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Archive for the 'Book of the Week' Category

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

What Mountain Gorillas Can Teach Us About Gendered Behaviors

Not So Different

“Beginning in the 1990s, something unexpected happened. Some younger males stopped leaving their groups and the basic harem social structure fundamentally shifted for about one-fourth of the park’s mountain gorilla population. Instead of groups with one, or occasionally two adult males, scientists began observing very large groups including several adult males and females living together in relative harmony.” — Nathan H. Lents

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we have crossposted an excerpt from an article that Lents and Stacy Rosenbaum originally posted on The Human Evolution Blog.

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

What Mountain Gorillas Can Teach Us About Gendered Behaviors
By Nathan H. Lents and Stacy Rosenbaum

Huge swathes of central Africa’s rainforests remain unexplored by western science, but the forests of Virunga National Park have been the object of intense scientific scrutiny since George Schaller and Dian Fossey began their pioneering work there in the 1950s. Since 1967, the population of mountain gorillas in Virunga have been the subject of continuous scientific monitoring, numerous documentaries, and the Oscar-nominated biopic, Gorillas in the Mist.

Much of what we know about the ecology and social behavior of gorillas stems from the constant observation of the Virunga mountain gorillas. Many common primate behaviors were first discovered in this population, including male contest competition – when males fight for access to females over whom they maintain exclusive mating rights; sexually selected infanticide – when males kill other males’ infants in order to bring females into heat and redirect their maternal attention on future children; and scramble feeding competition – reliance on food sources that are not monopolizable, which minimizes the utility of female dominance hierarchies.

Gorillas display substantial sexual dimorphism. Specifically, the males are more than twice as large as the females and powerfully built. This underscores their evolutionary legacy of male contest competition and polygyny. Indeed, gorillas were long thought to exist almost exclusively in harems, small multi-female groups led by one powerful silverback. Eating mostly leafy greens and seasonal fruit, the herculean strength and sharp canine teeth of silverbacks are used only for fighting each other. Typically, young males leave their birth group upon reaching adulthood and go through a solitary period before attempting to take over a harem or start a group of their own. Most are not successful. (more…)

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals

Not So Different

“Once you strip away the cultural and psychological aspects of our emotions and behaviors and examine them through the cold hard lens of Darwinian fitness, you see that our “advanced cognitive powers” are really a smoke screen clouding very simple behavioral programs that we share with our fellow primates.” — Nathan H. Lents.

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we are happy to present the books introduction, in which Lents lays out his project and explains what he hopes to achieve.

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

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals
By Nathan H. Lents

Both the title and the cover photo of this book are something of a head fake. You’re probably thinking that the book is all about animal behavior. But it’s not, except that it is. Let me explain.

The questions that drove me to write this book are: Why do we humans act the way that we act? Why do we build the societies the way that we do? Are we evolved to behave this way? (more…)

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

Emotions, Drives, and the Brain

Not So Different

“In this book, I discuss experiments that have revealed features of animal behavior that are strikingly similar to human behavior. These similarities, as far as I can tell, can only be explained by acknowledging that human and animal brains run some of the same behavioral programs.” — Nathan H. Lents.

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we are happy to present the books introduction, in which Lents lays out his project and explains what he hopes to achieve.

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

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals

Not So Different

Not So Different lucidly and entertainingly reminds us just how much of us there is in other mammals and vertebrates—and how much of them there is in us. You may never think of yourself in quite the same way again.” — Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. 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 Not So Different. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

M. Pilar Opazo at elBulli

Appetite for Innovation

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. Today, we are excited to present a slideshow of photographs taken by Opazo in her time researching elBulli on site at the restaurant itself and at the elBulli test kitchen.

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

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Organizational Creativity and Radical Innovation

Appetite for Innovation

“The research for Appetite for Innovation was conducted when Adria’s organization was undergoing its most profound transformation, from a restaurant to a research center for innovation, “elBulli foundation”. The book, therefore, takes advantage of this unique moment in time to retrace the story of a restaurant that became a legend and to explore underlying factors that led to its reinvention in 2011 into a seemingly unparalleled organizational model.” — M. Pilar Opazo

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. Today, we are happy to crosspost a short article by Opazo, originally posted at orgtheory.net, that contextualizes her book within the field of sociology.

