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Literary interviews and discussions on the latest releases in the world of publishing, from poetry through to physics. Presented by Sam Leith.

Literary interviews and discussions on the latest releases in the world of publishing, from poetry through to physics. Presented by Sam Leith.
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Literary interviews and discussions on the latest releases in the world of publishing, from poetry through to physics. Presented by Sam Leith.








Elif Shafak: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

Sam's guest in this week’s podcast is the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, whose latest novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World has just been shortlisted alongside Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Elif talks to Sam about living in exile, writing in a second language, her relationship with Istanbul, and how the West’s culture war over 'free speech' looks to someone from a country where free speech can get you thrown in jail or worse. Presented by Sam...


Frank Dikötter: How To Be A Dictator

This week's books podcast was recorded live at a Spectator event in Central London. Sam's guest is the distinguished historian Frank Dikötter, whose new book - expanding from his award-winning trilogy on Chairman Mao - considers the nature of tyranny. How To Be A Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century looks at what unites and what divides the regimes of dictators from Mussolini to Mengistu. They about how these dictators were able to exert control, and what made them...


Ian Sansom: September 1, 1939

Eighty years on from the start of the Second World War, Sam's guest in this week’s podcast is Ian Sansom — who’s talking about 'September 1, 1939', the Auden poem that marked the beginning of that war. Ian’s new book is a 'biography' of the poem, and he talks about how it showcases all that is both best and worst in Auden’s work, how Auden first rewrote and then disowned it, and how Auden’s posthumous reputation has had some unlikely boosters in Richard Curtis and Osama Bin Laden. Presented...


Lemn Sissay: My Name is Why

My guest on this week’s Books Podcast is the poet and playwright Lemn Sissay. Lemn’s new memoir My Name Is Why describes his early life — given up for fostering in the late 1960s as the son of an unmarried Ethiopian mother — and his progress, when his foster family gave him up, through the care system and out the other side. It’s a powerfully affecting story, and Lemn joins me to fill in some of the gaps. How does he feel towards his foster parents now? Do the racism and institutional...


Mick Herron on how to be a crap spy

Even books editors have to go on holiday sometimes, so Spectator Books is taking a hiatus for a couple of weeks. But so there's not a gaping gap in your life where the podcast used to be, we're bringing out some of our favourite episodes from our archive. This summer, Mick Herron has published the latest of his Jackson Lamb novels, Joe Country. It's a terrific read. So what better time to look back to the conversation Sam had with Mick Herron, a summer and a bit ago? Presented by Sam Leith.


Books for the beach with Alex Clark and Damian Barr

Even books editors have to go on holiday sometimes, so Spectator Books is taking a hiatus for a couple of weeks. But so there's not a gaping gap in your life where the podcast used to be, we're bringing out some of our favourite episodes from our archive. Sam is joined by the critic Alex Clark and Damian Barr — memoirist and host of the Savoy’s Literary Salon — to talk about summer reading. What do you take? What do you regret taking? Kindle, dead-tree or — 19th-century-style — cabin trunk...


Adam Nicolson and Tom Hammick: The Making of Poetry

In this week’s books podcast, we’re getting Romantic. Sam is joined by the writer Adam Nicolson and the artist Tom Hammick to talk about their new book The Making of Poetry: Coleridge, Wordsworth and their Year of Marvels. In it, Adam describes how — inspired by Richard Holmes’s 'footsteps' approach — he attempted to imaginatively inhabit the worlds of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the crucial year in the late 1790s when they lived near each-other in the Quantocks in Somerset. That meant, for...


David Brooks: The Second Mountain

The star New York Times columnist David Brooks has never been afraid to go beyond the usual remit of day-to-day politics. His new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life is exactly what it sounds like: a guide to the Meaning of Life, somewhere between a spiritual autobiography and a manual for living. He joins Sam to explain how he’s changed his mind about the meaning of life since his previous book The Road To Character (he’s cagy about whether refunds are available), about how...


Jon Day: Homing

Pigeons: revolting pests who can’t tell the difference between fag-butts and chips, right? Not so, according to Sam's latest podcast guest Jon Day, distinguished man of letters, critic, academic and… pigeon-fancier. Jon’s new book Homing describes how — suffering an early midlife crisis in young married life with fatherhood approaching — he took up racing pigeons. His book will make you look at pigeons in a new light — and also reflect on what these extraordinary birds have to tell us about...


Oleg Gordievsky: the double agent who changed the Cold War

There’s nobody who writes true-life spy stories like Ben MacIntyre — and with his latest book The Spy and the Traitor out in paperback, Ben joins me to talk about the astonishing career of Oleg Gordievsky, a single spy who really did change the whole course of the Cold War. Ben tells Sam about Oleg's rise, his downfall, his daring escape from Moscow — and how he lives now and what he thinks of the situation between Russia and the West these days. Plus, the peculiar role in the whole tale of...


