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Archive for December, 2016

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Introducing Class Clowns

Class Clowns

“At the end of the day, the underlying motivations of the various actors matter less than knowing how to avoid the mistakes detailed here. The trick is to retain the passion for education but lose the emotional or ideological commitments to particular solutions.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from Knee’s introduction.

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

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Why For-Profit Education Fails

Class Clowns

“Should anyone care that a bunch of very rich people have failed in these ventures? In fact, this should matter to anyone concerned about education. That failure, repeated so consistently, has given credible fodder to people who resist the active participation of for-profit enterprises in the educational sphere. But that sphere will always comprise public and private, nonprofit and for-profit institutions, and for-profit businesses play an essential role.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, we are happy to share an excerpt from “Why For-Profit Education Fails,” an article by Jonathan Knee that appeared in The Atlantic.

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

Why For-Profit Education Fails
By Jonathan A. Knee

[O]ver the past couple of decades, a veritable who’s who of investors and entrepreneurs has seen an opportunity to apply market discipline or new technology to a sector that often seems to shun both on principle. Yet as attractive and intuitive as these opportunities seemed, those who pursued them have, with surprising regularity, lost their shirts. JP Morgan backed Edison Schools’ ill-conceived effort to outsource public education in the late 1990s and saw the business lose 90 percent of its value during its four years as a public company; Goldman Sachs was one of many private-equity firms that came up empty after betting on the inevitable ascendance of for-profit universities; the billionaire Ronald Perelman shut down his futuristic K–12 educational-technology company, GlobalScholar, after spending $135 million and concluding that the software was faulty and a “mirage”; by the time the hedge-fund titan John Paulson was able to sell the last of his stake in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in 2015, he had likely lost hundreds of millions financing the company’s misguided mission to remake textbook publishing.

Not all financial investments in education end badly, but the number that have is notable, as are the magnitudes of the fiascos, in stark contrast to the successes of many of these same investors in other domains. The precise sources of failure in each instance are diverse, as are the educational subsectors targeted and the approaches pursued. But what many share is the sweeping nature of their ambition. (more…)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

The Road to Disastrous Educational Businesses Is Paved With Good Intentions

Class Clowns

“Scaling back ambitions and moving from high-minded rhetoric to the gritty operational challenges can have the feel of selling out. When the principles involved are viewed as fundamental, compromise—whether to a business model or to a policy platform—can be anathema. Yet the failure to do so in both instances not only makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but it also threatens to more permanently undermine the potential long-term benefits to both shareholders and the public.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. Today, we are happy to share a piece of an excerpt posted in full by EdSurge.

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

Adherents of particular educational business models and advocates of particular educational public policy approaches have a tendency to use very similar language in promoting their views. Their favored instrumentality of change is typically described alternatively as “transformational” or “revolutionary.” In both cases, the evidence suggests that a narrowing of focus, a nuanced appreciation of the particular market structure and context, and an emphasis on the importance of effective execution would go a long way toward improving the probability of successful outcomes.

But this is easier said than done. In general, revolutionaries are not known for their humility. Scaling back ambitions and moving from high-minded rhetoric to the gritty operational challenges can have the feel of selling out. When the principles involved are viewed as fundamental, compromise—whether to a business model or to a policy platform—can be anathema. Yet the failure to do so in both instances not only makes the perfect the enemy of the good, but it also threatens to more permanently undermine the potential long-term benefits to both shareholders and the public.

In the public policy arena, there is no better example of this phenomenon than the failed efforts of well-meaning reform advocates to use Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools to revolutionize urban public education more broadly. As documented by Dale Russakoff in her compelling 2015 book “The Prize,” the Newark initiative was disastrous, leaving little to show for the massive investment. In seeking transformational results that could be used as a template elsewhere, leaders misjudged the political environment, ignored the specific needs of the traumatized local population, and entrusted execution to true believers who did not have the required skills.

It would be hard to argue that the magnitude of this failure has not set back even better-conceived reform efforts. Those most responsible for the Newark debacle frequently invoked jargon plucked from business best sellers to justify their misguided efforts. Given the embarrassing results of many of the “transformative” educational business initiatives—including a number with which the same executives involved in Newark were associated—it is unclear how compelling these references were. More broadly, the failure of these business ventures has given credible fodder to those who resist the active participation of for-profit enterprises in the educational sphere.

Read the excerpt in its entirety at EdSurge.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

A Cautionary Tale on Education Investment Flops: Jonathan Knee on Squawk Box

Class Clowns

“When you try to mix your philanthropy with your investing, you tend to do both badly…. The important thing about good for-profit education is that it’s sustainable, it’s got a sustainable business model.” — Jonathan A. Knee

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. On Friday, December 16, Jonathan Knee appeared and discussed the dangers of investing in education on CNBC’s Squawk Box. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to share the video of his interview below.

