Up Close is our weekly, in-depth interview series hosted by Steven I. Weiss.
Watch Up Close each week on The Jewish Channel on cable, or subscribe to our free, audio-only podcast of the show on iTunes, Feedburner, or your favorite podcast player. Catch up with highlights from each episode via the links below!
Up Close: Jeanne Marie Laskas and Larissa MacFarquhar. On doing good. The story of pathologist Bennet Omalu is now a major motion picture starring Will Smith. But if the NFL had had its way, Omalu’s findings would never have seen the light of day. Jeanne Marie Laskas tells his story in “Concussion.” And then, what drives so-called do-gooders to place the lives of complete strangers ahead of those of members of their families and communities? New Yorker Staff Writer Larissa MacFarquhar talks about “Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help.”
Up Close: Jon Birger and Joe Berkowitz & Josh Gondelman. What’s wrong with men today? It’s possible that what men are doing wrong is as simple as numbers and economics. Fortune Magazine Contributor Jon Birger reveals those possibilities in “Date-Onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game.” And then, Fast Company’s Joe Berkowitz and Last Week Tonight’s Josh Gondelman share their thoughts from “You Blew It!: An Awkward Look at the Many Ways In Which You’ve Already Ruined Your Life.”
Up Close: Scott Shane and Joe Domanick. On keeping ourselves, and others, safe. The drone strike on an American citizen in 2011 required novel legal arguments, military strategy and tactics, in addition to new technology. New York Times National Security Reporter Scott Shane tells that story in “Objective Troy: A Terrorist, A President, and the Rise of the Drone.” And, while most white Americans are extremely safe in this country, police violence has often left African-Americans and other minority populations explicitly unsafe. Joe Domanick examines this phenomenon in “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.”
Up Close: Ann Goldstein and Leslie Day. On exploring the natural world and taking inspiration from it. For one of the greatest Jewish writers of all time, being a chemist was a major part of how he saw the world. Primo Levi also wrote about it. New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein discusses the translation project she led, “The Complete Works of Primo Levi.” And then, being a New Yorker didn’t keep school teacher Leslie Day from communing with nature. We discuss her “Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City.”
Up Close: Roberta Kaplan and Peninnah Schram & R’ Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. Jewish love stories. The love story of two Jewish women was the one that ended discrimination against same-sex marriages within the U.S. federal government, and arguing that case was lawyer Roberta Kaplan. She shares her story and theirs in “Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA.” And then, Peninnah Schram and Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso discuss their effort to put love stories into the heart of the Jewish tradition with “Jewish Stories of Love and Marriage: Folktales, Legends, & Letters.”
Up Close: Deborah Davis and Molly Crabapple. What does it take to make an artist? Andy Warhol is a name only slightly better-known than his iconic pictures, but as he was crafting his art, he was also crafting himself as an artist. Deborah Davis explores that development in “The Trip: Andy Warhol’s Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure.” And Molly Crabapple, a young artist with several independent shows under her belt, awards won, and contributing editor position at Vice, tells what it’s taken to get to this point in her career in her memoir, “Drawing Blood.”
Up Close: Imran Garda and Meera Subramanian. On voyages of discovery. As a news anchor for Al Jazeera, Imran Garda has seen an Arab Spring flow into a refugee crisis. His novel travels around Africa and beyond to bring us a story in the midst of the story, with “The Thunder That Roars.” And Meera Subramanian visited the land of her father to explore the way India, the world’s largest democracy, is coping with environmental problems, in “A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka.”
Up Close: Steve Silberman and Reuven Fenton. On being stigmatized through no fault of one’s own. Journalist Steve Silberman discusses autism’s history as a guide to its future in “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.” And New York Post reporter Reuven Fenton explores the stories of those wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit in “Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned.”
Up Close: Joy-Ann Reid and Gary Rivlin. Being black in America means getting treated differently from those who are white in numerous ways. Within the world of politics, MSNBC National Correspondent Joy-Ann Reid explores how the African-American vote was pursued by the Democratic Party in “Fracture: Barack Obama, The Clintons, and the Racial Divide.” And then, journalist Gary Rivlin spent a decade reporting on the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina on New Orleans and the African-American population there. He discusses his findings in “Katrina: After the Flood.”
Up Close: M. R. O’Connor and Sherry Turkle. What makes us human? And is that something we could lose? Maura O’Connor explores what it means to preserve a species in “Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things.” And if we can lose a given species by changing its culture, can we also lose the culture that makes us human? M.I.T. Professor Sherry Turkle explores that in “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.”
