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Archive for September, 2011

Friday, September 30th, 2011

It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s Repurposing — Kenneth Goldsmith on Uncreative Writing

Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing
Earlier this month, the Chronicle of Higher Education posted the introduction to Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, by Kenneth Goldsmith. Not surprisingly, the piece drew a lot of comments both negative and positive and was cited and linked to on various places on the Web including such high profile places such as Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish and Poets & Writers.

In the introduction, Kenneth Goldsmith describes some of the ideas and works that have shaped his conception of uncreative writing, which is not only the title of his book but also a course he teaches in the writing department at the University of Pennsylvania. Goldsmith discusses various projects which use the overwhelming amount of text that is at our disposal in the Age of the Internet to create works that alter our understanding of language as well as the world around us. Goldsmith writes:

Far from this “uncreative” literature being a nihilistic, begrudging acceptance—or even an outright rejection—of a presumed “technological enslavement,” it is a writing imbued with celebration, ablaze with enthusiasm for the future, embracing this moment as one pregnant with possibility. This joy is evident in the writing itself, in which there are moments of unanticipated beauty—some grammatical, others structural, many philosophical: the wonderful rhythms of repetition, the spectacle of the mundane reframed as literature, a reorientation to the poetics of time, and fresh perspectives on readerliness, to name just a few. And then there’s emotion: yes, emotion. But far from being coercive or persuasive, this writing delivers emotion obliquely and unpredictably, with sentiments expressed as a result of the writing process rather than by authorial intention.


Friday, September 30th, 2011

Interview with Diana Lobel, author of The Quest for God and the Good

“We need to get away from the popular caricature of God as an old man in the sky seated upon a throne.”—Diana Lobel

Diana Lobel, The Quest for God and the GoodThe following is an interview with Diana Lobel, author of The Quest for God and the Good: World Philosophy as a Living Experience

Question: The word “God” is controversial and off-putting for some. Is this a book about the traditional God of monotheistic religions or a broader philosophical concept?

Diana Lobel: We need to get away from the popular caricature of God as an old man in the sky seated upon a throne. If we look at the broad history of philosophy and religious thought, we can see that the word God is used in a more general way to describe an ultimate principle of the universe––the source of all existence, knowledge, and value in our world. Thus Hindu thinkers describe the divine principle, brahman, as existence (sat), consciousness or knowledge (cit, pronounced chit) and joy or bliss (ananda).

The divine or absolute is that at the heart of reality that assures our existence, and gives life meaning, purpose, beauty, and value. It is the mystery of life or existence itself.

Plato’s notion of the Good reflects similar conceptions. It is clear that Plato’s Good is not a personal divinity. The Good has no will; the Good does not create the world and does not exercise any intentional effect on the world’s existents. And yet as the supreme source of being, knowledge, and value, the Good is in many ways parallel to our notions of the divine. If we judge anything in the world to possess value, it is because there exists an ultimate source or principle of worth. This is not a nihilistic world in which there is nothing that gives our lives meaning; we look out at the universe and see significance. We are in awe at the beauty of existence.

Question: Are you suggesting that a rigorous philosopher such as Aristotle, al-Farabi, or Maimonides actually has something in common with the Hindu Bhagavad Gita or Zen Buddhism? Does your book suggest that such diverse philosophical and religious traditions share a common language?

DL: I do not mean to suggest that all traditions are saying the same thing, because they are not. Thinkers in what we term the Hindu tradition argue that at the heart of reality there is a Self, an eternal conscious witness. In contrast, Buddhists insist on the selfless nature of ultimate reality, that at the heart of life we find not an unchanging, permanent identity, but the constant flow of change itself. The Tao Te Ching is an allusive, poetic text—far different from the systematic, discursive style of Aristotle or al-Farabi. Nevertheless, these diverse philosophical and religious traditions address––through very different methods and genres––such fundamental mysteries as the origin of the universe, the most harmonious way to live, the complex interplay between self and other, unity and diversity. I am always delighted to find that philosophy majors steeped in the complex dialectics of Aristotle, Kant, and Heidegger are nevertheless fascinated by the poetic imagery of Lao Tzu and the Upanishads. Texts of philosophy and religion address fundamental existential concerns through diverse styles and genres.

Question: What about the term “good”? Today it is common to presume that all values are relative, that there are no moral absolutes.

DL: When we look at Plato’s concept of the Good, we see that Plato is most concerned with the aesthetic order and symmetry of the world—the fact that the whole works together in a beautiful, ordered harmony. Plato is intrigued by both mathematics and music, by the symmetry and proportion that is not just imposed upon reality, but discovered. Like the Pythagoreans, he infers from these mathematical dimensions of the world that reality as a whole is intelligible and meaningful––that moral order is just as fundamental to the world as physical order. Values of justice, balance, and friendship are inscribed in the fabric of the universe. These are the foundations of human morality. Plato is concerned with virtue, with the fabric of our human character, but he is most concerned with the way human beings reflect the harmony and rightness of the world order (kosmos). There are moral absolutes, but they are grounded in values that are aesthetic. The world is good because it is harmonious and beautiful. We are good when we live in right relationship with the cosmos. This is a very different notion of morality than what we find in popular discourse.


Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Interview with Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing

Uncreative Writing

The following is an interview with Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age:

Q: You teach a course fittingly enough and intriguingly called “uncreative writing.” What do more conventional creative writing courses fail to do? How does your approach differ?

KG: I tell a story in the book of lecturing to a class at Princeton. After the class, a small group of students came up to me to tell me about a workshop that they were taking with one of the most well-known fiction writers in America. They were complaining about her lack of pedagogical imagination, assigning them the types of creative writing exercises that they had been doing since junior high school. For example, she had them pick their favorite writer and come in next week with an “original” work in the style of that author. I asked one of the students which author they chose. She answered Jack Kerouac. She then added that the assignment felt meaningless to her because the night before she tried to “get into Kerouac’s head” and scribbled a piece in “his style” to fulfill the assignment.

My mind drifted to those aspiring painters who fill up the Metropolitan Museum of Art every day, spending hours learning by copying the Old Masters. If it’s good enough for them, why isn’t it good enough for us? Wouldn’t this young woman have ultimately learned more about Kerouac’s style had she transcribed the book rather than try to “creatively” recreate it?

There have been dozens of sophisticated theories over the past century regarding the readymade, appropriation, simulacra and so forth, which have been enormously influential in other media such as the visual arts, music and gaming to name just a few, everywhere, it seems, with the exception of literature which is still enslaved to nineteenth century notions of expression. And the teaching of literature is equally backward. No art student leaves school without having been taught the history and techniques of appropriation, now a classic technique, nor does any music student not know how to sample. The question of whether they decide to use these techniques in their work after leaving school is unknown. But to not expose and train them in the most vital cultural discourses of our time — speaking as an educator — is simply irresponsible.

Q: As you describe in the book, uncreative writing can be traced back to such writers and theorists as Stein, Joyce, and Benjamin as well as artists such as Sol Lewitt and Andy Warhol. However, how does the advent of the Internet give new meanings or possibilities to uncreative writing.

KG: The cultural giants you name lent new sets of permissions to their respective fields, expanding the discourse and vocabularies in radical new ways, appropriate to their time. They are all precursors to the new world we find ourselves in today and their theories — although decidedly non-digital — have helped us to understand our current situation. Specifically in terms of writing these artists have proposed ideas which are transferable to the writing process in terms of materiality, conceptualization, and abundance, three ways the uncreative writer treats language. The normative way of writing is a transparent mode. But there are many other ways of using words. By refusing to adopt a panoply of ways of employing language, we are limiting its possibilities; traditional ways of writing accept a narrow range of uses. Why not expand our relationship to words in a way that encompasses a sophisticated approach to today’s complex technologies and their subsequent impact?


Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Kenneth Goldsmith and UbuWeb

In addition to being the author of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, Kenneth Goldsmith is also the creator and curator of UbuWeb. Started in 1996, UbuWeb has become one of the leading resources for modernist, avant-garde, and experimental art, music, and literature. The Guardian described it as “a treasure house of recherché delights you won’t find anywhere else. And this is gold-standard treasure.”

