Last week I had no podcasts to share. This week I have a bumper crop!
Afropop Worldwide :: Remembering Tony Allen
Pioneering Nigerian drummer Tony Allen died this spring, shortly after releasing his final album Rejoice, with Hugh Masekela. Afropop Worldwide revisits Allen’s storied career.
BackStory :: The End of the Road: BackStory and the History of Finales in America
My favorite history podcast BackStory comes to an end with an episode about finales in American history, from President George Washington to Mary Tyler Moore.
Hidden Brain :: The Night That Lasted A Lifetime: How Psychology Was Misused In Teen’s Murder Case
The story of a Black Boston teenager, Fred Clay, who spent 38 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted based on evidence the police extracted using hypnosis.
The Last Archive :: For the Birds
Rachel Carson, the extinction of bird species, and climate change.
99% Invisible :: Freedom House Ambulance Service
The modern practice of paramedics serving communities with an emergency medical service began in the Black community in Pittsburgh just over 50 years ago.
60-Second Science :: Animals Appreciate Recent Traffic Lull
One side benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is the reduced use of automobiles. Some cities (not Boston, of course) have even taken advantage of creating space for people to walk and bike by closing roads to cars. But even in rural areas, animals are thriving because of fewer collisions with motor vehicles.
Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Take Me Who Out to the Ballgame?
If you’re American, you’ve inevitably sung along with the chorus “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” baseball’s unofficial anthem. But if you’ve never heard the chorus, you may not know that the song is about a woman who wants to watch baseball at a time when that was considered a men’s only activity. The podcast explores the history of how the song went “viral” and features music by Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust.
Throughline :: The Long Hot Summer
Civil disturbances in Black communities in America in 1967 lead President Johnson to call the Kerner Commission. The commission’s report revealed evidence of police violence that was criticized and ignored at the time, but still reads as a diagnoses of our present-day crises.
Hit Parade :: La Vida Loca Edición
A history of Spanish-language hit songs on the Billboard Top 100 from the 1960s to the present with a special emphasis on Latin crossover artists Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Shakira.
Memory Palace :: Stories to Wash Hands By
Twenty stories of historical events that last twenty seconds each, the perfect length of time to wash your hands. Whether or not this is practical (I mean if you push play on your device before your hands are clean it will be contaminated, no) the stories are all very interesting tidbits of history.
Radiolab :: Every Day is Ignaz Semmelweis Day
The story of the Viennese doctor who determined that medical professionals should wash their hands to prevent the spread of deadly infections long before germ theory was even understood.
Sidedoor :: The Milkmaid Spy
The mindblowing adventures of Virginia Hall who worked as a spy in occupied France during World War II, helping establish resistance networks.
60 Second Science :: Bird Fossil Shared Earth with T. rex
Scientists discover evidence of the earliest modern bird, the Wonderchicken.
Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020
99% Invisible :: The Infantorium
Disneyland and Epcot are famous for demonstrating technology in order to provide a vision of the future. But in the early 1900s the technology at American amusement parks and carnivals was incubators for premature babies. This podcast explains how it came to be that parents of premature babies had to bring their children to amusement parks rather than hospitals.
Futility Closet :: A Kidnapped Painting
The story of the theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery is unexpectedly amusing.
Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Historically Speaking
The history of language and how it shapes cultures and individual identities.
Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:
Author: Steven Johnson
Title: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
Narrator: Alan Sklar
Previously Read by the Same Author:
Publication Info: [United States] : Tantor Media, Inc., 2006
This book explores the ideas of urbanism, epidemiology, and social networks through the lens of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London. Dr. John Snow, with the help of Reverend Henry Whitehead, created a map of where people infected with cholera lived and drew their water to trace the infection to a water pump on Broad Street. That Snow and Whitehead knew the neighborhood and its people well proved advantageous in creating the connections needed to document the spread of disease. Snow also had to fight an uphill battle against the prevailing scientific belief that diseases like cholera were spread through the air, known as the miasma theory.
