TIME Books

Children’s Author Helps Raise Thousands After Racist Remark

Daniel Handler 2014 National Book Awards
Daniel Handler at the 2014 National Book Awards on Nov. 19, 2014 in New York. Robin Marchant—Getty Images

The man behind Lemony Snicket is making good on an apology

Daniel Handler, also known as the children’s author Lemony Snicket of A Series of Unfortunate Events fame, added a financial pledge to his apology for making a “watermelon joke” about a black author at the National Book Awards.

The author apologized Wednesday for telling a racially-charged anecdote at the National Book Awards while presenting the award for Young People’s Literature to Jacqueline Woodson the previous day. At the event, he said,

I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind. And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, ‘You put that in a book.’ And I said, ‘I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornel West, Toni Morrison and Barack Obama saying, “This guy’s okay! This guy’s fine!’

Handler was widely criticized for blemishing the award with the racist crack, but he promptly apologized on Twitter the following day. And on Thursday, he announced he was pledging $10,000 to an online fund to diversify children’s literature, and would match contributors’ money for 24 hours up to $100,000.

The campaign on Indiegogo, which has been running since October 23, has raised a total of $165,669 as of Saturday.

Observers on Twitter praised Handler’s follow-up to his remarks, according to tweets culled by the Washington Post.

TIME Bill Cosby

Missing Allegations in Cosby Biography Fuel a Lie of Omission

Bill Cosby, Camille Cosby
Bill Cosby sits for an interview about the exhibit, Conversations: African and African-American Artworks in Dialogue, at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art in Washington on Nov. 6, 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

Steve Weinberg, Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has published biographies of Armand Hammer and Ida Tarbell.

Mark Whitaker had a responsibility in telling the life story of Bill Cosby to include thoroughly reported and longstanding allegations against the entertainer

Mark Whitaker wants you to purchase his biography of Bill Cosby. As a biographer myself, I want you to purchase biographies galore, including those I write. But despite my book buying habit, I will refrain from owning Cosby: His Life and Times.

Whitaker made a decision to exclude allegations from at least thirteen women that Cosby sexually assaulted them—he says their allegations failed to meet his standards of proof. Biographers must make difficult decisions in every paragraph they publish, because reputations ought to be handled with care. Whitaker’s decision, though, should not have been difficult. As an experienced journalist, he made a bad call.

In an interview yesterday, Whitaker mentioned being unable to confirm the rape allegations independent of the victims’ accounts, as there were no definitive court findings regarding the allegations. “What you eventually learn about everything related to these allegations, and how you think that should figure in your ultimate judgment of Bill Cosby has to be weighed—and should be weighed—in the balance with a lot of the stuff I reported in the book more thoroughly than anybody else,” he said. It’s hard to consider Whitaker a reliable reporter considering what he has left out; his standards are not only unrealistic, but also unwise and irresponsible for a biographer who wants to present a complete picture of his subject.

Biographers know that circumstantial evidence is as valid—and perhaps as necessary—for inclusion as direct evidence, as long as the circumstantial evidence accumulates at a certain level. Rarely do rapists assault their victims in front of witnesses. Is Whitaker suggesting that all biographers ignore detailed rape charges issued by women—ones who identify themselves, no less—against iconic, influential, wealthy men because nobody else was in the room?

Many of the alleged violent encounters between Cosby and various women occurred more than a decade before publication of Whitaker’s biography. In 2005, Andrea Constand filed a lawsuit in a Philadelphia court; on the heels of her charges, twelve other women came forward, ready to testify on behalf of the plaintiff that they had been sexually assaulted by Cosby. The then-prosecutor decided there was not sufficient evidence to criminally charge Cosby—”I remember thinking that he probably did do something inappropriate,” the lawyer recently said, “But thinking that and being able to prove it are two different things”—but Cosby settled a civil suit with Constand.

In 2006, journalist Robert Huber published a painstakingly detailed article, “Dr. Huxtable and Mr. Hyde,” in Philadelphia magazine about the litigation. Other journalists have reported responsibly about the allegations. If Whitaker had at minimum simply mentioned the findings of those journalists in his book, he might have escaped the criticism now aimed at him.

Yes, many potential and actual readers of Whitaker’s biography idolize Cosby. And yes, some of them—a tiny minority, I believe—prefer sanitized biography. Hagiography, if you will. No drunken bouts, no snorting cocaine, and certainly nothing involving sexual acts—especially rape.

But responsible biographers never set out to produce hagiography or pathography. They set out to find truth. That may sound inflated; after all, many of us do not really know our parents, our spouses, our children, our cousins, our social friends. If those folks surprise us, for better or for worse, can we ever know a stranger? Armand Hammer was elderly but alive while I researched his biography during the 1980s. He expressed hostility from the start, threatened to sue me, and did indeed sue me and the publisher. I never met him. So how can I presume to know the truth about his controversial life?

The answer is not so complicated. Pieces of the truth are scattered around the world—in official government documents at the city, county, state and federal levels; in business correspondence; in personal letters; in interviews with relatives and friends and enemies, current and former. I knew Hammer’s son Julian had personal problems, but I was not planning to provide lots of detail to readers. Then my research turned up evidence that Julian had killed a man in college. At trial, he won an acquittal, possibly because of influence exercised by his father in relation to the prosecutor and one or more of the jurors. I included the death in my book. First, all individuals, including Armand Hammer, who choose to become parents should be evaluated in that role. Second, the possibility of tampering with the criminal justice system certainly allows for a more nuanced understanding of the alleged tamperer’s character.

I liken the information-gathering process to vacuuming a house—everything finds its way into the vacuum bag. When the bag is filled, the biographer examines the contents, deciding what to place in the book and what to omit. The decision-making might seem filled with conundrums, but it should be clear-cut if the overriding purpose is to illuminate an individual’s character on the path to truth. That overriding purpose should be the same whether the subject is cooperating with the biographer, as Cosby did with Whitaker, or whether the subject is hostile, as Hammer was with me. And access should not equal acquiescence.

At minimum, Whitaker should have decided that the multiple allegations of sexual assault affected Cosby’s own life so deeply that they needed to be included in the book. Based on his evaluation of the evidence, Whitaker could have told readers that he doubted the allegations. Or he could have told readers that the allegations existed—an objective fact. Whatever Whitaker concluded about the evidence, he needed to tell readers how Cosby reacted, and why he might have reacted as he did. Instead, Whitaker participated in a biographical cover-up—a classic lie of omission. That is never an acceptable decision for the chronicler of somebody else’s life.


Steve Weinberg, Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has published biographies of Armand Hammer and Ida Tarbell, plus written a book about the craft of biography, Telling the Untold Story. He is a founding member of Biographers International Organization (BIO). Weinberg is currently researching a biography of Garry Trudeau.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

These Books Can Teach You to Be the Best at Anything

Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

After my post What does it take to become an expert at anything? a number of people have written, curious about where to learn more on the subject.

A few of the best sources I pulled from are below, with links and descriptions:

Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success

“Backed by cutting-edge scientific research and case studies, Syed shatters long-held myths about meritocracy, talent, performance, and the mind. He explains why some people thrive under pressure and others choke, and weighs the value of innate ability against that of practice, hard work, and will.”

Check it out here.

Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To

“Dr. Sian Beilock, an expert on performance and brain science, reveals inChoke the astonishing new science of why we all too often blunder when the stakes are high. What happens in our brain and body when we experience the dreaded performance anxiety? And what are we doing differently when everything magically “clicks” into place and the perfect golf swing, tricky test problem, or high-pressure business pitch becomes easy?”

Check it out here.

Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

“Based on deep and extensive research, including more than 200 interviews with leading innovators, Sims discovered that productive, creative thinkers and doers—from Ludwig van Beethoven to Thomas Edison and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos—practice a key set of simple but ingenious experimental methods—such as failing quickly to learn fast, tapping into the genius of play, and engaging in highly immersed observation—that free their minds, opening them up to making unexpected connections and perceiving invaluable insights.”

