The New Yorker Radio Hour

The New Yorker Radio Hour

United States

The New Yorker Radio Hour is a weekly program presented by the magazine’s editor, David Remnick. 


What Was It Like Before the Internet?  

A magical time of unfettered creativity but zero productivity, the days before the Internet were so strange that it’s hard to believe they were real. Clearly no one got anything done, ever. Jenny Slate performs Emma Rathbone’s “Before the Internet,” from The New Yorker’s Shouts & Murmurs. Plus: Ten years ago, Susan Orlean, a staff writer at The New Yorker, wrote about a former laser physicist who had given up a successful career to become an origami artist. In time, Robert Lang became one of the world’s top practitioners,and origami became a surprising area of scientific activity, with government grants encouraging research into how materials fold. Orlean caught up with Lang at the OrigamiUSA convention recently, where she tried her hand at Lang’s popular goldfish—which has a hinged jaw and fins—and talked with him about the life lessons of folding paper.

After Charlottesville, the Limits of Free Speech  

When is speech no longer just speech? David Remnick looks at how leftist protests at Berkeley, right-wing violence in Charlottesville, and open-carry laws around the country are testing the traditional liberal consensus on freedom of expression. He speaks with Mark Bray, the author of a new and sympathetic book about Antifa; Melissa Murray, a law-school professor at U.C. Berkeley; and Dahlia Lithwick, a legal analyst for Slate.

Neil Gorsuch and the Uses of History  

We have yet to learn just how closely the views of the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch resemble those of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch conservative and a standard-bearer for the legal philosophy known as originalism. Originalists claim to interpret the Constitution by relying on its words and on the contemporary writings of the Constitution's framers. The New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, a professor of history, says that Gorsuch has been candid about the limitations of historical thinking. But she also notes that liberal jurists, for their part, have become more engaged in historical research to bolster their decisions, and thus are “out-originalizing originalists.” Plus: Alexa is the voice-recognition program in Echo, Amazon’s speaker device. It sits in your house, always on, listening for commands to look up information, play media on your computer, or order stuff from Amazon. The New Yorker’s Sarah Larson tests out Alexa, and finds it to be like “2001: A Space Odyssey” crossed with “The Golden Girls.”

These segments originally aired on September 30, 2016, and March 24, 2017


A Visit with Harry Belafonte, and an Isolated Tribe Emerges  

We take for granted that popular entertainers can and should advocate for causes they believe in. But until Harry Belafonte pioneered that kind of activism in the middle of the last century, stars largely kept their political leanings private. In the lead-up to last year’s Many Rivers to Cross festival, which Belafonte helped dream up, the New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb paid a visit to the actor, musician, and civil-rights icon. Belafonte turned ninety this year and is looking to pass the torch, but he’s worried about the state of the civil-rights movement and what he sees as a lack of organized response: we have a struggle, he says, but not a movement. Cobb, who covers many civil-rights and other political issues for the magazine, teases out what Belafonte means.


Plus, the Mashco Piro tribe is one of the last remaining groups to survive only by hunting and gathering with tools that its members make themselves. Residing deep in the Amazon rain forest, they are extremely isolated and, for nearly a century, have rarely been seen by outsiders. Recently, however, there have been encounters with the outside world—and members of the Mashco Piro have killed two people. In this segment, the New Yorker staff writer Jon Lee Anderson journeys up the Madre de Dios River to a remote contact point where government anthropologists are trying to establish relations with the Mashco Piro. They are charged with protecting the tribe from potentially fatal contact with drug traffickers, loggers, and epidemic diseases, and with preventing further violence.


This episode originally aired on September 30, 2016


Nick Lowe Gets Better with Age  

Nick Lowe made it big as a pioneer of what the English called “pub rock” and Americans usually call power-pop. Lowe had his biggest successes in the New Wave era but continues to release records and perform, and six of his middle-period records are being reissued this year on the Yep Roc label. In the opinion of one fan, staff writer Nick Paumgarten Nick Paumgarten, Lowe is as great as he ever was. Now Lowe is engaged in figuring out how to age gracefully in rock and roll. “Some of my colleagues and associates have to behave like they did when they were young, and I wanted to avoid that rubbish at all costs,” he told Paumgarten on a recent visit. “The thing was for me to accept the fact that I was getting older, and to actually embrace it and use it as an advantage instead of trying to hide it.” But, after the rocker recently lost close friends to illness, accepting old age might be getting a little harder. Plus: on-the-job horror stories from three great writers—Gillian Flynn, Akhil Sharma, and Alison Bechdel.

John Ridley on Charlottesville and the Legacy of Racism  

John Ridley has been active in in film and television since the nineteen-nineties; he also has seven novels under his belt, as well as a play and several graphic novels. And, since the release of “12 Years a Slave,” for which he wrote the screenplay, Ridley has emerged as one of Hollywood’s strongest voices on issues of race. This year he came out with the series “Guerrilla,” a fictional account of a couple in the black-power movement of the nineteen-seventies; and “Let It Fall,” a documentary about the Rodney King verdict and the years of tension leading up to it. Yet, despite the recent resurgence of some of the most glaring examples of racism in America, Ridley tells David Remnick that he’s committed to a view that the nation can change for the better, and that to be honest about racism need not lead to despair: “I absolutely want to work on things right now where the hope is not so aspirational—it is there, it is underscored a little bit more.”

Plus, hostility toward identity politics—nurtured by Steve Bannon and others—helped propel the rise of Donald Trump. But that feeling is not only to be found on the right. The Columbia professor Mark Lilla, a Democrat and a self-described liberal, has been saying very much the same thing: that vocal opposition to racism, and support for gay and transgender rights, have been costing Democrats election after election all over America. “We cannot do anything for these groups we care about if we do not hold power—it is just talk,” Lilla tells David Remnick. “Our rhetoric in campaigning must be focussed on winning so we can help these people. An election is not about self-expression—it’s a contest.”

Why Men Should Read Romance Novels  

The New Yorker’s Josh Rothman finds it hard to get a conversation going about romance novels with male friends or acquaintances. He talked with Curtis Sittenfeld—whose fiction often contains a romantic story, though her books aren’t romance novels, per se—about why that is. Sittenfeld’s most recent book, “Eligible,” is a retelling of the ur-romance novel, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s been many years since she devoured a trove of bodice rippers, but there’s one—featuring a sex scene on horseback—that Sittenfeld hasn’t let go of. Plus: Sherman Alexie reads from his story “Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest,” in which a motel maid struggles to reconcile her faith with everything her jobs shows her about human nature.

Russian Spies Never Go Out of Style  

Jason Matthews spent over thirty years in the C.I.A., working in the former Soviet bloc and other hot spots, and when he retired he turned to the next best thing: writing spy novels. And while they’re contemporary—Vladimir Putin appears as a character—they have more in common with John le Carré’s tales than with the action thrillers of the post-9/11 era. In many of today’s stories, Matthews says, “a former F.B.I. guy is being chased by crazed colleagues, and with the help of a bipolar girlfriend does something amazing. I wanted to tell a more basic story about the classic Cold War struggle of East and West.” The forthcoming third volume in his trilogy is called “The Kremlin’s Candidate,” presumably with a nod toward current events. Whatever we may eventually learn about Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian intelligence, Matthews thinks that we ought not to be surprised: in matters of infiltration and compromise, he says, the Russians are always way ahead of us. Plus: the great nature writer Annie Dillard on witnessing a total eclipse, and Jia Tolentino lives out her own version of the childrens’ adventures in “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.”


Foraging for a Salad in Central Park  

Removing plants from Central Park is illegal. But when Manhattan salad bars are charging up to $8.99 a pound, what’s a thrifty New Yorker to do? After receiving a lesson in edible plants, Patricia Marx picks a salad of things growing in the park, avoiding the hemlock and the crocuses. And The New Yorker’s Kathryn Schulz shares her love of country music. In anticipation of a new album from Miranda Lambert, Schulz recommends a song from Lambert’s band the Pistol Annies. She also recommends a collection of not-quite-perfect Elizabeth Bishop poems, and the Christopher Nolan film “The Prestige,” about a rivalry between two magicians. “As someone who watches movies for the pleasure of solving them,” she says, “the inability to solve it was thrilling.”

Originally aired April 15, 2016


Building a War-Crimes Case Against Bashar al-Assad  

At an undisclosed location in Western Europe, a group called Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) is gathering evidence of war crimes perpetrated by the Syrian government. It’s unclear when or how Assad might ever stand trial, and securing the evidence is extremely dangerous. But CIJA is hoping to build the strongest war-crimes case since Nazi officials were tried at Nuremberg. Ben Taub, who wrote about CIJA for The New Yorker, interviewed members of the group and a witness who described being tortured by the regime. And David Remnick talks with Kevin Jon Heller, a professor of criminal law who served on the defense team for Radovan Karadžić and worked for Human Rights Watch during the trial of Saddam Hussein. Heller explains why it is unlikely that Bashar al-Assad will be brought to the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed against the Syrian people, and why an unfair trial in Syrian court could do more harm than good.


