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Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Friday, April 18th, 2014

The Future of the RV — James Twitchell

Winnebago Nation

In “The Rise and Fall of the RV in America,” the concluding chapter to Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, James Twitchell looks at the future of the RV, its need to change and its continuing promise to offer a new way of living:

“Our cars are smart, our clothing is smart, our food is smart, our temperature controls are smart, but our RVs are stupid.”—James Twitchell

FUTURE FORM: NO MORE BUS BOXINESS

The RV is also going to have to change its form. No more box. It needs a new outline. The gypsy wagon went from horse-drawn to engine-driven, then from looking like a parlor on wheels to looking like a ranch house on wheels. Let’s face it: Most RVs today look dreary, which may be why they get those flashy paint jobs. To get a better form, the RV needs a new consumer. The current consumers are too old and dull. Moving from empty nests, they want a mimic of what they are leaving behind (washer/dryer, ice maker, drop-down televisions, comfy chairs…). Sociologists call this “compensatory domesticity.”

And that may explain why the contemporary RV looks the way it does: It’s trying to get it both ways, home away from home. It’s simply too homey. That’s why the awning that can be extended to welcome neighbors, why the green indoor/outdoor carpeting often spread near the doorway, why the ersatz fireplaces, potted plants, massive couches, twinkle lights, and, most perplexingly, the huge television set that comes sliding out of the cargo bay so it can be watched from lawn chairs. What’s happening is that the old-time home has been dehydrated and then reconstituted so that it is essentially a split-level ranch house compressed and then expanded thanks to the slide-outs and yard art.

But as the demographics change, the mobile-nest prototype may change as well. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) asserts that the fastest-growing group of RV owners is now made up of young families between eighteen and thirty-four years old. If the RV really is moving out of what’s called Phase 3 (retirement) consumers and into Phase 2 (active individuals), then the lines of thing itself should change. No longer will “getting away from it all” mean “taking it all with you.” Something else may happen, something more experimental. And the outlines for this change may well come from the places where RV life is just taking hold—Australia and China as well as the American Southwest.

There’s precedent for this flux. Architects have long dreamed of unbolting their buildings from the earth. In the early twentieth century, Le Corbusier and the Italian futurists went gaga over steam trains, ocean liners, biplanes, and anything that moved. Why should housing always be fastened to the ground? After all, humans for centuries have lived in yurts, hogans, teepees, pods, and desert tents. The French Utopie group experimented with pneumatic architecture that could be blown up and deflated. Archigram, in London, responded with the Walking City, which literally got up on its legs and wandered about. Both of these groups took movement as a necessary part of interesting housing.

Winnebago Nation

Now a new generation of designers is experimenting with varia­tions on the gypsy architecture. All kinds of unfolding mini-homes with fewer than 1,000 square feet are on the market. Nils Moormann’s Walden, Sustain Design’s Bunkie, and Tumbleweed’s Tiny Houses are all moveable compressions. You buy the kit and then assemble it, but then you’ll need a crane to move it about. Other innovations are parasitic dwellings, such as the Loftcube, which you assemble on a rooftop, stay in for a while, and then take apart (or hire a helicopter). And there’s a little aluminum-clad box called a Micro Compact Home, which opens up like Origami. To assemble, you plug it into an electrical outlet and up it goes. A selling point is that Micros fit together like Legos. You can attach ten of them and have a little apartment house like the famous Habitat of the 1967 World’s Fair.

But why do the wheels have to come off? Maybe it’s time that we pay more attention to one of the real visionaries in small-space architec­ture, Wally Byam, who back in the 1930s also realized the importance of wheels. The designer of the Airstream trailer, Byam was also a suc­cessful lawyer and publisher of do-it-yourself magazines. Ironically, because his reputation never transcended his signature product, he has never really been appreciated. His vision was for far more than the single sculpted trailer. He imagined putting these trailers together to make a self-contained habitat, a moveable city. He never got to that stage, but his idea of these things moving separately in a caravan by day and then hooking up at night was a step in the right direction. The Airstream trailer, like its cousin the RV, got stuck in the rut of the independent self-contained mimic of home. And that rut was not of Byam’s making; it is a function of who was buying them.

(more…)

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

The RV in Popular Culture: From Lucy to Walter White

In Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, James Twitchell also explores the depiction of the RV in the movies. Up until the 1960s, Twitchell argues, the RV was “an object of much interest and even yearning”. However, as “the epynomic Winnebago started to be mass-produced, the allure of escape grew double-edged” and “by the 1970s the RV had become a metaphor of middle-class uncouthness and was well on its way to becoming a symbol of wastefulness.”

