The Agony Column

Senator Claire McCaskill: ‘Plenty Ladylike’


On this episode of the Agony Column, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri discusses her new memoir Plenty Ladylike. She honed her political skills in high school and used the same smarts to achieve re-election when it was predicted that she would certainly lose.

Plus, William MacAskill — no relation — discusses his book Doing Good Better and his work in Effective Altruism, which uses statistics to measure just what helps the most people achieve the best outcomes.

mccaskill-plenty_ladylike-homeOn the interview with Claire McCaskill, by Rick Kleffel:

Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism

Claire McCaskill wastes no time getting to the point in ‘Plenty Ladylike.’ In the opening passage, we meet a young woman seeking office for the first time, knocking on 11,432 doors. One potential constituent, a man (it matters), looks her up and down and then says, “You’re too young. Your hair is too long. You’re a girl. No way are you tough enough for politics. Those politicians in Jeff City’d eat you alive. Go find yourself a husband.”

Suffice it to say she didn’t follow his advice and instead turned it into energy and determination to help her maintain her drive. ‘Plenty Ladylike’ is a top-notch memoir that moves like lightning and keeps it’s focus. Having set scene, McCaskill introduces us to her very deeply American family, men and women who all found the time to involve themselves in civic matters. From high school on, McCaskill learned that getting to know voters and their needs and desires was the best way to earn their votes.

But ‘Plenty Ladylike’ has a rather dark side as well. In her journeys through politics, most in the South (I think this matters), McCaskill encountered a steady stream of overt sexism. She was given very un-ladylike appellations by men who should have known better. While we are currently being slapped in the face by the visions of our incipient racism, we’re clearly not past sexism either, not by a long shot. McCaskill’s experiences are disturbingly eye-opening. Apparently we are not better than this.

All of this makes for a toe-tapping, tense read. even as she campaigned for the Senate as recently as 2012, McCaskill found herself in a battle where she her deep, smart knowledge of the political process to outwit her ultra-sexist opponents. We all know what he said. Finding out what she thought is a joyful revelation. Claire McCaskill reveals herself to be ‘Plenty Ladylike,’ and redefines the term at the same time. In her world, in our world, “ladylike” means smart, determined, unwavering, pragmatic and honorable. These are exactly the qualities I want to see in any politician, regardless of sex or party. There are plenty of scenes in this book that will make your hair stand on end. How you handle the styling afterward is up to you.

Dr. Mel Pohl: Understanding Pain


What is pain? How do we experience pain and what part do our emotions play in the experience of pain? KUSP’s Rick Kleffel speaks with Dr. Mel Pohl about chronic pain, the opiate epidemic and how an understanding of pain can diminish its effects.

Conversations with the Late Alan Cheuse

Author and literary scholar, Alan Cheuse. Photo: Peter Hedlund / flickr

Author and literary scholar, Alan Cheuse. Photo: Photo: Peter Hedlund-flickr-

Author and critic Alan Cheuse died last week at age 75. He regularly participated in interviews with KUSP Rick Kleffel. On this week’s Agony Column Literary Magazine show, listen back to a selection Cheuse’s insightful interviews.

Author Don Winslow


920x920Enter the hearts and minds of those fighting on both sides of the war on drugs as host Rick Kleffel speaks with author Don Winslow about his novel The Cartel.

Winslow explores the intersection of economics, politics, crime and law enforcement the drive a conflict that has little visibility and offers few prospects for resolution

Author Interview: Robert Kurson


shadow-diversThe waters off the coast of the Dominican Republic — and New Jersey — are home to wrecks lost to history. But those who explore U-Boats and pirate ships are not just there for treasure; there’s something more that brings them to the brink of death.

Robert Kurson discusses his books Shadow Divers and Pirate Hunters with host Rick Kleffel.

Authors: Robert Repino, Emily Schultz, Ernest Cline






This week on The Agony Column, it’s all apocalypse, all the time.

Author Robert Repino brings on Mort(e), in which your housecat becomes your executioner; Emily Schultz brings on The Blondes and Ernest Cline explains our fascination with video games and science fiction with his book Armada.

Author Adam Benforado



It’s clear that the American justice system has a problem. Rick Kleffel speaks with legal scholar Adam Benforado, who uses neuroscience, psychology and data analysis to examine how justice works. He says it’s our understanding of ‘Ourelves’ that’s the problem. His new book is Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice.

Also on the program is an interview with Annie Jacobson, author of the book, The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency.

What an Historic Decision Means for Churches


Following the recent historic decision by the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage — and the decision the same week by the Episcopalian Church to allow same-sex marriage in their Churches – Rick Kleffel talks with openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson.

And on the same program, Adam Benforado uses neuroscience to analyze the biggest flaw in our justice system — humans!

Author Interview: Stephen Witt


witt-how_music_got_free-400Rick Kleffel speaks with reporter Stephen Witt about his book How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century and the Patient Zero of Piracy.

He followed an electronic trail that led him from the most powerful man in American music, to a temporary factory worker and a German genius.

The untold story of the remaking of modern music…

Author Interview: Karen Joy Fowler


fowler_w_coverRick Kleffel is joined by national bestselling writer and Man Booker Award nominee Karen Joy Fowler to discuss Black Glass, her collection of short stories.