Episodes
Philip Mansel, a trustee of the Society for Court Studies and President of the Research Center of the Chateau de Versailles, has written a one-volume biography of the life and times of Louis XIV, King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV (The University of Chicago Press, 2019).  One of the longest reigning monarchs in Europe’s history, from 1643 to 1715, Louis XIV left a mark upon France for good and ill. He expanded the country’s borders but left it in horrible financial shape. He was a...
Published 03/03/21
Though Churchill harbored intellectual doubts about Christianity throughout his life, he nevertheless valued it greatly and drew on its resources, especially in the crucible of war. In Duty and Destiny: The Life and Faith of Winston Churchill (Eerdmans, 2021), Smith unpacks Churchill’s paradoxical religious views and carefully analyzes the complexities of his legacy. This thorough examination of Churchill’s religious life provides a new narrative structure to make sense of one of the most...
Published 03/02/21
In Calhoun: American Heretic (Basic Books, 2021), historian Robert Elder documents the life and thought of one of America's most controversial statesman, John C. Calhoun.  A congressman, a vice president, and a senator, Calhoun represented Jeffersonian republicanism during a time of national expansion and imperialism. He became the nation's most ardent defender of slavery and one of its most complex thinkers on the issue of state sovereignty. Elder's book reconsiders the legacy of this...
Published 03/02/21
In the centuries since her execution in 1536, Anne Boleyn’s presence in Western culture has grown to extraordinary proportions. In The Afterlife of Anne Boleyn: Representations of Anne Boleyn in Fiction and on the Screen (Palgrave Macmillan), Stephanie Russo describes the various ways in which her life has been interpreted and how these interpretations reflect the interests and developments of their respective eras. This process began with her contemporaries, who began memorializing her even...
Published 03/01/21
The remarkable life of history's first foreign-born samurai and his astonishing journey from Northern Africa to the heights of Japanese society. When Yasuke arrived in Japan in the late 1500s, he had already traveled much of the known world. Kidnapped as a child, and trained into a boy soldier in India, he had ended up an indentured servant and bodyguard to the head of the Jesuits in Asia, with whom he visited India, China and the budding Catholic missions in Japan. From the volatile port...
Published 02/24/21
When John Foster Dulles died in 1959, he was given the largest American state funeral since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s in 1945. President Eisenhower called Dulles—his longtime secretary of state—“one of the truly great men of our time,” and a few years later the new commercial airport outside Washington, DC, was christened the Dulles International Airport in his honor. His star has fallen significantly since that time, but his influence remains indelible—most especially regarding his role in...
Published 02/24/21
Enter the remarkable untold love story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon.  Charles Spurgeon is esteemed for his writing, preaching, and passion for the Lord. But behind the great man was a great wife—and between the man and wife was a profound marriage. Yours, Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon (Moody Publishers, 2021) invites you into the untold love story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon to discover how the bond between this renowned couple helped fuel their lifelong...
Published 02/23/21
Herman J. (1897–1953) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1909–1993) wrote, produced, and directed over 150 pictures. With Orson Welles, Herman wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane and shared the picture’s only Academy Award. Joe earned the second pair of his four Oscars for writing and directing All About Eve, which also won Best Picture. In The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope, Heartbreak, and Hollywood Classics (University of Mississippi Press, 2019), Sydney Stern draws on interviews, letters, diaries,...
Published 02/22/21
Elesha J. Coffman's Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith (Oxford UP, 2021) takes a careful look at Mead’s religious origins and influence. As a famous American anthropologist, Mead’s intellectual contributions to mid-century culture has been fruitfully studied. Coffman offers insight into a neglected aspect of Mead’s life—her religious views. Born into a home with secular agnostic parents, Mead chose a religious path as a child and joined the Episcopal Church. As an anthropologist she...
Published 02/19/21
Few astronomers in the 20th century did as much to expand our understanding of the universe as Vera Rubin. To tell her remarkable story in their biography Vera Rubin: A Life (Belknap Press, 2021), authors Jacqueline and Simon Mitton describe both the range of her accomplishments as well as the barriers she overcame in order to achieve them.  As they explain, Rubin was drawn early to the study of the stars, determining early in her life that she wanted to be an astronomer. To become one she...
Published 02/16/21
At 10:20pm on August 15th, 1969, Ravi Shankar — then, and still, the most famous practitioner of the sitar and Indian classical music — takes the stage at Woodstock. It’s arguably the zenith of Indian music’s popularity in the West, with musicians like the Beatles, the Byrds and Led Zeppelin embracing elements of Indian music. But this was merely the middle-point of Shankar’s artistic development, nor was it a personal highlight in a long and storied career. For many musicians in several...
Published 02/11/21
The debate about the origins of Enlightenment haven’t paid as much attention as they should have done to the radical religious cultures of the Dutch Republic in the mid-17th century, which are the subject of Francesco Quatrini’s new book. Adam Boreel (1602-1665): A Collegiant's Attempt to Reform Christianity (Brill, 2020) is a biographical and thematic study of one of the most enigmatic – and perhaps one of the most important – of the period’s religious and scientific thinkers. In the first...
Published 02/10/21
In Notable New Yorkers of Manhattan’s Upper West Side: Bloomingdale-Morningside Heights (Fordham UP, 2020), Jim Mackin introduces readers to almost 600 former residents of a culturally and politically fertile slice of Manhattan wedged between Central Park and the Hudson River from the West 90s to 125th Street. The range of people he has uncovered will astonish even long-time residents of the area. Actor Dustin Hoffman, writer Dorothy Parker, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and singer...
