Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most famous museum objects in the world, shown in the image above in replica, and dating from around 196 BC. It is a damaged, dark granite block on which you can faintly see three scripts engraved: Greek at the bottom, Demotic in the middle and Hieroglyphs at the top. Napoleon’s soldiers found it in a Mamluk fort at Rosetta on the Egyptian coast, and soon realised the Greek words could be used to unlock the hieroglyphs. It was another 20 years before Champollion deciphered them, becoming the first to understand the hieroglyphs since they fell out of use 1500 years before and so opening up the written culture of ancient Egypt to the modern age.
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How fermented foods might be the key to a healthy brain, body and mind.
In this episode, Michael speaks to expert Kirsten Berding Harold, University College Cork, for all the latest science on all things good bacteria. Our willing human guinea pig Clare has a go making her own kefir at home and Michael has a go at cultivating some healthy bacteria in the form of sauerkraut - which he claims is far simpler to make at home than you might think!
Audrey Niffenegger discusses her bestselling novel The Time Traveler’s Wife with James Naughtie.
It’s a romantic story about a man - Henry - with a gene that causes him to involuntarily time travel, and the complications it creates for his marriage to Clare.
The book opens when they meet in a Chicago library, and they both understand that he is a time traveller. But Clare knows much more than this about him as he has not yet been to the times and places where they have met before, and she remembers him from when she was just six years old.
He falls in love with her, as she has already with him, but his continuing unavoidable absences time travelling - and then returning with increasing knowledge of their future - makes things ever more difficult for Clare.
Audrey Niffenegger explains how she created a set of rules for the book, such as there would be no sex between the couple before Clare reaches 18; and how Henry’s disorder is genetic rather than magical, meaning that when he time travels he arrives naked and with no money or useful possessions.
She also talks about the morality of her tale - the consequences of Henry’s criminal behaviour, and how she dealt with a male character who effectively moulds the character of Clare as she grows up.
Recorded at BBC Broadcasting House in London, Bookclub with Audrey Niffenegger includes questions from the studio audience.
Michael Chabon talks about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay with James Naughtie and a group of readers.
The novel follows the story of the teenage Josef Kavalier, who makes a daring escape from the Germans in Prague in 1939, leaving his family behind. He travels across Europe and eventually arrives at his cousin Samuel Clayman’s house in Brooklyn. There the pair discover a shared love of the burgeoning comic book world of Superheroes - Joe Kavalier is the artist, and Sam Clay, as he becomes, is the writer.
Together they create a hero of their own, The Escapist, a Houdini-type figure who fights the Nazis, frees the enslaved and leads them home. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2001.
Margaret Atwood discusses her dystopian masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale with James Naughtie and a group of readers. This edition celebrates Bookclub’s 20th anniversary and includes contributions from former alumni of Bookclub such as Ali Smith, Eimear McBride and Evie Wyld; as well as the reading group made up of Radio 4 listeners.
Thirty three years ago, Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel about a futuristic America, which following a major ecological disaster, is ruled by a brutal, misogynistic Christian theocracy called Gilead. In 2017 The Handmaid’s Tale became a television series, going on to win eight Emmies. It followed the book closely, telling the tale of a society in which women are subjugated and not allowed to work or read, and valued only for their fecundity. The book has now found a new readership amongst a younger generation.
The Handmaids - most prominently a woman called Offred, the narrator of the novel, are the few fertile women, who are assigned to the homes of married male rulers, and compelled to endure rape at their hands in the name of procreation.
Margaret Atwood, who is one of the most celebrated novelists writing in English today, meets an invited audience of Radio 4 listeners, including sixth-formers and university students, to discuss the Handmaid’s Tale.
Richard Holmes talks about The Age of Wonder, his non-fiction account of the Romantic age, as scientific and artistic thinking began to diverge.
In the book he describes the scientific ferment that swept through Britain in the late-18th century and tells the stories of the celebrated innovators and their great scientific discoveries: from telescopic sight and the discovery of Uranus to Humphrey Davy’s invention of the miner’s safety lamp, and from the first balloon flight to African exploration.
Holmes has also written biographies of the poets Coleridge and Shelley and he explains how The Romantics didn’t believe in the modern idea that the arts and sciences are two cultures dividing us. The chemist Humphrey Davy wrote poetry and was good friends with Coleridge and they inhaled nitrous oxide gas together as part of Davy’s experiments on its properties.
Presented by James Naughtie and including questions from an audience of readers.
Kazuo Ishiguro, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, discusses his novel Never Let Me Go with James Naughtie and a group of invited readers.
In one of the most acclaimed novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro tells the story of Kathy, Tommy, Ruth and other school friends growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England.
Narrated by Kathy, now 31, Never Let Me Go is her attempt to come to terms with her childhood and adolescence at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School as well as the fate that always awaited her and her friends outside in the wider world.
Melvyn Bragg explores the history of food in Modern Europe. The French philosopher of food Brillat-Savarin wrote in his Physiology of Taste, ‘The pleasures of the table belong to all times and all ages, to every country and to every day; they go hand in hand with all our other pleasures; outlast them, and remain to console us for their loss’ . The story of food is cultural as well as culinary, and what we eat and how we eat has always been linked to who we are or whom we might become, from the great humanist thinker Erasmus warning us to ‘Always use a fork!’ to the materialist philosopher Feuerbach telling us baldly, ‘You are what you eat’.But what have we eaten, and why? In Europe since the Renaissance how have our intellectual appetites fed our empty stomachs? With Rebecca Spang, Lecturer in Modern History at University College London; Ivan Day, food historian; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of our ideas about the formation of language. The psychologist George Miller worked out that in English there are potentially a hundred million trillion sentences of twenty words in length - that’s a hundred times the number of seconds since the birth of the universe. “Language”, as Chomsky put it, “makes infinite use of finite media”. “Language”, as Steven Pinker puts it, “comes so naturally to us that it’s easy to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is”. “All over the world”, he writes, “members of our species spend a good part of their lives fashioning their breath into hisses and hums and squeaks and pops and are listening to others do the same”. Jean Jacques Rousseau once said that we differ from the animal kingdom in two main ways - the use of language and the prohibition of incest. Language and our ability to learn it has been held up traditionally as our species’ most remarkable achievement, marking us apart from the animals. But in the 20th century, our ideas about how language is formed are being radically challenged and altered. With Dr Jonathan Miller, medical doctor, performer, broadcaster, author and film and opera director; Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the poet W.B. Yeats and Irish politics. Yeats lived through a period of great change in Ireland from the collapse of the home rule bill through to the Easter Rising of 1916 and the partitioning of the country. In May 1916, 15 men were shot by the British government. They were the leaders of the Easter Rising – a doomed attempt to overthrow British rule in Ireland - and they were commemorated by W.B. Yeats in a poem called Easter 1916. It ends with the following lines: MacDonagh and MacBrideAnd Connolly and PearseNow and in time to be,Wherever green is worn,Are changed, changed utterly:A terrible beauty is born.Yeats lived through decades of turbulence in Ireland. He saw the suspension of home rule, civil war and the division of the country, but how did the politics of the age imprint themselves on his poetry, what was the nature of Yeats’ own nationalism, and what did he mean by that most famous of phrases ‘a terrible beauty is born’?With Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford University and Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford; Fran Brearton, Reader in English at Queen’s University, Belfast and Assistant Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry; Warwick Gould, Director of the Institute of English Studies in the School of Advanced Study, University of London
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