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November 21st, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Sisters of the Cross, Conquering Lyme Disease, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and More!

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Sisters of the Cross
Alexei Remizov. Translated by Roger Keys and Brian Murphy

The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field
Richard Nephew

Conquering Lyme Disease: Science Bridges the Great Divide
Brian A. Fallon, MD, and Jennifer Sotsky, MD

Now available in paperback:
Emperor Wu Zhao and Her Pantheon of Devis, Divinities, and Dynastic Mothers
N. Harry Rothschild

Now available in paperback:
Karl Polanyi:A Life on the Left
Gareth Dale

Now available in paperback:
Love Letters from Golok: A Tantric Couple in Modern Tibet
Holly Gayley

Now available in paperback:
Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution
Marco Politi. Translated by William McCuaig

Now available in paperback:
Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan
Dana Burde

Sibling Action: The Genealogical Structure of Modernity
Stefani Engelstein

Silencing the Bomb: One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing
Lynn R. Sykes

Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto
Bryan W. Van Norden. Foreword by Jay L. Garfield

Traditional Chinese Medicine
Heritage and Adaptation

British Diplomacy and the Concept of the Eastern Pact (1933–1935): Analyses, Projects, Activities
Dariusz Jeziorny
(ibidem Press)

Samuel Beckett and Contemporary Art
Edited by Robert Reginio, David Houston Jones, and Katherine Weiss
(ibidem Press)

A Theatre of Affect: The Corporeal Turn in Samuel Beckett’s Drama
Charlotta P. Einarsson
(ibidem Press)

Under Swiss Protection: Jewish Eyewitness Accounts from Wartime Budapest
Edited by Agnes Hirschi and Charlotte Schallié. Foreword by Timothy Snyder
(ibidem Press)

Don’t Look Now
Jessica Gildersleeve

November 14th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Preventive Engagement, Chinese Script, Garden Variety

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Preventive Engagement
How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace
Paul B. Stares

Chinese Script: History, Characters, Calligraphy
Thomas O. Höllmann. Translated by Maximiliane Donicht

Garden Variety
The American Tomato from Corporate to Heirloom
John Hoenig

November 10th, 2017

University Press Roundup: #UPWeek 2017 Edition


It’s University Press Week 2017! In celebration of this year’s excellent UP Week Blog Tour, we are happy to present a special University Press Week UP Roundup. Be sure to read our contribution to the week on making sales calls during the election season of 2016, and, from a previous year’s UP Week, take a look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do our Roundup posts every Friday.

On the topic on how university presses are making a difference in today’s landscape, Wilfrid Laurier University Press’s blog featured a thought-provoking blog post from Indigenous scholar and fiction writer Daniel Heath Justice on the importance of Indigenous literature and scholarship.

The University of Toronto Press’s blog contained several engaging posts, the first titled “The Power of History to Galvanize and Energize,” which discussed the importance of making scholarship accessible to students and how it can influence and ultimately create better citizens.

George Mason University Press emphasized the critical role of university presses in the search for the elusive truth. Through a discussion of Playfair: The True Story of the British Secret Agent Who Changed How We See the World, readers learn how the author uncovers the true story of Playfair’s involvement in the first covert operation in history to collapse a nation’s economy.

Tuesday’s theme of “Selling the Facts” contained an array of perspectives from booksellers and bookstores selling in today’s political climate. Read the rest of this entry »

November 8th, 2017

New Book Wednesday: A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs, New Entries in the Russian Library, and More!