The site includes films, mp3′s of famous writers reading their works, works of art, and texts. The site also includes Top Ten lists from artists, writer, poets, musician, and critics such as Charles Bernstein, Dennis Cooper, David Grubbs, Wayne Koestenbaum, Rick Moody, Marjorie Perloff, Alex Ross, and John Zorn.

For a sampling of the treasures to be found on UbuWeb, here are some recent additions to the site:

* Marshall McLuhan Audio Archive (1960-99) [MP3]
* Gus Van Sant Allen Ginsberg – Ballad of the Skeletons (1997)
*Samuel Beckett reading Murphy (1938) [MP3]
* William Burroughs reads Junky
* Caetano Veloso O Cinema Falado (1986)
* Amiri Baraka Sound Poems (1964-present) [MP3]
* Hugo Ball, ed. Cabaret Voltaire [journal, 1916]
* Marcel Duchamp, et al. The Deadman No. 2 [journal, 1917, New York]
* Michel Foucault Lectures (1978-83) [MP3]
* The Mekons and Kathy Acker Pussy, King Of The Pirates (1996) [MP3]

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Gertrude Stein & Fascism: Interview with Barbara Will, author of Unlikely Collaboration

Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Fay, and the Vichy DilemmaThe following in an interview with Barbara Will, author of Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma

Question: Why the title Unlikely Collaboration? What is the book trying to argue through this title?

Barbara Will: When most people think about modernist writers, they think about literary experimentalism, the cultural avant-garde, and, usually, progressive politics. We tend to assume that experimental, iconoclastic writers would be the least likely people to throw their support behind fascist or authoritarian regimes. The book’s title acknowledges the unlikelihood of someone like Gertrude Stein—the very epitome of high-modernist writing—being drawn to reactionary or profasicst politics in the 1930s and 1940s. It also acknowledges the unlikelihood of Stein’s friendship with someone like Bernard Faÿ, whom Alice Toklas referred to as Stein’s “dearest friend during her life.” Why would Stein be so drawn to Faÿ, a scholar, aesthete, and right-wing intellectual who ended up working for the Vichy regime? Exploring their collaboration with each other, as well as the different ways in which each collaborated with the Vichy regime, gives us a really interesting perspective on the complex and morally ambiguous world they were living in.

Q: What makes this book different from others, for example, Janet Malcolm’s Two Lives?

BW: Malcolm’s book was a more personal and impressionistic exploration of the subject through the lens of her own interests as a biographer. My book is different in being heavily based in archival research, conducted over the course of a decade in the United States and France. I looked at every archive I could get my hands on, including the Stein archive at Yale University, the documents for Bernard Faÿ’s collaboration trial in Paris, and classified documents about both of them at the National Archives in Washington. I also was able to get access to previously unseen correspondence between Gertrude Stein and Bernard Faÿ, including a letter where Stein says that she “sees politics but from one angle which is yours” (at the time she wrote this, Faÿ was an active member in extreme right-wing politics in France).


Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Free Books! Another Book Giveaway!

We have some more exciting news! We want to give more books away. There are a limited number of boxes so you must act now. Please email your name and mailing address to cup.publicityintern@gmail.com and you will enter to win a free box of books from Columbia University Press. Be advised that those who had won a box in the contest from the previous weeks cannot enter to win another box.

Books are “as is”, and might be missing jackets or have slight damage to the cover or pages, but we tried not to include any with damage that would make them unreadable. Each box contains approximately 20 lbs. of books, and can be titles in a range of subject areas and new or old titles. We made sure to include only one copy of a title in a box.

Please note that books can only be shipped to U.S. or Canadian address, no PO boxes. The contest is not open to employees of Columbia University Press or Perseus Distribution, or their families.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing, Interviewed by Bomb

Kenneth Goldsmith

“Writing has to … reimagine what it can be in the digital age.”—Kenneth Goldsmith

This week we will be featuring Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, by Kenneth Goldsmith, and we begin with a recently published interview in Bomb. An excerpt from the “official” interviews is available but you can read a full raw transcript of his discussion with Marcus Boon, author of In Praise of Copying.

