The Gospel of Oprah: Podcast with Kathryn Lofton

A version of this post was originally published in conjunction with the book’s publication date. This post is republished to reflect on Oprah’s speech at the 2018 #GoldenGlobes.

Have you heard the good news? If you’ve been at all exposed to popular culture over the last two decades, chances are you’ve heard it—the message of Oprah’s gospel, that is. For the UC Press Podcast, we interview Kathryn Lofton, author of the Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon. Lofton, a professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Yale University, finds in Oprah’s empire—Harpo Productions, O Magazine, and her new television network—an uncanny reflection of religion in modern society.

In this podcast, Lofton shares insights about Oprah’s message (the star of your own life is YOU!), her cheerful collaboration with capitalism, and the historical moment that made her incredible acendancy possible. Lofton also ponders whether Oprah is a uniquely American phenomenon, examining women of other nationalities who purport to be their own country’s “Oprah”. Finally, she addresses what will come of the O media empire once Oprah herself is no longer around to spread the message.

Listen to the podcast now

New UC Press Podcast: Harry Greene’s Wild and Wonderful Career

Tracks and Shadows

In the latest episode of the UC Press Podcast, Chris Gondek talks to Harry Greene about his new book, Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art, which has been called “an immediate classic” by Jim Harrison. Greene’s warmth and enthusiasm for his subject are apparent in this discussion, which ranges from his early years as a funeral home worker and ambulance driver, to his transformation from a poor student into a successful scientist and teacher, to the public perception of snakes in the 1960s. Greene shares some thrilling encounters with giant snakes in the wild, and makes a compelling case for herpetology as a gateway for advances in other fields.

Listen to the podcast now:  


Learn more:


New UC Press Podcast: The Rebeccas Talk Unfathomable City

Unfathomable CityIn the latest episode of the UC Press Podcast, Unfathomable City authors Rebecca Snedeker and Rebecca Solnit share how they became interested in making a book of maps about New Orleans, and what their respective “insider” and “outsider” statuses bring to the project. Like the bestselling Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, this book is a brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, one that provides a vivid, complex look at the multi-faceted nature of New Orleans, a city replete with contradictions.

In the podcast, the authors discuss the literal and metaphorical implications of the city’s status as a port, what they love about their favorite maps, and why walking down a street in New Orleans feels so different from walking down a street in the Bay Area.

Listen to the podcast now 

UC Press Podcast: Teardown

TeardownLast week’s news that Detroit will default on $2 billion of debt has many wondering what will happen to cities in similar financial distress, and to the nation’s economy as a whole. Gordon Young’s new memoir, Teardown, offers a unique perspective from inside one such city: Flint, Michigan. The birthplace of General Motors, Flint once boasted one of the world’s highest per capita income levels. Now it is one of the country’s most impoverished and dangerous cities—a place where speculators scoop up cheap houses by the dozen on eBay, arson is often the quickest route to neighborhood beautification, and police stations are closed on weekends.

In this episode of the UC Press Podcast, Young, journalist and creator of the blog, Flint Expatriates, offers a glimpse inside Flint that is by turns idiosyncratic, painful, and inspiring. Listen to the podcast to hear his take on the “shrinking cities” movement and how some longtime residents feel about the prospect of demolishing neighborhoods. Young also tells stories of a Flint unrecognizable from the one today—a place where children could obtain a “drivers license” at Safetyville and public harps were available for anyone to play.

Listen to the podcast now, and visit Teardown’s website for photos, excerpts, and more Flint artifacts:



UC Press Podcast: God in Proof

God in Proof coverIn the latest UC Press Podcast episode, writer and editor Nathan Schneider takes us on a philosophical tour of proofs, from the ancient to the modern, revealing the historical continuum of arguments for and against the existence of God. His new book, God in Proof, explores centuries of believers and unbelievers—from ancient Greeks, to medieval Arabs, to today’s most eminent philosophers and the New Atheists.

Schneider’s sure-handed portrayal of the characters and ideas involved in the search for proof challenges how we normally think about doubt and faith while showing that, in their quest for certainty and the proofs to declare it, thinkers on either side of the God divide are often closer to one another than they would like to think. No matter where you fall of the spectrum of belief, this podcast will surely give you something think—or argue—about.

Listen to the podcast now:  

UC Press Podcast: Mingus Speaks

The Amazing Bud PowellBooks like Mingus Speaks come around once in a lifetime, and Music editor Mary Francis’s enthusiasm for the project is palpable. That’s why we asked her to introduce this episode of the UC Press Podcast, a discussion with writer and former music critic John Goodman, complete with music and archival clips from Mingus’s interviews. Take it away, Mary! 


When I first encountered John Goodman’s interviews with Charles Mingus I could hardly believe my luck. Detailed reflections from one of the great jazz composers and performers don’t surface every day, much less in-depth interviews that hadn’t been in the public eye. Not all artists are articulate, or even willing to talk much about their work. But I had a hunch that Mingus in his own words would be something special.

The interviews don’t disappoint. In his podcast, Goodman calls Mingus, “an incredible talker,” and that’s an understatement. Mingus’ voice, individual and idiosyncratic from the first quote (“Don’t take me for no avant-garde, ready-born doctor.”), reaches off the page to grab your attention. Reading his words it is easy to imagine how absorbing it must have been to sit at a bar, sipping Pernod and soda and listening to him discourse. Mingus was as nimble and inventive a raconteur as he was as a performer and composer. Goodman’s questions don’t just receive answers: they inspire passionate, detailed anecdotes, counterproposals, Socratic volleys of queries, reminiscences, rants, jokes, nuanced appraisals, praise for colleagues and friends, sarcastic cracks, testimonials to the ideals that guided Mingus’ artistic practice. Listen to the podcast for a snippet from one of the interviews: Mingus Speaks, “machine-gun style,” as Goodman observes, rapid, fluent, sharp.

