Arts & Culture

Arts & culture

Unlabeled stimulants in soft drinks. Formaldehyde in meat and milk. Borax — the stuff used to kill ants! — used as a common food preservative. The American food industry was once a wild and dangerous place for the consumer.

Deborah Blum's new book, The Poison Squad, is a true story about how Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, named chief chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1883, conducted a rather grisly experiment on human volunteers to help make food safer for consumers — and his work still echoes on today.

The ancient Maya might be known for their mathematical aptitude, their accurate calendars, and their impressive temples. But did you know they were also salt entrepreneurs?

During the peak of Maya civilization – from 300 to 900 A.D. — coastal Maya produced salt by boiling brine in pots over fires. The end result was shaped into salt cakes, then paddled by canoe to inland cities and traded at extensive markets.

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"All this is based on what I've heard from other people or worked out for myself. It may not be entirely true, though I for one believe it."

Jorge Luis Borges's iconic Patagonia story "The South" opens in Buenos Aires, in Argentina's north. The protagonist, Juan Dahlmann, is a librarian who's spent his whole life in the city, dreaming of moving to the Patagonian ranch he inherited from his grandfather.

To Dahlmann, Patagonia represents an alternate world, a macho Wild West filled with tough guys and gauchos, men in control of their fates.

"The first time I saw my father do coke, I was about six," author (and occasional NPR critic) Juan Vidal writes in his new memoir, Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture that Shaped a Generation. "Batman Underoos in full effect. I didn't know what the powder was on his stache, but I remember wishing he'd take me to see the snow."

He never did. Vidal's father faded in and out of his life, eventually disappearing entirely, in a cloud of guns, drugs and other women. But he's still the spirit that haunts this poetic chronicle of beats, rhymes and life.

The new trade deal with Canada and Mexico has been warmly welcomed by farmers, manufacturers and business groups across the country, but not always for the reasons President Trump anticipated.

While the president has touted improvements and changes as compared to North American Free Trade Agreement, many people are focusing on what didn't change and expressing relief that there's a deal at all.

You know that joke-ish, brain-teasery thing about the doctor who says "I can't operate on my own son," but you're told the doctor isn't the patient's father, and the answer turns out to be that the doctor is a woman? It works, to the feeble extent it does, because it rests on our unconscious, culturally programmed preconceived notions — the kind of sexist background radiation that bombards us every day. You just assume the doctor is a man, for no clearly definable reason.

'Beautiful Things' Is A String Of Little Apocalypses

Oct 7, 2018

Every story in the slim new Simon Van Booy collection, The Sadness Of Beautiful Things, is about the end of the world.

In none of them does the world actually end. In none of them does it even come close. But that doesn't change the fact that these are stories of apocalypse. Even the quietest of them shakes the ground and darkens the sky.

An Abundance Of Jacobs

Oct 7, 2018

The Jakes and Jacobs of the world have teamed up and are playing football for the University of Washington. Well, maybe not all of the Jakes and Jacobs, but several have made the team's roster.

The Huskies currently have four quarterbacks named Jake or Jacob. And if that doesn't make things confusing enough, two more Jacobs – a linebacker and a tight end – are suiting up for the purple and gold as well.

Banksy Art Shreds Itself

Oct 7, 2018

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How Fruit Became So Sugary

Oct 7, 2018

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Nicole Chung was born into a Korean immigrant family and then adopted by a white couple when she was an infant. Her parents always described her adoption as a kind of divine providence.

Over two decades ago in 1997, when violinist Hilary Hahn was 17, she made a celebrated recording debut, Hilary Hahn Plays Bach. That year, Hahn told NPR about her enthusiasm for Bach's music.

"There's nothing I really wanted to record more than Bach," Hahn said. "I can work on it for a long time and keep discovering more things that surprise me every time."

Right on the cover, Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell's horror comic Infidel lays out a bold goal. Campbell's powerful illustration — a woman in a headscarf menaced by an exaggerated, spiky hand — signals that this book will delve into the real-world theme of racism while simultaneously embracing the phantasmal devices of horror.

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