Although abundant in nature, the color blue is notoriously hard to create as a dye. In fact, the process behind indigo's transformation from parasitic shrub to precious stain is still only partially understood by scientists. Catherine E. McKinley tells the pigment's fascinating story here, winningly weaving into her historical researches a personal narrative illuminating her own tangled heritage, which has uncanny ties to the fabled hue.

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…