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:

  • November 15 & 17 - "The White Darkness" with David Grann (encore)
  • November 22 & 24 - "American Spy" with Lauren Wilkinson
  • Nov. 29 & Dec. 1 - "A Woman of No Importance" with Sonia Purnell
  • December 6 & 8 - "The Hell of Good Intentions" with Stephen M. Walt (encore)

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 encore interview was originally broadcast in June, 2019.

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 interview was originally broadcast in August, 2019.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have spanned three administrations, costing billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and untold casualties. Additionally, more than 2.7 million Americans have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001. But many of these personal stories remain untold.

  

In the waning days of 1981, the Polish government, run by a Kremlin-backed prime minster, declared martial law in the country. An early test of a new administration, President Reagan wrote in his diary that this test would signify “the last chance in our lifetime to see a change in the Soviet Empire’s colonial policy regarding Eastern Europe.”

 


It’s May 1943. The Battle of Attu between American and Japanese forces was raging on the Aleutian island, with an Arctic cold, impenetrable fog, and rocketing winds that combined to create some of the worst weather on Earth. In this unlikely place, a Silver Star-winning American sergeant discovers a Japanese surgeon’s war diary, and finds solace for his own tortured soul.

This interview originally aired in February, 2019.

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? 

  

It’s not everyday that we interview an author who has stared into Vladimir Putin's eyes while being accused of "purposely seeking to ruin U.S.-Russia relations." As President Barack Obama’s adviser on Russian affairs, Michael McFaul helped craft the United States’ policy, known as “reset,” that fostered new and unprecedented collaboration between the two countries. And then, as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, he had a front-row seat when this fleeting, hopeful moment crumbled with Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency.


China is a nation in pursuit of a new role on the global stage. But what implications will those reversing trends have on the US and the rest of the world?


Lake Success, now out in paperback, focuses on self-deluded husband and father Barry Cohen, a discontent hedge fund manager who oversees $2.4 billion in assets. Overwhelmed by an SEC investigation and by his three-year-old son’s diagnosis of autism, he flees New York on a Greyhound bus in search of a simpler, more romantic life with his old college sweetheart. A darkly funny novel about a life divorced from the world most of us know, Lake Success is a very human portrait of American despair in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

This encore interview originally aired in February, 2019.

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.

  

Esi Edugyan is the author of the book, Washington Black.  The novel won the prestigious Giller Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  The paperback edition of the book is out now.


On the home front, Russia is a nation in turmoil. A flagging economy, shrinking population, with some rural areas that still don’t have running water. Yet Russia has emerged from the ashes of post-Soviet Communism as an international broker of mediation and disruption, lead by President Vladimir Putin.

  

This encore program originally aired in January, 2019.

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.


This encore interview was first broadcast in January, 2019.

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.


During the last presidential election, many lower- and middle-class white Americans were drawn to politicians who pledge to make their lives great again. But have the resulting policies actually placed those very Americans at a greater risk of sickness and death?


Daniel Mason's novel, The Winter Soldier, follows Lucius Krzelewski, a 22-year-old medical student living in Vienna when World War I breaks out. Eager to do his part and allured by the vision of the noble, battlefield medic, Lucius enlists. But when he arrives on the front line, the reality of his situation comes into focus: the other doctors have fled, only a strange and secretive nurse remains, and Lucius has never even held a scalpel. A story of war and family, love and history, The Winter Soldier is a gripping novel equally stocked with mystery, excitement, and a brutal history.


Bestselling novelist Pam Jenoff's work frequently appears on the New York Times bestseller list.


This encore interview originally aired in January, 2019.

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?

Marie Colvin was one of the foremost war reporters of her generation, risking her life covering conflicts in Chechnya, East Timor, Kosovo, and the Middle East. Killed in an artillery attack in Syria in 2012, Colvin left behind a profound record of the victims of wars that she covered, and a reputation as an unflinching and nonconformist reporter.


Sam McPhee

This encore interview was originally broadcast in October, 2017.

Once in a great while, an author who has more insights and ideas than can possibly be contained in a 30-minute conversation.  This is the second part of the interview with Emily Ruskovich about her debut novel, Idaho.

This encore conversation first was broadcast in October, 2017.

Emily Ruskovich's debut novel, Idaho, centers on a mysterious and shocking act that fractures the lives of an entire family, and looks at the influences and reverberations from that event covering a span of nearly 50 years.  In June 2019, the novel won the International Dublin Literary Award, one of the most prestigious honors in the industry, and the largest prize awarded to a single-work of English literature.

While not a household name, Burton K. Wheeler may have been the most powerful politician Montana ever produced, and he was one of the most influential and controversial members of the United States senate.   A New Deal Democrat and lifelong opponent of concentrated power, he consistently acted with a righteous personal and political independence that has all but disappeared from the public sphere. 

While not a household name, Burton K. Wheeler may have been the most powerful politician Montana ever produced, and he was one of the most influential and controversial members of the United States senate.   A New Deal Democrat and lifelong opponent of concentrated power, he consistently acted with a righteous personal and political independence that has all but disappeared from the public sphere. 

The grizzly bear is one of North America’s few remaining large predators. With a diminished range, grizzlies are again spreading across the West. But in the valleys where once they were king, grizzlies are finding the landscape they’d known for eons utterly changed by this millennia’s most dominant animal: humans.


Derek Black grew up at the center of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the Internet, and his godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. By the time Derek was 19, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show and a growing voice in white nationalism. But after enrolling in college and growing his circle of friends outside a cloistered and racist movement, Derek began to question those beliefs.


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.

  

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