The Book Club

By The Spectator

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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.

Episode Date
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.  
Aug 10, 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.
Aug 03, 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…
Jul 27, 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.
Jul 21, 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.
Jul 13, 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.  
Jul 06, 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…
Jun 29, 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.
Jun 22, 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.
Jun 15, 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.
Jun 08, 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...

Jun 01, 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.  
May 25, 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.
May 18, 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. 
May 11, 2022
Simon Kuper: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is the writer Simon Kuper, whose new book – Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK – argues that to understand the social and psychological dynamics of our present government, you need to understand the Oxford University of the 1980s, where so many of those now in power first met. He argues that the PM's love of winging it was nurtured in the tutorial culture of his Balliol days, that the dynamics of Tory leadership contests are throwbacks to the Oxford Union, and that Brexit – the grand project of this generation – was at root a jobs-protection scheme for the old-fashioned ruling class. Can that be the whole story? He tells me why he thinks we need to decommission the UK's rhetoric industry and learn to be more like Germany.  
May 04, 2022
Stephen Dodd: Beautiful Star – Yukio Mishima
In this week's Book Club podcast, our subject is the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima - whose novel Beautiful Star is being published in English for the first time this month. My guest is its translator Stephen Dodd, who explains the novel's peculiar mixture of profound seriousness and humour, and its mixture of high literary seriousness with, well, flying saucers. He tells me about Mishima's sheltered life and shocking death, his place in Japanese literary culture, and the way the hydrogen bomb hangs over this remarkable and strange novel.
Apr 27, 2022
Gideon Rachman: The Age of the Strongman
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the FT’s foreign affairs columnist Gideon Rachman. In his new book The Age of the Strongman, he takes a global look at the rise of personality-cult autocrats. He tells me what they have in common, what’s new about this generation of strongman leaders - and why his book places Boris Johnson in a cast including Putin, Orban, Bolsonaro and Duterte.
Apr 20, 2022
Felipe Fernández-Armesto: Beyond the Myth of Magellan
In this week’s Book Club podcast, my guest is the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto. 500 years after Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition circumnavigated the globe, Felipe’s gripping new book Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan goes back to the original sources to discover that almost everything we think we know about this hero of the great age of exploration is wrong.
Apr 06, 2022
Helen Bond and Joan Taylor: Women Remembered
In this week's Book Club podcast, we ask: did the chroniclers of the early Church cover up evidence that the disciples and evangelists of Christ were as often women as men? My guests are the scholars Helen Bond and Joan Taylor, authors of Women Remembered: Jesus' Female Disciples. They pick out the hints and clues that, they say, indicate that women were doing more than just cooking, mourning and anointing in first-century Judaea – despite the difficulties of keeping track of all those Marys and Salomes. 
Mar 30, 2022
Francis Fukuyama: Liberalism and its Discontents
In this week’s Book Club podcast I’m joined by Francis Fukuyama to talk about his new book Liberalism and its Discontents. He tells me 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.
Mar 21, 2022
Colm Toibin: Vinegar Hill
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is Colm Toibin. Best known as a novelist, Colm’s new book is his first collection of poetry, Vinegar Hill. He tells me about coming late to poetry, the freedoms and austerities it offers, and why writing isn’t fun. Plus: surviving cancer and outstaying his St Patrick’s Day welcome at the White House…
Mar 16, 2022
Tom Burgis: Kleptopia
In this week's Book Club podcast, I'm talking to the investigative reporter Tom Burgis – just days after the High Court threw out an attempt from a London-based company run by eastern European oligarchs to suppress his book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World. Tom tells me how massacres in Kazakhstan connect to the City of London, how western legal frameworks struggle to cope with international crime, how international kidnapping can be perfectly legal, why Tony Blair helped launder the reputation of a blood-soaked dictator – and how the conflict in Ukraine is the new front line of an ongoing world war between kleptocracy and democracy.  
Mar 09, 2022
Christopher de Bellaigue: The Lion House
In this week’s Book Club podcast, I’m joined by the historian Christopher de Bellaigue to talk about The Lion House, his scintillating and idiosyncratic new book about the great Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. It’s all here: massacres, sieges, over-mighty viziers, Venetian perfidy, and… true love?
Mar 02, 2022
The centenary of literary Modernism
In this week's Book Club podcast, we're going back 100 years to 1922 – the year which is usually seen as heralding the birth of literary Modernism. My guests are Richard Davenport-Hines, author of A Night At The Majestic: Proust and the Great Modernist Dinner Party, and the scholar and critic Merve Emre, who has worked extensively on Joyce and Woolf. I asked them how much Modernism really did represent a break with the past, and how much it looked like a coherent movement at the time. Along the way we learn what Proust and Joyce found to discuss when they met, why Virginia Woolf was so rude about Ulysses, and what the mainstream story of Modernism left out...   
Feb 23, 2022
Anna Keay: The Restless Republic
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is the historian Anna Keay. In her new book The Restless Republic: Britain Without A Crown she describes the short but traumatic period between the execution of Charles I and the restoration of the monarchy. She tells me about the religious turmoil, the explosion of the newspaper industry, the sympathetic side of Oliver Cromwell... and parallels with our own age of constitutional upheaval and viral propaganda.
Feb 16, 2022
The centenary of Kerouac
This year marks the centenary of the birth of Jack Kerouac. As Penguin publishes a lavish new edition of On The Road to mark the occasion, I'm joined by two Kerouac scholars. Holly George-Warren is working on the definitive biography of Kerouac (her previous work includes Lives of Gene Autry and Janis Joplin), and Simon Warner co-edited Kerouac on Record: A Literary Soundtrack and runs Rock and the Beat Generation. They tell me how On The Road came to be written, how it stands up now, and what made 'the Beats' beat.        
Feb 09, 2022
Philip Oltermann: The Stasi Poetry Circle
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is Philip Oltermann, whose new book The Stasi Poetry Circle: The Creative Writing Class that Tried to Win the Cold War, unearths one of the most unexpected corners of East German history. At the height of the Cold War, members of the GDR's notorious secret police got together regularly to workshop their poems. Was this a surveillance exercise, a training module for propagandists – or something stranger than either? And were their poems any good? Philip tells me about why poetry was such a big deal in the Eastern Bloc, how – had Petrarch but known – the sonnet was the perfect model for dialectical materialism, and where those poets are now...
Feb 02, 2022
Christopher Prendergast: Living and Dying With Marcel Proust
In this week's Book Club podcast, I'm joined by Christopher Prendergast, Professor Emeritus of Modern French Literature at Cambridge and the author of the new book Living and Dying With Marcel Proust. In the centenary year of Proust's death (and the English publication of Swann's Way) he tells me (among other things) how the structure of A La Recherche is more straightforward than many think, why that madeleine was nearly a slice of toast, and about the great unsayable at the heart of Proust's great story.   
Jan 26, 2022
James Birch: Bacon in Moscow
In this week's Book Club podcast, my guest is the gallerist James Birch - whose new book Bacon In Moscow describes how he achieved the seemingly impossible: taking an exhibition of Francis Bacon's work to Moscow in the late 1980s. James tells me how he negotiated between the volatile artist and the implacable Soviet bureaucracy with the help of a suave but menacing KGB middleman; and how, along the way, he nearly acquired an original Francis Bacon painting and nearly acquired a Russian wife. 

Jan 19, 2022
Stuart Jeffries: Everything, All The Time, Everywhere
This week's Book Club podcast addresses one of the most misunderstood and vilified concepts in the culture wars: postmodernism. How did this arcane theoretical position escape from academia to become a social media talking point? What the hell is it anyway? What does Jeff Koons have to do with Foucault? Is postmodernism out to destroy capitalism, or is it capitalism incarnate? And what comes after postmodernism? Stuart Jeffries - author of Everything, All The Time, Everywhere: How We Became Postmodern - puts it all in quotes for us.
Jan 12, 2022
Natalie Livingstone: The Women of Rothschild
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is Natalie Livingstone – whose new book The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World's Most Famous Dynasty gives the distaff dish on the banking family's long history. She discovers that the Rothschild women have been just as remarkable as the men – from early modern matriarchs to jazz-club butterflies.    
Jan 05, 2022
Siri Hustvedt: Mothers, Fathers and Others
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the writer Siri Hustvedt, whose latest book is a collection of essays: Mothers, Fathers and Others. She tells me what literary critics get wrong, why she has a rubber brain on her desk, how Ancient Greek misogyny is still with us, why the 17th-century Duchess of Newcastle has yet to get her due – and how long it took her to stop smiling politely when people said her husband wrote her books…
Dec 15, 2021
Kevin Birmingham: The Sinner and The Saint
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is Kevin Birmingham, whose new book The Sinner and The Saint: Dostoevsky, A Crime and its Punishment, tells the extraordinary story of how Dostoevsky came to write Crime and Punishment – and the under-explored story of the real-life murderer whose case inspired it. Physical agony, Siberian exile, vicious state censorship, old-school nihilists – and the astonishing personal resilience of one of Russia's greatest writers... it's all here.   
Dec 08, 2021
Judy Golding: The Children of Lovers
This year Faber and Faber started the project of republishing the late Nobel Laureate William Golding's back catalogue -- starting with Pincher Martin, The Inheritors and The Spire. I'm joined by his daughter Judy Golding -- author of The Children of Lovers: A Memoir of William Golding By His Daughter -- to talk about Golding the writer and Golding the man. What were the deep fears that drove his work and were eased by drink? How did the war change his worldview? And what was the nature of the religious sensibility that underpinned his visionary allegories of folly and evil?
Dec 01, 2021
Paul Muldoon: Howdie-Skelp
On this week's Book Club podcast, I'm joined by one of the most distinguished poets in the language, Paul Muldoon, to talk about his new book Howdie-Skelp. He tells me of his unfashionable belief in inspiration; why he thinks poetry -- even his -- needn't be difficult just because it's difficult; how writing song lyrics differs from writing poetry; and how he came to work with Sir Paul McCartney. 
Nov 24, 2021
Tessa Dunlop: Army Girls
My guest on this week's Book Club podcast is the historian Tessa Dunlop. Tessa's new book is Army Girls: The Secrets and Stories of Military Service from the Final Few Women Who Fought In World War Two. She tells me about how she gathered testimony and formed friendships with the nonagenarian veterans of the Second World War amid the Covid lockdown; about the class-ridden rivalries between the women's services; and how while still not officially in the front line, women during the war nevertheless found themselves in the thick of it. 
Nov 17, 2021
Armando Iannucci: Pandemonium
My guest on this week's Book Club podcast is Armando Iannucci – the satirist behind Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Veep and The Death of Stalin. What many of his fans might not know is that he's also a devoted scholar of Milton – whose influence is to be found in his first published poem Pandemonium: Some Verses on the Current Predicament. Armando tells me what hurt him into verse, identifies the moment that led him to abandon an English Literature PhD for a career in comedy – and explains why there's as much sadness as savagery in his mock-epic description of the Covid epidemic. 
Nov 10, 2021
Claire Tomalin: The Young H G Wells
In this week’s Book Club podcast, my guest is Claire Tomalin. Claire’s new book, The Young H G Wells: Changing the World, tracks the extraordinary life and rocket-powered career of one of the most influential writers of the Edwardian age. She tells me how drapery’s loss was literature’s gain, why casting the goatish Wells as a #metoo villain isn’t quite right - and why we should all be reading Tono-Bungay.

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Nov 03, 2021
Jane Ridley: George V
In this week’s Book Club podcast, my guest is the historian Jane Ridley, talking about her new book George V: Never A Dull Moment. She tells me there’s so much more to the 'boring' monarch than shooting grouse and collecting stamps. Hear how he navigated some of the worst constitutional crises in memory, saved the British monarchy as the grand dynasties of Europe started toppling… and then inadvertently imperilled it again by his treatment of his son and heir.
Oct 27, 2021
James Holland: Brothers In Arms
In this week's Book Club podcast I'm joined by the historian James Holland to talk about his fascinating new book Brothers In Arms: One Legendary Tank Regiment's Bloody War from D-Day to VE-Day. James's story follows the Sherwood Rangers from El Alamein to the D-Day Landings, and on through the last push through Europe into Germany. He tells me how he put together this richly detailed account and what it was like, hour by hour and day by day, for the men who fought in tanks. 
Oct 20, 2021
Joan Bakewell: The Tick of Two Clocks
In this week’s Book Club podcast my guest is Joan Bakewell, who talks to me about her new book The Tick Of Two Clocks: A Tale of Moving On. It describes how she made the decision to sell the house she lived in for half a century, and what it meant to her to face up to old age, and take stock of the past.

