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There’s nobody quite like Sonny Rollins in the All-American sound and story of jazz. He was a teenager in Harlem in the 1940s when major players caught on to a rising star. Steadily over the decades, he built one of the genius careers on the tenor saxophone, alongside his rival and friend John Coltrane. More than that, Sonny Rollins was making his …
 
Out of the blue a decade ago, Paul Harding won a huge popular following, first, and then the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for his modern Maine sort of folk tale called Tinkers. His new one is deeper, darker, more ambitious philosophically, more poetic, more beautiful in long stretches—more ironical, too, starting with the title. Paul Harding. This O…
 
“Don’t forget” is a mantra in our shop: “don’t forget” specially the characters, the moments that made us. Norman Mailer is the spirit-seeker and sometimes reckless truth-teller we are un-forgetting in this podcast. We are summoning Norman Mailer in his hundredth-birthday season, what could be his revival time, to tell us what happened to his count…
 
Lydia Moland is reminding us that when present company in American public life comes up short, the ancestors of American democracy and spirit are lurking out there, in abundance and power to reset our judgment of who we are and what is possible, for a society, for each of us. Lydia Moland. Lydia Moland, our sometime radio colleague, is now a philos…
 
This is family talk in rural Ireland toward the end of an extraordinary life. My brother Patrick was the youngest of six, the saint among us and always the brightest company. Two winters ago he’d struck an odd note in our regular catching-up by phone, from his community farm in County Kilkenny to my base in Boston. He said, “Chris, I’ve aged more i…
 
This show first aired on September 16, 2021. It’s hard not to notice that we’re flunking tests, right and left, and running out of strategies against global-size troubles. COVID, we said, was our test for the age of viruses. At summer’s end the variants are gaining and most of the world is unvaccinated. Afghanistan became a 20-year test of the noti…
 
This show originally aired on September 23, 2021. Thomas Mann was one of those cultural giants the world doesn’t seem to make anymore—artists with authority, almost as big as their countries, at the level of Mark Twain, say, Voltaire, or Emerson! In his heyday a century ago Thomas Mann was called “the life of the mind in Germany”: the darkly philos…
 
This show was originally broadcast on July 15, 2021. We know their songs, not so much what they were going through, those Black women artists who wrote and sang so many anthems of American life: Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Pigfoot” and Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues”; stars beyond category like Ethel Waters singing “Shake that Thing” in the ’20s; then Gosp…
 
This show first aired on September 30, 2021. Who else could be said to make you smarter, just listening to the sound of his music? Only Mozart, that we know. For 300-and-some years now, he has set the standard for whatever lies beyond perfection. “Too beautiful for our ears,” said the Emperor of the Enlightenment, Joseph the Second, “and far too ma…
 
John Quincy Adams was the model president in the early republic who declared that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” But “go abroad” we did, as the republic became a world colossus. And monsters there were in the mixed casualties of American power. 200 years later comes the question: what is left to be rescued of …
 
A briefing session this hour from our strategic special branch, which is to say: the mind of Chas Freeman in the maelstrom of geopolitics. If President Obama had been given his first choice to sketch the state of the world for him every morning, it would have been the same Chas Freeman, the man who knows too much and says what he sees. It’s not wha…
 
How’s to rescue the Earth from us people? Rachel Carson’s way – 60 years ago – was to write a book, and call it Silent Spring. She’d been a shy but defiant biologist in government service. Her book had science behind it, and the rhythm of poetry all through it: one woman’s outcry—as she herself was dying of cancer—against pesticides, most notorious…
 
This show was originally broadcast on December 5, 2019. Origin stories can be educated guesses, or leaps of collective imagination as to who we are, how we got to this point. The Big Bang is one kind, Adam and Eve make another. 1492 and 1776 are American starting points. The argument gets stickier around 1620, when Mayflower Pilgrims landed on Plym…
 
Our unipolar moment may be remembered as the United States’ turn as “king of the hill,” two decades or so between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rocket rise of China’s economy. What comes next is the open question. Multipolarity is the tentative answer we’re getting at the end of 2022: it’s a spirit of “getting to know you” again, in a ne…
 
The hatching of a New Right Republican party, under fire, is the substance of this radio hour. It was simpler in Gilbert and Sullivan when the song said: every boy and every gal that’s born into the world alive was either a little liberal, or else a little conservative. The difference this year is the multiple relabelings of Republicans on the righ…
 
Finally, there’s a word for it: the polycrisis, to describe the multiple messes we’re in. Our guest the historian Adam Tooze says it’s a polycrisis when old crises like war, weather, and disease are breeding deadly new variants of anxiety and danger. It’s a polycrisis when you feel the old world you knew is undergoing not change but transformation.…
 
Talking time around the war in Ukraine may be approaching. This radio hour may be a moment in that trend: reaching out for strong views we hadn’t heard, in head-on disagreement about the morality and the meanings of the war. Ukraine can be hard to talk about, not least because the blind killing since the Russian invasion and the risks of nuclear es…
 
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