Start the Week

Start the Week

By BBC Radio 4

Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday


Weaving magic in words, clay and paper

The author and poet Kathleen Jamie celebrates a new form of writing – weaving personal notes, prose poems and acts of witness – in her latest book, Cairn. The new collection is a meditation on the preciousness and precariousness of both memory and the natural world. The broadcaster Jennifer Lucy Allan has taken a closer look at the relationship between humans and the earth in her book Clay. From the first clay tablets to the throwing of pots on a wheel, the history of this everyday material is bound up with our own and the act of creation.The artist Mark Hearld has a passion for making, from collage to printmaking, sculpture and ceramics. Like Kathleen Jamie he takes inspiration from the flora and fauna of the British countryside. In July he will be working in collaboration with the weavers at Dovecot in Edinburgh to turn his paper collages into a tapestry. Visitors to Dovecot will be able to see Mark and the weavers in action (Mark Hearld: At Home in Scotland, until July 18th). The Dovecot Tapestry studio was first established in Scotland in 1912 and today’s master weaver Naomi Robertson looks back at its history. She explains how over the last century expert craftsmen and woman have worked together using the colour and texture of the threads to transform artworks, from one medium – paper or canvas – to another.Producer: Katy HickmanStart the Week will be off air until Monday 16th September but you can find hundreds of episodes available on BBC Sounds and through the programme website.
01/07/2441m 47s

Animal communication

How do animals detect natural disasters before they happen? Martin Wikelski, Director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour at the University of Konstanz argues they have a ‘sixth sense’ that humans are only just beginning to understand. In his book, The Internet of Animals, he reveals the extraordinary network of information gathered by tagging and tracking thousands of animals across the world.At the University of Glasgow researchers have been looking at how technology can be used to help animals communicate with each other. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas explored the potential of video-calling to reduce loneliness in parrots and found that the sociable birds preferred the live interaction to pre-recorded videos. The traditional rhythms of a pastoral life are at the heart of Kapka Kassabova’s new book, Anima. In the mountainous region of Bulgaria, she follows the ‘pastiri’ people, the shepherds struggling to hold onto an ancient way of life, and their relationship with the oldest surviving breeds of sheep and goats, and their legendary breed of dog, the Karakachan.Producer: Katy Hickman
24/06/2442m 19s

Politeness and civility

British social etiquette might be famed for its liberal use of please and thank you, but civility is very much a European import, according to John Gallagher, professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leeds. As courtiers visited the French and Italian courts in the 16th century they not only learnt new languages but new rules of behaviour too. As the century progressed civility began to be weaponised as travellers sought to distinguish themselves from the ‘barbarous’ foreigners.The lexicographer and Countdown regular Susie Dent explains the etymology of terms like civilised, polite and barbarous. And she explores changing tastes in what is deemed impolite: in the Middle Ages the biggest taboo was any profanity that used the Lord’s name in vain, whilst the words we consider the most offensive today were commonplace.For years Professor Louise Mullany has been studying the prevalence and power of politeness in our everyday speech and actions. In her book, Polite: The Art of Communication at Home, at Work and in Public she uncovers the unwritten rules of behaviour, exploring the gender and generational differences, the art of the political apology, and whether politeness standards really are declining.The comedian and impressionist Matt Forde unpicks the argument that satirical shows like Spitting Image have contributed to the perceived lack of civility in politics. For his latest podcast, The Political Party, he is aiming to behave impeccably as he interviews a candidate from all 650 constituencies before the general election. Producer: Katy Hickman
17/06/2442m 10s

‘Left behind’, but not forgotten

Why are there areas of severe deprivation in prosperous countries, and how can prosperity be shared more equally? Those are the questions the world-renowned development economist Paul Collier explores in his book, Left Behind: A New Economics for Neglected Places. He looks at areas that were once thriving – from the mining towns of South Yorkshire to the bustling city ports in Colombia – to explore widening inequality, but also to offer ideas of economic renewal.Matthew Xia directs the UK premier of Skeleton Crew by Dominique Morriseau at the Donmar Warehouse (from 28th June to 24th August 2024). Set in Detroit in 2008, the play follows a tight-knit group of workers in one of the city’s last surviving car factories as they struggle to come to terms with its inevitable closure. This is a story about the human cost of a global financial crisis and of enduring hope, against the odds.Joanna Kusiak calls herself a scholar-activist as she recounts the movement she was involved in that put people and community before speculative finance and profit. Her book, Radically Legal, is the story of how a group of ordinary Berliners used a forgotten clause in the German constitution to take back more than 240,000 apartments from corporate landlords. The book is based on Kusiak’s winning entry to the Nine Dots Prize, which supports the development of book proposals, and was in response to the question set by the prize: ‘why has the rule of law become so fragile?’ Producer: Katy Hickman
10/06/2441m 42s

Hay Festival: ancient wisdom and ecology

In front of an audience at the Hay Literary Festival Adam Rutherford talks to the botanist and Native American Robin Wall Kimmerer. In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass she shows the importance of bringing together indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge, to increase understanding of the languages and worlds of plants and animals. Hugh Warwick is an expert on hedgehogs but in his latest book, Cull of the Wild, he focuses on animals less native, and beloved. From grey squirrels in Anglesey to cane toads in Australia he explores the complex history of species control, and the ethics of killing in the name of conservation.The writer Olivia Laing turns her attention to the efforts to create paradise on earth. In The Garden Against Time she retells her own attempts to restore a walled garden in Suffolk while investigating the long history of gardens – real and imagined, follies and pleasure grounds.Producer: Katy Hickman
03/06/2442m 16s

Reading the Bible

The American author Marilynne Robinson is celebrated as a writer of fiction and non-fiction that raises philosophical questions about how to live an ethical life. In her latest book, Reading Genesis, she explores the stories in the Bible and God’s promise of enduring covenant with humanity.The writer Naomi Alderman grew up with stories from the Old Testament, and although no longer a believer, attests to the power and strangeness of these ancient stories. She wishes they were as popular as the Greek myths.The poet Malika Booker grew up in Guyana where she says the King James Bible was ubiquitous. Its language has influenced her own work, and in recent years she has set herself the task of creolising the Bible, infusing its stories with the cadences of home.Producer: Katy Hickman
27/05/2441m 29s

Art: market, money and malfeasance

The National Gallery in London is displaying Caravaggio’s last painting, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula (until 21 July 2024), an extraordinary work depicting the violence and intense naturalism of the scene, and the painter’s revolutionary use of dramatic lighting. The curator Francesca Whitlum-Cooper says Caravaggio changed the art world in the 17th century. But the painter was as famous for his personal life as his art: he left murder and mayhem in his wake as he attempted to evade the law.For most of its existence The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula languished in private collections and was sold for just £3,500 in the 1970s, with few believing it was by Caravaggio. Now it’s been identified as an original it’s worth millions. The fortunes to be made and lost in the art market, the risks, the greed and the deals are the subject of Orlando Whitfield’s book All That Glitters. He details his friendship with the contemporary art dealer Inigo Philbrick, a young man whose spectacular rise is matched only by his dramatic fall, convicted and imprisoned for fraud owing $86.7 million.The art market is often shrouded in secrecy and is one of the very few unregulated markets left in the global economy. Angelina Giovani-Agha is an art historian who has specialised in provenance research. She understands that each painting has a story to tell and a unique record of acquisition. Her work involves investigating ownership history and highlighting any murky inconsistencies, as well as specialising in looted artworks.Producer: Katy Hickman
20/05/2442m 0s

Bees – culture and survival

As a new exhibition opens in Liverpool exploring the survival of bees Start the Week takes stock of the life and times of this extraordinary insect. The artist Wolfgang Buttress uses a fusion of art, science and technology to create a sensory experience of the sights and sounds of bees. Bees: A Story of Survival is on at the World Museum, Liverpool until May 2025.They’ve been around for over 120 million years and Lars Chittka, Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology at Queen Mary University of London, says the thousands of different bee species have evolved a huge diversity of lifestyles and are some of the most intelligent animals on Earth. They not only use a symbolic language, can count, use tools and learn by observation, but are now believed to have an emotional hinterland.For millennia, bees have held a special significance in human culture. Claire Preston, Professor of Renaissance Literature at QMUL, traces the symbolism of bees through historical and literary records, from ancient political analogies to today’s discussions about hive minds.While there are increasing fears about the future of bees as they battle exposure to pesticides, diseases and habitat destruction, Alison Benjamin is one of a growing number of people trying to raise awareness. She is the co-founder of Urban Bees and wants to shift the focus away from farmed hives of honey bees which are growing in popularity in cities, to the protection and survival of wild and solitary bees.Producer: Katy Hickman
13/05/2441m 51s

Protest and patriotism

May Day is the title of Jackie Kay’s new collection. The former Makar of Scotland explores a history of political protest, and the cultural influencers of the past, from Rabbie Burns to the poet Audre Lorde and Paul Robeson. She also celebrates the lives and activism of her parents, and grieves for their loss. The Green MP Caroline Lucas wants to reclaim and rewrite England’s national story in her book, Another England. By exploring its radical tradition through its literary heritage she seeks to foreground the diverse writers and poets who spoke of a shared sense of identity and purpose, and a deep-rooted commitment to the natural world. The journalist and writer Simon Heffer looks back a century to the interwar period, a time of radical transformation of British society post the Great War, as many of the old attitudes started to be swept away. In his history, Sing As We Go, he shows how the culture of the time both shaped and reflected these changes.Producer: Katy Hickman
06/05/2441m 55s

Alien life and gravity

The astrophysicist Professor Lisa Kaltenegger is like an explorer of old, but her voyage takes her far from earth, planet hunting across the universe. She is Director of the Carl Sagan Institute to Search for Life in the Cosmos at Cornell University, and in her new book Alien Earths she describes the very latest discoveries of exoplanets which are the best contenders for harbouring alien life. Claudia de Rham is Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London and in her book The Beauty of Falling she tells the story of gravity. From her personal experience of diving in the ocean and freefalling over the earth, to exploring the limits of Einstein’s general theory of relativity she seeks to understand both the feeling and the fundamental nature of gravity.If only all of physics could be so compelling! Professor Mark Fromhold is Head of Physics at Nottingham University and is campaigning for a change to the way pupils are taught, suggesting that quantum physics be incorporated into the curriculum. He argues that at present the subject is too earth-bound, and ‘dull as dishwater’.Producer: Katy Hickman
29/04/2441m 45s

City living

London, and the river that runs through it, is at the heart of the new play London Tide, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. Ben Power has adapted the novel and co-written original songs with the singer-songwriter PJ Harvey. He tells Adam Rutherford that although it combines the savage satire and social analysis of the original, it is, in essence, a love letter to the capital. London Tide is playing at the National Theatre until 22nd June.The award-winning architect Amanda Levete reflects on the challenges of designing buildings and public spaces in major historic cities around the world – taking into consideration the aesthetics of the built environment, whilst meeting the needs of the community and tackling sustainability.Amanda Levete considers the Pompidou Centre in Paris to be one of the twentieth century’s most iconic buildings and an inspiration for her own architectural practice. The journalist Simon Kuper takes stock of his adopted city, as Paris prepares for the Olympics. In Impossible City he explores today’s ‘Grand Paris’ project which aims to connect its much famed central areas with its neglected suburbs.Producer: Katy Hickman
22/04/2441m 41s

Power to the people

2024 has been dubbed the year of elections, as at least 64 countries – including the UK – are heading for the polls. Tom Sutcliffe and guests explore the state of democracy.The political philosopher Erica Benner reflects on the tensions in liberal democracy in her book, Adventures in Democracy: The Turbulent World of People Power. From her childhood in post-war Japan, to working in post-communist Poland, and with forays into ancient Greece and Renaissance Erica Benner looks at the role of ordinary citizens in keeping democracy alive.Democracy in India has a long history with roots in ancient councils of elders, although its modern manifestation began with independence from British rule in 1947. But the anthropologist Alpa Shah raises questions about how far democratic institutions are failing in India, as minority groups - the Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims - are targeted and demonised, in her new book The Incarcerations. The UK will have a general election this year, and although satisfaction with politics ranks very low in relation to other countries, faith in democracy continues to rise. The research is by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, and its director Bobby Duffy says that while there’s little support for authoritarian forms of government, the idea of Citizen Assemblies are becoming more popular.Producer: Katy Hickman
15/04/2441m 47s

Music and poetry

Humankind’s relationship with music can be traced back millions of years and across continents. In Sound Tracks the archaeologist Graeme Lawson unearths some of the oldest instruments, from water-filled pots in Peru from AD700 that chirp like a bird, to bells from a tomb in 5th century China. He argues that music is part of what makes us human.An ancient horn, played from a watchtower on Hadrian's Wall, is a far cry from the modern version the award-winning trumpeter Alison Balsom plays. She is giving the UK premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ Trumpet Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra (Barbican on the 11th April; Bristol Beacon on the 12th). This is a contemporary piece that showcases the huge versatility of the trumpet, from the opening pre-historic-sounding wild elephant call to ceremonial fanfare and New Orleans jazz.The celebrated poet John Burnside’s new collection, Ruin, Blossom explores what it is to be human as we contemplate our mortality. But even amidst the ruin and death and decay, his words reveal the beauty and hope in the everyday natural world: ‘first sun streaming through the trees … a skylark in the near field, flush with song’.(Extract from Wynton Marsalis’ Trumpet Concerto, played by Alison Balsom with the Swedish Radio Orchestra in a concert from 17th February 2024, with permission from the Swedish Radio Orchestra )Producer: Katy Hickman
08/04/2441m 55s

The war between science and religion

The historian Michael Taylor looks back at the past tug of war between religion and science, and how the discovery of ancient bones challenged religious orthodoxy. Impossible Monsters: Dinosaurs, Darwin and the War Between Science and Religion is the story of a group of people whose insights tested beliefs about creation and cosmology, and ushered in the secular age.But Nick Spencer from the thinktank Theos dismisses the idea that science has rightly relegated religion to the margins. In his new book Playing God: Science, Religion and the Future of Humanity (co-authored with Hannah Waite) he argues that religious belief is uniquely placed to help people navigate a world dominated by scientific breakthroughs – from AI to aliens, gene editing to the treatment of mental health.Professor Frances Flinter has been at the forefront of innovations in the treatment of genetic conditions for decades in her role at Guy’s & St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust. She is also a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and says that medical decisions are rarely based purely on science, but involve thinking about what it means to be human. Producer: Katy Hickman
01/04/2442m 22s

Crossing borders and belonging

The Vietnamese American writer Viet Thanh Nguyen was awarded the Pulitzer prize for his debut novel The Sympathiser in 2016. Now he turns his attention to memoir, in A Man of Two Faces. He was four when he was forced to flee Vietnam with his family, but as he looks back at his life he explores the necessity of forgetting and remembering, and how far the promise and dream of America can be trusted. The journalist and Deputy Editor of Harper’s Bazaar Helena Lee wants to showcase the voices and experiences of writers from the East and Southeast Asian diaspora living in the UK. East Side Voices celebrates the diversity of that experience and explores the impact on identity, community and family.Jessica J. Lee was born in Canada to a Taiwanese mother and a Welsh father and in her collection of essays, Dispersals, she muses on the question of how plants and people become uprooted and cross borders. Combining memoir, history, and scientific research she explores how entwined our fortunes, movement and language are with the plant world. Producer: Katy Hickman
25/03/2441m 34s

Intrigue and disinformation from the Russian Revolution to Ukraine invasion

Andrey Kurkov is Ukraine’s most celebrated novelist. When Russia invaded Ukraine he turned his writing to journalism and memoir, but his latest book is a work of fiction set amid the chaos of the Russian Revolution. The Silver Bone (translated by Boris Dralyuk) is the first in a trilogy of historical mysteries in which the recently orphaned detective investigates his first case while Bolsheviks, Cossacks, and white Army Guards all vie to take control of Kyiv. The journalist and writer Peter Pomerantsev retells the daring story of the WWII propogandist Sefton Delmer who managed to infiltrate German airwaves and skilfully question Nazi doctrine. How to Win an Information War reveals the extent of the complexity of spin and indoctrination used in the past, alongside the role of propaganda today in Putin’s Russia.The information war is heading into a new era with the development of generative AI which makes it simple to produce fake text, audio and videos. The news editor at MIT Technology Review Charlotte Jee says the pace of change is extraordinary, and regulation is lagging behind, as deepfakes are becoming more difficult to distinguish from actual human content. Producer: Katy Hickman
18/03/2441m 50s

Time passing: ageing, memory and nostalgia

The Nobel prize winning molecular biologist Venki Ramakrishnan explores how time affects our bodies, brains and emotions in his new book, Why We Die: The New Science of Ageing and the Quest for Immortality. As he explains the recent scientific breakthroughs to extend lifespan by altering our biology, he also considers the ethical questions such efforts raise. The neuroscientist Charan Ranganath asks a different question in his book, Why We Remember. Using case studies he unveils the principles behind how the brain retains information, and what and why we forget so much. He also looks at what happens to our memories as we age. In her new book, Nostalgia, the historian Agnes Arnold-Forster blends social history and psychology in a quest to understand this complex emotion. While it was thought of as an illness in the 17th century, it is now used as a widespread marketing tool impacting our choices from politics to food. But if nostalgia prompts us to glorify the past, Arnold-Foster asks how that impacts the present, and future.Producer: Katy Hickman
11/03/2441m 39s

Mysterious Plants

The plant Rafflesia has the world’s largest flowers and gives off one of the worst scents; it’s also something of a biological enigma, a leafless parasite that lives off forest vines. For the botanist Chris Thorogood, an expert in parasitic and carnivorous plants at the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum, Rafflesia is also an obsession. In his book, Pathless Forest, he goes in search of this mysterious plant in some of the last wildernesses in South East Asia. Dr Kelsey Byers is an evolutionary chemical ecologist who specialises in floral scent and its influence on the evolution of flowering plants. In her laboratory at the John Innes Centre in Norwich she studies how flowers use different smells to attract their pollinator of choice. From sweet aromas to the stink of rotting flesh, she explores how plants use con-artistry and sexual deception to thrive.The ethnobotanist William Milliken from Kew Gardens has spent much of his career working with indigenous people in the Amazon to preserve traditional plant knowledge. Now he’s focused on collecting folklore about the use of plants to treat ailments in animals in Britain. From wild garlic treating mastitis in cows, to cabbage for flatulence in dogs, he hopes to uncover a cornucopia of plant-based veterinary medicines.Producer: Katy Hickman
04/03/2441m 39s

Weighty issues

Over the past 50 years, worldwide obesity rates have tripled, and now headlines increasingly shout of a public health crisis, even an obesity epidemic. Tom Sutcliffe explores the consequences of using such negative and emotional language to describe weight and the increasing rates of fat phobia in society. He looks at the health issues and the so-called ‘miracle drugs’ that suppress appetite, and where genetics and diet meet. He’s joined by Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine at the University of Glasgow and recently appointed as the UK Government’s Obesity Mission Chair, the body-positive activist Stephanie Yeboah who’s the author of Fattily Ever After, and the businessman Henry Dimbleby whose book Ravenous reveals the mechanisms behind our food systems.Producer: Katy Hickman
26/02/2441m 39s

Arts: changing the world?

The journalist and broadcaster Ellen E. Jones explores the immense potential of film to challenge the status quo in her book, Screen Deep: How Film And TV Can Solve Racism And Save The World. She explores different genres from superheroes and westerns to horror and arthouse. And she argues that such a popular art form - either shared in the cinema, or beamed direct into your home – revels in the diversity of its story-telling. The Iranian-Australian filmmaker Noora Niasari has chosen to draw from her own personal experience in her debut feature, Shayda (open in cinemas across the UK & Ireland on Friday 8th March 2024). Set in a women’s shelter, the film explores what it means for an Iranian woman to divorce her husband and fight for a new life for herself and her child. But what about other art forms and the stories they tell? The Royal Academy’s latest exhibition – Entangled Pasts: Art, Colonialism and Change (until 28th April) – places work from the 18th century alongside contemporary work to explore how art, both old and new, is entangled with and reflected by Britain’s colonial past. Hew Locke will be showing his major work, Armada, which consists of a giant flotilla of model boats. Producer: Katy Hickman
19/02/2441m 54s

Global influences

Ancient Greece and Rome loom large in the understanding of the roots of Western Civilisation, but the Professor of Ancient History Josephine Quinn wants to challenge that simple narrative. In How The World Made The West – A 4,000 Year History she shows how western values were developed by long-standing links between a much larger group of cultures, from the Gobi Desert to the Atlantic Ocean and beyond.The British Museum’s major new exhibition Legion looks at life in the Roman army (on until 23rd June). This elite war machine was employed to protect and control around a quarter of the Earth’s population for over half a millennium. Recruits came from all walks of life, and from across the Empire. The archaeologist Carolina Rangel de Lima reveals the impact this extraordinary diversity of cultures and beliefs had on the imperial Roman army. The writer Christopher Harding takes a closer look at the many ways in which Asia has influenced Europe and North America. In his book, The Light of Asia, he explores how Japan, China and India have often been sources of genuine fascination and artistic and intellectual inspiration, as well as confusion and misunderstanding.Producer: Katy Hickman
12/02/2442m 5s

Opium trade to synthetic opiates

The trade in opium formed a backdrop to Amitav Ghosh’s best-selling novels, The Ibis Trilogy. In his latest work of non-fiction, Smoke and Ashes, he investigates the impact of that trade on Britain, India and China, and follows the money that was made by some of America’s most powerful and well-respected families. He reveals how the poppy plant enabled the financial survival of Empire and proved catastrophic for Indian farmers and Chinese users. In the 21st century Afghanistan became the biggest grower of poppies, producing more than 80% of the world's opium. The former soldier, Richard Brittan, set up the company Alcis, to provide an accurate picture of what’s going on on the ground in Afghanistan by using satellite imagery. As well as tracking the workings of the drugs trade, he explains the impact of the Taliban ban on poppy cultivation in 2023.Professor Fiona Measham, Chair in Criminology at Liverpool University, explains that one of the effects of the disruption to the opium trade has been a large increase in the number of synthetic opiates – fentanyl and nitazenes – filling the vacuum. China has become the centre for the wider development of synthetic drugs that emulate plant-based street drugs, but are much stronger and potentially lethal. The charity The Loop, set up by Measham, is instrumental in checking drugs to better understand what is being sold on the streets.Producer: Katy Hickman
05/02/2442m 26s

Made out of glass

The history of glass-making dates back to at least 3,600 years ago in Mesopotamia, and both manufactured and naturally-occurring glass have been used in a wide variety of objects across the world. The curator and director of the Stained Glass Museum in Ely, Jasmine Allen, looks back at its long and varied history, highlighting its practical and artistic qualities. In the last century or so its industrial heartlands in Britain have been in the Black Country and the north east of England. John Parker, Professor of Glass Science at the University of Sheffield and curator of the Turner Museum of Glass, is an expert on the history of glass in this region, and the impact of mechanisation at the end of the 1800s.A new exhibition, The Glass Heart, at Two Temple Place in London (until 21st April) showcases industrial glass making as well as contemporary artworks. The artist and glassblower Ayako Tani finds inspiration in traditional calligraphy for her glass art, as well as the more recent development of glass ships in bottles from the 1970s.Glass can be moulded into all shapes and sizes and developed with different strengths, but the materials scientist Professor Claire Corkhill from the University of Bristol says it’s still quite a difficult and mysterious material. Her research is looking into innovative ways to use glass, and exploring whether it could even be the answer to the growing dilemma of managing Britain’s radioactive waste.Producer: Katy Hickman
29/01/2442m 0s

War crimes justice

The legal framework to prosecute war crimes and prohibit the use of ‘aggressive war’ came out of the international war crimes tribunals after WWII – in Germany and Japan. In Judgement at Tokyo the academic and writer Gary J. Bass retells the dramatic courtroom battles as Japan’s militaristic leaders were held accountable for their crimes. With prosecutors and judges drawn from eleven different Allied countries tensions flared, and justice in the Asia Pacific played out amidst the start of the Cold War, China's descent into civil war, and the end of the European empires.The political philosopher Hannah Arendt witnessed the end of the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963, coining the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ – a term that is often mistakenly believed to mean that evil had become ordinary. In We Are Free To Change The World, the writer Lyndsey Stonebridge explores Arendt’s writings on power and terror, love and justice, and their relevance in today’s uncertain times.As the world grows increasingly turbulent war crimes justice is needed more than ever, but it appears to be failing. Since the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands opened in 2002 it has jailed just five war criminals. The journalist and war reporter Chris Stephen looks back at its history and examines alternative options in The Future of War Crimes Justice.Producer: Katy Hickman
22/01/2442m 11s

Climate resolutions

The data analyst Hannah Ritchie challenges the doomsday climate scenarios dominating the headlines to argue for a more hopeful outlook. In Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet she uses the data to show what progress has been made, and what actions will have the most impact in the future.Capitalism, consumerism and unfettered growth are often blamed for the climate crisis, but the Bloomberg journalist Akshat Rathi believes that capitalism is the best means we have to tackle the issues in time. In Climate Capitalism he meets the business people and politicians from around the world who are finding innovative ways to go green.The oceanographer and Joint Director of the UK National Climate Science Partnership, Professor Michael Meredith often works in one of the most difficult and least understood areas of the planet - the Southern Ocean around the Antarctic. He believes that while individual actions and choices are important to tackle climate change, only stronger worldwide governance can slow the irreversible effects of ice sheet decline and rising sea levels.Correction: during the live broadcast we mistakenly stated that Britain gets more than 40% of its energy from renewables, instead of 40% of its electricity.Producer: Katy Hickman
15/01/2441m 48s

A century of Labour

The Labour Party first took office on 22nd January 1924. In the century that followed it has only had six prime ministers and been in power for a total of 33 years. The Labour MP Jon Cruddas looks back at A Century of Labour – the successes and failures. While the Party has been riven by factions from the left and the right, Cruddas also looks at the competing visions of the what the Party represents.The Labour Party was born out of the increase in franchise, the industrialisation of the workforce and unions, and in its early days class was a key factor in voting patterns. The political scientist Jane Green is a specialist in public opinion and electoral behaviour. She argues that the Brexit vote created a new divide between Leavers and Remainers, and considers the significant impact of age and education on voting habits.With an election due this year all political parties will be preparing their manifestos and presenting their vision of the future. The Professor of Politics at the London School of Economics, Jonathan White, focuses on the future as a political idea in The Long Run. While the democratic electoral cycle foregrounds short term policies, White argues it’s time for politicians to consider long-term solutions.Producer: Katy Hickman
08/01/2441m 53s

AI, states and corporations

Artificial Intelligence will be the focus of this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures by the Oxford Professor of Computer Science, Mike Wooldridge. In his series of lectures (broadcast on BBC Four in late December) he will attempt to disentangle the realities from the myths, but will also demonstrate the huge impact AI is already having in fields ranging from medicine to football to astrophysics, as well as on the creative arts. The bestselling novelist Naomi Alderman has fun with AI and its tech trillionaire-creators in her latest thriller The Future. While the wealthy corporate heads are effectively decapitated by an end-of-the-world scenario, the story explores whether the technology that could presage the apocalypse can also be used for the good of society.The Professor of Politics at Cambridge, David Runciman, wants to change the way people think about a future in which artificial intelligence has taken control. In The Handover he looks back to the formation of states and corporations, arguing that these are the precursors to AI: powerful artificial entities that have come to rule our world. While thy have made us richer and safer, he questions what will happen to human existence if these two machines – states and AI – join forces.Producer: Katy Hickman
18/12/2341m 56s

Small states: global impact and survival

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the theoretical physicist Armen Sarkissian returned home and became first the Prime Minister and then the President of the newly reformed state of Armenia. In his book, The Small States Club: How Small Smart States Can Save the World, he argues that successful smaller nations have had to learn to be more agile, adaptive and cooperative, compared to the world’s ‘greater’ powers.The world map has changed considerably, especially in the 19th and 20th century, as empires fell apart and smaller nations fought for independence. The Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan looks back at this time, and considers how small states survive during times of conflict. In 2018 she presented the BBC’s Reith Lectures, The Mark of Cain, on the tangled history of war and society. The BBC’s Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet is no stranger to conflict in the world, as she has covered all the major stories across the Middle East and North Africa for the past two decades. But she is also interested in the way small states have been instrumental in mediating world conflicts, and punching above their weight on international issues like the climate crisis.Producer: Katy Hickman
11/12/2341m 58s

Playing games

It’s play time on Start the Week. The mathematician Marcus Du Sautoy looks at the numbers behind the games we play, from Monopoly to rock paper scissors. In Around The World in 80 Games he shows how understanding maths can give you the edge, and why games are integral to human psychology and culture.The historian Anthony Bale looks at game-playing in the medieval world. In A Travel Guide to the Middle Ages, he finds travellers passing the time with dice and tric trac, as well as collecting pilgrim badges along the way. Many of today’s most popular video games immerse players in historical settings, and the practice of collecting items along the way is nothing new to gamers. The co-director of the Games and Gaming Lab at the University of Glasgow, Jane Draycott, researches the historical authenticity of these online worlds, and especially the depiction of women.And the mathematician G.T. Karber has taken his love of classic detective fiction and puzzles to create the murder-mystery riddle Murdle. A combination of Cluedo and Sudoku, what started as an online game is now a series of bestselling books. The latest is Murdle: More Killer Puzzles.Producer: Katy Hickman
04/12/2342m 0s

Space – the human story

Tim Peake was the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station, and is one of only 628 people in human history to have left the Earth’s atmosphere. In Space he tells the human story of space exploration – from launch to landing. In Samantha Harvey’s latest novel Orbital six astronauts on a space station rotate above the Earth. While their waking lives are spent conducting scientific experiments and maintaining the spacecraft, their attention is constantly drawn back to the Earth – its beauty as they circle it, and the fragility of the human life on it. The cosmologist Roberto Trotta stands on firm ground and gazes skyward. In Starborn he wonders how different our world would be if our ancestors had looked up and there were no stars. From navigation to time, gravity to the wonder of the universe, the cosmos has profoundly shaped our understanding of the world.Producer: Katy Hickman
27/11/2341m 59s

Monet and machine vision

The Impressionist painter Claude Monet wrote that he was driven ‘wild with the need to put down what I experience’. In his long career he revolutionised painting and made some of the most iconic images of western art. The art critic Jackie Wullschläger’s biography of Monet looks at the man behind the famous artist.Monet’s late series of paintings of water lilies became less and less concerned with a conventional depiction of nature. The artist Mat Collishaw’s latest works also draw on evocative imagery from the natural world, including use of AI technology. At an exhibition at Kew Gardens (until April 2024) Collishaw takes inspiration from 17th century still life paintings of flowers, but on closer inspection the viewer sees the flowers morph into layers of insects. Humans have always used technology to expand our limited vision, from the stone mirror 8,000 years ago to facial recognition and surveillance software today. Jill Walker Rettberg is Professor of Digital Culture at the University of Bergen. In her book, Machine Vision, she looks at the implications of the latest technologies, and how they are changing the way we see the world.Producer: Katy Hickman
20/11/2342m 3s

Music – from page to performance

The award-winning composer Errollyn Wallen offers an insight into what it’s like to write a piece of music. In her memoir, Becoming a Composer, she also looks back on how a girl born in Belize and brought up in Tottenham found herself at home in the world of classical music.Handel was gradually losing his sight in 1751 as he finished what was his last dramatic oratorio Jephtha. The harpsichordist Laurence Cummings conducts a new performance of this biblical tale of faith and sacrifice, at the Royal Opera House (8–24 November; on BBC Radio 3 on 27 January). He explains how Handel’s work has been reinterpreted for today’s audience. Jazz musicians are celebrated for their re-interpretation of classics and improvisation. As the London Jazz festival is in full swing (10-19 November, and on BBC Radio 3), the celebrated jazz singer Emma Smith talks about what happens when the notes on the page are transformed into a performance.Producer: Katy Hickman
13/11/2340m 24s

China – its poetry and economy

In the winter of 770 the Chinese poet Du Fu wrote his final words, ‘Excitement gone, now nothing troubles me…/ Rushing madly at last where do I go?’ Looking back at his life and work, the historian Michael Wood retraces Du Fu’s journeys across China. He lived through war and famine, but his poetry found beauty and grandeur in the minutiae of everyday life and the natural world. Michael Wood tells Tom Sutcliffe how Du Fu’s poetry has the timeless quality of Shakespeare or Dante. The travel writer Noo Saro-Wiwa goes on a different journey into China, finding out about the lives of Africans living there today. In Black Ghosts she traces the waves of immigration from the 1950s onwards, which benefitted African students and economic migrants who found Europe closed to them. As she meets those from all walks of life – from visa-overstayers to top surgeons – she considers the precarity of their lives, and the ultimate power imbalance in Sino-African relations. China is Africa's largest trading partner and in the past China has lent huge sums for infrastructure in its Belt and Road project. But as China’s economy begins to falter, the economist and China specialist George Magnus looks at the implications. Abroad many African countries are deeply indebted, and at home after 40 years of China’s seemingly irrepressible rise, the country is now facing a surge in urban youth unemployment and signs of deflation.Producer: Katy Hickman
06/11/2341m 33s

Soundtrack to life

The American singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant often uses fictional or mythological characters in her songs, to capture contemporary and political concerns. Her latest album, Keep Your Courage, is a song cycle composed entirely of love songs. She tells Kirsty Wark she wanted to explore the isolation of illness and the power of care, felt in the last few years. In his new book, Musical Truth, the educator and broadcaster Jeffrey Boakye creates a soundtrack that encapsulates key historical moments of the 20th and 21st century – from the carving up of Africa to feminism and football. Using jazz, disco and hip hop he explores how music both feeds into and mirrors its time, as well as its political and cultural impact.But the writer Michel Faber is more interested in how music affects the individual. In a collection of essays, Listen: On Music, Sound and Us, he explores what’s going on inside when we listen to a whole range of tunes. And he asks two questions: how do we listen to music and why?Producer: Katy Hickman
30/10/2340m 45s

Infected blood - from scandal to inquiry

The plasma product Factor VIII was heralded in the 1960s as a miracle treatment that helped those with haemophilia to live fuller lives. By the 1980s it was killing them in their thousands, as the product from the US was riddled with hepatitis and AIDs. The investigative journalist Cara McGoogan pieces together the sorry tale of medical negligence, commercial greed and government failures in The Poison Line: A True Story of Death, Deception and Infected Blood.In many other countries inquiries have been held, compensation paid out and individuals sent to prison, but the victims and their families in the UK are still waiting, 40 years later. Jason Evans was just 4 years old when his father died after being infected by HIV in Factor VIII. He has dedicated his adult life to getting to the truth and is now awaiting the findings of the public inquiry which began in 2018, and is expected to publish its report in March 2024.The public health expert and physician Dr Gabriel Scally is a veteran of medical inquires – from the Bristol heart scandal to the Cervical Smear failures in Ireland. He has spent his career arguing for a system of clinical governance with a duty of candour placed not just on organisations but individual medics too. He tells Tom Sutcliffe why he thinks scandals and cover-ups continue to happen, and whether a public inquiry is the best way to get to the truth.Producer: Katy Hickman
23/10/2342m 4s

Unruly bodies

The writer and academic Emma Dabiri encourages unruliness in her latest book, Disobedient Bodies. She puts the origins of western beauty ideals under the spotlight and explores ways to rebel against and subvert the current orthodoxy. The book is accompanied by an exhibition, The Cult of Beauty, at the Wellcome Collection from 26 October 2023 to 28 April 2024. It was in the Wellcome’s archive that the filmmaker Carol Morley came across the works and writings of the artist Audrey Amiss. In her new film, Typist Artist Pirate King, Morley creates an imaginative tribute to an unjustly neglected and misunderstood artist. The norm in the world of medical research has been the male body, but in her latest work the scientist and author Cat Bohannon focuses exclusively on women. In Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 million Years of Human Revolution she looks at everything from birth to death.Producer: Katy Hickman
16/10/2342m 7s


This programme was set up before the violence broke out in Israel. Tom Sutcliffe will also be joined by the BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent James Landale.The Israeli novelist and psychologist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen describes the shock felt by the attacks on her country. The Editor of the Jewish Chronicle Jake Wallis Simons discusses his book Israelophobia in which he argues that throughout history Jews have been hated for their religion and their race, and now anti-Semitism is focused on their nation-state. The journalist Nathan Thrall has been reporting in Israel and Palestine for many year. His book The Day in the Life of Abed Salama reveals the every day life of Palestinians in one of the most contested places on earth.Producer: Katy Hickman
09/10/2342m 0s

The Iliad and the right to rule

After her translation of Homer’s The Odyssey the classicist Emily Wilson tackles his epic, The Iliad. She brings to life the battle cries between the Greeks and the Trojans, the bellicose leaders, the political manoeuvres and the deals with the gods. Mary Beard looks at the expression of power in the ancient Roman world in her new study of Emperor of Rome. From Julius Caesar to Alexander Severus nearly two hundred years later, she explores just how much control and authority these rulers had, and the lengths they had to go to in order to cling on to power. The Westminster journalist Ben Riley-Smith looks at how the Conservative Party has clung on to power over the past dozen years in his story, The Right to Rule. With five Prime Ministers in the last decade, this tale of political control involves betrayal, rebellion and the merciless ousting of leaders, in the bid to remain in government. Producer: Katy Hickman
02/10/2341m 44s

Contains Strong Language Festival in Leeds

In front of an audience at the Contains Strong Language Festival in Leeds the poets, Lemn Sissay and Lebogang Mashile, and the curator Clare O’Dowd explore the transformative power of language, and the quest to break down barriers.Each morning the award-winning writer Lemn Sissay composes a short poem as dawn breaks, to banish his own dark thoughts and look forward to the day. The result is his new collection, Let the Light Pour In. Transformation is also at the heart of his retelling of Kafka’s Metamorphosis for the stage, in a touring production by A Frantic Assembly.The poet, performer and activist Lebogang Mashile explains how poetry has always carried political power in her native South Africa. Exiled as a child to the US she returned to Johannesburg after the end of apartheid. Her poetry highlights her sense of being an outsider and how verse is a vehicle in the fight for change.Divisions between the arts are broken down in the exhibition – The Weight of Words – at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (until 26th November). The co-curator Clare O’Dowd tells Tom Sutcliffe how the group exhibition explores what happens when poetry and sculpture intermingle and collide.Producer: Katy Hickman
25/09/2342m 5s

Homo Sapiens +/-

The French archaeologist Ludovic Slimak has spent three decades uncovering evidence of ancient human life. In The Naked Neanderthal (translated by David Watson) he explores the last great extinction of a humanity that died out at the very moment Homo Sapiens expanded across the earth. The ingenuity, compassion and cruelty of Homo Sapiens are at the centre of Sebastian Faulks’s new novel, The Seventh Son. As scientists develop methods to genetically alter the human race, ethical questions arise, as do questions about how humans respond to difference.The American playwright Lauren Gunderson interrogates our relationship with AI in her new play, Anthropology, at the Hampstead Theatre, London (to 14th October). When Angie goes missing, presumed dead, her grieving sister Merril assembles the digital footprint she left behind, and builds herself a digital simulation.Producer: Katy Hickman
18/09/2341m 59s

The NHS at 75

To mark the 75th anniversary of the NHS Kirsty Wark looks back at its formation, its current health and future prognosis with the medic and broadcaster Kevin Fong, historian Andrew Seaton, political commentator Isabel Hardman and GP Phil Whitaker. In ‘Our NHS’ Andrew Seaton explores the history of Britain’s ‘best-loved institution’, and how it has changed and adapted over the decades. Isabel Hilton focuses on the most critical moments in its 75 years in ‘Fighting for Life’. She talks to key decision makers from politicians to consultants, keyworkers to patients, to explore how the NHS has become a political battleground. Phil Whitaker has been a GP for more than 30 years. In ‘What Is A Doctor?’ he paints a damning portrait of political interference in medical treatment and what he sees as a worrying shift away from patient-centred care. As part of the BBC’s focus on the NHS the consultant anaesthetist Kevin Fong takes a step back to examine the roots of today’s problems, and possible solutions, in 'The NHS: Who Cares?' (on BBC Radio 4 from 10th July at 9am)Producer: Katy HickmanStart the Week is back on air on Monday 18th September
03/07/2341m 56s

Materials that shape our world

Sand, salt, iron, copper, oil and lithium are the stars of Ed Conway’s book, Material World. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how they built our world, from the Dark Ages to the present day. And how much the battle to secure them will shape our geopolitical future.The science writer Aarathi Prasad focuses on one of the world’s strongest biological materials ever known – Silk. In her latest book she explores the ancient origins of silk, its global reach, and how it continues to inspire new technologies – from pharmaceuticals to holograms.And materials and how different civilisations use them are at the heart of the British Museum’s exhibition, Luxury and Power: Persia to Greece (until 13th August). The curator, Jamie Fraser, highlights the perceived excesses of the Persian empire – with its abundance of gold, finely crafted pottery and frankincense – in direct contrast to the plainer tastes of their Greek victors.Producer: Katy Hickman
26/06/2341m 46s

Sums, stories and musical scores

Kirsty Wark celebrates the artistry of numbers with three mathematicians Eugenia Cheng, Sarah Hart and Emily Howard.Eugenia Cheng asks Is Maths Real? in her new book, which offers a new way to look at the subject by focusing on the questions, rather than the answers. She explores how asking the simplest of questions – ‘why does 1 + 1 = 2?’ – can get to the very heart of the search for mathematical truth.Sarah Hart wants to break down the perceived barriers between mathematics and the creative arts. In Once Upon a Prime: The Wondrous Connections Between Mathematics and Literature she reveals the geometry lurking in Moby-Dick, George Eliot’s obsession with statistics, and Jurassic Park’s fractal patterns.Emily Howard has a dual passion for maths and music. In her compositions she plays with mathematical shapes and processes. Her new record Torus, released on NMC Recordings in April, brings together works including sphere and Compass.Producer: Katy Hickman
19/06/2342m 16s

Hacking and cybercrime

Just how safe is the online world? Yale Professor of Law and Philosophy Scott Shapiro delves into cybersecurity in his book, Fancy Bear Goes Phishing. The book’s title derives from the exploits of ‘Fancy Bear’, an elite unit of the Russian military intelligence that hacked the US Democratic National Committee in 2016. From a bored graduate student who accidentally crashed the nascent internet, to cyber criminals and bot farms, Shapiro looks at the dark history of the information age.Dr Alice Hutchings first began researching cybercrime in the late 1990s, while working in industry, and is now Director of the Cambridge Cybercrime Centre. She argues that the romanticised image of the underground hacker as an anti-authoritarian ‘lone wolf’ who possesses technological wizardry is outdated. Hacking has become industrialised with criminals able to buy ‘off-the-shelf’ tools to infect computers. While hackers constantly look to exploit vulnerabilities within the technology, one of the major weak points are users themselves. Jenny Radcliffe’s job is to expose the flaws and weaknesses in security operations. In People Hacker she explains how she uses a blend of psychology, stagecraft and charm to gain access to computer systems, and reveals how people can boost their security and make her job more difficult.Producer: Katy Hickman
12/06/2342m 1s

Allergies and the Microbiome

Billions of people worldwide suffer from some kind of allergy and this is the focus of Theresa MacPhail’s book, Allergic. As a medical anthropologist and allergy sufferer herself she looks back at the history of diagnosis and treatment and investigates the worrying increase in numbers. It's thought by 2030 half the population will be sufferers. James Kinross is a colorectal surgeon and suggests that some of the answer as to why there’s been a rise in allergies lies in the imbalance of our microbiome - our inner ecosystem of viruses, bacteria and other microbes. In his book, Dark Matter, he argues that the microbiome is under threat from our modern lifestyles, the food we consume, and the air we breathe. Fermented foods are now thought to be integral to a healthy gut because they provide a vast amount of natural probiotics which can boost immunity and soothe the digestive tract. Johnny Drain is a materials scientist and a chef who believes in the benefits of fermentation, and has looked worldwide for innovations in techniques and flavours. Producer: Natalia Fernandez
05/06/2341m 50s

Hay Festival - Dickens in the 21st century

In front of an audience at the Hay Festival Tom Sutcliffe asks what Dickens would say about the world today. The prize-winning Barbara Kingsolver discusses her retelling of David Copperfield, in which her eponymous hero, Demon Copperfield, must struggle to survive amid rural poverty and America’s opioid crisis. Michael Rosen has imagined his own modern Oliver Twist (An Unexpected Twist) and A Christmas Carol (Bah! Humbug!) and reflects on the unspoken grief and trauma of recent years, retold in his memoir, Getting Better.And while Natalie Haynes’s favourite Dickens adaptation is The Muppet Christmas Carol, she explores how the telling and retelling of stories and ancient myths shines a light on our contemporary world. Her latest work, Stone Blind, looks again at the tragedy of Medusa.Producer: Katy Hickman
29/05/2341m 50s

Birds and moths

The exhibition Animals: Art, Science and Sound at the British Library (until 28 August 2023) reveals how animals have been documented across the world through history. Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sound, explores how people have tried to capture bird song – from using musical notation in the 17th century to the first commercial recording three centuries later, and the recording of the last Kauaʻi ʻōʻō songbird in Haiwaii.Swifts are summer migrants, flying thousands of miles, only pausing to breed in Europe. Their screeching cries and darting flight might be the sight and sound of summer evenings, and yet we know relatively little about their lives. In One Midsummer’s Day the naturalist Mark Cocker goes in search of the elusive swift, and finds a whole natural world of connections.The ecologist Tim Blackburn also discovers the hidden rules and interconnectedness of nature in his study of moths. His book, The Jewel Box, celebrates the diversity he finds within the moth trap on the roof of his flat. But also exposes a glimpse of a larger landscape, beyond the world of lepidoptera.Producer: Katy Hickman
22/05/2341m 42s

Virtuous bankers?

The economic historian and former trader Anne Murphy looks back at the Bank of England in the 18th century. In Virtuous Bankers she shows how a private institution became ‘a great engine of state’ and central to Britain’s economic and geopolitical power. Anne Murphy tells Adam Rutherford that both its inner workings and outer structure had to command the respect of the general public. Interest was a fact of life long before the involvement of central banks and goes back as far as ancient Mesopotamia. In Price of Time the financial historian and Reuters’ commentator Edward Chancellor explores its long history and warns of the financial instability caused by years of low interest rates. Far from benefitting the majority of individuals, the ultra-low rates following the banking crash in 2008 have proved a boon for bankers, financiers and corporate stakeholders.After the crash, the businessman David Fishwick was concerned that few people or small businesses in his home town of Burnley could get access to credit. His challenge to the traditional high street banks was to set up his own banking enterprise which became Burnley Savings and Loans – a story told in a Channel 4 series and the film Bank of Dave (on Netflix). He argues for a return to banking as a means to serve and grow the local economy.Producer: Katy Hickman
15/05/2341m 53s

Monster artist/monstrous art?

What to do with the art of monstrous men? That’s the question Claire Dederer grapples with in Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma. She wonders whether she can or should continue to love the work of Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson, Hemingway and Picasso? And if it’s possible to divorce the art from the artist.How do we now view the glorious, technicolour paintings of Paul Gauguin’s works from Tahiti? The writer Devika Ponnambalam has imagined the life of one of his muses Teha’amana in her latest novel, I Am Not Your Eve. Gauguin was 43 when he first arrived on the island in 1891 and made numerous teenage girls his ‘unofficial wives’.The science writer Michael Bond is interested in the psychology behind fandom. In his book Fans he looks at the pleasure of tribalism and sense of belonging, but also what happens when one’s hero falls short, and the cognitive dissonance needed to continue to stay true to a monstrous genius.Producer: Katy Hickman
08/05/2342m 12s

Life behind the iron curtain

Adam Rutherford asks what ordinary life was like in the Soviet Union and how far its collapse helps to explain Russia today. Karl Schlögel is one of the world’s leading historians of the Soviet Union. In his latest book, The Soviet Century: Archaeology of a Lost World (translated by Rodney Livingstone), he recreates an encyclopaedic and richly detailed history of daily life, both big and small. He examines the planned economy, the railway system and the steel city of Magnitogorsk as well as cookbooks, parades and the ubiquitous perfume Red Moscow.The historian Katja Hoyer presents a more nuanced picture of life in East Germany, far from the caricature often painted in the West. In Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990 she acknowledges the oppression and hardship often faced by ordinary people, but argues that this now-vanished society was also home to its own distinctive and rich social and cultural landscape.But what did it feel like to live through the fall of communism and then democracy? These are the questions Adam Curtis looked to reveal in his 7-part television series, Russia 1985-1999 TraumaZone (available on BBC iPlayer). The archive footage from thousands of hours of tapes filmed by BBC crews across the country records the lives of Russians at every level of society as their world collapsed around them.Producer: Katy Hickman
01/05/2342m 16s

Ancient trees

Trees have the remarkable ability to pass knowledge down to succeeding generations and to survive the ravages of climate change, if only we’d let them alone, according to the German forester Peter Wohlleben. In The Power of Trees (translated by Jane Billinghurst) he explains the significance of leaving ancient forests untouched, and is scathing about the failures in forestry management and the planting of non-native trees for profit. Jill Butler is an ancient tree specialist and a trustee of the Tree Register of the British Isle which records the nation’s ‘champion trees’ – the tallest and biggest trees of their species. But she’s also keen on getting the public involved in helping to find and care for some of the country’s oldest trees with the citizen science project, Ancient Tree Inventory, run by the Woodland Trust.The healing powers of ancient trees is celebrated in stories throughout history, including the great Icelandic sagas. In The Norse Myths That Shape the Way We Think Carolyne Larrington, Professor of medieval European Literature explores the renewal that comes from the roots of Yggdrasill, the World Tree.Producer: Katy Hickman
24/04/2341m 44s

A place called home

Why is it so difficult to find a place to call home? By the age of twenty five the journalist Kieran Yates had lived in twenty different houses, from council estates in London to a car showroom in rural Wales. In All The Houses I’ve Ever Lived In she reveals the reality of Britain’s housing crisis, the state’s neglect, and the toll it takes on those forced to move from place to place.In her memoir Undercurrent the writer and poet Natasha Carthew compares the picture-postcard view of her native Cornwall with the reality of growing up there. She explores the impact of rural poverty, political neglect, and the dominance of second-home owners, but also the sheer beauty of the landscape she calls home.Christine Whitehead OBE is a specialist in housing economics and evaluates government policies on home ownership and housing supply. She looks at the unintended consequences of implementing policies, like rent caps and controls on buying housing stock in rural areas, and the impact of Covid on the rental market. The architect Alice Brownfield, Director at Peter Barber Architects, advocates for high density, mixed-use residential schemes for local councils and housing associations. Her practice has been recognised for its work in developing social housing, often on small plots of land, that centres on fostering a sense of community.Producer: Katy HickmanImage: Kiln Place, by Peter Barber Architects just after completion. Image credit: Morley von Sternberg
17/04/2341m 23s

Ai Weiwei and design values

The artist Ai Weiwei has always enjoyed ignoring the boundaries between disciplines, fusing art, architecture, design, collecting and social activism. He’s now taken over the Design Museum in London (from 7th April – 30th July 2023), filling it with his work and collections - from millions of handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds to Lego pieces and broken teapot spouts dating back to the Song Dynasty. The exhibition, Making Sense, explores what we value - from what we perceive to be precious or worthless, to the tensions between the past and present, as well as work made by hand and machine. The engineer Roma Agrawal invites readers to marvel at the design of many of the small but perfectly formed inventions that have changed the world. In Nuts & Bolts she deconstructs complex feats of engineering to focus on the nail, spring, wheel, lens, magnet, string and pump.The economist Bent Flyvbjerg is also interested in deconstructing things, but he's focused on ambitious multi-million pound projects to find out why the vast majority are significantly over-budget and past their deadline. In How Big Things Get Done he extolls the virtue of 'thinking slow, acting fast', and how megaprojects that are designed with Lego-building in mind are more likely to succeed.Producer: Katy HickmanImage credit: close up of Monet's Water Lilies in Lego, constructed by Ai Wei Wei - photo copyright by Ela Bialkowska OKNO Studio
10/04/2342m 9s

Mastering a new skill

How do people learn new skills and become real experts? These were the questions the author Adam Gopnik wanted to answer in his new book, The Real Work – a term magicians use for their accumulated craft. He apprenticed himself to an artist, a dancer, a boxer, and even a driving instructor to see if could get to the bottom of the mystery of mastery, and better himself.Rebecca Struthers is a true master of her profession – horology. In Hands of Time, A Watchmaker's History of Time she reveals the inner cogs and workings of clocks, and explores the ways in which they have helped shape human history. But she also regrets the endangered art of traditional watchmaking and the loss of heritage skills.The neuroscientist Hannah Critchlow explains what’s happening in our brains when we learn new things, especially later in life. And she argues that two heads may be better than one. In her latest book, Joined Up Thinking, she extols the virtues of working and learning together.Producer: Katy HickmanImage Credit: Rebecca Struthers for Hands of Time
03/04/2341m 35s

Climate - past, present and future

The world is now warming faster than at any point in recorded history. Kirsty Wark talks to an historian, scientist and novelist about how to convey the story and impact of climate change.Floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and solar activity have all shaped the natural history of our world from its formation. In The Earth Transformed the historian Peter Frankopan looks back at how the climate has constantly changed our world, but also at the impact of extreme climatic events on ancient human civilisations – often violent and epic in scale, from regime change to demographic decline. However, since the Industrial Revolution the balance has shifted and anthropogenic impacts on the climate can be seen more clearly. Peter Frankopan tells Kirsty Wark that learning lessons from the past has never been more important in tackling a precarious future.Professor Dame Jane Francis is Director of the British Antarctic Survey. As a geologist by training, she studies fossils to understand the change from greenhouse to icehouse climates in the polar regions over the past 100 million years. Her research enables others to map the huge changes now happening in the Antarctic and the range of possible scenarios for the future. “As I grew up, crisis slid from distant threat to imminent probability, and we tuned it out like static, we adjusted to each emergent normality, and did what we had always done. . . .” One of the narrators of Jessie Greengrass’s novel The High House realises too late the disastrous impact of climate change. In what has become known as the literary genre clifi – climate fiction – Greengrass reveals the physical and emotional challenges the survivors face.Producer: Katy HickmanImage: An iceberg in Antarctica
27/03/2341m 58s

Humanism - what is it good for?

The writer Sarah Bakewell explores the long tradition of humanist thought in her latest book, Humanly Possible. She celebrates the writers, thinkers, artists and scientists over the last 700 years who have placed humanity at the centre, while defying the forces of religion, fanatics, mystics and tyrants. But placing humans at the centre isn’t without problems – critics point to its anthropocentric nature and excessive rationalism and individualism, as well its Euro-centric history. The philosopher Julian Baggini guides the listener in unpicking the tenets of humanism. His latest books is How to Think Like a Philosopher: Essential Principles for Clearer Thinking.Humanism may have relegated the divine to the side lines, but for the characters in Leila Aboulela’s novels faith and devotion are integral to their sense of themselves. In her latest book, River Spirit, set in Sudan in the 1880s, her young protagonists struggle to survive and find love amidst the bloody struggle for Sudan itself.Producer: Katy Hickman
20/03/2341m 49s

George Eliot and married life

George Eliot was a leading novelist who scandalised Victorian society by eloping to Germany with a married man and living in unlawful conjugal bliss. She dedicated her books to ‘her husband’ and wrote of 'this double life, which helps me to feel and think with double strength'. The philosopher and writer Clare Carlisle has written a new biography of George Eliot which places The Marriage Question at the centre of her art and life. The playwright David Eldridge is writing a trilogy of plays about relationships. Beginning, which premiered in 2017, and Middle, from last year, take place overnight in one uninterrupted scene as the couples share their thoughts and feelings on love and loneliness. The final play will be called End. The prize winning poet Claudia Rankine talks about her collection Plot, published in full for the first time in the UK. In a series of conversations, reflections and dreams Rankine reveals the hopes and fears of Liv and Erland – a couple navigating the birth of their new baby.Producer: Katy Hickman
13/03/2341m 55s

The Iraq War – 20 years on

It’s twenty years since the US and UK invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Kirsty Wark discusses the lead up to the war, the impact on the lives of Iraqis and the legacy.Ghaith Abdul-Ahad left his job in Baghdad and became a journalist during the Iraq War in 2003. He witnessed first-hand the liberation of his country from a megalomaniac leader and then its descent into factionalism and violence. In A Stranger In Your Own City he movingly recounts the very real human cost of the invasion, as well as the civil wars and rise of ISIS that followed. Emma Sky volunteered to help rebuild Iraq post-invasion and went on to serve as the representative of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Kirkuk and then as a political advisor to the US army in the following decade. Now an academic at Yale University, she looks back at why the Iraq invasion failed and its implications across the region. She's the author of The Unravelling and In a Time of Monsters: Travelling in a Middle East in Revolt.The BBC’s Security correspondent Gordon Corera was a young reporter during the frenetic build up to the war, talking to spies, defectors and politicians. In a 10-part series – Shock and War: Iraq 20 Years On (from 13th March at 1.45 and on BBC Sounds) – he talks to those at the centre of that decision to go to war, and looks at the far-reaching consequences, from trust in politics, security and liberal intervention.Producer: Katy Hickman
06/03/2342m 15s

Democratic capitalism – marriage on the rocks

It’s Ok To Be Angry About Capitalism is the title of the new book by the US politician Bernie Sanders. In it he castigates a system that he argues is fuelled by uncontrolled greed and rigged against ordinary people. He tells Tom Sutcliffe it’s time to reject an economic order and a political system that continues to benefit the super-rich, and fight for a democracy that recognises that economic rights are human rights.The Chief Economics Commentator at the Financial Times Martin Wolf looks more closely at how and why the relationship between capitalism and democracy appears to be unravelling. But despite the failings – slowing growth, growing inequality and widespread popular disillusion – he argues in The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism that the relationship remains the best system for human flourishing. But the economist Kate Raworth believes that mainstream economics has had its day. Its failure to predict and prevent financial crises, while allowing extreme poverty, inequality and environment degradation to persist, means its contributing to, not solving, societal unrest. She argues that her theory – Doughnut Economics – offers a new model for a green, fair and thriving global economy.Producer: Katy Hickman
27/02/2342m 4s

Ancient knowledge

The theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli celebrates the life of an ancient Greek philosopher, in Anaximander And The Nature Of Science (translated by Marion Lignana Rosenberg). He tells Adam Rutherford that this little known figure spearheaded the first great scientific revolution and understood that progress is made by the endless search for knowledge. Anaximander challenged conventions by proposing that the Earth floats in space, animals evolve and storms are natural, not supernatural.The travel writer Kapka Kassabova has gone searching for ancient knowledge about the natural world in her latest book, Elixir: In the Valley at the End of Time. The Mesta River, in her native Bulgaria, is one of the oldest inhabited rivers in Europe, and a mecca for wild plant gatherers, healers and mystics. In Dvořák’s lyric opera the eponymous hero Rusalka is a water spirit who sacrifices her voice and leaves her home for the love of a Prince. In a new contemporary staging at the Royal Opera House (21 February–7 March 2023) the co-directors Ann Yee and Natalie Abrahami foreground the uneasy relationship between nature and humanity, and the latter's destruction of what it fails to heed.Producer: Katy HickmanImage credit: Asmik Grigorian in Natalie Abrahami and Ann Yee’s Rusalka, The Royal Opera ©2023 Laura Stevens
20/02/2341m 51s

The food we eat

The psychologist Kimberley Wilson lays bear the truism ‘we are what we eat’. In Unprocessed: How the Food We Eat is Fuelling our Mental Health Crisis she bring into sharp focus the known links between diet, brain, behaviour and mental health. She tells Tom Sutcliffe how the government’s failure to address poor nutrition is a catastrophe.Rebecca O’Connell’s research focuses on the social, cultural and economic reasons that shape what children and families eat, and the part food plays in their everyday lives. With the cost of living crisis and an increase in families suffering food poverty, she looks at the capacity to ‘choose’ to buy healthier food, and what other countries, like Portugal, have achieved in prioritising school meals. But what about the food itself and how it’s grown? The author of The Ethical Carnivore, Louise Gray, turns her attention to fruit and veg in her latest book, Avocado Anxiety And Other Stories About Where Your Food Comes From. Tracking from farm to table, Gray discovers the impact that growing fruits and vegetables has on the planet.Producer: Katy Hickman
13/02/2341m 32s

Power, violence and witches

Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is ruthless in her pursuit of power and then driven into madness and despair. But the writer and director Zinnie Harris has re-imagined a new story for Lady Macbeth in her version of this classic play. Macbeth (an undoing) - published by Faber - is on at The Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh until 25th February.Marion Gibson is Professor of Renaissance and Magical Literatures at the University of Exeter and is interested in how power and superstition collide in witch-trials through the centuries. In her latest book, The Witches of St Osyth, she tells the story of the sixteen women and one man accused of sorcery in a small rural village in 1582, and of a community devastated by violence and betrayal.The filmmaker Jo Ingabire Moys draws from her own experience of surviving the Genocide in Rwanda in her short film Bazigaga, shortlisted for a BAFTA. As violence erupts a Tutsi pastor and his young daughter take shelter in the home of the feared shaman Bazigaga. The film was inspired by the true story of Zura Karuhimbi who used her reputation as a witch doctor to save hundreds of lives.Producer: Katy HickmanImage: The actor Eliane Umuhire in 'Bazigaga', written and directed by Jo Ingabire Moys
06/02/2342m 6s

The Victims of War

Tom Sutcliffe talks to three historians about the crimes of WWII and the shifting geopolitics, and the lasting reverberations today with the war in Ukraine. Dan Stone’s new book, The Holocaust - An Unfinished History moves beyond the concentration camps to reveal the true extent of the killing in towns and villages, and the depth of collaboration across the continent – from Norway to Romania. On BBC World Service and BBC Sounds Catherine Merridale uncovers the complex story of loss and silence about the murder of Soviet Jews during the Nazi invasion in 1941, and the extraordinary testimony of what was happening, detailed in The Black Book. Bernard Wasserstein’s family originally came from Krakowiec and in A Small Town in Ukraine he traces the arc of history across centuries of religious and political conflict through the fortunes of its inhabitants – from the earlier invasions of Cossaks, Turks and Swedes to the horrors of WWII and today’s war with Russia. Producer: Katy HickmanImage: Three Jewish women gather their belongings on Haifa dock, Palestine, after leaving the illegal immigrant ship Exodus. (Getty Images)
30/01/2342m 11s

Videogames – from fantasy to reality

The architect Sandra Youkhana takes readers on a tour of the structures of modern digital worlds in Videogame Atlas (co-authored with Luke Caspar Pearson). From Minecraft to Assassin’s Creed Unity she examines the real-world architectural theory that underpins these fantasy worlds, and their influence on concrete designs today.The journalist Louise Blain presents BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming which showcases the latest and best gaming soundtracks. She explores how composers help create not only the atmosphere in a game, immersing players in these invented worlds, but their music is also integral to the game’s structure and design. Adrian Hon spent a decade co-creating the hit game Zombies, Run but has become increasingly disillusioned with the way real world institutions – corporations, governments and schools – are using gamification to monitor and control behaviour. In You’ve Been Played he shows how the elements of game playing have been co-opted as tools for profit and coercion.Producer: Katy HickmanImage Credit: Map of the game 'Katamari Damacy' by Sandra Youkhana and Luke Caspar Pearson from 'Videogame Atlas: Mapping Interactive Worlds'
23/01/2341m 56s

The view from Latin America

From Europe’s perspective Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America in 1492. But the historian Caroline Dodds Pennock shifts the focus in her new book, On Savage Shores, to explore what the great civilisations of the Americas – the Aztecs, Maya, Totonacs, Inuit and others – found in return. The stories of Indigenous Americans abroad are ones of abduction, loss and cultural appropriation, but also bafflement at the lives and beliefs in 15th century Europe. On Savage Shores is BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.Iokiñe Rodríguez Fernandez is a Venezuelan sociologist who co-founded Grupo Confluencias, a consortium of Latin American conflict resolution practitioners. She works closely with indigenous communities who are fighting to retain their ways of life, and the focus is very much on local history, local knowledge and traditions. The Royal Academy of Arts in London is showcasing treasures from Spain and the Hispanic World from 21st January. This landmark exhibition will present a visual narrative of the history of Spanish culture, bringing together works from Spain and from its colonies in Latin America, from antiquity to the early 20th century. The co-curator Adrian Locke explains how the artistic, cultural and religious influences from abroad helped shape and enrich art in Spain.Producer: Katy Hickman
16/01/2341m 54s

Where are you from?

In Not So Black and White: A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics Kenan Malik questions what he sees as lazy assumptions about race and culture. He retells the forgotten history of a racialised working class which sits uncomfortably with today’s obsession with ‘white privilege’. He tells Tom Sutcliffe that we need to confront the issues facing society in terms of class and inequality, and not in terms of identity. The academic Francesca Sobande believes people’s racial identity is a key factor in their experiences and how they are treated. Black Oot Here, co-authored with layla-roxanne hill, explores the history and contemporary lives of Black people in Scotland. The prize winning poet Don Paterson grew up on a working-class council housing estate in Dundee in Scotland. He looks back at that time in his memoir, Toy Fights, interweaving the moments of love, joy and musical delight with the dark side of growing up surrounded by poverty.Producer: Katy HickmanImage credit: '40 George Square' by Francesca Sobande
09/01/2341m 58s


The award-winning social psychologist Dacher Keltner believes he’s found the answer to happiness: finding awe. In his new book, Awe: The Transformative Power of Everyday Wonder, he shows how this elusive, but powerful, emotion can have physical and psychological effects, impacting our bodies and brains. Anna Lapwood is an organist and conductor, and currently the Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge. She is also a great believer in the transformative power of music. She regularly plays the Royal Albert Hall’s organ – described as ‘the voice of Jupiter’ – and believes listeners can feel the wonder vibrating through the music.Looking up at the night sky and contemplating galaxies far away is often seen as a sure way to elicit wonder, but the physicist Felix Flicker argues that it can be found much smaller and much closer to home. In The Magick of Matter he shows how truly inspiring crystalline specks of dust can be, and when they're combined the sky’s the limit.Producer: Katy HickmanImage: Anna Lapwood - Leeds Town Hall (Credit Tom Arber)
26/12/2242m 16s

Dance Pioneers

George Balanchine is one of the most revered and influential choreographers of the twentieth century. In this first major biography about his life Jennifer Homans offers an intimate portrait of the man who co-founded the New York City Ballet and brought the art form so spectacularly into the modern age. She explores his life and legacy, revealing a complicated genius who was inspired to choreograph dances from subjects as diverse as Spinoza’s philosophy to Orthodox icons, disrupting the norms of ballet and pushing the dancers into creative worlds of abstraction.Wayne McGregor is a contemporary titan of the dance world. He has just returned from Toronto where his ballet based on Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic book, MADDADDAM, had its world premiere in a joint production for The Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. Wayne McGregor’s own dance company is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary and since its inception has been the experimental and creative forum for Wayne’s innovative choreographic style.Ballet Black was founded by Cassa Pancho just over twenty years ago in response to the lack of racial diversity in ballet and offers dancers of Black and Asian descent a platform to showcase their talents. The company has gone from strength to strength, continually overturning stereotypes and transforming the landscape of classical dance. In March 2023 the company will perform ‘Pioneers’ at the Barbican, comprising new and original work by award-winning choreographers Will Tuckett and Mthuthuzeli November. Producer: Natalia FernandezMusic credits: Wayne McGregor's MADDADDAM, Act 1 (except), original score by Max Richter. A co-production between the National Ballet of Canada and The Royal Ballet, inspired by the trilogy by Margaret Atwood. ‘Then or Now’. (ballet choreographed by Will Tuckett. The poetry of Adrienne Rich with music by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, arranged by Daniel Pioro. The poetry reading is by Michael Shaeffer.) Simon Rattle / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - Stravinsky: Apollon Musagete (Second Tableau, variation of Calliope
19/12/2242m 3s

Listening in the dark

Johan Eklöf is a Swedish bat scientist on a mission. In The Darkness Manifesto (translated by Elizabeth DeNoma) he warns how light pollution is threatening the ancient rhythms of life. Many creatures across the world come to life at night – with bats specially adapted to fly using echolocation. By keeping the lights on we are disrupting entire ecosystems.But darkness can appear alien and frightening. The writer Kate Summerscale explores the phobias that haunt the imagination as the lights go off: nyctophobia, xylophobia and hypnophobia – intense and morbid fears of the dark, of forests and of falling asleep. But why do bumps in the night sound so much more unnerving than during the day? The neuroscientist Professor Geraint Rees focuses his research on seeking to understand the neural basis of consciousness and he explores how our different senses are integral to the way we perceive and experience the world around us.The forces of light and darkness are pitted against each other in the classic children’s story The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, now adapted for BBC World Service radio, starting on Tuesday 20th December. Producer and co-adapter Simon McBurney creates a spine-tingling winter soundscape with the use of binaural sound, giving listeners using headphones a unique immersive experience.Producer: Katy Hickman
12/12/2242m 28s

Returning to the moon

It is fifty years since the last manned-flight to the moon. While the Apollo missions have long been superseded by explorations further afield, the science journalist Oliver Morton insists the moon landings remain strong in our cultural imagination. In his 2019 book, The Moon, he explained how a spherical piece of rock had captured the world’s attention, but then been largely ignored. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how scientists and politicians are now once again turning their focus to our nearest neighbour.Throughout history the moon has inspired artists, poets, scientists, writers and musicians the world over. The artist Luke Jerram has created an extraordinary replica of the Moon measuring seven metres in diameter, fusing NASA imagery of the lunar surface, moonlight, and sound composition. The Museum of the Moon has been exhibited hundreds of times – both indoors and outdoors – across the world, and Jerram explains how each installation has stimulated different events. While NASA’s Artemis mission explores sending astronauts back to the Moon as a stepping stone to human exploration to Mars, and celebrity billionaires sell visions of private space travel, Mary-Jane Rubenstein sounds a warning. In Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race she sees comparisons with the destructive effects of the centuries-long history of European colonialism. As problems multiply on Earth she dismisses the offer by wealthy messiahs of an other-worldly salvation for a chosen few.Producer: Katy HickmanImage: Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram, Cork Midsummer Festival, UK, 2017
05/12/2241m 45s

Faith: lost in translation?

Real faith ‘passes first through the body/ like an arrow’ so writes the American-Iranian poet Kaveh Akbar. In his collection Pilgrim Bell he plays with the physical and divine, the human capacity for cruelty and grace, and the reality of living as a Muslim in an Islamophobic nation.The Anglican priest and biblical scholar John Barton turns his attention to the word of God as it has travelled across the world. The Bible have been translated thousands of times into more than 700 languages. In The Word he traces the challenges of crossing linguistic borders from antiquity to the present, while remaining faithful to the original. Faith, fanaticism and fame combine in Emma Donoghue’s novel, The Wonder, now made into a film, starring Florence Pugh. It follows the story of a young girl in 1860s Ireland who stops eating, but miraculously stays alive, and the nurse sent to discover the truth.Producer: Katy HickmanImage: From the film, 'The Wonder'. (L to R) Florence Pugh as Lib Wright, Josie Walker as Sister Michael in The Wonder. Cr. Aidan Monaghan/Netflix © 2022
28/11/2241m 54s

Taking a stand

The Nobel peace prize-winner Maria Ressa is a journalist who has spent decades speaking truth to power in the country of her birth, the Philippines. She looks back at her life, and her ongoing battle against disinformation and political lies in How To Stand Up To A Dictator. She tells Kirsty Wark that although she is hounded by the state and faces threats of imprisonment, she is determined to continue fighting for the truth.Zsuzsanna Szelényi was once one of the leading politicians in Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, but now sits in opposition. In Tainted Democracy she charts what she calls her country’s descent into autocracy. She explores how the populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has consolidated his grip on power, reining in the media and making sweeping changes to legal and economic frameworks. In his latest three part series for BBC television, History of Now, Simon Schama looks back at the dramatic history that has played out in the decades of his own life from 1945. He explores the vital role of artists, writers and musicians in fighting for democracy and equality post-war. The series reveals the extraordinary power of art to shape the world, and the immense personal cost of creating work that dares to take a stand.Producer: Katy HickmanImage: Simon Schama in front of Picasso’s 'Guernica'. From Simon Schama's 'History of Now', Episode 1, BBC 2 (Credit: BBC/Oxford Films/Eddie Knox)
21/11/2242m 6s

Perfect skin

In art the Greek and Roman body is often portrayed as one of perfection – flawlessly cast in bronze and white marble. But the classicist Caroline Vout tells Adam Rutherford that the reality was very different. In her new book, Exposed: The Greek and Roman Body, she reveals all the imperfections and anxieties, and makes visible those who were regarded at the time as far from perfect – women and servants.The curator and art historian Katy Hessel is also challenging the accepted history in her work, The Story of Art Without Men. She shines a light on women artists, from Sofonisba Anguissola of the Renaissance, to the radical Harriet Power in 19th century America, and the women artists working all over the world in the 21st century. Throughout history the human skin has also been a canvas: permanent markings were discovered on bodies from as early as 5000 BCE. In Painted People: Humanity in 21 Tattoos, Matt Lodder reveals the often hidden artworks – and the people who wore them – to explore a changing world.Producer: Katy Hickman
14/11/2242m 6s

The authentic taste of Britain

The award-winning writer Jonathan Coe presents a portrait of Britain told through four generations of one family, in his latest novel Bournville. Set in middle England, in a suburb of Birmingham, he chronicles the years of social change post-war, and the events that both brought people together and divided them, from royal events and the World Cup to Brexit and Covid-19. The chocolate factory that features heavily in the novel, and was once at the centre of life in Bournville, has since been transformed in part into a theme park, no doubt offering an authentic chocolate experience. The journalist Emily Bootle turns her attention to what she sees now as an obsession with authenticity. In a collection of essays, This Is Not Who I Am, she unpicks the ideology surrounding the goal of ‘living our truth’ amidst the fakery of digital culture and the illusion of infinite choice. The award-winning saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch also takes a long hard look at the state of the nation for his latest album, White Juju, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Conceived at the height of the pandemic the music is his response to lockdown, BLM, British history and the culture wars. He takes inspiration from European folklore, the African Diaspora and divisive national myths to create a unified modern tone poem.Producer: Katy Hickman
07/11/2242m 6s

Building the Body, Opening the Heart

The Pulitzer-winning oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee recalls the thrill of seeing for the first time the extraordinary ‘luminosity’ of a living cell. In his latest work, The Song of the Cell, he explores the history, the present and the future of cellular biology. He tells Adam Rutherford that without understanding cells you can’t understand the human body, medicine, and especially the story of life itself. ‘Once upon a time I fell in love with a cell.’ So recalls the leading cardiologist Sian Harding, when she looked closely at a single heart muscle cell, and she found a ‘deeper beauty’ revealing the ‘perfection of the heart’s construction’. In her book, The Exquisite Machine, she describes how new scientific developments are opening up the mysteries of the heart, and why a ‘broken heart’ might be more than a literary flight of fancy.The prize-winning science fiction writer Paul McAuley was once a research scientist studying symbiosis, especially single-celled algae inside host cells. He has since used his understanding of science to write books that ask questions about life on earth and outer-space, and about the implications of the latest cutting edge research, from nanotechnology to gene editing. His 2001 novel The Secret of Life, which features the escape of a protean Martian microorganism from a Chinese laboratory, has just been reissued. Producer: Katy Hickman
31/10/2241m 46s

Zombies, exiles and monsters

The Man Booker prize winning novelist George Saunders turns to short-stories for his latest book, Liberation Day. From workers dressed as ‘ghouls’ in an underground amusement park to brainwashed political protestors and story-telling slaves his protagonists underscore what it means to live in community with others. George Saunders tells Tom Sutcliffe how his stories veer from bizarre fantasy to brutal reality. The move from fantasy to stark reality can be seen in the history of Russians living in exile in Paris after the Revolution in 1917. Helen Rappaport’s After the Romanovs details how former princes, used to a life of luxury, could be seen driving taxicabs. While some emigres, like Diaghilev and Chagall, found great success in this new world, others became trapped in a cycle of poverty and homesickness for a country that was no longer theirs.The BFI and UK-wide horror film season In Dreams are Monsters celebrates how monstrous bodies of all kinds have been represented on screen over the past hundred years. Curator Anna Bogutskaya explores the symbolism and emotional impact of ghosts, vampires, witches and, arguably the most politicised of all cinematic monsters, the zombie – a terrifying, dead-eyed blank canvas for social commentary.Producer: Katy Hickman
24/10/2241m 43s

Black Britain and beyond

The first event marking Black History Month UK took place thirty five years ago, and the re-claiming and documenting of Black British and International History has since evolved into a national movement. But how much has changed in those three decades? The historian Miranda Kaufmann has spent years uncovering evidence of Africans in Renaissance Britain. Her first book Black Tudors: The Untold Story was published five years ago and has since become a free online course. The British Nigerian poet Yomi Ṣode interweaves his native Yoruba with English slang in his debut collection Manorism. He explores what it means to grow up black in Britain and the pressure to be constantly adapting his behaviour and language. But he also shows the past works in mysterious ways by finding inspiration in the life of the 17th century Italian painter, Caravaggio. The curator Christine Checinska explores how fashion has formed a key part of Africa’s cultural renaissance in a ground-breaking exhibition at the V&A. Africa Fashion starts with the years of African independence that sparked radical political and social movements. But the show also includes contemporary designers who have broken with historical ideas to look to the future.The historian Peter Frankopan makes the case for world history – a view of the past from multiple foci – in the essay collection, What Is History, Now? He questions the role of history; whose stories are told and why. But the challenge of broadening horizons to encompass the whole world can make it oversimplistic and fractured. Frankopan believes the job of the historian is to look at the connections between societies, and explore what the past can tell about today’s world.Image: Thomas Gainsborough's 'Portrait of Ignatius Sancho', 1768
17/10/2241m 51s

Power plays and family dynamics

In her latest novel, The Unfolding, the prize-winning AM Homes has created a compelling central character: a larger than life American patriot and family man. Undone by Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election, he collects together a band of like-minded men to spread their version of the American dream, and to reclaim it by force if necessary. AM Homes tells Tom Sutcliffe her Big Guy’s fight to retain his influence is confounded by his failure to keep his own family from fracturing.Power, reputation and family dynamics are also central to Ibsen’s play John Gabriel Borkman, now playing at the Bridge Theatre, directed by Nick Hytner, in a new version by Lucinda Coxon. Borkman was once a great man, who put wealth and influence ahead of his family and personal life. But now, disgraced and destitute after a financial scandal, he sits alone in an upstairs room obsessively planning his comeback.Families and dynastic power is at the heart of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s history of The World: A Family History Of Humanity. The grand themes of war, migration, plague, religion and technology are told through the stories of the world’s great dynasties as they battle to stay relevant and retain power through the ages.Producer: Katy HickmanImage credit: Photograph - Front l-r Simon Russell Beale (John Gabriel Borkman) and Sebastian De Souza (Erhart Borkman), photo by Manuel Harlan
10/10/2242m 3s

Political leadership and oversight

During the pandemic our laws were radically remade by a government which exercised almost unlimited power, according to the human rights barrister, Adam Wagner. In Emergency State: How We Lost Our Freedoms in the Pandemic and Why it Matters he decries the lack of parliamentary debate and oversight as restrictions became tighter, and warns against the possiblity of future emergencies following the same political path. But how effective is our parliamentary democracy in scrutinising the government? The Assistant Editor of the Spectator, Isabel Hardman is a seasoned politician-watcher and joins the programme from the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. She fears MPs are failing in their role as effective legislators both because of demands on their time from their constituencies, and because of concern about ruining their chances of joining the executive. The historian Tim Bale studies the fortunes of the Conservative Party, and is looking with interest at the direction the new government is heading. Not since 1979 has the country faced such challenging economic circumstances. But Bale asks how far the new Prime Minister Liz Truss is reaching back in history for answers to today’s problems. The Italian film director and journalist, Annalisa Piras is also following Italy’s new government with interest, following the snap election last week. As the far-right leader Giorgia Meloni is set to become the country’s first female prime minister, Piras looks at her policies for dealing with the cost of living crisis, and how Italy’s politicians are placed to oversee government decisions. Producer: Katy Hickman
03/10/2241m 58s

Bradford - Brave New World

In a special edition of the show, in front of an audience at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, Adam Rutherford and guests focus on scientific curiosity – its thrills and its dangers. Professor Matthew Cobb looks back over the last fifty years at the extraordinary development in gene editing. In his book The Genetic Age: Our Perilous Quest to Edit Life he traces the excitement of innovation and progress. But as the full potential of manipulating life is understood, he sounds a warning too.The science historian Professor Alison Bashford tells the history of modern science and culture through the story of one family – the extraordinary Huxley dynasty. Through four generations the family profoundly shaped how we see ourselves, and pushed the boundaries of knowledge in science, literature and film.Born in Bradford is an internationally-recognised research programme which aims to find out what keeps families healthy and happy. Professor Deborah Lawlor was born in the city and was one of the many scientists involved in setting up the programme. She explains how this vast ‘city of research’ – with data from more than 700,000 citizens – is being used to improve population health.Producer: Katy Hickman
26/09/2249m 38s


Forget the north south divide, what about the ‘squeezed middle’? Tom Sutcliffe and guests discuss the cultural and political status of the country’s ‘second city’ Birmingham. The writer Kit de Waal looks back at growing up in the city, caught between three worlds – Irish, Caribbean and British – in her memoir Without Warning and Only Sometimes. The historian Richard Vinen argues, in his new book Second City, that Birmingham is the overlooked heart of modern Britain, and the remnants of the West Midland’s Victorian industrial heyday can be glimpsed in the poetry of Liz Berry – in The Dereliction and Black Country. Producer: Katy Hickman
12/09/2242m 8s

Health, sickness and exploitation

When people feel ill they go to the doctor for a diagnosis and what they hope will be the first step on the road to recovery. But former consultant neurologist Jules Montague argues that getting a diagnosis isn’t as simple as it sounds – they can be infected by medical bias, swayed by Big Pharma or political expedience, even refused because the condition isn’t officially recognised. In The Imaginary Patient Dr Montague meets those who have had to fight to get the right treatment.The GP Gavin Francis knows only too well how desperate patients can feel with undiagnosed symptoms, but in his latest work, Recovery: The Lost Art of Convalescence he’s looking at the other end of the medical journey. He warns that getting better can take longer and be far more complex than most people understand. The academic, Jennifer Jacquet, is interested in how far patients can be pawns in the wider power plays in the corporate world and Big Pharma. In The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies, and Make a Killing in the Corporate World, she uses satire to expose the extraordinary lengths that corporations will go to quash inconvenient research, target scientists and forestall regulations. Producer: Katy HickmanThis is the last show in the series; back on Monday 12th September.
27/06/2241m 49s

Justice, war crimes and targeted killings

Linda Kinstler’s Latvian grandfather disappeared after WWII and the family never spoke about him. But as she delved into Boris Kinstler’s life she found he had been a member of a killing brigade in the SS linked to the ‘Butcher of Riga’ Herbert Cukurs, before becoming a KGB agent and then vanishing. She attempts to uncover the truth in Come To This Court and Cry: How The Holocaust Ends, but also interrogates the uncertainties of memory, family, nation and justice.Although Herbert Cukur’s name came up frequently at the Nuremberg war crime trials for the killing of tens of thousands of Jews, he managed to escape and find refuge in South America. It was there he was murdered by Mossad agents who left a note from Those Who Will Never Forget saying ‘the condemned man has been executed’. The Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman has uncovered his country’s most secret activities in Rise and Kill First: The Secret History Of Israel's Targeted Assassinations (translated by Ronnie Hope).The Nuremberg trials in the aftermath of WWII mark the birth of international law and set the framework of modern human rights law. The barrister and writer Philippe Sands has appeared frequently before international courts, and has been involved in many of the most important cases of recent years from Yugoslavia to Rwanda to Guantanamo. He explains what can be done when countries – like Russia – refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of international law.Producer: Katy Hickman
20/06/2242m 1s

Social inequality - up close

The failure of British politics and public institutions to tackle social inequality is down to proximity, so says the writer, performer and activist Darren McGarvey. In The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain he looks at the huge gulf – geographic, economic and cultural – between those who make decisions and the people on the receiving end of them. He tells Adam Rutherford it’s time for a meaningful discussion in which the voiceless and powerless get heard. The Social Distance Between Us is BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.The poet Jo Clement gives voice to the stories and people of her family’s Romany past. In her collection Outlandish she has no time for Romantic impressions of British Gypsy ethnicity as she moves from ancient stopping-places to decaying council estates. Her poems are imaginative protests that cast light on a hidden and threatened culture. It’s a far cry from the world of former broker Brett Scott. But in his latest book, Cloudmoney: Cash Cards, Crypto and the War for our Wallets he argues that social inequality will only increase if cash is allowed to disappear. A cashless society is the vision of big finance and tech, and he warns that it will end up only benefitting the few, while infringing the privacy of the many. Producer: Katy Hickman
13/06/2241m 28s

A revolution in food and farming

The environmentalist George Monbiot argues that farming is the world’s greatest cause of environmental destruction, but few people want to talk about it. In Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet he presents a vision for the future of food production. He tells Tom Sutcliffe that new ideas and technologies from soil ecology to laboratory-grown food could change the way people eat while regenerating the landscape. But many farmers believe that they have been unfairly accused of ecological mismanagement, and that they are uniquely placed to restore the earth and provide a sustainable future. Sarah Langford has returned to her country roots after working for many years as a criminal barrister in the city. In her book, Rooted: Stories of Life, Land and a Farming Revolution she shows how a new generation of farmers are set on a path of regenerative change.While Sarah Langford comes from a family of farmers, for many city dwellers it can be difficult to cultivate a connection with the earth. In her memoir, Unearthed: On Race and Roots and How the Soil Taught Me I Belong, Claire Ratinon, explores how she grew up feeling disconnected with the natural world and with family stories of slave ancestors forced to work the land. Through learning to grow her own vegetables and especially the food of Mauritius, she has finally felt able to put down roots.Producer: Katy Hickman
06/06/2241m 48s

Family drama at Hay Festival

In front of an audience at this year’s Hay Festival Helen Lewis talks to three prize winning authors about their work. Damon Galgut’s Booker-winning The Promise tells the story of a family and a country – South Africa – and the failed promises that destroy them both. The exciting promise of a super-connected world where memories are currency is set against the quest for privacy in Jennifer Egan’s new novel The Candy House. And Margo Jefferson examines every passion, memory and influence – from family to jazz to art – in her new memoir, Constructing a Nervous System. Producer: Katy Hickman
30/05/2242m 32s

Learning from apes, fish and wasps

Adam Rutherford explores how other species can help us understand our own. The world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal has spent decades observing the behaviours of chimps and bonobos. In Different: What Apes Can Teach Us About Gender he looks at, and questions, the interplay of biology and culture. Using his knowledge of apes he challenges widely held beliefs about masculinity and femininity and assumptions about authority, power, cooperation and sexual behaviour. Nichola Raihani’s research focuses on the evolution of social behaviour in humans and non-human species. In her book, The Social Instinct, she looks at the science of cooperation and how humans have evolved socially and built, and fought over, hugely complex communities. But she also suggests we might have something to learn from the pied babblers of the Kalahari, and the cleaner fish of the Great Barrier Reef – two of the most fascinating and extraordinarily successful species on the planet. While ants and honey bees are often held up as exemplars of social cohesion, the entomologist Seirian Sumner wants to rehabilitate the much-maligned thug of the insect world, the wasp. In Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps she shows how wasps are older, cleverer and more diverse than their evolutionary new-comer the bee. And she makes the case that they hold hidden treasures of relevance to human culture, survival and health, and one species even taught us how to make paper.Producer: Katy Hickman
23/05/2241m 55s

The body clock and sleep

Every moment of the day tiny biological clocks are ticking throughout the body, but Russell Foster, world-renowned expert in circadian neuroscience, warns that modern life is playing havoc with these ancient and delicate mechanisms. In his latest book, Life Time: The New Science Of The Body Clock And How It Can Revolutionise Your Sleep and Health, Professor Foster reveals how this essential part of our biology works. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how new understandings about our daily routines could help reset how we live and sleep.ViSiBLE is a professional theatre company dedicated to creating new and provocative works, with and about older people. Its latest performance, Five Characters in Search of a Good Night's Sleep, is at the Southwark Playhouse until 21st May. ViSiBLE’s founder, the playwright Sonja Linden, says the new piece was inspired by the experiences of the actors who as they’ve aged have found sleep more elusive and sleep-inducing techniques more desperate. Ros Holmes is a lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of St Andrews. Her research focuses on ideas about sleep and insomnia, and how they’ve been represented in the visual culture of twentieth century and contemporary China. From the images of ‘national awakening’ in the early years of the Republic and the always-alert workers of the Cultural Revolution to the cities that never sleep today – sleep deprivation has become part of life in China.Producer: Katy HickmanPhoto Image: 'Five Characters in Search of a Good Night's Sleep' (credit: Bessell Photography)
16/05/2241m 53s

Marwa Al-Sabouni - Rebuilding with hope

The Syrian architect Marwa al-Sabouni is the Guest Co-Director of this year’s Brighton Festival and her flagship project The Riwaq on Hove seafront provides a space for social and artistic exchange. Rebuilding is the festival’s theme and the subject of her latest book, Building for Hope – Towards an Architecture of Belonging which explores how cities can be rebuilt after crisis and war. She tells Helen Lewis that architecture has a pivotal role in generating community, not just in devastated cities, but all around the world. Dame Jo da Silva is an engineer at the building firm Arup who specialises in disaster relief. After years spent realising the high designs of architects for everything from airports to bus shelters, she became involved in projects to rebuild communities hit by catastrophes. As urbanisation reaches record levels globally she argues that it’s more important than ever to build in sustainability and resilience. The historian Jessie Childs focuses her story of the violence and disaster of the English civil war on The Siege of Loyalty House in the 1640s. To the parliamentarians Basing House, the royalist stronghold, was the devil’s seat. Over two years, the inhabitants were bombarded, starved and gassed from the outside, and faced smallpox, spies and mutiny from within.Producer: Katy Hickman
09/05/2241m 58s

Curiosity, ingenuity and experimentation

Wonder at the natural world has inspired people and fuelled curiosity for millennia. The ancient Greek Theophrastus had interests that spread far and wide, from biology and physics to ethics and metaphysics. But although he was Aristotle’s friend and collaborator, and his notes on botany inspired Linnaeus, his name has mostly been forgotten. The writer Laura Beatty’s new book, Looking for Theophrastus, aims to rescue him from obscurity. The scientist, Suzie Sheehy, still feels a childlike wonder at the way physics seems to be able to describe everything – from the smallest subatomic particle to the scale of the Universe. In The Matter of Everything: Twelve Experiments That Changed Our World, she looks back at the people who engineered ground-breaking experiments, and the human ingenuity, creativity and curiosity, as well as luck and serendipity that propelled them forward.While physicists attempt to describe and define the universe, the workings of the human mind still remain a challenge to scientists and philosophers. In The Book of Minds, the science writer Philip Ball looks at what we know about the minds of other creatures, from octopuses to chimpanzees, and of the workings of computers and alien intelligences. By understanding how minds differ, he argues, the better we can understand our own.Producer: Katy Hickman
02/05/2242m 17s

The age of the strongman leader

In The Age of the Strongman, the journalist Gideon Rachman explores how populist and authoritarian leaders have become a central feature of global politics. Since Vladimir Putin took power in Russia at the beginning of the new millennium, self-styled strongmen have emerged across the globe, from Trump and Bolsonaro to Orbán, Xi and Modi. Rachman tells Tom Sutcliffe how these leaders have taken power and the challenge they pose to liberal democracy. Judy Dempsey is a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe and editor in chief of the Strategic Europe blog. She explains how Viktor Orbán has tightened his grip on power in Hungary, while the EU has dragged its heels. And how Putin’s war in Ukraine has not only exacerbated pre-existing global divisions but divided Europe as well. History is littered with powerful leaders, and Christopher de Bellaigue, tells of the rise of one of the most feared – Suleyman the Magnificent. In The Lion House: The Coming of a King the 16th century Ottoman Sultan dominates the lives of those from Baghdad to the walls of Vienna.Producer: Katy Hickman
25/04/2242m 2s

NoViolet Bulawayo on Glory

The new novel, Glory, by prize winning writing NoViolet Bulawayo is a postcolonial tale of power and tyranny – an African Animal Farm. It’s set in the fictional Jidada, that resembles Zimbabwe during the overthrow of Robert Mugabe, and is populated by a vivid cast of animals – from the vicious dog-soldiers to the powerful Old Horse leader himself. She tells Adam Rutherford how her chorus of animal voices help reveal the human world more clearly. The journalist Dipo Faloyin wants to push against harmful stereotypes of modern Africa. In his latest book, Africa Is Not A Country, he argues that a continent of over 1.4 billion people, 54 countries and more than 2,000 languages has been reduced to a simplistic story. He looks at how politics, culture and community have emerged in different ways across Africa.Julia Gallagher is Professor of African Politics at SOAS, University of London. Her research explores the architecture of state buildings in different African countries – from the re-purposed colonial structures to the new palatial palaces of post-independence – and how citizens respond to them. Also as the African Union celebrates twenty years since it was founded – housed in a new compound built by the Chinese in Addis Ababa – she looks at the position of the AU in the 21st century. Producer: Katy HickmanImage: photograph of NoViolet Bulawayo - copyright Nye' Lyn Tho
18/04/2242m 15s

Love poetry; love books

"Stand still, and I will read to thee / A lecture, love, in love's philosophy." John Donne is one of the greatest love poets in the history of the English language. In a new biography, Super-Infinite, Katherine Rundell reveals the many transformations in his life – from scholar to sea adventurer to priest. She also tells Kirsty Wark of his extraordinary ability to transform language into something new. Copies of his Metaphysical Poems will be well-thumbed by students around the country. But what of the power of books in general? In Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers, Emma Smith presents an iconoclastic and revisionist story of our love affair with books. Megan Walsh meanwhile has been looking at contemporary Chinese literature. The Subplot: What China is Reading and Why it Matters, reveals the huge appetite for books and the wonderful diversity of Chinese writing – from migrant-worker poetry movements and homoerotic romances to surreal stories and sci-fi.Producer: Katy Hickman
11/04/2241m 59s


The picture of a lone figure, plastic bags in hand, standing in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989 has become an iconic image of resistance to overpowering might. As Russian tanks have crossed into Ukraine, individuals have put themselves in similar positions to halt the advance. But what about in Russia itself. Arkady Ostrovksy is Russia and eastern Europe editor for The Economist. He tells Tom Sutcliffe about the thousands who have been arrested protesting against the war, and President Putin’s measures to quash any dissent. In Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-45, Halik Kochanski has written a sweeping history of occupation and resistance. She uncovers extraordinary tales of ordinary people who carried out exceptional acts of defiance against Nazi Germany. But she also challenges the heroic myths that surround underground resistance, and asks painful questions about why people didn’t resist, and equally what was actually achieved by those that did. Nathan Law was one of the student leaders whose week-long class boycott against China’s increasing interference in Hong Kong led to the 79-day Umbrella Movement protest in 2014. In Freedom: How We Lose It And How We Fight Back he argues for the importance of standing up to authoritarianism around the world, despite the dangers. He left Hong Kong as the Chinese government enacted wide-ranging security laws, and has since been granted political asylum in Britain.Producer: Katy HickmanImage: People participate in a Unity March to show solidarity and patriotic spirit over the escalating tensions with Russia on February 12, 2022 in Kiev, Ukraine.
04/04/2241m 55s

Liberalism in crisis

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine images of war in Europe dominate the news, and questions rage about the political failure to both prevent and end the atrocities. Amol Rajan discusses the political forces that have allowed the West to flourish and the cracks that are beginning to widen. Developed in the wake of European wars of religion and nationalism, Liberalism was designed as a system to govern diverse societies, with a strong emphasis on the rights of individuals, equality and the rule of law. In Liberalism and Its Discontents Francis Fukuyama argues for a return to its classical form but shows how attacks from both the left and right have left it in a state of crisis.Europe’s dependence on Russian oil is central to Helen Thompson’s book, Disorder: Hard Times in the 21st Century. She looks back at the historical origins of today’s overlapping geopolitical, economic and political failures.Shifts in the global balance of power in the 19th century between Old Europe and the New World of American Imperialism are at the heart of Edward Shawcross’s extraordinary tale. He describes the ignoble end of a Habsburg Archduke, aided by Napoleon III, who crossed the world to become The Last Emperor of Mexico.Producer: Katy HickmanImage credit: Francis Fukuyama – © Djurdja Padejski
28/03/2242m 13s

Welsh identities

In May Wales will hold local elections to elect members of all twenty-two local authorities. Richard Wyn Jones, professor of Welsh politics, examines the issues facing the country. He tells Helen Lewis how nationalism plays an important role in politics in Wales, but that its national identity is a complex mix of Welsh, English and British. What does it meant to be Welsh today? And what of the future of Wales? These are the questions posed in a series of essays, Welsh [Plural]. The poet Hanan Issa is one of the co-editors, and is looking to get beyond the stereotype images of castles, coal and choirs, and understand the full rich diversity of Welsh identities.The historian Dr Marion Loeffler explores how pivotal works of art and literature have helped shape Wales. In a landmark BBC series, Art That Made Us (on BBC2 in April) she looks back to the 7th century poem Y Gododdin and the painter Penry Williams’ depiction of Cyfarthfa Ironworks Interior at Night, 1825. Wales’s industrial landscape is at the centre of Richard King’s oral history, Brittle With Relics, which focuses on the huge changes that took place during the second half of the 20th century. The story of the effects of deindustrialisation, loss of employment and social cohesion, as well as the fight for a voice, language and identity, is told through the people who lived through it.Producer: Katy HickmanImage credit: BBC ClearStory - Artist and Performer Sean Parry with a byddar drum
21/03/2242m 4s

Feathered friends

Humans have been fascinated with birdlife since the first cave drawings 12,000 years ago. In Birds and Us, Tim Birkhead explores how birds have captured our imaginations and inspired both art and science. He looks back to the mummified ibises of Ancient Egypt and the Victorian obsessions with egg collecting, to today’s bustling guillemot colonies on the Faroe Islands and the fight to save endangered species. Around 1820 John James Audubon declared his intention to paint every bird species in North America. The result was the hugely ambitious Birds of America featuring 435 life-size, hand-coloured prints. The National Museum of Scotland is currently exhibiting several of his original unbound prints, and the curator Mark Glancy tells the story of this controversial figure who shot thousands of birds in his pursuit of the perfect pose and specimen, but also had a unique eye for their beauty. Alison Richard has spent five decades investigating one of the most extraordinarily diverse places on earth – Madagascar. She recreates the island of the past with its towering flightless Elephant birds and giant tortoises. Her latest book, The Sloth Lemur’s Song captures the magic and mystery of Madagascar today, but also serves as a warning at what could lie ahead for its unique wildlife.Producer: Katy HickmanImage Credit: Detail from a print depicting Carolina Pigeons or Turtle Doves from Birds of America by John James Audubon © National Museums Scotland.jpg
14/03/2241m 36s

Creating art; reflecting life

New York, 1984: the iconic artist Andy Warhol meets the rising star Jean-Michel Basquiat. Their relationship as they work together on a landmark exhibition is at the heart of the world premiere of Anthony McCarten’s new drama, The Collaboration, at the Young Vic theatre. The director Kwame Kwei-Armah tells Kirsty Wark how the drama pulls apart the creative, racial and sexual tensions between the two, and explores artistic reputations and rivalries. The artist Louise Bourgeois was already in her 70s in the 1980s and slowly getting the attention she deserved. An exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London focuses on the decades that followed as she had a late burst of creativity using fabric and textiles. The curator of Woven Child Ralph Rugoff explains how the artist began to incorporate clothes from all stages of her life into her art, mining themes of personal trauma, memory, identity and reparation.The Somali-British poet Warsan Shire has been hailed as the voice of a generation, who has collaborated with the superstar Beyoncé. Her debut collection, Bless The Daughter: Raised By A Voice In Her Head is full of sounds and smells, exploring the lives of refugees and the relationship between mothers and daughters. While she is celebrated as an exciting poet of our time, Shire says she looks to Somalia’s literary heritage for inspiration. Producer: Katy HickmanPhoto credit: Jeremy Pope and Paul Bettany in 'Collaboration' (c) Marc Brenner. Concept and design by Émilie Chen.
07/03/2241m 59s


The historian Peter Hennessy asks whether post-Covid Britain needs to set out a new social contract, comparable to the Beveridge report after WWII. In A Duty of Care, he looks back to the foundations of the modern welfare state and the ‘five giants’ against which society had to battle – want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. He tells Helen Lewis that after the effects of the pandemic, it’s time to be ambitious and try and work together to tackle today’s comparable giants. In a damning report commissioned by the NHS Race and Health Observatory earlier this month, it was revealed that minority ethnic patients suffered overwhelming inequalities. If a new Beveridge is to be conceived diversity will need to be at its heart, but the anthropologist Farhan Samanani is concerned that increasingly ‘difference’ is being seen as a threat to societal cohesion. He has undertaken field research in the north London area of Kilburn – one of the most diverse in the UK. In How To Live With Each Other he explores the capacity of people to connect across divides and cultivate common ground.While post-war governments looked to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and create a new welfare state in the aftermath of the trauma of war, the arts and education in Britain were also viewed as vital to the economy and to reuniting the nation. Jane Alison is the curator of the Barbican’s new exhibition, Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain, 1945–1965 (opening on 3rd March). She says that artists at the time – both home grown and refugees – sought to find meaning and purpose in a changed world. And she argues that artists today are asking similar probing questions about what kind of society we want and need. Producer: Katy HickmanImage credit: Eva Frankfurther, West Indian Waitresses, c.1955 Ben Uri Collection, presented by the artist’s sister, Beate Planskoy, 2015,© The Estate of Eva Frankfurther, photograph by Justin P (from the exhibition, 'Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965' Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK)
28/02/2242m 7s

Wealth, influence and the global elite

The Sassoons were one of the great commercial dynasties of the 19th century: ‘the Rothschilds of the East’. In Global Merchants the historian Joseph Sassoon charts how his ancestors – Jewish refugee exiles from Ottoman Baghdad – built a vast enterprise of trade and influence across the world. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how their meteoric rise and ultimate fall mirrored the British imperial project.At the height of their ambition the Sassoons led an extravagant lifestyle, but never quite overcame their origins to be accepted in upper class society in the West. Money, power, class and caste are at the centre of Pankaj Mishra’s new novel, Run and Hide. The heroes of his story are lower class Indians determined to succeed – at a time when success is counted in private jets and lavish parties, and failure leads to a global financial scandal.The Head of Economics at the Open University, Professor Susan Newman, provided expert advice for the recent BBC 2 series, The Decade the Rich Won: Stories of power and influence, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. In her studies she’s interested in the question of how wealth is accumulated today, the impact of globalisation on national decision-making, and growing inequality. Producer: Katy Hickman
21/02/2241m 55s

Stonehenge, and conserving the future

Stonehenge is one of Britain’s most iconic monuments: an ancient stone circle still shrouded in layers of speculation and folklore. A new exhibition at the British Museum looks at the human story behind the stones, and offers new insights into the beliefs, rituals and worldview of our Neolithic ancestors. The curator Neil Wilkin tells Adam Rutherford about one of the objects on show – the metal Nebra Sky Disc – which is the world’s oldest surviving map of the sky. The palaeobiologist Thomas Halliday looks even further back in deep time to reveal the Earth as it used to exist. In his new book Otherlands: A World in the Making he uses the latest technology and fossil records to examine ancient landscapes – from the mammoth steppe in Ice Age Alaska to the lush rainforests of Eocene Antarctica, with its colonies of giant penguins. While these distinct ecosystems appeared stable for millions of years, their disappearance is a reminder of the both the fragility and tenacity of the natural world.Change and survival are at the centre of the writer and ecologist, Rebecca Nesbit’s book, Tickets for the Ark. As the current rate of extinction starts to resemble the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, conservationists appear to be fighting a losing battle. Nesbit questions the motives behind what we fight to save, in an examination of what we should conserve and why.Producer: Katy Hickman
14/02/2242m 11s

The Georgians

Forget the Victorians, the Georgian era is having its moment. Regencycore, a fashion style inspired by the Netflix period drama Bridgerton was shortlisted for Word of the Year 2021, and there will be more frocks and 18th century gossip when the television series returns in the Spring. In The Georgians the historian Penelope Corfield explores all aspects of 18th century life, from politics and empire to culture and society, science and industry. She tells Tom Sutcliffe that Britain at the time was often seen as both a sentimental and enlightened place, where frippery and satire sat side by side. Before the Industrial Revolution The Staffordshire potter Josiah Wedgwood exemplified the era’s entrepreneurial spirit. He was, according to Tristram Hunt’s biography, The Radical Potter, the Steve Jobs of the 18th century. His innovative designs and marketing strategies made his wares popular throughout the country and further afield, and he was instrumental in building the infrastructure to enable the region to flourish economically.What could today’s policies to ‘level up’ the regions learn from the 18th century, and Wedgwood’s championing of his home town. Professor Philip McCann is Chair in Urban and Regional Economics at the University of Sheffield. He argues that during the last century the system of localised finance was lost as the country became highly centralised. This has had a serious impact on poorer regions and smaller local firms, and today the UK has some of the worst regional inequality in the world.Producer: Katy Hickman / Natalia FernandezPhoto Credit: LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX Bridgerton, Series 2 (L to R) Bessie Carter as Prudence Featherington, Polly Walker as Lady Portia Featherington, Harriet Cains as Philip
07/02/2242m 36s

Bullish masculinity

The award-winning poet Fiona Benson retells the Greek myth of the Minotaur, upending the legend of the dashing male hero slaying the monster in the labyrinth. In a series of poems in her new collection Ephemeron we hear from the bull-child’s mother – the betrayed and violated Pasiphae. Benson tells Helen Lewis she wanted to explore male and female desire, and the extraordinary cycles of violence and abuse of power in the Greek myths.The cultural historian Ivan Jablonka has taken his native France by storm with his history of Masculinity – From Patriarchy to Gender Justice, translated by Nathan Bracher. In it he asks what it means to be a good man? Using examples from the past he explores the origins and structure of male dominance. He argues that it’s time that men took more responsibility and fought harder for genuine equality. The political philosopher Nina Power is more circumspect about the demonisation of men, which she believes is now rampant in today’s society. In What Do Men Want, Power looks at what happens when men feel beleaguered and retreat to the ‘manosphere’, and she explores ways in which men and women can live together more harmoniously. The number of people living alone has increased over the last decade, but it’s still a path that goes against what society expects, according to the entrepreneur and Founder of the lifestyle magazine, About Time, Angelica Malin. She became single at the beginning of lockdown and has now brought together 30 women to explore what single womanhood means in the modern age, in Unattached. Producer: Katy Hickman
31/01/2241m 52s


Modernism is a cultural and philosophical movement that emerged in the West during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a complex hydra-headed beast that was pervasive in the arts, but also spread through modern industrial societies influencing architecture and science. As part of a series of programmes on BBC Radio 3 and 4 celebrating modernism, Kirsty Wark presents an introduction to modernism – how and why did it arise at this time, and its legacy today. She is joined by the cultural historian Matthew Sweet who is presenting a 10-part series for BBC Radio 4 on a crucial year for modernism: 1922 – The Birth of Now. Suzanne Hobson, from Queen Mary University of London, is an expert on modernist literature, and examines the defining characteristics of the genre, while the musician Soweto Kinch discusses the impact of modernism on music, especially the development of jazz, and how it plays out today. While innovations in the arts including stream of consciousness, atonal music and abstract art are the headline acts for modernism the academic Charlotte Sleigh looks more closely at what was happening in the sciences, and how innovations in physics, psychology and technology changed the way people experienced the world. Producer: Katy HickmanImage: Modulor le Corbusier. Cover template.
24/01/2241m 39s

Old battles, new warfare

Are we heading into an era of unending low-level conflict, of foreign interference and buying of influence? In The Weaponisation of Everything, the security expert Mark Galeotti argues that traditional warfare is on the wane, replaced by hybrid wars, disinformation, espionage and subversion. He tells Adam Rutherford that this 21st century way of war often goes unnoticed and can be dangerously destabilising, but it also offers opportunities for those who are able to take full advantage of this new armoury. The political philosopher Cécile Fabre explores the ethics of espionage and counterintelligence. In Spying Through a Glass Darkly she looks to answer a fundamental question: when is spying justified? In the context of war and foreign policy what actions are morally justified, and when? Fabre brings together philosophical arguments and historical examples to study the moral justification of state blackmail, mass surveillance, treason and bribery.How far are the subversive techniques discussed uniquely human? It’s a question the primatologist Kirsty Graham considers as she studies the way bonobos and chimpanzees communicate in the field. Her research has shown that both groups share not only the physical form of the gestures but many of the same meanings. Producer: Katy Hickman
17/01/2241m 35s

Finding consolation and community in reading

The historian, writer and former politician Michael Ignatieff talks to Tom Sutcliffe about how consolation offers a way to survive the anguish and uncertainties of the 21st century. In his new book, On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times, he looks at how works of literature – from the Psalms to Albert Camus and Anna Akhmatova – help increase hope and resilience. On Consolation will be Radio 4's Book of the Week from February 7th. Christopher Prendergast’s Living and Dying with Marcel Proust is the result of a lifetime’s reading of Proust’s masterpiece A la Récherche du Temps Perdu. It serves as a guide to readers embarking on Proust’s colossal work, highlighting the author’s many obsessions, from insomnia and food to memory, humour and colour.The London Literary Salon is a community built around the study of literature and ideas, with its mantra: ‘opening books, meeting minds, creating community’. During the pandemic its founder and director Toby Brothers broadened its reach, welcoming people into the salon from all over the world.Producer: Katy Hickman
10/01/2242m 12s

Vaccinate, ventilate and breathe

Andrew Marr talks to two of the leading scientists who were at the forefront of research into fighting the spread of Covid-19. Professor Teresa Lambe was one of the Principal Investigators overseeing the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine programme. She co-designed the vaccine and led the pre-clinical studies, as well overseeing the impact on immunity. She will be taking part in this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (to be aired on BBC 4 at 8pm on 28th, 29th and 30th December), alongside Professor Catherine Noakes. As an engineer Noakes is one of a tiny number of specialists worldwide who study ventilation and the spread of airborne diseases. From the beginning of the pandemic she has been instrumental in providing advice on how the virus transmits and the best strategies to control its spread.Covid-19 is a respiratory disease and one of the books on this year’s Royal Society prize shortlist is at the centre of revived interest in how we breathe. James Nestor argues, in his book Breath, that humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with damaging consequences that reach beyond snoring, asthma and allergies. Drawing on ancient wisdom and the latest scientific studies Nestor highlights the huge benefits from breathing through your nose, rather than your mouth.Producer: Katy HickmanPhoto: Professor Catherine Noakes doing a demonstration at the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2021
27/12/2141m 59s

A musical journey – from the mountains to the multi-storey

The internationally renowned cellist Steven Isserlis talks to Andrew Marr about his companion guide to The Bach Cello Suites. Isserlis explores why Bach’s Six Suites have become some of the most cherished music, and how Bach takes the audience on a spiritual journey, from joy, through tragedy, to jubilation.Schubert’s heart-breaking song-cycle Winterreise tells of a young man’s desperate wanderings: the music and the poems creating images of fire and snow, of scalding and frozen tears. The baritone Benjamin Appl, accompanied by James Baillieu, stars in a new BBC film, Winter Journey, filmed in a tower on the snow-covered summit of the Julierpass in south-east Switzerland. An album of the music will be released in February.The composer and pianist Kate Whitley is also interested in the importance of place in music. But she has taken a different tack, eschewing the often rarefied atmosphere of concert halls, for the concrete heart of city centres. She runs The Multi-Storey Orchestra which performs in car parks around the UK.Producer: Katy HickmanPhoto copyright: Satoshi Aoyagi
20/12/2141m 6s

Living in the Matrix

What if virtual worlds become indistinguishable from the real one? In 1999 the science fiction film, The Matrix, depicted a dystopian future in which people are unknowingly trapped inside a simulated reality, run by intelligent machines. As the fourth film, The Matrix Resurrections, is about to be released, the writer Naomi Alderman considers the influence this movie franchise has had in the last two decades, and how far virtual reality has become part of everyday life. The philosopher, David J Chalmers, proposes that the Matrix scenario could be the future, but that rather than trapped, humanity can lead a meaningful life in virtual reality. Chalmers is one of the leading thinkers on consciousness. In his latest book, Reality+ he provocatively argues that VR is not escapism. And that we may even be living in a computer simulation already – and if that is true, it’s not so bad.Philippa Garety is Professor of Clinical Psychology at Kings College London and has been at the forefront of treatments for problems associated with psychosis, including hearing voices and hallucinations. She is currently working on innovative treatments using digital technology, including avatars and virtual reality, to alleviate suffering. In a clinical setting VR can be managed as a safe environment for patients who struggle in the real world, as a place they can confront and understand their delusions. Producer: Katy HickmanPhoto Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. PicturesCaption: (L-r) CARRIE-ANNE MOSS as Trinity and KEANU REEVES as Neo/Thomas Anderson in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and Venus Castina Productions’ “THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
13/12/2142m 11s


The acclaimed actor Kathryn Hunter plays all three witches in the forthcoming Hollywood adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth. The film is directed by Joel Coen and starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as the central couple. Hunter tells Andrew Marr that she studied the witch hunts of the 17th century and was inspired by the ‘outcast women’ who survived and suffered. Her performance is rooted in something real, but also hints at something created in the mind of Macbeth. Claire Askew’s latest collection of poems, How To Burn A Woman, is a cauldron full of spells, power and love. It’s peopled with witches, outsiders, and women who stand out. It too traces historic atrocities and celebrates the lives of those accused of witchcraft. But it also looks at contemporary relationships, of love bordering on infatuation, and the feelings of loss, bitterness and isolation at the end of an affair.When peculiar things begin to happen in the frontier town of Springfield, Massachusetts in 1651, tensions rise and rumours spread of witches and heretics. What follows is a web of spite, paranoia and denunciation – a far cry from the English settlers’ dreams of love and liberty at the dawn of the New World. The historian Malcolm Gaskill retells this dark, real-life folktale of witch-hunting in The Ruin Of All Witches.Producer: Katy Hickman(Image: Kathryn Hunter as one of the witches in The Tragedy of Macbeth, courtesy of Apple TV+)
06/12/2141m 59s

Levelling up; halting decline

Is it possible to ‘level up’ the economy and help struggling places halt decline and become more prosperous? Paul Swinney is Director of Policy and Research at the think tank Centre for Cities and his research focuses on city economies and their development over time. He considers what strategies might be implemented to support declining town and city centres and if the government’s Levelling Up agenda is likely to deliver concrete results.The prize-winning poet Paul Batchelor was born in Northumberland and often explores the lost worlds of Britain’s mining communities, and the memories that have survived. The title of his new collection, The Acts of Oblivion, refers to seventeenth-century laws that required not only the pardon of revolutionary deeds, but also made discussing them illegal. His poems rebel against such restrictions, and against forgetting. In the forest landscape of northern Varmland in Sweden lies the village of Osebol. In just five decades, the automation of the lumber industry and the draw of city-living, has seen the adult population dwindling to a mere 40 residents. Marit Kapla grew up there, and in Osebol: Voices from a Swedish Village she has returned and gathered the stories of all the inhabitants – from those whose families have lived there for generations, to the more recent arrivals. They tell of their griefs and joys, resentments and pleasures, and despite the village’s decline, life goes on.Producer: Katy Hickman
29/11/2142m 24s

Christianity: Changing Fortunes

Pentecostalism is global sensation: a Christian movement, founded at the turn of the 20th century by the son of freed slaves, that has become the fastest-growing religion in the world. Elle Hardy explains to Andrew Marr how this flourishing, tech-savvy movement is reshaping not only the expression of faith and one’s relationship with God, but whole societies as well. In her exposé, Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over The World, Hardy explores how miracles, money and power have become intertwined, but also how the movement has brought meaning and community to many of the most marginalised and rootless worldwide.In the Middle East there are some of the oldest continuous Christian communities, going back 2,000 years. But in The Vanishing, the award-winning journalist Janine di Giovanni paints a portrait of faith communities in serious decline. With threats of war, religious persecution and economic uncertainty, their futures are in doubt. But amongst the stories of attacks on churches and political harassment, di Giovanni reveals glimmers of hope and resilience in Christian communities across Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Gaza.In her roles as Canon of Westminster and Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons the Reverend Tricia Hillas is situated at the spiritual heart of political power. She reflects on the continuing importance of faith in modern society and the issues facing the Church of England today. With congregation numbers in steep decline, in what ways can the Church spread its appeal, diversify and attract the younger generation?Producer: Katy Hickman
22/11/2142m 10s

Ancient lives and legacies in Latin America

The Nobel prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa’s latest novel revolves around the lies, schemes and vested interests that infected the development of Latin America. In Harsh Times (translated by Adrian Nathan West) a CIA-supported military coup topples the government of Guatemala, but the idea that the country was a Soviet satellite is shown up as manipulated fiction. Llosa tells Tom Sutcliffe about the murky tales of Cold War conspiracies that dominated at the time, and their legacy today. Natalia Sobrevilla Perea is Professor of Latin American History at the University of Kent and looks at the impact of the Cold War proxy battles on countries like Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala and El Salvador. She highlights the power of the drug barons and the current Peruvian government’s war on corruption. Her research focuses on how historical events have set the stage for contemporary debates about how Andean nations should be governed and how to define citizenship.But what of the land before outside interference? Peru: a journey in time is the latest exhibition at the British Museum and showcases the civilisations and societies that rose and fell in the remarkable landscapes of the Andes mountains. On display will be objects from the early culture of Chavin in 1200 BC to the Incas in the 16th century. The co-curator Jago Cooper says the ancient Peruvian societies had their unique approaches to economy, gender, power and beliefs, and they thrived against the odds up until the Inca conquest by the Spanish.(Image: Funerary mask - Peru, Moche, AD 100–800. Museo de Arte de Lima. Donated by James Reid.)Producer: Katy Hickman
15/11/2142m 14s

Internet influencers and generation gaps

At times it can feel as though we’re in the middle of a generational war, with the baby boomers battling the much maligned post-millennials. But in Generations the Director of The Policy Institute at King’s College London, Bobby Duffy explores just how far when we’re born determines our attitudes to money, sex, politics and much else. He tells Andrew Marr how the data from more than 40 countries unravels many of our preconceptions. Born since the mid-1990s, Generation Z is the first age group never to know the world without the internet. It is also the generation most often pilloried in the press as replete with woke snowflakes, obsessed by identity. But the linguist Sarah Ogilvie believes that young people have much to teach about how to live in the digital world. She is the co-author of GenZ, Explained which seeks to draw a more optimistic and nuanced portrait of this generation, and delves into their specific cultural language. Olivia Yallop is young enough to be part of the digital generation and in Break the Internet she explores the royalty of the attention economy, influencers (such as Molly-Mae Hague, pictured above). In the new media landscape online celebrities dominate and their value is estimated in billions of pounds. Yallop traces how online personas are built, uncovering what it is really like to live a branded life and trade in a ‘social stock market’.Producer: Katy Hickman(Photo image: Molly-Mae Hague, Creative Director at Pretty Little Thing and Influencer)
08/11/2142m 13s

Ai Weiwei on creative freedom

The internationally-renowned artist Ai Weiwei explores the origins of his creativity and political beliefs through his own life story and that of his father. In 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, translated by Alan H. Barr, he looks back at the blighted life of his father Ai Qing, once China’s most celebrated poet before he was banished during the Cultural Revolution. Ai Weiwei tells Tom Sutcliffe about his own journey to becoming an artist and how his work has been shaped by living under a totalitarian regime.The Professor of Political Theory, Lea Ypi, understands only too well growing up in a repressive Communist state – she was born in Albania, the last Stalinist outpost in Europe. In her memoir, Free: Coming of Age at the End of History she describes how the isolated world of her childhood was swept away. But also how the promised freedoms after the fall of the Berlin Wall quickly turned sour. The pianist Kirill Gerstein was born in the former Soviet Union, but is now an American citizen based in Berlin. His career and musical heritage is similarly international, and he plays all around the world. Gerstein considers what creative freedom has meant to some of his favourite composers – from Viktor Ullmann to Shostakovich – who produced great art during times of intense political upheaval.Producer: Katy Hickman Photo credit: Ai Weiwei studio
01/11/2142m 19s

Working the land - Orwell and HG Wells

‘Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening’, wrote George Orwell in 1940. In Orwell’s Roses Rebecca Solnit explores how the writer’s love for growing things, especially flowers, seeps into his work. She reflects on how he uses pleasure, beauty and joy as powerful acts of resistance. And how far these can counter the political and environmental challenges we face today.The father of science fiction, H.G. Wells was also driven by a desire to reform the society he lived in at the turn of the 20th century. The biographer Claire Tomalin brings to life his early years in The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World. He was born into poverty and achieved international fame, but never lost his boundless curiosity for the world around him, and the possibilities of science to change it.The journalist Peter Hetherington asks why land reform is not higher on the government’s agenda. In Land Renewed he looks at the competing elements in the reshaping of the countryside and aiding nature’s recovery, including protecting valuable farmland, encouraging more local food production, re-wilding and ‘re-peopling’ remote places. But he argues it needs a wider vision to re-work the countryside for the benefit of all.Producer: Katy Hickman
25/10/2142m 20s

Rationality in an Irrational Age

In his new book, Rationality, the experimental psychologist Steven Pinker argues that human beings have the power to think, act and behave rationally, if given the right tools to do so. He asks why rationality so often plays second fiddle to opinion, bias and prejudice. And he believes that in order to ensure our survival as a species we need to learn how to apply rational thought to our daily lives.Our attitudes towards sexual desire may not always be regarded as rational. Amia Srinivasan is Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford University and in ‘The Right to Sex’ she considers this universal topic from a modern feminist perspective – a collision of pleasure, ethics and gender politics.If physical relationships are often the result of irrational decisions, then the belief in ghosts takes the human scope for irrationality to a whole new level. In The First Ghosts: Most Ancient of Legacies, British Museum curator Irving Finkel goes right back to the beginning and shows how the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians believed in the spirit world and considers why this enduring belief in ghosts is something that spans diverse cultures and historical periods.Producer: Natalia Fernandez
18/10/2142m 27s

Views from across the water

‘Devil-Land’ – that was how foreign observers viewed England in the 17th century: a ‘failed state’ torn apart by seditious rebellion, religious extremism and royal collapse. The historian Clare Jackson recounts this stormy and radical era through the eyes of outsiders across the Channel. But she tells Andrew Marr that the country’s turbulence also bred great creativity and curiosity about the wider world.The Anglo-French journalist Benedicte Paviot is the UK correspondent of France 24. She explores how the French view Britain today. From Brexit to the government’s pursuit of ‘Global Britain’ and the new Australia/UK/US defence pact, contemporary French neighbours often look on with hostility and bemusement. Fintan O’Toole is an Irish journalist and polemicist who has spent much of his career commenting on Britain from the other side of the water. But in his latest book, We Don’t Know Ourselves, he turns his attention to Ireland since his birth in 1958. It’s another story of great turbulence and rebellion, from underdevelopment, domination by the Church and a sectarian civil war in the North, to struggles for intellectual, civil and sexual freedoms. Producer: Katy Hickman
11/10/2142m 15s

Images of power

What does the face of power look like? It’s a question the academic Mary Beard explores in her latest book, Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern. She tells Kirsty Wark how the depiction of Roman autocrats have influenced art, culture and the presentation of power for more than two thousand years. King George III was condemned in the 18th century as ‘the cruellest tyrant of his age’ and depicted as a diminutive and pompous figure in the 21st century musical, Hamilton. These are images the historian Andrew Roberts seeks to counter in his new biography of the King. His revisionist account argues that far from being a tyrant or incompetent he was one of the country’s most admirable monarchs. Modern political leaders are no strangers to the importance of public image. As the Conservative government holds its party political conference in Manchester the political commentator and sometime-stand-up comedian Ayesha Hazarika looks at how leaders of different parties have tried to stage manage their hold on power.Producer: Katy Hickman
04/10/2142m 2s

Colm Tóibín on Thomas Mann

The prize-winning author Colm Tóibín recreates the life and work of one of Germany’s most famous and acclaimed writers Thomas Mann. The Magician is a deeply intimate portrait of a private man, revealing both his suppressed homosexuality and complex family ties, and of a public writer who sought to explicate the soul of Germany in the 20th century.When Hitler came to power Thomas Mann fled his homeland and went into exile in America, and in Switzerland, never to return to live in the country that inspired his creativity. Karen Leeder, Professor of Modern German Literature at Oxford, considers how German writers have become embroiled in the major events of history, and the impact on their writing. She has translated the lectures of the poet Durs Grünbein, For the Dying Calves, to be published in November.Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks, which earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature, is the story of the decline of a wealthy bourgeois merchant family. As a family saga it’s been likened to Jesse Armstrong’s 21st century creation, Succession. As the television drama reaches its third series Armstrong explains why the back-stabbing, power-grabbing antics of a superrich, dysfunctional family has so caught the public imagination. Producer: Katy Hickman
27/09/2142m 26s

Climate activism: the next generation

Richard Powers’s prize-winning Overstory was an impassioned evocation of the natural world and a call to arms to save it. In his latest novel, Bewilderment, a father and son navigate a world seemingly bent on destruction. Powers tells Andrew Marr how the father, an astrobiologist, models planets in far away galaxies searching for life, while his nature-loving 9 year old struggles to understand why earth’s life forms are so thoughtlessly destroyed. Mya-Rose Craig, aka ‘birdgirl’, is a young British-Bangladeshi ornithologist and activist. From a deep love of bird watching she has gone on to become a prominent environmentalist. In ‘We Have A Dream’ she speaks to 30 young indigenous people of colour to find out how their environments have been affected by climate change, and why young people are so involved in protecting the natural world. The journalist Simon Mundy argues that climate change is affecting more than just the environment: everything from energy, farming, technology and business, as well as migration. In Race for Tomorrow, Mundy has travelled the world talking to the people at the front line of this transformation, from those battling to survive the worst impacts, to those eager to reap the financial rewards.Producer: Katy Hickman
20/09/2142m 15s

Life in the first person

The neuroscientist Anil Seth is a leading researcher into consciousness. In his book, Being You, he explores why we experience life in the first person. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how our perceptual experiences are less a reflection of an objective external reality, and more a kind of controlled hallucination. He argues that perception is a brain-based ‘best guess’ – including our core sense of self – designed by evolution to keep the body alive.Tiffany Watt Smith is interested in how the individual self can feel swept up and subsumed in crowds, and the tension between ‘feeling yourself’ and ‘losing yourself’. This has taken on added significance during a pandemic when collective experience has become tinged with anxiety. As Director of the Centre of the History of Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, she has also looked at how far being able to name an emotion makes it more real.Emotional turmoil, from revenge to love, are writ large in Rigoletto – the season opener at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It’s the first production by the company’s Director, Oliver Mears, and the first new show since the opera house closed because of Covid-19. Mears sees Verdi’s masterpiece as a modern morality play that pits power against innocence, in a pitiless world of decadence, corruption and decay.Producer: Katy Hickman(Photo: Gilda) Lisette Oropesa (c) ROH 2021. Rigoletto Studio Rehearsal. Photograph by Ellie Kurttz.)
13/09/2141m 55s

Ali Smith

Ali Smith talks to Andrew Marr about Summer, the finale to her ambitious, ground-breaking Seasonal quartet of novels. Since 2016, the prize-winning writer has been working on a cycle of novels that not only explore the changing seasons, but reflect the times we are living in. With the tightest turnaround from manuscript to book, Smith’s ambition was to create real contemporaneous ‘state of the nation’ works. She reflects on a country voting on its future, people and families on the brink of change, and now living through a pandemic, while also understanding how art, nature and landscape speak of a deeper truth.Producer: Katy Hickman Photograph by Sarah Wood
28/06/2141m 56s

Jackie Kay on Bessie Smith

Scotland’s former National Poet Jackie Kay celebrates the tempestuous life of the great blues singer, Bessie Smith. Born in Tennessee in 1894 Bessie was a street singer before she made it big at a time of racial violence and segregation. Jackie Kay remembers growing up as a young black girl in Glasgow and she tells Kirsty Wark how she idolised this iconic singer. In Time’s Witness the historian Rosemary Hill explores the historical shift in focus from the grand sweeping narratives of kings and statesmen to a new interest in the lives of ordinary people. She argues that the turn of the 19th century and the age of the Romantics ushered in a more vibrant and serious debate about the importance of oral history, clothes, music, food and art.The artist Michael Armitage is exhibiting his latest work at the Royal Academy in London until September. Born in Kenya in 1984 but based between Nairobi and London, Armitage is influenced by contemporary East African art and politics, as well as drawing on European art history from Titian to Gauguin. His exhibition Paradise Edict showcases 15 of his large scale works painted on lubugo bark cloth, a material traditionally made in Uganda.Producer: Katy Hickman
21/06/2142m 6s

London - villain and victim?

Love it or hate it, London dominates the UK politically, economically and culturally. It’s nearly 200 years since one critic famously described the capital as ‘the Great Wen’ a monstrous cyst sucking the life blood from the rest of the country. And for many that belief still stands. In The London Problem: What Britain Gets Wrong About Its Capital City the academic, and Londoner, Jack Brown untangles the complex strands of anti-London rhetoric, separating hyperbole from fact. In 2019 the former special advisor Dominic Cummings told journalists to ‘get out of London. Go and talk to people who are not rich Remainers’, feeding into another perception of the capital. But the city is far from homogenous: 40% of Londoners voted for Brexit, and the population is the most ethnically and religiously diverse and has the greatest levels of poverty, compared to the rest of the country. The writer Jennifer Kavanagh spent two years getting out and talking to people on the streets of London – from beggars, to stall owners, to entertainers to thieves. Let Me Take You By The Hand tells the stories in their own words, of those who work and live in the capital. The German composer George Frideric Handel moved to London in 1712 and made it his home. The countertenor Iestyn Davies celebrates Handel’s life in the capital, following his footsteps from his operatic triumphs in Covent Garden, past his local church in Hanover Square, to his Mayfair home. In Handel’s London Altos, at King’s Place on 24th June, Davies will perform a series of pieces showcasing his best work.Producer: Katy Hickman
14/06/2141m 31s

Lionel Shriver on life and death decisions

In a year when Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on families, with loved ones dying sometimes alone in hospital or without the usual funeral rites, Tom Sutcliffe and guests discuss mortality and what it means to have ‘a good death’.In her latest book, Should We Stay Or Should We Go, the writer Lionel Shriver explores a number of alternative endings. The couple at the centre of her novel make a pact to end their lives when they hit 80, to avoid a slow decline either physically or mentally. As Shriver looks at how that decision might play out in reality, she’s arguing for a more open discussion about the end of life. It’s a view shared by the consultant geriatrician David Jarrett. In 33 Meditations on Death – Notes from the Wrong End of Medicine he draws on family stories and case histories from his three decades treating those who become old and frail. Jarret’s book is an impassioned plea for everyone – old and young – to engage and make plans for the end. The playwright Jack Thorne is part of the collaborative team (with designer Bunny Christie and director Jeremy Herrin) behind the National Theatre’s new play, After Life, based on Hirokazu Kore-eda's award-winning film. It follows a group of strangers as they grapple with the question: if you could spend eternity with just one precious memory, what would it be? Although all the characters are deceased, the play is a celebration of life, and about what matters to us most.Photo credit: Mark Kohn Producer: Katy Hickman
07/06/2141m 42s

DH Lawrence: life and work

DH Lawrence was once a towering figure in literature in the 20th century but his reputation has taken a battering, with accusations of nostalgia, self-indulgence and misogyny. But Frances Wilson tells Andrew Marr that it’s time to look again at this complex and courageous man, and the full spectrum of work he produced – from his novels, poetry, criticism and letters. In Burning Man Wilson focuses on a decade in his life from the suppression of The Rainbow in 1915 through his years of travelling to his diagnosis of tuberculosis. Lawrence mined his own life in his novels, populating them with the people he met, pioneering the genre of ‘auto-fiction'. The award-winning writer Salman Rushdie rejected that form in his own novels, preferring ‘magic realism’. In his latest collection of essays Languages of Truth Rushdie explores the power of storytelling, and the relationship between reality and fantasy. The poet Simon Armitage – an admirer of DH Lawrence – looks to rescue glorious poetry from pretention and obscurity, arguing the form offers ‘the best opportunity for reflection and scrutiny’. A Vertical Art brings together the public lectures he gave during his tenure as Oxford University Professor of Poetry. In them he offers his personal reflections of the work and lives of poets from Ted Hughes to Elizabeth Bishop and Douglas Dunn.Producer: Katy Hickman
31/05/2142m 5s

On Thin Ice: Glaciers, Geopolitics, and Nature's Goods

Once-indomitable glaciers – from high up in the Himalayas to the polar regions – are today in grave peril, as our climate warms at an accelerating rate. The glaciologist Jemma Wadham says that melting ice sheets not only leads to meltwater overwhelming sensitive marine ecosystems but could also release vast quantities of methane. In her book Ice Rivers she shows that far from being freezing sterile environments, the world’s glaciers are teeming with microbial life, as rich and fascinating as the forests. Record ice loss last year and the effect of climate change are also having an impact on geopolitics and international relations. Dwayne Ryan Menezes, the founding director of the think tank Polar Research and Policy Initiative looks at the viability of a busy sea route through the arctic region as ice recedes for longer periods. And he explains why the recent elections in Greenland – a territory of just over 56,000 people – sent reverberations around the world. The importance of nature’s finely-tuned system to our everyday lives is at the heart of Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson’s research at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. In her new book Tapestries of Life she uncovers many of the lifesaving secrets of the natural world which impact directly on humans, from medicines to pollution control, carbon sequestration to spiritual health. Producer: Katy Hickman
24/05/2142m 0s

Daniel Kahneman on 'noisy' human judgement

The Nobel prize-winning economist and Professor of Psychology Daniel Kahneman focuses his latest research on the high cost of inconsistent decision making. In Noise, co-authored with Oliver Sibony and Cass R Sunstein, he looks at why humans can be so unreliable, and what can be done about it. He tells Andrew Marr that people working in the same job often make wildly different judgements, influenced by factors like their current mood, when they last ate, even the weather. He argues that ‘noise’ is distinct from bias and has been neglected by organisations and businesses.Gillian Tett is Editor-at-Large for the Financial Times and is also focused on transforming the world of business. But whereas Kahneman uses the methods of psychology, Tett argues for anthropology. For over a century anthropologists have immersed themselves in unfamiliar cultures, studying the hidden rituals at play. In her book Anthro-Vision, Tett uses similar techniques to reveal the underlying structures and human behaviour in our modern world – from Amazon warehouses to Silicon Valley to City trading floors.Ann Cairns is the Executive Vice Chair of Mastercard which has hundreds of offices worldwide. She explores how psychology and anthropology can help to manage the company’s fortunes and employees through times of flux and change. Cairns started out as a research scientist before developing an interest in offshore engineering, becoming the first woman qualified to work offshore in Britain. She moved into banking in the late 1980s and joined Mastercard in 2011. Producer: Katy Hickman
17/05/2142m 1s

The opioid crisis and erosion of trust

The Sackler name is more often associated with philanthropy and lavish donations in the arts and sciences. But the investigative reporter Patrick Radden Keefe tells another story in Empire of Pain. He questions how much of the Sackler wealth was made from the making and aggressive marketing of the painkiller, Oxycontin. He tells Amol Rajan of the misery that has unfolded in today’s opioid crisis – an epidemic of drug addiction which has killed nearly half a million people in the US. The direct marketing to GPs and advertising campaigns in the US helped to make Oxycontin a hugely popular drug. But in the UK too there are concerns about the over-prescribing of painkillers for long periods of time. Dr Zoe Williams is a GP in South London and presenter of the BBC show, Trust Me I’m a Doctor. As a founding member of the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine she’s pioneering changes to reduce dependency on drugs, and increase take-up of alternative treatments, like exercise. What happens when people start to mistrust medical authorities is at the heart of Heidi Larson’s work as Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. In her latest book, Stuck, she looks at how vaccine reluctance and refusal is no longer limited to the margins of society. As mistrust of the official message and messenger grows so does rumour, conflict and hesitancy.Producer: Katy Hickman
10/05/2142m 40s

Art - plunder, power and prestige

The looting of art in war time is nothing new, but Napoleon took it to new heights: demanding of his defeated enemies across Italy their most valuable statues and paintings. Cynthia Saltzman’s Napoleon’s Plunder tells the story of how the most magnificent works of the High Renaissance – by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Veronese – went on triumphant display in the Louvre. She tells Andrew Marr how Paris was transformed during this period into the art capital of Europe, and the role art played in cementing the power of the new regime after the French Revolution. One of the most extraordinary paintings taken during this time was Veronese’s Wedding Feast at Cana, stripped from the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, on an island in Venice in 1797. The Italian architect and presenter Francesco da Mosto considers what this theft meant to Venice’s political and cultural authority at the time. While many paintings were returned after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, The Wedding Feast at Cana remains in Paris to this day, hanging directly across from the Mona Lisa. But Da Mosto looks at whether a 21st century solution – a digital facsimile – installed in the original monastery means that Venice can claim to have its Veronese back home. As the former Director of three major British institutions, including the National Gallery, Charles Saumarez Smith understands the importance and prestige of a country’s national collections. In The Art Museum In Modern Times he explores the changes that have taken place in the past century – from the architecture of the buildings to the expectation of the visitors. Where once was a mission to instruct, educate and amaze, now the emphasis is on contemplation and individual experience.Producer: Katy Hickman
03/05/2142m 6s

Personal faith and the Church

What it means to be a black Christian woman in the UK is at the heart of Chine McDonald’s new book, God Is Not a White Man. Part memoir and part theological and historical study, McDonald looks back at the role the Christian faith has played over the centuries in perpetuating ideas of white supremacy. She tells Tom Sutcliffe that black women in the church have stayed silent too long. The writer Jeet Thayil re-imagines the story of the New Testament through the eyes of the women suppressed and erased from the Gospels. Names of the Women brings to life fifteen women whose importance at the Crucifixion highlights the power they once had. Thayil was born into a Syrian Christian family in India and was inspired to write this work by the defiance and authority of his grandmother. In 2011 when the Occupy movement set up camp around St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Canon Giles Fraser was caught between his pastoral care of the protestors, the needs of the church and the demands of the City of London. He suffered a crisis of faith and mental health. In Chosen: Lost and Found Between Christianity and Judaism, Fraser explores his own religious roots, and discovers the healing power of theology for the individual and society. Producer: Katy Hickman
26/04/2141m 54s

What if the Incas had colonised Europe?

