NPR Staff

Graham Moore's new novel opens in 1888 with a jolt: Its main character, Paul Cravath, witnesses a Western Union worker being electrocuted in the sky above Broadway while trying to repair a live wire. Blue flame shoots from his mouth and his skin falls from his bones.

Later that day, Paul meets Thomas Edison, an inventor who is racing against archrival George Westinghouse to electrify the United States from coast to coast. The success of Edison's inventions hinges on the U.S. adopting DC electricity, while Westinghouse's innovations rely on AC power.

On Sunday, the city of Flint, Mich., will no longer be under a federal state of emergency. A new report suggests that lead levels in the city's water are dropping, though researchers still recommend caution because of the health dangers posed by even small amounts of lead.

Sam Esmail, creator of the TV show Mr. Robot, learned the hard way that hacking isn't easy. Years ago, he made the "really ill-advised decision" to hack his girlfriend's college campus email, from his job at an NYU computer lab.

"I easily got busted ..." he tells NPR's Ari Shapiro. "They traced it back to that IP address and I got fired and put on academic probation and that was the end of my hacker days."

Nearly 25 years after Anita Hill accused her former boss Clarence Thomas — then a Supreme Court nominee — of making lewd advances, the fight against sexual harassment is again in the spotlight.

Women are pushing to change policies at colleges across the country. Bill Cosby — once a beloved figure of American culture — is now widely reviled because of accusations of rape and assault.

More recently, more than 20 women say media mogul Roger Ailes harassed them at work.

A few years ago, writer Elizabeth Greenwood went on a trip to the Philippines where, on the afternoon of July 7, 2013, she died. "My death certificate indicates that I perished in a car crash," she tells NPR's Audie Cornish.

Clearly, Greenwood didn't actually die, but she did spend a lot of time researching how to make the world believe she did. Faking your own death, or pseudocide, is the subject of her new book, Playing Dead: A Journey Through The World of Death Fraud.

During the Olympics we will hear a lot about the winners. But the reality is most athletes at the games come home without a medal. Today we explore what losing does to athletes, fans and anyone who casts a vote for president.

Listen to this week's episode to hear the story of judo star Jimmy Pedro, and how he dealt with a crushing defeat in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Daniel Pink also joins Shankar for a Stopwatch Science competition on all the unintended consequences of losing.

Stopwatch Science

In Greek mythology, the Chimera is a monster that is part lion, part goat and part snake. Far from reality, sure, but the idea of mixing and matching creatures is real — and has ethicists concerned.

With Hillary Clinton having made history last month by becoming the first female presidential nominee, could it be that today's gender roles are not as egalitarian as we think?

Irina Reyn's new novel, The Imperial Wife, raises such questions. The dual-narrative follows the marriages of two ambitious women immigrants: one, a rising Russian art expert in a high-end Manhattan auction house set in the present day; the other, a young Catherine the Great in imperial Russia.

There was a time when people went to bars to talk to other people, maybe even meet someone new. But that was in the BC era — before cellphones.

"I've been in the pub industry for a long time, and progressively it's become less and less social and more and more antisocial," Steve Tyler, the owner of the Gin Tub in Sussex, England, tells NPR's Scott Simon.

Cockroach Milk: Yes. You Read That Right

Aug 6, 2016

Pour out that almond milk — the new hip thing cockroach milk.

Well, kind of.

The female Pacific beetle cockroach is one of a kind. Unlike other insect species, this Hawaiian native gives birth to live young. And she feeds them a pale, yellow liquid "milk" from her brood sack.

But the craziest thing: Cut open an embryonic beetle roach, and they're guts will spill out nutrient-rich milk crystals that shimmer like glitter.

The Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Mo., might be the only place where having a collection that sucks is considered a compliment.

Tom Gasko, the museum's curator and a former door-to-door vacuum salesman, offers guided tours through nearly a century and a half of vacuum cleaner history. The oldest ones date back to just after the Civil War.

Two retired generals spoke at the national political conventions last month — one in favor of the Democratic candidate and one for the Republican.

At the Democrats' convention, Marine Corps Gen. John Allen offered a thinly-veiled swipe at Donald Trump.

"But I also know that with [Hillary Clinton] as our commander in chief, our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction," Allen said.

At the Republican convention, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn joined in the crowd's chants to arrest Hillary Clinton.

Jesmyn Ward was in her twenties when she first read James Baldwin's 1963 essay collection The Fire Next Time. Ward felt that Baldwin's essays — compiled in a year which included Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' speech and the Birmingham church bombings — are especially resonant today and tease out similar racial tensions.

It may sound trite, but the Olympic Games truly are a chance to witness what unites us all as human beings: Our joy in triumph and our anguish in defeat.

David Matsumoto believes this truism, but on an entirely different level.

Matsumoto is a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and a former Olympic judo coach. He has analyzed the behavior of Olympic athletes. He spoke recently with Shankar Vedantam about what his research reveals.

