Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics


  • Tom Reney’s Discs for a Desert Island

    Aug 23 2019

    The jazz DJ Tom Reney has been telling people for 40 years about the true American art form. This hour he’s telling people about himself for a change: the inner life of a taste-maker, in the fool-proof form of the BBC’s longest-running radio innovation, Desert Island Discs. The premise is simple enough: that the music you can’t live without is a sort of truth serum: talk about eight tracks of songs or symphonies you’d take to your desert island if you weren’t coming back, and you’ll have told us...more

  • Ah Bartleby! Ah Humanity!

    Aug 16 2019

    Herman Melville, at his 200th birthday, is the American Shakespeare if only for his epic prose poem Moby Dick, or The Whale. That’s Maximum Melville; we’re celebrating, instead, his short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” It’s the perfect miniature of the same genius: the story of a rebel clerk on Wall Street. It opens with hints of comedy; it ends in tragedy and still today, it’s a mystery. “I would prefer not to” is Bartleby’s signature line, turning down office assignments. It’s almost a...more

  • Tarantino’s 9th

    Aug 09 2019

    Spoiler alert! (Really.) The big movie to reckon with this summer may be as much about the mood of 2019 as about the Helter-Skelter 1960s. It’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth big film, with a surprise streak of fantasy and mercy in it. He’s revising the course of events of 50 summers ago, when a revolutionary tension in the Los Angeles dream factory broke, or got broken into, by the murderous Manson family, when the beautiful and pregnant Sharon Tate and four more...more

  • A Politics of Love

    Aug 02 2019

    It’s been Marianne Williamson’s week in the presidential campaign, by the new metrics of Tweets (running less and less snarky), and Google searches asking who is this ageless New Ager, this fount of love and toughness, with the fey voice that can whisper and roar about reparations for slavery, for instance, and about the “insane” (her word) talk of war with Iran. Who she is, not least, is a cultural wave splashing down on parched political ground: an All-American mix of un-churched religion, sel...more

  • Fuhgedaboutit

    Jul 26 2019

    “You must remember this,” the songwriter said, but is it ever that simple? Same for all the admonitions: never to forget. Really, never? Lewis Hyde is back, the wisdom-writer and provocateur, to wonder if we’ve missed the point about memory and forgetting. They’re not opposites, after all, but powers of mind that work in combination, around Civil War history or a failed marriage. Peace of mind comes when people remember the past so carefully they can forget about it. “Unforgotten,” often as not,...more

  • Middlemarch at the Beach

    Jul 19 2019

    Middlemarch, a novel by the woman who gave herself a man’s by-line, “George Eliot,” may be the most honored masterpiece you’ve been avoiding all your life. Here’s the point: read it this summer. You’re ready to love Middlemarch if you second-guess marriages, like your own; second-marriages, too. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if you want to feel epic striving in a heroine, yearning for nobility of spirit in a pretty ordinary province of England around 1830. You’re ready to read Middlemarch if ...more

  • Casino Capital

    Jul 12 2019

    Casino gambling makes an odd fit with old bean-and-codfish Boston, even with Boston today: the best big college town in the country, the leading edge of genomic medicine, the home address of sports champions and Red Sox Nation. And now it’s the home of Encore Boston Harbor, in the Steve Wynn chain of casino resorts. It’s an odd fit with the whole country, when you think about it: the licensed elevation of what used to be forbidden, isolated, mob-ridden. We talked to the novelist Joshua Coh...more

  • Adventures in D Flat

    Jul 04 2019

    Composer Matt Aucoin stands for the proposition that the kid playing baseball next door in Medfield, Massachusetts, can grow up to be all music, all the time: mind, heart, spirit, to his fingertips. He remembers finding himself at a crossroads at age 6. Already he was shockingly good at playing the Bach and Mozart piano pieces, but so what? The point, for him, was not to master the instrument, but rather “to make stuff up.” He’s done both, in fact, but the legend of Matt Aucoin is built around t...more

  • Africa, Maine

    Jun 28 2019

    Migrants from the Congo and Angola, by way of Texas, stepping off buses in Portland, Maine, by the hundreds, taking shelter and sleeping on cots on a hardwood floor built for professional basketball? You’ve seen or heard the news, and you’ve felt the reflexes that come with it. On Fox News, Africans coming to Maine can sound like an invasion; on public radio, people say, it can sound like a sob story. Is this immigration politics at play: somebody in Washington taking revenge on refugees and the...more

  • 23 and You

    Jun 21 2019

    The Democratic debates are going to feel like a long weekend with the whole extended family: grandfather figures banging the table, no-nonsense women in the clan taking the old guys to task; up-start kids you never met before demanding respect for their issues, too. The crowded format matches the lightning strikes in the age of social media: each of 20 candidates will hope to get ten minutes of talk and face time in these 2-hour bouts. But it begins to look less like a demolition derby than a bo...more

  • Who Killed the American Century?

    Jun 14 2019

    Richard Holbrooke makes a case study in American power. He had a diplomatic career, starting in Vietnam, of heroic ambition and hyperactive persistence. He had a peace-making triumph that ended the Balkan wars, then a humbling failure on an impossible mission to Afghanistan. This was a large life that reflected his large country abroad after World War 2: we were over-confident, over-reaching, idealistic maybe, self-serving for sure. A new heavyweight biography implicates all of us: George Packer...more

  • Tiananmen Square and China’s 1980s

    Jun 07 2019

    China in the 1980s can sound like a Paradise Lost—paradise crushed by tanks on Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, paradise erased by massacre and state propaganda ever since, an unmarked memory hole. Except that people remember: the freedom of Democracy Wall; longhair students steeped in Confucian classics but sampling Virginia Woolf and Nietzsche for the first time, and dancing to Bob Dylan. Cosmopolitanism was in: Mao was dead, and Time magazine made the new ginger man Deng Xiaoping its man-of-the...more

  • Beyond Stonewall: From Power to Pride

    May 31 2019

    The Stonewall Uprising, fifty years ago, was chapter one in modern LGBTQ history. It was rough and ready in New York.  It was sexy and often celebratory in the San Francisco version. In Boston, true to character, gay struggle was thoughtful, wordy, networked, and momentous (in writing the first gay marriage law in 2004). Everywhere, the LGBTQ cause was older, wider, and deeper than we knew, in working classes and elites. Nineteenth-century Boston, after all, had put a name on the Boston Marriage...more

  • At Home in Japan with Pico Iyer

    May 24 2019

    Pico Iyer once described himself as “a global village on two legs.” He’s the writing champion of cosmopolitan consciousness who lived awhile inside the Los Angeles airport just to feel the great stream of humanity, displaced like himself, in endless motion. But Pico Iyer, it turns out, wasn’t looking for everywhere. He was looking for a particular welcome for his transcendental self, and when he felt it, in an accidental stop in Tokyo, he changed his life. For about 30 years now, he’s made...more

  • John Bolton’s War?

    May 17 2019

    Three guys walk into a bar in the Middle East. A Saudi: bin Salman. An Israeli called Bibi. An American—call him Donald. They all know one thing deeper than deep: they hated that nuclear deal with Iran, and now they’ve trashed it. They didn’t like that Obama guy, either, who sold the deal. It’s Iran that clings to the no-nukes deal, maybe just for the standing that comes with it in Europe and China; maybe it’s Iran’s dignity in the deal that the three guys hate most. None want to own a real war ...more

  • Amazing Aretha

    May 03 2019

    Aretha Franklin made you believe you were hearing both heaven and earth. Her voice was not of this world: it was “a gift of God,” people have said. She was the reason women want to sing, said Mary J. Blige, who covered Aretha hits. James Baldwin said the way Aretha sings is “the way I want to write.” Our guest Ed Pavlić calls her voice a Hubble telescope, taking us back to the origin of time and truth. She stands in an improvised church in Watts, Los Angeles in the troubled time of 1...more

  • Russiagate, Unredacted

    Apr 19 2019

    A conversation about collusion, obstruction of justice, and the full Mueller Report with Seth Berman, Andy Bacevich, and David Bromwich. A second chance for Mueller Report to pin a Russian tale on Donald Trump’s election has not changed the score. “Game over,” said Mr. Trump, still president and not about to be indicted for whatever help he got from Russia, or for trying to deep-six the official investigation – largely because the ‘yes’ men on his staff said ‘no’ to his orders to fire the speci...more

  • The Bauhaus in Your House

    Apr 12 2019

    A conversation on art, architecture, and design with Tamar Avishai, Peter Chermayeff, Ann Beha, and Sebastian Smee. Bauhaus was the art school in Germany that created the look of the twentieth century. We just live in it: loving its white-box affordability, or hating its stripped, blank, glass-and-steel uniformity, the world around. It’s the IKEA look in the twenty-first century, the look of Chicago skyscrapers and now Chinese housing towers, the look of American kitchens and probably the typefa...more

  • Esperanza Spalding: Drawn to Greatness

    Apr 05 2019

    Esperanza Spalding’s eyes sparkle when she says she’s “drawn to greatness” in other musicians, greatness meaning the charisma of boldness in the interval between solid tradition and scary experimentalism. Listeners of all sorts can see and hear Esperanza at thirty-four, now coming into her own greatness. She’s a songwriter and singer who also dances, a go-to jazz bass master veering out of jazz, with a voice that embraces three languages and musics (plural) beyond category. There’s laughter and ...more

  • Collusion Delusion

    Mar 29 2019

    In the annals of public conversation, we seem to have reached toxic meltdown in the close of the mighty Mueller investigation. We’re past the “liar, liar, pants on fire” stage of a race to the bottom. Donald Trump is leading, and winning the race, as usual, but not alone. The collusion that jumps out of the Russia-gate scandal is in the news business. It’s the tight harness that binds Sean Hannity to Donald Trump, and equally: Rachel Maddow and the baying hounds at MSNBC to the Democratic leader...more

  • Barriers and borders and frontiers (oh my!)

    Mar 22 2019

    A conversation with Greg Grandin, Valeria Luiselli, and John Lanchester. A reckless wall-building era runs round the 21st century globe. Reckless next to the New England farmer in Robert Frost’s famous poem. He’s mending his wall in a spring like this one, well aware of “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.” “Before I built a wall,” he says, “I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence.” Not so along...more

  • Real Education About Artificial Intelligence

    Mar 15 2019

    Siri: what is ‘artificial intelligence’? In computer science, she says, AI can refer to any device that senses its environment and responds to reach a goal. A simple translation of A. I. as, say, ‘robotic thinking’ might have sounded hostile. But then, if she’s said: A.I. stands for the galloping advance in computing capacity beyond human sense and sensitivity, we’d have said: Siri, you’re boasting again. So what is it, really? Who’s pushing it? And why? They used to say A.I. would write music l...more

  • On Becoming Who You Are

    Mar 08 2019

    A conversation with John Kaag and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen on Nietzsche, philosophy, and life. The news about Nietzsche, as you may have heard, is that the nastiest old name in German philosophy doesn’t scare us anymore. His most famous shout, that “God is dead,” reads now like showmanship from a minister’s kid. God, in any event, had the last word at Nietzsche’s madhouse death in the year 1900. Nietzsche had lived in Bismarck’s Germany, when Hitler was unimaginable. Even then he’d been an ant...more

  • Why We’re Addicted to Facebook

    Mar 04 2019

    Could it possibly be that Stanford’s great humanist Robert Pogue Harrison invented René Girard out of sheer longing for an omni-theorist of our interlocking social and spiritual trials? Harrison presented Girard in a striking piece in the New York Review of Books, “The Prophet of Envy,” last December as “the last of that race of Titans” in the “human sciences” of the 19th and 20th centuries — as far-reaching as Marx or Freud, and shockingly alert to the distresses in Trump time. “The explo...more

  • Intelligent Redesign?

