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5 speakers 15 minutes each
Mon 15th Nov 2010
Michela Wrong tells the story of Kenya's dysfunctional state and an anti-corruption crusader- John Githongo. Githongo was a Kenyan journalist and activist who joined newly elected Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's administration in 2003 as anti-corruption czar. He secretly recorded conversations in which powerful officials implicated themselves in corruption- despite the fact that this meant taking on his own tribe, the Kikuyu. This went against the patronage system embodied in the mentality of "it is our turn to eat"- where elites enriched and protected their families and tribe when they had ruling power by appropriating ("eating") the assets of the state. These recordings caused shockwaves in Kenya but those who were involved escaped serious punishment, and John Githongo had to flee to Britain. Michela Wrong examines the problems of aid going to African countries where corruption is so rife and argues that eradicating corruption is not being adequately prioritised by international powers. However, the story of John Githongo offers the hope that a new generation of Africans will change the culture of "it's out turn to eat".
Simon Singh studied physics, before completing a PhD in particle physics at Cambridge University and at CERN, Geneva. In 1990 he joined the BBC’s Science Department, as a producer and director in programmes such as Tomorrow’s World and Horizon. In 1996 he directed Fermat’s Last Theorem, a BAFTA award winning documentary about the world’s most notorious mathematical problem. This was also the subject of his first book, Fermat’s Last Theorem. His book The Code Book resulted in a return to television when he presented The Science of Secrecy for Channel 4. The stories in the series range from the cipher that sealed the fate of Mary Queen of Scots to the coded Zimmermann Telegram that changed the course of the First World War. His has also written a book, which explores mathematical themes hidden in The Simpsons. Everyone knows that The Simpsons is the most successful show in television history, but very few people realise that its team of mathematically gifted writers have used the show to explore everything from calculus to geometry, from pi to game theory, and from infinitesimals to infinity.
Hilary Spurling talks us through the inspiration behind her latest book, Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck. Having always been intrigued by the exotic China of small children with shaved heads, in floral tops, flying kites and fighting each other with scorpions which she read about as a child, Spurling was always fascinated by the country. Looking at China today, its modernity and inconceivable pace of change, she suggests it's difficult to understand just how exotic it appeared before, in the world of her imagination. She claims it was Pearl Buck, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature who was the individual most responsible for changing our perceptions of the Chinese from yellow-skinned, opium den-dwelling villains, to appreciating them as people, just the same as us. The reality of everyday Chinese life experienced by Buck (the village life, the flooding, the famine, the sex-trafficking and civil war) was told through her best-selling book The Good Earth.
Alain de Botton was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1969 and now lives in London. He is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a ‘philosophy of everyday life.’ He’s written on love, travel, architecture and literature. His books have been bestsellers in 30 countries. Alain also started and helps to run The School of Life, dedicated to a new vision of education. His latest book, published in February 2014, is titled The News: A User’s Manual.
Valerie Grove is a British author and journalist, who for many years worked for The Times as an interviewer, columnist and feature writer. After graduating from Girton College, Cambridge, she joined the Evening Standard, and later became the newspaper's literary editor. Valerie has also published biographies of writers Dodie Smith, Laurie Lee and John Mortimer. So Much To Tell, a biography of children's book editor Kaye Webb, was published in May 2010.