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:

  • May 26 & 28  "The Betrayal" with Charles Fountain
  • June 2 & 4  "The Tunnels" with Greg Mitchell

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

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.

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?

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.

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