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The Education of Melvyn Bragg

The New Yorker
 2021-08-01

Cover picture for the articleThe renowned British radio and television broadcaster Melvyn Bragg is perhaps best known in the U.S. as the host of “In Our Time,” his long-running BBC Radio 4 program and podcast, in which he vigorously guides three academics through a particular subject of their expertise, beginning with his distinctive let’s-get-right-to-it introduction. “Hello, Paul Dirac, 1902-1984, made some of the greatest discoveries in twentieth-century physics, second only to Einstein.” “Hello, when Athenians first saw Euripedes’ play ‘The Bacchae,’ in 405 B.C., they were on the point of defeat in a long war with Sparta, their fate beyond that unknown.” “Hello, some mass extinctions happen instantly, as when an asteroid hits the Earth. . . .” The show is relevant to the human experience but not to the current news cycle or culture calendar; it respects the listener by being clear, serious, and curious. It’s also one of the most popular programs in the U.K.—and, in the podcast era, widely heard internationally. Bragg chooses the subjects with his producer, Simon Tillotson, and, as host, he’s shrewd and self-effacing, occasionally sprinkling in genial phrases like “comes a cropper” or “we’re going before our horse to market.” It’s an entirely refreshing listening experience, subtly reminding you of the boundlessness of your own ignorance while gamely helping to mitigate it.

www.newyorker.com

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