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Archive for the 'History' Category

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…)

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

The Evolution of Money: Origins

The Evolution of Money

“Money has been one of mankind’s most successful inventions (it is no coincidence that to “coin” means to “invent”). Indeed, it is one of the things that best expresses our humanity.” — David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from “Origins,” the first chapter of The Evolution of Money.

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý

The Evolution of Money

“Even though money is something we all use every day, talking about it, defining it, and explaining are extremely arcane things to do. The tone is important, and The Evolution of Money goes about its task in a readable, breezy style that does not become glib.” — Paul Vigna, coauthor of The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Evolution of Money. 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 1st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Debunking the Myth That Lincoln Was Gay

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“I’d been working on Lincoln since 1973. But he’s such a profound man with such a wonderful sense of humor, so appealing, so he draws you in. He’s such a brilliant writer. Every story about Lincoln, whether it’s in the oral history, whether it’s something he wrote, it’s always interesting. He’s just an appealing human being. I don’t think he was so modest. On the other hand, he wasn’t wildly grandiose. There’s a difference. He was aware of his own greatness.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt of Strozier’s interview with Ronald K. Fried at The Daily Beast. Read the interview and accompanying article in full on The Daily Beast‘s website.

[Ronald K. Fried] spoke with Strozier at his Greenwich Village psychoanalytical office. The following is an edited version of [their] conversation.

RKF: How common was it for men to share the same bed during Lincoln’s time?

Charles Strozier: Very common. One guy has counted 14 people—men— Lincoln slept with before he slept with Speed. Inns at the time were really just homes where they finished the loft. They weren’t hotels like we have now. They were just hostels, where you have the men over here and the women over there. But individual biography is not always congruent with social custom. The fact that it was common for men to sleep together doesn’t mean that it was of no significance that Lincoln at this crucial moment in his life slept for nearly four years with his absolute best friend. The question is, what does it mean?

Friendship between men in Lincoln’s time was very different, right?

I think the historical context is really important to understand. Now where homosexuality is so much more accepted, legitimated, and even affirmed as it should be in gay marriage, we accept males loving one another and being sexual with one another. But in the 19th century, the taboo of homosexuality is absolutely rigid. Whitman was gay. He had to stay in the closet. Sodomy, buggery, was illegal and severely prescribed. But friendship, intimate, loving friendship like that between Lincoln and Speed, was not only accepted but encouraged as the long as the boundary against sexualization was rigidly and absolutely maintained.

But couldn’t you say that homosexuality was so severely punished that Lincoln—if he were gay—would have had to hide it?

Of course. It’s a perfect reasonable question, and that’s why I had to look at the evidence for whether or not it was legitimate. And, of course, it’s hard to answer a negative. First of all, Herndon [Lincoln’s eventual biographer], who lived in the same room for two years [with Lincoln and Speed], not only never mentioned it, he never had a clue. And no one would have been more interested in anything homosexual about Lincoln. Not a single person Herndon talked to mentioned it. (more…)

Friday, May 20th, 2016

“National Income” in the Encyclopaedia Of the Social Sciences

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“According to Kuznets, the purpose of the economic system was to provide the citizens of a country with goods and services. What was decisive in the recording of national income was the moment at which individuals in the economic cycle achieved their income. Kuznets had a clear and realistic concept: national income had to be thought of in terms of the incomes individuals get, and not as the total value of production.” — Philipp Lepenies

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to present a short excerpt from The Power of a Single Number, in which Lepenies tells the story of how Simon Kuznets got his conception of national income into the 1933 edition of the Encyclopaedia Of The Social Sciences.

“National Income” in the Encyclopaedia Of the Social Sciences (1933)
Philipp Lepenies

It was thanks to his brother that Kuznets—not well known among researchers for his work on national income—was entrusted with the entry for the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. Salomon Kuznets was one of the editor’s closest members of staff, and awarded the contract to Simon, who seized the opportunity to present his view of the topic. His entry presented what was, until then, the most comprehensive methodological and theoretical statement on national income. As opposed to most of the other publications on national income, his was not aimed at an expert audience. It was written in a generally comprehensible way, and made do with few technical details. With this, Kuznets was able to get his views across to a wide audience.

For Kuznets, it was not only income (which could be calculated as consumption, its distribution, and the value of production) that made up the figure national income. He added a fourth category, “income enjoyed,” or the sum total of all subjective feelings, which each individual has in his dual function as producer and consumer. In so doing, Kuznets extended the range of interpretation of national income with a subjective component: the satisfaction resulting from one’s own economic activity. Such feelings, however, were not measurable, so in order to quantify national income, one had to concentrate on the cruder benchmarks of income received and consumed. (more…)

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

The Principle of Effective Demand

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“Consumption and savings depend first and foremost on the level of national income, but what decides the latter? This is the crucial question. Keynes answered: it is the level of investment demand. Investors, not consumers (alias savers), are the active element in the economic system.” — Heinz Kurz

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from Economic Thought, in which Heinz Kurz breaks down John Maynard Keynes’s “principle of effective demand.”

The Principle of Effective Demand
Heinz Kurz

Let us now have a closer look at Keynes’s view that the economic system is typically not fully utilizing its productive resources—it is not “supply-constrained,” as neoclassical economists contend, but “demand-constrained” (except during booms). More specifically, Keynes’s “principle of effective demand” means that there is no reason to assume that aggregate investment demand will always be large enough to employ all of an economy’s productive resources. To see this we must turn to how he determined the two components of private domestic aggregate effective demand—consumption and investment expenditures.

Before doing so, it should be noted that Keynes conceived savings (correctly) as the nondemand of goods and services. The saver keeps a part of his or her money income and does not spend it, that is, does not buy goods. Savings in themselves involve “leakages” in the stream of expenditures and pose the problem of sufficient effective demand. The praise Adam Smith had showered upon the “frugal man” was justified only to the extent to which the saver was at the same time an investor, who spent the saved sums not on consumption goods (food, beverages, clothing, etc.) but instead on investment goods (plant and equipment, raw materials, etc.). In this perspective investments involve “injections” into the stream of expenditures and may compensate for the leakages stemming from savings. (more…)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

What It’s All About: A Short Primer on GDP

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“The success of gross national product and GDP is based on the fact that, with them, politicians were from the outset able to pursue a whole array of goals beyond just documenting economic processes.’” — Philipp Lepenies

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we have excerpted “What It’s All About: A Short Primer on GDP,” in which Lepenies quickly summarizes what exactly GDP (and GNP) are, and previews the ways that this “statistical construct became a matter of politics.”

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Introducing “Economic Thought”

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“Does this mean that economics preserves everything that is correct and valuable and disposes of everything that is wrong and misleading? Is the market for economic ideas a perfectly functioning selection mechanism? Unfortunately, the answer is no.’” — Heinz Kurz

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we are happy to present Heinz Kurz’s introduction to Economic Thought, in which he lays out his project (“A history of economic thought in some 200 pages? Impossible!”), and explains why understanding how our views of economics have changed over time is crucial in informing our current views of the economy and how it works.

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Economic Thought” and “The Power of a Single Number”

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

On Economic Thought: “An enjoyable and well-organized history of economic thought, which will attract many readers to this highly readable treatise on the ‘dismal science.’” — Amartya Sen, Harvard University

On The Power of a Single Number: “The Power of a Single Number is beautifully written and easily accessible to anyone who wants to know more about what lies behind the world’s most powerful number.” — Robert H. Wade

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. 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.

We are also offering a FREE copy of both Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number. 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, May 20th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

The Catastrophes of Today and the Catastrophe of 1948 in Syria

Palestinians in Syria

Today, May 15, is the 68th anniversary of the Nakba. In recognition of the anniversary, Anaheed Al-Hardan, author of Palestinians in Syria: Nakba Memories of Shattered Communities, has written a blog post linking the events of 1948 and today in Syria.

