1,043 episodes

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas, people and events that have shaped our world.

In Our Time BBC Podcasts

    • History
    • 4.6 • 4.7K Ratings

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas, people and events that have shaped our world.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

    Bertolt Brecht

    Bertolt Brecht

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the greatest European playwrights of the twentieth century. The aim of Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) was to make the familiar ‘strange’: with plays such as Mother Courage and The Caucasian Chalk Circle he wanted his audience not to sit back but to engage, observe and discover the contradictions in life, and act on what they learnt. He developed this approach in turbulent times, from Weimar Germany to the rise of the Nazis, to exile in Scandinavia and America and then post-war life in East Berlin, and he has since inspired dramatists around the world.


    Laura Bradley
    Professor of German and Theatre at the University of Edinburgh

    David Barnett
    Professor of Theatre at the University of York


    Tom Kuhn
    Professor of Twentieth Century German Literature, Emeritus Fellow of St Hugh's College, University of Oxford

    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    In Our Time is a BBC Studios Audio production

    Reading list:

    David Barnett, Brecht in Practice: Theatre, Theory and Performance (Bloomsbury, 2014)

    David Barnett, A History of the Berliner Ensemble (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

    Laura Bradley and Karen Leeder (eds.), Brecht and the GDR: Politics, Culture, Posterity (Camden House, 2015)

    Laura Bradley, ‘Training the Audience: Brecht and the Art of Spectatorship’ (The Modern Language Review, 111, 2016)

    Bertolt Brecht (ed. Marc Silberman, Tom Kuhn and Steve Giles), Brecht on Theatre (Bloomsbury, 2014)

    Bertolt Brecht (ed. Tom Kuhn, Steve Giles and Marc Silberman), Brecht on Performance (Bloomsbury, 2014)

    Bertolt Brecht (trans. Tom Kuhn and David Constantine), The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht (Norton Liveright, 2018) which includes the poem ‘Spring 1938’ read by Tom Kuhn in this programme

    Stephen Brockmann (ed.), Bertolt Brecht in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2021)

    Meg Mumford, Bertolt Brecht (Routledge, 2009)

    Stephen Parker, Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life (Bloomsbury, 2014)

    Ronald Speirs, Brecht’s Poetry of Political Exile (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

    David Zoob, Brecht: A Practical Handbook (Nick Hern Books, 2018)

    Napoleon's Hundred Days

    Napoleon's Hundred Days

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Napoleon Bonaparte's temporary return to power in France in 1815, following his escape from exile on Elba . He arrived with fewer than a thousand men, yet three weeks later he had displaced Louis XVIII and taken charge of an army as large as any that the Allied Powers could muster individually. He saw that his best chance was to pick the Allies off one by one, starting with the Prussian and then the British/Allied armies in what is now Belgium. He appeared to be on the point of victory at Waterloo yet somehow it eluded him, and his plans were soon in tatters. His escape to America thwarted, he surrendered on 15th July and was exiled again but this time to Saint Helena. There he wrote his memoirs to help shape his legacy, while back in Europe there were still fears of his return.


    Michael Rowe
    Reader in European History at Kings College London

    Katherine Astbury
    Professor of French Studies at the University of Warwick


    Zack White
    Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Portsmouth

    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    In Our Time is a BBC Studios Audio production.

    Reading list:

    Katherine Astbury and Mark Philp (ed.), Napoleon's Hundred Days and the Politics of Legitimacy (Palgrave, 2018)

    Jeremy Black, The Battle of Waterloo: A New History (Icon Books, 2010)

    Michael Broers, Napoleon: The Decline and Fall of an Empire: 1811-1821 (Pegasus Books, 2022)

    Philip Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in power 1799-1815 (Bloomsbury, 2014)

    Charles J. Esdaile, Napoleon, France and Waterloo: The Eagle Rejected (Pen & Sword Military, 2016)

    Gareth Glover, Waterloo: Myth and Reality (Pen & Sword Military, 2014)

    Sudhir Hazareesingh, The Legend of Napoleon (Granta, 2014)

    John Hussey, Waterloo: The Campaign of 1815, Volume 1, From Elba to Ligny and Quatre Bras (Greenhill Books, 2017)

    Andrew Roberts, Napoleon the Great (Penguin Books, 2015)

    Brian Vick, The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics after Napoleon (Harvard University Press, 2014)

    Zack White (ed.), The Sword and the Spirit: Proceedings of the first ‘War & Peace in the Age of Napoleon’ Conference (Helion and Company, 2021)



    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aristophanes' comedy in which the women of Athens and Sparta, led by Lysistrata, secure peace in the long-running war between them by staging a sex strike. To the men in the audience in 411BC, the idea that peace in the Peloponnesian War could be won so easily was ridiculous and the thought that their wives could have so much power over them was even more so. However Aristophanes' comedy also has the women seizing the treasure in the Acropolis that was meant to fund more fighting in an emergency, a fund the Athenians had recently had to draw on. They were in a perilous position and, much as they might laugh at Aristophanes' jokes, they knew there were real concerns about the actual cost of the war in terms of wealth and manpower.


    Paul Cartledge
    AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge

    Sarah Miles
    Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Durham University


    James Robson
    Professor of Classical Studies at the Open University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    Aristophanes (ed. Jeffrey Henderson), Lysistrata (Oxford University Press, 1987)

    Aristophanes (ed. Jeffrey Henderson), Three Plays by Aristophanes: Staging Women (Routledge, 2010)

    Aristophanes (ed. Jeffrey Henderson), Birds; Lysistrata; Women at the Thesmophoria (Loeb Classical Library series, Harvard University Press, 2014)

    Aristophanes (ed. Alan H. Sommerstein), Lysistrata and Other Plays: The Acharnians; The Clouds; Lysistrata (Penguin, 2002)

    Aristophanes (ed. Alan H. Sommerstein), Lysistrata (Aris & Phillips, 1998)

    Paul Cartledge, Aristophanes and his Theatre of the Absurd (Bristol Classical Press, 1999)

    Kenneth Dover, Aristophanic Comedy (University of California Press, 1972)

    Germaine Greer, Lysistrata: The Sex Strike: After Aristophanes (Aurora Metro Press, 2000)

    Tony Harrison, The Common Chorus: A Version of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (Faber & Faber, 1992)

    Douglas M. MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens: An Introduction to the Plays (Oxford University Press, 1995)

    S. Douglas Olson (ed.), Ancient Comedy and Reception: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey Henderson (De Gruyter, 2013), especially 'She (Don't) Gotta Have It: African-American reception of Lysistrata' by Kevin Wetmore

    James Robson, Aristophanes: Lysistrata, Bloomsbury ancient comedy companions (Bloomsbury, 2023)

    James Robson, Aristophanes: An Introduction (Duckworth, 2009)

    Ralph M. Rosen and Helene P. Foley (eds.), Aristophanes and Politics. New Studies (Brill, 2020)

    Donald Sells, Parody, Politics and the Populace in Greek Old Comedy (Bloomsbury, 2018)

    David Stuttard (ed.), Looking at Lysistrata: Eight Essays and a New Version of Aristophanes' Provocative Comedy (Bristol Classical Press, 2010)

    Nikola Tesla

    Nikola Tesla

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) and his role in the development of electrical systems towards the end of the nineteenth century. He made his name in New York in the contest over which current should flow into homes and factories in America. Some such as Edison backed direct current or DC while others such as Westinghouse backed alternating current or AC and Nikola Tesla’s invention of a motor that worked on AC swung it for the alternating system that went on to power the modern age. He ensured his reputation and ideas burnt brightly for the next decades, making him synonymous with the lone, genius inventor of the new science fiction.


