You can’t understand China today, without understanding this.

July 31st, 2013
We know that for individuals, youthful pain, psychological trauma, and shame can have profound effects.  It can be a driver to depression, or an engine of great achievement.  Just as the high school nerd or scapegoat may spend his whole life trying to gain respect, achieve success or get the girl, the same can be true for nations and cultures.

For China, humiliated by the British in the mid 19th century and then by the Japanese, its modern history has been an effort to find a way to gain respect, to fill the psychological void left by its previous shame and humiliation.  In the case of China, it’s been particularly  difficult  because of its size.  To be weak is shameful, to be big and weak, hurts even more.

This idea provides the framework for China scholars Orville Schell and John Delury’s look as China's modern efforts to achieve Wealth and Power and China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century.

My conversation with Orville Schell and John Delury:

The historical Jesus vs. The religious Jesus

July 29th, 2013
It is the job of historians and scholars to take new and contemporary information and give  context and connection to events far beyond the time in which they happened. This is as true for wars, as it is for the story of Jesus.  Thus it is no accident that for over 2000 years, every word every written about Jesus was written by people that did not know him when he was alive.  It’s significant to note that this was as true in the twenty years after his death, as it is today.  Only today we have a broader compendium of knowledge from which to draw on and a keener understanding of the historical context.

With respect to the Jesus story, this makes it easier in some ways to separate out the religious Jesus from the historical Jesus and in so doing, better understand the origins of Christianity, in its  birth time, and as it has evolved for over 2000  years.

Few do this better than writer and scholar Reza Aslan.  The internationally acclaimed author of No God But God, has now written Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

My conversation with Reza Aslan:

Why we won and why it still matters

July 26th, 2013
As we watch events unfold in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, one thing should become very clear.  Revolutions are very difficult.  To change the direction and fate of nations does not come without much pain and sacrifice and in fact it usually does not work out.  That’s why when we look at own American Revolution,  we should realize what an usually success it was and that it was not inevitable, even with the very special men we had in its cause.  
Pulitzer Prize winning historian Joseph Ellis, in Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence, takes us deep inside the politics and strategy of that summer of 1776.  

We won that war so that we should never have to care about a Royal baby.....

My conversation with Joseph Ellis

How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour

July 25th, 2013
The economy and Wall Street are once again front and center.  President Obama is engaged in a series of major policy addresses about the economy.  Elizabeth Warren and CNBC are engaged in a kabuki dance about the future of Wall Street.  Larry Summers, part of the team that created our modern economy, may become the next Fed Chairman, and SAC, one of the most powerful hedge funds of the era, is engaged in an effort to keep its leader Steve Cohen and its employees, out of federal prison. 

All of this brings us to Les Leopold’s    How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America's Wealth.  A behind the scenes look at the world of hedge funds and what it means for ensuring domestic prosperity.

My conversation with Les Leopold:

Washington - Two Parties and a Funeral in America’s Gilded Capital

July 24th, 2013
When we try and conjure up a place that is all about power, ego, success, money, hard work, personal baggage and branding, most of us would think first of Hollywood.  As Orson Wells said of Hollywood,  "Hollywood is Hollywood. There’s nothing you can say about it that isn’t true, good or bad. And if you get into it, you have no right to be bitter — you’re the one who sat down, and joined the game." 

Much the same might be said of Washington D.C.  The difference is that we mistakenly think Washington should be a place of sober reflection on policy and ideas.  But was it ever?  Is the Washington of today any different than it has ever been; from the preening and egos of our Founding Fathers to the cronyism of FDR’s advisers, to the highfalutin schmoozing of Camelot?

It was the wise and sagacious Marilyn Monroe who said, “I don't know if high society is different in other cities, but in Hollywood, important people can't stand to be invited someplace that isn't full of other important people.”

That's the beginning and the backdrop for NY Times magazine's chief national correspondent, Mark Leibovich's  new book This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America's Gilded Capital. In it,  he fully pulls back the  curtain on the great and powerful Oz,  that is our nations capital.

My conversation with Mark Leibovich: 

Difficult Men and Television’s Third Golden Age

July 24th, 2013
Today, we are in what some consider the third golden age of television. Many programs are the talk of National Public Radio and of the most elite dinner parties. They have become a significant part of our cultural conversation.   So what changed?  

Was it the long tail of cable television, the need for men to find a place reassert themselves into the national conversation, or simply a natural home for adult storytelling at a time when the movies have ceded this territory.

GQ correspondent Brett Martin takes a deep look in Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
My conversation with Brett Martin:


July 23rd, 2013
Old songs like old photographs are the purveyors of a kind of double imagery.  They  are  short circuits in time that make yesterdays events, today’s reality.  One such song, is "DANCING IN THE STREET" by Martha and the Vandellas.  Almost a work of art, it conveys and captures an entire ethos in its 2 minutes and 36 seconds.  

It was recorded in the summer of l964.  The beginning of the Vietnam War, and the Berkeley Free Speech Movement.  It was the Mississippi Freedom Summer;  we’d see the passage of the Civil Rights Bill and it was a time when serious and ironic was becoming the meme of the day. Yet this pop song would become the anthem for changing America.

It’s the subject of best selling author Mark Kurlansky’s Ready For a Brand New Beat: How "Dancing in the Street" Became the Anthem for a Changing America.

My conversation with Mark Kurlansky:

The moral twilight of war

July 21st, 2013
After 9/11 and the onset of the war on terror, it became clear that we might  be in a permanent state of war.  What we forgot, was that war does not exist in a vacuum.  It brings out the best and worst within us.  It forces us to face a moral paradox that we might not have to face, in times of peace.  

This was certainly true in WWII.  These are some of the elements that provide the backdrop for Chris Bohjalian’s new novel The Light in the Ruins

It is a love story and thriller set in Florence and Tuscany in the waning days of World War II, as well as in the 1950s.   But in many ways, it’s also a cautionary tale about the compromises we make during war.

My recent conversation with Chris Bohjalian:

Animals and Humanity

July 18th, 2013
One of the great values of art is that it gives us a unique window on the world.  It forces us to be present and in the moment and allows us to channel our own feelings and thoughts into the work of another.  

In many ways animals, particularly our companion animals. do the same thing.  Perhaps it's why so many of us have them, why we spend so much on them. It’s  also why we often introduce young children to animals at the zoo.  For those young minds, it’s often their first connection to and understanding of a world beyond themselves.

Veterinarian Dr. Vint Virga has set as his mission to give all of us greater awareness and sensitivity towards our companion animals and use them to better understand ourselves and to enrich our appreciation of life. He explains it The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human.

My conversation with Dr. Vint Virga: 

How a Plastic Brick, Conquered the Global Toy Industry

July 18th, 2013
If I asked you to look at a viciously competitive company, in a market where the tastes change rapidly, where you have to redesign your product every year or two and where you were dominating the market because of your ability to innovate; where there was  a cult like devotion to your product, yet it once faced bankruptcy until one of the most successful transitions in business history... most of you would immediately think of Apple.

Well that’s true.  But it’s also true of LEGO.  Yes that humble plastic brick has within it a story that is both a metaphor for and cautionary tale about innovation in the world of business and technology.

David Robertson, a former McKinsey consultant and now Professor at the Wharton School, provides a detailed case study of LEGO in Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry.

My conversation with David Robertson:

Six College Kids and a Billion-Dollar Empire that Came Crashing Down

July 16th, 2013
Some college kids start whole business out of their dorm rooms. Think Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Dell.  Some other students, at the University of Montana, started a business that would be raided by the US Department of Justice and would lead one of its founders to be a fugitive in Antigua, with millions of dollars

It’s only fitting that Ben Mezrich, the man who told Mark Zuckerberg’s story, in The Accidental Billionaires, would now tell this story in Straight Flush: The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Online Poker Empire--and How It All Came Crashing Down . . .

My conversation with Ben Mezrich:

A father, two sons and one of them murdered by Charles Harrelson

July 14th, 2013
As with the family of Trayvon Martin, sometimes a verdict is even more devastating than the crime.  This is what happened to the family of noted trial lawyer David Berg, after his brother was killed in cold blood, in a hit set up by actor Woody Harrelson’s father.

Like two diverging paths in the woods, the lives of family members often go off in very different directions. For some the road taken leads to success and the good life, for others that road leads to a very different kind of life. This is the recurring irony of all sides of this story

This is the story of David and Alan Berg, as told by David in his memoir Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My Family

One brother would become one of our nation's most respected trial lawyers, the other murdered at a young age, by a notorious hit man, hired by Charles Harrelson. 

My conversation with David Berg:

Finding Happiness Singing with Others

July 13th, 2013
Most of us remember the joyful song about teaching the world to sing, in perfect harmony. It was later used as an incredibly popular Coke commercial.  Some of you may have seen the contestant on American idol with a serious stutter, that disappeared when he sang.

Both are testaments to the power of song, and of singing with others. In fact, over 40 million Americans participate in some kind of group singing. But why? What's the appeal and what’s the impact?

Bestselling author ;and commentator Stacy Horn takes a look at his in Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others

My conversation with Stacy Horn: 

Out of many….One

July 12th, 2013
Day after day we see further evidence of what appears to be America's economic decline.  European economies seem mired in a kind of economic quicksand.  But suppose instead of seeking individual isolationist solutions, that the U.S. and Europe could create a kind of transatlantic economic union?

Clausewitz said that diplomacy was simply war by other means.  Today it might be fair to say the same of international trade.  As both America and Europe asses their roles in the 21st century, it's important that we access every aspect of of power, including as both a marketplace for and a purveyor of goods. 

Imagine if at America s birth, the 13 colonies had decided to go it alone.  For all the criticism of the EU and NAFTA today, arguably the world is a better place because of them.

These are a few of the ideas that spring from Richard Rosecrance in The Resurgence of the West: How a Transatlantic Union Can Prevent War and Restore the United States and Europe.

Richard Rosecrance is senior fellow, adjunct professor, and director of the U.S.-China Relations Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is also Distinguished Research Professor, UCLA, where he was the former director of the Burkle Center for International Relations.

My conversation with Richard Rosecrance:

Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Who Took America to War

July 11th, 2013
As we once again debate America's role in the world, this time in the Middle East, it’s worth noting that there is most assuredly a deep strain of isolationism that courses throughout American history.  Perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than in the run up to the Second World War.  

Even as Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, only one in forty Americans thought America should get involved.  This was the world that FDR faced as he tried to reshape America's vision and it’s place in the world.  He reminded the country that it had a “rendezvous with destiny.”

He would succeed in persuading America.  How he did it, is the the subject of Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America into the War and into the World by Michael Fullilove.

My conversation with Michael Fullilove:

Revolutionary Conservatives

July 9th, 2013
Imagine a nation at war, a financial crisis, congress divided, bitter partisanship, battles over taxation and the role of banks and corporations.  Members of government who believed in trickle down economics and who thought that business interests should be preeminent and that we had to show America’s strength.   You’d think we were talking about America today.  In fact it was also the America of its birth.  A time when the quest for independence ran headlong into political reality.

This is the reality that David Lefer takes us into in  The Founding Conservatives: How a Group of Unsung Heroes Saved the American Revolution.

My conversation with David Lefer:

Jeannette Walls

July 7th, 2013
Seven years ago Jeannette Walls reminded us of the resiliency and precociousness of youth,  as she took us through her own troubled upbringing in THE GLASS CASTLE.  Now she turns to fiction and is able to share with us and show us once again how young people can make their way in the world; but more importantly, the raw innocence with which they view their surroundings.  In The Silver Star we get to see how these raw edges get knocked off and how, for better or worse,  fully formed adults emerge.

My conversation with Jeannette Walls:

There really was a golden age of hijacking…

July 6th, 2013
It’s hard to imagine today, but there was a golden age of hijacking.  Over a five-year period, starting in 1968, commercial jets we hijacked nearly once a week, using guns, bombs, and jars of acid. Some hijackers wished to escape to Cuba, or Saigon.  Many,  imagined being hailed as heroes; others aimed to swap hostages for sacks of cash. Their exploits mesmerized the country.

But perhaps the the story that captures the nation's attention on many levels was the the young lovers at the heart of Brendan I. Koerner’s  story of this period told in his his book The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking.

My conversation with Brendan Koerner: 

A cancer on the Church

July 2nd, 2013
Just recently we heard about tens of millions of dollars in cash being laundered in the Vatican. Clearly the Vatican and the Catholic Church are still imperial institutions, very much disconnected from the real world.  Nowhere has this been more evident than in the almost twenty year history of sex abuse in the Catholic Church.  

We often think about these stories on a very human, very tragic case by case basis.  But from thirty thousand feet, the numbers are staggering.  500+ priests sent to prison, over 3 billion paid in settlements, single priests that have abused more than 200 children and these are just a few statistics.

How did this happen?  How did horror and human degradation become so institutionalized, covered up and almost accepted from the Pope on down?

This is the story that Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Michael D’Antonio tells in his new book Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal.
My conversation with Michael D'Antonio:

Gettysburg +150

July 1st, 2013
Today we mark the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. One of the great battles of any war and one of the most significant in US history.

Yet, even a century and half since the Civil War,  we are still learning new historical facts, new insights and developing new understandings of what really happened and why. 

Two recent books, highlight this:

In A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War, historian Thomas Fleming reminds us that we need appreciate that we might have avoided the war altogether, had not the rhetoric and passions and hatreds of the times lead to what he calls “a collective and incurable disease in the public mind.”

Civil War historian and Gettysburg College history professor  Allen Guelzo, in  Gettysburg: The Last Invasion,  takes a look, for the first time, at the raw politics of the war.  How political and sometimes petty decisions, that were little noted at the time, will be long remembered for their impact on the war, the lives of men and their families and the course of history.  

My conversation with Thomas Flemming:

My conversation with Allen Guelzo:
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