Oliver Kamm is a political commentator whose writing appears regularly in The Times. He has recently written a book, Anti -Totalitarianism: The Left-wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy, which argues for an interventionist foreign policy which stands up for democracy against totalitarianism, be that of the far left or the far right, and how he removal of Saddam Hussein was a continuation of an authentic left-wing tradition of militant anti-totalitarianism. He discusses a number of pivotal historical events which have shaped this philosophy, specifically collective security in the 1930s, opposition to Communist expansionism after World War II and the Labour Party's rejection in the 1980s of its earlier anti-Communism and adoption of a unilateral disarmament stance. Kamm defends regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq and argues that the promotion of global democracy accords with the Left's internationalist ideals of opposition to fascism and clerical reaction.
Oliver has long been a critical observer of the writings of Noam Chomsky, recently voted " The Worlds Top Public Intellectual " by the readers of Prospect magazine. Indeed Oliver contributed a "devils advocate" article to Prospect decrying that award.
Mark Vernon is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, blogger and an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck College. He has a PhD in Philosophy from Warwick University. Mark was a priest in the Church of England between 1994-96, but quit the church as a conviction Atheist. Mark now sees himself firmly as an Agnostic. His books include What Not To Say, The Philosophy of Friendship and After Atheism: Science, Religion and The Meaning of Life. Mark recently edited the latest edition of Chambers Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions. Mark's most recent book is Plato's Podcasts: The Ancients' Guide to Modern Living. Mark has been our guest on Little Atoms twice.
First interview broadcast on 4th April 2008.
Second interview broadcast on 30th October 2009.
London-based, Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari was reporting for Newsweek magazine when he was arrested without charge during the 2009 Iranian Election Protests. He was held for 118 days until the Iranian state was forced by international pressure to release him. Maziar's book, Then They Came for Me, co-written with Aimee Molloy, tells the story of his incarceration.
First broadcast on 16th March 2012.
Philippe Sands QC has been Professor of Law at University College London since 2002 and has also taught at Boston College Law School, Cambridge University and New York University Law School. He is the author of the acclaimed Lawless World: Making and Breaking Global Rules as well as several other books on international law. He participated in the negotiation of the 1992 Climate Change Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. He is a practicing barrister at Matrix Chambers and has been involved in leading cases before English and international courts, including those concerning Senator Augusto Pinochet and the Guantanamo and Belmarsh detainees. Philippe's latest book is Torture Team: Uncovering War Crimes in the Land of the Free.
First broadcast on 1st May 2009.
Andrew Mueller was born in Wagga Wagga, Australia in 1968, and has lived in London and hotels since 1990. He currently writes on various subjects for the Independent, Independent on Sunday, Guardian, Monocle, Arena, Uncut, High Life, New Humanist and anyone else who'll have him. Andrew was previously the author of Rock & Hard Places and a contributing editor of Robert Young Pelton's The World's Most Dangerous Places. His latest book is I Wouldn't Start From Here: The 21st Century and Where it All Went Wrong.
According to Little Atoms regular Jonathan Meades, "Mueller is a gung-ho Candide with a taste for places that it is wiser to avoid. His book is graphic comic, bemused and properly contemptuous of faith and ideology" (Books of the Year, Evening Standard).
First broadcast on 7th August 2009.
Nigel Warburton is a contemporary philosopher. As well as being Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at The Open University, he is a presenter of the Philosophy Bites podcast, and teaches a popuar course on art and philosophy at Tate Modern. He is the author of several popular introductions to philosophy including Philosophy: The Basics and Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction. His latest book is A Little History of Philosophy.
First broadcast on 9th December 2011.
Olivia Laing's first book, To the River, was a book of the year in the Evening Standard, Independent and Financial Times and was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year. Olivia is the former Deputy Books Editor of the Observer and writes for a variety of publications, including the Observer, New Statesman, Guardian and Times Literary Supplement. She's a 2011 MacDowell Fellow, and has received awards from the Arts Council and the Authors' Foundation. Olivia 's latest book is The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking.
First broadcast on 19th July 2014.
John O'Farrell is an author and journalist. He has published three novels, The Best A Man Can Get, This is Your Life and May Contain Nuts, a memoir of his support for the Labour Party in the wilderness years Things Can Only Get Better, and three collections of his Guardian column, Global Village Idiot, I Blame the Scapegoats and I Have A Bream. A former comedy scriptwriter for Spitting Image and Smith and Jones, he is the founder of the satirical website NewsBiscuit, and can often be seen on such TV programmes as Grumpy Old Men, Newsnight Review and Have I Got News For You. John's latest book is An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge).