A movie reflecting the more hopeful side of the RV is The Long, Long Trailer (1953), starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The trailer in the movie gleams and the film is “dedicated to a new phenomenon: the ability to move your house around the country whenever, wherever you want:

As attitudes toward the RV shift, a new kind of genre emerges, which features a middle-aged or older man “learning about things he may have missed earlier in life….The middle-aged American male is off on an adventure, to be sure, and he’s using this kind of transport because he’s a doofus.” Examples from this genre include About Schmidt (2002), in which Jack Nicholson plays “a sad sack, a gray man, and the RV is both a palliative and an escape.”

A more recent entry into the RV film is the aptly titled RV: The Movie (2006), starring Robin Williams. The movie according to Twitchell includes all the cliches of the contemporary RV film: “the picaro‘s frustration with his job, the long-suffering family, the problems with above-ground sewage, the deep allure of the gypsy life, the road hogging … and even a scene lifted from The Long, Long Trailer with the motorhome suspended on a precipice in the Rockies.”

The film that Twitchell cites as the most sophisticated of the RV genre is Lost in America (1985), starring Albert Brooks as a disgruntled adman, who “takes off to find himself in America….It’s Desi and Lucy all over again, with Mr. Brooks playing the Lucy part. This film abruptly ends in medias res because there is really no ending this kind of trip. It just goes on and on.”

Finally, while it is not quite in the same genre, Breaking Bad has featured perhaps the most notorious and famous Winnebago in recent years. Here is Bryan Cranston and, show creator, Vince Gilligan discussing the RV used to cook meth:

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Slab City

Winnebago Nation

“Slabs is Burning Man with a vulture overhead. It looked to me like the end of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.”—James Twitchell

As described in Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, the camping site is an important part of the lure and the mythology of the RV lifestyle. In the chapter, “Park It,” Twitchell describes “Slab City,” located in California, and one of the more distinct RV Parks in the country. The following is an excerpt from the chapter:

The Slabs is the largest free camping site in the country. As a utopia of “do your own thing,” it is well worth a trip for those Panglossians who promulgate the faith in “least government is best government.” This place does not celebrate the more famous Burning Man joy in an untethered world; it lives it. Burning Man tries to find new order in the desert for a week or so; the Slabs tries to get away from order by going into the desert for an indefinite time. Burning Man is intensely self-conscious: How’m I doin’ takin’ my clothes off? It’s recreation. Slabs is more pragmatic: I’m naked; my clothes are worn out. It’s survival. Slabs is Burning Man with a vulture overhead. It looked to me like the end of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

I was repeatedly told that the Slabs has changed. In the early 1960s, this was a place where you could see the $300,000 rig parked in peaceful tranquility next to the dilapidated school bus. Here was boondocking in its idyllic form. Snowbirds could fire up their generators while Slabbers could harvest battery power from solar cells. Potable water was trucked in, and sewage was either dumped down the gopher holes or trucked out. The community was connected by CB radio, which broadcast a nightly program of local events, including dances, pot-luck dinners, book clubs, and board games. To the people who first observed this New Harmony and reported on it in the LA Times, New York Times, Harper’s, and Time magazine, the magic was palpable. In the wake of such good press, the Slabs also started appearing on the endless lists of cheap places to retire. It was part of what easterners call “Weird California,” by which they often meant Belmont and Fishtown side by side.

Winnebago Nation

After all, the Slabs was, in a sense, the apogee of American Roman­ticism, each person finding salvation on his own slab, hoeing his own bean row, as Thoreau supposed, and coming together only when it fitted individual needs, not group demands. What law there was was the law of unreflecting generosity. The limits of individual freedom were indeed the edges of one’s desire. Sure, the state was hovering over the slabs, but there was so much confusion as to who actually owned the land that no one knew who could legally kick the squatters out, or even force them to pay for their “externalities.” (There were a few kids going to school in Niland, there was a continual ambulance service to hospital, and there was the garbage problem.)

