Month: February 2013


incoming by Ted Nield

The asteroid belt is not the way it’s portrayed in Star Wars… It’s not this busy violent place with things colliding all the time…

The meteorite that landed on Chebarkul a few days ago made me think that it was a good time to delve into the archive for the podcast I recorded with my old friend Ted Nield about his book Incoming!, which seeks to persuade us to stop worrying and learn to love the meteorite (which may be less easy if you live in the Urals).

When we met to record this podcast at the Geological Society in London a couple of years ago, we began by talking about the region in the solar system between Mars and Jupiter, known as the asteroid belt, an “orphanage for homeless bits of potential planets”, which is home to meteorites… and yes, we do come round to talking about whether or not a meteorite impact was to blame for the demise of the dinosaurs…

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.

“These are a few of my favourite popes…”

ten popes who shook the world

Yes, the title of this post is admittedly a little misleading – the popes in the podcast (popecast?) are not necessarily the favourites of my guest, Eamon Duffy, but those who he thinks have had the greatest impact on history – The Ten Popes who Shook the World.

Eamon’s popes range from Saint Peter to John Paul II, and along the way take in reforming popes and reactionaries, and sometimes complex men who combined both instincts, faced with the challenges of establishing and shaping the church.

With over 260 candidates to choose from, I bean by asking Eamon how hard it had been to come up with a list of just ten pontiffs. To listen to the podcast, click here.

Eamon Duffy is professor of the history of Christianity, Cambridge University, and fellow and former president of Magdalene College. He is the author of many prizewinning books, among them Fires of Faith, Marking the Hours, and Saints and Sinners, all available from Yale University Press.

Food adulteration is nothing new

HorsesWith horse meat cropping up all over the place in food in the UK at the moment, I went back to the interview I recorded in 2008 for Princeton University Press with Bee Wilson about her book Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Ersatz Coffee.

As the book makes clear, (justifiable) concern about what’s in our food is nothing new: complaints about adulterated bread date back at least as far as the Middle Ages, and the Victorians had to contend with fake tea, ersatz coffee and cheese coloured with red lead. In this interview, Bee says:

Adulteration is a universal in history – it’s always been with us and it’s always going to be with us in some form or another. But it only seems to have become endemic in modern industrialized cities coupled with a particular kind of state. You would have editorials written in the Times between about the 1820s and the 1860s quite regularly saying things like, if a gentleman wants to sell chicory and call it coffee, that’s his business, no one should intervene…

Listening to the BBC lunchtime news today, I was surprised by just how phlegmatic shoppers interviewed on Camden High Street were about not knowing what was in the food they were eating; the prevailing attitude was, if the food’s cheap, you’re naive not to expect some corners to have been cut along the way. Where, I wonder, is the dividing line between corners cut and horses minced?

To listen to the podcast click here.