American Purpose's Bookstack

The books and ideas podcast from American Purpose.

About the show

Weekly conversations with authors of new and recent books.

Host Richard Aldous is a historian and professor at Bard College, New York, and the author of several books, including Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian; Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship; The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli.

For more about American Purpose, visit


  • Episode 98: Derek Leebaert on FDR’s Circle of Four

    March 28th, 2023  |  27 mins 24 secs
    books, history, politics

    Such was the prestige of cabinet members during the Roosevelt Administration that a 19-gun salute accompanied their arrival to a city. Joining Richard Aldous this week is author of Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made, Derek Leebaert, who shines a new light on FDR’s inner circle of four—Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and Henry Wallace—and FDR himself, who together helped usher the nation through the Great Depression and the Second World War.

  • Episode 97: Adam Kirsch on Imagining Earth without Humans

    March 20th, 2023  |  28 mins 51 secs
    books, history, politics

    From climate change to the potential of artificial intelligence, there are plenty of reasons to doubt the viability of human life on Earth. Adam Kirsch, author of The Revolt Against Humanity: Imagining a Future Without Us, spoke with a diverse array of people who all agree on one thing: The future of the planet may not lie in the hands of humans. Kirsch joins host Richard Aldous to share the perspectives of those who believe in—and even embrace—just such a future.

  • Episode 96: Van Jackson on America’s Paradoxical Role in Asia

    March 15th, 2023  |  29 mins 59 secs
    books, history, politics

    American statesmen often argue that the U.S. role in Asia is indispensable to maintaining peace on the continent. Van Jackson, author of Pacific Power Paradox: American Statecraft and the Fate of the Asian Peace, counters that America has just as often been Asia’s arsonist as its savior. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss the complex role America plays on both sides of Asian stability.

  • Episode 95: James E. Cronin on the Reinvention of the Liberal Democratic Order

    March 1st, 2023  |  31 mins 50 secs
    books, history, politics

    From the Cold War and collapse of communism to the rise of globalization and recent financial crises, James E. Cronin, author of Fragile Victory: The Making and Unmaking of Liberal Order, posits that these events have caused a constant reinvention of a liberal order that once seemed unshakeable. Cronin joins Richard Aldous for a discussion on the emergence of a new international order in the face of the election of Trump, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Brexit, and more.

  • Episode 94: Shana Kushner Gadarian on Politics and the Pandemic

    February 21st, 2023  |  28 mins 34 secs
    books, history, politics

    To mask or not to mask? U.S. citizens received different messaging about the degree of the Covid-19 threat and how to respond to it depending on who they were listening to. In the end, the different choices people made largely cleaved to partisan positions. In Pandemic Politics: The Deadly Toll of Partisanship in the Age of Covid, lead author Shana Kushner Gadarian (with Sara Wallace Goodman and Thomas B. Pepinsky) joins Richard Aldous to discuss how U.S. politics intertwined with pandemic approaches from the very beginning.

  • Episode 93: Frank Dikötter on China’s Uneven Rise

    February 13th, 2023  |  29 mins 29 secs
    books, history, politics

    The transformation of the Chinese economy over the last four decades is typically thought of as near-miraculous. Yet the facts and figures that make up that picture are those that have filtered down from the Chinese Communist Party. In China After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower, Frank Dikötter’s wide-ranging research pulls back the curtain to reveal a much less tidy—and much more mixed—picture.

  • Episode 92: Tom Dunkel on the Germans Sabotaging the Third Reich

    February 6th, 2023  |  27 mins 13 secs
    books, history, politics

    A number of stories of individual acts of German resistance to the Nazis have come to light over the years. What is little known is that a network of individuals — from average civilians to those within the highest reaches of government and the military — coordinated efforts in a sustained attempt to undermine the Third Reich. Tom Dunkel, author of White Knights in the Black Orchestra: The Extraordinary Story of the Germans Who Resisted Hitler, joins host Richard Aldous to share the stories of those risking it all in an attempt to destroy a regime of terror from the inside.

