Show cover of For the Ages: A History Podcast

For the Ages: A History Podcast

Explore the rich and complex history of the United States and beyond. Produced by the New-York Historical Society, host David M. Rubenstein engages the nation’s foremost historians and creative thinkers on a wide range of topics, including presidential biography, the nation’s founding, and the people who have shaped the American story. Learn more at


The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human
The discovery of the cell in the 17th century caused a paradigm shift in medicine, with the human body coming to be seen as something never before imagined: an ecosystem in and of itself; a collection of innumerable organic parts working in tandem to fulfill our biological functions. Physician and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee sits down with David M. Rubenstein to explore how this watershed moment came about and how its effects are still playing out in the form of radical medical advancements that draw into sharper relief what it means to be human.  Recorded on December 13, 2022
27:06 4/22/24
How the Best Did It: Leadership Lessons from Our Top Presidents
Throughout history, Americans have looked to their president for guidance, seeking leadership from the nation’s highest office during times of turbulence. Historian and lawyer Talmage Boston speaks with David M. Rubenstein to discuss the leadership lessons that can be learned from America’s most effective presidents—from Washington’s precipitous rise to power to Reagan’s ability to motivate and inspire optimism—and how they can be instructive to today’s leaders. Recorded on February 12, 2024
31:34 4/14/24
G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century
J. Edgar Hoover was not only the inaugural director of the FBI, but the architect of modern American law enforcement. Hoover’s stewardship over America’s justice system was as robust as it was ruthless, while his connections to white supremacists and the religious right spun a complex web between policing, politics, and race. Historian Beverly Gage sits down with David M. Rubenstein to discuss her Pulitzer Prize-winning book on Hoover, tracing the lawman’s decades-long career shaping the American legal and political landscape, a period of immense influence that would span eight presidencies. Recorded on March 8, 2023
27:09 4/8/24
Hitler’s American Gamble: Pearl Harbor and Germany’s March to Global War
In December 1941, Nazi Germany controlled much of Europe, Japan was fighting a brutal campaign in China, and the United States had yet to enter into combat on either front. The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, however, changed everything. Historians Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman join moderator David M. Rubenstein to dissect the five crucial days between the attack on Pearl Harbor and Nazi Germany’s declaration of war on the United States, tracing the strategic decisions that would irrevocably change the course of the Second World War. Recorded on July 31, 2023
31:06 3/25/24
River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile
In an exhilarating and, at times, harrowing account of exploration, survival, and betrayal, author and journalist Candice Millard joins David M. Rubenstein to discuss the story of two men’s search for the headwaters of the Nile River. Richard Burton, an intelligent, highly capable, and decorated soldier, and John Speke, an ambitious aristocrat and army officer, embarked on the treacherous journey together, soon developing a heated rivalry that would persist throughout their lives. Alongside them on their epic journey was Sidi Mubarak Bombay, a peerless guide who was formerly enslaved, and who played a vital role in this story. Recorded on August 31, 2023
38:29 3/18/24
Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon, Part Two
Author and journalist Kate Andersen Brower rejoins David M. Rubenstein to continue their conversation on the legacy of the great Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor’s triumphs––her precocious rise to megastardom, her fight for fair and equal pay despite the sexism present in Hollywood during her lifetime, her advocacy for those with HIV/AIDS––as well as the difficulties she faced in her life––her eight marriages and her struggles with addiction––are all brought into clearer focus in service of painting a rich portrait of the American icon. Recorded on March 24, 2023
24:19 3/11/24
Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon, Part One
Elizabeth Taylor, a legend of cinema known across the world, was one of the last great Classical Hollywood stars whose talent and beauty led her to universal renown. Beyond the artist, though, Taylor was a feminist trailblazer, a human rights advocate, and a fighter—someone who championed the needs of others and struggled bravely against problems of her own. Author and journalist Kate Andersen Bower joins David M. Rubenstein to delve into the first ever authorized biography of the twentieth century’s most famous movie star, bringing a new look at the life and legacy of Elizabeth Taylor. Recorded on March 24, 2023
31:40 3/4/24
Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State
Kentucky fought alongside the Union for the entirety of the Civil War, yet in the decades that followed, the state embraced many political and cultural traditions of the Confederacy, enacting Jim Crow laws and erecting monuments to embrace this adopted identity. In a fascinating conversation on identity and political myth-making, historian Anne E. Marshall breaks down how and why Kentuckians constructed this historically-revisionist narrative that shaped the trajectory of their state for the next 60 years. Recorded on August 23, 2023
37:05 2/26/24
Mourning the Presidents
In an incisive analysis of national mourning following the deaths of presidents across US history, historian Lindsay Chervinsky joins David M. Rubenstein to discuss how such losses and the subsequent expressions of grief affected American culture and politics. Examining what can be learned from the ways we have grieved and remembered late presidents since the passing of George Washington in 1799, Chervinsky explores the way presidents continue to shape America even in death. Recorded on August 7, 2023
34:46 2/19/24
The Age of Lincoln
The arc of Abraham Lincoln’s political career existed in the context of the ideologically tumultuous 19th century. From a period of cultural pessimism in the 1840s and 1850s alongside the Millerites’ prediction of a Second Coming, this period saw the rise of utopian philosophies, the intwining of slavery and Southern identity, the merging of Manifest Destiny with the concept of free-market opportunity, and a collapse of a common, middle ground. Distinguished historian Orville Vernon Burton joins David M. Rubenstein to paint a portrait of the five decades pivoting around Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, and his place within them. Recorded on July 6, 2023
31:01 2/12/24
In the wake of a pandemic and amidst deep partisan divisions and a looming budgetary crisis, Calvin Coolidge faced monumental challenges when he assumed the presidency following the abrupt death of his predecessor Warren G. Harding in 1923. From the Boston Police Strike to the rapid social and economic changes of the Roaring Twenties, Coolidge’s political career spanned and was marked by continuous upheaval in American life. In conversation with David M. Rubenstein, Amity Shlaes explores the personal and political characteristics that define Coolidge’s career and legacy.
30:40 2/5/24
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, Part Two
Jonathan Freedland once again joins David Rubenstein to discuss the story of Walter Rosenberg, one of the few Jews to successfully escape Auschwitz. Following Rosenberg’s arrival in Auschwitz, this conversation dives into the details of the risky escape plan he hatched alongside Fred Wetzler, the dangers that met them outside the camp once they had escaped, and how Rosenberg and Wetzler attempted to alert the international community about what they had seen and experienced.  
25:33 1/29/24
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, Part One
In April of 1944, Walter Rosenberg escaped from Auschwitz alongside Fred Wetzler, making them two of a very small number of Jews who were able to escape a concentration camp and make their way to safety during the Second World War. In the first of this two-part conversation, Jonathan Freedland and David Rubenstein discuss how anti-Semitism shaped Rosenberg’s life in the years leading up to the war, his eventual internment as a teenager in Slovakia, and how his plans to escape took shape once he landed in Auschwitz.
29:04 1/22/24
John Quincy Adams: His Presidency and Final Years
Biographer James Traub continues the story of John Quincy Adams. Drawing on the sixth US president’s diaries, letters, and writings, Traub discusses Adams’ ascendance to the White House, his numerous achievements and failures in office, his stewardship of American foreign policy, and his continuous dedication to a code of ethics beyond the desire for reelection. Recorded on August 23, 2023
19:50 1/15/24
John Quincy Adams: Early Life and the Road to the Presidency
As the son of a Founding Father and with a political career that lasted until his death in 1848, John Quincy Adams was eulogized by many of his peers as one of the last links between the founding generation and the United States of the 19th century. In this first of two conversations, James Traub, author of John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit, explores the origins of Adams’ political career, bridging a connection between his childhood and college years to the start of his career in diplomacy, against the backdrop of his father’s presidency. Recorded on August 23, 2023 
37:53 1/8/24
Morgenthau: Power, Privilege, and the Rise of an American Dynasty
Described by former mayor Ed Koch as “the closest we’ve got to royalty in New York City,” the Morgenthau family immigrated from Germany to the United States in 1866 and went on to build a powerful real estate empire and make history in international diplomacy, domestic politics, and America’s criminal justice system. With links to figures ranging from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Donald Trump, the Morgenthau family played a role in advancing the New Deal, exposing the Armenian genocide and both consequential and controversial prosecutions through the DA’s office in New York City. Andrew Meier joins David M. Rubenstein to dive into the history and legacy of this American dynasty. Recorded on June 27, 2023 
37:44 12/18/23
Conflict: The Evolution of Modern Warfare
The conflicts that have marked the past 60 years have seen new weapons, new strategies, and complex new webs of alliance, enmity, and proxy violence. However, the evolution of warfare shows that certain challenges and solutions echo across history. General David H. Petraeus (US Army, Ret.) and Lord Andrew Roberts examine the nuances of warfare over the last 20 years, including the complications of urban battlefields, guerilla warfare, and civilian casualties, as well as common elements of conflict throughout the 20th century. Recorded on November 16, 2023
45:35 12/11/23
Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court
While the Supreme Court is often presented in American history as a protector of civil liberties, its record across the centuries provides a more complex picture. While the short period of the 1930s to the 1970s saw the Court end segregation and safeguard both free speech and the vote, during the preceding period, the Court largely ignored or suppressed basic rights for many Americans. The succeeding period, too, saw a retreat and even regression on gains made toward racial justice. Prizewinning author and professor of history Orville Vernon Burton charts the Court’s racial jurisprudence, discussing the many cases involving America’s racial minorities and the impact of individual rulings. Recorded on July 6, 2023 
32:22 12/4/23
The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution
The US Constitution did not create or provide for the presidential cabinet. When George Washington called for the first convening of his department secretaries two and a half years into his presidency, he drew on his military experience to seek counsel on the wide array of challenges facing the new nation. Presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky dissects the reasons behind the cabinet’s creation, and the far-reaching consequences that resulted, from the development of the party system to the balance of powers. Recorded on August 7, 2023
34:52 11/27/23
The Liberation Trilogy: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945
Exploring the final installment of the Liberation Trilogy, historian Rick Atkinson discusses the titanic battle for Western Europe that defined the later years of the Second World War. Beginning with the commencement of D-Day, this period of the war saw the final campaign for European liberation, including the pivotal fight at Normandy, the liberation of Paris, the disaster of Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, and the final push into the depths of the Third Reich. Recorded on August 21, 2023  
25:05 11/20/23
The Liberation Trilogy: The War in Sicily, Italy, and North Africa