No wonder that in Sean Penn’s 2007 adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, a central scene takes place in the Slabs. Here we see Chris­topher McCandless meeting other RV vagabonds who will induct him into the fraternity of enlightened earth wanderers. The Slabs is por­trayed as utopian, an unfettered life in discarded school buses under the warming sun. At the Slabs, Christopher changes his name to Alexander Supertramp, and he is finally with his own people. But, alas, he must push on to his fate, which just happens to be a strange turn on his time at Slabs: He spends his final days holed up and freezing in a discarded school bus in Denali National Park.

Perhaps it was the attraction of the movie that caused a shift in clientele at the Slabs. For a while younger people came, stayed, and then moved on. Gray hair notwithstanding, there is a deep strain of adolescence in the RV life, as there is in American Transcendentalism. Experiments in American utopia from Brook Farm, Amana, Fruitlands, and the Shakers all bump up against the fact that finally someone has to take out the trash. The City on the Hill, or, in this case, the City in the Sand, slowly started to crack from underneath. Of course the Slabs was never self-consciously constituted as a commune of freedom-loving individuals. It had no manifesto other than, “If you don’t like it, move out.”

(more…)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The RV Through History — Images from Winnebago Nation

The following are images that illuminate the evolution of the RV from the “Gypsy Van” at the beginning of the twentieth century to the iconic Winnebago. The images, of course, come from this week’s featured book Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture by James Twitchell:

Winnebago Nation
Superior Truck, aka “Gypsy Van,” owned by Conklins of Huntington, NY 1915 (Huntington Historical Society).

Winnebago Nation
Zaglemeyer Kampkar, 1921 (Al Hesselbart collection at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum).

Winnebago Nation
Covered wagon trailer, 1930s (RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum).

Winnebago Nation

Winnebago Nation
Frank/Dodge motorhome before (late 1950s) and after (1963) application of the French curve (Al Hesselbart collection at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum and Dodge ad).

(more…)

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Book Giveaway: Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, by James Twitchell

Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, James Twitchell

This week we will be featuring Winnebago Nation: The RV in American Culture, by James Twitchell on our blog, twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Winnebago Nation to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and indicate your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 18 at 3:00 pm.

In Winnebago Nation, James B. Twitchell takes a light-hearted look at the culture and industry behind the yearning to spend the night in one’s car. For the young the roadtrip is a coming-of-age ceremony; for those later in life it is the realization of a lifelong desire to be spontaneous, nomadic, and free. Informed by his own experiences on the road, Twitchell recounts the RV’s origins and evolution over the twentieth century; its rise, fall, and rebirth as a cultural icon; its growing mechanical complexity as it evolved from an estate wagon to a converted bus to a mobile home; and its role in bolstering and challenging conceptions of American identity.

For more on the book, read the book’s first chapter, Thoreau at 29¢ $4.00 a Gallon,” .

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Excerpt from The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s by Mary Helen Washington

The following is an excerpt from the introduction to The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, by Mary Helen Washington.

In this excerpt Washington discusses the important, but often overlooked, role of the Communist Party and the radical left in both supporting Black writers and artists as well as shaping the themes and aesthetics of their work:

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Video: Mary Helen Washington on African American and the Communist Party

In the following video, Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, explains how her Catholic upbringing in the 1950s led to an interest in the relationship between African Americans and the Communist Party. She describes how Communist newspaper in the United States became one of the few venues to provide serious discussions and coverage of African American literature during the 1950s. She also talks about her desire to see the work of radical African American artists and writers from this period become part of the canon:

Mary Helen Washington Video from UMD College of Arts & Humanities on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s

Mary Helen Washington, The Other Blacklist

“I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of ‘integration’ but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.”—Mary Helen Washington

The following is an interview with Mary Helen Washington, author of The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s:

Question: Why did you choose to focus on the 1950s?

Mary Helen Washington: I came of age in the early 1950s in Catholic schools in Cleveland, Ohio, fed on a steady diet of anticommunism at school, and, at home, a steady diet of integration, but both of those prescribed lessons—anticommunism and integration—separated me from the story of radical civil rights activity. While the black left of the 1950s was protesting discrimination on every front, from residential segregation to unions and factories, we black kids were being taught that integration meant blacks becoming acceptable to the white mainstream. When the left-leaning National Negro Labor Congress (NNLC) came to Cleveland for their 1952 conference, they staged a protest downtown against the airlines for refusing to hire blacks. Since stories like these were blacklisted by the anticommunists as well as the integrationists, black kids grew up in the 1950s with no access to a critical discourse on race. Radicals used terms like white supremacy and racial justice, not integration, while black kids were learning that we should dress, act, and speak a certain way as a marker of acceptability, radicals were defining integration as claiming the rights of citizenship—as you can see from the NNLC poster featuring the Statue of Liberty as a black woman.

