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Society & Culture

Start the Week

Updated 2 months ago

Society & Culture
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Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

Read more

Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

iTunes Ratings

78 Ratings
Average Ratings
61
11
4
1
1

iTunes Ratings

78 Ratings
Average Ratings
61
11
4
1
1
Cover image of Start the Week

Start the Week

Latest release on Jun 29, 2020

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Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

Rank #1: Jonathan Franzen

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On Start the Week Tom Sutcliffe talks to the American writer Jonathan Franzen about his latest novel, Purity. One of Franzen's characters compares the internet with the East German Republic and he satirises the utopian ideas of the apparatchik web-users. The head of the Oxford Internet Institute Helen Margetts counters with her research on the success and failure of political action via social media. The artist Tacita Dean laments the ubiquity of digital at the expense of film, and the financial journalist Gillian Tett roots out tunnel vision - both personal and business - in her new book on silos.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Oct 05 2015

41mins

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Rank #2: India's Rise?

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On Start the Week Andrew Marr discusses India. The Indian MP Shashi Tharoor looks back at the history of the Raj in Inglorious Empire, a searing indictment of the British and the impact on his country. The journalist Adam Roberts travels from Kerala to the Himalayas to find out whether a resurgent, vibrant India is about to realise its potential, and whether the belief in future prosperity will cover over the cracks which have divided the nation in the past. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is at the centre of India's reinvention, and has galvanised Hindu nationalists, but the academic Kate Sullivan de Estrada argues that he's a controversial figure both at home and abroad. And the writer Preti Taneja retells Shakespeare's great tragedy, King Lear, set in Delhi and Kashmir, in her exploration of contemporary Indian society.
Producer: Katy Hickman

Image: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participates in a mass yoga session to mark the International Day of Yoga on 21st June, 2016 in Chandigarh, India. Credit: Getty Images.

May 22 2017

41mins

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Rank #3: Shakespeare's Late Plays - recorded at the Globe's Playhouse

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Andrew Marr presents a special edition of Start the Week, celebrating the later life and works of William Shakespeare. Recorded at the Globe's candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the actor Simon Russell Beale and Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole discuss the late romances. The writer Jeanette Winterson explores her personal connection to The Winter's Tale, and the academic Katherine Duncan-Jones questions whether Shakespeare ever gave up on life in London to retire to Stratford-upon-Avon, and the relevance of his will that left his wife their 'second-best bed'.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Dec 28 2015

49mins

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Rank #4: Decision-making with Daniel Kahneman and Michael Ignatieff

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Tom Sutcliffe discusses how we make decisions with the Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Moral choices in politics can be a complicated business, according to the academic and former politician Michael Ignatieff, who explores whether the age of international intervention is over. Doctors work under the oath 'do no harm', but the neurosurgeon Henry Marsh says the decision whether to operate on a brain is rarely that simple. High emotion can cloud your judgement and the writer Lisa Appignanesi looks back at sensational crimes of passion to ask how far the perpetrators were responsible for their actions.

Producer: Katy Hickman.

Mar 17 2014

41mins

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Rank #5: Reforming Saudi Arabia

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On Start the Week Andrew Marr looks at the fortunes of Saudi Arabia. The academic Madawi Al-Rasheed challenges pre-conceived ideas about divine politics and uncovers the religious leaders, intellectuals and activists who are looking at modernising the country. William Patey is the former UK ambassador in the region and argues that although the House of Saud is resilient, strains are starting to appear. The American economist Deirdre McCloskey sees fault lines elsewhere in the country's failure to promote and encourage innovation; she believes that although Saudi Arabia has capital accumulation and oil, without creativity and ideas it will not flourish. The historian Ian Morris takes the long view as he studies 20,000 years of international relations and argues that each age and region gets the great powers it needs, and what that means for Saudi Arabia.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Dec 07 2015

43mins

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Rank #6: Social Class and Cultural Capital

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On Start the Week Andrew Marr talks to the playwright Ben Power whose latest work interweaves three of DH Lawrence's dramas to evoke a lost world of manual labour and working class pride. The sociologist Mike Savage proposes a new way to think about class in Britain which not only looks at economic and social issues, but cultural preferences. Meanwhile the American writer Siri Hustvedt questions the cultural misogyny at play in the world of art, and Peter Davies celebrates the artists inspired by the northern industrial landscape.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Oct 26 2015

