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:

  • December  2 & 4  "Hero of the Empire" with Candice Millard
  • December  9 & 11  "The Brilliant Disaster"  with Jim Rasenberger
  • December  16 & 18  "Billion Dollar Spy"  with David Hoffman
  • December  23 & 25  "Sally Ride"  with Lynn Sherr
  • December 30 & January 1  "The Wolf of Sarajevo"  with Matthew Palmer
  • January  6 & 8  "Hillbilly Elegy"  with JD Vance
  • January  13 & 15  "The End of Greatness"  with Aaron David Miller

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Subscribe to the weekly Reader's Corner email podcast.

And, click here to read our book reviews in the Idaho Statesman.

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

Ways to Connect

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.

In 1906, an African native known as Ota Benga was displayed in a cage in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo. Thousands came to view the sensational exhibit. They shouted, pointed fingers, and laughed at the man, who stood 4 feet 11 inches in height and weighed 103 pounds. A sign outside the cage described him as an African Pygmy from the Congo Free State, and announced that he would be exhibited each afternoon during September. An orangutan shared the space with Benga, at times perching on his shoulder.

Jonathan Katz talks more about his award-winning book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.  Mr Katz was the only full time U.S. news reporter in Haiti when the quake struck.  His on-the-ground reporting for the Associated Press helped inform the world about the scope of the disaster, and he stayed in Haiti in the months that followed to document how and why well-meaning world relief efforts fell short.

On a hot January afternoon in 2010, reporter Jonathan M. Katz heard a loud rumbling outside his home in the hills above Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  At first, he thought it was a water truck. Then the bed began to vibrate, bottles shimmied on a nearby table, and the floor started to move. The roar increased as the deadliest earthquake in the history of the Western Hemisphere unleashed its full force. Mr. Katz survived. Thousands upon thousands of others were not so lucky.

Every new technology has its critics. Whether it’s a fancy new digital gadget with a seemingly endless number of functions, or an addictive new app for your Smart Phone, the latest and greatest inventions can sometimes give us reason to pause.

Years ago, Clive Thompson was pessimistic about the impact of new technologies like the Internet on modern life, too. But over time, his opinion changed as he observed how new digital tools enabled people to be more creative and effective.

A shot fired in the lobby of a Washington, D.C. , train station in 1881 would eventually claim the life of the United States’ 20th president — James A. Garfield. According to author Candice Millard, the assassination also shook the very core of the nation.

Nearly a century ago, the Chicago White Sox faced the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. The games attracted big crowds, widespread enthusiasm and plenty of action from the so-called “sporting men” who placed bets on who would win each contest. Gambling was an integral and accepted part of baseball at the time, but for this Series, something seemed off. The White Sox were heavily favored to win, but they lost to the Reds five games to three. Speculation quickly surfaced that the Series had been rigged.

Until now, human intelligence has had no rival. But as Artificial Intelligence continues to advance, we should ask ourselves: Can we coexist with computers whose intelligence dwarfs our own?

In his book, “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era,” James Barrat peers into the future to explore the perils of developing super intelligent machines. And he extends a heartfelt invitation to join what he calls “the most important conversation humanity can have.”

When Germany invaded its European neighbors in 1940, the United States was a long ways from being prepared. The country’s military resources had been all but drained by the Great Depression. The U.S. army was smaller than that of Belgium’s, a nation that could fit inside Maryland. Military war games were being carried out with broomsticks and eggs in place of guns and grenades, and in at least one instance, a U.S. general was forced to order tank replacement parts from a Sears and Roebuck catalog because the military couldn’t provide the items itself.

Grocery shopping is on almost everyone’s weekly list. For many households, that means driving to the supermarket, or an even larger discount mega-store, and loading our carts to the brim with our favorite brands. But grocery shopping wasn’t always this way. A century ago, small mom-and-pop grocers dotted street corners, staffed by storekeepers who packaged bulk items for customers they knew by name. Today, the retail landscape continues to change, as more of us go online for a variety of purchases.

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.

It’s a scenario familiar to many of us: We go online and search for a product we’re interested in purchasing. Moments later, we click on our favorite news site, only to be bombarded with ads, including some for the product we were just viewing. So how did this happen? And what else might we unwittingly be sharing about our behavior, activities and tastes?

Baseball legends hold a special place in our country’s collective heart. Dizzy Dean, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are still household names generations after their feats on the baseball diamond made them famous.

But perhaps none represents the promise and hard truths of the American experience during baseball’s golden age better than pitching great Satchel Paige.

This week we are mourning the loss of one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors – George Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy gained world-wide fame for his Oscar-winning role as Dragline in Cool Hand Luke in 1967. Over the course of his long career, he appeared in more than 200 films, including The Dirty Dozen , the Airport series, The Eiger Sanction, Death on the Nile, and as Captain Ed Hocken in the Naked Gun series of the 1980s.

Few would put the name Juan Pujol alongside Eisenhower, Churchill and Roosevelt – the Allied giants of World War II.  Yet, this underachieving chicken farmer from Barcelona could very well be the pivotal figure in one of the 20th century’s most important events: the Allied landings in Normandy during the summer of 1944.

Baseball has inspired many works of fiction – including Chad Harbach’s bestselling novel, The Art of Fielding. But while the action is centered around a college team and its star shortstop, Henry Scrimshander, this is much more than a baseball book. The fallacy of perfection, the inevitability of change and the power of friendship are just a few of the multi-layered themes explored in the novel, which is now out in paperback.

With 70 percent of its land owned by the federal government, the Great Basin is known as America’s last frontier. It’s home to ghost towns, endless sagebrush and secretive government test sites. Paradoxically, the Great Basin also is the fastest growing urban region in the United States, thanks to the cities of Boise, Salt Lake City, Reno and Las Vegas that perch on its rim.

On May 30th, 1912, Wilbur Wright died peacefully in his own bed in the family home in Dayton, Ohio. He was 45 years old. The cause of death was typhoid, which he may have contracted from eating tainted clam broth in a Boston restaurant. But Orville Wright and members of the Wright family believed Wilbur’s death was attributable to the stress he experienced fighting their archenemy and main competitor, Glenn Curtiss. In Orville Wright’s mind, Curtiss had killed his older brother.

Those of us who grew up playing the board game “Monopoly” likely remember the thrill of landing on an up-for-grabs Boardwalk or Park Place, and buying the pricey properties with our stash of brightly colored fake money. We might also recall the feeling of trepidation when we landed on those same properties after they had been purchased and improved by someone else, knowing we would have to pay an exorbitant rental fee before we could once again pass “Go” and collect our much-needed $200.

Leon Panetta’s long service to our country is surely unique in the number of incredibly high level and tough assignments he has held and held to acclaim.  A lawyer, he has directed the U.S.

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