Q: Why did you call the book The Other Blacklist?

MHW: Most of what we know about the McCarthy era focuses on the white left. Communism is seen as a white left radicalism, though black civil rights activists were deeply involved in radical movements in the 1940s and 1950s. People who were investigated by J. Edgar Hoover for being communists were routinely asked if they were involved interracially because civil rights activity was considered radical. This is a very powerful and commendable radicalism that black people don’t get credit for. They weren’t the Hollywood Ten, but they were the New York/Chicago 100. There’s a fine documentary on screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo and his admirable resistance to HUAC, but there’s no documentary on black radicals like Alice Childress, Lloyd Brown, Julian Mayfield, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett or Lorraine Hansberry [some of the figures in my book], who also paid a price for their radicalism. I’m trying to restore that tradition of mid-century black left radical resistance, so that we don’t remember the 1950s only as the era of “integration” but as the era of black civil rights radicalism. I’m restoring the other blacklist, the black blacklist.

Q: You have a chapter called “Spycraft and the Black Literary Left.” Can you talk about the connection between government agencies, politics, and art?

MHW: Keep in mind that the Left and the Communist Party supported black artists when no one in white mainstream culture (with the exception of J. Edgar Hoover) showed any interest in black culture. They came to the defense of black culture because they saw art as a means to effect social and political change. One critic Willliam Maxwell says that Hoover should be considered an important historian of black culture becaue he always took black literary production seriously. The FBI files are thus a mixed blessing—a gold mine for biographical material because the FBI kept close track of the activities of radicals, and also a record of governmental abuse of artists and intellectuals. There’s a current play on Broadway about the life of Lyndon Johnson called All the Way that shows how relevant these issues still are. The character playing J. Edgar Hoover asks LBJ to justify his relationship with Martin Luther King because, Hoover claims, King is being advised by communists. The government, particularly in the age of McCarthy and Hoover, created the tradition of demonizing the Left that is still with us and that has resulted in the dismissal of an entire generation of black intellectuals and artists.

Q: Why is radicalism of the 1950s still relevant?

MHW: We’re grappling with the same issues today but without that radical perspective. I’m thinking about Rachel Jeantel in the Trayvon Martin case and all the discussion that was generated about Jeantel’s appearance and speech—the way she looked rather than the case itself. Another example is Paul Ryan saying “inner city” people live in a culture that doesn’t value work or doesn’t have a work ethic. And here we see how “inner city” becomes a code for “black.” The jurors from the Jordan Davis case in Florida, one white and one black, said that the Davis case, in which a black man was shot and killed because a white man thought his black music was too loud, was not about race. This kind of political illiteracy shows how and why we need what I call a critical racial discourse. As Boston Governor Deval Patrick said—“words matter.” Even more than words, the radical left—and, yes, I include communists– gave us examples of a powerful resistance. The Rosa Ingram case and the Trenton Six—which were also about racial violence inflicted on blacks– were fought in the courts, in the streets, and in African American artistic production. When Rosa Ingram was sentenced to death along with her two sons for killing a man she claimed had violently assaulted her, the left and civil rights groups organized the protests that eventually freed them, and, as part of that protest, artist Charles White made the Ingram case the subject of his 1949 drawing.

(more…)

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, by Mary Helen Washington

The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, Mary Helen Washington

This week we will be featuring The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s, by Mary Helen Washington on our blog, twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Other Blacklist to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and indicate your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 11 at 3:00 pm.

In The Other Blacklist, Mary Helen Washington recovers the vital role of 1950s leftist politics in the works and lives of modern African American writers and artists. While most histories of McCarthyism focus on the devastation of the blacklist and the intersection of leftist politics and American culture, few include the activities of radical writers and artists from the Black Popular Front. Washington’s work incorporates these black intellectuals back into our understanding of mid-twentieth-century African American literature and art and expands our understanding of the creative ferment energizing all of America during this period.

For more on the book, read an excerpt from the introduction.

Friday, April 4th, 2014

What You Can Do to End Slavery

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Throughout the week’s posts, we’ve seen how widespread and difficult to combat slavery is in the modern world, and it’s left us with an important question: what can we do to change things? So today, we’ve excerpted Laura T. Murphy’s epilogue to Survivors of Slavery: “Twenty-first-Century Abolitionists–What You Can do to End Slavery.”

