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The Book Club
38 minutes | Sep 21, 2022
Rediscovering Josephine Tey
On this week’s Book Club podcast we’re talking about the best crime writer you’ve (probably) never heard of. As Penguin reissues three of Josephine Tey’s classic Golden Age novels, I’m joined by Nicola Upson, whose own detective stories (most recently Dear Little Corpses) feature Tey as a central character. She tells me about the unique character of Tey’s writing, her discreet private life, and about how she made possible the psychological crime fiction that we read now.
30 minutes | Sep 14, 2022
A.M. Homes: The Unfolding
My guest on this week’s Book Club podcast is A. M. Homes. She talks about her new novel The Unfolding, which imagines a conspiracy of angry Republicans forming after John McCain’s 2008 election defeat in the hopes of taking their America back. She talks about her history of prescience, about the deep weirdness of the Washington she grew up in, and why there’s more than one 'deep state'.
47 minutes | Sep 7, 2022
Ian McEwan: Lessons
My guest in this week’s Book Club is Ian McEwan – whose latest novel Lessons draws on his own biography to imagine an 'alternative life' for himself. He tells me about what drew him, in his late career, to using autobiography; about why there’s no contradiction in combining realism with metafiction; about the importance of sex; the rise of cancel culture – and why literary fiction by 'comfortable white men of a certain age' may have had its day, but he’s not complaining.
37 minutes | Aug 31, 2022
Francis Fukuyama: Liberalism and its Discontents
This week we spotlight our most popular episode of the last year, Sam's conversation with Francis Fukuyama about his book Liberalism and its Discontents. He tells Sam how a system that has built peace and prosperity since the Enlightenment has come under attack from the neoliberal right and the identitarian left; and how Vladimir Putin may end up being the unwitting founding father of a new Ukraine.
61 minutes | Aug 24, 2022
Salman Rushdie: Quichotte
This week we revisit Sam Leith's conversation with Sir Salman Rushdie, recorded just before the pandemic. ‘Things that would have seemed utterly improbable now happen on a daily basis’, Sir Salman Rushdie said to Sam when they spoke in an interview for the Spectator's 10,000th edition. They discuss everything from his latest book Quichotte, to his relationship with his father, who we learn made up the surname 'Rushdie', and how he feels about The Satanic Verses now.
46 minutes | Aug 17, 2022
Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones: A Question of Standing
My guest on this week's Book Club podcast is Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones – whose new book A Question of Standing: The History of the CIA looks at the real-life story behind one of the most mythologised agencies of American power. How does the world's first democratically answerable spy agency actually work? Were all those dirty tricks, extra-legal shenanigans and attempted assassinations – sorry: "health adjustments" in the lingo of Langley – really the work of an agency gone rogue? Did the CIA fail to foresee the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Iranian Revolution, the Arab Spring and the Twin Towers – or has it been made to take the fall for political ineptitude? And what is its standing now?
48 minutes | Aug 10, 2022
Andrea Wulf: Magnificent Rebels
In this week's Book Club podcast, I'm joined by Andrea Wulf to talk about the birth of Romanticism at the end of the 18th century. Her new book Magnificent Rebels tells the story of the "Jena set" -- a staggering assemblage of the superstars of German literature and philosophy who gathered in a small town and collectively came up with a whole new way of looking at the world. Goethe, Schiller, Fichte, Schelling, Novalis, the Schlegel brothers, the von Humboldt brothers -- and their brilliant and daring wives and lovers... their intellectual fireworks were matched by a tangle of literary feuds and hair-raising sexual complications. Here's a piece of the jigsaw of intellectual history that most British people will only vaguely know of if at all -- and it's fascinating.
39 minutes | Aug 3, 2022
Chloë Ashby: Colours of Art
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the critic, novelist and art historian Chloë Ashby. In her new book Colours of Art: The Story of Art in 80 Palettes she takes a look at how the history of colour - how it was made, how much it cost, what it was understood to mean - has shaped the history of painting. She tells me about the age-old disagreement between the primacy of drawing and colour in composition, where Goethe and Gauguin butted heads with Newton, why Matisse was so excited by red, how Titian got blurry… and how the first female nude self-portrait was, astonishingly, as recent as 1906.
37 minutes | Jul 27, 2022
Anne Weber: Epic Annette
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is Anne Weber, author of Epic Annette: A Heroine’s Tale. She tells me how she came to uncover the remarkable story of Annette Beaumanoir, heroine of the French Resistance, partisan of the Algerian independence struggle, jailbird, exile and survivor – and why when she came to write that story down she chose to do it in verse…
50 minutes | Jul 21, 2022
Allan Mallinson: The Shape of Battle
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the historian, novelist and former Army officer Allan Mallinson. He introduces his new book The Shape of Battle: Six Campaigns from Hastings to Helmand, and tells me why everyone should take an interest in warfare - as being the most complex of all human interactions; whether war is always 'hell' for everyone involved; and how while the technology may change, the essentials remain the same.
39 minutes | Jul 13, 2022
Kavita Puri: Partition Voices
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is Kavita Puri, whose book Partition Voices excavates the often traumatic memories of the last generation to remember first-hand the mass migration and bloody violence of the partition of India. She tells me why the story has been so shrouded in silence – there isn’t a memorial to Partition, she says, anywhere on earth – and yet how it has shaped the UK’s population and politics ever since, and she says why she believes it’s vital that empire and the end of empire be taught in every British school.
41 minutes | Jul 6, 2022
Linsday Fitzharris: The Facemaker
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is Lindsey Fitzharris – whose new book is The Facemaker: One Surgeon's Battle to Mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War I. At its centre is the compelling figure of Harold Gillies – ace golfer, practical joker, and pioneer of the whole field of plastic surgery. Lindsey tells me about the extraordinary advances he made and the will and skill that drove them; and the poignant story of how victims of facial disfigurement were the invisible casualties of the conflict.
40 minutes | Jun 29, 2022
Simon Jenkins: The Celts
My guest in this week’s book club podcast is Simon Jenkins. His new book The Celts: A Sceptical History tells the story of a race of people who, contrary to what many of us were taught in school, never existed at all. He tells me how and why “celts” were invented, what it has meant and continues to mean for the nations of the Union, and where he thinks we need to go next…
44 minutes | Jun 22, 2022
Philip Mansel: King of the World
In this week’s Book Club podcast, my guest is the historian Philip Mansel. We talk about his new biography King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV. He tells me what really drove the great megalomaniac, whether he was a feminist avant la lettre, how his depredations in the Rhineland anticipated Putin’s in Ukraine – and why, if he hadn’t revoked the Edict of Nantes, the first man on the moon might have been speaking French.
39 minutes | Jun 15, 2022
Andrea Elliott: Invisible Child
In this week's Book Club podcast I'm joined by the New York Times's Andrea Elliott, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her book Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in New York City. She tells me how she came to spend seven years reporting on a single, homeless family in Brooklyn, how she negotiated her duty to observe rather than participate – and what their telenovela-like experiences tell us about American history.
50 minutes | Jun 8, 2022
China Miéville: A Spectre, Haunting: On The Communist Manifesto
In this week’s Book Club podcast, I’m joined by the writer China Miéville to talk about his new book A Spectre, Haunting: On The Communist Manifesto. China makes the case for why this 1848 document deserves our attention in the 21st century, why even its critics would benefit from reading it more closely and sympathetically, and why - in his view - the gamble of a revolutionary abolition of capitalism is not only possible, but well worth taking.
39 minutes | Jun 1, 2022
Daniel Kahneman and Olivier Sibony: Noise
My guests in this week's Book Club podcast are Daniel Kahneman and Olivier Sibony, co-authors (with Cass R Sunstein) of Noise: A Flaw In Human Judgment. Augmenting the work on psychological bias that won Prof Kahneman a Nobel Prize, this investigation exposes a more invisible and often more impactful way in which human judgments go awry: the random-seeming variability which statisticians call noise. They tell me how it affects everything from business to academic life and the judicial system; and how we can detect it and minimise it. The answers to those questions, it turns out, are very hard for human beings (especially French ones) to accept...
55 minutes | May 25, 2022
William Leith: Finding My Father
My guest in the Book Club podcast this week is my namesake (but no relation) William Leith – whose new book The Cut That Wouldn't Heal: Finding My Father describes the death of his father and the way it caused him to revisit and re-evaluate his childhood. We talk about the perils and possibilities of autobiography, the difficulty of looking death in the face, and an awkward moment with Karl Ove Knausgaard.
30 minutes | May 18, 2022
Wendy K. Pirsig: On Quality
In this week's Book Club podcast, I'm talking to Wendy K Pirsig – widow of Robert M Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the bestselling book of philosophy of all time. Wendy tells me about her late husband's big idea – the 'Metaphysics of Quality', as set out in a new collection of his writings, On Quality, which she has edited – how fame (and bereavement) changed him, and how he sought to undo years of dualism in the western philosophical tradition by recourse to eastern teachings and, of course, the odd monkey-wrench.
43 minutes | May 11, 2022
Caroline Frost: Carry On Regardless
In this week's Book Club podcast, my guest is Caroline Frost, author of the new Carry On Regardless: Getting to the Bottom of Britain's Favourite Comedy Films. She tells me what those movies tell us about British social history, makes the case for their feminism, argues that their special magic belongs to a British sensibility that no longer exists – and explains why it took twenty or more attempts to get Barbara Windsor out of her bra.
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