John Adams, the first American ambassador to the Netherlands, once said: “Let us tenderly and kindly cherish…the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” In this spirit, the John Adams Institute brings the best and the brightest of American thinking to Amsterdam. Now we’re sharing our treasure trove of great thinkers, speakers and writers with you in audio format. From Amsterdam, this is ‘Bright Minds’ – the podcast from the John Adams Institute.

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Nikole Hannah-Jones

A New American Origin Story

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 project has inspired both throngs of like-minded people as well as a severe backlash. The project was published in the New York Times Magazine—and is now also a successful podcast and television series. So, why 1619? That was the year an English ship carrying enslaved Africans and flying the Dutch flag appeared on the horizon of Point Comfort, Virginia. No aspect of American society is untouched by the centuries of slavery that ensued. From the contemporary economy to American popular music, 1619 implores us to radically rethink America as we know it.

Mark Leibovich

Thank You for Your Servitude

2024 is an election year and Donald Trump is running again. This makes journalist and political commentator Mark Leibovich’s nonfiction blockbuster Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission, particularly timely. Leibovich sketches the political landscape of Washington during the Trump presidency. But instead of focusing on the former President, Leibovich centers his narrative on the people and mechanisms that enabled his meteoric rise to power.

Jane Fonda

Living the Life

Jane Fonda has led a very public life. She’s a movie and TV star, a sex symbol, and a political lighting rod. But if you ask her, she used to be a deeply insecure person. This is why her book, My Life So Far is both a jaunt through many historical eras as well as an extraordinary inward, yet universal journey of learning to become comfortable with being an independent individual. Jane Fonda visited the John Adams in 2005, but her story is as topical as ever.

Paul Theroux

On Missionaries, China and Dickens

From Hemingway to Dickens, from Nabokov to Twain, from Isak Dinesen to Graham Greene, many of the world’s great writers were also great travel writers. Paul Theroux, arguably the most renowned living travel writer, has capped a fifty-year writing career with The Tao of Travel, a collection of travel stories – by himself and others. Join us for a trip around the world with the man who gave us The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, To the Ends of the Earth, and other classics of the genre.

Robert Reich

The Flipside of Capitalism

In 2008, we hosted an evening with Robert B. Reich to talk about his book Supercapitalism. He argued capitalism has flourished at the expense of democracy for the last three decades. That people now see themselves as buyers and sellers first and citizens later, if at all. The U.S. leads in this dark trend, according to Reich, but Europe is right behind. Is it too late yet to turn consumers back into citizens and renew civic participation?

Teju Cole

NYC, Open City

In Teju Cole’s novel Open City, the narrator Julius is a Nigerian psychiatry student who lives in Manhattan and likes to walk in the city. As he does, he has encounters. Most are small. He watches children playing in a park. He discovers that the woman next door died recently, and is quietly devastated, though he hardly knew her. The book’s blended texture reminds you of something: real life. You get a sense of this man and this city, but also of how we construct ourselves. Teju Cole visited the John Adams in 2012 to discuss his award-winning novel.

Mark Godsey and Rickey Jackson

Surviving Injustice

Rickey Jackson was sentenced first to death, which was commuted to 39 years in prison. This was based on the false, coerced testimony of a 12-year-old boy. Last year, Mark Godsey, director of the Innocence Project in Ohio and author of the book Blind Injustice told our Amsterdam audience how DNA evidence finally proved Rickey’s innocence. Then Rickey took to the stage to talk about his journey from imprisonment to freedom and the extraordinary power of forgiveness.

Jill Lepore

New York Burning

New York City, 1741: fires break out throughout the city. Fueled by the paranoia that accompanies hearsay, the authorities find a convenient scapegoat on which to pin the crimes: enslaved Black people and poor white settlers. But after a witch-hunt-like series of trials and vigilante justice, no specific plot was ever uncovered. In the latest episode of our podcast ‘Bright Minds’, Harvard historian Jill Lepore tells us this remarkable story as described in her book New York Burning.

