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[Editor's Note]

Introducing the May 2014 Issue


The life-coach industry, quinoa quarreling, and the comedy of Doug Stanhope

Harper's Magazine (May 2014)At one time or another, we’ve all felt unsure of our futures. We worry about our personal relationships, of course, but also about our careers. Who among us hasn’t felt insecure about getting a job, keeping a job, advancing in it? To answer these questions, an increasing number of people have turned to life coaching — and have wondered whether it wasn’t time to ditch more traditional forms of therapy. In the May 2014’s cover story, “50,000 Life Coaches Can’t Be Wrong,” Genevieve Smith, who last wrote on the self-help movement in the June 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine, immerses herself in what has become a thriving industry. Joining a class of aspiring coaches — i.e., dissatisfied people who are being taught how to advise other dissatisfied people — she ponders the fine line between self-help and hucksterism. Yes, Smith would insist: there is a difference.

Since everyone seems to love quinoa these days, we have included a report on this miracle crop by Lisa M. Hamilton. Though often the butt of jokes (most memorably, a beer commercial comparing a quinoa cake to a loofah sponge), this grain is amazingly resilient, flourishing even in freezing, arid, and salt-saturated soil, and could go a long way toward feeding the world’s hungry. The largest quinoa seed bank, however, is owned by the Bolivian government, and the country is reluctant to share it. In “The Quinoa Quarrel: Who Owns the World’s Greatest Superfood?” Hamilton travels to the Andes, where she talks to Bolivian geneticists and growers, and to Provo, Utah, where a pair of Mormon agronomists dream of growing hybrid quinoa on an industrial scale — and perhaps even patenting it.

Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, the much admired author of Random Family, writes about the impressively foul-mouthed comedian and provocateur Doug Stanhope. Although he has had a loyal fan base for the past twenty years, Stanhope has become better known recently thanks to the effusive praise of comics like Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, and Ricky Gervais. LeBlanc catches up with Stanhop’s Big Stink Tour in Tampa, Florida, and travels with his crew throughout the South, producing a portrait of a fiercely independent, extremely creative, booze-infused personality.

Alice Gregory reports on the phenomenon of the “found money” TV show — a new, very popular genre in which people bid on the contents of houses, luggage, trunks, and all kinds of boxes without knowing what’s inside. The winning bidders, of course, are hoping they may have purchased valuable jewelry, rare coins, or antique pottery. Just as often, though, they get exactly what they paid for: zilch. In Gregory’s view, these shows are purely cynical, a producer’s wink at the current recession and the financial industry that created it.

Also in this issue: photographs from the Sochi Olympics by Benjamin Lowy; Michael Robbins on the links between poetry and metal; a short story by Antonya NelsonLaura Miller on our enduring fascination with Sherlock Holmes; Daniel Smith on Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History; and Maria Bustillos reporting from Texas on the human suffering caused by state governors who refuse to accept federal Medicaid money under the Affordable Care Act.

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