Episodes

  • Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel, “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,” is set in the world of video game design, and follows two friends named Sadie and Sam as they collaborate on what becomes a very successful game.

    “A friend of mine described the book as being what it’s like to co-parent something that’s not a child,” Zevin says on this week’s podcast. “Sam and Sadie, they are more intimate with each other than anyone else in their lives. Yet they aren’t spouses, and he’s not her child, and yet this is the most important relationship that both of them have. So I wanted to write about that: What if the most important person in your life was really your colleague and your friend?”

    Morgan Talty visits the podcast to discuss his debut story collection, “Night of the Living Rez,” which is set on the Penobscot Indian Nation reservation in Maine, where Talty was raised.

    “I was very much aware that Indigenous fiction tries to perform for a white readership, or a largely white readership, and there are instances in books that I’ve admired by Native writers that I could see this. And I always wanted to shy away from it, because I didn’t want to keep feeding into that type of storytelling,” Talty says. “Throughout the book there’s less association with Indigeneity in the characters, so it’s the characters who are front and center, it’s their human nature that’s front and center, as opposed to maybe something cultural.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris talks about how #BookTok has become a dominant driver of fiction sales; and Dwight Garner and Alexandra Jacobs talk about what people are reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:

    “I Used to Live Here Once” by Miranda Seymour

    “The Last Resort” by Sarah Stodola

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Ed Yong’s new book, “An Immense World,” urges readers to break outside their “sensory bubble” to consider the unique ways that dogs, dolphins, mice and other animals experience their surroundings.

    “I’ve often said that my beat is everything that is or was once alive, which covers billions of species, across basically the entirety of the planet’s history,” Yong says on this week’s podcast. “One thing I like about this particular topic — the sensory worlds of other animals — is that it, itself, though a singular, cohesive topic, is also the gateway to thousands of small wonders. There’s so much to learn about just in this one corner of biology.”

    Terry Alford visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “In the Houses of Their Dead,” an investigation of how Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth and their families were influenced by spiritualism.

    Alford says of Lincoln: “There’s a struggle, as best I see it, in him between the rational side and the side that desires to be comforted and to be in contact with someone you loved who’s not there anymore. He really wanted that, and he said he wanted that to a number of people. But he just felt, at the end of the day, that séance-type contact with the dead was really delusional.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Lauren Christensen and Joumana Khatib talk about what they’ve been reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

    “Blood Orange Night” by Melissa Bond

    “The Hack” by Wilfrid Sheed

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

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  • Elisabeth Egan, an editor at the Book Review, curates our Group Text column — a monthly choice of a book that she feels is particularly well suited to book clubs and their discussions. On this week’s podcast, she talks about her latest pick: “Jackie & Me,” by Louis Bayard, which imagines the friendship between Jacqueline Bouvier and Lem Billings, a close friend of the Kennedys.

    “This is rooted in reality,” Egan says, “but Bayard runs with it and imagines conversations between Lem and Jackie, and just shows this, on one hand, fabulous life of parties and museums and fun they had together, but also sets up this ticking clock where you come to understand what Jackie really has at stake, and has to lose by committing to this life with the Kennedys.”

    Matthew Schneier visits the podcast to discuss Paula Byrne’s new biography, “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym.” Pym, a British writer, began publishing novels in the 1950s.

    “She published six novels in pretty quick succession, and they’re great,” Schneier says of the first decade or so of her career. “Very clever, very witty, she was often compared to Jane Austen — which was a writer that she loved and appreciated, but also a kind of very easy comparison, whereas Pym’s ironies can be a little bit darker than some of Austen’s. And there’s a sense in her work that she is spotlighting characters who are not the Emma Woodhouses, who are beautiful and rich and effervescent. They’re what she ended up calling ‘excellent women,’ which is the title of I think her best starter novel. These women who are well brought up and very proper, a little bit pious, but can also be a little dowdy, a little dreary, a little bit easier to overlook.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter talks about the filmmaker Werner Herzog and his first novel, “The Twilight World”; and Jennifer Szalai and Molly Young talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:

    “The Facemaker” by Lindsey Fitzharris

    “Meet Me by the Fountain” by Alexandra Lange

  • Few fictional characters in recent decades have been as intensely discussed as Tracy Flick. The ambitious teenage protagonist of Tom Perrotta’s novel “Election” (1998) and the ensuing film adaptation, starring Reese Witherspoon, has been reconsidered in recent years as misunderstood and unfairly maligned. On this week’s podcast, Perrotta talks about Tracy’s return in his new novel, “Tracy Flick Can’t Win.”

