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The Reith Lectures


Significant international thinkers deliver the BBC's flagship annual lecture series

Significant international thinkers deliver the BBC's flagship annual lecture series
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London, United Kingdom




Significant international thinkers deliver the BBC's flagship annual lecture series






Angela Stent on George Kennan

Significant international thinkers deliver the BBC's flagship annual lecture series


Anand Menon on Robert Birley

Significant international thinkers deliver the BBC's flagship annual lecture series


Michael Sandel on Bertrand Russell

Significant international thinkers deliver the BBC's flagship annual lecture series



Hilary Mantel on how fiction changes when adapted for stage or screen. Each medium, she says, draws a different potential from the original. She argues that fiction, if written well, doesn't betray history, but enhances it. When fiction is turned into theatre, or into a film or TV, the same applies - as long as we understand that adaptation is not a secondary process or a set of grudging compromises, but an act of creation in itself. And this matters. "Without art, what have you to inform...


Can These Bones Live?

Hilary Mantel analyses how historical fiction can make the past come to life. She says her task is to take history out of the archive and relocate it in a body. "It's the novelist's job: to put the reader in the moment, even if the moment is 500 years ago." She takes apart the practical job of "resurrection", and the process that gets historical fiction on to the page. "The historian will always wonder why you left certain things out, while the literary critic will wonder why you left them...


Silence Grips the Town

The story of how an obsessive relationship with history killed the young Polish writer Stanislawa Przybyszewska, told by best-selling author, Hilary Mantel. The brilliant Przybyszewska wrote gargantuan plays and novels about the French Revolution, in particular about the revolutionary leader Robespierre. She lived in self-willed poverty and isolation and died unknown in 1934. But her work, so painfully achieved, did survive her. Was her sacrifice worthwhile? "She embodied the past until...


The Iron Maiden

How do we construct our pictures of the past, including both truth and myth, asks best-selling author Hilary Mantel. Where do we get our evidence? She warns of two familiar errors: either romanticising the past, or seeing it as a gory horror-show. It is tempting, but often condescending, to seek modern parallels for historical events. "Are we looking into the past, or looking into a mirror?" she asks. "Dead strangers...did not live and die so we could draw lessons from them." Above all,...


The Day Is for the Living

Art can bring the dead back to life, argues the best-selling novelist Hilary Mantel, starting with the story of her own great-grandmother. "We sense the dead have a vital force still," she says. "They have something to tell us, something we need to understand. Using fiction and drama, we try to gain that understanding." She describes how and why she began to write fiction about the past, and how her view of her trade has evolved. We cannot hear or see the past, she says, but "we can listen...



The philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah says the idea of "Western civilization" or "Western culture" is a mistaken one and that we should abandon it. He uncovers the history of the idea from its roots at the time of the Crusades to its modern incarnation in the second half of the 20th century. However, we have very little culturally in common with our forebears in say the England of Chaucer's time. And indeed much of the knowledge supposedly at the heart of Western...



The philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues for a world free of racial fixations. He tells the story of Anton Wilhelm Amo Afer. He was five years old when he was brought from the Gold Coast to Germany in 1707, educated at a royal court and became an eminent philosopher. He argues that this elaborate Enlightenment experiment illuminates a series of mistaken ideas , including that there is a "racial essence" which all members of that race carry. Modern science long ago...



The philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues against a mythical, romantic view of nationhood, saying instead it should rest on a commitment to shared values. He explores the history of the idea, born in the 19th century, that there are peoples who are bound together by an ancient common spirit and that each of these nations is entitled to its own state. He says this idea is a mistaken one, illustrating his argument through the life story of the writer who took the pen...



Philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that when considering religion we overestimate the importance of scripture and underestimate the importance of practice. He begins with the complexities of his own background, as the son of an English Anglican mother and a Ghanaian Methodist father. He turns to the idea that religious faith is based around unchanging and unchangeable holy scriptures. He argues that over the millennia religious practice has been quite as...


Black holes ain't as black as they are painted

The Cambridge cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking delivers the second of his BBC Reith Lectures on black holes. Professor Hawking examines scientific thinking about black holes and challenges the idea that all matter and information is destroyed irretrievably within them. He explains his own hypothesis that black holes may emit a form of radiation, now known as Hawking Radiation. He discusses the search for mini black holes, noting that so far "no-one has found any, which is a pity...


Do black holes have no hair?

Professor Stephen Hawking delivers the first of his two BBC Reith Lectures on black holes. These collapsed stars challenge the very nature of space and time, as they contain a singularity - a phenomenon where the normal rules of the universe break down. They have held an enduring fascination for Professor Hawking throughout his life. Rather than see them as a scary, destructive and dark he says if properly understood, they could unlock the deepest secrets of the cosmos. Professor Hawking...


The Idea of Wellbeing

The surgeon and writer Atul Gawande calls for a new focus on medical systems to ensure doctors work more effectively, alongside far greater transparency about their performance. Speaking to an audience at the India International Centre in Delhi, he describes the story of medicine over the last century through the prism of his own family. From a grandmother who died in rural India from malaria - a preventable disease - to the high-tech medicine of today. He argues that despite its...


The Problem of Hubris

Surgeon and writer Atul Gawande calls for a new approach to the two great unfixable problems in life and healthcare - ageing and death. He tells the story of how his daughter's piano teacher faced up to terminal cancer and the crucial choices she made about how to spend her final days. He says the teacher was only able to do this because of an essential honesty from her physicians and the people around her. Dr. Gawande argues that the common reluctance of society and medical institutions...


The Century of the System

The surgeon and writer Atul Gawande argues that better systems can transform global healthcare by radically reducing the chance of mistakes and increasing the chance of successful outcomes. He tells the story of how a little-known hospital in Austria managed to develop a complex yet highly effective system for dealing with victims of drowning. He says that the lesson from this dramatic narrative is that effective systems can provide major improvements in success rates for surgery and other...


Why Do Doctors Fail?

Surgeon and writer Atul Gawande explores the nature of fallibility and suggests that preventing avoidable mistakes is a key challenge for the future of medicine. Through the story of a life-threatening condition which affected his own baby son, Dr. Gawande suggests that the medical profession needs to understand how best to deploy the enormous arsenal of knowledge which it has acquired. And his challenge for global health is to address the inequalities in access to resources and expertise...


I Found Myself in the Art World

In the last of his four Reith Lectures, recorded in front of an audience at Central St Martins School of Art in London, the artist Grayson Perry discusses his life in the art world; the journey from the unconscious child playing with paint, to the award-winning successful artist of today. He talks about being an outsider and how he struggles with keeping his integrity as an artist. Perry looks back and asks why men and women throughout history, despite all the various privations they...


Nice Rebellion, Welcome In!

In the third of four lectures, recorded in front of an audience at The Guildhall in Londonderry, the artist Grayson Perry asks if revolution is a defining idea in art, or has it met its end? Perry says the world of art seems to be strongly associated with novelty. He argues that the mainstream media seems particularly drawn to the idea of there being an avant-garde: work is always described as being "cutting edge," artists are "radical," shows are "mould-breaking," ideas are...