    Mar 01 2019

    A conversation with George Church and Antonio Regalado about gene editing and the future of biotech. Ready or not, we are at the gateway into CRISPR world and CRISPR think: CRISPR the acronym for biology’s longest leap. It’s the gene-editing tool that can tweak the inherited DNA code of your being, and mine. We heard this winter about the Chinese doctor who applied CRISPR science to the embryos of twins–to make them HIV proof, he said. After that, the CRISPR story is mostly riddles: is it about ...more

  • Second Guessing the Oscars

    Feb 22 2019

    A conversation about the movies with A. S. Hamrah, Beth Gilligan, Katherine Irving. We’ve reached that odd ritual of cultural reckoning. Between the Super Bowl and Opening Day of the national pastime, Hollywood holds up its scorecard on the Dream Factory, and our dreams. There’s no host on the Oscars show this year—no Billy Crystal, much less Bob Hope—betokening cultural confusion. We’re in Trump time, after all, under the cloud of a hurting climate, waiting for “That’s all, folks” from Porky Pi...more

  • Gandhi and “The Years That Changed the World”

    Feb 14 2019

    Mahatma Gandhi led the liberation of India from British rule in the first half of the 20th Century, by massive and peaceful resistance. He is said to be out of political fashion in India these days; he was not a man of fashion. He is thrillingly, dauntingly alive again in a grand biography, the project of decades by India’s leading popular scholar, Ramchandra Guha, visiting us in Boston. It’s good to be remembering that odd Man of the Century: living with him through 900 pages, his family, his f...more

  • A Coup in Caracas

    Feb 08 2019

    A conversation on the crisis in Venezuela with Alejandro Velasco, Jeff Sachs, Greg Grandin, and Leo Blanco. The ruin of Venezuela and the world’s answer to it mark the climax of an epic, late in the Age of Oil. We might understand it better if Steven Spielberg and Marlon Brando hadn’t abandoned their movie Nostromo back in the day. The novel Nostromo was Joseph Conrad’s sequel to Heart of Darkness. It became his longest and darkest exposé of European and American plundering in South America, as...more

  • All in Favor…

    Feb 01 2019

    A conversation about Astra Taylor’s new documentary What Is Democracy? with Astra Taylor, David Runciman, and Kali Akuno. We used to know what we liked about that word ‘democracy,’ and we were ready to fight for it. Democracy meant “the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time,” as E. B. White put it during World War II. In Civil Rights time, Malcolm X rubbed in the rhyme with hypocrisy: a real democracy would never short-change so many people of...more

  • Under Surveillance: Capitalism in the Digital Age

    Jan 25 2019

    Yes, Virginia, the world did change direction in the late summer of 2001, and it’s been changing us ever since. 9/11 had everything to do it, but it was also the panicky season of the dot.com bust, when little Google, in fear of death, morphed from search service to data mining from its users. Our government, post 9/11, was ready to compromise privacy and underwrite a new science of surveillance—the object was to know everything about everybody. And here we are, not two decades later: Google is ...more

  • Andre Dubus’s Carny World

    Jan 19 2019

    A conversation with Andre Dubus III about his new novel, Gone So Long.  An old-fashioned sort of writer from this part of the world, and a writer we love for his swerves and surprises, Andre Dubus III is the child of both a famous literary father and, same time, a rough, tough mill town boyhood. Last time around with Andre and his memoir Townie, I told him his growing up read like David Copperfield with heaps of crystal meth, junk TV, Fritos, daily fistfights, and Vietnam all thrown in. (Listen ...more

  • Is the Green New Deal For Real?

    Jan 11 2019

    A conversation about the “Green New Deal” with Bill McKibben, Naomi Oreskes, and Daniel Schrag. The mission, as it turned out, was to transform the American economy and save the country, no less, over twelve years. Franklin Roosevelt called it his New Deal, starting in 1933. New-breed Democrats in Congress today are talking about a Green New Deal, starting now, deep into the crisis of a changing climate that goes way beyond the weather. FDR had a working class revolt driving him forw...more

  • The New Normal

    Jan 04 2019

    A conversation with Stephen Walt and Fintan O’Toole on the state of the world at the beginning of 2019. At the start of a new year, count the new normals in a changed world: new normals marking the points where the unheard-of, the unimaginable, comes to be the standard, and the pendulum won’t swing back. The trillion-dollar corporation sounds like a new normal, after Apple and Amazon broke the barrier last year. California’s record wildfires are a new normal, the governor said: eight thous...more