A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

A Dozen Lessons for Entrepreneurs
Tren Griffin

Found Life: Poems, Stories, Comics, a Play, and an Interview
Linor Goralik. Edited by Ainsley Morse, Maria Vassileva, and Maya Vinokour.
(Russian Library)

Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry
Konstantin Batyushkov. Presented and translated by Peter France.
(Russian Library)

Ethical Asset Valuation and the Good Society
Christian Gollier

Modern Humans: Their African Origin and Global Dispersal
John F. Hoffecker

Sovereign Wealth Funds in Resource Economies: Institutional and Fiscal Foundations
Khalid Alsweilem and Malan Rietveld

November 7th, 2017

A Field Guide to Engaging with the World Through Bookstores: A #UPWeek 2017 Blog Tour Post


It’s the second day of University Press Week 2017, and, even though we here at Columbia University Press have the day off for Election Day, we’re excited to be participating in the annual #UPWeek blog tour! Today’s theme is “Selling the Facts,” an opportunity for booksellers and sales representatives to talk about selling books as a form of activism. We are fortunate to have a great post from the Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia UP Sales Consortium, Conor Broughan, on his experiences making sales calls during the election season of 2016 and what they taught him about the role of University Press books in the world. #ReadUP!

Make sure you check out the blogs of other presses posting on “Selling the Facts” today: the University of Minnesota Press, the University of Texas Press, the University of Hawai’i Press, JHU Press, Duke University Press, the University Press of Kentucky, and the University of Toronto Press!

A Field Guide to Engaging with the World Through Bookstores

By Conor Broughan, Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium

Two years ago, when I interviewed for the sales rep position at the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium, my boss explained the general outline of how a sales rep operates. The first half of the conversation concerned the face-to-face meetings with buyers at independent bookstores in the territory, selling the seasonal catalogues for our fourteen presses twice a year. He explained Edelweiss and the growing importance of online catalogues and how reps spend a good portion of their home-office time preparing for each season by creating detailed online markups for buyers. I couldn’t help but ask my future boss, “So if the online catalogues are so useful and necessary now, what’s the point of a sales rep? Why chew massive holes into the budget with travel expenses when an online catalogue says it all with the click of a button?”

Self-sabotaging as it sounds, the question was and still is a good one. Everything happens online these days, so why bother traveling across the country to see anyone face to face? There was a short delay on the other end. Where to begin to explaining how important it is to sit down with a real-life human being and have a conversation? A conversation about forthcoming books or books from past seasons that have over- or underperformed; a conversation about where to shelve a book, how best to display it, and how to handsell it; a conversation about the bookstore and how it’s doing and about bookstores in general; and, inevitably, a conversation about politics: how the politics of a particular book will work in a particular store or, more often, a venting of how we’ll get through another day as rational people in this new irrational version of America. My boss, though, had a much shorter answer. Traveling to a store to see a buyer, he said, is our chance to make real contact with the booksellers. It’s an opportunity to stay engaged. Read the rest of this entry »

November 2nd, 2017

Thursday Fiction Corner: Propaganda, the Absurd, and the Truth of Stalinist USSR in Andrei Platonov’s Plays

Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays

Welcome to Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Ani Kodzhabasheva, a PhD Candidate in Art History at Columbia University, considers Andrei Platonov’s portrayal of the USSR in relation to her experiences growing up in the former Eastern Bloc.

In post-Communist Bulgaria, where I grew up, I often encountered traces of the fallen regime’s language: houses marked “Exemplary Home” with a special blue plaque; stacks of old newspapers reporting that agricultural brigades had overfulfilled their quotas; an inscription on a Soviet Army monument claiming that our republic needs friendship with the USSR just as every living being needs air and sunlight.

The most ridiculous slogans, once posted on factory walls, are now circulated in blog posts:

Communism is inevitable.

Every jar of compote: a fist in the face of imperialism!

Or this literary gem: Public Bath Workers’ Brigade “N. V. Gogol”

And so on. I still can’t help but laugh out loud. It is cheap entertainment, and a bit of therapeutic release from the generational trauma.

Humor creates distance from that which we dread. I laugh at the slogans, and part of me cringes in horror: someone, a reasoning human being, wrote this. People had to believe it, or live their lives as if they did.

I have avoided thinking too much about the experience of having your language corrupted by state ideology – that is, until I read some of Andrei Platonov’s plays. A witness to the famines and Stalinist purges of the early 1930s, Platonov writes about his reality with an honesty that strikes a blow. He uses his characters’ muddled language in order to tell the truth.

Platonov not only pokes fun at state-mandated praise and hyperbole, but also shows the effects that this discourse has on people who are facing unspeakable tragedy. In Fourteen Little Red Huts, workers on a struggling collective farm are trying to live their lives according to socialist principles and to preserve their humanity – even as official directives, combined with despair, lead them to doubt and denounce each other.

The play’s tone easily flips from rambunctious humor to the absurd, and to raw expressions of vulnerability and pain. The workers ponder the meaninglessness of their struggle, and yet are overcome with a tragic need for faith and hope. A character calls himself a “class enemy,” only to profess allegiance to the revolution the very next minute, stating that “Each day of our labor lays the foundation for centuries to come – and on our kolkhoz revolution rests the fate of a hundred millennia.” At the sight of a distant airplane, someone exclaims: “It’s technology, my whole heart thunders! I feel like shouting, ‘Forward!’” This cry, completely at odds with the starving workers’ situation, reduces official reports of progress to bitter mockery. The farmers continue on with their labor in the face of futility, and their incongruous speech explains their predicament. “The wind rocks me as if I were empty. I want to believe in God!” someone says, quietly.

What Platonov does with language surely places him among the best writers of the twentieth century, as Joseph Brodsky has said. His plays at times resemble the absurdist antics of his contemporaries, the Dadaists, but Platonov’s breathtaking mastery of language is never indulged for its own sake. His goal is not to deconstruct all hope for beauty or meaning; it is to dissect reality and to show what propaganda, combined with state violence, does to human beings. The emotional power of Platonov’s writing cuts deep. Yet, improbably, his sense of humor makes it ring even more true. Don’t we sometimes laugh at ourselves in our moments of deepest confusion and loss?

Platonov is outrageously funny, especially when he lambastes his colleagues, the Soviet writers parroting official directives: “I am the prosaic Russian writer Pyotr Polikarpovich Latrinov. I presume that you know my books: Poor Tree, A Year of Profit, A Most Specific Figure, Eternally Soviet,” one of them introduces himself. At times, the tormented kolkhoz workers’ speech sounds just like the ridiculous slogans from my youth: “You know where we put people who’re insignificant? Here we have only the polysignificant!” But elsewhere, the pervasiveness of state ideology can make it hard to tell absurdity from tragedy. When a character says “There is a psy… psyche, stuck in my throat,” I don’t know whether to laugh, or cry out at his crippling pain.

Amid the feverish daze of the workers, swaying between elation and despair, a deeper existential angst comes through. One worker who lost her child says, “I’ve fulfilled my quota, but I haven’t had time to overfulfill it. My hands ache from grief, I can’t even weep anymore, I can only stare like a dead fish.” Bos, a European academic visiting the kolkhoz to study the concrete workings of socialism, states his impressions of the overall situation: “The wind appears to sorrow, and infinity is full of space, like a stupid hole, and the sea gets agitated too and weeps against the shore of the earth. As if all this were truly serious, pitiful, and splendid! But it’s only raging piffle!” The beauty of Platonov’s writing, so exquisitely rendered in English in this translation, can make you feel like the collective pain of the twentieth century’s tragic history is gripping you by the throat.

The majority of Platonov’s writings were not published during his lifetime, and his plays were not necessarily intended to be performed. Even his poetic stage directions – “A gray, boring dawn” – seem intended for readers rather than actors. Yet the power of Platonov’s words may be experienced most directly in the theater. Those of us in New York currently have the opportunity to see a rare staging of Fourteen Little Red Huts, performed by the Medicine Show Theatre Ensemble through November 18. Several shows will include post-performance conversations with experts from the fields of Russian studies and literature. Tickets are available here.

Before I leave you pondering the dangers of propaganda, let me share my favorite slogan from socialist Bulgaria, which allegedly hung on the wall of a poultry farm:

Each egg – a bomb, and each hen – a flying fortress against the aggressors!

In the spirit of that age, let me summarize my views on Andrei Platonov thusly:

Every Platonov reader – a nail in the coffin of the polarizing fake propaganda!

You can read an excerpt from the book Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays here.