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

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

New Book Tuesday: Weather and Climate, Stories in Business, Oil Prices, Tainted Witness, and More!

Making Sense of Weather and Climate

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Making Sense of Weather and Climate: The Science Behind the Forecasts
Mark Denny

Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business
Aswath Damodaran

Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices
Robert McNally

Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives
Leigh Gilmore

Extreme Domesticity: A View from the Margins
Susan Fraiman

Unmaking Love: The Contemporary Novel and the Impossibility of Union
Ashley T. Shelden

Now available in paperback
Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time
François Hartog. Translated by Saskia Brown.

Now available in paperback
Okinawa and the U.S. Military: Identity Making in the Age of Globalization, with a new preface
Masamichi S. Inoue

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education

Class Clowns

Class Clowns is more than a business book, or a book on the education industry. Filled with colorful characters and gripping narratives, it poses deep questions that should engage a broad audience. By bringing the keen insights of a veteran investment banker, Knee demonstrates that no matter the goals, any business is subject to the basic laws of economies of scale, geographic advantage, and barriers to entry. This is an important lesson that many in the education sector seem to have ignored” — James B. Stewart, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Den of Thieves

This week, our featured book is Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education, by Jonathan A. Knee. 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.

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

10 Tidbits from Gordon M. Shepherd’s Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine to Casually Slip into Conversation at Your Next Winetasting Party

Neuroenology

“If someone comments on how fun and relaxing winetasting parties are: ‘Actually, the process of orthonasal smells, or initial smell images, changing into mental images, while integrating taste, tactile, auditory, and visual stimuli is very involved.’”

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. Today, we are happy to present a list of ten tidbits about the science of how we taste wine for use in common wine-tasting party settings, pulled together by Columbia UP publicity intern Elisa Kong.

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

10 Tidbits from Gordon M. Shepherd’s Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine to Casually Slip into Conversation at Your Next Winetasting Party
By Elisa Kong

1) When someone comments on how smooth the wine is: “Actually, the initial perceived smoothness of wine depends on the balance between the serous and mucus parts of your saliva.”

2) If you catch your friend tasting the wine before sniffing it: “Before you start tasting, remember that sniffing is quite important when tasting wine, as it allows you to sense a wine’s aroma, which is critical in your judgment of its taste… But don’t stop on my account!”

3) If someone’s having a difficult time picking up on the aroma of the wine at hand, ask them if their olfactory bulb, the first station for processing sensory response, is working. “Pardon me, but is your olfactory bulb in tune today?”

4) When your friend says the wine is too “tart,” remind them that “tart” is not a term to be used lightly, as it implies that a wine’s acidity is much too strong. Mild acidity adds an “edge” to wine, which might have been the more appropriate term to use. (more…)

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

The Vocabulary of Wine: Ten Neuroenologic Terms for Understanding the Neuroscience of Wine

Neuroenology

“Photoreceptor response: the electrical response when particles in light waves called photons hit the eye. This is what allows us to see a wine as red or white, or, in Shepherd’s view, red or pale.”

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. Today, we are happy to present a list of ten neuroenologic terms from the book compiled by Columbia UP publicity intern Andrew Loso.

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

The Vocabulary of Wine: Ten Neuroenologic Terms for Understanding the Neuroscience of Wine
Compiled by Andrew Loso

Gordon M. Shepherd’s new book Neuroenology, the first book on wine tasting by a neuroscientist, offers a comprehensive take on how the senses and the brain perceive wine. The text is palatable for novice wine drinkers and novice scientists alike, and Shepherd introduces the reader to many new wine-related terms. “Neuroenology” itself is a new term which is defined as how the brain creates the taste of wine. These ten are a cross section across the many topics that Shepherd covers.

Aroma burst: the sensation produced by the high concentration of particles called volatiles that coat the mouth immediately after swallowing.

Congruent: describes when the stimuli involved with taste and retronasal smell complement each other, which is essential to maintaining the flavor balance of wine.

Experienced pleasure (EP): the good feeling we get from doing something, relevant here to a study in which subjects felt the same EP for wine ranging from $5 to $90 in a blind test.

Flavor image: one of the most complex, and rewarding, human flavor experiences in which taste, retronasal smell, tactile stimuli, and visual stimuli integrate.

Hedonistic value: the emotional value a person puts on wine, based on their preference for whether or not the wine tastes “good” to them.

Legs: drip lines created by swirling wine in a glass that reflect the wine’s chemical composition.

Mouthfeel: perceptions which physical touch stimuli activate, such as supple, aggressive, viscous, and steely.

Photoreceptor response: the electrical response when particles in light waves called photons hit the eye. This is what allows us to see a wine as red or white, or, in Shepherd’s view, red or pale.

