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Archive for December, 2011

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Happy New Year and What’s Coming in 2012

We wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year and thank readers of our blog and Columbia University Press titles for their interest in our books and our authors. In a seemingly ever-shifting publishing environment, we are grateful for the continuing interest among readers for serious, thoughtful books that offer new ways of thinking about politics, culture, society, and the world around us. We published a range of titles in 2011 that we felt made a difference and below is our Spring 2012 catalog which offers a sampling of what you can look forward to in the coming months. (Click on the view in full screen icon to get a better view.)

Highlights from 2012 include Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, by Judith Butler; Theos Bernard, the White Lama: Tibet, Yoga, and American Religious Life, by Paul G. Hackett; The Best Business Writing 2012 , edited by Dean Starkman, Martha Hamilton, Ryan Chittum, and Felix Salmon; The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, by Michael E. Mann; Picturing Algeria, by Pierre Bourdieu; and Taking It Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals, by Stanley Aronowitz.

Columbia University Press Spring 2012 Catalog

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Michael Dummett, 1925-2011

Michael Dummett

We were sad to hear of the recent death of notable philosopher Michael Dummett, author of The Nature and Future of Philosophy (2010) and other titles. Both the Guardian and the Telegraph published excellent obituaries on Michael Dummett highlighting his important contributions to analytic philosophy and his standing as one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century.

On top of his impressive contributions to philosophy, particularly his work on Frege, and his influence on other philosophers, Dummett was also a leading campaigner against racism in England and for the protection of immigrant rights. Dummett criticized the political system in Britain and particularly the Home Office for encouraging hostility to immigrants and non-whites in Britain.

In 2010 we were fortunate to have the opportunity to publish Dummett’s The Nature and Future of Philosophy, which in many ways offers a kind of encapsulation of his ideas about the discipline of philosophy. In the book, Dummett analyzes the current state of philosophy as it is practiced in academia and elsewhere. Despite the proliferation and growth of philosophy departments, the discipline’s between the analytical and continental camps has obscured its relevance. Dummett sets forth a proposal for renewal and reengagement by returning to a focus on the nature of philosophical inquiry as it has developed for centuries, especially its exceptional openness and perspective—which has, ironically, led to our present crisis. He discusses philosophy in relation to science, religion, morality, language, and meaning and recommends avenues for healing around a renewed investigation of mind, language, and thought. Employing his trademark frankness and accessibility, Dummett asks philosophers to resolve theoretical difference and reclaim the vital work of their practice.

For an excerpt from The Nature and Future of Philosophy.

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

American Force: Richard Betts on Possible Future Threats to the United States

Richard Betts, American ForceIn the conclusion to his book American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security, Richard Betts explores some of the possible dangers that might confront the United States in the coming years. In particular he considers issues and possible threats such as China, terrorism, the Middle East, and U.S. dependence on foreign oil. He also briefly discusses the possible options and their consequences:

Terrorists acquisition of usable weapons of mass destruction. Typical terrorism has a fearsome psychological impact, but it actually inflicts few casualties compared with even small wars and does not pose a serious material threat in itself. If terrorists could deploy nuclear or efficient biological weapons, however, the potential casualties would be far higher. Unless U.S. intelligence could find, fix, and pounce on such weapons, there is little chance of preventing their use since terrorists are not easily subject to deterrence. Acquisition of WMD by dangerous regimes like North Korea or Iran is also a severe threat, but at least is more manageable since rogue states have a return address and thus are more subject to deterrence.

What to do? For counterterrorism, first, business as usual (which means energetic intelligence collection and special operations), and second, better civil defense preparations. For dealing with nuclear proliferation by states, diplomatic and economic carrots and sticks, and covert action to disrupt and retard nuclear development programs where it can be effective. None of these actions assures success, but more ambitious efforts at overt preventive war are likely to accelerate the threat more than suppress it.


Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

American Force, by Richard Betts, Reviewed in Foreign Affairs

Richard Betts, American ForceAmerican Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National , by Richard Betts recently received a serious and glowing review in Foreign Affairs:

Betts describes himself as a Cold War hawk who became a post–Cold War dove. In this collection of essays, he addresses all the central issues of recent U.S. strategy: the maintenance of primacy and the prospective rise of China, humanitarian intervention and the struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the problems posed by weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the possibility of a link between the two. This is not mainstream international relations scholarship. Betts combines serious thought, common sense, and deep historical knowledge, rather than simply applying abstract theories, and his conclusions are expressed in plain English, rather than with mathematical models. His judgments are therefore contingent, but they are always considered and often incisive. Betts is not opposed to the occasional use of force for the right purposes, and he explains why it is difficult to get strategic policy right. But he deplores the persistent American tendency toward military activism, especially in pursuit of what he describes as a “liberal empire.” As he himself recognizes, he is by no means a lone voice arguing for American restraint, but he is certainly among the most articulate.

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Richard Betts on Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, and John Mearsheimer

Earlier this year, Richard Betts, author of American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security, wrote a much-discussed article in Foreign Affairs exploring the controversial visions of world politics put forth by Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, and John Mearsheimer. He discussed the article at the Carnegie Council and below is a video of his talk (you might need to adjust the player by scrolling).

In introducing Richard Betts’s talk, Joanne Myers of the Carnegie Council said,

Although all satisfied the demand for new paradigms, with greater or lesser success, Professor Fukuyama’s rang truest when the Berlin Wall fell, Professor Huntington’s did so after 9/11, and Professor Mearsheimer’s may do so once China’s power is full-grown.

Professor Betts reminds us that theories, however powerful, oftentimes do not always hold up as reliable predictors of particular developments. Still, all three ideas remain beacons, as the issues they flagged and their policy recommendations continue to shape the debate on Capitol Hill today.

As world events are rapidly changing and none of these three visions rings completely true today, perhaps it is time, as our guest writes, “to integrate the most relevant elements of these three approaches into a fourth, one that would penetrate the American political mainstream of today.

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Interview with Partha Chatterjee

Partha Chatterjee

“The non-scholarly and unstoppably influential book of all time for me is The Communist Manifesto. Even today, reading it gives me a thrill.”—Partha Chatterjee

We have been fortunate enough to publish in the United States books from the great Indian publisher Permanent Black , which is known for its titles in South Asian history, politics, and culture.

Recently we published Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy, by noted political scientist and theorist, and Subaltern Studies member Partha Chatterjee. On the occasion of its Indian publication, Permanent Black interviewed Chatterjee.

In the interview, Chatterjee discusses democracy in the non-Western, Indian context, how Lineages of Political Society relates to his other work, and contemporary Indian politics. The interview is also notable for Chatterjee’s more personal reflections. Here he is on the impact of his upbringing in Kolkata (Calcutta):

I am sure the experience [of growing up in Kolkata] has been central to my intellectual formation. The Kolkata I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s was often described as the most horrifying example of urban degradation anywhere in the world. I vividly remember as a college student waiting at bus stops besieged by begging mothers with infants in their arms; vast swathes of the city’s pavements were inhabited by homeless people from the countryside…. I also think the relative isolation of Kolkata in the academic life of India and its lack of well-endowed universities and institutes actually helped me to stay out of the obligations and temptations to which those located in Delhi, for instance, are subject. I had the chance to improvise, innovate, and think outside the prevailing orthodoxies.


Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

North Korea: Analysis from Columbia University Press Authors

A variety of Columbia University Press authors have been asked to comment on recent events in North Korea, including Victor Cha coauthor of Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies, who appeared on PBS Newshour to discuss the death of Kim Jong-il and its possible impact on North Korea and the United States.

Meanwhile, Cha’s coauthor David Kang spoke about the legacy of Kim Jong-il on NPR. In the interview, Kang addressed the possibility of a kind of “Arab Spring” happening in North Korea:

We tend to focus in America on the repressive side because there is certainly – it’s a police state. And there are 100, 200,000 people in prison camps. There’s a massive military and police presence. At the same time, as Sandra pointed out, this is the only game in town and so it’s very hard – if you imagine people who maybe unhappy down in a village somewhere, for them to organize and get together and actually engage in an Arab Spring is extremely difficult in North Korea.