Check it out here.

The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills

“It is an easy-to-use handbook of scientifically proven, field-tested methods to improve skills—your skills, your kids’ skills, your organization’s skills—in sports, music, art, math, and business. The product of five years of reporting from the world’s greatest talent hotbeds and interviews with successful master coaches, it distills the daunting complexity of skill development into 52 clear, concise directives.”

Check it out here.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

“World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea–the power of our mindset. Dweck explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success–but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset.”

Check it out here.

Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

“Decades of research on achievement suggests people at the top of their game tend to reach their goals because of what they do—not because of who they are. In this short, provocative, and useful HBR Single, motivational psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson translates the psychological secrets of these winning human beings for your use. ”

Check it out here.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

“Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects.”

Check it out here.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

“According to distinguished journalist Geoff Colvin, both the hard work and natural talent camps are wrong. What really makes the difference is a highly specific kind of effort-“deliberate practice”-that few of us pursue when we’re practicing golf or piano or stockpicking. Based on scientific research, Talent is Overrated shares the secrets of extraordinary performance and shows how to apply these principles.”

Check it out here.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How

“Drawing on cutting-edge neurology and firsthand research gathered on journeys to nine of the world’s talent hotbeds—from the baseball fields of the Caribbean to a classical-music academy in upstate New York—Coyle identifies the three key elements that will allow you to develop your gifts and optimize your performance in sports, art, music, math, or just about anything.”

Check it out here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME movies

How a 1960s Literary Trend Brought Us The Hunger Games

Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Murray Close—Lionsgate

Dystopian fiction used to be for adults

As Katniss & Co. get ready to storm movie theaters this weekend with Mockingjay, the latest installment in The Hunger Games series, it may seem like a foregone conclusion that futuristic teenagers will have to battle an oppressive dystopian regime alongside their crushes.

But it wasn’t always that way. As TIME’s Lev Grossman wrote back in 2012 while exploring the history of the teen romance-dystopia genre in books and movies, until the 1960s — notably, with the release of the Tripod series by Christopher Samuel Youd — dystopia wasn’t for teenagers. Books like 1984 and Brave New World are seen as classics of grown-up literature; during the last 50 years, their analogues have usually been meant for teenagers.

But that doesn’t mean that the genre hasn’t changed further during that half-century:

The Hunger Games is every bit as grim as the Tripod books, but it also tells us a lot about how the future, and the present, has changed since the 1960s. Now we have a great tradition of strong female characters in young-adult fiction thanks to writers like Madeleine L’Engle, Judy Blume and Anne McCaffrey. And along with coed dystopias comes, inevitably, romance: it’s understood now that if you’re fighting to save the human race, you’re going to have to deal with a star-crossed crush at the same time. If the Tripod books were published today (they’ve been reissued with covers that make them look like novelizations of the boy’s-own science-fiction cartoon Ben 10), Will Parker would fall for a tough fellow resistance member with a fetching pageboy haircut over her mind-control cap. Or better yet, a Tripod would crack open and disgorge a nubile, sufficiently humanoid alienne.

Read the full article here: Love Among the Ruins

TIME Business

Execs Like Emil Michael Don’t Hate Women—They’re Terrified of Them

Emil Michael senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc. stands for a photograph after a Bloomberg Television interview in San Francisco on July 29, 2014.
Emil Michael senior vice president of business for Uber Technologies Inc. stands for a photograph after a Bloomberg Television interview in San Francisco on July 29, 2014. Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Laura Kipnis is the author of Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation.

Uber mensches they are not—they're simply scared, and women should not contribute to their power

In Neil LaBute’s coruscating black comedy In the Company of Men, two reptilian male executives concoct a scheme to deceive and emotionally humiliate a vulnerable deaf secretary who works at the branch office they’ve been temporarily assigned to. The plan is to shower her with attention, get her to fall in love with both of them, then simultaneously drop her. Why? Because they can. Because they’re angry at women. Because they think women have power over them.

