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 138: Seth D. Kaplan on America’s Fragile Neighborhoods

    April 19th, 2024  |  31 mins 35 secs
    books, history, politics

    In surveying dysfunction across America, the question arises: Is the source of the trouble at the local or the national level? Seth D. Kaplan has shifted his analytical gaze from fragile nations abroad to examine the fragility of his home country. He believes America’s problems from health to politics are downstream of individuals becoming increasingly disconnected, neighborhood by neighborhood. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss his new book, Fragile Neighborhoods: Repairing American Society, One Zip Code at a Time.

  • Episode 137: Leah Hunt-Hendrix on the Power of Solidarity

    April 17th, 2024  |  27 mins 3 secs
    books, history, politics

    Solidarity has been at the root of social change throughout history, bringing people together across their differences to challenge injustice within societies. In their new book, Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea, Leah Hunt-Hendrix and Astra Taylor examine the sociological concept that is at the heart of social transformation. Hunt-Hendrix joins host Richard Aldous to share her thoughts on both the concept and the social movements with which it is intimately linked.

  • Episode 136: Paul Starobin on the Russian Exiles

    March 22nd, 2024  |  29 mins 13 secs
    books, history, politics

    There are now over a million Russians living in exile, spurred on by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Unable to safely oppose their own government at home, they often find themselves subject to harassment and disdain as immigrants. In his new book, Putin’s Exiles: Their Fight for a Better Russia, Paul Starobin joins host Richard Aldous for a look at the hopes and dreams of those Russians living abroad, and to explain why he thinks more and more of them will “take up the gun.”

  • Episode 135: Ian Buruma on the Relevance of Spinoza

    March 14th, 2024  |  26 mins 33 secs
    books, history, politics

    Rejected in official circles in his day and embraced in modern times by a motley array of admirers, Spinoza was in many ways ahead of his time. His commitment to truth, universal principles, and freedom lie at the heart of Western liberal thinking. As those ideas come under attack on both the left and the right, Spinoza’s philosophical thinking is as relevant as ever. Ian Buruma joins Richard Aldous to discuss his new book, Spinoza: Freedom’s Messiah.

  • Episode 134: Maria Popova on Ukraine and Russia’s Diverging Paths

    February 29th, 2024  |  27 mins 48 secs
    books, history, politics

    Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Russia not only embarked on very different political paths at home, but they viewed the future of their relationship in starkly divergent terms. In Russia and Ukraine: Entangled Histories, Diverging States, authors Maria Popova and Oxana Shevel show how Russia’s determination to control an independent Ukraine only pushed it further away. Popova joins host Richard Aldous to discuss how the varying cultural and political realities in the two countries ultimately led to today’s geopolitical clash.

  • Episode 133: Lorraine Daston on the History of Scientific Collaboration

    February 23rd, 2024  |  28 mins 40 secs
    books, history, politics

    Large threats to the well-being of humankind such as the pandemic and climate change have cemented the notion that scientists across the globe naturally work together to solve the world’s most pressing problems. In Rivals: How Scientists Learned to Cooperate, historian of science Lorraine Daston traces the trajectory of such cooperation, noting that along the way scientists have as often been competitors as collaborators. She joins host Richard Aldous to discuss the history of “the scientific community.”

  • Episode 132: David Reynolds on Winston Churchill

    February 15th, 2024  |  34 mins 55 secs
    books, history, politics

    Amidst all the positive and negative ink dedicated to Winston Churchill, Cambridge emeritus professor of international history David Reynolds offers a new dimension. He places the leader for whom history was determined by “great men” among the other greats who both inspired and enervated him. Reynolds joins host Richard Aldous to discuss his latest book, Mirrors of Greatness: Churchill and the Leaders Who Shaped Him.

  • Episode 131: Joshua Green on the Populism of the Democratic Party

    February 8th, 2024  |  34 mins 4 secs
    books, history, politics

    The remarkable shift in the economic ideas at the heart of the Democratic Party—from the embrace of neoliberalism in the ’90s to the left-wing populism that Joe Biden accommodates today—traces its origins to the 2008 financial crisis. Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders and AOC after her, put the economic frustrations of ordinary Americans at the heart of her policies, making fashionable a populism of the left that was not unlike Donald Trump’s brand of it on the right. Journalist Joshua Green joins host Richard Aldous to discuss the rise of those who helped reorient the Democratic Party as told in his new book, The Rebels: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Struggle for a New American Politics.

