About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Roy Harris / Pulitzer's Gold

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

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

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

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

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

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

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

Archive for February, 2017

Friday, February 17th, 2017

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.)

Climate change proved to be an important theme to a few presses this week. As efforts continue to organize a Climate March and maintain the recent Paris Agreement, the Island Press has summarized a visit made by their staff to Congressional offices in Washington, promoting The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change (2014) by Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein. Elsewhere, the University of Minnesota Press features a guest post by Caitlin DeSilvey, author of Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving (2017), on potential ways the National Parks Service and other agencies may ethically and productively deal with the potential loss of the territories and monuments under their care due to climate change or human action.

This week’s political entries include Aviva Chomsky blogging about the crucial role undocumented immigrants play in the United States’ economy for Beacon Broadside, and David Williams, author of Milton’s Leveller God (2017), writing at the McGill-Queen’s University Press blog about the historical parallels of many crises of liberal democracy. The Indiana University Press blog also features a lengthy interview with journalist Douglas A. Wissing, author of the recent Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan.

In other disciplines, Duke University Press celebrated World Anthropology Day on February 16th with a roundup of their titles in that field. The subject of artificial intelligence, which we highlighted briefly last week, was picked up at the Cambridge University Press, where John Suler, author of Psychology of the Digital Age (2016) writes about his recent, startling acquisition of Amazon’s Alexa device. Black History Month is continuing at the Harvard University Press blog with a post by Syd Nathans, author of A Mind to Stay: White Plantation, Black Homeland (2017) about the phenomenon of African-Americans who chose to stay in the American South during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries when so many others were moving north.

Finally, from the grab-bag of the eye-catching and the odd: Oxford University Press lists ‘Ten facts about the accordion‘; Sydney Publishing looks back at the wisecracks of Australian comedian Lennie Lower; and at Johns Hopkins, Steve Huskey, author of The Skeleton Revealed: An Illustrated Tour of the Vertebrates (2017) writes about the joy of hearing his students say “I think of you when I see roadkill.”

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

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Boom and bust returns as oil market loses its swing

Crude Volatility

“While it is possible the unmanaged interplay of supply and demand will yield more stable prices in coming years and decades, it is more likely future trends will resemble the past, featuring surprising shifts, sustained imbalances, and upheaval.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. Today, we are happy to repost an article by Robert McNally that “>originally appeared in the Financial Times:

Boom and bust returns as oil market loses its swing: For the first time in years, the global oil market is lacking a swing producer
By Robert McNally

Even in these hyper-partisan times, loathing for Opec still unites most Americans. Yet paradoxically, over four decades from the early 1930s to early 1970s, the United States was Opec, and much better at oil supply manipulation and price fixing than today’s Opec ever was.

Up until 1972, independent US oilmen and oil states like Texas acquiesced to heavyhanded government regulations over oil, imposing monthly quotas on producers. This was all done to vanquish chronic booms and busts that vexed the oil industry, consumers, investors, and officials.

This paradox bears directly on the epic, structural shift currently under way in the global oil market, with far-reaching repercussions not only for oil and energy, but also economic growth, security, and the environment. Wildly gyrating oil prices over the past decade mark the demise of Opec as an effective supply manager and the return of free crude oil markets. The resulting unwelcome and likely protracted return of boom-bust oil prices constitutes a major and under-appreciated financial, economic, and geopolitical risk to consumers, businesses, the incoming administration and governments worldwide. (more…)

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Old Numbers, New Data

Crude Volatility

“I decided to write this book to explore more deeply how oil’s history can clarify recent trends and shed light on tomorrow’s path, and to present my findings to the general reader as well as the energy expert.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. In today’s post, we feature an excerpt from the preface to Crude Volatility, with some illuminating graphs. (Click on the images to see them full-size!)

