Reader's Corner

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Welcome to Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show hosted by Boise State University President Bob Kustra that features lively conversations with some of the nation’s leading authors about issues and ideas that matter today.

Join us each week at Reader’s Corner for thoughtful interviews centered around books and articles that help shape our world.

Coming up on Reader's Corner:

  • Feb. 27 & Mar. 1  "The Odyssey of KP2" by Terrie Williams part 2
  • March 6 & 8  "Smarter Than You Think" by Clive Thompson
  • March 13 & 15 "Astoria" by Peter Stark
  • March 20 & 22 "Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know" by Julia Sweig

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Subscribe to the Reader's Corner email podcast.

For questions about Reader's Corner, or to access archive interviews, please contact Janelle Brown, producer.

Ways To Connect

This Reader's Corner interview initially was broadcast in January, 2014.

During the summer of 2007, a city kid from Seattle lived out an adventure most wannabe cowboys only dream of.

Bryce Andrews spent a year working on the Sun Ranch — an expansive area of rangeland in the breathtaking wilderness of southwest Montana — mending fences, riding horses, roping cattle and transforming himself into a true ranch hand. It fulfilled his heart’s desire to live among the wild. And, as Andrews writes, it “might have been a simple, pretty story, if not for the wolves.”

When the chemical company Ciba purchased a huge swath of forested land in Toms River, New Jersey, back in 1949 and laid plans to build a major factory on the site, the local citizenry mostly thought it was a good thing.

During the ensuing years, that positive opinion pretty much remained in place, as the town grew, property values increased and good-paying jobs at the plant strengthened the local economy.

But as the plant continued to generate an increasing amount of hazardous waste, there were early signs something might be amiss.

This Reader's Corner interview originally was broadcast in July of 2013

When President Franklin Roosevelt selected mild-mannered University of Chicago history professor William Dodd to serve as America’s ambassador to Nazi Germany in 1933, neither man had an inkling of the coming terror. In fact, Dodd accepted the post in part because he believed his light duties would allow him time to complete his exhaustive history of the American South.

The rugged coastline of the Pacific Northwest is dotted with historic cities and sea ports. But today’s well-established metropolises belie the imagination and tenacity that it took to settle this wild and remote region.

In 1809, John Jacob Astor -- a young, ambitious New York businessman -- saw the potential of the Northwest coast as a great trading emporium for the western half of the United States. Astor dispatched a land and sea party that he hoped would arrive at what is now Astoria, Oregon. The plan was to set up a Jamestown-like colony and establish a fur trading empire.

This is an encore broadcast of the interview with David Robertson.  The conversation was originally broadcast in January of 2014.

It’s hard to image a world without LEGO’s. The plastic building blocks have been a foundation of children’s imaginative play for nearly 60 years. But back in 2009, LEGO nearly was no more.

Antibiotics are ubiquitous in modern human life. Along with their well-known medical applications, they also are routinely used in agriculture, including our increasingly industrial production of meat.

But as resistant strains of bacteria continue to emerge, health authorities around the world are growing alarmed at the increasing impotence of antibiotics to fight disease. In fact, they worry we are on the verge of a total breakdown in the overall usefulness of these drugs. It’s a scenario of horrifying scope to those who understand the implications for human health.

Generations of western leaders have puzzled over how to manage their nation’s relationship with Russia – and headlines in recent months, especially from Ukraine, have only deepened this long-standing challenge.

But Daniel Treisman, in his book "The Return: From Gorbachev to Medvedev," argues that western notions about Russia as an antagonistic and autocratic behemoth are, at best, oversimplified.

This Reader's Corner interview was first broadcast in January, 2014

Pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio, and it’s likely you’ll learn about the latest fluctuation in world financial markets, or about a protest or uprising tied in some way to religion. 

Businesses seeking to increase productivity, athletes striving to improve their performance, and couples intent on strengthening their relationship share this in common: To get what they’re after, they’ll need more than motivation. They’ll need commitment.

Heidi Reeder is an expert on how commitment enables organizations and individuals to reach their goals. Her new book, "Commit to Win," unpacks 40 years of research by psychologists and economists to bust the many myths about commitment and explain why it’s important.

This interview was originally broadcast in December, 2013:

This is the second part of an interview with Daniel James Brown, Author of "The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics"

This interview for Reader's Corner was originally broadcast in December of 2013:

In the summer of 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, the world was transfixed by the grandeur of the Olympic Games in Berlin, and by a determined group of young Americans who were giving their all to bring home the gold.

In front of high-ranking Nazi officials, including Adolf Hitler, they overcame impossible odds to snatch victory from both the German and Italian crews in the Games’ signature rowing event.

It took Edward Curtis just a few years after arriving in the small town of Seattle in 1887 to establish a reputation as one of its finest portrait photographers. Uneducated and self-taught, he quickly became one of the most respected lensmen in America and was summoned to capture images of President Theodore Roosevelt and even the president’s daughter’s wedding.

Ask just about anyone their opinion about politics and the federal government and two words you are likely to hear in response are: dysfunction and gridlock.    

But Ira Shapiro, knows firsthand of an era not all that long ago when big personalities in the U.S. Senate worked together to solve big problems.

In May, Anthony Doerr visited Reader's Corner to talk about his new novel, "All the Light We Cannot See." Ten years in the writing, the book tells the stories of a blind French girl and a German boy during World War II and how their lives eventually intertwine.

"This program is an encore and was originally broadcast in November of 2013"

“Iron Mike” Webster was one of the most revered and beloved Pittsburgh Steelers of all time. The Hall of Fame center was a tough, hardworking and disciplined player who gave everything he had to football.

But after retiring from the NFL in 1990, he suffered a severe decline in both physical and mental health. When he died 12 years later at age 50, his body made one of its most significant contributions to the sport, and to the fellow players he loved.

The office of the President of the United States is among the most highly visible institutions anywhere in the world. The person who occupies the office is subject to intense scrutiny – and while some of that is negative, the president oftentimes also serves as a symbol of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a diverse American citizenry.

But what happens when there is a disconnect between the high expectations Americans have for what their president can accomplish, and the reality of how the office functions in today’s Washington?

The power of sports to mend rifts between nations and establish bonds of friendship and understanding was put to the test in 1934, when a group of Major League baseball players, including Babe Ruth, traveled to Japan to play a series of 18 exhibition games in 12 cities.

The Americans squared off against their Japanese rivals in contests that drew thousands of enthusiastic spectators. The crowd’s biggest cheers often went to Ruth, who was revered in Japan as the jovial demigod of baseball.

June 6, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion on the beaches of Normandy that turned the tide of fighting in World War II Europe and led to an Allied victory. 

John C. McManus, offers an insider’s look at just one of the five beaches taken by Allied troops in his new book,  "The Dead and Those About to Die — D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach."

For John Thavis, the timing couldn’t have been better. His book, “The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church,” was released in February 2013, just as Pope Benedict XVI announced he would be the first pope in 600 years to resign.

It was a stroke of luck that put his book – the culmination of nearly 30 years as a journalist covering the Vatican – in exactly the right place at the right time.

Preparing students to excel in a fast-changing world is a concern for many nations. Some countries, including our own, have implemented a variety of education reforms over recent decades, only to see piddling results. Others, including  Finland, South Korea and Poland, have realized major gains.

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