Bill Browder

Freezing Order

Until the war in Ukraine, Bill Browder was Vladimir Putin’s enemy number 1. Browder used to run the largest foreign investment firm in Russia, until he was declared ‘a threat to Russian national security’ and got kicked out of the country. He has spent the last 14 years trying to understand the dark money flowing out of Russia. In this podcast episode, Bill Browder tells the story of his quest to establish a global regime for imposing sanctions on Russians involved in corruption and criminality.

Cecilia Kang

The Dark Side of Facebook

For years, fringe ideologues were able to use Facebook undisturbed to promote their extreme ideologies and conspiracies. New York Times tech reporter Cecilia Kang reveals how Facebook’s algorithms sacrificed everything for user engagement and profit, while creating a misinformation epicenter and violating the privacy of its users.

Carol Anderson

A Fatally Unequal America

On paper, every American has the right to vote and to bear arms. But in reality, says Carol Anderson, Professor of African-American studies, both these rights are undermined by the racism which is so deeply rooted in American society. And that, in turn, undermines democracy.  Listen to Carol Anderson discussing her two most recent books, ‘The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America’ and ‘One Person, No Vote’.

Spike Lee

Doing the Right Thing

In December of 2010, The John Adams Institute hosted an evening with the great film director, Spike Lee. Among many things, he talked about how New York City’s historically hot and dangerous summer of ‘77 got him started in filmmaking.

David Sedaris

On Fire

In 2008, we hosted an evening with David Sedaris. The humorist and author of ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ and ‘Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim’ brought his entourage to Amsterdam for the Dutch publication of his latest collection of wisdom, ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’.

The Quincy Club

California Dreamin'

For 20 years, the John Adams Institute has organized a lecture program called The Quincy Club at schools all through the Netherlands to help young audiences better understand American culture. In 2020, the Quincy Club took a closer look at California and Silicon Valley. You know the names: Facebook, Apple, Google, Tesla, and more dominate the tech industry worldwide. How did this come to be?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg


In 1999, Ruth Bader Ginsburg sat down for an interview and waxed legal about things like how unimportant the Supreme Court used to be, why it’s good justices serve for life and what a nice place the Supreme Court is to work.

Ruby Wax

Call Me Crazy

Despite her success, Ruby Wax has been open about her struggles with depression. Her book, Sane New World, based on personal experience, achieves the rare feat of addressing mental illness while being readable and funny at the same time.

Anthony Doerr

Tinkering with Writing

American author Anthony Doerr joined us in 2015 on the back of his book, All the Light We Cannot See, a masterful and moving novel about two young people during World War II, which rapidly became a New York Times #1 bestseller.

David Frum

National Fragmentation

Political commentator David Frum digs deep into the causes of America’s tragic national fragmentation, warning us that “no two-party system can remain a democracy unless both parties adhere to democratic values, not just one”.

Elizabeth Kolbert

Engineering Anthropocene

If we can just get through the 21st century, humanity might have a chance, says Elizabeth Kolbert. We have already intervened in the earth’s system to the extent that we are now living in the ‘Anthropocene’. Maybe we can buy time by intervening even more, with so-called geo-engineering?

Gore Vidal

The Correctionist

Gore Vidal was an American writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays whose major subject was America. Through his work and media appearances he was a longtime critic of American foreign policy. He was also famous for his acerbic wit: “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” He visited the John Adams in 1992.

Hanya Yanagihara

Creating Paradise

Hanya Yanagihara returned to the John Adams for a conversation about To Paradise, her three-part epic tale told across multiple timelines and characters, centered around New York City. It shows an America not identical as we know it, but a ‘what if’ narrative: what it has been, what it might have been and what it could be.

Christopher Hitchens

God is Not Great

The late, great Christopher Hitchens came to Amsterdam in 2008 touring his book God is Not Great. Hitchens excelled at polemics which he shows in this new ‘Bright Minds’ episode by arguing that religion is a worse than any totalitarian regime, that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible, and why it’s a bad time for secularism in politics.

Donna Tartt

A Secret History

Way back on March 14, 1993, the then fresh new Southern author, Donna Tartt, visited the John Adams hot on the heels of her massive bestseller ‘The Secret History’.