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

How is it possible for an organization to systematically enact changes in the larger system of which it is part? Using Ferran Adria’s iconic restaurant “elBulli” as an example of organizational creativity and radical innovation, Appetite for Innovation examines how Adria’s organization was able to systematically produce breakthroughs of knowledge within its field and, ultimately, to stabilize a new genre or paradigm in cuisine – the often called “experimental,” “molecular,” or “techno-emotional” culinary movement.

Recognized as the most influential restaurant in the world, elBulli has been at the forefront of the revolution that has inspired the gastronomic avant-garde worldwide. With a voracious appetite for innovation, year after year, Adrià and his team have broken through with new ingredients, combinations, culinary concepts and techniques that have transformed our way of understanding food and the development of creativity in haute cuisine.

Appetite for Innovation is an organizational study of the system of innovation behind Adrià’s successful organization. It reveals key mechanisms that explain the organization’s ability to continuously devise, implement and legitimate innovative ideas within its field and beyond. Based on exclusive access to meetings, observations, and interviews with renowned professionals of the contemporary gastronomic field, the book reveals how a culture for change was developed within the organization; how new communities were attracted to the organization’s work and helped to perpetuate its practice, and how the organization and its leader’s charisma and reputation were built and maintained over time. The book draws on examples from other fields, including art, science, music, theatre and literature to explore the research’s potential to inform practices of innovation and creativity in multiple kinds of organizations and industries.

The research for Appetite for Innovation was conducted when Adria’s organization was undergoing its most profound transformation, from a restaurant to a research center for innovation, “elBulli foundation”. The book, therefore, takes advantage of this unique moment in time to retrace the story of a restaurant that became a legend and to explore underlying factors that led to its reinvention in 2011 into a seemingly unparalleled organizational model.

Appetite for Innovation is primarily intended to reach and be used by academic and professionals from the fields of innovation and organizations studies. It is also directed towards a non-specialist readership interested in the topics of innovation and creativity in general. In order to engage a wider audience and show the fascinating world of chefs and the inner-workings of high-end restaurants, the book is filled with photographs of dishes, creative processes and team’s dynamics within haute cuisine kitchens and culinary labs. It also includes numerous diagrams and graphs that illustrate the practices enacted by the elBulli organization to sustain innovation, and the networks of relationships that it developed over time. Each chapter opens with an iconic recipe created by elBulli as a way of illustrating the book’s central arguments and key turning points that enable the organization to gain a strategic position within its field and become successful.

You can read the post in its entirety at orgtheory.net.

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Introducing “Appetite for Innovation”

Appetite for Innovation

“Months prior to my visit to elBulli in 2011, Adrià had announced the transformation of his mysterious restaurant into a think tank of creativity, which would reopen in 2015. Yet, when reading about elBulli’s reinvention from my office at Columbia University, I had realized that there was something puzzling about this new organization too. Despite my efforts, I hadn’t been able to understand what the elBulli Foundation was going to be about—an interesting fact in itself. And when searching the Internet, I had come across the vast amount of historical records and detailed accounts of elBulli’s creations, which, for the most part, were made available by the organization itself.” — M. Pilar Opazo

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present Opazo’s Introduction, in which she explains how she first encountered elBulli and Ferran Adrià, and what she hopes people will take away from her book.

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

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli

Appetite for Innovation

“Opazo has written a fascinating organizational and business analysis of the restaurant and, in the process, produced an insightful account of how a culture of innovation can be achieved and sustained.” — Forbes.com

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. 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 Appetite for Innovation. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 22nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, July 15th, 2016

A Media Roundup for “Exhaustion: A History”

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

“To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now…. anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity.”—Anna Katharina Schaffner

We conclude our week-long feature on Exhaustion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner with links to some of the reviews of the book and interviews with and posts by Anna Katharina Schaffner:

First, you can read her essay in Aeon Why exhaustion is not unique to our overstimulated age:

Analyzing the history of exhaustion, one can find historically specific theories of what causes exhaustion, as well as a tendency to look back nostalgically to a supposedly simpler time. However, the continual production of theories about the loss of human energy is also an expression of timeless anxieties about death, ageing and the dangers of waning engagement. Theorising about exhaustion, and proposing cures and therapeutics for its effects, is a tactic to counteract the awareness of our helplessness in the face of our mortality. It is, in other words, a terror-management strategy designed to hold at bay our most existential fears – fears that are in no way peculiar to today.

There was an excellent interview with Anna Katharina Schaffner in Psychology Today in which she ties the concept of exhaustion to our current environmental crisis:

The concept of exhaustion means that a limited quantity of something—usually something non-renewable—is used up in its entirety. In the context of mental and physical exhaustion, the entity that is being depleted is human energy. Current ecological debates about sustainability center around the idea that our planetary resources are being depleted at an ever more rapid rate, and that a critical point is being reached such that the planet will not be able to replenish them or repair the ecological damage. The greatest threat now is a terminally exhausted planet, a habitat that has become uninhabitable because it has been stripped of its vital resources, just like a worn-out human body. What is unique to our age is that the fear of exhaustion has for the first time been extended beyond the individual or the social to the environment. And unlike other anxieties about exhaustion, the threat of the irrevocable exhaustion of our environmental resources is one that would include everyone, young and old.

The book also received a very positive review in Psychology Today. In the following excerpt, the reviewer looks at Schaffner’s treatment of the fear and pride we associate with exhaustion:

Schaffner highlights not just what we’ve known about exhaustion at various points in history but why we’ve feared it, epitomized in her discussion of Bram Stoker’s symbolism-laden Dracula of 1897 and other Victorian vampire narratives. The villainous protagonists of these stories, she reminds us, were aligned with necrophilia, homosexuality, polygamy, fetishism, gynophobia, and oral sex, but their aristocratic mien and ability to suck the precious life energy from their victims led many observers, including Marx, to link them to capitalist exploiters.

Exhaustion astutely focuses on one particular wrinkle of energy depletion that modern readers will immediately recognize—the pride certain people have long taken in their alleged burnout symptoms. We all know people who insist on telling us every time we meet how worn out they are, how much they have to do—and, implicitly, how important and in demand they are

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Is Not Ours The Most Exhausted Age in History?

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

We continue our week-long feature on Exhaustion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner, at the beginning with the introduction to the book (see below).

Schaffner argues that while today’s world might seem particularly stressful or pressured, we have felt exhausted throughout history. The introduction lays out some of the key questions she considers in the book:

There is no doubt that the specter of exhaustion shapes both public debates and lived experience in the early twenty-first century, chiming eerily with our weary zeitgeist. Is not ours the most exhausted age in history? And does the current epidemic of exhaustion not threaten the very future of the human animal? There are many who believe this to be the case.9 Yet before simply assenting to this assessment of our times, there is another question that needs to be asked: What do we really mean when we speak of exhaustion? In spite of the ubiquity and the metaphorical potency of the term, and its many applications in medical, psychological, economic, and political debates, exhaustion is a slippery concept, one that borders on, and often overlaps with, various others. How can we define exhaustion, and how can we demarcate it from related ideas and diagnoses? Is exhaustion a state that we can quantify scientifically, or is it a wholly subjective experience? Is it primarily a physical or a mental condition? Is it predominantly an individual or a wider sociocultural experience? Is it really the bane of our age, something that is intimately bound up with modernity and its discontents, or have other historical periods also seen themselves as the most exhausted?

Schaffner also examines the central contradiction that makes exhaustion so central and difficult to avoid both as a state and a concept, particularly in today’s world:

Finally, exhaustion is bound up with two contradictory desires: the concept chimes with us because, on the one hand, we all long for rest and the permanent cessation of exertion and struggle. A part of us wishes to return to an earthly paradise, from which work is banished—a state that resembles childhood, in which we are relieved of all responsibilities, and where everything revolves around pleasure. Yet, on the other hand, work is crucial not only for our survival but also for the shaping of our identity. It is bound up with self-realization and autonomy. In our age, moreover, work is particularly overdetermined: boundaries between public and private selves, between work and leisure, and profession and calling, are becoming ever more blurred.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

On Exhaustion and Human Energy

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

The following is a post by Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of Exhaustion: A History:

Exhaustion is frequently represented as a distinctly modern phenomenon caused by acceleration, new modes of communication and transportation, and changes in the nature and organization of work. Our own age, many commentators claim, is the most exhausting in history: having become slaves to our gadgets and victims of neoliberal techno-capitalist competition, more people than ever suffer from exhaustion-related syndromes such as burnout, stress, and depression. Commentators arguing that our levels of exhaustion are unprecedented in human history imagine the past as a much less energy-draining time in which people lived life at a slower pace in harmony with nature and the seasons.