October 27th, 2017

Designed Leadership: Principle 2: Know Place and Experience and Principle 3: Value Diversity

Designed Leadership

“In the world of designed leadership, values are essential underpinnings for key principles and practices. What is the use of identifying values in an organization if you don’t use them on a daily basis for decision-making?” — Moura Quayle

The following is a guest post from Moura Quayle, author of Designed Leadership. Over the next several weeks, Quayle will take readers through all ten of her designed leadership principles in a series of posts.

Designed Leadership: Principle 1: Make Values Explicit
By Moura Quayle

This post is about the second and third principles of Designed Leadership. You can read a post on the first principle here.

This blog post is about the second principle of designed leadership, Know Place and Experience, and the third principle, Value Diversity.

I live by Paulo Coelho’s quote: “People never learn anything by being told, they have to find out for themselves.” Learning by doing, and by being connected deeply to place and experience, is important to designed leadership. Designed leadership is about taking advantage of the mind-set and the set of tools and techniques commonly used by designers and applying them to improving leadership.

When I began writing about this principle, I remembered my UC Berkeley experience in the learning environment created by Professor Claire Cooper Marcus in her course about social factors in design. Claire assigned us to write a several-part “environmental autobiography” on our childhood, adolescence and adult-hood. I don’t know that I had ever really thought deeply about the environment that had shaped me and continues to do so today. I grew up in a small town on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. My father was a marine biologist (oysters and clams were his specialty) and my mother was a public health nurse. Writing and drawing the childhood piece based on my reflections was a powerful reminder of how I think about space and place today. I was strongly influenced by walking the beaches with my father at low tide (generally very, very early in the morning) and being introduced repeatedly to the importance of public and population health and disease prevention by my mother. As I write in my book:

The primary goal of writing an environmental autobiography is to increase self-awareness. Through the process, one gains understanding, sensitivity, and respect for each unique environmental history. It is clearly useful for design students who need to be aware of their values and biases as they design spaces and places for others. I would argue that it is equally useful for our roles as leaders because it illuminates a personal awareness of the context in which leaders think through and eventually make decisions or decide on directions.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 24th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: The Sustainable City, the American Tomato, American Magazine Writing, and More!

The Sustainable City

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

The Sustainable City
Steven Cohen

Garden Variety: The American Tomato from Corporate to Heirloom
John Hoenig

The Best American Magazine Writing 2017
Edited by Sid Holt for the American Society of Magazine Editors

Chinese Script: History, Characters, Calligraphy
Thomas O. Höllmann. Translated by Maximiliane Donicht.

Philosophies of Happiness: A Comparative Introduction to the Flourishing Life
Diana Lobel

The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200–1336, expanded edition
Caroline Walker Bynum

Becoming the News: How Ordinary People Respond to the Media Spotlight
Ruth Palmer

Life and Money: The Genealogy of the Liberal Economy and the Displacement of Politics
Ute Tellmann

Thick and Dazzling Darkness: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age
Peter O’Leary

From Da Ponte to the Casa Italiana: A Brief History of Italian Studies at Columbia University
Barbara Faedda

Now available in paperback:
Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance
Edward Morris

Now available in paperback:
The End of Progress: Decolonizing the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory
Amy Allen

Trash Cinema: The Lure of the Low
Guy Barefoot
(Wallflower Press)

Security in the Anthropocene: Reflections on Safety and Care
Cameron Harrington and Clifford Shearing

American Missionaries in the Ottoman Empire: A Conceptual Metaphor Analysis of Missionary Narrative, 1820-1898
Hami Inan Gümüş

(Extra)Ordinary Presence: Social Configurations and Cultural Repertoires
Edited by Markus Gottwald, Kay Kirchmann, and Heike Paul

Prizing Debate: The Fourth Decade of the Booker Prize and the Contemporary Novel in the UK
Anna Auguscik

Discursive Intersexions: Daring Bodies between Myth, Medicine, and Memoir
Michaela Koch

Wires That Bind: Nation, Region, and Technology in the Southwestern United States, 1854-1920
Torsten Kathke

