About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

August 28th, 2015

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds — Donald Prothero on the Oldest Human Skeleton



“For only the past 30,000 years has there been a single species of homi­nin dominating the planet. Now Homo sapiens threatens to wipe out nearly every other species, as well as itself, making them just as extinct as the fossils described in this book.”—Donald R. Prothero

Donald R. Prothero concludes The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution by examining the discovery “Lucy,” the oldest human skeleton. In the following excerpt, Prothero examines Lucy’s legacy and the efforts of paleontologists and anthropolgists to discover more fossils of human ancestors:

Lucy’s Legacy

The rush to find hominins from the “Dark Continent” soon spread across East Africa, especially in regions with long sedimentary records in fault ba­sins along the Great Rift Valley. Louis Leakey’s son Richard, who was ini­tially uninterested in anthropology, eventually adopted his father’s mantle. Seeking to escape his father’s shadow, he began to excavate in Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana) in northern Kenya in the 1970s. There, many more skulls were found, including the best-preserved specimen of Homo habilis, the oldest species in our genus, Homo. Richard moved on to prominent po­sitions in the Kenyan government (especially fighting the poaching of rhi­nos and elephants). His wife, Meave, working with local people, carried on the Leakey legacy. His mother, Mary, continued to make significant finds, especially the spectacular trackway of hominins at Laetoli in Tanzania.

Kenya and Tanzania were in the news almost every year with the spec­tacular finds of the Leakeys. In the late 1960s, Louis Leakey had lunch with President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. The emperor asked Leakey why there had been no discoveries in Ethio­pia. Louis quickly persuaded him that fossils would be found if he gave the order to let scientists explore for them. Soon anthropologist F. Clark How­ell of Berkeley was working on the northern shore of Lake Turkana, where the Omo River flows out of Ethiopia. Howell and his colleague Glynn Isaac spent many years collecting in the Omo beds, which have abundant volca­nic ash dates. Unfortunately, these deposits were formed in flash floods that produced gravelly and sandy streams, which tend to break up and abrade fossils, so no well-preserved hominin specimens were found.

Meanwhile, other rising young anthropologists were eager to make their own discoveries in a region that had been almost exclusively the territory of the Leakeys and their allies. Two of them were Donald Johanson and Tim White. Both were seeking to make their professional fortunes by explor­ing sites not under the control of the Leakeys. Through French geologists Maurice Taieb and Yves Coppens and anthropologist Jon Kalb, they learned about beds in the Afar Triangle, the rift valley that is opening between the tectonic plates where the Gulf of Aden meets the Red Sea. These beds al­ready had yielded numerous fossils of mammals, suggesting that they were at least 3 million years old, which made them potentially older than any hominin fossil found so far in Kenya or Tanzania. Johanson, White, Taieb, and Coppens received permission to work in these beds and began to exca­vate at Hadar in 1973.

After months of exploring and prospecting for fossils, and finding a few hominin fragments, on November 24, 1974, Johanson took a break from writing field notes to help his student Tom Gray search an outcrop. He spotted the glint of bone out of the corner of his eye, dug out the fossil, and immediately recognized that it was a hominin bone. They continued to un­earth more and more bones, until they found almost 40 percent of a skele­ton of a hominin. It was the first skeleton, rather than isolated bones, found of any hominin older than the Neanderthals of the late Pleis­tocene. That night as they celebrated over the campfire, they were playing a tape of the Beatles when “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” came on. Sing­ing lustily along, a member of the crew named Pamela Alderman suggested that the fossil be nicknamed “Lucy.” Later, it was formally named Australo­pithecus afarensis, in reference to the Afar Triangle, where it was found.

A year after the discovery of “Lucy,” the crew returned to Hadar, where they found a large assemblage of A. afarensis bones. Nicknamed the “First Family,” it was the first large sample of fossils of both juvenile and adult hominins from beds dating to 3 million years ago, and it gave anthropolo­gists a look at how much variability was typical in a single population. This can be important when deciding whether a newly discovered fossil that is slightly different from specimens found earlier should be considered a new species or genus or just a member of a variable population.

When the analysis of “Lucy” was conducted, Johanson and White de­termined that the skeleton was that of an adult female that had stood about 1.1 meters (3.5 feet) tall. The most important evidence was the knee joint and the hip bones, which show the critical features that prove that A. afarensis walked upright with its legs completely beneath its body, as do modern humans. It had a relatively small brain (380 to 430 cc) and small canines, like those of advanced hominins, yet still had a pronounced snout, rather than a flat face. This was yet another blow to the “big brains first” theory of human evolution, which was still in vogue in the mid-1970s. Its shoulder blade, arms, and hands are quite ape-like, however, so A. afarensis still climbed trees, even if it was fully bipedal. Yet the foot shows no signs of a grasping big toe, so its legs and feet were adapted entirely for walking on the ground and its toes could not grasp branches.