Oct 13, 2021
Kate Lister: Harlots, Whores and Hackabouts
In this week’s book club podcast, I’m joined by Kate Lister to talk about her new book Harlots, Whores and Hackabouts: A History of Sex for Sale. Kate tells me about some of the most celebrated sex-workers in history (and pre-history), the attempts that have been made to regulate the “oldest profession” - and where she stands on an issue that still bitterly divides modern feminists…
Oct 06, 2021
Chuck Palahniuk: Greener Pastures
Chuck Palahniuk -- best known as the author of Fight Club -- has just announced that he's publishing his next novel not with a mainstream publisher but through the online subscription service Substack. He joins me on this week's Book Club podcast to tell me why; and to talk about how 9/11 changed literature, why he never tires of making his audience feel sick, and how he thinks David Foster Wallace might be alive today if he'd taken some time out to write a few Spider-Man comics.  
Sep 29, 2021
Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen: Freud's Patients
In this week's Book Club podcast I'm joined by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, a historian of psychoanalysis whose latest book is Freud's Patients: A Book of Lives. Mikkel has sifted through the archives to discover the real stories anonymised in the case studies on which Sigmund Freud based his theories, and the lives of the patients who submitted to analysis on the great man's original couch. What he discovered is startling. Mikkel tells me how Freud falsified the data to fit his theories, kept incurable cases coming back week after week to keep the fees rolling in -- and how the global industry of Freudian analysis resembles a religious cult more than a science. 
Sep 22, 2021
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst: A Year That Changed Dickens and the World
This week, I’m joined by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst - whose latest book is The Turning Point: A Year That Changed Dickens and the World. He tells me how 1851 - the year of the Great Exhibition - served as a pivot in Dickens’s own life, and set him on the path to writing Bleak House.
Sep 15, 2021
Oliver Burkeman: 4,000 Weeks
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the writer Oliver Burkeman. His new book 4,000 Weeks offers some bracing reflections on time: how much we have of it, how best to use it, and why “time management” and productivity gurus have the whole thing upside down.
Sep 08, 2021
Hermione Lee: Tom Stoppard, A Life
My guest on this week’s podcast is the biographer and critic Hermione Lee. Her biography of Tom Stoppard is newly out in paperback, and she tells me about the decade of work behind Sir Tom’s overnight success, his unexpected influences, and the challenge to a biographer of getting to the heart of this elusive genius.
Sep 01, 2021
Michael Bracewell: Souvenir
Michael Bracewell’s new book Souvenir is a vivid and poetic evocation of London on the brink of the digital era - the neglected in-between times between 1979 and 1986. He joins me to talk about fine art and post-punk, T S Eliot and William Burroughs - and the dangerous lure of nostalgia.
Aug 25, 2021
Michael Pye: Antwerp
In this week's Book Club podcast I'm talking to Michael Pye about his new book Antwerp: The Glory Years. For most of the 16th century, as he tells me, Antwerp was the most important town in the western world – a city in which, as never before, ideas, information, goods and money circulated free of almost any authority. It was a time of extraordinary excitement – here are Bruegel, Thomas More and William Tyndale – and enormous danger and corruption. Michael tells me how it came about, what lessons it offers our own age... and how it reached an abrupt and bloody end.
Aug 18, 2021
Iain MacGregor: Checkpoint Charlie
In this week's Book Club podcast we anticipate the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Wall going up by talking to Iain MacGregor about his book Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall And The Most Dangerous Place On Earth. He tells me how, and why, the Russians cut a city in half overnight; and why we let them. He describes how events in Tiananmen Square reached Friedrichstrasse. And how, as the Wall came down, a single British soldier did something that the Red Army never forgot. 
Aug 04, 2021
Mary Ann Sieghart: The Authority Gap
My guest in this week’s books podcast is Mary Ann Sieghart, whose new book The Authority Gap accumulates data to show that so-called 'mansplaining' isn’t a minor irritation but the manifestation of something that goes all the way through society: women are taken less seriously than men, even by other women. She says it’s not just 'wokery' to point it out, and she makes the case for how she thinks it came to be, what we can do to change it, and why we should take the trouble.
Jul 28, 2021
Marie Le Conte: Honourable Misfits
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the political journalist Marie Le Conte, whose new book is Honourable Misfits: A Brief History of Britain's Weirdest, Unluckiest and Most Outrageous MPs. She introduces us to some of the dishonourable members of the past, and explains why - despite what we may think - in terms of our present day crop of MPs we may, actually, never have had it so good…
Jul 21, 2021
Frederick Forsyth: The Day of the Jackal at 50
My guest in this week’s book club podcast is Frederick Forsyth, whose classic thriller The Day of the Jackal has been in print for 50 years this summer. He tells me about banging it out in a few weeks on a typewriter with a bullet hole in it, the shady characters who informed his research - and how he never realised that, for much of its readers, The Jackal would be the hero…
Jul 14, 2021
Adam Roberts & Lisa Duggan on Ayn Rand
Who is John Galt? This week's Book Club podcast looks at the life, work and personality of Ayn Rand, probably the most influential writer you've never read. A favourite of our new Health Secretary, the author of Atlas Shrugged -- and the most strident advocate of the idea that "greed is good" -- continues to be revered and reviled four decades after her death. What was it that made her work speak so powerfully to so many? Does her philosophical system add up? How was she shaped -- first by the Russian Revolution and then by Hollywood? And where does prog rock come into it? I'm joined by Professor Lisa Duggan -- author of Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed, and Adam Roberts, the science fiction writer and professor of English at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Jul 07, 2021
Anne Sebba: A Cold War Tragedy
In this week’s Book Club podcast my guest is Anne Sebba - whose Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy tells the story of the first woman in US history to be executed for a crime other than murder. She tells me how attitudes to this notorious espionage case changed over the years; and why, while not wanting to relitigate the case, she thinks it’s important to get to a sense of who Ethel really was.
Jun 30, 2021
Richard Ovenden: Burning The Books
My guest on this week's Book Club podcast is the chief librarian of Oxford's Bodleian Library, Richard Ovenden. In Burning The Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack, he explores the long history and vital importance of libraries and archives -- and the equally long history of their destruction in acts of war, vandalism or censorship and their loss through attrition and neglect. He tells me about the librarian heroes of Poland and Lithuania, the accidental survival of Magna Carta and what really happened to the Great Library of Alexandria.  
Jun 23, 2021
Charles Spencer: The White Ship
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is Charles Spencer, whose book The White Ship: Conquest, Anarchy and the Wrecking of Henry I's Dream is new out in paperback. He tells me why his story is like "Game of Thrones meets Titanic", about the piety and the startling cruelty of medieval kings, the tantalising suggestion that the wreck of the White Ship may have been found off Barfleur -- and how this 12th-century maritime disaster changed the course of English history.
Jun 16, 2021
Lawrence Wright: The Plague Year
In this week's Book Club podcast, my guest is one of America's foremost magazine journalists, the New Yorker's Lawrence Wright. His new book is The Plague Year: America In The Time of Covid. He tells me what a book brings to recent history that week-to-week journalism can't, about the extraordinary happenstance that put him in contact with one of the unsung heroes of the vaccine race, and the three reasons Covid was such a catastrophe for the US.
Jun 09, 2021
Lauren Hough: Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing
In this week’s Book Club podcast my guest is Lauren Hough - author of an outstanding new collection of autobiographical essays called Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing which describe a life that took her from growing up in the Children Of God cult via being discharged from the US Air Force and jobs as a bouncer in a gay bar and a “cable guy” on the road to being a writer. She tells me about not writing a misery memoir, what elites don’t know about working class life, “lesbian drama”, and the benefits of revising your work on magic mushrooms.
Jun 02, 2021
Julian Sancton: Madhouse at the End of the Earth
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is Julian Sancton, whose new book Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica's Journey Into the Dark Antarctic Night, documents the crew of men who were the first to experience an Antarctic winter trapped in the ice, in an attempt to reach the South Pole. Sancton tells me about the background of some of the eccentric characters that made up the Belgica - and the stomach turning cuisine that is penguin meat.
May 26, 2021
Frances Wilson: Burning Man
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is Frances Wilson, whose new book Burning Man: The Ascent of D H Lawrence sets out to take a fresh look at a now unfashionable figure. Frances tells me why we’re looking in the wrong places for Lawrence’s greatness, explains why the supposed prophet of sexual liberation wasn’t really interested in sex at all - and reveals that after his death Lawrence may have been eaten by his admirers.
May 19, 2021
Happy 80th birthday, Bob Dylan
In this week's Book Club podcast, we're celebrating the 80th birthday of Bob Dylan. My guests are the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, and Clinton Heylin, the Dylanologist's Dylanologist and author most recently of The Double Life of Bob Dylan: A Restless Hungry Feeling 1941-66. I ask what makes Dylan special, whether what he does - even if we admire it - can be called literature, how Dante and Keats found their way into his work, whether there's anything he does badly (spoiler: yes); and if it can really be true that he writes songs with a typewriter rather than a guitar. 
May 12, 2021
Ruth Scurr: Napoleon's life in gardens and shadows
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is the writer and critic Ruth Scurr, whose new book marks today's 200th anniversary of Napoleon's death to cast a fresh light on this most written-about of characters. In Napoleon: A Life in Gardens and Shadows, she finds an unexpected thread running through the life of this man of war - his relationship with nature and with gardens, from the plot he tended as a schoolboy to the garden in his final exile in St Helena. She tells me about what he owed the Revolution and how he came to turn it, at least apparently, on its head; about his complex relationship with Josephine and its Boris-and-Carrie echoes; and about the single walled garden on which the future of Europe can be argued to have turned.  
May 05, 2021
Richard Dawkins: Books Do Furnish A Life
In this week's Book Club podcast, I'm joined by Richard Dawkins to talk about his new book Books Do Furnish A Life: Reading and Writing Science. Richard tells me - among much else - what makes science writing (and science fiction) exciting; the questions science can (and can't) answer; why he felt it necessary to invest so much of his time arguing against religion; and why the left recurrent laryngeal nerve of the giraffe is such an odd shape.   
Apr 28, 2021
Maria Dahvana Headley: Beowulf
Hwaet! My guest in this week’s Book Club Podcast is Maria Dahvana Headley, whose new book is a translation of the Anglo-Saxon classic Beowulf. She talks to me about how she has produced what she bills as a 'feminist translation' of this most macho of poems; about the poem’s braided history and complex language; and about what it tells us of the Anglo-Saxon worldview.
Apr 23, 2021
Roland Philipps: Victoire
In this week's Book club podcast my guest is Roland Philipps - whose new book Victoire: A Wartime Story of Resistance, Collaboration and Betrayal tells the morally murky and humanly fascinating story of Mathilde Carre - a vital figure of the early days of resistance in occupied France. Roland's story describes her heroic early work; and its undoing when she was captured and turned collaborator... before she saw, in the figure of an agent for the British secret services, the opportunity for a triple-cross and the hope of redemption.
Apr 14, 2021
Jonathan Dimbleby: Barbarossa
My guest this week is the broadcaster and historian Jonathan Dimbleby. In Barbarossa: Hitler's Greatest Mistake, Jonathan describes the extraordinary and horrifying story of the Nazi campaign against Stalin, and its still more extraordinary strategic and diplomatic background. It's a bloody and sometimes tragicomic parable of how dictators can become detached from reality - and in it he makes the case that, contra the prevailing image of Anglo-American victories in France having been decisive in winning the Second World War, Hitler's goose was actually cooked as early as 1941. 
Apr 07, 2021
Judas Horse: Lynda La Plante
My guest this week is crime queen Lynda La Plante - talking about her new novel Judas Horse, and three decades of her most famous creation, Prime Suspect's Jane Tennison. She tells me how she wrote her way out of acting, why so much crime drama now turns her off, why she thinks it's so important to get police work right and let baddies be baddies - and why she's haunted by Rentaghost
Mar 31, 2021
Michela Wrong: Do Not Disturb
This week on the Book Club podcast, I'm joined by the veteran foreign correspondent Michela Wrong to talk about her new book Do Not Disturb: The Story of a Political Murder and an African Regime Gone Bad. While Rwanda's president Paul Kagame has basked in the approval of Western donors, Michela argues, his burnished image conceals a history of sadism, repression and violent tyranny. She tells me what our goodies-and-baddies account of Rwanda's genocide missed, and why it urgently needs correcting.
Mar 24, 2021
Sarah Sands: The Interior Silence
In this week’s Book Club podcast, my guest is the former editor of the Today Programme, Sarah Sands. Sarah tells me how an addiction to the buzz of news and gossip gave way in her to a fascination for the opposite, as described in her new book The Interior Silence: 10 Lessons From Monastic Life. Come for the revelations about grifting nuns and what happened to Boris Johnson’s dongle; stay for her discoveries about how we can all bring a little of the peace of the cloister into our hectic secular lives.
Mar 17, 2021
Horatio Clare: Heavy Light
My guest in this week's Book Club podcast is Horatio Clare - whose superb latest book is about going mad. Heavy Light: A Journey Through Madness, Mania and Healing, tells the story of Horatio's recent breakdown and forcible hospitalisation - what he experienced, how he recovered, how it pushed him to investigate the unquestioned assumptions about 'chemical imbalances' causing mental illness, and the questionable and effectively random ways in which drugs are prescribed. 
Mar 10, 2021
Andrew Doyle and Ian Leslie: How do we disagree?
The public conversation - especially on social media - is widely agreed to be of a dismally low quality. In this week’s Book Club podcast I’m joined by two people who have ideas about how we can make it better. Andrew Doyle’s new book is Free Speech: And Why It Matters; Ian Leslie’s is Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart And How They Can Bring Us Together. We talk free speech, tribalism, cancel culture - and how we can learn to disagree more productively.
Mar 03, 2021
Cat Jarman: River Kings
My guest on this week’s Book Club is the bioarchaeologist Cat Jarman, whose fascinating new book River Kings spins a global history of the Vikings out of a single carnelian bead found in a grave in Repton. Cat tells me how much more there was to the Viking culture than our traditional image of arson, rape and pillage in Northumbria - showing how 21st century techniques have helped to expose a culture that raided and traded from Scandinavia as far as Baghdad and Constantinople, and may even have been the ancestral population of the Russian heartland. Plus: real-life Valkyries, slavery and human sacrifice. You never learned all this from How To Train Your Dragon...
Feb 24, 2021
Judith Flanders: A Place For Everything
My guest in this week’s books podcast is the historian Judith Flanders, whose A Place For Everything tells the story of a vital but little considered part of intellectual history: alphabetical order. Judith tells me how this innovation both reflected and enabled the movement from oral to written culture, from a dogmatic to a secular worldview, and made possible the modern administrative state. And we touch on, among other things, prototypes of the Post-It note, the contribution of the French Revolution to indexing, the bizarre British Library shelfmark for Gawain and the Green Knight, and why Dewey, of decimal fame, was an utter rotter.
Feb 17, 2021
Toby Ord: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity
In this week’s books podcast, I’m joined by the philosopher Toby Ord to talk about the cheering subject of planetary catastrophe. In his book The Precipice, new in paperback, Toby argues that we’re at a crucial point in human history - and that if we don’t start thinking seriously about extinction risks our species may not make it through the next few centuries. Asteroids, supervolcanoes, nuclear immolation, killer AI, engineered pandemics... Toby weighs up the risks of each, and tells us why we should care.
Feb 10, 2021
Shalom Auslander: Mother for Dinner
In this week’s Book Club podcast I am joined by one of the funniest writers working today. Shalom Auslander’s new novel is Mother For Dinner, which is set in perhaps the most oppressed minority community in the world. He talks to me about cannibalism, identity politics, his beef with tragedy... and an extremely high-risk prayer at the Wailing Wall.
Feb 03, 2021
Simon Winchester: Land
My guest on this week's Book Club podcast is the writer Simon Winchester, whose new book takes on one of the biggest subjects on earth: earth. Land: How The Hunger For Ownership Made The Modern World starts from the author's own little corner of New England - what he proudly calculates at a bit more than three billionths of the earth's surface that he can call his own - and roams worldwide and through time and from the first prehistoric boundary lines to the modern age. He asks whether capitalism is possible without land rights, whether climate change will alter our relationship to property, why the pioneering map makers of the nineteenth century are now barely heard of - and just what the Dutch are up to. 
Jan 27, 2021
Catherine Mayer and Anne Mayer Bird: Good Grief
My guests on this week's Book Club podcast are the writer and Women's Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer, and her mother, the arts publicist Anne Mayer Bird. They are mother and daughter -- but a year ago they became 'sister widows', as both lost their husbands within a few weeks of one another. Their new book is called Good Grief: Embracing life at a time of death, and they join me to talk about grief in the time of Covid, how social perceptions of widowhood put pressure on the bereaved, and what they think needs to change at a societal and personal level with regards to how we treat death and bereavement.
Jan 20, 2021
What would Orwell be without Nineteen Eighty-Four?
In the first Book Club podcast of the year, we’re marking the moment that George Orwell comes out of copyright. I’m joined by two distinguished Orwellians — D. J. Taylor and Dorian Lynskey — to talk about how the left’s favourite Old Etonian speaks to us now, and how his reputation has weathered. Was he secretly a conservative? Was he a McCarthyite snitch? How would he be remembered had he died before writing Nineteen Eighty-Four? And does 'Orwellian' mean anything much at all?
Jan 13, 2021
Laura Thompson: Life in a Cold Climate
This week's Book Club podcast celebrates the 75th anniversary of the publication of Nancy Mitford's breakthrough novel The Pursuit of Love. Laura Thompson, author of the biography Life In A Cold Climate, joins me to talk about the way the book was written, how it helped create the Mitford myth - and how it shaped an enduringly ambivalent story of familial happiness and 'true love' from the sometimes heartrending materials of the author's own life. 
Dec 23, 2020
Nicholas Shakespeare: remembering John Le Carre
In this week's Book Club podcast, we remember the great John Le Carre. I'm joined by one of the late writer's longest standing friends, the novelist Nicholas Shakespeare. He tells me about Le Carre's disdain for - and debt to - Ian Fleming, his intensely secretive and controlling personality, his magnetic charm, his thwarted hopes of the Nobel Prize... and why at the end of his life he acquired an Irish passport.
Dec 16, 2020
Ed Caesar: The Moth and The Mountain
In this week's Book Club podcast, my guest is the journalist Ed Caesar, whose new book The Moth and the Mountain tells the story of a now forgotten solo assault on Everest that ended in disaster. But as Ed argues, the heroic failure can be a richer and more resonant story than any triumph -- and as he painstakingly excavated the story of Maurice Wilson, it was just such a rich and resonant story he discovered: of a character who became fixated on the mountain as a means of redeeming wartime trauma and a chequered and at times disgraceful romantic history, of getting his own back on hated authority figures, and -- just possibly -- of finding a safe space for his darkest secret of all.       
Dec 09, 2020
Douglas Stuart: Shuggie Bain
My guest on this week's Book Club podcast is the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, Douglas Stuart. His first novel, Shuggie Bain, tells the story of a boy growing up in poverty in 1980s Glasgow with an alcoholic single mother. It's a story close to the author's own. He joins me from the States to tell me about the ten years he spent writing the book and the dozens of rejections he had from publishers, how moving to the States made him see Glasgow more clearly - and how he went from growing up in a house without books to winning the Booker prize for his first novel.
Dec 02, 2020
Patrick Barwise and Peter York: The War Against the BBC
Sam Leith is joined by Patrick Barwise and Peter York to talk about their new book The War Against the BBC. They discuss investment in the arts, claims of excessive spending, and Rupert Murdoch's view of the broadcasting ecology.
Nov 25, 2020
James Hawes: The Shortest History of England
In this week's Book Club podcast my guest is James Hawes. The bestselling author of The Shortest History of Germany turns his attention in his latest book to our own Island Story: The Shortest History of England. He tells me why he thinks there's real value in so brief an overview of our history, how Jurassic rock formations doomed our politics, why we never got over the Conquest, how the break-up of the Union is now an inevitability, and why the Cross of St George is a funny emblem for English nationalists to rally behind.
Nov 18, 2020
Antony Gormley & Martin Gayford: Sculpture from Prehistory to Now
In this week's books podcast, I'm joined by the sculptor Antony Gormley and the art critic Martin Gayford to talk about their new book Shaping The World: Sculpture from Prehistory to Now. They talk about the special place sculpture occupies in the arts, the lines of connection between its ancient origins and the avant-garde, and their views on the new fashion for tearing down statues. Plus, Antony talks about his own work from Field to the Angel of the North — and why he and Martin can't see eye-to-eye on the Baroque.
Nov 11, 2020
Carmen Callil: Oh Happy Day
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the publisher and historian Carmen Callil, whose new book Oh Happy Day: Those Times and These Times, tells the story of how her 18th-century ancestors were transported to Australia. She uses their story as a window into a densely imagined account of English and Aussie social history, and of the darker side of empire. She tells me why the Industrial Revolution wasn’t always a good thing, why it isn’t over the top to compare the British state apparatus to the Nazis - but also about her own childhood in Melbourne and why as a fervent anti-imperialist she accepted a Damehood.
Nov 04, 2020
Natalie Haynes: Women in the Greek Myths
In this week's Book Club podcast, my guest is the writer and broadcaster Natalie Haynes, whose new book Pandora's Jar: Women In The Greek Myths investigates how the myths portrayed women from Pandora to Medea, and how those images have been repurposed in the retellings of subsequent generations. She tells me why Theseus isn't quite the hero we imagine him, how Erasmus's mistranslation of a single word crocked Pandora's reputation for good, why Euripides was a feminist avant la lettre, and how the Gorgon got her body.  

