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The Book Club

Updated 2 months ago

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Literary interviews and discussions on the latest releases in the world of publishing, from poetry through to physics. Presented by Sam Leith.

Read more

Literary interviews and discussions on the latest releases in the world of publishing, from poetry through to physics. Presented by Sam Leith.

iTunes Ratings

36 Ratings
Average Ratings
27
3
3
1
2

Terrific content uneven sound levels

By The Fish Rover - Mar 20 2019
Read more
Turn up the host mic volume please—don’t wish to miss a single witty word.

Great Topics

By itravel4music - Oct 22 2018
Read more
Informed guests. Intelligent discussion. What more could you want?

iTunes Ratings

36 Ratings
Average Ratings
27
3
3
1
2

Terrific content uneven sound levels

By The Fish Rover - Mar 20 2019
Read more
Turn up the host mic volume please—don’t wish to miss a single witty word.

Great Topics

By itravel4music - Oct 22 2018
Read more
Informed guests. Intelligent discussion. What more could you want?
Cover image of The Book Club

The Book Club

Latest release on Aug 12, 2020

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Literary interviews and discussions on the latest releases in the world of publishing, from poetry through to physics. Presented by Sam Leith.

Rank #1: Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap

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Sam is joined by Daniel Markovits, the Guido Calabresi Professor of Law at Yale Law School. In his new book The Meritocracy Trap Daniel advances an argument that will seem startling to partisans of Left and Right alike: that meritocracy isn’t the solution to our social and political discontents, but the central part of the problem. Our notion that hard work and proven ability should be the route to wealth and success has, he says, created a miserable underclass and a comparably miserable overclass — and is responsible for a damaging and eventually unsustainable reorganisation of Western economies. Among other sophisticated questions, Sam asks him: how so? And: aren’t you sounding a bit like a Marxist, there, Mr Yale Professor?

Presented by Sam Leith.

Nov 06 2019

31mins

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Rank #2: Robert Alter: The Hebrew Bible

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In this week’s books podcast, Sam's guest is Robert Alter - who has just published the fruits of decades of labour in the form of his complete new translation of the Hebrew Bible into English. Acclaimed for his Bible translations by Seamus Heaney, John Updike and Peter Ackroyd, Prof Alter explains how Biblical Hebrew really works, what can and cannot be preserved in translation - and why, as he sees it, nearly every modern translation of the Bible gets it catastrophically wrong.

Presented by Sam Leith, the Spectator's Literary Editor.

Jan 23 2019

32mins

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Rank #3: Bret Easton Ellis: White

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In this week’s books podcast Sam is joined by Bret Easton Ellis. The author of Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Imperial Bedrooms is here to talk about his first nonfiction book White, and the savage critical response to it. They discuss censorious millennials, the fascination of actors, his problem with David Foster Wallace, 'coming out' as Patrick Bateman - and his own personal Ed Balls Day, when he posted what he thought was a text message ordering drugs to Twitter.

Presented by Sam Leith.

May 08 2019

47mins

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Rank #4: Summer Reads

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With Alex Clark and Damian Barr.
Presented by Sam Leith.

Jul 20 2017

20mins

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Rank #5: Tom Holland: Dominion

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In this week's Book Club, Sam's guest is the historian Tom Holland, author of the new book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. The book, though as Tom remarks, you might not know it from the cover, is essentially a history of Christianity -- and an account of the myriad ways, many of them invisible to us, that it has shaped and continues to shape Western culture. It's a book and an argument that takes us from Ancient Babylon to Harvey Weinstein's hotel room, draws in the Beatles and the Nazis, and orbits around two giant figures: St Paul and Nietzsche. Is there a single discernible, distinctive Christian way of thinking? Is secularism Christianity by other means? And are our modern-day culture wars between alt-righters and woke progressives a post-Christian phenomenon or, as Tom argues, essentially a civil war between two Christian sects?

Presented by Sam Leith.

Dec 04 2019

45mins

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Rank #6: Michael Lewis: The Undoing Project

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With Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Big Short and his new book, The Undoing Project.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Dec 21 2016

26mins

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Rank #7: Adam Tooze: How a decade of financial crises changed the world

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How are the subprime collapse in the US and the Eurozone crisis that came after linked? Why did a cartel of mega-wealthy businessmen do a good job at rescuing the US from disaster, and a group of well-intentioned political technocrats make such a hash of it in Europe? And how is the Balance of Financial Terror between the US and China holding up these days? Adam Tooze, author of 'Crashed: How A Decade of Financial Crises Changed The World', joins Sam Leith

Aug 23 2018

31mins

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Rank #8: Jonathan Meades: The Plagiarist in the Kitchen

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With Jonathan Meades, author of The Plagiarist in the Kitchen.
Presented by Sam Leith.

