Books, Film, and Television Playlist


Dissecting the "Dawn of Everything" - A Conversation with Geoff Shullenberger

I join with Geoff Shullenberger of "Outsider Theory" to discuss the sweeping and challenging new book, "The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity" by David Graeber and David Wengrow. We consider the book's marshalling of new archaeological evidence to debunk mechanistic and deterministic assumptions about the rise of civilization, its deep rejection of Marxism, and its insistence on the human ability to imagine and create an infinite range of social and political futures. We examine the weaknesses and limitations of the book, including its over-emphasis on personal freedom, its gross inaccuracy with regard to the eighteenth century, and its blindspot regarding the profound powers of myth, ritual, and the natural environment, all of which deeply guide and shape societies in ways that Graeber & Wengrow ignore or casually discount.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

2021 in Historical Context -- Global Crisis, Labor Unrest, and "It's A Wonderful Life"

We consider the strange ambiguous developments of this year, including the political paralysis in the US, the furors over mask and vaccine mandates, and most importantly, the labor reshuffle or "great resignation," in light of crises past, including the bubonic plague and World War I and World War II, which have tended to bring class conflict and upheavals of the labor regime in their wakes. We examine the classic Frank Capra Christmas movie "It's A Wonderful Life," made 75 years ago in the aftermath of World War II, as an illustration of the post-war settlement that has shaped the conditions of work and home life since that time, and finally thank the 116 patrons that currently support this podcast.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Through a Glass Darkly: The 1980s in Current Television -- A Conversation with Sonia Saraiya

What's with the spate of 1980s themes on current "prestige" television? Is it Gen. X. nostalgia for their youthful days in suburban malls? Or something more? Television critic Sonia Saraiya discusses how our unresolved identity crises seem to have led us into a fascination with the last years of the Cold War, and with the secret mistakes and machinations that took place on both sides of the old Iron Curtain. (Also listen for contributions from Kali the cat.)
The pledges for this instalment will be split evenly between the two collaborators.
Television series discussed: "The Americans," "Stranger Things," "When They See Us," "Chernobyl," "Leaving Neverland"Correction: The famous quote that nuclear power is "a hell of a way to boil water" comes from journalist Karl Grossman's 1980 book, "Cover Up."

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Special Comment: Monarchy, Magic, and the Modern Romance of "Game of Thrones"

Two secret informants and I continue our conversation stemming from Game of Thrones, wherein we consider the relationship of monarchy and magic to the malaise of modern life. Why did British rulers claim the power to heal the sick by the touch of a hand, and why did a group of Scottish students in the 1950s break into Westminster Abbey to steal a 300-pound slab of sandstone called the "Stone of Destiny"? More broadly, why are modern people still obsessed with stories of kings and queens, and why do we tune in by the millions to see a royal wedding? The furor over Game of Thrones is just the latest demonstration that monarchy serves as a symbolic anchor in a chaotic world, and the desire for such an anchor is just as strong today as it was in the depth of the Dark Age. Suggested Further reading: Paul Monod, "Jacobitism and the English People"; Marc Bloch, "The Royal Touch"; Ernst Kantorowicz, "The King's Two Bodies"; Victor Turner, "The Ritual Process"; Hobsbawm and Ranger, "The Invention of Tradition"

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Myth of The Month 7: Game of Thrones

We examine George R. R. Martin's new mythology for the middle class: the TV series Game of Thrones and the series of books upon which it is based. Martin and his collaborators draw on the 15th-century Wars of the Roses and later dynastic struggles in Britain to present an amoral world, lacking in honor, bereft of cosmic justice, and eerily reminiscent of the contemporary West. We examine historical precedents for the "Red Wedding," and the symbolic resonance of characters such as the Starks and Littlefinger. Finally we consider the possible historical meaning of the show's final-season premier date of April 14th. Image: Early Flemish depiction of the Battle of Barnet, from the Ghent Manuscript. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 2

