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The Book Review

The world's top authors and critics join host Pamela Paul and editors at The New York Times Book Review to talk about the week's top books, what we're reading and what's going on in the literary world.

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  • 22.10.2021
    70 MB
    01:13:51
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    One Factory and the Bigger Story It Tells

    In “American Made,” Farah Stockman writes about the downfall of manufacturing employment in the United States by focusing on the lives of workers at one Indianapolis factory that was relocated to Mexico. Stockman, a member of The New York Times editorial board, talks about the book on this week’s podcast. “I really think we’ve seen unions in a death spiral,” she says. “And part of the reason is globalization. You had so many people who fought for these manufacturing jobs to be good-paying jobs, and decent jobs that you could raise a family on. They didn’t used to be, but they were after the labor movement had a long struggle and a long fight. And as soon as we start seeing pensions and health care and decent wages, and as soon as Blacks and women start getting that stuff, now factories can move away. They can go to other countries. And it really undercut unions’ ability to demand things and to strike. And you saw a lot less appetite among workers for asking for stuff like that, because now everybody just has to beg those factories to stay.” Benjamín Labatut visits the podcast to discuss his book “When We Cease to Understand the World,” a combination of fact and fiction about some of the most ground-shifting discoveries in physics. Labatut explains why he gave himself license to imagine the lives and thoughts of some of the scientists featured — Einstein, Schrödinger and Heisenberg among them. “What I’m trying to do is for people to understand just how mad these ideas seemed at the time to the very people who discovered them,” Labatut says. “And I had to use these characters for people to get a sense of how brutal the beauty was that these men were seeing for the first time.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gal Beckerman and Lauren Christensen talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Dirty Work” by Eyal Press “Invisible Child” by Andrea Elliott “Beautiful World, Where Are You” by Sally Rooney

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  • 15.10.2021
    57 MB
    59:33
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    Thomas Mallon on the Career of Jonathan Franzen

    Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Crossroads,” has generated a lot of discussion, as his work tends to do. The novelist and critic Thomas Mallon, who reviewed “Crossroads” for us, is on the podcast this week to talk about the book and to place it in the context of Franzen’s entire career. “He is fundamentally a social novelist, and his basic unit of society is the family,” Mallon says. “Always families are important in Franzen, and we move outward from the family into the business, into the town, into whatever the larger units are. His novels are likely to remain as indicators of what the world was like at the time he was writing. This new novel is a little bit different in that he’s going back 50 years. The Nixon era is now, definitely, historical novel material.” Joshua Ferris visits the podcast to talk about his new novel, “A Calling for Charlie Barnes.” “It’s basically about a guy who has floundered all his life until the moment that he gets pancreatic cancer,” Ferris says. “His diagnosis is a little back and forth, he’s not really being honest with too many people in his life about what’s going on. But eventually this rather thundering and life-changing disease happens to him. He’s got to deal with it, he’s got to get an operation and go through chemo and all the rest of it. And he changes his life. That’s sort of the plot of the book, I suppose. But it’s narrated by a tricky fellow who is related to him and determines the narrative as much as Charlie himself.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and our new book critics, Molly Young and Alexandra Jacobs, introduce themselves and talk about their approaches to literary criticism. Pamela Paul is the host. We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected] .

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  • 08.10.2021
    55 MB
    57:40
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    Andrea Elliott on ‘Invisible Child’

    In 2013, the front page of The New York Times devoted five straight days to the story of Dasani , an 11-year-old Black girl who lived in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. Now, Andrea Elliott, the reporter of that series, has published her first book, “Invisible Child,” which tells the full story of Dasani and her family up to the present day. On this week’s podcast, Elliott discusses how she came to focus her reporting on Dasani. “I’ve always believed as a journalist that the story shows itself to you, and you just have to do the work of being there and being present for as long as possible until it becomes more clear,” Elliott says. “In the very beginning, I had three families I was following at that shelter. And I had this approach that a lot of journalists take, that you need to capture three different families to give a sense of the spectrum of experience. But what I think becomes more important to the reader is to be able to identify deeply with one story, one protagonist, and follow that person.” Dasani became that person, in part, Elliott says, because “she was somebody who, at a very young age, could articulate in a moving and profound way her experience. And that’s a rare trait even in adults.” The stand-up comedian, actress, producer and publisher Phoebe Robinson visits the podcast to discuss her new book of essays, “Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes.” “Book writing is a completely different style of writing than stand-up,” Robinson says. “Stand-up, there’s a rhythm and you’re aware of the laughs and how they’re hitting. With a book you can really have more flavor with it; you can be vulnerable, you can slow it down, have some down beats, you could be really funny. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to write stand-up versus book writing. They both have their challenges.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “The Diary of a Country Priest” by Georges Bernanos “The Magician” by Colm Toibin “The Outlaw Ocean” by Ian Urbina

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  • 01.10.2021
    62 MB
    01:04:46
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    Richard Powers on ‘Bewilderment’

    In “Bewilderment,” Richard Powers’s first novel since he won a Pulitzer Prize for “The Overstory,” an astrobiologist named Theo Byrne looks for life on other planets while struggling to raise his highly sensitive 9-year-old son, Robin. On this week’s podcast, Powers compares Theo’s work in the galaxy with his relationship on the ground. “If there are all of these millions of exoplanets out there are and they are all subject to radically different conditions, what would life look like in these conditions that are so very different from Earth?” Power says that a similar question “is also the preoccupation of most literature. Books themselves are empathy machines and travels to other planets. They’re ways that we have of participating in sensibilities that are not ours. So when Robin asks this question — which is bigger, outer space or inner? — that question of where are we going, who are we, why are we the way we are, gets turned inward, to this question of how do I understand someone who’s so profoundly different from myself? And in that way, travel to other planets always becomes travel to other people.” Honorée Fanonne Jeffers visits the podcast to discuss her best-selling debut novel, “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois.” Among other subjects, Jeffers talks about why the book’s main character, Ailey Pearl Garfield, who comes from a long family line of physicians, becomes a historian herself. “It’s a gesture to the way that I grew up learning about African American history,” she says. “I’m an English professor, a creative writing professor, but when I was a little girl I would sit up underneath the old people. I never really was a child that liked to play with other children. I would sort of scoot into a corner so I wouldn’t be noticed and I would listen to the old people talk about the way they grew up, growing up in segregation, growing up in Jim Crow, and then some of the stories that they remembered from the old people who had been born into slavery, like my great grandma Mandy Napier, so it had a great impact on me, and I think that’s why I made Ailey an eventual historian.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “When We Cease to Understand the World” by Benjamín Labatut “On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed “Congratulations, by the Way” by George Saunders “A Motor-Flight Through France” by Edith Wharton

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  • 24.09.2021
    71 MB
    01:13:59
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    Randall Kennedy on 'Say It Loud!'

    The Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy’s new book, “Say It Loud!,” collects 29 of his essays. Kennedy’s opinions about the subjects listed in the book’s subtitle — race, law, history and culture — tend to be complex, and he’s not afraid to change his mind. He says on the podcast that there’s “no shame” in admitting you’re wrong, and that he does just that in the book when he finds it appropriate. “I thought that the United States was much further down the road to racial decency than it is,” Kennedy says. “Donald Trump obviously trafficked in racial resentment, racial prejudice in a way that I thought was securely locked in the past. This has had a big influence on me. I used to be a quite confident racial optimist. I am not any longer. I’m still in the optimistic camp — I do think that we shall overcome — but I’m uneasy. I’m uneasy in a way that was simply not the case, let’s say, 10 years ago.” Mary Roach visits the podcast to discuss her new book, “Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.” It’s impossible to choose just one moment to highlight from this interview, which includes but is not limited to the following subjects: caterpillars called into court, moose crash test dummies, and how to distinguish (and why you would want to) between a real and fake tiger penis. Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Jennifer Szalai and John Williams talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the critics this week: “The Contrarian” by Max Chafkin “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

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  • 17.09.2021
    66 MB
    01:09:07
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    Colson Whitehead on 'Harlem Shuffle'

    Colson Whitehead’s new novel, “Harlem Shuffle,” revolves around Ray Carney, a furniture retailer in Harlem in the 1960s with a sideline in crime. It’s a relatively lighthearted novel, certainly compared to “The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys,” Whitehead’s two previous novels, each of which won the Pulitzer Prize. “I usually do a lighter book, then a heavier book, but I felt compelled to write ‘The Nickel Boys’ at the time that I did,” Whitehead says on this week’s podcast. “I knew that in the crime genre, there’s more room for jokes. There’s just a lot more room for play. So I could exercise my humor muscle again. And then immediately, Carney … I wanted him to win, as soon as he appeared on the page. He was someone who was not as determined by circumstances — slavery, Jim Crow — as the characters in those previous two novels. And he pulls off some capers. And I think we — or at least I was rooting for him. So immediately the tone was different, and I gave myself to it.” Colm Toibin visits the podcast to talk about his new novel, “The Magician,” based on the life of the great German writer Thomas Mann. Toibin says that the book is not an attempt to “inhabit” Mann, or to fully understand him, which is impossible with such a complex person. “It’s not an attempt to pin him down, so that by the end of the book you really know him,” Toibin says. “I’m as interested in his unknowability as I am in attempting to draw a very clear portrait of him. I think it’s an important question. I often hear novelists saying, ‘I felt I really knew my character.’ And I often feel the opposite. I often feel my character has become even more evasive the further attempts I have made to enter their spirit.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “A Time of Gifts” by Patrick Leigh Fermor “Latecomers” by Anita Brookner “The Makioka Sisters” by Junichiro Tanizaki

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  • 10.09.2021
    62 MB
    01:05:32
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    Brandon Taylor on the Sally Rooney Phenomenon

    The novelist Brandon Taylor, who has generated his own buzz with his debut novel, “Real Life,” and a collection of stories, “Filthy Animals,” visits the podcast to discuss the much-discussed work of Sally Rooney. Taylor recently reviewed her third novel, “Beautiful World, Where Are You.” On the podcast, he describes Rooney’s writing as an “intense, melancholic tractor beam.” “She has this really great, tactile metaphorical sense, but it’s never overworked,” he says. “Her style is so clean. That is the word I come to most often in describing her style. It is so clean, so pristine.” Like her two previous books, this one is fueled by the vexations of intimate relationships. “Ultimately, if you’re a Sally Rooney fan, I think you’ll love this novel,” Taylor says. “And if you’re a Sally Rooney skeptic, I think she will acknowledge your concerns but maybe not answer them in full.” Another Rooney, David Rooney, visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks.” “There’s something about clocks and watches,” he says.” They have more meaning to many people than other artifacts. I wasn’t quite sure why. I was trying to get behind the faces of clocks and watches, to understand not so much how they work — although that’s fascinating — but what they mean, and what they’ve always meant, through history, across cultures.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Jennifer Szalai and John Williams talk about books that have been recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “The Failed Promise” by Robert S. Levine “The War for Gloria” by Atticus Lish “The Magician” by Colm Toibin

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  • 03.09.2021
    64 MB
    01:07:28
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    Andrew Sullivan on Being ‘Out on a Limb’

    “Out on a Limb” is a selection of Andrew Sullivan’s essays from the past 32 years of American history. On this week’s podcast, Sullivan talks about the book and his feelings about some of the very contentious public arguments in which he’s been involved. “You’re never at a moment of finality in politics or intellectual life. You’re always just about to be proven wrong again,” Sullivan says. “I have developed a very thick skin. You have to. I was very controversial in the gay rights movement very early on. The case for marriage equality was bitterly opposed by some gay activists, and I was targeted and picketed by gay people sometimes, for my first book. So I’ve always accepted that that’s part of the price. I am a sensitive person and it does hurt my feelings, obviously, but I think my answer is that it doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as it isn’t true. And if it’s true, hear it, take it in, try and figure out what insight they have about you and change. If it isn’t, forget it.” Leila Slimani’s new novel, “In the Country of Others,” is the first installment of a planned trilogy loosely based on the lives of the author’s grandparents. On this episode of the podcast, Slimani talks about why she’s writing the autobiographical material as fiction. “Imagination is a great power that we have,” she says. “Even if my family is interesting in certain ways, it’s not as interesting as I wanted. So I need to add other things, and I need to feel completely free. I don’t really want to tell about reality but about what fascinates me.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Lauren Christensen, Andrew Lavallee and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Intimacies” by Katie Kitamura “A Visitation of Spirits” by Randall Kenan “Loop” by Brenda Lozano

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  • 27.08.2021
    57 MB
    59:48
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    A.O. Scott Talks About William Maxwell

    A.O. Scott, The Times’s co-chief film critic, returns to the Book Review’s podcast this week to discuss the work of William Maxwell, the latest subject in Scott’s essay series The Americans , about writers who give a sense of the country’s complex identity. In his novels and stories, Maxwell frequently returned to small-town Illinois, and to, as Scott describes it, the “particular civilization and culture and society that he knew growing up.” “In so many of these books,” Scott says, “he was trying in a sense to figure out himself by figuring how where he had come from. It was inexhaustible. The thing that’s really remarkable about his revisiting his family, his family’s story and the town where they lived is just how many layers are there. In what seems like a simple, small, provincial place, just how much depth and complexity and comedy and pathos live there.” Eyal Press visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “Dirty Work,” about the lives of workers in slaughterhouses, correctional facilities and other morally fraught places. Press says that the people who do this work make inequality one of the book’s primary themes. “One of the messages of the book is that it’s very rarely the privileged and the powerful,” Press says. “It’s more likely to be people at the bottom of the social ladder, people with fewer choices and opportunities, who are thrust into these ethically troubling roles that they carry out in a sense on society’s behalf and in our name.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai discuss books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “Reign of Terror” by Spencer Ackerman “Playlist for the Apocalypse” by Rita Dove

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  • 20.08.2021
    53 MB
    55:15
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    Life at Seven Miles Below the Sea

    In her new book, “The Brilliant Abyss,” Helen Scales writes about the largely unseen realm of the deepest parts of the ocean. On this week’s podcast, she talks about the life down there — and how long it took us to realize there was any at all. “It wasn’t so long ago, maybe 200 years ago, that most people — scientists, the brightest minds we had — assumed that life only went down as far as sunlight reaches, so the first 600 feet or so,” Scales says. “But what’s so fascinating is that life does go all the way to the very, very bottom; down to seven miles, which is the deepest point, just about. And there are ways in which life has found adaptations to all of these crazy, extreme conditions in the deep, and that’s what we’re really doing a lot of the time, as marine biologists working in the deepest, is finding that stuff and asking the question: ‘How are you here?’” Rebecca Donner visits the podcast to discuss her new book, “All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days,” which recounts the story of Mildred Harnack, Donner’s great-great-aunt, an American woman executed in 1943 for being a member of the German resistance to the Nazis during World War II. “She most definitely saw herself as a resistance fighter, and she certainly did not see herself as a spy,” Donner says. “She engaged in acts of espionage in order to undermine the Nazi regime, but she never met with a control officer, she never accepted money. She worked in an unofficial capacity.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gal Beckerman and John Williams talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman “Ghettoside” by Jill Leovy “Last Best Hope” by George Packer

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  • 13.08.2021
    53 MB
    55:50
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    Dana Spiotta Talks About ‘Wayward’

