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Archive for the 'Author Interview' Category

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

An Interview with John Pickrell, author of “Flying Dinosaurs”

Flying Dinosaurs, John Pickrell

“Dinosaurs are very much still alive, and are more successful and numerous in terms of species numbers now than they have been at any other point in their roughly-230-million-year history.”—John Pickrell

The following is our interview with John Pickrell, author of Flying Dinosaurs: How Fearsome Reptiles Became Birds:

Question: Are dinosaurs still among us?

John Pickrell: Dinosaurs are very much still alive, and are more successful and numerous in terms of species numbers now than they have been at any other point in their roughly-230-million-year history. This is because birds are dinosaurs; they evolved from within the speedy, bipedal group of predators called theropods, which includes such creatures as Velociraptor and T. rex. Birds are not only the descendants of the dinosaurs—they actually are living dinosaurs. They are simply a small, specialized flying form of theropod. Right now there are nearly ten thousand known living species, and perhaps as many as four hundred billion individuals flitting about on the planet.

Q: What did dinosaurs use feathers for?

JP: Since the first dinosaur fossil with feathers was discovered in China in 1996, around 40 species have been found with feather impressions or direct evidence of feathers of some kind. This has shown us that feathers existed in dinosaurs long before they had any purpose in flight. Feathers are so entwined in our minds with flight, this seems counter-intuitive, but flight feathers are highly specialized structures and can’t have appeared fully formed. We now know feathers had an entirely different purpose initially. The earliest feathers we see on dinosaur fossils are simple, fluffy filaments, like the down of a chick, and they were used for insulation. Only later were feathers co-opted for display purposes and eventually for flight.

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Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: An Interview with Dorothy Tse, author of Snow and Shadow

Snow and Shadow, Dorothy Tse

“I don’t regard my stories as departing from conventionally understood reality. I think humans are adapting and transforming themselves in radical ways. If we can eat meat made in a science lab, then it’s possible for a woman to change into a fish.”—Dorothy Tse

The following is an interview with Dorothy Tse, author of the short story collection Snow and Shadow. In a review of the book, Joyelle McSweeney wrote, “”I’m stunned by the resolve, accomplishment, and strangeness of this vision. Tse joins the ranks of artists currently remaking the world.”

The interview originally appeared on the book’s website, where you can also read excerpts from the collection.

Question: Can you envision the ideal reader of your fiction—in terms of background, education level, tolerance for gruesome imagery, or any other traits you think matter? Stated otherwise, what attributes does a reader need to have to fully appreciate and understand what you are communicating in Snow and Shadow?

Dorothy Tse: One of the privileges of being a writer is that you don’t have an audience in front of you as you write. I don’t want to sacrifice this freedom by imagining an actual reader. Plus, any reader that I can imagine will never be as creative and complex as the actual readers I may have.

Q: Which eastern and western authors do you consider to be your primary influences?

DT: I do not distinguish between Eastern and Western authors. When I was young, I liked reading fairy tales from anywhere—sometimes stories in the Bible gave me a similar kind of enjoyment. But my formal consciousness came from reading mainland fiction writers who exploded on the scene in the 1980s. After mainland China had had a closed-door policy for decades, these Chinese writers were influenced suddenly by writers from around the world, such as Kawabata, Márquez, and Kafka. The subsequent formal experiments by these Chinese writers felt like looking into a kaleidoscope.

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Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Interview with Edward Hess, Author of “Learn or Die”

Learn or Die, Edward Hess

The following is an interview with Edward Hess, author of Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization:

Question: What is the purpose of Learn or Die?

Edward Hess: The book uses the science of learning to answer two important questions:

First, how can we individually become a better and faster learner?

Second, how can we as a manager/leader build a team or an organization that continuously learns better and faster than the competition?

Another purpose of the book was to review and synthesize across academic disciplines the developments in the science of learning that have occurred since Peter Senge’s 1990 landmark book on learning organizations and put forth a new blueprint of how to build a learning organization based on the current science of learning.

Q: How should readers approach this book?

EH: Readers should read this book with an open mind. A natural reaction will be “that is not me” – “I don’t think that way”. Well, the science says it is highly likely that you do. To get the most from the book, one has to accept the science of learning and that paints an unflattering picture of how most of us think. Many people who have read the book and have communicated with me found it personally a “wake up” call.

Q: Aren’t most of us good learners?

EH: Yes, many of us are good learners but it is highly probable that we are suboptimal learners. We know from research that cognitively we are fast reflexive thinkers who seek to confirm what we already know. We are confirmation machines. Emotionally, we tend to be defensive thinkers protecting our views and ego. Emotionally, we defend, deny and deflect. The saboteurs of learning are ego and fear. That is our ‘humanness”. To be a great learner requires one to overcome those natural proclivities. Learn or Die puts forth a blueprint of how to do that.

Q: How did that research impact you personally?

EH: I have been working on this project for years and it had a big impact on me. I realized I had to take my learning game to a much higher level. Even though all the feedback from my schooling and my work life in the business world and academia had been very positive, I had areas that I needed to improve in order to really be a great learner.

So, I started working on those areas: managing better my thinking and emotions, quieting my ego, redefining what “being smart” means, actively listening with a non-judgmental open mind to others and treating everything I believe as being conditional subject to stress testing by new data.