Tackling this topic presented formidable challenges, not the least of which was getting good historical data and information. For “barrel counters,” the search for better data is a never-ending and arduous quest. Historical data on prices and spare production capacity—central to this book—are especially scarce and patchy. I am therefore delighted and proud that my able research assistant Fernando Ferreira and I were able to unearth historical data and present two novel data sets, neither of which (to my knowledge) existed until now.

The first data set is a continuous, market-based price series for U.S. crude prices extending back to 1859 and continuing to the present on a monthly basis. Constructing this series entailed digging up prices based on field quotations, exchange-traded pipeline certificates (a proxy for crude oil prices), prices paid by Standard Oil’s purchasing agency, and data from the American Petroleum Institute and the Energy Information Administration.

The key issue here is frequency of the data. BP helpfully publishes historical crude oil prices back to 1859 on an annual basis. But annual averages fall short of illustrating boom-bust price trends as more frequent and dramatic price swings—daily, weekly, monthly—get lost in the annual average. Unless otherwise noted, all prices cited in this book, including this new monthly historical price series, are in nominal instead of real or inflation-adjusted terms. Using real prices would not change the story from a volatility perspective, but I decided to use nominal prices to better connect the prevailing historical narrative with price changes…

The second unique data set developed for this book is for U.S. spare production capacity extending back to 1940 and continuous data on U.S. and global spare capacity since 1955 (that is, including the Seven Sisters until the early 1970s and OPEC afterward). This entailed exhuming information from various government and industry reports and publications. Currently, EIA’s published OPEC spare production capacity extends back to 2003.

My goal is to contribute to our understanding of the economic and political forces that shaped oil prices in history so as to better understand them today and tomorrow. Whether I have succeeded I leave to you, dear reader, to judge…

(Click on the images to see them full-size!)

Oil Disruptions, Spare Capacity, and Crude Prices

Nominal Crude Oil Prices

Monthly Crude Oil Price Ranges

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Trump’s Strange Loves

Reconstructing Strangelove

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Mick Broderick, author of Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s “Nightmare Comedy”, discusses how Dr. Strangelove is and has been used in US politics:

Trump’s Strange Loves
By Mick Broderick

There has been much consternation recently concerning President Trump’s access to the American nuclear arsenal, the missile control codes (carried in the briefcase-sized “football”) and his personal authorization card (the “biscuit”). As newly anointed Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump now wields near-apocalyptic power, literally at his fingertips. Throughout his appointed four-year term he can at any time – to invoke Robert Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad Gita – “become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Only a few minutes from committing to such action nearly a thousand nuclear weapons stationed on high alert could be unleashed and no one is legally empowered to stop him.

In reality, this is business as usual; same as it ever was. Trump’s supreme authority is constitutionally entrenched, with the continuity of executive power stemming back decades. What has changed, however, is the new President’s predilection for impulsively tweeting on foreign policy matters, amongst other things, into the wee hours. Now in office Trump continues to fire-off intemperate remarks at his whim and those missives are instantly accessible across the globe. When Ronald Reagan quipped before a radio broadcast during a microphone test in 1984 that he had just “signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever … we begin bombing in 5 minutes”, it was quite sometime before the audio was leaked to the public. Imagine the effect of a tweet from President Trump along similar lines, without the (comic) inflection of the spoken word or the corresponding audible guffaws from nearby presidential staff. Although largely symbolic given the Republican control of the Executive and both Congressional houses, moves are now underway by Democrats to curb any Presidential nuclear first strike order, by mandating that Congress must first declare war. Earlier, Trump had ranted at the Republican Congressional leadership to “Go nuclear!” against his Democrat rivals. (more…)

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

The Texas Paradox

Crude Volatility

“By beginning the story of oil prices with the birth of the industry, we can better appreciate why oil prices are naturally volatile and why that volatility has posed an enormous problem not only for the oil industry but broader economy, causing oilmen and officials to go to great lengths to stabilize oil prices.” — Robert McNally

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from the book’s introduction, in which McNally examines the uncomfortable relationship tension between our desire to avoid a situation where monopolies dictate oil prices and a situation where oil prices fluctuate wildly.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: Journalism After Snowden, Art Nouveau and Film History, and More!