However, I asked myself whether that was really the case, and decided to research other historical periods in search of exhaustion discourses. To my surprise, I found that writers in virtually every period have reflected on exhaustion and theorized its causes. The mental and physical symptoms of exhaustion feature prominently in a range of historical diagnoses from classical antiquity to the present day. These diagnoses include acedia in the medieval period, melancholia in classical antiquity, the Renaissance, and the eighteenth century, neurasthenia in the nineteenth century, and depression, stress, burnout, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Exhaustion, it seems, is in fact a perennial human concern, related to our anxieties about illness, ageing, the waning of our engagement with the world, and death.

Yet in each period the causes and effects of exhaustion are theorized in radically different ways. The kind of exhaustion in which I am interested (not merely physical exhaustion resulting from exertion or somatic illnesses that can be alleviated by resting) involves the mind, the body, and the social. In each period, the interplay between these three forces is imagined in different ways. Sometimes, a biological explanation is privileged, sometimes the explanation is psychological or spiritual, and sometimes it is psychosocial or cultural.

The causal explanations of exhaustion are diverse, ranging from biochemical imbalances, somatic ailments, and viral diseases to spiritual failings (monks suffering from acedia were seen as weak in their faith). In the past, exhaustion has also been linked to loss, the alignment of the planets, a perverse desire for death, and socio-economic disruption. Being exhausted has also frequently been associated with individual exceptionality, and qualities such as sensitivity, creativity, high intelligence, and, more recently, a strong work ethic. To say that one is stressed or burnt out implies that one works hard and is much in demand. To be exhausted can thus become a badge of honor.

Each theory of exhaustion also involves conceptions of agency, willpower, and responsibility for one’s state of well-being. In the Middle Ages, for example, giving in to exhaustion was considered a grave spiritual failing, a result of weak faith. Often, the causes of exhaustion are thought to be external, such as the hustle and bustle of urban life, over-stimulation of the senses, stressful working environments, or viral diseases. Frequently, it is also assumed that one’s mental state plays a major role in states of exhaustion, either as a cause or as a consequence of exhaustion. Hopelessness, weariness, disillusionment, and lack of engagement can all be both symptoms and exhaustion-generators. Social factors, too, can impact on an individual’s energy levels, such as optimism about the political future of a country or wide-ranging cultural pessimism.

*

(more…)

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

3 Questions for Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of “Exhaustion: A History”

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

“To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now…. anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity.”—Anna Katharina Schaffner

The following is an interview with Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of Exhaustion: A History:

Q: What inspired you to write a book on exhaustion?

Anna Katharina Schaffner: Like many people, I have experienced exhaustion in its various mental and physical modalities first-hand. I understand exhaustion as a state of being that can be broken down into a range of mental and physical symptoms, including weariness, hopelessness, and disillusionment; and weakness, lethargy, and fatigue. Exhaustion can also be manifest in behaviors such as restlessness, irritability, and the waning of engagement. In my book I am not so much concerned with purely physical exhaustion that is the result of bodily exertion and that can be alleviated by resting, but with chronic, less straightforward cases of exhaustion that are caused by a combination of mental, physical, and wider social phenomena.

A few years ago, I also noticed a significant increase in media debates about stress, burnout, and depression—diagnoses which are all structured around core exhaustion symptoms. Most commentators on exhaustion-related syndromes argue that modernity and its discontents are responsible for our collective exhaustion. They blame acceleration, the spread of new communication technologies such as the Internet, our 24/7 consumer culture, and a radically transformed neoliberal working environment for the vampiric depletion of our energies. They all seem to believe that ours is the most exhausting period in history, and tend nostalgically to glorify the past as a less energy-draining time in which people lived less taxing lives in harmony with nature and the seasons.