    “I think most people, when they think about Tracy Flick — I say this in all sad modesty — they’re thinking about Tracy in the movie,” Perrotta says. “‘Election’ as a book didn’t make a huge splash, and Reese Witherspoon’s performance was so powerful that I think the debate is really around Tracy in the film. And maybe to some degree me writing this book was an attempt to reclaim my own version of Tracy.”

    Ann Leary visits the podcast to discuss her new novel, “The Foundling,” which was inspired by the real-life story of Leary’s grandmother, who worked, in the 1930s, at a public asylum that sequestered “unfit” women. Leary did a great deal of research for the book, and felt freedom in being able to bring it to bear in a work of fiction rather than history.

    “I really wanted a story,” Leary says. “I could write about the widespread practice of eugenics, but I would have to kind of stick it to the place where my grandmother worked. And what I did in my novel was read about many other asylums, because there were many others. And I was able to make a fictitious place where I used things that I’d learned from the various different institutions.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and Elizabeth Harris talk about what they’ve been reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “frank: sonnets” by Diane Seuss

    “Life Between the Tides” by Adam Nicolson

    “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” by Alan Sillitoe

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Karen Jennings’s novel “An Island,” which was on the longlist for the Booker Prize in 2021, is set on a fictional unnamed island off the coast of Africa, where a man named Samuel has worked as a lighthouse keeper for more than 20 years. When a refugee washes up on shore one day, barely alive, Samuel navigates life around this stranger and flashes back to his own past, including his role in a political uprising and years that he spent in prison. On this week’s podcast, Jennings says that the book’s somewhat fable-like tone was very intentional.

    “I knew that if I were to write about any one specific country, then I would have to make it about that country: that country’s political events, that country’s culture,” Jennings says. “My plan was to make it more universal, and attempt to understand something greater, something more complex. And the only way that I could see to do that was to do it in this very pared-down, focused way, reducing most of the action to this fictional island and then to these brief moments — I guess kind of like highlights — from Samuel’s past.”

    Phil Klay, the Marine Corps veteran and acclaimed fiction writer, visits the podcast this week to talk about a new collection of his nonfiction writing, “Uncertain Ground: Citizenship in an Age of Endless, Invisible War.”

    “There’s a huge problem when we’re regularly sending troops to kill people and sending troops at risk and the president is not forced on a regular basis to go before Congress to explain what the mission is, how it’s in the national interest, what it’s going to cost, what we’re trying to achieve,” Klay says. “I think that war is the most morally fraught thing we can do as a nation, and it demands more democratic accountability.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Dwight Garner and Alexandra Jacobs talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:

    “Phil” by Alan Shipnuck

    “Here’s the Deal” by Kellyanne Conway

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • With current-day labor movements at Amazon, Starbucks and other big employers in the news, Nell McShane Wulfhart is on the podcast this week to discuss her new book about a vivid moment in labor history, “The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet.” That revolution was launched in the face of working conditions that included contracts with onerous demands about every corner of a woman’s life.

    “The age restrictions and the marriage restrictions and the pregnancy restrictions — obviously that was a big no-no — they had been part of the contracts for many years, I think for as long as stewardesses had been working,” Wulfhart says. “These restrictions were obviously designed to keep the work force as young as possible, as svelte as possible and as pliable as possible, because when you’re only working for a few years, you’re not that invested in getting better benefits or establishing a pension plan or fighting for your rights.”

    James Kirchick visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington.” The sweeping story, from the days of the New Deal up through Bill Clinton’s presidency, considers the toll of homophobia in the nation’s capital.