41mins

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Rank #7: Power and Corruption with Stephen Frears and Mary Beard

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On Start the Week the classicist Mary Beard tells Tom Sutcliffe that Ancient Rome matters: its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty. The Magna Carta is the starting point for the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker's latest play which draws parallels between the King's abuse of power in 1215 and the global business elite today. The film director Stephen Frears tells the story of the meteoric rise and fall of one of the most celebrated and controversial sportsmen in recent history, Lance Armstrong, and of the journalist who was vilified when he tried to expose him. Lurid headlines take centre stage in the play Clarion, directed by Mehmet Ergen, which takes a satirical look at nationalism and the state of the British media.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Oct 19 2015

41mins

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Rank #8: Yuval Noah Harari

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Yuval Noah Harari offers his 21 lessons for the 21st century. In a wide ranging discussion with Andrew Marr, Harari looks back to his best-selling history of the world, Sapiens, and forward to a possible post-human future.

Technological disruption, ecological cataclysms, fake news and threats of terrorism make the 21st century a frightening prospect. Harari argues against sheltering in nostalgic political fantasies. He calls for a clear-sighted view of the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Oct 01 2018

42mins

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Rank #9: Play and Creativity

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On Start the Week, Tom Sutcliffe considers the relationship between play and creativity. Steven Johnson examines how the human appetite for amusement has driven innovation throughout history. Writer and theatre maker Stella Duffy has revived Joan Littlewood's 1960s concept of The Fun Palace- a 'laboratory of fun' for all. The economist Tim Harford advocates embracing disorder in every area of our lives, from messy desks to messy dating. Journalist and former cricketer Ed Smith believes that creativity in sport is a combination of skill and luck.

Producer: Kirsty McQuire.

Feb 13 2017

44mins

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Rank #10: British culture and European influence

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Britain has imported its culture from Europe for generations. Andrew Marr presents a special edition from Hatchlands Park in Surrey, home to the Cobbe Collection of musical instruments including pianos owned by Chopin, Mahler and Marie Antoinette.

Frederic Chopin had a pan-European career. He swapped his native Poland for Paris, fled to Mallorca in search of sunshine and inspiration, and toured Britain twice, complaining bitterly about the 'crafty' locals and 'dreadful' British weather. But he had a huge impact on the musical scenes he left behind. Paul Kildea charts Chopin's journey across Europe. Sitting at the keys of Chopin's own piano, Kildea explains how this visionary composer shaped Romanticism.

European composers and performers in Britain faced a tougher reception in the wake of two world wars. In her new book, Singing in the Age of Anxiety, Laura Tunbridge depicts the contradictions of a generation that viewed Wagner as a cultural high-point - but decried all things German as enemy propaganda. At the same time radio and gramophones dramatically altered the way people heard and responded to music.

The digital world offers vast new audiences, but also brings new challenges to those in the arts. Munira Mirza is Director of HENI Talks, an online platform that aims to share cultural information and understanding with much wider audiences. By combining leading experts and world-famous works such as the Mona Lisa, she wants to take art outside the gallery. As former Deputy Mayor for Culture in London, Mirza envisages a future in which we have a truly international cultural scene.

Producer: Hannah Sander.

Jul 02 2018

42mins

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Rank #11: Existentialism and Ways of Seeing

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On Start the Week Kirsty Wark asks how we make choices about freedom and authenticity - questions that preoccupied Paris intellectuals in the 1930s. Sarah Bakewell looks back at one of the twentieth century's major philosophical movements - existentialism - and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it. Sartre and de Beauvoir may have spent their days drinking apricot cocktails in café's but Bakewell believes their ideas are more relevant than ever. The historian Sunil Khilnani reveals the Indian thinkers who didn't just talk about philosophy but lived it, and the photographer Stuart Franklin, famous for the pictures of the man in Tiananmen Square who stopped the tanks, discusses the impulse to record and preserve these moments of action. The art historian Frances Borzello looks at the female artists who chose the freedom to present themselves to the world in self-portraits.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Mar 28 2016

41mins

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Rank #12: Life Is a Dream

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Tom Sutcliffe discusses free will and fate; dreams and reality. Jesmyn Ward's prize-winning novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, set in the American South, is haunted by the ghosts of the past. Ward writes of incarceration and freedom, and the strength - and weakness - of family bonds.

For his latest ballet, choreographer Kim Brandstrup has taken inspiration from Calderon's 17th century Spanish play Life is a Dream, in which a dire prophecy leads a King to imprison his son. Brandstrup uses contemporary dance to explore where dreams end and reality begins, but also to express wonder at life itself.

How to live well is at the centre of Edith Hall's self-help book based on the teachings of Aristotle. She examines the ancient Greek philosopher's ideas on how self-knowledge, responsibility and love could help us forge a more meaningful life.

And the philosopher John Gray continues his exploration of what it is to be human in his new work, Seven Types of Atheism.

Producer: Katy Hickman.

Apr 23 2018

42mins

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Rank #13: AL Kennedy and David Sedaris on matters of the heart

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Tom Sutcliffe talks to AL Kennedy about her latest collection of short stories of love and hurt. The poet Lavinia Greenlaw retells the tragic love story of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. The philosopher Simon Blackburn unpicks the idea of self-love from the myth of Narcissus to today's tv hair adverts: 'because you're worth it', while the humorist David Sedaris uses his own life and loves as the focus of his writing.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Mar 31 2014

42mins

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Rank #14: The Death of Democracy

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Will we recognise the signs that democracy has ended? Cambridge professor David Runciman worries that we spend far too much time comparing today's politics with the 1930s, and that this blinds us to the frailties of democracy today. He tells Amol Rajan why he thinks our current political system will come to an end - and why we may not even notice this happening.

Professor Nic Cheeseman is all too aware that democracy can become an empty shell. His new book How To Rig An Election, co-written with Brian Klaas, looks at the myriad ways autocrats use elections for their own ends, from buying votes and bribing electors to issuing fake pens in the ballot box. And it is not only the developing world in which corruption takes place. He addresses the role of outside states in the 2016 US presidential election, and asks how western democracy can be kept healthy.

Anne Applebaum has studied the ways in which democracy can arise like a phoenix from the ashes of authoritarianism. As the author of Red Famine: Stalin's War On Ukraine, and a professor at the LSE, she has analysed the reasons why democracy flourished in Poland and Ukraine after 1989, and suggests reasons why the 2012 Arab Spring has not yet had the same results. But as a journalist for the Washington Post she is all too aware of attacks on democracy today, both in the former Soviet bloc and in America. She argues that the onus is on us to save our own systems.

Producer: Hannah Sander.

May 07 2018

41mins

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Rank #15: 1968: Radicals and Riots

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Fifty years after radicals took to the streets of Paris and stormed campuses across the Western World, Andrew Marr unpicks the legacy of 1968.

Historian Richard Vinen finds waves of protest across the western world in his book The Long '68: Radical Protest and Its Enemies. Some movements were genuinely revolutionary, such as the ten million French workers whose strike nearly toppled the government. But on American university campuses and in British art schools, protests took the forms of civil rights marches and feminist collectives, whose narratives changed the way we think today.

In Paris, left-wing students armed with works of philosophy took on the police and the state. But Paris was still coming to terms with its Nazi occupation, explains Agnès Poirier. Her new book follows the artists and writers of the 40s and 50s, from Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre to Miles Davis and James Baldwin, as a new generation helped France regain its reputation for art, passion and political action.

Not only left-wing radicals were inspired by the events of that year. In 1968 philosopher Roger Scruton was holed up in a Paris bedroom studying while rioters smashed windows outside. Scruton was horrified by the chaos and destruction, and turned his back on the left-wing politics of his childhood. He became part of a generation of new conservatives who sought to preserve the past rather than fight for an unknown future.

Today France is facing new waves of strikes, with railway workers bringing the transport system to a halt and Emmanuel Macron pushing through sweeping reforms to social security. Sophie Pedder, Paris bureau chief for The Economist and author or a new biography of Macron, asks what France in 2018 owes to the events of 1968.

Producer: Hannah Sander.