I wondered whether that was really the case, and started researching other historical periods in search of earlier discourses on exhaustion. To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now. In fact, I found that anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity. The causes and effects of exhaustion are theorized in medical, theological, philosophical, popular, and literary sources in virtually every historical period.

Q: Why is the idea of the exhaustion of our energies so disconcerting?

AKS: Fears about the depletion of our energies are related to deep-seated and timeless anxieties about ageing, the waning of our engagement with the world, and death. These fears remain constant through history. What differs is how the causes and effects of exhaustion are explained. Exhaustion is a phenomenon that involves the mind, the body, and socio-political factors, and narratives about exhaustion can reveal very interesting insights into how the interplay of these forces is theorized at a given historical moment. Moreover, the theorists of exhaustion often blame very specific social, political, or technological developments for the perceived rise in exhaustion symptoms. In the eighteenth century, the consumption of exotic foods, spices, and other luxury goods was held responsible for an increase in exhaustion among the people, while in the late nineteenth century, it was attributed to a faster pace of life as a result of trains, steam boats, electricity, and telegraphy. Today, we tend to blame our exhaustion on the erosion of the boundaries between work and leisure brought about by smart phones, which render us perpetually reachable and which make it impossible for us properly to “switch off”. The technologies that were supposed to make our lives easier and to save our energies have brought in their wake a whole new range of psycho-social stressors that undo their benefits.

(more…)

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “Exhaustion: A History”

This week we are featuring Exhuastion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner.

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

We are also offering a FREE copy of Exhuastion: A History to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 15th at 1:00 pm.

Edward Shorter, author of How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, writes, “Exhaustion is fluently written and brilliantly argued, and it will provoke thoughtful minds with the suggestion that exhaustion has a history.”

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

The Sierra Club as Book Publisher — An Excerpt from The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower, Robert Wyss

“Brower was now the darling of publishing, the upstart who had proven that the commercial publishers were wrong. He had created a new genre, an expensive, sprawling book that openly touted an environmental message.”—Robert Wyss, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

In the late 1950s David Brower wanted to produce a book of Ansel Adams photographs celebrating nature. It would be a big, slick, oversized book of very high quality. But commercial book publishers scoffed at the proposed book, saying it was too expensive and it would never sell. Brower convinced the Sierra Club to assume the risks and thus was born the first in a series of what were called Exhibit Format books. Brower edited or oversaw virtually all of the books, which were wildly successful and changed both the club, and publishing.

Today we excerpt from The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A life of David Brower, the story behind one of the early books published by Eliot Porter.

In 1950 Eliot Porter’s wife suggested that Porter do a book on Henry David Thoreau. “Your pictures remind me so much of him,” she told Porter. “They show his Walden as it is.” No one was more qualified than Porter, who ten years earlier had given up a career in medicine and research at Harvard to take photographs of nature.

What catapulted Porter’s reputation, bringing Brower and the Sierra Club books along for the ride, was the color Porter could achieve. His chemistry background enabled him in his own darkroom to experiment with Eastman Kodak Company’s new Kodachrome film at a time when other photographers shunned it. Porter spent years experimenting, but the result was clear, crisp color transparencies that dazzled. They pushed Porter to the forefront of photography as the popularity of color surged and that of black and white waned.

It took Porter ten years to finish the Thoreau book, and the expense of printing it scared publishers until it got to Brower. The beauty of the proposed book overwhelmed Brower, and he told Porter in a letter in February 1961 that he would be willing to begin a life of crime to pay for its publication. He knew he would need lots of cash to undertake the book and he finally convinced a local businessman, Kenneth Bechtel to provide $50,000 in loans and grants to subsidize the book. Bechtel was an interesting choice. His family owned an engineering and construction company based in San Francisco that was best known for building oil refineries, power plants, and facilities. In later years Brower would rail against such projects.

