Scott Simon

Most of us would have to look up the name of J.D. Tippit. He was the Dallas police officer shot and killed in 1963, when he tried to apprehend the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Or Tim McCarthy, the Secret Service agent who took a bullet fired at President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Hugh Hefner made history, and then tripped over it. When I was growing up in Chicago, the formidable women who were my mother's friends considered Playboy a good place to work for a single woman. Women at the Playboy Club were well-paid, got chauffeured home in cabs, and customers — stars, politicians, even, it was rumored, spoiled Middle Eastern princes — were thrown out if they weren't gentlemen.

Hugh Hefner created Playboy at his kitchen table in Chicago. The magazine was blamed for (or credited with) setting off a cultural revolution in America, but within a few years Hefner was branded a male chauvinist. He was a proponent of free speech and a champion of civil rights who was decried as a merchant of smut.

Hefner died Wednesday at the age of 91, the magazine announced in a statement, writing that he "peacefully passed away today from natural causes at his home, The Playboy Mansion, surrounded by loved ones."

When crisis strikes, leaders often call for sacrifice. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and in these days before Hurricane Irma churns ashore in Florida, we've seen innumerable Americans volunteer, sacrifice and even risk their lives to help others.

It might be too easy to contrast that generous spirit with the strict practices of major air carriers. But airlines make it pretty much irresistible.

Nathan Englander's latest novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth, is set amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It winds together the stories of a prisoner, a guard, mothers, sons, spies, statesmen, traitors and lovers. Sometimes they're even the same person.

"I call this novel sort of like a turducken of a novel," Englander tells NPR. "It's like a political thriller that's wrapped up in a historical novel that's really a love story that ends up being an allegory."

Pages