I had to define myself (my ego) not by how much I knew or by having the right answer but rather by how well I use best thinking, listening and collaborating best practices. I created checklists that I use daily to grade myself and reflect on my learning performance. Overall, I am a better thinker, listener, and collaborator today than I was before writing this book—but my work is not done.

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Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Interview with James Liebman, Author of “The Wrong Carlos”

The Wrong Carlos

“If you want money, you rob banks. If you want to study executions, you go to Texas.”—James Liebman

A few weeks ago we featured The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution by James Liebman and the Columbia DeLuna Project and interest in the book and the case continues to grow. Most recently James Liebman was interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor about the book and the case. The following is an excerpt from the interview:

Q: What convinced you to investigate a specific death penalty case?

In 2000 and 2002, we published a big study which showed there was a huge amount of adjudicated errors found in capital cases in the United States by state and federal courts. Essentially, two-thirds of all death verdicts reviewed over a quarter century had been overturned based on serious error.

Proponents say the system is working, and we don’t have to worry about the ultimate error of someone being innocent. There’s another interpretation. If an airline company or a car company had this level of error, nobody would want to go near them. If there’s this much smoke, there’s got to be fire.

So we wanted to examine a particular case to see if we could determine the risk of executing the innocent. We went from a statistical study where we were just counting outcomes to making a judgement call about which cases would be interesting to look at.

Q: How did you find this case in particular?

We started by looking at Texas cases. If you want money, you rob banks. If you want to study executions, you go to Texas.

We started looking at eyewitness identification cases because of the long-standing evidence that these cases can be faulty. The witness in this case was one person who happened to be pumping gas outside a store where a clerk was attacked and killed.

He saw the assailant come out of the store and run away. After a 45-minute manhunt, he identified Carlos de Luna.

This case fit what we were looking for.

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Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Interview with H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth

“Science is not likely to produce an ethical basis for proper conduct in cases in which strangers in distant locations are damaged by an individual’s actions involving spending resources, extirpating species, or polluting air and ocean. Help in these matters hopefully can and will come from wise religious thinkers.”—H. H. Shugart

Foundations of the Earth, H. H. ShugartThe following is an interview with H. H. Shugart, author of Foundations of the Earth: Global Ecological Change and the Book of Job:

Question: Science and religion are often seen as antagonistic and while you are not interested in “reconciling” the two, you have brought them together in Foundations of the Earth. How can science learn from the Book of Job, and religion more generally, in its approach to understanding some of the issues you consider in your book?

H. H.Shugart: Perhaps it’s best to answer from the specific case to the more general. The Whirlwind Questions in Job 38 to 41 begin with God’s challenge, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’” Many of following questions, asked by God to a man, are remarkably current—How did the cosmos form? Where did the oceans come from? What happens to the light that falls upon the Earth? What controls the boundary between ocean and land? What are the consequences of the changes we made to the land through domesticated animals (and eventually machines)? … Today, these whirlwind questions are compelled by scientific observations that we are changing our planet through our actions. It is rewarding to think that some of the questions that I see as immediately important as a scientist have such deep antiquity. They reach back two and one-half millennia to the Babylonian captivity of the people of Judea and likely even deeper in time.

Religion, particularly ethics, occupies a domain that extends from knowledge of how the planet functions to the essential human issue, “If our actions are altering Earth with potential risk to the survival of our species, how can we stop ourselves?” Science is not likely to produce an ethical basis for proper conduct in cases in which strangers in distant locations are damaged by an individual’s actions involving spending resources, extirpating species, or polluting air and ocean. Help in these matters hopefully can and will come from wise religious thinkers.

Q: How can a religious understanding of the “foundations of the earth,” and the environment be deepened by the scientific approach?

HHS: The Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki or “Rashi” (France 1040-1105) distinguished what a biblical text “says” from what it “means” in his Talmudic commentaries. Rashi was a remarkable scholar and his medieval biblical insights transcend history to be read, considered and studied today. His exemplary search for meaning and the consequently deeper appreciation of religious texts is central in many religious studies. I hope that Foundations of the Earth can provide a more profound appreciation of just how powerful the questions from the whirlwind really are from a scientific viewpoint. These questions are not merely clever riddles or tricky puzzles. They challenge us to appreciate Earth from multiple scales ranging from the greatness of the Oceans to the details of migrations of tiny birds. The whirlwind questions identify complete knowledge of Earth systems as the provenance of the Divine. One can pursue these questions but never completely understand them at their fullest depth. Such pursuit of always deepening questions also is the procedural manifesto of the scientific approach.

Q: How do both the “Whirlwind Speech” and recent environmental thinking move us away from seeing humans as masters of nature and more toward understanding humans as in nature?

HHS: The Whirlwind questions and recent thinking about the environment share the view that we lack and need better knowledge of the Earth and its systems. The wisdom to use this knowledge to understand our role in nature is a common thread in both.

From the environmental point-of-view, our modern stewardship of the Earth would seem a substantial disaster. Species are being lost at alarming rates. Local-scale environmental problems involving pollution, erosion and ecosystem misuse are legion. Global systems, such as the oceans and the atmosphere, due to our profligate use of the planet’s resources, are displaying measurable change with potentially dark consequences. If we are the masters who manage the Earth, we aren’t doing a bang-up job of it.

In the Whirlwind Speech, God’s questions are edgy with comments to Job of, “ … —surely you know!”; “Declare, if you know all this,”; “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, …” etc. It is pointed out that it rains in the desert were there are no people to benefit from the water. Through the text, animals laugh at people, ignore them, or conduct their lives independent of people’s actions. The Behemoth, a gigantic semiaquatic creature, is the “first of the great acts of God” and created before man. The Leviathan is a great fire-spitting sea-dragon that thoroughly intimidates humankind. In toto, the interrogation from the whirlwind substantially deflates the notion that the world was created for the mastery of humans.

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Monday, August 25th, 2014

An Interview with B. Alan Wallace

“Buddhism … proposes experiments in consciousness through the rigorous practices of meditation that enable the first-person investigation of the mind and its role in nature to fully complement the third-person methods of modern science.”—B. Alan Wallace
B. Alan WallaceThe following is an interview with B. Alan Wallace, most recently the author of Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice and Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity. Both books are now available in paperback:

Question: You write that the mind has been artificially excluded from the natural world and that you, following the radically empirical lead of William James, are seeking to return it to the world of nature, where it belongs. How did this exclusion of the mind and first-persona experience come about?

B. Alan Wallace: Since the origins of experimental psychology 135 years ago, many scientists and philosophers have sought to explain the relation between subjective experience and the correlated objective processes in the brain. This has been called the “hard problem of consciousness,” and despite all the advances made in the cognitive sciences, this issue remains a mystery. The underlying issue is the “closure principle,” which has dominated the natural sciences since the mid-19th century, and which asserts that there are no nonphysical influences in nature. This immediately implies that the mind—including our perceptions, intentions, thoughts, and emotions—must either be physical (contrary to all empirical evidence) or it must exert no consequences in human life or the universe at large, which is contrary to common sense. Many materialists argue that mental processes are identical to or are nothing more than functions of their neural correlates, while others dogmatically propose that consciousness and all kinds of subjective experiences don’t really exist at all! Although many materialistic theories of the mind-body relationship have been proposed, none of them lend themselves to scientific verification or repudiation, so they are merely hypotheses or speculations, not scientific theories. And they are certainly not scientifically established facts, despite the fact that the scientific and popular media commonly equate the mind and brain, without any compelling reasoning or empirical evidence.

Q: Does this reductionist approach to the mind and consciousness have ramifications for other branches of the natural science?

BAW: A core problem that has remained unresolved over the past 90 years is the so-called “measurement problem” in quantum mechanics, which has to do with the relationship between the weird qualities the quantum realm, in which physical entities exist only in relation to their being measured, and the world of classical physics, in which the objective world appears to exist independently of all measurements. Before a quantum measurement takes place, that which is about to be measured exists only as a probability wave function. But once the measurement occurs, the wave function appears to collapse, and a physical system exists in a definite state. But what constitutes a “measurement”? Does this require a conscious observer, or can it take place objectively? In short, the problem remains unsolved, and there is little evidence that any real progress is being made.

While many scientists and philosophers regard these two problems as being unrelated, in my last three academic books I argue that they are profoundly related and that a solution for one implies a solution for the other. I have addressed these entangled problems in Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness, Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity, and Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice. In these works I have argued that the root of both problems lies in a dogmatic allegiance to the metaphysical beliefs of mechanistic materialism, rooted in the antiquated physics of the 19th century, and in the failure on the part of the scientific community to devise and implement sophisticated methods for observing and exploring the mind and multiple dimensions of consciousness from a first-person perspective.

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Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Interview with Chris Andrews, author of Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction

Roberto Bolano's Fiction: An Expanding UniverseThe following is an interview with Chris Andrews, author of Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe

Question: How did you discover Bolaño’s work?

Chris Andrews: Chatting with booksellers in Santiago and Valparaíso in 2001. Bolaño was already very well known in Chile: he had won the Premio Rómulo Gallegos, and revisited the country twice in 1998 and 1999. His relations with the contemporary Chilean literary world were stormy (see the end of “I Can’t Read” in The Secret of Evil) but his loyalty to Enrique Lihn and Nicanor Parra (who turns 100 in September) was total. I like to think that he has recruited new readers for those two great Chilean poets.

Q: Did you expect Bolaño’s work to find a large public in English when you began translating it?

CA: No, but not because I didn’t think it deserved to be widely read. With the first two books, I was thinking: This could be it, because that’s the way it usually goes. An author who is well known and respected in his or her language usually gets one or two shots in translation, and unless something special happens straight up, he or she falls into the category of authors who have been tried and found not to work. Luckily, Barbara Epler at New Directions didn’t approach Bolaño in that way: she was committed to waiting for something special to happen, which it did, with the story collection Last Evenings on Earth, and then with The Savage Detectives, which was published by FSG.

Q: What kind of book did you set out to write with Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction?

CA: Well, it’s a scholarly book, but I wanted it to be clear as possible. I wanted it to be as true as possible to the complexity of Bolaño’s work, even if that meant qualifying my arguments quite often. I wanted to do justice to textures and fine details, but also to connect the fiction with large ethical and political questions, such as: Does Bolaño glorify brawling? Is his work romantic? Is it anarchistic? The book as a whole has an arc: it moves, very roughly speaking, from form to content to value, and there’s a shift in the conceptual background from narratology to philosophy.

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Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: An Interview with Tamaz Chiladze, author of “The Brueghel Moon”

“Ultimately, the function of literature is to intensify mystery, not to solve it, isn’t it?”—Tamaz Chiladze

Tamaz Chiladze, The Brueghel MoonThe following is an interview with Tamaz Chiladze, author of The Brueghel Moon.