Read the rest of this entry »

August 27th, 2015

WITMonth 2015: Author/Translator/Author



WITMonth Posts'

In honor of August as Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), we are featuring two very different posts by translators Howard Goldblatt and Esther Allen on women in translation. According to Meytal Radzinski at Bibliobio, only 30% of works translated into English are written by women. WIT Month is simply one effort part of a larger, concerted movement to address sexism in publishing.

Today’s article comes from Howard Goldblatt, the co-translator (with his wife, Sylvia Li Chun Lin) of Li Ang’s The Lost Garden: A Novel, forthcoming in November 2015. Goldblatt’s piece explains the meticulous translation and writing process he undertook to complete Chinese novelist Xiao Hong’s novel Ma Bo-le. He presents a glimpse into the stitching and unstitching of her drafts posthumously for the final installment of her novel.

We hope you enjoy reading!

Author/Translator/Author
By Howard Goldblatt

In 1940, Xiao Hong, a novelist from Northeast China who was born in 1911, wrote a novel entitled Ma Bo-le. It was published in Hong Kong the next year, when she wrote and published serially a sequel she called “Book Two.” The final installment appeared in a magazine in November, with the note, “End of Chapter Nine. More to come.” That did not happen. Two months later, shortly after the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, she was dead of a throat infection, a botched operation, and a fragile constitution at the age of 31. She was buried in Repulse Bay. Now, more than half a century later, she is celebrated as one of China’s foremost writers of the Republican era; her childhood home, a stop on the Northeast China tour circuit, is flanked by a museum devoted to her and her work.

In the early 1980s, after a decade of writing and talking about Xiao Hong and translating much of her work, including two novels, I began a translation of Ma Bo-le, taking it slow, since I did not think a Western publishing house would be interested in an unfinished novel by an obscure Chinese writer. I cannot recall when it happened, but at some point I decided that I would write, in English, the third volume of what everyone agreed was planned as a trilogy, to complete the work. It has taken me more than twenty years to get up the nerve to fulfill that promise.

After editing a rough translation of the first two “books,” I picked up the thread of the original story, which ended as the protagonist contemplates traveling to Chongqing, the provisional capital of the Chiang Kai-shek government. As I wrote, I located the narrative in places where Xiao Hong had visited or lived—the Beipei district in Chongqing, Lock Road in Kowloon, Hong Kong—wherever possible, and included actual events and situations, such as her friendship with the three Japanese, the only true-to-life characters in the novel. For a speech Xiao Hong gave in Hong Kong to commemorate her mentor and friend, Lu Xun, who had died four years earlier, I quoted from the actual text. I even had them—author and protagonist—nearly meet on two occasions. I then translated and included snippets from essays and stories Xiao Hong wrote during that time. Beyond that, I had to follow my instincts, since Xiao Hong left no indication of how she planned to end the trilogy.

The novel is absolutely unique, not just to Xiao Hong’s oeuvre, but in the modern history of Chinese fiction, through the twentieth century and up to the present day. It has been reissued several times in Chinese and has been written about extensively. In it the eponymous character travels from Qingdao south to strike out on his own in the days prior to full-blown war with Japan. Once Shanghai is attacked, Ma Bo, whose wife and children have joined him, he follows the route his author took from one besieged city to the next, ending, as she did, in Hong Kong.

Ma Bo-le (pronounced Ma Buo-luh), a picaresque character much in the mold of self-preservationist Yossarian in Catch-22 or the slothful Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces, has few peers in the modern Chinese-language tradition. Nobelist Mo Yan’s bumbling “investigator” in The Republic of Wine and Taiwanese pedant Dong Siwen in Wang Chen-ho’s Rose, Rose, I Love You come close. Ma Bo-le anticipates them all by decades.

When first published, the novel, marked by humor, cynicism, and a number of solipsistic fictional characters, was not well received by many, who thought that only patriotic, incendiary anti-Japanese literature ought to be made available to a public experiencing the violence of war. That she defied such sentiments is remarkable in itself; that she did so on the run, as it were, when her relationships with the men in her life were rapidly deteriorating, and when she was in failing health, is extraordinary. And, we mustn’t forget, the second half was written against a biweekly publishing deadline. No wonder, then, that there are problems with the text. While inconsistencies and minor mistakes exist (now corrected), the greater issues are repetition and instances of redundant descriptions that create unwelcome longueurs. She needed an editor. With perhaps an excessive amount of sangfroid, I have taken on that responsibility. In addition to completing the narrative, I have shortened the work by twenty-five or thirty pages, added needed transitions and clarifications, and moved bits of text around to improve the narrative flow. “Book One” was published without chapter divisions; “Book Two” was divided into nine chapters. I have chosen not to call my seventy-five-page addition “Book Three,” opting instead to unify all three parts into twenty-nine chapters, sandwiched between a “prologue” and “epilogue,” two parts of a fictional dialogue between a member of a Hong Kong cultural society and the grown son of the novel’s protagonist following the discovery of a long-lost, anonymous manuscript—the “work.”

To set the scenes as accurately as possible, I have called upon a number of biographies of Xiao Hong in Chinese, my own among them, and have drawn upon a variety of contemporary reports on China and Hong Kong, including Theodore H. White’s Thunder Out of China (1946); China: After Seven Years of War (1945, Hollington K. Tong, ed.); and Anna Louise Strong’s One-Fifth of Mankind: China Fights for Freedom.

I have spent four decades in the wonderful company—figuratively, intellectually, literarily, and emotionally—of Xiao Hong. I can only hope that, now that she would have found our collaboration acceptable.

August 27th, 2015

Mega-Jaws — Donald Prothero on the Rise and Fall of the Giant Shark



Carcharocles megalodon

As the title The Story of Life in 25 Fossils suggests, each chapter of Donald R. Prothero’s book focuses on how fossils reveal something about the history of our planet. Surely, one of the most fascinating moments in this history is when Carcharocles megalodon or “Mega-Jaws” ruled the seas. In the following excerpt from the book, Prothero explains what the fossil record reveals about the fate of these giant sharks:

Monster of the Seas

The sheer size of Carcharocles megalodon raises a question: Why did it grow so big? The most common answer seems to be that sharks were respond­ing to the great abundance of large prey in the Miocene, especially the huge radiation of many types of whales and dolphins that developed in the early and middle Miocene. C. megalodon was bigger than all but the largest whales known from the same beds, so it was a true “super-predator,” capa­ble of killing and eating almost anything that swam in the Miocene oceans.

There is abundant fossil evidence of this behavior. Deep gouges and scratches that could have been produced by only the huge teeth of C. meg­alodon have been found on many fossil whale bones, suggesting that the sharks scratched the bones as they tore flesh from the carcasses. The list of whales with traces of C. megalodon attacks is very long, including dol­phins and other small whales, cetotheres, squalodontids, sperm whales, bowhead whales, and rorquals like the fin whale and blue whale, plus seals, sea lions, manatees, and sea turtles (which were three times the size of the largest extant sea turtles). A C. megalodon tooth was found associated with the bitten ear bone of a sea lion. There were also several finds of C. mega­lodon teeth embedded in whale backbones, and numerous cases partially scavenged whale carcasses (especially at Sharktooth Hill) have been found surrounded by shed C. megalodon teeth.

Of course, this does not exhaust the list. Most sharks (especially great whites) are indiscriminate, opportunistic feeders and attack anything that moves that they can catch. This is why so many modern sharks have ocean trash (including road signs, boots, and anchors) in their stomachs when they are cut open. So C. megalodon certainly would have eaten smaller fish and most other sharks when it could catch them. But its large size is primar­ily an adaptation to attacking large prey like whales, which no other marine predator could threaten until C. megalodon came along.

The bite marks on one particular whale specimen about 9 meters (30 feet) long suggests how C. megalodon preferred to attack. The marks seem to focus on the tough bony areas (shoulders, flippers, rib cage, upper spine) rather than on the soft underbelly, which modern great whites target. This suggests that C. megalodon tried to crush or puncture the heart or lungs of the whale, which would have killed it quickly. This, in turn, explains why the teeth of C. megalodon are so thick and robust: they were adapted for bit­ing through bone. Another common strategy focused on the flippers, since fossils of the hand bones have the highest frequency of bite marks of all. A big bite to crush, cripple, or rip off one flipper would have been sufficient to disable the prey and allow the shark to finish it off with several more bites.

Read the rest of this entry »

August 26th, 2015

WITMonth 2015: Lost In Translation



WITMonth Posts'

In honor of August as Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), we are featuring two very different posts by translators Howard Goldblatt and Esther Allen on women in translation. According to Meytal Radzinski at Bibliobio, only 30% of works translated into English are written by women. WIT Month is simply one effort part of a larger, concerted movement to address sexism in publishing.

Today’s article comes from Esther Allen, who is co-editor with Susan Bernofsky of In Translation: Translators on Their Work and What it Means, as well as the translator of a number of works from both Spanish and French. In her post, Allen profiles Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx and first translator of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary into English. She argues that Eleanor Marx’s early death is a sobering and urgent example of the importance of recognizing the creative intellectual work of females.

We hope you enjoy reading!

Lost In Translation
By Esther Allen

Few examples of the peril of losing yourself in translation are as powerfully sobering as that of Eleanor Marx. Daughter of Karl, ardent champion of women’s and workers’ rights, Marx was the first translator of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary into English and played the role of Nora in the first English staged reading of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

She read both texts as protests against the plight of the 19th-century housewife, which she thought she could escape by entering into an open romantic partnership with a fellow free-thinker, Richard Aveling—alas, an “unprincipled windbag… with a reptilian air” as he’s described in Rachel Holmes’s fascinating recent biography of Marx. On stage and in life, Aveling played the narcissistic Thorvald to Marx’s Nora—except he was, by any measure, far worse than Ibsen’s character. After fourteen extremely difficult years together, Aveling announced to Marx that he’d married someone else. Shortly thereafter, she committed suicide.

Emma Bovary, of course, is a suicide, and Nora thinks a lot about taking her own life. Holmes argues that these more famous literary performances affected Marx less than her rendering into German of Reuben Sachs, an 1888 novel by her friend Amy Levy. No character in it commits suicide, but a year after it was published its 27-year-old author did. These literary antecedents mattered not at all to Eleanor Marx’s friends, who blamed Aveling for her death. But Aveling himself was terminally ill, as Marx knew well, and survived her by only four months. Read the rest of this entry »

August 26th, 2015

Is “Brontosaurus” Back? Not So Fast! — Donald Prothero



The Story of Life in 25 Fossils

“So before everyone begins the big party for ‘Brontosaurus’ and celebrates this huge diversity of sauropod names, let’s hold our horses.”—Donald R. Prothero

The following post is by Donald Prothero, author of The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution:

Earlier this year, there has been a big buzz with the media reaction to a study by Emanuel Tschopp, Octavio Mateus, and Roger B.J. Benson analyzing the diplodocine sauropod dinosaurs and figuring out their classification and relationships. As I discuss in The Story of Life in 25 Fossils, since 1903 most paleontologists have regarded “Brontosaurus” as just another junior name for the dinosaur properly known as Apatosaurus.

The Tschopp et al. study itself is a landmark in careful anatomical work, analyzing the problem specimen by specimen (a total of 81 specimens used) rather than generalizing based on previous clusterings of specimens, and looking at far more anatomical evidence than any previous study. Naturally, the press missed the significance of the study completely, and focused on just one minor point: the idea that “Brontosaurus” is again a valid name. ALL the publicity, and all the reactions of the non-paleontological reporters and readers was focused on this rather trivial issue, which is not important to real paleontologists in any way (except that we always get asked about it by the general public). Most of the reaction by sauropod paleontologists who were interviewed were generally favorable, but others were more cautious. Almost all agreed that is the most thorough work on the subject written to date, and it will be the foundation on which all future analyses will be built. Similar reactions could be found on the SVPOW (“Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week”) website, which is the main forum for discussion by specialists and amateurs about sauropods.

Read the rest of this entry »

August 25th, 2015

Interview with Donald R. Prothero, Author of The Story of Life in 25 Fossils



The Story of Life in 25 Fossils, by Donald R. Prothero

The following interview is with Donald R. Prothero, author of The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution:

Question: How do you summarize the history of life in just 25 fossils?

Donald R. Prothero: That was an incredibly difficult decision, since there are millions of species and thousands of different known fossil species. I tried to focus on fossils that represented important landmarks in the history of life, important transitional fossils that demonstrated the macroevolution of one group from another, and some of the most extreme examples of life illustrated by the fossil record: the largest marine reptiles and dinosaurs, the largest sharks, the largest land mammals, and so on.

Q: What does the fossil record tell us about evolution?

DRP: In the book, I describe many examples of “transitional fossils” (incorrectly called “missing links”) that demonstrate the evolution of one major group from another. This is sometimes called macroevolution, and its existence is denied by 40% of Americans who don’t accept the reality of evolution. We now have snakes with legs (including a four-legged snake fossil that was just published last month, too late for our book), turtles with half a shell (including a new transitional reptile more primitive than the turtles in our book, also published too recently for our book), a creature that is the link between frogs and salamanders, many fossils that show how fish crawled out on land to become amphibians, and many feathered dinosaurs that showed how birds originated from creatures like Velociraptor. These examples could go on and on, so the new book just discusses a few of them. Many more examples are given in my book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters (Columbia University Press, 2007).

Q: What does the fossil record tell us about the origin of animals?

DRP: In Darwin’s time, there were no fossils that showed how the oldest known fossils, such as trilobites, evolved from more primitive creatures. But in several chapters of this book, I talk about the first known fossils (primitive bacteria forming mats and domes called stromatolites, over 3.5 billion years old), the first multicellular animals from 600 million years ago, the first tiny, shelled fossils from 550 million years ago, and the earliest trilobites from 525 million years ago. Contrary to people who argue that the “Cambrian explosion” was an instantaneous event that required divine intervention, we now know it was a “Cambrian long fuse,” with all the stages from single cells to soft-bodied multicellular life to tiny shells to the first large shelled animals, all stretched out over tens of millions of years.

Read the rest of this entry »

August 25th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Pope Francis, Eqbal Ahmad, and More New Books



Pope Francis Among the Wolves

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

Pope Francis Among the Wolves: The Inside Story of a Revolution
Marco Politi; Translated by William McCuaig

Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider in a Turbulent Age
Stuart Schaar

For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism, and War
Stephen M. Saideman and R. William Ayres; With a New Introduction by the Authors

August 24th, 2015

Book Giveaway! The Story of Life in 25 Fossils, by Donald R. Prothero



This week our featured book is The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution by Donald R. Prothero.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Story of Life in 25 Fossils to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, August 28th at 1:00 pm.

Here’s what Niles Eldredge says about The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: “Prothero, an outstanding paleontologist and skilled communicator, has written the best up-to-date account of the history of life as revealed by the fossil record that I have ever had the pleasure to read. His lucid prose brings these long-dead organisms back to life, while painting a picture of how all life has been interconnected through evolution. ”

For more on the book you can read the chapter, “Planet of the Scum”:

August 24th, 2015

The Economic Risks of Climate Change



In the following segment from The Leonard Lopate Show, Michael Oppenheimer and Geoffrey Heal, two contributors to Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus, discuss their econometric research on human responses to climate, and explain private sector risk-assessment tools:

Economic Risks of Climate Change

August 21st, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: The Great Gift of “Laudato Si’”



Reactions to Laudato Si'

“Pope Francis offers a brilliant explication of the importance of a new form of research, one that I like to call the emergent field of sustainable development, to integrate the areas of specialized knowledge into a comprehensive and interconnected form of understanding.” — Jeffrey D. Sachs

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. In today’s post, the final of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an article on the encyclical by Jeffrey D. Sachs that originally appeared in America Magazine.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of H. H. Shugart’s book!

The Great Gift of ‘Laudato Si’’
By Jeffrey D. Sachs

Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” is a great and timely gift to humanity. To avoid a catastrophic collision of the world economy and environment, humanity urgently needs to change the trajectory and functioning of the world economy. Yet the world economic system is a juggernaut nearly impervious to coordinated changes at the global scale. “Laudato Si’” opens the path to a veritable revolution of ideas to bring about the needed changes.

As Pope Francis eloquently and accurately describes, the economic juggernaut is destroying biodiversity, dangerously altering the climate and undermining the life-support systems of the planet for humanity and millions of other species. On all of this, Pope Francis offers a compelling summary of the scientific evidence, presented with clarity and precision. His concision and precision on these matters exemplifies the church’s profound commitment to the marriage of faith and reason, with its abiding commitment to science.

Yet, as Pope Francis describes, the economy keeps barreling along, seemingly oblivious to these hazards and to the deadly costs they are imposing on the world’s poor and vulnerable people. In the very powerful phrase of his earlier exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” the world suffers from a “globalization of indifference” that makes it nearly impossible for humanity to reorient toward sustainable development over the current destructive trajectory. Read the rest of this entry »

August 20th, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: Is Pope Francis Right on the Science?



Reactions to Laudato Si'

“First, the consensus on anthropogenic global warming among publishing scientists exceeds 99.9%. Second, climate scientists do not claim that global warming “caused” a given heat wave, drought, or storm. Rather, they say that global warming has increased the odds of such events and is therefore partly responsible for the broad pattern of extreme weather. The Pope recognizes that global warming is not just something that will happen in the future: it is happening now and we need to respond now.” — James Lawrence Powell

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. In today’s post, James Lawrence Powell takes a close look at the actual science cited by Pope Francis in the encyclical and asks, simply, did the Pope get it right?

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of H. H. Shugart’s book!

Is Pope Francis Right on the Science?
By James Lawrence Powell

When most people read “Catholic Church” and “Science” in the same sentence, they are apt to think of the inquisition of Galileo, who narrowly escaped burning at the stake for espousing the Copernican view of a Sun-centered solar system. But that is old news. In 1992, Pope John Paul II stated his regret for Galileo’s treatment and in 2008, the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first telescopic observations, Pope Benedict XVI praised his pioneering astronomy. The Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno won the 2014 American Astronomical Society’s Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science for his many books.

The Catholic Church has also been forthright in its defense of evolution, Pope John Paul II telling the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996 that “…new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” Catholic schools in the U.S. and elsewhere teach evolution both as a fact and as the result of the modern evolutionary synthesis, the updated version of Darwin’s theory.

Though Young-Earth creationists maintain that our planet is only a few thousand years old, the Church has long accepted the antiquity of the Earth and the authenticity of the fossil record as validating the history of life. In 2004, before Cardinal Ratzinger had become Pope Benedict XVI, he endorsed a statement by the International Theological Commission that,

The universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the ‘Big Bang’ and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life.

Thus Pope Francis’s recent encyclical — Laudato Si, or “Praised Be”— is but the latest in a series of statements from the Catholic Church that offer increasingly strong support for science. Pope Francis’s eloquent encyclical not only does that, but it also casts the protection of the environment and the prevention of global warming as predominantly moral issues. He introduces the encyclical as an “Urgent appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” Francis asks for “a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

The question I am addressing is whether the Pope gets the science of global warming right. We should not be surprised if he does, for he was trained as a scientist: before becoming a priest, young Jorge Mario Bergoglio trained and worked as a chemical technician. Just as no one can discredit Francis’s moral standing, neither can anyone discredit his understanding of science.

As would any climate scientist today, Francis regards human responsibility for global warming as an indisputable fact. He does not present a list of arguments designed to persuade his readers that anthropogenic global warming is true, but simply says that it is true:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.

Exactly right. First, the consensus on anthropogenic global warming among publishing scientists exceeds 99.9%. Second, climate scientists do not claim that global warming “caused” a given heat wave, drought, or storm. Rather, they say that global warming has increased the odds of such events and is therefore partly responsible for the broad pattern of extreme weather. The Pope recognizes that global warming is not just something that will happen in the future: it is happening now and we need to respond now.

Further evincing his understanding, the Pope writes:

It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space.

Again, exactly right. Several factors affect global temperature but only one can explain the rise in temperature since the 1970s: the increase in greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion. A climate scientist might argue that the last sentence of the quotation is an oversimplification in that it does not explain the mechanism by which greenhouse gases increase temperature. But the sentence as it stands is correct and sufficient for a general audience.

The Pope also demonstrates his understanding of the consequences of unchecked global warming:

The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Things are made worse by the loss of tropical forests which would otherwise help to mitigate climate change. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain.

As result [of human activities] some species face extinction.

The effects of climate change will be felt for a long time to come, even if stringent measures are taken now.

As remarkable as Francis’s understanding of science is his powerful and eloquent language:

We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.

The environment is… on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.

Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.

The Pope ends the encyclical with the moral argument in the form or a prayer, entreating God to,

Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.

The sentence that I will remember most is this one: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.” Like climate scientists, the Pope regards global warming as threatening the future of humanity.

August 19th, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: Laudato Si and the Art of Unknowing



Reactions to Laudato Si'

“[T]he Pope is arguing that in light of this context we all need to practice “failure”: or that which disrupts the “business as usual” notion of progress as solely economic and technological. I’m not suggesting this Pope is queer-friendly (or even feminist-friendly), but I am suggesting that the deeply Catholic understandings of the “common good” and “social teachings” are, in the face of the productionist paradigm, queer.” — Whitney Bauman

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. In today’s post, Whitney Bauman does a close reading of the Encyclical and comes to some surprising conclusions about the Pope’s message.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of H. H. Shugart’s book!

Laudato Si and the Art of Unknowing
By Whitney A. Bauman

There is much to be commended in the Pope’s recent Encyclical on “the environment.” He clearly did his doctrinal, historical and philosophical homework on issues of human-earth relations. There is much one would expect to find in the document: such as the use of St. Francis in the title, couching of creation-care in terms of “the common good” and the prominence of catholic social teaching. There are also some surprises—such as his knowledge of the history of the environmental movement and his use of Integral Ecology which understands nature and culture as already and always together. At times it reads like a traditional Papal document while at others it reads more like something that Bruno Latour or leaders of the New Materialism might have written. In this brief piece, I want to focus on two points that I find most poignant in the Encyclical: the critique of modern technological society and the call for a more robust dialogue between religion and science. Both of these points participate in what Judith/Jack Halberstam calls “The Queer Art of Failure” or what Catherine Keller might call “the Art of Unknowing.”

In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam writes: “Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world” (Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure). The creativity of abject identities, of those who have failed to live up to the norms of hetero-normative, anthropocentric capitalism, is indeed the source of creativity for seeking a different planetary future. In other words, failing is precisely what we need in this day and age if we are to find our way forward through the problems brought about by globalization and climate weirding. Pope Francis identifies this problem as well in his critique of modernity found in the Encyclical. He writes (and here I quote at length):

§107. It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.

Read the rest of this entry »

August 18th, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: A Significant Invitation for Discussion



Reactions to Laudato Si'

Laudato si reaches out to scientists to participate in a shared global problem, the damage that humans have done to their planet and by doing so the harm they have wrought upon one another. Pope Francis directly invites for a new dialogue concerning how we are shaping the planet. Regardless of their religious persuasions, scientists should bring what they have learned from science to the discussion.” — H. H. Shugart

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. In today’s post, we are kicking things off with an essay by H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of Shugart’s book!