Journalism After Snowden

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State
Edited by Emily Bell and Taylor Owen. With Smitha Khorana and Jennifer R. Henrichsen. Foreword by Lee C. Bollinger

Cinema by Design: Art Nouveau, Modernism, and Film History
Lucy Fischer

Now available in paperback:
The Trouble with Post-Blackness
Edited by Houston A. Baker and K. Merinda Simmons

Now available in paperback:
The Japan–South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States
Brad Glosserman and Scott A. Snyder

Sweet and Lowdown: Woody Allen’s Cinema of Regret
Lloyd Michaels
(Wallflower Press)

Frozen Mud and Red Ribbons: A Romanian Jewish Girl’s Survival through the Holocaust in Transnistria and its Rippling Effect on the Second Generation
Avital E. M. Baruch
(ibidem Press)

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices

Crude Volatility

“Robert McNally has written an excellent biography of a world-famous character, known for volatility and violent mood swings, sometimes reviled but always a player in the world economy and politics—the oil price. Insightful and timely, Crude Volatility explores the clash over many decades between “boom and bust” prices and the efforts to harness them. In the current market, McNally explains why volatility is likely to win out over stability—highly significant for what will remain the world’s most important commodity for many years to come.” — Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Prize and The Quest and Vice Chairman of IHS Markit

This week, our featured book is Crude Volatility: The History and the Future of Boom-Bust Oil Prices, by Robert McNally. 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, February 10th, 2017

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.)

Several presses have this week compiled reading lists for Black History Month. Check out those lists from Temple University, from Princeton University, and from the University Press of Florida. The University Press of Kentucky have also featured a roundup of new releases in African-American studies, and the University of Nebraska Press excerpts the new book Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers by Gerald R. Gems.

Other reading lists compiled this week which may be of interest include Books By and About Refugees and Immigrants in America, from the University of Nebraska Press, and Six Reads to Celebrate Lincoln’s Legacy, from the University of Kentucky Press, in anticipation of the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth this weekend.

Following up on last week’s mention of a post from the University of Illinois Press on the legacy of George Orwell’s 1984, the Stanford University Press features another take on the classic text’s meaning to the present. Karen Fang, author of Arresting Cinema: Surveillance in Hong Kong Film (2017), posits that Orwell’s book also has renewed relevance to current Sino-American relations because it “explicitly portrays Asia as a bogeyman and a pawn in the militarized rhetoric of fear in which Big Brother traffics.” The general importance of resistance as a fundamental element in American politics is also a topic of note this week: at the University of Minnesota Press blog, Alexis Shotwell, author of Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times (2016), writes against the idea of ‘pure’ politics or ideology, insisting that “we do better to aim for a politics of imperfection.”

At the Harvard University blog a similar theme is taken up by David Moss, author of Democracy: A Case Study (2017), who warns against the dangers that may arise when “students are…left with the impression that a successful democracy is virtually automatic, given the right blueprint.” Rounding off this week’s political entries, Candian author David Johnson also insists on education about government being the bedrock of any political system, writing for the University of Toronto Press about the new edition of his book Thinking Government: Public Administration and Politics in Canada.

Finally this week, a fascinating topic from the Oxford University Press blog: in ‘Was Chaucer really a “writer”?‘, Christopher Cannon, author of the new From Literacy to Literature: England, 1300-1400, unpacks the idea of Chaucer being not a literate writer as we understand the term today, but a late medieval type of poet whose work depended fundamentally on slowly-vanishing oral traditions.

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

Friday, February 10th, 2017

Fact or Fiction: how much do you know about the future of the US economy?

Building the New American Economy

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. For the final day of the week’s feature, we are happy to present a quiz, based on Building the New American Economy, that tests your knowledge of the present and future of the American economy.

