Friday, October 29, 2010

The Gun

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 The Gun, 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:

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Poet in the Laboratory

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:

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Homeless to Harvard

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 Memoir of 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:

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Vertical Farm

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:

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lost Peace, Lost Opportunities

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 for The 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:

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Capitalism vs. Democracy

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:

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Citizen of the World

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.

He and I recently had a chance to discuss A Global Life: My Journey Among Rich and Poor, from Sydney to Wall Street to the World Bank:

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is this man really dangerous or just crazy?

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.

Dana Milbank, syndicated columnist with the Washington Post, tries to sort all of this out in his new book about Beck, Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America.

My conversation with Dana Milbank:

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