Jacob M. Appel is a bioethicist and fiction writer. He holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University, an M.A. and an M.Phil. from Columbia University, an M.D. from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He has most recently taught at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and at the Gotham Writers Workshop in New York City. He publishes in the field of bioethics and contributes to such publications as the Journal of Clinical Ethics, the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Chicago Tribune, and other publications.
Appel has also published short fiction in more than one hundred literary journals. His short story, Shell Game With Organs, won the Boston Review Short Fiction Contest in 1998. His story about two census takers, "Counting," was shortlisted for the O. Henry Award in 2001. Other stories received "special mention" for the Pushcart Prize in 2006 and 2007.
He is admitted to the practice of law in New York State and Rhode Island, and is a licensed New York City sightseeing guide.
Appel contributed a Dangerous Idea to Big Think's "Month of Thinking Dangerously," advocating that we add trace amounts of lithium to our drinking water to help reduce the suicide rate.
Appel is a Big Think Delphi Fellow.
Question: As a New York City Sightseeing Guide, what’s your favorite sight to see in the city?
Jacob Appel: What I like to tell people is, of all the exams I have taken over the years, I've taken the Bar Exam in New York and Rhode Island, I've taken the Medical License Exams, I've taken the GRA's to get into graduate school, I've taken a Notary Public Exam in New York State, the hardest exam by far was the New York City's Tour Guiding Exam. So, if you were planning on becoming a New York City Tour Guide, get your blue book and study hard. It was also the one I was most proud to have passed.
That being said, I’ve given some walking tours in New York. One of my dreams is that some day, when I retire, I will be on one of those red double-decker buses sharing my love of New York because do love New York and I think it is the greatest city in the world, at least for me to live in.
My favorite monument is a rather obscure monument that few people even know of. I've written about it in the past, is the Amiable Child Monument at Riverside Drive and 133rd Street. It's a little grey marker that's been there for about 250 years -- 300 years, excuse me, that marks the place where a child in the late 18th century fell off the cliff and died. Back when it was rural farm land and it was a strawberry field. Not much is known about the child, but over the centuries, people from the neighborhood, and increasingly people from the city come to that site to pay tribute to things they've lost in the city, or to share their own experiences, and there's a little museum, so to speak, around this gravesite of trinkets, and Christopher's medals and heirlooms, and after 911, people from the neighborhood came there and you can still sense the smell of the burning buildings from downtown wafting up the Hudson, and people left tributes there and pinned letters there, and it's a truly haunting site that if you're ever in Morningside Heights, it's worth seeing.
Recorded on March 1, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen