Tony Dokoupil

Stories by Tony Dokoupil

  • Page-Turner: The Age of Anxiety by Andrea Tone

    America's all-time favorite pill isn't for birth control, according to historian Andrea Tone. It's a potent little tranquilizer called Miltown, after the New Jersey hamlet where it was born in 1955. The original "mother's little helper" set off a consumer frenzy that emptied drugstores and launched the era of psychiatric cure-alls. But it also raised a perennial question: do we actually need these drugs, or does Big Pharma push them on us? In "The Age of Anxiety," the McGill University professor pans for answers, and finds the blame lies largely with us. ...
  • Ted Haggard Returns

    Ted Haggard's sex scandal cost him his church, and some of his faith.
  • "Damp Squid" Book And The 2 Billion Word Database

    The best part of "Damp Squid," a series of lexicographic essays by Jeremy Butterfield, isn't the oddball title but the computer that inspired it. The Oxford English Corpus, a database of more than 2 billion words culled from a range of global sources, works like a magic cauldron: it allows researchers to see how any word in circulation is actually being used. "Damp squib," for instance, is British slang for a firework that doesn't fire, or a party that fizzles. But the Corpus says most people mistakenly reference the sea creature. A small number also think that "hammer and tongs"—meaning to work vigorously—is actually "hammer and thongs."Dictionary makers rely on such tidbits to keep pace with the masses. But some of the most compulsively quotable factoids from the Corpus are pure brain candy: the 22nd most common noun modified by "naked" is "pic." (No. 1: "eye.") The most common adjective used to refer to "muscles" is "fabulous." And there are 214 derivations of the word "blog,"...
  • A Walk to Remember

    For author Geoff Nicholson, walking is a source of "self-medication," a tonic that beats back depression and helps him write. The happy result is "The Lost Art of Walking," a rambling man's survey of the oddities and intrigues of putting one foot before the other. Humans have hoofed it for so long that the motion is etched into our very nature: unborn babies, he reports, make walking movements in the womb. Over time, the upright life has inspired a lofty "science, philosophy and literature" of its own, writes Nicholson, who guides readers through pedestrianism's highs and lows while ambling around London, Los Angeles and New York. Walking for pleasure is compared to sex (sometimes banal, sometimes beautiful) and traced to the automobile revolution, which turned walking into a special treat and strollers into rebels without a car. The message: walking is a form of physical and mental exploration. But perhaps Nicholson sells it a bit too well. Reading the book makes you want to put it...
  • In Tough Times, A Move Towards Local Currencies

    Americans may hoard cash as recession fears grow. But in Riverwest, an enclave of Milwaukee, residents have another answer to money trouble: they'll print their own. The proposed River Currency would be used like cash at local businesses, keeping the area economy robust whatever the health of the country at large.It's an attractive idea in tight times. Communities print bills with serial numbers, anti-counterfeiting details and images of local landmarks. Residents benefit through an exchange system: 10 traditional dollars, for instance, nets them $20 worth of local currency. When businesses agree to value the funny money like real greenbacks, they also get a free stack to kick-start spending. It's all perfectly legal (except coins) as long as it's not for profit and the fake dinero doesn't resemble the real thing. Dozens of such systems arose during the Great Depression. In the 1990s, they resurfaced as a way to fight globalization and keep wealth in local hands. Now the idea of...
  • A New Book on Why We Drive the Way We Do

    The best way to enjoy Tom Vanderbilt's new book, "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)," is to forget the psychobabble title and merge like a commuter into the text itself. Like real traffic, it's sometimes slow going. But it's also a delightful tour through the mysteries and manners of driving. Think you do it well? Vanderbilt thinks not. ...
  • Books: A History of Jokes

    "Stop me if you've heard this," Jim Holt's new history and philosophy of jokes, isn't a topnotch book. It jumps around, from Palamedes to Sarah Silverman, and the closest it comes to a big idea is that jokes "come and go." But there are at least 10 pages (28–38) that everyone should read. They're about Gershon Legman, a "self-taught scholar of the dirty joke," who claimed to coin the phrase "Make Love, Not War," invent the vibrating dildo and introduce origami to the West. (He wasn't kidding.) Born in Pennsylvania in 1917, Legman's life has a gripping, Forrest Gump-like quality to it. He moved to New York after high school, and found work as an erotic-book hunter for Alfred Kinsey, before breaking away to pursue his true calling. By his death in 1999, he'd amassed one of the world's largest dirty-joke collections, more than 60,000 variants filed away on index cards under amusing headers like THE BIG INCH and ZOO-PHILY. Holt's book isn't quite that funny, but the pages on Legman are...
  • The Best Brand? No Brand.

    "I'm not much of a consumer." It's a refrain that New York Times columnist Rob Walker heard a lot while researching "Buying In," his fascinating new book about the dialogue between who we are and what we buy. His salient point: while none of us likes to think of himself as a brand obsessed zombie who uses his credit cards to purchase an identity, our behavior often tells a different story.The Big Idea: According to Walker, we have entered an era of "murketing," a hybrid of the words "murky" and "marketing." It has two levels of meaning. "The first," he writes, "refers to the increasingly sophisticated tactics of marketers who blur the line between branding channels and everyday life." The other refers to "the modern relationship between consumer and consumed," which is "defined not by rejection at all, but rather by frank complicity."Evidence: Dunkin' Donuts recruited teenagers to wear temporary tattoos of the company's logo on their foreheads. Turner Broadcasting paid ex-art...
  • Soldiers' Self-Harm: ‘Anything Not to Go Back’ to Iraq

    As an internist at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, Dr. Stephanie Santos is used to finding odd things in people's stomachs. So last spring when a young man, identifying himself as an Iraq-bound soldier, said he had accidentally swallowed a pen at the bus station, she believed him. That is, until she found a second pen. It read 1-800-GREYHOUND. Last summer, according to published reports, a 20-year-old Bronx soldier paid a hit man $500 to shoot him in the knee on the day he was scheduled to return to Iraq. The year before that, a 24-year-old specialist from Washington state escaped a second tour of duty, according to his sister, by strapping on a backpack full of tools and leaping off the roof of his house, injuring his spine.Such cases of self-harm are a "rising trend" that military doctors are watching closely, says Col. Kathy Platoni, an Army Reserve psychologist who has worked with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. "There are some soldiers who will do almost anything not to go...
  • Pitchforks For Change

    In his new book, "The Uprising," author and populist gadfly David Sirota argues that a "fist-pounding, primal screaming" revolt is brewing in America—and it's about to boil over. He spoke with NEWSWEEK'S Tony Dokoupil: ...
  • Television News: Absolution for Couch Potatoes

    The knock on television news has long been that it emphasizes style over substance. But style, it turns out, may have some serious substance of its own. In their forthcoming book, "Image Bite Politics," Indiana researchers Erik Bucy and Maria Grabe offer absolution for couch potatoes, defending the flickering tube as a source of valuable political information. Their study begins like a typical broadside, reporting that between 1992 and 2004, network TV coverage of the presidential race got even flimsier: the average length of each candidates' TV sound bites continued to fall, from a high of 40 seconds in 1968 to less than eight seconds in 2004, while image bites—the generic footage that rolls while reporters narrate—swelled to more than a quarter of all coverage. Image bites are primarily nibbles of B-roll: soundless shots of John McCain grilling burgers, Barack Obama bowling or George Bush on wheels.But Bucy and Grabe see an upside to this dumbing-down trend. Image bites may look...
  • Fast Chat: Alpha Dogs of London

    In "Alpha Dogs," London Times editor James Harding investigates the Americanization of global politics and points to a culprit: the Sawyer Miller Group. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, the U.S. firm packaged and sold foreign politicians like consumer goods. Harding spoke with NEWSWEEK's Tony Dokoupil. ...
  • Sawyer Miller: The Starbucks of Global Politics

    For Western democracies, the U.S. presidential race is more than a source of spectacle—it's a preview of a key American export: campaign tactics. "Elections have become as similar as Starbucks," writes London Times editor James Harding, whose stinging new book, "Alpha Dogs," traces the international campaign playbook back to the Sawyer Miller Group, a U.S. firm launched in the 1970s that married Madison Avenue with Pennsylvania Avenue, selling candidates like consumer goods in an "electronic democracy." It was among the first political consultancies to wrap intellectual voter appeals in emotional clothes—and it was good at it, steering to victory four senators, six governors and overseas leaders including Czechoslovakia's Vaclav Havel and Israel's Shimon Peres before dissolving in the early 1990s. Today, Sawyer Miller has acolytes inside the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. And its techniques—nonstop polling, sloganeering, attack ads—have become worldwide...
  • Blackjack: A Loser's Game

    Films like '21' make people think they can win big at blackjack. The casinos know better.
  • The Experts Get Their Revenge

    The Internet is known for giving power to the people. Sites like YouTube and Wikipedia collect the creations of amateurs and kick pros to the curb. But now some of the same entrepreneurs who funded the user-generated revolution are paying professionals to edit and produce online content. In December, Google began testing Knol, a Wikipedia-like Web site produced by "authoritative" sources that share ad revenue. A sample page contains an insomnia entry from Rachel Manber, director of Stanford's sleep center. In January, Big Think.com, a self-styled "YouTube for ideas" backed by former Harvard president Larry Summers and others, debuted its cache of video interviews with public intellectuals. Mahalo also just launched a test version of its people-powered search engine, which replaces Google's popularity-based page rankings with results that the start-up says are vetted by real people. In a search on "Paris hotels," Google returns 5 million pages from an array of obscure Web sites....
  • Too at Home in the Stacks

    It's a core value of public libraries that their doors are open to everyone. But patience is running thin with one group: the homeless. With nowhere else to go, society's down-and-out flock to libraries for clean restrooms, comfortable chairs and a safe haven. More than 100 homeless people a day hang out in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., while librarians in Las Vegas, Detroit and Portland, Ore., estimate similar crowds. According to Loriene Roy, president of the American Library Association, it's a matter of principle versus reality—"the philosophy of serving all people," she says, "and the reality of what happens when we do." Given the prevalence of addiction and mental illness among the homeless, what happens can be unsettling: drug use in the stacks, masturbating at the computers, fouling the grounds. The strain on staff, and other visitors, has become so acute that city library leaders will meet during a conference this week in Minneapolis to...