We discuss the great books, the great ideas and the process of liberal education.
We discuss the great books, the great ideas and the process of liberal education.
#82- A Landmark of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction: Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz
This week, Scott and Karl discuss A Canticle for Leibowitz, the post-apocalyptic science fiction classic by Walter M. Miller Jr., first published in 1959.
Scott says, “It's a story about how fragile civilization is, how fragile knowledge is, and what people’s responsibility to that may or may not be."
As the plot goes, the monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz work to preserve the surviving remnants of man's scientific knowledge until the world is again ready for it after a devastating nuclear war.
Divided into three parts, the book spans thousands of years as civilization rebuilds itself, harboring themes on the cyclical nature of technological progress and regress.
The separate novellas share a nostalgia for things that have been lost. “Post-Megawar stories are about an afterlife,” Miller writes, “Survivors don’t really live in such a world; they haunt it.”
Tune in to hear more about this timeless story in a mythic dimension, brought to you by onlinegreatbooks.com.
#81- The Case for Digital Currency: Nakamoto on Bitcoin
12 years ago, an anonymous person using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto published Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. This week, Scott and Karl discuss this revolutionary concept of how Bitcoin set out to change the way the world views currencies.
At just ten pages long, Nakamoto’s original paper is still recommended reading for anyone studying how Bitcoin works. Nakamoto’s vision for the project is this: digital currency that anyone can use without needing to go through a bank or any other centralized organization.
Bitcoin provides a solution to the double-spending problem using a peer-to-peer network. According to Nakamoto, "The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing the proof-of-work.”
Although the paper spares no technical detail in explaining how the Bitcoin network operates, both Scott and Karl agree— there is elegance and unrealized potential of Nakamoto’s idea. Karl says, “It’s a very clever solution to get at the core of money: it’s non-repeatability, it’s finiteness, but made of digits and not gold, silver, or copper."
Scott adds, "We can operate this currency using a certain kind of citizenship, a certain way of running referendum, a certain way of self-governing, and none of those ways can be changed by a court ruling or a tyrant."
Tune in to learn more about the future of cryptocurrency.
#80- J.R.R. Tolkien's "On Fairy-stories"
What are fairy-stories? What is their origin? What is the use of them?
This week, Scott and Karl read “On Fairy-Stories” and “Leaf by Niggle” by J. R. R. Tolkien. Both works offer answers to these questions while providing the underlying philosophy of Tolkien's own fantastical writing, such as The Lord of the Rings.
In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien discusses the nature of fairy tales and fantasy in an effort to rescue the genre from those who would relegate it only to the nursery.
In the process of discussing the making of a fairy tale, the duo dives into the relationship between bare fact and storytelling. The power of a story, according to Karl, “pulls you out of where you’re living, what you’re doing, and makes you see things that you don’t see.”
Tune in to hear more on Tolkien's defense of fantasy and why there's no such thing as writing "for children."
#79- Rooted in Community: Berry's Jayber Crow
This week, Scott and Karl read Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. The role of community in the shaping of character is a recurring theme for Berry, who is the author of more than forty books that largely serve as an extended conversation about the life he values.
Berry is a writer, a novelist, an essayist, but also a poet, a farmer, and an environmental activist. He now lives and works on a 125-acre farm in the same community in Kentucky where he was born.
According to Scott, “There’s a kind of conservationist that sees the human as the parasite of the earth and the source of the problems. Berry sees the human as the steward of the earth and the source of good, or who can be."
The backdrop for many of Berry’s stories is a fictitious town located in Kentucky, Port William. Jayber Crow, this novel’s narrator, shares his life story— from a young man who abandons his plans to become a minister and becomes the town barber instead, eventually earning membership into the Port William community.
Crow's life, which begins as WWI is about to erupt, is emblematic of a century of upheaval, and Jayber's episodic tales challenge contemporary notions of progress. According to Karl, "This is an anti-progress book. The difficulty with the concept of progress is that it’s undefined. It’s just continued movement, but movement to where?"
Tune in to hear more about Jayber's journey of homecoming and one community's resilience.
#78- Jünger's Storm of Steel
This week Scott and Karl read Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger, the memoir widely viewed as the best account ever written of fighting in WW1. Printed in 1920, this book illuminates not only the horrors but also the fascination of total war, seen through the eyes of a German soldier. "Ernst is a generous soul who can see the good in all things," according to Scott.
Forged by the storm of steel, Jünger is able to share a thoughtful depiction of both the good and the bad parts of war as part of the human experience.
Karl says, "Reading this book, you can understand something of human nature... there's the temptation to think that we're the good ones, we'll do it right, we'll bend the arc of history. Everyone has already thought that through history."
Tune in to learn more about the book that has accomplished what so many others claim but are not: a classic account of war.
#77- MacIntyre's After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
Why are modern debates on morality so shrill?
This week, Scott and Karl read After Virtue, a book on moral philosophy by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Published in 1981, MacIntyre examines the historical and conceptual roots of the idea of virtue and diagnoses the reasons for its absence in personal and public life. In Karl's words, "Ethical conversations are currently pointless and unable to be resolved. We talk about reason, we talk about right and wrong, but we don’t really mean it."
Maclntyre believes that modern life is characterized by the absence of any coherent moral code, and especially a lack of any genuine community. According to Maclntyre, there's importance in being a part of a community "within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us."
After Virtue is a really hard book to read and fully understand, but it’s the enjoyable kind of hard. Tune in to hear Scott and Karl talk about virtue and the fate of a moral culture without a shared telos.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Fun and insightful
The OGB podcast is consistently fun and insightful. Scott and Karl are great hosts. They pick great topics and chat about them honestly. It feels as though you are in a room with two smart and goofy friends, overhearing their talk about some of the most important works that have been written. Its well worth your time to give the OGB podcast a listen. If you enjoy good books, important ideas and good conversation, you’ll likely get hooked.
Who I’d want to be if I were smart
Dr. Karl Schudt is that guy. Scary smart, well read AND he knows that elves are real!
Mr Hambrick’s acerbic wisdom provides a comedic and rhetorically admirable counterpoint to Dr. Schudt’s poetic idealism. Thank you gentlemen for the many hours of vicarious intellectual engagement.
Longtime listener, first time caller...
The OGB podcast has consistently stirred my affections, put a stick in my craw, and set fire to my imagination. Mostly it has compelled me to seek what is good, true, and beautiful with more vigor than any other time in my life. As Karl Schudt said recently, “If you are reading along with us, thinking along with us, if you are developing your inner life...your days are going to be longer. You’re going to have more experience; a richer experience.” I find that to be my experience and I’m the richer for it.
Don’t just listen to the podcast, join the OGB community!