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July 8th, 2014

Interview with Naomi Oreskes, author of The Collapse of Western Civilization



Interview Naomi OreskesThe following is an interview with Naomi Oreskes, coauthor of, with Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future:

Question: In The Collapse of Western Civilization you approach climate change as a fictionalized future historian of science. How does science fiction in this form provide a new way to look at climate change?

Naomi Oreskes: Scientists keep talking about disruptive climate change as something in the future, but the reality is that it is already underway. The post hoc voice (ironically) gives us a powerful way to talk about the present. It also allows us to convey what is at stake, not just for polar bears, or people in Bangladesh, but for us—our safety, our security, our way of life, even our national identity.

Q: You and Erik are both historians of science, how does an historical perspective help citizens and policymakers better understand the issues surrounding climate change?

Oreskes: In contrast to scientists, historians reject reductionist approaches. Viewing climate change as historians, we are able to consider not just the scientific dimensions, but also the political, the cultural, and the ideological aspects.

Q: What is the relationship between our current market-based economy and climate change? Is it the problem or can it offer a solution?

Oreskes: Both. A major point of the story is that the climate change was a market failure, but one that could have been fixed had people not been gripped by magical thinking.

Q: What are the threats to democracy and personal freedom posed by climate change and its effects?

Oreskes: Disruptive climate change threatens democracy—threatens democratic institutions—and personal freedom, because natural disasters require massive governmental responses, and invite the federal government to usurp local and individual authority.

Q: Recently, we’ve seen movements on college campuses to divest from fossil fuels gaining momentum. Do you think this will likely have an impact on climate change and the politics surrounding it?

Oreskes: Absolutely. It’s having an impact already.

Q: Finally, do you think climate change will be a prominent issue in the 2016 presidential campaign?

Oreskes: We’re historians. We don’t predict the future. At least, not unless it’s in fiction.

July 8th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Roberto Bolano and A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma



Roberto Bolano's FictionOur weekly list of new titles now available:

Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe
Chris Andrews

A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma
Wendy Law-Yone

July 7th, 2014

The Nature of Value Allocation



The Nature of Value

“We organize our lives and resources “economically”, but what does that mean? Where is it all heading and how can one allocate those resources better? These are big questions, on which The Nature of Value seeks to provide perspective.” — Nick Gogerty

Last week our featured book was The Nature of Value: How to Invest in the Adaptive Economy, by Nick Gogerty, and, since last week was a short one with the July 4th holiday, we are keeping things rolling today with one final post. Today, we have an excerpt from the fifteenth chapter of The Nature of Value, “The Nature of Value Allocation,” as well as a list of the six things Nick Gogerty hopes that you will get out of his book:

New ideas. The Nature of Value should provide fresh ways to consider how innovation, economies, and investing work.

We organize our lives and resources “economically”, but what does that mean? Where is it all heading and how can one allocate those resources better? These are big questions, on which The Nature of Value seeks to provide perspective. Areas of exploration include but aren’t limited to:

-New economic concepts (panarchies, possibility spaces, inos, value based diversification, and much more)
-The dangers of price/value confusion
-Mental models of how economies work like nature, evolving and adapting
-A theory of portfolio allocation based on the credit money cycle to value flow relationship
-Sustainable value creation: who wins and why?
-The role of energy and information in ecology and economics

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Nature of Value by 1 PM Monday, July 7th (today)!

July 7th, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Collapse of Western Civilization, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway



The Collapse of Western Civilization

This week our featured book is The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

In addition to features on our blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Collapse of Western Civilization to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 11 at 1:00 pm.

