Reader's Corner

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Welcome to Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show and podcast hosted by Boise State University President Bob Kustra. Now in its 14th year, Reader's Corner features lively conversations with leading writers, including many winners of top literary prizes and authors of bestsellers. Join us each week for thoughtful interviews about issues and ideas that matter today.

Coming up on Reader's Corner:

  • February  10 & 12  "United States of Jihad" with Peter Bergen
  • February  17 & 19  "Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians" with author Robert W. Merry
  • February  24 & 26  "The Soul of an Octopus" with Sy Montgomery
  • March  3 & 5  "The General vs. The President" with H.W. Brands

Access our archive of interviews.

Listen to previous episodes anytime on our free app from the App Store or Google Play.

Subscribe to the weekly Reader's Corner email podcast.

Read our book reviews in the Idaho Statesman.

We welcome feedback and ideas for shows. Contact us here.

Bob Kustra has interviewed nearly 500 guests on his radio show since 2003.

Ways to Connect

Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago this April, George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States.  Since then, 44 Americans have taken that solemn vow, most recently Donald Trump.  History has yet to judge our most recent presidents. But as we look farther into the past, which presidents have stood the test of time and are revered today?  And which ones are now viewed as less successful leaders, or even as failures?

Domestic terrorism has taken many forms since the horrific events of September 11th. From these disparate acts, a sinister pattern of domestic terrorism has emerged as American Muslim men and women are radicalized from afar by extremist groups like ISIS.

Peter Bergen, is an internationally recognized expert on terrorism, a documentary producer and CNN’s national security analyst. In his latest book, titled United States of Jihad, Mr. Bergen discusses the social and political influences that can transform average Muslim Americans into homegrown terrorists.

Fifty years after he was assassinated at age 39, Malcolm X remains a controversial and somewhat mysterious figure. During his short but eventful life, he was a minister with the Nation of Islam who went on to found his own mosque, a fiery militant who advocated “any means necessary” to attain racial justice, and a brilliant, charismatic speaker whose legacy is still being determined.

What does it take for someone with seemingly every advantage in life to turn on their friends, their family and their country, all in the name of a cause? Today’s guest, Kati Marton, explores that question in her new book, True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy. 

These days, the terrorist organization known as ISIS has much of the world on high alert. How this happened is the subject of a book by today’s guest, Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick.

Washington, Lincoln and FDR are revered as leaders who helped shape the course of history. They are often referred to as “great” presidents. But is it possible to have a great president today? And is greatness a quality that Americans even want in their chief executive?

Aaron David Miller examines the history of the U.S. presidency to explore those questions in his book, The End of Greatness.  In the book, Dr. Miller makes the case that greatness as a presidential virtue is largely overrated – and that it occurs too infrequently to be relevant to current politics.

Following one of the most divisive and contentious elections in history, it is easy to say that we are a nation in cultural crisis. But what does that actually mean? In the Rust Belt, as well as in rural Appalachia, it means factories closing and good jobs shipped overseas in less than a generation. It means an uptick in drug abuse and violence in the home, an erosion of the education system and trust in our government, and the disintegration of children’s dreams for a better future than that of their parents.

When Sally Ride flew into orbit aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, she made history. As the first American woman in space, Ride helped change perceptions about what women could accomplish and inspired a new generation of girls to literally reach for the stars. But Ride was more than an icon for the U.S. space program – she also was a complex, private woman with singular talents and skills, who continued to contribute to science and education until her death from pancreatic cancer in 2012.

At the height of the Cold War, a seemingly unassuming Soviet electronics engineer reached out to several Americans he encountered in Moscow and offered his services. While he was initially ignored, the engineer, Adolf Tolkachev was eventually accepted by the CIA’s Moscow station as a volunteer spy for the United States. Over a number of years, and under the nose of the ever-watchful KGB, Tolkachev passed on highly classified information about Soviet military technology to U.S. intelligence operatives.

The recent death of Fidel Castro has once again placed Cuba in the spotlight as the world remembers the fiery dictator who sparred with 11 US Presidents, and questions are what lies next for his country.

One of the most infamous incidents between the US and Cuba involved the ill-fated invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs in 1961.  Jim Rasenberger writes about this tense time in his book "The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs.  It's now out in paperback.

Throughout history, brave souls have answered the call to serve their countries, and to risk it all on the battlefield. But few, perhaps, have done it with more guts and gusto than Winston Churchill. In her latest book, “Hero of the Empire,” Candice Millard introduces us to a young Churchill who believed early on that he was destined to lead, and who thirsted for a chance to be a war hero — mostly so he could be recognized for it. During the Boer War of 1899, in which the British Empire drove into Southern Africa, he got his chance.

Owyhee County is Idaho’s second largest county and yet one of its least populated. Despite its emptiness, Owyhee County has a rich history, one that has been thoroughly explored and documented by today’s guest, John Bieter.

What’s it like to be an octopus? Is it anything like being a human? Is it even possible to know?

In the 1840s, a million Irish citizens died of starvation during what became known as the “Great Hunger.” Taking up the desperate cause of his countrymen was a spirited and wealthy young orator named Thomas Francis Meagher.

In the season of the 2016 general election, we’re discussing the history of voting rights on today’s show with, Michael Waldman. He is the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law, and the author of a new book, titled The Fight To Vote.

Many of us remember reading The Great Gatsby in our high school English class – and not exactly loving it. What was it about this slim novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald that was supposedly so great, we wondered. And more to the point, why had it remained popular while other worthy books had slowly faded away?

Imagine a world where you are driven to work by a driverless car, your morning news is written by a computer, and your lunch is prepared by a robot. In such a world, it would not be a stretch to wonder if humans were about to become obsolete. We’ve already seen this scenario play out in movies and popular novels.  But according to today’s guest, there are reasons to worry about how new technologies are reshaping the real world right now.

As anyone with children, or grandchildren, knows, parenting isn’t easy. Children and adolescents are growing up in a complex and connected world where smartphones, video games, organized activities and friends vie for their attention. At the same time, parents aren’t exactly always sure what their job description should be – or how to best nurture their child.

On a summer morning in July 1915, thousands of poor factory workers lined the Chicago docks, waiting to board ships for the much anticipated annual picnic hosted by Western Electric Company. But as 2,500 passengers flooded aboard the first ship, the SS Eastland, disaster struck. The huge liner flipped onto its side, drowning more than 800 people in the filthy Chicago River, including 22 whole families.

Every once in a while, you come across individuals who make you feel better just for having encountered them. As David Brooks, puts it, “They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.”

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