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Steve Inskeep believes in books as the ‘antidote’ to a technophilic age

The voice of NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’ finds history to be grounding

Steve Inskeep and the cover of his book, “Differ We Must."Mike Morgan/Penguin Press

In an age rife with rancorous political disagreements, Steve Inskeep, longtime host of NPR’s Morning Edition, turned to the past for guidance. In his new book “Differ We Must: How Lincoln Succeeded in a Divided America,” he recounts how the 16th president navigated deep political discord. On Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m., Inskeep will discuss his new book at WBUR CitySpace. Tickets are $5 for students, $15 general admission or $45 (which includes a copy of the a book).

BOOKS: What are you reading?

INSKEEP: David Leonhardt’s forthcoming book, “Ours Was the Shining Future: The Story of the American Dream,” which is very well written and is about what led to the unraveling of the country economically starting in the ‘70s. It’s a story people know but he brings so much detail to it. One of my favorite things with nonfiction is to have a moment of revelation about something that I thought I knew.

BOOKS: Is that a typical book for you?


INSKEEP: I read a lot of nonfiction, a lot of history, and a fair amount of fiction. I’m interested in stories that take the long view, such as Leonhardt’s book or Sebastian Junger’s “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” which looks at the problem of soldiers with PTSD. He argues that it is not war that causes it, but society.

BOOKS: How much does your reporting influence your reading?

INSKEEP: Sometimes in a very direct way because I do book interviews. I had not read anything by the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak until I interviewed her about her novel “Three Daughters of Eve.” Now I’ve read three or four of Shafak’s novels, including “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World,” which is about a woman who has been killed. You find out who she is and how she ended up in that terrible circumstance.


BOOKS: How would you describe the novels you pick up?

INSKEEP: Not necessarily the newest books. There have been periods where I read a lot of John le Carré and James Ellroy. I read some political novels, such as Lawrence Wright’s “Mr. Texas.” Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” is a kind of a comfort read for me. It’s got some dated and inappropriate language. Actually, it’s more disturbing the more I read it, but it’s still fascinating.

BOOKS: How do you make time to read with your schedule?

INSKEEP: My life is a desperate effort to read. Maybe this is a function of time, but I’ll read a book out of order. I bought Orlando Figes’s “The Crimean War” maybe a decade ago, and I read random chunks in the middle of the book over the years. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and the Crimean War felt like a more relevant subject so I read the book from beginning to end.

BOOKS: What other books have you started in the middle?

INSKEEP: I spent my junior year at Hunter College in an exchange program. For class, I was assigned Robert Caro’s enormous book, “The Power Broker,” which is about the misdevelopment of New York City under Robert Moses. I barely touched it and then Hunter students went on strike. There were no classes for a few weeks. I dove into the book, but in the middle with the chapter on New York City before Robert Moses. That book made me conscious of the built environment and how profoundly it can affect your life.


BOOKS: What were the best books you read about Lincoln for your own book?

INSKEEP: There are so many. “The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,” which includes every word he’s been confirmed to have written. Jon Meacham’s biography, “And There Was Light,” is compelling, as is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “A Team of Rivals.” Then there’s Douglas Wilson’s book about his youth, “Honor’s Voice.” “Lincoln Day by Day” documents what he did every day of his life chronologically.

BOOKS: Has all the turmoil since President Trump was elected in 2016 influenced your reading?

INSKEEP: In a few ways. For one, my reading in history has grounded me. Books are antidotes to what is wrong with our age. Our phones, TVs, and computer screens demand we pay attention to them and to what is most exciting. Books by their nature make us take the long view. It causes you to get in touch with stories that don’t fit in a tweet.