The Catastrophes of Today and the Catastrophe of 1948 in Syria
By Anaheed Al-Hardan

Yarmouk Camp in Damascus is today unrecognizable even to those who knew the camp’s every alleyway and corner. The rubble, the ruins of bombed buildings, tired and hungry people, and haunted alleyways and streets are the painful remains of a shattered community. Yarmouk is not the only Palestinian locality in Syria, of course, but it was in many ways the Palestinians’ social, cultural, political, and even symbolic heart. It has therefore become emblematic of the catastrophe of the Palestinians in Syria whose communities may neither survive nor heal.

Whatever remained of the camp after the exodus of its people in December 2012 continues to be leveled in the wake of the April 2015 appearance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as yet another armed group in and within its vicinity. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is today only able to distribute aid to the camp’s environs. A relief worker with access to the environs of the camp privately noted that of the estimated 18,000 who remained in Yarmouk following the December 2012 exodus, only 2,000–4,000 now remain. The Qadsayya suburb of Damascus, where many Yarmouk families have been displaced to, has a market that reminds one of the previous bustling markets of Yarmouk’s Lubya Street, I was told by a former resident of Yarmouk in Beirut. Lubya Street, named after a village in the Tiberias subdistrict of historic Palestine, is today a devastated and sniped shadow of its former self, destroyed sixty-four years after the destruction of its namesake.

Qadsayya is no longer a safe haven from the war, like most areas meant to be safe havens in the Damascus and the Rural Damascus Governorates. Nothing new, a friend in Qadsayya told me. The “problems” have also arrived here, and the area is under lockdown. People cannot leave, as rents have skyrocketed and landowners are asking for a year’s rent in advance. A year later, she tells me that they no longer know how things are and do not keep up with word-of-mouth news; they simply try to get on with their lives. I would eventually ask her about the new Lubya Street in Qadsayya, and she sends photos of it that are worlds away from the Lubya Street of Yarmouk. She tells me that it is in fact a sight that makes her cry: zinc shacks erected by the people of Yarmouk in order to sell rationed vegetables and secondhand clothes.

It is from the inbetween of the imagined and the actual “Lubya Street” of Qadsayya and the Lubya Street of Yarmouk that I frequented daily all those years ago that I must now think through memories and histories of the 1948 Nakba in Syria. These memories also need to be thought from the inbetween of images of what remains of Lubya Street in Yarmouk and memories of Lubya in Palestine. What does it mean to think through Nakba memories of communities shattered in Palestine in 1948 three and a half years into the beginning of their shattering anew in Syria? And what implications does this have for Nakba memories and histories in Syria before and after 2011? The Palestinian refugee communities of the Syria that made their Nakba memories and histories possible no longer exist as they did prior to 2011 and continue to be devastated. While this has clear implications for the meanings of the catastrophe of 1948 in light of the new catastrophe, I can neither write a conclusion to the unfolding tragic events nor a conclusive summary of the new meanings of the Nakba in post-2011 Syria. In what follows, I think through the catastrophe of today and the catastrophe of 1948 by moving between the past and the present. This is the past that made memories of 1948 possible, and this is the present marked by a catastrophe that is being made legible through an insistence by the post-Palestine generations, displaced within Syria and beyond, that it far exceeds the Nakba of 1948.

*** (more…)

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

The Problem with History

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure

“Think of official history as a book. A book comes into view; it seems to suggest that it has no blank spaces, no margins. But it does, it contains blank spaces. In those spaces I cram my own notes, copious notes that are not yet articulated thoughts, and in the end weave a new book solely from the notes in the margins.” — Hideo Furukawa

Our World Literature Week celebration continues today with a focus on Zhu Wen’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale That Begins with Fukushima, translated by Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka.

Hideo Furukawa is in New York this week with Monkey Business for the PEN World Voices Festival (along with other fantastic writers, editors, and translators), and will be participating in a number of events: April 27 (Wed.), New York University, 6:30pm; April 28 (Thur.), Kinokuniya Bookstore, 6pm; April 29 (Fri.), BookCourt, 7pm; and April 30 (Sat.), Asia Society, 2pm (Ticket purchase required)! And now, on to the post:

Five years ago, on March 11, 2011, the town of Fukushima, Japan, was struck by a devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. Over 20,000 people died.

The reconstruction has been swift. ‘The incident is about to be forgotten, or they pretend nothing has happened,’ Japanese writer Hideo Furukawa said about his hometown. For Furukawa, careful examination is the only route to healing. One must investigate one’s nation and its past and present. His new book, Horses, Horses, In the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale that Begins with Fukushima, is a mix of fiction, history, and memoir, as one can see in this short excerpt.

The Problem with History
Hideo Furukawa

Our history, the history of the Japanese, is nothing more than a history of killing people.

I am not sure of the best way to phrase things, given that rather inflammatory start. I will explain things as simply as I can. We live within the echoes of the Warring States period. For example, bushō, the term for military leaders, circulates as a commodity in contemporary society, and, thus, it continues to echo in everyday Japan. By the “Warring States period” I include the Azuchi Momoyama period right up to the beginning of the Edo period (1573–1603). I am not sure if the Azuchi Momoyama period is still taught as a single historical period in schools (elementary, middle, and up through high school). But I am quite sure that everyone learns that there was a period when Oda Nobunaga and then Toyotomi Hideyoshi ruled supreme. For example, we consume these two men as commodities all the time. When I say we “consume” them as commodities, I mean how we see them as “heroic” and think of them positively. Why would that be? (more…)

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

A Post for 4/20: Peter Maguire and Mike Ritter on Pot Smuggling

In recognition of 4/20, we are re-posting Peter Maguire and Mike Ritter’s appearance on HuffPost Live to discuss their book Thai Stick: Surfers, Scammers, and the Untold Story of the Marijuana Trade In the interview, Maguire and Ritter discuss drug smuggling in Thailand in the 1960s and 1970s. Also joining them was Jim Conklin, the DEA agent who busted Mike Ritter for smuggling.

As the three explained, surfers began smuggling marijuana from Thailand but in relatively small quantities, driven by a spirit of adventure as much as a thirst for profit. Initially, neither Thai or U.S. officials paid much attention to the smugglers, who were generally nonviolent and “laid-back”. It was only later in the 1970s when professional criminals became involved and the amounts began to grow that the drug crackdown began.

After discussing this fascinating history, the three consider current drug policy and the dangers of synthetic opiates:

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Brawn in Civilization — A History of Virility

A History of Virility

“For muscle is everywhere. It jumped over the walls of the stadium and the ropes of the ring a long time ago. It reigns absolute on screens large and small…. The claim on muscles has been democra­tized, the practice of bodybuilding now tends to be widespread, and anatomical power is displayed as a continuous, obsessive, universal spectacle.”—Jean-Jacques Courtine

In his chapter “Brawn in Civilization” (see below), in A History of Virility, Jean-Jacques Courtine examines the phenomenon of body building and hyper-masculinity. Beginning with the creation of Muscle Beach in Venice, California, to today’s ubiquitous GNC, Courtine examines the social, political, and economic contexts that shape our understanding of muscle and what it means for our understanding of masculinity:

Monday, March 14th, 2016

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

This week we are featuring A History of Virility, edited by Alain Corbin, Jean-Jacques Courtine, Georges Vigarello; and translated by Keith Cohen.

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 A History of Virility to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Wednesday, March 16th at 1:00 pm.

For more on the book, here is the chapter “Working-Class Virility,” by Thierry Pillon:

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

The American Prism

Why America Misunderstands the World

“A nation’s culture—which itself has been shaped by all of the physical, political, and historical circumstances that have made that nation what it is—powerfully influences its citizens’ perceptions. A culture determines much of what the people who are part of that culture take to be factual knowledge. American culture and everything that has gone into it constitute a prism that slants, distorts, and colors how Americans see what is around them. Sometimes the distortion is so great that they fail to see some things at all.” — Paul Pillar

This week, our featured book is Why America Misunderstand the World: National Experience and Roots of Misperception, by Paul R. Pillar. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the first chapter, “The American Prism,” in which Pillar discusses how “the distorting and coloring prismatic effects of being an American … extend to how [Americans] perceive the world outside their national borders.”

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

The American View of War

Why America Misunderstands the World

Why America Misunderstands the World examines how this process applies to the United States—the sole superpower, with a history and circumstances especially unusual among nations—and to how Americans tend to view and interpret foreign policy problems of today.” — Paul Pillar

This week, our featured book is Why America Misunderstand the World: National Experience and Roots of Misperception, by Paul R. Pillar. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Pillar in which American experiences of World War II have shaped subsequent American foreign policy decisions.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Why America Misunderstands the World!

The American View of War
By Paul R. Pillar

A nation’s history can explain a lot about how citizens of that nation, including its leaders, view today’s problems. With nations just as with individuals, past experience colors the way current happenings are seen and interpreted. The coloring often involves distorting and obscuring. The influence of a nation’s particular history and circumstances causes misperception. The misperception in turn leads to errors and troubles that might otherwise have been avoided. Why America Misunderstands the World examines how this process applies to the United States—the sole superpower, with a history and circumstances especially unusual among nations—and to how Americans tend to view and interpret foreign policy problems of today.

Many distinctive circumstances and experiences have shaped the distinctive American worldview, including ones involving the expansion of the United States across a richly endowed continent and its rise to unparalleled global power. But to illustrate the connection between past experience and current ways of thinking, consider America’s past experience with foreign wars. Wars are especially salient chapters in any nation’s experience and especially likely to have an impact on later ways of thinking. To narrow the illustration down even further, consider the American experience with World War II. That war, the bloodiest and most widespread armed conflict in human history, also was America’s biggest and costliest foreign war. Winning it was the greatest achievement of what came to be called America’s greatest generation. The war became the archetype in American minds for how a war ought to be conceived and fought, creating a mold for thinking about later conflicts. But later conflicts have not always fit that mold. (more…)

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

The Role of Shared National Experience in Foreign Policy

Why America Misunderstands the World

“Americans’ shared national experience heavily influences the way Americans perceive the outside world, which in turn has a major influence on U.S. foreign policy.” — Paul Pillar

This week, our featured book is Why America Misunderstand the World: National Experience and Roots of Misperception, by Paul R. Pillar. To kick off the week’s feature, we have an excerpt from Pillar’s preface, in which he discusses the genesis of and his goals for his book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Why America Misunderstands the World!

I have spent most of a lifetime interpreting the actions and perspectives of foreign nations or managing others whose job it is to perform such interpretation. This experience has included a career with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and later work as an academic and independent scholar writing about foreign policy and international relations. The interpretations have not always been correct, but the effort to make them teaches some lessons that involve knowing oneself better by getting to know others. In this context, “self ” and “others” can apply to nations as well as to individuals. Two lessons in particular are relevant.

One is that to understand a nation’s decisions and behavior requires understanding the perspectives that the people in that nation, including its decision makers, have acquired through their shared national experience. The nation’s triumphs and tragedies and the rest of its history color the images that its people and its leaders have of the rest of the world, and those images in turn guide how that nation behaves toward the rest of the world.

The other lesson is that the portion of the U.S. bureaucracy in which I formerly worked is not the principal guide for major decisions in U.S. foreign policy. The images of the world abroad that have influenced U.S. policy the most have come from other sources.

Putting those two lessons together leads to a third: that Americans’ shared national experience heavily influences the way Americans perceive the outside world, which in turn has a major influence on U.S. foreign policy. In an earlier book, I described how and why the intelligence bureaucracy is not the main place to look for images that have guided major U.S. foreign-policy decisions. The present book addresses one of the places we do need to look for those images. The premise is that the distinctive circumstances and history of the United States yield distinctive, important, and policy-relevant ways that Americans perceive the rest of the world.

This book unavoidably has a downbeat message in that any discussion of how perceptions are shaped by the perceiver’s attributes is in large part a discussion of misperception and error. This fact does not imply, however, an overall negative outlook about the American experience or about many of the traits and attitudes that flow from it. In the course of many years of studying the troubles and flaws of other nations, I have repeatedly been reminded of why I am glad and proud to be an American.

Knowing oneself is a virtue, for nations as well as for individuals. This book has been written to add modestly to collective American virtue by helping Americans become more aware of the twists that they habitually impart to their view of what lies beyond their borders and of why they impart those twists. It also is written in the hope that such awareness will help lead in some small way to a less twisted and more accurate understanding of the world and thus to better-informed U.S. foreign policy.

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Why America Misunderstands the World, by Paul Pillar

Why America Misunderstands the World

“A formidable and influential scholar offers a fresh and distinctive take on the idea that U.S. foreign policy is ultimately an expression of ‘us’ rather than ‘them.’” — Andrew Bacevich, Boston University

This week, our featured book is Why America Misunderstand the World: National Experience and Roots of Misperception, by Paul R. Pillar. 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 Why America Misunderstands the World. 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, March 11th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Umberto Eco on Language and Lunacy and the Force of Falsity

Umberto Eco

We were very saddened to learn of the recent passing of noted linguist and novelist Umberto Eco. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to publish Serendipities: Language and Lunacy, one of Eco’s works, which The Atlantic called “Erudite, wide-ranging, and slyly humorous…. The literary examples Eco employs range from Dante to Dumas, from Sterne to Spillane. His text is thought-provoking, often outright funny, and full of surprising juxtapositions.”

In the book, Eco unlocks the riddles of history in an exploration of the “linguistics of the lunatic,” stories told by scholars, scientists, poets, fanatics, and ordinary people in order to make sense of the world. Exploring the “Force of the False,” Eco uncovers layers of mistakes that have shaped human history, such as Columbus’s assumption that the world was much smaller than it is, leading him to seek out a quick route to the East via the West and thus fortuitously “discovering” America. Like his other other works, Serendipities is a masterful combination of erudition and wit, bewildering anecdotes and scholarly rigor.

Below is the book’s first chapter, “The Force of Falsity”:

Friday, February 19th, 2016

The First Financial Commandment for the 21st Century: “Thou Shalt Not Plead Total Investment Ignorance”

Investment: A History

“If people knew their history, they would marvel at the sheer range of investment opportunities now available to them. The idea that investing has become democratic probably feels alien to most people, but investing is extremely democratic today compared to past eras. So it is incumbent on the average person to learn enough to be his or her own best advocate in taking advantage of all this new-found opportunity.” — Norton Reamer

This week, our featured book is Investment: A History, by Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing. For the final post of the week’s feature, Reamer and Downing explain their first financial commandment for today’s investors: “Though Shalt Not Plead Total Investment Ignorance!”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Investment: A History! You can also learn more about the book and its authors on the Investment: A History webpage and Youtube channel!

The First Financial Commandment for the 21st Century: “Thou Shalt Not Plead Total Investment Ignorance”

For thousands of years, the only people who qualified as “investors” were wealthy and politically connected landowners. Investment opportunities were few and accessible only to the elite. Yet in the blink of an eye, historically speaking, that world has been replaced by one full of investment opportunities for “everyman,” from stocks and bonds, to mutual funds, to life insurance, to pension plans, to real estate, and many other vehicles for investment.

“If people knew their history, they would marvel at the sheer range of investment opportunities now available to them,” says Norton Reamer, co-author of Investment: A History. Reamer is also the founder of United Asset Management and former CEO of Putnam Investments. “The idea that investing has become democratic probably feels alien to most people, but investing is extremely democratic today compared to past eras. So it is incumbent on the average person to learn enough to be his or her own best advocate in taking advantage of all this new-found opportunity.” (more…)