Retronasal smell: the sensation produced after wine has entered the mouth as the mixing of saliva with particles called volatiles in the wine affects their volatility.

Taste modalities: sweet, salt, sour, bitter, umami, and fat, all of which are present in much lower quantities in wine than in food.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Shirley Hazzard’s 2003 National Book Award Acceptance Speech

We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think

We were terribly saddened to hear the news that Shirley Hazzard passed away Monday. We were fortunate to have the chance to publish a collection of her writing, We Need Silence to Find Out What We Think: Selected Essays. In memory of her wonderful life and career, we have excerpted her National Book Award Acceptance speech from 2003 in which she concisely explains the power of the written (and read) word.

There’s a moment to say I am delighted, and I am delighted. I’m delighted to have been in the company of the other nominees tonight who of recent days I’ve heard read from their works and been so impressed by the variety of our feelings and our approaches. There was no uniformity at all in what we brought except the wish to do well by the English language, to find the word that mattered. I honor the people who were with me because I enjoyed so much hearing them read and hearing this large diversity.

I want to say in response to Stephen King that I do not—as I think he a little bit seems to do—regard literature (which he spoke of perhaps in a slightly pejorative way), that is, the novel, poetry, language as written, I don’t regard it as a competition. It is so vast. We have this marvelous language. We are so lucky that we have a huge audience for that language. If we were writing in high Norwegian, we would be writing in a great ancient language, but we would have mostly reindeer for our readers. I’m not sure that that is the ideal outcome. We have this huge language so diverse around the earth that I don’t think giving us a reading list of those who are most read at this moment is much of a satisfaction because we are reading in all the ages, which have been an immense inspiration and love to me and are such an excitement. (more…)

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

An Interview with Aarthi Vadde, Author of “Chimeras of Form”

Chimeras of Form, Aarthi Vadde

“I am most interested in those moments in modernist and contemporary fiction where unachievable dreams of global transformation yield critical insights into the world as it currently exists.”—Aarthi Vadde

The following is an interview with Aarthi Vadde, author of Chimeras of Form: Modernist Internationalism Beyond Europe, 1914–2016. In the interview, Vadde discusses how literature and literary form allows us to see the possibility of internationalism and communal politics in a new way. She considers how the work of writers such as Zadie Smith, James Joyce, and Rabindranath Tagore explore and critique imperialism and globalization and imagine new political communities.

Question: Why look to literature for ways of understanding the possibilities and limitations of internationalism and international community?

Aarthi Vadde: It’s an important question. Part of my argument in Chimeras of Form is that literature is an overlooked medium for thinking about internationalism and international community. People are much more likely to turn to the discipline of history for an account of specific international movements or political philosophy for a definitional or normative account of internationalism. But literary works are vital too because they take us into zones of experience and imagination that history and philosophy cannot reach.

The writers that interest me most, from Rabindranath Tagore to Zadie Smith, reflect on the lived conditions of imperialism and globalization; they regard internationalism as a communal aspiration that confronts the day-to-day ambiguities and inequalities of these large-scale formations. Such ambiguities and inequalities are often invisible in expository language, but they become palpable through literary language. The study of literature returns abstract theories of internationalism to specific cultural milieus. Moreover, literary works open up political formulations of international community to poetic forms of examination and reinvention.

Q: How did this discourse or imaginings of internationalism change over the period you cover in the book?

During and after World War I, many writers, artists, intellectuals, and politicians expressed the need for international cooperation as an antidote to national competition and aggression. The League of Nations was founded in 1920 as a bastion of liberal internationalism, and it sponsored the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (ICIC), which boasted an elite membership: Henri Bergson, Marie Curie, and Gilbert Murray among others. Its events brought Albert Einstein, Rabindranath Tagore, H.G. Wells, and Thomas Mann into the fold. The ICIC associated internationalism with cross-cultural understanding, but that only went so far. It was a largely European affair, and, as Tagore, James Joyce, and other writers in my book point out, such cultural internationalism could not fully flourish on the back of colonial exploitation.

The discourses of internationalism that interest me most are the ones that sought to blend proposals for cultural exchange with materialist critiques of the conditions that make such exchange difficult or coercive across continental and global lines of power. We see such imaginings of internationalism stirring in the 1910s-20s and peaking in the 1950s and 1960s during the era of decolonization. They persist through to the 21st century even if their targets of criticism have changed. Whereas the British Empire was the target of internationalist critique in the first half of the twentieth century, we now see global institutions like the World Bank, human rights organizations, and transnational states like the European Union come under scrutiny for extractive economic policies, political interventionism, and racialized immigration and asylum laws. The key now is to balance criticism and reform of these internationalist institutions with support for their existence in the face of resurgent xenophobic populisms worldwide.

(more…)

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

A New Approach to Wine Tasting

Neuroenology

“This book builds on [other] authoritative accounts by focusing on a new approach to wine tasting that can be summed up in the phrase: the taste is not in the wine; the taste is created by the brain of the wine taster.” — Gordon M. Shepherd

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. To get the feature started, we are happy to present Shepherd’s introduction to Neuroenology.

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

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

New Book Tuesday: Strategies for Long-Term Business Growth, Lessons from the Boardroom, Left-Wing Melancholia, and More!

If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

If You’re in a Dogfight, Become a Cat!: Strategies for Long-Term Growth
Leonard Sherman

The Activist Director: Lessons from the Boardroom and the Future of the Corporation
Ira M. Millstein

Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory
Enzo Traverso

Exception Taken: How France Has Defied Hollywood’s New World Order
Jonathan Buchsbaum

Protection Amid Chaos: The Creation of Property Rights in Palestinian Refugee Camps
Nadya Hajj (more…)

Monday, December 12th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd

Neuroenology

“Shepherd provides a valuable and interesting glimpse into the human side of science and its inherently cross-disciplinary nature. After having read Neuroenology, every sniff, bite and gulp, will create a moment of reflection on how complex and wonderfully mysterious the human brain is.” — Christopher R. Loss, Culinary Institute of America

This week, our featured book is Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, by Gordon M. Shepherd. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

Friday, December 9th, 2016

University Press Roundup

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post every Friday.)

Yale University Press’s blog features a post by Jieun Baek, author of North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society. In this post, Baek seeks to dispel popular misconceptions surrounding North Korea, emphasizing the subtle changes that have influenced North Korean politics and government. For example, Baek addresses the relationship between the North Korean government and the circulation of foreign information and media. “Young people are taking more risks than ever before. People are trusting each other, watching each other’s backs, and building stronger bonds. The widespread grassroots marketization and unprecedented levels of access to foreign information now play a central role in changing the social consciousness of some North Korean citizens and are sparking subtle, yet irreversible, changes inside this country.” With regards to North Koreans themselves, Baek argues that their situation is a lot less hopeless than perceived, calling North Koreans an “extraordinarily resilient people.” “There is hope for positive change to emerge from inside this country. The people are the proof.”

This week, Duke University Press commemorated the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor with a post on Memorializing Pearl Harbor: Unfinished Histories and the Work of Remembrance by Geoffrey M. White and A Date Which Will Live: Pearl Harbor in American Memory by Emily S. Rosenberg. Memorializing Pearl Harbor focuses on the challenges that come with representing the attack on Pearl Harbor, and more broadly, examines public mediums through which history is “re-presented.” This book also considers the effect of the Pearl Harbor memorial on Japanese Americans and veterans. “The memorial has become a place where Japanese veterans have come to seek recognition and reconciliation, where Japanese Americans have sought to correct narratives of racial mistrust, and where Native Hawaiians have challenged their ongoing erasure from their own land.” On the other hand, A Date Which Will Live focuses on Pearl Harbor’s influence on American culture and memory. “In doing so, she discusses the recent “memory boom” in American culture; the movement to exonerate the military commanders at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short; the political mobilization of various groups during the culture and history ‘wars’ of the 1990s, and the spectacle surrounding the movie Pearl Harbor.”

Johns Hopkins University Press’s blog features a post on the origin of the 24-hour news cycle and our “psychological hunger” for the newsworthy stories. Our obsession with the news began with the invention and popularization of the telegraph. “Samuel Morse’s first telegraph message from Washington to Baltimore in 1844 was the celebrated Bible verse, ‘What hath God wrought!’ His lesser-known second message, immediately following, was, ‘Have you any news?’” This craving for current events only intensified during the Civil War, when crowds would gather together to read and discuss the latest telegrams. This post emphasizes the importance of investigating the way in which our attitudes and mindsets change due to innovation. “We have developed sophisticated frameworks for understanding the relationship between technological innovation and social change, but we understand far less about how technological change affects individual perceptions, expectations, and behavior.”

University of Chicago Press’s blog features a question and answer session with the author of Life Breaks In, Mary Cappello. Life Breaks In helps readers understand the concept of “mood” and how different moods are generated by every day experiences. The book is also highly personal, as Cappello takes readers on a journey of her memories. When asked about the relationship between the uncanny and nonfiction, Cappello says that the uncanny is “at the heart” of literary nonfiction. “The places where the real slip-slides with something unrecognizable, where the familiar and the strange switch places. Cognitive dissonance. Home not home. The pleasure and necessity of altered states.” In this question and answer post, Cappello sets the scene of a bike ride in New England and its impact on one’s mood.

Cambridge University Press’s blog features a post by Nicolas Dupont-Bloch, author of Shoot the Moon. In this post, Dupont-Bloch offers a list of tips and tricks in order to successfully capture one of the most fascinating subjects of all, the moon. For example, he states, “The full Moon is widely neglected because craters do not show cast shadows; however ray systems, some volcanic features and differences in the lunar soil are emphasized. But the full Moon is dramatic, don’t overlook it!” We also learn that a red filter should be used when the Moon is low, whereas a green filter should be used to fix chromatism. For more information on that perfect shot, check out Nicolas Dupont-Bloch’s post on Cambridge University Press’s blog.

University of Alabama Press’s blog features a post on the book To Stand Aside or Stand Alone: Southern Reform Rabbis and the Civil Rights Movement, by P. Allen Krause. This book is based off a series of interviews conducted by Krause with twelve Reform rabbis from southern congregations during the civil rights movement. Because interviewees were promised twenty-five years before their interviews would be released, Krause was able to incorporate the unfiltered views and experiences of these Reform rabbis into his book. One must not forget the harsh conditions endured by Reform rabbis during the civil rights movement. “These men functioned within a harsh environment: rabbis’ homes, synagogues, and Jewish community centers were bombed; one rabbi, who had been beaten and threatened, carried a pistol to protect himself and his family.” Despite these adverse situations, Southern Reform rabbis made substantial contributions to the civil rights movement.

Thanks for reading! As always, we hope that you enjoyed the links. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

Friday, December 9th, 2016

John Pickrell on the Feathered Dinosaur Tail

Weird Dinosaurs

The following is an excerpt from an article that appears in full at the Australian Geographic website by John Pickrell, author of Weird Dinosaurs: The Strange New Fossils Challenging Everything We Thought We Knew on the recent stunning discovery of a perfect dinosaur tail perfectly preserved in amber.

The feathered dinosaur tail in amberDinosaur tail section running through the amber piece, surrounded by ants, a beetle and bits of plant.
IMAGE CREDIT: Royal Saskatchewan Museum/R.C. McKellar

Feathered Dinosaur Tail Found in Amber
John Pickrell

In Jurassic Park scientists found mosquitoes trapped in amber that had traces of dinosaur blood and DNA inside them. That was a fictional scenario, but researchers have now found what is, arguably, a much more exciting piece of prehistory trapped inside fossilised tree resin – the tail of a small carnivorous dinosaur covered in fluffy feathers.

Every week or so these days a new species of dinosaur is revealed to the world, but this specimen – dug up by amber miners in Myanmar (Burma) – has to be one of the most exciting discoveries of the past few years.

I first heard hints of this fossil when I interviewed its discoverer, Chinese palaeontologist Dr. Lida Xing, for my book Weird Dinosaurs early in 2016. Since then I have been waiting with great anticipation to the see these images.

A small coelurosaur dinosaur
A small coelurosaur dinosaur on the forest floor; the creature that left its tail in amber would have looked something like this.
IMAGE CREDIT: Cheung Chung-tat and Liu Yi

Today an international team of scientists – led by Lida, based at the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, and amber fossil expert Dr Ryan McKellar at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada – reveal the details of the fossil in the journal Current Biology. What they have found is the tail of a small carnivorous dinosaur – it’s from a juvenile animal would have been about the size of a sparrow.

Read the full article at the Australian Geographic website!

Friday, December 9th, 2016

Thoughts on and an Excerpt from Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays

Today Adham Azab-Xu, Ph.D. candidate in French and Romance Philology at Columbia University and current Fellow in Academic Administration here at Columbia University Press, responds to Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler and translated by Chandler, Jesse Irwin, and Susan Larsen.

When Christine Dunbar, the editor of the Russian Library Series, asked me to read Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays by Andrei Platonov, edited by Robert Chandler, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it—I certainly don’t have a background in Russian literature, and have never been an enthusiastic reader of plays. But once I began reading, I was quickly engrossed in the stories these plays have to tell, which is why I am writing this post and urging you, our readers, to give Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays a chance.

In his excellent introduction to this book, Chandler writes that “like all great art, [Platonov’s] stories and plays can speak to a reader who knows little or nothing about the author and his times. Platonov’s deepest concerns were, in fact, always universal—philosophical and psychological more than political” (xxvii). We often perceive great art as great particularly because it continues to appeal to us in changing times, or because changes in our own perspective fill it with new life. In a way, then, great art is both timeless and ephemeral—it endures, but it variously reflects differing perspectives across physical and temporal boundaries.

Wanting to disconnect from the world for a bit, I began reading Fourteen Little Red Huts on November 8th—the day Donald Trump won the presidential election—and Chandler’s observation resonated deeply with me. Like many people I know, I was up in arms for the whole presidential campaign about the unmitigated triumph of disinformation. Even now, fake news sites spread it relentlessly and virulently, and large groups of people (some of whom I know intimately) only double down on their beliefs when presented with information that contradicts the most damaging and outlandish conspiracies. On November 8th, I saw that ours is not unlike the world to which Platonov bears witness in Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays—his characters, in spite of their suffering, and in spite of the obvious signs of falsehood that surround them, cleave ever more closely to their beliefs, or to what they are told to believe, and it certainly doesn’t do them any good.