I discuss the various strengths and weaknesses of Patrick Deneen's critique of liberalism, and put forward my own slightly different argument that liberalism is like a cargo cult - taking ordinary human creations and elevating them to products of divine intervention. George Carlin helps out along the way, and we close with a consideration of the recent "market capitalism" controversy stirred up by Tucker Carlson.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 1

Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 1

In the first half of my discussion of Patrick Deneen's "Why Liberalism Failed," I examine the structure of Deneen's argument, tracing his effort to connect present-day crises in education, science, culture, and morality to the fundamental flaws in "liberalism," which he calls the "operating system" of modern Western society, and which he claims has left us isolated, lonely, and afraid, with our social system possibly on the brink of collapse into a totalitarian nightmare. Cheers! I will not charge patrons for this commentary until I post the second part.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 2

The History of Scotland, the Romance of Scotland, and "Outlander"

What is behind the popularity of Outlander? Why have crazed fans of the show from around the world begun to overrun Scottish castles? – and why did the UK Prime Minister secretly meet with TV executives to stop its premier in 2014? We examine the show’s success in light of Scottish history and politics, and in the context of the ongoing romance of Scotland, by which modern people project their longings for tradition, attachment, and honor onto a small, craggy country in the north of Britain.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details

Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 2

In the second part of our discussion of Douglas Murray's "The Strange Death of Europe," we examine the history of social cohesion and identity in Europe. We point out Murray's failure to mention Brexit as a sign of the inherent weakness in European identity, and consider the complicated and challenging roots of modern-day terrorism in Europe.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 1

Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 1

The first part of an examination and discussion of Douglas Murray's controversial book, "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam" (Bloomsbury, 2017), and its dire warning that a wave of migrants with beliefs and customs inimical to the West are on the verge of changing Europe forever. We weigh his careful debunking of elite mythology about immigration against his own falsehoods and manipulations of the facts. Finally, we consider his harrowing portrayal of a continent adrift without a sense of purpose, history, or belonging, and the truly difficult questions that it raises.(I will not charge patrons for this review until I post the second part).

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Full Episode Details
Also see Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 2

Dissecting the "Dawn of Everything" - A Conversation with Geoff Shullenberger

I join with Geoff Shullenberger of "Outsider Theory" to discuss the sweeping and challenging new book, "The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity" by David Graeber and David Wengrow. We consider the book's marshalling of new archaeological evidence to debunk mechanistic and deterministic assumptions about the rise of civilization, its deep rejection of Marxism, and its insistence on the human ability to imagine and create an infinite range of social and political futures. We examine the weaknesses and limitations of the book, including its over-emphasis on personal freedom, its gross inaccuracy with regard to the eighteenth century, and its blindspot regarding the profound powers of myth, ritual, and the natural environment, all of which deeply guide and shape societies in ways that Graeber & Wengrow ignore or casually discount.

Listen on SoundCloud

2021 in Historical Context -- Global Crisis, Labor Unrest, and "It's A Wonderful Life"

We consider the strange ambiguous developments of this year, including the political paralysis in the US, the furors over mask and vaccine mandates, and most importantly, the labor reshuffle or "great resignation," in light of crises past, including the bubonic plague and World War I and World War II, which have tended to bring class conflict and upheavals of the labor regime in their wakes. We examine the classic Frank Capra Christmas movie "It's A Wonderful Life," made 75 years ago in the aftermath of World War II, as an illustration of the post-war settlement that has shaped the conditions of work and home life since that time, and finally thank the 116 patrons that currently support this podcast.

Listen on SoundCloud

Through a Glass Darkly: The 1980s in Current Television -- A Conversation with Sonia Saraiya

What's with the spate of 1980s themes on current "prestige" television? Is it Gen. X. nostalgia for their youthful days in suburban malls? Or something more? Television critic Sonia Saraiya discusses how our unresolved identity crises seem to have led us into a fascination with the last years of the Cold War, and with the secret mistakes and machinations that took place on both sides of the old Iron Curtain. (Also listen for contributions from Kali the cat.)
The pledges for this instalment will be split evenly between the two collaborators.
Television series discussed: "The Americans," "Stranger Things," "When They See Us," "Chernobyl," "Leaving Neverland"Correction: The famous quote that nuclear power is "a hell of a way to boil water" comes from journalist Karl Grossman's 1980 book, "Cover Up."

Listen on SoundCloud

Special Comment: Monarchy, Magic, and the Modern Romance of "Game of Thrones"

Two secret informants and I continue our conversation stemming from Game of Thrones, wherein we consider the relationship of monarchy and magic to the malaise of modern life. Why did British rulers claim the power to heal the sick by the touch of a hand, and why did a group of Scottish students in the 1950s break into Westminster Abbey to steal a 300-pound slab of sandstone called the "Stone of Destiny"? More broadly, why are modern people still obsessed with stories of kings and queens, and why do we tune in by the millions to see a royal wedding? The furor over Game of Thrones is just the latest demonstration that monarchy serves as a symbolic anchor in a chaotic world, and the desire for such an anchor is just as strong today as it was in the depth of the Dark Age. Suggested Further reading: Paul Monod, "Jacobitism and the English People"; Marc Bloch, "The Royal Touch"; Ernst Kantorowicz, "The King's Two Bodies"; Victor Turner, "The Ritual Process"; Hobsbawm and Ranger, "The Invention of Tradition"

Listen on SoundCloud

Myth of The Month 7: Game of Thrones

We examine George R. R. Martin's new mythology for the middle class: the TV series Game of Thrones and the series of books upon which it is based. Martin and his collaborators draw on the 15th-century Wars of the Roses and later dynastic struggles in Britain to present an amoral world, lacking in honor, bereft of cosmic justice, and eerily reminiscent of the contemporary West. We examine historical precedents for the "Red Wedding," and the symbolic resonance of characters such as the Starks and Littlefinger. Finally we consider the possible historical meaning of the show's final-season premier date of April 14th. Image: Early Flemish depiction of the Battle of Barnet, from the Ghent Manuscript. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

Listen on SoundCloud

Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 2

I discuss the various strengths and weaknesses of Patrick Deneen's critique of liberalism, and put forward my own slightly different argument that liberalism is like a cargo cult - taking ordinary human creations and elevating them to products of divine intervention. George Carlin helps out along the way, and we close with a consideration of the recent "market capitalism" controversy stirred up by Tucker Carlson.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 1

Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 1

In the first half of my discussion of Patrick Deneen's "Why Liberalism Failed," I examine the structure of Deneen's argument, tracing his effort to connect present-day crises in education, science, culture, and morality to the fundamental flaws in "liberalism," which he calls the "operating system" of modern Western society, and which he claims has left us isolated, lonely, and afraid, with our social system possibly on the brink of collapse into a totalitarian nightmare. Cheers! I will not charge patrons for this commentary until I post the second part.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 2

The History of Scotland, the Romance of Scotland, and "Outlander"

What is behind the popularity of Outlander? Why have crazed fans of the show from around the world begun to overrun Scottish castles? – and why did the UK Prime Minister secretly meet with TV executives to stop its premier in 2014? We examine the show’s success in light of Scottish history and politics, and in the context of the ongoing romance of Scotland, by which modern people project their longings for tradition, attachment, and honor onto a small, craggy country in the north of Britain.

Listen on SoundCloud

Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 2

In the second part of our discussion of Douglas Murray's "The Strange Death of Europe," we examine the history of social cohesion and identity in Europe. We point out Murray's failure to mention Brexit as a sign of the inherent weakness in European identity, and consider the complicated and challenging roots of modern-day terrorism in Europe.

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 1

Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 1

The first part of an examination and discussion of Douglas Murray's controversial book, "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam" (Bloomsbury, 2017), and its dire warning that a wave of migrants with beliefs and customs inimical to the West are on the verge of changing Europe forever. We weigh his careful debunking of elite mythology about immigration against his own falsehoods and manipulations of the facts. Finally, we consider his harrowing portrayal of a continent adrift without a sense of purpose, history, or belonging, and the truly difficult questions that it raises.(I will not charge patrons for this review until I post the second part).

Listen on SoundCloud
Also see Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 2

Dissecting the "Dawn of Everything" - A Conversation with Geoff Shullenberger

I join with Geoff Shullenberger of "Outsider Theory" to discuss the sweeping and challenging new book, "The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity" by David Graeber and David Wengrow. We consider the book's marshalling of new archaeological evidence to debunk mechanistic and deterministic assumptions about the rise of civilization, its deep rejection of Marxism, and its insistence on the human ability to imagine and create an infinite range of social and political futures. We examine the weaknesses and limitations of the book, including its over-emphasis on personal freedom, its gross inaccuracy with regard to the eighteenth century, and its blindspot regarding the profound powers of myth, ritual, and the natural environment, all of which deeply guide and shape societies in ways that Graeber & Wengrow ignore or casually discount.

Listen on YouTube

2021 in Historical Context -- Global Crisis, Labor Unrest, and "It's A Wonderful Life"

We consider the strange ambiguous developments of this year, including the political paralysis in the US, the furors over mask and vaccine mandates, and most importantly, the labor reshuffle or "great resignation," in light of crises past, including the bubonic plague and World War I and World War II, which have tended to bring class conflict and upheavals of the labor regime in their wakes. We examine the classic Frank Capra Christmas movie "It's A Wonderful Life," made 75 years ago in the aftermath of World War II, as an illustration of the post-war settlement that has shaped the conditions of work and home life since that time, and finally thank the 116 patrons that currently support this podcast.

Listen on YouTube

Through a Glass Darkly: The 1980s in Current Television -- A Conversation with Sonia Saraiya

What's with the spate of 1980s themes on current "prestige" television? Is it Gen. X. nostalgia for their youthful days in suburban malls? Or something more? Television critic Sonia Saraiya discusses how our unresolved identity crises seem to have led us into a fascination with the last years of the Cold War, and with the secret mistakes and machinations that took place on both sides of the old Iron Curtain. (Also listen for contributions from Kali the cat.)
The pledges for this instalment will be split evenly between the two collaborators.
Television series discussed: "The Americans," "Stranger Things," "When They See Us," "Chernobyl," "Leaving Neverland"Correction: The famous quote that nuclear power is "a hell of a way to boil water" comes from journalist Karl Grossman's 1980 book, "Cover Up."

Listen on YouTube

Special Comment: Monarchy, Magic, and the Modern Romance of "Game of Thrones"

Two secret informants and I continue our conversation stemming from Game of Thrones, wherein we consider the relationship of monarchy and magic to the malaise of modern life. Why did British rulers claim the power to heal the sick by the touch of a hand, and why did a group of Scottish students in the 1950s break into Westminster Abbey to steal a 300-pound slab of sandstone called the "Stone of Destiny"? More broadly, why are modern people still obsessed with stories of kings and queens, and why do we tune in by the millions to see a royal wedding? The furor over Game of Thrones is just the latest demonstration that monarchy serves as a symbolic anchor in a chaotic world, and the desire for such an anchor is just as strong today as it was in the depth of the Dark Age. Suggested Further reading: Paul Monod, "Jacobitism and the English People"; Marc Bloch, "The Royal Touch"; Ernst Kantorowicz, "The King's Two Bodies"; Victor Turner, "The Ritual Process"; Hobsbawm and Ranger, "The Invention of Tradition"

Listen on YouTube

Myth of The Month 7: Game of Thrones

We examine George R. R. Martin's new mythology for the middle class: the TV series Game of Thrones and the series of books upon which it is based. Martin and his collaborators draw on the 15th-century Wars of the Roses and later dynastic struggles in Britain to present an amoral world, lacking in honor, bereft of cosmic justice, and eerily reminiscent of the contemporary West. We examine historical precedents for the "Red Wedding," and the symbolic resonance of characters such as the Starks and Littlefinger. Finally we consider the possible historical meaning of the show's final-season premier date of April 14th. Image: Early Flemish depiction of the Battle of Barnet, from the Ghent Manuscript. Intro music: Domenico Scarlatti, Sonata in D minor, played on harpsichord by Wanda Landowska.

Listen on YouTube

Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 2

I discuss the various strengths and weaknesses of Patrick Deneen's critique of liberalism, and put forward my own slightly different argument that liberalism is like a cargo cult - taking ordinary human creations and elevating them to products of divine intervention. George Carlin helps out along the way, and we close with a consideration of the recent "market capitalism" controversy stirred up by Tucker Carlson.

Listen on YouTube
Also see Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 1

Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 1

In the first half of my discussion of Patrick Deneen's "Why Liberalism Failed," I examine the structure of Deneen's argument, tracing his effort to connect present-day crises in education, science, culture, and morality to the fundamental flaws in "liberalism," which he calls the "operating system" of modern Western society, and which he claims has left us isolated, lonely, and afraid, with our social system possibly on the brink of collapse into a totalitarian nightmare. Cheers! I will not charge patrons for this commentary until I post the second part.

Listen on YouTube
Also see Book Review: "Why Liberalism Failed" -- Part 2

The History of Scotland, the Romance of Scotland, and "Outlander"

What is behind the popularity of Outlander? Why have crazed fans of the show from around the world begun to overrun Scottish castles? – and why did the UK Prime Minister secretly meet with TV executives to stop its premier in 2014? We examine the show’s success in light of Scottish history and politics, and in the context of the ongoing romance of Scotland, by which modern people project their longings for tradition, attachment, and honor onto a small, craggy country in the north of Britain.

Listen on YouTube

Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 2

In the second part of our discussion of Douglas Murray's "The Strange Death of Europe," we examine the history of social cohesion and identity in Europe. We point out Murray's failure to mention Brexit as a sign of the inherent weakness in European identity, and consider the complicated and challenging roots of modern-day terrorism in Europe.

Listen on YouTube
Also see Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 1

Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 1

The first part of an examination and discussion of Douglas Murray's controversial book, "The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam" (Bloomsbury, 2017), and its dire warning that a wave of migrants with beliefs and customs inimical to the West are on the verge of changing Europe forever. We weigh his careful debunking of elite mythology about immigration against his own falsehoods and manipulations of the facts. Finally, we consider his harrowing portrayal of a continent adrift without a sense of purpose, history, or belonging, and the truly difficult questions that it raises.(I will not charge patrons for this review until I post the second part).

Listen on YouTube
Also see Book Review: "The Strange Death of Europe" -- Part 2

Things You Don’t Know

Did Columbus really think that he was going to reach Asia?
What little do we actually know about Shakespeare, the person?
Why is it misleading to apply the word “religion” to Judaism and Hinduism?
Are people really becoming less religious than they used to be?
How did Tisquantum (popularly known as Squanto) already know how to speak English before the Pilgrims had ever arrived?
What did Netflix’s “The Dig” miss about the most dramatic part of the whole Sutton Hoo discovery?
What does the English Civil War of the 1640s tell us about the American Civil War, and about the present?
What can we know about enslaved Africans who were held in a specific New England house, even without written records?
Who were the Freemasons of the 1700s? How did they grow from a local Scottish fraternity to a global network?
Could all of British history have turned out differently if the winds on the English channel had shifted direction on just one day in 1066?
What did followers of the ancient and secretive branch of Christianity, Gnosticism, actually believe?
Why can no one agree on what “capitalism” actually is? And why does a lack of clear definition call into question so many other myths of the modern world?
How – and why – did universities begin in the Middle Ages, long before the scientific revolution and the “Enlightenment”?
Was there really an Exodus from Egypt like the one described in the Bible?
How did changes in the climate in the 1600s lead people to think they were living in the Apocalypse? How did this help spur the creation of institutions and forces that still shape the world today?
How did accusing people of witchcraft further several political agendas of the time?
Why did every Renaissance-era ruler in Europe have a court astrologer?
Does a single coin prove that Vikings came all the way to what’s now the United States?
Why is the dramatic 2019 fire at Paris’ Notre Dame actually a common occurrence for cathedrals around Europe?
Why don’t US citizens directly elect their President? Or have a more proportional Senate?

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