This week: a conversation with Louis Menand about art and culture during the first two decades of the Cold War. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.

John Cage, whose Buddhism-inspired work opened up paths for avant-garde music, advanced a kind of art that didn’t need traditional notions of creative genius. He reflected:

Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of…


This week: conversations with Adam Tooze and Steven Pearlstein about Joe Biden’s stimulus plan. Listen today at 2 pm or anytime at our website.

We’re grappling this week with the meaning of Joe Biden’s titanic American Rescue Plan—asking where might it take us, and whether it marks a real turn in the history of inequality in the United States. Adam Tooze, historian at Columbia and author of Crashed, is sanguine about the recovery plans:

I think they’re pointed in absolutely the right direction, and I particularly like the fact there’s a family plan coming down the pike, because anyone who…


This week: a conversation about the novelist Philip Roth with his biographer, Blake Bailey. Listen today at 2 pm or anytime at our site.

Look at the reactions to Blake Bailey’s colossal new biography of Philip Roth: “Is this biography as revenge?” asks Laura Marsh; it’s “totemic and compulsively readable,” according to Christian Lorentzen; “MY BIOGRAPHER HAS NO INTEREST IN MY WRITING!!!!” cries Roth as channeled by Joshua Cohen; still, the book’s a “narrative masterwork” to Cynthia Ozick. The Roth biography elicits strong responses, but the responses are all over the place.

This week we talk to Blake Bailey about…


This week: a conversation about Casablanca with Leslie Epstein (whose father and uncle wrote the film) and A.S. Hamrah. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.

Umberto Eco noted that Casablanca is more than just a single movie—“it is movies.” The critic A. S. Hamrah joined us this week to talk about the 1942 film, and said the point of Eco’s line is that

it’s like the perfect Platonic ideal of a Hollywood movie from that period . . . You know, it’s the way the narrative is constructed, the heroism of Bogart, the character actors, the…


This week: a conversation about public education in an era of privatization and polarization, with Noliwe Rooks, Jennifer Berkshire, and Linda Nathan. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our site.

The pandemic interrupted public education on a massive scale, compounding damage already done by willful undermining of U.S. public education. The neglect of schools could be about to worsen, too, in tandem with other forms of democracy suppression.


Walter Isaacson.

This week: conversations about gene editing with Walter Isaacson and Ben Hurlbut. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.

To a list of scientific heroes including Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Ben Franklin, the biographer Walter Isaacson now adds Jennifer Doudna, Nobel prize-winning scientist behind breakthroughs in gene editing. The Code Breaker, Isaacson’s book on Doudna, opens the door to a kind of science that isn’t so publicly understood. Here, for example, Isaacson swiftly explains the basics of gene editing via CRISPR:

The gene-editing tool that Doudna and others developed in 2012 is based on a…


This week: conversations with Camara Jones, Nicholas Christakis, and Frank Snowden about our pandemic year. Listen today at 2 pm or anytime at our website.

One year ago, we aired our first show about COVID-19, turning to specialists on the subject of plague. Now, at the start of our second pandemic year, we’re looking back on what happened since then. Frank Snowden, a Yale historian and author of Epidemics and Society, was a guest on that first show on the subject (exactly one year ago yesterday), and he talks to us again this week:

One of the most poignant questions…


This week: a master class with George Saunders about Chekhov and Tolstoy. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.

Every George Saunders book is a big deal, but the new one, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, is special in its own way. Here, the author of Lincoln in the Bardo and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline lets us all into his famous Syracuse University writing classroom. He’s telling us the lessons he draws from Russian short fiction, in chapters that alternate with the stories themselves. …


This week: conversations about GameStop and market mayhem, with Mark Blyth, Joseph Stiglitz, Matt Taibbi, and Zachary Carter. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.

Recently, retail traders on Reddit’s WallStreetBets helped drive up the price of GameStop stock astronomically, thwarting hedge fund pros who had bet against the videogame retailer. Popular stories emerged of Davids triumphing over a Wall Street Goliath. But it’s also been reported that institutional investors were behind much of the spike, and a hedge fund is among the biggest victors of the whole thing.


This week: conversations about presidents and poetry with Marianne Williamson, Eileen Myles, Stephanie Burt, Clint Smith, and Christian Lorentzen. Listen today at 2 pm or anytime at our site.

The poet Amanda Gorman seized the nation’s attention at Joe Biden’s inauguration, and she’ll continue to do so at the Super Bowl. It’s a new day for televisual literature, a convergence of performance poetry, celebrity, mass media, and presidential politics. This week, we talk about it all with writers, including two who have themselves run for president.

Radio Open Source

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon. chris@radioopensource.org

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