Big Books and Bold Ideas In-depth conversations on news and culture, with host Kerri Miller.
Big Books and Bold Ideas

Big Books and Bold Ideas

From MPR News

In-depth conversations on news and culture, with host Kerri Miller.

Most Recent Episodes

A prescription to modernize public health

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic was public health's finest hour. Millions of lives were saved, thanks to isolation measures. Vaccines were developed in record time. Systems were developed for contract tracing and testing. But it was also an apocalyptic moment for a system under strain. As a result, trust in doctors and scientists has plummeted. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that Americans who say they have a great deal of confidence in scientists dropped from 39 percent in 2020 to 23 percent in 2023. And that decline happened across party lines. What went wrong? How did public health officials alienate a populace they aimed to protect? Can an eroded sense of trust be restored? Dr. Sandro Galea, epidemiologist and dean at the Boston University School of Public Health, seeks to some of those questions in his new book "Within Reason: A Liberal Public Health for an Illiberal Time." Galea joined host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas to share his post-pandemic diagnosis and offer remedies for how public health can transcend absolutism and intolerance in order to promote well-being for all. Guest: Dr. Sandro Galea is a physician, an epidemiologist and the dean at Boston University's School of Public Health. His new book is, "Within Reason: A Liberal Public Health for an Illiberal Time." Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.

Heather Cox Richardson on 'Democracy Awakening'

This week, Big Books and Bold Ideas is launching an election year series that asks: What is American democracy in 2024? Americans come to that question with significantly different views. And what American democracy was when this country was founded isn't necessarily what it is today or what it will be in the future. Democracy is dynamic. Heather Cox Richardson spends a lot of time thinking about democracy. She's a historian and the force behind the most popular newsletter on Substack, with more than 1.3 million subscribers. In 2023, she released her latest book, "Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America," which is a reflection on the the evolution of American democracy. On this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas, Richardson joined host Kerri Miller to parse the current condition of democracy in America and lay out how the system can be exploited by authoritarians or supported by the populace. Guest: Heather Cox Richardson is an author, a historian, a professor Boston College and the writer of Letters from an American, the most popular newsletter on Substack. Her latest book is "Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America." Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.

Memorable moments with women of faith

MPR News host Kerri Miller has never skirted the topic of faith. On her former weekday show, she regularly dialoged with leaders like Jenan Mohajir from Interfaith America, activist and author Anne Lamott, theologian Jemar Tisby, Sister Joan Chittister, and evangelical disrupter Rachel Held Evans. She even did a year-long series with women from a variety of faith backgrounds in 2019. So it seemed fitting, during the 2024 winter member drive, to return to this theme and remember a few of the best conversations. Included are portions of Miller's recent discussion with Pastor Amy Butler, who penned the memoir, "Beautiful and Terrible Things;" Miller's 2019 conversation with podcaster Misha Euceph about being Muslim in America; and a snippet of the 2023 Talking Volumes season finale with author Margaret Renkl about why Renkl left the Catholic church of her upbringing and found a new one in nature.

Family lore becomes rich historical fiction in 'The Storm We Made'

Choices made in a moment reverberate for generations, despite best intentions. Vanessa Chan adeptly explores this concept in her debut novel, "The Storm We Made" — a work of historical fiction set in her home country of Malaysia, which was inspired by stories her grandmother would tell. The main character is Cecily, a discontented housewife in 1930s Malaya, who is charmed into becoming a spy for the Japanese during the British occupation. She is increasingly disillusioned with the colonizing force and intrigued by a vision of "an Asia for Asians." But her decisions ripple through the lives of her children in unforeseen and disastrous ways. Chan doesn't judge. "Morality is very much dependent on circumstances," the author tells host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas. "You cannot tell when faced with survival whether or not you'll be as heroic or as cowardly as you think you're going to be." Tune in this week for a warm conversation about roots, family lore and unanswered questions. "I wrote about the ambiguity of right and wrong when survival is at stake," Chan says in her forward. "I wrote because, at the end of the day, remembering is how we love." Guest: Vanessa Chan is a Malaysian author. Her debut novel, "The Storm We Made," was one of the most anticipated books of 2024 and has sold rights in more than 20 countries. Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.

How women of the CIA changed history

Women spies pop up in Hollywood movies all the time. But as Liza Mundy's new book reveals, it took determined persistence, personal risk and a lot of sacrifice for women to be welcomed as CIA operatives. "The Sisterhood" is a meticulously researched, seven-decade history of women who worked behind the scenes at America's premier foreign intelligence agency. Mundy details how women opened up new avenues of recruiting for assets, formed a team that uncovered a Russian mole operating within the agency and rooted out where Osama bin Laden was hiding. She joined host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas to share stories of the women who fought through blatant sexism to became some of the CIA's most ingenious operatives. Guest: Liza Mundy is an award-winning journalist and the New York Times bestselling author of five books. Her latest is "The Sisterhood: The Secret History of Women at the CIA." Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.