  • Episode 130: Azam Ahmed on Mexico’s Violent Cartels

    February 1st, 2024  |  28 mins 53 secs
    books, history, politics

    For tens of thousands of people, living in Mexico today means living in a country where criminal violence begets state-sponsored violence, and where law and justice have so failed ordinary citizens that they often take matters into their own hands. In his new book Fear Is Just a Word: A Missing Daughter, a Violent Cartel, and a Mother's Quest for Vengeance, Azam Ahmed chronicles the tale of a mother whose desperation led her to do just that. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss those who live at the mercy of the drug cartels.

  • Episode 129: Raymond Arsenault on John Lewis

    January 24th, 2024  |  28 mins 32 secs
    books, history, politics

    Freedom Rider and Congressman John Lewis was widely viewed as a saint no less than a civil rights icon. How to capture the full humanity of such a legendary figure, whose life was intertwined with some of America’s lowest lows and highest highs? Civil rights historian Raymond Arsenault does just that in his new biography, John Lewis: In Search of the Beloved Community. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss the man he believes to be “one of the most extraordinary people in American history.”

  • Episode 128: Joseph S. Nye Jr. on Postwar America

    January 17th, 2024  |  27 mins 12 secs
    books, history, politics

    Joseph Nye’s prominent dual roles as policymaker and foreign affairs academic have rendered him one of the most important observers of U.S. foreign policy since World War II. In his new book, A Life in the American Century, the statesman-scholar looks back on the last century’s events from a personal and historical perspective. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss, among other things, the erosion of U.S. soft power in the last two decades, the diverging paths U.S. foreign policy could take following the next presidential election, and the country’s enduring resilience.

  • Episode 127: Ganesh Sitaraman on Helping Flying Soar

    January 3rd, 2024  |  27 mins 59 secs
    books, history, politics

    Long gone are the days of steak dinners, piano bars, and free alcohol on flights—not to mention widely expanding markets and strong competition. Vanderbilt Law professor Ganesh Sitamaran looks to the deregulation of the airline industry in the 1970s to explain the relatively dismal state of flying today. In his new book, Why Flying Is Miserable: And How to Fix It, he points to a host of policy options left on the table that could help. Sitaraman joins host Richard Aldous to discuss how Congress should get creative in its aviation policy, and why it should do so well in advance of the inevitable next crisis to hit the industry.

  • Episode 126: Nikki Vargas on the Roads Taken

    December 18th, 2023  |  28 mins 49 secs
    books, history, politics

    Travel is exhilarating and enlightening, but what happens when it becomes an escape from things that really matter? For acclaimed travel writer Nikki Vargas, travel has been her work, her dreams—and also her crutch. She joins host Richard Aldous to discuss her new book Call You When I Land, a memoir of her winding adventures that ultimately do have a destination.

  • Episode 125: Daniel Schulman on the Jewish Titans

    December 5th, 2023  |  28 mins 59 secs
    books, history, politics

    Rockefeller, Morgan, and Carnegie are household names, yet much less known are the Jewish “money kings” who came to America in the 19th century. In his new book The Money Kings: The Epic Story of the Jewish Immigrants Who Transformed Wall Street and Shaped Modern America, Daniel Shulman tells the story of the poor Jewish immigrants whose trajectories embody the American dream. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss their influence from banking to infrastructure, and their equally influential philanthropic endeavors that “helped build the cornerstone of American Jewish life in America.”

  • Episode 124: John Coates on the New Concentration of Financial Power

    November 29th, 2023  |  28 mins 8 secs
    books, history, politics

    The American economy is once again experiencing a concentration of financial power in a few hands, but this time around the actors are much less familiar. As John Coates shows in his new book, The Problem of 12: When a Few Financial Institutions Control Everything, the prevalence of index funds and private equity funds in public investments has grown exponentially in recent years. Coates joins host Richard Aldous to discuss how the small number of companies managing so much of Americans’ wealth poses risks both to economic stability and American democracy.

  • Episode 123: Laurence Jurdem on TR and Henry Cabot Lodge

    November 15th, 2023  |  28 mins 36 secs
    books, history, politics

    The ambitious, larger-than-life character of Theodore Roosevelt is the stuff of legend. Outside of his connection with the League of Nations, much less is known about Roosevelt’s closest friend, Henry Cabot Lodge. Equally abundant in intellectual gifts, Lodge helped launch to the presidency the man whose vision he shared of a United States divinely ordained to spread prosperity and peace throughout the globe. Laurence Jurdem joins host Richard Aldous to discuss the personal and political friendship of the two men as revealed in his new book, The Rough Rider and the Professor: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and the Friendship that Changed American History.