The Art of Reading

reading a story

andrew branch (CC0)

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Original Air Date: 
July 26, 2015

It used to be easy to get lost in a good book, but now lots of people say reading is boring. Scientists say all that skimming and surfing on electronic screens is actually rewiring our brains. So we examine the new science of reading, and meet celebrated New Yorker book critic James Wood.

Also, Jordanian scientist Rana Dajani tells the remarkable story of how she started a reading program for kids at her local mosque, which has spread to hundreds of libraries across the Middle East. And Princeton historian Tony Grafton uncovers the history of reading by looking in the margins of books.

In our last segment, Jonathan Gottschall's dangerous idea is to remove padded gloves from combat sports to reduce the brain damage of fighters. And renowned MMA fighter Ronda Rousey describes her long, hard road to the top.

ipad reading

Are we losing the ability to read difficult books? Cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf says we need to develop a "bi-literate reading brain" so that we can switch back and forth between the deep reading of print and the skimming of electronic texts.


James Wood is often called the best critic of his generation. He looks back at his own career, from writing brutal take-downs at the Guardian to his current perch at The New Yorker, and tells us why genre fiction makes him "anxious." 



When she moved back to Jordan, molecular biologist Rana Dajani realized that children there didn't read for pleasure. So she started a reading program at her local mosque. Since then, her reading program has reached more than 10,000 kids in Jordan and has spread across the Middle East.


Can we ever know how people used to read, say, 500 years ago? Princeton historian Tony Grafton is obsessed with that question.

Boxing gloves hung up.
Dangerous Ideas

Jonathan Gottschall's dangerous idea? Remove the padded gloves from boxers and other fighters. That will reduce the brain damage to fighters.

Ronda Rousey

At the peak of her fighting career, Ronda Rousey blew through her competition, winning nearly all of her fights in under a minute. She told Charles Monroe-Kane she’s been fighting as long as she can remember.


Incidental Music:

(Soulville, Ben Webster)
Born To Be Blue
(Born To Be Blue, Grant Green)
Rock Skippin'
(Concierto, Jim Hall)
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Last modified: 
February 28, 2023