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Oct 28, 2020
Gyles Brandreth: Theatrical anecdotes
In this week's books podcast, I'm joined by the irrepressible Gyles Brandreth - whose latest book is the fruit of a lifelong love of the theatre. The Oxford Book of Theatrical Anecdotes is a doorstopping compendium of missed cues, bitchy put-downs and drunken mishaps involving everyone from Donald Wolfit to Donald Sinden. Gyles explains how he always wanted to be Danny Kaye but also the Home Secretary, why live theatre is magical in a way cinema never can be, and how he got round the dismaying insistence of his publishers that all these anecdotes needed to verifiably true.  
Oct 21, 2020
Rowland White and Tim Gedge: Harrier 809
In this week’s edition of the Book Club podcast I’m joined by two guests. One is Rowland White, whose new book, Harrier 809: Britain’s Legendary Jump Jet and the Untold Story of the Falklands War, tells the story of the air war in the Falklands from the frantic logistical scrambling when 'the balloon went up', via spy shenanigans in South America, to the decisive action in theatre. The other is Tim Gedge, the commanding officer of 809 Squadron who flew in that war.
Oct 14, 2020
Hugh Aldersey-Williams: The Making of Science in Europe
If you know the name of Christiaan Huygens at all, it'll probably be as the man who gave his name to a space probe. But Hugh Aldersey-Williams, author of Dutch Light: Christaan Huygens and the Making of Science in Europe, joins this week's Book Club podcast to argues that this half-forgotten figure was the most important scientist between Galileo and Newton. He tells a remarkable story of advances in optics, geometry, probability, mathematics, astronomy - as well as the invention of the pendulum clock and the discovery of the rings of Saturn - against the backdrop of a turbulent post-Reformation Europe and the beginnings of an international scientific community. Plus, we identify an early-modern prototype for Dominic Cummings in the court of Louis XIV.  
Oct 07, 2020
Roy Foster: On Seamus Heaney
My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the distinguished Irish historian Roy Foster, talking about his new book On Seamus Heaney. He tells me how 'Famous Seamus'’s darkness has been under-recognised, how he negotiated with the shade of Yeats and the explosive politics of Ireland to find an independent space to write from, and just how 'certus' the man who signed himself 'Incertus' really was. 
Sep 30, 2020
Kate Summerscale: The Haunting of Alma Fielding
In this week's Book Club podcast, my guest is Kate Summerscale, here to talk about her latest book The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story. Kate uses the true story of an eruption of poltergeist activity in 1930s Croydon to give what turns into a thoughtful and poignant look at the mental weather of interwar Britain, and the shifting meanings of the occult in light of new ideas about physics and the psychology of trauma. She tells me about the story's enduring mysteries and ambiguities, how spookily it chimed with its historical background - and about flying Bovril and a talking mongoose called Gef.
Sep 23, 2020
Ysenda Maxtone Graham: British Summer Time Begins
In this week's books podcast my guest is the writer Ysenda Maxtone Graham, whose new book casts a rosy look back at the way children used to spend their summer holidays. British Summer Time Begins: The School Summer Holidays 1930-1980 is a work of oral history that covers everything from damp sandwiches and cruelty to animals to tree-climbing, messing about in boats or endless games of Monopoly; intimidating fathers, frustrated mothers and grandparents who, if you weren't careful, would eat your pet rabbit. The good old days, in other words. Ysenda tells me why she sees 'spiritual danger' in iPads, how she longed to visit a motorway service station on the M2 - and how a childhood of constant hunger and warmed-through digestive biscuits may have shaped the psychology of our current Prime Minister.   
Sep 16, 2020
Julia Gillard: Women and Leadership
My guest in this week's books podcast is the former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Along with the economist and former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Julia has written a new book called Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons, which includes interviews with women who've reached the top roles in global institutions, from Christine Lagarde and Joyce Banda to Michelle Bachelet and Theresa May. I asked her about her own time in politics, what she'd have done differently, whether Australia is more sexist than the UK, and her notorious 'misogyny' speech - plus, what she thinks her old sparring partner Tony Abbott has to offer the UK as a trade adviser.  
Sep 09, 2020
Annie Nightingale: Five decades of pop culture
In this week’s Book Club podcast my guest is Annie Nightingale - Britain’s first female DJ, occasional Spectator contributor, and longest serving presenter of Radio One. Ahead of the publication of her new book Hey Hi Hello, Annie tells me about the Beatles’ secrets, BBC sexism, getting into rave culture, the John Peel she knew - and how when most people never get past the music they love in their teens, she’s never lost her drive to hear tunes she’s never heard before.
Sep 02, 2020
Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells: All the Sonnets of Shakespeare
In this week's Book Club podcast I talk to Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells about their new book All The Sonnets of Shakespeare - which by collecting the sonnets that appear in the plays with the 154 poems usually known as 'Shakespeare's Sonnets', and placing them in chronological order, gives a totally fresh sense of what the form meant to our greatest poet-dramatist. They tell me what sonnets meant to Elizabethans, why so much of what has been said about 'the sonnets' has been wrong - they're not a sequence, and it's vain to look for a Dark Lady or Fair Youth in these candidly bisexual poems - and how they provide perhaps the most intensely inward view of the poet we have.
Aug 26, 2020
Loyd Grossman: An Elephant in Rome
In this week's books podcast, my guest is that man of parts Loyd Grossman. Loyd's new book is An Elephant in Rome: Bernini, the Pope, and the Making of the Eternal City, which explores the titanic influence of Bernini on the Rome we see today, and his partnership with Pope Alexander VII. Loyd tells me why you couldn't bring Italian Baroque home to meet your parents, about Bernini's far from congenial character - and why you'd stick an obelisk on top of an elephant anyway.
Aug 19, 2020
Sam Harris on the value of conversation
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
Adam Rutherford and Thomas Chatterton Williams: talking about race
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.