So, in many ways I think the idea that there’ll be a popular uprising is really unlikely and what most of us think about is it would be some kind of palace coup or some top-down kind of problems that would eventually lead to an overthrow in North Korea. Not necessarily bottom-up with people taking to the streets.


Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Richard Betts on How Defense Cuts Might Affect American Force

Richard Betts, American Force“I think we overestimate our soft power. Americans understandably like to think of themselves as a model for the world, as a society that other societies want to be like. To some extent, this is true, but we tend to exaggerate the extent to which our soft power really shapes others’ policies.”—Richard Betts

In recent interview on the Council of Foreign Relations site, Richard Betts, author of American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security, discussed how proposed cuts in defense spending might shape U.S. policy abroad.

Richard Betts believes that defense could and should be cut given the current economic situation in the United States. He calls for a “mobilization strategy,” which would offer a more modest and less expensive approach to our role in the world:

The United States should move towards more of a “mobilization strategy”—which means that we should take advantage of the reduced threat to our security that came with the end of the Cold War, and have a more modest view of the need to intervene abroad as long as direct threats to our national security are limited. We should orient our military planning and organization to what might be called a “readiness to get ready,” that is to focus on training, research and development, organizational structures and their maintenance, and all of the infrastructure for military power that can be used as a base for rapid buildup when conditions change and the world situation deteriorates.

This more restrained approach, Richard Betts argues, is largely shared by the American public if not elite policymakers.


Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: American Theatre and More

American Theater, Theresa SaxonOur weekly list of new titles now available:

American Theatre: History, Context, Form
Theresa Saxon

The Phantom of Chance: From Fortune to Randomness in Seventeenth-Century French Literature
John D. Lyons

Imagining the Cape Colony: History, Literature, and the South African Nation
David Johnson

Studies in the History of Early Modern Transylvania
Gyongy Kovacs Kiss

A Multiethnic Region and Nation-State in East-Central Europe: Studies in the History of Upper Hungary and Slovakia from the 1600s to the Present
Laszlo Szarka

The Second Vienna Award and the Hungarian–Romanian Relations, 1940–1944
Béni L. Balogh

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on Unanswerable Prayers

Christopher Hitchens

Last week brought the very sad news of Christopher Hitchens’s passing after a struggle with cancer. We were fortunate enough to have been able to include some of his writing in The Best American Magazine Writing series. In 2007, his piece “The Vietnam Syndrome” was included in the collection while in 2008, his article “So Many Men’s Rooms, So Little Time,” was selected.

The 2011 edition includes his essay “Unanswerable Prayers,” in which Hitchens discusses his illness and the reactions of friends and those perhaps not-so-friendly. In the following excerpt from the piece, Hitchens talks about how the illness has affected, or better stated, has not affected his lifelong skepticism about religion and the belief in God:

An enormous number of secular and atheist friends have told me encouraging and flattering things like: “If anyone can beat this, you can”; “Cancer has no chance against someone like you”; “We know you can vanquish this.” On bad days, and even on better ones, such exhortations can have a vaguely depressing effect. If I check out, I’ll be letting all these comrades down. A different secular problem also occurs to me: what if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating….

Pursuing the prayer thread through the labyrinth of the web, I eventually found a bizarre “Place Bets” video. This invites potential punters to put money on whether I will repudiate my atheism and embrace religion by a certain date or continue to affirm unbelief and take the hellish consequences. This isn’t, perhaps, as cheap or as nasty as it may sound. One of Christianity’s most cerebral defenders, Blaise Pascal, reduced the essentials to a wager as far back as the seventeenth century. Put your faith in the almighty, he proposed, and you stand to gain everything. Decline the heavenly offer and you lose everything if the coin falls the other way. (Some philosophers also call this Pascal’s Gambit.)