The Marxist philosopher Norman Geras is a former Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Manchester. Norman's Blog, "Normblog" which he updates several times a day has led to him being labelled as part of the " New Commentariat " by The Guardian, and "Normblog" has become required reading for the Pro-War Left. He has written a number of books, including Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend and The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy After the Holocaust. An excellent distillation of Norman's position regarding 9/11 and some of the Left's reaction to it can be found here. See also examples of Norman's writing on Iraq, and on making excuses for terrorism. Norm is also a knowledgable and respected writer on the subject of cricket.
Matthew Hutson has a degree in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and a Masters in science writing from MIT. He's written for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, Discover, Scientific American Mind, Popular Mechanics, The Boston Globe, and Psychology Today, where he spent four years as an editor. Matthew is the author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane.
First broadcast on 23rd November 2012.
Kathryn S. Olmsted is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Challenging the Secret Government: The Post - Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI and Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley. Her latest book is Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War 1 to 9/11.
First broadcast on 10th July 2009.
Lee Rourke is the author of the short story collection Everyday, and the novel The Canal, which won the Guardian's Not the Booker Prize in 2010. He is writer in residence at Kingston University, where he is an MFA lecturer in creative writing and critical theory. He also lectures in creative writing at the University of East London. His latest novel is Vulgar Things.
First broadcast on 30th August 2014
Linda Grant is a journalist and author. Her first novel, The Cast Iron Shore, won the David Higham First Novel Prize and was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize. Her second novel, When I lived in Modern Times, won the Orange Prize for Fiction. Still Here was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She is also author of Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution, The People on the Street: A Writer's View of Israel and Remind Me Who I am, Again a family memoir. Her latest book, The Clothes on Their Backs will be published in February 2008.
Nessa Carey has a PhD in virology from the University of Edinburgh and has worked in the biotech industry for nearly ten years. She was previously a Senior Lecturer at Imperial College School of Medicine in London.
Professor Paul Davies is an internationally acclaimed physicist, cosmologist and astrobiologist at Arizona State University, where he runs the pioneering BEYOND Centre for Fundamental Concepts in Science. He also chairs SETI's Post-Detection Taskgroup, so if scientists succeed in finding intelligent life, he will be among the first to know.
In addition to his many scientific awards, Davies was the recipient of the 1995 Templeton Prize - the world's largest annual prize for intellectual endeavour - and a Glaxo Science Writers' Fellowship. He is the author of more than twenty books, including The Mind of God, About Time, How to Build a Time Machine and The Goldilocks Enigma. The asteroid 1992OG was officially renamed Pauldavies in his honour. Paul's latest book is The Eerie Silence: Are we alone in the Universe?
Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. He is a presenter of Analysis of BBC Radio 4, and a panellist on The Moral Maze. He has taught at universities in Britain, Europe, Australia and the USA, presented many TV documentaries and writes regularly for newspapers across the world including the New York Times , the Guardian, and the Australian. His books include Man, Beast and Zombie, Strange Fruit and From Fatwa to Jihad, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Orwell Prize. His latest book is The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics.
Interview one first broadcast on 5th December 2008.
Interview two (also with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein) first broadcast on 19th November 2014.
Professor Noam Chomsky has been described as the world's greatest public intellectual. Born in 1928 in Philadelphia, Chomsky earned his academic stripes as a young linguistics professor at MIT in the 1950s. His theory of transformational grammar, forged at this time, posits that the capability to form structured language is innate to the human mind. But the general public first came to know Chomsky for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam war. For more than 40 years, he has been the academy's loudest and most consistent critic of US policies at home and abroad.
Chomsky has written more than 40 books, includng American Power and the New Mandarins, Manufacturing Consent, Hegemony or Survival, Deterring Democracy and Failed States, and continues to lecture frequently, as prolific a provocateur as ever.
First broadcast on 24th April 2009.
Anita Sethi discusses how we are all connected and what the internet means for dictatorship and democracy.
Anita maps her ancestry back to Kenya and argues the need to connect is amplified in diaspora communities.
“Migrants have a greater desire for tactile connection; if it was a forced exile or removal many experience the anxiety of loss. You can’t control the way you left so you try to connect, either by mapping your own journey or by retaining a physical representation of origin.”
The internet and social media have exponentially increased the ability to connect. In Kenya, where the majority of the population is under 30, Sethi argues there has been a huge impact in the democratisation of society.
“In a country where it used to take five years to publish a book, the outlet for information and the ability to instantaneously connect is empowering.”
Being able to communicate an idea with such speed is a privilege, but access to information is a right. Sethi argues that dictators use the restriction information as an authoritarian weapon.
“When a regime feels threatened it cuts off means of information."
Closer to home, Sethi finds the growing closures of British libraries worrying.
