Jon Ronson is a writer and documentary film maker.
He began his journalistic career as an award-winning columnist for Time Out. He also wrote the popular “Human Zoo” column for The Guardian and produced the BBC Radio 4 documentary Hotel Auschwitz. He also presents the late night Radio 4 series, Jon Ronson on…
For Channel 4, Jon has made the acclaimed five part series the Secret Rulers of the World, multi award-winning Tottenham Ayatollah, New Klan, New York to California (A Great British Odyssey), Dr Paisley, I Presume, the four-part series Critical Condition, and the late-night chat show For The Love Of…
For BBC2 he made the six part series The Ronson Mission. Now contributing regularly to The Guardian, Jon has written two books, Them: Adventures with Extremists and The Men Who Stare at Goats.
Arthur I Miller is a professor emeritus of history and philosophy of science at University College London. He is the author of several acclaimed books, the most recent of which are Einstein, Picasso, and Empire of the Stars, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Aventis Prize for Science Books. An experienced broadcaster, lecturer and biographer, he is particularly interested in the relationship between science and creativity, and noted for being able to write engagingly about complex social and intellectual dramas, weaving the personal with the scientific to produce page-turners that read like novels. Arthur's latest book is 137: Jung, Pauli and the pursuit of a Scientific Obsession.
First broadcast on 13th August 2010.
Marc Abrahams is editor and co-founder of the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research and its website Improbable.com.
He is the founder and master of ceremonies of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, honouring achievements that make people LAUGH, and then THINK. The Prizes are handed out by genuine Nobel Laureates at a gala ceremony held each October at Harvard University and broadcast on National Public Radio and on the Internet.
Marc writes a weekly column for the Guardian, and is the author of numerous books about the Ig Nobel awards and improbable research.
First broadcast on 24th June 2011.
Joanne Baker studied Physics at the University of Cambridge and took her PhD in Astrophysics at the University of Sydney in 1995. She is the author of the best selling 50 Physics Ideas You Really Need to Know and is an editor at Nature magazine, where her speciality is space and Earth science. Her latest book is 50 Universe Ideas You Really Need to Know.
First broadcast on 18th February 2011.
Mark Stevenson formerly worked as an expert in both prime number cryptography and computer aided systems engineering. Today he combines two other careers – one as a successful writer/ comedian (writing for TV, radio and print) and another as a speaker and consultant on future narratives, institutional innovation, engineered serendipity and learning.
He is co-founder and director of the cultural learning agency Flow Associates and the science communication agency ReAgency. A new mobile project, engendering conversations and stimulating learning and direct action within an audience of 30 million users, The Age of Smart, is coming in mid 2011. Mark is a fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.
Mark is the author of An Optimist's Tour of the Future.
First broadcast on 18th March 2011.
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.
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.
How can equations be beautiful? Graham Farmelo discusses Nobel Prize winner Paul Dirac’s life and achievements.
Paul Dirac rose from a modest background to the pinnacle to modern science.
Farmelo describes it as a bleak upbringing, with a strong emphasis on education and strict disciplinarian as a father.
At Cambridge, engineer turned physicist Dirac began producing “a beautiful vision of quantum mechanics”. Farmelo describes his papers as having “the perfection of Shakespeare sonnet”.
His breakthrough came with the Dirac equation, which combined quantum mechanics with special relativity to understand the behaviour of the electron. For Farmelo “a beautiful unity between two subjects.”
Dirac married his imagination and mathematics to predict the existence of anti-matter, the discovery that later won him the Nobel prize.
Formelo finds great beauty in the perfection of Dirac’s equation. He says an equation has “a power and compactness like great poetry. A great equation is the most highly charged form of mathematical science. It all fits perfectly together like a Rubiks cube; you can’t change it at all.”
On Dirac's gravestone was written: “because God made it so” suggesting sympathy with religion. But Farmelo argues this was his wife’s influence and that although his views softened in later life, Dirac was fiercely against religion.
Dirac’s own religion was simple: “Man can and must improve”. Seeing God’s will at odds with his science, he could not believe in miracles, “because if they happened,it would break the beauty of universal equations.”
First broadcast 22/01/10
Emily Anthes is a science writer whose work has appeared in Discover, the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, and many other publications. She is also the founder of the Wonderland blog, part of the Public Library of Science. Emily's first book is Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts.
First broadcast on 10th May2013.
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.
Mark Miodownik is Professor of Materials and Society at UCL, and the Director of the UCL Institute of Making. He recently appeared in The Times' inaugural list of the 100 most influential scientists in the UK. He is currently scientist-in-residence on Dara O Briain's Science Club (BBC2) and has presented of several documentaries, including The Genius of Invention (BBC2), and in 2010 he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Mark's first book is Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World.
First broadcast on 17th September 2013.
Derek Pasquill worked as a civil servant at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in a unit dealing with engagement with the Islamic world. He grew increasingly concerned over the government's tacit support for the US's policy of extraordinary rendition, and with the Foreign Office's policy of consulting on issues of concern to the Muslim community exclusively via extremists in the Muslim Council of Britain.
Derek leaked a number of documents to The Observer newspaper, and to journalist Martin Bright, which formed the basis of a number of critical articles, and also Bright's pamphlet for Policy Exchange, “When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries”. In January 2006 Derek was arrested and subsequently charged with six counts of breaching the Official Secrets Act.
Derek lived for two years facing a possible prison sentence, until his actions were vindicated when the case was thrown out at the Old Bailey earlier this month. It had come to light that Derek's leaks had caused a significant rethink of the government's strategy. Support for extraordinary rendition had been quietly dropped, as had the government's over-reliance on the MCB.
Philip Plait Ph.D.is a renowned astronomer with more than two decades of professional research and education experience. He has written articles for such magazines as Astronomy and Sky & Telescope, as well as national and international newspapers. He has appeared on television news and in documentaries many times, including the Sci-Fi Channel's Countdown to Doomsday and National Geographic's Is It Real? His website Bad Astronomy has won numerous awards, such as best Science Blog of 2007, and also begat the book of the same name. Phil's latest book is Death From The Skies!
First broadcast on 12th December 2008.
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.
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.
A double bill of interviews with a couple of writers and academics who's work in different ways play on ideas of philosophy and literature.
Lars Iyer is a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He is the author of two books on the philosopher Maurice Blanchot (Blanchot's Communism: Art, Philosophy, Politics and Blanchot's Vigilance: Phenomenology, Literature, Ethics) as well as a trilogy of novels or works of ‘autofiction': Spurious, Dogma and the recently published Exodus.
Joe Milutis is a writer, media artist, and Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at the University of Washington-Bothell. His writing includes various literary-media hybrids, including digital essays, performance, and installation. He is a contributor to magazines such as Cabinet, Triple Canopy, and Film Comment among others. He is the author of Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything, and his latest book is Failure: A Writer's Life.
First broadcast on 19th April 2013.
Jonathan Meades is a writer, journalist, essayist and filmmaker. His books include three works of fiction - Filthy English, Pompey and The Fowler Family Business - and several anthologies including the recently published Museum Without Walls. His latest book is An Encyclopaedia of Myself. He has written and performed in more than 50 television shows on predominantly topographical subjects such as shacks, garden cities, megastructures, buildings associated with vertigo, beer, pigs and the architecture of Hitler and Stalin. His most recent show was Bunkers, Brutalism, Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry, Some of these are available on The Jonathan Meades Collection DVD. See also the YouTube channel MeadesShrine. He lives in Marseille. Jonathan has been our guest on Little Atoms eight times.
Interview one first broadcast on 3rd March 2006.
Interview two first broadcast on 11th May 2007.
Interview three first broadcast on 31st October 2008.
Interview five first broadcast on 21st June 2014.
Mark Lynas is an author and environmental activist who focuses on climate change. He is a Visiting Research Associate at Oxford University's School of Geography and the Environment. In 2009 he was appointed advisor on climate change to the President of the Maldives, which aims to be the first carbon neutral country on Earth by 2020.
Mark is the author of The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, published by Fourth Estate in July 2011. He has previously written two major books on climate change – High Tide: News from a warming world and Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet.
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.
Andrew Mueller talks to Neil Denny & Padraig Reidy about the 21st Century.
Andrew 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).
Image: (C) Andy Vella / Foruli Ltd 2012. All rights reserved.
Richard Martin is an energy expert and an award winning journalist. He was the first person to write about Thorium in the mainstream press, His cover story for Wired inspired Google to launch a conference on Thorium that led to several high-tech startups. As a journalist his work has appeared in Time, Fortune, Wired, The Atlantic, The Asian Wall Street Journal, and The Best Science Writing books. He is a director of Pike Research, a leading clean-energy research firm based in Boulder, Colorado, USA. Richard Martin is the author of Superfuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future.
First broadcast on 6th July 2012.
Professor Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University. Randall's studies have made her among the most cited and influential theoretical physicists. She has also had a public presence through her writing, lectures, and radio and TV appearances. Her book Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions was included in the New York Times' 100 notable books of 2005. Professor Randall was included in the list of Time magazine's '100 Most Influential People' of 2007 and was featured in Newsweek's 'Who's Next in 2006' as 'one of the most promising theoretical physicists of her generation'.
Randall has received numerous awards and honors for her scientific endeavors. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Randall is an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Physics. Her latest book is Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World.
First broadcast on 11th November 2011.
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.
Rosa Rankin-Gee grew up in Kensal Rise, London, but now lives by the Parc de Belleville in Paris. In 2010, she was one of Esquire magazine's '75 Brilliant Young Brits'. In 2011, she won Shakespeare & Company's international Paris Literary Prize. Rosa Rankin-Gee runs a night-bird version of a Book Club, where up to 300 people come to swap books and drink cocktails in the former home of George Bizet. Rosa Rankin-Gee's debut novel is The Last Kings of Sark. Also in this episode, Jonathan Meades shares his admiration for Le Corbusier and Brutalism, and an excerpt from Public Record: Estuary by artist Julian Hopper.
First broadcast on 16th November 2013.
Rose Shapiro has written for newspapers, magazines and medical journals including the Independent, the Observer, Time Out, Good Housekeeping and the Health Service Journal. Her book Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All is published by Harvill Secker, and is described as follows;
'Alternative' medicine is now used by one in three of us. In the UK we spend an estimated £4.5 billion a year on it and its practitioners are now insinuating themselves into the mainstream. There are methods based on ancient or far-eastern medicine, as well as ones invented in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many are promoted as natural treatments. What they have in common is that there is no hard evidence that any of them work.
Treatments like homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic are widely available and considered reputable by many. Ever more bizarre therapies, from naturopathy to nutraceuticals, ear candling to ergogenics, are increasingly favoured. Endorsed by celebrities and embraced by the middle classes, alternative medicine's appeal is based on the spurious rediscovery of ancient wisdom and the supposedly benign quality of nature. Surrounded by an aura of unquestioning respect and promoted through uncritical airtime and column inches, alternative medicine has become a lifestyle choice. Its global market is predicted to be worth $5 trillion by 2050.
Suckers reveals how alternative medicine can jeopardise the health of those it claims to treat, leaches resources from treatments of proven efficacy and is largely unaccountable and unregulated. In short, it is an industry that preys on human vulnerability and makes fools of us all.
Suckers is a calling to account of a social and intellectual fraud; a bracing, funny and popular take on a global delusion.
First broadcast on 24th October 2008.
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.
Marina Keegan (1989 - 2012) was an author, journalist, playwright, poet, actress and activist, and for two years a research assistant to Harold Bloom, all before she graduated from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Then five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. In the aftermath of her death, while her family and friends grieved, last essay for the Yale Daily News, 'The Opposite of Loneliness', went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. A collection, The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories has been published in the UK by Simon & Schuster, In this interview Neil talks about both Marina and the book with Beth McNamara, Marina's former high school English teacher, and Kevin and Tracy Keegan, Marina's parents. This is the 350th episode of Little Atoms.
First broadcast on 29th October 2014
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
In this episode of Little Atoms, two novels that blur the boundaries between truth and Fiction.
David Flusfeder was born in New Jersey but grew up in London. He's the author of numerous novels, including, A Film by Spencer Ludwig, The Pagan House, The Gift and Like Plastic, which won the Encore Award 1997. He has taught creative writing at Birkbeck College, Morley College, the Arvon Foundation and Pentonville Prison, and currently does so at the University of Kent. His latest novel is the “medieval road movie” John the Pupil.
Jeff Jackson holds an MFA from NYU and is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Five of his plays have been produced by the Obie Award-winning Collapsable Giraffe Company. His debut novel is Mira Corpora.
First broadcast on 12th 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.
Rana Dasgupta won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book for his debut novel Solo. He is also the author of a collection of urban folktales, Tokyo Cancelled, which was shortlisted for the 2005 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi is his first work of non-fiction. Born in Canterbury in 1971, he has lived in Delhi for 13 years. Also this week, writer Sarah Ditum talks about Andrea Dworkin's Intercourse.
First broadcast on 15th March 2014.