Ingenious though the full reasoning of his essay may be—he was one of the founders of probability theory—Pascal assumes both a cynical god and an abjectly opportunist human being. Suppose I ditch the principles I have held for a lifetime, in the hope of gaining favor at the last minute? I hope and trust that no serious person would be at all impressed by such a hucksterish choice. Meanwhile, the god who would reward cowardice and dishonesty and punish irreconcilable doubt is among the many gods in which (whom?) I do not believe. I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Richard Betts on American Force

Richard Betts, American ForceThis week will be featuring American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security, by Richard Betts.

In the book, Betts takes a skeptical look at the use of American force in the postwar era and analyzes, sometimes critically, the use of force by recent presidents. The following are excerpts from the book’s introduction:

When the United States became more secure it became more forceful. Since the Cold War ended it has spent far more than any other country or coalition to build armed forces; it has sent forces into combat more frequently than it did in the era of much bigger threats to national security; and it has done so much more often than any other country. The United States has been, quite simply, “the most militarily active state in the world.” To many in the mainstream of American politics this is as it should be because the United States has the right and responsibility to lead the world—or push it—in the right direction. To others, more alarmed by the pattern, U.S. behavior has evolved into “permanent war.”

Some of this belligerence was imposed on the United States by Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001, but the terrorist threat cannot account for the bulk of blood and treasure expended in the use of force over the past two decades. In the first half of the post–Cold War era, until complications in Iraq and Afghanistan, American national security policy was driven not by threats but by opportunities—or rather what an overambitious consensus in the foreign policy elite mistakenly saw as opportunities. Instead of countering immediate dangers, American policy aimed to stabilize the world in order to prevent dangers from arising. There is no evidence, however, that this activism short-circuited more dangers than it generated. And at the same time, American force has been ambivalent, trying to do too much with too little. Policy elites who wanted to make the world right sometimes held back for fear that costly ventures would lack public support. Sometimes they have chosen the worst of both worlds, compromising between all-out effort and doing nothing at all, but with the result of action that is both costly and indecisive.


Friday, December 16th, 2011

The Unfinished Greatest Grid

The Greatest Grid: Unfinished

In conjunction with The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011, edited by Hilary Ballon, The Museum of the City of New York in conjunction with their exhibit on the grid is also presenting The Unfinished Grid: Design Speculations for Manhattan.

Given that the grid has been altered since it was first planned in 1811, the Architectural League of New York, in partnership with the Museum of the City of New York and Architizer, issued a Call for Ideas inviting architects and urban designers from around the world to speculate about how Manhattan’s grid might be adapted, extended, or transformed in the future. It asked them to consider issues such as how the grid might be modified to respond to climate change or new transportation infrastructures; how new digital technologies might affect the form and function of the buildings in which we live and work and the impact they might have on the city’s streets and public spaces; what the most pressing issues are facing the city today and into the future; and what solutions might emerge out of (and in turn modify) the street grid.

You can view a side show of the different proposals which include:

* A second grid 700 feet above the existing street grid. This new grid relieves street congestion, creates new sites and facilities for tourism, and redefines Manhattan as a truly three-dimensional grid.

* Extending the existing grid with “informal” configurations of blocks along the waterfront, creating both new sites for building and novel spatial experiences for pedestrians.

* The creation of a virtual grid which is overlaid on the existing physical grid, a digital platform onto which residents can upload ideas for their block, neighborhood, or the city as a whole. The ideas are then accessed by New York architects, who in turn upload design responses to the same virtual grid, which are visible to everyone using smart phones and social networks.

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

13 Facts About the Greatest Grid: How a Plan from 1811 Allowed New York City to Grow

The Greatest Grid, Hilary Ballon

The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011, edited by Hilary Ballon, recounts the history of the planning, implementation, and impact of the grid on New York City.

Conceived as a plan that was both logical and a reflection of the democratic values of the American republic, the grid has stood the test of time thanks to both its rigidity and its flexibility and has allowed for the city’s geographical and economic expansion. As the book and the accompanying exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York reveal, the grid is a reflection of and has shaped the city’s political, economic, and cultural character for more than two hundred years.

* The commissioners of the 1811 plan noted rather scornfully that they had eschewed the “circles, ovals and stars which certainly embellish a plan” in favor of “convenience and utility.”