Over the last few days we witnessed a scenario that could have been authored by LaBute, our bard of misogyny, play out in real life, a terrific satire about corporate America, sexual swaggering and contemporary masculine angst, improvised by a couple of executives at Uber. Yes, in case you haven’t heard, another male in a position of power has created another dungstorm by making ill-considered remarks in a public setting; the usual swell of public indignation has ensued.

“His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals,” tweeted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, about Emil Michael, his senior vice president of business. Kalanick was referring to threats Michael issued at a dinner attended by a number of prominent journalists, involving a harebrained plan to do opposition research aimed at Uber-critical journalists. He was going to dig up dirt on their personal lives, their families, and give the media a taste of its own medicine. Michael later said he thought the dinner was off the record, and that he was just venting, not serious.

Why am I so much less outraged than everyone seems to be about the story? To begin with, who ever thought such guys were role models for enlightened masculinity anyway? Social responsibility? Come on. New corporations and start-ups come and go these days in a flurry of mergers, acquisitions and rebranding, in it for a quick payday. They owe no one anything—not in their eyes, anyway. The Great Recession was brought to us by just such swashbucklers, who still believe they earn their unconscionable incomes by taking insane risks with other people’s money and turning the economy into a casino. Ever since Reagan, corporate America’s indifference to any value other than profits has been writ large in their refusal to pay their fair share of taxes. They’re not role models for anyone other than pirates.

The mistake is to regard Uber and its execs are though they’re the exception to something. Indifference to customers? Sounds like the airlines. Silicon Valley corporate greed? It pales compared to Wall Street corporate greed. Misogynist mud-throwing aimed at a threatening woman? Consider the ongoing and deeply ugly Republican war on Hillary Clinton.

In this case it was one woman in particular— Sarah Lacy, editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily—who was the special target of Michael’s animus. Lacy has repeatedly taken Uber to task for what she calls the company’s outrageous sexism, including CEO Kalanick’s boasts that he gets so much “tail” since starting Uber that the company should really be called “Boober.”

Her response to hearing about Michael’s dinner-party threats, Lacy has recently written, was a shocked sense of her own vulnerability, and fears for her children’s well-being. She imagined them at home in their kitten and dinosaur pajamas and felt terror.

The pajamas are a nice touch (heartstrings tugged!). But what Lacy neglects to say is that she has these guys running scared. They’re afraid of her. Lacy should be taking a victory lap. Her opponents are acting like “scared little girls” in the current idiom—they’re simply masking it behind a lot of macho posturing. Which is exactly what most macho posturing generally comes down to: fear of one sort or another. And pathos. And, vulnerability, real or imaginary. We have a habit of forgetting that.

Let me say something else that might be controversial. I’m rather intrigued by Kalanick’s references to how much sex he’s getting just because he’s Uber’s CEO. Here’s another hard truth of the sort that Neil LaBute is so good at exposing: As much as some women protest the kind of misogynist culture that Uber apparently exemplifies, there are plenty of other women who eroticize male power and wish to bask in its aura, even when it comes packaged in buffoonish and objectionable forms. This is a contradiction worth examining. Women, too, play a contributing role in upholding the conditions that also abject us, something we’re in the habit of forgetting.

Memo to the “tail” of which Kalanick speaks: Ladies! You can do better.

For my part, I’d far rather hear what guys like Michael say when behind closed doors than carefully burnished platitudes from some PR firm. When people go off-message, or mistakenly think they’re off the record, or un-mic’ed (don’t forget Mitt Romney uttered the fatal “47%” line when he thought he was among friends), what you usually hear is what they actually think, as opposed to what they think they’re supposed to say. The only thing that was outrageous about this latest episode was getting socked in the face with a few unvarnished truths.

Laura Kipnis’s new book, Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation, is out this week.


TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME movies

The Movie Adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Novel The Goldfinch Is Underway

Donna Tartt at a book launch for The Goldfinch in Amsterdam, on September 22, 2013. Bas Czerwinski—AFP/Getty Images

The author’s third novel will be her first to make it to the silver screen

What happens to a book after it wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, lands in the New York Times Book Review’s 10 best books of 2013, and earns its author a spot in the TIME 100? A movie adaptation, of course.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch will be adapted for the screen by award-winning screenwriter Peter Straughan. Straughan won a BAFTA and received an Oscar nomination for Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, which he adapted from the John le Carre novel with his late wife Bridget O’Connor. He also penned the script for The Men Who Stare at Goats and co-wrote the indie dramedy Frank, a favorite this year at Sundance.

The nearly 800-page novel revolves around Theo Decker, a teenaged boy who comes into possession of a 17th century Dutch painting called “The Goldfinch” moments after his mother is killed in a terrorist explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The story unravels over the course of two decades, the painting informing the ins and outs of Theo’s tumultuous life.

Warner Bros. and RatPac Entertainment will produce the film.

TIME TIME for Thanks

Jodi Picoult: What I’m Thankful For

Writer Jodi Picoult poses for a portrait at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 28, 2012 in Oxford
Writer Jodi Picoult poses for a portrait at the Oxford Literary Festival on March 28, 2012 in Oxford David Levenson—Getty Images

This year, I’m thankful for my family, as it expands in very wonderful directions.

My son Kyle is a remarkable 23-year-old who graduated from Yale with exceptional distinction in the Egyptology department; who ran a children’s theater program while there; went on to get a Masters at Harvard, and now teaches at an inner-city Boston school. He’s also gay, but that’s really the least interesting thing about him. For four years, he’s been dating Kevin – a brilliant, socially-conscious young man who works daily to make the world a better place.

What I love about Kevin and Kyle is that they truly make each other better people – which is what we parents want for our children, after all. But the truth is, this country that I adore so much is not always kind and supportive to LGBTQ individuals, and as a parent, sometimes I couldn’t help but worry if for Kyle, life would be incrementally more difficult because of his sexual orientation. Just two years ago, in Massachusetts – a very liberal state – Kyle and Kevin were walking down the street, when a guy in a truck rolled down his window and called them faggots. The year after that, I was sitting on a plane with them. In spite of the fact that a straight couple in front of us was practically undressing each other in a moment of passion, the judgmental looks and huffs of some passengers coming down the aisle were reserved for Kyle and Kevin, whose hands were linked on the seat between them.

This Labor Day, Kevin proposed to Kyle. On paddleboards. In the middle of a lake. With a hand-made titanium earring shaped like the infinity symbol. When I posted a photo to my Facebook page, thousands of fans congratulated Kyle, and shared the news with a friend. About 200 told me my son is going to Hell. But really – that’s a ratio I can handle, because I feel that the balance is tipping more, every day. I am grateful that Kyle and Kevin will be wed in New Hampshire – Kyle’s home state – in which gay marriage is legal. Every time I look at Kyle’s engagement earring, I silently hope that other LGBTQ people will have the same joy in their lives as he does at this moment, that the positive feedback will outweigh the negative, and that one day all Americans will look back at the debate over gay marriage and wonder why anyone ever considered it problematic.

Jodi Picoult is an award-winning author. Her last 8 novels have debuted at # 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

TIME Books

These Are the Winners of the 2014 National Book Awards

Ursula K. Le Guin attends 2014 National Book Awards on Nov.19, 2014 in New York City.
Ursula K. Le Guin attends 2014 National Book Awards on Nov.19, 2014 in New York City. Robin Marchant—Getty Images

Honoring the year's best work in literature

The 65th annual National Book Awards were held on Wednesday, rewarding the greatest literary works of the past year. The National Book Foundation hosted the award ceremony, presenting high literary nods to authors in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature. Novelist and children’s author Daniel Handler hosted the ceremony.

Early in the night, the National Book Foundation presented Kyle Zimmer, the founder of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit First Book, with the Literarian Award, awarded to those who seek to expand access to book and literature. According to the Foundation, First Book has provided 120 million books to low-income kids and families in Canada and the U.S.

