This Week's Show •

Lessons from Hannah Arendt

We’re calling on Hannah Arendt for the twenty-first century—could she teach us how to think our way out of the authoritarian nightmare? Arendt wrote the book for all time on Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet ...

We’re calling on Hannah Arendt for the twenty-first century—could she teach us how to think our way out of the authoritarian nightmare? Arendt wrote the book for all time on Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. And then she famously covered the trial in Israel of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi minister of death. Her study of the origins of totalitarianism keeps her current fifty years after her death and, pointedly, in our own rancorous presidential campaign of 2024.

Hannah Arendt.

Lyndsey Stonebridge.

In this podcast, the surprise turns on finding a profound humanity and hope, believe it or not, in the collected wisdom of Hannah Arendt. She noted in one essay, “We are free to change the world.” Our guest, Lyndsey Stonebridge, lifted that line for the title of her gripping, fresh take on Hannah Arendt. We Are Free to Change the World is her title, and thinking has everything to do with it.

This Week's Show •

Taylor Swift’s Tortured Poets

We’re going to school on Taylor Swift, in the Harvard course. And all we know is, as her song says, we’re enchanted to meet her. Taylor Swift comes out of literature but she’s more than ...

We’re going to school on Taylor Swift, in the Harvard course. And all we know is, as her song says, we’re enchanted to meet her. Taylor Swift comes out of literature but she’s more than a poet, or a pop star. Maybe the word is “enchanter” for the artist who gets it all into a song, who knows the fusion power of sharp words with the right minimum of melody.

Stephanie Burt and M.J. Cunniff.

We’re anticipating Taylor Swift’s next album, her “Tortured Poets Department,” coming in April. Stephanie Burt and M.J. Cunniff have made a hit course of it all for Harvard undergraduates. Professor Burt has been a critical gateway to contemporary poetry. And she knows her songwriters as well.

This Week's Show •

Of Melville and Marriage

We speak of the mystery of Herman Melville, or the misery of Melville, the American masterpiece man. For Moby-Dick alone, he is our Shakespeare, our Dante—though he fled the writing of prose for the last ...

We speak of the mystery of Herman Melville, or the misery of Melville, the American masterpiece man. For Moby-Dick alone, he is our Shakespeare, our Dante—though he fled the writing of prose for the last half of his life, and in death The New York Times misspelled his name.

Jennifer Habel and Chris Bachelder.

This podcast is a demonstration of another way, a better way to crack the riddle of Melville: read the book aloud with someone you love and jot down every question that comes to your mind. Before you know it, you’ll have written your own novel on a few hundred Post-it notes. Our guests, Chris Bachelder and Jennifer Habel, call their novel Dayswork, and it’s a marvel.

This Week's Show •

Against Despair

The subject, in a word, is despair, both public and private. The poets and spiritual seekers Christian Wiman and his wife Danielle Chapman are back to goad us, each with a new book. Their project ...

The subject, in a word, is despair, both public and private. The poets and spiritual seekers Christian Wiman and his wife Danielle Chapman are back to goad us, each with a new book. Their project is staring into the abyss, in the Nietzsche formula, to see if the abyss stares back, or talks back. And I think it does.

Christian Wiman and Danielle Chapman.

Listeners, you be the judge. Christian Wiman’s new book is Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair. It’s more interesting because the woman who broke his life open in love, most of 20 years ago, is in on the conversation. And it’s more urgent when we can all feel despair out there, coming on like a cold front—some say an epidemic of loneliness or melancholy.

This Week's Show •

The Rebel’s Clinic

Frantz Fanon is our interest in this podcast. The man had charisma across the board in a short life and a long afterlife. A black man from the Caribbean, he went to France, first as ...

Frantz Fanon is our interest in this podcast. The man had charisma across the board in a short life and a long afterlife. A black man from the Caribbean, he went to France, first as a soldier to help free the French from Germany, then to become a medical doctor and a psychiatrist, and then to North Africa to serve a revolution against France in Algeria. Along the way, he wrote about politics with the touch of a poet.

Adam Shatz.

To this day, when the world talks about healing itself, Frantz Fanon hovers and gets quoted among the giants of modern thought about race and justice, about post-colonial wisdom, if there is such a thing. So how to draw on Fanonism anew and test it in the real emergencies of a divided world in the 2020s? Adam Shatz is our idea of a public intellectual of the widest range, and all the while, it turns out he’s been hooked on Frantz Fanon and gathering string for his big new book: The Rebel’s Clinic. Readers will feel an uncanny resonance between Frantz Fanon’s time in the 1950s and the cruel news of the 2020s: at the U.S. border with Mexico, to take one of many examples, and of course the killing field of Gaza, between Israelis and Palestinians.

