Corporate rapacity and government collusion are at the centre of William Dalrymple’s history of the East India Company. He tells Amol Rajan how the company moved relentlessly from trade to conquest of India in the 18th century. But Dalrymple warns against the distortion of history both by those in Britain nostalgic for an imperial past, and Hindu nationalists in India.
2019 marked the centenary of the Amritsar massacre in which more than a thousand Indians were killed by British soldiers. Although the events leading up to the atrocity are now well documented, Anita Anand has uncovered the extraordinary story of revenge which led to the shooting in London of the man responsible for the massacre.
In August this year the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status, sparking protests in the Muslim-majority valley. But why has this region - once a princely state, until the end of British rule - become such a flashpoint for violence? Professor Sumantra Bose explores the consequence of the Indian government’s latest actions.
Producer: Katy Hickman
Love and unreason
Classicist Bettany Hughes has traced the history of the goddess known as Venus or Aphrodite. Originally depicted with a phallus on her head, Venus was later drawn and sculpted as a beautiful naked woman. Hughes tells Andrew Marr why this powerful deity of love was thought to corrupt and to inspire.
Tenor Mark Padmore depicts the irrationality of desire in Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice. He plays the lead role in the Royal Opera House's new production, based on Thomas Mann's novella, in which a burnt-out writer succumbs to obsessive love. Britten wrote the main part for his partner, Peter Pears, with whom he lived through decades of homophobia.
Unconscious desires and strange fantasies play out in the work of Dora Maar, one of the great Surrealist artists. Emma Lewis has curated an exhibition of Maar's photography and paintings, revealing an artist whose striking imagery rivalled that of her more famous lover, Picasso.
Historian of philosophy Clare Carlisle discusses the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, one of the first thinkers to interrogate our emotional life. George Eliot translated his 17th-century masterpiece, the Ethics, into English. Eliot also 'translated' his ideas into literary form. Her novel Middlemarch draws on Spinoza's ideas about human flourishing and love, shown through different happy and unhappy marriages.
Producer: Hannah Sander
Life, death and taxes
Nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes. If this is true, then the comedian-cum-finance writer Dominic Frisby says it’s time we better understand the latter! He tells Tom Sutcliffe how taxes have shaped our past, are upsetting our present and could be the answer to changing our future.
The economist Vicky Pryce also wants to change the future, by reforming capitalism so that it stops failing women. She interrogates the pay gap and glass ceiling. But she also argues that the free market is predicated on perpetuating inequality - and that it is women who bear the brunt.
The free market economy was advanced during the Enlightenment. The academic Alexander Zevin explores how a century later economic liberalism became fused with political liberalism in Britain. And how the liberal message evolved through the pages of the Economist Magazine, founded in 1843.
As BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime prepares to read Voltaire’s satire Candide, Professor Judith Hawley looks back to the ideas that were fermenting at the time of the Enlightenment, and how optimism can quickly lead to disillusionment.
Producer: Katy Hickman
Animals and us
How cultured are animals? It’s a question the marine biologist Karsten Brensing explores as he studies dolphins calling one another by name, ducklings scoring well in abstract reasoning, and the loyalty, forgiveness and empathy that are becoming apparent in the animal kingdom. He tells Andrew Marr that the latest scientific findings reveal animals with behaviour and cognitive sophistication very similar to our own.
The intricate lives of animals and birds plus their spectacular habitats are on television screens this autumn with the BBC’s series Seven Worlds, One Planet. In a forthcoming episode the producer Emma Napper shows how species isolated on Australia have evolved like nowhere else on Earth: from the most dangerous bird in the word, the cassowary, to desert reptiles that drink through their skin.
Although concern for animals has been expressed since ancient times, it was only in the early 19th century that the first laws protecting animals were passed. The historian Diana Donald looks back at the chequered past of animal welfare, and the pioneering woman who helped bring about change. While cattle and domestic animals were protected under laws in 1822 and 1835, it took decades until wild animals were included.
Rhinos were once found throughout Eurasia and Africa, but now three of the five rhino species face extinction unless drastic action is taken to counter poaching and habitat loss. This has led scientists, including Professor Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University, to come up with the ingenious invention of fake rhino horn. Using horse hair and regenerated silk the fabricated horn is almost indistinguishable with the real thing, and could be used to undermine the market in rhino horn.
Producer: Katy Hickman
Nobel Prize winner Esther Duflo
Esther Duflo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics this autumn for her work in the developing world. In her latest book, Good Economics for Hard Times, the French economist turns her attention to the thorniest issues of our time, from global immigration to climate change. She tells Tom Sutcliffe how the lessons from the world's poorest countries can be applied to Western economies, and why we should be wary of complacency.
One of the worst economic crises imaginable struck Weimar Germany in the 1920s. Hyperinflation led to prices in 1923 that were astonishingly a billion times higher than they had been in 1914. But historian Richard J Evans explains that the chaos and suffering caused by sky-high prices did not affect all Germans equally. The middle classes saw their mortgages and rent fall to practically nothing, while many businesses expanded rapidly. Evans explores the fracturing of society that followed this hardest of times.
The Booker prize-winning author Julian Barnes looks back at France’s Belle Epoque, an era known for luscious Renoir and Monet paintings, for flamboyant nights at the Moulin Rouge, and for widespread glamour and wealth. In The Man in the Red Coat, Barnes looks beneath the surface of this glittering era, and instead finds rampant prejudice, nativism, hysteria and violence. He depicts an era of enormous social change, with striking parallels to our own time.
Producer: Hannah Sander.