Jun 29 2017

23mins

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Rank #9: David Brooks: The Second Mountain

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The star New York Times columnist David Brooks has never been afraid to go beyond the usual remit of day-to-day politics. His new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life is exactly what it sounds like: a guide to the Meaning of Life, somewhere between a spiritual autobiography and a manual for living. He joins Sam to explain how he’s changed his mind about the meaning of life since his previous book The Road To Character (he’s cagy about whether refunds are available), about how his own humbling after the breakdown of his marriage made him a wiser and better person, and about whether a new-found appreciation for altruism could make him a socialist.

Jul 31 2019

15mins

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Rank #10: Salman Rushdie: Quichotte

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‘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. Sam met Salman in New York a few weeks ago, before coronavirus struck down the city. This episode is a recording of that interview, where 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. Sam's full interview is out in this Thursday's issue.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 22 2020

1hr

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Rank #11: Stiff Upper Lip: The best and worst of British boarding schools

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With Alex Renton, author of Stiff Upper Lip, and Ysenda Maxtone Graham, author of Terms and Conditions.
Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 20 2017

21mins

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Rank #12: The Hatred of Poetry: Ben Lerner on the problem of verse

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With Ben Lerner, author of The Hatred of Poetry and No Art.
Presented by Sam Leith.

Nov 07 2016

24mins

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Rank #13: Hilary Spurling on Anthony Powell

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With Hilary Spurling, author of a new biography of Anthony Powell.
Presented by Sam Leith.

Nov 09 2017

31mins

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Rank #14: Ian Kershaw: Rollercoaster: Europe 1950-2017

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In this week’s books podcast, Sam Leith talks to Sir Ian Kershaw about his new book Rollercoaster: Europe 1950-2017. Here from one of our most distinguished historians, is a history of Europe that goes from the postwar period right up to the present. Is he aiming at a moving target? How can you meaningfully speak about “Europe” as one thing when for much of the period under discussion half of it was behind the iron curtain? Were the machinations of powerful individuals, or sheer chance, the great drivers of our history? And how was the raising of the Berlin Wall — from some perspectives — a good thing?

Aug 30 2018

27mins

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Rank #15: The Minister and the Murderer

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With Stuart Kelly, author of The Minister and the Murderer: A Book of Aftermaths.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Feb 08 2018

24mins

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Rank #16: Melvyn Bragg on William Tyndale

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With Melvyn Bragg, author of William Tyndale: A Very Brief History.
Presented by Sam Leith.

Nov 16 2017

27mins

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Rank #17: Stig Abell: How Britain Really Works

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With Stig Abell, Editor of the Times Literary Supplement and LBC talk radio host. Stig talks about Britain's magnificently chaotic hodgepodge of institutions, his own unusual career, how the press is doomed, being a "centrist dad", the joys of PG Wodehouse -- and his first and only encounter with Richard Desmond. 

Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 26 2018

28mins

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Rank #18: Murray Lachlan Young: How Freakin' Zeitgeist Are You?

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With Murray Lachlan Young.
Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 27 2017

26mins

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Rank #19: Simon Heffer: The Age of Decadence

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In this summer rewind, Sam Leith talks to the journalist and historian Simon Heffer, originally released in October 2017.

He is the author of the magisterial The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880-1914. The second part in his trilogy of books about the Victorian and Edwardian ages, it works to explode the myth that the pre-war years were an endless Merchant Ivory Summer’s afternoon. They talk about imperial decline, savage industrial unrest and aristocratic complacency… and how one writes a history of the years before 1914 without talking about the roots of the First World War.

