Reader's Corner

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Welcome to Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show and podcast hosted by Boise State University President Emeritus & Professor of Public Service Bob Kustra.  Reader's Corner features lively conversations with leading writers, including many winners of top literary prizes and best-selling authors.  Listen each week for thoughtful interviews about issues and ideas that matter today.

Coming up on Reader's Corner:

  • May 17 & 19 - "The Spy and the Traitor" with Ben Macintyre
  • May 24 & 26 - "State of Resistance" with Manuel Pastor (encore)
  • May 31 & June 2 - "Rising Out of Hatred" with Eli Saslow
  • June 7 & 9 - "Down From the Mountain" with Bryce Andrews

About Bob Kustra

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Bob Kustra has interviewed over 500 guests for his weekly radio show since 2003. Click here for more about our host.

Ways to Connect

This interview originally aired in November, 2018.

California has long been a bellwether of the country’s progressive and reactionary politics. But the state that introduced us to Ronald Reagan and Harvey Milk has also confronted many of the challenges the rest of the country now faces, decades before the rest of us.

  

Oleg Gordievsky is hardly a household name in the United States, but his story is one of unparalleled intrigue, danger, and spy craft.


Until a few decades ago, the killer whales of the Puget Sound were frequently captured by the dozen and sold for entertainment at marine parks across the U.S. Today, these incredible creatures are the subject of new protections, and increased scientific inquiry.  But their waters remain under threat. Pollution and marine traffic continue to wraek havoc, and orcas’ ability to thrive is still very much in doubt.


This Reader's Corner interview was originally broadcast in November, 2018.

Energy has been a driver of some of the most important events from the last century. From World War I onward, oil has been key factor in the economies and foreign policies of every major player on the global stage. But with rapid technological developments and the unconventional oil boom, that power is shifting.

  

The overthrow of the Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath regime in 2007 threw a war-torn nation into even deeper turmoil. Travelling to Damascus to report on the sudden exodus of Iraqis to Syria, our guest today, Deborah Campbell, met Ahlam, a refugee known in the industry as a “fixer” – someone who provides Western media with dependable information and contacts.


A literary thriller, Bearskin is set in the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains.  Rice Moore is the caretaker of this nature preserve, a man running from a sordid past, only to face a fresh crime perpetrated in his new stomping grounds: black market bear poaching.  With his past transgression gaining on him, Moore goes deep into the woods in his attempt to stop the killings. 


America’s constitutional system of checks and balances has endured for more than two centuries. This is due, in part, to two unwritten political norms: respectful tolerance between opposing political parties, and a measure of restraint by the administration in power. Yet at contentious times in our history, those guardrails of democracy have been put to the test.


Chris Bohjalian is a bestselling novelist whose work frequently appears on the New York Times bestseller list.  His newest thriller, The Flight Attendant, focuses on Cassandra Bowden, an airline worker who wakes in a Dubai hotel room with a hangover, a head full of foggy memories, and a dead man lying next to her. A powerful story about the ways an entire life can change in one night, The Flight Attendant is one of those books you pick up and don’t put down until the last page.


For decades, North Korea has operated as a prime example of a “hermit kingdom” – a nation ruled by a despotic family regime, where propaganda and historical, political, and economic theatre are a daily ritual for the country’s 25 million citizens.


This encore interview originally aired in October, 2018.

America in 1859 was a country on the verge of Civil War. Abolitionists and pro-slavery forces battled it out in the nation’s newspapers, activists were advocating revolts while southerners were talking secession, political parties were splitting down the middle, and a little-known senator named Abraham Lincoln was just coming into prominence. Against this backdrop, Charles Darwin’s pioneering work of evolutionary theory, The Origin of Species, landed like a bomb.


Jonathan Evison is a writer whose work frequently appears on the New York Times bestseller list.


This encore Reader's Corner interview first aired in September, 2018.

A handful of times in our planet’s history, the vast majority of plant and animal life has gone extinct, leaving a desolate and alien earth, devoid of trees, fish, and familiar signs of life. In the more recent past, scientists have pointed to asteroids to explain some of these extinction events. But today, that view is being questioned. More evidence is pointing towards terrestrial causes of our past extinctions, notably climate and ocean change, spurred by the influx of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

  

What if you could take a road trip and visit all your heroes, door-to-door? What if you could share a meal? And what if you could do it right in their own homes?  Our guest today embarked on just such a pilgrimage. 


In 1992, the United States stood at the pinnacle of world power and Americans were confident that a new era of peace and prosperity was at hand. 25 years later, those hopes have been dashed. Relations with Russia and China have soured, the European Union is wobbling, nationalism and populism are on the rise, and the United States is stuck in costly and seemingly endless wars that have squandered trillions of dollars and undermined its influence around the world. And it’s only getting worse.


The dividing line along human behavior and cultures is often blurry and little understood. Why are trains in Japan and Germany far less delayed than those in the United States and Brazil? Why are some company cultures, like Uber and United, prone to PR nightmares while others seem more calibrated? Why is the celebration of an Olympic athlete correlated to whether they’re from China, Australia, or the UK? 


This interview was first broadcast in August, 2018.

Millennials. Baby Boomers. Gen-Xers. The Greatest Generation. Each designation conjures up ideas and preconceptions about the Americans born during those eras. But what of the Gifted Generation? That designation may be less familiar. It refers to Americans born in the years following World War II. They are the earliest -- and historian David Goldfield would say, the most fortunate -- group of Baby Boomers.

  

In October of 1950, General Douglas MacArthur assured President Truman that the end of the Korean War was in sight, and that American soldiers would be home by Christmas. In fact, 300,000 Chinese soldiers were secretly crossing the Manchurian border, and setting a trap for some 20,000 US Marines along the frozen shores of the Chosin Reservoir.


Personal stories of lives affected by terrorism have been the well-trod terrain of many books, films, and television. More recently, a new crop of journalists and writers have attempted to shed light on the question plaguing many in the international community: Who are these young men and women leaving home to join ISIS, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups?


This encore program originally aired in September, 2018.

Altruism seems to be built into our DNA. From the founding of thousands of public libraries by Andrew Carnegie a century ago, the recent mass emergence of social entrepreneurs, and the dawn of the “effective altruism” movement, “making a difference” is part of what gives us purpose. Yet not all altruism is created equal. In labs around the world, studies are being conducted to better understand why we give, what we can learn from our mistakes, and how we can use evidence-based methods to more effectively help our fellow man. 


Over a five-year period starting in 1968, petty criminals and protesters, decorated veterans and the occasional used-car salesman seized commercial jets nearly once a week. With visions of ransom money, fame, or merely escape to exotic locales, these hijackers changed the course of modern travel and transportation security.


Fracking has upended the global energy map, transforming America into the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. With the influence of Saudi Arabia and Russia shrinking as the goal of “energy independence” comes into focus, America’s energy policy would seem to be on a clear and positive trajectory. But the truth is more complicated.


Thomas Pynchon once wrote, “Everyone has an Antarctic.” He was writing about Ernest Shackleton, the famed polar explorer who never reached his objective, yet whose stunning leadership and fortitude saved the lives of every one of his men, after over a year stuck in the Antarctic. 100 years later, a British explorer heard that same siren calling from the frozen continent, and set out to follow in his hero’s footsteps.


This encore interview originally aired in July, 2018.

Chances are that today, like every day, you’ll interact with one or more of four gigantic companies that have become embedded in daily life. Need to buy a book? It’s just a quick click away on Amazon. Curious about the person who wrote it? “Google” the author on your iPhone. You can follow her on Facebook, too. And that’s just the veritable tip of the iceberg when it comes to the services these companies provide. They can make our lives easier – but at what cost?

  

This encore program was originally broadcast in November, 2016.

In this election season, we’re discussing the history of voting rights with Michael Waldman. He is the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law, and the author of a new book, titled The Fight To Vote.


This encore Reader's Corner interview originally broadcast in June, 2018.

Soner Cagaptay, is an expert on a country that many of us know too little about. That country is Turkey, the oldest democracy, and the largest economy, between India and Italy. Turkey occupies a crucial position between Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. And that makes its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vitally important figure on the world stage.

  

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