Readers Corner

There is much to fear in the dark corners of cyberspace. From well-covered stories like the Stuxnet attack which helped slow Iran’s nuclear program, to lesser-known tales like EternalBlue, the 2017 cyber battle that closed hospitals in Britain and froze shipping crates in Germany in midair, we have entered an age in which online threats carry real-world consequences.


In America, domestic violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime, and yet it remains locked in silence, even as its tendrils reach unseen into so many of our most pressing national issues, from our economy to our education system, from mass shootings to mass incarceration to the #MeToo movement.

This interview was originally broadcast in April, 2019.

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. 


On February 18, 1965, an overflowing crowd packed the Union at England’s Cambridge University to witness a historic televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley Jr., America's most influential conservative intellectual.


In his newest collaboration with documentarian Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan’s Country Music is the story of the musicians: Hank Williams’s tragic honky tonk life, Dolly Parton rising to fame from a dirt-poor childhood, and Loretta Lynn turning her experiences into songs that spoke to women everywhere. Featuring interviews with the genre’s biggest stars, including the likes of Merle Haggard to Garth Brooks to Rosanne Cash, the book offers a fascinating insight into the music that lies at the very center of the American experience.


The history of country music begins where country music itself emerged: the American South, where people sang to themselves and to their families at home and in church, and where they danced to fiddle tunes on Saturday nights.


Like so many young American couples, Chris Ingraham and his wife Briana were having a difficult time making ends meet as they tried to raise their twin boys in the East Coast suburbs. One day, Chris – in his role as a “data guy” reporter at the Washington Post – stumbled on a study that would change his life. It was a ranking of America’s 3,000+ counties from ugliest to most scenic. He quickly scrolled to the bottom of the list and gleefully wrote the words “The absolute worst place to live in America is (drumroll please) … Red Lake County, Minn.”


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.


In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her." Their target was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organization dubbed Winston Churchill's "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare."


Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel, American Spy, has been named one of the best of the year by Esquire, Time, Vogue, and a host of other outlets. Inspired by true events, the novel follows a US intelligence officer in the tail-end of the Cold War. A brilliant but often-overlooked young black woman in the boys’ club of the FBI, Marie Mitchell’s career seems to have stalled out. But when Marie is given a dangerous and shadowy assignment, it threatens to change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American.

 


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.

  

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.


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