Tag: Christianity

39. On Monsters: An Unnatural History of our Worst Fears

On Monsters AsmaI first became aware of Stephen Asma‘s book on the fine Washington Post Book World podcast (which sadly is no more). The Post also chose the book as one of its top non-fiction titles of the year for 2009, calling it “a safari through the many manifestations of our idea of the monstrous”. Their reviewer went on: “I have seldom read a book that so satisfyingly achieves such an ambitious goal.”

And indeed the book is much more than a mere freakish parade of monsters (though that is a part of its pleasure) – it is rather an investigation of the meaning of monsters. Why do all societies have their monsters? What do they help us cope with? How has the significance of monsters changed as societies have gone from polytheism to monotheism and on through the Enlightenment? And which of our current fears will our future monsters embody?

Asma is clearly something of a polymath – not only did he produce many of the illustrations in the book himself, he also combines his academic career at Columbia College in Chicago, where he specializes in the philosophy and history of science, with playing music professionally (you can sample it here). And he has made his own entertainingly creepy trailer for On Monsters, which you can seeĀ here.

Click on the link above to listen to the podcast, or subscribe to Podularity on iTunes using the link in the right hand column above – it’s quick, free and easy.

Did the Vikings wear Viking helmets?

Hammer and Cross coverRobert Ferguson visited London from his home in Oslo earlier this week and I interviewed him at his publisher’s offices for the Blackwells podcast which will go out tomorrow.

Robert has just published a major new history of the Viking age called The Hammer and the Cross, in which he says he wants to “restore the violence of the Viking age”, but also to explain the context in which that violence took place – namely the enforced Christianization of the northern peoples by Charlemagne.

Is it, Robert wonders in the Blackwells interview, out of place to compare the dynamic driving those Viking raids to modern acts of terrorism?

I also made this short film with him in which I confess the questions were a bit more straightforward: so did the Vikings wear horned helmets? Click below to find out [3:37].

What’s the big idea?

Festival of Ideas logoIn May I made a number of recordings for this year’s Bristol Festival of Ideas, a series of very popular events which brought some high-powered thinkers to the city to stimulate discussion on subjects as diverse as the legacy of ’68 to why the human brain is not quite ‘fit for purpose’.

I’m editing my interviews now for a series of podcasts sponsored by The Philosophers’ Magazine, which will be appearing over the next few months. The first one is downloadable now from iTunes here. Read More