“Libraries provide wisdom, knowledge and the right to learn for all. The ability to challenge thinking is a human right.”
Lewis Dartnell is a UK Space Agency research fellow at the University of Leicester, in the field of astrobiology and the search for signs of life on Mars. He has won several awards for his science writing, and contributes to the Guardian, The Times and New Scientist. He has also written for television and appeared on BBC Horizon, Sky News, Wonders of the Universe, Stargazing Live, and The Sky at Night. He is the author Life in the Universe: a Beginner's Guide, and most recently The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch. Lewis has been our guest on Little Atoms twice.
Interview one first broadcast on 29th October 2010.
Interview two first broadcast on 3rd May 2014.
Robin Ince is a comedian and writer. For the last two years he has been the host of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People. His Radio 4 show with Professor Brian Cox, The Infinite Monkey Cage, has just finished it's second series. Robin has recently written a book, Robin Ince's Bad Book Club, which casts a critical eye over Don Estelle's autobiography, tales of giant killer crabs, and romance novels set in the Antarctic.
First broadcast on 30th July 2010.
Lynn Barber, the demon of Fleet Street, talks interviewing; the good, the bad and the bollocks
Barber started her career at Penthouse Magazine, writing about the parameters of sexuality. “It trained me never to be embarrassed and never to show shock or disgust.”
The secret to a good interview, according to Barber, is getting people to talk. “I am genuinely interested in them at the point I am interviewing, I want to understand them”.
But it’s not always plain sailing, the real disasters are never written up and the ones that make the cut are not always perfect.
“If someone else did it better, that’s slightly frustrating, or sometimes every conceivable question has already asked, what more is there to get?”
For Barber, contemporary artists are a favourite but can be difficult to interview. “The reason they are artists is they don’t trust words very much and they express themselves in other ways. To find a way of interviewing that isn't bollocks and has an attachment to reality is a challenge.”
Rebecca MacKinnon works on global internet policy as a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. She is co-founder of Global Voices Online, a global citizen media network that amplifies online citizen voices from around the world. She is also on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists and worked for CNN in Beijing for nine years. Rebecca was a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy. She is frequently interviewed by major media, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Financial Times, National Public Radio, BBC, and other news outlets. Rebecca is the author of Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.
First broadcast on 9th March 2012.
“The responsibility of the novelist is to be irresponsible. You do what you want, the more you upset the better”.
As a writer Howard Jacobson finds great joy in being offensive. He argues that one of the ways comedy works is to cleanse the system, “you laugh at the things you should not laugh at. You have to have a moment you break everything you believe in”.
Racist comedy too has its place, “comedy is a place you go, some of the time, to be absolutely vile. And if you aren’t going to go, where are you going to go?”
But it is part of the novelist's job never to push an ideology. Jacobson argues the first thing you must do is to overcome what you believe and that “to do so is a great aesthetic leap.”
On the question of limits, most of the time Jacobson would argue “tough, read something else” but admits that he sometimes he does censor himself. “Demonstrably bad taste is corny; you can tell when someone is trying to hard.”
“Our sense of humour is part of our sense of intelligence. If we are solemn and tip toe around it, we deny the best part of our minds the chance to deal with the most horrible thing that ever happened.”
First broadcast on 14th December 2007
Alom Shaha was born in Bangladesh but grew up in London. A teacher, writer and filmmaker, he has spent most of his professional life trying to share his passion for science and education with the public. Alom has produced, directed and appeared in a number of television programmes, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and the Nuffield Foundation. Alom has represented the community in which he grew up as an elected politician and volunteered at a range of charitable organisations. He teaches at a comprehensive school in London and writes for a number of print and online publications including The Guardian. Alom is the author of The Young Atheist's Handbook.
First broadcast on 20th July 2012.
Filmmaker Adam Curtis discusses power, politics and his searing cybernetic vision of the future.
The notion of cybernetics looks at the whole world, from society to cells, as systems. For Curtis, it is a highly political ideology whereby systems of nature and systems of computers have become intertwined.
“It’s a beautiful vision of this interconnected world, resonant of the cyber-utopian mood of our time, bleeding into nature”.
Curtis sees the increasing salience of cybernetics as a fundamental shift in the way we view human beings.
“We are moving away from the old enlightenment idea than human beings are separate, above the rest of the world and can shape and bend the world. In fact we are all components in systems of an interwoven network where everyone is connected”.
In this connected world, Curtis argues democracy is not about lots of individuals, but about mediating the powerful. Regulating those who often use their unequal access to power at the expense of the weak.
“It’s about electing people who will stand up and represent the weak and negotiate against the powerful. All evidence in western society shows power becoming more concentrated and unequal.”
First broadcast 20/05/11