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

Don Winslow's final chapter as a novelist

Danny Ryan doesn't see himself as ambitious — which is surprising, seeing as he's both stolen and made millions. But in his mind, he's just an average guy trying to survive in a world that would rather he not. Ryan is the central character of Don Winslow's sweeping crime trilogy that draws parallels to movies like "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas." Readers first met Ryan as a mid-level Irish-American mobster in New England in "City on Fire," which came out in 2022. One year later, Winslow released "City on Dreams," which follows Ryan to Hollywood. And now, in 2024, Ryan is a Las Vegas casino mogul struggling to leave his life of crime in "City in Ruins." It brings both the series and Winslow's writing career to a close. But not before he joins host Kerri Miller one more time on Big Books and Bold Ideas. Don't miss this warm and intimate conversation that pulls at the fascinating threads of Winslow's past — including his years spent as a Shakespeare director at Oxford, his stint as a private investigator and his abiding love of Africa. They also talk about how surfing taught Winslow to trust the writing process, why it took him 30 years to write the Danny Ryan series, and why he is confident that "City in Ruins" is his last book. Guest: Don Winslow has written 21 novels, including "The Border, "The Force, and "Savages." His new book, "City in Ruins" completes his Danny Ryan trilogy and his writing career. Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller 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 feminists who built America

Americans overwhelmingly support gender equality. But not as many see themselves as feminists. Elizabeth Cobbs says that's because we don't know our history. Her latest book, "Fearless Women," chronicles how the fight for women's rights began at the founding of our country, when Abigail Adams urged her husband to "remember the ladies" (and her plea was met with laughter), and continues through today. Cobbs argues that women's rights and democracy itself are intertwined, that as rights were afforded to women, the country itself became stronger. Each chapter of "Fearless Women" tells the story of women who fought for a new right: the right to learn, the right to speak in public, the right to own property, and the right to vote, among others. It is a timeline of feminism in America. This week, Cobbs joined host Kerri Miller on Big Books and Bold Ideas to talk about the freedom inherent in feminism, why it's not partisan — despite what some insist — and why many of the women she wrote about in her book have been overlooked by history. Guest: Elizabeth Cobbs is a historian and the Melbern Glasscock Chair in American history at Texas A&M University. Her latest book is "Fearless Women: Feminist Patriots from Abigail Adams to Beyoncé." Subscribe to Big Books and Bold Ideas with Kerri Miller 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 the fabric of a friendship be rewoven?

Myriam J. A. Chancy spent her childhood in Haiti and then moved with her family to Winnipeg. But those island roots shaped who she became and inspired her latest novel, "Village Weavers." It follows a complicated female friendship that spans decades and countries. Growing up in 1940s Port-au-Prince, Gertie and Sisi are enthralled with each other — until their families discover a secret and force them apart. As girls, they didn't understand why. But as they grow and weave in and out of each other's lives, the secrets and lies become a burden to great to carry. Chancy joined host Kerri Miller for this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas to talk about the grief of a ruptured friendship, the love of ancestral lands and how Haiti today bears both the scars and the hopes of its past. Guest: Myriam J. A. Chancy is the author of many novels, including the prize-winning, "What Storm, What Thunder." Her new book is "Village Weavers." 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.

Kao Kalia Yang channels her mother in the memoir 'Where Rivers Part'

When Kao Kalia Yang's mother was a child growing up in Laos, she lived a comfortable life. Her father was a prosperous merchant. She was the only Hmong girl in the village to go to school. She felt valued. The war changed all that. Hunted by North Vietnamese soldiers, Yang's maternal family had to flee into the jungle and live a desperate existence for years. Eventually, her mother met a boy also in hiding, and they married. She was 16. It was an extraordinary chapter in her mother's remarkable life. Yet when Yang suggested that she record the full story, her mother doubted anyone would care. Related Kao Kalia Yang writes about finding her voice and her mother's journey in two new books For the first time, a Hmong story heads for the opera Kao Kalia Yang started out writing her family's refugee memoir. Now she's sharing the journeys of others Thankfully, Yang persisted. Her new book, "Where Rivers Part: A Story of My Mother" is one attempt to capture the drama of her mother's life. From a riverside village in Laos to a bleak refugee camp in Thailand to a new home in St. Paul, Yang tells the story through her mother's eyes and captures the grief, determination and pride of the immigrant journey. Yang joined host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas to share what it was like to record the unvarnished truth of her mother's life and why she couldn't write this book until now. Guest: Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong American speaker and writer. She is the award-winning of author of many books, including several about her family, including "The Latehomecomer" and "The Song Poet." Her latest is "Where Rivers Part." 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.

What the deepest ocean reveals and how to save it

What do you see, hear and experience when you drop miles into the deepest parts of the ocean? For journalist Susan Casey, it was transformative — even emotional. Her latest book, "The Underworld," is a homage to the abyss and the scientists who explore it. She also describes her own dives in deep-sea submersibles, through the oceanic "twilight zone," which is rich with bioluminescent creatures, down to depths of 5,000 meters, where utter darkness still teems with life. Casey joined MPR News host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas to share stories about her dives and what she experienced in the abyss. She also talked about how the deep submersible community reacted to the tragic end of the Oceangate Titan sub last summer ("people were watching the creation of that sub with real fear") and warns of the growing interest in deep sea mining. Guest: Susan Casey is a science journalist who specializes in writing about the ocean. Her latest book is, "The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean." 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 memory works

If you've ever struggled to remember where you set down your phone, or how you know the person you just ran into at the grocery store, you're not alone. Everyday forgetfulness is a part of living — and of aging. But for neuroscientist Charan Ranganath, more compelling than what we remember is why we remember. "The human brain is not a memorization machine; it's a thinking machine," he writes in his new book "Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory's Power to Hold on to What Matters." Ranganath, a leading memory researcher, joined MPR News host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas to talk about how memory works (spoiler: we're not designed to remember everything) and how it shapes who we are today. Guest: Charan Ranganath is a neuroscientist and a director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at UC Davis. His new book is "Why We Remember." 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.

Tommy Orange's new 'Wandering Stars' traces a long trail of trauma and belonging

At the center of Tommy Orange's new novel sits a family nearly destroyed. It's suffering the long-term effects of government-ordered separation, from decades of displacement and neglect, and from the white American philosophy best summed up by the phrase: Kill the Indian, save the man. It's a theme familiar to readers who loved Orange's first novel, "There There." In fact, "Wandering Stars" functions as both a prequel and a sequel to that best-seller. Orange joined MPR News Host Kerri Miller on this week's Big Books and Bold Ideas to discuss how he weaves stories that are both historical and modern in an attempt to highlight the importance of family and honoring ancestors as a way to rebuild identity and belonging. Guest: Tommy Orange is an author and a teacher at the Institute for American Indian Arts. His first book, "There There," was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize and received the 2019 American Book Award. His new novel is "Wandering Stars." 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.

Tommy Orange's new 'Wandering Stars' traces a long trail of trauma and belonging

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.