When host Jack Russell Weinstein started Why? Radio, he had no idea how popular it would become and how many of the world’s most intriguing people he would have the honor of interviewing. There have been many great moments dispersed throughout all of the discussions, but some episodes stick in his mind more than others.
When people ask which ones they should start with, Jack likes to return to a core group. Here, for the first time, are his personal favorites. But he cautions us, “these are my favorites, they don’t have to be yours. A lot of this is just idiosyncratic, what my interests happen to be and how the discussion touched me personally.”
Your experience may differ and we are putting together a collection of listener favorites too. If you have an episode you’d like to see on the list, email us which one and why, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We really want to know!
These are not in order, he wants us to know. This is not a ranking, just a collection of great episodes worth listening to and sharing.
Click on the episode title to listen!
“I love the live performances, and this was both the most fun and the most moving of them all. It was Why? Radio’s tenth anniversary celebration and my father, Mark Weinstein, was the guest. He’s a world-class jazz flutist and he had just retired without fanfare. So, this episode was both my gift to him and to the local community that has been so supportive of the show. During the episode, we discuss the history of jazz, listen to some great music, and do our best to explain why anyone can enjoy the music, even if they don’t know much about it. I can’t think of a better introduction and I can’t recall hearing a more successful philosophical exploration of America’s most original genre (if I do say so myself).” – Jack
“Americans are stuck in categories, and two-dimensional histories. ‘The civil-rights activists were Baptist’, ‘Buddhists are Asian’, ’Caste systems are found in India, not in America.’ This episode challenges all this, with one of the nicest, most giving, and most accessible guests I’ve ever hosted. I hope Jan won’t mind me admitting that she was very nervous about doing the show and I had to persuade her that it would be okay. But you’d never know it. Her brilliance, vast knowledge, and ease with her subject comes through at every moment in the discussion. I couldn’t ask for a more paradigm-shifting interview and a better ambassador for one of the world’s great religions.” – Jack
“The main thing I remember about this interview is the laughter. Hal Herzog was a joy to talk to and one of the most insightful people I’ve ever interviewed. This episode was recorded before a live audience, at a University of North Dakota Writers’ Conference. It’s about people’s relationship with animals and why some animals are pets and some are food. But, of course, it’s really about what it means to be a human being, and why we make the choices we do. This was probably the first episode I ever called my favorite and it is the one I recommend the most. See how accessible and fun philosophy can be, and take the time to reconsider what it means to be a person and what it means not to be.” – Jack
“Native Americans are the most populist minority group in North Dakota and the people with the least power. Their history is ignored by almost everyone, and their religious images and traditions are mocked, appropriated, and otherwise abused from sea to shining sea. But I did not know how much I didn’t know, and how much I didn’t understand, until I interviewed George “Tink” Tinker. This episode was difficult emotionally more than intellectually, and it is one of the things in my career I am most proud of, because it is the most necessary interviews I’ve ever done. Tink is a powerful and brilliant advocate for the Native American perspective. Everyone should listen to this episode. It’s not always fun, but every second is meaningful.” – Jack
“So, yes, I cried on stage, but if poetry can’t do that to you, what can? I love the live episodes the best, and this conversation was recorded during a University of North Dakota Writers’ Conference. The audience energy was great, the conversation was a once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity, and Mary Jo is an advocate like none other. If you don’t think you like poetry listen to this episode, your be converted. Ad if you are already a poetry lover, swim in it. Why? Radio and interviews in general, don’t get better than this one.” – Jack
“Some episodes are bigger than their titles and some guests have such a sense of how knowledge works, that they can talk in epochs, rather than details. This Why? Radio features both, a wide-ranging deeply human conversation and a guest whose overarching knowledge takes us on an unexpected journey. I tend to avoid questions like ‘what’s the meaning of life,’ for Why? Radio because they are so ill-defined that it is hard to keep the audience’s attention. They end up being about affirming or critiquing people’s life decisions. But Michael was able to explain evolution, challenge religious points of view, and offer a perspective on life’s meaning without overpowering the discussion, or losing the audience. Plus, he was loads of fun. Listen to this episode. It’s what everyone imagines philosophy to be.” – Jack
“The whole point of Why? Radio is that anyone can do philosophy, and that they do it all the time, even if they don’t know it. If I have to provide proof, this episode would be it. It was recorded in a club, in Shanghai, with a handheld recorder, a couple of microphones, and four guys who had no idea what they were getting into. Noukilla is an African music group based in Shanghai, trying to make it big on the World-Music scene. They think they don’t know anything about philosophy, but as the interview shows, just a casual conversation can lead to the deepest insights. Listen to this episode. It’s fun, it’s accessible, and it speaks the universal language of music.” – Jack
“’How do you teach something new about the most familiar book in the world? That is the question that plagued me when I started thinking about this episode. But few things have bowled me over more than Robert Alter’s transition of the Bible, and there are few things that I wanted to share as much. This is an episode that shows us what it is like to be a scholar and dives deep into how we use language. It’s also one that feels intimate while also being impersonal, if such a thing is even possible. In my experience, people listening to this episode walk away with a deeper appreciation of the bible, whether they are religious or not. What more could someone want from a philosophy podcast?” – Jack
“Carol Gilligan is one in a small group of my intellectual heroes that I have gotten to interview over the years. Everyone who listens thinks we are in the same room, and have been close friends forever. In fact, we were fifteen-hundred miles away from each other and had never spoken before. But her book In A Different Voice literallychanged my life and shifted the way I understood the world. So, this interview was a big deal for me and it turned out to be everything I wanted and more. Do men and women think, speak, and reason differently from one another? And, how is it that the male point of view could be designated the ‘adult’ perspective as late as 1982 (perhaps even right now)? This episode explores the background and legacy of Carol Gilligan’s groundbreaking book, and opportunities like this one are very reasons I started doing Why? Radio to begin with.” – Jack
“This is another episode with a family member, this time, my wife, Kim Donehower, an English professor. For twenty years, she has been teaching me about…well, everything. She’s brilliant and interesting, and I have been trying to get her to do the show for ages. Her expertise is teaching people how to teach writing—she’s a “compositionist”—and her research focuses on literacy practices in rural communities. What her work shows is that literacy is more complicated than just a test of whether someone knows how to read it write. It is political, economic, cultural, and endlessly fascinating. This episode was a pleasure to do and, I think, great fun to listen to.” – Jack
“I probably shouldn’t admit this, but this episode was totally spontaneous. Why? Radio had a last-minute schedule change and I called my friend Adam, a Shakespeare specialist and asked, “what are you doing for lunch?” Three hours later, we were sitting in the recording studio. I just had enough time to write a monologue. The fact is, I know almost nothing about Shakespeare and the conversation took a path I never expected. The best episodes, I think, are the ones where I learn along with the audience, and the ones whose conclusions surprise me. Is Shakespeare relevant? The answer is obviously yes, but why Shakespeare is still relevant? I never would have guessed the answer Adam offers.” – Jack
“Sometimes, you just have to laugh. Everything shouldn’t always be so heavy. That’s the message of this episode, and there are lots of jokes to book. This is an episode for anyone who wants to enjoy philosophy and not feel burdened by the weight of it all, because what Al and I ask are questions we have all discussed. What makes things funny? Is it okay to tell ethnic jokes? How can humor improve our lives? If you want a lighthearted, yet genuinely philosophical discussion, listen to this episode. And take note of how Al and my senses of humors differ. Guess which one of us is a bit more edgy.” – Jack
“How could I not be thrilled to celebrate the hundredth episode with a couple of legends? Gloria Steinem and Suzanne Braun Levine did not make the women’s movement what it was, but they certainly made it their own. To talk to them is to talk directly with history, and this episode will end up being a document that people return to over and over again. Plus, Gloria and Suzanne couldn’t have been nicer, more open to the difficult questions, and more forthcoming about their legacies. Plus, the end of the episode features our guests being interviewed by my middle-school-aged daughter and her best friend. What could be more inspiring than listening to feminist legends pass the torch to the youngest generation?” – Jack
“It is really hard to talk about antisemitism, especially now. Very few people really understand how pervasive it is and what it looks like, and you end of showing even people you love that they hold antisemitic views. That’s why I was genuinely frightened about doing this episode. I was nervous about the conversation and the possible backlash. But Daniel Goldhagen is one of my intellectual heroes and I wouldn’t have passed up the chance to explore the topic with him, for the world. He is a calm, precise, and amiable guest who helped me navigate through one of the toughest and most personal subjects I have ever discussed on the air. It’s worth noting that I have had more people cancel their subscriptions to the podcast and mailing list after this show, than any others. Sadly, that was no coincidence.” – Jack
“You know how you think something is one thing and it turns out to be something completely different? That’s what this episode is like. I thought I knew what ghostwriting was, but I really didn’t. I also thought I had a good sense of the ethical issues involved, but I was wrong. And you know what? It turns out I have been a ghostwriter and didn’t even know it. Chances are, you have too. Deb Brandt does an outstanding job of combining the theoretical perspective with real-world experiences. It’s worth a listen and I bet you’ll see yourself in this episode, even if you don’t expect it.” – Jack
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