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Start the Week

Podcast Start the Week
Podcast Start the Week

Start the Week


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  • Humanism - what is it good for?
    The writer Sarah Bakewell explores the long tradition of humanist thought in her latest book, Humanly Possible. She celebrates the writers, thinkers, artists and scientists over the last 700 years who have placed humanity at the centre, while defying the forces of religion, fanatics, mystics and tyrants. But placing humans at the centre isn’t without problems – critics point to its anthropocentric nature and excessive rationalism and individualism, as well its Euro-centric history. The philosopher Julian Baggini guides the listener in unpicking the tenets of humanism. His latest books is How to Think Like a Philosopher: Essential Principles for Clearer Thinking. Humanism may have relegated the divine to the side lines, but for the characters in Leila Aboulela’s novels faith and devotion are integral to their sense of themselves. In her latest book, River Spirit, set in Sudan in the 1880s, her young protagonists struggle to survive and find love amidst the bloody struggle for Sudan itself. Producer: Katy Hickman
  • George Eliot and married life
    George Eliot was a leading novelist who scandalised Victorian society by eloping to Germany with a married man and living in unlawful conjugal bliss. She dedicated her books to ‘her husband’ and wrote of 'this double life, which helps me to feel and think with double strength'. The philosopher and writer Clare Carlisle has written a new biography of George Eliot which places The Marriage Question at the centre of her art and life. The playwright David Eldridge is writing a trilogy of plays about relationships. Beginning, which premiered in 2017, and Middle, from last year, take place overnight in one uninterrupted scene as the couples share their thoughts and feelings on love and loneliness. The final play will be called End. The prize winning poet Claudia Rankine talks about her collection Plot, published in full for the first time in the UK. In a series of conversations, reflections and dreams Rankine reveals the hopes and fears of Liv and Erland – a couple navigating the birth of their new baby. Producer: Katy Hickman
  • The Iraq War – 20 years on
    It’s twenty years since the US and UK invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Kirsty Wark discusses the lead up to the war, the impact on the lives of Iraqis and the legacy. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad left his job in Baghdad and became a journalist during the Iraq War in 2003. He witnessed first-hand the liberation of his country from a megalomaniac leader and then its descent into factionalism and violence. In A Stranger In Your Own City he movingly recounts the very real human cost of the invasion, as well as the civil wars and rise of ISIS that followed. Emma Sky volunteered to help rebuild Iraq post-invasion and went on to serve as the representative of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Kirkuk and then as a political advisor to the US army in the following decade. Now an academic at Yale University, she looks back at why the Iraq invasion failed and its implications across the region. She's the author of The Unravelling and In a Time of Monsters: Travelling in a Middle East in Revolt. The BBC’s Security correspondent Gordon Corera was a young reporter during the frenetic build up to the war, talking to spies, defectors and politicians. In a 10-part series – Shock and War: Iraq 20 Years On (from 13th March at 1.45 and on BBC Sounds) – he talks to those at the centre of that decision to go to war, and looks at the far-reaching consequences, from trust in politics, security and liberal intervention. Producer: Katy Hickman
  • Democratic capitalism – marriage on the rocks
    It’s Ok To Be Angry About Capitalism is the title of the new book by the US politician Bernie Sanders. In it he castigates a system that he argues is fuelled by uncontrolled greed and rigged against ordinary people. He tells Tom Sutcliffe it’s time to reject an economic order and a political system that continues to benefit the super-rich, and fight for a democracy that recognises that economic rights are human rights. The Chief Economics Commentator at the Financial Times Martin Wolf looks more closely at how and why the relationship between capitalism and democracy appears to be unravelling. But despite the failings – slowing growth, growing inequality and widespread popular disillusion – he argues in The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism that the relationship remains the best system for human flourishing. But the economist Kate Raworth believes that mainstream economics has had its day. Its failure to predict and prevent financial crises, while allowing extreme poverty, inequality and environment degradation to persist, means its contributing to, not solving, societal unrest. She argues that her theory – Doughnut Economics – offers a new model for a green, fair and thriving global economy. Producer: Katy Hickman
  • Ancient knowledge
    The theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli celebrates the life of an ancient Greek philosopher, in Anaximander And The Nature Of Science (translated by Marion Lignana Rosenberg). He tells Adam Rutherford that this little known figure spearheaded the first great scientific revolution and understood that progress is made by the endless search for knowledge. Anaximander challenged conventions by proposing that the Earth floats in space, animals evolve and storms are natural, not supernatural. The travel writer Kapka Kassabova has gone searching for ancient knowledge about the natural world in her latest book, Elixir: In the Valley at the End of Time. The Mesta River, in her native Bulgaria, is one of the oldest inhabited rivers in Europe, and a mecca for wild plant gatherers, healers and mystics. In Dvořák’s lyric opera the eponymous hero Rusalka is a water spirit who sacrifices her voice and leaves her home for the love of a Prince. In a new contemporary staging at the Royal Opera House (21 February–7 March 2023) the co-directors Ann Yee and Natalie Abrahami foreground the uneasy relationship between nature and humanity, and the latter's destruction of what it fails to heed. Producer: Katy Hickman Image credit: Asmik Grigorian in Natalie Abrahami and Ann Yee’s Rusalka, The Royal Opera ©2023 Laura Stevens

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