You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel?

Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting?

Each week, host Jason Gots surprises some of the world's brightest minds with ideas they're not at all prepared to discuss. Join us and special guests Neil Gaiman, Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Richard Dawkins, Maria Popova, Mary-Louise Parker, Neil deGrasse Tyson and many more...

Gary Shteyngart: reality catches up to dystopian fiction

Our modern-day Kafka on his new novel Lake Success and the dark comedy that in 2018 pretty much writes itself

Technology & Innovation
  • riding the Greyhounds of hell, from New York to El Paso
  • the alternate reality of hedge fund traders


Gary Shteyngart's new novel Lake Success is the evil doppelgänger of the Simon and Garfunkel song 'America'. In what is surely destined to become one of those legendary novel openings, right up there with "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times," we meet Barry Cohen, "a man with 2.4 billion dollars of assets under management . . ." in a Greyhound Bus Terminal at 3:20 am, bleeding from his face and drunk on $20,000 of Japanese whiskey.

Shteyngart is one of my favorite writers ever. In the three books I've read—a memoir and two novels—we are sad, basically good-hearted schmos twisted into balloon animals by an uncaring world. Or . . . wait . . . the world is made of us…so…how good hearted are we, really?

Born in the USSR, Shteyngart emigrated to Queens as a kid. In his memoir Little Failure he describes his first experience of American cereal: "It tastes grainy easy and light, with a hint of false fruitiness. It tastes the way America feels."

It tastes the way America feels.

Like Paul Simon in the song, Barry Cohen has walked…or stumbled drunkenly…off to look for America. By almost any measure he is a horrible person. He's also a sad, basically good-hearted schmo twisted in into a balloon animal by the world. And maybe America is a false, fruity mirror in which, the harder you look, the more you end up seeing yourself.

Surprise conversation starter clips in this episode:

Anand Giridharadas on the sham of corporate social responsibility

Robin DiAngelo on unconscious racism and white fragility

Befriend your ideological opposite. It’s fun.

Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
  • Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
  • "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
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