17-25 Segment 1: Adventure in the Jungle: The Discovery of the Maya Civilization

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Discovering one of the most well-known ancient civilizations was no easy task. We talk to author William Carlsen about the two men who ventured into the jungle and discovered the Mayans.

In 1839, rumors of extraordinary yet baffling stone ruins buried within the unmapped jungles of Central America reached two of the world’s most intrepid explorers. Seized by the reports, American diplomat John Lloyd Stephens and British artist Frederick Catherwood—both already celebrated for their adventures in Egypt, the Holy Land, Greece, and Rome—sailed together out of New York Harbor on an expedition into the forbidding rainforests of present-day Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. What they found would upend the West’s understanding of human history.

In the tradition of Lost City of Z and In the Kingdom of Ice, former San Francisco Chronicle journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist William Carlsen reveals the remarkable story of the discovery of the ancient Maya. Enduring disease, war, and the torments of nature and terrain, Stephens and Catherwood meticulously uncovered and documented the remains of an astonishing civilization that had flourished in the Americas at the same time as classic Greece and Rome—and had been its rival in art, architecture, and power. Their masterful book about the experience, written by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood, became a sensation, hailed by Edgar Allan Poe as “perhaps the most interesting book of travel ever published” and recognized today as the birth of American archaeology. Most important, Stephens and Catherwood were the first to grasp the significance of the Maya remains, understanding that their antiquity and sophistication overturned the West’s assumptions about the development of civilization.

By the time of the flowering of classical Greece (400 b.c.), the Maya were already constructing pyramids and temples around central plazas. Within a few hundred years the structures took on a monumental scale that required millions of man-hours of labor, and technical and organizational expertise. Over the next millennium, dozens of city-states evolved, each governed by powerful lords, some with populations larger than any city in Europe at the time, and connected by road-like causeways of crushed stone. The Maya developed a cohesive, unified cosmology, an array of common gods, a creation story, and a shared artistic and architectural vision. They created stucco and stone monuments, sculpting figures and hieroglyphs with refined artistic skill. At their peak, an estimated ten million people occupied the Maya’s heartland on the Yucatan Peninsula, a region where only half a million now live. And yet by the time the Spanish reached the “New World,” the Maya had all but disappeared; they would remain a mystery for the next three hundred years.

Today, the tables are turned: the Maya are justly famous, if sometimes misunderstood, while Stephens and Catherwood have been nearly forgotten. Based on Carlsen’s rigorous research and his own 1,500-mile journey throughout the Yucatan and Central America, Jungle of Stone is equally a thrilling adventure narrative and a revelatory work of history that corrects our understanding of Stephens, Catherwood, and the Maya themselves.

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Guest:

  • William Carlsen, author of Jungle of Stone: The true story of two men, their extraordinary journey, and the discovery of the lost civilization of the Maya

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17-25 Segment 2: Why Wonder Woman Works So Well in 2017

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Wonder Woman is breaking box office records in her first solo film, and we look at what makes her so in tune with the times. Professor, author, and editor Travis Langley explains how Wonder Woman’s pursuit of the truth, belief in humanity, and inspirational name make her the perfect heroine for now.

During World War II, Americans idolized Superman for his bravery and patriotism. During the post-9/11 era of terrorism and new surveillance tactics, Batman was popular for protecting Gotham City from impending doom. Now, in times of fake news and the Women’s March, Wonder Woman has risen to the occasion.

A pinnacle of truth, wonder, and girl power, the heroine differs starkly from heroes in the past. Travis Langley, co-editor of Wonder Woman Psychology: Lassoing the Truth says the biggest difference is that Wonder Woman is a more well-adjusted character. Whereas Spiderman lost his parents and avenges the death of his late uncle, and Batman is an orphan who succeeded despite his gloomy prospects, the new Wonder Woman film depicts her as enjoying a healthy childhood in fictional paradise Themyscira, with a nurturing family, loving neighbors, and the promise of a bright future ahead of her. Although she does leave the island, much to the disdain of her mother, her background story is quite ideal when compared to her male superhero counterparts.

Langley notes that her creator, William Moulton Marston, was a psychologist who helped to invent the polygraph machine. He understood human nature and chose to show Diana flourishing, bringing light and truth to Europe during World War I. Langley explains,  “Here he is, involved in the development of the lie detector, the science of truth. And he creates this heroine who’s very well known for having a magic lasso… she could use to make people tell the truth.” Wonder Woman’s commitment to honesty does not go unnoticed during our current alternative fact epidemic, and her devotion for factuality resonates with Americans in movies theatres across the country.

Unlike its heroine-centered predecessors  Supergirl, which premiered more than three decades ago, failed spectacularly, and Catwoman, which fared the same, Wonder Woman has outsold movies such as Iron Man and Captain America, and set a new record for opening weekend profits from a female-directed film. Langley attributes this to relevance. Wonder Woman’s debut comes just months after the historic Women’s March, the largest march in American history, and during a new wave of feminism. Wonder Woman is also unattached from other heroes, unlike Bullet Girl and Bullet Man, and is not just a femme fatale character, unlike Phantom Lady. As Langley says, “She’s not the first female superhero, there have been others, but the ones before her tended to be derivative… [she is] a full fledged, strong, female superhero defined by herself, not by anybody else.”

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Guest:

  • Travis Langley, co-editor of Wonder Woman Pyschology: Lassoing the Truth

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