300 episodes

Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

Start the Week BBC Radio 4

    • Society & Culture

Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

    Health, sickness and exploitation

    Health, sickness and exploitation

    When people feel ill they go to the doctor for a diagnosis and what they hope will be the first step on the road to recovery. But former consultant neurologist Jules Montague argues that getting a diagnosis isn’t as simple as it sounds – they can be infected by medical bias, swayed by Big Pharma or political expedience, even refused because the condition isn’t officially recognised. In The Imaginary Patient Dr Montague meets those who have had to fight to get the right treatment.

    The GP Gavin Francis knows only too well how desperate patients can feel with undiagnosed symptoms, but in his latest work, Recovery: The Lost Art of Convalescence he’s looking at the other end of the medical journey. He warns that getting better can take longer and be far more complex than most people understand.

    The academic, Jennifer Jacquet, is interested in how far patients can be pawns in the wider power plays in the corporate world and Big Pharma. In The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies, and Make a Killing in the Corporate World, she uses satire to expose the extraordinary lengths that corporations will go to quash inconvenient research, target scientists and forestall regulations.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    This is the last show in the series; back on Monday 12th September.

    • 41 min
    Justice, war crimes and targeted killings

    Justice, war crimes and targeted killings

    Linda Kinstler’s Latvian grandfather disappeared after WWII and the family never spoke about him. But as she delved into Boris Kinstler’s life she found he had been a member of a killing brigade in the SS linked to the ‘Butcher of Riga’ Herbert Cukurs, before becoming a KGB agent and then vanishing. She attempts to uncover the truth in Come To This Court and Cry: How The Holocaust Ends, but also interrogates the uncertainties of memory, family, nation and justice.

    Although Herbert Cukur’s name came up frequently at the Nuremberg war crime trials for the killing of tens of thousands of Jews, he managed to escape and find refuge in South America. It was there he was murdered by Mossad agents who left a note from Those Who Will Never Forget saying ‘the condemned man has been executed’. The Israeli investigative journalist Ronen Bergman has uncovered his country’s most secret activities in Rise and Kill First: The Secret History Of Israel's Targeted Assassinations (translated by Ronnie Hope).

    The Nuremberg trials in the aftermath of WWII mark the birth of international law and set the framework of modern human rights law. The barrister and writer Philippe Sands has appeared frequently before international courts, and has been involved in many of the most important cases of recent years from Yugoslavia to Rwanda to Guantanamo. He explains what can be done when countries – like Russia – refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of international law.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 42 min
    Social inequality - up close

    Social inequality - up close

    The failure of British politics and public institutions to tackle social inequality is down to proximity, so says the writer, performer and activist Darren McGarvey. In The Social Distance Between Us: How Remote Politics Wrecked Britain he looks at the huge gulf – geographic, economic and cultural – between those who make decisions and the people on the receiving end of them. He tells Adam Rutherford it’s time for a meaningful discussion in which the voiceless and powerless get heard. The Social Distance Between Us is BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week.

    The poet Jo Clement gives voice to the stories and people of her family’s Romany past. In her collection Outlandish she has no time for Romantic impressions of British Gypsy ethnicity as she moves from ancient stopping-places to decaying council estates. Her poems are imaginative protests that cast light on a hidden and threatened culture.

    It’s a far cry from the world of former broker Brett Scott. But in his latest book, Cloudmoney: Cash Cards, Crypto and the War for our Wallets he argues that social inequality will only increase if cash is allowed to disappear. A cashless society is the vision of big finance and tech, and he warns that it will end up only benefitting the few, while infringing the privacy of the many.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 41 min
    A revolution in food and farming

    A revolution in food and farming

    The environmentalist George Monbiot argues that farming is the world’s greatest cause of environmental destruction, but few people want to talk about it. In Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet he presents a vision for the future of food production. He tells Tom Sutcliffe that new ideas and technologies from soil ecology to laboratory-grown food could change the way people eat while regenerating the landscape.

    But many farmers believe that they have been unfairly accused of ecological mismanagement, and that they are uniquely placed to restore the earth and provide a sustainable future. Sarah Langford has returned to her country roots after working for many years as a criminal barrister in the city. In her book, Rooted: Stories of Life, Land and a Farming Revolution she shows how a new generation of farmers are set on a path of regenerative change.

    While Sarah Langford comes from a family of farmers, for many city dwellers it can be difficult to cultivate a connection with the earth. In her memoir, Unearthed: On Race and Roots and How the Soil Taught Me I Belong, Claire Ratinon, explores how she grew up feeling disconnected with the natural world and with family stories of slave ancestors forced to work the land. Through learning to grow her own vegetables and especially the food of Mauritius, she has finally felt able to put down roots.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 41 min
    Family drama at Hay Festival

    Family drama at Hay Festival

    In front of an audience at this year’s Hay Festival Helen Lewis talks to three prize winning authors about their work.

    Damon Galgut’s Booker-winning The Promise tells the story of a family and a country – South Africa – and the failed promises that destroy them both. The exciting promise of a super-connected world where memories are currency is set against the quest for privacy in Jennifer Egan’s new novel The Candy House. And Margo Jefferson examines every passion, memory and influence – from family to jazz to art – in her new memoir, Constructing a Nervous System.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 42 min
    Learning from apes, fish and wasps

    Learning from apes, fish and wasps

    Adam Rutherford explores how other species can help us understand our own. The world-renowned primatologist Frans de Waal has spent decades observing the behaviours of chimps and bonobos. In Different: What Apes Can Teach Us About Gender he looks at, and questions, the interplay of biology and culture. Using his knowledge of apes he challenges widely held beliefs about masculinity and femininity and assumptions about authority, power, cooperation and sexual behaviour.

    Nichola Raihani’s research focuses on the evolution of social behaviour in humans and non-human species. In her book, The Social Instinct, she looks at the science of cooperation and how humans have evolved socially and built, and fought over, hugely complex communities. But she also suggests we might have something to learn from the pied babblers of the Kalahari, and the cleaner fish of the Great Barrier Reef – two of the most fascinating and extraordinarily successful species on the planet.

    While ants and honey bees are often held up as exemplars of social cohesion, the entomologist Seirian Sumner wants to rehabilitate the much-maligned thug of the insect world, the wasp. In Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps she shows how wasps are older, cleverer and more diverse than their evolutionary new-comer the bee. And she makes the case that they hold hidden treasures of relevance to human culture, survival and health, and one species even taught us how to make paper.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 41 min

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