When it comes to war, sometimes the weapons define the conflict itself. From the musket, the Monitor and the Merrimack to Fat Man and Little Boy, our weapons have defined our views of conflict and often how we view our military preparedness. One such seminal weapon has been the AK47. Designed in Russia, after WWII, originally as the Kalashnikov, it would go on to become one of the most common weapons in the world. A weapon mass produced and designed to inflict maximum harm at close range, it has alternatively been seen as the gun of liberation or oppression. Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent C.J. Chivers, in his new book TheGun, takes a look at a weapon, that probably more then nukes, defined the Cold War and is still part of the battle in Afghanistan and Iraq today. My conversation with C.J. Chivers:
Claude Levi-Strauss, who died a year ago at age 100, was one of the towering intellectuals of the 20th Century. Just as Freud shook up the discipline of psychiatry, so Levi-Strauss revolutionized anthropology. He transformed it from the colonial era study of "exotic" tribes to a discipline consumed with fundamental questions about he nature of humanity and civilization. While he was aggressive in pushing the theories of his time, his ideas and the quality of his work, still resonate today. Patrick Wilcken's, new biography of Levi-Strauss Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory, gives us an evocative journey in the one of the last century's most influential minds. My conversation with Patrick Wilcken:
Next time you or your kids are feeling underprivileged, take a listen to this remarkable and riveting story of a young woman who triumphed over the circumstances of a truly harrowing childhood. Homeless at 15, Liz Murray took control of her life and ultimately graduated from Harvard. Her memoir Breaking Night: A Memoirof Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard is truly a story of transformation, infused with hope and not a drop of self-pity or anger. Her story has already been a Lifetime TV Movie, but Liz Murray's personal telling is all the more powerful. My conversation with Liz Murray:
Imagine a technology that could help in securing the world's food supply, solve environmental crises, lower the need for fossil fuels and help reshape blighted urban landscapes; all in the context one big idea. This is the idea of The Vertical Farm and long time Columbia University microbiology Professor Dr. Dickson Despommier examines it in his new book. As climate change and the growing population of the developing world put new pressures on our food supply and in turn agriculture, the idea of vertical hydroponic and airoponic framing could be the wave of the future. My conversation with Dr. Dickson Despommier:
In 1989 as the Cold War came to end, we thought we were at "the end of history." We thought the end of the great superpower rivalry would mark a new turning point for peace. Yet today, twenty years later the world is perhaps more dangerous then during the height of the Cold War. How did this happen and what choices did our leaders make to create such a world?
In trying to figure this out, it's instructive to embrace the lessons of history. What happened at the end of WWII? After decades of violence and failed international policies, the end of that war should have provided a powerful framework for enduring peace. Instead we entered into the Cold War, nuclear proliferation, Korea, Vietnam, Israel and the Middle East and a host of new problems that we still live with today. What happened. This is the backdrop forThe Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953,a powerful new work by noted historian and presidential biographer Robert Dallek My conversation with Robert Dallek:
The current financial crises may have put capitalism under siege and highlighted the tensions between capitalism and American democracy. Yet this is not the first times these forces have been at odds. The decades after the civil war and the birth of the industrial revolution created massive industries, as we moved from an agrarian economy to a new, never before tired, capitalistic model. Even then, some thought that this new form of capitalism would overpower democracy itself. This period, often refereed to as the Gilded Age, is not only a fascinating story in its own right, but bears profound implications for the issues we face today. Never has the idea of repeating history that we don't learn from been more profound then in prize winning historian H.W. Brands' new book American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900. My conversation with H.W. Brands:
We often hear what sounds like a cliche, that one man can truly make a difference. In this complex, often overwhelming world, it seems more daunting than ever. Yet James Wolfensohn has indeed made a difference in the world. He is not only a hero to the world's poor, but a preeminent global leader in politics, philanthropy, business, the arts, international security and even sports.
James Wolfensohn was a prominent international banker, Chairman of Carnegie Hall and of the Kennedy Center; a world class cellist and one time Olympic fencer. He served as President of the World Bank for ten years and became the special envoy for the major powers, in overseeing Israel's disengagement from Gaza. He has written a moving and powerful memoir about his own personal journey.
The American experience is filled with demagogues who are often brought on by tough economic times and periods of dramatic change. Fear mongering has long been a stable of our politics and our culture. Father Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long, the populist James Curely, Robert Depugh and the Minute Men of the 1960’s and the John Birth Society; all tried to ride waves of fear and populist anger and in the end all failed. Today a new name has been added to this motley pantheon. One that not surprising comes out of Fox News, talk radio and the worst of therapeutic culture. He is Glenn Beck and while unfortunately, like "Lord Valdemort," it gives him power just to speak his name, it’s important that we understand this modern day phenomenon. I had the experience of meeting and listening to Glenn Beck this past Saturday, and since then having been trying to figure out if I had witnessed, a kind of right wing Oprah, Hitler or Howard Beal,or Joe McCarthy.
It is the largest machine ever built by man. It is 16.5 miles long, housed in a circular tunnel 300 feet below the ground. It is the the coldest place in the universe, one degree lower than the temperature of outer space. It is engaged in what is perhaps the most anticipated experiments in the history of science. It is the Large Hadron Collider and physical science will never the name after it peers far deeper into the universe than ever before. Some think, as Dan Brown's story told us, it will swallow us up in a Black Hole. More likely it will change forever the way we see the world. Award winning science writer Amir Aczel, in his new book,Present at theCreation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider takes us on a unique visit deep inside the LHC and tells the story of how it works and how it came to be. My conversation with Amir Aczel:
Most of you have seen or at least heard about the movie "Waiting for Superman." The award winning documentary, has now spawned a book. A series of essays by cutting edge educational thinkers exploring reforms and how to fix our broken public school system.
One of the most astute of these analyses is Jay Mathews, the education columnist for The Washington Post. In the film and in his essay he argues that successful schools begin not with parents, or academic theories, or new building, but with great teachers. My conversation with Jay Matthews about the movie and the book Waiting for "SUPERMAN": How We Can Save America's Failing Public Schools.
As we are currently in a season embroiled in partisan politics. As such, it's more important than ever to understand our Republic and its historical antecedents
There is no place to better begin this journey then to look at our first President George Washington. While much as been written about Washington, and many myths have emerged over the centuries, perhaps the real George Washington has yet to emerge. Award winning historian Ron Chernow in his new biography Washington: A Life, takes us though the formative events of America's founding based on fact, not mythology. My conversation with Ron Chernow:
For most us when we think about China, it's in the context of 1.3 billion Chinese people as a kind of monolithic nation and culture. We see a growing international power, a competitor and a confusing, almost alien landscape. Perhaps because its culture and language is so different, the only way for a Westerner to try understand it, is from the inside, to be a part of it and not outside looking in.
That is precisely what Deborah Fallows did during her three years living in China with her husband, the distinguished journalist James Fallows. Deborah has written a story that is part memoir, part travelogue, part psychological profile. Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Language should be required reading for anyone visiting or doing business with China. My conversation with Deborah Fallows:
The history of muckraking journalism is very much the history of America. Our founders clearly understood the importance of a free press in a free society. Often times though, the work of the press has not served the interests of those in power and we’ve seen powerful push back as that power is threatened. We all remember The Pentagon Papers, the work of Sinclair Lewis, Walter Winchell, Woodward and Bernstein and today Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Back in the days of Richard Nixon, another powerful newspaperman, Jack Anderson, would seek to tear down the wall of censorship that surrounded the Nixon administration. As you might expect, Nixon sought to retaliate and in so doing was born new chapters in the scandal culture of Washington. University of Maryland Professor and award winning journalist Mark Feldstein takes us inside a conflict that defined modern political warfare in his book Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture. My conversation with Mark Feldstein:
Football today is big business. But back in the 1970's there were a group of guys that were a combination of castoffs, psychos and geniuses. Newcomers were from schools no one ever heard of and veterans had been cast off by every other "respectable" team. This group was the Oakland Raiders. John Madden was their neurotic and brilliant coach, Al Davis was their eccentric and imperious owner. They were like no other team at the time, and certainly like nothing we see today. Journalist Peter Richmond tell their story in Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death, and John Madden's Oakland Raiders. My conversation with Peter Richmond: