I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 26-30 November 2022

History Extra: Desk Killers. I’ve reserved Dan Gretton’s book I You We Them, which examines the psychology of individuals who organised and implemented some of the worst crimes against humanity, from the Holocaust to human rights violations in Nigeria. Actually, all the examples that he gave in this podcast were either from the Holocaust or from a study of the culpability of oil corporations in Nigeria in 1993, when Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed on trumped-up charges by the military government to protect the oil concessions. He notes the light sentences of ‘desk killers’ (a German term) who oversee atrocities compared with the low-level guards who carry them out -for example the law professors who drew up the Nuremberg laws who escaped with very light punishments.


The History Listen (ABC) Hume and Hovell and the Pathfinders. What a pain in the arse William Hovell must have been. Appointed over the young currency-lad Hamilton Hume, he seemed to want nothing more than to turn around and go back home all the time when Hume and Hovell were sent off by Governor Brisbane to chart a route between Sydney and Westernport Bay. I bet the Indigenous groups that helped them along the way came to regret their assistance.

Emperors of Rome Episode XII Tiberius the Gloomiest of Men. Tiberius set himself up over the Capri, where he may or may not have indulged in orgies. He set up Sejanus as his political gate-keeper but the senators resented this as Sejanus was only an equestrian. Tiberius passed strong laws against treason, and Dr Rhiannon Evans likens Rome at this time to East Germany, where neighbours informed on neighbours. When Sejanus had an affair with Livilla (Drusus’ widow) he was accused of treason and summarily executed. When Tiberius died, most people agreed that he was a gloomy character, and he didn’t build much. Episode XIII The Rule of Caligula looks at “Bootikins” as Matt Smith rather endearingly calls him. Caligula’s real name was “Gaius” and he never used the name Caligula (i.e. Little Boots) for himself. He had the best family tree of any of the emperors. He only reigned for 4 years. He was popular at first, spending a lot of money doing everything that Tiberius had not done – but that didn’t last. There is speculation that his cruelty was prompted by a personality change after illness, but the timelines don’t work. Episode XIV The Madness of Caligula. We get most of our information about Caligula from Suetonius, who wrote a biography of him. Caligula broke a number of taboos: he spoke about himself and his sister as gods (thereby breaking the taboo against incest and deification while still alive); he stole statues from Greece; he didn’t respect the senators or elites. He was extravagant, building a bridge direct from his home to the Temple of Jupiter directly over Augustus’ temple. He completely burnt off the residual affection that people may have had towards him on account of being Germanicus’ son.

Start the Week (BBC) Power Plays and Family Dynamics. I hadn’t heard of any of the works discussed in this program, but the topic sounded interesting. The program starts with a quote from Samuel Johnson “if a kingdom be … a great family, a family likewise is a little kingdom, torn with factions and exposed to revolutions.” One guest is A. M. Homes, whose most recent book The Unfolding looks at an American ‘patriot’ maddened by Barak Obama’s election, who collects together a band of like-minded men to spread their (Trumpesque) version of the American dream. Another guest is Nick Hytner who is directing a new production of Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman about a disgraced financier while the third guest is historian Simon Sebag Montefiore who has a new book out called The World: A Family History Of Humanity, which looks at world history through the lens of particular families (sounds good, actually). Three very diverse books, and an interesting conversation.

Talking Politics I have just read Tara Westover’s Educated, and in Episode 232 Tara Westover-Educated here she is with David Runciman, who was actually one of her academic mentors. The episode was recorded in March 2020, during the COVID lockdowns and as someone who spent most of her life isolated from ´normal´social life, it made no great change to her life. There is then a replay of an earlier interview that Runciman undertook with his former pupil from February 2018 when her book was just published.

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