Rank #1: Ta-Nehisi Coates: "There’s not gonna be a happy ending to this story"
Rank #2: Why good people are easily corrupted (with Lawrence Lessig)
In his latest book, America, Compromised, Lessig is doing something ambitious: He’s offering a new definition of institutional corruption, then showing how it plays out in politics, academia, the media, Wall Street, and the legal system. This is a definition of corruption that doesn’t require any individual to be corrupt. But it’s a definition that, if you accept it, suggests much of our society has been corrupted.
Here, Lessig and I discuss what corruption is, how to understand an institution’s purpose, whether capitalism is itself corrupting, our upcoming books about the media, how small donors polarize politics, Lessig’s critique of democracy, why good people are particularly susceptible to institutional corruption, whether we should ban private money in politics, and ways to reinvent representative democracy. So, you know, nothing too big or heady.
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff
Rank #3: Work as identity, burnout as lifestyle
The two pieces speak to each other in interesting ways, and to some questions I’ve been reflecting on as my own relationship to work changes. So I asked the authors to join me for a conversation about what happens when work becomes an identity, capitalism becomes a religion, and productivity becomes the way we measure human value. The conversation exceeded even the high hopes I had for it. Enjoy this one.
Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcolm Harris
White: Essays on Race and Culture by Richard Dyer
The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 by Philipp Blom
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
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Rank #4: Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton.
Rank #5: Malcolm Gladwell on the danger of joining consensus opinions
Rank #6: Where Jonathan Haidt thinks the American mind went wrong
"Teen anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have risen sharply in the last few years," he writes in The Coddling of the American Mind, co-authored with Greg Lukianoff. "The culture on many college campuses has become more ideologically uniform, compromising the ability of scholars to seek truth, and of students to learn from a broad range of thinkers."
The kids, in other words, aren't all right. Haidt sees a generation warped by overparenting and smartphones and flirting with illiberalism. He worries over a culture of "safetyism" that confuses disagreement with violence. He sees political correctness on campus as a threat not just to speakers' incomes, but to students' psyches.
I often find myself a skeptic in this conversation. The panic over campus activism seems overblown to me. It's suffused with bad-faith efforts to nationalize isolated examples of college kids behaving badly in order to discredit serious critiques of social injustice. But that's why I wanted to have Haidt on the show: If anyone could convince me I'm wrong about this, it'd be him.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Authoritarian Dynamic by Karen Stenner
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Rank #7: Taking Trump’s corruption seriously
Rank #8: Cal Newport on doing Deep Work and escaping social media
Rank #9: Pete Buttigieg’s theory of political change
Pete Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar, a Navy veteran, and the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He’s a married gay man, a churchgoing Episcopalian, and a proud millennial. He’s also, according to CNN, “the hottest candidate in the 2020 race right now.”
There’s been plenty of discussion of Buttigieg’s biography, and of whether a midsize-city mayorship is appropriate experience for the presidency. But I wanted to talk to him about something else: his theory of political change. How, in a broken system, would he get done even a fraction of what he’s promising? To my surprise, he actually had an answer.
Before I did this podcast, I was surprised to see Buttigieg catching fire. Now that I’ve had this conversation, I’m not.
Ulysses by James Joyce
Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000 by Stephen Kotkin
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Rank #10: This conversation will change how you understand misogyny
Politics is thick right now with arguments over misogyny, patriarchy, and gender roles. These arguments are powering media controversies, political candidacies, and ideological movements. Manne’s framework makes so much more sense of this moment than the definitions and explanations most of us have been given. This is one of those conversations that will let you see the world through a new lens.
In part because her framework touches on so much, this is a conversation that covers an unusual amount of ground. We talk about misogyny and patriarchy, of course, but also anxiety, Jordan Peterson, the role of shame in politics, my recent meditation retreat, Sweden, the social roles that grind down men, and a piece of satire in McSweeney’s that might just be the key to understanding the 2016 and 2020 elections. Enjoy!
Information about Peltason Lecture at UC Irvine
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt
Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View by Stanley Milgram
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Rank #11: Is modern society making us depressed?
In his new book, Lost Connections, Hari advances an argument both radical and obvious: Depression and anxiety are more than just chemical imbalances in the brain. They are the result of our social environments, our relationships, our political contexts — our lives, in short.
Hari, who has struggled with depression since his youth, went on a journey to try to understand the social causes of mental illness, the ones we prefer not to talk about because changing them is harder than handing out a pill. What he returned with is a book that claims to be about depression but is actually about the ways we’ve screwed up modern society and created a world that leaves far too many of us alienated, anxious, despairing, and lost.
The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti famously said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” So that, then, is the question Hari and I consider in this conversation: How sick, really, is our society?
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit
Rank #12: Bill Gates on stopping climate change, building robots, and the best books he's read
Rank #13: The art of attention (with Jenny Odell)
Odell is the author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. And she’s a visual artist who has taught digital and physical design at Stanford since 2013, as well as done residencies at Facebook, the San Francisco Planning Department, the Dump, and the Internet Archive.
All of which is to say she’s the perfect person to talk with about creativity and attention in a world designed to flatten both. In this conversation, we discuss the difference between productivity and creativity, how artists orchestrate attention, the ideologies we use to value our time, what it means to do nothing, restoring context to our lives and words, why “groundedness requires actual ground,” lucid dreaming, the joys of bird-watching, my difficulty appreciating conceptual art, her difficulty with meditation, and much more.
Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Nature and Functions of Dreaming by Ernest Hartmann
Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion by Mark Galanter
The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram