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 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.

  • Episode 122: Thomas Graham on Seeing Russia Clearly

    November 8th, 2023  |  28 mins 9 secs
    books, history, politics

    Was there a moment after the Cold War when the United States “lost” Russia? Thomas Graham, senior director for Russia on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, looks back to the period between 1991 and 2022 to grapple with what might have been—or, better, what was never meant to be. He joins host Richard Aldous to assess what the United States got wrong about Russia and to discuss his new book, Getting Russia Right.

  • Episode 121: Uri Kaufman on the Yom Kippur War

    November 1st, 2023  |  32 mins 3 secs
    books, history, politics

    The October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel were launched fifty years and a day after the last great surprise assault on the country by its Arab neighbors. At the time of the Yom Kippur War, Israel was not only much poorer and weaker than it is today, but it was completely dependent for military aid on a United States preoccupied with oil and the Soviet threat. Uri Kaufman chronicles the riveting details of this larger-than-life tale at a moment when existential threats to the State of Israel resonate more than ever. He joins host Richard Aldous to discuss his new book, Eighteen Days in October: The Yom Kippur War and How It Created the Modern Middle East.

    This interview was recorded on October 20, 2023

  • Episode 120: Katherine Turk on NOW’s Lesser-Known Feminists

    October 25th, 2023  |  27 mins 11 secs
    books, history, politics

    Betty Friedan and many of her NOW co-founders have become household names, but what of the women who built on their pioneering work? In her new book The Women of NOW: How Feminists Built an Organization That Transformed America, Katherine Turk looks at the second-wave feminists who broadened the movement to include all women. She joins host Richard Aldous to discuss lesser-known figures of the time, along with the proponents and antagonists of their all-important goal, the Equal Rights Amendment. Apologies to our listeners for any audio hiccups.

  • Episode 119: Alexandra Hudson on Civility

    October 18th, 2023  |  26 mins 29 secs
    books, history, politics

    Engaging with those who are different from us is essential to democratic life and politics. Alexandra Hudson argues that in order to improve the tenor of our interactions we must cultivate civility, which unlike mere politeness entails a respect for others as our moral equals. She joins host Richard Aldous to discuss her new book, The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves.

  • 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.