  • Lenny at 100

    Dec 21 2018

    A tribute to Leonard Bernstein with Nigel Simeone, Jamie Bernstein, and Augusta Read Thomas. Leonard Bernstein, the multi-musician, did it all in his lifetime. At his 100th anniversary this year, the only question people still ask about the man is an odd one: did he do enough? Did he leave the message he came to deliver? And did we get it? In all his careers, he was in the top rank: the world’s celebrity Beethoven conductor who rediscovered Mahler and Shostakovich. He composed a light Candide an...more

  • The Tower and the Square

    Dec 14 2018

    A conversation about Brexit, yellow vests, and the state of the European Union with Arthur Goldhammer, Vanessa Bee, Julian Bourg, and Alan Rusbridger. A nasty winter of discontent is in the air, blowing around old towers of power: Paris, London and of course Washington. Like everything else in the Digital Age, fear, anger and disruption travel together through an invisible network—from left-out villages to posh precincts in shiny rich capitals of France, Britain, the US.  It’s the ruling class o...more

  • Tech Tyranny

    Dec 07 2018

    You know you’re embedded in the Digital Age when you’re typing your anxieties into the Woebot app to get free, anonymous CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). It’s Digital Age anxiety we’re all cringing at in the movie Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s heart-breaking comedy about a nervous, shy 13-year-old, beset by FOMO, clutching her iPhone under her pillow through the night. You’re waking up in the Digital Age when you realize that Lyft and Uber taxi rates don’t work half as well for the drivers as fo...more

  • A Splice of Life

    Nov 30 2018

    “The genie is out of the bottle,” says George Church, and he should know. Dr. Church at Harvard Medical School has been a respected keeper of the keys to the miracle, or monster, that is gene editing. It is bio-medicine’s new-found power not just to read the human blueprint, but to rebuild, cell by cell, the evolved model of mankind. And now a rogue Chinese scientist, Dr. He, has shown the world how not to go about it – he worked in secret, without the consent of his patients, then unborn, who ...more

  • Seeing America with Frederick Wiseman

    Nov 16 2018

    A conversation with Frederick Wiseman on his new film, Monrovia, Indiana, and a lifetime of observing. We’re way back home in Monrovia, Indiana, in Frederick Wiseman’s deep cinematic dive into Red State America. This is corn-and-hog, silo-and-barn country, big-time basketball and Bible country. The lady in the tattoo parlor inscribing a big guy’s arm is drawing on Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” The direct-cinema legend Frederick Wis...more

  • Midterm Scorecard

    Nov 09 2018

    A conversation with David Bromwich, Jill Lepore, David Bosworth, Briahna Gray, and Mark Blyth. The political armies, red and blue, both won tough battles at the midterm. What plain people got, at a minimum, was a set of vital signs that a fighting democracy survives. Voter suppression in Georgia and Florida is an open scandal. Elsewhere the 2018 returns looked too mixed to have been fixed. President Trump doubled down on a Republican Senate, which means a lock on the Supreme Court and the judici...more

  • Whitey, We Hardly Knew Ye

    Nov 01 2018

    A conversation with Howie Carr, David Boeri, and Richard Marinick. Jimmy Bulger, known as Whitey, was a nasty curse on the old Irish urban village of South Boston. At the same time, he was the gift that kept on giving to true-crime storytellers who never met him – to Hollywood, and movie stars like Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, Liev Schreiber. It’s still hard to believe: Whitey had been a street thug, a loan shark, drug overlord, serial killer, then a fugitive – for years under FBI supervision an...more

  • Trouble in the House of Saud

    Oct 26 2018

    A conversation with Stephen Kinzer, Sarah Leah Whitson, Steve Simon, Chas Freeman, and Shireen Al-Adeimi. Speaking of Saudi Arabia, in the ghastly light of Jamal Kashoggi’s dismemberment: what more do we care to know, about what Saudis do? Their war to starve the poor neighbor nation of Yemen, US bombs out of US planes doing most of the damage, since Obama time in our White House. Did you know that the Kingdom of Oil and the House of Saud bankrolled Iraq’s invasion and a decade’s war with Iran ...more

  • Behind the “Leonine Gaze” of Frederick Douglass

    Oct 18 2018

    Historian David Blight on his new biography of Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass, scarred and tormented seeing men made slaves, set the course of his life to show how a slave became a man. In the cadences of the Bible and Shakespeare, a radical abolitionist with the gaze of a lion, Douglass bestrides the peaks and dark valleys of American history like a colossus, and a modern. More photographed than Lincoln; more traveled than any orator save possibly Mark Twain. He was face-to-face with t...more

  • Hothouse Earth

    Oct 12 2018

    A conversation with Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, environmental policy expert Adil Najam, and social and political theorist Ajay Singh Chaudhary. We’re closer than we knew to falling off the cliff into climate hell – not just in the Florida Panhandle and our Deep South this week. The UN scientists’ brutal assessment is so simple you can’t forget it: if the world doesn’t get its carbon fumes largely out of the sky by 2030, Space-ship Earth will be toast by 2040. It’s in the toaster now. Twenty-tw...more

  • Farewell Tour

    Oct 04 2018

    TDS is the acronym. Trump Derangement Syndrome is the full name: a distaste for Donald Trump so severe that sufferers abandon all logic and reason, all sense of proportion. But what if the breakdown they dread is in truth out of the standard headline proportions, beyond the banality or the evil of one man in one office. Chris Hedges, a certified doom-monger, sees Donald Trump as one of many symptoms, like climate change, of a man-made virus of civilizational proportions, a sublime madness, in th...more

  • A Less Perfect Union

    Sep 28 2018

    “What’s past is prologue,” Shakespeare’s phrase from “The Tempest,” is carved in stone in front of the National Archive in Washington. Ronald Reagan liked to say that what it means about America is “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” For the historian, in the circus years of Donald Trump, it’s a question, looking back: how much of the end-time strangeness of the Trump era comes out of the old American time machine? Vulgar, vital populism in Andrew Jackson time. A Gilded Age of gross inequality l...more

  • Original Sin

    Sep 21 2018

    The Roman Catholic Church is staring transfixed at a cascading scandal of crime and non-punishment. Sex crimes by priests against children are turning up now in far corners of the world, and a pattern of strategic cover-up comes clear after decades of silence, evasion, and institutional self-protection. The notably gentle reformist Pope Francis is under siege in the sixth year of his rule, ambushed by history, it seems, and said to be ‘aghast’ at the record unfolding.  It’s the kind of cri...more

  • Game, Set, Match!

    Sep 14 2018

    It’s only a game, we used to say, but this season, between the US Open in tennis and pro-football’s opening games, our wide world of sports is an arena for every kind of cultural politics in the tense time of Trump. There were hard feelings, a ‘kill the ump’ atmosphere on the tennis court of all places last weekend, around racism and sexism blurring together in the volcanic frustration of Serena Williams and the modest bow of Naomi Osaka, the player who defeated her. And then there is Nike’...more

  • A New Labor Movement

    Sep 07 2018

    It’s Labor Day week 2018, and “The American Worker” doesn’t fit any single poster shot. Is it the Uber driver – working flex time in the ‘gig’ economy, for a magic dispatcher of taxis around the world? Is it the brainiac Google engineers insisting to their CEO that “we need to know what we’re building?” In a gilded, globalized, unequal economy of work today, the old industrial unions are almost gone. But suddenly non-union professionals feeling dealt out of pay and power are shouting, we’re work...more

  • The Democratic Divide

    Aug 24 2018

    At a madcap mid-point in the Age of Trump, it is the season suddenly of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in the Democratic party. A.O.C. time, for the bold young waitress and straight-ahead socialist who toppled the last boss in New York this summer in a primary race for Congress. We’re walking through the Boston version this hour – it’s not nasty, but it could be close. Ayanna Pressley, the bold but not quite radical black trail-blazer taking on the street-smart ex-Mayor and often unconventionally libe...more