NPR Staff

As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

You may recognize retired astronaut Leland Melvin from his famous 2009 NASA portrait with his two dogs, Jake and Scout. Or maybe you've seen him on the Lifetime channel hosting Child Genius.

Afghanistan has suffered through long decades of war; conflict with the Soviet Union, civil war and 13 years of a U.S.-led NATO combat mission. Among the political, economic and cultural impacts of this violence, there's an artistic transformation: the history of violence is reflected in the country's ancient art of rug making.

Kevin Sudeith, a collector, tells NPR's Arun Rath that he has long been impressed by the craftsmanship of Afghan rugs.

In his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, scientist Yuval Noah Harari attempts a seemingly impossible task — packing the entirety of human history into 400 pages.

Harari, an Israeli historian, is interested in tackling big-picture questions and puncturing some of our dearly held beliefs about human progress.

A woman named Rabbit is a kind of miracle: She was pulled out of her dead mother's grave beside the Ma River in Vietnam, on the night of a full moon — when folklore says that a rabbit walks the moon. Rabbit is the center of poet and author Quan Barry's new novel, She Weeps Each Time You're Born.

The Vietnam War is raging; American troops have just begun to pull out, and Rabbit grows up in a landscape of leveled homes, shattered lives, and barren, poisoned fields, her life slipping between present tense and parable.

These days, when Larry David leaves work at the stage door of the Cort Theater, fans are lined up for his autograph. At age 67, David is now a Broadway star — and that's new, scary territory for him.

David was co-creator of the TV sitcom Seinfeld and starred as himself — a cantankerous guy who says exactly what's on his mind — in the raucously funny HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. He hasn't been in a play since he was in eighth grade, but now he's written one called Fish in the Dark, and it's his name in lights.

William Browder's new book, Red Notice, is named for the type of warrant the Russian government has sought from Interpol in hopes of capturing him.

The hedge fund manager made huge profits with Hermitage Capital Management, a company he started in Russia in 1996. That, he says, drew the attention and machinations of a corrupt group of Russian officials.

Moving from crisis to crisis — for too long that's been America's strategy for dealing with the challenges of an aging transit infrastructure, from roads to bridges to ports. The result is a system that's crumbling and in desperate need of attention, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The massive study both looks at the current state of the country's transportation systems and forecasts the challenges that lie ahead.

As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Here's something you probably know about David Duchovny: He played one of the 1990s' most iconic roles, FBI agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files.

The Fountain, Colo., Fire Department handles a lot of animal rescue calls. But in 11 years with the department, Fire Captain Rick Daniels says the call he got on Jan. 26 was "one of the more challenging animal rescue calls that I've had."

No one's exactly sure how or why, Daniels tells NPR, but two brown cows had wandered out over a frozen pond, and fallen through the half-foot of ice.

Someone driving by the pond called 911 and described seeing just the heads of two cows peeking out over the sheet of ice. The cows were up to their necks in frigid water.

If a glacier cracks and nobody hears it, does it still make a sound?

"Oh, they moan and they groan," says Grant Deane, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "They crackle and rumble and fizz, and they have all kinds of amazing sounds that they make."

Deane is one of the authors of a new study that interprets the acoustics of glacial melting.

When 66-year-old Robert Schwimmer was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, he didn't take it all that seriously. His doctors told him it was "operable," and that was the only word he seemed to hear.

Now he's in hospice care and, as he tells NPR's Rachel Martin, he accepts that he's no longer trying to prolong life, but rather living out what's left of it.

If you know any college seniors, now might be a good time to send them some encouraging words. The class of 2015 can't be blamed if they're feeling a little worried: They're facing one of the most important transitions of their lives.

In a matter of months, they're about to launch from the relatively protected confines of college into the so-called "real world," where they have to find a sense of purpose — not to mention a paycheck. It's not hyperbole to say the decisions they make now will shape the rest of their lives.