Granted, to put things in historical context, Platonov’s characters, living—or, more accurately, starving to death—on collective farms (or kolkhozy) in Soviet Russia, are faced with a choice between what they’re told to believe, on the one hand, and the Gulag* on the other. While it is reassuring that relatively few people in the world today have to make such a choice, it is important not to forget that these plays’ most dystopic scenes represent Platonov’s real-life experience as a land reclamation expert in the 1920s, and as a writer sent to report on events in the Soviet countryside between 1929 and 1932. Between 1932 and 1933 alone, the Encyclopedia Britannica estimates that six to nine million people died of hunger in the fields, but even as Platonov’s characters wither away and die, many of them refuse to acknowledge the direness of their reality. They continue to toe the party line.

The plays’ jarringly unnatural, morbidly jocular language, especially in The Hurdy Gurdy and in Fourteen Little Red Huts, testifies to the unbelievability of the situation their characters find themselves in, and I sense that in using this kind of language in these two plays, Platonov was walking a fine line—struggling to find a truthful way to express the dystopic suffering he witnessed without getting himself sent to the Gulag. On several occasions, though, it seems a wonder that Platonov got away with writing so openly about the famine, since the Soviet government denied its existence and criminalized all discourse about it. To this effect, the cries of starving children in Fourteen Little Red Huts are both poignant and remarkable—a true act of literary bravery, even if none of these plays, and only one of the works Platonov wrote about the collectivization or about the famine, were published during Platonov’s lifetime.

In light of this fact, it is perhaps not surprising that Platonov expresses a distinct ambivalence about the value of writing in his plays. Reading Fourteen Little Red Huts in particular, it seems fair to say that he would reject the notion of literary bravery altogether; the three writers in Fourteen Little Red Huts certainly do not come across in a positive light, and, in the same play, reading appears to be little more than a diversion for those who are both starving and bored to death on the kolkhoz. And yet, Platonov still wrote these plays—plays that have often been deemed unperformable on account of their unusual stage directions, which seem more aimed at readers than at potential viewers. Why write plays that aren’t really plays? And why write at all, when it won’t get you anywhere?

If there is any value at all in writing, I would argue that, as far as these plays are concerned, it has more to do with revealing the suffering of the voiceless than with trying to assuage that suffering, which would be an exercise in futility. Platonov offers these voices up to us, and, eighty-five years later, they still speak to us, reminding us in so many ways that we “shall languish without motion amid the historical current, […] the same piffle as everything living or dead” (159).

At any rate, I hope all of you will read Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays! Especially now, it will give you a lot to think about.

*Editor’s note: Not yet called the Gulag, but the point still stands…

See below for an excerpt from Fourteen Little Red Huts:

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

An Excerpt from the main text of Strolls with Pushkin

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Strolls with Pushkin

Eugene Onegin, Pushkin’s novel in verse, is one of the most influential works of Russian literature. In the below excerpt, the narrator “strolls” through Eugene Onegin, explaining why it’s a good thing that Pushkin was superficial, full of nonsense, and unconcerned with consequences.

Intrigued? For more context on Strolls with Pushkin, see the excerpt from Catharine Theimer Nepomnyaschy’s introduction: http://www.cupblog.org/?p=20320

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Thursday Fiction Corner: Between Dog and Wolf in Translation

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Between Dog and Wolf

Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Russian Library intern and Columbia Russian Literary Translation MA student Elaine Wilson delves into Alexander Boguslawski’s translation of Between Dog and Wolf.

Sasha Sokolov’s novel Between Dog and Wolf is intimidating in its complexity: time is non-linear, character names are inconsistent, register moves along a wide spectrum from peasant dialect to sophisticated, even Biblical style, and the language is filled with neologisms. It is highly intertextual, astoundingly rich in its reference to Russian literary tradition across the centuries. Space, time, life and death are all uncertain—rarely is any one of them clearly demarcated—and events are told and retold from differing perspectives. And that’s just the content.

The structure likewise poses a challenge: dialogue, monologue and third person omniscient narration coexist on the page with no breaks, no indentation, no typeset cues or even general conventions of reported speech, but rather flow freely along in a train of associative (and sometimes seemingly unassociated) thought. Sokolov’s writing style belongs in a category all its own, a genre Sokolov himself categorizes as somewhere between prose and poetry, or “proetry.” And speaking of poetry, there are plenty of poems throughout, too—complete chapters of poetry tucked among the “proetic” sections of the novel.

How can something like this find its voice in a foreign language? For a long time, publishers and translators asked themselves that very question. When the Russian version of the novel was first published in 1980, critics gave it a rather mixed reception, and many within the literary community—capable translators among them—balked at the idea of an English-language version, suggesting it could never be done.

And yet it could. Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf is being published in English for the very first time, and so the idea of the “untranslatable” returns to the realm of translation mythology. Or does it?

I am a student of translation. Russian into English literary translation, to be specific, and so I feel a personal kind of victory in the release of this novel, a sense of celebration in a triumph over apparently insurmountable linguistic odds. Yet for all my excitement I still wonder about the inevitable losses that occur when we bring a literary work from one language into another; in the back of my mind I can’t help but hear Nabokov denouncing the “sins” of our “queer world of verbal transmigration,”* crying out that all translation but for literal, scholarly renderings are false. (Though perhaps Nabokov would find the most egregious transgression of all to be the lack of exhaustive notes on the same page of the referenced text, an organizational decision specified by Sokolov himself.)

Nabokovian doubt on the value of translation aside, can translation of something like Sokolov’s convoluted work be done well? The novel is difficult, packed with myriad obstacles that translators don’t frequently face, much less all at once. Puns, peasant dialect, a general sense of disorientation—translator Alexander Boguslawski tackles these challenges by the best means possible: culturally conscious creativity, or what Philip E. Lewis calls “abusive translation.” When a translator must force an idea from a unique mode of expression in the source text into a new linguistic framework, the translator’s job is to convey sense and meaning while still communicating the uniqueness of the source form in the receiving language. Often what “works” in Russian won’t work in English, and so the translator needs to “abuse” the text, that is, creatively engage the receiving language so that it can carry the meaning, the humor/ irony/ sadness, etc. and the unorthodox medium of the source in its new linguistic code. Consider Boguslawski’s translation of the Russian dva sapoga para: “two boots of leather flock together.” This is a clever blending of the Russian subject and English idiomatic structure to convey the literal scene—two characters sharing a pair of boots—and the spirit of collaboration implied by the Russian proverb Sokolov uses to describe them. The Russian, literally “two boots are a pair,” folds into “birds of a feather flock together” to create an English-Russian proverbial hybrid.

Why not simply use the English idiom here? Wouldn’t the spirit of the proverb be enough to convey the characters’ sense of comraderie? A translator could take this easy way out, but more than just sounding trite, the imagery would be lost, deafening the line’s descriptive power in Russian. Boguslawki does not take the easy road, and thank goodness, for his solution is lovely: it retains the visual and sense of the Russian while infusing some “foreignness” into the English text, an “abuse” that works in service of conveying the character and style that we experience in Sokolov’s Russian.

So much for linguistic obstacles. What about literary density? Again, Nabokov’s cynicism echoes in the back of my mind: the translator of a text “must have as much talent, or at least the same kind of talent, as the author he chooses.”* Between Dog and Wolf is packed with references to past and modern Russian artists, particularly Pushkin, something which only a reader with comprehensive, arguably exhaustive knowledge of Russian literary tradition would understand. Careful Russian readers have trouble identifying everything that is layered within the story, so how can we expect anyone but the most meticulous scholar to identify these layers, much less translate such a text? Of course, Boguslawski’s friendly relationship with the author establishes him as the closest thing to a Sokolov specialist for this translation, but Nabokov’s standards still reach impossibly high; in the case of this extremely learned text, is anyone capable of translation? Or perhaps the “untranslatable” does not exist, but is it possible that scholarly translation and Nabokov’s towering footnotes are the only recourse? If so, are there “prerequisites” in literary pedigree for both translators and readers of these works?

To silence this existential questioning I could turn again to literary and translation theory for inspiration, but I don’t need to. A novel’s complexity notwithstanding, translation is ultimately a dialogue between cultures and an exchange of ideas. And even though things are certain to get left by the wayside as they move from one linguistic and cultural framework to another, the receiving language and audience still gain. Perhaps readers won’t or possibly can’t identify all that the author has folded into the text, but this is an invitation to study, to revisit the story and look closer.. No matter how deep the reader chooses to go, reading a text in translation is an entry point into another literary tradition and culture that was previously closed; exhaustive research can be nice, but ultimately we have reason to celebrate because one group has gained insight into another, and that is a beautiful thing.

*Nabokov, Vladimir, (August 4,1941). The Art of Translation. The New Republic.
Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/62610/the-art-translation

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Announcing the Columbia University Press Spring 2017 Catalog

Columbia UP Fall 2016 Catalog

We are proud to announce our catalog of new books coming in Spring 2017! In her introductory letter, Press Director Jennifer Crewe lays out her hopes for the books in the catalog and lists a few highlights:

Dear Readers:

Our spring list represents the effort we make at Columbia University Press to bring fresh perspective and invaluable expertise to the global issues that affect our lives. With books on environmental sustainability, the rise of religion, national security, ethical labor practices, corporate accountability, racial injustice, and the historical roots of society and culture, our list responds to and clarifies our political moment.