The novel is part of Dalkey Archive’s new Georgian Literature Series:

Question: Are either of the protagonists—Levan and Nunu—in any way based on you, or on your own experiences in relationships?

Tamaz Chiladze: For me, Levan and Nunu are quite real—they’re flesh and blood people. They live their own lives, have their own relationships, but neither has any similarity to my person or my personal life.

In general, characters are born, and are not so much based on the autho’s personal experience, but are more dependent on readers and their life experiences. I believe authors are more interesting and involving if they are able to relate their narrative to that of the reader. The link between them, their common, shared stories, play an important role in establishing this contact. I could also add that, in a sense, the process of reading is an act of discovering oneself, of bringing oneself alive.

I doubt I will sound original if I say that literary characters not only enrich mankind ethically, but increase its numbers worldwide.

Q: The novel deals with psychiatric issues such as depression, psychosis and psychiatry itself. What motivates you to communicate such things? Do you seek to represent a relationship be­tween psychiatry and literature or the act of writing?

TC: I’m not at all sure what inspired me to write the novel. I think there is hardly a writer who has managed to avoid depressed states or psychosis. They just can’t, and this is particularly true in our mod­ern times. Sadly, depression, neurosis, and psychosis have become quite typical, as if they are the normal conditions of our existence.

A writer helps readers to overcome their solitude, anxieties and fears. In this sense he acts like a priest or a doctor. But because he has sinned himself, in fact, a writer cannot be a priest. Neither can he be a doctor. He is better suited to the role of patient, especially considering how many times his aching, torn heart has been darned with the thread of hope. I would say a writer is the last surviving representative of the ancient caste of clairvoyants or oracles.True, no one seems to heed him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t telling the right stories or saying the right things.

In any case, my novel has nothing to do with psychiatry as a branch of science. Ultimately, the function of literature is to intensify mystery, not to solve it, isn’t it?

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Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

An Interview with Wendy Law-Yone, author of “A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma”

A Daughter's Memoir of Burma

The following is an interview with Wendy Law-Yone, author of A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma:

Question: Why did you decide to write a memoir of your father’s life as opposed to a more conventional biography?

Wendy Law-Yone: A conventional biography would have required scholarship and research of the kind that simply wasn’t possible when I set out in earnest to write about my father’s life. Like a great many Burmese exiles of my generation, I was barred from returning home to Burma for such a prolonged period—33 years in my case—that I had pretty much given up hope of ever going back, much less of being allowed to investigate my father’s past in situ. But I never wanted to write a biography in any case, so that was not even in the equation.

The question was what to do with his memoirs, which had been collecting dust for years, for decades. What eventually supplied me with the courage – and the necessary interest—to give them the airing they deserved was the decision to tell his story from two perspectives principally: his and mine. My version of his life—and the ways it impinged on mine—would act as a gloss on his version. Anyone can write a biography of my father, I thought; but I alone can write a memoir. It was the one unique contribution I could make.

Q: What was the importance of The Nation, the paper your father edited, to Burmese society from the late 1940s to the early 1960s?

WL-Y: My father founded The Nation in 1948, the year of Burma’s independence. For the next fifteen years, throughout the post-war era of parliamentary democracy, the newspaper rose steadily in circulation and influence to become the leading English-language daily, with an international reputation. In 1963, following a coup that brought in a military dictatorship, his newspaper was shut down and he spent the next five years in prison.

When he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism in 1959, his citation read: ‘More than any other paper in Burma, The Nation has taken the role of a social conscience, speaking energetically against restrictive press laws, waste, inefficiency, and intolerance, and censuring “apartheid” and racial discrimination …’ The role he himself took on in the public sphere has few equivalents in modern journalism – he appointed himself both watchdog and blood hound.

When he died in exile in 1980, his obituary in the New York Times described him as “the first independent newspaper editor of free, post-war Burma, and also to date the last.”

Q: What role did your father play in the movement to overthrow the military government of Ne Win in the early 1970’s

He instigated the movement, organized it, masterminded it, and watched it die in its infancy. He must have hatched his plans in jail, because the minute he was released, he went into action. He convinced the deposed minister U Nu to spearhead the resistance he envisioned, then fled Burma to set up a government-in-exile in Thailand. The movement was soon joined by prominent politicians from Rangoon, as well as armed dissidents already operating in the border regions. He lobbied key members of the Thai government to provide a safe haven for the former Burmese prime minister—and to turn a blind eye to his subversive activities. He went on an international fund-raising tour with U Nu, banging the drum loudly on three continents. Then he returned to Thailand to engage in more diplomacy and conspiracy, shuttling between jungle camps along the Thai-Burmese border, vetting mercenaries and other would-be supporters of the cause, negotiating with Thai government officials increasingly fed up with the Burmese troublemakers they were harboring.

The movement fell apart within a year or two of its founding. But brief though it was, the coalition it brought together – of a central Burman government and an alliance of ethnic minority armies—was without precedent. It was the first and last bid for the restoration of democracy in Burma—until Aung San Suu Kyi and a new generation of dissidents came on the scene some fifteen years later, in the ‘8888’ uprising.

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Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Joel Migdal on the Historical Contexts of The Present-Day Middle East

Joel Migdal, Shifting Sands

Joel Migdal, author of Shifting Sands: The United States in the Middle East, recently appeared on the podcast This is Hell!, to provide some historical context to recent events in the Middle East.