Up Close: Paul Barrett and Susan Aranoff. What happens when the law fails to deliver justice? The largest verdict for environmental damages in history will forever be quite tainted. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Paul Barrett discusses “Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who’d Stop at Nothing to Win.” And Susan Aranoff, a long-time advocate on the issue of agunot, is the co-author of “The Wed-Locked Agunot: Orthodox Jewish Women Chained to Dead Marriages.”
Up Close: Josh Levs and Sarah Weinman. What can men be doing better to support women? Being a dad is hard, especially when laws and policies keep dads from doing their fair share. Josh Levs explores that in “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses–And How We Can Fix It Together.” And within crime fiction, some of the best work is done by women, and so is some of the best work from previous eras. That’s the argument of Sarah Weinman, editor of “Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s.”
Up Close: Linda Hirshman and E.M. Rose. The law of the land can help us, and it can hurt us. The groundbreaking efforts by the first two women to serve as justices for the nation are explored by Linda Hirshman in “Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World.” And the clearest example of injustice against Jews in the Western judicial system was the blood libel, which traces back to a fixed trial nearly 900 years ago. E.M. Rose gathers together evidence to tell the story of “The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe.”
Up Close: Casey Schwartz and Christine Hayes. When we examine what’s controlling us, we find different sources of authority. In the realm of the mind, new science reveals that our brain is making decisions before we’re consciously aware of them. Casey Schwartz explores this conflict in “In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis.” And the realm of the law often cites a higher authority. But who establishes that authority? Yale’s Prof. Christine Hayes asks that question in “What’s Divine About Divine Law?: Early Perspectives.”
Up Close: Alyssa Katz and Stephen Witt. When people work together they can accomplish more than any one individual, but sometimes that’s a bad thing. NY Daily News’ Alyssa Katz discusses her book, “The Influence Machine: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life,” and, exploring the mp3 revolution and its effect on the music industry is Stephen Witt, author of “How Music Got Free: The end of an Industry, The Turn of the Century and the Patient Zero of Piracy.”
Up Close: Gillian Tett and Jonathan Weisman. We often close ourselves off from information and experiences that can help us — and ignore the opportunities right under our noses. That’s the argument of Financial Times US Managing Editor Gillian Tett, author of “The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers.” And sometimes new experiences and new acquaintances can teach us how to be the people we’ll become. That’s a theme in the novel by New York Times Deputy Washington Editor Jonathan Weisman, “Number 4 Imperial Lane.”
Up Close: Jeanne Bishop and Amy Milligan. Sometimes, the faithful among us do things that are exceptional and rarely understood. How did one woman come to forgive the man who murdered her sister? Jeanne Bishop talks about that in “Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer.” And then, exploring why and how some women take on a Jewish practice of covering their hair is Elizabethtown College Professor Amy Milligan in “Hair, Headwear and Orthodox Jewish Women: Kallah’s Choice.”
Up Close: William Arkin and Nancy Moses. Things that end up in unexpected places. Twenty years ago, no one thought we’d be able to place a flying weapon across the globe from its pilot and engage in warfare. William Arkin discusses “Unmanned: Drones, Data, and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare.” And, when a young German Jewish woman sat for a famous portrait, no one thought it would end up the subject of one of the greatest art disputes in history. Nancy Moses discusses that and more in “Stolen, Smuggled, Sold: on the Hunt for Cultural Treasures.”
Up Close: Goldie Blumenstyk and Amy Fusselman. What tools do we give the next generation? Chronicle of Higher Education Senior Writer Goldie Blumenstyk wonders if one traditional tool is broken, exploring that question in “American Higher Education in Crisis? What Everyone Needs to Know,” and Amy Fusselman explores an unusual Tokyo playground — where children play with hammers, nails and even fire — in “Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die.”
Up Close: Tracy Dahlby and Blaine Harden. Journalists offer varying looks at Asia. Tracy Dahlby reflects on decades going in and out of Japan, China, Vietnam, and more in “Into the Field: a Foreign Correspondent’s Notebook,” and Former Washington Post correspondent Blaine Harden examines North Korea as a study in contrast, in “The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom.”
Up Close: Jon Fine and Lynn Davidman. Breaking away from childhood strictures and finding meaning elsewhere. Inc. Magazine Executive Editor Jon Fine discusses his path in “Your Band Sucks: What I Learned at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear),” and Kansas University Professor Lynn Davidman brings together stories of people who grew up in the Ultra-Orthodox community and eventually left in “Becoming Unorthodox: Stories of Ex-Hasidic Jews.”
Up Close: Nathaniel Popper and Alice Dreger.Valuing new ideas. New York Times Business Reporter Nathaniel Popper digs under the surface of the world’s most famous virtual currency in “Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying To Reinvent Money.” And, in a world increasingly driven by popular discussion, Northwestern University Professor Alice Dreger explores how the possibility of popular outrage affects the quest for scientific discovery in “Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science.”