Writing Emotions: Theoretical Concepts and Selected Case Studies in Literature
Edited by Ingeborg Jandl, Susanne Knaller, Sabine Schönfellner, and Gudrun Tockner

Emotions, Remembering and Feeling Better: Dealing with the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in Canada
Anne-Marie Reynaud

How Genes Matter: Genetic Medicine as Subjectivisation Practices
Bernhard Wieser

Aging in Slavic Literatures: Essays in Literary Gerontology
Edited by Dagmar Gramshammer-Hohl

Senior Tourism: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Aging and Traveling
Edited by Simone Francescato, Roberta Maierhofer, and Valeria Minghetti

October 22nd, 2017

Safwan Masri on the success of Tunisian democracy after the Arab Spring

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

This week, our featured book is Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, by Safwan M. Masri, with a foreword by Lisa Anderson. Today, we are happy to present three videos from Masri’s recent talk at George Washington University in which he introduces his book, discusses the four factors that have led to the unique success of Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring democracy, and delves into what makes Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement so special. Read the rest of this entry »

October 20th, 2017

Law and the Wealth of Nations

Law and the Wealth of Nations: Finance, Prosperity, and Democracy

Finance and its relation to production form only one aspect of the organization of the economy, an aspect that we commonly associate with dream-destroying constraint rather than, as we also can and should, with transformative opportunity. — Tamara Lothian

Today, we are happy to present the introduction from Law and the Wealth of Nations: Finance, Prosperity, and Democracy, by Tamara Lothian.

October 19th, 2017

Tunisia and the Arab Spring

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

This week, our featured book is Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, by Safwan M. Masri, with a foreword by Lisa Anderson. Today, we are happy to present an interview with Safwan Masri on The SnideShow podcast, in which Masri discusses Tunisia’s government, the Arab Spring, and his new book.

October 18th, 2017

A Different Trajectory

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

“While Bourguiba also relied on education to promote a Tunisian national identity and a nationalist narrative built around him, he had much to fall back on in terms of continuity, territorial integrity, and national historic legitimacy.” — Safwan Masri

This week, our featured book is Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, by Safwan M. Masri, with a foreword by Lisa Anderson. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s fourteenth chapter, in which Masri contrasts the development of the education system in Tunisia in the twentieth and twenty-first century with that of education systems elsewhere in the Middle East.

October 18th, 2017

Columbia Giving Day

Support Columbia University Press on #ColumbiaGivingDay!

We are excited to participate in Columbia Giving Day, which is an opportunity to support the causes, projects, and initiatives that mean the most to you. One Day. One Columbia. Real Impact. Support Columbia University Press today and win additional matching funds from University Trustees. Extend your impact through our $10,000 challenge grant.

October 17th, 2017

Introducing Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

“Therein lies one of the most common and misguided propositions about Tunisia—namely, that its successful transition to democracy can serve as a model for the rest of the Arab world and that the factors that led to Tunisia’s democracy could be, if not easily, replicated. This theory is based on a set of assumptions, some explicit and others less so, that I argue are flawed.” — Safwan Masri

This week, our featured book is Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, by Safwan M. Masri, with a foreword by Lisa Anderson. In today’s post, read a set of excerpts hand-selected by Masri that provide an excellent introduction to the book’s ideas.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Tunisia!

October 17th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Darwin’s Theory, Implicit Bias, Film Openings, and More!

The Theory That Changed Everything

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

The Theory That Changed Everything: “On the Origin of Species” as a Work in Progress
Philip Lieberman

Race on the Brain: What Implicit Bias Gets Wrong About the Struggle for Racial Justice
Jonathan Kahn

Cinematic Overtures: How to Read Opening Scenes
Annette Insdorf

Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Christian Life and Thought
Rachel Fulton Brown

Now available in paperback:
Recognition or Disagreement: A Critical Encounter on the Politics of Freedom, Equality, and Identity
Axel Honneth, Jacques Rancière, Katia Genel, and Jean-Philippe Deranty

Civilizing the Chinese, Competing with the West: Study Societies in Late Qing China
Chen Hon Fai
(The Chinese University Press)