This season’s most notable trend is the strengthening partnership between our publishing house and the scholars and resources of Columbia University, which has resulted in books that showcase the unique strengths of Columbia’s leading researchers. In Building the New American Economy (p. 1), the Columbia professor Jeffrey D. Sachs presents a visionary plan for sustainable growth. In The Activist Director (p. 6), Ira M. Millstein creates a new model of responsible corporate governance. And Natalie Robins’s biography of Diana Trilling, The Untold Journey (p. 2), is the first book to make extensive use of the Diana Trilling archives and Lionel Trilling’s journals at the Columbia Library.

By More Than Providence (p. 15) is an expansive and instructive history of American strategy in the Asia Pacific, part of a new series on American–East Asian relations generously funded by a Columbia University graduate. Written by the grandson of the first African American scholar to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia, Down the Up Staircase (p. 19) shares a poignant story of American mobility complicated by race. It is the first work to receive support from a member of our new Publisher’s Circle, founded to ensure the publication of significant scholarship regardless of its cost. Our Kenneth J. Arrow lecture series continues with Paul Milgrom’s Discovering Prices (p. 38), which offers a more workable theory of auction design for today’s markets. These books are the rich result of the collaborations and cooperation we hope to increase in the coming years to guarantee that our best thinkers continue to contribute meaningfully to the world.

Thank you for your support,

Jennifer Crewe
President and Director

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Excerpt from Catharine Theimer Nepomnyaschy’s introduction to Andrei Sinyavsky’s Strolls with Pushkin

This post is a part of the inaugural week of the Russian Library, a new series that seeks to demonstrate the breadth, variety, and global importance of the Russian literary tradition to English-language readership through new and revised translations of premodern, modern, and contemporary Russian literature.

Enter the Russian Library Book Giveaway here

Strolls with Pushkin

Anglophone readers, and perhaps Americans in particular, have a hard time understanding the centrality of Pushkin to Russian culture. The most tempting comparison is to Shakespeare: after all, Pushkin and Shakespeare are the generally acknowledged “great writers” of their respective languages; both wrote not only lyric poetry but also longer, more complex works; both popularized plots that continue to energize the writing of others; both are taught in schoolrooms and authored phrases that have entered everyday speech. And, Pushkin really liked Shakespeare, a fact that seems to give an added imprimatur to the comparison. But to me, at least, Shakespeare has never felt as immediate as Pushkin. He’s much further removed temporally, of course, having been born in 1564 to Pushkin’s 1799, and that makes his language more removed from the modern idiom as well. And I suspect that Shakespeare’s Englishness contributes to this sense of distance for me as an American. But more than anything, it’s Pushkin’s ubiquity in Russian life that lacks an appropriate analog in the Anglophone world.

This ubiquity both motivates and makes possible Andrei Sinyavsky’s book Strolls with Pushkin. Sinyavsky wrote the book while in Dubrovlag, part of the Soviet gulag system (the “lag” in both words in short for “lager’” or “camp”). He explains that while politics and camp conditions were proscribed topics, it was entirely permissible to fill his bimonthly letters to his wife with musings on Pushkin. After all, what could be more innocent? Nevertheless, the resulting book would prove to be Sinyavsky’s most controversial, as Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy explains in her masterful introduction. Following a biography of Pushkin that begins with his birth and continues, in the form of an overview of the cult of Pushkin, past his death and up to the time when Sinyavsky was writing, Nepomnyashchy offers the following invitation to the text:

It is precisely the boundary between the revered and the irreverent Pushkins that Sinyavsky transgresses from the very beginning of his Strolls with Pushkin. He sets off on his meanderings through the “sacred verses” of the poet with the Pushkin of pushkinskie anekdoty as his companion in hopes of circumventing the “wreaths and busts” that enshrine the canonic Pushkin and finding the “beautiful original.” This initial border violation defines the course of Sinyavsky’s strolls throughout. At every step he challenges accepted dividing lines—between writer and critic, author and character, sacred and profane, art and life—in order to undermine the commonplaces of the Pushkin myth as well as the understanding of literature as a reflection of reality that the myth entails. His project, moreover, rests on an internal contradiction. If strolling is by definition aimless motion, how can one stroll in search of something? This paradox is ultimately resolved when Sinyavsky reaches his goal only to discover that it is “zero,” that it lies in the very imposture embodied in the anecdotal Pushkin with whom he began. His strolls have both attained their object and gone nowhere and thus become a paradigm for “pure art”—art that transcends purposes external to it and becomes an end in itself. As Sinyavsky observes, “Art strolls.”

To read more:

Check back later this week now for an excerpt from the main text of Strolls with Pushkin.