Aug 09 2018

31mins

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Rank #20: Blake Gopnik: Warhol

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On this week’s Book Club podcast, Sam is joined by Blake Gopnik — the author of a monumental new biography of Andy Warhol. Blake tells Sam how everything — fame, money, and other human beings — were 'art supplies' to Warhol, but that underneath a succession of contrived personae Warhol could be warm, generous and even romantic; that the affectlessness of his art was not the expression of an affectless man; and that if he’d lived on, Gopnik thinks, he could have produced something equal to the late work of Titian.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Mar 25 2020

33mins

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Sam Harris on the value of conversation

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In this week's Book Club podcast I'm joined by the philosopher, scientist and broadcaster Sam Harris - host of the hugely popular Making Sense podcast. Sam's new book is a selection of edited transcripts of the very best of his conversations from that podcast with intellectual eminences from Daniel Kahneman to David Deutsch, and explores some of the issues that preoccupy him most: to do with consciousness, human cognition, artificial intelligence and the political spaces in which these subjects come to bear. He tells me why civilised conversation is what the world needs now more than ever, why 'cancel culture' is real and J.K. Rowling's trans-rights-activist opponents are 'insane', how 'bad philosophy' has ruined the social sciences, the circumstances under which totalitarianism might be okay - and why, as a liberal, he thinks the left is in danger of destroying America.

Aug 12 2020

1hr 5mins

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Adam Rutherford and Thomas Chatterton Williams: talking about race

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In this week’s podcast, we're replaying an episode that first aired earlier this year, but seems more relevant now than ever. Sam is joined by two writers to talk about the perennially fraught issue of race. There’s a wide consensus that discrimination on the basis of race is wrong; but what actually *is* race? Does it map onto a meaningful genetic or scientific taxonomy? Does it map onto a lived reality - is it possible to generalise, say, about 'black' experience? And can we or should we opt out of or ignore it? Adam Rutherford and Thomas Chatterton Williams approach these issues from very different angles: the former, in How To Argue With A Racist, brings genetic science to bear on the myths and realities of population differences; while the latter describes in Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race how after half a lifetime strongly attached to the idea of his own blackness, the arrival of his blonde haired and blue eyed daughter made him rethink his worldview.

Subscribe to the Spectator's first podcast newsletter here and get each week's podcast highlights in your inbox every Tuesday.

Aug 05 2020

44mins

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Kate Teltscher: Palace of Palms

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In this week's books podcast my guest is Kate Teltscher, who tells the fascinating story of one of the greatest showpieces of Victorian Britain: the Palm House in Kew Gardens. Though the gardens and their glassy centrepiece are now a fixture of London's tourist map, as her new book Palace of Palms reveals, they very nearly weren't. She tells me how a team of brilliant mavericks used cutting-edge science and engineering to build one of the greatest constructions of its era... in just the wrong place. With walk-on parts for Darwin, Humboldt and Alfred Russel Wallace, she reveals the way in which Victorian botany extended its tendrils through the whole Empire, shows how the palm was seen as the "prince of plants", and describes the quest for the palm of all palms, the elusive coco-de-mer.

Subscribe to the Spectator's first podcast newsletter here and get each week's podcast highlights in your inbox every Tuesday.

Jul 29 2020

39mins

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Chris Gosden: The History of Magic

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On this week's books podcast, my guess is Oxford University's Professor of European Archaeology, Chris Gosden. Chris's new book The History of Magic: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, From the Ice Age to the Present. opens up what he sees as a side of human history that has been occluded by propaganda from science and religion. Accordingly, he delves back to evidence from the earliest human settlements all over the world to learn about our magical past -- one thread in what he calls the "triple-helix" of our cultural history. He tells me why John Dee got a bad rap, where magic wands came from -- and why, unusually as an academic, he argues that magic isn't just an anthropological curiosity but might, in fact, have something useful to teach us.

Subscribe to the Spectator's first podcast newsletter here and get each week's podcast highlights in your inbox every Tuesday.

Jul 22 2020

44mins

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Robin Hanbury-Tenison: Taming The Four Horsemen

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This week's Book Club podcast is brought to you rather later than we'd planned. In spring this year, the explorer and writer Robin Hanbury-Tenison was due to be talking to me about his new book Taming The Four Horsemen: Radical Solutions to Defeat Pandemics, War, Famine and the Death of the Planet. We'd been excited to have him on, not least because his book's interest in pandemic disease was starting to seem strangely prescient. The day before we were due to record, Robin emailed me to say that he had developed a terrible cough that would make recording impossible so we agreed to postpone our conversation. The next I heard was from Robin's son Merlin: Robin had been taken into hospital with Covid and the prognosis was grim. He'd been given only a 20 per cent chance of survival. But survive he did -- and once his health permitted we finally had our encounter. Listen to Robin talk about what the collapse of ancient civilisations can teach us about our own, how he sees the future of agriculture and medicine... and about what he remembers of his latest expedition to the gates of the beyond.