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Aug 05, 2020
Kate Teltscher: Palace of Palms
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.

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Jul 29, 2020
Chris Gosden: The History of Magic
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.

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Jul 22, 2020
Robin Hanbury-Tenison: Taming The Four Horsemen
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
Andrés Neuman: Fracture
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.

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Jul 08, 2020
Andrew Adonis: how Ernest Bevin was Labour's Churchill
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?

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Jul 01, 2020
Rutger Bregman: Humankind
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
Susanna Moore: Miss Aluminium
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.

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Jun 17, 2020
Adam Begley: Houdini
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.

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Jun 10, 2020
Kevin Peter Hand: Alien Oceans
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...

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Jun 03, 2020
The 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited
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?

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May 27, 2020
Michael Frayn: Magic Mobile
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.

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May 20, 2020
Philippe Sands: The Ratline
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
Mark O'Connell: Notes from an Apocalypse
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
James Shapiro: Shakespeare in a Divided America
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
Salman Rushdie: Quichotte
‘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
Toby Muse: Kilo
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
Craig Brown: One Two Three Four
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
John Carey: A Little History of Poetry
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
Blake Gopnik: Warhol
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
Don Paterson: Zonal
Sam's guest on this week’s Book Club is the poet Don Paterson — whose new book Zonal finds him accessing a new, confessional mode, a longer line and a childhood interest in the spooky TV show The Twilight Zone. Don talks about the relationship between poetry and jazz, the split between 'page poetry' and spoken-word material, the shortcomings of Rupi Kaur, whether poems should include 'spoiler alerts', and lifts the lid on his vicious feud with the man he calls 'Alan Jacket'. 

Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 18, 2020
Hadley Freeman: House of Glass
In this week’s Book Club, Sam's guest is the writer Hadley Freeman, whose new book House of Glass tells the story of 20th century jewry through the hidden history of her own family. The four Glahs siblings — one of them the writer’s grandmother — grew up in a Polish shtetl just a few miles from what was to become Auschwitz. They fled the postwar pogroms to Paris; and then had to contend with the rise of a new and still more dangerous antisemitism under the Vichy regime. Hadley traced their story through two wars and across continents, and tells Sam how the story reflects both on Jewish history and on urgent concerns of the present day. And she even offers an intriguing cameo of the teenage Donald Trump… 

Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 11, 2020
Christina Lamb: Our Bodies Their Battlefield
In this week’s Book Club podcast, Sam's guest is the veteran foreign correspondent Christina Lamb. Christina’s new book, Our Bodies Their Battlefield: What War Does To Women is a deeply reported survey of rape as a weapon of war, described in the Spectator's pages by Antony Beevor as the most powerful and disturbing book he has ever read. From the fates of Yazidi and Rohingya woman at the hands of IS and the Burmese military, to the German victims of the Red Army and the Disappeared of the Argentinian Junta, Christina looks at the past and present of this phenomenon and talks to me about why it’s so little reported or discussed, let alone prosecuted, how it happens, what it means — and why it’s seemingly on the increase even as wealthy western liberals congratulate themselves on the success of the #metoo movement.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 04, 2020
Why 42 is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything
Don’t Panic! Next month marks the 42nd anniversary of the first radio broadcast of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Joining Sam on this week’s podcast to discuss the genesis, genius and legacy of the show and the books it spawned are the literary scholar and science fiction writer Adam Roberts, and John Lloyd, the founder of QI and a close collaborator and lifelong friend of Douglas Adams. Do they let slip the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything? Nearly.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 26, 2020
Ed West: Small Men On The Wrong Side of History
This week Sam's guest on the Book Club podcast is the journalist Ed West, whose new book Small Men On The Wrong Side of History (published next month by Constable) asks whether the long and honourable history of conservative thought is doomed. Have liberals won the day? Why are their guys cooler than our guys? And how conservative is the current government anyway?

Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 19, 2020
Olivia Fane: Why Sex Doesn’t Matter
Sam's guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is Olivia Fane — who argues in her new book Why Sex Doesn’t Matter that, well, sex doesn’t matter. She says that the idea that sex and love are related is a damaging twentieth-century invention, and that if we could just recognise that sex was no more significant than scratching an itch we’d all be wiser and happier. They talk about how she reaches that conclusion — and what, if she’s right, we ought to do about it.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 12, 2020
Annie Gray: Victory in the Kitchen
This week's Book Club stars the food historian and broadcaster Annie Gray, whose new book Victory In The Kitchen excavates the life and world of Georgina Landemare - Winston Churchill's cook. From the shifting roles of household servants, and the insane food of the Edwardian rich - everything jellied and moulded and forced through sieves - to the inventive ways that haute cuisine responded to rationing, Georgina's is a story that gives a fascinating new insight into 20th century culture and society. Annie makes the case that without Georgina's cooking, Churchill might never have achieved the political success he did. Hear what Andrew Roberts got wrong, how Churchill simultaneously saved his cook's life and ruined pudding, and what's wrong with Woolton Pie. Allergy warning: contains jellied consomme, plover's eggs, roast beef and stilton.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 05, 2020
Adam Rutherford and Thomas Chatterton Williams: is race a fiction?
In this week’s podcast, 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.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 29, 2020
Samantha Harvey: The Restless Unease
In this week’s Book Club podcast, Sam's guest is the novelist Samantha Harvey, whose new book — The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping — is an extraordinarily written, funny and terrifying account of her experience with insomnia. She talks to Sam about the strange contortions that the mind makes when the boundaries between conscious and unconscious thought start to fray, and how writing — as she sees it — saved her from madness.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 22, 2020
Francesca Wade: Square Haunting
Sam's guest on this week’s Book Club podcast is Francesca Wade, whose fascinating first book Square Haunting tells the intersecting stories of five eminent women who lived during the years of and between the world wars in London’s Mecklenburgh Square: Virginia Woolf, Hilda Doolittle, Dorothy L Sayers, Eileen Power and Jane Harrison. In each case, their years in Bloomsbury marked a moment of professional self-invention or reinvention — and of personal trial. Together, they tell the story of a changing way of being for women in the world, and the exhilaration and sometimes painful cost of achieving 'a room of one’s own'.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 15, 2020
What do T.S. Eliot's letters reveal about his life and loves?
In this week’s Book Club podcast, we’re talking about the life and loves of the greatest poet of the twentieth century. Professor John Haffenden joins Sam to discuss the impact of the opening of an archive of more than 1,000 of Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale — his Harvard sweetheart and the woman who for fifteen years he believed to have been the love of his life. Was he really in love with her or, as he later claimed, simply imagining it? What does he mean when he says that marriage to Emily would have killed him as a poet? And what light does it shed on his poetry? John — who as the editor of T. S. Eliot’s collected letters is one of the first people to have had access to this trove — says that it’s an 'astonishing' haul, and shows Eliot opening up as never before.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 08, 2020
James Ellroy: This Storm
In this week’s Book Club podcast, Sam talks to the 'demon dog' of American letters, James Ellroy — whose latest book is This Storm. In a wide-ranging and somewhat NSFW conversation, they talk about misquoting Auden, why Ellroy hates Orson Welles, how he maps out the byzantine plots of his novels, why as a recovering addict he fills his books with pill-poppers and juice heads, why he thinks he's the best crime writer living — and what his dad’s '20-inch wang' had to do with Rita Hayworth.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Dec 18, 2019
Piers Torday on the magic of children's books
In this week’s Book Club podcast, Sam's guest is the children’s writer Piers Torday, author of the Last Wild trilogy and, most recently, The Frozen Sea. Why is winter such a powerful thing in children’s writing? How come children’s books are such a booming publishing sector when so many people thought that screens would all but kill them off? Why do so many children’s writers have catastrophic personal lives? And how do the stories of today repurpose and live in the stories of the past?

Presented by Sam Leith.
Dec 11, 2019
Tom Holland: Dominion
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
Pete Townshend: The Age of Anxiety
Sam's guest in this week’s Book Club is the rock musician, writer and sometime Faber editor Pete Townshend. Pete has just published his first novel The Age of Anxiety, an ambitious work jointly conceived as an opera. They talk about madness and creativity, Who lyrics popping up in the fiction, how he settled on an Aristotelian plot, and the unusual way his psychic second wife sends him off to sleep.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 27, 2019
David Parker on Laurie Lee: Down In The Valley
Sam is joined from beyond the grave on this week’s Spectator Book Club by the late Laurie Lee — to talk about Gloucestershire’s Slad Valley, the landscape that made him a writer. Acting as medium, so to speak, is David Parker — whose 1990s interviews with Lee before his death provide the material for the new book Down In The Valley: A Writer’s Landscape — and who’s here to talk about the pleasures and difficulties of coaxing reminiscences out of this laureate of English rural life. Essential listening for anyone for whom Cider With Rosie and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning formed part of a literary education.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 20, 2019
Christopher Tugendhat: A History of Britain Through Books
In this week’s Spectator Book Club, Sam's guest is Christopher Tugendhat, whose new book offers a refreshing and thought-provoking survey of twentieth-century history; not through wars and treaties and policies, but through the pages of the books from his extensive private library. In A History of Britain Through Books: 1900-1964, Christopher argues that we can get a special understanding the temper of a given time through the pivotal works of fiction and nonfiction that expressed it; books written without the historian's hindsight. Here’s a survey of familiar landmarks — as well as texts that have fallen into undeserving (and sometimes deserving) obscurity.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 13, 2019
Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap
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
Thomas Penn: The Brothers York
In this week’s Spectator Books, Sam talks to the award-winning historian Thomas Penn about his new book The Brothers York: An English Tragedy — in which he argues that the 'Wars of the Roses' weren’t determined by a struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster so much as by the catastrophic white-on-white conflict that cause the House of York to implode. He tells the story of three brothers — Edward IV; George, Duke of Clarence; and Richard III — and their extraordinary and ultimately disastrous relationship. How did Tudor history — including, of course, Shakespeare — distort the real story of those years? Who really drowned the Duke of Clarence in that butt of wine? And did anyone, like Sam, have their sense of this vital period in history shaped by, er, playing the board game Kingmaker?

Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 30, 2019
Madeline Miller: Circe
This week the Books Podcast leaves its dank burrow and hits the road. Sam travelled to the southern Peloponnese to catch up with the Orange-prize winning novelist Madeline Miller, where she was hosting a reading weekend at the Costa Navarino resort. Madeline’s first novel, The Song of Achilles, retold the Iliad from Patroclus’s point of view. Her second, Circe, takes on the great sorceress of the Odyssey. She talked about how — as a classicist as well as a novelist — she approached reworking these canonical stories; about taking liberties with Circe; and about how the 'rape culture' of Ancient Greece speaks to us in the age of #metoo.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 23, 2019
Peter Pomerantsev: This Is Not Propaganda
Sam's guest in this week’s Spectator Books is Peter Pomerantsev. Peter lived in Moscow for a decade as a TV producer, and chronicled the metastasis in that country of 'post-truth politics' in his bestselling Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible. His fascinating and dismaying new book, This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, describes how Russia’s surreal new information politics turned out not to be a weird exception, but the harbinger of a worldwide phenomenon. In this new book, part travelogue, part reportage, part memoir, he travels from the Philippines to Ukraine, from Mexico to Beijing, to investigate how the internet — which we once thought would be the great political disinfectant — has been weaponised by criminal regimes worldwide.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 16, 2019
Jung Chang: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister
In this week’s Spectator Books podcast Sam's guest is Jung Chang — whose latest book is the gripping story of three sisters whose political differences put the Mitford even the Johnson clans in perspective. In Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, Jung narrates the lives of the Soong Girls — one of whom was married to Chiang Kai-shek, another of whom became one of the richest women in the world and helped run Chiang’s government; and the other one of whom (the widow of the founding father of modern China, Sun Yatsen) threw her lot in with Chiang’s deadly enemy and eventual usurper, Mao Zedong. Every family has its little ups and downs! In the episode, Jung describes how — amazingly — the three sisters never stopped being close; the role they took in China’s turbulent 20th century; and the human story behind it. Including the birthday present that showed Chiang Kai-Shek’s romantic side…

Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 09, 2019
Benjamin Moser: Sontag, Her Life
Sam's guest in this week’s books podcast is Benjamin Moser, author of an acclaimed new biography of one of America’s most celebrated (and controversial) intellectuals of the twentieth century: Sontag: Her Life.

Sam asked Benjamin how he sorted fact from myth, about tracking down the inventor of that haircut, and about Annie Leibovitz’s take on their stormy love affair. Why could someone as brave as Sontag never come out? Did she have a sense of humour? And what of her will last?

Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 02, 2019
Etgar Keret: Fly Already
This week’s podcast features the Israeli writer Etgar Keret, talking about his new collection of short stories Fly Already. Topics on the agenda: how an Israel writer can address the Holocaust, why one of Etgar’s stories caused a dear friend of his to have to change his name, whether writing stories is a useful thing to do, whether smoking dope is a help or a hindrance to creativity, and why — alas — Brits so far don’t seem to 'get' Etgar’s sense of humour.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 25, 2019
Elif Shafak: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World
Sam's guest in this week’s podcast is the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, whose latest novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World has just been shortlisted alongside Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Elif talks to Sam about living in exile, writing in a second language, her relationship with Istanbul, and how the West’s culture war over 'free speech' looks to someone from a country where free speech can get you thrown in jail or worse.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 18, 2019
Frank Dikötter: How To Be A Dictator
This week's books podcast was recorded live at a Spectator event in Central London. Sam's guest is the distinguished historian Frank Dikötter, whose new book - expanding from his award-winning trilogy on Chairman Mao - considers the nature of tyranny. How To Be A Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century looks at what unites and what divides the regimes of dictators from Mussolini to Mengistu. They about how these dictators were able to exert control, and what made them vulnerable; about how communists differed (or didn't) from fascists; about whether dictatorship in the age of the internet would be different from the 20th-century sort; about the psychology of the tyrant; and about whether Boris Johnson's creative approach to constitutional norms was something we should be worrying about. 

Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 11, 2019
Ian Sansom: September 1, 1939
Eighty years on from the start of the Second World War, Sam's guest in this week’s podcast is Ian Sansom — who’s talking about 'September 1, 1939', the Auden poem that marked the beginning of that war. Ian’s new book is a 'biography' of the poem, and he talks about how it showcases all that is both best and worst in Auden’s work, how Auden first rewrote and then disowned it, and how Auden’s posthumous reputation has had some unlikely boosters in Richard Curtis and Osama Bin Laden.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 04, 2019
Lemn Sissay: My Name is Why
My guest on this week’s Books Podcast is the poet and playwright Lemn Sissay. Lemn’s new memoir My Name Is Why describes his early life — given up for fostering in the late 1960s as the son of an unmarried Ethiopian mother — and his progress, when his foster family gave him up, through the care system and out the other side. It’s a powerfully affecting story, and Lemn joins me to fill in some of the gaps. How does he feel towards his foster parents now? Do the racism and institutional cruelty he experienced belong to a vanished age? And… what did Errol Brown need with an afro comb?

Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 28, 2019
Mick Herron on how to be a crap spy
Even books editors have to go on holiday sometimes, so Spectator Books is taking a hiatus for a couple of weeks. But so there's not a gaping gap in your life where the podcast used to be, we're bringing out some of our favourite episodes from our archive.

This summer, Mick Herron has published the latest of his Jackson Lamb novels, Joe Country. It's a terrific read. So what better time to look back to the conversation Sam had with Mick Herron, a summer and a bit ago?

Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 21, 2019
Books for the beach with Alex Clark and Damian Barr
Even books editors have to go on holiday sometimes, so Spectator Books is taking a hiatus for a couple of weeks. But so there's not a gaping gap in your life where the podcast used to be, we're bringing out some of our favourite episodes from our archive.

Sam is joined by the critic Alex Clark and Damian Barr — memoirist and host of the Savoy’s Literary Salon — to talk about summer reading. What do you take? What do you regret taking? Kindle, dead-tree or — 19th-century-style — cabin trunk full of books sent on ahead? Our discussion yielded a host of recommendations — from the brand new to the reliable old friends — that we hope will help you plan your own travelling library. For those who like the sound of some of these, we’ve picked them out and listed them here for your convenience…
Aug 14, 2019
Adam Nicolson and Tom Hammick: The Making of Poetry
In this week’s books podcast, we’re getting Romantic. Sam is joined by the writer Adam Nicolson and the artist Tom Hammick to talk about their new book The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, Wordsworth and their Year of Marvels. In it, Adam describes how — inspired by Richard Holmes’s 'footsteps' approach — he attempted to imaginatively inhabit the worlds of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the crucial year in the late 1790s when they lived near each-other in the Quantocks in Somerset. That meant, for him, living in the same landscape, walking the same paths, reliving the struggles with lines of verse in manuscript. It’s a passionate attempt to fully understand the relationship between the two, and the influences that had their issue in Lyrical Ballads, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', 'Kubla Khan' and the ‘Prelude'. The book also contains the woodcuts Tom made from fallen trees where they lived, and which form a complex commentary on Adam’s text and on the texts it traces. Sam asks them to expound on such highbrow issues as: who was the Daddy? Wasn’t Wordsworth a bit of a rotter? And: what about Dot?

Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 07, 2019
David Brooks: The Second Mountain
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
Jon Day: Homing
Pigeons: revolting pests who can’t tell the difference between fag-butts and chips, right? Not so, according to Sam's latest podcast guest Jon Day, distinguished man of letters, critic, academic and… pigeon-fancier. Jon’s new book Homing describes how — suffering an early midlife crisis in young married life with fatherhood approaching — he took up racing pigeons. His book will make you look at pigeons in a new light — and also reflect on what these extraordinary birds have to tell us about the relationship between humans and animals and about the idea of home.

Presented by Sam Leith.
Jul 24, 2019
Oleg Gordievsky: the double agent who changed the Cold War
There’s nobody who writes true-life spy stories like Ben MacIntyre — and with his latest book The Spy and the Traitor out in paperback, Ben joins me to talk about the astonishing career of Oleg Gordievsky, a single spy who really did change the whole course of the Cold War. Ben tells Sam about Oleg's rise, his downfall, his daring escape from Moscow — and how he lives now and what he thinks of the situation between Russia and the West these days. Plus, the peculiar role in the whole tale of Dire Straits’s Brothers In Arms…
Jul 17, 2019
Toby Faber: the Untold Story of Faber and Faber
This year the publishers Faber & Faber celebrate their 90th birthday, and to honour the occasion Sam is joined by Toby Faber, the founder’s grandson and the author of a new history of the company called Faber & Faber: The Untold Story. Most corporate histories are boring, but this one — told largely through the correspondence of that company’s astonishing cast of literary luminaries — is anything but. Toby talks about the company’s rackety start as a publisher of medical textbooks; about T.S. Eliot and the genesis of Cats; and Kazuo Ishiguro’s most mortifying moment.
Jul 03, 2019
Benjamin Dreyer: Dreyer's English
In this week’s Spectator Books podcast Sam's guest is Benjamin Dreyer — whose name is pronounced, as Sam discovers live on air, 'Dryer' rather than 'Drayer'. That seems an apt way to be introduced to a man who, as Random House US’s Copy Chief, makes his living correcting errors. His new book Dreyer’s English is a compendium of useful tricks of the trade, sharp opinions and authoritative rulings on everything to do with language and style. They talk transatlantic language differences, angry pedants, and punctuation nitty-gritty, with special reference to Steven Pinker, the New Yorker and Guns N’ Roses. 

Presented by Sam Leith.
Jun 26, 2019
Kit de Waal: Common People
In this week’s books podcast Kit de Waal is here to talk about her new anthology of working-class memoir, Common People. First a guest on this podcast a couple of years ago talking about her Desmond-Elliott-shortlisted debut My Name Is Leon, Kit explains why she thought an anthology of working-class writing was necessary, about if and how the pendulum has swung since previous booms in working-class writing, what still needs to change in publishing, and how, as an editor, she avoided falling victim to Four Yorkshiremen Of The Apocalypse Syndrome.

Presented by Sam Leith. 

Jun 19, 2019
Mike Jay: Mescaline
This week’s books podcast promises to be a trip. Sam is joined by Mike Jay to talk about the history of mescaline — a psychedelic drug whose influence goes from the earliest South American civilisations through the 19th-century Indian Wars up to W B Yeats, Aleister Crowley and (of course) Aldous Huxley and Hunter S Thompson. Does tripping balls tell us anything profound about human consciousness? How come Mexico got all the good drugs? And why did Aldous Huxley lie about his trousers?

Presented by Sam Leith.
Jun 12, 2019
Marion Turner: Chaucer, A European Life
In this week’s books podcast we’re talking about why the Father of English Poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer, at least half belongs in a French, Latin and Italian tradition. Marion Turner’s magnificently scholarly Chaucer: A European Life sets the great writer in his own times — one of a hinge between feudal and early modern ideas about selfhood, authorship and originality; and one in which our man travelled widely and with profit across the Europe of his day, learning from poets from France and Hainaut, from Dante and Boccaccio, and even possibly from the painter Giotto. Plus, she tells how the man we often think of as a merry, roly-poly little character on the road to Canterbury first enters the record as an adolescent fashion-plate in something that looked suspiciously like a miniskirt…

Presented by Sam Leith.
Jun 05, 2019
Jim Al-Khalili: Sunfall
In this week’s books podcast Sam is joined by the physicist Jim Al-Khalili (host of Radio Four’s The Life Scientific) to talk about his first novel, a science-fiction thriller called Sunfall. In it, Jim uses real science to conjure up a plausible but fantastical near-future crisis in which the earth’s magnetic field falters and dies. What would that mean? (Nothing good, is the answer.) He helps us sort our neutralinos from our neutrinos, tells us about the real existential threats we face, and explains why he’s drawn to so-called “hard sf”.

Presented by Sam Leith.
May 29, 2019
Emma Smith: This is Shakespeare
In this week’s Spectator Books, Sam's guest is Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford, who’s talking about her new book This Is Shakespeare. What is it that makes Shakespeare special — and is it defensible that, as even in university curricula, we talk about Shakespeare apart from and above the whole of the rest of literature? How did he think about genre? Why is Act Four always a bit boring? Is the Tempest an autumnal masterpiece or the thin work of a writer of dwindling powers? And how filthy is A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Presented by Sam Leith.
May 22, 2019
Ursula Buchan: Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps
In this week's books podcast, Sam is joined by Ursula Buchan - the author of a hugely involving new life of her late grandfather John Buchan. The book is called Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps (you can read Allan Massie's enthusiastic Spectator review of it [here](, and it does as the title promises. Buchan (or 'JB' to his family) is known, if he's known now at all, as the author of the pre-war thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps, later filmed by Hitchcock. Yet here was a man of staggering range and energy - diplomat, historian, politician, propagandist, poet, barrister, publisher, and (most important of all) one-time assistant editor of The Spectator. He was a proud Scot who lived most of his life out of Scotland, and whose travels took him from Boer South Africa to the Governor-General's mansion in Canada. Here's John Buchan in the round - and a granddaughter talking about how and why she sought to make his memory her own.    Presented by Sam Leith.
May 15, 2019
Bret Easton Ellis: White
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
Joseph Stiglitz: People, Power, and Profits.
In this week’s books podcast, the guest is the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, architect of Bill Clinton’s “Third Way” and former chief economist at the World Bank.  His new book People, Power and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent argues Trump’s economic boom is a “sugar-high”, and that the US economy is in a far, far worse state than anybody thinks. As a result, he says, we need to reevaluate our whole faith in free markets. The reason the "invisible hand" is invisible, he says, is because it isn’t there.  He talks about why thinks that, and what we need to do about it.
May 01, 2019
Nicci Gerrard: What Dementia Teaches Us about Love
In this week’s books podcast Sam is joined by the journalist and (as one half of the crime writer Nicci French) novelist Nicci Gerrard to talk about her new book What Dementia Teaches Us About Love. The loss of her own father to dementia prompted Nicci to look at one of the most painful and pressing social problems of the age: how we care for, or fail to care for, those who have dementia — and the philosophical questions of what it means when the things that make you you start to fall away.
Apr 24, 2019
Cass Sunstein: How Change Happens
In this week's Books Podcast Sam is joined by Professor Cass Sunstein - best known here as co-author of the hugely influential 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, which spawned a whole transatlantic movement in using behavioural psychology to influence public policy (not least over here in the Cabinet Office's celebrated "Nudge Unit"). Cass's new book is called How Change Happens -- and extends the arguments of his previous books to talk about the mechanisms that determine quite big, and quite abrupt shifts in politics and social attitudes. Sam asks him how his ideas about nudging have changed over the last decade; about the limits and contradictions of "libertarian paternalism"; about the dangers of "group polarisation"; about how much we can or should trust to big tech and the mechanisms of the market; and about how the explosion in digital media has changed the democratic landscape for good.
Apr 17, 2019
Clare Carlisle: Philosopher of the Heart
Sam's guest for this week’s books podcast is Clare Carlisle, author of a new life of Soren Kierkegaard, Philosopher of the Heart. Kierkegaard has a reputation for being forbidding, pious and difficult to pronounce - but Clare’s here to tell us why the work of this transformational thinker and writer speaks to every age about the difficulties and the vital importance of finding a way of living in the world. Plus, we learn about his very strange love-life, his mental health, and how he got monstered by Copenhagen’s equivalent of Private Eye. There ain’t nothing like a Dane. Presented by Sam Leith.
Apr 10, 2019
Clare Mulley: The Woman Who Saved The Children
In this week’s books podcast Sam is talking to Clare Mulley about The Woman Who Saved The Children, her biography of Eglantyne Jebb reissued to coincide with next week’s centenary of Save The Children, the charity that Jebb founded. Eglantyne was a fascinating and deeply unconventional figure — a nice young gel from the Shropshire squirearchy who refused to fit into the social, sexual or professional pigeonholes her background seemed to destine her for. Instead she found herself investigating war crimes in Macedonia, campaigning against the postwar economic blockade of Germany, revolutionising charity fundraising, clashing with the law and pioneering the concepts that would go on to become the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Apr 03, 2019
Donna Leon: Unto Us A Son Is Born
In this week’s books podcast Sam is joined by one of the doyennes of crime writing, the brilliant Donna Leon. She talks about her latest Commissario Brunetti novel, Unto Us A Son Is Given, about what Venice gives her as a setting, why she welcomes snobbery towards crime writers, and why she never lets her books be published in Italian. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 27, 2019
Jhumpa Lahiri: The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories
In this week's books podcast, Sam Leith is joined by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri. Someone whose own fiction has negotiated the cross-cultural territory of her Bengali-American identity, Jhumpa in the last few years has been negotiating a new crossing of cultures after settling in Rome with her family and starting to write fiction and memoir in Italian. She joins the podcast to discuss the _Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories_, which she edited, and talk about what a new language gives a writer, how the war shaped Italian literature, and why - as a professor of creative writing at Princeton - she refuses to teach creative writing.
Mar 20, 2019
Owen Matthews: An Impeccable Spy
In this week’s books podcast Sam is joined by Owen Matthews to talk about the man many have claimed was the greatest spy of the 20th century, Richard Sorge, the subject of Owen’s riveting new book An Impeccable Spy (reviewed in the new issue of The Spectator by Nicholas Shakespeare). Sorge (he’s pronounced 'zorgey', by the way — not, as I introduce the podcast, idiot that I am, 'sawj'). Here was a man who supplied information that changed the course of the Second World War — and far from being the sort of glum duffelcoated figure who populates Le Carre’s “Circus” — he really did lead an existence of James Bondish extravagance. He played the Germans off against the Japanese, all for the benefit of the Russians — and did so while drinking like a fish, seducing every woman he crossed paths with, waving around samurai swords and roaring about on a motorbike. Owen has the low-down on this “bad man who became a great spy”.
Mar 13, 2019
Max Porter: Lanny
In this week's books podcast Sam talks to Max Porter, former publisher at Granta and author of the prizewinning debut Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, about his brilliant new novel Lanny (reviewed by Andrew Motion [here]( He asks: why are we used to novels having 15 page boring bits? What does the Green Man myth, and myth in general, have to offer readers? How do you convey the white noise of a village's chatter on the page? And which Thomas brother is the best: Dylan or RS?
Mar 06, 2019
Peter Stanford: Angels
In this week’s books podcast Sam talks to Peter Stanford, author of Angels: A Visible and Invisible History. Why is it that, according to some polls, more people believe in angels than believe in God? Peter takes us on a tour through history, theology and literature to find how the winged cherubs on our Christmas cards got there, and why they look as they do. Along the way he addresses some of the vital questions. Do angels have wings — and if so, how many? What are they made of — light, or compressed air? Are they above or below humans in the hierarchy of creation? Which is the friendliest archangel: Michael, Gabriel or Raphael? And how many can dance on the head of a pin? Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 27, 2019
David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth
In this week's Spectator Books, Sam talks to the American journalist David Wallace-Wells about his new book The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future. In it, he uses the best available scientific projections to underpin a picture of what the world would look like if it heats up by four degrees or more. Not pretty, is the conclusion he comes to. But what’s he trying to achieve with this book? Why, in his view, do we not take climate change seriously enough? And is this Project Fear — or Project Damn Well Pay Attention?
Feb 20, 2019
Deborah Lipstadt: Antisemitism
In this week's Spectator Books, Sam is joined by Deborah Lipstadt -- the historian who herself made a piece of history when she defeated the Holocaust denier David Irving in court. In her new book Antisemitism Now, Professor Lipstadt returns to the fray to look at the worldwide uptick of antisemitism in our own day and age. Sam asks her why she felt the need to write this book and frame it in the way she did, how antisemitism differs from other forms of prejudice, and what you can and can't say about Israel. Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 13, 2019
Andrew Morton: Diana, Her True Story
In this week's books podcast I'm joined from Los Angeles by Andrew Morton -- the Royal writer who scooped the world with the inside story of Princess Diana's marriage. To coincide with the publication of a revised and expanded edition of Diana, Her True Story -- including new material recovered from the tapes they smuggled out of Kensington Palace -- he looks back on those days and that story, and discusses how Royal reportage has changed. Why didn't they call it "Diana: The True Story"? Does he worry that that sort of public exposure during a divorce battle was risking the happiness of the children caught up in it? And what was it like when -- before his source was known -- people were publicly calling for our man to be sent to the Tower of London? Hosted by Sam Leith.
Feb 06, 2019
Josh Cohen: Not Working
In this week's books podcast Sam is joined by Josh Cohen, author of the Not Working: Why We Have To Stop. Josh is a literary critic and a working psychoanalyst, and his book is a thoughtful and subtle discussion of the way in which work dominates not only our lives and identities but our leisure time too -- and a speculation about some of the ways we might set about changing that. His references range from Max Weber and Freud to Orson Welles, Andy Warhol, Emily Dickinson and David Foster Wallace. Is it all the fault of "late capitalism"? Has the digital age made quiet contemplation impossible? And why, Sam queried, does his eccentric list of great idlers include some of the most insanely productive people in history? Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 30, 2019
Robert Alter: The Hebrew Bible
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
Kajsa Norman: Sweden's Dark Soul
In this week's episode, Sam talks to investigative journalist Kajsa Norman about her book 'Sweden's Dark Soul'. In it, she turns her gaze on the oppressive forces at the heart of Sweden’s ‘model democracy’. The story begins with the cover-up of mass sexual assaults at a Stockholm music festival. The reason? The perpetrators were unaccompanied refugee minors. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 16, 2019
Jonathan Ames: The Extra Man
In this week’s book’s podcast Sam's guest is Jonathan Ames, a writer who has produced everything from memoir (Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer) to TV writing (Bored To Death), graphic novels (The Alcoholic), pitch-black noir (You Were Never Really Here), Wodehouse hommage (Wake Up, Sir!) and now, in The Extra Man, a comic novel riffing on Henry James. We talk about why he calls so many of his characters “Jonathan Ames”, how he goes about his work, and whether — as a man who has become synonymous with “overshare” — he can ever quite retreat into the background.
Jan 09, 2019
Ed Vulliamy: When Words Fail
In this week’s books podcast we’re going to the wars. Sam's guest is Ed Vulliamy, the veteran war correspondent who has written a fascinating memoir called When Words Fail: A Life With Music, War and Peace. In it, Ed talks about how his lifelong love of music — he saw Hendrix at the Isle of Wight — has threaded through his terrifying adventures in conflict zones from Bosnia to Iraq to the Mexican/American border; and of how music really can salve the soul when everything else is broken. He describes his own terrifying experiences with PTSD, snagging the last interview with BB King, and how playing “Kashmir” over and over again while roaring unembedded around a battle-zone led him to a friendship with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.
Jan 02, 2019
Chris Kraus: Social Practices
In this week’s books podcast Sam talks to Chris Kraus — author of the semi-autobiographical cult novel I Love Dick and the new essay collection Social Practices — about her strange and interesting life in the New York and LA art worlds, about taking Baudrillard to a “happening” in the desert, about ambition and fame, about how art and literature feed into one another — and about why we English should stop sneering at “theory” and learn to love its strangeness and beauty. Presented by Sam Leith.
Dec 19, 2018
Mark Mason: The Book of Seconds
In this week’s books podcast Sam talks to the great trivia expert Mark Mason about his new The Book of Seconds: The Incredible Stories of the Ones Who Didn’t (Quite) Win. Here’s the Christmas present for all the Tory frontbenchers in your life. Who remembers the Christmas number two in the pop charts? Who got silver at the Olympics? Who was the second man to walk on the moon? Mark — my second choice of guest for this week’s podcast — masterfully pulls together the psychological and social implications of not quite cutting the mustard.
Dec 12, 2018
Presidential lessons from Lincoln to Trump, with Doris Kearns Goodwin
