“The responsibility of the novelist is to be irresponsible. You do what you want, the more you upset the better”.
As a writer Howard Jacobson finds great joy in being offensive. He argues that one of the ways comedy works is to cleanse the system, “you laugh at the things you should not laugh at. You have to have a moment you break everything you believe in”.
Racist comedy too has its place, “comedy is a place you go, some of the time, to be absolutely vile. And if you aren’t going to go, where are you going to go?”
But it is part of the novelist's job never to push an ideology. Jacobson argues the first thing you must do is to overcome what you believe and that “to do so is a great aesthetic leap.”
On the question of limits, most of the time Jacobson would argue “tough, read something else” but admits that he sometimes he does censor himself. “Demonstrably bad taste is corny; you can tell when someone is trying to hard.”
“Our sense of humour is part of our sense of intelligence. If we are solemn and tip toe around it, we deny the best part of our minds the chance to deal with the most horrible thing that ever happened.”
First broadcast on 14th December 2007
“Everything that is done or written is done by someone who is half a chromosome away from being a chimpanzee. It’s not going to be any better than that.”
In this episode of Little Atoms, Christopher Hitchens explores the dangers of mans tendency towards religion and our attitudes to freedom. The ultimate fight, he argues, is against censorship.
Man created God, God didn’t create man. Hitchens describes this creation as an ineradicable problem that humanity cannot solve.
Religion takes advantage of our bad wiring and selfishness. We would be better off if we grew out of it, but until we give up wishful thinking and our fear of death, it is impossible”.
Although religion is an incurable affliction, Hitchens argues that western leaders must not dismiss the threat posed by it.
“The possible interception of messianic ideas with apocalyptic weaponry is increasingly something to be worried about.”
Our predisposition towards order and security undermines our struggle for liberty. For Hitchens, this explains why liberation struggles are so rare and so unsatisfactory.
“Most people, most of the time, have no great desire to be free. We would rather have the trouble of putting up with oppression rather than having the trouble of throwing it off.”
With the threat posed by religion and our apathy towards liberty, Hitchens believes the ultimate enemy we face is censorship. Hitchens argues that all things associated with enlightenment are worth dying for. He describes the struggle against censorship as “a fight that can be won but certainly one that cannot be lost”.
First broadcast 08/06/07
Aleks Krotoski is an academic and journalist who writes about and studies technology and interactivity. She is currently a Visiting Fellow in the Media and Communications Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Research Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute. Aleks writes for the Guardian and Observer newspapers, and hosts Tech Weekly, their technology podcast. She presented the Emmy and Bafta-winning BBC 2 series Virtual Revolution, and more recently the BBC Radio 4 series Digital Human. Her first book is Untangling the Web: What the Internet is Doing to You. Also this week, critic Matthew Sweet on the Ealing WW2 propaganda film Went The Day Well?
First broadcast on 7th December 2013.
Andy Miller is a reader, author and editor of books. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Times, the Telegraph, the Guardian, Esquire and Mojo. He's the author of Tilting at Windmills: How I Tried to Stop Worrying and Love Sport, among others. His latest book is The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life.
First broadcast on 8th August 2014
Jim Al-Khalili OBE is a theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster. He is currently Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey, where he also holds the first Surrey chair in the public engagement in science. He was awarded the Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize for science communication in 2007, elected Honorary Fellow of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and has also received the Institute of Physic's Public Awareness of Physics Award.
Jim is the author of numerous popular science titles, including Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines, Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed and the book we talk about in this interview, Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science.
Arthur I. Miller is emeritus professor of history and philosophy of science at University College London. He is the author of several acclaimed books, including Einstein, Picasso, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Empire of the Stars, which was shortlisted for the 2006 Aventis Prize for Science Books, and 137, which we’re discussed on a previous Little Atoms. An experienced broadcaster, lecturer and biographer, he is particularly interested in the relationship between science and creativity, and his latest book is Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art.
Jo Marchant is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about cutting-edge science. She has worked as a staff reporter and editor for Nature and New Scientist, where she is currently a consultant. Jo is the author of one previous book, Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World's First Computer, and her latest book is The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut's Mummy.
First broadcast on 3rd September 2013.
Katie Roiphe is a professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. She writes a column on life, literature, and politics for Slate and writes for The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Paris Review, and other publications. She is the author of numerous books including The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism and Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910-1939. Her latest book is a collection of essays, In Praise of Messy Lives.
