Readers Corner

This episode originally was broadcast in March, 2017.

Humans think, feel and plan for the future. We say hello, and goodbye. We design and use tools to our advantage. But what if animals can do these things, too? What if we’ve just never really understood how to discern animal intelligence? Biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal challenges us to think more like an animal in his new book, “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”

Hollywood usually is viewed as a symbol of the American Dream. But in the 1930s and ’40s, it became a symbol of something much darker: the Communist threat to American values that must be publicly rooted out at all costs.

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is revered as an 18th century genius who composed some of the most sublime music ever written.  The fact that a starling became his beloved pet during one of the most creative and productive periods of his short life has perplexed historians and music lovers for years. Yet the unlikely story of the great composer and his common bird is a true one, and today’s guest, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, explores it in detail in her new book, titled “Mozart’s Starling.”

At the turn of the 20th century, the most popular entertainment acts in the country were found under the Big Top. The circus offered daring acts of bravery, wild animals, comic antics and the collection of human oddities known as the Freak Show.

With the 2017 total solar eclipse less than two weeks away, excitement is reaching a fever pitch in Idaho and other places across the country where this stunning celestial event will be visible.

Thanks to technological advances like the Internet, we have access to more information than ever before.  Gone are the days when we argued at length with friends over a piece of trivia – instead we pull out our smart phones and instantly get the answer.

But as Tom Nichols explains in his book, The Death of Expertise, this information isn’t making us any smarter. In fact, it’s turning us into an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement and distrust experts.

This interview was originally broadcast in March, 2017

As every reader knows, novels can transport us to unexpected places. They also can shine new light on places we thought we already knew. Today’s guest, Shawn Vestal, manages to do both in his debut novel, Daredevils.

During the final days of World War II, a group of American soldiers encountered a German spy carrying nothing but photos of beautiful white horses. The story behind those photos was even more surprising. Nearby, on a farm behind enemy lines, the Nazis had stockpiled some of the world’s most valuable horses as part of an ambitious breeding program to develop the perfect war horse. But with the Russian army fast approaching from the east and the Third Reich on the verge of defeat, these precious animals were now in great danger.

This program was originally broadcast in March, 2017.

Six decades ago, President Harry Truman made a decision to fire an incredibly popular general with near celebrity status: General Douglas MacArthur. Was it a good decision? Only the future would tell.

It was a difficult decision at a critical time. The Cold War had reached a crisis point. People around the world lived in fear of the atomic bomb and the Chinese had joined the Korean War against the United States and its allies.

The re-election of Barack Obama in November of 2012 dealt a stunning defeat to the Republican Party. As the GOP reeled from the loss and began laying plans to win in 2016, a small group of shadowy and wealthy figures gathered at the request of Charles and David Koch, otherwise known as the Koch brothers. Their secret agenda: To map out plans to systematically and inequitably influence our political system.

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. 

In recent years, the powerful and at times unexpected impacts of globalization have sent shock waves through our country’s political, economic and social systems. The promise that open trade and investment would bring new jobs, economic growth and price stability has not materialized for many Americans, who have seen their standard of living stagnate or diminish. At the same time, there is widespread disagreement about what our country needs to do to more effectively compete in the current global marketplace.

Every once in a while, you come across individuals who make you feel better just for having encountered them. As today’s guest, 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.”

In 1961, the world watched as tensions flared and the Berlin Wall went up, trapping East Germans inside a Communist regime. What was less well known was what was happening under that wall. Away from the glare of television cameras and public demonstrations, defectors and West Germans engaged in clandestine efforts to build tunnels and help East Germans escape.

This program was originally broadcast in May of 2016

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.

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