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Archive for the 'Featured Book' Category

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

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

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

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

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Tunisia and the Arab Spring

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

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

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

A Different Trajectory

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

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

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

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Introducing Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

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

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

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

Monday, October 16th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

Tunisia: An Arab Anomaly

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

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

Friday, September 29th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

Read the Story “Pilfering Green Cloth by Pretending to Steal a Goose”

Book of Swindles
“‘I won’t lie to you,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I’m a petty thief… I’ve got a plan, and I just need your help to pull it off.’” — Zhang Yingyu

Today we are happy to present an excerpt from The Book of Swindles: one of the over forty stories of scams and deception in Ming China featured in the volume.

Stay tuned for an interview with the translators, Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk, to be published on Friday. Rea and Rusk talk about changing social norms and other reasons why theft and scams were on the rise.

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Book Giveaway! The Book of Swindles

Book of Swindles

“In The Book of Swindles, Rea and Rusk give us hilarious and sobering proof that swindling isn’t just a contemporary concern but has been around for centuries. We are treated to stories of porters cheating officials who cheat porters, of conniving Taoists and gullible officials, of lusty widows who provoke their husbands’ death, and of debauched gentry who prey on poor locals. Yet many of these tales sound eerily familiar to today’s world, and especially today’s China. We are confronted with a widespread, ambient feeling of social mistrust in which people across the land feel that they are constantly being cheated. Besides giving insight into deep societal concerns, The Book of Swindles is a great read.” — Ian Johnson, author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao

This week, our featured book is The Book of Swindles, by Zhang Yingyu, translated by Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

A Media Roundup for Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

“In my experience with the alt-right, I encountered a surprisingly common narrative: Alt-right supporters did not, for the most part, come from overtly racist families. Alt-right media platforms have actually been pushing this meme aggressively in recent months. Far from defending the ideas and institutions they inherited, the alt-right—which is overwhelmingly a movement of white millennials—forcefully condemns their parents’ generation. They do so because they do not believe their parents are racist enough.” — George Hawley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. For the final post of the feature, we have pulled short excerpts from some of the many articles and interviews in which Hawley has appeared over the past few weeks, as newspapers, radio stations, and media outlets around the world have tried to make sense of the Alt-Right following the events in Charlottesville over the summer.

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

From an article by George Hawley himself in The American Conservative:

In my experience with the alt-right, I encountered a surprisingly common narrative: Alt-right supporters did not, for the most part, come from overtly racist families. Alt-right media platforms have actually been pushing this meme aggressively in recent months. Far from defending the ideas and institutions they inherited, the alt-right—which is overwhelmingly a movement of white millennials—forcefully condemns their parents’ generation. They do so because they do not believe their parents are racist enough.

In an inverse of the left-wing protest movements of the 1960s, the youthful alt-right bitterly lambast the “boomers” for their lack of explicit ethnocentrism, their rejection of patriarchy, and their failure to maintain America’s old demographic characteristics and racial hierarchy. In the alt-right’s vision, even older conservatives are useless “cucks” who focus on tax policies and forcefully deny that they are driven by racial animus.

From “Far-Right Groups Surge Into National View in Charlottesville,” in The New York Times:

George Hawley, a University of Alabama political science professor who studies white supremacists, said that many of the far-right members he had interviewed did not inherit their racism from their parents, but developed it online. Many of them had never heard of, say, David Duke, the former Louisiana politician and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Dr. Hawley said he believed the far-left activists, known as antifa, were welcomed by the white nationalists. “I think to an extent the alt-right loves the antifa because they see them as being the perfect foil,” he said.

NPR’s Audie Cornish talks with Hawley on All Things Considered:

CORNISH: You’ve interviewed many people who consider themselves part of the alt-right. Can you give us a profile? Who does this ideology appeal to?

HAWLEY: I would say it is definitely a young movement. I’d say that it is predominantly white millennial men. It is not sort of stereotypically conservative in its profile. I’d say that probably it is a more secular population than the country overall. That is, there are a lot of agnostics and atheists or people who are just generally indifferent to religion. And I think that it is a fairly well-educated movement on average, that as I think that probably the model alt-right member has at least some college education.

From “What’s the ‘alt-left’? Experts say it’s a ‘made-up term,’” via CNN Politics:

George Hawley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, said the “alt-left” term has been most aggressively pushed by Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, but it’s not a label anyone or group has adopted for themselves.

“There is no such movement as the alt-left. Obviously, there are left-wing extremists but there is no congruence between the far-left and the alt-right.”

(more…)

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

The “Alt-Lite”

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

“A new term that appeared in mid-2016 is quite helpful: ‘Alt-Lite.’ I am aware of no one who uses the term as a self-description, and is it used as a derogatory term by the Alt-Right. Despite its origin, Alt-Lite is an appropriate description of people whose views on immigration and race relations partially overlap with those on the Alt-Right yet do not cross the line into open white nationalism.” — George Hawley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. In today’s post, Hawley takes a look at the “fellow travelers” of the Alt-Right movement, dubbed the “Alt-Lite,” and explains why making this distinction is crucial in coming to an accurate view of the Alt-Right.

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

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

The Long History of White Nationalism in America

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

“The issue of tone is important. Rage and hate were the primary emotions associated with the older white-nationalist movement. Even when it dabbled in popular culture, such as with the record label Resistance Records (which released punk and heavy-metal albums with white-nationalist lyrics), it was a movement transparently driven by resentment…. The Alt-Right offers something more attractive to potential supporters: edginess and fun.” — George Hawley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. To start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt, originally featured at LitHub, in which Hawley discusses the legacy of white nationalism in the United States, and the difficulty in tracing the lineage of the Alt-Right. You can read the article in full at LitHub.

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

The Long History of White Nationalism in America
By George Hawley

Detailing the history of white nationalism in America is trickier than it first appears. This is because, despite the egalitarian rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, the United States operated as a de facto white-supremacist nation for most of its history. This has been a subject of controversy for decades. No one disputes that slavery poses a problem for the narrative that America is, and always was, a beacon for freedom and equality. But debates continue as to what the most important Founding Fathers “really” thought about race and the future of equality.

(more…)

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Introducing Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

“Despite its innocuous name, the Alt-Right is also, at its core, a racist movement. I am generally hesitant (perhaps too hesitant) to label an individual, group, or political movement as racist. But in the case of the Alt-Right, there is no other appropriate word. I furthermore doubt that anyone seriously involved with the Alt-Right will challenge that characterization.” — George Hawley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. To start the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Hawley’s introduction.

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

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Making Sense of the Alt-Right understands alt-right thinking from the inside. George Hawley’s erudition on the subject is evident. The work is supple in tracing out the lineage and development of the movement against the conservative establishment and in explaining its present incarnation in the form of the alt-right.” — Lawrence Rosenthal, University of California, Berkeley

This week, our featured book is Making Sense of the Alt-Right, by George Hawley. 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.

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Encoding the Consumer: The Computerization of Credit Reporting and Credit Scoring

Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism

“‘A prospective borrower is still asked the familiar questions about his age, marital status, whether he owns or rents a home, how long he has been on the present job,’ the New York Times reported. But there was a key difference in this new regime of credit evaluation. ‘By applying a scientifically determined series of weights to each factor and adding up a total score, the credit manager in thirty seconds is able to reject those applications almost certain to result in charge-offs.’ This new system was statistical credit scoring.” — Josh Lauer

This week, we are featuring two books from our exciting new Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism series: Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, by Josh Lauer, and From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, by Joshua Clark Davis. For this final post of the feature, we have an excerpt from Creditworthy, in which Lauer tells the story of the rise of the rise of the automation of credit evaluation in the 1960s.

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

Friday, September 1st, 2017

The Forgotten World of Communist Bookstores

Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism

“As avowed anticapitalists, communists made for unlikely business owners. But as entrepreneurs, their objective was to promote ideology and cover costs, not maximize profits…. Their politics were also paradoxical. Unwavering supporters of Stalin abroad, American communists were relentless champions of democracy and civil liberties at home. And their bookstores helped them circulate a domestic agenda of racial and social equality.” — Joshua Clark Davis

This week, we are featuring two books from our exciting new Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism series: Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, by Josh Lauer, and From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, by Joshua Clark Davis. In today’s post, we are delighted to share an excerpt from Joshua Clark Davis’s article on communist bookstores in Jacobin Magazine. You can read the article in full at the Jacobin website.

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

The Forgotten World of Communist Bookstores
By Joshua Clark Davis

Their names proclaimed a new age: The Modern. The Progressive. The New Era. The New World. Others looked to the past, evoking American political heroes like Thomas Paine and Abraham Lincoln.

They were targets of FBI investigations and congressional hearings on “un-American activities.” J. Edgar Hoover condemned them for selling publications that “indoctrinate . . . members and sympathizers” of the Communist Party and “propagandize the non-communist masses.”

While largely forgotten today, communist bookstores were one of the most important public spaces for Marxism in the United States in the twentieth century. Most Americans didn’t personally know a communist. But in cities across the country, radicals made their presence known at unassuming bookstores. Teeming with texts by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, these stores also stocked the Daily Worker and the latest publications by party officials from the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries around the world.

Communist bookstores provided a critical public space for radicals, operating in virtually every major American city. Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York had several apiece. Smaller and ostensibly less radical locales such as Birmingham, Houston, and Omaha, had communist bookstores, too.

Decades before alt-right trolls viciously attacked left-wing writers online, right-wing extremists targeted communist booksellers, accusing them of the most insidious crimes imaginable. “Visit any Communist bookstore in the United States and you will find books printed in Moscow and Peking in English for one, two, and three-year-old babies,” warned Fred Schwarz, author of the 1956 redbaiting bestseller You Can Trust the Communists (To Be Communists). “The Communists want the children. They do not care so much about the adults whom they consider as already contaminated with the disease of Capitalism and consequently of little use to them.”

It’s not entirely clear when communists first sold books in the US. But almost as soon as they split off from the Socialist Party of America to form their own parties in 1919, communists opened their own bookstores, too.

Communist booksellers immediately became targets of state repression as they faced an intense postwar backlash against so-called subversion. In 1919, the New York legislature established a committee to investigate “seditious activities” in the state. As part of the investigation, a group of fifty state police officers and right-wing volunteers led by Deputy Attorney General Samuel Berger raided the People’s House bookshop of the Rand School of Social Science, then New York’s premier radical educational center. The investigators seized communist books and papers, but prosecutors eventually failed to convict the bookstore’s employees of sedition.

As avowed anticapitalists, communists made for unlikely business owners. But as entrepreneurs, their objective was to promote ideology and cover costs, not maximize profits. Red bookstores spread rapidly as the ranks of the consolidated Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) swelled during the Depression. By the end of the 1930s, roughly fifty communist bookstores were open for business. Their politics were also paradoxical. Unwavering supporters of Stalin abroad, American communists were relentless champions of democracy and civil liberties at home. And their bookstores helped them circulate a domestic agenda of racial and social equality.

Communists in the US were sophisticated marketers. International Publishers (IP), the official CPUSA publishing house operated by Alexander Trachtenberg, oversaw an extensive network for distributing communist publications in the US. Trachtenberg, a Ukrainian Jew who had fled Russian pogroms for the United States in 1906, managed IP since it was founded by the party and wealthy socialist A. A. Heller in 1924. The CP paid in advance for texts written by party leaders, typically placing bulk orders in the range of five thousand copies prior to publication but sometimes distributing as many as one hundred thousand. Every party branch across the country had an official “literature agent” that worked with the bookstores and IP to make sure that official texts ended up in the hands of party members (who received a discount of up to 60 percent on publications).

A 1941 advertisement in the Daily Worker suggests the CP’s sales priorities that year. The ad for the Workers Book Shop in New York announced “150,000 volumes to be sold” in “the greatest sale in our history.” In addition to classics like the collected works of Lenin and Marx and Engels’s writings on the American Civil War, the store offered less remembered (and more intimidating) titles like J. B. S. Haldane’s Marxist Philosophy and the Sciences, David Guest’s A Textbook of Dialectical Materialism, and Eugen Varga and Lev Mendelsohn’s New Data for Lenin’s Imperialism for as little as 49 cents apiece.

Despite these challenges, surviving communist bookstores enjoyed a small renaissance in the late 1960s and 1970s. The New Communist Movement — an ultra-left offshoot of the New Left — launched an array of Marxist-Leninist organizations and sought to radicalize existing unions in these years. But in the 1980s and ’90s, two unforeseen transformations overwhelmed this modest uptick in activity.

First, and most dramatically, nearly twenty Communist governments fell in a three-year-stretch. The Soviets had directed American Communists and overseen their bookstores for decades, so the Berlin Wall’s collapse and the implosion of state socialism — despite being a boon for free expression in the Eastern Bloc — had a deleterious effect on communist bookstores in the US.

Second, there was the rise of bookstore chains. As stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders aggressively expanded in the mid-to-late 1990s, they began to sell many of the books that had once been the specialty of more radical independents — not only Marxist booksellers, but also black leftist and feminist bookstores. And as online booksellers like Amazon became household names by the end of the decade, Americans could purchase virtually any book with an ISBN number with a just few clicks of a mouse. Today, many bestselling communist texts are available for free online on sites like Marxists.org.

Some radical brick-and-mortar bookstores still operate today. Few identify strictly as communist, and even fewer are associated with the CPUSA, a party that has struggled in recent decades to reach even ten thousand members. Newer independent radical bookstores such as Red Emma’s in Baltimore and Bluestockings in New York’s East Village draw customers with cafes and frequent speaker events.

Venture into one of these shops and you’ll glimpse the legacy of a bygone era, one in which communist bookstores — despite facing considerable financial and political hardships — helped their customers envision radical worlds that were often otherwise unimaginable in America.

Read the article in full at the Jacobin Magazine website.

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Introducing Creditworthy

Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism

“How did Americans become faceless names and numbers in an enigmatic network of credit records, scoring systems, and information brokers? How did financial identity become such an important marker of our personal trustworthiness and worth?” — Josh Lauer

This week, we are featuring two books from our exciting new Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism series: Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, by Josh Lauer, and From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, by Joshua Clark Davis. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the introduction to Creditworthy.

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

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Introducing From Head Shops to Whole Foods

Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism

“The title of this book serves two purposes. By using the phrase ‘from head shops to whole foods,’ I am referencing the wide range of businesses this book examines. But, more importantly, I am highlighting a marked transition away from the collective goals of political progress that some, although not most, activist enterprises made between the late 1970s and the end of the twentieth century.” — Joshua Clark Davis

This week, we are featuring two books from our exciting new Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism series: Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, by Josh Lauer, and From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, by Joshua Clark Davis. Today, we are kicking the feature off with an excerpt from the introduction to From Head Shops to Whole Foods.

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

Monday, August 28th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Creditworthy and From Head Shops to Whole Foods

Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism

“Lucid and packed with fascinating detail, Creditworthy is an essential guide to the intersection of finance and surveillance.” — Frank Pasquale

“[From Head Shops to Whole Foods] is critical for understanding contemporary companies that celebrate ethical practices and social change.” — Ibram X. Kendi

This week, we are featuring two books from our exciting new Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism series: Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, by Josh Lauer, and From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs, by Joshua Clark Davis. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about both books and their authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Capturing the tone in the translation of City Folk and Country Folk

Enter the City Folk and Country Folk Book Giveaway here

City Folk and Country Folk

Welcome to the Columbia University Press blog! This week we are featuring Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s City Folk and Country Folk, which has recently come out in the Russian Library series. Today Elaine Wilson, a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Columbia University, explores some of the decisions Nora Seligman Favorov made in translating the book.

As a fledgling translator, examining the work of other, more experienced translators is consistently an informative and reflective exercise for me. Translating a work of literature is more complex than simple transmission of meaning across language, for a story is more than the sum of its parts. Often there are cultural and political stakes in the game, factors not easily separated and compartmentalized thanks to the curious way in which words and their arrangement bear the weight of multiple and varied ideas. Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s novel, City Folk and Country Folk, is one such work that contains multitudes: It is a feminist novel, a satirical piece, a reflection on social change in nineteenth-century Russia, and, an entertaining read to boot. Nora Seligman Favorov is the first translator to deliver this literary gem to the English-speaking world, and she has done so with a keen ear for her Anglophone audience.

The beginning of a book sets the tone for the rest of the story. Any translator will tell you that the initial pages are crucial, that these early paragraphs introduce and establish both a sense of the author’s style from the original text and the translator’s stylistic sensibilities within the translation language. In City Folk and Country Folk, one of the first things a reader will notice is the narrative voice. At turns loving and sardonic, the third person omniscient narrator of Khvoshchinskaya’s novel tells the story using language that hints at familiarity. In the original Russian, the tone even feels conversational at times—Khvoshchinskaya practically concludes her opening paragraph with the colloquial “И что же?”, a Russian expression whose meaning, depending on context and intonation, can range from “so what?” to “big whoop” and “can you imagine?” This narrative style guides the audience with omniscient authority, but the tone conveys a figurative wink and a nod, the suggestion that the reader, like the narrator, gets it. Khvoshchinskaya employs the first person plural possessive “наш” (our)—a staple more of Russian speech than prose—to qualify the countryside, the climate, the food, and it ultimately invites the reader to consider these things from an internal perspective. The economic troubles of the day, the laughable habits and opinions of certain characters—these are presented to the reader as they might be to a friend or, perhaps fellow conspirator, and this implicit understanding between reader and narrator is what gives the novel so much of its charm.