First broadcast on 5th July 2013.
Susan Pinker is a developmental psychologist and award-winning newspaper columnist who writes about psychology and social science in the Globe and Mail. She has worked as a clinical psychologist for twenty-five years and has taught at McGill University in Montreal. Known for her progressive and thought-provoking work, her previous book The Sexual Paradox took an unflinching look at the gender gap. Her latest book is The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters.
Gary Wilson is the presenter of the popular TEDx talk The Great Porn Experiment and hosts the website Your Brain on Porn, which was created for those seeking to understand and reverse compulsive porn use. He taught anatomy and physiology for years and has long been interested in the neurochemistry of addiction, mating and bonding. Gary Wilson is the author of the book Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.
Susan Pinker portrait by Susie Lowe
Andrew Scull is Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Science Studies, University of California, San Diego. He has previously taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at Princeton.
His many publications include Museums of Madness; Social Order/Mental Disorder; The Most Solitary of Afflictions: Madness and Society in Britain, 1700–1900; Masters of Bedlam; Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine; and Madness: A Very Short Introduction.
He has also published numerous articles and reviews in leading journals, including the TLS, The Lancet and Brain. He has held fellowships from (among others) the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies and in 1992–93 he was the president of the Society for the Social History of Medicine. His latest book is Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity.
Ian Haworth is the General Secretary of the Cult Information Centre. The Cult Information Centre is an educational charity providing advice and information for victims of cults, their families and friends, researchers and the media. Founded in 1987, and becoming a registered charity in 1992, it was the first educational organisation focusing critical concern on the methods used by cults to be granted charitable status in the UK.
London-based, Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari was reporting for Newsweek magazine when he was arrested without charge during the 2009 Iranian Election Protests. He was held for 118 days until the Iranian state was forced by international pressure to release him. Maziar's book, Then They Came for Me, co-written with Aimee Molloy, tells the story of his incarceration.
First broadcast on 16th March 2012.
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.
Henry Nicholls is a freelance science journalist writing regularly for Nature, New Scientist and BBC Focus as well as the broadsheets. His first book Lonesome George told the story of the last giant tortoise of Pinta in the Galapagos and was shortlisted for the 2007 Royal Society General Book Prize. Henry's latest book is The Way of The Panda: The Curious History of China's Political Animal.
First broadcast on 25th February 2011.
Greg Jenner is the historical consultant to CBBC's multi-award winning Horrible Histories,Horrible Histories with Stephen Fry, and the various HH spin-offs. As well as contributing sketches and co-writing Stephen Fry's links, over the past four years he has been solely responsible for the factual accuracy of nearly one thousand comedy sketches with subject matter that has spanned the entirety of human history.
Greg studied at the University of York and, after dropping initial plans for a life in academia, has worked on historical documentaries and dramas for the past seven years. Greg's first book is A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life from the Stone Age to the Phone Age.
Gavin Francis is a GP, and the author of True North and Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins, which won the Scottish Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and Costa Prize. He also writes for Guardian, The Times, London Review of Books and Granta. His latest book is Adventures in Human Being.
Lynsey Addario is an American photojournalist whose work appears regularly in The New York Times, National Geographic, and Time Magazine. She has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Darfur and the Congo, and has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Genius Grant and the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting. She is the author of It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War
Dr Brandy Schillace writes about culture, the history of medicine, and the intersections of medicine and literature. She is Research Associate and guest curator for the Dittrick Medical History Center and Managing Editor of the international medical anthropology journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. She teaches for the SAGES department at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, and has lectured at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, the University College of Dublin, and the New York Academy of Medicine. She writes for The Huffington Post and InsideHigherEd, among other publications. She is the author of Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying Can Tell us About Life and Living.
Caitlin Doughty was born and raised in Hawaii. She moved to California after gaining a degree in Medieval History from the University of Chicago. She is now a licensed funeral director living and working in LA. She is also a writer, performer and film-maker and is the creator of 'The Order of the Good Death', an online community of artists, actors, poets, musicians and directors who are committed to staring down their death fears through art. Caitlin is the author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, And Other Lessons From the Crematorium.
Tim Wu is an author, policy advocate and author of The Master Switch. He is a professor at Columbia Law School, the chairman of media reform organization Free Press. Wu was recognized in 2006 as one of 50 leaders in science and technology by Scientific American magazine, and in 2007 Wu was listed as one of Harvard's 100 most influential graduates by 02138 magazine. Wu has written for the New Yorker, the Washington Post, Forbes, Slate magazine, and others.