Play Therapy in Asia
Edited by Angela F. Y. Siu and Alicia K. L. Pon
(The Chinese University Press)

October 16th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

“A wise and carefully drawn analysis of one of the mysteries of the Arab Spring. Safwan M. Masri explains why Tunisia, where the revolt germinated, has been the only country to give birth to a real democracy. In examining why Tunisia succeeded, Masri shows why other Arab countries failed. They lacked Tunisia’s culture of tolerance, moderation, and coexistence, which had been nurtured by decades of educational and social policy. Bottom line: Democracy needs deep roots, which sadly don’t exist in most of the Arab world.” — David Ignatius, Washington Post

This week, our featured book is Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly, by Safwan M. Masri, with a foreword by Lisa Anderson. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

October 10th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Inside Private Prisons and More!

Inside Private Prisons

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration
Lauren-Brooke Eisen

Democracy and the Welfare State: The Two Wests in the Age of Austerity
Edited by Alice Kessler-Harris and Maurizio Vaudagna

Erotic Poems from the Sanskrit: An Anthology
Edited and translated by R. Parthasarathy

The Habermas Handbook
Edited by Hauke Brunkhorst, Regina Kreide, and Cristina Lafont

Now available in paperback:
Robert L. Belknap. Introduction by Robin Feuer Miller.

The Paradox of Risk: Leaving the Monetary Policy Comfort Zone
Ángel Ubide
(Peterson Institute for International Economics)

Gate of Mercy: Family Secrets and the History of Modern Israel
Dorit Silverman. Translated by Sondra Silverston.
(ibidem Press)

Joining a Prestigious Club: Cooperation with Europarties and Its Impact on Party Development in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine 2004–2015
Maria Shagina. Foreword by Kataryna Wolczuk.
(ibidem Press)

Kind Words, Cruise Missiles, and Everything in Between: The Use of Power Resources in U.S. Policies towards Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus 1989–2008
Barbara Kunz. Foreword by William Hill.
(ibidem Press)

The Mongol Conquests in the Novels of Vasily Yan: An Intellectual Biography
Dmitry Shlapentokh
(ibidem Press)

October 6th, 2017

Remembering Adam McKeown

Adam McKeown

Adam McKeown, a former editor of the series Columbia Studies in International and Global History, passed away recently. Together with Matthew Connelly, Adam founded this book series with Columbia University Press in 2007 and was behind its remarkable growth for a decade. Adam also contributed as an author to the series: his scholarly work Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders was published in 2008 and quickly hailed as a masterpiece. Among other important interventions, Adam invited us to rethink the history of border control. In his eyes, state efforts to control migration mentally, physically and administratively, were first and foremost a result of globalization. As he showed, they were particularly related to nineteenth- and twentieth-century Asian migration flows in an increasingly hierarchical world.

Also in many other writings, Adam McKeown chose migration history and the history of statehood as the chain and thread to weave Asian history and global history into new fabrics. The outcome was grand and colorful – large-scale, daring writing rooted in deep local knowledge and a concomitant love for details. It is small wonder that already as a young scholar, Adam had a strong impact on a variety of research fields. He quickly made the transition from a graduate student to an influential scholar whose publications are being read around the world.

Adam McKeown was a humble person and at the same time a bold and powerful thinker. He loved academia for its intellectual environments but he felt definitely not equally passionate about institutional politics. He chose early retirement at a young age, and it is deeply saddening that a tragic accident ended this new period in his life so quickly and unexpectedly. His memory and his work remain deeply inspiring to us. As the current editors of Columbia Studies in International and Global History, we feel honored to continue at least some aspects of his work.

Cemil Aydin, Timothy Nunan, and Dominic Sachsenmaier
Series editors, Columbia Studies in International and Global History

October 3rd, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Neither Ghost nor Machine, Birth of a New Earth, Hunting Girls, and More!

Neither Ghost nor Machine

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Neither Ghost nor Machine: The Emergence and Nature of Selves
Jeremy Sherman. Foreword by Terrence Deacon.

Now available in paperback:
Birth of a New Earth: The Radical Politics of Environmentalism
Adrian Parr

Now available in paperback:
Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from The Hunger Games to Campus Rape
Kelly Oliver

The Films of Terence Fisher: Hammer Horror and Beyond
Wheeler Winston Dixon

September 29th, 2017

Trickster Tales and “True Crime”: An Interview with Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, translators of The Book of Swindles

Book of Swindles
This week, we introduced The Book of Swindles, a chronicle of scams and deception from Ming China. These stories of fortunes made and lost, of cunning crooks and unsolved crimes make us ask: was swindling so widespread in 1600s China? What caused the profound social changes and moral anxiety at the time?

To learn more about the stories’ background, we talked to Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, professors at the University of British Columbia and translators of The Book of Swindles. They told us about rising consumer culture in the early modern period, parallels with American literature, and Zhang Yingyu’s “delight in criminal cleverness.”

Question: You write in the introduction to The Book of Swindles that Zhang Yingyu’s time, the early 1600s, was one of rapid social and economic change. Why was the Ming empire suddenly so commercialized and its roads and rivers busy with itinerant merchants? Many of Zhang’s stories are set in coastal provinces like Fujian. If we were to travel with him across late-Ming Fujian, what would we see that was new and different?

BR: First, we’d see a lot of merchants—and even more porters and boatmen—carrying goods over long distances, some for domestic markets and some coming from, or bound for, overseas. We’d encounter other travelers of many kinds, such as opera troupes, itinerant doctors, and even some we could classify as tourists, male and female, going to see famous sights, to perform pilgrimages to holy mountains, or to do a little of both. More than ever before, we’d pass through villages devoted to the production of a single commodity such as fruit or ceramics, whose producers would use the revenue to buy their staples, such as grain produced in other areas. And in the towns and villages we would see many signs of rising prosperity, people of middling status who owned works of art, books, and fancy clothes; some had hobbies such as goldfish-raising or bonsai. Many contemporary writers remarked on these changes, often seeing them as illustrating a decline from the ideal social order. To them, one of the ills of the age was a new fluidity of social status resulting not only from new wealth but also the increasing need to interact with strangers of uncertain background either in populous cities or “on the road,” in inns, taverns, and on boats. These anonymous and transitory spaces were perfect settings for the shape-shifting swindler.

Modern economic historians disagree about exactly what factors caused these broader economic developments. Some point to favorable climate trends. Others emphasize the role of huge amounts of silver—the main form of money in the period—coming in from new mines in Japan and the New World. Foreign traders used silver to purchase Chinese goods such as tea, silk, and porcelain and this trade increased the money supply in the late Ming economy. Internal factors include a long period of relative stability that allowed local, regional, and long-distance trade networks to develop, which fostered more efficient, specialized production in agriculture and industry. Swindlers and other criminals were all too ready to siphon off these new flows of goods and money.

Q: Zhang ends each tale with a moral lesson, yet the stories are clearly also meant to entertain. As you point out, a story like “A Eunuch Cooks Boys to Make a Tonic of Male Essence” is long on scandal and social criticism and short on helpful advice. Who was The Book of Swindles written for, and what would you say is its closest contemporary equivalent in terms of genre?

CR: Well, the “Male Essence” story does teach people with sons not to sell them to eunuchs—who in the late Ming numbered in the tens of thousands and who did purchase boy servants—but my hunch is that at-risk readers of that particular swindle were few. Zhang often panders to popular prejudices about eunuchs, monks, women, and government underlings. You could say his commentary is a mix of moral posturing and earnestness. Still, his stories do educate as they entertain. “Male Essence” is a good example: its sensationalism notwithstanding, it actually begins with a polemic about taxation.

As for audience, most of the stories involve merchants, and Zhang discusses their interests extensively, so it seems likely that they were his primary intended readership. He expresses sympathy with men who get lonely on the road, and notes that this makes them vulnerable to false friends. He gives detailed advice about the handling of silver. He suggests ways to vet potential business partners. But he also offers a much wider variety of scenarios of how people perpetrate and foil fraud at home, on the road, in the marketplace, in court and in courtship. As we mention in our introduction, one of the fun things about this book is that it can be read for fun and profit.

