Julian Baggini: The Philosopher in the Kitchen – 1. Practical Wisdom and hummus

Here is the first of four short films I made with Julian Baggini last summer and released last month to coincide with the paperback edition of his book, The Virtues of the Table. In this first film he asks: Do we really need to follow recipes?

 

Julian Baggini: The Philosopher in the Kitchen – 1. Practical Wisdom (Hummus) from George Miller on Vimeo.

Continue Reading · 16 February, 2015 · food and drink, science and philosophy, video

Graham Farmelo on Churchill’s Bomb


Graham Farmelo

I thought this might be an appropriate time to re-post my interview with Graham Farmelo from December 2013 about Winston Churchill’s interest in science and in particular nuclear weapons. Click on the player above to listen to the interview. Here’s what I said about the book in my introduction:

Graham Farmelo Churchill's BombI first became aware of Graham’s work a decade ago at Granta, where he had that rarest of things, a bestseller about equations, called It Must Be Beautiful. I interviewed him a few years ago for the Faber podcast when his biography of fellow physicist Paul Dirac came out; that book, entitled The Strangest Man, won the 2009 Costa Biography Award and the 2010 Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize. Graham and I met up again recently at Faber’s offices in Bloomsbury to talk about his new book, Churchill’s Bomb, a fascinating and pacy story of how Britain became a nuclear power, seen through the lens of Winston Churchill’s career.

Graham shows that Churchill’s interest in science – especially as it applied to the changing nature of warfare – ran all the way through his career. He was a devoted reader and sometime friend of that great speculator on the future, H.G. Wells. And Churchill himself pondered the nuclear question in his writing. In 1937, He contemplated the destructive potential that science’s mastery of nature held out – at a time when many scientists still doubted a nuclear bomb was achievable – and asked “Are we fit for it?”

Churchill’s Bomb provides an absorbing exploration of what happens when scientists encounter the pragmatic world of politics, and of whether politicians can cope with the power that scientists were increasingly able to place in their hands. As Graham says in this interview: ‘the availability of nuclear energy at the time when the world was plunged into its biggest conflict was one of the cruellest tricks that fate played on the human race in the twentieth century’. The book is also the story of how the centre of nuclear physics shifted from Britain to the United States, and the coming into being of post-war geopolitics in which nuclear capability would loom so large.

Continue Reading · 31 January, 2015 · history and politics, podcasts, science and philosophy

David Harsent on his T.S. Eliot Prize-winning collection, Fire Songs

David HarsentOne of the most enjoyable interviews I recorded last year was with poet David Harsent. I’ve long been an admirer of David’s work; since I first encountered in the early 1990s, in fact, when David was on the long-departed Oxford Poets list and I was the junior editor, whose duties were mainly putting things in envelopes. Around the same time, I saw a TV production of Birtwistle’s Gawain, for which David wrote the libretto, which also made a deep impression on me. So I was delighted by the news a couple of weeks ago that David had won this year’s T.S. Eliot prize for his latest collection, Fire Songs.

Click on the link above to listen to the first part of our conversation. Here’s what I said about the book in the introduction to the podcast:

Reviewing his previous collection, Night, in the Independent, Fiona Sampson said: ‘Truly significant poets write like no one else, and David Harsent is both sui generis and unsurpassed.’ If anything, I would say that this new collection attains even greater heights – heights of linguistic concentration, haunting imagery – by turn dreamlike and nightmarish – thematic complexity in the interweaving of the book’s recurring preoccupations, and sheer visceral power.

In recent years, we have grown increasingly familiar with the destructive force of water, the nightmare of a world slowly drowning more common than an overheating world consumed by flames. But, although water and fire sometimes coexist in this book, it is the power of the latter which runs insistently through it: Fires manmade and natural; fires that erase and destroy and transform.

If fire is inescapable, the recurrent figure of the rat in Fire Songs is ineradicable  – ‘survivor of fire and flood’, as Harsent says. It’s a creature that occupies the margin of our dreams, and emerges unscathed after the apocalypse with designs on inheriting the earth.