In this week's books podcast, Sam is speaking to the Pulitzer-prizewinning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin about her new book Leadership: Lessons from the Presidents for Turbulent Times -- in which she describes what Lincoln, two Roosevelts and LBJ had in common, and didn't. Obviously, they talk a bit about that nice Mr Trump -- as well as hearing how Doris had perhaps history's classiest pyjama party at the White House with Hillary Clinton, and how as a young woman she worried at one point that she was going to be #metooed by Lyndon Johnson. Tune in, kids. Doris is remarkable.
Dec 05, 2018
Lee Child: on the side of Goliath
According to which bit of hype you read, there’s a copy of one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers sold somewhere in the world every four seconds, or every seven, or every nine. It’s a cute statistic and (as Child wryly notes), there’s an element of Barnum & Bailey hucksterism to it. Sam talks to Lee Child in this episode of Spectator Books and writes about it in this week's magazine.
Nov 28, 2018
Peter Frankopan: The New Silk Roads
In this week's books podcast Sam talks to Oxford's Professor of Global History Peter Frankopan about his follow-up to his bestselling history The Silk Roads. In The New Silk Roads, Peter brings his story up to date, and argues that with our Trump and Brexit obsessions, and a divided and fissiparous West still obsessed with itself, we are missing the bigger picture of what's going on in the world today. Once again, the Silk Roads -- those lines of connection between East and West running through what he calls the "heart of the world" -- are where the action is. In our conversation we look at the rise of China and asks what its vast "Belt and Road" programme means for the future shape of the world, at the deeply complex relations between the Gulf states and the nations with interests in them, at the forces at work in India, Pakistan and Iran -- and why our school curricula need to go a bit beyond the old diet of Black Death, Mary Seacole and the Second World War. Plus, Peter's (almost) diplomatic about the enduring madness of Turkmenistan. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 21, 2018
Nora Krug's Heimat: reconciling guilt and patriotism in post-war Germany
Sam talks to Nora Krug about her remarkable graphic work Heimat - in which this German born writer and artist discusses how it has felt to grow up in Germany and later the US with the shadow of her homeland’s war guilt, how that has issued in art, literature and humour, and about her risky attempt to discover her own family’s wartime past. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 13, 2018
Geoff Dyer: Broadsword Calling Danny Boy
With Geoff Dyer, one of our most wayward and wittiest writers, about his new book Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, a frame-by-frame discussion of the classic war movie Where Eagles Dare. Learn from Geoff about the importance of squinting in Clint Eastwood’s thespian toolbox, about the joy of snow-patrol Action Man, about why he shied away from plans for "Alistair MacLean: A Critical Reappraisal", and about why on earth Geoff would follow a learned book about Tarkovsky’s Stalker with a discussion of a piece of late-60s schlock. Plus: what happens when you get on the wrong side of Julian Barnes. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 07, 2018
Ben Schott: Jeeves and the King of Clubs
In this week's books podcast Sam talks to Ben Schott. The author of Schott's Miscellany, Ben's literary productions have taken an unexpected turn with the publication this week of his first novel. Jeeves and the King of Clubs is a tribute or companion piece to P G Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novels, published with the authorisation of the Wodehouse estate. What the hell was he thinking? Ben comes clean -- and also talks about the joys of nerdiness, the difficulty of living up to Plum, and the Spectator's role in the whole story. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 01, 2018
Robert Plomin: Blueprint
Sam Leith talks to the behavioural geneticist Robert Plomin about his new book Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are, in which he argues that it’s not only height and weight and skin colour that are heritable, but intelligence, TV-watching habits and likelihood of getting divorced. They talk about the risks he takes publishing this book, the political third rail of race and eugenics, and what his discoveries mean for the future of our data and for medical care. You can read Kathryn Paige Harden’s review of Blueprint, meanwhile, in this week’s magazine. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 24, 2018
Sara Paretsky: Shell Game
Sam talks to the incomparable Sara Paretsky about her latest V. I. Warshawski novel Shell Game — which pits the original feminist gumshoe against art thieves, Russian mobsters and her fink of an ex-husband. They talk about keeping Vic young (skincare doesn’t come into it), chiming with MeToo and immigration anxieties in Trump’s America, whether she feels rivalrous with other female crime writers, spotting her own writerly tics, and making friends with Obama. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 18, 2018
Andrew Roberts: Walking With Destiny
In this week's books podcast, Sam talks to Andrew Roberts in front of an audience about his new biography on Winston Churchill. It charts the leader's powerful sense of personal destiny, his ambition and bravery as a soldier and a leader. The book interprets the events that defined Churchill, from the Dardanelles disaster of 1915, his years in the political wilderness, and his summoning to save his country in 1940\. Sam and Andrew discuss Churchill's belief that he was 'walking with destiny', his prophesies of European disaster in the 1930s, as well as his drinking habits, the racist charges against him, and his singular ability to deliver some of the most memorable speeches of the 20th century. Presented by Sam Leith at Daunt Books, Marylebone.
Oct 11, 2018
William Davies: Nervous States
Political scientist William Davies talks to Sam Leith about his new book Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over The World. Here’s a deep dive into the parlous condition of our public discourse, drawing the line from Descartes and Hobbes to Trump and Generation Snowflake. Can speech be a form of violence? Will argues that our instincts on that may be wrong…
Oct 04, 2018
Adam Sisman: More Dashing
In this week's Spectator Books podcast, Sam Leith is talking to Adam Sisman about More Dashing -- his new selection from the remarkable correspondence of one of the 20th-century's most celebrated adventurers, spongers and men of letters, Paddy Leigh-Fermor. What did Paddy really feel about his most famous act of derring-do, when he kidnapped a Nazi general in occupied Crete? What really went on in his unconventional marriage? And were -- as Adam Sisman contends -- his letters really at the heart rather than the periphery of his literary achievement?
Sep 27, 2018
Neil MacGregor: Living With The Gods
In this week’s books podcast, Sam talks to the former head honcho of the National Gallery and British Museum, Neil MacGregor, about his new book Living With The Gods: On Beliefs and Peoples. Neil tells the story of the world’s religions through objects — beginning with a 40,000-year-old carving that might be the first human representation of an entirely imaginary object. What do religions have in common? How do you represent icon-averse creeds through physical objects? Why should there be an evolutionary advantage in engaging with the intangible or imaginary? And what does the history of religion tell us about the common threads of humanity? Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 20, 2018
Helen Parr: Our Boys
In this week’s books podcast Sam talks to Helen Parr about her remarkable new book Our Boys: The Story of A Paratrooper, which blends memoir, social history and military history to tell the story of the paratroopers who fought in the Falklands War and what happened when they came home — or, as in the case of Parr’s 19-year-old uncle, didn’t. Helen talks about what civilians can and can’t know of the experience of men who kill and risk death in combat, about the history of the paratroop regiment, and the sea-change in Britain’s relationship with its serving soldiers and its veterans that took place from the 1980s onwards. Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 13, 2018
Sebastian Faulks: Paris Echo
In this week’s books podcast, Sam talks to Sebastian Faulks about his brilliant new novel Paris Echo, which describes the twined stories of a Moroccan teenager and an American academic in the French capital – and the way that the ghosts of the past, from the Occupation to the decolonisation of North Africa, still play out in the present. Sam and Sebastian talk about whether writing from the point of view of a 19-year-old Moroccan means he’s going to be chucked in the Lionel Shriver High Security Prison for “cultural appropriation”, whether Paris Echo is an excursion into Magic Realism, how his serious literary novels coexist with his writing James Bond or Jeeves and Wooster — and about this book’s very unusual dedicatee… Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 06, 2018
Ian Kershaw: Rollercoaster: Europe 1950-2017
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
Adam Tooze: How a decade of financial crises changed the world
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
Can graphic novels be considered literature?
Among the biggest surprises of this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist was the inclusion, for the first time in the prize’s 50-year history, of a “graphic novel”. Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina — a chillingly claustrophobic account of the aftermath of a murder in post-truth America — is undoubtedly a brilliant example of its form. But does a comic belong in contention for a fiction prize? Sam didn’t think so (and wrote as much in the FT. In this week’s Books Podcast the Man Booker Prize’s Literary Director, Gaby Wood, argues otherwise — and raises in the process the possibility that, one day, the Man Booker prize could be won by a book that doesn’t contain any words at all.  Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 16, 2018
Simon Heffer: The Age of Decadence
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
Philip Collins: When They Go Low
In this summer rewind, hear Sam Leith talk to Times columnist and former speechwriter for Tony Blair, Philip Collins, originally released last October. His book When They Go Low, We Go High is a fascinating look at political oratory from Pericles to (Michelle) Obama, and a vigorous argument for politics itself as a bulwark against the false promises of populism. We talk about what it was like writing for Blair, the greatest speech he wrote that was never delivered, how a speechwriter can trick a Prime Minister into announcing a policy he didn’t expect to announce – and why he’s proud to be a “Centrist Dad”. Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 03, 2018
Jesse Norman: Adam Smith
Adam Smith is the most quoted and misquoted economist of all time. Sam Leith talks to Jesse Norman, author of the new Adam Smith: What He Thought and Why It Matters (reviewed in last week’s Spectator by Simon Heffer). Norman argues that we can only understand Smith in the round by reading his Theory of Moral Sentiments as well as the Wealth of Nations; and by putting him in the context of the Scottish Enlightenment and the thinkers such as Hume who surrounded and influenced him. But he also says that a proper appreciation of Smith’s thought has relevance for us right to the present day. And he even ventures a thought on what the Sage of Kirkcaldy would have made of Brexit. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jul 26, 2018
Ben Rhodes: The World As It Is
In this week’s Spectator Books, Sam talks to a man who has spent more time on Air Force One than even Piers Morgan: President Obama’s former foreign policy speechwriter and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, author of new memoir The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House.  What is it really like writing speeches for Obama — and when did the President insist on writing his own words? How did Obama really greet the election of Donald Trump, away from the public magnanimity? And why is the Presidential plane, actually, a bit 1980s? Presented by Sam Leith.
Jul 19, 2018
Margo Jefferson on Michael Jackson
This week’s episode sees Sam Leith joined by Margo Jefferson, author of 'On Michael Jackson' and the memoir Negroland, to moonwalk back to the glory days of Michael Jackson. Jackson was one of the central figures in pop culture, but what was it that made him so captivating? And can his artistic legacy ever be disentangled from the gruesome murk of the last years?
Jul 12, 2018
Jay Rubin: The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
Sam talks to the distinguished scholar of Japanese literature Jay Rubin, editor of the new Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories.  Many of us in the West know little of Japanese literature beyond, perhaps, Haruki Murakami, Yukio Mishima and perhaps Banana Yoshimoto and Kenzaburo Oe. Jay fills in the blanks. Did you know the Japanese novel got going centuries before Don Quixote? That Japanese novelists were producing pitiless self-portraits decades before Knausgaard's voguish 'auto-fictions'? All this, plus the story of Japanese women's writing and the place of manga in the culture. Produced by Connor O'Hara.
Jul 05, 2018
Judith Kerr and Matthew Kneale
This week’s episode is a family affair: Sam talks to the children’s writer and illustrator Judith Kerr (Mog The Forgetful Cat; When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit; and The Tiger Who Came To Tea), and her son the novelist and historian Matthew Kneale, author of English Passengers and Sweet Thames, and most recently, Rome: A History in Seven Sackings. They talk about fiction and nonfiction, hereditary writers, whether what we’re seeing now answers the definition of fascism — and the bit that Judith’s publisher wanted taken out of The Tiger Who Came To Tea on the grounds of it "not being realistic”. 
Jun 28, 2018
Michael Pollan: How to change your mind
Is LSD good for you? Sam Leith is joined by the author Michael Pollan, who talks about the fascinating lost history of psychedelic drugs, speculates on what they may tell us about the human mind and the universe, recalls his own mind-blowing encounter with toad venom, and reveals that serious scientific research is even now being done into whether the “machine elves” that DMT users meet are hallucinations or visitors from another dimension. Plus, we learn why “enough LSD to kill an elephant” isn’t just a figure of speech… Presented by Sam Leith. Produced by Cindy Yu.
Jun 21, 2018
William Dalrymple: Koh-i-Noor
Sam Leith is joined by William Dalrymple, co-author with Anita Anand of Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Famous Diamond