Renowned science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin was presented with the foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for her “exceptional impact on this country’s literary heritage.” During her remarks, Le Guin called for authors and writers to remember the value of their art.

“‘I have had a long career,” Le Guin said. “I really don’t want to watch American Literature get sold down the river.”


Nonfiction Winner: Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Fiction Winner: Phil Klay, Redeployment (The Penguin Press/ Penguin Group (USA))

Poetry Winner: Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Young People’s Literature: Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books/ Penguin Group (USA))

TIME society

Mattel Apologizes for Making Barbie Look Incompetent in Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer


The sexist picture book has been slammed online

One of Barbie’s future careers should be in damage control.

Mattel and Random House found themselves at the center of an online firestorm this week when the Internet lampooned a book called Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer. A more accurate title would be Barbie: I Can be a Computer Engineer… If the Boys Do All the Work For Me.

Although Amazon lists the book as being published in July 2013, VP of Barbie’s Global Brand Marketing Lori Pantel told TIME that it came was published in 2010 and that “since that time we have reworked our Barbie books.”

On Monday, comedian Pamela Ribbon found the book at a friends house and ripped it to shreds on her blog, inspiring major backlash.

So what did the Twitterverse get in a tizzy about? Although the book’s title would indicate that its fights stereotypes against the tech industry’s gender gap, readers only need only get it to the second page to find out that Barbie is completely incompetent. While she’s capable of conceptualizing a game about a cute robot puppy (gender cliche, but we were ready to go with it — who doesn’t like robot puppies?), Barbie needs boys to actually do the computer programing for her. When Skipper asks if she can see the program, “Barbie says, laughing, ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!’” Silly Skipper and your high expectations!

The rest of the book involves Barbie crashing her computer (duh), passing a virus to Skipper (a pillow fight ensues… I mean, really), ignoring her female computer teacher’s advice on how to fix the virus (because if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that ladies should not be trusted with such things), and finally letting brogrammers come to her rescue. While Steve and Brian seem like nice enough guys, they don’t even teach Barbie what to do on her hot pink laptop.

“The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for,” says Pantel. “We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

In case they were in need of inspiration, people have been tweeting funny rewrites of the text so that it actually empowers women.

Barbie has been derided for a lot of things — her anatomically impossible figure, for example — but her career goals seemed on track if not admirable. She has been to space and business school But success involves more than just dressing the part. If you pair a doll with a hot pink laptop, she better know how to use it.

Maybe we should all just stick to GoldieBlox, a toy that teaches and encourages girls to do engineering themselves.

Read next: Watch Little Kids React to a Realistic-Looking Barbie Alternative

TIME Science

Sorting Fact From Fiction and What the Best Science Writing Can Teach Us

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary.

The latest volume of 'The Best American Science and Nature Writing' puts today's diseases and outbreak in context

My bedside table holds a jumble of fiction and non-fiction books, since in my reading I trade off across genres. In any given week, my mood swings between a desire to lose myself in the vivid writing of novelists who create imaginary worlds and a competing wish to keep up with breaking knowledge in science. Sometimes, though, vivid writing and scientific material happily collide in a single volume, as it has done in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014.

Edited by the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Deborah Blum, this book isn’t, of course, fiction. It is a work of science, not a novel. But it does contain worlds of imagination, as 26 scientists and science writers offer enticing essays spanning mutliple disciplines and topics. (I am honored to be included for a piece I wrote called “When Animals Mourn” that originally appeared in Scientific American and is based on my book How Animals Grieve.)

In her introduction, Blum promises readers “stories that range from the shimmer of deep space to the wayward nature of a wild sheep,” tales that show “the stumbles and the hopes, the the unexpected ideas and unexpected beauty” of doing science.

