Books

Sam Leith

Michael Nott: Thom Gunn’s Cool Queer Life

29 min listen

My guest on this week’s Book Club podcast is Michael Nott, author of the new biography Thom Gunn: A Cool Queer Life. He tells me about the poet’s early trauma, his transatlantic identity, his unconventional family and his compartmentalised life, part teaching and writing, part sex, drugs and rock and roll. 

Sam Leith

Kathleen Jamie: Cairn

24 min listen

In her new book Cairn, the Scots poet Kathleen Jamie sets a capstone of sorts on her trilogy of short prose collections Findings, Surfacing and Sightlines. She joins me on this week’s Book Club podcast to talk about why she hesitates to call herself a nature writer, how prose found her late in life, and why whale-watching isn’t what it used to be. Produced by Patrick Gibbons.

Sam Leith

Åsne Seierstad

48 min listen

My guest for this week’s Book Club is the journalist and author Åsne Seierstad. She tells me about her new book The Afghans: Three Lives Through War, Love and Revolt; how and why she constructed a novelistic narrative about real-life people and events, and what her encounters with human rights activist Jamila, Taliban commander Bashir and thwarted student Ariana can tell us about the past, present and future of that troubled country. Produced by Patrick Gibbons.

Sam Leith

Mark Bostridge: In Pursuit of Love

41 min listen

My guest on this week’s Book Club podcast is Mark Bostridge. In his new book In Pursuit of Love: The Search for Victor Hugo’s Daughter, Mark describes his quest to uncover the traces of Adele Hugo and the doomed love affair which cost her her sanity. He tells me how Adele’s story chimed in poignant ways with his own life and what it taught him about the unstable emotional contract between biographer and subject.

Sam Leith

Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings

40 min listen

My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is Marlon James, who ten years ago published his Booker Prize winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. He tells me how that remarkable book came about, how he feared it would be ‘my Satanic Verses’, what genre means to him, the importance of myth, and what he learned from the X-Men.

Lara Prendergast

The Farage factor

45 min listen

This week: The Farage factor. Our cover piece looks at the biggest news from this week of the general election campaign, Nigel Farage’s decision to stand again for Parliament. Farage appealed to voters in the seaside town of Clacton to send him to Westminster to be a ‘nuisance’. Indeed, how much of a nuisance will he be to Rishi Sunak in this campaign? Will this boost Reform’s ratings across Britain? And could it be eighth time lucky for Nigel? The Spectator‘s political editor Katy Balls joins the podcast to discuss, alongside former Clacton and UKIP MP, Douglas Carswell (2:32). Then: Gavin Mortimer reports from France ahead of the European and local

Sam Leith

Richard Flanagan: Question 7

40 min listen

In this week’s Book Club podcast, my guest is the Booker Prize winning novelist Richard Flanagan, talking about his extraordinary new book Question 7. It weaves together memoir, reportage and the imaginative work of fiction. Flanagan collides his relationship with his war-traumatised father and his own near-death experience with the lives of H G Wells and Leo Szilard, the Tasmanian genocide and the bombing of Hiroshima. He talks to me about the work fiction can do, the intimate association of memory with shame, and the liberations and agonies of thinking of non-linear time.  

Peter Parker, Wayne Hunt, Nicholas Lezard, Mark Mason and Nicholas Farrell

33 min listen

On this week’s Spectator Out Loud: Peter Parker takes us through the history of guardsmen and homosexuality (1:12); Prof. Wayne Hunt explains what the Conservatives could learn from the 1993 Canadian election (9:10); Nicholas Lezard reflects on the diaries of Franz Kafka, on the eve of his centenary (16:06); Mark Mason provides his notes on Horse Guards (22:52); and, Nicholas Farrell ponders his wife’s potential suitors, once he’s died (26:01). Presented and produced by Patrick Gibbons.  

Sam Leith

The legacy of Franz Kafka

51 min listen

June 3rd marks the centenary of Franz Kafka’s death. To talk about this great writer’s peculiar style and lasting legacy, I’m joined by two of the world’s foremost Kafka scholars. Mark Harman has just translated, edited and annotated a new edition of Kafka’s Selected Stories, while Ross Benjamin is the translator of the first unexpurgated edition of Kafka’s Diaries. They tell me what they understand by ‘Kafkaesque’, the unique difficulties he presents in editing and translation, and the unstable relationship between his published works, his notebooks and his troubled life.  

Sam Leith

Conn Iggulden: Nero

43 min listen

My guest on this week’s Book Club podcast is Conn Iggulden, probably the best selling author of historical fiction of our day. This week Conn publishes Nero, the first in a new trilogy about the notorious Roman emperor. He tells me about how he learned to write historical fiction, his years-long path to overnight success, and the advantages (and disadvantages) of having an audience comprised of men who can’t seem to stop thinking about the Roman Empire.

Sam Leith

Olivia Laing: The Garden Against Time

33 min listen

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot! On this week’s Book Club podcast I’m joined by Olivia Laing to talk about her new book The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise. Olivia explores what it is we do when we make a garden, through her own experience of restoring the beautiful garden in her now home. She tells me about what gardens have meant in literary history and myth, how they have occluded certain real-world injustices even as they stand in for utopias, and why Candide‘s injunction cultiver notre jardin will always be an ambiguous one.  

Sam Leith

Jackie Kay: May Day

40 min listen

This week, my guest on the Book Club podcast is the poet Jackie Kay, whose magnificent new book May Day combines elegy and celebration. She tells me about her adoptive parents – a communist trade unionist and a leading figure in CND – and growing up in a household where teenage rebellion could mean going to church. We also discuss her beginnings as a poet, her debt to Robbie Burns and Angela Davis and how grief itself can be a form of protest. 

Sean Thomas, Kara Kennedy, Philip Hensher, Damian Thompson and Toby Young

35 min listen

On this week’s Spectator Out Loud: Sean Thomas worries that Paris has lost some of its charm (1:21); Kara Kennedy reports on US-style opioids arriving in Britain (8:43); Philip Hensher describes how an affair which ruined one woman would be the making of another (15:32); Damian Thompson reflects on his sobriety and his battle with British chemists (23:58); and, Toby Young argues a proposed law in Wales amounts to an assault on parliamentary sovereignty (29:26). Produced and presented by Patrick Gibbons.

Sam Leith

Ariane Bankes: The Quality of Love

35 min listen

On this week’s Book Club podcast I’m joined by Ariane Bankes, whose mother Celia was one of the great beauties of the early twentieth century. Ariane’s new book The Quality of Love: Twin Sisters at the Heart of the Century tells the story of the defiantly bohemian lives of Celia and her twin sister Mamaine, whose love affairs and friendships with Arthur Koestler, George Orwell, Albert Camus, Edmund Wilson and Freddie Ayer put them at the centre of the political and intellectual ferment of their age.

Sam Leith

Kathryn Hughes: Catland

40 min listen

My guest in this week’s Book Club podcast is the author and historian Kathryn Hughes, whose new book Catland tells the story of how we learned to love pusskins. Content warning: contains Kipling, Edward Lear, some stinking carts of offal, and the troubled life and weird art of the extraordinary Louis Wain.

Sam Leith

Percival Everett: James

23 min listen

On this week’s Book Club podcast I’m joined by Percival Everett, who has followed up his Booker-shortlisted The Trees with James, a novel that reimagines the story of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the point of view of the fugitive slave Jim. Percival tells me what he learned from Mark Twain, how being funny doesn’t make him a comic novelist, and why Black resistance to racism is a matter of language itself.

Sam Leith

Dorian Lynskey: Everything Must Go

40 min listen

In this week’s Book Club podcast my guest is Dorian Lynskey. In his new book Everything Must Go, Dorian looks at the way humans have imagined the end of the world from the Book of Revelations to the present day. He tells me how old fears find new forms, why Dr Strangelove divides critics, and why there’s always a few people who anticipate global annihilation with something that looks like longing.

Gus Carter

The Starmer supremacy

40 min listen

On the podcast this week: what could achieving a large majority at the next election mean for Labour; how much should parents worry about picky eating; and why are humans fascinated with the apocalypse?  First up: The Starmer supremacy. If the polls are correct, Labour could be on to a record landslide at the next general election. Any political leader would relish such a win. But can achieving such a large majority present internal problems of its own? Labour MP Harriet Harman joins The Spectator’s political editor Katy Balls to discuss. (1:32) Then: Lara and Gus discuss some of their favourite pieces from the magazine, from Charles Moore’s column to

Sam Leith

Annie Jacobsen: Nuclear War

45 min listen

My guest on this week’s Book Club podcast is the investigative reporter Annie Jacobsen, whose hair-raising new book Nuclear War: A Scenario imagines – minute by minute – what would unfold if the nuclear balloon went up. But rather than a work of fantasy, this is based on meticulously sourced reporting about the effects of nuclear weapons and the structures and policies that govern them. We all knew it would be bad but Jacobsen tells us just how bad, and how fast, and quite how little the people who push the button will actually know about what’s going on.

Sam Leith

Viet Thanh Nguyen: A Man of Two Faces

43 min listen

In this week’s Book Club podcast my guest is the Pulitzer prize winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose new book is the memoir A Man of Two Faces. He tells me about the value of trauma to literature, learning about his history through Hollywood, falling asleep in class… and the rotten manners of Oliver Stone.