The French writer Laurent Binet’s new book Civilisations is a flight of fancy re-imagining the modern world. He tells Andrew Marr that his counter-factual novel looks at what could have happened if the Vikings had made it to America, Columbus had failed, and the Incas and Aztecs had ended up fighting over the colonisation of Europe. Caroline Dodds Pennock, one of the world’s foremost historians of Mesoamerican culture, considers the experiences of Indigenous Americans (such as the Aztecs, Maya, Tupi and Algonquians) coming to Europe in the sixteenth century. She argues that these people forged the course of European civilisation, just as surely as European colonists changed America. Colonisation and empire-building are also at the forefront of Christienna Fryar’s historical research at Goldsmiths, University of London. In her work on the modern Caribbean and Britain she argues that their histories are intertwined and cannot be properly understood in isolation. Producer: Katy Hickman
19/04/2141m 32s

Nuclear destruction

In 1962 the world teetered on the edge of nuclear destruction as the Presidents of the USA and the Soviet Union fought over Soviet warheads installed on the islands of Cuba. In Nuclear Folly: A New History of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the historian Serhii Plokhy retells the tortuous decision-making and calculated brinkmanship of John F Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. He tells Amol Rajan it was ultimately fear that saved the planet, and it’s time to draw lessons from the many mistakes that were made at the time.The Cold War era did produce a nuclear arms-control agreement – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty – signed in 1987. But the nuclear physicist and former director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research Patricia Lewis says that in 2019 the United States and Russia withdrew their support. Lewis, who now leads the International Security programme at Chatham House, asks whether we are now entering a second nuclear age.The BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford visited the sites of the Soviet Union's nuclear stations in Cuba when she was posted there in 2011. She wrote about her experiences and the end of the Castro era in Our Woman in Havana. Rainsford is now the BBC’s Moscow correspondent and explores how far Khrushchev’s political scheming and disinformation compare to the strategy of President Putin.Producer: Katy Hickman
12/04/2142m 6s

Defining mental illness

Reports of a mental health epidemic among young people both leading up to and during the pandemic are now widespread. Sally Holland is the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and a former social worker. She tells Andrew Marr that mental health services in Wales, and the rest of the UK, need a serious rethink, because too many children are waiting too long for help.But the health researcher and psychologist Lucy Foulkes asks whether we have become fixated with labelling the stresses and challenges of human experience as a mental disorder. In Losing Our Minds she explains what is known about mental health problems, and why they so often appear during adolescence. But she argues that it’s vitally important to distinguish between ‘normal’ suffering and actual illness. Defining what is and isn’t an illness is also the subject of Suzanne O’Sullivan’s latest book The Sleeping Beauties – And Other Stories of Mystery Illness. Here the neurologist looks at startling cases of what appear to be psychosomatic illnesses which have infected groups of people – from refugee children in Sweden unable to wake up, to American high school students having seizures, to mass headaches and memory loss in the US embassy in Cuba. O’Sullivan looks at how far these disorders are influenced by societal forces and human biology.Producer: Katy Hickman
05/04/2142m 8s

Trade deals and human rights – in Africa and China

Tom Tugendhat MP is the Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He tells Andrew Marr that he’s very much focused on British foreign policy priorities after Brexit. But the government’s new Trade Bill is facing opposition from those insisting that human rights abuses must be investigated before any deals are done. The MP for Tonbridge and Malling also highlights the need to be more aware of China’s economic ambitions and global role. Geeta Tharmaratnam is keen that more focus should be placed on Africa. As a venture capitalist and CEO of an investment company she see huge economic possibilities across the continent, especially in relation to African women entrepreneurs. She looks more closely at the African Continental Free Trade Area which was signed by a majority of countries in Kigali, Rwanda in 2018 and came into force this year.But the journalist Michela Wrong questions whether the Rwandan government, and especially its much feted leader President Paul Kagame can be trusted. Following the civil war and genocide in 1994 Kagame became vice-President and then leader of his country. He has prioritised national development and been successful in securing international aid, but Wrong follows the story of his rise to power and argues that he has overseen a regime intent on political repression.Producer: Katy Hickman
29/03/2142m 16s

Newton: science and worldly riches

Edward St Aubyn is the award-winning author of the Patrick Melrose series. His new novel, Double Blind, also revolves around transformation and the headlong pursuit of knowledge. He tells Tom Sutcliffe that his characters range across the sciences – from genetics to ecology to psychoanalysis. And their investigations into inheritance, freedom and consciousness intertwine with their feelings of love, fear and greed.Isaac Newton is often revered as the scientific genius of the 18th century: an unworldly scholar who abandoned his intellectual life to rescue the country’s finances. But the academic Patricia Fara paints a more complicated picture in Life After Gravity. Here Newton is seen in the last 30 years of his life as he heads both the Royal Mint and the Royal Society – a scientist who revelled in the dirty worlds of money and politics. Chris van Tulleken is an infectious diseases doctor who has also forged a career presenting health and science programmes on radio and television. With his twin brother Xand he has put competing health theories to the test, and shared his own personal experience of Covid 19. In his new series for Radio 4, The Jump, he investigates the latest scientific evidence looking at how animal viruses spread to humans, and how far human behaviours are causing pandemics.Producer: Katy Hickman
22/03/2142m 2s

Rights and responsibilities

The journalist Matthew d’Ancona attacks the torpor and complacency which has come to dominate the political landscape. In Identity, Ignorance, Innovation he analyses what’s gone wrong in Britain from education and social care, to technological inequality. He tells Andrew Marr that far from demonising identity politics, the right needs to embrace a diversity of voices.But identity politics has become a major battleground in the culture wars in Britain and the US. The writer Kenan Malik has been charting its rise, and focuses his attention on the growing interest in ‘white identity’, and the debate around the so-called ‘left behind’ in traditional working class areas. The economist and Director of the LSE, Minouche Shafik argues that societal breakdown and increasing polarisation can only be healed with a new social contract fit for the 21st century. In What We Owe Each Other she draws on evidence from around the world to look at how we can re-evaluate the balance between the individual and society, between rights and responsibilities. Producer: Katy Hickman
15/03/2142m 1s

Understanding Melancholy

400 years ago Robert Burton produced his labyrinthine masterpiece, The Anatomy of Melancholy – a work which was celebrated in the Renaissance for its understanding of the huge variety of causes, symptoms and cures of mental distress. In A User’s Guide To Melancholy the academic Mary Ann Lund looks back to this precursor of the self-help book. She tells Amol Rajan that we have much to learn from those who struggled with melancholy in the past.In Heavy Light, the writer Horatio Clare shares how his mind began to unwind; his growing mania followed by psychosis and his treatment in a psychiatric hospital. But he also details the journey of recovery and healing, and he investigates how society treats acute crises of mental health.The psychiatrist Ahmed Hankir understands only too well what it’s like to feel depressed and hopeless – he suffered from mental health difficulties during his studies. He has used his own experiences to produce The Wounded Healer which seeks to reduce stigma around mental health, blending psychiatry and the performing arts.Producer: Katy Hickman
08/03/2142m 14s

Monsters of the deep

The deep sea is the last, vast wilderness on Earth. In The Brilliant Abyss the marine biologist Helen Scales dives below the surface to tell the story of our relationship with the ocean floor. With an average depth of 12,000 feet it remains a frontier for new discoveries and extraordinary creatures. But Helen Scales warns Andrew Marr of the unfolding environmental disasters as people seek to exploit this new world, far beyond the public gaze.The writer Philip Hoare explores nature through the work of the artist Albrecht Dürer. From his 15th century prints of the plague-ridden Apocalypse to his leviathans in the deep, Dürer’s works were a revelation. In Albert & the Whale Hoare writes about the enduring quality of his art and its powerful message about the fragile beauty of the natural world.The journalist Elizabeth Kolbert is the author of the international bestseller, The Sixth Extinction, which was a clear-eyed account of humanity’s impact on the Earth. In Under A White Sky she asks whether through scientific innovation we can reverse some of the damage done. She meets those re-engineering ‘super coral’ which can withstand hotter waters and those tasked with saving the rarest fish species in the world.Producer: Katy Hickman
01/03/2141m 51s

Family struggles - from Greek tragedy to The Troubles

Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in Derry-Londonderry at the height of the Troubles, to a Catholic mother and Protestant father. In Thin Places she traces a life affected by poverty, loss and violence, and the invisible border that runs through it. But she tells Kirsty Wark how the natural world has helped heal the traumas of childhood.For the writer Sally Bayley it was Shakespeare that brought her solace and ignited her imagination. Growing up in a working class household with no father figures Bayley roamed through his plays looking for companions and escape from her oppressive home. In No Boys Play Here: A Story of Shakespeare & My Family’s Missing Men she explores the crisis of male homelessness and mental illness.The award-winning actress Lisa Dwan has a deep affiliation with the works of Samuel Beckett. But in her latest performance she reaches back to the ancient Greek tragedians reimagined by another acclaimed Irish writer Colm Tóibín. In Pale Sister she recounts Sophocles’ tragedy of Antigone from the viewpoint of her sister, Ismene. Producer: Katy Hickman
22/02/2142m 5s

Living online and IRL

What happens when real life collides with your digital existence – the writer and ‘Poet Laureate of Twitter’ Patricia Lockwood talks to Andrew Marr. In her highly original novel, No One is Talking About This, Lockwood’s narrator becomes overwhelmed as drama in the human world encroaches on the life she leads online.Roisin Kiberd is part of the internet generation and believes the line between online and IRL has become so porous as to become meaningless. From the lure of endless scrolling, to the glamour of self-optimisation and the boundless possibility of connectivity, Kiberd explores the ups and downs of this new reality in a series of essays, The Disconnect.In a new series on Radio 4, Sideways, Matthew Syed exploits different ways of seeing the world to connect disparate ideas and offer new insights. He examines the online craze of ‘randonauting’ – in which an app sends people on random adventures – to unpick the misunderstanding of probability using digital and real life examples. Producer: Katy Hickman
15/02/2141m 34s

Empire and class, shaping Britain

Britain is a direct product of its imperial past. So argues the writer Sathnam Sanghera in his latest book, Empireland. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how we need to move beyond simplistic feelings of shame or pride in Britain’s empire if we are to truly understand who we are.It’s not just the story of empire shaping modern Britain but the longer more entrenched history of class. In Snakes and Ladders: The Great British Social Mobility Myth, the historian Selina Todd explores how class distinctions still prevail today.Class and empire weave their way into the work of the poet Anthony Anaxagorou. His family is from Cyprus - an island deeply divided and with a history of colonisation. He charts his rise as a poet in the pocket-book series, ‘How to… Write it’. And his last collection, After the Formalities, explores the anxieties inherent in his British and Cypriot heritage. Producer: Katy Hickman
08/02/2142m 1s

The fall of Maxwell – the end of an era.

He was born into abject poverty in Czechoslovakia, fought for the British and was decorated for his heroism in WWII, and became a successful businessman and press baron courted by political leaders around the world. Yet Robert Maxwell ended his life reviled as the embodiment of greed and corruption. The writer John Preston discusses his book, Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell, with Andrew Marr.The journalist Julia Langdon was appointed the political editor of the Daily Mirror in 1984 when Maxwell owned the newspaper. She looks back at his often extraordinary behaviour. But Langdon also examines the difficult and changing relationship between those in power in politics and the media moguls.Maxwell was brash and theatrical working from luxury apartments at his rechristened Maxwell House, complete with Doric columns at the entrance. Emily Bell, formerly a media journalist now academic at Columbia University, sees certain parallels with Trump Tower. But the media landscape since Maxwell’s days has changed dramatically, and it’s now the owners of today’s social media companies who wield the power.Producer: Katy Hickman
01/02/2141m 32s

Mariana Mazzucato on moonshot economics

Mariana Mazzucato, Professor of Economics at University College London, tells Amol Rajan it’s time western governments took a braver approach to the biggest problems of our time – inequality, disease and environmental crisis. In her book, Mission Economy, she argues that capitalism has foundered. Taking inspiration from President Kennedy’s decision in 1962 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, she calls for a greater sense of purpose from governments and a bolder public-private cooperation. The former cabinet minister and Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable looks back over the last 250 years to understand the power politicians have to transform their countries’ fortunes, for better or worse. In Money and Power – The World Leaders who Changed Economics he ranges from Thatcher to Trump, from Lenin to Bismarck to examine the interplay of economics and politics.But what happens when people begin to feel the economy is broken. In Why You Won’t Get Rich the journalist Robert Verkaik aims his ire at capitalism and the failure to treat people fairly. He argues that for too many people hard work is no longer enough to keep them off the breadline. While economic statistics place the UK as the sixth richest economy Verkaik believes too few reap the benefit. Producer: Katy Hickman
25/01/2142m 17s

Francis Bacon revealed

Francis Bacon is one of Britain’s greatest twentieth century artists – a painter who captured and exposed the darker, stranger sides of life. He is the subject of a new biography, Revelations, by Annalyn Swan and Mark Stevens. Swan tells Andrew Marr how Bacon often fashioned his own autobiography, revelling in story-telling while immersed in the Soho nightlife.Francis Bacon never hid his homosexuality, even at a time when it was illegal in Britain. The celebrated script writer Russell T Davies is well-known for his depiction of the gay scene in Manchester with his 1990s series, Queer as Folk. He now turns his attention to what happened in the decades of the HIV/ AIDs crisis in the Channel 4 series, It’s A Sin.The composer Mark-Anthony Turnage took inspiration from a Francis Bacon’s triptych in his work Three Screaming Popes, combining expressionist complexity with English lyricism. 2020 was planned as a celebratory year for Turnage’s 60th birthday with several premieres scheduled. All were cancelled due to Covid-19. The composer discusses these works and what is inspiring him in the new year.Producer: Katy Hickman Photograph: ‘Self-Portrait, 1975’ © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2021
18/01/2141m 56s

Scotland and the Union

The Acts of Union 1707 brought together England and Scotland, ‘United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain’. But the historian Karin Bowie tells Andrew Marr that in the years preceding a growing number of pamphlets and demonstrations showed that many people were divided on the issue. In ‘Public Opinion in Early Modern Scotland c.1560–1707’ Bowie charts the growing debate across society. The failure of Scotland’s trading ambitions in the Darien Scheme also hit the country hard, both financially and emotionally.However the idea of an independent Scotland emerged surprisingly recently into public debate, according to academic Ben Jackson. In his book The Case for Scottish Independence he argues that an influential Scottish nationalism only began to take shape from the 1970s onwards. It was at heart a political project, born out of opposition to the Thatcher government. Ruth Wishart is a pro-independence journalist who has written about Scottish affairs for many decades. As s columnist for The National she is following every twist and turn as Scottish nationalists agitate for a second independence referendum to follow the Scottish Parliament election in May. The political scientist Ailsa Henderson will be watching the coming elections closely too as she’s an expert on voting behaviour and attitudes to both Scottish and English nationalism. A number of Scots felt a deep sense of grievance against their neighbours at the formation of the Union. Now more than three hundred years later Henderson shows, in her forthcoming book Englishness – co-written with Richard Wyn Jones – that English nationalism contains a strain of grievance about England’s place within the United Kingdom.Producer: Katy Hickman
11/01/2141m 32s

Nicholas Hytner

2020 has been disastrous for the arts in Britain and many people have lost their jobs as Covid-19 has swept through the country. Sir Nicholas Hytner has been working in the theatre for nearly four decades and he tells Andrew Marr about the unprecedented challenges that now face his industry. Hytner made his name and fortune in the 1990s with the musical Miss Saigon. Further successes came with theatre and film productions of The Madness of King George and The History Boys, and the sell-out One Man, Two Guvnors.He ran the National Theatre for twelve years before setting up his own commercial venture – with his business partner Nick Starr – the Bridge Theatre. During the year of the pandemic Hytner has sought to keep the theatre afloat with performances of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, and a specially adapted, socially distanced, but joyful, version of A Christmas Carol.Producer: Katy Hickman Photographer: Helen Maybanks
28/12/2042m 5s

Thomas Becket and the rift between church and state

As the 850th anniversary of the murder of Thomas Becket approaches Andrew Marr explores the dynamic between church and state and what happens when the most powerful political friendships turn sour. The academic Laura Ashe explains the background to the murder in the cathedral on 29th December 1170. King Henry II had promoted the lowly born Thomas Becket to the highest positions in the land – first Lord Chancellor, then Archbishop of Canterbury. But their growing animosity and conflict over the rights and privileges of the church led to his infamous assassination by four of the King’s knights. In recent years the former librarian Christopher de Hamel has succeeded in identifying the Anglo-Saxon Psalter which Becket cherished in his lifetime and may even have been holding when he died. In The Book in the Cathedral: The Last Relic of Thomas Becket, de Hamel looks at what this book reveals about the life of Becket. He also compares the veneration for relics of the saints in the Middle Ages, with our relationship today with historical artefacts.In Britain the Anglican Church still has an establishment role within the state, with Bishops in the House of Lords and the monarch regarded as ‘defender of the faith’. But across the Channel in France a formal separation of church and state, laïcité, was enshrined in French law in 1905. The cultural historian Andrew Hussey, who is based in Paris, looks at the devastating fault lines that have emerged in 2020 in the country’s secularist ideals. Producer: Katy Hickman
21/12/2041m 26s

Inspiring awe – from the heavens to the oceans

Look into the night sky in the coming days and Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer than they’ve been since the early 17th century, according to the astronomer Stuart Clark. He tells Tom Sutcliffe it’s a beautiful great conjunction that happens once every 20 years, but this year is especially rare. In his book, Beneath the Night, Clark explores how the stars have shaped the history of humankind, inspiring awe and fascination throughout the centuries. It was the extremity and majesty of whales that inspired the writer Rebecca Giggs. In her latest book, Fathoms: the world in the whale, she fuses natural history, philosophy and science to look at our relationship with this most magnificent of mammals. She asks how far the lives of whales might shed light on the condition of our seas, and the impact of climate change.Artists have long taken inspiration for their work from the heavens and the natural world around them. In Shaping the World: Sculpture from Pre-History to Now, the world-renowned sculptor Antony Gormley explores this art form, alongside the art critic Martin Gayford. Gormley argues that the desire to make objects can be found in every culture throughout the world, and is a fundamental part of our human journey and need for expression.Producer: Katy Hickman
14/12/2042m 8s


Why do we laugh? This is the question the evolutionary ecologist Jonathan Silvertown sets out to answer in his latest book, The Comedy of Error. He looks back at laughter’s evolutionary origins, and to the similarities and differences in humour across cultures.The sell-out comic Sindhu Vee swapped a career in investment banking for one in comedy. She is an expert at exploiting cultural differences in her jokes, having been born in India, lived and studied in the Philippines and the US, before settling in the UK. John Mullan holds up Charles Dickens as a master novelist who could switch with ease from tragedy to comedy in a sentence. In The Artful Dickens he explores the tricks and ploys the writer used and how his humour has stood the test of time.Producer: Katy Hickman Photograph by Matt Crockett
07/12/2043m 8s

Human ingenuity and shared inheritance

Amol Rajan explores different ways of thinking, and how far humans can be seen as unique for their ability to invent. In The Pattern Seekers, Simon Baron-Cohen shows how humans have evolved remarkable ingenuity in every area of their lives – from the arts to the sciences – by using complex systemizing mechanisms. He says this ability to formulate if-and-then processes has driven progress for more than 70,000 years. He goes on to argue that the areas of the brain important for systemizing overlap with those for autism. As the Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, Baron-Cohen wants to challenge people to think differently about an often misunderstood condition. The archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Skyes is also seeking to challenge people’s perceptions. In Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, she builds a picture of an ancient ancestor who was far from being a brutish thug. She depicts the Neanderthals as curious and clever connoisseurs of their world: technologically inventive and artistically inclined. Humans may have been the survivors but Wragg Sykes argues that we are not necessarily uniquely special - we share many traits and DNA with our Neanderthal relatives. Susan Carvahlo started her career as an archaeologist with a fascination for human evolution, but her interest in uncovering knowledge of our ancestors led her to become one of the main founders of the field of Primate Archaeology. For decades she has been studying stone-tool use by wild chimpanzees in West Africa. Alongside another project in the Rift Valley, she’s looking to use the knowledge gained from non-human primates to expand understanding of human origins and behaviour.Producer: Katy Hickman
30/11/2042m 2s

Derrida, Woolf, and the pleasure of reading

‘A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. A text remains, moreover, forever imperceptible’. So wrote the superstar philosopher Jacques Derrida. But what does it mean to question and deconstruct everything we think we know? In a new biography of Derrida titled An Event, Perhaps, Peter Salmon explores the life and works of one of the most enigmatic of thinkers. He questions how far Derrida’s ideas have led to today’s ‘post-truth’ age? Virginia Woolf's essay ‘How Should One Read a Book?’ posed the question: ‘‘Where are we to begin? How are we to bring order into this multitudinous chaos and so get the deepest and widest pleasure from what we read?’ The English professor Alexandra Harris looks at whether Woolf’s answer stands the test of time.Bernhard Schlink’s literary career took off in 1995 with the publication of his novel The Reader, which became an international bestseller. His latest work, Olga (translated into English by Charlotte Collins), is a story of love set in Germany against the backdrop of the traumas of the 20th century.Producer: Katy Hickman
23/11/2042m 10s

Landscapes real and imagined

Ireland itself is a main character in Kevin Barry's new short story collection, That Old Country Music. He brings the western regions to life in stories set firmly in Ireland's present day but with an ancient, magical past lingering in the background. A pregnant teenager waits for her robber boyfriend, a factory worker falls for a Polish waitress, and a police officer seeks a known criminal, in stories set amidst wild and flourishing countryside.The concrete walls and tower blocks of Peckham in south London are not often the subject of poetry. For his debut collection, Poor, Caleb Femi pays tribute to the streets that shaped him as a child. He brings to life the schoolboys, rappers, artists, pastors and gentrifying neighbours of Peckham, an area where it is possible to walk two and a half miles through an estate of 1,444 homes without a single step on the ground.Daisy Johnson became the youngest ever Booker Prize nominee with her debut novel, Everything Under, and quickly established herself as a master of creepy locations. Her new novel, Sisters, is a gothic tale set on lonely Yorkshire moors, while her short story series The Hotel, available now on BBC Sounds, looks at the unsettling, waterlogged Norfolk Fens, a place where dead bodies float back up to the surface.Producer: Hannah Sander
16/11/2042m 19s

Physics in all its glory

Sir Roger Penrose was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics this year for his ground-breaking work on black holes and their relationship with the general theory of relativity. He looks back at his extraordinary career with Andrew Marr – from his early interest in mathematical patterns and the ‘impossible’ works of Escher, to his revolutionary use of mathematics in cosmology and his continued fascination with the beginning and end of time. Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist who researches quantum gravity, as well as a best-selling author. In his latest collection of essays, There are Places in the World Where Rules are Less Important than Kindness, he demonstrates a curiosity that crosses the boundaries from the sciences to the arts. He reflects on everything from Newton’s alchemy to Einstein’s mistakes, and from Dante’s cosmology to Nabokov's butterflies. The world underwater is the physicist Helen Czerski’s playground. The focus of much of her research has been the physics of breaking waves and bubbles on the ocean surface. As one of this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lecturers, Czerski will reveal the vital role oceans play in the Earth’s heating and plumbing systems, and the impact of human activity on the planet.Producer: Katy Hickman
09/11/2042m 53s

Great women of the classics

The Latin scholar Shadi Bartsch has written a new translation of Virgil’s The Aeneid. She tells Kirsty Wark how this timeless epic about the legendary ancestor of a Roman emperor has been constantly invoked and reinterpreted over its two thousand year history. She argues that this poem still has much to say to contemporary readers about gender, politics, religion, morality, nationalism and love.It was while arguing about the merits of the Aeneid’s tragic queen, Dido of Carthage, that the classicist Natalie Haynes decided it was time to rescue the women in ancient myths. Centuries of male interpretations, she argues, has led to the demonization and dismissal of the likes of Medusa, Phaedra and Medea. In Pandora’s Jar: Women in Greek Myths she goes back to the original stories, reinstating the more complex roles given to these women in antiquity.In the 17th-century the Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi drew inspiration from the women in ancient myths, allegories and the Bible, as seen in a new exhibition of her work at the National Gallery in London. The curator, Letizia Treves, says that Gentileschi challenged conventions and defied expectations, painting subjects that were traditionally the preserve of male artists, and transforming the meek into warriors.Producer: Katy Hickman(Picture credit: the National Gallery)
02/11/2042m 12s

China and the global order

The pandemic has exposed serious weaknesses in Western governments, according to John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg and former editor of The Economist. In The Wake-Up Call he argues that the Covid crisis has accelerated a shift in balance of power from the West to East. Micklethwait tells Andrew Marr that unless the West can respond more creatively to what is happening, the prospect of a new Eastern-dominated world order, with China at the centre, will be inevitable.But the historian Rana Mitter argues that China is increasingly presenting itself as the creator and protector of the international order, rather than its threat. In China’s Good War he explores how the country is revisiting its role as an Allied Force in World War II, to assert newfound confidence abroad and to shape a new nationalism at home.And Katya Adler, the BBC's Europe Editor, looks at the problems facing the EU, including the relationship of China and the impact of coronavirus. She assesses how Macron, Merkel, Ursula von der Leyen and other leaders have handled this year's challenges.Producer: Hannah Sander
26/10/2042m 7s

Fake news and data lies: how to win an election

Fake news, conspiracy theories, and weaponising data to influence elections are all aspects of contemporary politics. But Amol Rajan explores their historical roots with two eminent historians, Jill Lepore and Sir Richard Evans.Decades before Silicon Valley tech companies had access to our personal information, The Simulmatics Corporation was dealing in the weaponisation of data. In her latest book, If Then – How One Data Company Invented the Future, Jill Lepore looks back at how algorithms that were supposedly able to forecast and influence human behaviour gained huge currency in the 1960s, and what happens when they were allowed to develop unchecked. Sir Richard Evans is one of the world’s leading authorities on Nazi Germany. In The Hitler Conspiracies: The Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination, Evans investigates key conspiracy theories that flourished at the time and still continue to arouse debate. Through painstaking research and evidence-based argument he reasserts the boundary between truth and fiction, and looks at why fake news takes hold.Producer: Katy Hickman
19/10/2042m 11s

Care and compassion

We are facing a crisis in care that could prove disastrous, according to the journalist Madeleine Bunting. Over five years she travelled the country to explore the value of care, talking to underpaid care-givers and distraught patients and families. She tells Andrew Marr that the impact of the care crisis will be felt throughout society, from the young to the old. Jeremy Hunt was the longest-serving Health Secretary in history and added Social Care to his portfolio in 2018. He is now the Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, having previously served as the Shadow Minister for Disabled People under a Labour government. He outlines the scale of the social care crisis, and explains why policy solutions have proved so difficult to enact - and so fiercely controversial.Dr Helen Kingston is a GP in Somerset who recognised the impact loneliness was having on the physical health of her patients. She helped set up the ‘Compassionate Frome’ project in 2013, bringing together more than 400 local care providers and volunteers to help people reconnect with their community. As well as having a huge impact on individual lives, studies have shown a dramatic drop in hospital admissions in the area.Producer: Katy Hickman
12/10/2042m 19s

Contested histories

Europeans and Africans have been encountering one another since as early as the 3rd century, according to the historian Olivette Otele. In her new book, African Europeans: An Untold History, she traces those meetings through the lives of individuals, both ordinary and extraordinary. She tells Tom Sutcliffe that exploring a past long overlooked raises prescient questions about racism, identity, citizenship and power. Toussaint Louverture – the subject of Sudhir Hazareesingh’s biography, Black Spartacus – was no ordinary figure. A former slave, he became the leader of a revolution in the 1790s that transformed Haiti, the former French Caribbean colony. With access to archival material often overlooked, Hazareesingh draws a portrait of an extraordinary man who combined Enlightenment ideals and Machiavellian politics with Caribbean mysticism and African traditions.As Professor of Public Engagement with History at the University of Reading, Kate Williams has thought hard about how to tell history. Her books, TV and radio programmes have covered topics from England's queens to the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, often turning upside-down preconceived images of Britain's most powerful women. She discusses the new debates raging in history, including how we should approach the legacies of colonialism and misogyny.Producer: Katy Hickman
05/10/2041m 48s

Faith in the modern world

The prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams discuss belief, community and self-knowledge with Andrew Marr. The life and family of a Presbyterian minister in small-town Iowa is the focus in Marilynne Robinson’s quartet of Gilead novels. The latest, Jack, tells the story of the minister’s prodigal son and his romance with the daughter of a black preacher. Robinson’s work interrogates the complexities and paradoxes of American life, while exploring the power of our emotions and the wonders of a sacred world. Rowan Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012. Since stepping down he has written widely on poetry and literature, from Auden to Dostoevsky. Earlier this year he wrote about the importance and influence of the rules of monastic life. In The Way of St Benedict, Williams explores the appeal and relevance of Benedict’s sixth-century Rule to present-day Christians and non-believers.Producer: Katy Hickman
28/09/2042m 8s

Claudia Rankine and Margaret Atwood

Claudia Rankine, one of America’s leading literary figures, and the double-Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood look at the world afresh, challenging conventions – with Kirsty Wark.In her latest book, Just Us: An American Conversation, Claudia Rankine reflects on what it means to experience, and question, everyday racism. Her poems draw on a series of encounters with friends and strangers, as well as historical record. Her work moves beyond the silence, guilt and violence that often surround discussions about whiteness, and dares all of us to confront the world in which we live.Margaret Atwood recently won the Booker Prize for a second time with The Testaments, her sequel to the 1985 prize-winner The Handmaid’s Tale. Her story of the fictional Gilead’s dark misogyny has retained its relevance after more than three decades. The world of Gilead was originally sparked by an earlier poem, Spelling, and Atwood explores the importance of poetry in firing the imagination.Producer: Katy Hickman Photographer: John Lucas
21/09/2042m 7s