In this wide-ranging conversation that starts in the Cold War and winds past the Arab Spring, Migdal discusses the Sunni-Shia-irreconcilability myth, how the creation of Israel and the growth of Arab nationalism shaped the post-WW2 landscape, how monarchies, republics and non-state actors are shifting the regional power dynamics and why new maps won’t save the Middle East, but neither will American presidents.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

An Interview with John Haller, author of Shadow Medicine

“The question at hand is not only whether conventional and unconventional therapies can stand on their own self-authenticating authority, but whether it is possible to modify the context of these two opposing camps into something both can benefit from sharing. To date, there is no hard-wired connection, but the bridge between them is nowhere as long, nor is the chasm beneath them as deep as it once appeared.”—John S. Haller Jr.

John Haller, Shadow MedicineThe following is an interview with John S. Haller Jr, author of Shadow Medicine: The Placebo in Conventional and Alternative Therapies. For more on the book, read John Haller’s essay The Medical Challenge:

Q: In Shadow Medicine, you use the term conventional medicine. What do you mean by that?

John Haller Jr.: Conventional (or reductionist) medicine identifies statistical baselines against which to measure its therapies, looking to physiological, pathological, biochemical, and molecular processes derived from physical matter and to treatment based on the calculus of probabilities. That is to say, conventional medicine draws its authority from the clinical trials and laws embedded in the natural sciences. At its best, conventional medicine encourages a healthy skepticism and urges various forms of sampling, followed by repeated experimentation to reaffirm a hypothesis. Its identity is thus based on the unambiguous application of normative science whose laws interpret the body as a materialistic system that can be reduced and analyzed according to its component parts.

Q: You seem to suggest, however, that conventional medicine has limits? How so?

JH: While conventional medicine continues to provide the most credible information for justifying a clinical judgment, its ultimate value remains uncertain because much of what happens in a clinical trial fails to capture the myriad of variables that affect the physician/patient encounter. For this and other reasons, the clinical trial remains an imperfect tool.

Calibrating the outcome of a medical procedure or the efficacy of a pharmacologic treatment defies certitude insofar as the organic side of medicine tends to be infused with psychotherapeutic interventions—some intended and, others, hidden. This suggests that conventional medicine has overestimated the value of the clinical trial in resolving the challenges presented in medicine and that more creative efforts are needed that compare “whole treatments.”

Q: How does conventional medicine contrast from complementary and alternative medicine?

JH: Today’s complementary and alternative healers focus their attention on forces or energies that, although undetectable by the tools of science, are thought to be real. Such phrases as “paradigm change,” “probability waves,” “string theory,” “chaos theory,” “new physics,” “ectoplasm,” “chakras,” and “spirit-release therapy” are used to anoint beliefs wholly distinct from empirically-based laboratory science. Challenging the discrete boundaries between objectivity and subjectivity by including consciousness in the reframing of reality, today’s unconventional healers insist that “life forces” can be transmitted or channeled into the patient to mediate physical, mental, or emotional needs. This secularized notion of body, mind, and spirit forms the basis of homeopathy, psychic healing, crystal healing, reiki, light therapy, acupuncture, qigong, aromatherapy, distant healing, transcendental meditation, therapeutic touch, and other paranormal healing systems.

(more…)

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: A Conversation with Danilo Kiš

Danilo Kiš

“Art is the terrain where you are absolutely free and where you can explore all life’s beauties and all life’s vices without being punished. There’s a simple explanation for this: art is a replacement for real life. Art is the opposite of life. A normal person doesn’t write books.” — Danilo Kiš

We are proud to be distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation! Today we continue our series of Thursday Fiction Corner posts highlighting conversations from the Dalkey Archive backlist (so far we’ve featured Nicholas Mosley and Carlos Fuentes) with a conversation with Danilo Kiš and Brendan Lemon, which took place in 1984. Kiš was a Yugoslavian and Serbian writer known for combining narrative experiment and humor with the deadly serious realities of life in Eastern Europe in the mid and late twentieth century. In their interview, Lemon and Kiš discuss Kiš’s reading habits, his love of the technical aspects of writing, and “the problems of ethics and aesthetics.” Read the full conversation on the Dalkey Archive Press website.

Brandon Lemon: The act of reading is very important in Hourglass, especially the relationship between reading and dreaming. At one point you write that in The Interpretation of Dreams Freud didn’t pay enough attention to the reading we do before sleep. Do you read a great deal? What kinds of books do you read at bedtime?

Danilo Kiš: I read a great deal. And I generally dream about what I read more than about what I experience otherwise. I think that that would also have been the case for the father in Hourglass. Reading is also depicted in Garden, Ashes in the passage where the child reads a fragment from a novel about love. I like novels that work in bits of other books. It’s reassuring to those of us who spend most of our lives reading. It seems perfectly normal to me not only to dream about what one reads but also to insert what one reads into one’s life and one’s work. The relationship of reading to writing and of both to the rest of life is something that I’ve very consciously included in my work.

BL: Let’s get back to your reading.

DK: You know, I’m very lazy. I write little and rarely. But I read all the time, all kinds of things. I’m a big reader of poetry because I consider myself something of a poet manque. Technically, I know exactly what to do, and I like translating poetry. But I realized that I can better express myself in prose. (more…)

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Interview with Naomi Oreskes, author of The Collapse of Western Civilization

Interview Naomi OreskesThe following is an interview with Naomi Oreskes, coauthor of, with Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future:

Question: In The Collapse of Western Civilization you approach climate change as a fictionalized future historian of science. How does science fiction in this form provide a new way to look at climate change?

Naomi Oreskes: Scientists keep talking about disruptive climate change as something in the future, but the reality is that it is already underway. The post hoc voice (ironically) gives us a powerful way to talk about the present. It also allows us to convey what is at stake, not just for polar bears, or people in Bangladesh, but for us—our safety, our security, our way of life, even our national identity.

Q: You and Erik are both historians of science, how does an historical perspective help citizens and policymakers better understand the issues surrounding climate change?

Oreskes: In contrast to scientists, historians reject reductionist approaches. Viewing climate change as historians, we are able to consider not just the scientific dimensions, but also the political, the cultural, and the ideological aspects.

Q: What is the relationship between our current market-based economy and climate change? Is it the problem or can it offer a solution?

Oreskes: Both. A major point of the story is that the climate change was a market failure, but one that could have been fixed had people not been gripped by magical thinking.

Q: What are the threats to democracy and personal freedom posed by climate change and its effects?

Oreskes: Disruptive climate change threatens democracy—threatens democratic institutions—and personal freedom, because natural disasters require massive governmental responses, and invite the federal government to usurp local and individual authority.

Q: Recently, we’ve seen movements on college campuses to divest from fossil fuels gaining momentum. Do you think this will likely have an impact on climate change and the politics surrounding it?

Oreskes: Absolutely. It’s having an impact already.

Q: Finally, do you think climate change will be a prominent issue in the 2016 presidential campaign?

Oreskes: We’re historians. We don’t predict the future. At least, not unless it’s in fiction.

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Interview with Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease

Enigmas of Health and DiseaseThe following is an interview with Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease: How Epidemiology Helps Unravel Scientific Mysteries. You can also read Morabia’s blog post Michelle Obama and Epidemiology: An Inspiring Example

Question Your book offers a fascinating and frequently surprising history of epidemiology. How does our understanding of this history help us confront contemporary issues relating to medicine and public health?

Alfredo Morabia: If I have to isolate one key lesson of this historical voyage, it is that society’s success in confronting health issues depends on its ability to use epidemiology to identify medical and public health interventions that work. This was the great discovery of the 17th century, and it finally stopped and reversed the inexorable and millenary progression of the great epidemic diseases.

Q: As you looked back at the history, were there particular events or moments that you found particularly surprising and perhaps changed the way you think about epidemiology?

AM: I had always associated the history of epidemiology mostly with the history of public health but this is not true. The history of epidemiology belongs just as much to the history of clinical medicine. Group comparisons were used to assess the efficacy of treatments by clinical doctors throughout the 350 years of existence of epidemiology.

Q: Your book stresses the importance of group comparisons. Why is this so central to epidemiology?

AM: Comparison is the basic tool of science. In epidemiology, by comparing groups of people we can learn whether a specific drug works, whether an exposure is beneficial or deleterious, or whether a screening test can prolong life. Groups are predictable and comparable; individuals are not.

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Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Interview with Steven Cohen, Author of Understanding Environmental Policy

Steven A Cohen

“You can’t build a gated community to keep out bad air.”—Steven Cohen

In a recent interview with Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Steven Cohen discussed the second edition of his book Understanding Environmental Policy.

In the interview, Cohen considers the distinctively interdisciplinary nature of environmental policy and how that is both a positive and a negative:

One of the things that has always struck me about environmental policy is that it’s very interdisciplinary. It incorporates law, politics, environmental science, engineering, and more. At the same time, most of the experts only know one field: economists consider the environmental problem one of market failure and engineers think of environmental protection as an issue related to pollution-control technology. I wanted to develop a framework that explicitly looked at all the factors I considered important to environmental policy—the underlying values, science and technology, economics, public policy and management.

Cohen also offers a fascinating overview of how studying the environment has changed over time and the ways in which Bloomberg’s policies in New York underscored these developments:

The environment as an issue has evolved. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries [in the United States], it was Teddy Roosevelt preserving the west, preserving wild areas, and creating national parks. In the 1960s and ’70s it became an issue of public health. People like Barry Commoner and Rachel Carson talked about the spread of toxics through the ecosphere. By the time I got to the EPA in the late 1970s the health aspects of the environment were starting to dominate. And in the last decade, the field of economic development and the environment seem to have combined; we talk about sustainability and protecting the environment because it’s the source of our [collective] wealth.

You can look at [former New York City mayor] Mike Bloomberg as an illustration of this. He’s didn’t enter office as an environmentalist. But in the middle of his first term, his planners said the city will gain a million people by 2030. He quickly understood the impact of that growth on our quality of life and insightfully asked: How does that kind of growth affect the city’s use of energy and water? How will it affect traffic? So Bloomberg developed PlaNYC 2030 [which took these factors into consideration]. A lot of environmental policy is about preserving scarce resources, and in New York City one of the scarcest resources is surface space on streets south of 59th Street.

The field has really morphed over the years. I use the word environment and sustainability almost interchangeably now. We have to preserve the planet because we’re all biological creatures. You can’t build a gated community to keep out bad air.