Several of the chapters focus on the body, health and disease. Do you know which is the most infectious microbe in the world, with a 90% rate of transmission? I didn’t, until reading Seth Mnookin‘s chapter “The Return of Measles” (originally published in The Boston Globe Magazine). “The fact that measles can live outside the human body for up to two hours,” Mnookin writes, “makes a potential outbreak all the more menacing.” Alarmingly, parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated against measles and other diseases turn this theoretical public-health risk into a risk quite concrete: In 2013 an unvaccinated 17-year-old from Brooklyn caught the virus while in the UK, and once he returned home it spread rapidly through a community where many other deliberately unvaccinated children lived. Fifty-eight people came down with measles, making it, Mnookin says, “the largest outbreak in the country in more than 15 years.” The costs–health- and money-wise–were significant. Measles may be fatal, as it was during France’s recent prolonged outbreak: in 2007 only 44 measles infections were reported there; over the next four years, Mnookin notes, 20,000 people were sickened, almost 5,000 people were hospitalized, and 10 died.

By contrast, a disease that’s still greatly misunderstood–and feared–as highly contagious isn’t at all. Rebecca Solnit‘s piece “The Separating Sickness” (first published in Harper’s Magazine) profiles people who have Hansen’s Disease, also known as leprosy. Somehow I’d thought that this condition was no longer present in the U.S., but in 2011, 173 people were diagnosed with it in this country. The U.S.’s largest leprosy clinic is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Solnit’s profile of what goes on there is informative and inspiring. “Contrary to long-standing belief,” Solnit writes, leprosy “is very nearly the least contagious contagious disease on earth. Ninety-five percent of us are naturally immune to the disease, and the rest have a hard time catching it.” Yet those who did catch it in past decades suffered not only physically (with skin lesions and sometimes the need for amputation of limbs owing to neuropathy) but also emotionally, because of the disease’s terrible stigma. At places like the Baton Rouge clinic, that stigma has vanished (though, sadly, it persists in other places). And, if the disease is caught early, the cure may be total.

It’s a real challenge, it seems to me, for the human brain to assess relative risks accurately. We see this also with the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, specifically in the fear and anxiety that regional epidemic has caused for people living in other parts of the world. This striking map of Africa without Ebola and its accompanying text puts the matter into perspective. Yet when isolated cases occur in the U.S. or European countries, panic has ensued, along with disturbing patterns of discrmination against people thought (incorrectly) to be possible sources of contamination through casual contact. (As scientists have widely reported, the virus is transmitted during the acute phase of the illness via bodily fluids.)

Mnookin’s and Solnit’s chapters intersect powerfully with one about the effect of sudden, violent and debilitating trauma on the body and the mind. In “A Life-or-Death Situation” (originally published in The New York Times Magazine), Robin Marantz Henig describes the day when a retired English professor named Brooke Hopkins goes out for a bicycle ride in Utah canyon country and collides with another cyclist. Gravely injured, with a snapped neck, Hopkins stopped breathing but is revived on the trail; his living will, a document unknown to his rescuer, had specified no heroic measures in the case of catastrophic injury or illness. In one of life’s dark ironies, his wife Peggy Battin is a well-known scholar in the bioethics of end-of-life decisions. In captivating prose, Henig recounts the twisting course over the next years as Hopkins copes–just as happens with sufferers of Hansen’s Disease–in rollercoaster ways both physical and emotional. He catapults from good to poor health, from steely determination to shaky hesitation about wanting to continue on.

Henig’s was one of the pieces in the book that affected me mostly deeply, perhaps because I know that what happened to Hopkins and Battin could happen to any of us when we begin an apparently routine day with a bicycle ride: at some subconscious level, our brains know the risk of trauma exists, but we don’t dwell on it, and surely this is the right approach. (We would do better to be alarmed daily at the rising costs of anthropogenic climate change, after all.)

Since the Paleolithic age, when we gathered in small groups in front of glorious cave images of animals or around a community fire to weave tales of the natural world, we humans have learned best through storytelling. The Best American Science And Nature Writing 2014 is a modern-day equivalent, in written form, of those conversations, this time between science writer and science-intrigued reader.

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary who teaches, writes and speaks about animal studies, primate behavior, human evolution and evolutionary perspectives on gender. Her latest book is How Animals Grieve, published in 2013.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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