In this first of two conversations, Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson dives into the first two volumes of his monumental Liberation Trilogy, looking at North Africa during WWII and the harrowing campaigns that took place in Sicily and Italy. A pivotal point in history, this period of the war saw American and British armies clash with Vichy France forces in Morocco and Algeria, and then take on the Axis powers in Tunisia. Meanwhile, the fight to drive the German army up the Italian peninsula led to lethal battles at Salerno, Anzio, and Monte Cassino. Recorded on August 21, 2023  
33:01 11/13/23
Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World
Since the dawn of civilization, land stewardship has served as the foundation for how societies coalesce and interact. In a wide-ranging conversation that examines European imperialism, the dispossession of Native American populations, and Joseph Stalin’s brutal collectivization in Society territories, bestselling author Simon Winchester illuminates how humanity’s conquest to acquire territory and wield its power has so definitively shaped history. Recorded on January 11, 2022  
27:10 11/6/23
The Witches: Salem, 1692
In the harsh New England winter of 1692, a minister’s daughter began to scream and convulse, as if possessed by a demonic spirit. This incident marked the beginning of a year-long panic in Salem, Massachusetts, which culminated in the infamous witch trials and the execution of 20 individuals. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff uncovers the origins of this phenomenon and the impact it had on the future republic. Recorded on April 26, 2022  
26:55 10/30/23
Beyond the White House: From George Washington to Donald Trump
While American presidents are only eligible to serve two terms in office and are beholden to protect the peaceful transfer of power to their successors, their influence in politics and public service can span decades following their presidency. Douglas Brinkley joins David M. Rubenstein to look at the post-presidential lives of the commander-in-chief from George Washington to Donald Trump, some establishing presidential libraries and others playing a powerful role in foreign policy. Recorded on August 18, 2023 
32:34 10/23/23
The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House
Although Jimmy Carter left the White House in January 1981 following a failed bid for reelection, his career in public service was far from over. Outside the boundaries of the Oval Office, he dedicated himself to finding peaceful solutions to international conflicts and fighting for human rights. Award-winning historian Douglas Brinkley explores the lessons of Carter’s life and legacy, drawing from his unprecedented access to the 39th president. Recorded on August 18, 2023 
34:18 10/16/23
Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation
Making up the earliest class of United States presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were all born and raised within the same sixty-mile circle east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, making up a “Virginia Dynasty” that came to shape America during the formative decades following the revolution. Author Lynne Cheney examines the friendships and rivalries within this “Virginia Dynasty,” and the contradiction between their espoused ideals of American liberty and prosperity and their status as slaveholders. Recorded on December 3, 2020 
27:06 10/2/23
American Republics, 1783–1850: Slavery, Native Americans, and American Identity
Historian Alan Shaw Taylor continues his conversation with David M. Rubenstein on the decades that followed the American Revolution. This defining era saw Native Americans seeking to defend their homes from a flood of American settlers, the intertwining of slavery in American politics, economics, and daily life, and an emerging expansionist vision pushing the country westward. Alongside these character-defining evolutions in the young country’s economy and geopolitics, this era also saw America’s cultural and religious identity begin to take shape. Recorded on June 13, 2023 
36:21 9/25/23
American Republics, 1783–1850: Democracy and Empire
Contrary to the popular narrative of a confident and stable young republic, the United States emerged from its constitution as a fragile, internally divided union of states still contending with European empires and other independent republics on the North American continent. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and the author of American Republics: A Continental History of the United States, 1783-1850, Alan Shaw Taylor joins David M. Rubenstein in this first of two conversations on the early decades of the American republic, exploring the limits of its physical and ideological borders. Recorded on June 13, 2023 
37:07 9/18/23
The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
Hailed as the founding father of America’s conservation movement, President Theodore Roosevelt championed the protection of the nation's natural treasures and embarked on visionary initiatives to preserve 234 million acres of wilderness for posterity. In conversation with David M. Rubenstein, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley explores Theodore Roosevelt’s complex legacy as one of America’s first environmentalist presidents. Recorded on March 17, 2023
38:39 6/26/23
American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race
In 1961, as the Cold War cast a shadow across the globe, John F. Kennedy inspired Americans to look up to the sky as he announced his goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley dives into the history of the unprecedented expansion of the American space program under President Kennedy, and how the project aimed to promote science, exploration, and the spreading of democratic ideals back on Earth. Recorded on March 17, 2023
39:56 6/19/23

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