Jul 15 2020

32mins

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Andrés Neuman: Fracture

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In this week's Book Club podcast my guest is the Argentine-born novelist Andrés Neuman, who was acclaimed by the late Roberto Bolano as the future of Spanish-language fiction. We talk about boundary-crossing in literature, historical trauma, multilingual jokes - and his dazzling new novel Fracture, which sees a survivor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki grappling with the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Click here to try 12 weeks of the Spectator for £12 and get a free £20 Amazon gift voucher.

Jul 08 2020

48mins

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Andrew Adonis: how Ernest Bevin was Labour's Churchill

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In this week's books podcast I'm joined by Alan Johnson and Andrew Adonis to talk about the latter's new biography of a neglected great of British political history: Ernest Bevin: Labour's Churchill. He was, in Andrew's estimation, the man who did most to save Europe from Stalin. So why has Bevin been so forgotten? In what way was he Churchillian? What would he have made of the current state of the Labour party? And will we ever see his like again?

Click here to try 12 weeks of the Spectator for £12 and get a free £20 Amazon gift voucher.

Jul 01 2020

43mins

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Rutger Bregman: Humankind

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In this week’s Book Club podcast my guest is the historian Rutger Bregman. In his new book Humankind, Rutger argues that practically every novelist, psychologist, economist and political theorist has got it all wrong: humans are naturally caring, sharing and altruistic... and far from being the one thing that stands in the way of a Hobbesian war of all against all, 'civilisation' is actually what makes us behave badly. You’re probably thinking: 'Come off it, hippy.' Why not see if he can change your mind?

Presented by Sam Leith.

Jun 24 2020

47mins

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Susanna Moore: Miss Aluminium

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In this week's Book Club podcast, my guest is the writer Susanna Moore. Best known for her pitch-black erotic thriller In The Cut, recently republished to huge acclaim, Susanna has just published a superb memoir of her young womanhood in Hawaii and Los Angeles - from shopgirl at Bergdorf's to model and actor, script reader for Warren Beatty and lover to Jack Nicholson - called Miss Aluminium. She talks about writing the past, sexual violence, the rage that inspired In The Cut, the young Roman Polanski - and why clothes matter.

Click here to try 12 weeks of the Spectator for £12 and get a free £20 Amazon gift voucher.

Jun 17 2020

41mins

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Adam Begley: Houdini

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My guest on this week's Book Club podcast is the biographer Adam Begley. Adam's work includes biographies of John Updike and the Belle Epoque photographer, cartoonist and aeronaut Felix Tournachon, aka Nadar. In his new book he turns his attention to the great escapologist Harry Houdini. I asked him what it was that made Houdini special, what challenges a lifelong myth-maker (aka inveterate liar) poses to the biographer, and how Adam tends to get on with his subjects. As Adam describes in our talk, you can watch a video of Houdini in action here.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Get a subscription to The Spectator as well as a copy of Lionel Shriver's book, all for free here.

Jun 10 2020

35mins

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Kevin Peter Hand: Alien Oceans

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Is there life, as David Bowie wondered, on Mars? In this week's Book Club podcast my guest is the astrobiologist Kevin Peter Hand, author of a fascinating new book Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space. Kevin explains how and where we're currently looking for extraterrestrial life in our own solar system - and why on the basis of sound science he's optimistic that we'll find it. He tells us about the brilliantly ingenious scientific deduction that has established that there exist oceans of liquid water deep under the icy shells of moons of Saturn and Jupiter, why it's quite possible to suppose that aliens might be living in those oceans - and how we can even speculate about what those aliens might look like. And if Kevin's old schoolmate Elon Musk is listening, he has a favour to ask...

Get a month's free trial of The Spectator and a free wireless charger here.

Jun 03 2020

36mins

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The 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited

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In this week's Book Club podcast we're talking about Brideshead Revisited. Evelyn Waugh's great novel is 75 years old this week, and I'm joined by our chief critic Philip Hensher, and by the novelist's grandson (and general editor of Oxford University Press's complete Evelyn Waugh) Alexander Waugh. What made the novel so pivotal in Waugh's career, what did it mean to the author and how did he revise it -- and why have generations of readers, effectively, misread it?

Get a month's free trial of The Spectator and a free wireless charger here.

May 27 2020

42mins

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Michael Frayn: Magic Mobile

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My guest for this week’s Book Club podcast is the great Michael Frayn, talking about his new book of sketches Magic Mobile, lockdown life, the joys and perils of technology, adapting Spies for the screen - and how his muse has changed as he gets older.

Click here to try four weeks of the Spectator for free and get a free wireless charger.

May 20 2020

24mins

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Philippe Sands: The Ratline

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In this week’s Book Club podcast my guest is the writer and human rights lawyer Philippe Sands. His new book The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive describes his painstaking quest to track down the real story of a Nazi genocidaire who fled justice into the murky underground society of postwar Italy. Philippe tells me about the strange world of shifting allegiances he uncovered, and his own no less shifting relationship with his subject’s son - who continued against all the evidence to believe his father was a good man.

May 13 2020

37mins

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Mark O'Connell: Notes from an Apocalypse

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In this week's books podcast I'm joined by Mark O'Connell, a writer whose latest book Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back sees him investigate doomsday preppers, wannabe Mars colonists, the Ayn Rand billionaires buying up New Zealand, and the tourist route through Chernobyl. Why, he asks, is the apocalypse something we seem to fantasise about as much as fear?

Presented by Sam Leith.

May 06 2020

39mins

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James Shapiro: Shakespeare in a Divided America

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In this week's books podcast I'm joined from across the Atlantic by the eminent Shakespearean James Shapiro to talk about his new book Shakespeare in a Divided America, which discusses the myriad ways in which America has taken Britain's national playwright up as its own; and then used him as a lightning-rod for the deepest issues about its own national identity - issues of masculinity, race relations, immigration and assassination. Jim talks about why a country founded by theatre-hating, Brit-hating Puritans fell in love with a British playwright; how Lincoln was the greatest reader of Shakespeare in American history; about whether America is the purest repository of Shakespeare's language; about how a beef between two Shakespeare actors once led to light artillery being deployed in downtown Manhattan - and how Ulysses S Grant may have been the greatest Desdemona the theatre never quite had.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 29 2020

34mins

Play

Salman Rushdie: Quichotte

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‘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. Sam met Salman in New York a few weeks ago, before coronavirus struck down the city. This episode is a recording of that interview, where 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. Sam's full interview is out in this Thursday's issue.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 22 2020

1hr

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Toby Muse: Kilo

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In this week's Book Club podcast, I talk to the reporter Toby Muse about the vast, blood-soaked and nihilistic shadow economy that links a banker's 'cheeky little line of coke' to the poorest peasants in Colombia. Toby's new book Kilo: Life and Death inside the Cocaine Cartels traces cocaine's journey from that unremarkable-looking shrub to its entry into a multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise, interviews farmers, prostitutes, pious assassins and cartel capos - and along the way describes how it has transformed Colombia's whole politics and way of life.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 15 2020

40mins

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Craig Brown: One Two Three Four

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My guest in this week's podcast is the multi-talented satirist Craig Brown, whose new book One Two Three Four: The Beatles In Time is, I feel confident in guessing, the most entertaining book about the Fab Four ever written. Craig joins me to talk about how he goes about his jackdaw work picking out the most curious and striking details from the mass of information in his research, what attracts him to his subjects, and why Paul McCartney has always been his favourite Beatle. Plus: a flabbergasting cameo for our own Stephen Bayley.

Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 08 2020

34mins

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John Carey: A Little History of Poetry

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This week's Book Club podcast features one of the great wise men of the literary world: Professor John Carey - emeritus Merton Professor of English at Oxford, author of authoritative books on Milton, Donne and Dickens as well as the subject-transforming broadside The Intellectuals and the Masses. (He's also lead book reviewer for a publication we shall call only the S****y T***s, but we pass over that.) In his new book, A Little History of Poetry, he sweeps us with his usual elan from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the backyard of Les Murray. I asked him (among other things) what constitutes poetry, why 'Goosey Goosey Gander' has it all, what he discovered in his researches, and why the so-called New Criticism got old.  

Presented by Sam Leith.

Apr 01 2020

35mins

Play

iTunes Ratings

36 Ratings
Average Ratings
27
3
3
1
2

Terrific content uneven sound levels

By The Fish Rover - Mar 20 2019
Read more
Turn up the host mic volume please—don’t wish to miss a single witty word.

Great Topics

By itravel4music - Oct 22 2018
Read more
Informed guests. Intelligent discussion. What more could you want?