‘There is no sun without shadows, and it is essential to know the night,’ the words of Albert Camus, a writer whose exploration of the absurd nature of the human condition made him a literary and intellectual icon. Camus was born in Algeria but is celebrated in France as one of its great twentieth-century novelists and philosophers. His first publishing success, The Stranger, focused on the absurdity of existence but in his later works, including The Plague and The Rebel, he developed his thoughts on the human instinct to revolt.
But who was Albert Camus? How far were his ideas shaped by his Algerian upbringing and by the turbulent political times he lived through in the 1940s and '50s? Bridget Kendall explores these questions with three Camus experts: Nabil Boudraa, Algerian professor of French and Francophone Studies at Oregon State University, Eve Morisi, professor of French at Oxford University and Samantha Novello, research fellow in Political Philosophy at Verona University.
(Photo: Albert Camus Credit: Kurt Hutton/Getty Images)
The submarine: Stealth machine
Given the submarine's importance to many of the world's navies, it's perhaps surprising to learn that for many years it was considered an inventor's folly and of little use in maritime warfare. Indeed the submarine had a difficult birth because of the technical challenges involved in putting a moving vessel underwater, challenges that could only be overcome once the technology became available.
The submarine eventually proved its potential in World War I, where its ability to pass undetected ushered in a new era of ‘unrestricted warfare’. Since then, it has never looked back and today’s submarines are capable of remaining submerged for months at a time – the ultimate stealth weapon. As navies modernise, what has traditionally been an exclusively male service is now opening up to women in some countries.
Rajan Datar prowls the ocean's depths to find out more about the 'silent service', along with submarine designer Professor David Andrews from the Mechanical Engineering department of University College London; historian Axel Niestlé, author of German U-boat Losses in World War II; George Malcolmson, the curator of the British Royal Navy's submarine museum; and author Eric Wertheim, editor of the US Naval Institute’s reference book Combat Fleets of the World.
Image: Karelia nuclear-powered submarine, Murmansk, Russia, 2018
Credit: Lev Fedoseyev/Getty Images
Fernando Pessoa: The man who multiplied himself
Fernando Pessoa is Portugal’s national poet and a giant of 20th Century literature but he’s also a writer who multiplied himself, who wrote under dozens of alter egos, ranging from an engineer trained in Glasgow in Scotland, to a hunchback who is helplessly lovesick, to a doctor and Latin scholar who’s a fervent Royalist. His masterpiece The Book of Disquiet, considered to be one of the defining works of modernist literature, is equally fragmented - written on scraps of paper and consisting of hundreds of virtually unordered manuscripts. So what makes Fernando Pessoa such a great writer and so relevant today? Joining Rajan Datar to discuss Fernando Pessoa and his many selves are his translator and biographer Richard Zenith, and the literary scholars and Pessoa experts Dr Mariana Gray de Castro and professor Bernard McGuirk.
(Photo: Statue of Portuguese poet and writer Fernando Pessoa outside Café Brasilera, Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Anne Khazam/BBC)
Einstein: Revolution in time and space
Albert Einstein’s inability to get a job on graduating has given hope to generations of students. Knowing what we know now about the genius scientist, it’s hard to avoid smiling on reading his father’s pleas to physics professors to give his son an academic post.
Perhaps it was just as well that these attempts failed, as the job Einstein eventually secured gave him the opportunity to daydream. Assessing new inventions at the Swiss capital’s patent office, Einstein allowed his imagination to run riot, creating ‘thought experiments’ that questioned centuries of knowledge about time, space and motion. In 1905 he published a series of papers that scientists today still use as a reference point.
While Einstein himself didn’t foresee the technological application of his work, his research has since been used as the basis of modern inventions such as the atomic bomb, lasers, solar panels and GPS. Neither did he realise immediately the potential of his theories to help us understand the beginning of the universe.
Rajan Datar explores the complexity of Einstein’s theories as well as what made him tick, with expert guests Janna Levin, professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College, Columbia University, USA; science historian Jimena Canales, author of The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate that changed our understanding of Time; and Matthew Stanley, professor of the history of science at New York University whose book Einstein’s War: How Relativity Conquered Nationalism and Shook the World was published in 2019.
(Image: Portrait of German-born physicist Albert Einstein on his 75th birthday.
Photo by American Stock/Getty Images)
Imhotep: The Man behind the Mummy
Fans of Hollywood cinema may recognise the name Imhotep from the original The Mummy film from 1932, and its various remakes. In the movie, Imhotep (played by Boris Karloff) is an Ancient Egyptian high priest who was mummified alive because he had attempted to resurrect his forbidden lover. Fast forward several thousand years, and an archaeologist brings the mummy back to life, with dangerous consequences.
The real Imhotep was a far cry from this Hollywood invention. A high priest yes, but also possibly the architect of the first monumental building fashioned entirely of stone, the Step Pyramid which dates from around 2,600 BC. Imhotep was also an adviser to one of the most important pharaohs, King Djoser, as text on a statue base found at the Step Pyramid confirms. Later generations revered Imhotep as a sage and a scribe, one of the highest honours a person could be paid in Ancient Egypt. He eventually became linked with the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, and then worshipped as a saint.
Bridget Kendall journeys through the centuries to understand all the different titles that have attached themselves to this legendary figure, with experts Dr David P Silverman, curator in charge of the Egyptian Section of the Penn Museum and Professor of Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania, USA; Dr Salima Ikram, Distinguished Professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo, Egypt, and Dr Aidan Dodson, Honorary Professor of Egyptology at the University of Bristol in the UK.
(Image: Step pyramid of King Djoser, Saqqara, Egypt
Credit: Print Collector/Contributor/Getty Images)