This Week's Show •

Algorithmic Anxiety

The question is how digital tech picks and chooses the content that comes to your phones and your brain, or, as Kyle Chayka puts it in a brave new book Filterworld: “how algorithms flattened culture.” ...

The question is how digital tech picks and chooses the content that comes to your phones and your brain, or, as Kyle Chayka puts it in a brave new book Filterworld: “how algorithms flattened culture.” What is the chance that devices that know your likes and dislikes better than you do are ever going to surprise you or teach you? What’s the tilt, over time, of an information system that’s tuned to the smiley face?

Kyle Chayka with Chris.

The joke version is that the algorithm walks into the bar and the bartender asks, “What would you like?” And of course, the algorithm answers, without thinking, “I’ll have what everyone else is having.” Kyle Chayka seems to have answered the question why TikTok voices and Instagram faces are so uniform, why AirBnB is showing what looks like the same room for rent all over the planet, why pop music is down to one super-singer who can fill stadiums all over the earth, for an Eras tour that could go on forever. We’re talking about algorithmic culture in a brave new world.

This Week's Show •

The Humbling of Harvard

Oldest and far the richest among American universities, Harvard is the apex, in some sense, of American intellectualism, and it will be a long time figuring out just how it lost a big game it ...

Oldest and far the richest among American universities, Harvard is the apex, in some sense, of American intellectualism, and it will be a long time figuring out just how it lost a big game it didn’t seem to know it was playing: a high-stakes free for all, it turned out to be, with poisonous words like plagiarism and anti-Semitism threaded through the media coverage and then in airborne ad banners and other blunt instruments.

Diana Eck and Randall Kennedy.

Suddenly, the president of Harvard—a black woman, as chance would have it—resigned her job under pressure, as if to confirm that something serious had indeed happened. But what in the world was the Harvard fight about? And was this the beginning or the end of a great battle?

This Week's Show •

The Most Secret Memory of Men

The only way into this podcast is a long leap headfirst into postcolonial French fiction, of all things, and a novel titled The Most Secret Memory of Men. Our guest is the toast of literary ...


The only way into this podcast is a long leap headfirst into postcolonial French fiction, of all things, and a novel titled The Most Secret Memory of Men. Our guest is the toast of literary Paris, the first novelist from sub-Saharan Africa to win France’s highest book prize, the Goncourt: Mohamed Mbougar Sarr.

The first thing we feel in this magical book is Sarr himself: the doctor’s son from Dakar in Senegal, eldest of seven sons—military school, advanced education in France, and now, of course, the Goncourt. At the start of Sarr’s book, we’re at play in a Parisian nest of artists and writers, hustlers and searchers, men and women out of France’s one time colonies—Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast. They’re watching the World Cup, they’re smoking weed, they’re making love, but they’re thinking about literature. “This is our life,” one writer says, “but we also talk about it, because talking about it keeps it alive. And as long as it’s alive, our lives, even if they’re pointless, even if they’re tragically comical and insignificant, won’t be completely wasted. We have to behave as if literature were the most important thing on earth.”

This Week's Show •

The Revolutionary

On the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, we’re face to face, almost, with an American political type that’s gone missing in our third century. Check this resume: he’s principled, he’s prepared, a two-fisted ...

On the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, we’re face to face, almost, with an American political type that’s gone missing in our third century. Check this resume: he’s principled, he’s prepared, a two-fisted aristocrat networked with farmers and workers; a thinker and writer at risk, without fear, talking ideas and enacting them, getting results; a man with no interest in money, no envy of riches or rank. He’s got a Harvard education, but no profession, no real career. He’s a republican, he’ll tell you, who takes self-government seriously—and the personal virtues that sustain it. The hero in this podcast is Samuel Adams of Boston, revived after two and a half centuries by the magical biographer Stacy Schiff.

Stacy Schiff (credit: Elena Seibert).

Thomas Jefferson of Virginia saw Sam Adams as the man who lifted a tax protest up to the launch of a new nation—a bigger figure even than his second cousin, John Adams, main author of the U.S. Constitution.

This Week's Show •

Israel and Palestine Across History

With the historian John Judis we are looking for a longer timeline in the crisis of Gaza, Israel, Palestine. It has been, in fact, a century of layered conflict between Arabs and Jews, two peoples ...

With the historian John Judis we are looking for a longer timeline in the crisis of Gaza, Israel, Palestine. It has been, in fact, a century of layered conflict between Arabs and Jews, two peoples in stop-and-go warfare over a small plot of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

John Judis.

What if (as in James Joyce’s most famous line) that hundred years of history is itself the nightmare from which we are all trying to awake? Can we break the nightmare war cycle by relearning the history, by taking it again, by doing it over?