Kenneth Goldsmith and Marcus Boon discuss a variety of topics relating to Uncreative Writing and reading their conversation, one gets the feeling of listening in on a conversation between two friends. Among the topics they talk about include copyright, the dissemination of culture, Kenneth Goldsmith’s website ubuweb, his past career as an artist, the 80s, his poetry, Andy Warhol, Christian Bok, English as a global language, subjectivity.

Here’s their exchange on Goldsmith’s recent appearance at the White House and how it relates to his own poetry and writing:

I feel like the books are conversation starters and in that way, it is. I actually find my writing, or this type of writing, to be populist. It’s both extremely avant-garde and populist at the same time. For example, when I read at The White House in May I read three short pieces about the Brooklyn Bridge. The first was Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, an excerpt from that; the second one was Hart Crane’s “Brooklyn Bridge” poem; and the third one was my book Traffic, an excerpt where the Brooklyn Bridge is nothing but a bit player in a massive network of traffic jams. Well, the audience at The White House was…you know, they sat through the Whitman, the stuff that they’re supposed to like—and the Crane was treated very reverentially. But when I began reading traffic reports they all got up and started screaming, and yelling, and applauding, and laughing! The whole room lit up when the vernacular and the mundane language entered the space. Now, of course this was the most radical of the three because it was completely appropriated. It has a narrative, but it is a completely oblique and odd narrative; it is more Beckettian than anything. And here, senators and democratic party donors were actually loving it! It got a great round of applause. So I thought to myself, gee-whiz. Suddenly the avant-garde and the populist have met, it’s very strange . . .


Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

New Book Tuesday

Julia KristevaAfterness: Figures of Following in Modern Thought and Aesthetics
Gerhard Richter

New Battlefields/Old Laws: Critical Debates on Asymmetric Warfare
Edited by William C. Banks

This Incredible Need to Believe (Now available in paper)
Julia Kristeva

Policing Economic Crime in Russia: From Soviet Planned Economy to Privatization
Gilles Favarel-Garrigues

The Emergence of Minorities in the Middle East: The Politics of Community in French Mandate Syria
Benjamin Thomas White

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Geoffrey Kabat on Cell Phones and Climate Change

Geoffrey Kabat“We … need to rely on scientists and health agencies to use logic, analytic rigor, and clear language to assess what things are worth worrying about.”—Geoffrey Kabat

Geoffrey Kabat, author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology, recently published Behind The World Health Organization’s “Cancerous” Pronouncement On Cell Phones in Forbes.

In the article Kabat critiques a recent report on cell phone use and radiofrequency radiation (RF) from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization. Kabat challenges their finding that RF from cell phones is “possibly carcinogenic, which does not square with his reading of the scientific data.

Kabat also discusses the controversial composition of the working group, and the process behind the report. Kabat writes:

By any set of criteria for evaluating evidence, the conclusion should have been that – although we have not monitored the effects of cell phone use for long enough – the substantial evidence currently available provides no suggestion that cell phone use contributes to the risk of brain tumors. The ambiguous label “possible carcinogen” is unfortunate because it means one thing to scientists working for IARC and something quite different to the general public when trumpeted in the headlines.

In classifying RF as a “possible carcinogen,” IARC has aligned itself with the “precautionary principle,” which sounds perfectly reasonable, except that it is often used to conjure up the existence of a possible hazard in the face of extensive and solid evidence suggesting the non-existence of a hazard. Of course, we need to spell out the limits of current knowledge, but we also need to rely on scientists and health agencies to use logic, analytic rigor, and clear language to assess what things are worth worrying about.


Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Interview with Avidan Milevsky, author of Sibling Relationships in Childhood and Adolescence

Avidan Milevsky, Sibling Relationships in Childhood and AdolescenceThe following is an interview with Avidan Milevsky, author of Sibling Relationships in Childhood and Adolescence: Predictors and Outcomes

Question: Why is it important to learn about sibling relationships?