The next challenge was to find a printer capable of reproducing Porter’s superb color photographs. It took months before Barnes Press of New York passed muster on the samples it showed to Brower and Porter. Barnes needed to produce ten thousand copies of Porter’s seventy-two color prints and to get the four colors to balance and register on the presses. The firm used a sixteen-plate form, with four rows of four, each of a different photographic image. The yellows, reds, blues, and blacks had to be matched perfectly in trial runs, with paper spewing off the presses. These experimental runs took an inordinate amount of time and often forced another trial. Brower recalled one evening when he stayed to supervise, while Porter and the owner of the press, Hugh Barnes, went to dinner around seven. Barnes returned at nine. Brower stayed until eleven and returned to his hotel. Porter, who had slept after dinner, returned at one and stayed until dawn. This kind of pattern was not unusual at Barnes, and Brower’s journal for years in the 1960s was filled with entries of his returning to the printing company at odd hours of the day or night.

Finally, on a day in August 1962, Brower, Porter, Barnes, and others gathered around press number 3 and watched the first 2,500 sheets roar off the presses. The men examined them at a table, using lenses carefully.

They were excellent, recalled Brower, but they were not perfect.

Hugh Barnes agreed. “How about it, Dave, shall we throw out the first 2,500 sheets, and will you go fifty-fifty with me on the cost of the paper?”

How much would that cost? Barnes said $200 for each of them. For Brower, that was equal to the amount of dues the club got in a year from twenty-five members, but he agreed.

Barnes returned a few minutes later. “You did the right thing,” he said. “Now they (the Barnes workers) really know that this is a fussy job.”

Even though this book would be sold at an incredibly expensive $25 (the equivalent of nearly $200 fifty years later), the first five thousand books of In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World quickly sold out, as did the next nine reprints. Critics praised the book. “Only a bold photographer could try to capture Thoreau’s vision again and again. But Mr. Porter succeeds triumphantly,” declared the Christian Science Monitor.

In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, Eliot Porter

(more…)

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Who Was David Brower — A Post by Robert Wyss

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower, Robert Wyss

“What mattered [to David Brower] was the long term, not for what his contemporaries thought of him. ‘Environmentalists make terrible neighbors,’ he often said, ‘but great ancestors.’ And Brower was both.”—Robert Wyss, author of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

The following post is by Robert Wyss, author of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower:

John McPhee writing in the New Yorker in 1971 called him the Archdruid, a moniker he expanded upon when he wrote Encounters With An Archdruid.

Two documentary films were produced about Brower during his lifetime and the titles say a great deal about the duality of the man they were profiling. One was For Earth’s Sake and Brower liked it so much he borrowed it for one of the several memoir-type books he produced. The other was even more grandiose — Monumental.

Those productions along with a vast trove of newspaper and magazine stories including obituaries after Brower’s death in November, 2000 were what I had to go on when I began working on my biography, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower.

It turned out that Brower was a far more complicated character than I ever imagined. In some respect, a researcher’s delight because of all of the trails he took me down. But in others, a writer’s challenge.

Here’s what I wrote in the book’s introduction:

Over the years, David Brower has been called many things—tireless, unyielding, passionate, visionary, bold, influential, uncompromising, handsome, charismatic, opinionated, and articulate. He became a circuit-riding prophet, the environmental movement’s conscience who defined conservation and environmentalism from the mid-1950s until his death in 2000. He was an angry trailblazer responsible more than any other for turning environmentalism from hiking and bird-watching into a social and political force.

Those same admirers also called Brower stubborn, contentious, controversial, irascible, impossible, polarizing, impolitic, impolite, and a notorious curmudgeon. He on occasion would willingly stretch facts into falsehoods, was so unwilling to tamp down his views that he destroyed lifelong friendships, and refused to take orders even from those in institutional positions above him. He was frustratingly independent.

And yet he did all of this for one selfless reason—to sustain the earth’s natural environment. He wanted to save as much of the planet as possible from humans. He wanted to preserve what remained of the natural world and safely pass it to future generations.

Two related stories illustrate the opposing sides of Brower, the idealist conservationist who awakened a new movement and the messianic hubris that prompted him to engage in willful insubordination.

In 1966 Brower was engaged in his greatest conservation battle of his days as executive director of the Sierra Club, and he was losing. The federal government wanted to build two dams in the Grand Canyon, and as outlandish as this plan was, few seemed alarmed.