Published 02/08/21
The Films of Kore-eda Hirokazu: An Elemental Cinema (Palgrave MacMillan, 2019) draws readers into the first 13 feature films and 5 of the documentaries of award-winning Japanese film director Kore-eda Hirokazu. With his recent top prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Shoplifters, Kore-eda is arguably Japan’s greatest living director with an international viewership. He approaches difficult subjects (child abandonment, suicide, marginality) with a realistic and compassionate eye. The lyrical...
Published 02/05/21
Arlin Migliazzo’s Mother of Modern Evangelicalism: The Life and Legacy of Henrietta Mears (Eerdmans, 2020) documents the life and ministry of one of the most influential teachers of twentieth-century American evangelicalism. As the leader of one of the largest Sunday school classes in America at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California, Mears energized an entire generation of evangelical Christians with her teaching, her publishing endeavors, and her mentorship of figures such as...
Published 02/03/21
In a 2012 opinion piece bemoaning the state of the US Senate, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank cited a “leading theory: There are no giants in the chamber today.” Among the respected members who once walked the Senate floor, admired for their expertise and with a stature that went beyond party, Milbank counted Sam Nunn (D-GA). Nunn served in the Senate for four terms beginning in 1972, at a moment when domestic politics and foreign policy were undergoing far-reaching changes. As a...
Published 02/03/21
In 1933, Maurice Wilson — First World War hero, drifting veteran, and amateur aviator, lands in the aerodrome at Purnea in British India. His goal is to be the first man to climb Mt. Everest. And nothing — not his complete lack of climbing experience, the lack of official permission, and the efforts of British civil servants — will stop him. Ed Caesar’s The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest (Avid Reader/Simon & Schuster, 2020) tells Wilson’s tale, tracing his...
Published 01/28/21
A reporter uncovers the secrets behind the scientific scam of the century.  The news breaks first as a tale of fear and pity. Doctors at a London hospital claim a link between autism and a vaccine given to millions of children: MMR. Young parents are terrified. Immunization rates slump. And as a worldwide ‘anti-vax’ movement kicks off, old diseases return to sicken and kill. But a veteran reporter isn’t so sure, and sets out on an epic investigation. Battling establishment cover-ups, smear...
Published 01/25/21
Decades before he wrote his epic work Paradise Lost, John Milton was an active republican and polemicist. How Milton came to espouse such radical views is just one of the key themes of Nicholas McDowell’s Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton (Princeton UP, 2020), the first book of a projected two-volume biography of the famous author. The son of a prosperous scrivener, Milton enjoyed the benefits of a quality education heavily influenced by Italian humanism. This extensive...
Published 01/22/21
Today I talked to Michael Gorra about his new book The Saddest Words: William Faulkner's Civil War (Liveright, 2020). This episode touches on two of William Faulkner’s novels in particular: The Sound and the Fury as well as Absalom, Absalom! It considers the role of memory and history, Faulkner’s alcoholism, the sexual exploitation practiced by plantation owners, and the greater presence of Nathan Bedford Forrest over Robert E. Lee in Faulkner’s fiction writings. Ties to today’s reckoning for...
Published 01/21/21
André Gregory's not-memoir This Is Not My Memoir (FSG, 2020) is a fascinating trip through theatre history as seen through the eyes of one of its greatest directors. The André we encounter in this book will be familiar to fans of his theatre work or of his celebrated performance in My Dinner with André: curious, ebullient, searching, passionate, funny, and inspiring. This book also includes reflections on André's collaborations and friendships with some of theatre's greatest artists,...
Published 01/20/21
The Spiritual Evolution of Margarito Bautista: Mexican Mormon Evangelizer, Polygamist Dissident, and Utopian Founder, 1878-1961 (Oxford University Press, 2020) provides the first full-length biography of a celebrated Latino Mormon leader in the U.S. and Mexico in the early twentieth century. Surprisingly little is known about Bautista's remarkable life, the scope of his work, or the development of his vision. Elisa Eastwood Pulido draws on his letters, books, pamphlets, and unpublished...
Published 01/20/21
Today I interview Alexs Thompson about his new memoir, I'll Go: War, Religion, and Coming Home, from Cairo to Kansas City (2020). Let me begin with a moment of honesty. When I first heard about Thompson's memoir, I was skeptical that it was true. The experiences about which Thompson writes seem too remarkable, such as setting out to Egypt right after the 9/11 attacks in America with only a backpack and without a plan to study Arabic among fundamentalist Muslims, even though Thompson didn't...
Published 01/20/21
Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality, 1918-1927 (Columbia University 2020) by Jeffrey B. Perry, independent scholar and archivist, is an extensive intellectual history of the life and work of Black radical and autodidact Hubert Harrison. Perry is also editor of A Hubert Harrison Reader (Wesleyan, 2001) and author of Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (Columbia, 2008). He is the chief biographer of Hubert Harrison and Hubert Harrison: The Struggle for Equality is...
Published 01/18/21
Today I talked to Rachel Berenson Perry about her book The Life and Art of Felrath Hines: From Dark to Light (Indiana University Press, 2019). Felrath Hines (1913–1993), the first African American man to become a professional conservator for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, was born and raised in the segregated Midwest. Leaving their home in the South, Hines's parents migrated to Indianapolis with hopes for a better life. While growing up, Hines was encouraged by his seamstress...
Published 01/15/21