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December 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

In Queen of Katwe, sports reporter Tim Crothers tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, who rose from a street kid in Kampala, Uganda to become a world-ranked youth chess player. Then, born Edward Kennedy Ellington in 1899, the young man who would become the greatest jazz composer of the 20thCentury acquired the name “Duke” because he had a “princely” manner of dress and attitude.   Terry Teachout, drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, traces Ellington’s complex life story and his music in the new biography Duke.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Robert Stone won the National Book Award for Dog Soldiers, and he’s just published his first novel in ten years.  In Death of the Black-Haired Girl, Stone creates a drama of passionate characters, acting out American cultural battles. Religion, class and abortion drive a story of death and revenge.  Then,Margaret Wrinkle knew she had slaveholding ancestors but she did not know they were slave breeders, too.  Bob talks with Wrinkle about her debut novel Wash and about her family history.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Piper Kerman made a very bad decision in 1992, agreeing to carry some drug money on a flight from Chicago to Brussels for her then-girlfriend.  Nearly a decade later, Kerman was arrested for the crime and sentenced to a year in federal prison.  The experience spawned a memoir, Orange is the New Black, which is now a hit TV show on Netflix.  The book and series tell the stories of some of the women Kerman met in prison.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bob talks to Wired magazine columnist Clive Thompson about his new book Smarter than You Think.  It’s about the different ways technology and the internet is changing the way we think and process information. Then, Teller is best-known as one half of the famous Vegas magic duo Penn & Teller.  But recently, Teller tried his hand at a different form of illusion: film.  Directing the documentaryTim’s Vermeer, Teller tells the remarkable story of a Texas man who sets out to explain how 17thcentury Dutch master Johannes Vermeer created photo-realistic works over 100 years before the invention of photography.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Doyle McManus, Washington columnist for the Los Angeles Times, joins Bob to discuss the latest political news. Then, Bob talks to author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang about his book, The Distraction Addition.  The subtitle explains it all:  “Getting the information you need and the communication you want, without enraging your family, annoying your colleagues and destroying your Soul.” Finally, the latest installment of our ongoing series This I Believe.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Reportedly, over 4 million people are displaced in the Philippines.  Typhoon Haiyan left most of the developing country without water or electricity.   Bob talks to Juanita Rilling, Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Center for International Disaster Information (USAID CIDI) about how we can help.  Then, here are some descriptors that have followed Alan Dershowitz’s name: “the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer” and one of its “most distinguished defenders of individual rights,” “the best-known criminal lawyer in the world,” “the top lawyer of last resort,” and “America’s most public Jewish defender.” Dershowitz has been on the faculty at Harvard Law School since he was 25. And while he’s known for many of his celebrity clients such as Claus von Bülow, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, he has also represented many indigent defendants and takes half of his cases pro bono. Dershowitz tells his life story in a new book titled Taking the Stand.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nancy Lindborg is an assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She’s recently returned from the Philippines, where she provided aid and assistance to those in need after Typhoon Hayian.  Lindborg joins Bob to discuss relief efforts in the country.  Then, Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz are teenaged sisters from Indiana who just released their debut, full length CD. They join Bob in our performance studio to discuss the beginning of their music career and to play a few songs from their self-titled album Lily & Madeleine.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Award-winning investigative cartoonist Joe Sacco’s new book is The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme.  This illustrated timeline explains the events of the first great battle of World War I.  Then, when he was 24 years-old, Tim Cope traveled 6,000 miles on horseback from Mongolia to the Danube River in Hungary. It was a three-year odyssey that had not been completed successfully since Genghis Khan’s time.  Cope recounts his journey, which he describes as a celebration of the nomadic way of life, in his book On The Trail of Ghengis Khan.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Bill Ayres founded the nonprofit organization WhyHunger with folk legend Harry Chapin in 1975.  Its mission is to partner with local groups around the country to make sure they have the resources, education, and support they need to combat hunger.  Bob talks with Ayres about WhyHunger and this year’s Hungerthon, the national radio campaign that questions why anyone should go hungry and seeks to change the way we nourish our country.  SiriusXM is again a Hungerthon partner.  Then, everyone knows the writers of The Simpsons are very funny.  It turns out that several members of the popular cartoon’s writing team also have advanced degrees in math and science disciplines from Ivy League institutions.  In his book, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical SecretsSimon Singh (who holds a Ph.D. in particle physics from University of Cambridge) makes the case that in addition to making us laugh, the Simpsons tries to give us subconscious warm feelings about algebra, calculus and geometry.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Doyle McManus, Washington columnist for the Los Angeles Times, joins Bob to discuss the latest political news. Then, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin examines how a brutal fight for the presidential nomination destroyed a friendship in her book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. Finally, the latest installment of our ongoing series This I Believe.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Antoinette van Heugten’s novel The Tulip Eaters was inspired by her mother’s experience as a Dutch resistance fighter during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Over 20,000 people starved to death in The Netherlands during World War II, many in 1945, the year called “The Hongerwinter.” van Heugten’s mother was one of many who survived by digging up the country’s national flower and making water soups out of ground tulip bulbs.  The novel explores how decisions made long ago can shape the lives of future generations.  Then, The Valley Of Amazement is novelist Amy Tan’s first book in eight years. She joins Bob to discuss her book and hiatus.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Buck Owens invented the “Bakersfield Sound,” hosted Hee-Haw and became one of country music’s biggest stars – all while breaking every rule of Nashville. Bob talks with Grammy-nominated record producer Randy Poe about his new biography of Owens titled Buck ‘Em!  Poe drew from nearly a hundred hours of cassette tapes on which Owens recorded his life story in his own words.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Bob talks to author James Bamford about the significance of everything we’ve learned so far from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.  Then, Bob talks to Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award last year.  Solomon’s book is now out in paperback.   


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Byzantine Empire spanned some 1000 years and consumed most of the countries surrounding Mediterranean.  This largely Greek speaking empire was also predominately Christian, a fact that we often forget today in light of the Near East’s association with Islam and Judaism.  Historian Roger Crowley is the author of 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West and talks with Bob about this often-overlooked civilization.  Next, curator Susan Arensberg talks with Bob about the National Gallery of Art’s exhibition Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections.  The show runs through March 2, 2014 and is the first major Byzantine exhibition at the National Gallery.  Finally, when English writer E.M. Forster discovered the work of the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933), he commented that if Cavafy’s work was not translated into English, “the English speaking world will be definitely poorer.”  In this anniversary year of both Cavafy’s birth and death, Bob talks with noted literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn about Cavafy’s work and legacy.  Mendelsohn is the translator of C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems


Friday, December 20, 2013

Doyle McManus, Washington columnist for the Los Angeles Times, joins Bob to discuss the latest political news. Then, actor Oscar Isaac stars as the title character in the new Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis.  Set in 1960s Greenwich Village during the folk music scene, the film charts a week-in-the-life of Isaac’s struggling musician.  Finally, the latest installment of our ongoing series This I Believe.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Starting today we highlight Bob’s best interviews of the year.  But first,’s senior book critic Laura Miller shares with Bob her favorite books from 2013.  Then, we share Bob’s interview with best-selling writer George Saunders about his book Tenth of Decemberand his writing process.  Finally, Bob sits down with Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry to discuss his novel Insane City.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It’s more of the Best of 2013 and today we start with NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me long-time host Peter Sagal.  Then, while exploring a remote cave in Eastern Europe in 1993, spelunker Christopher Nicola made an unusual discovery: a chamber that contained clear evidence that 20th-century people once lived there.  After searching for more than a decade, Nicola discovered that 30 people lived in the cave during World War II.  Bob speaks with documentary filmmaker Janet Tobias and Sonya Dodyk, who was just a little girl when she lived in the cave with her family.  The documentary is titled No Place on Earth.  Finally, two-time Man Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel may seem like an overnight success, but she’s been a working novelist for over 25 years.  Bob talks with Mantel about her career and the success she’s found by telling the story of Henry VIII’s England in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Bob talks to StoryCorps founder and radio producer Dave Isayabout his book Ties that Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First 10 Years of StoryCorps.  Then, we bring back another of Bob’s best interviews of 2013: legendary soul and gospel singer Mavis Staples talks with Bob about her incredible career with “Pops” and The Staple Singers and about her latest album.  One True Vine was produced by Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco and recorded at the band’s studio in Chicago.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Washington Post film critic Ann Horaday joins Bob to talk about the year’s best films.  Then, another of Bob’s favorite interviews of 2013, this one with actress Rita Moreno.  She is one of the few performers to win an Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story (1961); a Tony, in 1975 for The Ritz; a Grammy, as part of The Electric Company Album (1972); and finally, two Emmys: one for her guest appearance on The Muppet Show in 1976 and one for her role in The Rockford Files.  She tells her fascinating life story in her autobiography Rita Moreno: A Memoir.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Our week-long celebration of the Best of 2013 continues.  But first, Doyle McManus, Washington columnist for the Los Angeles Times, joins Bob to discuss the latest political news.  Then, in 2010, Bob spoke with singer-songwriter Meg Hutchinson about her album The Living Side.  The album featured a song called Gatekeeper, which Hutchinson wrote about Sergeant Kevin Briggs of the California Highway Patrol.  For years, Briggs has worked on the Golden Gate Bridge, talking hundreds of people out of jumping to their deaths.  Earlier this year, Bob talked with both Hutchinson and Briggs about the song and about Briggs’ work.  Finally, the latest installment of our ongoing series This I Believe.