Jun 14, 2018
Paul Kildea: Chopin's Piano
It’s a first for the Spectator Books podcast this week: music! We’ve temporarily dispensed with our usual intro jingle to allow this week’s guest, Paul Kildea, to play us in. Paul’s new book Chopin’s Piano: A Journey Into Romanticism is a fascinating and unusual piece of non-fiction that sheds light on Chopin’s life and music, and on their afterlife, as its author pursues an Ahab-like pursuit of the piano on which he composed his Preludes in Majorca. Sam Leith speaks to Paul at the Royal Overseas League in London, so that with the help of their instrument, he could punctuate our conversation with some musical illustrations of his points. Bitter musical disputes, doomed love, George Sand and Nazis: this one has it all.
Jun 07, 2018
Carl Hiaasen: Assume the Worst
In this week’s Spectator Books I’m talking to the journalist and comic novelist Carl Hiaasen about his latest book, a splenetic broadside against feelgood commencement speeches called Assume The Worst that serves as a joyous corrective to “you can be anything you want to be” boosterism. Our conversation ranges to his take on the state of journalism and politics, the time Donald Trump chatted up his wife, and (for fans) the possibility of a return of Skink...
May 31, 2018
Sarah Churchwell: Behold, America
Is the "American Dream", as Donald Trump claims, dead? Is “America First” a policy of national pride or a dogwhistle to white supremacists? In this week’s Spectator Books, we take the long view. My guest, Sarah Churchwell, excavates the long histories and surprisingly variable meanings of these two phrases in her new book Behold, America: A History of America First and the American Dream — and shows how central they have been to the United States’s long argument with itself about the meaning of the nation, and how they continue to be so today.
May 24, 2018
Antony Beevor: Arnhem
In this week’s Spectator Books, Sam Leith talks to the military historian Antony Beevor about his latest book, Arnhem: The Battle for the Bridges, 1944.
May 17, 2018
Richard Overy: The Birth of the RAF
Sam Leith talks to historian Richard Overy about his new book The Birth of the RAF, 1918.  100 years ago this spring, the Royal Air Force took to the skies for the first time. Yet it was far from inevitable that it would come into being, that having done so it would continue to exist beyond the end of the First World War, or even that the Royal Air Force would be Royal. He disentangles a forgotten history of political and public-relations manoeuvring and inter-service rivalry, before looking at the present and future of those who have inherited the mantle of The Few… 
May 10, 2018
Carlo Rovelli: The Order of Time
Sam Leith talks to physicist Carlo Rovelli about the nature of time. Do we have free will? Can you understand physics without maths? Just what is Roger Penrose on about? We tackle all these questions and more. And gosh he’s a good talker. So go on: take the time. 
May 03, 2018
Stig Abell: How Britain Really Works
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
Boyd Tonkin and Frank Wynne: the pleasures and perils of translation
With Boyd Tonkin, former chair of the International Booker and author of the forthcoming The 100 Best Novels in Translation, and Frank Wynne, nominated in the International Booker shortlist for his translation of Virginie Despentes. Presented by Sam Leith.
Apr 19, 2018
L.S. Hilton: Ultima
With Lisa Hilton, a.k.a. L.S. Hilton, author of Ultima, who talks about her 'filthy books' on international art dealing and murderous heroines. Presented by Sam Leith.
Apr 12, 2018
Richard Holloway: Waiting for the Last Bus
With Richard Holloway, writer, broadcaster, and formerly Bishop of Edinburgh, discussing questions of life, death, and faith. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 29, 2018
Gimson's Prime Ministers: Brief Lives from Walpole to May
With Andrew Gimson and Martin Rowson, author and illustrator of Gimson's Prime Ministers. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 22, 2018
St Paul: A Biography
With N. T. Wright, author of Paul: A Biography. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 15, 2018
Wendy Cope: Anecdotal Evidence
With Wendy Cope. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 08, 2018
Jay Heinrichs: How To Argue With A Cat
With Jay Heinrichs, author of How To Argue With A Cat: A Human’s Guide to the Art of Persuasion. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 01, 2018
Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now
With Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now. Presented by Sam Leith. This is a live recording of a Spectator Books Podcast event. To find tickets to more events, visit
Feb 22, 2018
Mick Herron: The Jackson Lamb novels
With Mick Herron, author of London Rules. Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 15, 2018
The Minister and the Murderer
With Stuart Kelly, author of The Minister and the Murderer: A Book of Aftermaths. Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 08, 2018
Mohsin Hamid: Exit West
With Mohsin Hamid, author of Exit West. Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 01, 2018
The life and work of Muriel Spark
With Alan Taylor, author of Appointment in Arezzo, and Philip Hensher. Presented by Sam Leith
Jan 25, 2018
200 years of Frankenstein
With Fiona Sampson, author of In Search of Mary Shelley. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 18, 2018
Lost Connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression
With Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections, and Joel Beckman, Operations Director of CALM. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 11, 2018
The Year in Strange Facts: The QI Elves
With Andrew Hunter Murray, Dan Schreiber, James Harkin, and Anna Ptaszynski. Presented by Sam Leith.
Dec 14, 2017
How totalitarianism reclaimed Russia
With Masha Gessen, author of The Future is History: How totalitarianism reclaimed Russia. Presented by Sam Leith.
Dec 07, 2017
Richard Flanagan: First Person
With Richard Flanagan, author of First Person. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 30, 2017
The Anna Karenina Fix
With Viv Groskop, author of The Anna Karenina Fix. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 23, 2017
Melvyn Bragg on William Tyndale
With Melvyn Bragg, author of William Tyndale: A Very Brief History. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 16, 2017
Hilary Spurling on Anthony Powell
With Hilary Spurling, author of a new biography of Anthony Powell. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 09, 2017
Philip Pullman: La Belle Sauvage and Daemon Voices
With Philip Pullman, author of La Belle Sauvage and Daemon Voices. Presented by Sam Leith
Nov 02, 2017
Speeches that shape the world – and why we need them
With Philip Collins, author of When They Go Low, We Go High. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 26, 2017
Claire Tomalin: A Life of My Own
With Claire Tomalin, author of A Life of My Own. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 19, 2017
Alan Hollinghurst: The Sparsholt Affair
With Alan Hollinghurst, author of The Sparsholt Affair. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 12, 2017
The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914
With Simon Heffer, author of The Age of Decadence: Britain 1880 to 1914. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 05, 2017
Robert Harris: Munich
With Robert Harris, author of Munich. Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 28, 2017
Anne Applebaum: Red Famine
With Anne Applebaum, author of Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine. Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 21, 2017
Robert Webb: How Not To Be a Boy
With Robert Webb, author of 'How Not To Be a Boy'. Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 14, 2017
Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker
With A.N. Wilson, author of Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 07, 2017
World Book Club's 15th Birthday
With Harriet Gilbert, presenter of World Book Club on the BBC World Service. Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 31, 2017
Clive James: Injury Time
With Clive James, author of Injury Time. Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 24, 2017
A century of Robert Lowell
With Jonathan Raban. Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 17, 2017
The Art of the Sequel
With Bonnie MacBird, author of Unquiet Spirits, and Anthony O'Neill, author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek. Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 10, 2017
Harry Potter at 20
With Nick Hilton and Melanie McDonagh. Presented by Sam Leith.
Aug 03, 2017
Is monogamy dead?
With Rosie Wilby, author of Is Monogamy Dead? Presented by Sam Leith.
Jul 27, 2017
Summer Reads
With Alex Clark and Damian Barr. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jul 20, 2017
Naomi Klein: No Is Not Enough
With Naomi Klein, author of No Is Not Enough. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jul 13, 2017
Living with the Living Dead: The wisdom of the zombie apocalypse
With Greg Garrett, author of Living With The Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse Presented by Sam Leith.
Jul 06, 2017
Jonathan Meades: The Plagiarist in the Kitchen
With Jonathan Meades, author of The Plagiarist in the Kitchen. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jun 29, 2017
The Secret Lives of Julian Assange, Craig Wright and Ronald Pinn
With Andrew O'Hagan, author of The Secret Life. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jun 22, 2017
First Novels: The shortlisted authors for The Desmond Elliott Prize
With Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Kit de Waal, and Francis Spufford. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jun 15, 2017
Michael Wood on William Empson
With Professor Michael Wood. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jun 08, 2017
Will Self: Phone, psychosis and postmodernism
With Will Self, author of Phone. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jun 01, 2017
Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident
With Peter Stanford, author of Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident, and Peter Marshall, author of Heretics and Believers. Presented by Sam Leith.
May 25, 2017
The Art of Losing Control
Meditation, psychedelic drugs, charismatic Christianity, sex parties... all this, and more, in the search to lose control. With Jules Evans, author of The Art of Losing Control. Presented by Sam Leith.
May 18, 2017
The Lost Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
With Anne Margaret Daniel, editor of I’d Die For You and Other Lost Stories, and Sarah Churchwell, author of Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby. Presented by Sam Leith.
May 11, 2017
Hamlet: Globe to globe
With Dominic Dromgoole, author of Hamlet: Globe to Globe. Presented by Sam Leith.
May 04, 2017
Murray Lachlan Young: How Freakin' Zeitgeist Are You?
With Murray Lachlan Young. Presented by Sam Leith.
Apr 27, 2017
Stiff Upper Lip: The best and worst of British boarding schools
With Alex Renton, author of Stiff Upper Lip, and Ysenda Maxtone Graham, author of Terms and Conditions. Presented by Sam Leith.
Apr 20, 2017
Neuropolis: A Brain Science Survival Guide
With Robert Newman, author of Neuropolis: A Brain Science Survival Guide. Presented by Sam Leith.
Apr 13, 2017
The Joy of Indexes
With Dennis Duncan. Presented by Sam Leith.
Apr 06, 2017
Charlotte Rampling: Who I Am
With Charlotte Rampling. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 30, 2017
Be Like The Fox: Machiavelli's lifelong quest for freedom
With Erica Benner, author of Be Like The Fox: Machiavelli's Lifelong Quest for Freedom. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 23, 2017
Michael Morpurgo: From The Yellow Brick Road to the Second World War
With Michael Morpurgo, author of Toto. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 16, 2017
Stand Firm: Resisting the self-improvement craze
With Svend Brinkmann. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 08, 2017
The Story of Pain
With Joanna Bourke, author of The Story of Pain. Presented by Sam Leith.
Mar 02, 2017
From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds
With Daniel Dennett. Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 23, 2017
Louise Doughty on Apple Tree Yard and Black Water
With Louise Doughty, author of Apple Tree Yard and Black Water. Presented by Sam Leith.
Feb 16, 2017
Rory Stewart: The Marches
With Rory Stewart, author of The Marches. Presented by Sam Leith
Feb 09, 2017
Michael Rosen: The Disappearance of Émile Zola
With Michael Rosen, author of The Disappearance of Émile Zola: Love, Literature and The Dreyfus Case Presented by Sam Leith
Feb 02, 2017
Cosmosapiens: Human evolution from the origin of the universe
With John Hands and James Le Fanu. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 26, 2017
Antonia Fraser: Our Israeli Diary
With Lady Antonia Fraser, author of Our Israeli Diary. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 16, 2017
The War on the Old
With John Sutherland, author of The War on the Old. Presented by Sam Leith.
Jan 09, 2017
Michael Lewis: The Undoing Project
With Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, The Big Short and his new book, The Undoing Project. Presented by Sam Leith.
Dec 21, 2016
Treasure Palaces: Great writers visit great museums
With Maggie Ferguson, editor of Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums. Presented by Sam Leith.
Dec 12, 2016
The Dahl Debate
With Lucy Mangan, author of Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory, and James McConnachie. Presented by Sam Leith.
Dec 05, 2016
Can You Solve My Problems?: Alex Bellos on a puzzling history
With Alex Bellos, author of 'Can You Solve My Problems?' Presented by Sam Leith
Nov 28, 2016
The Detection Club
With Simon Brett and Andrew Taylor. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 21, 2016
The Biographer's Tale
With Richard Holmes and Frances Wilson. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 14, 2016
The Hatred of Poetry: Ben Lerner on the problem of verse
With Ben Lerner, author of The Hatred of Poetry and No Art. Presented by Sam Leith.
Nov 07, 2016
Far and Away: Andrew Solomon on a lifetime of travel
With Andrew Solomon. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 30, 2016
What's the point of the Man Booker Prize?
With Philip Hensher and Sam Jordison. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 23, 2016
The Return: Hisham Matar on the search for his father
With Hisham Matar, author of The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between. Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 17, 2016
The Masculinity Problem
With Rebecca Asher, author of Man Up, and Tim Samuels, author of Who Stole My Spear? Presented by Sam Leith.
Oct 10, 2016
The Science of Not Knowing
With Marcus du Sautoy and Steven Poole. Presented by Sam Leith.
Sep 02, 2016