What’s it called?

History Of Ideas

What’s it about?

A spin-off from the successful Talking Politics podcast, it dips into the lives and, importantly, the ideas of a variety of big thinkers – from Thomas Hobbes, whose 1651 work Leviathan reimagined and redefined the relationship between people and state, to figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Karl Marx and Mary Wollstonecraft. There’s also room for less well-known names such as Hannah Arendt, who was worrying about computers in the late 1950s, Frantz Fanon, who argued for violent uprising against colonial oppressors, and Catharine MacKinnon, who believed neither liberalism or Marxism were proper ways for society to organise itself and threw feminism into the mix as an option.

Who’s in it?

The presenter is David Runciman, author, broadcaster, podcaster (obviously) and professor politics and history at Cambridge University.

What’s so good about it?

See above, particularly the bit about Runciman being a professor at Cambridge. He’s a man who knows his stuff, in other words, and who knows how to make that stuff intelligible and kind of gripping. No fake news or dubious factoids here.

Best bits …

In the episode on historian Francis Fukayama, Runciman notes how the theories of many big thinkers can be condensed into sayings of four or five words, such as “the banality of evil” (Arendt), “workers of the world unite” (Marx and Engels) or, in Fukayama’s case, “the end of history”, also the title of his famous 1992 book about liberal democracy.

Fun fact

If Marxist theorising or deep analysis of the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville aren’t your bag then Runciman’s measured tones and soothing voice might make a good cure for insomnia.

For fans of …

BBC Radio 4