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Monday, February 22, 2016

Helium Dreams, by Jeanne Marie Laskas, New Yorker

Igor Pasternak started thinking about airships when he was twelve. Back then, in the nineteen-seventies, he loved rockets. One night, he was curled up in the soft green chair that doubled as his bed, in the two-room apartment where he lived with his parents, his little sister, and his grandmother, in the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine. He was reading a magazine aimed at young inventors, and he came across an article about blimps. He saw old photographs of imposing wartime zeppelins and read about another kind of airship, which had never made it off the drawing board: an airship that carried not passengers but cargo. It would be able to haul hundreds of tons of mining equipment to remote regions in Siberia in one go, the article said—no roads, runways, or infrastructure needed. Just lift, soar, and drop.

Igor wondered what the holdup was. He read the article again and again. He spent the summer in the library, studying the history and the aerodynamic principles of blimps. One day, on the way there, he looked into the sky, and the emptiness seized him.

Where are all the airships? he asked himself. The world needs airships.

How A Basket On Wheels Revolutionized Grocery Shopping, by Zachary Crockett, Priceonomics

Few inventions have so profoundly shaped consumer habits. With the exception of the automobile, the shopping cart is the most commonly used “vehicle” in the world: some 25 million grace grocery stores across the U.S. alone. It has played a major role in enriching the forces of capitalism, increasing our buying output, and transforming the nature of the supermarket — and for its role, it has been dubbed the “greatest development in the history of merchandising.”

Rarely comes the time when we sit back and consider the history of the shopping cart. But gather, friends: that time has come.

‘The Lost Time Accidents,’ By John Wray, by Charles Yu, New York Times

For this reader, at least, a novel is a success if it causes time to warp, to bend and deform, if it breaks time apart and puts it back together again in an interesting way. John Wray does all of the above, with wide-ranging intelligence and boundless verbal energy. Any experiment that Wray conducts is likely to be worth a reader’s time, and “The Lost Time Accidents” is certainly no exception.

Pagan Kennedy’s ‘Inventology’ And Adam Grant’s ‘Originals’, by Clive Thompson, New York Times

How precisely does one become more creative? This is a perpetual anxiety in the C Suite, where executives lunge at advice that promises to open up their Steve Jobsian third eye. Kennedy’s book and Adam Grant’s latest, “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” try to demystify creativity, via the genre’s now traditional counterpoint of inspirational stories and counterintuitive social science. If clumsily constructed, this type of book can become self-parodic, a ­PowerPoint slog through the Five Things You Need to Do to Become More Dynamic and Creative.

Neon Moon, by Maggie Nae Nicholson