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Press roundup – Jeffrey Sachs

Building the New American Economy

“The key to resolving America’s ills depends on greater fairness, decency, and honesty lie within our own borders, notably on how we share the benefits of advanced technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence, and the booming profits they are producing. The real counterpart of falling American working-class incomes is not the rise of Mexican incomes but the soaring profits and incomes now going to the 1 percent. The key solutions for American workers are right at home, not in overseas military adventures, new arms races or self-defeating trade wars.” — Jeffrey Sachs

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. For today’s post, we feature a roundup of some of Sachs’ recent writing for major national newspapers.

This past month, Professor Sachs has contributed multiple op-eds to The Boston Globe just a few of which we will describe here. On February 5th, he wrote on “Donald Trump’s dangerous China illusions,” exploring China’s recent history as an emerging global superpower and warning that the United States can no longer assume that it maintains primacy in world affairs as President Trump has argued. On January 29th, Prof. Sachs argued in “The balance sheet on ‘America First’” that only one of President Trump’s economic assertions has a grain of sense in it: that there should be a cutback in federal military spending. Otherwise, Sachs asserts, Trump’s directions in trade and investment policies are misguided. Third, in January 22nd’s “The shifting global landscape,” Prof. Sachs looks back at the publication in 1776 of Adam Smith’s foundational economic text The Wealth of Nations and finds parallels to today’s global climate that indicate a changing of the guard in how we think about and experience economic issues.

Sachs has also written frequently for Project Syndicate, where this month he published pieces on “Why Millenials Will Reject Trump” – the keys are their diversity, the particular nature of the economic challenges they face, and their awareness of the effects of climate change – and on “Learning to Love a Multipolar World,” exploring the roots of the vastly changed position the United States finds itself in in international politics.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Bernie Sanders on creating an economy that works for all

Building the New American Economy

“What I heard and what I continue to hear is that Americans have had enough of establishment politicians and establishment economists who have claimed for far too long that we must choose between economic growth, economic fairness, and environmental sustainability. They have sold us a bill of goods that says we can’t have all three. Well, they are wrong. To my mind, widely shared prosperity, economic fairness, and environmental sustainability must go hand in hand.” — Bernie Sanders

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. Today, we are thrilled to present an excerpt from Bernie Sanders’s foreword.

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

New Book Tuesday: The Ethics of Opting Out, The Japanese and the War, and More!

The Ethics of Opting Out

Our weekly listing of new books now available:

The Ethics of Opting Out: Queer Theory’s Defiant Subjects
Mari Ruti

The Japanese and the War: Expectation, Perception, and the Shaping of Memory
Michael Lucken. Translated by Karen Grimwade

Legacy Editions reissue:
Learning to Labor: How Working-Class Kids Get Working-Class Jobs
Paul Willis. Foreword by Stanley Aronowitz (more…)

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Why We Need to Build a New American Economy

Building the New American Economy

“My core contention is that with the right choices, America’s economic future is bright. Indeed, we are the lucky beneficiaries of a revolution in technologies that can raise prosperity, slash poverty, increase leisure time, extend healthy lives, and protect the environment.” — Jeffrey Sachs

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. To start the week’s feature off, we are happy to present an excerpt from the first chapter, in which Sachs explains his purpose in writing the book, and starts to delve into what it would take to build a new American economy for all.

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Book Giveaway! Building the New American Economy, by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Building the New American Economy

“Jeffrey Sachs remains one of the most thought-provoking economists in the world today because he dares to challenge presidents of both parties and the orthodoxies that bind them to disastrous policies. His critiques are fierce and his solutions fearless in the face of political and academic groupthink. That makes Professor Sachs a rarity in public life and this book an absolute necessity.” — Joe Scarborough

This week, our featured book is Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, with a foreword by Bernie Sanders. 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, February 3rd, 2017

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.)