Apr 16 2018

42mins

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Rank #16: Jordan Peterson: Rules for Life

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Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and YouTube sensation, professes to bring order to chaos in his 12 Rules for Life. He tells Tom Sutcliffe about the importance of individual responsibility, using lessons from humanity's oldest myths and stories. But his home truths are not without controversy: acclaimed by many, his critics accuse him of reinforcing traditional gender and family roles and attacking liberal values.

Hashi Mohamed is the living embodiment of many of Peterson's life rules: he came to Britain when he was 9 years old with little English and through a combination of skill, luck and hard work is now a barrister. But he is critical of the lack of social mobility and his own rags to riches story is one he thinks is increasingly difficult to realise.

The Irish author Louise O'Neill has made her name challenging the roles given to women. In her books for young adults she has tackled small town hypocrisy and sexism, rape culture and victim-blaming. She too has looked to the stories of the past and her latest book is a radical retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright turns his focus on his home state Texas, to see what it can teach us about America. A 'superstate' with a GDP larger than most industrialised countries, and with a population on track to double by 2050, Texas both confirms and challenges its stereotype. Wright is confronted by cowboy individualism, gun-loving patriotism and nostalgia for an ersatz past, but also finds pockets of liberal progressiveness and entrepreneurial drive.

Producer: Katy Hickman
Picture: Jonathan Castellino for Penguin.

May 14 2018

41mins

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Rank #17: A Theory of Everything?

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On Start the Week Tom Sutcliffe asks if one day we might know everything. The mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and the physicist Roger Penrose explore the far reaches of knowledge, questioning whether certain fields of research will always lie beyond human comprehension. They ask how much fashion and faith shape scientific theories. The experimental physicist Suzie Sheehy attempts to build machines to test the latest theories, while Joanna Kavenna plays with a philosophical Theory of Everything in her latest novel A Field Guide to Reality.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Jun 20 2016

41mins

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Rank #18: 'Home' and cultural identity with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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On Start the Week Stephanie Flanders talks to the award-winning novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about the notion of 'home' in today's globalised world. It's a theme taken up on stage in 'Paper Dolls' directed by Indhu Rubasingham, which follows a Filipino drag act working in Tel Aviv. David Goodhart explores the British Dream and the successes and failures of post war immigration. And from the movement of people, to the trade in powders, salts, paints and cures, the poet Michael Symmons Roberts's latest collection is called Drysalter.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Apr 08 2013

41mins

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Rank #19: Claudia Rankine at the Free Thinking Festival

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Anne McElvoy presents a special edition of Start the Week at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage, Gateshead, exploring injustice, myth and the role of the poet 'to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides'. The American poet Claudia Rankine exposes the ever-present racial tensions in contemporary society, while the Syrian poet Amir Darwish, having arrived in the UK hanging underneath a lorry on a cross-channel ferry, writes of love, loss, exile and demonisation. The historian Catherine Fletcher looks at the stories told about Alessandro de'Medici, the 16th century duke of Florence who was believed to be mixed-race, and what those stories tell us about attitudes to race, while the philosopher Jules Holroyd tackles the thorny issue of implicit and unconscious bias.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Nov 09 2015

50mins

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Rank #20: The Tudors

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Tom Sutcliffe discusses the connection between the Tudors and modern times with author Lady Antonia Fraser, composer Claire van Kampen, director Peter Kosminsky and historian Dan Jones.

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Jan 12 2015

42mins

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Brit Bennett on race, identity and protest

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Tom Sutcliffe discusses racism, the traps of history and the Black Lives Matter movement with the American author Brit Bennett and the British academic Gary Younge.

Racial identity, bigotry and shape-shifting are at the centre of Brit Bennett’s new book, The Vanishing Half. The novel focuses on twin sisters who flee the confines of their southern small town, and the attempts by one of the sisters to escape her background completely by passing as white. The social unrest in the US in the 20th century pervades her latest work, but Bennett is hopeful that today’s protests mark the beginning of real change.

Gary Younge lived in the US for 12 years working as a journalist, before he returned home and became Professor of Sociology at Manchester University. He discounts the attempts by some in Britain to claim moral superiority over America in terms of racism. He argues that Britain’s colonial past meant the most egregious racist acts often took place abroad, and so rarely became an integral part of the country’s story.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Photograph by Emma Trim

Jun 29 2020

28mins

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James Joyce

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James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature. It is both celebrated and commemorated annually on the 16th June – Bloomsday – the day on which the novel is set. The traditional celebrations held in Dublin since the 1950s have been curtailed this year because of COVID-19, but Andrew Marr discusses the legacy of Joyce with the writers Edna O'Brien, Colm Tóibín and Mary Costello.

