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45 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 25 January 2010

Andrew Marr discusses 'How to Live' with the help of Montaigne biographer Sarah Bakewell and the writer Will Self, the geneticist Steve Jones asks how much the mapping of the human genome really tells us about who we are, and the conductor Charles Hazlewood attempts to recapture the spirit of the 18th-century satire The Beggar's Opera.


    A decade ago, scientists began the painstaking research to identify and map the tens of thousands of genes that make up the human body. Since then, newspapers have been full of reports identifying genes that make you mean with money, prone to wrinkles and bad at driving. Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College London, believes it’s time to re-evaluate the Human Genome Project, and banish once and for all the idea of a gene “for” a particular attribute and the inborn fatalism that implies.

    Steve Jones will be giving a talk at the Royal Institution: Nature, nurture or neither? The view from the genes on Friday 29 January.

    The Royal Institution

    “I turn my gaze inward, I fix it there and keep it busy”, so wrote the sixteenth century essayist Michel de Montaigne. In a new biography, Sarah Bakewell argues that Montaigne’s questioning and thoughtful prose remains as relevant today as it has throughout the centuries since it was written. Montaigne lived in a time of war and religious fanaticism and yet he preserved a tolerant, open-minded approach in his attempt to answer the ultimate question: How to live well?

    How To Live – A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer is published by Chatto & Windus.

    Sarah Bakewell

    Writer and essayist Will Self talks about the influence of Montaigne on his own work. He believes the modern essay blurs the boundaries between genres: mixing memoir, philosophy, fiction, and his own term, ‘psycho-geography’. His latest book, Psycho Too, includes the essay, Walking to the World, in which he describes his experience of, and reaction to, the man-made islands in Dubai.

    Psycho Too, words by Will Self and pictures by Ralph Steadman, is published by Bloomsbury.

    Will Self

    When it was first performed in 1728, The Beggar’s Opera changed London’s theatrical landscape by using the music of the streets and a cast of thieves, whores and libertines. The folk songs of the day were used to satirise politics, corruption and injustice across the class divide. But three centuries later the themes might still be apt, but the music has lost some of its potency. In The Beggar’s Opera: Reborn Charles Hazlewood refashions the songs, with help from artists from Portishead and Goldfrapp, in an attempt to recapture the spirit of the original.

    The Beggar’s Opera: Reborn is at the Roundhouse in London on Monday 25 January.

    Charles Hazlewood


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