The idea of authenticity ties together much of what Mingus had to say. Mingus’ high standards for authentic artistic, professional, even ethical practices shine through these interviews from his first reflections on the skill and study required for true musical mastery. Mingus is celebrated as innovative, even avant-garde, but he was suspicious of the avant-garde label. He speaks repeatedly in the interviews of the importance of studying and mastering the traditions and history of music, not just jazz, but Bach, Varèse, masters of the blues, other original musical thinkers rooted in solid technique and deep respect of their traditions. Briskly scornful of improvisational practices that had little to do with coherent form and expressive structure, Mingus doesn’t hesitate to point out which emperors among the free jazz community were wearing no clothes.

Mingus is similarly forceful and articulate about race and musical identity, the shady practices of the music industry, the complexities of working with other musicians to create truly collaborative, expressive music. He isn’t abstract, he doesn’t mince words, his emotions inform his intellectual musings and punctuate his words with laughs, rushes of excitement, anger, moody pauses; his words have the same intensity and integrity as his music.

—Mary Francis

Listen to the podcast now:  


UC Press Podcast: Leslie C. Bell on the Hardships of Hookup Culture

While young women today benefit from unprecedented education and opportunity compared to previous generations, many have trouble navigating personal and sexual relationships, Leslie C. Bell argues in her new book, Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom. Drawing from her years of experience as a researcher and a psychotherapist, Bell takes us directly into the lives of young women who struggle to negotiate the complexities of sexual desire and pleasure, and to make sense of their historically unique but contradictory constellation of opportunities and challenges.

In the latest episode of the UC Press Podcast, Bell discusses the legacy of the sexual revolution and the need for honest conversation between women in their twenties and their predecessors. In a wide-ranging discussion, she addresses methodological issues like the representation of queer women in her study, the benefits of a small sample size, and what sets her findings apart from those discovered in a survey.

Listen now:  

For more, read Salon’s interview with Bell, “Finally! A nuanced look at hookup culture,” and Bell’s op-ed in Psychology Today, “What Lena Dunham’s Girls Know, And Dora the Explorer Doesn’t.”

UC Press Podcast: The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge

A note from the person who maintains this blog: Almost exactly a year ago, a dear of friend of mine walked out on to the Golden Gate Bridge, sent a text asking that her dog be cared for and jumped. If the publication of The Final Leap deters a single troubled person from making the same decision, it will be most important book we’ve published all year.  On with the post.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most beautiful and most photographed structures in the world. It’s also the most deadly. Since it opened in 1937, more than 1,500 people have died jumping off the bridge, making it the top suicide site on earth. It’s also the only international landmark without a suicide barrier. Weaving drama, tragedy, and politics against the backdrop of a world-famous city, The Final Leap is the first book ever written about Golden Gate Bridge suicides. John Bateson leads us on a fascinating journey that uncovers the reasons for the design decision that led to so many deaths, provides insight into the phenomenon of suicide, and examines arguments for and against a suicide barrier. He tells the stories of those who have died, the few who have survived, and those who have been affected—from loving families to the Coast Guard, from the coroner to suicide prevention advocates.

On the newest UC Press podcast, Chris Gondek talks to John Bateson about the experiences that lead him to write The Final Leap.


And for additional context, here’s a short review from the San Jose Mercury News.

UC Press Podcast: Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature

There are three major myths of human nature: humans are divided into biological races; humans are naturally aggressive; men and women are truly different in behavior, desires, and wiring. In an engaging and wide-ranging narrative Agustín Fuentes counters these pervasive and pernicious myths about human behavior. Tackling misconceptions about what race, aggression, and sex really mean for humans, Fuentes incorporates an accessible understanding of culture, genetics, and evolution requiring us to dispose of notions of “nature or nurture.” Presenting scientific evidence from diverse fields, including anthropology, biology, and psychology, Fuentes devises a myth-busting toolkit to dismantle persistent fallacies about the validity of biological races, the innateness of aggression and violence, and the nature of monogamy and differences between the sexes. A final chapter plus an appendix provide a set of take-home points on how readers can myth-bust on their own. Accessible, compelling, and original, this book is a rich and nuanced account of how nature, culture, experience, and choice interact to influence human behavior.

Here’s our own Chris Gondek interviewing Race, Monogramy, and Other Lies They Told You author Agustín Fuentes:


And for additional context, Agustin Fuentes wrote an author blog for Psychology Today and gave this interview to Good Morning (New Zealand)

UC Press Podcast: A People’s Guide to Los Angeles

A People’s Guide to Los Angeles offers an assortment of eye-opening alternatives to L.A.’s usual tourist destinations. It documents 115 little-known sites in the City of Angels where struggles related to race, class, gender, and sexuality have occurred. They introduce us to people and events usually ignored by mainstream media and, in the process, create a fresh history of Los Angeles. Roughly dividing the city into six regions—North Los Angeles, the Eastside and San Gabriel Valley, South Los Angeles, Long Beach and the Harbor, the Westside, and the San Fernando Valley—this illuminating guide shows how power operates in the shaping of places, and how it remains embedded in the landscape.


And here’s a capsule review of A People’s Guide to Los Angeles from our friends at Booklist to give you a bit more context about the book.