Avidan Milevsky: There are several reasons why research on siblings is important. First, the most long-lasting and enduring relationship an individual can develop is with a sibling. Considering their closeness in age and the fact that sibling relationships begin early in life, siblings can bond for a lifetime.

Even more consequential, we now know that positive sibling relationships in children and adolescents are linked with enhanced cognitive abilities, emotional balance, and social adjustment. These advantages of a close sibling bond can also be seen throughout life. Furthermore, studies show that sibling support can also compensate for weak relationships with other members of our social network. If a child or an adolescent is experiencing detachment from friends or even from parents, relying on siblings can ameliorate some of those feelings of detachment.

The bottom line is that research now reveals it is profoundly advantageous to have a close sibling relationship for many reasons, and learning about what can enhance the sibling bond can be extremely valuable for individuals and families.

Q: Considering all the issues that parents need to deal with these days, is sibling relationship quality really a concern?

AM: True, parents have many concerns relating to raising their children. In addition to the usual behavioral issues that parents need to deal with at home, many negative influences from peer groups, neighborhoods, and the media unfortunately influence children in destructive ways.

However, in surveys that we have conducted at the Center for Parenting Research at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, which I direct, parents consistently report sibling relationship issues as being one of the top three challenges they face as parents. Siblings, who do not get along, can create turmoil in the entire family system. Not only are dinners around the table and family vacations unpleasant because of bickering between the children in the family, but this discord can infiltrate the relational dynamics between all members of the family, even contributing to tension in the marital relationship. Harmony between children serves as the foundation to tranquility in the entire family.


Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

James Powell: Science Denialism Is Not Free, Part II

James Powell, The Inquisition of Climate Science

“Science denial, when projected from the level of the state, can cost millions, even scores of millions, of lives.”—James Powell

This the second part of James Powell’s series on science denialism. You can read the first post here. James Powell is the author of the recently published The Inquisition of Climate Science.

Global warming is the latest example in the long history of science denial. No doubt it will not be the last. What is different about global warming is that if it continues on its current worst-case trajectory, it has the potential to cost more lives than the wars, famines, economic depressions, and natural disasters of the twentieth century all taken together.

The most conspicuous example of science denial, if global warming has not already earned that label, is evolution denial, better known as creationism. It shows no signs of abating even though in more than 150 years, no one has ever been able to show that evolution is false. Over that history, scientific understanding of evolution and the evidence for it have grown, yet today 40-45 percent of Americans (Gallup and Pew polls) prefer creationism over evolution.

In contrast to the other types of science denial that I will describe, creationism does not have fatal consequences. After all, even the most ardent creationist gets the new flu shot each year, made necessary because the flu virus evolves so rapidly. Evolution denial is more of a gradual drag on science education, delaying if not permanently putting off the time at which people accept and are willing to support the findings of modern biology.

When the courts prevented creationists from banning the teaching of evolution, they turned to the demand that “creation science” or more lately, “intelligent design” be given equal time in the classroom, like requiring the teaching of Ptolemy’s earth-centered astronomy alongside the sun-centered model of Copernicus and Galileo. The more the US requires the teaching of creationism in the schools, the more scientific talent and innovation in the biological sciences will gravitate to other countries, with serious long term consequences for the development of science and medicine in this nation.

In the rest of this post I turn to one example of the denial of mainstream science that have cost millions of lives: Lysenkoism.


Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Zero and Other Fictions by Huang Fan Featured on Three Percent

Zero and Other Fictions by Huang FanThree Percent, one of the best resources for fiction in translation, is featuring Zero and Other Fictions, by Huang Fan as part of their weekly Read This Next section.

Their focus on Huang Fan’s Zero and Other Fictions includes a review of the book, an excerpt, and an interview with John Balcom, the book’s translator.

In the interview John Balcom discusses how he first came across Huang Fan’s work; the political nature of his writing; how he fits in with Taiwanese literature and how he is viewed in Mainland China; and the diverse nature of his writing, which includes elements of absurdism, science fiction, and postmodernism. The interview concludes with John Balcom and the interviewer Lily Ye discussing the stories Zero and How to Measure the Width of a Ditch:

Lily Ye: The story “Zero,” which makes up most of this collection, calls to mind very clearly Orwell’s 1984, including even a cameo by a “Winston” in its course, who reveals to Xi De, our protagonist, a potential conspiracy that underlies the seemingly utopian world that he lives in. What are the elements of this dystopian tale that make it remarkable?

John Balcom: I read Zero shortly after it was published and was quite taken with its novelty within the Taiwanese literary context. One really must bear in mind the political situation in Taiwan in those days: martial law was still in effect and people were still being imprisoned or done away with for political reasons. It’s a far cry from the island today. In the West, where we have a tradition of such dystopian fiction, a work like Zero may come across with less force than it had for a Taiwanese audience. Many of my friends who have read the translation find the work a powerful one. It is a bleak story, with Huang writing more darkly than usual. The piece has the usual elements one expects – technology and a monolithic state, but there are some interesting twists. Dystopian tales have a lot to say to us given the dismal state of the world these days.

LY: Perhaps the story that stands out most in terms of style is “How to Measure the Width of a Ditch,” with its self-aware narrator, what are your thoughts on this piece, or on Huang’s postmodern period in general?

JB: “How to Measure the Width of a Ditch” is probably be the most accessible story in the collection, and more in line with contemporary taste. This sort of absurdist metafiction travels very well.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

More Free Books! Win 20 Pounds of Columbia University Press!

The contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone for writing in and keep checking for more book giveaways in the coming weeks.

We have some good news for you! We just collected more books—ten more boxes of books. The first ten people to email their name and mailing address to cup.publicityintern@gmail.com will win a free box of books from Columbia University Press. Be advised that those who had won a box in the contest from the previous week cannot enter to win another box.

Books are “as is”, and might be missing jackets or have slight damage to the cover or pages, but we tried not to include any with damage that would make them unreadable. Each box contains approximately 20 lbs. of books, and can be titles in a range of subject areas and new or old titles. We made sure to include only one copy of a title in a box.

Please note that books can only be shipped to U.S. or Canadian address, no PO boxes. The contest is not open to employees of Columbia University Press or Perseus Distribution, or their families.

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

James L. Powell Discusses The Inquisition of Climate Science on Climate Progress

James Powell The Inquisition of Climate ScienceEarlier this year, James Powell, author of The Inquisition of Climate Science , was interviewed by Climate Progress. (You can listen to the interview here.)

In the interview, Powell discusses the book and the ways in which the “debate” about global warming has been hijacked by denialists who rely on demagoguery rather than science. The interviewer Sean Pool summarizes Powell’s breakdown of some of the common tactics of the denier movement:

* Engage in publicity stunts designed to gain media attention and that promulgate disinformation.
* Repeat claims long after scientists have shown them to be false.
* Make assertions without presenting any evidence to back them up. Had a speaker at the AGU meeting said that carbon dioxide does not cause global warming, the audience would have demanded to see the evidence.
* Have no scientific findings that falsify global warming.
* Have opposed global warming for twenty years. True, back then, many scientists were also skeptical, but as the evidence mounted, they changed their minds. Deniers do not change their minds, a sure sign that they base their denial not on science, but on ideology. To paraphrase Richard Lindzen, ‘global warming denial has always been about politics, not science.’”

In the interview Powell argues that:

It’s time for scientists to stand up and be counted. Not be reticent. Not be cautious. Not say for instance that there’s no way to tell whether Katrina was caused by global warming, but to say very forcefully that Katrina is exactly the kind of thing we can expect more of under global warming.

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: The Newest from Gianni Vattimo

Gianni Vattimo, Hermeneutic CommunismHermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx
Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala

Resolving Community Conflicts and Problems: Public Deliberation and Sustained Dialogue
Edited by Roger A. Lohmann and Jon Van Til

Not Half No End: Militant Melancholic Essays in Memory of Jacques Derrida (Now available in paper)
Geoffrey Bennington

Monday, September 19th, 2011

James Powell: Science Denial Is Not Free

James Powell, The Inquisition of Climate Science“The American people … should remember that science denial is not free. History teaches us that it can bear a heavy cost in dollars and in human lives.”—James Powell

The following post is from James Powell, author of The Inquisition of Climate Science. This is the first post in a 3-part series.

In May 2011 the US National Academy of Sciences declared that “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. Each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted commits us to further change and greater risks…. The environmental, economic, and humanitarian risks of climate change indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare to adapt to its impacts.” One hundred other national and international scientific organizations agree with the NAS. How many disagreed? None. Zero. Zilch. As one scientist put it, “There’s a better scientific consensus on this than on any issue I know—except maybe Newton’s second law of dynamics.”

One organization that does dispute the NAS and the world consensus on global warming is the US House of Representatives. In April, the House took up a bill to remove the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, opening a new front in the Republican War on Science (title of a great book by Chris Mooney). Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) offered a countering amendment with language nearly identical to that of the Academy: “Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” The amendment failed 184-240, with one Republican voting in favor and three Democrats against.

The War on Science does not brook conscientious objectors. Global warming denial has not only captured the Republican members of the House, it has become mandatory for any serious Republican candidate for president. Before he entered the race, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty embraced the need for environmental protection, clean energy initiatives, and a cap-and-trade policy on carbon emissions. By mid-spring 2011, T-Paw had reversed himself and “denounced” his previous stance, regurgitating long-disproven climate myths: “I’m old enough to remember when people were predicting there was going to be the next ice age. Until recently people were worried as much about global cooling. [Some people may have been, but scientists were not.] There is climate change but the reality is the science indicates most of it, if not all of it, is caused by natural causes. [Totally false.] And as to the potential human contribution to that, there’s a great scientific dispute about that very issue.” [Totally false.] Pawlenty summed up: “The science is bad.”

The former governor explained his switcheroo: “Well, anybody who’s going to run…has got some clunkers in their record. As to climate change, or more specifically cap-and-trade, I’ve just come out and admitted it, look, it was a mistake, it was stupid.” He went on, “Everybody in the race, embraced climate change or cap-and-trade at one point or another. Every one of us.”

Republican candidates and prospects vied to outdo each other in denouncing climate change. Potential candidate Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels proved himself a surprisingly adept phrase-maker, condemning the “climate change theocracy” and accusing climate science of having been dominated by “The University of Hollywood and the P.C. Institute of Technology.” We may miss Daniels more than we thought. Herman Cain called climate change “a scam,” while former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) accused liberals of creating “a beautifully concocted scheme because they know the earth is gonna cool and warm.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) denounced climate change as “the greatest hoax in many, many years if not hundreds of years.” Newt Gingrich, who in 2008 made a television ad with Nancy Pelosi on the need to address climate change, now said the spot was “misconstrued” and that he was merely demonstrating how to debate the Left on the issue. By June 2011 Gingrich was saying that climate change is just “the newest excuse to take control of lives” by “left-wing intellectuals.”

Only three of the candidates who entered the August Iowa caucus appeared to garner enough support to have a chance: Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney. On the floor of the House in 2009, Bachman denied that CO2 posed a threat because “Carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of nature.” The one-woman thesaurus calls global warming, “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.”


Monday, September 19th, 2011

Save St. Mark’s Bookshop

St. Mark's BookshopSt. Mark’s Bookshop, one of the best independent bookstores in New York City, is struggling to pay the market rent that Cooper Union is charging them at 31 3rd Ave in the East Village. There are two ways you can help out this vital literary and cultural New York City institution:

1.) There is currently an online petition asking Cooper Union to give St. Mark’s Bookshop a lower rent.

2.) Buy a book from St. Mark’s Bookshop. St. Mark’s has an extraordinary selection of books, including many titles from university presses and independent publishers.

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Paul Pillar on Iran

Paul Pillar

Paul Pillar’s recently published Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform explores some of the missteps in reorganizing intelligence in the wake of al-Qaeda attacks. One of the most crucial challenges facing U.S. intelligence and foreign policy today is, of course, Iran and its nuclear program.

As Paul Pillar has argued that Western intelligence cannot detect a decision that hasn’t been made about Iran’s nuclear program and cannot be completely relied upon. He writes in a recent post for The National Interest that the United States should seriously consider Iran’s offer to allow nuclear inspectors of its activities. Pillar argues:

It would be a mistake to respond as Americans have too often responded, which is to assume the worst about the intentions on the other side and to act in a way that would make sense only if that assumption were true, even though we don’t know it to be true. It would make far more sense to act with the realization that as far as we know the Iranian statement could be anything from a major breakthrough to a phony bit of rhetoric. The only way to find out is to explore the unexplored road and talk with the Iranians about it. If the favorable possibility turns out to be true, talking could be the first step toward a comprehensive safeguards agreement. If the unfavorable possibility turns out to be true, little or nothing is lost; in fact the Western case for pressuring Iran would be strengthened by demonstrating that the West is willing to go the extra mile.

Paul Pillar also recently participated at a public briefing at the Atlantic Council, in which they discussed a recent report they issued, How Reliable is Intelligence on Iran’s Nuclear Program? You can read a summary or listen to the panel discussion here.

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Columbia University Press at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Brooklyn Book Festival

We’ve mentioned the various Columbia University Press authors who will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday, including Hillary Chute, Kenneth Goldsmith, Richard Locke, and Clarence Taylor, however we also wanted to mention that Columbia University Press will be at booth #133 in Borough Hall. Please stop by our booth to visit and pick up copies of some of your favorite Columbia University Press titles. See you there!

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Paull Pillar on the Legacy of Propaganda and the Iraq War

Paul Pillar

“When an administration sets out to manipulate truth and falsehood as shamelessly as the promoters of the Iraq War did, the damage is not limited only to adoption of whatever policies the manipulators are promoting. The substantial lingering misconceptions among the public make for broader damage. The persistent mistaken beliefs among more than a third of Americans about Iraq and al-Qaeda greatly inhibit public understanding about terrorism, about the Middle East, and about how their own government has operated.” — Paul Pillar

In The Iraq War and the Power of Propaganda a recent post on his blog for The National Interest, Paul Pillar reminds readers of how the administration of George W. Bush manipulated intelligence to sell the idea of an alliance between Iraq and al-Qaeda. As Pillar writes, “The postulation of such an alliance also contradicted judgments of the U.S. intelligence community and other experts inside and outside government.” Pillar goes on to explain that “The belief was cultivated by repeatedly uttering ‘Iraq,’ ’9/11′ and ‘war on terror’ in the same breath. The cultivation was so successful that by the peak of the war-promoters’ sales campaign in late 2002 a majority of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein not only was allied with al-Qaeda but also had been directly involved in the 9/11 attack.”

The falsity of the Bush administrations claims are now widely acknowledged but as Paul Pillar demonstrates, a recent poll indicates that, remarkably, a significant minority continues to believe that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had a role in the September 11 attacks. In the conclusion to his post, Pillar explores some of the implications of the continued success of the Bush administration’s “sales campaign” for the war in Iraq:

A couple of implications follow about the present. One is that when an administration sets out to manipulate truth and falsehood as shamelessly as the promoters of the Iraq War did, the damage is not limited only to adoption of whatever policies the manipulators are promoting. The substantial lingering misconceptions among the public make for broader damage. The persistent mistaken beliefs among more than a third of Americans about Iraq and al-Qaeda greatly inhibit public understanding about terrorism, about the Middle East, and about how their own government has operated.

The second implication is that the government of the day, if applying enough single-minded determination, has tremendous power to sway the populace and generate support for new initiatives. This power could be used for good and not only for ill. Just imagine, for example, if the kind of concerted sales campaign that made it possible to do something as extraordinary as launching a major offensive war were to be applied to an all-out U.S. effort to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Such an effort still would run up against resistance from a strong lobby, but unlike with the Iraq War, selling the effort would not require manufacturing any issues or manipulating any falsehoods. Lack of resolution of the conflict really does hurt U.S. interests, and one could explain that while sticking totally to the truth.