The Encyclical Laudato Si’: A Significant Invitation for Discussion
By H. H. Shugart

Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home was released to the public on the May 24th of this year. It is a clearly stated, easily accessed and well-reasoned treatise on the moral position of the Church on the consequences of changes in the global environment. When the pontiff of the one and one-quarter billion member Catholic Church makes any statement, it by definition becomes news. Nevertheless, this encyclical represents something much more than a hamper of news items whirling on the media spin-cycle. The pope structures his encyclical around what the collective “we” are doing to our common home, the planet and its inhabitants. Pollution, climate change, water scarcity, the loss of biodiversity, the decline in well-being of people and of their society ― all are problems needing religious and scientific thinkers to pull in single harness toward solutions. Pope Francis deconstructs the Judaeo-Christian concept of humans as the stewards of the Earth to find a moral obligation to maintain planetary sustainability embedded in biblical scripture as well as in the encyclicals of earlier popes. While he segues around the issue of human population growth, Pope Francis identifies conspicuous (over)consumption, the throw-away economy and human greed as immoral transgressions, often perpetuated by the rich and powerful and whose consequences fall upon the poor and defenseless.

Laudato si’, mi’ Signore (in the original Umbrian Italian “Altissimu, onnipotente bon Signore” and meaning “Praise to you, my Lord”) is the opening of the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon composed in late 1224 by St. Francis of Assisi. Tradition relates that the saint sang it from his death bed. It is a song praising creation, notably, “… our sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.” The pope took his papal name from this same St. Francis, and the Saint’s teachings are woven through the Laudato si narrative. The pope is writing on a topic of obvious personal importance framed in the regnal name that he chose at the beginning of his papacy.

Because it presents multiple facets for consideration, Laudato si’ has inspired many commentaries and it will undoubtedly inspire many more. He is the first Pope Francis, the first non-European pope since 741, the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the first from the Western Hemisphere. Laudato si’ identifies greed, particularly when it is at the expense of others, as a sin; it references the ninth-century Sufi mystic, Ali al-Khawas, on the spiritual connection between humans and the natural world; it quotes Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, that “… to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”; it provokes with, “ The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” Read the rest of this entry »

August 18th, 2015

New Book Tuesday: Consumed Nostalgia, Beyond Individualism, Way Too Cool, and More New Books



Consumed Nostalgia, Gary Cross

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism
Gary Cross

Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities
George Rupp

Way Too Cool: Selling Out Race and Ethics
Shannon Winnubst

Saffron Shadows and Salvaged Scripts: Literary Life in Myanmar Under Censorship and in Transition
Ellen Wiles

Industrial Policy and Economic Transformation in Africa
Edited by Akbar Noman and Joseph E. Stiglitz

Poetic Machinations: Allegory, Surrealism, and Postmodern Poetic Form
Michael Golston

FDA in the Twenty-First Century: The Challenges of Regulating Drugs and New Technologies
Edited by Holly Fernandez Lynch and I. Glenn Cohen

The Dark Side of European Integration: Social Foundations and Cultural Determinants of the Rise of Radical Right Movements in Contemporary Europe
Alina Polyakova
(ibidem Press)

Democracy by Decree: Prospects and Limits of Imposed Consociational Democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Adis Merdzanovic
(ibidem Press)

Changing Images of the Left in Bulgaria: An Old-and-New Divide?
Boris Popivanov
(ibidem Press)

Wege der Energiedemokratie: Emanzipatorische Energiewenden in Europa
Conrad Kunze and Sören Becker
(ibidem Press)

Das sowjetische Fieber: Fußballfans im poststalinistischen Vielvölkerreich
Manfred Zeller. Foreword by Nikolaus Katzer
(ibidem Press)

Perspektiven linguistischer Sprachkritik
Edited by Jörg Bücker, Elke Diedrichsen, and Constanze Spieß
(ibidem Press)

August 17th, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: Feature and Book Giveaway



Reactions to Laudato Si'

“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.” — Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Laudato Si’

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. Each day this week, we will post one essay from these scholars on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering FREE signed copies of H. H. Shugart’s Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, August 21st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

August 14th, 2015

Evangelicals and Doomsday: Death By Christian Rock?



Gray Sabbath

“The power of rapture theology (the belief that Jesus will secretly return and sweep born again Christians into Heaven) remains strong for many [evangelicals]. And it often influences political decision or indecision.” — Shawn David Young

This week our featured book is Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock, by Shawn David Young. In this, the final post of the week’s feature,

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

Evangelicals and Doomsday: Death By Christian Rock?
By Shawn David Young

Doomsday is always upon us, or so we are told. Belief in the apocalypse informs the way many view time, and it often works against active politics. But this belief has grown diverse, complex. Left-leaning evangelicals such as Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, and Shane Claiborne continue to challenge evangelical policies. For Wallis, “Many American Christians are simply more loyal to a version of American nationalism than they are to the body of Christ.” With sarcasm, McLaren also notes the disconnect: “If the world is about to end…why care for the environment? Why worry about global climate change or peak oil? Who gives a rip for endangered species or sustainable economies or global poverty if God is planning to incinerate the whole planet soon anyway?” His questions tap the core of a belief that continues to affect social activism. “If God has predetermined that the world will get worse until it ends in a cosmic megaconflict between the forces of Light (epitomized most often in the United States) and the forces of Darkness (previously centered in communism, but now, that devil having been vanquished, in Islam), why waste energy on peacemaking, diplomacy, and interreligious dialogue?”