Current events continue to inspire university presses to interview and commission pieces from their authors and editors on resonances between contemporary American politics and their work. To start us off, the University of Virginia Press blog features a post by Michael Bérubé, author of an introduction to a new collection of lectures by the commentator and philosopher Richard Rorty, whose 1998 predictions of a ‘strongman’ being elected to the U.S. presidency are being re-investigated. Bérubé looks back at what he thought of Rorty at the time, and at the present for what Rorty might have gotten right.

George Orwell’s 1984 has also been held up around the web as a cautionary tale newly relevant to the times. On the University of Illinois Press blog, Jeffrey Meyers, author of Orwell: Life and Art (2010), writes on the importance of the past and of language to the story Orwell tells in ways which are not explicitly connected to the present, but which nonetheless elicit comparison to how we think of the past and use language today. At the Duke University Press blog, African-American anti-fascist struggles, particularly in the context of the Black Panther movement, are the topic of the day for Robyn C. Spencer, author of The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland. “If the growing resistance movement to Trump’s fascism is to realize its potential for societal transformation,” Spencer writes, “it must draw from the deep well of Black anti-fascist resistance.” Elsewhere, the NYU Press blog has a roundup of essential reading on women’s issues and politics in the wake of the global Women’s March, and the Oregon State University Press has curated a list of books on the history of key women in the politics of the northwest.

Wider topics on how we all live have also been popular this week. At the Cambridge University Press blog, scientist Timothy Dixon, author of the new Curbing Catastrophe: Natural Hazards and Risk Reduction in the Modern World, summarizes some of the devastating known effects of sugar on human bodies in a post entitled, pointedly, ‘Sugar is the New Lead.’ From the Stanford University Press, Bob Kulhan, author of Getting to ‘Yes And:’ The Art of Business Improv (with Chuck Crisafulli, 2017), writes about how the improvisational and fun-seeking habits of millenials are changing the modern workplace. And focusing more particularly on the United States, the University of Pennsylvania blog features a guest post from Vicki Howard, author of From Main Street to Mall (2015), on the slow and occasionally unnerving cultural and financial demise of the American shopping mall.

Various blogs have featured fascinating cultural pieces this week. The Cornell University Press has a post on ‘Poetry to ease the final passage,’ a beautiful meditation by Steve Zeitlin, author of The Poetry of Everyday Life, on the power of words to depict, memorialize, and ease the moment(s) of death. The University of Kentucky Press introduces and excerpts a new book by the Italian director, producer and photographer Gianni Rozzacchi (with Joey Taylor), in which he describes how he came to capture iconic images of Elizabeth Taylor and others. And the Oxford University Press has a post by Gideon Nesbit, one of their editors of their Oxford World Classics series, on the challenges and rewards of translation as a profession and art form.

Finally, an entry not easily categorized: the Princeton University Press introduces, with a bright and artistic trailer, a new book on the color red by Michael Pastoureau (who has already written on Blue, Black, and Green). The book promises a lot to learn about the color red, given that it has variously “conjured courtly love, danger, beauty, power, politics, and hell;” it has “represented many things, so many, in fact, that in several languages, the word means ‘beautiful’ and ‘colorful’ at once.”

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

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Valuation as a Bridge

Narrative and Numbers

“What comes more naturally to you, story telling or number crunching?” — Aswath Damodaran

This week, our featured book is Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business, by Aswath Damodaran. For today’s post, we highlight Professor Damodaran’s YouTube video, below, introducing the book and its project.

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

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

From Data to Stories

Narrative and Numbers

“…this book is about my journey from an unquestioning trust in numbers to an increasing focus on stories in valuation and my stories about the companies that I value in this book. I don’t expect you to buy into my stories. In fact, I hope that you disagree with me and tell your own stories and that this book will help you convert those stories into valuations.” — Aswath Damodaran

This week, our featured book is Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business, by Aswath Damodaran.