Up Close: Michelle Goldberg and Susan Katz Miller. How religions and beliefs change over time. Michelle Goldberg discusses how one woman popularized yoga in the West under sometimes-false pretenses in “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West,” and Susan Katz Miller shares the stories of families who juggle multiple religions at once in “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family.”
Up Close: Christine Romans and Anya Kamenetz. Laying a path for the future is one of our most basic social obligations. But are we doing a good job? CNN’s Christine Romans, author of “Smart is the New Rich: Money Guide for Millenials,” says we could be doing a lot better to give young people a solid financial future. And NPR’s Anya Kamenetz discusses the burden we place on young kids with high-stakes standardized tests in “The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed With Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have To Be.”
Up Close: Marc B. Shapiro and Michal Lemberger. How do holes can get poked in tradition, and how can a tradition be recovered or reclaimed? University of Scranton Professor Marc Shapiro examines how traditional Jewish texts have been changed over the centuries in “Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites its History,” and University of Judaism Professor Michal Lemberger uses short stories to fill in some gaps in Biblical women’s lives in “After Abel and Other Stories.”
Up Close: Barney Frank and Shulem Deen. Memoirs from two men who blazed a trail by being different from what many expected of them. Congressman Barney Frank discusses being the first openly gay member of Congress and his reputation as a confrontational speaker and legislator in “Frank: A Life in Politics From the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage,” and the man started the genre of ex-Hasidic memoir-writing under the blog name “Hasidic Rebel,” Shulem Deen talks about his new memoir, “All Who Go Do Not Return.”
Up Close: Paul Sullivan and Michael Casey. What does money mean to us? New York Times Columnist Paul Sullivan attempts to answer that questions in “The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy.” And then, exploring new solutions to take government and banks out of the money equation is Wall Street Journal Columnist Michael Casey, who is co-author of “The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order.”
Up Close: Pamela Katz and Annie Cohen-Solal. Three groundbreaking artists and how their work came into being. “The Threepenny Opera” changed what we think about theater, drama, and music. Author Pamela Katz tells the story behind it in “The Partnership: Brecht, Weill, Three Women, and Germany on the Brink,” and Annie Cohen-Solal delves into the rebellious life and work of one of the most distinctive visual artists of the 20th century in “Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel.”
Up Close: Mary Pilon and Amy-Jill Levine. On this episode, we revisit stories we were told as children to reveal deeper truths. Mary Pilon dug into the surprising origin story of the board game Monopoly for her book, “The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game,” and Vanderbilt University Professor Amy-Jill Levine finds new lessons for both Jews and Christians in “Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi.”
Up Close: Laura Colby and Nicholas Carlson. Two very different approaches to women’s advancement in corporate America are explored through the stories of two of the country’s top female CEOs. With Bloomberg News reporter at large Laura Colby, author of Road to Power: How GM’s Mary Barra Shattered the Glass Ceiling, and Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson, author of Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!
Up Close: Alan Wolfe and Shira Dicker. What makes Jews lose their sense of place? And what can give it back to them? Boston College Political Science Professor Alan Wolfe discusses his book, At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora is Good for the Jews, and Shira Dicker talks about her novella, The Jerusalem Lover.
Up Close: Marilyn Johnson and Maira Kalman. The joy of discovery: Marilyn Johnson explores the lives of archaeologists in Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble and artist Maira Kalman dips into the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s collection and reveals what she finds delightul in My Favorite Things: Maira Kalman’s Illustrated Catalog of Unusual Objects, Memories, and Delight.
Up Close: Leah Wright Rigueur and Katha Pollitt. Political choices that can be viewed as controversial. Kennedy School of Government Professor Leah Wright Rigueur explores the African-American community’s approach in The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power and The Nation columnist Katha Pollitt has some words for those who think they’re advocates for choice in Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.
Up Close: Marie Gottschalk and Jan Jarboe Russell. Incarceration. America today stands out as by far the country with the most individuals in jails and prisons. The University of Pennsylvania’s Marie Gottschalk discusses the reasons for, and consequences of, this in Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics. And the imprisoning of certain ethnic groups during World War II is a controversial topic in our history. Contributing Editor for Texas Monthly Jan Jarboe Russell discusses some fascinating parts of that story in The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II.