The Radical Agenda

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour movement promised radical change but ended disastrously with the 2019 general election. Labour insider and activist Owen Jones looks back over the last decade and tells Andrew Marr why the election went so badly wrong. In his new book, This Land: The Story of a Movement, he also reflects on the future of the Left in an age of upheaval.Sylvia Pankhurst was born into one of Britain’s most famous activist families. Her biographer Rachel Holmes argues that, although less well-known than her mother and sister, Sylvia was the most revolutionary of them all. In Natural Born Rebel, Holmes celebrates the radical life of a true internationalist.But politics can often appear to be a game between the radical fringes and the centre ground. The Times columnist and former Conservative Party adviser Danny Finkelstein has long applauded moderation. In a collection of his newspaper writings, Everything in Moderation, he argues that the political centre is less about ideology and more about temperament.Producer: Katy Hickman
14/09/2041m 52s

Meritocracy and inequality

As inequality continues to rise and political and social divisions become more entrenched, Amol Rajan discusses what can be done to restore social values and a sense of community - with the political philosopher Michael Sandel, the award winning novelist Elif Shafak, and commentator and author David Goodhart.Michael Sandel describes how we live in an age of winners and losers, an era in which social mobility has stalled. In the past the answer has been to attempt to increase access by rewarding the most able, regardless of wealth or class. But in The Tyranny of Merit, Sandel highlights the deep inequality this has continued to perpetuate, with hubris among those at the top and humiliation and judgement for those at the bottom.David Goodhart calls for a radical rebalancing of what we value. In Head, Hand and Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century, Goodhart describes how success, esteem and power have become narrowly associated with cognitive abilities. This, he argues, has disrupted community cohesion and left large swathes of people feeling disregarded and unrewarded.Elif Shafak responds to the tenor of our time with a short manifesto How To Sane In An Age Of Division. She believes that we have entered a time of pessimism. She explores how storytelling can nurture the empathy, wisdom and tolerance needed to progress.Producer: Katy Hickman
07/09/2042m 3s

Nature notes, from farming to fungi

The first episode of the new season. Andrew Marr and guests stop to consider the natural world and the changing seasons. When James Rebanks first learnt to work the land, at his grandfather's side, the family’s Lake District farm was a key part of the ancient landscape and was teeming with wildlife. By the time he inherited the farm, that landscape had profoundly changed. In English Pastoral, his follow-up to best-seller The Shepherd’s Life, Rebanks assesses the revolutionary post-war farming methods - and the unintended destruction they caused. He looks at what can be done to restore rich soil and flourishing fields. Since the start of the pandemic, novelist and nature writer Melissa Harrison has been documenting the wonder of the natural world, bringing the sights and sounds of her Suffolk countryside to homes all around the country. In her podcast The Stubborn Light of Things she plays close attention to what’s happening on her doorstep, from the arrival and departure of the swifts, to the bloom of the hawthorn, to the hunt in the undergrowth for glow-worms. A collection of Harrison’s monthly nature notes from The Times are due to be published this November.A much underrated and unnoticed part of the natural world are fungi, according to the biologist Merlin Sheldrake. In Entangled Life he celebrates the ingenuity, extravagance and strangeness of fungal networks. Neither plant nor animal, fungi are found throughout the earth, in the air and in our bodies. They can live on a speck of dust or spread over miles of underground mazes. While fungi gives us bread and life-saving medicines, they have also transformed our understanding of the way plants communicate with each other via the ‘Wood Wide Web’.Producer: Katy Hickman
31/08/2042m 10s

Brit Bennett on race, identity and protest

Tom Sutcliffe discusses racism, the traps of history and the Black Lives Matter movement with the American author Brit Bennett and the British academic Gary Younge. Racial identity, bigotry and shape-shifting are at the centre of Brit Bennett’s new book, The Vanishing Half. The novel focuses on twin sisters who flee the confines of their southern small town, and the attempts by one of the sisters to escape her background completely by passing as white. The social unrest in the US in the 20th century pervades her latest work, but Bennett is hopeful that today’s protests mark the beginning of real change.Gary Younge lived in the US for 12 years working as a journalist, before he returned home and became Professor of Sociology at Manchester University. He discounts the attempts by some in Britain to claim moral superiority over America in terms of racism. He argues that Britain’s colonial past meant the most egregious racist acts often took place abroad, and so rarely became an integral part of the country’s story. Producer: Katy HickmanPhotograph by Emma Trim
29/06/2028m 0s

James Joyce

James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature. It is both celebrated and commemorated annually on the 16th June – Bloomsday – the day on which the novel is set. The traditional celebrations held in Dublin since the 1950s have been curtailed this year because of COVID-19, but Andrew Marr discusses the legacy of Joyce with the writers Edna O'Brien, Colm Tóibín and Mary Costello. Edna O’Brien first encountered Joyce’s work in the 1950s, and his writings of ‘the rough and tumble of everyday life’ spurred her extraordinary writing career. She has written a biography of Joyce, and her portrait of his marriage, James and Nora, has just been reissued. Colm Tóibín encounters the spirit of Joyce and his creation, Leopold Bloom, constantly as he walks the streets of Dublin. In his collection of essays, Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know, he looks at Joyce in relation to the writer's father.Mary Costello is a self-confessed Joyce obsessive. In her latest novel, The River Capture, she pays homage to Ulysses.Producer: Katy Hickman
15/06/2028m 15s

Our coercive politics

The Coronavirus pandemic and ongoing protests in America have shone a spotlight on the power of the modern State. In Britain we find ourselves locked in our homes, following government instruction; and yet the authority for that coercion comes from the consent we give. This doubleness was captured by Thomas Hobbes in his political text, Leviathan, and it is the starting point for political scientist David Runciman's popular lockdown podcast on politics: the History of Ideas. He tells Amol Rajan how Hobbes, Gandhi and Frantz Fanon could help us understand our uneasy times.Humiliation is one way in which governments and authorities can make us do their bidding. And it also something we now do to each other in the court of public opinion, argues German historian Ute Frevert. In her new book, The Politics of Humiliation, she looks at how humiliation has been used to persuade and to control, everywhere from international diplomacy to British boarding schools. And she explains why the sight of someone taking to their knee has such incredible resonance.Producer: Hannah Sander
08/06/2027m 39s

The Future

‘The future is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ – to misquote LP Hartley. Andrew Marr talks to Riel Miller, an economist at UNESCO, about the difficulties of understanding and predicting what happens in the future. Miller argues that individuals, institutions and governments fail to grasp its profound unpredictability, where the only certainty is radical change. He’s calling for a programme of future literacy, designed to challenge present complacency and improve preparedness for what’s on the horizon. But given what we know about the world today, and what we can guess about the future, is it okay to have a child? That is the question posed by Meehan Crist, writer-in-residence in Biological Sciences at Columbia University. She tracks the resurgence of Malthus and his powerful, terrifying idea that if the global population grows too large, we are all doomed. Crist unpicks the argument that responsibility for stopping climate change and safeguarding the future rests solely with the individual. Producer: Katy Hickman
01/06/2028m 17s

Classics and class

The classics have never been solely the preserve of the British intellectual elite, according to the classicist Edith Hall. In A People’s History of Classics, Hall and her co-writer Henry Stead examine the working class experience of classical culture from the Bill of Rights in 1689 to the outbreak of World War II. This history challenges assumptions about the elitism surrounding the study of ancient Greeks and Romans, and Hall hopes it will expand the debate around the future of classical education for all.An understanding of the classics could also help people reinvigorate cynicism: from the jaded negativity of today, back to its initial idea of fearless speech. In his latest book, Ansgar Allen, returns to the Greek Cynics of the 4th century BCE, a small band of eccentrics who practised an improvised philosophy that challenged all social norms and scandalised their contemporaries. In the centuries that followed this exacting philosophy was hugely watered down. Today’s cynics, who lack social and political convictions, would be barely recognisable to their bold and shameless forefathers.Producer: Katy Hickman
25/05/2028m 15s

Richard Ford, writing from the edges

The prize winning writer Richard Ford talks to Andrew Marr about his latest collection of short stories, Sorry for Your Trouble. Irish America is Ford’s landscape, and his characters contemplate ageing, grief, love and marriage: ‘great moments in small lives’. Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi and has spent many years living in New Orleans – his characters, like himself, live far from the political centre of America.Professor of 19th Century Literature and Thought, Ruth Livesey, is also interested in life away from the centre in her study of provincialism in Britain. Condescension towards small town life can be traced back to the Victorian period. But the writer George Eliot, who spent her early life in Nuneaton in the Midlands, argued that ‘‘art had a responsibility to show a provincial life could be just as full of insight and moral courage as one on the great world stage.’Producer: Katy Hickman
18/05/2028m 12s

Art in an emergency

The writer Olivia Laing has long used art to make sense of the world. Over the last five years she has written a series of essays using art and artists to understand different political crises and emergencies around the globe. She tells Tom Sutcliffe how art can help to change the way people see the world, and how it can be a force for resistance and repair. In a new collection , Funny Weather, Laing presents her own idiosyncratic guide to staying sane during the current coronavirus pandemic.The novelist James Meek set his last book, To Calais, In Ordinary Times, in 1348 as the Black Death swept into England from Northern Europe. In his medieval universe, aspects of society that had once appeared fixed and natural – faith, class and gender – are upended and challenged, as the plague destroys more than just lives. Meek looks to see if such cataclysmic moments of human history have any lessons for us today.Producer: Katy Hickman
11/05/2028m 10s


Andrew Marr discusses the origins and growth of globalisation, and the impact of the coronavirus on the global world order with Valerie Hansen and Gideon Rachman.In her latest book, The Year 1000, the historian Valerie Hansen challenges the idea that globalisation began in 1492, the year Columbus discovered America. She argues that it was 500 years earlier when for the first time new trade routes linked the entire globe. New archaeological finds show how goods and people travelled far and wide from this earlier period, marking the beginning of an era of exploration, trade and exploitation. The last 500 years or more has seen an explosion in global interactions, with a huge growth in multi-national companies, as well as international trade, ideas and culture. But the economist Gideon Rachman says today’s worldwide pandemic has seen the nation state making a comeback. The emergency has revealed the fragility of global supply chains and increased demand for local production and tougher border controls. Rachman also believes that the geopolitical effects of the coronavirus on the world order will linger long after travel restrictions have been lifted.Producer: Katy Hickman
04/05/2028m 6s

Changing behaviour, from bystander to actor

Why do some people get involved while others stand by looking on? What makes people act for the sake of others? Kirsty Wark discusses the psychology of behaviour with Catherine Sanderson and David Halpern.In the Bystander Effect, Catherine Sanderson argues that the question of why some people act badly while others are heroic is not simply about good and bad. Our brains are hard-wired to conform and to avoid social embarrassment. But there are practical measures that can help create a sense of personal responsibility, turning a silent bystander into a model of action. The psychologist David Halpern is also interested in how to change behaviour. He is advising the UK Government on its response to the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on how to get the public to adopt new social norms, including increased hand-washing and social distancing. Halpern is the Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, unofficially known as The Nudge Unit. Producer: Katy Hickman
27/04/2028m 5s

Crisis in Europe from Notre-Dame to coronavirus

A year ago French people looked on with horror as the great Notre-Dame went up in flames. The journalist Agnès Poirier tells Andrew Marr that the cathedral with its 800 year history represents the soul of the nation. Even before the fire was out President Macron was promising that it would be rebuilt. But in Notre-Dame: The Soul of France, Poirier recounts how its current reconstruction has been mired in controversy – political, social, artistic and religious. Poirier also looks at how the French government and people have reacted to the coronavirus pandemic.In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s government has been voted sweeping new powers to rule by decree for an indefinite period, to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The academic Martyn Rady is keeping a keen eye on how different countries in Central Europe respond. He argues that the region has been shaped by the formidable power and influence of the Habsburg dynasty. In his latest book, The Habsburgs: The Rise and Fall of a World Power, Rady shows how from modest origins in the 9th century the family soon gained control of the Holy Roman Empire, stretching from Spain to Hungary and beyond. Producer: Katy Hickman
20/04/2028m 21s

Nature worship

On Easter Monday, Andrew Marr talks to the psychiatrist and keen gardener Sue Stuart-Smith on our love for nature. In The Well-Gardened Mind: Rediscovering Nature in the Modern World, she blends neuroscience, psychoanalysis and real-life stories. She reveals the remarkable effects that gardens and the great outdoors can have on us.William Wordsworth was the great poet of the British countryside, celebrated for his descriptions of daffodils and the passing of the river above Tintern Abbey. But in a new biography, Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World, Sir Jonathan Bate shows how Wordsworth also made nature something challenging and even terrifying. The poet drew on shocking revolutionary ideas from the continent, including pantheistic atheism: the worship of nature.Producer: Hannah Sander
13/04/2041m 56s

The genetic gender gap

Women are faring better than men in the coronavirus pandemic because of their genetic superiority, according to the physician Sharon Moalem. He tells Kirsty Wark that women live longer than men and have stronger immune systems because they have two x chromosomes to choose from. In his book, The Better Half, Moalem calls for better understanding of the genetic gender gap and for a change to the male-centric, one-size-fits-all view of medical studies.But if women have greater advantage genetically, where did the prevailing idea of fragile female biology come from? In The Gendered Brain the cognitive neuroscientist Gina Rippon traces the ideas of women’s physical inferiority to the 18th century, and later to the brain science of the 19th century. Even after the development of new brain-imaging technologies showed how similar brains are, the idea of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ brain has remained remarkably persistent.Producer: Katy Hickman
06/04/2042m 0s

Rebuilding conservatism in changing times

Nick Timothy was once described as the ‘toxic’ power behind Theresa May’s early leadership. He talks to Amol Rajan about his experience in frontline government. In his new book, Remaking One Nation, he calls for the rebuilding of a more inclusive conservatism and the rejection of both extreme economic and cultural liberalism. As the Covid-19 pandemic forces the government to take more extreme measures, Timothy argues for a new social contract between the state, big companies and local communities. In recent decades politicians have had to deal with what appears to be an extreme pace of change – in new technology, global markets and increased automation. The Great Acceleration, as it’s been called, has left many communities feeling left behind. But in his forthcoming book, Slowdown, Professor Danny Dorling argues that there's actually been a widespread check on growth and speed of change. He sees this as a moment of promise and a move toward stability. But that stability may be short-lived as the fall out from the coronavirus hits individuals, communities and businesses hard. Producer: Katy Hickman
30/03/2041m 51s

Famous and Infamous

We think of our era as the age of celebrity. Billions of people follow the daily antics of the Kardashian family or the latest pop superstar. But celebrity obsession is centuries old, argues Horrible Histories writer Greg Jenner. He tells Tom Sutcliffe why we are captivated by famous - and infamous - figures, from the scandalous Lord Byron to the unwitting civilians who are hounded by paparazzi today. The Italian Renaissance gave us the world's most famous images: the Mona Lisa, Botticelli's Venus and Michelangelo's David. But Catherine Fletcher argues that this era was far stranger, darker and more violent than we may realise. The real Mona Lisa was married to a slave-trader, and Leonardo da Vinci was revered for his weapon designs. The artist Aubrey Beardsley shocked and delighted Victorian London with his drawings. A new exhibition at the Tate Britain, curated by Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, shows the range of Beardsley's black-and-white images. Some are magical, humorous, some sexual and grotesque; and together they helped Beardsley become so astonishingly famous that the 1890s were dubbed the 'Beardsley era', before he fell from grace, tainted by association with Oscar Wilde. Producer: Hannah Sander
23/03/2041m 13s

Cultural icons from Shakespeare to Superman

Shakespeare has always been central to the American experience, argues the leading scholar James Shapiro. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how Shakespeare has been invoked – and at times weaponised – at pivotal moments in the history of America, from Revolutionary times to today’s divisionary politics.The film critic Mark Kermode celebrates another global phenomenon: cinematic superheroes. The genre stretches back more than eight decades and taps deeply into timeless themes and storytelling traditions. Kermode also shows how spy-heroes such as Bond have shaped our political identity.For the poet Don Paterson, the classic television series The Twilight Zone was the starting point for his latest collection. Elements of horror, science fiction and fantasy provide a backdrop to his exploration of the mid-life crisis.The political theorist Teresa Bejan returns to the world of Shakespeare to explore what appears to be the most modern of dilemmas: Twitter spats and put-downs. Seventeenth-century thinkers understood there were competing conceptions of civility. They thought that outlawing heated political disagreement could lead to silencing dissent.Producer: Katy Hickman
16/03/2042m 37s

Morality, money and power

Morality has been outsourced to the markets and the state, argues the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. He tells Andrew Marr that society has become deeply divided, and that today’s challenges will never be met until we remember the importance of personal morality and responsibility. But this does not mean self-care, self-love and selfies - instead Sacks says we should focus on communities and caring for others.For a decade Mervyn King was the most influential banker in Britain as Head of the Bank of England. In 2008 he oversaw the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression. In his new book, King looks back at his career, exploring the difference between risk and uncertainty. He suggests ways to make decisions for an unknowable future. If you wanted a decision from David Cameron during his time as Prime Minister you would have had to go through ‘the gatekeeper’, Kate Fall. In her memoir of her time at the centre of political power, Fall recalls the highs and lows of working at No. 10, and explains what happens when power and politics starts to fall apart.Producer: Hannah Sander
09/03/2042m 10s

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel is the two-time winner of the Man Booker prize. In a special edition of Start the Week with Andrew Marr, she discusses the final book in her Cromwell trilogy. The Mirror and The Light shows 16th-century England beset by rebellion at home, traitors abroad and Henry VIII still desperate for a male heir. In the centre sits Thomas Cromwell, a man who came from nowhere and has climbed to the very heights of power. His vision is an England of the future, but it is the past and the present mood of the King that will prove his downfall.Reader: Ben Miles Photograph: Jeff Overs Producer: Katy Hickman
02/03/2042m 15s

Leila Slimani on Sexual Politics

Leila Slimani is the first Moroccan woman to win France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. From stories of poverty, exploitation and sexual addiction she now turns her attention to sexual politics within a deeply conservative culture. She tells Amol Rajan why she wanted to give voice to young Moroccan women suffocating under the strictures of a society which allowed them only two roles: virgin or wife.The writer Olivia Fane questions whether liberal society is really that liberating. In ‘Why Sex Doesn’t Matter’ she argues that women have been sold the idea of sexual freedom, but that this has curtailed the way people think about love and desire.The journalist Sally Howard asks why, after forty years of feminism, women still do the majority of the housework. While straight British women are found to put in 12 more days of household chores than their male partners, in the US young men are now twice as likely as their fathers to think a woman’s place is in the home.But it’s not just women who are constrained by the roles society presents to them. As a new photographic exhibition into Masculinity opens at the Barbican, the academic Chris Haywood, believes it’s important to highlight the importance of visual representations of men. He asks whether men have become stuck between ideas of ‘toxic’ and ‘fragile’ masculinity. Producer: Katy Hickman
24/02/2041m 49s

Love of home

Dan Jackson celebrates the distinctiveness of north-east England. He tells Andrew Marr how centuries of border warfare and dangerous industry has forged a unique people in Northumberland. With recent changes in political allegiance in towns and countryside across the region, Jackson questions whether the area can reassert itself after decades of industrial decline, indifference from the south, and resurgence north of the border.The economist Colin Mayer is looking at how to harness the power of patriotism and regional pride to revitalise areas like the North East. He sees a much greater role for the private sector in fostering community cohesion.But patriotism can be a dangerous force in disputed and diverse areas. Kapka Kassabova travels to two of the world’s most ancient lakes set in the borderlands of North Macedonia, Albania and Greece. This ancient meeting place in the southern Balkans has its own unique history of people living in harmony, and then erupting into catastrophic violence. We live in a world that is far more connected than at any other time in history, but is there still value to the notion that travelling broadens the mind? The philosopher Emily Thomas turns to Descartes and Montaigne for an understanding of how travelling away from home can help disrupt traditional customs and ways of thinking.Producer: Katy Hickman
17/02/2042m 0s

Dresden - 75 years on

As the 75th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden approaches, the historian Sinclair McKay looks back at the obliteration of a city and its aftermath. He tells Tom Sutcliffe about the terrible suffering of the 25,000 people who were killed in one night. The artist Edmund de Waal is showcasing his latest work in Dresden. The installation ‘library of exile’ is a place of contemplation and dialogue, and celebrates the cultures of migration. De Waal also outlines the importance of Dresden as the centre of European porcelain. In recent decades this former East German city has seen a huge increase in support for far-right groups. The journalist Stefanie Bolzen argues that there are many who feel their lives have not benefited either from the rebuilding of the city after the war or from the unification of Germany since. Sasha Havlicek is the founding CEO of the global counter-extremism organisation, ISD, which studies the online tactics of far-right groups across Europe and the US. She has seen a rise in the support of anti-migrant political parties, as well as increases in hate speech and terror attacks against minority communities.Producer: Katy Hickman
10/02/2041m 55s

Artistic influence: Beethoven, Rembrandt and MeToo

This year is Beethoven's 250th anniversary, and Sir Antonio Pappano is marking the occasion with a new production of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio. He tells Andrew Marr how this work combined the composer's keen interest in politics with his bold new symphonic style. But Beethoven was never happy with the finished opera, and redrafted it many times. Pappano also tells Andrew about the enormous - and inescapable - influence Beethoven had on later generations.Rembrandt was another artist who had an enormous influence on later generations. But a new exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford, curated by An Van Camp, shows the Dutch artist also redrafting and learning his craft. Young Rembrandt assembles drawings and paintings showing Rembrandt's astonishing rise, from unknown teenager to celebrity artist within a decade.Dame Mary Beard looks at a more pervasive artistic influence in her new BBC Two series, The Shock of the Nude. Beard shows how artists from the classical era to the present day have decided what we think a body should look like and how we should respond to naked flesh. She explores what happens when the artistic traditions of the past confront the Me Too scandals and gender fluidity of the present.Producer: Hannah Sander
03/02/2041m 42s

Grayson Perry - the early years

The artist Grayson Perry turns to his formative years in a new exhibition of early works, The Pre-Therapy Years. He tells Amol Rajan about the ideas and influences that helped lay the foundations for his work, and about the emergence of his own identity as ‘the Transvestite Potter’. Hashi Mohamed has a very different story of success: he is now a barrister but arrived in Britain aged nine as a child refugee from Somalia. He warns that his own path is denied to the majority of people in Britain. Social mobility is a myth, he says, with power and privilege concentrated among the privately educated population. At just 26 Theresa Lola is already a prize-winning poet and Young People’s Laureate for London. Her first collection, In Search of Equilibrium, is an unflinching study of death and grieving. But she finds hope and solace in words, and believes in the power of poetry to bring about change.Photograph: Grayson Perry as Claire (detail), 1988 © Matthew R Lewis Producer: Katy Hickman
27/01/2042m 10s

Puritans and God-given government

Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the mid-seventeenth century lasted a mere six years and was England’s sole experiment in republican government. The historian Paul Lay tells Andrew Marr how Cromwell forged both his foreign and domestic policy according to God’s will - including waging wars in the Americas.Protestant separatists are at the heart of Stephen Tomkins's recreation of the journey of the Mayflower, three decades before Cromwell’s rule. Escaping religious persecution, the Pilgrim Fathers built their version of a brave new world in America.In the 400 years since the sailing of the Mayflower the USA has become a world superpower. Lindsay Newman from Chatham House looks at President Trump’s foreign policy decisions, especially in relation to Iran, and examines the political ideology that drives them.It is 70 years since the death of George Orwell. The academic Lisa Mullen explores the contemporary relevance of his writings on political and religious ideology, republicanism and the freedom to express heretical views.Producer: Katy Hickman
20/01/2041m 57s

No work, rest and play

The economist Daniel Susskind tells Tom Sutcliffe that the threat of technological unemployment is real and imminent. In A World Without Work he considers the economic, political and social impact. He questions what happens to those for whom work affords meaning, purpose and direction. Journalist Anoosh Chakelian went behind the scenes at new magazines set up to rival the Big Issue, as she explored Britain's homelessness crisis. Like the Big Issue, these new journals enable rough sleepers to earn money rather than beg, and creates respectable employment opportunities. But Chakelian worries about a country with so many homeless people that it can create an industry around them.The psychologist Suzi Gage looks at the science behind recreational drugs – debunking common myths and misconceptions. She also looks at how and why they work on the mind and body, and the associations between drug use and mental health.A quarter of adults in England are taking potentially addictive prescription medicines, with half of them in long-term dependency, according to Public Health England. The epidemiologist Sir John Strang says there is greater dependency in areas of greatest deprivation. He also calls for greater action in stemming the rise in opioid-related deaths.Producer: Katy Hickman
13/01/2041m 59s

A house and a home

Andrew Marr discusses the state of housing in Britain and what makes a house a home. Common wisdom states that owning a house makes you a Tory, but is this true? Political scientist Ben Ansell says that Thatcher was right to assume that Right to Buy would create more Conservative voters. But today we see the opposite: the people whose houses have risen most in value are also the most likely to support Labour. Ansell looks back at the 1909 British Liberal Party budget, when politicians tried to take on the landlords who get rich at our expense.The architect David Mikhail helped design a groundbreaking council house estate which won last year’s Stirling Prize, awarded to the best new building in the country. As the shortfall in social housing reaches crisis levels, his Goldsmith Street in Norwich was celebrated for creating sustainable and ambitious homes for people in need.The writer Jude Yawson looks back at the emergence of Grime, a music culture which emerged from the tower blocks of East London. The artists – mostly young black men – used the city’s juxtaposition of their decaying tower blocks and the new gleaming skyscrapers, as the backdrop to their new urban music. Fictional homes are at the centre of Christina Hardyment’s study, Novel Houses. Dickens and Austen both criticised grand country piles, seeing them as proxies for "the dead hand of the aristocracy". Hardyment explores the personal and social importance of unforgettable dwellings – from Bleak House to Howards End – and shows how the homes take on a life of their own, becoming as characterful as the people who live in them.Producers: Katy Hickman and Hannah Sander
06/01/2041m 52s

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey has been a place of worship for more than a thousand years, and holds a unique place in British – and world – history. In a special edition of Start the Week, recorded in the Abbey, the historian David Cannadine tells Andrew Marr how the building has been at the centre of religious and political revolutions and has maintained a special relationship with the monarchy and the royal court since the Tudor times.It was Henry VIII who converted the abbey into a cathedral, turning this Catholic monastery into a bastion of Anglicanism, before it became directly under the monarch’s control. The historian Lucy Worsley looks back to the 16th century to recreate how Christmas was celebrated during the age of Henry VIII. The Tudor Christmas pre-dates our traditional trees and stockings. But with its heady mix of revelry and religion she discovers the Tudor influences on the customs we still enjoy today.The former Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries explores the impact and pull of religion on some of the greatest writers of the 20th century. In ‘Haunted by Christ’ he studies how writers, like TS Elliot, CS Lewis and Emily Dickinson struggled with their faith. He looks deeply into the spiritual dimension of their work.Music: Coventry Carol - Traditional melody (performed by Truro Cathedral Choir) Pastyme with Good Companye - King Henry VIII (I Fagiolini)Producer: Katy Hickman
23/12/1941m 57s

Numbers, nightmares and nanotech

The mathematician Hannah Fry reveals the hidden numbers, rules and patterns that secretly control our daily lives, in this year’s Royal Institution Christmas lectures. She tells Kirsty Wark how maths and algorithms have the power to reveal the truth - and to obscure it.The economist Tim Harford is in search of the truth as he unravels the events that led to real life disasters. In the podcast series Cautionary Tales, Harford asks what we can learn from catastrophes. He wonders why we are so often susceptible to cons. Science has revolutionised the way we live, and in the field of technology the ingenious invention of blockchain has been heralded as truly radical. As an incorruptible digital ledger of transactions, blockchain has uses far beyond crypto-currencies. The Financial Times journalist Izabella Kaminska looks back over the last decade to consider whether blockchain has lived up to its hype.The latest science promising to transform medicine and biology is nanotechnology. Sonia Contera is a pioneer in the field and believes studying the infinitesimal realm of proteins and DNA will have a profound impact on our health and longevity.Producer: Katy Hickman
16/12/1942m 13s

Living near water

Flooding remains a risk in many parts of the country this winter. Andrew Marr explores the impact of water on communities. The engineer David Lerner argues for the extension of the policy of daylighting – opening up rivers covered over by the Victorians. He says Britain’s towns and cities have a lot to learn from Zurich, which was an early pioneer in recovering streams from underground. The social and environmental benefits in Zurich are evident. Torrential rain in November forced many people across the country to leave their homes. The writer Edward Platt looks back at the effect of the record-breaking floods of 2013-14 and the toll it took on those caught up in the deluge. He talks to those responsible for trying to keep the water at bay, and asks what can be done to protect the vulnerable. The artist Tania Kovats’s work is preoccupied with our experience and understanding of water and the landscape. From collecting water from a hundred UK rivers to sculptural forms cast in wetsuits, and to the study of the drawing of water, Kovats places water at the centre of her creativity. The journalist Leaf Arbuthnot looks at the growing evidence for the benefits of wild swimming, even in the cold winter months. For all the danger of living close to water, she asks whether time spent near coastal and river environments is the secret to a happier, healthier life.Producer: Katy Hickman
09/12/1943m 24s

India past and present

Corporate rapacity and government collusion are at the centre of William Dalrymple’s history of the East India Company. He tells Amol Rajan how the company moved relentlessly from trade to conquest of India in the 18th century. But Dalrymple warns against the distortion of history both by those in Britain nostalgic for an imperial past, and Hindu nationalists in India.2019 marked the centenary of the Amritsar massacre in which more than a thousand Indians were killed by British soldiers. Although the events leading up to the atrocity are now well documented, Anita Anand has uncovered the extraordinary story of revenge which led to the shooting in London of the man responsible for the massacre. In August this year the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status, sparking protests in the Muslim-majority valley. But why has this region - once a princely state, until the end of British rule - become such a flashpoint for violence? Professor Sumantra Bose explores the consequence of the Indian government’s latest actions.Producer: Katy Hickman
02/12/1942m 18s

Love and unreason

Classicist Bettany Hughes has traced the history of the goddess known as Venus or Aphrodite. Originally depicted with a phallus on her head, Venus was later drawn and sculpted as a beautiful naked woman. Hughes tells Andrew Marr why this powerful deity of love was thought to corrupt and to inspire.Tenor Mark Padmore depicts the irrationality of desire in Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice. He plays the lead role in the Royal Opera House's new production, based on Thomas Mann's novella, in which a burnt-out writer succumbs to obsessive love. Britten wrote the main part for his partner, Peter Pears, with whom he lived through decades of homophobia.Unconscious desires and strange fantasies play out in the work of Dora Maar, one of the great Surrealist artists. Emma Lewis has curated an exhibition of Maar's photography and paintings, revealing an artist whose striking imagery rivalled that of her more famous lover, Picasso.Historian of philosophy Clare Carlisle discusses the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, one of the first thinkers to interrogate our emotional life. George Eliot translated his 17th-century masterpiece, the Ethics, into English. Eliot also 'translated' his ideas into literary form. Her novel Middlemarch draws on Spinoza's ideas about human flourishing and love, shown through different happy and unhappy marriages.Producer: Hannah Sander
25/11/1943m 10s

Life, death and taxes

Nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes. If this is true, then the comedian-cum-finance writer Dominic Frisby says it’s time we better understand the latter! He tells Tom Sutcliffe how taxes have shaped our past, are upsetting our present and could be the answer to changing our future. The economist Vicky Pryce also wants to change the future, by reforming capitalism so that it stops failing women. She interrogates the pay gap and glass ceiling. But she also argues that the free market is predicated on perpetuating inequality - and that it is women who bear the brunt.The free market economy was advanced during the Enlightenment. The academic Alexander Zevin explores how a century later economic liberalism became fused with political liberalism in Britain. And how the liberal message evolved through the pages of the Economist Magazine, founded in 1843. As BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime prepares to read Voltaire’s satire Candide, Professor Judith Hawley looks back to the ideas that were fermenting at the time of the Enlightenment, and how optimism can quickly lead to disillusionment.Producer: Katy Hickman
18/11/1941m 51s

Animals and us

How cultured are animals? It’s a question the marine biologist Karsten Brensing explores as he studies dolphins calling one another by name, ducklings scoring well in abstract reasoning, and the loyalty, forgiveness and empathy that are becoming apparent in the animal kingdom. He tells Andrew Marr that the latest scientific findings reveal animals with behaviour and cognitive sophistication very similar to our own.The intricate lives of animals and birds plus their spectacular habitats are on television screens this autumn with the BBC’s series Seven Worlds, One Planet. In a forthcoming episode the producer Emma Napper shows how species isolated on Australia have evolved like nowhere else on Earth: from the most dangerous bird in the word, the cassowary, to desert reptiles that drink through their skin.Although concern for animals has been expressed since ancient times, it was only in the early 19th century that the first laws protecting animals were passed. The historian Diana Donald looks back at the chequered past of animal welfare, and the pioneering woman who helped bring about change. While cattle and domestic animals were protected under laws in 1822 and 1835, it took decades until wild animals were included.Rhinos were once found throughout Eurasia and Africa, but now three of the five rhino species face extinction unless drastic action is taken to counter poaching and habitat loss. This has led scientists, including Professor Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University, to come up with the ingenious invention of fake rhino horn. Using horse hair and regenerated silk the fabricated horn is almost indistinguishable with the real thing, and could be used to undermine the market in rhino horn. Producer: Katy Hickman
11/11/1941m 42s

Nobel Prize winner Esther Duflo

Esther Duflo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics this autumn for her work in the developing world. In her latest book, Good Economics for Hard Times, the French economist turns her attention to the thorniest issues of our time, from global immigration to climate change. She tells Tom Sutcliffe how the lessons from the world's poorest countries can be applied to Western economies, and why we should be wary of complacency.One of the worst economic crises imaginable struck Weimar Germany in the 1920s. Hyperinflation led to prices in 1923 that were astonishingly a billion times higher than they had been in 1914. But historian Richard J Evans explains that the chaos and suffering caused by sky-high prices did not affect all Germans equally. The middle classes saw their mortgages and rent fall to practically nothing, while many businesses expanded rapidly. Evans explores the fracturing of society that followed this hardest of times.The Booker prize-winning author Julian Barnes looks back at France’s Belle Epoque, an era known for luscious Renoir and Monet paintings, for flamboyant nights at the Moulin Rouge, and for widespread glamour and wealth. In The Man in the Red Coat, Barnes looks beneath the surface of this glittering era, and instead finds rampant prejudice, nativism, hysteria and violence. He depicts an era of enormous social change, with striking parallels to our own time.Producer: Hannah Sander.
04/11/1942m 1s

The artist - warts and all

“The painter must give a completely free rein to any feeling or sensations he may have.” So said the celebrated artist Lucian Freud. His biographer William Feaver tells Andrew Marr how Freud’s work revealed not only something about the subject of the painting, but also what the artist was feeling. The two are combined in a new exhibition of Freud’s self-portraits in which the painter turns his unflinching eye on himself.In 2006 the artist Humphrey Ocean started making a series of portraits of visitors to his studio. Using simple forms and bold colours the painter illuminated something unique about each person. Ocean is the RA Schools’ Professor of Perspective and his work details his observations of everyday life.The underbelly of everyday life in the 18th century is very much in evidence in William Hogarth’s work. As an exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum brings together all Hogarth’s painted series for the first time, the art critic Kate Grandjouan explains what he reveals about people from all strata of society, in a London devoid of morality.Producer: Katy Hickman
28/10/1942m 13s

Breaking bread together

Hospitality and hostility come from a common root, according to the writer Priya Basil. In her latest book, Be My Guest, she explores the diverse meaning of the Indo-European word ‘ghos-ti’ which combines host, guest and stranger. She tells Kirsty Wark how breaking bread together is a way of breaking down barriers. Shamil Thakrar is the co-founder of the award-winning restaurant chain, Dishoom. He traces the roots of the restaurant’s success, looking back to the sights, sounds and tastes of the much-loved cosmopolitan Bombay of his childhood. While Thakrar’s father and uncle established the food company, Tilda Rice, when they arrived in London in the 1970s, Thomas Harding’s relatives came to Britain in the early 1800s and went on to create the largest catering company in the world: J. Lyons. In Legacy, Harding, looks at how Lyons tea rooms became a fixture on every high street in the country, transforming the way we eat and drink, and democratising eating out.Lyons pioneered different processed foods, from coffee to ice cream. Food writer Joanna Blythman sees processed food as the biggest peril to our health today. She worries that in the rush to adopt a plant-based diet, we will swap nutritious red meat for meat substitutes full of gum and other additives. Blythman also challenges the idea that only by giving up meat can we save our planet from climate change,Producer: Katy Hickman
21/10/1942m 0s

Global culture

The writer Fatima Bhutto celebrates the new global popular culture emerging from the East. She tells Andrew Marr that the West’s soft power dominance is on the wane as K-Pop, Dizi and Bollywood take the world by storm.The Korean artist Nam June Paik was among the first to foresee the importance of mass media and new technologies, coining the phrase ‘electronic superhighway’. Sook-Kyung Lee is co-curating a global tour of his work, starting at Tate Modern.A new play, Museum in Baghdad, brings together the stories of its British founder Gertrude Bell in 1926 with Ghalia Hussein’s attempts to reopen it in 2006 after looting during the war. The RSC director Erica Whyman says the play questions the role of culture in helping to create a nation.And the writer John Burnside turns to the poets of the 20th century to give voice to an alternative cultural history of the time. He draws on the work of poets, both renowned and unjustly obscure, to give shape and meaning to the world.Producer: Katy HickmanPicture credit: Tate
14/10/1942m 9s

Lenny Henry

Lenny Henry was 16 when he first appeared on television making people laugh in the 1970s. He tells Kirsty Wark about coming of age in the spotlight at a time of casual chauvinism and blatant racism, all while under his Jamaican mother’s strict instruction to integrate. The novelist Tessa McWatt knows only too well the complexity of fitting in. Born in Guyana, raised in Canada and working in Britain, McWatt explores themes of the outsider in society and conflicting ideas of belonging. The writer and former sportsman Matthew Syed encourages breaking free of the echo chambers that surround us, to develop an ‘outsider mindset’. Cognitive diversity, he argues in his latest book, is the answer to many of the world’s most challenging problems.And the social psychologist Keon West explains the research being done to reduce bias between different groups of people. He argues that mandatory unconscious bias training is not only pointless - but possibly detrimental.Producer: Katy HickmanPicture credit: © ITV / Rex / Shutterstock
07/10/1941m 44s

Where is power now?

Against a backdrop of fierce political battles in Parliament and in court, Andrew Marr explores political power and examines those who wield it - from absolutism to anarchism.The political commentator Steve Richards has been in the House of Commons for many nights of political strife. Watching the behaviour of parliament and government today, he considers how different British Prime Ministers have used their many powers. In his new book 'The Prime Ministers' he reflects on the individual characters of leaders. From Harold Wilson to Boris Johnson, he recalls moments when Prime Ministers buckled or thrived under the pressure of their role.At the other end of the power spectrum, the academic Ruth Kinna explores ‘the government of no one’: anarchism. She argues that this much maligned ideology is far more adaptable and effective than we might expect. And she rejects the stereotyped view of it as chaotic and disordered.The theatre director Eleanor Rhode is bringing Shakespeare’s King John to the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company. This rarely performed tale depicts a tumultuous nation reeling, as a weakened King fights to retain his crown from the invading French and his rebellious noblemen.And in a week that saw a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the government's use of prorogation, Catherine Haddon from the Institute for Government explains where constitutional power now lies: whether with parliament, government, the judiciary, the Prime Minister, or the Queen. She predicts major changes ahead...Producer: Hannah SanderPicture credit: Royal Shakespeare Company
30/09/1941m 37s

Antony Gormley: challenging conventions

Antony Gormley talks to Tom Sutcliffe about his forthcoming major show at the Royal Academy. The sculptor returns to his enduring interest in the inner dark space of the body and the body’s relation to its surroundings. As well as the famous casts of this own figure, seawater and clay fill one gallery, evoking the depths from which life emerged.The award-winning playwright Laura Wade discusses her revolutionary adaptation of Jane Austen. Her new play, The Watsons, is based on Austen’s unfinished novel, and shows what happens when characters threaten to break free from the original work and take control of the drama. The conductor Charles Hazlewood celebrates the rebellious side of classical music – minimalism. Minimalists in the 20th century, like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, flouted conventions and sought to redraw musical boundaries. But the music was also a direct response to the political and social fervour of the 1960s and 70s. One of the most creative and hedonistic periods of British culture was the nineties: the era of Cool Britannia, born in Thatcher’s Britain and flaunted by Tony Blair. The writer Daniel Rachel looks back at how art, comedy, fashion, film, football and music came together in a flowering of national self-confidence, and what broke it apart.Producers: Katy Hickman and Hannah Sander
23/09/1942m 2s

Escaping the past

Andrew Marr discusses how far nations have managed to confront the past. In Learning from the Germans, the philosopher Susan Neiman contrasts the way in which Germany continues to come to terms with its Nazi past, with the failure of the US to deal with slavery and the legacy of racial violence. The historian Stuart James Ward is interested in how far the ghosts of Empire have haunted the debate around Brexit. From the simplistic caricature of hankering after the past to a global vision of the future, both sides have summoned their own image of Empire. As an Australian academic who has spent his career in Denmark, Ward believes he is in a unique position to observe the unfolding political drama.The former MP David Howell argues it’s time to look ahead and not back in his new book, subtitled ‘Escaping the Prism of Past Politics’. Howell has been at the centre of government for four decades and was a member of Margaret Thatcher’s first cabinet. He believes Britain should be forging new relations and finding a new position in the world.The political scientist Jane Green looks beyond the present impasse in the Commons over the direction of Brexit to focus on public volatility in voting. Not since 1931 has there been such a fracturing of voter loyalty, but Green asks how much we can learn from the past. Producer: Katy Hickman
16/09/1942m 16s

Epic quests and Greek myths

The playwright David Hare is adapting Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, an epic story of vanity and egotism. He tells Tom Sutcliffe his radical new working keeps the mountain of trolls but becomes a contemporary reflection of toxic masculinity in the age of the selfie. The writer Lucy Hughes-Hallett reincarnates ancient myths and folklore in her collection of short stories, Fabulous. Old tales from Orpheus to Mary Magdalen and Psyche, find new homes in the lives of a people-trafficking gangmaster and a well-behaved librarian.The great story-teller Stephen Fry breathes fresh life into the Greek myths as he prepares to embark on his first UK tour for forty years. From the creation of the Cosmos and the feuding of the Gods, to the extraordinary battles and epic journeys of the heroes, these tales still echo for audiences today. Alison Balsom is a world-renowned trumpeter who moves seamlessly through different periods of music in her curation of this year’s Cheltenham Music Festival. She explains her deep passion for the world of baroque music and the excitement of playing a new piece for the very first time, as she prepares for the premiere of Thea Musgrave’s Trumpet Concerto. Producer: Katy Hickman
01/07/1941m 57s

The power of poetry

Rowan Williams celebrates The Book of Taliesin – legendary Welsh poems of enchantment and warfare. The former Archbishop of Canterbury tells Andrew Marr how the collection of poems speak of a lost world of folklore and mythology, and the figure of Taliesin is an elusive and exuberant creative poetic fiction. Martin Sixsmith tells the extraordinary story of the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin at the turn of the 20th century. Yesenin lived through the most turbulent times in Russian history, and during an age when poets were stars, and millions could recite his works by heart. The poet Jay Bernard has found inspiration in exploring the black British archive, and the enquiry into the New Cross Fire in 1981 which killed thirteen young people. The poems shine a light on an unacknowledged chapter in British history, and find resonance with the horror of the Grenfell tower fire two years ago.The poet, writer and teacher, Kate Clanchy has seen first-hand poetry’s unique ability to unleash young voices. At the multicultural school in Oxford where she teaches, students speak 30 languages and poetry has become a vital part of bringing pupils together, giving them pride in their work and allowing them to express the reality of their lives.Producer: Katy HickmanImage of Jay Bernard, taken by Joshua Virasami
24/06/1942m 17s

Money - in your pocket and in the bank

Andrew Marr discusses money, from central banks to personal finances. The historian John Guy looks back to the emergence of London as the financial centre of the world. His latest biography focuses on the life and world of Sir Thomas Gresham, Elizabeth I’s banker – a flawed and ambitious man who dabbled in blackmail, fraud and adultery and left his widow saddled with debt.Few of today’s central bankers could match Gresham’s tumultuous private life, but they do wield enormous power in the markets. Paul Tucker spent more than 30 years as a central banker and regulator at the Bank of England and sounds a warning against increasing the authority of technocrats.Miatta Fahnbulleh is the Chief Executive of the radical economics think-tank, NEF, which aims to build a new economy from the bottom up and put more power in the hands of the people. She looks at the role central banks have to play in a Green New Deal and the impact of debt on the country and its citizens. While government debt makes the headlines, personal debt is now at a record high, and could derail future confidence in the market. The behavioural economist Alice Tapper offers a guide to personal finances and argues for more openness when it comes to talking about what we earn and what we spend.Producer: Katy Hickman
17/06/1942m 3s

Beyond the headlines

Diego Maradona was a footballer of unrivalled talent, but off the pitch his story is one of despair and betrayal. Chris King, the editor of a feature documentary on the player, tells Kirsty Wark that the film reveals the life of this flawed icon through his own words and personal archive. Hussein Kesvani also aims to tell a story that goes beyond the usual headlines, exploring the unexpected online worlds of British Muslims. He reveals a new generation of young media-savvy Muslims creating their own diverse cultural identities online.More secrets are unveiled in Shahidha Bari’s book, Dressed, which looks at the hidden power of clothes in our culture and daily lives. She explores the link between what we wear and who we are. The latest exhibition at the British Museum offers visitors the chance to enter a graphic world where art and storytelling collide in its display of Japanese manga. The curator Nicole Rousmaniere argues that manga has long been a way to tell the stories of those whose history is not recorded. Correction: the programme wrongly states that Adolf Eichmann’s trial took place at Nuremberg. He was tried in Jerusalem in 1961.Producer: Katy Hickman
10/06/1941m 53s

Jared Diamond on national crisis

Jared Diamond explores how countries survive national crises. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and polymath talks to Andrew Marr about the process seven countries went through at moments of huge upheaval – from Japan and Finland to Australia and Chile. Using the lessons learnt in overcoming personal trauma, Diamond charts the painful process of self-appraisal, selective change and flexibility needed to move forward.Britain is facing its own national crisis, with the public and political parties divided over Brexit, political leadership and the way to move forward. Professor David Runciman and the Associate Director at the IEA Kate Andrews put Jared Diamond’s thesis to the test. They explore how far we can learn from past disasters and whether there are core national values that could help to unite the country. And, as the Conservative leadership contest begins and President Trump arrives in the UK, they discuss the limits to power and the myth of the strong leader.
03/06/1942m 17s

Hay Festival

In a special edition recorded live at the Hay Festival, Tom Sutcliffe discusses the impact of human ingenuity. From the myth of Frankenstein to geoengineering, he explores how normality and deviancy became entrenched in society. In her latest novel, the award-winning writer Jeanette Winterson moves between 1816, when the young Mary Shelley wrote the great Gothic novel of scientific hubris, Frankenstein, and the present day, exploring the far-reaching consequences of the AI revolution. John Browne, the former CEO of BP, argues against putting the brakes on technological advance. He maintains that civilisation is founded on engineering innovation.Naomi Wolf looks back to the 1857 Obscene Publications Act to pinpoint the moment that law enforced the sexuality morality of the time. She sees reverberations lasting to this day.Producer: Katy Hickman
27/05/1942m 4s

Medical controversies

Dr Joshua Mezrich is a leading transplant surgeon. He tells Andrew Marr how death and life are intimately connected in his field of expertise. And he explains the extraordinary breakthroughs that have emerged in transplant surgery, along with the ethical questions that arise when choosing who will be given the chance of a new beginning. Scientific research needs to be evidence-based. But it can too easily be based on underlying assumptions and biases. The science writer Angela Saini reports on the history - and recent revival - of race science, a field of study that sees race as a biological fact.Caroline Criado Perez exposes the gender biases in medical and scientific research. She argues that women have often been excluded from the data which has had a huge impact on the efficacy of the pills prescribed, and the treatment offered.The latest promise of better healthcare is personalised medicine, which aims to get the right dose to the right patient at the right time. But Richard Ashcroft, Professor of Biomedical Ethics, cautions that grouping patients by their genetic constitution may well create new forms of inequality.Producer: Katy Hickman
20/05/1941m 52s

Billy Bragg on anger and hope

Kerry Hudson grew up in all-encompassing and grinding poverty. She is now an acclaimed author, but tells Tom Sutcliffe why she returned home to explore the impact and trap of being lowborn.Howard Brenton’s latest play is loosely inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and features a clever, ambitious young woman fighting for an opportunity, yet held back by her background. Will Tanner, director of the think tank Onward, looks at what social mobility - or a lack of it - means in the political sphere. The age at which voters are more likely to vote Conservative than Labour has risen rapidly, and Tanner sees this as both a challenge and an opportunity for all the main parties.The musician and activist Billy Bragg has written about the Three Dimensions of Freedom in which he argues that without equality and accountability, freedom is a mere shadow.Producer: Katy Hickman
13/05/1942m 0s

Icons of English literature

Chaucer is renowned as the father of English literature. But in a new biography Marion Turner argues he is a far more cosmopolitan writer and thinker than we might assume. She tells Andrew Marr how the 14th-century author of The Canterbury Tales moved from the commercial wharves of London to the chapels of Florence, and from a spell as a prisoner of war in France to the role of diplomat in Milan. The academic Emma Smith challenges audiences to look with fresh eyes at the plays of Shakespeare. In a series of essays she reveals how his plays have as much to say about PTSD, intersectionality and #MeToo as they do about Ovid, marriage and the divine right of kings.When Charles Dickens started his writing career, his ambition was global: to speak to ‘every nation upon earth’. And he succeeded. His stories reached Russia, China, Australia, even Antarctica, and he was mobbed in the street when he visited America. Juliet John, co-curator of the exhibition Global Dickens, examines how Dickens’s work could travel so far, when the settings of his novels were much closer to home.Producer: Katy Hickman
06/05/1942m 5s

Freedom: From Kierkegaard to Black Lives Matter

'Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced', wrote the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. His new biographer, Clare Carlisle, explores the life experiences that moulded Kierkegaard's ideas as he struggled to understand how to be a human being in this world. She tells Amol Rajan that Kierkegaard was very much a philosopher of the heart.DeRay Mckesson’s reality became one of struggle and action after he quit his job as a school teacher and became a key figure in the Black Lives Matter movement in the US. He spent 400 days on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, often walking day and night after a new law was introduced making it illegal to stand still. In his memoir, On the Other Side of Freedom, he explores the intellectual and political framework of the liberation movement that has dominated American life in the 21st century. The award-winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams’s latest work also explores freedom and power, but in a world where fate and vengeful gods hold sway. His epic poem The Half-God of Rainfall begins with a game of basketball in Nigeria with the Yoruba gods looking on, and ends with a demonstration of female revenge – both human and mythological.While Kierkegaard was focused on the subjective experience of being a human, and how we create ourselves through our action, the writer Elizabeth Day is interested in what happens when those actions go awry. ‘How To Fail’ is a painfully honest exploration of things going wrong, and what we can learn from our mistakes.Producer: Katy Hickman
29/04/1942m 6s

Life in the wilderness

We underestimate how difficult it is to live in remote areas, says travel writer Dan Richards. He tells Kirsty Wark how he trekked to high mountain huts and distant snowy cabins for his new book, Outposts. Richards followed in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, Roald Dahl and Jack Kerouac, who all found inspiration in the wilderness. But just as Kerouac went temporarily mad living on a remote mountainside, so today’s tourists in the Scottish Highlands and Nordic isles underestimate “hard nature’s indifference”.Icelandic model turned sheep farmer Heida Asgeirsdottir knows how challenging countryside life can be. After an early career as a model in New York, she returned to Iceland to take over her parents’ sheep farm in a region of volcanoes and elemental storms. But even this distant region needs modern power and infrastructure, and this means a new hydro-electric plant whose owners want to flood her farm.A family feel stuck in the middle of nowhere in Chekhov’s searing play Three Sisters. Rebecca Frecknall is directing a new production at the Almeida Theatre, exploring the thwarted ambitions and dreams of a provincial Russian town. Sisters Irina, Olga and Masha long to return to Moscow, but become bogged down in dead-end jobs and trapped by mortgages and marriage.Chekhov’s play could easily be set in a British town today, says Sarah O’Connor from the Financial Times. She looks at the stark problems facing our seaside resorts and post-industrial towns. In her Orwell Prize-winning study of Blackpool, she challenged the idea that our seaside towns lack aspiration and are destined to fail. Now she explains why terms like “the Left Behinds” are dangerously misleading.Producer: Hannah Sander
22/04/1942m 7s

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan talks to Andrew Marr about his new novel, Machines Like Us, and reflects, at the age of 70, on a career which began more than four decades ago. Machines Like Us is set in an alternative Britain in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher has lost the Falklands war and the scientist Alan Turing has made a breakthrough in artificial intelligence leading to a series of synthetic humans. The love-triangle at the heart of the book forces the reader to confront ideas about what makes us human and what happens when we lose control of our creations.Ian McEwan published his first book, a collection of short stories called First Love, Last Rites, in 1975. It won critical acclaim, as well as comment about the sometimes shocking subject matter. Since then, he has published 15 novels, and won the Man Booker Prize in 1998. He is a literary writer who has also enjoyed great popular success, with his novel Atonement selling well over a million copies in the UK alone. Producer: Katy Hickman
15/04/1942m 4s

Ageing visibly

850,000 people in the UK are thought to be living with dementia. The writer Nicci Gerrard tells Andrew Marr about her father’s slow death from the illness. She explores issues around memory, language and identity, as well as asking how society will cope as the population ages and the number of people suffering with dementia rises into the millions.But why and how do we age? The science journalist Sue Armstrong has been investigating what happens to cells when the body gets older, and whether ageing really can be treated like any other disease waiting to be cured. Life expectancy has risen sharply in the last half century globally, but can it keep on rising?The street theatre performance, Bed, involving elderly actors lying in beds in town centres around the country, was devised by older members of Entelechy Arts who wanted to make a statement about isolation and invisibility. The Artistic Director David Slater says the arts have an important role to play in improving people’s lives no matter how old.The poet John Agard is 70 this year. In his latest collection, The Coming of the Little Green Man, he explores the world from the stance of the outsider. In a series of mischievous, satirical fables he gives voice to the political and spiritual, comic and poignant.
08/04/1942m 43s

Free Thinking Festival

At the Free Thinking Festival at Sage, Gateshead Tom Sutcliffe presents a special edition exploring the art and science of communication. The American diplomat William J Burns played a central role in American foreign policy from the end of the Cold War to the collapse of relations with Putin’s Russian, and including secret talks with Iran. He explores the language of diplomacy.Harriet Shawcross is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist. She reflects on how as a teenager she stopped speaking for almost a year. In her book Unspeakable she considers the power of silence.The musician and composer Kathryn Tickell roots her work in in the landscape and people of Northumbria. She is the foremost exponent of the Northumbrian pipes, and tells the story of Northumbria with - and without - words.Thomas Dixon studies emotional outbursts as the director of the Centre for the History of Emotions. He unveils the scientific and philosophical underpinnings of anger and weeping. Producer: Katy Hickman
01/04/1950m 58s

Art for all

The prize-winning author Karl Ove Knausgaard explores the life and work of a fellow Norwegian artist, Expressionist Edvard Munch. He tells Tom Sutcliffe that Munch’s work extends far beyond his iconic painting The Scream. Knausgaard brings together art history, biography and personal memoir to reflect on what it means to be an artist.Munch is known as a painter of the inner life and even his landscapes are infused with personal reflection. But at the turn of the twentieth century, while he was looking inward, art schools across Europe were forging new philosophies and were engaging with the wider world. In Germany the Bauhaus movement, founded by Walter Gropius, stood for experiment and creative freedom. Fiona MacCarthy’s new biography of Gropius re-evaluates his intellectual and emotional life. She depicts him at the heights of Bauhaus fame and through his post-war years in London to his architectural successes in America.Back in the UK, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was at the centre of a movement based at the Glasgow School of Art. Curator Alison Brown explains how that city became the birthplace of the only Art Nouveau ‘movement’ in the UK. The style and influence of Mackintosh and his disciples has since spread throughout the world.Both Bauhaus and Art Nouveau designs became commercially successful and mass produced. But the earlier Arts and Craft Movement of William Morris championed the principle of handmade production. In an extraordinary find, the social historian Tamsin Wimhurst, came across a terraced house in Cambridge owned by a working-class Victorian decorative artist who reproduced the work of Morris for his own pleasure at home. The David Parr House is opened to the public later this year.Producer: Katy Hickman
25/03/1942m 10s

Understanding China

The Chinese journalist and activist Xinran tells the story of China since the start of the 20th century through four generations of one family. She tells Andrew Marr how the family lived through enormous social upheaval, and reveals how traditional values started to unravel with the tide of modernity.The academic Roel Sterckx looks back beyond the last century to ancient Chinese philosophers and thinkers. He argues that in order to understand modern China we need to understand its past. The practice of power, government and social harmony has a long tradition.It is seventy years since Mao founded the People’s Republic of China and Julia Lovell re-evaluates Mao's philosophy both at home and abroad. For decades Maoism has been dismissed in the West as an outdated historical and political phenomenon, and yet his ideas remain central to China’s Communist government - and continue to influence people around the world.Not only Chinese ideas have spread throughout the globe: the latest play from director David K S Tse is based on the lives of Chinese people who moved to the UK. From Shore to Shore is staged in Chinese takeaways around the country and blends English, Mandarin and Cantonese, to tell the story of three journeys to find a home. Producer: Katy Hickman
18/03/1942m 7s

The battle against so-called Islamic State

David Nott's holiday plans are not like most. For 25 years the surgeon has used unpaid leave to volunteer as a war doctor. His work has taken him from Sarajevo under siege to rebel-held Aleppo, and to the aftermath of natural disasters in Haiti and Nepal. He tells Kirsty Wark how a combination of bravery, compassion and the thrill of danger inspired him to risk his life helping others.Azad Cudi had war forced upon him as a conscript in the Iranian army. A decade later he volunteered in the fight for an independent Kurdistan: as a sniper fighting against so-called Islamic State. His memoir, Long Shot, describes the fighters, activists and intellectuals he worked alongside. He asks what will happen to the Kurdish cause as Western powers look to pull out of Syria and Iraq.Men are not the only volunteers in the Middle East - and the causes that influence people are not always positive. Joana Cook from the International Centre for Radicalisation Studies has examined the large number of women and teenagers who have become "affiliates" of the so-called Islamic State. Some women were inspired by the healthcare, education and job opportunities offered to volunteers. Others became powerful agents of radicalisation. Cook urges politicians to consider these nuances when they decide what to do with volunteers who now wish to return home.The morality of public duty and public service is the topic of an upcoming lecture by Claire Foster-Gilbert, director of the Westminster Abbey Institute. She argues that public servants in politics and beyond make moral choices every day; but that if we fail to scrutinise these properly, we could fail prey to anger, vengeance and injustice.Producer: Hannah Sander
11/03/1941m 57s

Language and Culture

Andrew Marr discusses the complex interplay between language and culture. The prize-winning American author Jhumpa Lahiri has spent many years living in Italy immersing herself in the language. She has brought together 40 short story writers – many translated into English for the first time – in a collection that reflects the regional landscapes, private passions and political events of her adopted country over the past century.April De Angelis is a writer steeped in translation and adaptation: she brought Elena Ferrante’s novels of Neapolitan life to the stage. And she is now involved in the English National Opera’s production of The Merry Widow – a French comic play re-imagined by an Austro-Hungarian composer. The power of translation is explored in a new exhibition at the Bodleian Library curated by the academic Katrin Kohl. At the centre is the story of the Tower of Babel, an origin myth in the Bible which explains why people speak different languages. Kohl argues that studying how a story is translated from one language to another allows us to glimpse the rich diversity of life and culture around the world.Many people now rely on computers to translate from one language to another. The mathematician Marcus du Sautoy looks at how AI is being programmed to be creative in language and the arts, and what that means for the human touch. Producer: Katy Hickman
04/03/1941m 46s

Populations and contested lands

Amol Rajan explores how geology and demography have shaped the modern world. Paul Morland argues that we have underestimated the crucial impact of population changes on global events. He looks at how demography has had a major influence, from world wars to China’s rise; and from the Arab Spring to Brexit.In the distant past people could walk all the way from continental Europe to England through the ancient region of Doggerland. Julia Blackburn scours the Suffolk coastline for this lost land which was submerged by rising sea levels around 5000 BC.As the debate around the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland continues to dominate discussions on Brexit, the historian Diarmaid Ferriter explains how this line became a political battleground. The meandering boundary which cuts through fields and crosses rivers was once dotted with watchtowers and military checkpoints to stop movements of people and goods. Producer: Katy Hickman
25/02/1942m 1s

The Eye of the Beholder

We have been obsessed with the ideal body since Renaissance artists rediscovered nudity, says art historian Jill Burke. She tells Andrew Marr how artists including Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian established rigid beauty standards and an obsession with the body that we still live with today.Our image of power was hugely influenced by the Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard. To mark his 400th anniversary, historian Elizabeth Goldring reexamines the artist who painted all the principal rulers of his day, including Queen Elizabeth and James I. Hilliard's tiny images encapsulated political power in a portrait.Elizabethan ideas of power and beauty are unpicked in Christopher Marlowe's play Edward II, the story of a king whose homosexuality brings his downfall. Tom Stuart plays the titular role at The Globe and has written a new sequel, After Edward, exploring the persecution and politicisation of homosexuals today.Playwright Martin Sherman wrote the iconic play about gay persecution, Bent, and has returned to themes of desire and persecution in his new work. Gently Down the Stream addresses the challenges of love between the generations, and asks what we should do with the history and ideals we have inherited from the past.Producer: Hannah Sander
18/02/1941m 24s

The mind unravelling

How far does evolution explain mental health? The psychiatrist Randolph Nesse tells Kirsty Wark that negative emotions make sense in certain situations but can become excessive. He argues that positioning disorders in light of natural selection helps explain the ubiquity of human suffering - and may help in finding new paths for relieving it.The neuropsychologist AK Benjamin investigates the boundaries of sanity and madness in his book, Let Me Not Be Mad. Through a series of consultations with patients, he explores the mind unravelling at the seams. But the question remains whether this unravelling mind belongs to the doctor or the patient.The poet George Szirtes looks at the damaging impact of international events on a single family, in his memoir of his mother Magda. The Photographer At Sixteen follows Magda from her teenage life in Hungary, through political uprisings, internment in two concentration camps and transition to life in England. He explores the effect of an unravelling world on a family's mental health.Producer: Katy Hickman
11/02/1942m 1s

Who is watching you?