* New York’s grid plan was to first to eliminate named streets altogether (the names came later). The rationality behind Manhattan’s street numbering system—Cartesian analytical geometry—also underpins early modern conceptions of space more generally.

* The key to the greatness of the grid is variety. It is not made up of evenly spaced, similarly sized blocks. The blocks, which are all 200 feet wide (north to south), vary in length (east to west) from less than 250 feet to more than 900 feet. Most east-west streets are 60 feet wide. However, seventeen of them are 100 feet wide. Most, but not all north-south avenues are 100 feet wide. Madison and Lexington Avenues (each 80 feet wide) were introduced after the 1811 plan to accommodate additional traffic.

* The original surveyors were regularly obstructed, attacked, and sued for damages for cutting branches to complete their work.

* The 1811 commissioners who laid out the grid had assumed that it would take several centuries for urban growth to reach above 155th Street.


Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Dean Starkman on the Limited Vision of News Gurus

Dean Starkman, Confidence Game: The Limited Visions of News GurusLongform recently selected Dean Starkman’s Confidence Game: The Limited Vision of News Gurus, as one of the best articles for 2011 in media.

Starkman’s article, which was published in the Columbia Journalism Review, and is now available as a digital short for Kindle, Nook, and iPad, takes on what has become a dominant perspective on the future of news in the digital age as personified by three well known media thinkers — Jay Rosen, Clay Shirky, and Jeff Jarvis — who have dominated the “future of news” debate. Starkman makes a powerful case that the perspective that these three represent, despite their many useful insights, is in the end corrosive to public-service journalism.

Starkman writes:

According to this consensus [as elaborated by Shirky, Rosen, and Jarvis], the future points toward a network-driven system of journalism in which news organizations will play a decreasingly important role. News won’t be collected and delivered in the traditional sense. It will be assembled, shared, and to an increasing degree, even gathered, by a sophisticated readership, one that is so active that the word “readership” will no longer apply. Let’s call it a user-ship or, better, a community. This is an interconnected world in which boundaries between storyteller and audience dissolve into a conversation between equal parties, the implication being that the conversation between reporter and reader was a hierarchical relationship, as opposed to, say, a simple division of labor.

Not surprisingly, Starkman’s articles has generated a fair amount of controversy. As reported in a post on the Melville House blog, Clay Shirky has responded to Starkman in his essay Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Images from The Greatest Grid: Scenes of New York City Before and After the Grid

The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011, edited by Hilary Ballon, contains a variety of different images and artifacts that offer a visual history of how the city changed as the grid evolved. Below are some images from the book:

The Greatest Grid, Randel Farm
A detail from the Randel Farm Map. John Randel’s survey of Manhattan was instrumental in developing the grid.

Greatest Grid, 81st Street
An 1886 photograph of 81st and 9th Avenue. As the grid extended upward rocks had to be removed.


Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Michael Mann — A Look Into Our Climate: Past To Present To Future

The following video features Michael Mann, author of the forthcoming The Hockey Stick: Dispatches from the Front Lines. In the talk given at a TEDx event, Mann explains the scientific data pointing to global warming.

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Hilary Ballon on the History and Impact of New York City’s Grid

The Greatest Grid: Manhattan's Master Plan, 1811-2011, Hilary BallonOur featured book of the week is The Greatest Grid: Manhattan’s Master Plan, 1811-2011, edited by Hilary Ballon. (The book makes an excellent gift and is part of our special 40% off holiday sale). The following is an excerpt from the book’s introduction, in which Ballon describes the impact and importance of the grid for New York City history and urban planning.

The street grid is a defining element of Manhattan, the city’s first great civic enterprise, and a vision of brazen ambition. It is also a milestone in the history of city planning and sets a standard to think just as boldly about New York’s future. This book and the related exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York honor the bicentennial of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 —the city’s foundational act of planning and a key to its identity.

The 1811 grid speaks to the city’s optimism about its future and its courage to do big things. In 1811, New York was a dynamic but still small city concentrated south of Canal Street, yet the commissioners boldly projected its extension to the heights of Harlem across 155 undeveloped streets. In the nineteenth century the grid grew horizontally, moving up the island. In the twentieth century it grew vertically, with skyscraper extrusions. The grid was a living framework, which enabled the city to grow and evolve over time; the grid itself also changed but without compromising its essential character.

The crooked streets of lower Manhattan remind us that the grid was not the natural or pre-ordained condition of the city. The grid was designed and required vigilant enforcement to secure its uninterrupted, straight streets and avenues. The Greatest Grid attempts to denaturalize the grid and recover the process of implementing it and developing New York’s gridded persona. That process involved reorganizing property lines; mobilizing government to open, grade, and pave streets; carving land into real estate parcels; and fostering the New York system of street walls, view corridors, and walkable streets that are also great social spaces.

Different interpretations have been projected on the grid. Some historians see the grid as emblematic of the democratic society forged in the early republic. All blocks are equal and no sites are inherently privileged, for example by a grand boulevard pointing the eyes of the city at a free-standing monument. Other historians have stressed the utility of the grid in subdividing the land and supporting real estate development. The grid enabled the efficient carving up of the land into rectangular ground lots, in parallel with Thomas Jefferson’s national rectangular survey that organized land sales in square mile townships. Another school of thought has stressed
the symbolic meanings of the grid, which materialize the ideal of Cartesian order in its numbered streets and coordinate system, unique among gridiron towns where streets typically are named for trees or people or places….


Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

New Book Tuesday: Islam Through Western Eyes, The Greatest Grid, and Other New Titles

Islam Through Western Eyes, Jonathan LyonsIslam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism
Jonathan Lyons

The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011
Edited by Hilary Ballon

The Racial Discourses of Life Philosophy: Négritude, Vitalism, and Modernity
Donna Jones

Intermittency: The Concept of Historical Reason in Recent French Philosophy
Andrew Gibson

Hitchcock Annual: Volume 17
Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Richard Allen

The Kirk and the Kingdom
Johnston McKay

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The Greatest Grid: Hilary Ballon and Jon Meacham on the History of Manhattan’s Grid

We are very excited to be publishing The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011, edited by Hilary Ballon, which accompanies an exhibit of the same name at the Museum of the City of New York.

In the following video Hilary Ballon talks with Jon Meacham about the history of the grid and some of the features of the book and exhibit:

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Neurogastronomy: Aging, Flavor, and Taste

Neurogastronomy, Gordon Shepherd

We conclude our week-long feature on Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters, by Gordon Shepherd fittingly enough with an excerpt from the final chapter. In the chapter, “Why Flavor Matters,” Shepherd discusses how perceptions of flavor and taste change as a person ages. In this excerpt, he consider flavor and old age:

In Shakespeare’s day, with no real medicines and the average life span probably around 40 years, old age left most people in a ravaged state. In our day, there are many in their eighties and nineties still going strong. However, there are also many who are incapacitated or ill with one of the many infirmities of age. An overriding concern for their loved ones is a failure to thrive. This may have an organic cause, but in many cases its cause may be a loss of interest in food because of its lack of flavor. This afflicts many old people, both in hospitals and at home.

There is increasing interest in identifying these cases and treating them. In many cases we know the causes. On average, sensory abilities decline in later years. Some people fortunately may be little affected, but many suffer signifi cant losses by natural ageing, quite apart from a disease process. Richard Doty of the Taste and Smell Center in Philadelphia has documented this with his Sniffi n’ Sticks tests and has shown a decline in smell sensitivity in the eighties and nineties. Diseases take their toll. It is now well documented that an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease is a loss of smell, and the same occurs in other diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Given the key role of smell in flavor, it is therefore not surprising that many older and ill people lose their sense of flavor. We have noted in the introduction that a sudden loss of the sense of smell in younger adults can be devastating because of the loss of flavor, and there can be a similar effect in the aged. Failure to thrive can have many causes, but loss of flavor is one that is potentially treatable and should be checked first. Treating it depends on the person’s natural preferences, but care has to be taken because some of the common ways of increasing flavor, such as adding salt, may be proscribed by the individual’s medical condition.