“A chilling view of what our history could be. Ignore it and it becomes more likely. Read this book, heed its warning, and perhaps we can avoid its dire predictions.” — Timothy Wirth, vice chairman, United Nations Foundation, and former U.S. Senator and Member, U.S. House of Representatives

Read the introduction and the first chapter, “The Coming of the Penumbral Age”:

July 3rd, 2014

The Value of Moats



The Nature of Value

“The investor’s job is to make a judgment about intrinsic value based on faith in the underlying capabilities to maintain the moat relative to the cluster and economy on a go-forward basis.” — Nick Gogerty

This week our featured book is The Nature of Value: How to Invest in the Adaptive Economy, by Nick Gogerty. In today’s excerpt from The Nature of Value, Gogerty explains the concept of “moats,” and argues that identifying a moat is an extremely lucrative pursuit for any business.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Nature of Value by 1 PM Monday, July 7th!

July 2nd, 2014

The Nature of Value, as Illustrated Through Pins



The Nature of Value

This week our featured book is The Nature of Value: How to Invest in the Adaptive Economy, by Nick Gogerty.

Last month, we pinned many of the most profound illustrations from the book on CUP’s Pinterest profile.
As one can see below, Gogerty takes a completely original approach to explaining the relationship between intrinsic value and price. As the intrinsic value of a golden-egg-laying goose may not be obvious at a quick glance, neither is the value of a firm’s unique capabilities. View the full The Nature of Value board here.









Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our CBSP Twitter feed.
Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Nature of Value by 1 PM Monday, July 7th!
Additionally, you can read an excerpt from the first chapter here.

July 1st, 2014

A Glimpse into The Nature of Value, by Nick Gogerty



The Nature of Value

This week our featured book is The Nature of Value: How to Invest in the Adaptive Economy, by Nick Gogerty. Today, we are happy to present an excerpt from the first chapter of The Nature of Value, “The Problem with Price? It’s Not Value,” in which Gogerty illustrates the concept of intrinsic value as a golden-egg-laying goose. After seeing these original graphics, you won’t be able to confuse “price” for “value” again!

Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our CBSP Twitter feed.
Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for The Nature of Value by 1 PM Monday, July 7th!

July 1st, 2014

New Book Tuesday: A New Book from Amartya Sen, New Fiction from Dalkey Archive, and More!



The Arrow Impossibility Theorem, Amartya SenOur weekly list of new titles:

The Arrow Impossibility Theorem
Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen

The Sarashina Diary: A Woman’s Life in Eleventh-Century Japan
Sugawara no Takasue no Musume

Law of Desire: Stories
Andrej Blatnik

Writers
Antoine Volodine

Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation
Eduard Stoklosinski

From Microfinance to Business Planning: Escaping Poverty Traps
Roberto Moro Visconti

June 30th, 2014

Book Giveaway! The Nature of Value, by Nick Gogerty



The Nature of Value

This week our featured book is The Nature of Value: How to Invest in the Adaptive Economy, by Nick Gogerty. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our CBSP Twitter feed.

The Nature of Value explores the function of economic value in the context of evolution’s processes to explain how investors can improve their allocation decisions. View the book trailer here:

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Nature of Value. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Monday, July 7th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

June 27th, 2014

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.

Last weekend, university presses from around the country convened in New Orleans for AAUP—the yearly conference of the Association of American University Presses. John Hopkins University Press editorial Director Greg Britton shares his thoughts on the event, and provides a few links to additional resources and social media for those curious to know more.

With “football”—or “soccer” in American English—mania now sweeping the nations, Cambridge University Press’s blogpost on the global sport may teach readers a little something about it. From the first international encounter in 1872 Scotland-England to the Brazil 2014 stadiums, football maintains steady position as world’s most popular sport. Evidently the 2010 South African World Cup attracted viewership of 46.4 per cent of the whole world’s population, and with the spike in interest from the USA , who knows how much this percentage has increased for this 2014 Brazil World Cup? (Our chunk of the world population pie is clearly BIGGER and BETTER. USA!) The excerpt celebrates the local tribalism of the sport, its drama, its elegant simplicity, and its international appeal. Take a look here.

Speaking of soccer, tribalism, and the World Cup, Duke University Press’s Seth Garfield, author of Indigenous Struggle at the Heart of Brazil, reflects on his last experience in Brazil during a World Cup. He’s writing, of course, about 1994, during which he found himself a welcomed participant in a native Xavante song and dance celebration. Garfield juxtaposes the past with the present—indigenous history with globalization and industrialization—citing the cultural preservation of Xavante life against a backdrop of abandoned agribusiness offices. His recollection is somewhat bittersweet, complicated further by the natives’ cause for celebration—a Brazilian victory in the World Cup.