    In Dana Spiotta’s new novel, “Wayward,” a woman named Sam buys a dilapidated house in a neglected neighborhood in Syracuse, leaving her husband and her daughter in order to face down big midlife questions. “She is what we used to call a housewife, a stay-at-home mom,” Spiotta says on this week’s podcast, describing her protagonist. “She has one daughter, she’s married to a lawyer. It’s not an unhappy marriage. I wanted to avoid a lot of clichés with her. I didn’t want it to be an unhappy marriage that was the problem. And I didn’t want him to leave her for a younger woman. I didn’t want her to be worried about her looks. She never thinks about wrinkles or her looks very much in the book. She doesn’t even look in the mirror anymore. She’s not concerned about that.” What she’s concerned about is living a more honest and purposeful life, and the novel follows her efforts to do that. Ash Davidson visits the podcast to discuss her debut novel, “Damnation Spring, ” set in a tightknit logging community in Northern California in the late 1970s. Davidson describes how the book was partly inspired by her parents’ memories of living in the area. “I grew up listening to my parents’ stories of this place, and it is the most beautiful place they have ever lived, and that beauty is also the source of its own destruction,” she says. “So those stories became almost like a mythology of my childhood, and I think I always kept a folder of them in my head, where I was filing them away. I used a lot of them as scaffolding for the novel, in the early years of writing it. Gradually, as time went on and the story got strong enough to stand on its own, I was able to strip away that scaffolding of their stories and let the fictional narrative shine through.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Elisabeth Egan and John Williams talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Emerson” by Robert D. Richardson Jr. “Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi “The Post-Birthday World” by Lionel Shriver

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  • 06.08.2021
    62 MB
    01:05:33
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    Katie Kitamura Talks About ‘Intimacies’

    The slightly directionless, unnamed narrator of Katie Kitamura’s fourth novel, “Intimacies,” takes a job as a translator at an international criminal court. On this week’s podcast, Kitamura talks about the novel, including her realization about the book’s title. “‘Intimacy’ as a word is something that we think of as desirable, and something that we seek out, in our relationships in particular, but also in our friendships and in all the people that we care about,” Kitamura says. “But I think it’s a plural for a reason, which is that there’s a lot of different kinds of intimacies in the novel, and a lot of them are not desired, they’re imposed on the narrator. It was only when I finished writing the novel that I realized that there are multiple incidents of sexual harassment, sexual intimidation in it, sprinkled throughout. Afterward, I understood it, because a novel is really about power, and sexual harassment is of course about power, rather than desire. So it made sense that there would be these little negotiations and these trespasses and these forced forms of intimacy.” The acclaimed writer and director James Lapine visits the podcast to talk about “Putting It Together,” his new mix of memoir and oral history about his first collaboration Stephen Sondheim, creating the musical “Sunday in the Park With George.” “Part of the pleasure in writing the book was rediscovering who I was at the time, because you’re so involved in something — you’re not outside of it — and maybe it takes 35 years to look back at it to realize what was actually going on,” Lapine says. Writing the book was “an excavation of sorts, both of the show and the creative process and what it’s like for someone in my position, as a writer and a director, to do his first Broadway show.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “Until Proven Safe” by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley “Afterparties” by Anthony Veasna So

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  • 30.07.2021
    58 MB
    01:00:33
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    Echoes of a Fairy Tale in a Devastating Novel

    Omar El Akkad’s new novel, “What Strange Paradise,” uses some fablelike techniques to comment on the migrant crisis caused by war in the Middle East. El Akkad explains that he thinks of the novel as a reinterpretation of the story of Peter Pan, told as the story of a contemporary child refugee. “There’s this thing Borges once said about how all literature is tricks, and no matter how clever your tricks are, they eventually get discovered,” El Akkad says. “My tricks are not particularly clever. I lean very hard on inversion. I wanted to take a comforting story that Westerners have been telling their kids for the last hundred years, and I wanted to invert it, to tell a different kind of story.” He continues: “At its core, it’s a book about dueling fantasies: the fantasies of people who want to come to the West because they think it’s a cure for all ills, and the fantasies of people who exist in the West and think of those people as barbarians at the gate. The book takes place at the collision of those two fantasies.” Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, two reporters at The Times, visit the podcast this week to discuss their new book, “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination,” including how the company makes many of its strategic decisions. “A lot of people think that a company like this, that’s so sophisticated, that has so many people who have come in with such incredible pedigrees, that they have a plan in mind,” Kang says. “They’re actually, in many cases, doing this on the fly. They’re making a lot of ad hoc decisions.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Emily Eakin and MJ Franklin talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “How the Word Is Passed” by Clint Smith “Red Comet” by Heather Clark “Lenin” by Victor Sebestyen

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  • 23.07.2021
    54 MB
    56:44
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    A Heartbreaking Novel About Mothers, Daughters and Secrets

    The latest pick for Group Text, our monthly column for readers and book clubs, is Esther Freud's “I Couldn’t Love You More,” a novel about three generations of women grappling with secrets, shame and an inexorable bond. Elisabeth Egan, an editor at the Book Review and the brains behind Group Text, talks about the novel on this week’s podcast. “It’s this incredibly powerful story about mothers and daughters,” Egan says, “and also an interesting and really heartbreaking look at what was happening in Ireland at the time that really went on for about 100 years, where the Catholic church ran the — they were like prisons — for women who were in trouble in some way. They forced the women to change their names and to give up their babies.” Philip D’Anieri visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “The Appalachian Trail: A Biography,” including what drew him to the sprawling subject. “It’s a place that gives us an opportunity to examine the intersection of the built and the natural,” D’Anieri says. “It’s a place that we think of as natural — it’s the outdoors, you can hike, you can connect with the natural world — but it also had to be built: It needed shelters built, a route had to be determined, the land has to be owned. That tension is something that has always interested me.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and Lauren Christensen talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe “Intimacies” by Katie Kitamura “Razorblade Tears” by S.A. Cosby “The Plot” by Jean Hanff Korelitz

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  • 16.07.2021
    56 MB
    58:32
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    S.A. Cosby on 'Razorblade Tears'

    On this week’s podcast, S.A. Cosby says that a writer friend once told him: “I think you’re like the bard of broken men.” In Cosby’s new novel, “Razorblade Tears,” the fathers of two married gay men who have just been murdered team up to track down the killers. Cosby says that the fathers — Ike, who’s Black, and Buddy Lee, who’s white — are familiar to him. “I grew up with men like Ike and Buddy Lee,” he says. “Maybe not necessarily violent men, but men who were emotionally closed off, who were unable to articulate or communicate their frailties, their feelings. I grew up in an environment where masculinity was all about presentation, was about being ‘tough,’ whatever that means. So when I started out writing the book, I started with these two characters, because the people that I think need to read the book the most are the people like that that I know, the people like that who surround me every day. But even more than that, I fell in love with Ike and Buddy Lee because if these two men can change, then change is possible for anyone.” Dean Jobb visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer.” The book recounts the crimes of Thomas Neill Cream, a Canadian obstetrician who killed an unknown number of people between the 1870s and 1892, most of them women from marginalized backgrounds. “There was a lot of madness in what he did, but also some calculating method,” Jobb says. “He never claimed insanity at any of his trials, so there was never any professional assessment of him. He almost seems to have bought into the idea, as one of his medical instructors said, that doctors are godlike; they stand between the living and the dead. And he just seems to have decided that his godlike powers, given to him as a doctor, would be used to decide who would live and who would die.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “Dear Miss Metropolitan” by Carolyn Ferrell “Democracy Rules” by Jan-Werner Müller

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  • 09.07.2021
    42 MB
    44:42
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    The Lives of Flies

