Today I’m speaking with Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, a historian from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It would be hard to find a scholar better equipped to enhance our historical perspective on how we decide what’s true.
Today, we’re going to bear witness to the debate that raged over the birth of what is perhaps the most powerful idea in history; the idea that supports our ability to make the world a better place, and the idea that defines the meaning of America: this is the idea that conversation, that argument, that free expression, represent the best path to progress and to justice for all, and that to institutionalize this idea in the form of a Constitutional right to the freedom of speech is the best way to preserve a prosperous society. A historian named Joseph Ellis captured the story of that debate in a book titled, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, published in the year 2000. For his effort, he won the Pulitzer Prize in History, and in today’s episode we’re going to learn why this most prestigious honor was so well deserved.
Niall Ferguson is one of the most influential historians of our generation. His professional effort extends well beyond academia to ensure that policy makers and the public better understand how to apply historical lessons to current issues. Niall and I connected to further discuss some of those issues.
Today, we’re engaging the latest work of one of the most famous historians of our generation, Niall Ferguson. Niall is in the middle of a furiously productive career straddling rigorous scholarship and journalistic celebrity – he’s published over a dozen best-selling books, from The Ascent of Money and The War of the World, to Civilization and The Great Degeneration, he’s produced and hosted Emmy Award-winning documentaries, he appears regularly on national news outlets as an expert contributor, he shared the stage with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria at a recent Munk Debate, and he’s even advised heads of state on both sides of the Atlantic. Niall Ferguson specializes in economic and institutional history, and after teaching at Harvard for about a dozen years, his academic home base is now the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His latest book, and the subject of today’s episode, is titled The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook, published in 2018.
Why The West Rules – for Now: the Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, by Ian Morris
In this episode, we’re taking a step back to discuss one of the fundamental history books of our generation. It’s big, just shy of a thousand pages, and it’s bold, offering a grand interpretation of the struggles of civilization. When it was published in back in 2011, it won numerous literary awards, and it continues to inspire debate among scholars today. The author, Ian Morris, is both an archeologist and a historian, currently working in the classics department at Stanford University, and if we ever hoped to find some kind of… theory of history, one of the best places to look would be in this book: Why the West Rules – for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future.
Today, we’re discussing one of the most influential lectures of the modern era, which continues to shape how we value different forms of knowledge. This lecture was delivered in 1959 at the University of Cambridge in England as part of the highly prestigious annual Rede Lecture series: C. P. Snow’s The Two Cultures.
Today, we’re considering the best book I’ve ever encountered that connects the dots on how science can be corrupted by money and politics: Naomi Oreskes’ and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, published in 2010.
What are the best ideas in science?
If civilization collapsed, and people in the future could rediscover a single work to get humanity back on track scientifically and technologically, this book would be a contender: Peter Atkins’ Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science, published in 2004.