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Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

An Interview with Jenny Davidson, author of Reading Style: A Life in Sentences

Jenny Davidson, Reading Style

“Sentences are my obsession—I linger on them compulsively, it is the feeling of words in the mouth that got me hooked on literature in the first place as a very young child and I wanted to write a book that conveyed some of the magic of that way of reading.”—Jenny Davidson

The following is an interview with Jenny Davidson, author of Reading Style: A Life in Sentences:

Q: You’re a scholar of eighteenth-century English literature, a novelist, and a blogger; how did these three hats you wear inform your approach to writing Reading Style?

Jenny Davidson: From my point of view, those three hats—scholarship, fiction-writing, blogging—are part of a single fully integrated set of activities, and I wrote this book partly to show what that means for me as a reader and writer. The separation between scholarship and fiction-writing has always seemed to me largely artificial—I will write a novel because there’s a problem or topic that I’ve pursued as far as I can by scholarly means and want to think about further in a different medium, and the same thing goes in the other direction. Blogging is something I took up about ten years ago: it was largely for my own enjoyment, with some minor self-promotional aspect I suppose, but I found as I continued to do it that it became an excellent way to develop and refine an easy, fluent critical voice that I could then take back into the more formal kinds of criticism I also write.

Q: In an age of “big data” and “distant reading,” why have you decided to focus on the sentence?

JD: Not so much a choice as a compulsion, I think. Work by new media theorists and literary scholars like Lev Manovich and Franco Moretti is motivated in part by a sense of the insufficiencies of the kind of mainstream historicist literary criticism that predominates inside the academy in the United States. My own dissatisfaction with that kind of criticism increasingly stemmed from the sense I had that the kinds of interpretation I practiced in the classroom were at least as exciting and revealing as anything I was doing in my published scholarship, but that for some reason the professional protocol seemed to be that I couldn’t just “do” that kind of very close work with sentences in print. I’m kicking back against that here, and I’m interested in thinking more about how to explain and defend a methodology that is related to some older kinds of formalism—as practiced by critics like Roman Jakobson and Victor Shklovskii—and even to the New Criticism or Cambridge-style practical criticism in the tradition of I. A. Richards, but that also benefits from the insights of other more obviously historicized and politicized schools of criticism.

That is a fancy way, though, of saying that sentences are my obsession—I linger on them compulsively, it is the feeling of words in the mouth that got me hooked on literature in the first place as a very young child and I wanted to write a book that conveyed some of the magic of that way of reading.

Q: You begin the book by acknowledging that you’ve always been bothered by the notion that literature can “teach” us about life. What do we miss out on when we focus on the “lessons” of literature?

JD: That opening is a little bit tongue-in-cheek, in that obviously we do learn things about life from literature, and I have hugely enjoyed books like Alain de Bouton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, Sarah Bakewell’s Montaigne biography and Rebecca Mead’s recent book about a lifetime of reading Middlemarch. But when it’s done with less sensitivity than these authors muster, it often leads to a kind of oversimplification—a lack of attention to what the books are actually doing, how they work—that makes me really annoyed. I will read novels by Austen or Henry James again and again neither because of the psychological insights they offer nor because of how those insights might illuminate aspects of my own experience in the world, but rather because the sentences are utterly ravishing, and because there is nowhere else on earth I can learn the things these books teach about narration and the techniques and conventions by which human experience is translated into language.

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Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

A Conversation With Leslie Pratch, Author of LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER?

Leslie Pratch

“Effective leaders are likely to act with consistently high integrity and to demonstrate sound, timely judgement when they occupy positions of power…. But every executive is unique … the most striking differences … are in their underlying motivations and their coping tendencies.”–Leslie Pratch

The following is an interview with Leslie Pratch, author of Looks Good on Paper: Using In-Depth Personality Assessment to Predict Leadership Performance

Q: How did you first become involved in the role you play for companies now—evaluating candidates for leadership positions?

A: I have been evaluating candidates for leadership positions for more than 15 years. But I didn’t get to this spot by accident; creating the tools and building the capability to do this was something I pursued for many years across multiple universities and graduate degrees.

First, I was a graduate student in psychology. As a graduate student, I had the chance to help set up a talent program for high potential professionals at Arthur Andersen. For my Ph.D. dissertation, I researched if it were possible to predict the emergence of leaders in a high performing group, using a psychological approach I was developing. It turned out that it was possible. After graduate school, I worked with State Farm on the development of a competency framework for their whole organization. That led me to the development of my own competency framework, which I use in my work today with my clients. I also got an MBA, after I had begun evaluating executives, to give me better tools to understand the issues my clients and their candidates face.

Q: How does holding an MBA help you in your work?

A: Having a strong understanding of business allows me to understand at a sophisticated level what my clients are trying to do with their companies and investments. I can understand and think critically about the investment thesis, understand the strategy of the firm, and see the implications of all of that for the job that will be ahead for the candidates I’m evaluating. Having a strong understanding of business lets me be a business discussion partner as well as a skilled psychologist.

Q: Why do you continue to track candidates for months and years after they have secured the position they were being considered for?

A: These are long-term jobs. The usual investment horizon for my clients is three-to-five years, and most public company boards give top managers some time before deciding whether a new CEO is a success (with rare, glaring exceptions when someone is clearly failing). Since I am not predicting how a candidate will perform on a specific task, but rather how the candidate will handle the complex job of leading an organization over time, we have to let time pass to see what happens. (more…)

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

New York City as the Capital of Capital — Steven Jaffe and Jessica Lautin on The Brian Lehrer Show

Today, we offer another interview with the authors of Capital of Capital: Money, Banking, and Power in New York City, 1784-2012.