Harsent writes:

 Rapacious like us prolific like us omnivorous like us prodigal like us

            Unremitting like us like us a killer of its own kind

In this first part of the interview, we talk about fire, war and its aftermath, and the rat. In the second part, we go on to discuss three poems David wrote in response to his experience of living with tinnitus, and conclude with a discussion of religion – in particular the disquieting figure of the Trickster Christ – and a complete reading of the first of the Fire Songs.

Continue Reading · 28 January, 2015 · podcasts, poetry

In tribute to P.D. James

Here, in tribute to P.D. James, who died last week, is my interview with her from 2011 in which she looks back over her career.

Continue Reading · 4 December, 2014 · crime fiction, podcasts

Atul Gawande on The Checklist Manifesto

To coincide with his giving this year’s Reith Lectures, I thought I would re-release this interview with Atul Gawande from 2011, in which I spoke to him about The Checklist Manifesto and how something as simple as a checklist could have dramatic, positive benefits in healthcare. “We have people at the frontline who have great […]

Continue Reading · 30 November, 2014 · history and politics, medicine, podcasts

Rafael Barajas on Mexico in crisis

In the December edition of Le Monde diplomatique, Rafael Barajas and fellow journalist Pedro Miguel have written about Mexico’s current state of crisis after the disappearance of 43 students from a rural teacher training college in September. It appears that they were handed over by the police to organized criminals who subsequently killed them. If […]

Continue Reading · 30 November, 2014 · history and politics, podcasts

Mary Bosworth: Inside Immigration Detention

“Following 9/11, the US and then the UK decided to introduce new pieces of legislation which were ostensibly aimed – at least to start with – against terrorism and concerned security. But they rapidly bled into other fields, in particular into the area of immigration. So we saw throughout the first decade of the 21st […]

Continue Reading · 4 November, 2014 · history and politics, law, podcasts

Graham Johnson on Schubert (I)

“Schubert had a response to words that is quite extraordinary. It’s the way that the interaction between words and music – which in a sense gives the song its own life – takes place that interests me. Josef von Spaun once wrote very perspicaciously that Schubert writes a poem on the poem, [by which he […]

Continue Reading · 30 October, 2014 · art and music, podcasts, poetry

Peter Carey: Amnesia on the fire escape

I’ve long yearned to conduct an author interview on the fire escape at Faber, and recently my wish came true, with Peter Carey no less. Here he is talking about his new novel, Amnesia: Peter Carey introduces his new novel, Amnesia from George Miller on Vimeo.

Continue Reading · 24 October, 2014 · history and politics, literature, video

(Nearly) two hundred years of the Old Vic

The Old Vic first opened its doors in May 1818. Back then, building a new theatre south of the river was a commercially risky venture, and the Royal Coburg Theatre (as it was originally known) was only made viable by the recent construction of Waterloo Bridge. The first night programme included a melodrama, a pantomime […]

Continue Reading · 21 October, 2014 · history and politics, literature, podcasts, theatre

Conversations with translators (II): Rosamund Bartlett on Anna Karenina

For this, the second in a series of Conversations with Translators (following my interview with Oliver Ready on Crime and Punishment from earlier this year), we stick with the Russians and turn to a new version of Anna Karenina produced by Rosamund Bartlett for Oxford University Press. This was in fact my third visit to […]

Continue Reading · 18 August, 2014 · literature, podcasts
Rainy Brain Sunny Brain cover

Sunny Brain, Rainy Brain – the science of optimism

“The core components of optimism surprisingly don’t really have too much to do with positive thinking at all. One of the major components actually is a sense of control; what psychologists have found is that optimists are people who have a sense that they’re in control of their own destiny […] there are lots of […]

Continue Reading · 8 June, 2014 · podcasts, science and philosophy
Keith Kahn-Harris

Uncivil War: the Israel-Palestinian Conflict and the Jewish Community

  “For Jews, Israel goes very close to the heart, whether you’re a Jewish supporter of Israel or you’re a Jewish critic of Israel and of Zionism, it’s very hard to be indifferent about it. In fact, it would be very odd if most Jews were indifferent about Israel because this is the major project […]

Continue Reading · 1 May, 2014 · history and politics, podcasts, religion and belief