BR: One additional hint to the audience is the language of the stories: it’s simple, but it follows the syntax of Literary Chinese (aka Classical Chinese), not the more colloquial language of some novels and stories of the same period. But it is also short on the sort of allusions and historical references a more scholarly work would contain. So it was probably aimed at readers with the kind of literacy that many merchants at the time would have had, enough to write letters, keep accounts, draw up contracts, and make use of books for practical and religious purposes as well as for entertainment.

CR: As for genre, works like The Book of Swindles are easy to find in China nowadays. Some collections actually pair stories about contemporary scams with stories about historical swindles under titles like Panorama of Swindles Old and New, and even include story-end commentaries à la Zhang Yingyu. So, you can find pretty exact genre equivalents in the Chinese-language book market today. “True crime” stories would be an approximate genre category in English, and there are links to folklore such as trickster tales. You also have a similar impulse to compile stories of trickery in anthologies like Michael Farquhar’s A Treasury of Deception: Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History’s Greatest Hoaxes, Fakes, and Frauds (2005).

BR: Entertainment is definitely one of the “hooks” of the Book of Swindles, even when it purports to teach a moral lesson. This is true of much Chinese fiction of the period, however tenuous the link between story and moral might be. It’s also true of a lot of writing about swindles from around the world—for example, American novels like Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, and of course much of Mark Twain. The Book of Swindles shares a delight in criminal cleverness with these works and with other Ming dynasty collections of stories about ingenious officials who catch often equally ingenious lawbreakers. Unlike that kind of “case fiction” (gong’an xiaoshuo), however, the Book of Swindles usually has the criminal outsmart the detective, or makes it a merchant or other unofficial party who gets to the bottom of the case. In this way it’s strikingly different from most of the fiction of its time.

Q: Several stories concern scams perpetrated by women. As you summarize in the introduction, “Women seduce merchants far from home, prostitute female relatives, frame innocent men, steal horses on the highway, and enter into sham marriages for purposes of murder and extortion.” How does Zhang portray gender? Does the book show any changes in, or anxieties about gender roles in Ming China?

CR: The Book of Swindles is about how to recognize tell-tale signs that you’re being had, so its main concern is with showing typical scenarios and behaviors. Characters do have names, but they tend appear less as individuals than as representatives of certain social types. Women, scholars, government clerks, brokers, Daoist priests—Zhang objectifies them all. He does make admiring comments about the brilliant schemes in the first two stories of the “Women” swindles section, especially in the excellent “Three Women Ride Off on Three Horses.” But then we have categorical statements like this one: Even the chastest of women, without exception, will be led into sin if she encounters and is enticed by a licentious woman.

Zhang’s representations of women, prejudicial though they are, don’t represent the main anxiety about changing social roles in his collection. Looming much larger, to me anyway, is his sense that merchants are being too cavalier in handling their money and in trusting people they encounter while traveling. While the courts sometimes do help a dupe obtain restitution, in most stories it’s clear that a man going out on business has to rely mostly on his wits—and the accumulated vicarious knowledge offered by The Book of Swindles—to keep him safe.

Q: Which is your favorite story in the book, and why?

CR: The two in the “Poetry” swindles section were a delight to translate; see especially the pleasure boat poem in “Chen Quan Scams His Way into the Arms of a Famous Courtesan.” Plus, I like the idea of poets as swindlers. I enjoy Zhang’s comment on the “painless scam” in “Forged Letters from the Education Intendant Report Auspicious Dreams,” which was based on a true story. And the four-in-one appearing under the title “A Geomancer Uses His Wife to Steal a Good Seed” made me rethink what it means to be the victim of a swindle.

BR: I am taken with the audacity of the monk in “A Buddhist Monk Identifies a Cow as His Mother,” in which the cleric uses simple, even childish, tricks to spin yarns about past lives and promises of a better rebirth.