Up Close: Emily Wilson and Johann Hari. A look at the concept of “personal responsibility” from two different angles. University of Pennsylvania classics professor Emily Wilson re-examines the life and ideas of Seneca, the father of Stoicism, in the The Greatest Empire: A Life of Seneca. And author Johann Hari challenges commonly held notions about how we deal with drugs and addicts in Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
Up Close: Ayelet Cohen and Eve Tushnet. Being LGBT can seem to be at odds with practicing organized religion, but that’s not necessarily so for the authors on this episode of Up Close. Rabbi Ayelet Cohen details the history of the country’s first LGBT synagogue in “Changing Lives, Making History: Congregation Beit Simchat Torah”; and author Eve Tushnet, a devout Catholic who was born Jewish and is also a lesbian, attempts to reconcile her faith and her sexuality in “Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith.”
Up Close: David Gelles and Gabriele Oettingen. A look at how we can better achieve our goals, as individuals and corporations. TJC’s Steven I. Weiss talks with NYT business reporter David Gelles about his book, Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Business from the Inside Out, and with NYU psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen about her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation.
Up Close: Daphne Merkin and Jim Dwyer. What happens when we publicize private details? Acclaimed essayist Daphne Merkin discusses her collection The Fame Lunches: On Wounded Icons, Money, Sex, The Brontes, and The Importance of Handbags and NYT columnist Jim Dwyer talks about his book, More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Quest to Save the World From Facebook.
Up Close: Peter Manseau and Brigitte Sion. This week on Up Close, we explore different ways of looking at our pasts. TJC’s Steven I. Weiss speaks with Peter Manseau, author of “One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History,” and Brigitte Sion, author of “Memorials in Berlin and Buenos Aires: Balancing Memory, Architecture, and Tourism.”
Up Close: Shane Harris and Joel Simon. On this episode, we explore new kinds of warfare and the consequences for non-combatants. TJC’s Steven I. Weiss speaks with Daily Beast Senior Correspondent Shane Harris, author of “@War: The Rise of The Military Internet Complex,” and with The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Executive Director Joel Simon, author of “The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle For Media Freedom.”
Up Close: Melanie Notkin and Ari Goldman. As we reach new stages in life, embracing who we are and who we’ll become can help us achieve a greater measure of happiness. We speak to two people embracing new ways of thinking about their respective stages in life. Melanie Notkin, in her early forties without the husband and children she’d long planned to have, is the author of “Otherhood: Modern Women Finding A New Kind of Happiness.” And journalism professor Ari Goldman describes picking up the cello on the eve of his 60th birthday in “The Late Starters Orchestra.”
Up Close: Meline Toumani and Mike Kelly. Finding empathy with victims of political violence, collectively and individually. Armenian-American author Meline Toumani discusses her memoir, “There Was and There Was Not,” and the commonalities between the Armenian-American and the Jewish-American experience, and Bergen Record columnist Mike Kelly delves into the story of the 1996 bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed two Americans, “The Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Peace and the Search for Justice.”
Up Close: Kathryn Cramer Brownell and Paula Rabinowitz. What happens when an elite domain becomes available to the masses? Purdue University Prof. Kathryn Cramer Brownell discusses “Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life,” and University of Michigan Prof. Paula Rabinowitz offers a literary take in “American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street.”
Up Close: Nazila Fathi and Suki Kim. Two memoirs which shed light on the repressive regimes in Iran and North Korea, respectively. Nazila Fathi discusses “The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of The Struggle For Modern Iran,” and Suki Kim talks about her book, “Without You There Is No Us: My Time With The Sons of North Korea’s Elite.”
Up Close: Zephyr Teachout and Fatma Muge Gocek. Sin and the State. Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, a former Democratic primary candidate for Governor of New York, on “Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff-box to Citizens United,” and University of Michigan professor Fatma Muge Gocek examines the consequences of the Armenian genocide on Turkey in “Denial of Violence: Ottoman Past, Turkish Present, and Collective Violence against the Armenians, 1789-2009.”
Up Close: Mindy Greenstein and Meryl Comer. What to expect from aging — the good and the bad. Mindy Greenstein, co-author of “Lighter As We Go: Virtues, Character Strengths, and Aging” looks on the bright side, while Meryl Comer, author of “Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s” offers a more sobering tale, seeking to raise awareness about the need to be prepared for illness.
Up Close: Sara Lipton and Laura Lieber. Art has been used to promote Jewish life and to condemn it. On this episode, SUNY Stony Brook professor Sara Lipton on “Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography” and Duke University professor Laura Lieber on “A Vocabulary of Desire: The Song of Songs in the Early Synagogue.”
Up Close: Avi Steinberg and Yitta Halberstam & Judith Leventhal. Differing notions of faith. Jewish author Avi Steinberg explores Mormonism in “The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarehemla, and Kansas City, Missouri,” and the authors of the “Small Miracles” series, Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, discuss their newest and most supernatural book, “Small Miracles from Beyond.”