In an instance of academic publishing getting the “scoop” before newspaper headlines, Beacon Broadside’s blogpost by Fran Hawthorne on the founder and CEO of American Apparel Dov Charney reveals that his ethical misconduct was known long before the story made newspaper headlines. In her book Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of Companies We Think We Love (March 2013), Hawthorne argued, “To earn a social-responsibility badge, American Apparel would have to take a major step: dump Charney.” Thankfully, the company heeded her recommendation.

Contrary to Barbara Tuchman’s claim that August 1914 was the formative month in First World War history, historian Gordon Martel pushes the date earlier to July 1914 in his book The Month That Changed the World: July 1914. His blog post, however, narrates the events of Saturday, 27 June 1914, the day preceding Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and provide s grounding historical context. Archduke Ferdinand paid visit to Sarajevo with his wife Sophie meant to glorify Austrian rule. Hindsight colors the narration with irony: “The royal couple remained blissfully unaware that they had almost come face-to-face with the young Serb who was planning to kill the archduke the next day.”

On a historical note, Yale University Press’s post on public speaking master class from Winston Churchill divulges the key ingredients for great oration: Diction, rhythm, accumulation, analogy, and extravagance are all necessary. Jonathan Rose translates Churchill as a literary figure, who was an inspirational and hugely charismatic rhetorician. Who better to take oration lessons from?

“At the end of the day, oral history is complimented by technology,” says OUP author Juliana Nykolaiszyn. Besides her status as a self-proclaimed technology geek, Nykolaiszyn also works as an oral historian, interviewing subjects and recording the exchange for preservation and research. Google Glass, she reveals, may be the next remarkable technology to emerge in the evolution of the field. In her post, Nykolaiszyn details some of the draws of Google Glass and other products that promote more seamless interaction between people, and also touches their potential drawbacks.

Thanks again for reading this week’s roundup! Have a great weekend, and leave any thoughts in the comments!

June 27th, 2014

Jenny Davidson on the Glimmer Factor, Sentences, Chocolate, and More



Jenny Davidson, A Life in Sentences

“All sentences are not created equal. Some are more interest­ing, more intricate, more attractive or repellent than others.”—Jenny Davidson

The following is an excerpt from “The Glimmer Factor,” the opening chapter to Reading Style: A Life in Sentences by Jenny Davidson:

I’ve always been bothered by the notion that literature is worth reading chiefly for what it teaches us about life. Of course we learn things about life from literature: it’s self-evident that a book may make its reader wiser or more philosophical in some measure consequent upon the nature of the book itself, the timing and circumstances of the reader’s encounter with it and the reader’s openness to transformation. But there is also something intolerably banal about the idea that the main reward of reading a novel by Leo Tolstoy or George Eliot should be my becoming a slightly better person.

Partly I am troubled that the motive of pleasure recedes so far from view. This kind of emphasis on self-improvement also steals the limelight from a more stringently cognitive aspect of reading. Not the simple fact of transportation, of being lost in a book, but rather a form of intellectual play that seems to me ulti­mately as ethical as its lesson-driven counterpart: ethical in the sense of its developing one’s capacities of comprehension to the fullest, taking the jumbled furniture of the human mind (the meager apparatus of Lear’s “poor, bare, forked animal”) and teaching it to make meaning out of words. To make the idea that literature tells us about life the primary reason for reading Laurence Sterne, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and their like degrades the very thing that draws me to literature in the first place: the glimmer of the sentences, not first and foremost the wisdom contained in them. By stripping literary language down to its constituent parts, I perversely gain a sense of transcendence, an emotional as well as intellectual liberation that comes by way of the most precise consider­ation of details of language.

All sentences are not created equal. Some are more interest­ing, more intricate, more attractive or repellent than others….

Read the rest of this entry »

June 27th, 2014

Interview with Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease



Enigmas of Health and DiseaseThe following is an interview with Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease: How Epidemiology Helps Unravel Scientific Mysteries. You can also read Morabia’s blog post Michelle Obama and Epidemiology: An Inspiring Example

Question Your book offers a fascinating and frequently surprising history of epidemiology. How does our understanding of this history help us confront contemporary issues relating to medicine and public health?

Alfredo Morabia: If I have to isolate one key lesson of this historical voyage, it is that society’s success in confronting health issues depends on its ability to use epidemiology to identify medical and public health interventions that work. This was the great discovery of the 17th century, and it finally stopped and reversed the inexorable and millenary progression of the great epidemic diseases.

Q: As you looked back at the history, were there particular events or moments that you found particularly surprising and perhaps changed the way you think about epidemiology?

AM: I had always associated the history of epidemiology mostly with the history of public health but this is not true. The history of epidemiology belongs just as much to the history of clinical medicine. Group comparisons were used to assess the efficacy of treatments by clinical doctors throughout the 350 years of existence of epidemiology.

Q: Your book stresses the importance of group comparisons. Why is this so central to epidemiology?

AM: Comparison is the basic tool of science. In epidemiology, by comparing groups of people we can learn whether a specific drug works, whether an exposure is beneficial or deleterious, or whether a screening test can prolong life. Groups are predictable and comparable; individuals are not.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 26th, 2014

Announcing Three Goodreads Giveaways!



We are happy to announce that we are hosting not one, not two, but THREE book giveaways on Goodreads over the next couple weeks! For those looking to learn more about Einstein, we are giving away Jeffrey Bennett’s intuitive introduction to Einstein’s ideas, What Is Relativity?. Interested in the sociology of atheism in the United States? Atheists in America, edited by Melanie E. Brewster, is the book for you! If your interests run more towards history of capitalism and finance, you should check out The World’s First Stock Exchange, Lodewijk Petram’s account of the 17th century development of Amsterdam as a dominant financial center. Look below for details on entering!

What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter
Jeffrey Bennett

Goodreads Book Giveaway

What Is Relativity? by Jeffrey Bennett

What Is Relativity?

by Jeffrey Bennett

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Atheists in America
Edited by Melanie E. Brewster

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Atheists in America by Melanie E. Brewster

Atheists in America

by Melanie E. Brewster

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

The World’s First Stock Exchange
Lodewijk Petram

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The World's First Stock Exchange by Lodewijk Petram

The World’s First Stock Exchange

by Lodewijk Petram

Giveaway ends July 07, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

June 26th, 2014

Thursday Fiction Corner: Edouard Levé’s Works



Works

“As a piece of writing, it challenges our notions of what literature is; each project is fictional, in that at the time of writing it had not yet happened and came from imagination. While some are absurd, many others would be easily realized, pushing them beyond fiction and into the realm of artistic actuality.” — Rosie Clarke

We are proud to be distributing Dalkey Archive Press, one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation! In today’s Thursday Fiction Corner post, Dalkey Archive intern Rosie Clarke takes a close look at Edouard Levé’s catalog of over five hundred proposed artistic projects: Works.

Edouard Levé — Works
Rosie Clarke

It is difficult to talk about Edouard Levé without speaking of his death. Unsurprisingly, this is the focus of most critical pieces that respond to his most famous book, Suicide, published in 2011. The inextricable relationship between this novel and Levé’s subsequent suicide, with many arguing that the narrative voice of the novel is the author’s own, makes the text all the more compelling. However, with the posthumous publication by Dalkey Archive Press of Works in July, we are exposed to a very different side of Levé – one not fixated on death, or depression, but rather on vibrant and almost obsessive creativity. Written when the author was a younger man, Works predates his other published novels, and offers enjoyable, entertaining insight into his patterns of thought.