    “It’s incalculable,” Kirchick says. “The governmental resources that were expended in this, the hundreds of thousands of man hours that went into rooting out, discovering and firing patriotic civil servants. The deep wells of knowledge that were denied this country based upon fear of gay people. We don’t know those numbers. And then there’s of course the impact that it had on individual gay people.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Lauren Christensen and Gregory Cowles talk about what they’ve been reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “Truth and Beauty” by Ann Patchett

    “Fierce Attachments” by Vivian Gornick

    “Role Models” by John Waters

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Brian Morton, an accomplished novelist, has turned to nonfiction for the first time in his new book, “Tasha: A Son’s Memoir.” On this week’s podcast, he discusses his mother’s life, the difficulties in taking care of her toward the end of her life and what led him to write a memoir.

    “I started writing a few pages about her, and I relished the freedom to write directly, to write without having to invent any characters,” Morton says. “I love to write about fictional characters, that’s my favorite part of writing. But it takes me a very long time to sort of give birth to them. And here was my mother, perhaps the most colorful character I’ve ever written about, who was right there to be written about.”

    Rachel Careau visits the podcast to discuss her new translation of Colette’s “Chéri” and its sequel, “The End of Chéri.”

    “One of the problems with her spare style is that the sentences can lack some of the words that usually oil a sentence,” Careau says of the task of translating the books. “So they can sound a little bit bare, sometimes a little syncopated. And the sound was very important to me, and I really let the sound guide me. But it’s difficult to make that bone-on-bone style flow.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Lauren Christensen and Joumana Khatib talk about what they’ve been reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “Four Treasures of the Sky” by Jenny Tinghui Zhang

    “The Last Samurai” by Helen DeWitt

    “Independent People” by Halldor Laxness

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • The filmmaker, artist, author and general cultural icon John Waters visits the podcast this week to talk about his first novel, “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance.” The book features three generations of women in the Sprinkle family, and their very complicated (and antagonistic) relationships with one another. The first of them we meet is Marsha, an unrepentant thief and overall misanthrope; but Waters says he still wants us to root for her.

    “She’s so crazy and so terrible that you can’t believe it at first,” Waters says. “And she’s quite serious about herself, as all fanatics are. No one in this book has much of a sense of humor about themselves, which, I think, can be played funny — the same way that when I made a movie, the main thing I told every actor was, ‘Never wink at the audience. Say it like you believe every single word.’”

    Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris discusses the winners of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:

    “Tacky” by Rax King

    “The Last Days of Roger Federer” by Geoff Dyer

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Hernan Diaz’s second novel, “Trust,” is four books in one. Our reviewer, Michael Gorra, calls it “intricate, cunning and consistently surprising.” It starts with a novel inside the novel, about a man named Benjamin Rask, who builds and maintains a fortune in New York City as the 19th century gives way to the 20th. Diaz describes writing the uniquely structured book on this week’s podcast, and the ideas at its core.

    “Although wealth and money are so essential in the American narrative about itself as a nation, and occupy this almost transcendental place in our culture, I was rather surprised to see that there are precious few novels that deal with money itself,” Diaz says. “Sure, there are many novels that deal with class — we were talking about Henry James and Edith Wharton a moment ago — or with exploitation or with excess and luxury and privilege. Many examples of that, but very few examples of novels dealing with money and the process of the accumulation of a great fortune.”

    Paul Fischer visits the podcast to discuss “The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures,” which is about Louis Le Prince, who made what is now widely acknowledged to be the first known moving picture, and the story of his mysterious disappearance as well.

    “What was fascinating about Le Prince — and what I really loved as a film nerd myself — is that he seems to have been the first one of that generation to really have a vision for what the medium could be,” Fischer says. “There were a lot of people, like Thomas Edison or the Lumière brothers, who were working on moving-image projects as a kind of novelty toy. Their idea was, this can make a little bit of money, at least for a while, and then it will fade away. And there were people, like Eadweard Muybridge or the French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey, who were scientists and really thought moving images would be a way to deconstruct the way our bodies work, the way things move, the way nature worked. And Le Prince was really the first to write in his notebooks and speak to his family about this medium as something that would change the way we related to reality.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Gregory Cowles and Elisabeth Egan talk about what they’ve been reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “Music, Late and Soon” by Robyn Sarah

    “French Braid” by Anne Tyler

    “Poguemahone” by Patrick McCabe

    “The Butcher Boy” by Patrick McCabe

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Jennifer Egan’s new novel, “The Candy House,” is a follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Visit From the Goon Squad.” A few characters appear in both books, but the novels are also united by Egan’s structural approach — an inventive one that, in “Goon Squad,” included a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation, and in “The Candy House,” a chapter written as a long series of terse directives to a spy.

    On this week’s podcast, Egan talks about the new book, and about why she enjoys experimenting with form.

    “To my mind, the novel was invented to be a hungry, greedy form that could pull into itself all other kinds of discourse,” Egan says. “So in the earliest novels: graphic images, letters, legal documents. As a fiction writer, one of the fun things about working with the novel is that anything is up for grabs. If I can bend it to fiction, I will, and I’m looking around me for those opportunities all the time. It’s not easy to do it, because the danger is that you just look like you’re using gimmickry. And what I find is that the only time any kind of radical structural form works is if I can find a story that can only be told that way. It involves a lot of waiting, and a lot of trial and error.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter discusses the work of the Russian novelist Vladimir Sorokin; and Alexandra Jacobs and Molly Young talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:

    “The Palace Papers” by Tina Brown

    “Liarmouth” by John Waters

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • The cartoonist Liana Finck’s new book, “Let There Be Light,” recasts the story of Genesis with a female God who is a neurotic artist.

    “At the very beginning of this book, she’s existing in a void and she just decides to make something,” Finck says. “And it’s all fun and games until she starts to feel some self-doubt and realizes that she hasn’t done well enough. She’s really kind of a self-portrait of me at that point. She’s well-intentioned, she’s happy and she’s very hard on herself.”

    Jonathan Van Ness of “Queer Eye” fame visits the podcast to discuss his new book, “Love That Story.” He talks to Lauren Christensen, an editor at the Book Review.

    “As a queer person, we are told very early on what spaces you are able to thrive in. Beauty is often one of those spaces. There are just a lot of spaces that you can be directed to. And I love hairdressing and I love beauty and I love what I get to do on ‘Queer Eye,’” Van Ness says. “So I am eternally grateful to that. But also, I think that queer people who are feminine and who are flamboyant — as I’ve been called my entire life — are not also allowed to be information gatherers, are also not allowed to be seen as credible.” He continues: “Obviously I didn’t go to journalism school. I didn’t graduate college. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t learn and share my experiences with others.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Joumana Khatib and Dave Kim talk about what they’ve been reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “In the Country of Others” by Leïla Slimani

    “Phenotypes” by Paulo Scott

    “Tamarisk Row” by Gerald Murnane

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Elizabeth Alexander’s new book, “The Trayvon Generation,” grew out of a widely discussed essay of the same name that she wrote for The New Yorker in 2020. The book explores themes of race, class and justice and their intersections with art. On this week’s podcast, Alexander discusses the effects of video technology on our exposure to and understanding of violence and vulnerability, and contrasts the way her generation was brought up with the lives of younger people today.

    “If you think about some of the language of the civil rights movement: ‘We shall overcome’ is hopeful,” Alexander says. “And if you stop there and take that literally, I would say that’s what my childhood was about. But after that comes ‘someday.’ Well, I think what we’re seeing now is that we have not yet arrived at that day.”

    Lucasta Miller visits the podcast to discuss her new biography, “Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph.”

    “I think the popular vision is of him as this rather sort of ethereal creature, a sort of delicate flower, the embodiment of loveliness, a spiritualized essence,” Miller says. “What I really wanted to do was to get back something of the real flesh-and-blood Keats, as a real complicated human being. I’m not trying to undermine him in any way. I’m just trying to make him more complex. And I love him all the same — I love him even more, as a result.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Jacobs and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:

    “It Was Vulgar & It Was Beautiful” by Jack Lowery

    “Private Notebooks: 1914-1916” by Ludwig Wittgenstein

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • While a steady stream of disturbing news continues to come from Ukraine, new works of fiction highlight the ways in which lives there have been transformed by conflict. On this week’s podcast, the critic Jennifer Wilson talks about two books, including the story collection “Lucky Breaks,” by Yevgenia Belorusets, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky.

    “Belorusets has been compared to Gogol in these stories,” Wilson says. “There’s a certain kind of supernatural quality to them. I think anyone looking to these books for a play-by-play of the conflict is going to be disappointed for that reason, but I think delighted in other ways.”

    Ben McGrath visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “Riverman: An American Odyssey,” which tells the story of Dick Conant, a troubled and charismatic man who disappeared while on a canoe trip from New York to Florida. Conant was in his 60s when McGrath met him, and had spent many years questing on various waterways.

    “What he learned was that there wasn’t really anything he was going to find out about himself that was going to improve things, and that the secret to finding happiness was to turn his lens outward,” McGrath says. “Rather than, in the Thoreauvian model, retreating to Walden Pond and staring into his reflection, he decided to go out into the world and to keep seeing new places and meeting new people; and by doing that, keep himself sufficiently occupied that he didn’t have to struggle too much with worrying about who he was and what his own problems were.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris has news from the literary world; and Lauren Christensen and MJ Franklin talk about what they’ve been reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “Young Mungo” by Douglas Stuart

    “Heartstopper: Volume One,” by Alice Oseman

    Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, read by Hillary Huber

    “Catholics” by Brian Moore

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Thomas Fisher’s new book, “The Emergency,” details his life as an emergency physician at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he’s worked for 20 years. It provides an up-close look at a hospital during the pandemic, and also zooms out to address the systemic issues that afflict American health care.

    “This book was conceptualized prior to Covid,” Fisher says on this week’s podcast. “But Covid laid bare so much of what I intended to discuss from the beginning. So in some ways it was weirdly fortuitous. It gave the opportunity to discuss many of the details in much more vivid relief because we had this pandemic laying out all the things that have been a problem for so long.”

    The critic and essayist Maud Newton’s first book, “Ancestor Trouble,” details her investigations into her family’s fascinating and sometimes discomfiting history, and reflects on our culture’s increased obsession with genealogy.

    “Allowing ourselves to really imagine our ancestors, in all of their fullness — the difficult and bad things that they did, and of course the wonderful things that they did — can just be a really transformative experience,” Newton says. “I’ve come to find that the line between imagination and spirituality has become a lot more porous over the course of writing this book.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Dwight Garner and Molly Young talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. John Williams is the host.

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Fintan O’Toole was born in Dublin in 1958, the same year that T.K. Whitaker, a member of the Irish government, published an influential report suggesting that Ireland open its doors economically and culturally to the rest of the world. O’Toole’s new book, “We Don’t Know Ourselves,” weaves memoir with history to tell the story of modern Ireland.

    “There’s a lot of dark stuff in the book,” he says, “there’s a lot of violence and repression and hypocrisy and abuse. But there’s also the story of a people coming to terms with itself. One of the reasons why we’re still dealing with darkness is at least we’re dealing with it. There’s a kind of confrontation with the past going on in Ireland which I think is very healthy. It’s not easy.” He continues: “One of the hopeful things about the Irish story is that it shows you that you can transform a nation — you can make it in many ways an awful lot better than it was, you can open it up to the world, you can develop much more complex, ambivalent, nonbinary senses of who you are — and yet you can still feel very much attached to a place and an identity.”

    Julie Otsuka visits the podcast to discuss her third novel, “The Swimmers,” which begins with a large group of characters at a public pool before becoming the powerful story of one particular woman, Alice, who is suffering from dementia.

    Alice is “actually there from the very beginning,” Otsuka says. “She’s there at the end of the very first paragraph. But I did not want the reader to be too aware of her. I want her to be there very peripherally, just as one of many. I want the reader to realize, as the story is going on, that it is Alice’s story, but I don’t want that to be so apparent in the beginning. I really wanted to paint the world that she had thrived in before she enters the second half of the book.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Gregory Cowles and Dave Kim talk about what people are reading. John Williams is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “Lucky Breaks” by Yevgenia Belorusets

    “2666” by Roberto Bolaño

    “Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont” by Elizabeth Taylor

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • In “A Molecule Away From Madness,” the neurologist Sara Manning Peskin writes about the errant molecular activity that underlies many serious mental afflictions. Peskin’s book, reminiscent of the work of Oliver Sacks, conveys its scientific information through narrative.

    “I wanted to capture how this actually unfolds in real time,” she says on this week’s podcast. “For a lot of us, we go to doctors and you get a diagnosis and it’s as if that diagnosis has always existed. But in fact, the diagnosis was invented by someone who discovered something. And the history behind these diseases is often lost.”

    J. Kenji López-Alt visits the podcast to discuss his latest book, “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques.” López-Alt comes from a family of scientists, and is known for his science-based approach to home cooking.

    “I was cooking for a number of years in restaurants, and all through that time I had a lot of questions,” he says. “For me, it’s natural to ask why we do something, why is this working the way it does? And in restaurants, just by the nature of how a restaurant works and the goal of a restaurant, which is more speed and consistency, you don’t have a lot of time to really focus on thinking about those types of questions or experimenting with them. So I had this backlog of questions built up in my head that eventually I started to get to explore.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Jacobs and Jennifer Szalai talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “I Was Better Last Night” by Harvey Fierstein

    Books about shame

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Scholars have long believed that the first Americans arrived via land bridge some 13,000 years ago, when retreating glaciers created an inland corridor from Siberia. Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Kansas, tells a different story in “Origin.” According to Raff, the path to the Americas was coastal rather than inland, and what we’ve thought of as a bridge was a homeland inhabited for millenniums. Raff talks about the book on this week’s podcast.

    “In recent years, the ability to obtain complete genomes from ancient ancestors has really given us new insights — extraordinary new insights — into the histories not only of individuals and populations but also of our ancestors globally,” Raff says. “We can now identify the populations who originally gave rise to the ancestors of Native Americans. And we can identify extremely important evolutionary events in that process going back, starting about 26,000 years ago. So we can use genetics to identify biological histories, to characterize biological histories, and even identify populations which we had no idea existed based on archaeology alone.’

    Ira Rutkow visits the podcast to talk about “Empire of the Scalpel: The History of Surgery.” Rutkow says the idea for the book evolved over the course of 50 years, and that he wrote it for the general public and surgeons alike.

    “I was dismayed, over the course of my surgical practice, at how little patients understood about the whys and wherefores of what a surgeon did, or how a surgeon becomes a surgeon,” he says. And he was “shocked” when he would ask colleagues historical questions — “When did anesthesia come about? When did Lister discover antisepsis?” — and “they would have no idea.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world, and Elisabeth Egan and John Williams talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “The Days of Afrekete” by Asali Solomon

    “A Word Child” by Iris Murdoch

    “The Examined Life” by Stephen Grosz

    “The True American” by Anand Giridharadas

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • In 2017, Frank Bruni suffered a stroke while sleeping in the middle of the night, an event that led to blindness in his right eye. His new memoir, “The Beauty of Dusk,” examines not only his physical condition but the emotional and spiritual counsel he sought from others in order to deal with it. On this week’s podcast, he discusses the experience, including his initial reaction to it.

    “I woke up one October morning and I felt like I had some sort of smear — some gunk or something — in my eye, because the right side of my field of vision had this dappled fog over it,” Bruni says. “I think like a lot of boomers, I had this sense of invincibility. When I was diagnosed, at one point, with mild gout, I took Allopurinol every day and that was solved. When my cholesterol was un-ideal, I took a statin, and that was solved. I kind of thought modern medicine solves everything and we boomers, with our gym workouts, et cetera, are indestructible. So for hours I thought, ‘This is just an oddity.’ I took a shower and washed my eye, but the fog didn’t go away. I thought, ‘Maybe I haven’t had enough coffee.’ I thought, ‘Maybe I had too much wine last night.’ It was a good 12 to 24 hours later before I accepted, something is really wrong here.”

    Meghan O’Rourke visits the podcast to talk about her latest book, “The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness,” which is also about personal pain and the larger context around it. O’Rourke spent many years experiencing symptoms that were misdiagnosed or dismissed.

    “I just kept getting sicker and sicker, but it took so long to realize, OK, something is quite wrong.” She attributes some of this delayed realization to the “problem of subjectivity,” especially when younger. “None of us know what others are experiencing, so I thought, ‘OK, maybe pain is normal. Maybe brain fog is normal. Maybe I just should never eat dessert. It really did take maturing into my 30s and getting really sick to cross that line where it became unignorable.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world, and Dwight Garner and Alexandra Jacobs talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.

    Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:

    “Black Cloud Rising” by David Wright Faladé

    “The Founders” by Jimmy Soni

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • You probably take the index for granted. It might be hard to remember that the handy list of subjects at the back of a book, with the corresponding page numbers on which each subject is discussed, had to be invented. This happened in the early 13th century, and on this week’s podcast, Dennis Duncan talks about his new book, “Index, a History of the,” and about the earliest examples of the form.

    “What’s really interesting is, it’s invented twice at the same time,” Duncan says. “So it’s one of those inventions, like the light bulb or like mathematical calculus — the moment is so ripe for it that two people in separate places invent it. So the index gets invented once in Paris, and at the same time in Oxford. and there are very slight differences between what these inventions look like.”

    Brendan Slocumb visits the podcast to talk about his debut novel, “The Violin Conspiracy.” Slocumb is himself an accomplished violinist, and the book — both a mystery and a musical-coming-of-age story — was inspired, in part, by an experience he had as a teenager.

    “When I was a senior in high school, we came home from a family trip, and my violin — I actually make reference to it in the novel — my 1953 Eugene Lehman violin was stolen, along with a bunch of other stuff that I didn’t care about,” Slocumb says. “If your instrument is taken, as a musician, it’s like a part of you is missing. I felt like I was missing a limb. It was right before I was supposed to go to college. It was supposed to take me through school, and I had nothing. It was a devastating experience.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Lauren Christensen and MJ Franklin talk about what they’ve been reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

    Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

    “The Chiffon Trenches” by André Leon Talley

    “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison

    “How to Be Perfect” by Michael Schur

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]

  • Jennifer Haigh’s new novel, “Mercy Street” — which Richard Russo calls “extraordinary” in his review — is about a woman named Claudia who works at a women’s clinic in Boston. It’s also about the protesters outside. On this week’s podcast, Haigh says the novel was inspired in part by her own time working on a clinic’s hotline.

    “Obviously I am strongly pro-choice or I wouldn’t have been volunteering at this clinic,” Haigh says. “But until this experience, I knew very little about what abortion actually means in a person’s life. And I think that’s true for many people who have strong convictions about abortions. Most people don’t know very much about it. It’s ironic when you consider, this is such a common experience, right? We know that about one in four American women will at some point have an abortion. And yet there’s such a climate of secrecy around this procedure that most of them don’t feel free to talk about it honestly. And many never tell anyone that they’ve done this. The result being that the average person knows very, very little about this experience.”

    Megan Walsh visits the podcast to talk about her new book, “The Subplot: What China Is Reading and Why It Matters.”

    And why does it matter? “We tend to think about China in quite binary terms these days, as friend or foe,” Walsh says. “If we do properly pay attention to what people are genuinely trying to process and think about in China — which is peculiar, diverse, strange, innovative, some of it’s terrible, some of it’s amazing — I feel like we get an alternative way of understanding the complexities at the heart of a country which we are defining ourselves against, and we have an opportunity to also understand without seeing it as a sort of monolith.”

    Also on this week’s episode, Elizabeth Harris has news from the publishing world, and Jennifer Szalai and Molly Young talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.

    Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:

    “The Power Law” by Sebastian Mallaby

    “Eating to Extinction” by Dan Saladino

    We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected]