being more conservative than Limbaugh or Fox News; like much of their audience, they consider themselves conservatives first and Republicans second (if only because being a Democrat is unthinkable). This strain of conservative media, and its take-no-prisoners ideology, have proliferated on websites, podcasts and video outlets, greatly complicating the Republican Party’s ability to govern and to pick presidential candidates with broad appeal.”

Sunday 11.1.2015 New York Times Digest

Silicon Valley

1. Silicon Valley’s New Philanthropy

“A similar paradox seeps into philanthropy. Tech entrepreneurs believe their charitable giving is bolder, bigger and more data-driven than anywhere else — and in many ways it is. But despite their flair for disruption, these philanthropists are no more interested in radical change than their more conservative predecessors. They don’t lobby for the redistribution of wealth; instead, they see poverty and inequality as an engineering problem, and the solution is their own brain power, not a tithe.”

2. Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice

“By inserting individual arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts, companies like American Express devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.”

3. The Mets, the Royals and Charlie Parker, Linked by Autumn in New York

“Today, few ballplayers listen to jazz. But jazz, baseball, Kansas City and New York are closely intertwined in American culture.”

4. The Light-Beam Rider

“He was able to imagine it by conjuring up thought experiments. That ability to visualize the unseen has always been the key to creative genius.”

5. New Online Openness Lets Museums Share Works With the World

“Today more than 50 cultural institutions have opened their collections for unrestricted use. The number is steadily increasing as administrators come to recognize the value of circulating work to a wider audience online and inviting the public to study and use it at will.”

6. Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 1950s’

“Their work didn’t fit any neat categories. Not whodunits. Not police procedurals. Not hard-boiled gumshoes. Instead these were stories imbued with a kind of shimmering suspense that became almost unbearable as they unfolded. They were all written by women, and they evoked images familiar from old black-and-white movies — lipstick on a cigarette butt, tailored dresses, immaculately confected coiffures, sideways glances and lives gone inexorably askew.”

7. The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff

“The essential paradox of Salem — the very thing that makes it worth returning to — is that it took place so late, in the twilight of the long golden age of European witch-hunting, among sophisticated and ambitious people, who were in most ways radical and in some respects downright avant-garde. How could such a thing happen then, and there, among them? How do good people, reasonable people, do great evil?”

8. The Other Paris, by Luc Sante

“The underlying and implicit thesis of his work, that the best of life has been paved over by money and modernity, and that the marginal and unofficial are inherently superior to bourgeois culture, may be arguable, but the pleasures to be had from the fruits of his research are considerable.”

9. Creating the Followers of Tomorrow

“The idea comes from the world of guide dogs. One of the things guide dogs are taught to do is called a counterpull. If the leader is about to step off a train platform, for example, they pull in the opposite direction. Now think of human organizations, whether companies, schools or police forces. The best followers — and they can be very senior — know when to pull the leader back from an edge.”

10. A Global Community’s College

“As globalization has made the world smaller, two-year colleges have, in a sense, gotten bigger. Often regarded as the minor leagues of higher education and as bastions of locally drawn students, community colleges now aggressively recruit students overseas, send their own to study abroad, and have even established satellite campuses in foreign countries.”

11. How the Motorcycle Jacket Lost Its Cool and Found It Again

“It is a costume for the movie in which you imagine yourself to star.”

12. Letter of Recommendation: Vicks Nasal Spray

“There is something miraculous, and highly psychologically suggestive, about the way in which a nasal-decongestant spray goes about its work, broadening the straits of respiration. To feel that soft popping sensation in the si­nuses, that gradual but inexorable opening of the airways, is to feel the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between yourself and the world, an opening of the borders between the body and the air.”

13. Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking

“The book is, in one sense, a country manual, with instructions on picking wild mushrooms and the best way to turn dandelions into wine. (It tastes like Drambuie, Lewis offers helpfully.) It’s also a cookbook, because there are teaspoons and tablespoons and ‘cook uncovered for 10 minutes.’ But perhaps the truest way to describe the book is as a memoir told in recipes, where every menu, dish and ingredient speaks to her childhood in rural Virginia and how her community made a life from the land, taking pleasure in the doing of many things. It stands as an exemplar of American food writing, a complex, multilayered, artistic and even subtly subversive document.”

