The American Idea

Co-presented with The Atlantic Monthly
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Episode Summary
For 150 years, The Atlantic Monthly has explored what its founders-including Emerson, Longfellow and Holmes-called \"The American Idea.\" Join us for a high-spirited discussion with celebrated Atlantic contributors about the role literary masters have played in interpreting and often rebuking American society and culture.

Participant(s) Bio
Walter Kirn is an essayist, critic, and novelist whose work appears regularly in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review. He is the author of five works of fiction, including My Hard Bargain: Stories, She Needed Me, Thumbsucker, Up in the Air, and Mission to America. He recently completed a screenplay based on his 2005 Atlantic article "Lost in the Meritocracy", a memoir of his years at Princeton. Kirn's work is represented in the anthology by his American Everyman, a provocative depiction of Warren Buffett as a great communicator in the tradition of Mark Twain and Will Rogers.

George McGovern was U.S. Senator for South Dakota from 1962 to 1980. He won the nomination as his party's candidate for the presidency against incumbent President Richard Nixon. Following his defeat by Nixon, he served for six years as president of the Middle East Policy Council. He is the author of a dozen books and numerous published articles. He is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom-the nation's highest civilian award. Senator McGovern is represented in the anthology by his 1967 Atlantic essay, "America's Crisis Addiction," in which he argued that the country's tendency to embark on military interventions of dubious relevance to the national interest had detracted resources and attention from its own social problems -- a thesis that seems every bit as timely today as it was forty years ago.

James Q. Wilson is the author or co-author of fifteen books, the most recent of which is The Marriage Problem. Others include Moral Judgement; The Moral Sense; American Government; Bureaucracy; and Thinking About Crime. He is currently chairman of the Board of Academic Advisers of the American Enterprise Institute. In 2003, President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. He is currently the Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.

Robert Vare is the editor at large of The Atlantic Monthly. He is a former editor at The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Magazine, where he edited the Pulitzer Prize-winning cover story "Grady's Gift," in 1991. In 2004, he was the editor of Things Worth Fighting For, a post-humously published collection of writings by Michael Kelly, the former Atlantic editor-in-chief who was killed while covering the war in Iraq. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, he has taught nonfiction writing at Yale and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.