The hammer and the cross – rethinking the Vikings

I heard an interesting interview with Robert Ferguson on the New York Times Books podcast at the weekend in which he talked about his new book on Scandinavia (“an engaging, layered look into a culture,” New York Times). It reminded me that I did an interview with Robert a few years ago when his new history of the Vikings, The Hammer and the Cross, came out. I listened again to that interview this morning on the dog walk and thought I’d repost it here.

In the interview, Robert told me:

One of the most important reasons for the outbreak of the age [of Viking raids and conquests] was acts of cultural self-defence. Almost – it is anachronistic – but almost terrorism. They couldn’t defeat the might of the [Christianizing] Frankish empire on the battlefield, so they resorted, as many a small culture will do when it’s under cultural threat, to terrorist-like activities, violent manifestations on frankly soft targets, monasteries and so on.

“And of course there was money to be had and things to be stolen as well, but there was no need to burn these places down and kill the unarmed monks, so I think that you have to look for some explanation as to why there was an almost psychopathic edge of hatred to this. It wasn’t simple robbery…”

 

Continue Reading · 24 July 2017 · history and politics, podcasts

Philip Hoare on Leviathan

philip hoare leviathanI see that Philip Hoare is publishing the third volume of his trilogy about the sea next week. RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR comes nine years after his award-winning book on the culture and history of whales, Leviathan, so I though I would re-present the interview I did with Philip about that book back then in a coffee shop in Bath (to listen click on the player above or download here)… As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

The story of a man’s obsession with whales, which takes him on a personal, historical and biographical journey – from his childhood to his fascination with Moby-Dick and his excursions whale-watching.

All his life, Philip Hoare has been obsessed by whales, from the gigantic skeletons in London’s Natural History Museum to adult encounters with the wild animals themselves. Whales have a mythical quality – they seem to elide with dark fantasies of sea-serpents and antediluvian monsters that swim in our collective unconscious.

In ‘Leviathan’, Philip Hoare seeks to locate and identify this obsession. What impelled Melville to write ‘Moby-Dick’? After his book in 1851, no one saw whales in quite the same way again.

This book is an investigation into what we know little about – dark, shadowy creatures who swim below the depths, only to surface in a spray of spume. More than the story of the whale, it is also the story of our own obsessions.

Continue Reading · 7 July 2017 · history and politics, literature, natural history, podcasts

Of love and betrayal

It’s probably the right time of year to re-post a link to this interview with Robin Dunbar of Oxford University from a few years back (I’m deducing this from the fact that I’ve already had Valentine’s wishes from charities and memory card suppliers today and been invited to ‘fall in love with’ an ‘air-conditioning solution’, so something is clearly in the air).

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 14.59.22

    GM: It has to be said that in the mammalian world, promiscuity certainly has the upper hand over monogamy..

    RD: Yes, this is mainly a consequence of the fact that mammals opted for internal gestation followed by lactation. That makes it very difficult for the males to do very much because there isn’t much in the form of parental engagement that they can engage in.

It may not increase your romantic instincts on Valentine’s Day, but what Robin has to say about pairbonding is fascinating. You’ll also find out why a good sense of humour is so often mentioned in dating profiles and what the origins of kissing are…

Continue Reading · 14 February 2017 · natural history, podcasts, science and philosophy

Meeting Matthew and Michael: the Faber Poetry Podcast

First time interviewing two poets at the same time; first time interviewing twins; first time interviewing identical twins; first time interviewing identical twin poets; first time interviewing two contributors to a tête-bêche (top-to-toe) edition, writing on the same theme – the death of their older brother – but in very different styles.

Matthew and Michael Dickman tactfully made my task much easier by periodically referring to each other by name, thereby making it clear to the listener who was talking.

Poets Matthew and Michael Dickman

Matthew (left) and Michael (right) at Faber offices, watched over by TS Eliot

Continue Reading · 11 October 2016 · podcasts, poetry

Julian Baggini on the Edge of Reason

“We have lost our reason,” writes philosopher Julian Baggini in the introduction to his latest book, The Edge of Reason, “and our loss is no accident. Gradually, the contemporary West has become more and more dismissive of the power of reason. Caring for it less, we often find we have left it behind.”

baggini-edge-of-reason-coverThe book explores some of the causes and consequences of this loss, and suggests ways in which we can reclaim reason, perhaps counter-intuitively by making “deflationary” (i.e. quite modest, or at least qualified) claims for it. Baggini acknowledges that reason has its limitations, and cannot in the real world be reduced to some abstract model or algorithm. Human beings are irrational in a host of ways, he argues, but reason remains our most powerful tool to tackle the problems – political and ethical – that our complex modern societies face: reason is a means of finding common ground.

Baggini quotes psychologist Dan Ariely with approval: “We are limited, we are not perfect, we are irrational in all kinds of ways. But we can build a world that is compatible with this that gets us to make better decisions rather than worse decisions. That’s my hope.”

At several points in the book, Baggini emphasises the value of careful attending, in other words, listening, tuning in, rather than seeking to devise a knock-down argument. So listen in now to what he has to say about recovering reason. I recorded this podcast with Julian at home in Bristol a few weeks ago.

Continue Reading · 29 September 2016 · podcasts, science and philosophy
Greek charioteer

Olympic Games, 388 BC style

What would it have been like to spend five days attending the ancient Greek Olympics in 388 BC? That’s what Neil Faulkner‘s book sets out to explore. You can listen to the interview, which I recorded with Neil in the spring of 2012, shortly before the London games, by clicking on the media players above […]

Continue Reading · 9 August 2016 · history and politics, sport, video
Nield Supercontinent cover

Ted Nield on Supercontinent

With the same inevitability as the shifting tectonic plates perhaps, my podcast backlist seems to have drifted off iTunes and disappeared beneath the waves. So I am intending to use the opportunity, which did not initially come as welcome news, to gradually re-present all my interviews from the past ten years. They may not all […]

Continue Reading · 7 June 2016 · podcasts, science and philosophy

Zoë Anderson on The Ballet Lover’s Companion

My guest in this podcast is Zoë Anderson, ballet critic of the Independent and author of The Ballet Lover’s Companion, recently published by Yale University Press. Zoë’s book traces the history and development of ballet as an art form by focusing on 140 works in the repertoire: classics, revived rarities and modern masterpieces. Sarah Crompton, […]

Continue Reading · 8 June 2015 · art and music, podcasts
kobane

LMD podcast: Ed Emery on the Kurdish songbook project

My guest in the most recent podcast for Le Monde diplomatique was Ed Emery, who is an ethnomusicologist at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and also the presenter of Ed Emery’s Revolutionary Radio Show. Ed wrote a piece for Le Monde diplomatique in which he described the regular visits he and […]

Continue Reading · 22 May 2015 · art and music, history and politics, podcasts
pat shipman

Of stones, bones, and wolf-dogs

In Pat Shipman’s recent book, The Invaders (Harvard University Press, 2015), she argues that our last close relative, the Neanderthals, were driven to extinction not solely by climate change – though that played its part – but by the incursion of an invasive species: homo sapiens. We modern humans – the invaders of Pat’s title […]

Continue Reading · 8 April 2015 · anthropology, natural history, podcasts