Johnson details how the evolutionary response to putrefaction and vile odors made such beliefs plausible, but practices such as “cleaning up” the city by deliberately washing waste into the water inadvertently caused infections to increase. Johnson also depicts the urban environment as a unique battleground for humans and microorganisms. All in all this is a fascinating account of an historic account, with broader implications for how we live today and into the future.
Author: Jeff Passan
Title: The Arm
Narrator: Kevin Peirce
Publication Info: [Ashland, Oregon] : Blackstone Audio, Inc. : Harper Audio, 
The subtitle of this book is Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports and “mystery” is an important word. No one knows for sure why some pitchers can gain incredible endurance and others are prone to injury. Practices for building arm strength and preventing injury are built more on guesswork than science. And while new surgical procedures have allowed some pitchers to return to successful careers, they are no panacea. At the heart of The Arm is the fact that throwing an orb overhand a 100+ times in succession is an unnatural action, and the mystery is that anyone manages to do it without injury rather than why some pitchers can’t avoid injury.
At the heart of this book, Passan provides eyewitness documentation of two contemporary pitchers – Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson – as they undergo Tommy John surgery and attempt to return to pitching at the top level in Major League Baseball. In between there stories, Passan interviews various baseball legends: Sandy Koufax, whose Hall of Fame career was cut short in the days before surgeries that could’ve extended the life of his arm; Nolan Ryan, the opposite extreme, a pitcher known for his remarkable longevity despite refusing surgeries; and of course, Tommy John, whose eponymous surgery changed baseball. The career of orthopedist Frank Jobe, who humbly named ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction for his patient rather than himself, is also documented.
Outside of Major League Baseball, Passan investigates the increasing pressure in youth sports to specialize in one sport early and for coaches to overuse their young players’ arms in games. Tommy John surgery is skyrocketing among adolescents. An exploitative youth sports industry has also emerged that encourages young athletes and their families to pay to participate in showcases on the hopes of attracting attention of Major League scouts. Passan also visits Japan where the traditionalist view of “pitch until your arm falls off” in high school baseball is just beginning to be challenged by the younger generation.
The mystery of the arm is not resolved in this book, but Passan does an excellent job documenting what we know about pitching and exposing a seedy underside of our national pastime
Recommended books: Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball by R. A. Dickey and You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting
A bumper crop of erudition for your ears this week.
The Memory Palace :: Hercules
With Washington’s Birthday coming up, a reminder that our first President held people in bondage because he enjoyed what their labor provided without having to pay for them. The story of Hercules, a talented chef, who successfully escaped slavery.
Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Killer Viruses and One Man’s Mission to Stop Them
The story of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the efforts of Dr. Maurice Hilleman to create vaccines to prevent later outbreaks.
The Nation Start Making Sense :: Elizabeth Warren on Monopoly Power
Elizabeth Warren wants to make fighting monopolies part of the Democrats agenda again. Also, the truth behind Warren Buffett, and white working class Trump voter.
The Truth :: Nuclear Winter
A spooky story set in an outdated nuclear missile silo. Don’t worry, it’s fictional!
Afropop Worldwide :: Africa and the Blues
A fascinating look into musicologist Gerhard Kubik’s research into the traits of blues music that connect with the music of different regions of Africa. Read more here: http://afropop.org/articles/africa-and-the-blues-an-interview-with-gerhard-kubik
StoryCorps :: In the Neighborhood
The story of the multi-talented François Clemmons, most famous for playing Officer Clemmons on Mister Rogers Neighborhood, his friendship with Fred Rogers, and their quietly bold statement for civil rights and equality.
I started listening to podcasts regularly a decade or so ago. I have a running list of podcasts I regularly listen on the Panorama of the Mountains home page and I’ve written about them many times before. At the time I started subscribing, I thought podcasts were the next big thing and I was just a follower. But apparently I’m more of a trailblazer than I realize. A recent article by Matt Baume relates “Only about half of Americans have ever heard of podcasts, according to the Pew Research Center, and only 17 percent have ever listened to one.”
Since I already try to recommend a new song every week I figured I’ll add a new feature where I recommend a podcast episode I think deserves wider listenership.