The text is a collection of over 500 proposed artistic projects, ranging in length from a few lines to pages of detail. In addition to writing, Levé was a visual artist and photographer, and Works is a far-reaching amalgamation of his perspectives on art. As a piece of writing, it challenges our notions of what literature is; each project is fictional, in that at the time of writing it had not yet happened and came from imagination. While some are absurd, many others would be easily realized, pushing them beyond fiction and into the realm of artistic actuality. At times, Works seems to be poking fun at conceptual art, but with the knowledge and humour of someone involved in that scene. We are exposed to Levé as hyper-aware visionary, torn between an overwhelming need to create, and the consciousness of the art world’s trends, transience and self-imposed limitations.

Some of the projects read like somewhat obscure aphorisms: ‘#10. A film scene is shown backwards to actors so they can learn to act it in reverse. Once they succeed, they are filmed anew. The new scene, in turn projected backwards, becomes strange: reversing the inversion doesn’t get you back to where you started.’ Some are silly: ‘#15. A leather jacket made from a mad cow.’ Some are simply funny: ‘#24. A house designed by three year olds is built.’ As I worked through the text, I noted down projects that have since been realized, independently of Levé’s proposals: ‘#Modern Ruins. Color photographs show modern places and objects that have become dilapidated without ever being used’ is akin to Tate Britain’s recent exhibition, Ruin Lust; a collection of art inspired by and capturing humanity’s obsession with ruins. ‘#84. Photographs catalogue an inventory of destroyed works’ reminded me of another Tate Britain exhibition, Art Under Attack, which explored the history of physical attacks on art. Similarly, ‘#157. Small photographs are laminated and rolled up. The photographer ingests them, expels them after they pass through the digestive tract in the normal way, and then exhibits them’ was enacted by two students at Kingston University with fascinating results. What this means in the context of Works is not clearly defined, as there is no connection between what Levé proposed and what other artists imagined independently, but highlights his portentous engagement with art.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 26th, 2014

Jenny Davidson Chooses the Best Books on Hoarding!



Reading Style

The following is a post by Jenny Davidson, author of Reading Style: A Life in Sentences:

The TV show Hoarders has brought a good deal of attention to what happens when our instinct to accumulate runs out of control; an inability to discard things when we are supposed to be done with them can ruin a hard drive, a book project, a house, a life.

In strictly literary terms, as long as the capacity to select and winnow remains, the accumulation of things can be a gift (the lists in Moby Dick, Homer’s catalog of ships, James Boswell’s lifelong practice of recording and storing the sayings of great men). But there is always the risk, with books like Richardson’s Clarissa or (in a very different vein) George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice novels, either that the writing will proliferate to a volume that readers are unwilling to tolerate (Richardson) or that it will extend over a duration that creates a huge amount of frustration in readers hungry for the next installment (Martin). All of which is to say that hoarding seems to me one of the great literary topics of our time: I want to read a good nonfiction book about it, something roughly akin to Alice Flaherty’s fantastic account of hypergraphia in The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain.

For now, though, a list of five of my favorite books about hoarding:

Randy G. Frost and Gail Steketee, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things
An essential guide to the disorder. Not at the literary level of Oliver Sacks, but then what is? Grippingly readable, full of fascinating observations and insights. Among other things, it caused me to look back on the house of family friends in childhood, a house that was astonishingly messy, and say, “Oh, that wasn’t ordinary mess, that was hoarding before there was really a name for it!” Full of useful suggestions and resources if you or someone you know is in need of help for hoarding or a related syndrome.

Jessie Sholl, Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding
A compelling memoir about what it means to be the adult child of a parent whose hoarding makes her house uninhabitable. Thoughtful, well-written, full of empathy.

Sara Ryan and Carla Speed O’Neill, Bad Houses
A brilliant graphic novel with a puzzle-like structure, this coming-of-age story considers the beauties and terrors of the estate sale, and more particularly what it lets us understand about people and their relationship with the objects that fill up their houses.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, vol. 1
There are other reasons to read Knausgaard, of course, but in addition to his startling reconfiguration of the relationship between experience and narration and his extraordinary way with sentences, he also gives us one of the best literary depictions I know of how the thing we call hoarding can destroy a lived environment.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House
Many of the characters in this novel suffer from one kind of cognitive or psychological disorder or another; the novel as a whole offers some kind of a theory of disorders of accumulation, and the writing speaks to that in all sorts of ways. But the scenes that describe something closest to what we would now call hoarding are those set in Krook’s rag-and-bone shop.