Daniel Ziblatt

How Democracies Die

How do democracies die? Not at the hands of generals, but of elected leaders – presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power. That is the unsettling conclusion of Harvard professor Daniel Ziblatt’s highly praised book How Democracies Die.
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Toni Morrison

A Mercy

Toni Morrison, as renowned for her magical realism as for her portrayal of the African American struggle, is that rare writer who is acclaimed by critics and adored by the reading public. In 2009 she joined us to talk about her novel A Mercy.
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Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections

In 2002, we proudly presented an evening with Jonathan Franzen, winner of the National Book Award 2001. He discussed The Corrections, his novel about the American family, giving a view on modern Western society that is both humorous and poignant.
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Patrick Radden Keefe

Drugs, Death and Money

The great American author and investigative journalist, Patrick Radden Keefe, discusses the Sackler Family, one of the richest families in the world. Just where all their money came from was vague, until it emerged that the Sacklers were the owners of Purdue Pharma, responsible for making and aggressively marketing OxyContin, a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for today’s opioid crisis.
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Christiane Amanpour

Reporting While Female

In 2019, CNN’s chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour joined us for what turned out to be a witty and revealing conversation about her career and the state of modern journalism.
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Francis Fukuyama

Demand for Dignity

This week’s guest is Francis Fukuyama. He argues that populist nationalism is not motivated by economics, as it was through the second half of the 20th century, but by an innate need for dignity. That sounds like a given, but Francis Fukuyama says this is being exploited. Democracy is being undermined as the old world order is swept away and demagogues rise country by country as they preach identity politics based on religion, ethnicity and gender.
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Megan Twohey

The #MeToo Story

This week’s guest is New York Times journalist Megan Twohey, whose reporting about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse of women in Hollywood was, as she put it, “an X-ray into the abuse of power”. The #Metoo movement really got going after Megan Twohey and her colleague Jodi Kantor published their investigative articles about Harvey Weinstein in ‘She Said’, a book sometimes called the feminist “All the President’s Men”.
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Garry Kasparov

Winter is Coming

Seven years ago, Garry Kasparov came to Amsterdam and predicted the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He also described Vladimir Putin’s psychology and motivations in a way that you hear in every current affairs program nowadays.
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Joseph Stiglitz

A New Social Contract

In this episode, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz talks about his book, People, Power, and Profits. The renowned economist states that the U.S. is in need of some serious reform and that government and democracy must be freed from the grasp of wealthy corporate forces in finance and other sectors.
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Russell Shorto

From New Amsterdam to New York

In this episode of the show, Russell Shorto talks about his eye-opening book The Island at the Center of the World, a marvelous historical retelling of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam before it became New York.
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Dr. Anthony Fauci

Challenging Corona

As John Adams was one of the great men of his era, we thought our next episode should be with one of the great people of our time: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Brooklyn born and raised, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to president Biden. This was an online interview conducted by Damiaan Denys, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Amsterdam.
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Timothy Snyder

The Politics of Eternity

Democracy and the rule of law in Western societies are under threat, according to Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University. In his book The Road to Unfreedom, Snyder examines how Western societies left themselves open to anti-democratic forces after the Cold War, and how Russia fell into Putinism, and the rise of Donald Trump, which has become a major threat to democracy around the globe.
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Michael Pollan

The Trip Sitter

Michael Pollan’s book, How To Change Your Mind, delves into the world of psychedelics and their medical use. In the past decade, there has been renewed interest in psychedelic research as a form of psychiatric therapy, and to Pollan’s mind this renaissance is long overdue. In this episode, Pollan makes a strong case for researching these drugs further.
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Madeleine Albright

Respect for Truth

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talks with former Dutch foreign minister, current EU Vice President, Frans Timmermans, about how the current state of world leadership inspired her book, the ominously titled: Fascism: a Warning.
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Trailer 'Bright Minds'

From now on, we will also present our talks and interviews to you in the form of the podcast Bright Minds. Every two weeks you can listen to a new 30 minute talk and/or interview from our rich archive of American speakers. Sign up for our newsletter to keep updated about upcoming episodes. And while you’re there, why not become a member of the John Adams. Not only will you support what we do, you get a discount to future live events.

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