300 episodes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

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    • 4.7 • 31 Ratings

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas

    Pierre-Simon Laplace

    Pierre-Simon Laplace

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Laplace (1749-1827) who was a giant in the world of mathematics both before and after the French Revolution. He addressed one of the great questions of his age, raised but side-stepped by Newton: was the Solar System stable, or would the planets crash into the Sun, as it appeared Jupiter might, or even spin away like Saturn threatened to do? He advanced ideas on probability, long the preserve of card players, and expanded them out across science; he hypothesised why the planets rotate in the same direction; and he asked if the Universe was deterministic, so that if you knew everything about all the particles then you could predict the future. He also devised the metric system and reputedly came up with the name 'metre'.

    With

    Marcus du Sautoy
    Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford

    Timothy Gowers
    Professor of Mathematics at the College de France

    And

    Colva Roney-Dougal
    Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 48 min
    The Russo-Japanese War

    The Russo-Japanese War

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the conflict between Russia and Japan from February 1904 to September 1905, which gripped the world and had a profound impact on both countries. Wary of Russian domination of Korea, Japan attacked the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur and the ensuing war gave Russia a series of shocks, including the loss of their Baltic Fleet after a seven month voyage, which reverberated in the 1905 Revolution. Meanwhile Japan, victorious, advanced its goal of making Europe and America more wary in East Asia, combining rapid military modernisation and Samurai traditions when training its new peasant conscripts. The US-brokered peace failed to require Russia to make reparations, which became a cause of Japanese resentment towards the US.

    With

    Simon Dixon
    The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London

    Naoko Shimazu
    Professor of Humanities at Yale NUS College, Singapore

    And

    Oleg Benesch
    Reader in Modern History at the University of York

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 48 min
    David Ricardo

    David Ricardo

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most influential economists from the age of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. Ricardo (1772 -1823) reputedly made his fortune at the Battle of Waterloo, and he made his lasting impact with his ideas on free trade. At a time when nations preferred to be self-sufficient, to produce all their own food and manufacture their own goods, and to find markets for export rather than import, Ricardo argued for free trade even with rivals for the benefit of all. He contended that existing economic policy unduly favoured landlords above all others and needed to change, and that nations would be less likely to go to war with their trading partners if they were more reliant on each other. For the last two hundred years, Ricardo’s Theory of Comparative Advantage in support of free trade has been developed and reinterpreted by generations of economists across the political spectrum.

    With

    Matthew Watson
    Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick

    Helen Paul
    Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton

    And

    Richard Whatmore
    Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Co-Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 49 min
    The Bacchae

    The Bacchae

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Euripides' great tragedy, which was first performed in Athens in 405 BC when the Athenians were on the point of defeat and humiliation in a long war with Sparta. The action seen or described on stage was brutal: Pentheus, king of Thebes, is torn into pieces by his mother in a Bacchic frenzy and his grandparents condemned to crawl away as snakes. All this happened because Pentheus had denied the divinity of his cousin Dionysus, known to the audience as god of wine, theatre, fertility and religious ecstasy.

    The image above is a detail of a Red-Figure Cup showing the death of Pentheus (exterior) and a Maenad (interior), painted c. 480 BC by the Douris painter. This object can be found at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

    With

    Edith Hall
    Professor of Classics at King’s College London

    Emily Wilson
    Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

    And

    Rosie Wyles
    Lecturer in Classical History and Literature at the University of Kent

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 52 min
    The Late Devonian Extinction

    The Late Devonian Extinction

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the devastating mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Period, roughly 370 million years ago, when around 70 percent of species disappeared. Scientists are still trying to establish exactly what happened, when and why, but this was not as sudden as when an asteroid hits Earth. The Devonian Period had seen the first trees and soils and it had such a diversity of sea life that it’s known as the Age of Fishes, some of them massive and armoured, and, in one of the iconic stages in evolution, some of them moving onto land for the first time. One of the most important theories for the first stage of this extinction is that the new soils washed into oceans, leading to algal blooms that left the waters without oxygen and suffocated the marine life.

    The image above is an abstract group of the huge, armoured Dunkleosteus fish, lost in the Late Devonian Extinction

    With

    Jessica Whiteside
    Associate Professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton

    David Bond
    Professor of Geology at the University of Hull

    And

    Mike Benton
    Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at the School of Life Sciences, University of Bristol.

    • 49 min
    The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

    The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

    In this 900th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the best known and most influential of the poems of the Romantic movement. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798 after discussions with his friend Wordsworth. He refined it for the rest of his life, and it came to define him, a foreshadowing of his opium-addicted, lonely wandering and deepening sense of guilt. The poem tells of a sailor compelled to tell and retell the story of a terrible voyage in his youth, this time as guests are heading to a wedding party, where he stoppeth one of three.

    The image above is from Gustave Doré's illustration of the mariner's shooting of the albatross, for an 1877 German language edition of the poem

    With

    Sir Jonathan Bate
    Professor of Environmental Humanities at Arizona State University

    Tom Mole
    Professor of English Literature and Book History at the University of Edinburgh

    And

    Rosemary Ashton
    Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    • 53 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
31 Ratings

31 Ratings

Ian ME ,

Unmissable and educational

Required listening for me every week. I love learning about the most obscure and unexpected subjects.

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