Toby Faber: the Untold Story of Faber and Faber

This year the publishers Faber & Faber celebrate their 90th birthday, and to honour the occasion Sam is joined by Toby Faber, the founder’s grandson and the author of a new history of the company called Faber & Faber: The Untold Story. Most corporate histories are boring, but this one — told largely through the correspondence of that company’s astonishing cast of literary luminaries — is anything but. Toby talks about the company’s rackety start as a publisher of medical textbooks; about...


Benjamin Dreyer: Dreyer's English

In this week’s Spectator Books podcast Sam's guest is Benjamin Dreyer — whose name is pronounced, as Sam discovers live on air, 'Dryer' rather than 'Drayer'. That seems an apt way to be introduced to a man who, as Random House US’s Copy Chief, makes his living correcting errors. His new book Dreyer’s English is a compendium of useful tricks of the trade, sharp opinions and authoritative rulings on everything to do with language and style. They talk transatlantic language differences, angry...


Kit de Waal: Common People

In this week’s books podcast Kit de Waal is here to talk about her new anthology of working-class memoir, Common People. First a guest on this podcast a couple of years ago talking about her Desmond-Elliott-shortlisted debut My Name Is Leon, Kit explains why she thought an anthology of working-class writing was necessary, about if and how the pendulum has swung since previous booms in working-class writing, what still needs to change in publishing, and how, as an editor, she avoided falling...


Mike Jay: Mescaline

This week’s books podcast promises to be a trip. Sam is joined by Mike Jay to talk about the history of mescaline — a psychedelic drug whose influence goes from the earliest South American civilisations through the 19th-century Indian Wars up to W B Yeats, Aleister Crowley and (of course) Aldous Huxley and Hunter S Thompson. Does tripping balls tell us anything profound about human consciousness? How come Mexico got all the good drugs? And why did Aldous Huxley lie about his trousers?...


Marion Turner: Chaucer, A European Life

In this week’s books podcast we’re talking about why the Father of English Poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer, at least half belongs in a French, Latin and Italian tradition. Marion Turner’s magnificently scholarly Chaucer: A European Life sets the great writer in his own times — one of a hinge between feudal and early modern ideas about selfhood, authorship and originality; and one in which our man travelled widely and with profit across the Europe of his day, learning from poets from France and...


Jim Al-Khalili: Sunfall

In this week’s books podcast Sam is joined by the physicist Jim Al-Khalili (host of Radio Four’s The Life Scientific) to talk about his first novel, a science-fiction thriller called Sunfall. In it, Jim uses real science to conjure up a plausible but fantastical near-future crisis in which the earth’s magnetic field falters and dies. What would that mean? (Nothing good, is the answer.) He helps us sort our neutralinos from our neutrinos, tells us about the real existential threats we face,...


Emma Smith: This is Shakespeare

In this week’s Spectator Books, Sam's guest is Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford, who’s talking about her new book This Is Shakespeare. What is it that makes Shakespeare special — and is it defensible that, as even in university curricula, we talk about Shakespeare apart from and above the whole of the rest of literature? How did he think about genre? Why is Act Four always a bit boring? Is the Tempest an autumnal masterpiece or the thin work of a...


Ursula Buchan: Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps

In this week's books podcast, Sam is joined by Ursula Buchan - the author of a hugely involving new life of her late grandfather John Buchan. The book is called Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps (you can read Allan Massie's enthusiastic Spectator review of it [here](https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/04/was-there-no-end-to-john-buchans-talents/)), and it does as the title promises. Buchan (or 'JB' to his family) is known, if he's known now at all, as the author of the pre-war thriller The...


Bret Easton Ellis: White

In this week’s books podcast Sam is joined by Bret Easton Ellis. The author of Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Imperial Bedrooms is here to talk about his first nonfiction book White, and the savage critical response to it. They discuss censorious millennials, the fascination of actors, his problem with David Foster Wallace, 'coming out' as Patrick Bateman - and his own personal Ed Balls Day, when he posted what he thought was a text message ordering drugs to Twitter. Presented by Sam...


Joseph Stiglitz: People, Power, and Profits.

In this week’s books podcast, the guest is the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, architect of Bill Clinton’s “Third Way” and former chief economist at the World Bank. His new book People, Power and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent argues Trump’s economic boom is a “sugar-high”, and that the US economy is in a far, far worse state than anybody thinks. As a result, he says, we need to reevaluate our whole faith in free markets. The reason the "invisible...