Terry Gross | KUER 90.1

Terry Gross

As a science columnist for The New York Times, Carl Zimmer had reported extensively about genetics and the role gene mutations play in various ailments. After a while, he got to wondering about what secrets his own genetic code holds.

"I wanted to know if there was anything I needed to worry about," Zimmer says. "We all think back to our relatives who got sick and then wonder, 'Is that in me?' "

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Author Michael Pollan had always been curious about psychoactive plants, but his interest skyrocketed when he heard about a research study in which people with terminal cancer were given a psychedelic called psilocybin — the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" — to help them deal with their distress.

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Editor's note: This interview contains language that some readers may find offensive.

As CNN's chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper is often focused on breaking news and the latest political stories, but the host of The Lead and State of the Union switched things up a bit for his latest project.

Tapper's new novel, The Hellfire Club, takes place in 1954 Washington, D.C., during Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Communist "witch hunt." He says that although 64 years separate his characters from today's political players, many of the themes apply.

In Aug. 2017, many Americans were shocked to see neo-Nazis and members of the so called alt-right demonstrating in Charlottesville, Va. But author Kathleen Belew says the roots of the rally were actually decades in the making.

Just who controls the Twitter handle @realDonaldTrump? If you guessed the president, journalist Robert Draper says you might be only partially correct.

Draper's recent New York Times Magazine article profiles White House social media director Dan Scavino — a man Draper estimates helps craft about half of the president's tweets.

Former first lady Barbara Bush died Tuesday after a series of hospitalizations. She was the wife of former President George H.W. Bush and the mother of former President George W. Bush.

Born Barbara Pierce in New York City, Bush initially thought she'd grow up to become a nurse. "But then I met that marvelous George Bush and the nursing went out the window," she told Fresh Air in 1994.

It's been almost a year since since James Comey first learned that President Trump had fired him. The former FBI director was in Los Angeles visiting the field office for a diversity event when a ticker announcing his ouster scrolled across the bottom of a TV screen.

"I thought it was a scam," Comey says. "I went back to talking to the people who were gathered in front of me."

For many poor families in America, eviction is a real and ongoing threat. Sociologist Matthew Desmond estimates that 2.3 million evictions were filed in the U.S. in 2016 — a rate of four every minute.

"Eviction isn't just a condition of poverty; it's a cause of poverty," Desmond says. "Eviction is a direct cause of homelessness, but it also is a cause of residential instability, school instability [and] community instability."

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright describes herself as an "optimist who worries a lot." And lately, it seems, there has been much to worry about.

Albright's new book, Fascism: A Warning, starts by describing how Hitler and Mussolini came to power in the 20th century, then warns about today's authoritarian rulers in Eastern Europe, North Korea, Turkey and Russia.

When journalist Maya Dusenbery was in her 20s, she started experiencing progressive pain in her joints, which she learned was caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

As she began to research her own condition, Dusenbery realized how lucky she was to have been diagnosed relatively easily. Other women with similar symptoms, she says, "experienced very long diagnostic delays and felt ... that their symptoms were not taken seriously."

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For years, religion scholar Bart Ehrman wanted to write a book about the early spread of Christianity, but he shied away from it because the topic seemed too big.

Eventually, Ehrman decided that the massive scope is what made the project so compelling: "The entire history of the West was transformed by the fact that Christianity took over the Roman Empire and then became the dominant religious and political and cultural force in our civilization," he says.

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Antidepressants and medications for bipolar disorder can be life-changing and even lifesaving, but journalist Lauren Slater warns that the long-term side effects of these drugs are "cloaked in mystery."

"As a nation, we're consuming them; we're gobbling them down," she says. "And we don't really know what we're taking into our bodies."

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Though six months have passed since Steve Bannon left his position as White House chief strategist, he continues to follow the drama inside the Trump administration.

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America's war in Afghanistan is the longest war the U.S. has ever fought. Beginning a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the initial mission was to remove the Taliban from power and destroy the al-Qaida terror network. Now, nearly 17 years later, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll points out that the war's goals have changed.

As the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election forges on, Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel leading the investigation, has managed to stay largely out of public view.

Journalist Garrett Graff says that is in keeping with Mueller's personality: "This is not someone who in any way has tried to grab the spotlight, but instead has kept his head down and worked hard throughout his career."

In 2017, Lena Waithe made history as the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding comedy writing. The award specifically recognized Master of None's "Thanksgiving" episode, which Waithe co-wrote with Aziz Ansari and based on her experience coming out to her mother.

Patrice Banks is now a mechanic, and the owner of a successful auto clinic, but there was a time when she avoided taking her own car in for routine maintenance.

"I was afraid I was going to be taken advantage of," she says. "I was tired of feeling helpless and having to go talk to a guy."

Banks, who was working as an engineer at DuPont at the time, thought she'd feel more comfortable with a female technician. There was only one problem: "I couldn't find a female mechanic," she says, "so I had to learn it [myself]."

British neuroscientist Joseph Jebelli first set out to study Alzheimer's because of his grandfather, who developed the disease when Jebelli was 12.

In the years that followed, Jebelli watched as his grandfather's memory started to disappear. But Jebelli points out that although a certain amount of memory loss is a natural part of aging, what happened to his grandfather and to other Alzheimer's patients is different.

Stories about sexual harassment in the workplace have dominated the news cycle this fall, but New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer remembers a time not that long ago when even the term "sexual harassment" felt new.

"Most of us really didn't know much about sexual harassment," she says. "Many of us had experienced it, but we didn't really know the name for it or how to handle it."

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