Society is at a turning point, warns Professor Shoshana Zuboff. Democracy and liberty are under threat as capitalism and the digital revolution combine forces. She tells Andrew Marr how new technologies are not only mining our minds for data, but radically changing them in the process. As Facebook celebrates its 15th birthday she examines what happens when a few companies have unprecedented power and little democratic oversight. Although behavioural data is constantly being abstracted by tech companies, John Thornhill, Innovations Editor at the Financial Times, questions whether they have yet worked out how to use it effectively to manipulate people. And he argues that the technological revolution has brought many innovations which have benefitted society.The award-winning writer Ece Temelkuran has warned readers about rising authoritarianism in her native Turkey. In her new book, How To Lose a Country, she widens that warning to the rest of the world. She argues that right-wing populism and nationalism do not appear already fully-formed in government - but creep insidiously in the shadows, unchallenged and underestimated until too late.Producer: Katy Hickman
04/02/1942m 9s

The health of science

There is nothing new for chemistry to discover, says Bernie Bulkin. In Solving Chemistry: A Scientist's Journey, the former Head of Science at BP argues that an unprecedented event has happened: a branch of science has made all the major discoveries it is likely to make. He tells Tom Sutcliffe what this means for chemistry - and for science more broadly.Medicine is in the midst of 'a biomedical revolution' says Professor Sir Robert Lechler. His own field of kidney transplants has been transformed by our new understanding of the immune system. He has helped to curate Spare Parts, an exhibition at the Science Gallery that poses the question: how many transplants could we have before we were no longer ourselves?Elizabeth Pisani has watched interest in different diseases rise and fall. As an epidemiologist she charts the impact that press attention and public grants have on medical research, with some becoming fashionable while in others treatments lag behind. And she warns that scientists too often fail to take account of the human context when delivering medicines. Astrophysicist Jo Dunkley assesses our understanding of the universe in a concise new guide. But the universe is 85% dark matter - and we still know very little about this. She draws attention to the brilliant female scientists who contributed to breakthroughs in physics, but whose contributions have been forgotten along the way.Picture: Big Heart Data by Gareth McKee, part of Spare Parts at the Science GalleryProducer: Hannah Sander
28/01/1941m 57s

Art, truth and power

Andrew Marr on beauty and politics in art. Our idea of beauty was shaped by the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin. He thought all people deserved to see beauty every day, and compared, and founded a gallery in Sheffield for local industrial workers. To mark Ruskin's bicentenary, curator Louise Pullen has put together a new exhibition showing how his ideas about art, science, truth and beauty shaped the politics of the day."All art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists," declared WEB Du Bois. The civil rights campaigner, philosopher and social thinker argued that it was an artist's duty to shape a better world. Academic Liam Bright explains why Du Bois thought both artists and scientists had a duty to tell the truth.In poet Fiona Benson's new volume Vertigo and Ghost, beauty, violence and power are never far apart. Benson's poems depict Zeus as a serial rapist, and capture the claustrophobia of modern domestic life.And design guru Stephen Bayley considers what creativity is - and what it is for - in his new book How To Steal Fire. As a leading cultural critic, he asks what place beauty and imagination have in modern life.Producer: Hannah Sander
21/01/1942m 17s

Violence and Conflict

The prize-winning writer John Lanchester considers the political endgame of a fractious world in his new novel, The Wall. He tells Amol Rajan why he has written a dystopian fable in which the young distrust the old, and the world appears broken.But just how violent are we as a species? The primatologist Richard Wrangham believes there is a 'goodness paradox': at an individual level we have evolved to become a more peaceful animal, especially compared to our closest relatives, the chimpanzee; but our ability to organise and plan an attack has made us lethal.The ancient Assyrians celebrated every detail of cruelty, massacre and torture, including skinning prisoners alive, as they built their empire and conquered their enemies. The academic Eleanor Robson looks back at the reign of the King Ashurbanipal from the 7th century BC, immortalised in an exhibition at the British Museum.Shortly after the King’s death the Empire fell. Dr Patricia Lewis is an expert on international security and studies the ebb and flow of wars across the world from chemical warfare to cyber-attacks. She looks ahead to the major conflicts to watch in the coming year.The above image is from the British Museum’s exhibition I Am Ashurbanipal: King of the World, King of AssyriaProducer: Katy Hickman
14/01/1941m 48s

Searching for happiness

Andrew Marr starts the year in search of happiness with the behavioural scientist and happiness professor Paul Dolan. Dolan has advised the government on how to measure wellbeing, and in his latest book Happy Ever After argues that we’ve been sold a lie about the sources of happiness. The route to fulfilment may be far more unexpected that we thought.The writer Laura Freeman deplores what she calls the current Pollyana tendencies to ‘keep smiling’ via the mood-tracker apps on your phone. Freeman recounts how she herself found an appetite for life, after years of suffering with anorexia, through her love of reading.The science journalist Linda Geddes explores the impact of sunlight on our minds and bodies. In Chasing the Sun she looks at its significance in improving our health, sleep, productivity and mood.But what if our mood is really affected not by our mind, but our bodies? Professor Edward Bullmore has studied the link between mental health and physical inflammation, and argues that we need to look more closely at our immune system in the treatment of depression.Producer: Katy Hickman
07/01/1942m 0s

Ice and Snow

On Christmas Eve, Andrew Marr explores the mysteries of snow and ice. Michelle Paver's novels dwell in the darkest places: an Arctic hut in midwinter haunted by ghosts, an isolated mountain peak, and a prehistoric frozen forest. She explains the appeal of these inhospitable settings, and asks why the cold still terrifies us.Ben Saunders knows the sounds and smells of ice better than most. As one of the world's leading polar explorers he has skied to the North Pole and completed Scott and Shackleton's aborted trip to the South Pole. He describes the exhaustion, frustration and wonder of life on a frozen sea.Materials scientist Mark Miodownik knows that liquids are not to be trusted, even when frozen solid. His latest book, Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives, unpicks the cracks, creaks and crystals of ice.Poet and writer Nancy Campbell set out from the world's northernmost museum to understand our fascination with ice and snow. Her new book, The Library of Ice: Readings from a Cold Climate,brings to life the people who dwell in these icy landscapes, many of which are now disappearing.Producer: Hannah Sander
24/12/1842m 12s

National myths with Neil MacGregor

Kirsty Wark explores national stories and myths – from both inside and outside a country’s borders.Neil MacGregor discusses how Dickens, Monty Python and the Suez Crisis have influenced the way Britain is perceived abroad. He visits five different countries to find out which historical events, cultural influences and objects have shaped the way how others see us. The answers may well surprise people back home. Sweden has a strong sense of its own national identity: it boasts the world’s oldest free press and prides itself on its special brand of social democracy. But the journalist Kajsa Norman looks beyond this utopian myth to expose the darkness in the Swedish soul. She reveals what happens to those who dare to dissent from consensus.Japan’s national image abroad is one of staid tradition mixed with bizarre pop culture, and the samurai warrior alongside the grey mass of ‘salarymen’. But the academic Christopher Harding argues there is far more to Japanese society than these enduring clichés. He looks at how Japan has been reinventing itself over the last century and a half, and the often radical and outspoken resistance to conformity.Producer: Katy Hickman
17/12/1841m 55s

Trees: a wood wide web

Trees may have vibrant inner lives and certainly appear to have individual personalities, claims the forester-cum-writer Peter Wollheben. In his bestselling book, The Hidden Life of Trees, he uncovers an underground social network of communication between trees.In the late 1990s the journalist Ruth Pavey purchased four acres of scrub woodland in Somerset, and set about transforming this derelict land into a sanctuary for woodland plants, creatures and her own thoughts. The natural world comes alive in the poetry of Kathleen Jamie. Although her landscape is often her Scottish homeland, politics, history and human folly are never far away, as she asks how we can live more equably with nature.And breathing clean air is the goal of Gary Fuller’s book, The Invisible Killer. He studies the rising threat of air pollution from London’s congested streets to wood-burning damage in New Zealand.Producer: Katy Hickman
10/12/1842m 21s

Power in Politics

Today's battle for political power began with Thomas Cromwell, argues Diarmaid MacCulloch. In a landmark new biography he tells Tom Sutcliffe how Henry VIII's chief reformer claimed power from Europe and the pope - and gave it to an English parliament instead. But Cromwell is one of the most notorious figures in history, admired as a master statesman and reviled as a Machiavel.Acclaimed playwright James Graham dramatises the political power-play of the Brexit campaign in his new Channel 4 drama. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings, the driving force behind Vote Leave, Graham depicts ten weeks of machinations that forever changed Britain's relationship with Europe.Isabel Hardman, Assistant Editor of the Spectator, has followed the political upheavals of Brexit closely. In her book Why We Get the Wrong Politicians she looks at the demands made on MPs and how this has changed over time. She argues that their role has shifted from legislator to constituency worker - and that our political system is worse as a result.And Professor Steven Fielding looks back at the MPs have been depicted in culture. But where novelist Anthony Trollope's fictional Prime Minster is a hero, Fileding argues that the MPs found in The Thick of It and Yes Minister are uniformly venal and cowardly.Producer: Hannah Sander
03/12/1842m 27s

How the World Thinks

The director Paulette Randall brings to the stage the ultimate tale of sacrifice in the pursuit of power: Doctor Faustus. She tells Andrew Marr how, in coveting fame, power and knowledge, he sells his soul to the devil. This bargain with the devil is one of the most iconic cultural motifs in the Western tradition.The poet and writer Ann Wroe looks to another founding story of Christianity, that of St Francis of Assisi. Born into luxury he forsakes it all after hearing the voice of God commanding him to rebuild the Church and live in poverty. Wroe writes his life story in verse and see echoes of it all around her today.The philosopher Julian Baggini sees such ancient stories as helping to explore and explain how people think in the West. But in his new book, How the World Thinks, he admits his own failures to learn about the stories and early philosophies which have come out of the East. Without them, he argues, you cannot understand the development of distinct cultures around the world.The novelist and essayist Amit Chaudhuri has looked far and wide for his influences, from Nobel laureate Tagore and filmmaker Satyajit Ray to Cervantes’s Don Quixote. In The Origins of Dislike he explores the way writers understand their work both in antithesis to, and affinity with, past writers and movements from around the world.Producer: Katy Hickman
26/11/1842m 0s

Safe spaces and snowflakes

A stifling culture of safety is now spreading throughout Western academic institutions leading to a crisis in mental health, according to the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. He tells Amol Rajan that the current obsession with ‘safe spaces’ and no-platforming, is not only a breach of freedom of speech, but is creating a generation unable to cope with modern life.But the commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argues that free speech has often been used as a justification to spout hate speech and prejudice. She defends political correctness as a means to build a safer, more compassionate world.The writer Olivia Sudjic made her name after the publication of her debut novel Sympathy which explored surveillance and identity in the internet age. But as she became the focus of attention she felt trapped in a spiral of self-doubt. She looks at the epidemic of anxiety among the so-called ‘snowflake’ generation.Changing attitudes are at the heart of Mark Ravenhill’s new play, The Cane. Should a well-respected teacher be punished retrospectively for past actions which are now deemed unacceptable, but few questioned at the time?Producer: Katy Hickman
19/11/1841m 56s

Poland: A hundred years of history

Poland turns 100 this November. The country had existed for a thousand years but it was only in 1918 with the Treaty of Versailles that an independent Poland was created. Amol Rajan explores its turbulent history.No nation's story has been so distorted as Poland's, says historian Adam Zamoyski. He looks back to the great medieval nation that was once a European heavyweight. But Russia, Prussia and Austria divided Poland up in 1797 and turned it into a backwater - before the Nazis and Soviet soldiers arrived to do more damage.The decades since independence in 1918 have seen extraordinary twists in the tale. Composer Roxanna Panufnik combines Polish poetry with a Catholic mass in her new oratorio Faithful Journey - Mass for Poland. This huge work for choir and orchestra covers the bloodshed of two world wars, the relative prosperity and optimism of the 1930s, the censorship of communist rule and a new hope for the coming years.In the 1950s Stalin offered the people of Warsaw a choice between two gifts: a metro system or a vast skyscraper. They asked for the metro. He built the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science instead. Today the Palace is one of Poland's most recognisable sights and has starred on the cover of Vogue. But Michal Muraswki explains that to Poles today the Palace represents their communist legacy - something that the ruling Law and Justice Party are keen to forget,The reforms of the Law and Justice Party, including a move to ban all abortions, have been met with criticism at home and abroad. Award-winning journalist Witold Szablowski examines Poland's relationship with Europe, with its neighbours and with its past.Producer: Hannah Sander
12/11/1841m 55s

Reporting from the Front Line

Andrew Marr talks to the journalist Lindsey Hilsum about the extraordinary life of the war correspondent Marie Colvin. Throughout her career she travelled to the most dangerous places in the world, to bear witness to the suffering of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. She wrote: “it has always seemed to me that what I write about is humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable, and that it is important to tell people what really happens in wars.’ She was killed in Syria in 2012.For most of her career Marie Colvin wrote for The Sunday Times newspaper. Eve Pollard knows only too well the added pressures of getting a scoop for the nation’s weekend papers, as she formerly edited both the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Express. She’s now the UK Chair of Reporters Without Borders which this week will honour courage, impact and independence in journalism.Anabel Hernandez is an investigative reporter who has fought to lay bare the terrible facts behind the disappearance of forty-three Mexican students in 2014. Her book, A Massacre in Mexico, details the systemic corruption and cover-up among state officials, from the local police to government ministers.It is a hundred years since the poet Wilfred Owen died in battle, just a week before the end of WWI. The poet Gillian Clarke explores how Owen’s poetry brought to light the physical and mental trauma of combat, and how in her own work she’s reflected contemporary conflicts. Producer: Katy Hickman
05/11/1841m 49s

That's not fair

On Budget day, Andrew Marr discusses what is broken in our economic and social system, and how it could be mended - if only those in charge were bold enough.Oxford’s Paul Collier is an economist known around the world for his work on inequality. His new book, The Future of Capitalism, focuses on the great rifts dividing Britain, with solutions on how to close them.David Willetts, the former Conservative minister, is focused on generational fairness and the increasing tensions between the successful and the struggling in society. The Resolution Foundation, of which he is chair, suggests the state must do more to redistribute wealth and responsibility.Baroness Helena Kennedy has been a campaigning lawyer and a feminist throughout her career. Her new book, Eve was Shamed, looks at how British justice has been failing women - and comes up with solutions.And for those who think bad news for other people may be good for them, Tiffany Watt Smith explains that most British of Germanic concepts: schadenfreude.Producer: Hannah Sander
05/11/1840m 2s


Pirates come in many forms – from swashbuckling Captain Hook to today's poverty-stricken pirates off the coast of Somalia. It’s 400 years since one of the most charismatic and controversial figures in English history was executed. Sir Walter Ralegh was a favourite of Elizabeth I and was a famous adventurer and poet. But his exploits divided opinion even in his own lifetime, and his biographer Anna Beer tells Kirsty Wark the Spanish regarded him as a state-sponsored pirate.Captain Hook, Long John Silver and Jack Sparrow are at the heart of a new exhibition on fictional pirates at the V & A Museum of Childhood. The exhibition, curated by Will Newton, explores adventures on the high seas and charts how the moral ambiguity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s creation became the romanticised and sanitised version in today’s popular imagination.In 2012 the journalist Michael Scott Moore, who had covered the first trial in Europe of a Somali pirate, travelled to the Horn of Africa to find out more. He ended up being kidnapped and held captive for 977 days. He explores the historical and political case for piracy in Somalia, as well as religious extremism and the art of survival aboard a hijacked ship.Last month an American and a Chinese ship nearly collided in the South China Sea - which would probably have led to a major war, explains Veerle Nouwens. Through her role at defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) she monitors the ongoing race to control the South China Sea. She explains when an island is not an island, and why a calamity in this shipping route could bring chaos to the global economy.Producer: Hannah SanderPlastic pirate figures © Papo
22/10/1841m 50s

Identity Politics

Francis Fukuyama once famously announced ‘the end of history’. He now turns his attention to what he sees as the great challenge to liberal democracy: identity politics. He tells Andrew Marr that today’s descent into identities narrowly focused on nation, religion, race or gender have resulted in an increasingly polarised and factional society.Birkbeck Professor of Politics, Eric Kaufmann, is looking at populism, immigration and the future of white majorities. He argues that the concerns of white people should be listened to and questions whether it's possible to transform and redefine the debate about ethnic diversity. But the black student activist Roseanne Chantiluke argues that for too long issues of race have been side-lined to maintain the status quo. She was involved in the campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oxford and to challenge imperialist attitudes within the University. Sexual politics, power and identity are at the heart of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. The director Josie Rourke explores what happens when the actors playing the powerful male Deputy and the powerless female Novice alternate from one act to the next. Producer: Katy Hickman
15/10/1842m 27s

What's Your Type?

It’s nearly a century since the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was first conceived. It has gone on to become a multi-million pound industry categorising people from thinking introverts to feeling extroverts. But the mother-daughter team who came up with the idea had no psychological expertise and the test itself has no scientific basis, as the author Merve Emre explains to Tom Sutcliffe.Our genes are the most important factor in shaping who we are, according to the psychologist Robert Plomin. He argues that DNA influences everything from physical traits to intelligence and personality, and that nature not only trumps nurture, but is the main driver of it too. But the educationalist Naomi Eisenstadt argues that environment has a significant impact on children, especially in their early years. Eisenstadt was the first director of the Sure Start Unit when it was set up at the end of the 1990s and has been a government advisor on education and inequality. She questions whether there is any role for DNA testing in government policy. Producer: Katy Hickman
08/10/1842m 29s

Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari offers his 21 lessons for the 21st century. In a wide ranging discussion with Andrew Marr, Harari looks back to his best-selling history of the world, Sapiens, and forward to a possible post-human future. Technological disruption, ecological cataclysms, fake news and threats of terrorism make the 21st century a frightening prospect. Harari argues against sheltering in nostalgic political fantasies. He calls for a clear-sighted view of the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead.Producer: Katy Hickman
01/10/1842m 36s

From Ubermensch to Superman

The prize-winning novelist William Boyd has set his latest novel, Love Is Blind, at the turn of the 20th century. He tells Amol Rajan how his young Scottish protagonist travels across Europe in a tale of obsession, passion and music.Lust and violence combine in Strauss's opera Salome in which a young princess performs the Dance of the Seven Veils for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Director Adena Jacobs has put a bold new spin on the story for English National Opera in her psychologically challenging interpretation. Nietzsche may have written the famous phrase 'God is dead' but he also wrote movingly about love, guilt and hate. Biographer Sue Prideaux argues that Nietzsche is one of the most misunderstood philosophers. She explodes prevailing myths that he was a Nazi-sympathising, humourless misogynist.And popular culture is under the spotlight in the film critic Peter Biskind's latest book, The Sky is Falling. He argues that zombies, androids and superheroes heralded the age of political extremism.Producer: Katy Hickman.
24/09/1842m 20s

David Attenborough: Life on Earth and Beyond

It is 40 years since Sir David Attenborough told the story of Life on Earth, from its very first spark 4 billion years ago to the abundance of plants and animals today. He tells Andrew Marr how more pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place over the last four decades. The German ornithologist Michael Quetting spent a year hand rearing seven goslings: caring for them as they hatched, helping them learn to swim, and teaching them to fly alongside his aircraft. The project is part of an ambitious scientific research programme to understand birds in flight and use them to gather weather data for us.Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, looks beyond the earth to ask about potential life among the stars. He sees the future of humanity as bound to the future of science, and believes that space explorers in the next century will be electronic and not organic.A hundred years after Holst wrote The Planets, leading composers are again trying to capture the essence of our solar system in music. But this time they are working in collaboration with scientists. The geologist Dr Philippa Mason has helped bring deeper insight to Venus: a planet once thought to be a lush tropical swamp world, but in reality a crushing, violent inferno.(Producer: Katy Hickman).
17/09/1842m 2s

The Reality of War

The Vietnam War was a 30-year conflict in which three million people died and the reputations of successive US presidents were wrecked. Max Hastings tells Andrew Marr about the extraordinary political meddling, strategic failure and lack of compassion that characterises that war.The historian Helen Parr was seven years old in 1982 when her uncle was killed in the Falklands War. She brings to life his experiences in the Parachute Regiment, often known as the Paras, an elite fighting force founded in 1940.The former head of the British Army Richard Dannatt, looks at the present health of the military - and considers the difficulties that lie ahead.While the Defence Editor of The Times newspaper, Deborah Haynes, scrutinises the defence budget and criticises the prevailing media and public narrative of the soldier as hero or victim.Producer: Katy Hickman.
10/09/1841m 36s

Storytelling at the Edinburgh Festivals

Andrew Marr presents a special edition of Start the Week at the Edinburgh Festivals, weaving together ancient stories and contemporary fiction - from Scotland to Iceland via ancient Greece.He speaks to award-winning writers Pat Barker, Sjón and James Robertson and the singer-songwriter Karine Polwart. Karine also performs live.Producer: Katy Hickman.
27/08/1852m 0s

British culture and European influence

Britain has imported its culture from Europe for generations. Andrew Marr presents a special edition from Hatchlands Park in Surrey, home to the Cobbe Collection of musical instruments including pianos owned by Chopin, Mahler and Marie Antoinette.Frederic Chopin had a pan-European career. He swapped his native Poland for Paris, fled to Mallorca in search of sunshine and inspiration, and toured Britain twice, complaining bitterly about the 'crafty' locals and 'dreadful' British weather. But he had a huge impact on the musical scenes he left behind. Paul Kildea charts Chopin's journey across Europe. Sitting at the keys of Chopin's own piano, Kildea explains how this visionary composer shaped Romanticism.European composers and performers in Britain faced a tougher reception in the wake of two world wars. In her new book, Singing in the Age of Anxiety, Laura Tunbridge depicts the contradictions of a generation that viewed Wagner as a cultural high-point - but decried all things German as enemy propaganda. At the same time radio and gramophones dramatically altered the way people heard and responded to music. The digital world offers vast new audiences, but also brings new challenges to those in the arts. Munira Mirza is Director of HENI Talks, an online platform that aims to share cultural information and understanding with much wider audiences. By combining leading experts and world-famous works such as the Mona Lisa, she wants to take art outside the gallery. As former Deputy Mayor for Culture in London, Mirza envisages a future in which we have a truly international cultural scene.Producer: Hannah Sander.
02/07/1842m 0s

Shame, Status and Self-invention

Tina Brown was an Englishwoman barely out of her twenties when she arrived in New York. She transformed herself into a star magazine editor, at the helm of Vanity Fair and later the New Yorker. She tells Amol Rajan how the backstabbing and status-driven world of American politics allows figures like Donald Trump to triumph.Didier Eribon is one of France's leading philosophers and the biographer of Foucault. But he has only just "come out" as working class. In his memoir Returning to Reims he asks why social status is still toxic in Europe today. And he gives a damning account of how the French working class shifted their loyalty from the Communist Party to Marine Le Pen's National Front.Frida Kahlo is a communist icon. As one of the world's most marketable faces she has even appeared on Theresa May's bracelet. Kahlo had a keen sense of her own image from an early age, and painted endless self-portraits. But she was also ashamed of her body and the accident that had left her unable to bear a child. As a blockbuster exhibition opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum, author Miranda France unpicks Kahlo's slippery reputation.A governess arrives at a grand country house and is terrified by the sexual freedom she encounters, in Benjamin Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw. Timothy Sheader directs a new production for Regent's Park Theatre and the English National Opera. He explains how a ghost story about a boy seduced by a powerful working man enabled Britten to address the shame and criminality of homosexuality in 1950s Britain.Producer: Hannah Sander.
25/06/1842m 40s

Deserts and the Nuclear Age

One-third of the earth's surface is classified as desert. The writer William Atkins has travelled to eight of the world's hottest, driest places. He tells Andrew Marr about these forbidding, inhuman landscapes. The Arabian Desert lies mostly in Saudi Arabia but crosses borders from Egypt to Qatar, UAE to Oman. The economic analyst Jane Kinninmont looks at how this shared landscape affects regional politics and culture.In the 1950s deserts were the preferred places for Britain and America to test their nuclear bombs in secret. The science journalist Fred Pearce explores the human ingenuity - and human error - that has fuelled the atomic age. Producer: Katy Hickman.
18/06/1841m 50s

Altered Minds

Psychedelic drugs are once again being trialled to treat a range of psychological conditions. The writer Mike Pollan tells Kirsty Wark about the science of LSD and magic mushrooms: from the 1940s to the 1960s they promised to shed light not only on the deep mysteries of consciousness, but also to offer relief from addiction and mental illness. Banned since the 1970s, there is now a resurgence of research into these mind-altering substances.While some psychiatrists were getting their patients to experiment with psychedelics in the 1950s, far more were administering electroconvulsive therapy - both have a controversial history. ECT involves sending an electric current through the brain to trigger an epileptic seizure. It gained a reputation as a barbaric treatment, after the film One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. But the psychiatrist Dr Tammy Burmeister believes that it's time people understood the therapeutic potential from this procedure.The poet Andrew Motion's latest book Essex Clay is an attempt to return to heartfelt memories of childhood. He looks back at his mother's riding accident, which left her 'floating herself among the nebulae and gas clouds of her vast unconsciousness' and her subsequent slow death. The book revolves around loss and memory and retrieval. The evolution of the human brain is one of the wonders of nature, but the philosopher of science Peter Godfrey-Smith asks what if intelligent life on Earth evolved not once, but twice? He wonders how the octopus - a solitary creature - became so smart. He traces the story from single-celled organism 3.8 billion years ago to the development of cephalopod consciousness, casting new light on the octopus mind. Producer: Katy Hickman.
11/06/1842m 3s

Arundhati Roy on castes and outcasts

Booker Prize-winning novelist Arundhati Roy's latest book weaves together the lives of the misfits and outcasts from India's bustling streets. Roy is famous as an advocate for the most vulnerable and dehumanised in Indian society. She tells Andrew Marr how her main character Anjum builds a small paradise for the dispossessed in a graveyard in Delhi. Ivan Mishukov walked out of his Moscow flat aged four and spent two years living on the city streets, where he found a home among a pack of wild dogs. Playwright Hattie Naylor used this true and extraordinary story as the basis for a play and now a film, Lek and the Dogs. She explores how the human world failed to look after the child, but how his kindness won the trust and protection of street dogs.Damian Le Bas grew up surrounded by Gypsy history from his great grandmother. He sets out on the road to discover Travellers' stopping places and to understand how the romanticised stories of the past were replaced by the critical, outcast image of present-day Gypsies.The columnist and Conservative Peer Daniel Finkelstein appears to be the ultimate establishment insider. But his parents were refugees who were forced to move across Europe because of antisemitism. He believes their desire for rootedness and belonging underlines his own politics.Producer: Katy HickmanPicture: Arundhati Roy (credit Mayank Austen Soofi).
04/06/1842m 1s

Survival and Destruction

In a special edition at Hay Festival, Tom Sutcliffe explores success and failure, from Homer's epic poetry to global pandemics. The historian David Christian looks at the birth and development of the universe. He weaves together science, arts and humanities in his vast tale of human existence.Emily Wilson is the first woman to translate, The Odyssey, the great adventure story of classical literature.The historian Antony Beevor reconstructs the tragedy of Arnhem, the Battle for the Bridges in 1944. He questions whether the British military strategy was doomed from the start.Success and failure are woven through Dr Jonathan D Quick's study of epidemics. He asks whether politics and science can come together to prevent the deaths of millions of people.Producer: Katy Hickman.
28/05/1850m 31s

Dark Satanic Mills

Giant factories are at the centre of Joshua Freeman's history of mass production. From the textile mills in England that powered the Industrial Revolution to the car plants of 20th century America and today's colossal sweat shops in Asia, Freeman tells Amol Rajan how factories have reflected both the hopes and fears of social change.The poems in Jane Commane's collection, Assembly Line, are set in a Midlands where ghosts haunt the deserted factory floor and the landscape is littered with 'heartsick towns'.The architecture critic Rowan Moore looks at the changing landscape of work in the 21st century, from huge impersonal distribution centres to the pleasure palaces of tech giants.The economist Mariana Mazzucato is calling for a reform of capitalism, to replace taking with making. She argues that the global economy has become a parasitic system in which value-extraction is more highly rewarded than value-creation. Producer: Katy Hickman.
21/05/1841m 50s

Jordan Peterson: Rules for Life

Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and YouTube sensation, professes to bring order to chaos in his 12 Rules for Life. He tells Tom Sutcliffe about the importance of individual responsibility, using lessons from humanity's oldest myths and stories. But his home truths are not without controversy: acclaimed by many, his critics accuse him of reinforcing traditional gender and family roles and attacking liberal values.Hashi Mohamed is the living embodiment of many of Peterson's life rules: he came to Britain when he was 9 years old with little English and through a combination of skill, luck and hard work is now a barrister. But he is critical of the lack of social mobility and his own rags to riches story is one he thinks is increasingly difficult to realise.The Irish author Louise O'Neill has made her name challenging the roles given to women. In her books for young adults she has tackled small town hypocrisy and sexism, rape culture and victim-blaming. She too has looked to the stories of the past and her latest book is a radical retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid.The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright turns his focus on his home state Texas, to see what it can teach us about America. A 'superstate' with a GDP larger than most industrialised countries, and with a population on track to double by 2050, Texas both confirms and challenges its stereotype. Wright is confronted by cowboy individualism, gun-loving patriotism and nostalgia for an ersatz past, but also finds pockets of liberal progressiveness and entrepreneurial drive. Producer: Katy HickmanPicture: Jonathan Castellino for Penguin.
14/05/1841m 42s

The Death of Democracy

Will we recognise the signs that democracy has ended? Cambridge professor David Runciman worries that we spend far too much time comparing today's politics with the 1930s, and that this blinds us to the frailties of democracy today. He tells Amol Rajan why he thinks our current political system will come to an end - and why we may not even notice this happening.Professor Nic Cheeseman is all too aware that democracy can become an empty shell. His new book How To Rig An Election, co-written with Brian Klaas, looks at the myriad ways autocrats use elections for their own ends, from buying votes and bribing electors to issuing fake pens in the ballot box. And it is not only the developing world in which corruption takes place. He addresses the role of outside states in the 2016 US presidential election, and asks how western democracy can be kept healthy.Anne Applebaum has studied the ways in which democracy can arise like a phoenix from the ashes of authoritarianism. As the author of Red Famine: Stalin's War On Ukraine, and a professor at the LSE, she has analysed the reasons why democracy flourished in Poland and Ukraine after 1989, and suggests reasons why the 2012 Arab Spring has not yet had the same results. But as a journalist for the Washington Post she is all too aware of attacks on democracy today, both in the former Soviet bloc and in America. She argues that the onus is on us to save our own systems.Producer: Hannah Sander.
07/05/1841m 45s

Mysteries of the Universe

The Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli delves into the meaning of time. He tells Andrew Marr how we live in a timeless world but have evolved to perceive time's flow.The astrophysicist Carole Mundell is interested in the extragalactic. Her studies of the universe beyond our Milky Way help expand knowledge of cosmic black holes and explain powerful explosions in space.Space travel is the new frontier, but exactly 250 years ago the Endeavour set sail from Plymouth seeking to test the limits of scientific understanding. An exhibition at the British Library, curated by Laura Walker, tells the story of Captain Cook's world-changing voyages and their studies into the skies, seas and lands beyond our shores.And the marine biologist Helen Scales is more interested in exploring the world beneath the oceans. Her latest book marvels at the wonders of fish, from centuries-old giants to tiny restless travellers moving in shoals across our globe.Producer: Katy Hickman.
30/04/1842m 24s

Life Is a Dream

Tom Sutcliffe discusses free will and fate; dreams and reality. Jesmyn Ward's prize-winning novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, set in the American South, is haunted by the ghosts of the past. Ward writes of incarceration and freedom, and the strength - and weakness - of family bonds.For his latest ballet, choreographer Kim Brandstrup has taken inspiration from Calderon's 17th century Spanish play Life is a Dream, in which a dire prophecy leads a King to imprison his son. Brandstrup uses contemporary dance to explore where dreams end and reality begins, but also to express wonder at life itself.How to live well is at the centre of Edith Hall's self-help book based on the teachings of Aristotle. She examines the ancient Greek philosopher's ideas on how self-knowledge, responsibility and love could help us forge a more meaningful life. And the philosopher John Gray continues his exploration of what it is to be human in his new work, Seven Types of Atheism.Producer: Katy Hickman.
23/04/1842m 1s

1968: Radicals and Riots

Fifty years after radicals took to the streets of Paris and stormed campuses across the Western World, Andrew Marr unpicks the legacy of 1968.Historian Richard Vinen finds waves of protest across the western world in his book The Long '68: Radical Protest and Its Enemies. Some movements were genuinely revolutionary, such as the ten million French workers whose strike nearly toppled the government. But on American university campuses and in British art schools, protests took the forms of civil rights marches and feminist collectives, whose narratives changed the way we think today.In Paris, left-wing students armed with works of philosophy took on the police and the state. But Paris was still coming to terms with its Nazi occupation, explains Agnès Poirier. Her new book follows the artists and writers of the 40s and 50s, from Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre to Miles Davis and James Baldwin, as a new generation helped France regain its reputation for art, passion and political action.Not only left-wing radicals were inspired by the events of that year. In 1968 philosopher Roger Scruton was holed up in a Paris bedroom studying while rioters smashed windows outside. Scruton was horrified by the chaos and destruction, and turned his back on the left-wing politics of his childhood. He became part of a generation of new conservatives who sought to preserve the past rather than fight for an unknown future.Today France is facing new waves of strikes, with railway workers bringing the transport system to a halt and Emmanuel Macron pushing through sweeping reforms to social security. Sophie Pedder, Paris bureau chief for The Economist and author or a new biography of Macron, asks what France in 2018 owes to the events of 1968.Producer: Hannah Sander.
16/04/1842m 10s

The Good Samaritan

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes makes a case for cash handouts to the poor. He tells Andrew Marr that having become exceptionally wealthy he is looking for the most efficient way to give something back to society, and a Universal Basic Income is among his ideas.But the Oxford academic Ian Goldin argues that UBI is an intellectual sticking plaster. He suggests targeted benefits, better taxation and philanthropy may be the answers to today's growing inequality and the prospect of mass job losses due to automation.Caroline Slocock was the first female Private Secretary at No.10, employed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She looks back at the last years of Thatcher's time in office, and Thatcher's vision of a smaller state and individual responsibility.Margaret Thatcher used the parable of the Good Samaritan to argue her case, suggesting that the voluntary actions of a wealthy Samaritan trumped the collective action of the state. Nick Spencer, Research Director at the public theology think tank Theos, explores how this parable has been hijacked for political ends from both the left and the right.Producers: Katy Hickman and Hannah Sander.
09/04/1841m 26s

Faith and Doubt

Amol Rajan discusses faith and doubt. Religion is a recurrent theme in Naomi Alderman's novels. Her first book, Disobedience, explored a Jewish girl's split with orthodox religion, while in Liar's Gospel she told multiple stories of Jesus through the eyes of those around him.Obedience was a virtue for the nuns of sixteenth-century Italy, but the music they wrote and sang was far less virtuous. Music professor and performer Laurie Stras has unearthed sensual and experimental works by nuns including the daughter of Lucrezia Borgia. And while many flocked to the nunneries to hear these women perform, others accused them of irreligious vanity.Historian and Anglican priest Malcolm Guite tells the life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and finds religious imagery permeating Coleridge's most famous work, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.And the writer and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, asks how spiritual belief can help us face our mortality, in his new book Waiting for the Last Bus.Producer: Katy Hickman.
02/04/1842m 8s

Love and Loss

Sue Black spends much of her time with dead bodies. As one of the world's leading forensic anthropologists she has encountered death in many forms, leading British expeditions to Kosovo and to Thailand following the Boxing Day Tsunami. She tells Andrew Marr what ancient cadavers and recent corpses can teach us about mortality.Medieval depictions of death and injury don't shy away from the grotesque, says art historian Jack Hartnell. The mutilated bodies of saints and martyrs were often on display in medieval buildings, but these blood-spattered images were meant to inspire hope and faith.A devastating loss divides a couple in award-winning novelist Kit de Waal's new book, The Trick to Time. As an expert in fostering and adoption, she has also helped both adults and children cope with the lifelong impact of tragedy.A courageous child sits at the heart of composer Mark-Anthony Turnage's latest opera, Coraline, a dark fantasy based on Neil Gaiman's tale. The heroic Coraline finds a magical world in her attic and steps inside. But this world's Other Mother is not to be trusted and Coraline must fight to restore her real family.Producer: Hannah Sander.
26/03/1841m 57s

In Praise of Passion

We are drawn to wildness and disorder, argues historian Bettany Hughes. She tells Andrew Marr about the attraction of Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility, and the subject of a new BBC Four documentary. Bacchus (also known as Dionysus) has been a symbol of excess ever since Roman maidens fled to the woods and drank wine in his name. Hughes follows the Bacchic cult through history, and argues that chaos has been as important to civilisation as reason and restraint.The wood - scene of so many Bacchic revelries - comes to life in nature writer John Lewis-Stempel's new account, The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood. Through poetry, folklore and his own observations he asks what it is that draws us to magical spaces.Today we revel in feelings of joy and wonder, but feelings themselves are a surprisingly modern invention, says cultural historian Rachel Hewitt. She looks back at the 1790s, the decade when men and women of learning first began to take emotions seriously. Hewitt explains how an Enlightenment interest in reason led us to explore our own chaotic moods.There are Bacchic scenes in the music of Debussy, as biographer Stephen Walsh shows in a new study of the French composer. Away from his piano Debussy had to battle professional vendettas, but in pieces such as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Debussy created a world of rich woodland scenes and musical intoxication.Producer: Hannah Sander.
19/03/1840m 44s

Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead

At the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead Lionel Shriver discusses her new collection of short stories Property with presenter Kirsty Wark.While Lionel Shriver explores our relationship with objects and places, and asks what the increasing accumulation of things may be doing to the soul, the sociologist Bev Skeggs explores how we are being bought and sold in the digital sphere. She also counts the cost of the monetisation of human relations and highlights communities in the North of England who are bucking this trend.The economist Linda Yueh looks back to the thinkers of the past from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, to show the importance of understanding the ideas that underpin the world of finance. And the poet Sean O'Brien armed with 'paper and a clock' explores the history of Europe in his latest collection and argues that Great Britain's future will be shaped by what we remember and what we forget of our shared past.Producer: Katy Hickman.
12/03/1848m 57s