A few years ago, Silicon Valley engineer Bindu Reddy was raising money for a new startup. An investor offered to contribute — not because of what she was trying to do, but because she was a woman.

That rubbed Reddy the wrong way, and she wrote about it — then the backlash began.

Perhaps you've heard the famous F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that goes, "There are no second acts in American lives." Some may beg to disagree. After all, for many people, there are indeed second acts. One such example is singer and actress Heather Headley, who epitomizes this in ways few others do. Headley is a native of the twin-island republic Trinidad and Tobago in the South Caribbean, where she started singing and playing the piano in church at a very young age. She moved with her family to the United States in the early '90s.

Adam Summers used to trade Snickers bars to get free CT scans of dead fish.

He likes fish. A lot.

Summers is a professor at the University of Washington in the biology department and School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences.

"I've always been a fish guy," he says. "It's just been in my blood since I was as small as I can remember." Summers was a scientific consultant on Finding Nemo and did similar work with Finding Dory.

Bad Moms is a movie about good moms who try to go bad. Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban Chicago mothers who find themselves ground down by the daily cycle of school drop-offs and pick-ups, soccer games, supermarket runs, errands, chores and endless worries. One night they wind up at the same bar after a PTA meeting and together they decide to let loose.

Family stories get passed between generations, and like a lot of cherished possessions, they sometimes get nicked, smudged, frayed, or otherwise changed.

Nadja Spiegelman has written a memoir of a mother she thought she knew, which resonates through the recollections of the grandmother she might have misunderstood.

Her mother is Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker, and her father is Art Spiegelman, the graphic novelist. In fact, her father's Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel Maus is dedicated to Nadja.

Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice is a troubling comedy.

The play's villain is Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. He gives one of his Christian tormentors a loan on the condition that if the merchant doesn't repay, Shylock gets a pound of the borrower's flesh.

While Shylock does give a famous speech that nobly decries de-humanization of the Jews, the play is full of anti-Semitic language and ideas.

When he was in college, the thing that enraged Brett Cohen the most was celebrity culture. One day he had the idea to mock it by pretending to be a celebrity, gathering a fake entourage and walking through Midtown Manhattan. It was a big success, and then a film he made of the day went viral.

But there was one small problem: Once Cohen tasted fame, even fake fame, he discovered that he didn't want to give it up.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has been in politics since the 1960s, and launched multiple runs for president himself.

In 1992, he ran as the outsider candidate — chastising the incumbent parties that had "failed their duty."

"They've placed their own interest about the national interest," he said during the speech that kicked off his campaign. They've allowed themselves to be trapped and in some cases corrupted by the powerful forces of greed. It's time for them go!"

Earlier this week, on the first day of this Democratic National Convention, Ruby Gilliam of Ohio — along with Clarissa Rodriguez of Texas — took the stage, and led the delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The two women are the oldest and youngest delegates at the DNC.

"It's almost like a dream come true," Gilliam tells NPR's Audie Cornish.

"When they called me though and told me though that I was doing the Pledge of Allegiance and there was nobody at home I thought, I'm gonna burst, I'm gonna burst," she recalls.

Third parties are not new to American politics. The Anti-Masonic Party emerged in the 1820s to campaign against the Freemasons, which its members viewed as a corrupt. The Free Soil Party opposed the expansion of slavery in the years before the Civil War. Others throughout history have emerged to champion various causes, like the Know-Nothings, the Progressives, the Prohibition Party, the Reform Party and many others.

Jason Dessen, the protagonist of the new novel Dark Matter, is just a regular guy: He's 40, a devoted husband, a professor of physics at a small college, and a loving father to a teenage son.

But one day he's drugged and kidnapped and wakes up to find he's in a very different world. Not just a different world — a different life.

Blake Crouch joins NPR's Elise Hu to talk about the new book, and about why he loves imagining alternate realities.

Since his debut novel, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers has finessed a line between fact and fiction. His latest, Heroes of the Frontier, is a novel about a dentist who, after a bad breakup, packs up and moves to Alaska with her two young children.

Alaska is "a working state" that's "not too precious about itself," Eggers tells NPR's Scott Simon. "It's still very raw and there's still so much of it that you can discover, and be alone."

John Evans, co-owner of California's Diesel, A Bookstore, recommends three vacation reads: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan and Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe and Tom DeSavia.

In the summer of 2004, after two decades of estrangement, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Susan Faludi received an e-mail from her father. It read:

Dear Susan,

I've got some interesting news for you. I've decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man that I have never been inside.

The letter was signed, "Love from your parent, Stefánie." Faludi's 76-year-old father, Steven, had had gender reassignment surgery.

In 1987, the book The Art of the Deal elevated Donald Trump from playboy developer to best-selling author.

From the opening paragraph of Trump's self-portrait as a shrewd and creative dealmaker:

"I don't do it for the money. I've got enough, much more than I'll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks."

Lately, it has felt like the terrible news just won't stop. As soon as you've wrapped your head around one story, you're pummeled by another — and then another.

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