The following is an excerpt of a post originally published by Professor Damodaran on his blog on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017.

When I taught my first valuation class in 1986 at New York University, I taught it with numbers, with barely a mention of stories. It was only with the passage of time that I realized that my valuations were becoming number-crunching exercises, with little holding them together other than historical data and equations. Worse, I had no faith in my own valuations, recognizing how easily I could move my final value by changing a number here and a number there. It was then that I realized that I needed a story to connect the numbers and that I was not comfortable with story telling, and that realization led me to start working on my narrative skills. While I am still a novice at it, I think that I have become a little better at story telling than I used to be and it is this journey that is at the core of my newest book, Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business.

Story versus Numbers

What comes more naturally to you, story telling or number crunching? That is the question that I start every valuation class that I teach and my reasons are simple. In a world where we are encouraged to make choices early and specialize, we unsurprisingly play to our strengths and ignore our weaknesses. I see a world increasingly divided between number crunchers, who have abandoned common sense and intuition in pursuit of data analytics and complex models and story tellers, whose soaring narratives are unbounded by reality. Each side is suspicious of the other, the story tellers convinced that numbers are being used to intimidate them and the number crunchers secure in their belief that they are being told fairy tales. It is a pity, since there is not only much that each can learn from the other, but you need skills in investing and valuation. I think of valuation as a bridge between stories and numbers, where every story becomes a number in the valuation and every number in a valuation has a story behind it.

Narrative and Numbers

When I introduce this picture in my first class, my students are skeptical, as they should be, viewing it as an abstraction, but I try to make it real, the only way I can, which is by applying it on real companies. I start every valuation that I do in class with a story and try to connect my numbers to that story and I try to be open about how much I struggle to come up with stories for some companies and have much my story has to change to reflect new facts or data with others. I push my students to work on their weaker sides when they do valuations, trying asking story tellers to pay more heed to the numbers and beseeching number crunchers to work on their stories. Seeking a larger audience, I have not only posted many times on the process but almost every valuation that I have posted on this blog has been as much about the story that I am telling about the company as it is about the numbers. In fact, having written and talked often about the topic, I thought it made sense to bring it all together in a book, Narrative and Numbers, published by Columbia University Press, and available at bookstores near you now.

From Story to Value: The Sequence

So, how does a story become a valuation? This book is built around a sequence that has worked for me, in five steps, starting with a story, putting the story through a reality check, converting the story into a valuation and then leaving the feedback loop open (where you listen to those who disagree with you the most and try to improve your story).

Narrative and Numbers

There is no rocket science in any of these steps and I am sure that this is not the only pathway to converting narrative to value. These steps have worked for me and I use four companies as my lead players to illustrate the process.

  • Uber, the ride-sharing phenomenon: I start with the story that I told about Uber in June 2014, and the resulting value, and how that story evolved over the next 15 months as I learned more about the company and its market/competition changed.
  • Amazon, the Field of Dreams Company: Amazon is a story stock that seems to defy the numbers laws and I use it to illustrate how the value for Amazon can vary as a function of the story you tell about it.
  • Alibaba, the China story: The China big market story has been used to justify the valuations of many companies, but Alibaba is one case where the use of that story is actually merited. In my story, Alibaba continues to dominate the growing Chinese online retail market and my value reflects that, but I also look at how that value will change if Alibaba can replicate its success globally (Alibaba, the Global Story).
  • Ferrari, the Exclusive Club: I value Ferrari as an exclusive club, leading into its IPO, and explore how that value will change if you assume that it will follow a different business model.
  • In the later chapters, I bring in other familiar names (at least to those who read my blog), to illustrate how macroeconomic factors affect stories and Yahoo! to examine the effect of the corporate life cycle. In the final part of the book, I turn the focus on management and look at how the story telling skills of top managers can make a significant difference in how a young company is perceived and valued by the market and how that skill set has to shift as the company ages…

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