Wasn't the collapse of the Soviet Union supposed to herald the dawn of a new era of unfettered freedom, liberal democracy, and the end of history? Instead Russia moved rapidly from Autocratic Socialism to Autocratic Oligarchy. Masha Gessen talks with co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher about why she chose to investigate this world-historical disappointment by talking to young people who witnessed this calamitous transition first-hand. The result is Gessen's National Book Award-nominated The Future of History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, a work of literary journalism rife with the unique insights this novel approach revealed(to which our own Soviet-born Medaya adds her memories). Gessen also reflects on what Russia's re-embracing of repression may teach us in our suddenly benighted land with an unstable leader who reveres strongmen like Putin.
Also, Essayist Garnette Cadogan returns to recommend two works by the contemporary British Author Robert MacFarlane: one for children: The Lost Words; one for adults: Landmarks - both of which exhibit how language can re-enchant our relationship to the world.
USC Professor of Physics Clifford Johnson joins LARB's Eric Newman to discuss his new work of natural philosophy The Dialogues: Conversations About the Nature of the Universe, which also happens to be a comic book (from MIT Press no less, move over Marvel!). Sure, the popular form is a strategy to engage a larger audience with ideas that Johnson affirms are already widely considered, just not as dull/intimidating science; but that doesn't diminish the Johnson's achievement, as a presenter of ideas, an author of vignettes, and a first-time graphic artist. Also, author Dan Lopez drops by to recommend They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hannis Willis-Abdurraqib's stunning collection of essays on contemporary music and black culture, reflected against a legendary performance of the national anthem by Marvin Gaye.
It's the question on everyone's mind: How the hell did we get here, Donald Trump's America? How did our belief in democratic ideals get warped into what Errol Morris terms the “bat shit craziness” of the Trump era? LARB's Tom Lutz talks with Morris about his brilliant new film Wormword, which debuts this week on Netflix, and how it’s tale of an army scientist’s suspicious death in 1953 relates to the current crisis of a government we feel we fundamentally can’t trust. As Morris explains, a society that builds powerful, secretive, violent institutions cannot also be an honest democracy with citizens who demand to know the truth - and what better way to deliver this message than an uncanny, six-part, binge-worthy, murder mystery. Also, John Freeman returns to recommend Solmaz Sharif's sublime book of verse, Look.
This week's LARB Radio Hour features two full length interviews, both all about conspicuous, yet mysterious, New York Jews. In the first, the celebrated documentary team of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady talk about what inspired them to focus their lens on a few brave souls who decided to leave the tight knit Hasidic community in their new film One of Us, which recently debuted on Netflix. Heidi and Rachel felt these tales would reveal much about the human spirit, the vulnerability of those that challenge orthodoxy, the safety of community contrasted with dangerous thrill of freedom; and understood the commitment necessary to complete such a challenging and captivating film. In game two of our double-header, co-hosts Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher are joined by Eric Lax, author of Start to Finish: Woody Allen and the Art of Moviemaking. Eric explains what he sought to reveal in a book that documents the production of Allen's 2015 film Irrational Man from start to finish: a unique, quirky master-craftsman at work doing what so few get to do, make films just the way he wants. And lest the elephant in the room pass unnoticed, Eric directly addresses the charges of sexual molestation against his legendary friend.