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:

  • March  17 & 19  "Daredevils" with Shawn Vestal
  • March  24 & 26  "The Collapse of Parenting" with Leonard Sax
  • March  31 & April 2  "Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?" with Frans de Waal

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. Click here for more about our host.

Ways to Connect

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.”

Hot dogs and popcorn under the sweltering summer sun at the local ball park is an image embedded into American culture. But for the players jogging into the dugout, sweat dripping from their caps, baseball is more than just America’s pastime, it’s their career. And it’s a career unlike any other.  With 162 regular season games in 182 days, major league baseball places unique demands on the players, their families, and those who work in a variety of roles to support the team.

Today we’re continuing our timely conversation with author Jacob S. Hacker about the changing dynamics between the public and private sectors in driving economic growth, and how those changes are impacting our politics, culture and prosperity.

Mr. Hacker is a professor of political science at Yale University and the co-author of a new book, American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.  He wrote this book with his colleague, Paul Pierson, who is at the University of California, Berkeley.

For much of the 20th century, private and public enterprises worked as both partners and adversaries to drive economic growth in our country. But in recent years, the balance within this so-called “mixed economy” has shifted away from public investment and regulation. Today, the term “Big Government” is widely considered a pejorative – despite the role public institutions have historically played in laying the foundation for social development and prosperity.

Terrie Williams is the author of The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species. The book, which was Boise State’s Campus Read in the 2014/2015 academic year, tells the story of a monk seal pup who was abandoned on a sandy Hawaiian beach in 2008, and who went on to capture the hearts of locals and tourists alike. When local fishermen objected to the seal’s presence on the beach, officials made an unprecedented decision to move him across the ocean to the lab of Ms. Williams, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The belief that with hard work, prosperity and success are open to everyone, is at the heart of our national identity. Yet, according to today’s guest, Robert Putnam, the gap between those who have the chance to forge a better future, and those who are being left behind, is getting wider. As a result “our kids,” America’s poorest among them, are experiencing a transformation of American society that comes at a cost to every one of us.

It’s been more than 70 years since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, ushering in the end of World War II. Yet true stories such as the one from today’s guest, Pamela Rotner Sakamoto, remind us how much history still has to teach us, and why personal accounts remain so powerful.

On May 1st, 1915, crowds lined New York’s harbor to bid farewell to nearly 2,000 family, friends and crew aboard the world’s fastest civilian liner — the Lusitania. The luxurious British ship was bound for Liverpool, England, more than 3,000 miles away. World War I was entering its 10th month, but civilian ships and their passengers were widely considered off-limits from enemy assault. Although the great liner would pass through waters patrolled by German U-boats off the coast of Britain, few worried about the dangers.

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.

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?

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