Originally aired April 15, 2016


Senator Al Franken Really Is Senatorial  

When Al Franken ran for Senate, his years as a founding writer on Saturday Night Light and as the author of books like “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot” were held against him. So once in Washington, he buttoned up his sense of humor.  Until now.   His new book is “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate,” and the cover is a portrait of Franken sitting in front of a roaring fireplace with his hand on a globe, a spoof classic senatorial imagery. Yet Senator Franken really has become senatorial over the course of his career. It was Franken’s question to Jeff Sessions in confirmation hearings, for example, that ultimately led to Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation.  David Remnick asked Franken about the the failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the Russia investigation. Franken, the only elected official in Washington who has worked in show business longer than the Donald Trump, says he is not impressed by Trump’s skills with an audience. “I’ve never seen him laugh,” he says. The President “is like some fairytale, where if someone can get the king to laugh they’ll get half the fortune and the daughter.”

The Scaramucci Call  

Ryan Lizza and David Remnick listen to excerpts from the infamous late-night call that ended Anthony Scaramucci’s brief term as White House communications director. While Scaramucci’s behavior and language on that call were shocking even by Trump standards—he called Reince Priebus “a paranoid schizophrenic”  and accused him of leaking his finances and–Lizza believes that his appointment followed a familiar pattern. “So many politicians believe when they’re failing, they believe that the real problem is just a communications strategy: that if only the American public heard and saw what the most loyal supporters saw in the President, everything would be solved,” Lizza says. “‘Let Trump be Trump’ is the cliche, right? That was Scaramucci’s communications strategy, and I think that’s how he helped convince the President that he should take over the communications shop, even though he had no experience doing this.”  Plus, Jake Halpern goes underground—literally—in Poland to look for the legendary train filled with gold and other treasures, and abandoned by the Nazis under a mountain at the end of the Second World War.    


An Irish Novelist’s Début Explores Friendship and Adultery in the Digital Age  

The Irish writer Sally Rooney, who is twenty-six, wrote the first draft of her début novel, “Conversations with Friends,” in a several-month-long torrent of creativity, when she was just twenty-three. Rooney’s editor calls her a “Salinger for the Snapchat generation,” and The New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz speaks with Rooney about how fictional adultery works in the age of social media. And Taran Killam, formerly of “Saturday Night Live,” performs the Daily Shouts piece “Honest Museum Audio Guide,” by River Clegg, in which a museum audio guide isn’t afraid to say that the art is overrated, boring, or just bad. 

George Strait, on the Record with Kelefa Sanneh  

George Strait is a superstar of country music. He rarely gives interviews, but he agreed to speak with Kelefa Sanneh, who marked the occasion by ironing his shirt. Lawrence Wright talks with David Remnick about the politics of Texas, which he sees as a harbinger of what will happen in the United States: the state is redder than ever, even as the demographics trend blue. And cartoonist Liana Finck finds focus and solitude on the Long Island Railroad. 

A Rookie Reporter in Vietnam Captures the War’s Futility  

A rookie reported from Vietnam in 1967, and his eyewitness report on the strategic demolition of a village helped change how we saw the Vietnam War. 

Maggie Haberman: Gang War in the White House  

Maggie Haberman covered Donald Trump years ago for the New York tabloids. Now, in the White House, she has a front-row seat to an Administration in which “rival gangs” are vying for control. Plus, Bob Odenkirk’s amazing exercise tips, and Bruce Eric Kaplan on the naughty TV specials of his youth.    

The Man Who Would Be King (of Mars)  

Phil Davies doesn’t seem like a mad scientist bent on conquering another planet: he’s a mild-mannered general practitioner in a small town in southern England. But, with a telescope and an array of lasers, he’s making a claim that he owns Mars, and he’s presented it to the United Nations. Some thirteen thousand prospective landowners have signed on to his plan. What’s a country doctor going to do with a planet, anyway?      

Trumpcare Revisited  

The future of health care in America hangs in the balance as the Senate releases a revised bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. David Remnick talks with the historian Jill Lepore, and with Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an architect of Obamacare who has met with the Trump Administration, about the future of expanding coverage.

Lucinda Williams Talks with Ariel Levy  

Lucinda Williams won a Grammy for the song “Passionate Kisses,” which was performed by Mary Chapin-Carpenter; but she spent many years overlooked by the music industry: she was too country for rock and too rock for country.  In 1998, American music caught up to her, and her album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road"  broke through.  The staff writer Ariel Levy sat down with Williams at the New Yorker Festival in 2012 to talk about God, Flannery O’Connor, and the musician’s path through the music industry.  Williams also performed live.

James Taylor Will Teach you Guitar  

James Taylor’s songs are so familiar that they seem to have always existedOn stage at the New Yorker Festival in 2010, Taylor peeled back some of his influences: the Beatles, Bach, show tunes, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Taylor played a few of his hits and gave staff writer Adam Gopnik a quick lesson.    

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