Podcast Review: Conversations with John Anderson

Featuring Ian Macfarlane

Podcasts are an important part of my day. I spend a great deal of time in the car, making many short trips of an hour or less every day. Frequent interruptions make it hard for me to enjoy audio books. Podcasts are perfect for my schedule and Conversations with John Anderson is one of my favorite podcasts. Mr. Anderson is a former Australian MP, he served as Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister from 1999 to 2005. His podcast title provides an accurate description of its format. Anderson’s interview style is conversational, which makes it compatible with driving. In a recent installment of Conversations, Anderson interviewed Ian Macfarlane. Macfarlane is an Australian economist, who served as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia from 1996 to 2006. However, what prompted his interview on Conversations with John Anderson was the release of his latest book: Ten Remarkable Australians. In this book Macfarlane tells the stories of ten Australians who played significant roles in world history but are now somewhat forgotten.

While I am interested very in reading his book, the focus of this post is not the book itself. During the interview Macfarlane made several statements that I found to be refreshing. Early in the interview John Anderson asked why Australians were outward looking in nature (a trait he believes contributed to the success of the ten-subject people) and why these once prominent people were now largely forgotten [6:48]. In answering the question Macfarlane described the issues he faced when he took his book to the large Australian publishing houses. According to Macfarlane the response from the large houses was “people will not buy books about people they have not heard of…” [7:16]. He lists the number of biographies that have been written about people who are well known today, some of whom have 10 or more biographies in print today. Interestingly, the ten people featured in his book have each been the subject of biographies which are now out of print [9:30]. Access to these types of biographies is why I scour GooglePlay.

I do not believe this issue is isolated to Australia. A trip to any bookstore or library will serve as proof. Macfarlane’s response harkens to the classic chicken and egg conundrum. If no one publishes material about these people, no one will have heard of them, and their stories will not be forgotten. Macfarlane points out that biography is becoming like Hollywood, producing endless remakes of familiar stories. Things are less risky that way. Macfarlane offers another statement later that I found most refreshing. When discussing his reasons for writing the book, he said “I did not write it because I had a particular view of history. I did not write it because I wanted to build a monument to these people…” “I wrote it because I found the stories so interesting” [beginning at 17:13] If only more biographers and writers of history would do the same, if only more consumers of biography and history would do the same, we might have fewer ideological works masquerading as biography and history.

Anderson and Macfarlane also noted that many of the book’s subjects were not formally trained in the fields to which they contributed, and they were frequently accomplished in more than one field. “Renaissance man” is a term I used to hear. I find these people more interesting than I do the highly specialized. I believe they can offer unique perspectives. A Google search for “a list of people who are successful in more than one field” offered many people from the first half of the 20th Century who achieved success in completely unrelated fields (Niels and Harald Bohr– football, mathematics, and physics). Richard Branson is may be one modern example. However, Branson appears to be an outlier. Most of the modern examples have found success in more than one business, most of their other businesses are in the same field (Dustin Moskovitz– Facebook, Asana, philanthropy). Today, the trend is more diversification of business. Philanthropy is frequently noted as the second field for today’s highly successful.

Although I am not Australian, I would like to read Macfarlane’s book Ten Remarkable Australians. Conversations with John Anderson will remain one of my staple podcasts. If you have not listened to one his podcasts, I hope you will. I believe you will find them informative.

  2 comments for “Podcast Review: Conversations with John Anderson

  1. June 13, 2020 at 2:02 pm

    I like the idea of the Renaissance Man being more interesting than a highly specialized person. That seems about right in many cases. But I’m not sure about philanthropy being a field of success. All that philanthropy seems to require is lots of money, so I’m not sure how that would make a person more interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 13, 2020 at 2:24 pm

      I agree. I do not consider philanthropy a second field. I find it interesting that it is what today’s successful do after they have achieved financial independence. I wonder if the trend is due to our narrow interests.

      Liked by 1 person

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