Positions held by McLaren, Wallis, and others on the left indicate a growing trend among evangelicals. Still, conservative Christianity remains a powerhouse. But even when Jesus People USA fully embraced conservative theology, their social activism was unfettered, in spite of evangelicalism’s near-fanatical dedication to the writings of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. The power of rapture theology (the belief that Jesus will secretly return and sweep born again Christians into Heaven) remains strong for many. And it often influences political decision or indecision. Read the rest of this entry »

August 13th, 2015

Placing Jesus People USA Within Evangelism



Gray Sabbath

“Unimpressed by the evangelical marketing machine, JPUSA views isolationism as dangerous to both the individual and the larger church culture. Simply put, its members are best understood as practical contemplatives.” — Shawn David Young

This week our featured book is Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock, by Shawn David Young. To start off the feature, we have excerpted part of Young’s Introduction, in which he explains the development of the Jesus People community, the evolution of the cultural stances of evangelicals, and the political importance of evangelical Christian groups.

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

August 13th, 2015

Columbia UP Ceasing Distribution of Dalkey Archive Press



Columbia University Press regretfully announces that, as of August 31, CUP will no longer be distributing Dalkey Archive Press titles. After that date, all orders and inquiries should be directed to Ingram Distribution. The official press release can be found below: Read the rest of this entry »

August 12th, 2015

To Each Philosopher, Her or His Plant



The Philosopher's Plant

In his wonderful book The Philosopher’s Plant, Michael Marder creates a “herbarium of ideas, collecting theories of the most important Western thinkers, from Greek Antiquity to our days, as though they were botanical specimens preserved on the pages of [a] book. Here is an article he recently featured on his Los Angeles Review of Books Channel about the relationship between philosophy and plants:

To Each Philosopher, Her or His Plant
By Michael Marder

Although I am a philosopher, I have always been averse to abstract speculation. Throughout my work, I have relied on rather mundane figures that stimulate thinking: fire, dust, plants… Everything and everyone in the world can be thought-provoking, worthy of contemplation and wonder — not a boringly unremarkable and ultimately replaceable representative of a genus or an Idea, but a source of inexhaustible singularity.

My intention behind The Philosopher’s Plant was to create a herbarium of ideas, collecting theories of the most important Western thinkers, from Greek Antiquity to our days, as though they were botanical specimens preserved on the pages of my book. I also wished to weave a web of associations that would link certain common plants to particular ideas in the reader’s mind. Of course, it would have been absurd to put together a herbarium without the specimens themselves. To solve this problem, I did two things. First, I paired each philosopher whose life and thought I wanted discuss with a tree, flower, cereal, or grass that was mentioned in her or his work and that, in most cases, had something to do with her or his biography. And, second, I invited a fantastic French artist, Mathilde Roussel, to visualize these “philosoplants” and give an aesthetic dimension to the hybridized herbarium I had theorized about. Read the rest of this entry »

August 12th, 2015

Religious Certainty and Decision 2016



Gray Sabbath

“For the life of me I cannot understand how religious certainty continues to translate into political certainty. Yes, the faithful (if true to their belief) will certainly channel their ideas in a way that informs public policy. But when people of faith hold myriad interpretations of matters cosmic, how can they effectively engage matters that have global implications?” — Shawn David Young

This week our featured book is Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, the Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock, by Shawn David Young. In today’s post, Young looks at the history and the future of the complicated relationship between evangelical Christianity and American politics, paying particular attention to the way that evangelicals will affect the upcoming election cycle.

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

Religious Certainty and Decision 2016
By Shawn David Young

An aging hotel looms over a street packed with cars, pedestrians, and sidewalks. A man stands near, asking for spare change. Others hustle by, talking to themselves. Sirens. Car horns. Music blaring from cars. Jaywalkers weaving in and out of cars on the street, eager to make way to the other side. Sporting a blue awning with white lettering, Jesus People USA’s building (quaintly named “Friendly Towers”) conveys a welcoming message, complete with psychedelic images in the windows. The front door opens to a hallway covered by an ornate ceiling—a relic of what was once a hotel—ending at a locked door; people are buzzed in by those holding post at the front desk. Regardless of the time of day, one can expect a mix of old hippies, young punk rockers, “goths,” and senior citizens. While an outsider might write the scene off as chaotic, it is readily apparent that all are members of a tight-knit community dedicated to shouldering the burdens of its members, many of whom display a certain sanguinity one might expect from utopian hopefuls. This community is about Jesus. But it’s also about discovery. Read the rest of this entry »