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 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.

  • Episode 102: Dana Sachs on Our Saviors at Sea

    April 26th, 2023  |  26 mins 49 secs
    books, history, politics

    In 2015, as refugees poured into Greece from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, the assistance delivered to desperate migrants at sea and on land was largely provided at the hand of individual volunteers. Dana Sachs joins host Richard Aldous to discuss the failure of the international aid community and heroism of those who stepped in as detailed in her new book, All Else Failed: The Unlikely Volunteers at the Heart of the Migrant Aid Crisis.

  • Episode 101: Ian Buruma on Three Legendary Fakes

    April 20th, 2023  |  26 mins 48 secs
    books, history, politics

    In an era of fake news and invented personalities, it’s worth looking back to a time when deception could mean the difference between life and death. In his new book, The Collaborators: Three Stories of Deception and Survival in World War II, Ian Buruma delves into three World War II-era characters whose lives blur the lines between good and evil. The former editor of the New York Review of Books rejoins host Richard Aldous to discuss history, myth, and morality.

  • Episode 100: Robert D. Kaplan on Inescapable Tragedy

    April 12th, 2023  |  25 mins 53 secs
    books, history, politics

    The American tendency in foreign affairs to think in Manichaean terms is exemplified by the Biden Administration’s democracy-versus-autocracy lens. Yet such thinking can result in a failure of imagination, says Robert D. Kaplan, which he believes explains his own regretted support for the 2003 Iraq War. Kaplan joins host Richard Aldous to discuss his new book, The Tragic Mind: Fear, Fate, and the Burden of Power, an exploration of why the Greeks believed anarchy to be worse than tyranny.

  • Episode 99: Meredith Bagby on A New Kind of Astronaut

    April 6th, 2023  |  24 mins 37 secs
    books, history, politics

    When NASA accepted its first class of civilian astronauts in 1978, it welcomed a historic group marked by many firsts: the first American woman, the first African American, the first Jewish person, the first Asian American, the first gay person, and the first mother. This week, Meredith Bagby, author of The New Guys: The Historic Class of Astronauts That Broke Barriers and Changed the Face of Space Travel, spoke with Richard Aldous about this landmark class of astronauts who propelled the Space Shuttle era and defined a generation of space travel.

  • 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.