Edna O’Brien first encountered Joyce’s work in the 1950s, and his writings of ‘the rough and tumble of everyday life’ spurred her extraordinary writing career. She has written a biography of Joyce, and her portrait of his marriage, James and Nora, has just been reissued.

Colm Tóibín encounters the spirit of Joyce and his creation, Leopold Bloom, constantly as he walks the streets of Dublin. In his collection of essays, Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know, he looks at Joyce in relation to the writer's father.

Mary Costello is a self-confessed Joyce obsessive. In her latest novel, The River Capture, she pays homage to Ulysses.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Jun 15 2020

28mins

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Our coercive politics

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The Coronavirus pandemic and ongoing protests in America have shone a spotlight on the power of the modern State. In Britain we find ourselves locked in our homes, following government instruction; and yet the authority for that coercion comes from the consent we give. This doubleness was captured by Thomas Hobbes in his political text, Leviathan, and it is the starting point for political scientist David Runciman's popular lockdown podcast on politics: the History of Ideas. He tells Amol Rajan how Hobbes, Gandhi and Frantz Fanon could help us understand our uneasy times.

Humiliation is one way in which governments and authorities can make us do their bidding. And it also something we now do to each other in the court of public opinion, argues German historian Ute Frevert. In her new book, The Politics of Humiliation, she looks at how humiliation has been used to persuade and to control, everywhere from international diplomacy to British boarding schools. And she explains why the sight of someone taking to their knee has such incredible resonance.

Producer: Hannah Sander

Jun 08 2020

27mins

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The Future

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‘The future is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ – to misquote LP Hartley. Andrew Marr talks to Riel Miller, an economist at UNESCO, about the difficulties of understanding and predicting what happens in the future. Miller argues that individuals, institutions and governments fail to grasp its profound unpredictability, where the only certainty is radical change. He’s calling for a programme of future literacy, designed to challenge present complacency and improve preparedness for what’s on the horizon.

But given what we know about the world today, and what we can guess about the future, is it okay to have a child? That is the question posed by Meehan Crist, writer-in-residence in Biological Sciences at Columbia University. She tracks the resurgence of Malthus and his powerful, terrifying idea that if the global population grows too large, we are all doomed. Crist unpicks the argument that responsibility for stopping climate change and safeguarding the future rests solely with the individual.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Jun 01 2020

28mins

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Classics and class

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The classics have never been solely the preserve of the British intellectual elite, according to the classicist Edith Hall. In A People’s History of Classics, Hall and her co-writer Henry Stead examine the working class experience of classical culture from the Bill of Rights in 1689 to the outbreak of World War II. This history challenges assumptions about the elitism surrounding the study of ancient Greeks and Romans, and Hall hopes it will expand the debate around the future of classical education for all.

An understanding of the classics could also help people reinvigorate cynicism: from the jaded negativity of today, back to its initial idea of fearless speech. In his latest book, Ansgar Allen, returns to the Greek Cynics of the 4th century BCE, a small band of eccentrics who practised an improvised philosophy that challenged all social norms and scandalised their contemporaries. In the centuries that followed this exacting philosophy was hugely watered down. Today’s cynics, who lack social and political convictions, would be barely recognisable to their bold and shameless forefathers.

Producer: Katy Hickman

May 25 2020

28mins

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Richard Ford, writing from the edges

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The prize winning writer Richard Ford talks to Andrew Marr about his latest collection of short stories, Sorry for Your Trouble. Irish America is Ford’s landscape, and his characters contemplate ageing, grief, love and marriage: ‘great moments in small lives’. Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi and has spent many years living in New Orleans – his characters, like himself, live far from the political centre of America.

Professor of 19th Century Literature and Thought, Ruth Livesey, is also interested in life away from the centre in her study of provincialism in Britain. Condescension towards small town life can be traced back to the Victorian period. But the writer George Eliot, who spent her early life in Nuneaton in the Midlands, argued that ‘‘art had a responsibility to show a provincial life could be just as full of insight and moral courage as one on the great world stage.’

Producer: Katy Hickman

May 18 2020

28mins

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Art in an emergency

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The writer Olivia Laing has long used art to make sense of the world. Over the last five years she has written a series of essays using art and artists to understand different political crises and emergencies around the globe. She tells Tom Sutcliffe how art can help to change the way people see the world, and how it can be a force for resistance and repair. In a new collection , Funny Weather, Laing presents her own idiosyncratic guide to staying sane during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The novelist James Meek set his last book, To Calais, In Ordinary Times, in 1348 as the Black Death swept into England from Northern Europe. In his medieval universe, aspects of society that had once appeared fixed and natural – faith, class and gender – are upended and challenged, as the plague destroys more than just lives. Meek looks to see if such cataclysmic moments of human history have any lessons for us today.

Producer: Katy Hickman

May 11 2020

28mins

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Globalisation

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Andrew Marr discusses the origins and growth of globalisation, and the impact of the coronavirus on the global world order with Valerie Hansen and Gideon Rachman.

In her latest book, The Year 1000, the historian Valerie Hansen challenges the idea that globalisation began in 1492, the year Columbus discovered America. She argues that it was 500 years earlier when for the first time new trade routes linked the entire globe. New archaeological finds show how goods and people travelled far and wide from this earlier period, marking the beginning of an era of exploration, trade and exploitation.

The last 500 years or more has seen an explosion in global interactions, with a huge growth in multi-national companies, as well as international trade, ideas and culture. But the economist Gideon Rachman says today’s worldwide pandemic has seen the nation state making a comeback. The emergency has revealed the fragility of global supply chains and increased demand for local production and tougher border controls. Rachman also believes that the geopolitical effects of the coronavirus on the world order will linger long after travel restrictions have been lifted.

Producer: Katy Hickman

May 04 2020

28mins

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Changing behaviour, from bystander to actor

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Why do some people get involved while others stand by looking on? What makes people act for the sake of others? Kirsty Wark discusses the psychology of behaviour with Catherine Sanderson and David Halpern.

In the Bystander Effect, Catherine Sanderson argues that the question of why some people act badly while others are heroic is not simply about good and bad. Our brains are hard-wired to conform and to avoid social embarrassment. But there are practical measures that can help create a sense of personal responsibility, turning a silent bystander into a model of action.

The psychologist David Halpern is also interested in how to change behaviour. He is advising the UK Government on its response to the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on how to get the public to adopt new social norms, including increased hand-washing and social distancing. Halpern is the Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, unofficially known as The Nudge Unit.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Apr 27 2020

28mins

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Crisis in Europe from Notre-Dame to coronavirus

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A year ago French people looked on with horror as the great Notre-Dame went up in flames. The journalist Agnès Poirier tells Andrew Marr that the cathedral with its 800 year history represents the soul of the nation. Even before the fire was out President Macron was promising that it would be rebuilt. But in Notre-Dame: The Soul of France, Poirier recounts how its current reconstruction has been mired in controversy – political, social, artistic and religious. Poirier also looks at how the French government and people have reacted to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s government has been voted sweeping new powers to rule by decree for an indefinite period, to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The academic Martyn Rady is keeping a keen eye on how different countries in Central Europe respond. He argues that the region has been shaped by the formidable power and influence of the Habsburg dynasty. In his latest book, The Habsburgs: The Rise and Fall of a World Power, Rady shows how from modest origins in the 9th century the family soon gained control of the Holy Roman Empire, stretching from Spain to Hungary and beyond.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Apr 20 2020

28mins

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Nature worship

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On Easter Monday, Andrew Marr talks to the psychiatrist and keen gardener Sue Stuart-Smith on our love for nature. In The Well-Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World, she blends neuroscience, psychoanalysis and real-life stories. She reveals the remarkable effects that gardens and the great outdoors can have on us.

William Wordsworth was the great poet of the British countryside, celebrated for his descriptions of daffodils and the passing of the river above Tintern Abbey. But in a new biography, Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World, Sir Jonathan Bate shows how Wordsworth also made nature something challenging and even terrifying. The poet drew on shocking revolutionary ideas from the continent, including pantheistic atheism: the worship of nature.