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The Story of James Kofi Annan

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we are focusing on the story of James Kofi Annan, a former child slave in Ghana and the founder of the nonprofit organization Challenging Heights.

First, we have a video of James Kofi Annan accepting the 2011 Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize at Grinnell College, and in his acceptance speech, explaining the practice of modern slavery in Ghana and his personal experiences escaping from it:

Next, we have an excerpt from Survivors of Slavery in which James Kofi Annan writes “the story of his life”:

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Survivors of Modern Slavery Speak

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have a guest post from Laura T. Murphy, “Survivors of Modern Slavery Speak.”

Survivors of Modern Slavery Speak
Laura T. Murphy

This month, the Urban Institute released a government-funded report on “Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities” (check out their interactive feature, “The Hustle” as well). The report attempts to describe human trafficking by the numbers, providing the data that begins to answer the question that so many people ask: “How serious is human trafficking in the United States?”

The researchers interviewed sex traffickers, pimps, sex workers, child pornographers, prosecutors, and federal law enforcement agents to determine how big the profits are for human trafficking in seven U.S. cities. What they found was that pimps make between $5,000 and $32,833 a week. And the underground sex economy accounted for between $39.9 and $290 million dollars, depending on which city is raking in the bucks. The Urban Institute provided the data that cities governments and non-profits have been seeking to be able to justify exerting energy and expending resources to try to slow down the most exploitative sectors of the sex trade. Furthermore, the interviews conducted revealed widespread physical and psychological abuse within the industry.

What the Urban Institute research shows us is that listening carefully to the voices of those involved in trafficking is integral to better addressing the issue in all its complexity. Even as we demand better records and more data on the sex trade and other forms of trafficking, those numbers can only give us an abstract portrait of the industry. (more…)

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The Allure of Work

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have an excerpt from the first chapter of Survivors of Slavery: “The Allure of Work.”

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Book Giveaway! Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives, by Laura T. Murphy

Survivors of Slavery

This week our featured book is Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives by Laura T. Murphy. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Survivors of Slavery. To enter our Book Giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, April 4th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Insects: A Sustainable Alternative to Meat

The following news report (see video below) includes interviews with coauthors of The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet, scientist Arnolds Van Huis and chef Henk Van Gurp, in which they consider some of the environmental benefits of eating insects. Unlike raising livestock for food, which contributes to rising levels of greenhouse gas (see excerpt below), insects and using them for food has minimal impact.

In the following excerpt from The Insect Cookbook, the authors provide further detail about why insects are a sustainable alternative to meat:

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that livestock is responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and is, as such, an important contributor to global warming. Greenhouse gas emissions include methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Simply by burping and passing gas, cattle release more than one-third of all methane emissions worldwide. Methane contributes twenty-three times more to global warming than does carbon dioxide (CO2), the most important greenhouse gas emitted by cars. Livestock generates close to two-thirds of all nitrous oxide released; this gas is 289 times more damaging than CO2. Some insects, such as termites, also produce methane, releasing 4 percent of all emissions of this gas worldwide. By contrast, the edible insects mentioned in this cookbook, such as mealworms
and migratory locusts, produce far less greenhouse gas per kilogram of product than do cows or pigs.

Livestock also produces more than two-thirds of the world’s ammonia emissions, which are one of the main causes of acid rain. Per kilogram of body weight produced, pigs produce fifty times more ammonia than do locusts.

(more…)

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Cooking with Insects — Recipes for Hopper Kebabs and Buglava

Hopper Kebabs

In addition to explaining the nutritional and environmental value of eating insects, the authors of The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet, also provide dozens of great recipes. Below are two such recipes. Hopper Kebabs (see image above) use grasshoppers with their legs and wings removed. As the authors explain, grasshoppers are considered a delicacy in parts of Africa and clever entrepreneurs in Australia are now marketing them as “sky prawns” to help increase their popularity.

The other recipe is buglava which uses mealworms, which is rich in potassium, iron, zinc and vitamins and minerals and is also enjoyed throughout the world. Both these insects are now increasingly available for purchase in the United States and can be bought from World Entomophagy.

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

TED Talk from Marcel Dicke on the Nutritional and Environmental Impact of Eating Insects

In the following video taken from a TED Talk , Marcel Dicke, coauthor of The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet, discusses the environmental and nutritional importance of eating insects:

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be eating insects. They’re much better for you than regular meat.”

