cover art for Introducing Past Present Future

The LRB Podcast

Introducing Past Present Future

Past Present Future is a new weekly podcast with David Runciman, host of Talking Politics, exploring the history of ideas from politics to philosophy, culture to technology. David talks to historians, novelists, scientists and many others about where the most interesting ideas come from, what they mean, and why they matter.

Ideas from the past, questions about the present, shaping the future.

Brought to you in partnership with the London Review of Books.

New episodes every Thursday. Just subscribe to Past Present Future wherever you get your podcasts.

More episodes

View all episodes

  • UK Election Special: Climate

    In the first in a series of episodes on the UK general election, James Butler is joined by Ann Pettifor and Adrienne Buller to discuss climate policy and its apparent absence from the campaign so far. Several years ago the Labour Party was committed to a Green New Deal but has since backed away from that promise, while the Conservatives have decided that abandoning their own climate commitments is a vote-winner. Ann, Adrienne and James consider why political leadership and courage have disappeared on this issue, what environmental policy might look like with a Labour government, and how Chinese bicycles demonstrate the problem of international climate action.Read James's latest blog post on the election: more on climate in the LRB:Will Davies on why capitalism won't save the planet: Butler on Andreas Malm and ecoterrorism:
  • What was the Venetian ghetto?

    From the ghetto's creation in 1516 until its dissolution at the end of the 18th century, Jews in Venice were confined to a district enclosed by canals, patrolled by guards and locked at night. Yet its residents were essential players in Venetian life, and in practice the ghetto saw far more traffic through its gates than its founders intended. Erin Maglaque joins Tom to discuss what life in the ghetto was like, and why an open-air prison could be considered relatively tolerant by the standards of early modern Europe.Find further reading on the episode page: links:Find out more about Solved from the University of Toronto Press: more about Serious Readers:
  • Forecasting D-Day

    The D-Day planners said that everything would depended the weather. They needed 'a quiet day with not more than moderate winds and seas and not too much cloud for the airmen, to be followed by three more quiet days'. But who would make the forecast? The Meteorological Office? The US Air Force? The Royal Navy? In the event, it was all three. In this diary piece published in 1994, Lawrence Hogben, a New Zealand-born meteorologist and Royal Navy officer, describes the way this forecasting by committee worked, and why they very almost chose the wrong day.Read by Stephen DillaneFind the article and further reading on the episode page: the short film based on this piece: links:Learn more about Serious Readers: up to the LRB's Close Readings subscription:In Apple Podcasts: other podcast apps:
  • On J.G. Ballard

    J.G. Ballard’s life and work contains many incongruities, outraging the Daily Mail and being offered a CBE (which he rejected), and variously appealing to both Spielberg and Cronenberg. In a recent piece, Edmund Gordon unpicks the contradictions and contrarianism in Ballard’s non-fiction writing, and he joins Tom to continue the dissection. They explore Ballard’s strange combination of ‘whisky and soda’ conservatism and the avant-garde, what he was trying to achieve through his fiction, and how ‘Ballardian’ Empire of the Sun really is.Sponsored links:Find out more about Pace Gallery London’s Kiki Kogelnik exhibition here: more about Serious Readers: up to the LRB's Close Readings subscription:In Apple Podcasts: other podcast apps:
  • On Festac ’77

    Marilyn Nance was 23 when she photographed Festac ’77, a global celebration of Black and African art that she described as ‘the Olympics, plus a Biennial, plus Woodstock’. In his review of Nance’s book, Sean Jacobs traces a more fraught history of the festival than her photographs would suggest. Sean joins Tom to discuss what Festac meant for politicians, attendees and the proponents of négritude, third worldism and pan-Africanism.Find further reading on the episode page: out more about Serious Readers:
  • Rebecca Solnit: In the Shadow of Silicon Valley

    Rebecca Solnit has lived in San Francisco since 1980, but the city she used to know is fast disappearing, ‘fully annexed’, as she puts it, by the tech firms from Silicon Valley. In this episode of the LRB podcast, Solnit reads her piece from the 8 February issue of the paper, both a eulogy for the city that’s been lost and a dissection of the dystopia that’s replacing it, ‘returning us’, as she puts it, ‘to a kind of feudalism’.Find further reading on the episode page: out more about Coram Boy at Chichister Festival Theatre here:
  • Women in Philosophy

    The recovery of history’s ‘lost’ women is often associated with the advent of feminism, but, Sophie Smith writes, women’s contributions to Western philosophy have been regularly rediscovered since at least the 14th century. She joins Tom to discuss what we can learn from the women who held their own alongside Plato, Descartes and Hume.Find Sophie’s piece and further reading on the episode page: out more about Pace Gallery’s upcoming exhibitions here: out more about Coram Boy at Chichister Festival Theatre here:
  • Unspeakable Acts

    James Pratt and John Smith were the last men hanged in England for the crime of sodomy, reported to the authorities by nosy landlords who later petitioned for clemency. Tom Crewe joins Thomas Jones to explain how exceptional – and unexceptional – the case was, the historical forces that led to the death sentence and the surprising ambivalence many Londoners felt about ‘unnatural crimes’ in the 1830s.Find out more about Bluets at the Royal Court theatre here: Tom Crewe’s piece and further reading at the episode page:
  • Where does culture come from?

    The word ‘culture’ now drags the term ‘wars’ in its wake, but this is too narrow an approach to a concept with a much more capacious history. In the closing LRB Winter Lecture for 2024, Terry Eagleton examines various aspects of that history – culture and power, culture and ethics, culture and critique, culture and ideology – in an attempt to broaden the argument and understand where we are now.Terry Eagleton delivered this lecture as part of the LRB's Winter Lecture series at St James's Church, Clerkenwell, London on 27 March 2024.Read Terry Eagleton’s lecture in the LRB: the lecture on YouTube: out more about Bluets here: