About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Roy Harris / Pulitzer's Gold

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

Archive for the 'History' Category

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…)

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Savvy Investors Look Back at the History of Investment for Lessons for 2016

Investment: A History

“The key is that successful investors throughout history have stuck to a few basic principles. As complex as investing can be, it is, at the same time, possible to avoid some obvious mistakes.” — Norton Reamer

This week, our featured book is Investment: A History, by Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing. As they explain in today’s post, Reamer and Downing wrote Investment: A History in part to provide investors with a historical perspective that could help them find smarter ways to invest.

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!

New Year’s Resolution for Savvy Investors: Look Back at The History of Investment for Lessons for 2016

Thinking about how to improve your portfolio in 2016? Don’t forget the last three thousand.

A healthy understanding of investment history is a true bonus for investors – lay and professional alike – to avoid pitfalls and to be the best advocates for their own financial interests. Whether it’s running a personal retirement account or a university endowment, ancient history has lessons for portfolios today.

That’s according to Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing, co-authors of Investment: A History. Reamer is also the founder of United Asset Management and former CEO of Putnam Investments, and Downing is an investment professional in Boston. The book traces the history of investment, from the ancient world to the present day, and draws lessons for today’s investors at all levels.

Reamer and Downing note that for thousands of years, the only people who qualified as “investors” were wealthy and politically connected landowners. Yet in the blink of an eye, historically speaking, that world has been replaced by one full of investment opportunities for average people – stocks and bonds, mutual funds, life insurance, pensions and real estate.

“The key is that successful investors throughout history have stuck to a few basic principles,” says Reamer. “As complex as investing can be, it is, at the same time, possible to avoid some obvious mistakes.”

Reamer and Downing have identified four guideposts that can help investors in 2016:

1. Focus on what’s “real” – Don’t get distracted by the form of an investment (e.g., a stock certificate or a bond note). Make sure you understand the real asset behind the piece of paper, such as the company behind the stock you are buying, or the public works project issuing the bond. When buying a mutual fund or other packaged investment the same rule applies: make sure you understand the fund manager’s criteria for buying and selling securities in the portfolio. Focusing on what’s “real” should always be the priority.

2. Focus on fundamental “value” – In its simplest form, the value of an investment today is determined by the present value of its future cash generation – that is, the future cash that the investment will produce over its lifetime. Don’t be distracted by market gyrations. Take a long-term perspective and understand that markets go up and down, often for reasons other than fundamental value. Investors often forget this basic rule and allow emotion to guide their decisions – and make mistakes as a result.

3. Consider the intelligent use of leverage – Excessive leverage is dangerous, but most of the great fortunes in history were built using moderate and smart amounts of leverage. For example, a home mortgage is a sensible form of leverage for most families. On the other hand, taking out a second mortgage to fund a speculative investment is probably foolhardy.

4. Allocate your capital – Every investment is an “allocation” of capital. That is, it’s a choice between competing priorities and opportunities. Make informed, deliberate choices and tradeoffs as you decide where to put your money – especially when the choice is between saving, spending, and investing. Think through your needs. Do your best to be accountable to yourself. Set some objectives and stick to them.

“Investment is one of humanity’s most fundamental activities, and in the modern world it’s open to more people than ever before,” adds Downing. “We encourage everyone to learn some basic investment principles and take full advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.”

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

Five Archetypal Investing Mistakes That Have Bedeviled Investors Through the Ages

Investment: A History

“Decade after decade, we see markets collapse and fortunes vanish for the same basic reasons. Most of the time the root cause is not some complex technical error. It’s just some new flavor of poor judgment.” — Norton Reamer

This week, our featured book is Investment: A History, by Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing. In today’s post, Reamer and Downing break down the five investing mistakes that they see repeated again and again throughout the history of investing.

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!

Five Archetypal Investing Mistakes Have Bedeviled Investors Through the Ages

For thousands of years, investors have been making the same mistakes over and over. So true financial literacy should include not just understanding the history of investment successes, but also investing failures. Unfortunately, the recent history of the financial crisis and Great Recession indicate that many investors—even professionals—have not learned those lessons.

“Decade after decade, we see markets collapse and fortunes vanish for the same basic reasons,” says Norton Reamer, co-author of the new book, Investment: A History (Columbia Business School Publishing, February 2016). “Most of the time the root cause is not some complex technical error. It’s just some new flavor of poor judgment.” Reamer is the founder of United Asset Management and Asset Management Finance, and he is the former CEO of Putnam Investments. His co-author, Jesse Downing, is an investment professional in Boston.

Mistake #1: Not diversifying enough

“In plain language, diversification means not putting all your eggs in one basket,” says Reamer. “One of the biggest advancements of the last few hundred years has been the ability to truly diversify one’s investments. Diversification is what makes modern investment portfolios tick.”

As a historical reference point, Reamer points to 14th-century Italy, before there was such a concept as “too big to fail.” Two major Florentine banking houses, the Bardi and the Peruzzi, poured a great deal of their capital into the wartime exploits of England’s King Edward III. When Edward defaulted, both banks failed.

According to Reamer, the goal of diversification is to ensure that even if one asset in the portfolio is underperforming, other assets are still potentially delivering gains. Both the Bible and Shakespeare reference diversification, and despite how ancient the wisdom may be, it can be hard to follow. Many homeowners have a significant portion of their wealth tied up in a single asset, such as a home, company-granted stock, or even a single asset class. To weather the inevitable vagaries of the market, one must diversify. (more…)

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

The Investment Challenge

Investment: A History

“This book is not about how to manage investments; rather, as a history of investment and the activities related to it over the centuries, it adds vital perspective to issues in investment management. It traces the development of investment from the earliest civilizations where agricultural land, lending, and trade activities were the economic foundation; to the creation of basic financial, collective, and charitable investment forms; and through the innovation of a vast array of specialized vehicles and funds extending into the twenty-first century.” — Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing

This week, our featured book is Investment: A History, by Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from “The Investment Challenge,” Reamer and Downing’s Introduction to Investment: A History.

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!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

A conversation with Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing, authors of “Investment: A History”

Investment: A History

“[T]he basic principles of investing are timeless, even as the economic and social stakes grow higher. The challenge will be to harness all that increasing sophistication to further push the democratization of investment, and in that regard we are optimists.” — Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing

This week, our featured book is Investment: A History, by Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing. In the first post of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an interview with Reamer and Downing in which they discuss their goals for the book, important changes in the history of investing, and what the future holds for investors.

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!

What will readers find in Investment: A History?

The book explains key elements in the long history of investment. Each chapter includes important stories and lessons that are intended to illustrate crucial dimensions of the investment world, as they have developed over the centuries. Our goal is to increase understanding of the investment practices and opportunities of today by understanding the history of investing.

In broad scope, what are the most important findings in the book?

Most people will be surprised to find out how remarkably uncomplicated it is to be a sensible investor, and in that regard we identified four basic investing principles. First, look at every investment as “real.” That is, when you invest, you own the underlying asset—e.g., with stocks you are buying a piece of a corporation. Don’t be distracted by the paper form of the investment. Understand the basics of whatever entity you are buying.

Second, it’s all about fundamental value, where “value” is determined by the value today of future cash flows that the investment may produce over its lifetime. Third, intelligent use of financial leverage is a legitimate tool for investors; in fact, it has helped build most of the great fortunes of history. Of course, excessive leverage can be extremely dangerous because all leverage will multiply returns—either positively or negatively. Finally, the most basic management skill is resource allocation: i.e., the effective allocation of capital and human resources.

Investing did not always exist in its current form. What were the precursors to the current investment landscape?

With ancient and pre-modern investment, we emphasize three areas: the basic investment vehicles of early history; the extreme inequality in the distribution of investment opportunity and benefit; and the surprising sophistication of some early investment vehicles, strategies, and purposes.

We believe that, to grasp the reality and significance of investment as a fundamental human activity, it’s necessary to begin in ancient times and understand the roles of agricultural land, lending and trade in the ancient world. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that by today’s standards, it took an astonishing amount of wealth and power to even qualify to be an ‘investor.’ Finally, we felt it was essential to understand that in some respects—despite a lack of investment diversity and the absence of equality—investment even in those early days had features that were remarkably sophisticated and prescient. (more…)

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Investment: A History, by Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing

Investment: A History

“Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing have delivered a truly impressive history of investments and the investment-management business, starting from its earliest origins in the ancient world to its most recent and innovative forms, for example, the hedge funds, private-equity pools, and other forms of alternative investments in the twenty-first century. It is not only a complete history but a well-organized and analytical one, built with continual reference to the important principles of business and investing.” — Jay Light, dean emeritus, Harvard Business School

This week, our featured book is Investment: A History, by Norton Reamer and Jesse Downing. 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. You can also learn more about the book and its authors on the Investment: A History webpage and Youtube channel!

We are also offering a FREE copy of Investment: A History. 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, February 19th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, February 12th, 2016

The Wheel: A Great Innovation?

The Wheel

“Wheeled transport is not an obviously good idea. People who insist that it was truly revolutionary ignore the fact that many societies that became aware of wheeled vehicles over the centuries chose not to use them. It took so many other innovations over a long period of time to make the wheel useful.” — Richard Bulliet

This week, our featured book is The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions, by Richard W. Bulliet. Today, for the final day of our feature, we are happy to present “The Wheel: A Great Innovation,” an article by Richard Bulliet that was originally published in the Innovation in Practice Blog.

People who believe that the wheel is the greatest invention ever assume two things: That it was wholly new when it was invented, and that is was so wonderful that people adopted it immediately. Historically, neither is true.

What is true is that three different types of wheels evolved over time, but none of them were as great as sliced bread.

The concept of a wheel emerged a long time ago. Archaeologists uncovered evidence that Olmec children in southern Mexico played with toy dogs on wheels 3000 years ago. But their parents never transferred the wheel idea to carts or wagons. How could anyone who understood the concept of the wheel not have used it for transportation?

Here’s why. Ancient Mexicans lacked domestic animals to hitch to a wheeled vehicle. There was no advantage over human porters. A more important question: Was the wheel such a good idea that building a toy dog on wheels should inevitably have transformed a transportation system?

Evolutionary biologists tell us that modern humans have not improved their basic store of physical or intellectual capacities for 100,000 years. So when we migrated out of Africa to people the globe, we did it without the benefit of wheels. And we kept on walking and carrying the “stuff” that George Carlin would later poke fun at on our backs for the next 90,000+ years. We could divide up our stuff into manageable loads that were light and compact enough to carry. Finally, some 10,000 years later, we started loading some of our stuff onto the backs of animals.

This solution satisfied the transportation needs of most of the world down to the invention of the internal combustion engine, even though by that time some peoples had been using wheeled vehicles for over 5000 years. But carts and wagons weren’t all that common. So long as roads were seas of mud in rainy weather people thought twice about whether to entrust their stuff to a wheeled vehicle.

Wheeled transport is not an obviously good idea. People who insist that it was truly revolutionary ignore the fact that many societies that became aware of wheeled vehicles over the centuries chose not to use them. It took so many other innovations over a long period of time to make the wheel useful.

You can read the blog post in it’s entirety at Innovation in Practice.