Producer: Hannah Sander

Apr 13 2020

41mins

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The genetic gender gap

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Women are faring better than men in the coronavirus pandemic because of their genetic superiority, according to the physician Sharon Moalem. He tells Kirsty Wark that women live longer than men and have stronger immune systems because they have two x chromosomes to choose from. In his book, The Better Half, Moalem calls for better understanding of the genetic gender gap and for a change to the male-centric, one-size-fits-all view of medical studies.

But if women have greater advantage genetically, where did the prevailing idea of fragile female biology come from? In The Gendered Brain the cognitive neuroscientist Gina Rippon traces the ideas of women’s physical inferiority to the 18th century, and later to the brain science of the 19th century. Even after the development of new brain-imaging technologies showed how similar brains are, the idea of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ brain has remained remarkably persistent.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Apr 06 2020

42mins

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Rebuilding conservatism in changing times

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Nick Timothy was once described as the ‘toxic’ power behind Theresa May’s early leadership. He talks to Amol Rajan about his experience in frontline government. In his new book, Remaking One Nation, he calls for the rebuilding of a more inclusive conservatism and the rejection of both extreme economic and cultural liberalism. As the Covid-19 pandemic forces the government to take more extreme measures, Timothy argues for a new social contract between the state, big companies and local communities.

In recent decades politicians have had to deal with what appears to be an extreme pace of change – in new technology, global markets and increased automation. The Great Acceleration, as it’s been called, has left many communities feeling left behind. But in his forthcoming book, Slowdown, Professor Danny Dorling argues that there's actually been a widespread check on growth and speed of change. He sees this as a moment of promise and a move toward stability. But that stability may be short-lived as the fall out from the coronavirus hits individuals, communities and businesses hard.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Mar 30 2020

41mins

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Famous and Infamous

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We think of our era as the age of celebrity. Billions of people follow the daily antics of the Kardashian family or the latest pop superstar. But celebrity obsession is centuries old, argues Horrible Histories writer Greg Jenner. He tells Tom Sutcliffe why we are captivated by famous - and infamous - figures, from the scandalous Lord Byron to the unwitting civilians who are hounded by paparazzi today.

The Italian Renaissance gave us the world's most famous images: the Mona Lisa, Botticelli's Venus and Michelangelo's David. But Catherine Fletcher argues that this era was far stranger, darker and more violent than we may realise. The real Mona Lisa was married to a slave-trader, and Leonardo da Vinci was revered for his weapon designs.

The artist Aubrey Beardsley shocked and delighted Victorian London with his drawings. A new exhibition at the Tate Britain, curated by Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, shows the range of Beardsley's black-and-white images. Some are magical, humorous, some sexual and grotesque; and together they helped Beardsley become so astonishingly famous that the 1890s were dubbed the 'Beardsley era', before he fell from grace, tainted by association with Oscar Wilde.

Producer: Hannah Sander

Mar 23 2020

41mins

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Cultural icons from Shakespeare to Superman

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Shakespeare has always been central to the American experience, argues the leading scholar James Shapiro. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how Shakespeare has been invoked – and at times weaponised – at pivotal moments in the history of America, from Revolutionary times to today’s divisionary politics.

The film critic Mark Kermode celebrates another global phenomenon: cinematic superheroes. The genre stretches back more than eight decades and taps deeply into timeless themes and storytelling traditions. Kermode also shows how spy-heroes such as Bond have shaped our political identity.

For the poet Don Paterson, the classic television series The Twilight Zone was the starting point for his latest collection. Elements of horror, science fiction and fantasy provide a backdrop to his exploration of the mid-life crisis.

The political theorist Teresa Bejan returns to the world of Shakespeare to explore what appears to be the most modern of dilemmas: Twitter spats and put-downs. Seventeenth-century thinkers understood there were competing conceptions of civility. They thought that outlawing heated political disagreement could lead to silencing dissent.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Mar 16 2020

42mins

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Morality, money and power

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Morality has been outsourced to the markets and the state, argues the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. He tells Andrew Marr that society has become deeply divided, and that today’s challenges will never be met until we remember the importance of personal morality and responsibility. But this does not mean self-care, self-love and selfies - instead Sacks says we should focus on communities and caring for others.

For a decade Mervyn King was the most influential banker in Britain as Head of the Bank of England. In 2008 he oversaw the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression. In his new book, King looks back at his career, exploring the difference between risk and uncertainty. He suggests ways to make decisions for an unknowable future.