  • Episode 91: Dan Akst on the WWII Pacifists Who Revolutionized Resistance

    January 30th, 2023  |  32 mins 50 secs
    books, history, politics

    In War by Other Means: The Pacifists of the Greatest Generation Who Revolutionized Resistance, author Daniel Akst traces the founding of the American progressive movement back to when the United States was on the brink of war. Akst joins Richard Aldous to discuss how four unlikely real-life characters in the time of World War II—David Dellinger, Dorothy Day, Dwight MacDonald, and Bayard Rustin—created the spark that ignited the modern progressive movement

  • Episode 90: John Lahr on How Arthur Miller Captured American Life

    January 23rd, 2023  |  35 mins 8 secs
    books, history, politics

    Catapulted into the spotlight with his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, American playwright Arthur Miller’s life had more complexity and nuance than his claim to pop culture fame. Theatre critic and author John Lahr joins Richard Aldous to talk about Miller, the subject of his latest book—the man behind 20th century masterpieces like The Crucible, Death of a Salesman, and All My Sons. Do Miller’s plays offer an exploration of timeless themes or are they just time capsules that reflect the era in which he wrote them? Lahr and Aldous explore this question and more in discussing the new book Arthur Miller: American Witness.

  • Episode 89: William Inboden on How Reagan Kept the Cold War Cold

    January 17th, 2023  |  27 mins 9 secs
    books, history, politics

    Based on newly declassified material, The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink by William Inboden plunges readers into the uncertainty of the late Cold War when the Soviet Union’s fate was far from a fait accompli. In conversation with Richard Aldous, Inboden explores Reagan’s thinking in trying to achieve a negotiated surrender that saw both a nuclear drawdown and a peaceful end to the Soviet system. The Peacemaker avoids a hagiographic retelling of the Reagan years and asks the question–is the Republican party still the party of Reagan?

  • Episode 88: Megan Walsh on China’s Lively Literary Scene

    December 19th, 2022  |  23 mins 7 secs
    books, history, politics

    In The Subplot, Megan Walsh explores China’s diverse literary landscape, which ranges from underground comics and surrealist works to migrant-worker poetry and the less-regulated world of online fiction. She joined Richard Aldous to discuss how China’s modern literary culture offers a window into the lives of its citizens and a country grappling with shifting norms.

  • Episode 87: Jacob Soll on the Ever-Changing Free Market

    December 12th, 2022  |  30 mins 44 secs
    books, history, politics

    To meet today’s economic challenges, a reappraisal of America’s free-market ideology might be in order. Jacob Soll, author of Free Market: The History of an Idea, spoke with Richard Aldous about the world’s constantly evolving free-market ideologies and how they have functioned throughout different eras, from ancient Rome to today. In a work that took eight years of research to assemble, Free Market offers a lesson in history as much as critical thought.

  • Episode 86: John A. Farrell on Ted Kennedy’s Epic, Turbulent Life

    December 5th, 2022  |  28 mins 18 secs
    books, history, politics

    Ted Kennedy’s life was buffeted by heartbreak: the violent deaths of his three older brothers, his own terrible plane crash, his children’s bouts with cancer, the hideous self-inflicted wounds of Chappaquiddick. Those wounds scarred Ted deeply but also tempered his character, and, eventually, he embarked on a run as legislator that would change America for the better. John A. Farrell joins Richard Aldous to discuss his new biography, Ted Kennedy: A Life.

  • Episode 85: Gautam Mukunda on Choosing a Presidential Candidate

    November 18th, 2022  |  31 mins 14 secs
    books, history, politics

    What’s the best way to determine whether a presidential candidate is truly up to the task? Former Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda joins Richard Aldous to discuss his new book, Picking Presidents: How to Make the Most Consequential Decision in the World. Mukunda outlines his non-partisan set of criteria for how we can evaluate if a presidential candidate would be an effective leader and why some of the worst—and best—leaders are of the “unfiltered” variety.

  • Episode 84: Rita Katz on Internet-Age Terrorism

    November 11th, 2022  |  32 mins 5 secs
    books, history, politics

    Many of today’s terrorist groups don’t just use the internet, they exist almost entirely on it. What do the online origins of these movements reveal about how to stop them? Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz joined Richard Aldous to talk about her new book, Saints and Soldiers: Inside Internet-Age Terrorism, From Syria to the Capitol Siege, and how the online cultures of these movements—far more than their ideologies and leaders—create today’s terrorists and shape how they commit “real world” violence.

  • Episode 83: Stefan Aust and Adrian Geiges on Xi Jinping’s Hidden Story

    October 31st, 2022  |  30 mins 10 secs
    books, history, politics

    Acclaimed German journalists Stefan Aust and Adrian Geiges join Richard to discuss how Xi Jinping took China from the workbench of the world to a global superpower in their new co-authored book, Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World.