    The subtitle of Jonathan Balcombe’s new book, “Super Fly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects” leads to the first question on this week’s podcast. Why “successful”? “Their diversity, for one,” Balcombe says. “There’s over 160,000 described species — and it’s important to add that qualifier, ‘described,’ because it’s estimated there may be about five times that many that are undescribed. Insects make up 80 percent of all animal species on the planet, so that says something right there about how incredibly successful they are, and flies are arguably the most species-rich subset of insects. It’s estimated there’s about 20 million flies on earth at any moment for every human who’s on the earth. And they occupy all seven continents.” Marjorie Ingall visits the podcast this week to discuss her essay about why she finds it troubling that children’s literature focuses so relentlessly on the Holocaust . “Just as Black kids deserve more than books about slavery and suffering — they deserve books about Black joy and Black excellence — so too do Jewish kids deserve books that reflect the incredible diversity and often happiness of their lives,” Ingall says. “And I think sometimes we push the Holocaust because we want to tell kids: ‘Look where you come from; look how important it is to be Jewish; look how people died because they were Jewish.’ When we’re talking about children’s books, that is not a way to make kids feel a connection.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; and Elisabeth Egan and Joumana Khatib talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell

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  • 02.07.2021
    56 MB
    58:57
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    An Outsider Finds Suspense in Hollywood

    The actress and thriller writer Catherine Steadman visits the podcast this week to talk about “The Disappearing Act,” her new suspense novel about the absurdities of Hollywood. Steadman was drawn to the idea of setting a story during pilot season, when actors from all over the world descend on Los Angeles once a year and compete for lead roles in new TV series. “It’s a sort of competitive world where friendships are made really quickly, and people will find their nemesis — someone who looks just like them who keeps snatching away parts from them,” she says. “It’s a very strange atmosphere but it’s very fun. It’s kind of like the Vegas of the acting world. You go there, you cash your chips and you have a roll on the table and see what happens. There’s all these strangers with the same desires and goals, in the same environment, and they really are up against each other. It’s kind of a ‘Hunger Games’ situation.” Michael Dobbs visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “King Richard,” which finds fresh things to say about President Richard Nixon and Watergate. Dobbs discusses writing about a story that’s been told many times, all in the shadow of perhaps the best-known Watergate book, “All the President’s Men,” by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. “That’s the story of two reporters pursing this scandal into the White House and trying to figure out what was going on in the White House,” Dobbs says. “And now 50 years later — because we have access to these extraordinary materials, particularly Nixon’s own tape-recorded conversations — one can tell the story from the inside rather than the outside. We’re never again going to get such an intimate look at a president facing an existential crisis, as it’s possible to get with Richard Nixon.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world, and Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “ Wayward ” by Dana Spiotta “ Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History ” by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta

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  • 25.06.2021
    70 MB
    01:13:24
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    Clint Smith on ‘How the Word Is Passed’

    Clint Smith’s “How the Word Is Passed” is about how places in the United States reckon with — or fail to reckon with — their relationship to the history of slavery. On this week’s podcast, Smith says that one thing that inspired the book was his realization that “there were more homages to enslavers than to enslaved people” in New Orleans, where he grew up. “Symbols and names and iconography aren’t just symbols, they’re reflective of stories that people tell, and those stories shape the narratives that societies carry, and those narratives shape public policy, and public policy shapes the material conditions of people’s lives,” Smith says. “Which isn’t to say that taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee is going to erase the racial wealth gap, but it is to say that it’s part of a larger ecosystem of stories and ideas that shape how we understand what has happened to communities and what communities need or deserve.” Julian Rubinstein visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “The Holly,” an extensively reported look at the social and historical forces that led to a 2013 shooting in Denver. “It’s a multigenerational story, and in many ways I think it’s a story of activism and thwarted activism over the decades,” Rubinstein says, “including the connections between gangs and activism, which goes all the way back to the civil rights movement.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick” “Early Work” by Andrew Martin “The Copenhagen Trilogy” by Tove Ditlevsen “No One Is Talking About This” by Patricia Lockwood

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  • 18.06.2021
    56 MB
    58:51
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    George Packer on Our Divided America

    In his new book, “Last Best Hope,” George Packer describes “Four Americas,” and the tensions that exist between these different visions of the country. He calls them “Free America” (essentially libertarian), “Real America” (personified by Sarah Palin), “Smart America” (the professional class) and “Just America” (identity politics). On this week’s podcast, Packer says that though he was raised and lives in “Smart America,” he thinks no one of the four paints the whole picture. “I see the appeal and the persuasiveness of all of them,” he says. “I don’t accept any of them as having the answers. I think they all lead to hierarchy, in some ways to more inequality, to division. We are desperately polarized, and there’s no way around that. I’m not saying if we would all just drop our preconceptions, we could get along. Because we can’t. There are these fundamental clashes of values in this country that are expressed in politics, and that’s not going away. But I think we’ve lost the sense of a common American identity, which I do think still exists, even though it’s been buried.” Suzanne Simard visits the podcast this week to talk about her new book, “Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering Wisdom in the Forest,” and the remarkable relationships maintained between trees. “Trees, I call them mother trees, these big old trees, can discern which seedlings are their own and which ones are not, and they actually can favor those seedlings by shuttling them more carbon,” Simard says. “It’s a very sophisticated communication that involves a lot of information going back and forth, below ground, even as you’re walking through the forest.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “The Great Dissenter” by Peter S. Canellos “Where You Are Is Not Who You Are” by Ursula M. Burns

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  • 11.06.2021
    60 MB
    01:02:35
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    A More Perfect Union

    “The Engagement,” by Sasha Issenberg, recounts the complex and chaotic chain reaction that thrust same-sex marriage from the realm of conservative conjecture to the top of the gay political agenda and, eventually, to the halls of the Supreme Court. On this week’s podcast, Issenberg talks about the deeply researched book , which covers 25 years of legal and cultural history. “What they have done, ultimately,” he says of those who won the victory, “is helped to enshrine, both in the legal process and in American culture, a sense that marriage is a unique institution. And the language they used to talk about it — about love and commitment — is so particular, I think, to the dynamic between two people that in a certain respect marriage is a more central institution in American life now than it was 30 years ago, because we went through this political fight over it.” J. Hoberman visits the podcast to discuss his piece about 10 books that, taken together, tell the story of Hollywood . He talks, among other subjects, about why the only celebrity memoir on his list is “Lulu in Hollywood,” by Louise Brooks, who acted in the 1920s and ’30s and published her memoir much later in life. “She was a remarkably cleareyed observer of what was going on,” Hoberman says, “and embarked on the whole star-making thing with a healthy degree of ambivalence. So she’s able to write about herself and about the conditions under which movies were made and the people she met in Hollywood and so on, in a way that’s both personal and detached. There aren’t too many other memoirs like this.” Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary; and Elisabeth Egan and Andrew LaVallee talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Libertie” by Kaitlyn Greenidge “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid “On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed

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  • 04.06.2021
    47 MB
    49:25
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    Reimagining the Aftermath of a Wartime Attack

    Francis Spufford’s new novel, “Light Perpetual,” is rooted in a real event: the rocket attack on a Woolworth’s in London, killing 168 people, toward the end of World War II. Spufford fictionalizes the tragedy and invents five children who survive it, trailing them through the ensuing decades to discover all they might have done and seen if they had lived. On this week’s podcast, Spufford says that he settled on this real-life incident for intentionally arbitrary reasons. “The ordinariness is kind of the point,” he says. “I wanted something that was terrible but not exceptional. Something which was one tree in a wartime forest of bad things happening, which I could select out and then follow out the long-term consequences of through time.” Egill Bjarnason visits the podcast to talk about “How Iceland Changed the World: The Big History of a Small Island.” “The title is maybe the opposite of humble,” he says, “but I went into this project wanting to write about the history of Iceland. I have always found that really compelling, because unlike other European nations, we can tell our history almost from the beginning. But I figured that people who don’t have high stakes in that story may not be so interested. So I wanted to tell the history of Iceland through our impact on the outside world, by looking at where we have shaped events in some way or another.” Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year; and Dwight Garner and Parul Sehgal talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “A Ghost in the Throat” by Doireann Ni Ghriofa “Languages of Truth” by Salman Rushdie

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  • 28.05.2021
    62 MB
    01:04:55
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    A Desperate Writer Steals 'The Plot'

    Jake Bonner, the protagonist of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s “The Plot,” writes a novel based on someone else’s idea. The book becomes a big hit, but Jake has a hard time enjoying it because he’s worried about getting caught. On this week’s podcast, Korelitz says that Jake’s more general anxieties about his career as a writer are relatable, despite her own success (this is her seventh novel). “Jake is all of us,” Korelitz says. “I used to regard other people’s literary careers with great curiosity. I used to have this little private parlor game: Would I want that person’s career? Would I want that person’s career? And those names have changed over the years as careers have faltered, disappeared. I’ve been publishing for a very long time, and my contemporaries in the 1990s were people with massive successes who have not been heard of now for 10, 15 years. So it’s very much a tortoise and hare kind of thing, in my own case.” Elizabeth Hinton visits the podcast to discuss her new book, “America on Fire,” a history of racial protest and police violence that reframes the civil rights struggle between the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and the widespread demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Hinton writes about major uprisings, but also focuses on lesser-known examples of systemic violence against Black communities in places like York, Pa., and Cairo, Ill. “Part of the reason why the violence in both of those cities was so extreme was the deep entanglement between white vigilante groups and white power groups and the police department and political and economic elites in both cities,” Hinton says. “So in many ways, what happened, in Cairo especially, is a warning to all of us about what the consequences are when officials decide to use the police to manage the material consequences of socioeconomic exclusion and poverty.” Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Dispatches” by Michael Herr “The Emigrants” by W.G. Sebald “Lenin” by Victor Sebestyen

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  • 21.05.2021
    54 MB
    56:55
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    Maggie O’Farrell on ‘Hamnet’

    Maggie O’Farrell’s “Hamnet,” one of last year’s most widely acclaimed novels, imagines the life of William Shakespeare, his wife, Anne (or Agnes) Hathaway, and the couple’s son Hamnet, who died at 11 years old in 1596. On this week’s podcast, O’Farrell says she always planned for the novel to have the ensemble cast it does, but that her deepest motivation was the desire to capture a sense of the young boy at its center. “The engine behind the book for me was always the fact that I think Hamnet has been overlooked and underwritten by history,” she says. “I think he’s been consigned to a literary footnote. And I believe, quite strongly, that without him — without his tragically short life — we wouldn’t have the play ‘Hamlet.’ We probably wouldn’t have ‘Twelfth Night.’ As an audience, we are enormously in debt to him.” Judith Shulevitz visits the podcast to discuss Rachel Cusk’s new novel, “Second Place,” and to analyze Cusk’s literary style. “In this review, I quote Isaac Babel: ‘No iron spike can pierce a human heart as icily as a period in the right place.’ There’s this kind of clinical accuracy to her writing,” Shulevitz says, “that she brings to bear on both the physical world and on the emotional world that is almost scary. Which is what I like.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world ; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “The Life She Wished to Live” by Ann McCutchan “Dedicated” by Pete Davis

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  • 14.05.2021
    66 MB
    01:09:35
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    Louis Menand on 'The Free World'

    Louis Menand’s new book, “The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War,” covers the interchange of arts and ideas between the United States and Europe in the decades following World War II. On this week’s podcast, Menand talks about the book, including why he chose to frame his telling from the end of the war until 1965. “What I didn’t get right away was the extent to which, what happened in American culture, both at the level of avant-garde art, like John Cage’s music, and at the level of Hollywood movies, was influenced by countries around the world,” Menand says. “When American culture comes into its own — because before 1945, I think, nobody really thought of America as a central player in world culture; that changes in the ’60s — but when that happens, culture becomes global, becomes international.” Phillip Lopate has edited many acclaimed anthologies throughout his career, but his latest project might be his most ambitious: three volumes of American essays from colonial times to the present day. “The Glorious American Essay” was published last year; “The Golden Age of the American Essay” arrived last month; and “The Contemporary American Essay” will be available this summer. “I’m really trying to expand the notion of what an essay is,” Lopate says on the podcast. “So I’ve included essays that are in the form of letters, like Frederick Douglass’s letter to his master; I’ve included essays in the form of sermons, like Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher; I’ve included essays in the form of rants. I’m just trying to get people to see the essay as occurring in many, many different forms.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world ; and Gal Beckerman and Gregory Cowles talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “The Committed” by Viet Thanh Nguyen “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler “Beijing Payback” by Daniel Nieh “Yoga” by Emmanuel Carrère

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  • 07.05.2021
    63 MB
    01:05:38
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    Michael Lewis on 'The Premonition'

    In 2018, Michael Lewis published “The Fifth Risk,” which argued, in short, that the federal government was underprepared for a variety of disaster scenarios. Guess what his new book is about? Lewis visits the podcast this week to discuss “The Premonition,” which recounts the initial response to the coronavirus pandemic. “It wasn’t just Trump,” Lewis says. “Trump made everything worse. But there had ben changes in the American government, and changes in particular at the C.D.C., that made them less and less capable of actually controlling disease and more and more like a fine academic institution that came in after the battle and tried to assess what had happened; but not equipped for actual battlefield command. The book doesn’t get to the pandemic until Page 160. The back story tells you how the story is going to play out.” The historian Annette Gordon-Reed visits the podcast to talk about her new book, “On Juneteenth,” which combines history about slavery in Texas with more personal, essayistic writing about her own family and childhood. “This is a departure for me, but it is actually the kind of writing that I always thought that I would be doing when I was growing up, dreaming about being a writer,” Gordon-Reed says. “I’ve always been a great admirer of James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal’s essays I thought were wonderful, better than the novels, and that’s the kind of thing that I wanted to do. So it was sort of a dream come true for me to be able to take this form and talk about some things that were very important to me.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Parul Sehgal and John Williams talk about the latest in literary criticism. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the critics this week: “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel “Jackpot” by Michael Mechanic

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  • 30.04.2021
    64 MB
    01:06:56
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    Amy Klobuchar on 'Antitrust'

    In her new book, “Antitrust,” Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota explores the history of fighting monopoly power in this country, and argues that the digital age calls for a renewed effort. “I think the best way to do this right now is to have our laws be as sophisticated as the companies that we’re dealing with,” Klobuchar says on this week’s podcast. To her, that means “switching the burden for the big, big mergers or for the big exclusionary conducts of the companies that are the largest, and say, ‘Instead of the government having to prove that it hurts competition, you guys have to prove that it doesn’t hurt competition.’” She continues: “You’ve got to look backwards, just like they did with AT&T or some of the big cases — Standard Oil — they looked backwards and said, ‘Wait a minute, this has gotten out of hand.’ It doesn’t mean that we’re going to make this company go away. The chairman of AT&T, after the breakup, said they got stronger because they had to compete.” Andrew Solomon visits the podcast to talk about Katie Booth’s “The Invention of Miracles: Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell’s Quest to End Deafness.” Bell was a proponent of oralism, a theory that pressured deaf people to learn speech and, more important, not to learn sign language. “He thought that sign language was a secondary, second-rate thing,” Solomon says of Bell. “He learned it very fluently, and could use it very well, but he didn’t find any beauty in it, and he didn’t really recognize it as another language of equal validity. His underlying belief was that if you could be someone who passed for hearing, you were doing well, and that was what he was trying to teach people. And of course, the deaf politics movement, which had already begun in his day, though it had not reached the strength it’s reached now, said that actually, while it was nice to be able to interact with people who were hearing, and convenient and helpful, that there was a great beauty in sign.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Despair” by Vladimir Nabokov “A Fan’s Notes” by Frederick Exley “So Much for That” by Lionel Shriver “How Beautiful We Were” by Imbolo Mbue

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  • 23.04.2021
    60 MB
    01:02:43
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    Patrick Radden Keefe on ‘Empire of Pain’

    Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book, “Empire of Pain,” is a history of the Sacklers, the family behind Purdue Pharma, the creator of the powerful painkiller OxyContin, which became the root of the opioid crisis in the United States. One of the subjects covered in Keefe’s investigative work is what the company knew, and when, as the crisis began to unfold. “One thing I was able to establish very definitively in the book is that, in fact, there is this paper trail, really starting in 1997, so just a year after the drug is released, of sales reps sending messages back saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem here. People are abusing this drug,’” Keefe says. “And there’s very high-level discussion by senior executives at the company, some of whom subsequently testified under oath that they didn’t know anything about this until early 2000. In terms of the timeline, it’s very hard to reconcile what they have always said publicly and what I was able to substantiate with internal documents.” Elisabeth Egan, an editor at the Book Review, is on the podcast this week to discuss “What Comes After,” by JoAnne Tompkins, the latest pick for Group Text, our monthly column for readers and book clubs. The novel starts with the deaths of two high school students, and becomes a mystery when we meet Evangeline McKensey, a pregnant 16-year-old with a connection to the dead boys. “I am the mother of three teenagers, and I’m constantly looking for the book that makes me feel a little better about how little I know about what’s running through my kids’ heads at any given time,” Egan says. “There was something about this book that felt reassuring to me, as strange as that sounds because it begins with this terrible tragedy. But it’s really, actually a book about life.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary, and Lauren Christensen and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Crusoe’s Daughter” by Jane Gardam “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” by Deesha Philyaw “True Grit” by Charles Portis “Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro

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  • 16.04.2021
    73 MB
    01:16:25
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    Celebrating Our 15th Anniversary

    We’ve been in celebration mode all week as the Book Review’s podcast turns 15 years old. Pamela Paul shared 15 of her favorite episodes since she began hosting in 2013. We chose 10 other memorable conversations from the show’s full archives, and did a bit of digging to tell the story of the podcast’s earliest days . Now, appropriately, we cap things off with a new episode dedicated to the milestone. This week, Paul speaks with Sam Tanenahus, her predecessor and the founding host, and Dwight Garner, now a critic for The Times who came up with the idea to do the podcast when he was the senior editor at the Book Review. Jocelyn Gonzales, a former producer of the show, and Pedro Rosado, its current maestro, talk about their favorite and unusual memories from over the years. (Did one guest really call in from a submarine? It’s uncertain.) And Paul answers questions about what it’s been like to host the show, sharing a few clips of Robert Caro and others discussing their work. We also conduct some business as usual this week, with Tina Jordan looking back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary and Alexandra Alter discussing news from the publishing world.

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  • 09.04.2021
    58 MB
    01:01:09
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    Blake Bailey on Writing His Life of Philip Roth

    Blake Bailey’s long-awaited biography of Philip Roth has generated renewed conversation about the life and work of the towering American novelist who died at 85 in 2018. Bailey visits the podcast this week to take part in that conversation himself. “Most of Philip’s life was spent in this little cottage in the woods of Connecticut, standing at a desk and living inside his head 12 hours a day,” Bailey says. “This is not unique to Philip. This is a phenomenon that I experienced vis-à-vis my other subjects, too. They don’t see people very clearly. They sort of see themselves projected out, they see what they want to see. And Philip needed to understand that — though I was very fond of him, I was — I had a job to do. So our relationship was constantly teetering on the cusp between professional and friendship, and that could be an awkward dynamic. But for the most part I was extremely fond of Philip.” Julia Sweig visits the podcast to discuss her new book, “Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight.” “I wanted to write a book about women and power,” Sweig says. “And to be truthful, I didn’t have a subject when I got into this, and discovered that Lady Bird had kept this immense record of her time in the White House. And of course, Lady Bird Johnson is married to the American president of the 20th century perhaps most associated with the word ‘power.’ So the doors, once they opened, just showed a huge opportunity to discover somebody who I thought I had some feel for, but really did not.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Parul Sehgal talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week: “Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said” by Timothy Brennan “Francis Bacon: Revelations” by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan

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  • 02.04.2021
    54 MB
    57:11
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    Carl Zimmer on Defining Life

    In his new book, “Life’s Edge,” Carl Zimmer asks the modest questions: What is life? How did it begin? And by what criteria can we define things as “living”? On this week’s podcast, Zimmer, a science columnist for The Times, talks about just how difficult it can be to find answers. “There are actually philosophers who have argued that maybe we should just try not to define life at all, in fact; that maybe we’re getting ourselves into trouble,” Zimmer says. “If you look for a definition of life from scientists, you will find hundreds of them; hundreds of published definitions that are different from each other. And every year a new one comes out, or maybe two, and they just keep going. there was a paper I read not too long ago that said that there are probably as many definitions of life as people who are trying to define life.” Paulina Bren visits the podcast to discuss her new book, “The Barbizon,” an account of the storied hotel for women that first opened in 1928. “It went through all sorts of incarnations,” Bren says. “This hotel really follows in so many ways not just the history of women in the 20th century, but truly the ups and downs, the history, of New York.” Also on this week’s episode, Elisabeth Egan and John Williams talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Visitors” by Anita Brookner “Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley “I Am, I Am, I Am” by Maggie O’Farrell

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  • 26.03.2021
    60 MB
    01:03:20
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    Tillie Olsen and the Barriers to Creativity

    A.O. Scott, The Times’s co-chief film critic, returns to the Book Review’s podcast this week to discuss the work of Tillie Olsen , the latest subject in his essay series The Americans, about writers who give a sense of the country’s complex identity. Olsen, who died in 2007 at 94, was known best as the author of “Tell Me a Riddle,” a collection of three short stories and a novella published in 1961. She also wrote rigorous depictions of working-class families, conveying the costs of living for burdened mothers, wives and daughters. “I think people should read her now for a few different reasons,” Scott says. “I was really drawn to this idea of the difficulty of writing, and the ways that our other responsibilities and the fatigue of living can make it hard to write. I think I related to this very much in this year. One of the themes in her stories is tiredness, is just the physical and mental fatigue of being alive and how hard that can make it to create anything.” Wendy Lower visits the podcast to discuss “The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed.” In the book, Lower, a historian of the Holocaust, considers a photograph taken in October 1941 that shows several men shooting a woman who holds the hand of a small boy. “Most people think that we know all there is to know about the Holocaust,” Lower says, “and this is an important example of how these records are just being declassified now from various countries that were involved in the Holocaust or occupied by the Nazis.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week: “100 Boyfriends” by Brontez Purnell “Until Justice Be Done” by Kate Masur

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  • 19.03.2021
    50 MB
    52:49
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    Four Decades of Downs and Ups in New York City

    There’s nothing wrong with your eyes: The title of Thomas Dyja’s new book is “New York, New York, New York.” (The triplicate is inspired by the urbanist Holly Whyte’s answer when he was asked to name his three favorite American cities.) On this week’s podcast, Dyja discusses how he went about organizing this sweeping look at the past four decades in the city’s history. “I love timelines,” Dyja says. “I make huge charts to take themes through, so this had an eight-foot-long thing on my wall that basically took certain themes and wove them through all those years.” With all that material, “having to make tough choices was just basic," and "there are things that are on the cutting room floor that I kind of miss. But at the end of the day, I think it conveys that subway-express-train-blasting-along-from-stop-to-stop experience of New York.” The magician, writer and theatrical performer Derek DelGaudio visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “Amoralman: A True Story and Other Lies,” which is told in two parts: The first covers his childhood in Colorado, and the second the time he spent doing a very unusual job. “When I was in my 20s, I worked as what’s known as a bust-out dealer, which is a professional card cheat hired by the house to cheat its customers,” DelGaudio says. “And what I experienced at that house, and what I recognized, I thought was something worth sharing.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gal Beckerman and Dave Kim talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “An Empire of Their Own” by Neal Gabler “My Heart” by Semezdin Mehmedinovic “Le Freak” by Nile Rodgers

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  • 12.03.2021
    60 MB
    01:03:10
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    Imbolo Mbue on Writing Her Second Novel

    Imbolo Mbue first began writing her new novel, “How Beautiful We Were,” in 2002. The book concerns the impact of an American oil company’s presence on a fictional African village. She eventually put the idea aside to work on what turned into her acclaimed debut novel, “Behold the Dreamers.” When she began working again on the earlier idea, it was 2016. On this week’s podcast, she says that returning to the novel at that moment changed the way she approached writing it. “Flint, Michigan, had happened, and Sandy Hook had happened a few years before,” she says. “So I was thinking a lot about children. I was thinking a lot about what it means to be a child growing up in a world in which you don’t understand why things are happening and nobody is doing something about it. And that was what gave me the inspiration to tell the story mostly from the point of the view of the children. That definitely changed a huge part of the story.” Annalee Newitz visits the podcast to discuss “Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age.” In the book, Newitz gleans lessons about urban living from four cities that no longer exist: Pompeii; Angkor, a metropolis of medieval Cambodia; Cahokia, an urban sanctuary that sprawled across both sides of the Mississippi River a thousand years ago; and Catalhoyuk, a city that existed 9,000 years ago above the plains of south-central Turkey. “It’s a tragedy because for us now, in the present day, looking back, a lot of us would love to know more about what life was like in these places and be able to visit them in their prime,” Newitz says. “So it’s sad because we can’t go and see them alive. But I also think that in many cases, people left these cities for good reason. The abandonment, it’s a rejection of something that’s gone wrong, and I think it’s good that we have these examples.” Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes “The Empathy Diaries” by Sherry Turkle

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  • 05.03.2021
    68 MB
    01:10:54
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    Kazuo Ishiguro and Friendship With Machines

    Kazuo Ishigruo’s eighth novel, “Klara and the Sun,” is his first since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. It’s narrated by Klara, an Artificial Friend — a humanoid machine who acts as a companion for a 14-year-old child. Radhika Jones, the editor of Vanity Fair, talks about the novel and where it fits into Ishiguro’s august body of work on this week’s podcast. “How human can Klara be? What are the limits of humanity, in terms of transferring it into machinery? It’s one of the many questions that animate this book,” Jones says. “It’s not something that’s oversimplified, but I do think it’s very poignant because the truth is that Klara is our narrator. So as far as we’re concerned, she’s the person whose inner life we come to understand. And the question of what limits there are on that, for a being that is artificial, is interesting.” Mark Harris visits the podcast to discuss “Mike Nichols: A Life,” his new biography of the writer, director and performer whose many credits included “The Graduate” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” “He was remarkably open,” Harris says of his subject. “There are few bigger success stories for a director to look back on than ‘The Graduate,’ and I was asking Mike about it 40 years and probably 40,000 questions after it happened. But I was so impressed by his willingness to come at it from new angles, to re-examine things that he hadn’t thought about for a while, to tell stories that were frankly not flattering to him. I’ve never heard harsher stories about Mike’s behavior over the years than I heard from Mike himself. He was an extraordinary interview subject.” Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world ; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “No One Is Talking About This” by Patricia Lockwood “The View From Castle Rock” by Alice Munro “The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories” by Henry James

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  • 26.02.2021
    65 MB
    01:08:00
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    Lauren Oyler Talks About Deception Online

    Lauren Oyler’s debut novel, “Fake Accounts,” features a nameless narrator who discovers that her boyfriend has a secret life online, where he posts conspiracy theories. The novel is about that discovery, but also more broadly about how the time we spend online — especially on social media — transforms our personalities. “The book is about various modes of deceit or lying or misdirection, and the ways we deceive each other in various ways, both on the internet and off,” Oyler says on this week’s podcast. Stephen Kearse visits the podcast to discuss the work of Octavia Butler, who “committed her life,” as Kearse recently wrote , “to turning speculative fiction into a home for Black expression.” But despite Butler’s groundbreaking career, “I wouldn’t want to overstate how different she was,” Kearse says, “because she was very much interested in the things that golden age sci-fi authors were interested in — so, space travel and human extinction and aliens visiting. But I think her innovations were on the level of craft and even just concept. She saw alien stories as very connected to colonization. She saw time travel as escapist. She was able to think about how these tropes rely on certain ideas of privilege and access and really just dive in deeper.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world ; and Dwight Garner asks questions of Pamela Paul, the editor of the Book review and the podcast’s host.

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  • 19.02.2021
    65 MB
    01:07:58
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    Writing About Illness Without Platitudes

    At 22 years old, Suleika Jaouad was a recent college graduate who had moved to Paris, looking forward to everything life might offer. Then she received a diagnosis of leukemia. In her new memoir, “Between Two Kingdoms,” Jaouad writes about the ensuing years. On this week’s podcast, she discusses her experience with the disease and her effort, in writing the book, to avoid the many platitudes that surround serious illness. “When you’re sick, you get bombarded with all kinds of bumper-sticker sayings,” she says. “You’re told to find the silver lining, that everything happens for a reason, or — the one that I hated the most — that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, because in my case it certainly felt like I had been given more than I could handle. So I was really focused on writing toward the silence and toward the shadows, and writing about the experiences that maybe aren’t as palatable but that, from my perspective, needed to be unveiled.” The Times’s comedy critic, Jason Zinoman, visits the podcast to discuss his favorite memoirs by comedians , including books by Harpo Marx, Joan Rivers and Tina Fey, and to discuss the genre as a whole. “The comedy memoir is the worst genre of book that I can’t get enough of,” Zinoman says. “I gobble up comedy memoirs, even though the vast, vast majority of them are terrible.” One reason for that, Zinoman says, is because “you don’t need to make a great book to become a best seller. It’s the same with political books; most books by politicians are bad because they don’t need to be good to be successful, and the same logic applies here.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Let Me Tell You What I Mean” by Joan Didion “Her First American” by Lore Segal “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama

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  • 12.02.2021
    59 MB
    01:01:42
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    This Land Is Whose Land?

    When Simon Winchester takes on a big subject, he takes on a big subject. His new book, “Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World,” travels through centuries and to places like Ukraine, New Zealand, Scotland, the United States and elsewhere. On this week’s podcast, he talks about the history of private land ownership and a few of the many aspects of this history that caught his attention. “The whole notion of trespass I find absolutely fascinating,” Winchester says. “There is this pervasive feeling — it’s not uniquely American, but it is powerfully American — that once you own it, you put up posted signs, you put up barbed wire, you put up fences, to keep people off. Because one of the five ‘bundle of rights,’ lawyers call it — when you buy land, you get these rights — is that you have an absolute right of law to exclude other people from your land. In Sweden, in Norway, in Denmark, you can’t do that.” The journalist Amelia Pang visits the podcast to talk about her new book, “Made in China,” in which she investigates the brutal system of forced labor that undergirds China’s booming export industry. She tells the story of one average American woman who bought a cheap Halloween decoration during a clearance sale after the holiday one year. “She didn’t really need it,” Pang says. “It actually sat in her storage for about two years before she remembered to open it. And so she was very shocked to find this SOS message written by the prisoner who had made this product when she finally opened it. It just goes to show the trivialness of a lot of the products that are made in these camps. In my book, I try to go into: Do we as Americans actually need so much of this stuff? And how much is our shopping habits and consumer culture contributing to factors that compel Chinese factories to outsource work to labor camps?” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Dwight Garner and Parul Sehgal talk about books they’ve recently reviewed and how they approach reading the classics. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by Times critics this week: “My Year Abroad” by Chang-rae Lee “Gay Bar” by Jeremy Atherton Lin

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  • 05.02.2021
    64 MB
    01:07:12
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    Chang-rae Lee on His New Novel: ‘It’s Kind of a Crazy Book.’

    Chang-rae Lee’s new novel, “My Year Abroad,” is his sixth. On this week’s podcast, Lee says that his readers might be surprised by it. “It’s kind of a crazy book, and particularly I think for people who know my work,” Lee says. “I’m sure my editor was surprised by what she got. I didn’t quite describe it the way it turned out.” The novel follows a New Jersey 20-year-old named Tiller, who is at loose ends, as he befriends a very successful Chinese entrepreneur. “They go traveling together,” Lee says. “They have what we might call business adventures, but those adventures get quite intense.” Maurice Chammah visits the podcast to talk about his densely reported first book, “Let the Lord Sort Them,” which is a history, as the subtitle has it, of “the rise and fall of the death penalty.” “One of the fascinating parts of researching this book was revisiting a time that I kind of dimly remembered when the death penalty had a role in the culture war pantheon, along with gun control and abortion,” Chammah says. “Starting around the year 2000, it feels like that was a high-water mark where something broke, and over the 20 years since, the death penalty has declined, both in the number of people who support it, but I think more importantly, in relevance. It’s less of a thing that people feel matters to their daily lives.” Also on this week’s episode, Tina Jordan looks back at Book Review history during this year of its 125th anniversary; Elizabeth A. Harris has news from the publishing world; and Tina Jordan and John Williams talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: The books of John le Carré “Read Me” by Leo Benedictus “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty “Dear Child” by Romy Hausmann “Winterkeep” by Kristin Cashore

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  • 29.01.2021
    66 MB
    01:09:14
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    Navigating the Maze of Paying for College

    Ron Lieber’s new book, “The Price You Pay for College,” aims at helping families with, as the book’s subtitle puts it, the biggest financial decision they will ever make. Lieber, a personal financial columnist for The Times, visits the podcast this week to discuss it. Among other subjects, he addresses all the ways in which the price to attend a particular college can vary from student to student, similar to how the cost of seats on one airplane flight can vary. Michael J. Stephen visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “Breath Taking: The Power, Fragility, and Future of Our Extraordinary Lungs.” Stephen, a pulmonary expert at Thomas Jefferson University, talks about what we’ve learned about the lungs during the coronavirus crisis, and more generally about the wonders and perplexities of this organ. Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and the Times’s critics talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the critics this week: “The Lives of Lucian Freud: Fame, 1968-2011” by William Feaver “The Liar’s Dictionary” by Eley Williams “1984” by George Orwell

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  • 22.01.2021
    60 MB
    01:03:23
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    The Ethics of Adoption in America

    In “American Baby,” the veteran journalist Gabrielle Glaser tells the story of one mother and child, and also zooms out from there to consider the ethics of adoption in this country. Our reviewer, Lisa Belkin, calls the book “the most comprehensive and damning” account of the “growing realization that old-style adoption was not always what it seemed.” Glaser visits the podcast this week to talk about it. Kenneth R. Rosen visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “Troubled: The Failed Promise of America’s Behavioral Treatment Programs.” The book is an examination of the “tough-love industry” of wilderness camps and residential therapeutic programs for young people. Rosen himself, as a troubled teen, spent time at a few of these places, and his book strongly criticizes their methods. Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and Tina Jordan talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”: “Summer Cooking” by Elizabeth David “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro “The Soul of a New Machine” by Tracy Kidder “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson

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  • 15.01.2021
    61 MB
    01:03:55
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    James Comey and Truth in Government

    James Comey’s “Saving Justice,” arrives three years after his first book, “A Higher Loyalty.” Joe Klein reviews it for us , and visits the podcast this week to discuss, among other subjects, how the new book is different from the first. “It doesn’t differ very much at all, actually,” Klein says, “except for one thing: He rehearses all of the confrontations he had with Donald Trump in both books, but in the second book he places that in the context of the need for truth and transparency in government, which I think is a valuable thing. The book is a repetition of the first book, but it’s not an insignificant repetition because of the context that he’s now placed it in.” Elisabeth Egan, an editor at the Book Review, is on the podcast to discuss the latest selection for our monthly column Group Text: “A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself,” by Peter Ho Davies. “What I found especially compelling about this book in this moment, when we’re all still kind of confined to our houses,” Egan says, “is that it was very reassuring to read about parental worry in a moment when we’re all flying blind. But you have this worry with a lot of funny lines and funny observations about parenthood.” Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host. Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week: “Kill Switch” by Adam Jentleson “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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  • 08.01.2021
    53 MB
    55:15
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    Charles Yu Talks About ‘Interior Chinatown’

    Charles Yu’s “Interior Chinatown,” which won the National Book Award for fiction in November, is a satire about Hollywood’s treatment of Asian-Americans. It features an actor named Willis Wu, who has a very small role in a TV show. On this week’s podcast, Yu, himself a writer for TV as well as a novelist, discusses the book and why he wrote it. David S. Brown visits the podcast to discuss his new biography of Henry Adams, “The Last American Aristocrat.” Adams was the great-grandson of John Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams and the author of “The Education of Henry Adams,” a posthumously published memoir that is widely considered one of the greatest nonfiction works of the 20th century. Also, Alexandra Alter answers questions from listeners about the publishing industry, and Gregory Cowles, John Williams and the show's host, Pamela Paul, discuss what they're reading. The books discussed on "What We're Reading" this week: “Just Like You” by Nick Hornby “The Watch Tower” by Elizabeth Harrower “The Last Million” by David Nasaw

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  • 01.01.2021
    55 MB
    58:16
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    Fareed Zakaria on Life After the Pandemic

    The author and CNN host Fareed Zakaria calls the coronavirus pandemic “the most transformative event of our lifetimes.” He says: “What has happened over the last 50 years is, we have gotten increasingly confident about the power of science and medicine, so we’ve kind of lost sight of the effect that something like a plague, a pandemic, has. And I think this was a mistake." The historian Margaret MacMillan visits the podcast to discuss her most recent book, “War: How Conflict Shaped Us,” one of the Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2020. MacMillan has written about specific wars in the past, but here she looks more broadly at the subject throughout human history, which led her to some new conclusions. “What I hadn’t really got involved in or really understood,” MacMillan says, “was the debate about whether war is something that’s biologically driven — are we condemned to war because of something that evolution has left us with, or is war the product of culture?” Also on this week’s episode, Gregory Cowles and John Williams talk about what they’re reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

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  • 25.12.2020
    70 MB
    01:13:38
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    The Listeners’ Episode: Editors and Critics Answer Your Questions

    We respond to questions about criticism, reading habits, favorite stories and more.

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  • 18.12.2020
    47 MB
    49:06
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    Agents of Change

    Kerri Greenidge discusses two books about African-Americans in the years before the Civil War, and Neal Gabler talks about “Catching the Wind,” his biography of Edward Kennedy.

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  • 11.12.2020
    57 MB
    01:00:12
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    Jo Nesbo Talks About 'The Kingdom'

    Nesbo discusses his latest novel, and David Michaelis talks about his new biography of Eleanor Roosevelt.

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  • 04.12.2020
    63 MB
    01:04:28
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    David Sedaris on a Career-Spanning Collection

    Sedaris talks about “The Best of Me” and his life as an essayist.

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  • 27.11.2020
    66 MB
    01:09:30
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    Talking About the 10 Best Books of 2020

    On a special episode of the podcast, taped live, editors from The New York Times Book Review discuss this year's outstanding fiction and nonfiction.

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  • 25.11.2020
    60 MB
    01:01:51
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    Joy Williams and Unique Views of America

    A.O. Scott talks about Williams’s fiction, and Nicholas Christakis discusses his new book about the coronavirus, “Apollo’s Arrow.”

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  • 25.11.2020
    48 MB
    49:21
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    David Byrne on Turning 'American Utopia' Into a Book

    Byrne talks about his work with the artist Maira Kalman on his latest book, and Brittany K. Barnett discusses "A Knock at Midnight."

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