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Start the Week

Podcast Start the Week
Podcast Start the Week

Start the Week


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  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

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