The Insect Cookbook, Arnold van Huis, Henk van Gurp, and Marcel Dicke

In recent interview with the Boston Globe , Marcel Dicke, one of the coauthors of The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet, discussed his new book and the benefits of eating insects.

Dicke concedes that there continue to be those in the media that see his work promoting eating insects in a less than serious light. However, as he points out, eating insects can play an important role in food sustainability:

The world is facing a food security problem. We hope to make people aware, to show them there are good reasons for eating insects. We’re not telling anyone to stop eating meat completely, but about 70 percent of all agricultural land is used to produce livestock, and we’re going to have to increase food production by 70 percent by 2050. There’s no way we’re going to be able to do this.

Moreover, eating insects, which is done throughout the world, is good for you:

[Insects are] rich in minerals; they’re high in protein. In terms of nutrition, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be eating insects. They’re much better for you than regular meat.

Dicke also discusses which insects are best to eat and the ways in which people in the West are slowly coming around to the idea of eating them. Much of the challenge is in the presentation of dishes prepared with insects and marketing the notion of insects as palatable. As Dicke points out, contemporary Western resistance to eating insects is somewhat anomaly :

It’s in our genes to eat insects; humanoids have always done this. Around the world, 2 billion people eat them on a daily basis—there’s nothing strange about this…. In our culture, we’ve always been taught that insects are disgusting. We try to live in an insect-free world, a sterile world where everything is clean. On the other hand, this world wouldn’t be here if not for insects—without them there would be no pollination of plants.

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of The Insect Cookbook

The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet,  Arnold van Huis, Henk van Gurp, and Marcel Dicke

This week we will be featuring The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet, by Arnold van Huis, Henk van Gurp, and Marcel Dicke on our blog, twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and indicate your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, March 28st at 3:00 pm.

In The Insect Cookbook, two entomologists and a chef make the case for insects as a sustainable source of protein for humans and a necessary part of our future diet.

For more on the book, learn how to make Hopper Kebabs and Buglava or watch a video of Marcel Dicke’s Ted Talk.

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Relativity in Education — Jeffrey Bennett

The following post is by Jeffrey Bennett, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter

Jeffrey Bennett, What Is Relativity?Black holes don’t suck. It’s a point I’ve emphasized to students for decades, and I even considered it as a possible title for my book at one point. So why, then, do so many people assume that a spaceship passing near a black hole would get “sucked in,” or that transforming the Sun into a black hole would cause Earth and the other planets to be sucked in?

It’s an interesting question, because the answer tells us something about our system of science education. Society and public knowledge have changed dramatically in many ways since Einstein published his general theory of relativity in 1915. Consider, for example, that in 1915: Flight was only a few years old, automobiles were still rare, antibiotics were decades from discovery, life expectancy was decades shorter than today, and women still did not have the right to vote in U.S. national elections. But at least one thing has not changed: Most people today still assume space and time to be just as fixed and independent as did our ancestors, even though we are approaching the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s theory that showed otherwise.

It may seem that no one is harmed by this lack of public understanding, but I’d argue otherwise. For example, I believe that all human beings live their lives according to a world view with which they see their place in the world and universe, and this in turn makes it seem important to have a world view that is consistent with reality. And reality, as it turns out, is the real topic of Einstein’s theory of relativity, because it is the theory that describes our current understanding of space, time, and gravity. As such, it provides the foundation of almost all of modern physics and astronomy, which means it tells us how the universe — our reality — actually works. I’d be exaggerating only slightly if I said that knowing something about relativity is as important to having a true “cosmic perspective” as recognizing that Earth is a planet going around the Sun rather than the center of the universe.

Relativity is also a great way to introduce students (and the public) to the way in which science works, and to the real meaning of a scientific theory. In fact, relativity is arguably our best example of how one theory (in this case Newton’s theory of gravity) can be replaced by another (Einstein’s general theory of relativity) without the first one being “wrong.” In this case, relativity expanded the range of situations in which we can calculate gravitational effects, but still gives essentially the same answers as Newton’s earlier theory of gravity for most situations. In my opinion, there’s no better way to explain the nature of scientific evidence and the means by which we test hypotheses until the evidence becomes strong enough to consider them theories. I suspect that if we taught this example in schools, we’d be able to build upon it to quiet much of the public debate that arises over other scientific topics, including evolution and climate change.

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