Brower placed full-page advertisements in some of the nation’s largest newspapers. The most famous declared: “Should We Also Flood the Sistine Chapel So Tourists Can Get Nearer the Ceiling?”

The next day the U.S. Internal Revenue Service told the Sierra Club it was under investigation because the club was violating its’ tax exempt status by engaging in political activity. This was a blow—the Sierra Club depended on such donations for its financial survival.

Brower announced that the federal government was trying to censor the Sierra Club and the story literally exploded in the news. Why was the club losing its tax status? Because we’re trying to save the Grand Canyon, Brower said. Newspapers were irate, so was the public.

It was the tipping point. Dam builders were quickly on the defensive and they never recovered. Within months the dam project was dead.

(more…)

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

An Interview with Robert Wyss, author of “The Man Who Built the Sierra Club”

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club, Robert Wyss

“[David] Brower was a true bellwether, a man ahead of his time.”—Robert Wyss

The following is an interview with Robert Wyss, author of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower:

Question: What was the status of the environmental movement when David Brower began as the head of the Sierra Club in 1953?

Robert Wyss: Weak. It was called the conservation movement and there was a plethora of volunteer organizations from (women’s) garden clubs to professional science organizations to a very few broad based groups like Audubon. But only a handful employed even a single full-time employee. Brower was the first at the Sierra Club. Washington D.C. was also far smaller in those days so it was possible for either prominent volunteers of these organizations (or their paid directors) to meet and have personal relationships with people who headed the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. But they had very little clout in Congress. In contrast, a little known agency such as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for decades made massive changes in America’s landscape by erecting these massive dams. Dams created jobs and both voters and Congress appreciated those federal dam builders.

Q: How did Brower’s approach to environmental conservation differ from others?

RW: Brower was absolutely fearless. While his colleagues refused to directly challenge the Bureau of Reclamation, Brower took them on and soon he was also criticizing the Forest Service and even those who should have been his friends running the national parks. The incident that first began to build Brower’s national reputation occurred during the fight to oppose the construction of two dams in Dinosaur National Monument. Reclamation officials had made a very basic math mistake in their calculations to justify the dams but it dealt with an arcane issue few understood. Engineers told Brower that while the mistake was obvious, it would be foolhardy to confront Reclamation. No one would believe the dam builders made such a mistake. Brower ignored the advice, he publicly confronted the Bureau in a Congressional hearing, and ultimately Reclamation engineers backed down. Such reckless, plucky daring can be found throughout Brower’s career.

Q: How did he change the Sierra Club from the mission set by John Muir?

RW: John Muir founded the club in 1892 to encourage his friends in the greater San Francisco area to hike and camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Muir was a pretty radical conservationist for his era, but after he died in 1914 the club became politically conservative. It was a California-based hiking and social club that preferred to work through gentlemanly channels to protect natural resources. That was changing after World War II when a new, younger board of directors hired Brower. Brower expanded the club’s focus nationally and it became increasingly confrontational. Older members were immediately uncomfortable with this approach and as Brower (over the years) became more radical he began to lose the support that would contribute to his firing in 1969. But in many respects Brower was only following in the footsteps of Muir. They both strongly believed in protecting natural resources over anything else.

(more…)

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

This week we are featuring The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower, by Robert Wyss.

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

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 8th at 1:00 pm.

In their review of the book Library Journal wrote, “A riveting…. extensively researched, balanced account…. This absorbing portrait of a flawed yet fascinating figure, beloved and scorned, who defined America’s national parks will engage all biography lovers.”

You can also read the Introduction:

Friday, July 1st, 2016

A Media Roundup for “The Evolution of Money”

The Evolution of Money

“The reason I think we need a new theory of money is because traditional theories either emphasise one side of money only (such as bullionism vs chartalism) or more or less ignore its properties altogether (like mainstream economics). And they take the relationship with number for granted, which I think is a mistake. It is the most obvious feature of money, and in many ways the most important.” — David Orrell

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. For our final post of the week, we’ve collected a number of the best articles and interviews by and about David Orrell, Roman Chlupatý, and The Evolution of Money.

First, you can read an adapted excerpt from The Evolution of Money at Evonomics:

Environmental conflict is therefore hardwired into the design of our monetary system—built for funding wars with kings and empires and now, as Klein documents, with the planet (one that, if it continues, the planet will win—it’s bigger). Dazzling us with number, it distracts us from the costs. This, rather than ideology, is why the GDP produced in a city like Beijing is booming, but people are leaving because they can’t breathe the air (and why, a little late, the National Congress of the Communist Party wrote the goal of an “ecological civilization” into its constitution in 2012). Like a toxic algal bloom on a lake, the economy is doing fine, but it is asphyxiating everything around it.

99Bitcoins has a great interview with David Orrell on cryptocurrency:

“The reason I think we need a new theory of money is because traditional theories either emphasise one side of money only (such as bullionism vs chartalism) or more or less ignore its properties altogether (like mainstream economics). And they take the relationship with number for granted, which I think is a mistake. It is the most obvious feature of money, and in many ways the most important.” — David Orrell

Adbusters featured “The True Value of Money,” an article by David Orrell:

A peculiar feature of orthodox economics is that money is treated as an inert medium of exchange, with no special properties of its own. As a result, money is largely excluded from macroeconomic models, which is one reason the financial crisis of 2007/8 was not predicted (it involved money). In many respects, when viewed through the lens of quantum physics, money behaves a lot like matter – and acknowledging that behavior promises to do to economics what quanta did for physics.

(more…)

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Why Money Is Undermining Our Financial System

The Evolution of Money

“And this is exactly where the current problem lies: central banks – and their peers, commercial banks – still operate in a one-dimensional universe where readiness to spend has been muted. On the one hand, we now have those who have, who are thus trustworthy and who can therefore reach into the honeypot of cheap credit. But these largely own what they want and who instead of spending on things invest – thus the asset bubble and also the increasing gap between rich and poor. On the other, we have those who want to spend but don’t have the means or access to credit.” — Roman Chlupatý

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. Today, we are happy to present an interview with Roman Chlupatý from Euronews, in which Chlupatý explains why we live in “a world where one of a few certainties is that while we don’t know when the next [economic] crisis will come, we know for sure that it will.” Watch the video or read the text in full below.

We live in a time of great monetary abnormality. Not only are the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan prescribing negative interest rates to prop up their failing economies but the Swedish central monetary authority is doing the same – despite the fact that its national economy is growing at a solid rate. And as if this were not enough, the Fed’s Janet Yellen, who was expected to increase rates three to five times this year on her quest for normalcy, has mentioned earlier this year that negative rates in the US – meaning banks charging interest from those depositing money with them – are still a possibility.

What does this mean? Seven and a half years after the so-called crisis broke out with the collapse of investment bank Lehmann Brothers, old recipes and ways of thinking are out of breath. They certainly did help to avert the worst – just imagine what would for instance have happened in the UK if ATMs had stopped giving out cash, a situation that was mere hours away – but they did so at the cost of a 57 trillion dollar-increase in debt, as consultancy McKinsey points out, and at the cost of inflating speculative bubbles all around. (more…)

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

The Changing Faces of Money

The Evolution of Money

“Indeed, one of the things holding back the adoption of cybercurrencies including bitcoin is that they do not conform with traditional ideas about money. But is the problem with bitcoin, or have our ideas about money failed to keep up with its evolution?” — David Orrell

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. In “The Changing Faces of Money,” David Orrell looks at the rise of cybercurrencies and what they can tell us about what money actually is.

The Changing Faces of Money
By David Orrell

The question, “what is money?” is one that never seems to go away. Were medieval bills of exchange money? How about fiat currencies? Its latest manifestation tends to focus on cybercurrencies such as bitcoin – are they as good as regular coins?

To some techno-enthusiasts the answer is a resounding yes, but to many people it is less clear. This skepticism was captured by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who once told Bloomberg, “I do not understand where the backing of bitcoin is coming from. There is no fundamental issue of capabilities of repaying it in anything which is universally acceptable, which is either intrinsic value of the currency or the credit or trust of the individual who is issuing the money, whether it’s a government or an individual.”

Indeed, one of the things holding back the adoption of cybercurrencies including bitcoin is that they do not conform with traditional ideas about money. But is the problem with bitcoin, or have our ideas about money failed to keep up with its evolution? (more…)