"The great thing about writing The Mark Steel Lectures is discovering how the great characters from history, who can be made so dull by teachers, are fantastically passionate and human. For example, what a joy to find out Aristotle was the first person ever to compile a comprehensive list of the winners of the Olympic Games. I love the idea of him in a bar with Plato going, 'Go on then, give me any year you like, and I'll tell you who won the pole vault.'"Or that Tom Paine wrote a book pointing out all the places where the Bible contradicts itself and was accused of "preaching atheism". How do you "preach atheism"? Do you knock on the doors of religious people on Sunday mornings, and when they answer say, 'Have you heard the bad news?'"The subjects of this audio programme - Lord Byron, Aristotle, Billie Holiday and Che Guevara - are classic examples of the flawed, brilliant, courageous, slightly barking, but beautifully human characters from history that can inspire the rest of us, which you certainly won't get from looking at our current leaders. It's unlikely, for example, that anyone has ever said, 'The man who really inspires me is Jack Straw.'"
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