Hosted by acclaimed journalist David Brancaccio (Marketplace and PBS' NOW), this podcast dissects classic Esquire stories and reveals the cultural currents that make them as urgent and timely today as when they were first published. Guests include Esquire writers, along with noted authors, comedians, and actors who offer unique and personal perspective on some of the most lasting stories ever published. Presented by PRX and Esquire Magazine.
Don’t Mess With Roy Cohn, by Ken Auletta
If president-elect Donald Trump learned anything from his mentor Roy Cohn, it was this: punch first and never apologize. Cohn was notorious for going on the attack—as counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy during the communist witch-hunts of the fifties, and later as a pugnacious attorney for whom the only bad publicity was no publicity. With hooded eyes and a scar running along his nose, Cohn relished playing the intimidating outlaw in a black hat. He was fearless and bullying yet always considered himself as a victim. Despite this loathsome reputation, Cohn was resolutely loyal and counted among his friends Democrats and Republicans alike. More than partisanship, what mattered most to Cohn was power, as we learn in Ken Auletta’s searing 1978 profile, “Don’t Mess with Roy Cohn.” Auletta joins host David Brancaccio on the Esquire Podcast this week to discuss Cohn’s unrelenting cruelty and drive, and how it helped shape the man who will now lead the country.
The Plane at the Bottom of the Ocean, by Bucky McMahon
The question is astonishingly simple: In the year 2015, with GPS and satellites and global surveillance everywhere all the time, how does a massive airplane simply go missing? To find the answer, writer Bucky McMahon boarded one of the vessels searching for Malaysia Air 370 in one of the most isolated and treacherous stretches of ocean on the planet. In telling the story of the search crew and the massive amounts of technology, money, and human capital being spent trying to find this airplane, McMahon tells a story of our time—of a world completely dependent on nets of redundant technology, yet completely lost and broken when those nets suddenly break. McMahon joins host David Brancaccio to discuss his October 2015 story, “The Plane at the Bottom of the Ocean.”
The Price of Being President, by Richard Ben Cramer
Published in 1992, Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes: The Way to the White House remains the richest and most unvarnished account of the personal price of running for president. The irony, as Cramer pointed out to C-SPAN shortly after the book came out, is that to become president a candidate must sacrifice the entire life that had prepared him or her for office in the first place. Earlier this year, longtime Esquire political correspondent Charles P. Pierce joined host David Brancaccio to discuss how Cramer’s book—which was excerpted in three parts in Esquire—continues to shape how we understand presidential politics and the psyches of those with the hubris to seek the highest office.
The Old Man and the River, by Pete Dexter
Norman Maclean published A River Runs Through It when he was seventy-three, and only after his children implored him to write down the stories about fly-fishing, brotherhood, and the wilds of Montana that he’d told them for years. The resulting novella is a classic of economy and clarity. A few years later, Pete Dexter visited Maclean in Montana and profiled him for Esquire in “The Old Man and the River.” Dexter, a National Book Award winner, joins host David Brancaccio to discuss the master class he got from Maclean in what truly matters most—in writing, nature, and life.
The Days of Wine and Pig Hocks, by Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison, the novelist and poet who died earlier this year at the age of 78, had a gargantuan, fearless appetite that would make both A.J. Liebling and Anthony Bourdain proud. He wrote about food—about eating, really— in a woolly, baroque style for Esquire’s “The Raw and the Cooked” column. He began one piece with this Hors d’oeuvre: “Distraught, I fled north with little more than a frozen wild pig’s head in the cooler for nutrition.” Our food and drink editor Jeff Gordinier joins David Brancaccio on the podcast this holiday week to discuss “The Days of Wine and Pig Hocks,” Harrison’s discursive gonzo account of a dreary nine-city book tour salvaged only by his epicurean wanderings: eggplant pizza in New York, jalapeños stuffed with crabmeat in Jackson Mississippi, and a three-pound poached, then roasted, pig hock—the best he ever had—in Milwaukee. Never mind the Bromo, Bon appétit.
Martin Luther King Jr Is Still on the Case! by Garry Wills
In 1968, just hours after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the future Pulitzer Prize–winning author Garry Wills—then a young writer for Esquire—rushed to Memphis, Tennessee, where he watched as King’s body was embalmed at the mortuary; later, Wills traveled twelve hours by bus with mourners to King’s funeral in Atlanta. Nearly fifty years after its publication, Wills’s “Martin Luther King Jr. Is Still on the Case!” remains one of the most revealing and lasting portraits of King and his turbulent era ever written. Writer and director John Ridley—who won an Oscar for his screenplay for 12 Years a Slave—joins host David Brancaccio to discuss why Wills’s wrenching profile of King continues to resonate today, what has changed in America since it was written, and, most important, what still needs to change.
Overall Fascinating--Just Two Qualms
All topics, even ones you think you won't be interested in, are fascinating thanks to host David Brancaccio who is fantastic (who knew the Marketplace host was so well-rounded, thoughtful, and engaging?) My first issue is the female reader. Her voice irritates me and virtually all the stories are about men and written by men (it's Esquire, afterall) so it's somewhat jarring to hear a female voice read what is supposed to be a male voice. And she's very "ACT-TORy" with a capital A--like some reject from Broadway. But I can get over her melodramatic readings and her "wrong sex" voice because the content is so compelling. And I'm a woman, by the way, and I'm all for females having a "voice" --just not when it's supposed to so clearly be a MALE voice. My second issue is the length--just when I'm becoming totally hooked on the story, Brancaccio will say to his guest, "Thank you, that was fascinating..."--yes it was--why is it ending after just 25 minutes!!! I need a full hour! I've listened through all and am sad it's not continuing.
Excellent podcast. Hope they bring it back...
The Esquire archives are fantastic and this podcasts brings them to life in such an interesting way. I really wish they would bring it back...
It Was a Fantastic Show
We need more quality podcast like this one. Great subject matter and interview style.