    Simon Schaffer
    Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College, University of Cambridge

    Jill Jonnes
    Historian and author of “Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World”


    Iwan Morus
    Professor of History at Aberystwyth University

    Producer: Simon Tillotson

    Reading list:

    W. Bernard Carlson, Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age (Princeton University Press, 2013)

    Margaret Cheney and Robert Uth, Tesla: Master of Lightning (Barnes & Noble Books, 1999)

    Thomas P. Hughes, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983)

    Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New (Open University Press, 1988)

    Iwan Rhys Morus, Nikola Tesla and the Electrical Future (Icon Books, 2019)

    Iwan Rhys Morus, How The Victorians Took Us To The Moon (Icon, 2022)

    David E. Nye, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology (MIT Press, 1991)

    John J. O’Neill, Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla (first published 1944; Cosimo Classics, 2006)

    Marc J. Seifer, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Biography of a Genius (first published 1996; Citadel Press, 2016)

    Nikola Tesla, My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (first published 1919; Martino Fine Books, 2011)

    Nikola Tesla, My Inventions and other Writings (Penguin, 2012)

    In Our Time is a BBC Studios Audio production

    The Kalevala

    The Kalevala

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Finnish epic poem that first appeared in print in 1835 in what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland, part of the Russian Empire and until recently part of Sweden. The compiler of this epic was a doctor, Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884), who had travelled the land to hear traditional poems about mythical heroes being sung in Finnish, the language of the peasantry, and writing them down in his own order to create this landmark work. In creating The Kalevala, Lönnrot helped the Finns realise they were a distinct people apart from Sweden and Russia, who deserved their own nation state and who came to demand independence, which they won in 1917.
    Riitta Valijärvi
    Associate Professor in Finnish and Minority Languages at University College London
    Thomas Dubois
    The Halls-Bascom Professor of Scandinavian Folklore and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
    Daniel Abondolo
    Formerly Reader in Hungarian at University College London
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    Nigel Fabb, What is Poetry? Language and Memory in the Poems of the World (Cambridge University Press, 2015)
    Frog, Satu Grünthal, Kati Kallio and Jarkko Niemi (eds), Versification: Metrics in Practice (Finnish Literature Society, 2021)
    Riho Grünthal et al., ‘Drastic demographic events triggered the Uralic spread’ (Diachronica, Volume 39, Issue 4, Aug 2022)
    Lauri Honko (ed.), The Kalevala and the World's Traditional Epics (Finnish Literature Society, 2002)
    The Kalevala Heritage: Archive Recordings of Ancient Finnish Songs. Online Catalogue no. ODE8492.
    Mauri Kunnas, The Canine Kalevala (Otava Publishing, 1992)
    Kuusi, Matti, et al. (eds.), Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic (Finnish Literature Society, 1977)
    Elias Lönnrot (trans. John Martin Crawford), Kalevala: The Epic Poem of Finland (first published 1887; CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017)
    Elias Lönnrot (trans. W. F. Kirby), Kalevala: The Land of the Heroes (first published by J.M. Dent & Sons, 1907, 2 vols.; ‎ Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2000)
    Elias Lönnrot (trans. Francis Peabody Magoun Jr.), The Kalevala, or Poems of the Kaleva District (Harvard University Press, 1963)
    Elias Lönnrot (trans. Eino Friberg), The Kalevala: Epic of the Finnish People (Otava Publishing, 1988)
    Elias Lönnrot (trans. Keith Bosley), The Kalevala: An Epic Poem after Oral Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1989)
    Kirsti Mäkinen, Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin, Kaarina Brooks, An Illustrated Kalevala: Myths and Legends from Finland (Floris Books, 2020)
    Sami Makkonen, Kalevala: The Graphic Novel (Ablaze, 2024)
    Juha Y. Pentikäinen (trans. Ritva Poom), Kalevala Mythology, (Indiana University Press, 1999)
    Tina K. Ramnarine, Ilmatar’s Inspirations: Nationalism, Globalization and the Changing Soundscapes of Finnish Folk Music (University of Chicago Press, 2003)
    Jonathan Roper (ed.), Alliteration in Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), especially chapter 12 ‘Alliteration in (Balto-) Finnic Languages’ by Frog and Eila Stepanova
    Karl Spracklen, Metal Music and the Re-imagining of Masculinity, Place, Race and Nation (Emerald Publishing, 2020), especially the chapter ‘Finnish Folk Metal: Raising Drinking Horns in Mainstream Metal’
    Leea Virtanen and Thomas A. DuBois, Finnish Folklore: Studia Fennica Folkloristica 9 (Finnish Literature Society, 2000)

    • 50 min
    Julian the Apostate

    Julian the Apostate

    Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the last pagan ruler of the Roman Empire. Fifty years after Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and introduced a policy of tolerating the faith across the empire, Julian (c.331 - 363 AD) aimed to promote paganism instead, branding Constantine the worst of all his predecessors. Julian was a philosopher-emperor in the mould of Marcus Aurelius and was noted in his lifetime for his letters and his satires, and it was his surprising success as a general in his youth in Gaul that had propelled him to power barely twenty years after a rival had slaughtered his family. Julian's pagan mission and his life were brought to a sudden end while on campaign against the Sasanian Empire in the east, but he left so much written evidence of his ideas that he remains one of the most intriguing of all the Roman emperors and a hero to the humanists of the Enlightenment.
    James Corke-Webster
    Reader in Classics, History and Liberal Arts at King’s College, London
    Lea Niccolai
    Assistant Professor in Classics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics, Trinity College
    Shaun Tougher
    Professor of Late Roman and Byzantine History at Cardiff University
    Producer: Simon Tillotson
    Reading list:
    Polymnia Athanassiadi, Julian: An Intellectual Biography (first published 1981; Routledge, 2014)
    Nicholas Baker-Brian and Shaun Tougher (eds.), Emperor and Author: The Writings of Julian the Apostate (Classical Press of Wales, 2012)
    Nicholas Baker-Brian and Shaun Tougher (eds.), The Sons of Constantine, AD 337-361: In the Shadows of Constantine and Julian, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)
    G.W. Bowersock, Julian the Apostate (first published 1978; Harvard University Press, 1997)
    Susanna Elm, Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome (University of California Press, 2012)
    Ari Finkelstein, The Specter of the Jews: Emperor Julian and the Rhetoric of Ethnicity in Syrian Antioch (University of California Press, 2018)
    David Neal Greenwood, Julian and Christianity: Revisiting the Constantinian Revolution (Cornell University Press, 2021)
    Lea Niccolai, Christianity, Philosophy, and Roman Power: Constantine, Julian, and the Bishops on Exegesis and Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2023)
    Stefan Rebenich and Hans-Ulrich Wiemer (eds), A Companion to Julian the Apostate (Brill, 2020)
    Rowland Smith, Julian’s Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian the Apostate (Routledge, 1995)
    H.C. Teitler, The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2017)
    Shaun Tougher, Julian the Apostate (Edinburgh University Press, 2007)
    W. C. Wright, The Works of Emperor Julian of Rome (Loeb, 1913-23)

    • 50 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
4.7K Ratings

4.7K Ratings

thaRosyFingertips ,

Smartest pod out there

MB moves his impossibly erudite guests through the discussion at a wonderfully brisk pace. Zero fat, a wealth of substance. A podcast for the impatient and intellectually curious.

esdotroa ,

The best podcast.

Melvyn, Simon, and Virginia have crafted the greatest educational podcast for adults that exists. Experts explain and then discuss an enormous range of topics for 40ish minutes. Melvyn is the greatest presenter (ever, of all time) a treasure for all the world to share. The best bits are when the academic philosophers start to argue, some really priceless moments. I recommend the art, philosophy, and history episodes are my favorite, but the discussions about books and authors have taught me a ton as well. And there’s a reading list available!

fromtexasbygod ,

Painfully Boring

Painfully boring discussion punctuated by an unprofessional coughing host too dim to use a mute switch that would spare listeners from hearing his annoyingly gross smokers cough.

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