Steven H. Jaffe and Jessica Lautin recently appeared on The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the book and the frequently contentious history of banks in New York City. Among other issues, Jaffe and Lautin discussed why New York City became the “capital of capital,” surpassing Philadelphia and other cities; how New York City became not only the center of banking but also the center of protests against capitalism from the union movement to Occupy Wall Street; how immigration gave rise to savings banks; and whether or not New York City will remain the “capital of capital”

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Interview with Jessica Lautin, Co-Author of Capital of Capital

Capital of Capital “Banks are not a monolith; and their functions have been extraordinarily diverse—worthy of both ire and praise.”—Jessica Lautin

The following is an interview with Jessica Lautin, co-author of Capital of Capital: Money, Banking, and Power in New York City, 1784-2012

Question: What is Capital of Capital about?

Jessica Lautin: Capital of Capital examines how New York’s banks became central first to the city’s, then the nation’s, and ultimately the world’s economy. And it’s about the symbiotic relationship between the development of New York’s banks and the city itself.

Q: Why is it important?

JL: You can’t understand the growth of New York City without understanding the growth of its banks. There are excellent books and articles out there on specific periods in this great narrative—on Alexander Hamilton, the Gilded Age, the Depression, the fiscal crisis, and of course the Great Recession. But this book is the first to cover the full sweep. By looking at this long history you can see certain themes, trends and topics emerge: the cycles of booms and busts; the denial of and access to credit; the relationship between New York’s banks and government; the creation by New York’s banks of new financial instruments and strategies; and banks’ investment in the infrastructure of the city.

Q: The exhibition that preceded the book was on view at the Museum of the City of New York in 2012. Why did the City Museum decide to cover this topic at this time?

JL: Citigroup was interested in sponsoring an exhibition about the history of banking in Gotham to honor the 200th anniversary of the founding of the City Bank of New York in 1812. This idea dovetailed perfectly with the Museum’s mission to connect New York City’s past, present, and future. We began planning this exhibition when the city and nation were still reeling from the financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement had just made the news. Everything was still so fresh that we wondered if the opening of the exhibition might even draw protestors. (It didn’t). All of the headlines echoed those that appeared in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries: outrage at the city’s banks and attacks on its wealthiest citizens; calls for tighter regulation; announcements of new forms of currency; concerns about banks leaving town. We covered this history in the exhibition while also leaving visitors with a question about the future: Would New York City continue to be the capital of global finance? Newly generated and designed infographics in the last section (that also appear in the book) helped visitors to come up with an answer—graphics on such topics as: banks and the labor force; assets of commercial banks; and loans by foreign bank branches. Then there was an opportunity to register an answer in a survey programmed on old ATMs.

Q: Banks today and throughout NYC’s history have been the frequent targets of criticism. How fair is this?

JL: It’s true that banks have been the target of vitriol since their founding. Like the Occupy Wall Street protestors, John Adams attacked them as corrupt and elitist, calling bankers “swindlers and thieves.” It makes sense, and yes, it’s fair, that Americans have always been suspicious of the institutions that pool, grow and distribute money and credit. There are many instances throughout the nearly 230 years when banks have willfully ignored excessive risk to themselves and their customers in the interest of profit. If in 2008 it was the packaging and selling of subprime mortgages, in 1857 it was speculation in railroad securities. Also, before legislation forced banks to change their lending and hiring policies in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, many banks systematically denied employment and credit to African Americans, women, gays and lesbians. And this denial of credit had profound and lasting effects, for example, on the segregation of neighborhoods. By subsidizing the building of single-family homes for whites in the suburbs while refusing home loans to blacks and Hispanics in poorer neighborhoods, banks perpetuated poverty and racism.

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Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Interview with Ole Mouritsen, Coauthor of Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste

Umami, Ole Mouritsen

“Knowing about umami will not only help us to produce better-tasting meals but will greatly contribute to re-establishing a culture around the communal meals.”—Ole Mouritsen

The following is an interview with Ole Mouritsen, co-author of Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste:

Question: How was umami discovered?

Ole Mouritsen: The taste has always been with us, but it was only given the name umami in 1909 when the Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda discovered the substance (glutamate) that make the Japanese soup broth, dashi, so delicious. Umami is a contraction of the Japanese expression umai, which means “delicious,” and mi, which means “essence,” “essential nature,” “taste,” or “flavor.”

Q: What is the importance of umami and how does it change the way we think about taste?

OM: As a basic taste, umami is important for the flavor of food as well as for stimulating appetite, controlling satiety, and hence regulating food intake. Due to its complex interaction with other tastes, e.g., by enhancing sweet and salty and suppressing bitterness, umami will remind us about flavor being a multimodal sensation. Knowing about umami will not only help us to produce better-tasting meals but will greatly contribute to re-establishing a culture around the communal meals.

Q: How can it or should it change the way we eat and prepare food?

OM: The most important aspect of umami is the fact that it builds on a synergistic effect brought about by two components in the food: glutamate that elicits basal umami and nucleotides that enhance the sensation of glutamate. It needs two to tango. In the classical Japanese umami-rich soup broth, dashi, the two components come from seaweeds and fish or shiitake, respectively. It is precisely the same synergy we know so well from pairing eggs with bacon, cheese with ham, vegetables with meat, etc. Knowing about this synergistic principle will guide us to change the way we eat and the way we compose a meal.

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