Last year, a poet arrived at the end of the earth: Jynne Dilling Martin spent six weeks, funded by the National Science Foundation, living in Antarctica.

She spent the summer (winter, to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) shadowing scientists as they went about their work, and writing about the people who call the icy continent home.

There was hope in Libya and around the world for Libya after Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown four years ago.

But today, Libya is a country torn apart. There are now two competing governments, in different cities with their own parliaments and their own military.

A traveler first needs a visa from one government to land in Tripoli, then a so-called "landing permission" to fly east to the other government's territory — and has to hopscotch around jihadist-controlled areas along the way.

Emmanuel Jal was only 8 when he was dragged into Sudan's long civil war. Like 12,000 other children, he was recruited as a soldier, fighting and killing alongside South Sudanese armed groups.

Only a few, like Jal, have managed to escape.

What if you could drink the elixir of life — sip from a magical spring that would make you live forever? Would you do it? That's the question at the heart of Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting, a celebrated book for young readers that's marking its 40th anniversary this year.

In the book, 10-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles upon a secret spring and the family the spring has given eternal life to. The father, Angus Tuck, takes Winnie out in a rowboat to explain how unnatural it is to live forever; how the great wheel of life has to turn:

In 2014, the South Dakota State Historical Society published the annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House books. Her memoir, titled Pioneer Girl, sold like hotcakes. The initial print run of 15,000 was snapped up in just a few weeks. So was an additional run of 15,000 more copies. Now, the historical society is waiting on a third run of 45,000 books — enough to fill current demand and have some leftovers.

Several years ago, when her father died unexpectedly, writer Marie Mutsuki Mockett became unmoored. Lost in a deep depression, Mockett turned to Japan's rituals of mourning for a way forward.

Mockett's mother's family owns and runs a temple just 25 miles from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The plant melted down after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Mockett begged her cousin, the temple's priest, to leave, but he refused — he said he needed to stay to care for the souls of the ancestors.

Over in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival is in full swing. Critic Kenneth Turan tells NPR's Renee Montagne about some of the festival's must-see films, including documentaries about Scientology, rape on college campuses and Nina Simone, and a romantic drama based on a novel by Colm Tóibín.


Interview Highlights

On the festival's stand-out documentaries

At The William Grant Still Arts Center in the West Adams neighborhood in Los Angeles, jazz superstars and comic book superheroes are gathered together — in miniature, as part of the Black Doll Show.

For the past 34 years, the center has held a doll show to showcase diverse dolls for children. The exhibit features dolls submitted by artists and collectors from around the country. This year's theme is A League Supreme: Jazz Superheroes.

As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Tom Toro didn't always dream of becoming a cartoonist at The New Yorker. Sure, he drew cartoons in college, but he didn't see that as a career path. Instead, he went to film school at NYU.

Then he came to the sudden realization that he was in the wrong field — and he had no idea what he was going to do.

There is a common belief that requiring the use of "politically correct" language in the workplace stifles creativity.

Michelle Duguid, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, tells NPR's Arun Rath that, intuitively, that assumption makes sense.

"People should be able to freely think, throw any crazy ideas, and any constraint would actually dampen creativity," Duguid says.

In the State of the Union this week, President Obama noted that crime in America is down. "For the first time in 40 years," he said, "the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together."

Writer Ben Yagoda has set out to explain a shift in American popular culture, one that happened in the early 1950s. Before then, songwriters like Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern wrote popular songs that achieved a notable artistry, both in lyrics and music.

When the U.S. Olympic hockey team upset the Soviet Union in 1980's "Miracle on Ice," President Jimmy Carter called coach Herb Brooks to congratulate him on the win.

"Tell the whole team that we're extremely proud of them," Carter said. "I think it just proves that our way of life is the proper way to continue on."

The other way of life, the Soviet way — which produced some of the best hockey players in the world — only went on for another decade or so.

Pages