Favorov’s English rendering of the opening pages of City Folk and Country Folk demonstrates her sensitivity both to Khvoshchinskaya’s Russian style and conventions of English writing. She maintains the inclusive “our” to bring the English reader into a sense of communion with the narrator, but she adjusts the colloquial quality in search of a more traditional English literary style. Nastasya Ivanovna, a landowner, country resident, and the leading heroine to whom we are first introduced, prefers traditional Russian ceramics and mushrooms to their more fashionable, Western European counterparts. By the social standards of her day, such tastes are “unrefined,” but Nastasya Ivanovna is only somewhat conflicted about this.

“Грубых вкусов своих она не выражала при всех, но зато с людьми, которые были ей по душе, смиренная и откровенная, она каялась в этих грехах своих. Она сознавалась сама, без чужих понуждений; не ясно ли отсюда, что она была способна совершенствоваться?”

[“She did not admit her unsophisticated tastes to just anyone, but, humble and frank, in the presence of people with whom she felt at ease, she repented these sins. Nobody forced her—she confessed them freely. Surely this suggests she was capable of self-improvement,” (Khvoshchinskaya, 4).]

The final line of this excerpt, the matter of improving oneself, is posed as a question in the Russian original: “не ясно ли отсюда, что она была способна совершенствоваться?” In the form of a question, the issue is framed in doubt, but it is unclear on whose part. If Nastasya Ivanovna’s, the question implies self-examination, a bit of desperation in the face of her failings before society; if the narrator’s, it reads more as an inference into Nastasya Ivanovna’s constitution. Favorov’s English translation does away with the question entirely, rendering Nastasya Ivanovna’s self-awareness as a rather definitive aspect of her character: “Nobody forced her—she confessed them freely. Surely this suggests she was capable of self-improvement.”

The switch from interrogative to declarative is a conscious move on the translator’s part, one whose intent I understand to be a departure from the more personal, dialectic quality of nineteenth-century Russian literature. (If you’re hungry for examples, see War and Peace.) With the declarative, Favorov’s prose shifts towards the English literary style. And while the frequent comparison may be tired, it is valid—City Folk and Country Folk is reminiscent of the works of Jane Austen, and Favorov’s choice in this instance seems to embrace the comparison. Treatment of Nastasya Ivanovna’s dilemma with a statement through free indirect discourse lends the translation the kind of third person narrative authority with which Austen presents the opinions of her British characters. As a result, some of the underlying anxiety Nastasya Ivanovna feels with respect to her own potential for “refinement” in the Russian text falls away, but what the translation gains is greater Englishness.

Favorov’s careful attempts to honor Russian and English stylistic norms operates at the word level, too. In the very first paragraph, the reader learns that Nastasya Ivanovna qualifies everything that happened that fateful summer using the word “напасть.” This word can be translated in English in various ways; its meanings including “tribulation,” “bad luck,” and “disaster.” But “напасть” also contains implications of action and transitivity. It suggests assault or attack. Favorov renders this word as “calamity,” a choice that initially seemed odd. For me, “calamity” carries connotations of natural disasters, but it also calls to mind ironic, almost cartoonish imagery (i.e., “Calamity Jane” or dialogue in Looney Tunes set in the Wild West). The latter implication stems from the rarity of this word in modern spoken English. It feels hyperbolic, old-fashioned. But given these considerations, “calamity” is in fact a rather apt translation. It works to convey an old-timey feel and the meaning of an onslaught of misfortunes. Nastasya Ivanovna considers the events of the story to have happened to her, events that were out of her control. Khvoshchinskaya’s Russian text implies this with the word “напасть” and a character named Nastasya, as they appear together in the old Russian saying “Пошла Настя по напастям,” a version of “when it rains it pours.” For Nastasya Ivanovna, there was no calculated attack on her peaceful country life, but rather these events were fated. Favorov’s English underscores Nastasya Ivanovna’s exaggerated perception of the events as a string of disasters imposed upon her: “It is… a shame that fate did not earlier, before the events of last summer, send Nastasya Ivanovna someone who could have prepared her for these events, who could have warned her, for instance, that proclaiming a fight for one’s convictions to be a disaster and a punishment from God is far more shameful than blurting out a preference for local mushrooms over truffles” (Khvoshchinskaya, 4).* These words are, of course, dripping with irony, throwing the intended meaning of “напасть” against a backdrop of absurdity, and this shows the choice of “calamity” in a favorable light: its semantic shades bridge the gap between expressions of misfortune and the nonsense of the circumstances.

Favorov’s translation is full of potential for this kind of analysis, but the opening moments of City Folk and Country Folk demonstrate Khvoshchinskaya’s style. Her comic and astute observations illustrate and poke fun at her nineteenth-century reality, and so landing the narrative voice in the English is key. Our introduction to Nastasya Ivanovna, with her simple tastes and her bouts of anxiety, sets the stage for the story to follow, but it is also a proving ground for style. These early pages show Favorov’s thoughtful work; her translation captures Khvoshchinskaya’s wit and wisdom. And though reflective of traditional English literary conventions, in her translation the novel’s charm—its Russianness—shines.

*After writing this piece, I learned that Favorov finally decided upon “calamity” after consulting English translations of the Bible. A brilliant insight into her problem-solving process, this fact also bolsters what Nastasya Ivanovna wishes to convey, that she was subject to greater forces.

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

Thursday Fiction Corner: City Folk and Country Folk as a Feminist Novel

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City Folk and Country Folk

Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Elaine Wilson, a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Columbia University, introduces Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s City Folk and Country Folk as a 19th century feminist novel.

Nora Seligman Favorov’s translation of City Folk and Country Folk is the first of its kind—never before has this story been accessible to a strictly Anglophone audience. And yet it feels familiar to the English-speaking reader, for its headstrong heroines speak their minds and engage their male interlocutors with Jane Austen-esque confidence and wit. It would be unfair to qualify the heroines of this story as simply Russian interpretations of an English literary model, however, as the words—and actions—of the Russian characters have grand implications beyond the events of the story. City Folk and Country Folk is a feminist work. The women central to Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s novel do not fit the docile, domestic gender stereotype of their century. The youngest heroine, Olenka, makes no secret of her disdain for society’s expectations. The ease with which she rejects men of ostensibly superior social station and her desire to live a life in accord with what she—not social mores—finds to be appropriate, make Olenka a rather unnatural 19th century literary heroine, but a very relevant one in our modern world.

While limiting, the Austen connection is not a casual observation; Olenka’s stubborn, sometimes insolent nature and easy laughter in the face of urban socialite and occasional, albeit hopeless, suitor, the “enlightened” Erast Sergeyevich Ovcharov, recall aspects of Austen’s willful Marianne Dashwood. But unlike Marianne, Olenka never finds herself wounded by a man she loves. In fact, Olenka never even falls in love. Khvoshchinskaya’s female leads are more empowered than their fictional British counterparts most notably because they neither act nor reflect on their actions with regard for male opinion.

In Snetki, a village situated in a rural province outside of Moscow, the arrival of an eligible bachelor (the aforementioned Ovcharov) means different things to the female inhabitants of the small town—humorous curiosity, opportunity for hospitality, and even a means to assume a position of self-righteous indignation—but at no point does Ovcharov’s arrive incite any romantic story arc. What would have held romantic possibilities (or at the very least, possibilities for marriage) in Austen’s writing exists as a more of a nuisance for Sofia Khvoshchinskaya’s heroines. Much of the comedy of City Folk and Country Folk comes from Ovcharov’s multiple frustrated attempts to ingratiate himself with the female residents of Snetki. He is more pest than protagonist; from his insistence upon a strict diet of thin soup and whey to his desperate epistolary cries for attention, Ovcharov is weak and needy to the point of absurdity. Khvoshchinskaya’s prose flaunts this absurdity as a direct response to the literary models of femininity written by her male contemporaries: women as fragile and emotional creatures, frequently victimized by men. City Folk and Country Folk turns this stereotype on its head. One of the most telling scenes of Khvoshchinskaya’s refutation of the delicate 19th century Russian woman takes place in chapter eight. Ovcaharov repeatedly insists that he carry Olenka across a dried up stream bed measuring only a few inches across. An exasperated Olenka, with “coarse candor,” rebuffs these pathetic suggestions of chivalry: “What on earth are you doing? I’m stronger than you are. If you like, it might be better for me to carry you.” (98).

Khvoshchinskaya doesn’t just undercut traditional gender roles through Ovcharov’s inferior strength, she also shows him to be fashion-conscious, emotional, and impetuous. When Olenka laughs at his “magnificent” panama hat, Ovcharov’s inner monologue is instantly petty: “The little fool—she failed to appreciate how stylish it was.” (155). Self-conscious to a fault, “despite all of his European courtesy,” when Olenka laughingly dismisses his flirtation, Ovcharov is “unable to control himself.” (98).

When Katerina Petrovna, a Moscow socialite and former acquaintance arrives in Snetki, Ovcharov agonizes when she does not contact him immediately. His emotional distress manifests as a childish cry for attention:

“Erast Sergeyevich Ovcharov most humbly requests the most venerable and kind Katerina Petrovna to explain to him why she so ungraciously saw fit to fail to remember him this morning when he had the pleasure of seeing her carriage in the village of Snetki at the home of Madame Chulkova.” (110).

Katerina Petrovna’s reply is slightly (and understandably) defensive, but overall the inverse of Ovcharov’s irrational correspondence:

“If I was so ungracious as to fail to remember you, as you put it, Mr. Ovcharov, it was only because you seem to have arranged things so that your friends would not remember you. Please pay me a visit, and then you will be convinced of the unfailing and devoted friendship of yours truly, KPD.” (153).

As an aristocrat of considerable reputation, Katerina Petrovna’s acknowledgment signifies a great deal to Ovcharov, as it would grant him the thing he values most: validation of his own bloated sense of self-worth. He seeks validation of his philosophical and political opinions, both from potential publishers of his writings, and in his attempts to enlighten Olenka and her mother through written and verbal lectures on gender roles and the means of women’s education. The reader never learns how the publisher reacts to Ovcharov’s treatises, but Olenka and her mother are generally indifferent to both the lessons and the man.

And that is one of the most remarkable aspects of this novel—indifference to men. Ovcharov is the story’s lead male protagonist; the other principle masculine characters, at least, those who physically appear within the story, are limited to four: Father Profirii, a timid, non-confrontational priest; dull and portly Simon, the potential match for Olenka; George, Katerina Petrovna’s young son; and Fyodor Fyodorovich, Ovcharov’s surly German servant. These men play their supporting roles in near silence, exerting little to no influence on the protagonists. Their existence and activity are important relative only to the principle female characters. Ovcharov’s role is the most self-determined, though the only thing of consequence he manages to fully achieve is to get in the way.

Conversely, the women in this book—even the villains—exercise control over their own affairs independent of any male influence: Olenka rejects Katerina Petrovna’s manipulative plan to marry her off and maintains her right to choice; her mother, the widowed Nastasya Ivanovna, is a careful landowner and effective manager of the family estate who tries to keep the peace and finances in order; Anna Ilinishna, an opportunistic spinster, masks her social ambitions with false piety and secures herself a series of benefactresses; Katerina Petrovna, separated from her gambling addict husband and refusing to “live for the children alone,” maintains a reputation she built for herself by orchestrating financially and socially advantageous marriages.

City Folk and Country Folk is a feminist novel confronting the oppressive sexism of the 19th century, but it is also a work that resonates very strongly in the 21st century. Austen’s heroines shine with their witty repartee, but for all their self-assuredness, even the Dashwood girls and Lizzie Bennett are moved by the words and waning attentions of the men in their orbit. Khvoshchinskaya’s Snetki heroines never need to prove themselves to any man, nor do they feel the desire to do so, as the stakes are never romantic. These women are confident, carving paths for themselves with no aid or validation from husbands or suitors. Olenka’s character might have developed through a romantic story arc, but the sexual tension is purely one-sided, suffered by Ovcharov alone. Sex and romance aren’t unrealized potential—Khvoshchinskaya doesn’t allow it a meaningful place in her character’s lives—but rather shapes them into strong-willed intellectual creatures. And while Ovcharov feels acutely Olenka’s absence from the carriage, she does not “[give] him a moment’s thought.” (209).