For the debut POTW post, here’s the most recent of of one of Baume’s favorite (and my favorite) podcasts of the WNYC radio program Radiolab. The Fix explores addiction and the possibility that it could be treated successfully with medication. The most fascinating part of the show for me is the suggestion that throughout human evolution, the people who responded most to the reward receptors in their brain were the fittest, but in the modern world are the most susceptible to addiction.
If you’re listening to a good podcast, let me know in the comments.
Musicophilia (2007) by Oliver Sacks tells the stories of people with neurological conditions that involve music, and a study of the human brain and music in general. The book relies largely on case studies of Sacks’ patients and others in the annals of medical literature, and more uniquely on Sacks’ own experiences. Cases include people who have musical hallucinations more powerful and persistent than the ordinary earworm, people with physical and neurological disorders who excel at music, and the unique role of music in therapy.
I found the book repetitive both within itself and to the previous Sacks’ book I’ve read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It’s as if Sacks just keeps piling on examples of the same or similar disorders without really coming to a conclusion or a big picture. I guess I expected more from this book, and Sacks certainly has fascinating stories to share, but I think he needs a ghost writer.
Musicophilia unabridged library edition by Oliver Sacks. Books on Tape (2007), Audio CD
Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) (2008) by Jeffrey Kluger is my first foray into reviewing a Advance Reading Copy of a book by of the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. Or maybe not since I saw this book last week in the window at Harvard Book Store. At any rate, this is a brand new book and it’s a popular science exploration of the idea of complexity and simplicity or how simple things can more complicated than they seem, and complex things more simple.
Kluger refers to the work that’s being done in the study of complexity at places like the Santa Fe Institute. Then he dedicates each chapter to the concept of simplexity in every day life in areas such as markets, crowd psychology, social structure, business, death, sports, fear, childhood development, liguistics, technology, public health, and the arts. Particularly nice is his appreciation that hard-working blue color labor is overworked and underpaid. It’s hard to say whether or not Kluger sticks with his thesis, or just writes about a bunch of interesting things but either way it is a fun, breezy read that provokes thoughts and ideas.
I was struck by how many books I’ve read recently shared some basic concepts with this book. I suppose at the very least Simplexity can be a good summary of a lot of recent literature, but better than that it can be a jumping off point to reading these other books. Unfortunately, Simplexity does not have a bibliography (or even an index!) so here related books I’d reccomend, some of which were mentioned in the text:
Books I’ve read previously by this author:
Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) by Jeffrey Kluger. Hyperion (2008), Hardcover, 336 pages
Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers (2003) by Mary Roach is a quirky book that takes on a quirky topic: what exactly happens to those bodies donated to science. In a series of chapters of investigative journalism laced with sometimes funny, sometimes annoying wisecracks Roach finds out exactly what happens to those cadaver.
A main purpose of course is for practicing surgery whether medical students in training or experienced surgeons learning a new procedure. Roach explores how doctors distance themselves from the humanity of their expired study object as well as how they often use parts rather than the whole of the cadaver. In a historic chapter Roach recounts the uneasy history of body snatching for human dissection study.
Even grosser is the study of human decay for criminal investigations. A pathologist actually allows cadavers to decay under natural but controlled conditions to learn what decay can tell investigators solving crimes. Dead bodies also tell a lot about the limits of the human body as they are used as crash test dummies for motor vehicle safety. Sometimes the human parts are attached to prosthetic parts to help isolate certain parts of the body (as well as prop them up in a car seat). On a similar vein, the examination of bodies for blast damage, burns and other damage can tell an investigator a lot about what causes aircraft disasters.
Bodies are used for weapons testing and crucifixion experiments, and then the weird stuff starts. Some bodies are brain dead — legally dead — but their hearts are beating and the organs are still alive. Medical professionals have to defy logic and harvest organs from an apparently living body. Weirder still are experiments leading to human head transplantation and medicinal cannibalism, a topic lest said the better. Should you want to let your body decay and become compost you’ll find it harder than you imagine. But green mortuaries are working on improving that for you.
Needless to say, very rarely to those donating their bodies understand what will happen to their remains and their surviving families are rarely informed (nor interested in finding out). All in all an illuminating book and one that despite all the flinching it causes makes me want to donate my body to science. I’m not going to need it anyway.