14. Betty Crocker’s Absurd, Gorgeous Atomic-Age Creations

“It was the age of technocratic make-believe and the early days of the anthropocene. Gastronomically, it was an age that today — from a perspective admiring of the natural and authentic — looks shockingly artificial.”

15. The Archive of Eating

“Cookbooks show us at our most defenseless because they expose things we believe we lack: meringues that don’t fall; soup that will fill us up without making us fat; dinners that cook in no time at all. They allow us to imagine ourselves as bountiful hosts or artisanal pastry makers. It isn’t all fantasy, though. Cookbooks also speak to, and soothe, something real: the hunger that started when we were babies, when food and security were one and the same.”

16. Bread Is Broken

“Before the advent of industrial agriculture, Americans enjoyed a wide range of regional flours milled from equally diverse wheats, which in turn could be used to make breads that were astonish­ingly flavorful and nutritious. For nearly a century, however, America has grown wheat tailored to an industrial system designed to produce nutrient-poor flour and insipid, spongy breads soaked in preservatives. For the sake of profit and expediency, we forfeited pleasure and health.”

Writing Disappears

Slavoj Žižek in Žižek! (dir. Astra Taylor, 2005):

I have a very complicated ritual about writing. It’s psychologically impossible for me to sit down, so I have to trick myself. I operate a very simple strategy which, at least, with me, works. I put down ideas, but I put them down usually already in a relatively elaborate way, like the line of thought already written, full sentences, and so on. So up to a certain point I’m telling myself, no, I’m not yet writing, I’m just putting down ideas. Then, at a certain point, I tell myself, everything is already there, now I just have to edit it. So that’s the idea, to split it into two: I put down notes, I edit it. Writing disappears.

Sunday 10.25.2015 New York Times Digest

Is California…

1. My Dark California Dream

“Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.”

2. A Global Chill in Commodity Demand Hits America’s Heartland

“Between 1993 and 2013, China built 200 cities of a million people or more.”

3. Can You Get Smarter?

“Kids who think that their intelligence is malleable perform better and are more motivated to learn than those who believe that their intelligence is fixed and unchangeable.”

4. First, Kill the Witches. Then, Celebrate Them.

“Insofar as we can chart its murky origins, Halloween derives from Samhain, an ancient Celtic harvest festival. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried its otherworldly imagery to America, largely in the mid-19th century. Black cats arrived along with their broomstick-flying consorts in the 1890s. The witches’ origin is unknown; they played no role in the Celtic tradition. The costumes came later, as did the witches’ basic black. Trick-or-treating began in the 1920s. The candy companies saw to the rest.”

5. How Salad Can Make Us Fat

“Drop a bunch of kale into your cart and you’re more likely to head next to the ice cream or beer section.”

6. Next From Christo: Art That Lets You Walk on Water

“I don’t like anything about computers. Young people today on their flat screens, it’s all virtual; nothing is real. All our projects involve real things — real wind, real sun, real wet, real danger, real drama. And this is very invigorating for me.”

7. Dressed to Kill and The Hunger: So Lethal, So Very Fashionable

“Full of logical inconsistencies, Dressed to Kill is best appreciated as a series of intersecting fantasies — those of the homemaker, her shrink, her son and the director, who cast his wife at the time (Nancy Allen) as a savvy call girl variously serving as surrogate mom, big sister and dream girlfriend for Mr. Gordon’s quasi-autobiographical character.”

8. Your Job Title Is … What?

“A search on LinkedIn reveals that over 55,000 people have the word ‘influencer’ in their titles; there are more than 74,000 brand architects and 35,156 professional evangelists. (LinkedIn doesn’t break down how many of those evangelists are associated with an actual religious congregation, but I suspect it is relatively few.)”

