Please Expand

by Ahilleas Rokni

Please Expand is a podcast where I discuss non-fiction books with their authors. But Please Expand is not just about summaries; it's about conversations. I go into every episode having read each book in great detail and having reflected on the fundamental assumptions, foundations and questions with which the book grapples. If you, like me, have finished a book with burning questions that only the author could answer, then Pleas ...   ...  Read more

Podcast episodes

  • Season 2

  • The Decline of Magic with Michael Hunter

    The Decline of Magic with Michael Hunter

    In this episode, Giulia Luvisotto and I interview Michael Hunter on The Decline of Magic. Taking its cue from Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic, Hunter goes into the details of why magic declined in the late 17th century. Hunter introduces us to the world of the orthodox thinkers and the free-thinkers (or the Wits!) and the intellectual battlefield on which they exchanged withering treatises about the existence of supernatural phenomena and natural causation. We talk about the rise of the New Science, the struggle of Baconianism against the rising star of Newtonianism, and how the ultimate triumph of Newtonianism played a role in the decline of magic. We also look at the role played by doctors and the way that Cartesianism paved the way for the claim that superstitious beliefs were merely an ailment of the mind that could be cured. Finally, we take stock of what we have discussed and look back to Religion and Decline of Magic and consider Michael Hunter's contribution to the discussion on the decline of magic. Ultimately, it was neither the cold scepticism of the Wits or the dogmatic method of the New Science that rung the death knell for magic, rather it was a growing feeling of optimism about our problem-solving capacities that gave people the confidence with which to object to magic that dealt the fatal blow.

  • Princes of the Renaissance with Mary Hollingsworth

    Princes of the Renaissance with Mary Hollingsworth

    In this episode, I interview Mary Hollingsworth on her new book, Princes of the Renaissance. We begin by talking about just what exactly the Renaissance was and how it developed differently across the Italian peninsula. Then, we discuss the ideal character of an Italian Prince, of their engagement in war but, more importantly, their role as patron of the arts and how they were the focal point for the development of the Renaissance within their particular city-state.We go from talking about the not-so-salacious Borgias, to the mysterious Venetians in their all black robes, to the humbly virtuous dynasty of the Este's of Ferrara. We look at how they garnered prestige and reputation through the arts, and how the fierce rivalry between Francis I and Philip V.At the end of the episode, Giulia and I talk about the creation of identity through art, similarities between the role of art in the Renaissance and the present, and an obscure Vietnamese emperor who could have been a Renaissance man.

  • Conquistadores: A New History with Fernando Cervantes

    Conquistadores: A New History with Fernando Cervantes

    In this episode I interview Fernando Cervantes, author of "Conquistadores", where we discuss his new interpretation of the conquest of the Americas. By placing figures like Columbus and Cortes in their proper historical context, Fernando paints a picture of the conquest of the Americas that is no less violent than traditional narratives, but much less wicked.We talk about the Christian, medieval, crusading spirit that is fundamental to understanding the motivations and actions of the conquistadors; we look at the methods used by missionaries to spread Christianity and how their flexibility to blending native religions with Christianity led to the establishment of a distinctly Latin American Christian religion; and, finally, we look at the kinds of political lessons that can be learnt from the earliest forms of government in Latin America, particularly in the context of contemporary debates between the sovereignty of states over and against transnational political entities.

  • America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present with John Ghazvinian

    America and Iran: A History, 1720 to the Present with John Ghazvinian

    In this episode I interview John Ghazvinian, author of "American and Iran", where we talk about the surprising history of American-Iranian relations by beginning in 1720, and continue all the way through the circuitous and, sometimes tortuous, path that is the history of these two remarkable nations.We look at the foundations for American interest in Iran; the growth of Iranian fascination with American democracy; the fascinating dual character of Iran as both the inheritor of Ancient Persia and Cyrus the Great, on the one hand, and as a Muslim nation, on the other hand; the role that religion played as a motor for progress in both the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 and the Iranian Revolution of 1979; and, finally, we consider the future of American-Iranian relations.

  • Time's Witness with Rosemary Hill

    Time's Witness with Rosemary Hill

    In this episodes we talk about an obscure group of professionals called "Antiquaries" ,whose intellectual activities became increasingly relevant in the period from 1789 -1851. We discuss the changing self-image of the English; the antiquaries made the Gothic central to English identity; and it is to the antiquaries that we owe the canonisation of Shakespeare. We grapple with questions concerning historical authenticity, the role of creativity in historical narratives, and ultimately wonder whether the histories we get are simply the ones that we need.