If you wanted a decision from David Cameron during his time as Prime Minister you would have had to go through ‘the gatekeeper’, Kate Fall. In her memoir of her time at the centre of political power, Fall recalls the highs and lows of working at No. 10, and explains what happens when power and politics starts to fall apart.

Producer: Hannah Sander

Mar 09 2020

42mins

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Hilary Mantel

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Hilary Mantel is the two-time winner of the Man Booker prize. In a special edition of Start the Week with Andrew Marr, she discusses the final book in her Cromwell trilogy. The Mirror and The Light shows 16th-century England beset by rebellion at home, traitors abroad and Henry VIII still desperate for a male heir. In the centre sits Thomas Cromwell, a man who came from nowhere and has climbed to the very heights of power. His vision is an England of the future, but it is the past and the present mood of the King that will prove his downfall.

Reader: Ben Miles
Photograph: Jeff Overs
Producer: Katy Hickman

Mar 02 2020

42mins

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Leila Slimani on Sexual Politics

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Leila Slimani is the first Moroccan woman to win France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. From stories of poverty, exploitation and sexual addiction she now turns her attention to sexual politics within a deeply conservative culture. She tells Amol Rajan why she wanted to give voice to young Moroccan women suffocating under the strictures of a society which allowed them only two roles: virgin or wife.

The writer Olivia Fane questions whether liberal society is really that liberating. In ‘Why Sex Doesn’t Matter’ she argues that women have been sold the idea of sexual freedom, but that this has curtailed the way people think about love and desire.

The journalist Sally Howard asks why, after forty years of feminism, women still do the majority of the housework. While straight British women are found to put in 12 more days of household chores than their male partners, in the US young men are now twice as likely as their fathers to think a woman’s place is in the home.

But it’s not just women who are constrained by the roles society presents to them. As a new photographic exhibition into Masculinity opens at the Barbican, the academic Chris Haywood, believes it’s important to highlight the importance of visual representations of men. He asks whether men have become stuck between ideas of ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Feb 24 2020

41mins

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Love of home

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Dan Jackson celebrates the distinctiveness of north-east England. He tells Andrew Marr how centuries of border warfare and dangerous industry has forged a unique people in Northumberland. With recent changes in political allegiance in towns and countryside across the region, Jackson questions whether the area can reassert itself after decades of industrial decline, indifference from the south, and resurgence north of the border.

The economist Colin Mayer is looking at how to harness the power of patriotism and regional pride to revitalise areas like the North East. He sees a much greater role for the private sector in fostering community cohesion.

But patriotism can be a dangerous force in disputed and diverse areas. Kapka Kassabova travels to two of the world’s most ancient lakes set in the borderlands of North Macedonia, Albania and Greece. This ancient meeting place in the southern Balkans has its own unique history of people living in harmony, and then erupting into catastrophic violence.

We live in a world that is far more connected than at any other time in history, but is there still value to the notion that travelling broadens the mind? The philosopher Emily Thomas turns to Descartes and Montaigne for an understanding of how travelling away from home can help disrupt traditional customs and ways of thinking.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Feb 17 2020

42mins

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Dresden - 75 years on

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As the 75th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden approaches, the historian Sinclair McKay looks back at the obliteration of a city and its aftermath. He tells Tom Sutcliffe about the terrible suffering of the 25,000 people who were killed in one night.

The artist Edmund de Waal is showcasing his latest work in Dresden. The installation ‘library of exile’ is a place of contemplation and dialogue, and celebrates the cultures of migration. De Waal also outlines the importance of Dresden as the centre of European porcelain.

In recent decades this former East German city has seen a huge increase in support for far-right groups. The journalist Stefanie Bolzen argues that there are many who feel their lives have not benefited either from the rebuilding of the city after the war or from the unification of Germany since.

Sasha Havlicek is the founding CEO of the global counter-extremism organisation, ISD, which studies the online tactics of far-right groups across Europe and the US. She has seen a rise in the support of anti-migrant political parties, as well as increases in hate speech and terror attacks against minority communities.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Feb 10 2020

41mins

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iTunes Ratings

78 Ratings
Average Ratings
61
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4
1
1