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 118: Joseph Horowitz on the Art-Freedom Nexus

    October 11th, 2023  |  30 mins 31 secs
    books, history, politics

    Does the ability to produce great art depend upon living in a free country? For a time the rhetoric emanating from the United States—including from President John F. Kennedy himself—suggested it did. Classical music expert Joseph Horowitz delves into the sources of this Cold War-era hyperbole in his new book, The Propaganda of Freedom: JFK, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and the Cultural Cold War. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss Soviet-era cultural achievements, cultural diplomacy, and more.

  • Episode 117: Yascha Mounk on the False Promise of Identity Ideology

    October 4th, 2023  |  31 mins 14 secs
    books, history, politics

    Across America, from college campuses to corporate boardrooms, a set of ideas has taken hold affirming race, gender, and sexual orientation as the essential prisms through which we experience life. In his new book, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time, academic and writer Yascha Mounk explores the personal and political dimensions of this illiberal worldview. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss the intolerant rigidity of this new ideology, and the reasons why it will not lead to either personal fulfillment or social justice.

  • Episode 116: Michael S. Roth on Loving Learning

    September 27th, 2023  |  28 mins 57 secs
    books, history, politics

    In an era when machines are progressing from thinking for us to learning for us, it’s worth asking what exactly the purpose of learning is. Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, looks back to students of some of history’s great inculcators to find a more foundational understanding beyond simply the accumulation of knowledge. He sits down with host Richard Aldous to discuss his new book, The Student: A Short History, and how becoming an adult, securing one’s freedom, and developing empathy are all deeply intertwined with the intellectual journey both inside and outside of school.

  • Episode 115: Timothy Garton Ash on What It Means to Be European

    September 13th, 2023  |  31 mins 27 secs
    books, history, politics

    “Bookstack” returns with renowned Oxford professor of European studies Timothy Garton Ash. In his latest book, Homelands: A Personal History of Europe, Ash chronicles the spread of freedom across Europe since 1945 through his personal perspective as an “English European.” He sits down with host Richard Aldous to share his thoughts about the historical and cultural ties that bind across the diverse continent.

  • Episode 114: Tara Isabella Burton on Self Creation across the Ages

    July 27th, 2023  |  29 mins 30 secs
    books, history, politics

    Could there really be a straight line between the self-made person of talent and the branded personality made famous by reality TV and the internet? In Self-Made: Creating Our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians, Tara Isabella Burton shows how the curating of an “authentic” self so characteristic of today is in fact rooted in a deep human instinct that values the uniqueness of each individual. She sits down with host Richard Aldous to discuss the latest of her books that peer into the soul of contemporary society with an eye to history, culture, theology, and economics.

  • Episode 113: Yasmine El Rashidi on Egypt’s Fortunes

    July 21st, 2023  |  25 mins 1 sec
    books, history, politics

    If political activism has died down in Egypt since the 2011 revolution, there is energy bubbling beneath the surface, says Yasmine El Rashidi in Laughter in the Dark: Egypt to the Tune of Change. The country experiencing its harshest repression in decades is at the same time inhabited by a majority of young people, who, through a new form of hip-hop, express a newfound taste for openness and freedom. El Rashidi joins host Richard Aldous to discuss the hope and the darkness in Egypt today.

  • Episode 112: Hugh Howey on the Silo Series

    July 14th, 2023  |  31 mins 33 secs
    books, history, politics

    Hugh Howey created a fantastical post-apocalyptic underground world in the first book of his Silo series, Wool, off of which Apple TV launched its eponymous series this spring. Howey joins host Richard Aldous to discuss how he explores ideas about humanity and social order through the genre of sci-fi, and how the translation of his ideas to a visual format has expanded upon his creation in ways he could never have imagined.

  • Episode 111: Daniel Gordis on Israel at 75

    July 6th, 2023  |  34 mins 16 secs
    books, history, politics

    The State of Israel engenders a wide range of emotions among onlookers, running the gamut from admiration to revulsion. In his new book Impossible Takes Longer, Daniel Gordis uses a wide lens to assess where the country is today in light of the goals of those who founded it. He joins host Richard Aldous for a broad look at Israel’s successes—and its failures. This interview was recorded before the Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin

  • Episode 110: Ronnie Janoff-Bulman on the Moral Divide in U.S. Politics

    June 28th, 2023  |  26 mins 59 secs
    books, history, politics

    Why are Americans today so hostile toward opposing political viewpoints? Ronnie Janoff-Bulman contends that the answer has a lot to do with the different ways conservatives and liberals think about morality, and the fact that Republicans and Democrats are more cleanly sorted along this divide than in the past. She joins host Richard Aldous to discuss her new book, The Two Moralities: Conservatives, Liberals, and the Roots of Our Political Divide, which investigates the roots of our political righteousness.

  • Episode 109: Andrew Hoehn and Thom Shanker on a New Age of Danger

    June 22nd, 2023  |  34 mins
    books, history, politics

    Thirty-plus years after the end of the Cold War, the United States has yet to rethink its strategic role in the world and the security architecture that supports it. In their new book, Age of Danger: Keeping America Safe in an Era of New Superpowers, New Weapons, and New Threats, Andrew Hoehn and Thom Shanker argue that America awoke from its counterterrorism wars to a uniquely dangerous era of heightened nuclear risk alongside a wide array of new threats—from cybersecurity to climate to AI. They join host Richard Aldous to discuss how the scope of these threats requires a big-picture rethink akin to that which followed the Second World War.

  • Episode 108: Brett Forrest on the Unusual Disappearance of an American FBI Source

    June 14th, 2023  |  26 mins
    books, history, politics

    9/11 led the young Billy Reilly to an exploration of international affairs and world religions, and ultimately to the FBI. When he disappeared on the job in Russia in 2015, the trail went cold, in large part thanks to the very same organization Billy had served. Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Forrest took up the trail, determined to solved the mystery of Billy’s disappearance. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss his thriller reportage Lost Son: An American Family Trapped Inside the FBI’s Secret War.

  • Episode 107: Christopher de Bellaigue on Making Flight Carbon-Friendly

    May 31st, 2023  |  27 mins 41 secs
    books, history, politics

    The aviation industry has the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the development of existing technologies that can get us there is lagging far behind. In his new book Flying Green: On the Frontiers of New Aviation, Christopher de Bellaigue explains why flight and carbon consciousness are not mutually exclusive. He joins host Richard Aldous to sketch out the long slog involved in such a convergence.

  • Episode 106: Frank Costigliola on George Kennan

    May 24th, 2023  |  30 mins 25 secs
    books, history, politics

    George Kennan was a man of contradictions: an icon yet something of an enigma, a strategist who “used emotionally evocative language in the name of cool, calculated realism,” a bold thinker who warned of overreach. Frank Costigliola puts the architect of Cold War containment in a larger context in his new book, Kennan: A Life between Worlds. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss our continuing fascination with this public intellectual par excellence.

  • Episode 105: Kim Sherwood on Her Double O Novel

    May 17th, 2023  |  29 mins 48 secs
    books, history, politics

    The legendary 007 series continues with author Kim Sherwood’s novel, authorized by Ian Fleming’s estate. Sherwood, who as a child imagined herself as Bond, lives out a lifelong dream by writing the next act for the iconic character. She joins host Richard Aldous to discuss her new book, Double or Nothing: James Bond is Missing and Time Is Running Out.

  • Episode 104: Blythe Roberson on Embracing the Open Road

    May 10th, 2023  |  27 mins 9 secs
    books, history, politics

    Ever fantasize about quitting your job and hitting the open road? Blythe Roberson did just that, embracing freedom and the natural beauty of America—with an agenda. She joins host Richard Aldous to speak about the fruits of her labor of love, America the Beautiful?: One Woman in a Borrowed Prius on the Road Most Traveled.

  • Episode 103: Charles Dunst on Defeating the Dictators

    May 3rd, 2023  |  30 mins 53 secs
    books, history, politics

    There has been plenty of ink spilled about democracies dying and populists rising. AP contributing editor Charles Dunst, deputy director of research and analytics at the Asia Group, takes the practical route. How can we shore up democracies to inoculate them against the tides of illiberalism, and remind those looking for a winning governance model that democracy can deliver? Dunst joins host Richard Aldous to discuss his new book, Defeating the Dictators: How Democracy Can Prevail in the Age of the Strong Man.