Tim Wu's best known work is the development of Net Neutrality theory, but he has also written about copyright, international trade, and the study of law-breaking. Tim has recently joined the Federal Trade Commission as a Senior Policy Advisor.
First broadcast on 1st April 2011.
Salena Godden writes and performs poetry, fiction, memoir, radio drama and lyrics. Her latest book of poems, Fishing in the Aftermath, was published in 2014 by Burning Eye Books. She runs The Book Club Boutique, London's louchest literary salon, and is lead singer and lyricist of SaltPeter, alongside composer Peter Coyte. She can regularly be heard on Radio 4 and last year presented the documentary 'Try A Little Tenderness – The Lost Legacy of Little Miss Cornshucks'. Her literary memoir Springfield Road was recently published by Unbound.
Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. The Girl in the Red Coat is her first novel.
On Wednesday 29 April the winner of the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced. In the first of two special editions of Little Atoms, Neil Denny talks to three of the shortlisted writers. This week: Miriam Toews, Scott Stossell and Sarah Moss.
Miriam Toews was born in 1964 in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba. She has published four novels and a memoir of her father, and is the recipient of numerous literary awards including the Governor General's Award, the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award (twice), and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Her latest novel is All my Puny Sorrows, which is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Scott Stossel is the editor of The Atlantic magazine and the author of the New York Times bestseller My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind which is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Sarah Moss was educated at Oxford University and is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick. She is the author of two novels; Cold Earth and Night Waking, which was selected for the Fiction Uncovered Award in 2011. She spent 2009-10 as a visiting lecturer at the University of Iceland, and wrote an account of her time there in Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland, which was shortlisted for the 2013 RSL Ondaatje Prize. Her latest novel, Bodies of Light, was published by Granta Books in 2014, and is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Christopher Bollen lives in New York City. He regularly writes about art, literature, and culture. He is the author of Lightning People and is currently the Editor at Large at Interview Magazine. His latest novel is Orient.
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for the Independent and won the 2011 Frieze International Writer's Prize. She is currently working on a PhD at Goldsmith's college. Eat My Heart Out is her first novel. Also this week, writer Frank Swain on Gattaca.
First broadcast on 22nd March 2014.
Toby Young is a journalist, author and critic. Currently associate editor of the Spectator, Toby founded the short lived Modern Review with Julie Burchill. After the magazines closure, Toby went to New York to work for Vanity Fair. His failure to make it as a glossy magazine journalist is documented in his best-selling memoir How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. Toby's latest book is The Sound of No Hands Clapping, which details Toby's failure to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter. Despite this, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is currently being made into a Hollywood film, starring Simon Pegg as Toby. Toby himself stars as a "background artist".
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.
Mary Roach has written for the Guardian, Vogue, GQ, Salon, Wired, National Geographic and the New York Times Magazine. She is the author of Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space. Her latest book, which we talk about in this interview, is Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.
Little Atoms interview one first broadcast on 27th June 2008.
Little Atoms Road Trip Interview with Mary Roach can be found here.
Little Atoms interview two first broadcast on 26th April 2013.
James Hannam is a historian of science specialising in the relationship between science and Christianity in the Medieval and Early Modern eras. He took Masters (2003) from Birkbeck College, University of London and a PhD (2008) in the History and Philosophy of Science at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. James' reviews and articles have been published in the academic journals British Journal of the History of Science, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliography Society, Science and Christian Belief and Perspectives on Science and Faith. James Hannam is the author of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.
Dr. Dennis C Reuter is a New Horizons co-investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and the instrument scientist for Ralph, the New Horizons color imager and infrared spectrometer. New Horizons launched on 19 January 2006 and is scheduled to fly-by Pluto and its moons in July 2015. This is another interview recorded by Little Atoms for audio installation Mind's Eye,which will be coming to Manchester, Bristol and Bradford over the coming months.
This week’s Little Atoms is a special edition recorded at FutureEverything 2015 in Manchester on 26 and 27 February 2015. The show features a long interview recorded live with writer, researcher and activist Alice Bell, and shorter interviews with FutureEverything CEO and founder Drew Hemment, Sonic Pi creator Sam Aaron, Hack Circus founder Leila Johnston and Data Artist Jer Thorp.