Leading artists, writers, thinkers discuss the ideas shaping our lives & links between past & present and new academic research.
Lost cities, 20s divas and 2011 uprisings
Singer Umm Kulthum, Mounira al-Mahdiyya, Badia Masabni. These are the names of the pioneering performers working in Cairo's dance halls and theatres in the 1020s whom Raphael Cormack has written about in his new book. From that period of cosmopolitan culture to the uprising in 2011 - how has Egypt shifted ? New Generation Thinker Dina Rezk lectures at the University of Reading and she's been reading the new novel by Alaa Al Aswany - The Republic of False Truths. Edmund Richardson researches Alexander the Great and he's written about a Victorian pilgrim, spy, doctor, archaeologist Charles Masson who found a lost city in Afghanistan. Anne McElvoy presents.
Raphael Cormack's book is called Midnight in Cairo: The Female Stars of Egypt's Roaring '20s
Dina Rezk is a New Generation Thinker and Associate Professor of History at the University of Reading. Her recent research has focused on the upheavals of the 'Arab Spring' across the Middle East.
Edmund Richardson is a New Generation Thinker and Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Durham. His book is called Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City
Producer: Ruth Watts
Image: People celebrate at Tahrir Square, Cairo on 3rd July 2013
Credit: BBC (Abdel Khalik Salah)
Archiving, curating and digging for data
Lisa Mullen explores the way data can change our view of history & looks at conservation.
Marlon James and Neil Gaiman
From the appeal of trickster gods Anansi and Loki to the joy of comics and fantasy: Booker prize winner Marlon James and Neil Gaiman, author of the book American Gods which has been turned into a TV series, talk writing and reading with Matthew Sweet in a conversation organised in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature and the British Library.
Neil Gaiman is an author of books for children and adults whose titles include Norse Mythology, American Gods, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), Coraline, and the Sandman graphic novels. He also writes children's books and poetry, has written and adapted for radio, TV and film and for DC Comics.
Marlon James is the author of the Booker Prize winning and New York Times bestseller A Brief History of Seven Killings, The Book of Night Women, John Crow's Devil and his most recent - Black Leopard, Red Wolf - which is the first in The Dark Star Trilogy in which he plans to tell the same story from different perspectives.
Producer: Torquil MacLeod.
You can find a playlist called Prose and Poetry featuring a range of authors including Ian Rankin, Nadifa Mohamed, Paul Mendez, Ali Smith, Helen Mort, Max Porter, Hermione Lee, Derek Owusu, Jay Bernard, Ben Okri on the Free Thinking website https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p047v6vh
The Bechdel test asks whether two women are having a conversation which doesn't relate to a man. Many films, books and plays fall foul of the measure which first appeared in the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, created by Matthew Sweet's guest today Alison Bechdel. Her memoir Fun Home became a Tony Award-winning musical and she has now published The Secret to Superhuman Strength which considers her relationship with exercise so she and Matthew go on an imaginary walk discussing topics including mushrooms, drinking, the response of her mum to being depicted in fiction, the lingering impact of a Catholic childhood and going to confession, the writing of Adrienne Rich and Coleridge and Bechdel's exploration of ideas about transcendence.
Producer: Caitlin Benedict
You can find Matthew in conversation with other guests including Spike Lee, Sarah Perry, Jimmy Carter's former drugs tsar Peter Bourne and Michael Lewis in a playlist on the Free Thinking programme website https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04ly0c8
Napoleon the gardener and art thief
The day before Napoleon's death on May 5th 1821, the willow tree he liked to sit under on St Helena was felled by tempestuous winds. Ruth Scurr has written Napoleon: A Life in Gardens and Shadows. Natasha Pulley's novel The Kingdoms imagines a history with Napoleon victorious in England, Emma Rothschild has traced a family in France over three centuries. Rana Mitter chairs a discussion about how looking at Napoleon as gardener, collector of art and founder of an institution dedicated to the arts and sciences in Egypt adds to our understanding of him as a military man and the panel consider alternative histories of France.
Ruth Scurr's book Napoleon: A Life in Gardens and Shadows is out now. You can hear her discussing her book about John Aubrey in this episode of Free Thinking
Natasha Pulley's novel The Kingdoms is published May 25th 2021. You can hear her discussing the Japanese novel and film Rashomon https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b01vwk and the writing of Angela Carter https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p038jdb7
Emma Rothschild has published An Infinite History: The Story of a Family in France over Three Centuries
Producer: Ruth Watts
You might be interested in another Free Thinking discussion about Napoleon in Fact and Fiction hearing from actor/director Kathryn Hunter, biographer Michael Broers historians Oskar Cox Jensen and Laura O'Brien, journalist Nabila Ramdani https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09s2nml
and Radio 3's weekly curation of Words and Music features an episode focusing on authors and composers inspired by the life of Napoleon with readings from Jane Austen, Wordsworth, Anthony Burgess and Thackeray and music from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.
Samuel Johnson's circle
"We suffer from Johnson" - those words come in a poem written by his friend, the diarist Hester Thrale Piozzi (who died May 2nd 1821). Patience Agbabi's new novel time travels back to eighteenth century London and takes its teenage heroes to a tea party at Samuel Johnson's house. Thomas Lawrence sketched his biographer Boswell. His Jamaican servant Francis Barber inherited his watch. So Laurence Scott convenes his own virtual tea party to look at Samuel Johnson's world.
New Generation Thinker Sophie Coulombeau is co-organiser of the first international conference on Hester Thrale Piozzi and will share her findings from her research into Piozzi's life and works. As an exhibition of Lawrence's portraits prepares to open at the Holburne Museum in Bath, we hear from curator, Amina Wright, about the young artist. Patience Agbabi's novel is called The Time-Thief and she explains why she was drawn to depict Samuel Johnson. And, New Generation Thinker Jake Subryan Richards writes a postcard reflecting on ideas about slavery, abolition and the law in eighteenth century England.
New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to turn academic research into radio. You can find a playlist of discussions, features and Essays on the Free Thinking programme website https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08zhs35
Producer: Ruth Watts
Image: Patience Agbabi
Credit: Lyndon Douglas
Smart and funny!
Intellectually enriching for me, and sometimes I get a great laugh right at the very end. So good.
Excellent with a minor reservation
Really good mix of thoughtful articulate informed guests. The interview with Camille Paglia was great EXCEPT when Dodd interrupted her before she finished her thoughts. The audience can’t listen to the guest if the interviewer doesn’t listen himself.