Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics


  • 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

  • Black Film, White Voice

    Aug 16 2018

    A new wave of black arts has surfaced in the mainstream of American popular culture. It’s not your standard entertainment, and not “art for art’s sake” either. On big screens and tiny ones, in music and poetry, the new black art takes aim – hilariously sometimes – at white supremacy and the color line in capitalism. But this is not race and class revisited: it’s attempting to reimagine a society from the bottom up. We’re going to remember this blossoming of black expression – in music videos, t...more

  • V. S. Naipaul’s ‘Gloomy Clarity’ about Africa, and Himself (rebroadcast)

    Aug 12 2018

    This interview with V.S. Naipaul was released October 25, 2010. We are re-posting the podcast on the occasion of the author’s death Saturday. V. S. Naipaul, in the winter of his long writing life, doesn’t disguise his melancholy or his frailty. Still, his inquisitorial eye and his magic with a prose sentence have not abandoned him, nor the organ tones of his mesmerizing voice. In conversation he relishes my suggestion of magic — his new book on Africa is full of it. But when I ...more

  • The Soviet Symphonist

    Aug 09 2018

    The Shostakovich story — man and music in the apocalypse of world war and Cold War — seems to get more frightfully irresistible with every remembrance, every new CD in the Boston Symphony’s Grammy winning series. With Stravinsky and Prokofiev in the trio of Russia’s 20th century immortals, Shostakovich was the one who stayed on the home ground of his music, and paid the price. This is a story of where music comes from, what it means, and who owns it. In the Soviet Union, it is a personal duel be...more

  • Bullsh*t Jobs in Boomtime America

    Jul 26 2018

    The jobs are back.  It’s the work that feels fishy: so much of it paid but pointless; safe and even secure, but often un-satisfying if you were looking for hands-on and heart-felt work that could leave a mark on the world or your soul. Credit where it’s due for job growth. The lowest unemployment rate since the dot.com boom 20 years ago has to say something for the man who wanted to be the greatest jobs president of all time. But listen long term to workers, not the numbers-crunchers.  What work...more

  • The Siberian Candidate

    Jul 20 2018

    Calling on the spies we know best – all of them fictional – to explain the Helsinki summit: If it was spy-craft in plain sight, what would James Bond or Jason Bourne have seen that we didn’t?  What would George Smiley have been observing – Britain’s shabby, morose Number Two spy in the Cold War novels of the great John LeCarré? The line is out there in a hostile press that Trump and Putin in Helsinki wasn’t a chiefs-of-state summit so much as a huddle in broad daylight of a Russian-intelligence...more

  • The Grenfell Tragedy

    Jul 13 2018

    Grenfell Tower was that giant pillar of public housing on the West side of London that went up in flames a year ago.  Suddenly it was a smoky chemical torch in the night, fueled by the building’s own flammable insulation and cover-all cladding. Hundreds escaped but 72 mostly hard-working immigrant residents of the Tower died inside the definitive disaster of 21st century London. Britain’s Katrina, people said. But more than a public-sector flop, more than a warning to tower dwellers around the w...more

  • Bill Banfield’s Griot Songs

    Jul 06 2018

    Your friends and other experts will tell you the songs and sounds that are new and hot. What the music makers are happier telling you is: what’s old, what abides, what is true, what connects and how they got it. Bill Banfield is one of those African-American composers / performers / teachers who when he speaks of The Music, suggests one ageless tradition being made new every day by geniuses and inspired journeymen in hip-hop and concert music. His is a realm where Son House’s Delta Blues, Duke E...more

  • Molly Crabapple’s Cosmopolitan Colors

    Jun 29 2018

    Listen fast, podcast people, because the beloved artist-satirist-global muckraker Molly Crabapple talks fast, the same way she draws and paints a sort of carnival of conflict out there: in Syria, in storm-damaged Puerto Rico, in New York City. Molly Crabapple was a naked model and café / cabaret ornament in Lower Manhattan before OCCUPY landed on her doorstep in 2011. In the turmoil she invented a new career that’s made her famous, illustrating rough places in the real world. With her color tu...more

  • Our Borderline Disorder

    Jun 29 2018

    The shock of migrant kids-in-cages on our border with Mexico is surfacing tough questions if you’re willing to look back at our history and ahead to an emerging world disorder. The issues run deep: why borders in the first place?  Borders that our investment money and military power fly over anyway, often to extract the resources of poor countries and make sure the poor people stay put? Why is citizenship in country X an inherited privilege that can’t be distributed, in the country a burden tha...more

