Pamela is a journalist. For nine years she was the editor of The New York Times Book Review, where she also hosted a weekly podcast, and she’s now a columnist for the Opinion section of the Times where she writes about culture, ideas, society, language and politics. She’s the author of eight books, most recently 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on how computers are killing off deep reading, and the growing rate of anorexia among girls — pop over to our YouTube page.
Other topics: growing up in NYC and Long Island with divorced parents; her mom wrote ad copy and her dad was a contractor; Pamela was the only girl among seven brothers; she always wanted to be a writer; studied history at Brown; considered a PhD but didn’t want to focus on an “ism”; spent a year alone in northern Thailand with little tech — “probably best decision of my life”; how a career is not a linear path, especially in your 20s; the benefits of very little Internet; how media today is homogenized across the Western world; the publishing industry; Jon Stewart ambushing me on his show; how non-natives often see a country better than its natives; Tocqueville; how professors have stopped assigning full books; the assault on the humanities; Reed College and Hum 110; the war in Israel and Gaza; the ignorance and hateful ideology against Israel; Jewish liberals waking up to wokeness; how Israeli officials are botching their PR; “the death of Israeli competence”; gender and trans ideology; how gays and trans people are far more persecuted outside the West; Iran’s program of sex changes; what priests and trans activists have in common; Thatcher a much better feminist than Clinton; the decline of magazines and the blogosphere; The Weekly Dish; and Pamela defending the NYT against my barbs.
Browse the Dishcast archive for another convo you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: David Leonhardt on his new book about the American Dream, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira on Where Have All the Democrats Gone?, Cat Bohannon on Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution, Matthew Crawford, and McKay Coppins. Please send any guest recs, dissent and other comments to email@example.com.
A listener refers to last week’s episode with David Brooks as “the best Dishcast ever”:
With all the wonderful content you have created and shared over the years, I find it almost impossible to pick a favorite, but your conversation with David Brooks was simply marvelous. Every topic you covered was moving and enlightening. My only wish was to have a reading list of every book and author you two mentioned, so that — once I’m done with David’s book — I can spend the fall and winter gaining greater knowledge and understanding.
Another adds, “I can’t recall anyone in a long time who proffered more quotations during an interview — by my count over 25. How Brooks can remember so many is beyond me!” Another:
Loneliness also opens people up to scammers (romance, catfishing, psychics and mediums, etc), and this can lead to tremendous damage to individuals, families and financial security. Also, newer studies are looking at the link between loneliness and loss of cognition (Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias). I look forward to reading David’s book!
Another book is recommended by this listener:
You asked a question of David Brooks: how does one wisely engage and even care for someone who is grieving?
There is much written on this beautiful act of loving, of course. Allow me to point you to one small book that is packed with wisdom: Someone I Know Is Grieving: Caring with Humility and Compassion by Edward Welch. Dr. Welch is a licensed psychologist and has been counseling for 40 years. He’s also a Christian; he writes from that perspective.
A listener on another episode:
I recently heard your conversation with James Alison, which was excellent. Some of the discussion on the purpose of nature in creating gay individuals led me to believe you’d be interested in this TedTalk by Dr. James O’Keefe, who “gives us a deeply personal and fascinating insight into why homosexuality is indeed a necessary and extraordinarily useful cog in nature’s wheel of perfection”:
Indeed, the evolutionary advantages of peripheral homosexuality are becoming better understood and appreciated. Another listener segues into Israel:
First off, I absolutely loved your interview with David Brooks. It’s a wonderful thing for listeners to have the opportunity to get to know you through the podcast. I wouldn’t be a Dish reader and subscriber without having first become an obsessive listener. Having gone through a 4+ year remodel, you have my sympathies for your contractor woes. I hope by now your Provincetown home is now beautifully painted in exactly the hues and finishes you wanted.
Regarding your column, “For Israel, There Are No Good Options Now,” I so appreciate your relentless advocacy for liberal values, regardless of which side is attempting to silence the other. What really piqued my interest was your assertion (and I hope I interpreted this correctly) that in some ways an embryonic form of cancel culture began many years ago with US-based defenders of Israel framing reasonable criticism of Israel’s policies as anti-Semitic. I haven’t seen this perspective elsewhere and think it suggests important lessons.
What led me to wonder if I understood your message was the link you included to a long, opaque and tortuous (for me) article by Leon Wieseltier at The New Republic in 2010. Admittedly, while I was very interested in your argument here, I wasn’t prepared to work that hard to grasp the evidence that this early version of cancel culture chilled healthy open debate about Israel for the past couple of decades. Can you offer some evidence that’s a tad more accessible to the average reader?
My second reason for writing is that I would love to suggest George Monbiot as a guest on the podcast. Obviously he holds very different political views from you, but I know this isn’t disqualifying in and of itself, and he truly is a heavyweight in his field. I believe you could have a fascinating discussion about what it means to be a conservative when it comes to the environment, and maybe even find quite a lot of common ground. You can get a window into what that discussion could encompass by reading this recent blog post in which he takes on a critic of his recent book, Regenesis.
Yes, the Leon rant was both opaque and tortuous, like much of his writing. But if someone like me, who has long admired the Jewish state and wish it well, can be deemed a Nazi-level anti-Semite, then anyone can. And my experience in American journalism over three decades showed this was pervasive at nearly every major newspaper. The pressure on journalists was always intense; and on congressmen and women, it was overwhelming and ruthless, once AIPAC got involved.
I think this prevented a more forthright and honest debate, which hurt Israel in the long run, because we never presented them with a truly hard choice between our support and their settlement project on the West Bank. They’re paying the price now.
As for Monbiot, I have read him from time to time. Thanks for the idea. Another guest rec:
I was raised as a Bush-era Republican, and have stayed more or less in that space as I’ve grown up — which means I find Trump and much of the current GOP abhorrent, but am also not thrilled by what I see on the Dem side. I’ve been raised with a fairly pro-Israel view, and that continues to be my default. I’ve heard decrying of “settlements” and “occupation” by folks on the far left, and for the most part have ignored them because I don’t trust those people to have anything approaching a reasonable opinion on the matter. But seeing you echo some of that gives me pause, because I don’t think you’re an anti-semite, nor are you infected by the weird mind-viruses that seem so prevalent on both the left and the right lately.
All that’s to say, I’d be really curious to hear a conversation between you and Bari Weiss on the subject of the current war, and of Israel’s foreign policy towards the Palestinians over the past few decades. You’re really good at pushing back against guests you disagree with in a respectful manner, and I suspect she would be a good conversation partner for helping your listeners who don't really know what to think about all of this disentangle things.
I should have a wrestle with a die-hard Israel-supporter on the settlements, their purpose, and their effect. Bari came on the pod last year. A snippet:
Next up, many more dissents over Israel and Gaza, and I respond at great length. The first:
In your latest column, you invoke “the Israel lobby” — an insane antisemitic trope — to explain America’s involvement in the Hamas War. I mean, that’s just bonkers.