Tracy K. Smith delivers a plea for the American soul

Tracy K. Smith is known for her powerful poetry. She's a Pulitzer Prize winner and former U. S. Poet Laureate. Yet her newest book, "To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul," is memoir — a classification she initially resisted. But as she tells MPR News host Kerri Miller, she eventually saw that her own story is a kind of microcosm of America's story. It's a meditation on who we've been, who we are and who we want to become. On this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas, Smith joins Miller to expand on the ideas in her latest work, as it examines the nature of power, freedom, race, prayer, her parent's lives, her own drinking and what she calls "the conundrum of history." Guest: Tracy K. Smith's poetry has won many awards, including a Pulitzer. She was the U.S. poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. Currently, she is a professor of English and African American studies at Harvard University. Her new book is "To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul." Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.

Can higher education be saved from itself?

Americans' faith in the value of higher education is faltering. Unlike our global peers, the U.S. is seeing a steady decline in college enrollment and graduation rates, especially among young men. Since 1992, the sticker price for four-year private colleges has almost doubled and more than doubled for four-year public colleges, even after adjusting for inflation. Student debt is paralyzing. And Gen Z is watching. About half believe a high school diploma is sufficient to "ensure financial security." What can higher education do? Macalester College President Emeritus Brian Rosenberg has some thoughts — but he admits, many in academia won't like them. His provocative new book is "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It: Resistance to Change in Higher Education," and he joins host Kerri Miller this week for a discussion that names those things. Is it possible for colleges and universities to stay relevant and adapt to a changing world? Guest: Brian Rosenberg is president emeritus of Macalester College and is currently a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His new book is "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It:" Resistance to Change in Higher Education." Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.

The inside story of the government's search for alien life

Are you convinced the U.S. government knows more than it will reveal about UFOs? After doing a deep dive into the history, journalist Garrett Graff is too. But he doesn't think the cover-up is a necessarily hiding alien life. "There are two obvious cloaks of secrecy that surrounds the government cover-up of its understanding of what UFOs and UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena) are today," Graff tells MPR News host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas. "One level is we don't know what level of public UFO sightings are our own government's secret development projects." "The other is that ... some chunk of UAPS are advanced adversary technology being tested against us — drones from other countries. So the military doesn't want to say what it's detected lest it give away too much." But is there alien life? Graff feels certain there is. He just doesn't see proof that it's visiting earth. His new book looks at the history of UFO sightings in the United States, including the large reports of flying saucers after WWII, UFO conspiracy theories after Watergate and the U.S. government's efforts in recent years to engage in more open dialogue about extraterrestrial life. Guest: Garrett Graff is a journalist and the author of many books. His latest is "UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government's Search for Alien Life Here — and Out There." Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.

Three historians and authors reflect on this American moment

This year, Big Books and Bold Ideas is introducing an occasional series that will feature books on democracy. That series begins as we mark the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection. To gain context, we invited three historians and authors from different regions of the country to reflect on this American moment. Can history be a guide to where we are? Do we have the chaos and divisiveness we deserve? How do we approach what comes next with clarity and perspective? Guests: Carol Anderson a historian and professor of African-American studies at Emory University. She's the author of many books, including "White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide" and "One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy." Elizabeth Cobbs is a historian, an author and the Melbern Glasscock Chair at Texas A&M University. Her most recent book is "Fearless Women: Feminist Patriots from Abigail Adams to Beyoncé." Eric Foner is one of the nation's leading historians and the author of many award-winning books on the Civil War and Reconstruction, including "The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution." He is also a professor emeritus at Columbia University. Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.

How a pastor's faith survived 'Beautiful and Terrible Things'

"Here is the world," writes theologian Frederick Buechner. "Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." Those words rooted Amy Butler through some of the darkest moments of her life. As Butler slowly embraced her call to be a pastor, she was rejected by her conservative evangelical family, who doesn't believe women should be in pastoral roles. She was the first woman ever appointed to lead the historic Riverside Church in New York City, but the challenges of breaking the "stained glass ceiling" almost caused her to lose her faith. In her new memoir, "Beautiful and Terrible Things," Butler takes us inside her life story. She covers joyful and painful moments, including the loss of a child, her unexpected divorce and the hardships of being a woman in ministry. But ultimately, as she tells MPR News host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas, she found that vulnerability is worth it. Butler writes in the introduction, "The invitation to become who we're meant to be happens at the intersection of human pain and divine hope, and almost always in the context of relationship." Guest: Rev. Amy Butler is currently pastoring a Baptist church in her home state of Hawaii. Her new book is "Beautiful and Terrible Things: Faith, Doubt and Discovering a Way Back To Each Other." Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, RSS or anywhere you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the Thread newsletter for the latest book and author news and must-read recommendations.