  • Two Guys Walk Into a Summit in Singapore

    Jun 15 2018

    From “fire and fury” to a “terrific relationship” in less than a year sound like a happy turn in the Trump-Kim dance around nukes and North Korea. Better news coming is implied in the Singapore summit: an end of the North-South Korean War after 70 years,  on what could be a nuke-free peninsula. A win for de-proliferation, an end of US war-games in South Korea, developing games for the North instead, all in a deal that great neighbor China like a lot. Question: why do so many in our opinion class...more

  • The Original Kitchen Connection (June 29, 2000)

    Jun 08 2018

    Anthony Bourdain introduced us almost 20 years ago to Systeme D, the crisis procedures in the best kitchens that get the chef out of a jam.  I was eager to interview him not least because all three of my daughters were circling around the food biz – one to be a celebrated chef herself.  What the veteran Bourdain made clear was that the great restaurant kitchens depend not so much on Escoffier schooling as on the wily immigrant dishwasher who can disappear into the night on orders and come back i...more

  • The Reporter’s Reporter

    Jun 07 2018

    Seymour Hersh, known as Sy, made a brilliant career, at his best, of exposing Official US, at its worst: the Army massacre at My Lai, in Vietnam. The sadistic prison management at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The forbidden spying by the CIA on American citizens. Sy Hersh has been the scariest scoop artist in journalism for 50 years — he scared his editors, his readers, his news-business rivals and his targets: who else virtually declared that his job was to stop Dick Cheney from going to war on Iran, and...more

  • Studs Terkel’s Feeling Tone

    Jun 01 2018

    The Studs Terkel edge on the radio was, first of all, picking guests who would sound more interesting 50, 60 years later: Mahalia Jackson, Bucky Fuller, Toni Morrison, Bertrand Russell. Simone de Beauvoir on her Second Sex. Federico Fellini on La Dolce Vita. David Mamet on his Glengarry, Glen Ross. Aaron Copland, Dizzy Gillespie. James Baldwin from 1961, Woody Allen in his twenties. Janis Joplin, Tennessee Williams. John Cage.  The other great mark of Studs Terkel radio was that these weren’t in...more

  • Remembering Philip Roth

    May 22 2018

    Our long, gabby afternoon with Philip Roth in 2006, at his farmhouse in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut, was a sort of pay-off. I’d helped him find just the right Boston location for a scene in his last big counterfactual novel, The Plot Against America. My reward was the chance to record what stands up very nicely here. Meantime, he’d written the slim late novella, Everyman, about an old New Jersey athlete with a failing heart, pondering broken relationships, physical decay and coming extinction. ...more

  • The Split Screen View in Jerusalem and Gaza

    May 18 2018

    One split screen wasn’t really enough for the asymmetries we’re looking at now, but there it was: Ivanka unveiling the Trump embassy plaque in Jerusalem, and 40 miles away, the massacre at Gaza, Israeli soldiers killing dozens of Palestinians in unarmed protest. It was a 70-year birthday party on the ground of what the Arabs of Israel call their 70-year-old catastrophe. It would take another split screen to see the pulling apart of the Atlantic alliance, the broken consensus on keeping nuclear ...more

  • Trump Goes Rogue In Iran

    May 11 2018

    Dropping out of the Iran nuclear deal has the feel of dropping into the John Bolton phase of the Trump era.  Trump in Full. Trump Extra. The theme is No More Mr. Nice Guy, or America First, Last and virtually Alone. Multilateral Europe is appalled by Unilateral Trump – he pretends to consult, then ignores the old allies, first on Climate change, then trade barriers, and now Iran.  “We have to stop being wimps,” they are saying out loud. But here comes John Bolton with his broad-brush mustache an...more

  • Lisa Halliday’s ‘Asymmetry’

    May 08 2018

    This is an unlocked, bonus segment of Open Source. You can hear weekly conversations and extended interviews like this one by subscribing and supporting our work on Patreon. The writer Zadie Smith first clued us into the work of debut novelist Lisa Halliday, who spoke with us recently about her fantastic new book, and which we present here as a special podcast. Here’s how Chris set the scene of the conversation: Lisa Halliday has written what feels like something new under the sun of Ameri...more

  • Marx at 200

    May 04 2018

    A specter is haunting human affairs these days: it’s the thought that Karl Marx (on his 200th birthday this week) may have been more right than wrong about rich-get-richer bourgeois economics.  He may have been righter still anticipating our anxious digital / global finance capitalism of 2018 than he was at describing his own unruly time in Europe in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s. For advocating communist revolution all his life, Karl Marx became a scarecrow in the garden of money and power.  He was t...more

  • The Secret Life of Trees

    Apr 27 2018

    Henry David Thoreau founded our literature of trees, glorying in the Eastern White Pine as the “emblem of my life,” to stand for “the West, the wild.” His friend Emerson, one step closer, felt an “occult relation” between trees and himself. “They nod to me, and I to them,” he said. Now comes Richard Powers, novelist of science and astonishment, taking up that almost speaking connection “from the standpoint of the trees,” from the teeming crown of a giant Redwood, ever in motion, 200 feet or 20 s...more

  • The Trump Doctrine in the Middle East

    Apr 20 2018

    What President Trump said he wanted was to get US firepower out of Syria. “Let the other people take care of it now,” in his words. What he settled for with his own generals was a restricted strike on chemical weapons but not people in Syria. In the rough language of military gestures, it was a mixed message — a light warning but not a threat – from two minds of American power. It was a small shock to the hellish Assad government of Syria: but with no expectation of ending chemical warfare, much...more

  • Barbara Ehrenreich on the Cult of Wellness

    Apr 17 2018

    This is an unlocked, bonus segment of Open Source. You can hear weekly conversations and extended interviews like this one by subscribing and supporting our work on Patreon. In her new book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, the veteran reporter Barbara Ehrenreich takes aim at a host of maladies in the world of modern medicine: bloated hospital and insurance industries, Silicon Valley charlatans preaching everlasting life, and ...more

  • Facebook & the Reign of Surveillance Capitalism

    Apr 13 2018

    Three questions they didn’t get Mark Zuckerberg to consider. For openers: that leak of 87 million identities to Cambridge Analytica: was it a bug in the system, or a feature of it?  Facebook’s core business is still the selling of personal data to advertisers and other “persuaders”? Number 2: How come there is no competitive alternative to Facebook, no rival, in social networking? How about a commercial-free, non-profit social web, like Wikipedia? Or maybe a buy-in version for paid-up users wit...more

  • The Teachers’ Revolt

    Apr 05 2018

    There’s a quick, strange turn in our weather and it’s not just springtime. Public school classrooms, oddly enough, are the source of the storm winds: first the take-charge teenagers of the Parkland generation, ready to fight the NRA’s gun culture as Congress never would; and now the teachers’ revolt against the orthodoxy of tax cuts and the testing remedy for education.  Just as odd: the insurgency of born-again working-class’ teachers is rising first in the red, Republican coal and petro state...more

  • Van Morrison’s Cosmic Accident

    Mar 29 2018

    In the annals of rock music albums, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is one of a kind. In an earthy medium, it’s a masterpiece of abstraction.  Indecipherable. Irresistible. Influential. Accidental, it seemed, from the first licks in a Boston studio, in the crisis year of 1968.  It comes back 50 years later from an imagination beyond time or place: murky fables of love confronting death, lyrics unlinked from the riotous news of its day. Built on misty memories of Belfast, Van Morrison’s home town in...more

  • Reviving the King

    Mar 16 2018

    Martin Luther King Jr. comes to seem larger in his absence these last 50 years, himself a cosmos, in Walt Whitman speak, containing multitudes—and not contradictions so much as multiples. He was a midnight-oil Ph.D. intellectual, ever self-consciously the descendant of slaves. He was at first a reluctant leader, drafted to mobilize an alliance of plain black and poor people, who made him their captain of a sanctified social revolution. He became a sure strategist of Napoleonic ambition, in non-...more

  • Books Not Bars

    Mar 09 2018

    The case for prison education is alive again, in the land of mass incarceration, the case for reimagining prisons as colleges and universities of life. Malcolm X in his Autobiography gave the classic example: when the young house-breaker known as Detroit Red got his hands on a dictionary in the Norfolk Prison Colony near Boston and he started copying the book, word by word to the end.  “… and my previous life’s thinking pattern slid away from me, ” he wrote, “like snow off a roof…” The new Malco...more