Rank #1: Dr. Mary Travis Bassett
She is New York City’s health commissioner, and she sees her work as part of a broader fight for social justice, not surprising given her family history: her parents are lifelong activists who met at a demonstration against a segregated restaurant, my idea of a love story. We spoke at the Van Alen Institute about public health and urban design, with music from Sam Reider.
Dec 31 2017
Rank #2: Mierle Laderman Ukeles
The shift in usage from “garbageman” to “sanittion worker” was not cosmetic but an acknowledgement of what – and who -- helps a city survive, says the artist-in-residence of the New York Department of Sanitation. Music from Hubby Jenkins.
Oct 19 2019
Rank #3: Anna Quindlen
A novelist and Pulitzer-winning columnist, when she was in college she babysat Maggie Haberman, who grew up to be the terrific political reporter. A torch is passed, a head is spinning: mine. Plus music from the splendid quartet Ethel; some other part of my body is awhirl.
Jul 15 2018
Rank #4: Robert Mankoff remix
He is the former cartoon editor of the New Yorker, whose own cartoon captioned, "No, Thursday's out. How about never — is never good for you?" is the magazine’s most reprinted. Enjoy this remastered conversation from 2014, vacuum packed to preserve freshness.
Aug 10 2019
Rank #5: Jeffrey Sachs
This renowned economist, an advisor to governments around the world, tells the Center for Architecture that to save the planet and increase human happiness, we must study sustainability, read Aristotle, and drink very good coffee. Music from Sam Reider.
Mar 02 2019
Rank #6: Noah Emmerich
Admired for his portrayal of FBI agent Stan Beeman on The Americans, Noah Emmerich didn’t intend to be an actor. He was a history major, studying the Constitution and headed for law school when something happened. A cheap tease, but a great story. Music from the Gregorio Uribe Trio, a great band.
Apr 29 2018
Rank #7: Russell Shorto
Holland’s 17th century emphasis on trade rather than conquest helped build a culture of tolerance: everybody’s money is good. The author of The Island at the Center of the World offers a sort of moral defense of capitalism in a conversation at the Fraunces Tavern Museum: look out the window and see what he’s describing. With music from Jefferson Hamer.
Jun 30 2019
Rank #8: Eben Bayer
The co-founder and CEO of Ecovative Designs, he trained as a mechanical engineer but now devises products made from mushrooms. Mushrooms! “If the last century was about electronics,” he says, “ the next century is going to be about biology.” How inventors invent. Plus music from Bendt. How musicians musish.
Jun 16 2019
Rank #9: Rainn Wilson, part one
Beloved as Dwight Schrute in The Office, he was raised a Baha’i but abandoned those teachings at a moment of spiritual crisis. “The main reason I left the Baha’i faith,” he says “ was ‘cause I wanted to have sex with my girlfriend and not feel guilty about it.” Eventually the prodigal son returned. A very funny spiritual journey in a very serious way.
Mar 04 2018
Rank #10: Michael Rauch and Ian Olympio
Mentor and mentee in a Writers Guild program that pairs veteran and novice TV writers, they agree that Annie Hall is not a “manic pixie dreamgirl” (although Michael is not sure what that is) and that it would be a horrible idea to remake the movie that bears her name. Unless the new Annie were black, suggests Ian persuasively. Two generations of television, plus one generation of music from Amy Leon and Avishai.
Feb 18 2018
Rank #11: Randy Weston
This great jazz pianist has been making modern music for most of his 92 years, but he denies it, quoting Duke Ellington: “There’s no such thing as modern music.” He reconciled this paradox in our conversation at the piano at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center. We spoke, he played, and then: birthday cake!
May 20 2018
Rank #12: William Kennedy
The going price of a vote in the thirties? $5. How did they know you voted their way? By sandpapering the voting-both curtain so they could see through it. Forget it, Jake, it’s Albany. Tales of political corruption from the author of Ironweed and more.
Apr 08 2018
Rank #13: Bill T. Jones
“Art-making is like a religion,” says splendid this dancer and choreographer. When his brother Azel ceased believing, it threatened their intimate connection. Can we love and speak honestly to to someone who no longer shares our faith? A conversation at New York Live Arts.
Sep 23 2018
Rank #14: Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez
A face transplant is disturbing in a way that a kidney or heart transplant is not. Is it because our face is so key to our identity? Nobody has thought more about this than surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez, an authority on the procedure. Plus music from Solange Prat and Gregorio Uribe. Surgery and song.
Mar 25 2018
Rank #15: Eddie Brigati
If you’re wildly successful at age six, what do you do next? Eddie Brigati had a string of hit records with the Young Rascals - Good Lovin’, Groovin’, Lonely Too Long – all before 1970. OK, he wasn’t six but he wasn’t near retirement age either. So what did he do with the ensuing 50 years? Quite a lot it turns out.
Feb 03 2019
Rank #16: Suzan-Lori Parks
Every dramatic movie but nearly no straight play uses musical underscoring. This celebrated playwright has astute ideas about why that is. Plus, what she did instead of going drinking with James Baldwin. A conversation at Signature Theatre with music from – yes! – Suzan-Lori Parks and the band.
Sep 01 2018
Rank #17: Majora Carter
"I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right," said Sojourner Truth about her escape from slavery. How does this relate to city planning? Majora Carter, an “urban revitalization strategy consultant,” eloquently explains at the Van Alen Institute, with music from Jole Blonde.
Dec 16 2018
Rank #18: Gary Shteyngart
Admired for fiction (The Russian Debutante’s Handbook) and non-fiction (Little Failure), he began at age five when his grandmother asked him to write a book about Lenin. “She paid me a piece of cheese for every page I wrote, and I wrote 100 pages. I love cheese.” A conversation at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan with music from Tsibele.
Feb 09 2019
Rank #19: Elaine Pagels
She burst onto the scene with The Gnostic Gospels – and aren’t you glad there’s a scene onto which a historian of religion can burst? A rare scholar who can speak lucidly to civilians like me, her most recent book is Why Religion. Music from Stephanie Coleman.
May 18 2019
Rank #20: Signe Nielsen
This landscape architect embraces the principles that underpin Olmsted’s Central Park. “He wanted the wealthy to mix with the poor; this was supposed to be a place where everybody came together.” Public parks as an institution of democracy, a conversation at the Center for Architecture. Music from Hubby Jenkins.
Oct 12 2019