NWS Advisory Board Member David Finkel is a recipient of one of this year’s MacArthur Foundation Genius Grants

CHICAGO (AP) — Mandolin player and composer Chris Thile learned the hard way that when you get a call from the 312 area code this time of year, you should probably answer the phone.

Thile is among 23 recipients of this year’s MacArthur Foundation “genius grants,” which are given in a secrecy-shrouded process. Winners have no idea they’ve been nominated for the $500,000 awards until they get the call, and nominators must remain anonymous.

Thile ignored the incessant phone calls from the foundation at first, thinking they were election-year robocalls. Then he received an ominous message: “Don’t tell anyone about this call.”

His tour manager searched for the number online and told him, “It appears to be from something called the MacArthur Foundation.” It was a name Thile recognized.

“I think I must have turned white,” he said. “I’ve never felt so internally warm. My heart was racing. All of a sudden, I felt very askew physically. I was trying to catch my breath. … I thought, ‘Oh my God, did I win a MacArthur?’”

The grants, paid over five years, give recipients freedom to pursue a creative vision. Winners, who work in fields ranging from medicine and science to the arts and journalism, don’t have to report how they spend the money.

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Read a review of his book The Good Soliders by Doug Stanton.

“The front-line soldier I knew lived for months like an animal, and was a veteran in the cruel, fierce world of death. . . . The front-line soldier has to harden his inside as well as his outside or he would crack under the strain.”

That was the war correspondent Ernie Pyle, writing about the soldiers he lived alongside and chronicled in his World War II dispatches.

Fast-forward 64 years to 2007, the year the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Washington Post reporter David Finkel brings to astonishing life in his chronicle of modern combat, The Good Soldiers.

MacArthur Foundation Genius Grants