9. ‘NPR Voice’ Has Taken Over the Airwaves

“In addition to looser language, the speaker generously employs pauses and, particularly at the end of sentences, emphatic inflection. (This is a separate issue from upspeak, the tendency to conclude statements with question marks?) A result is the suggestion of spontaneous speech and unadulterated emotion. The irony is that such presentations are highly rehearsed, with each caesura calculated and every syllable stressed in advance.”

10. I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, Grace Jones’s Memoirs

“Shaving my head led directly to my first orgasm.”

11. Risky Business

“Self-help is more than just a genre of books. It’s a pile of tea leaves, a crystal ball, a mood ring on the finger of America — pick your divination metaphor, and it’s that. A glance at the self-help titles on each week’s best-seller list provides a diagram of the topics and shortcomings that readers are fretting over at this very moment, from gut health to decluttering to the proliferation of workplace distractions.”

12. Terry Gross and the Art of Opening Up

“Over the years, Gross has done some 13,000 interviews, and the sheer range of people she has spoken to, coupled with her intelligence and empathy, has given her the status of national interviewer. Think of it as a symbolic role, like the poet laureate — someone whose job it is to ask the questions, with a degree of art and honor. Barbara Walters was once our national interviewer, in a flashier style defined by a desire for spectacle. Gross is an interviewer defined by a longing for intimacy. In a culture in which we are all talking about ourselves more than ever, Gross is not only listening intently; she’s asking just the right questions.”

13. The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield

“What made them so uncomfortable was not that Anna was 41 and D.J. was 30, or that Anna is white and D.J. is black, or even that Anna was married with two children while D.J. had never dated anyone. What made them so upset — what led to all the arguing that followed, and the criminal trial and million-dollar civil suit — was the fact that Anna can speak and D.J. can’t; that she was a tenured professor of ethics at Rutgers University in Newark and D.J. has been declared by the state to have the mental capacity of a toddler.”

14. Does Frequent Sex Prime the Immune System for Pregnancy?

“Sex alters a woman’s immune system in ways that affect her chances of conceiving.”

15. Collecting Art for Love, Not Money

“A connoisseur, in the old sense of the term, was less a shopper than a historian. To collect meant to connect yourself to the myriad of civilizations that preceded your own; accumulating objects was a way of placing yourself in a historical continuum, of assuming temporary ownership of something that once belonged to someone else and, after your death, would belong to someone else still. It was an act of humility: It meant educating yourself about a tradition, while also realizing that your education would never be complete. Assuming the mantle of stewardship. Realizing that, despite your best efforts, you would never know enough. Understanding that the object of your passion — silver or maiolica or tapestries — might never be understood or appreciated by anyone else. (It meant not caring about other people’s opinions.) It meant devotion. It meant obsession.”

16. Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday: They Did It Their Way

“When Holiday died, Sinatra holed up in his penthouse for two days, weeping, drinking and playing her records.”

17. A Very Revealing Conversation With Rihanna

“Don’t believe the pictures — in between each poolside party photo is an untaken one in which she’s simply working. Almost every night, when you’re asleep, Rihanna is in the studio.”

18. Jonathan Franzen’s Crackling Genius

“He likes women from California, at least that is what he always says, and he is someone I could telephone in consternation, in need of advice, and have done so. But he would not want to hear from me every day, and this has also strengthened a mutual trust, both of us being people who want brief social engagements and then to return to nurturing a productive alienation or joy and either way conduct life with a limited amount of interaction, at least with other writers.”

19. Jeong Kwan, the Philosopher Chef

“Jeong Kwan has no restaurant. She has no customers. She has published no cookbooks. She has never attended culinary school, nor has she worked her way up through the high-pressure hierarchy of a four-star kitchen. Her name does not appear in any of those annual round-ups listing the greatest chefs in the world, although Ripert will assure you that she belongs among them.”

20. The Maddening and Brilliant Karl Lagerfeld

“It’s not everyone who sees thoughts as action, but he does. Let me show you how he trips from one thing to the next. When I asked him about the 19th century, he only said, ‘We are spoiled. We have dry cleaners. They did not.’ Then he talked about the Scottish philosopher David Hume. (‘I just found a book by him in a box of books that came to me from my parents.’) Then quickly we moved to the case of the German novelist Günter Grass.”