June 26th, 2014

Michelle Obama and Epidemiology: An Inspiring Example



“American children can learn from someone like Michelle Obama, who decides on the basis of scientific evidence, not on mere speculation.”—Alfredo Morabia

Enigmas of Health and DiseaseThe following post is by Alfredo Morabia, author of Enigmas of Health and Disease: How Epidemiology Helps Unravel Scientific Mysteries

In her May 28th New York Times op-ed, The Campaign for Junk Food, Michelle Obama offers a lesson to Congress and an inspiring example to American children. She explains that before she began advising on policy to reduce child obesity, she first looked to “what works”.

“What works!” because, as Michelle Obama writes, “when we rely on sound science, we can actually begin to turn the tide on childhood obesity.”

Today, Michelle Obama can stand in front of children who may ask her about the importance of fruits and vegetables, less salt, etc. for a healthy diet. She can explain that kids from schools in which lunch menus have slashed sugar, salt, and fat are healthier compared to kids from schools which keep offering junk food; that kids from neighborhoods without nearby grocery stores have poorer eating habits compared to kids from areas with fresh-food retailers; that kids who go to child care centers offering healthier food and more physical activity acquire healthier habits compared to kids who don’t. She can also state that after reducing access to junk food, there is less obesity compared to the situation before the launching of the Let’s Move initiative. It worked!

Now contrast the example of Michelle Obama’s to that of Congressmen fighting the changes she is promoting in the school lunch program. These Congressmen want to see more white potatoes, less fruits and vegetables, more sodium, fewer grains on the menu, and consider pizza sauce a vegetable. How would these Congressmen respond to children asking them: “How do you know that your initiatives will not hurt our health?” The reality is that they cannot answer the question because there is no evidence supporting these decisions. They can only say that they believe otherwise, and claim their right to do so.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 25th, 2014

Jenny Davidson’s 10 Favorite Books About Reading



Jenny Davidson, Reading Style

The following is a post from Jenny Davidson, author of Reading Style: A Life in Sentences:

Since the internet has tipped us into the great age of listicles, I must confess that I have already been prolific in the matter of book-related lists online. Here’s a sampling:

Ten nonfiction books that have stayed with me.

My ideal bookshelf as painted by Jane Mount.

A post I wrote for the late Norm Geras about one writer who means almost everything to me.

Five of my favorite books about swimming!

The list I’ve made for today, though, tallies up ten of my favorite books about reading. Some of these I mention in Reading Style: A Life in Sentences; others are simply books that I read almost in a trance, mesmerized by the way they spoke about reading and writing, its delights and occasional tribulations.

Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
An absolutely delightful collection of essays about reading by the author of the unforgettable A Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collision of Two Cultures. Both of these books of Fadiman’s are on my list of all-time favorites.

Francis Spufford, The Child That Books Built: A Life in Reading
A book that spoke to me so directly that I sometimes thought I must have written it myself in a dream! Spufford is better than any other writer I know on the spell that childhood reading casts on us and the external factors that may precipitate that kind of immersion in books.

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading
Another book that I read with delight and a growing sense of relief—Manguel wrote this book so that I don’t have to!

Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read
A witty taxonomy, a playful provocation.

Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence
One of the funniest and deepest books I know about the bedevilment of a vocation for reading and writing by procrastination and all the other woes that flesh is heir to.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 25th, 2014

Interview with Steven Cohen, Author of Understanding Environmental Policy



Steven A Cohen

“You can’t build a gated community to keep out bad air.”—Steven Cohen

In a recent interview with Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Steven Cohen discussed the second edition of his book Understanding Environmental Policy.

In the interview, Cohen considers the distinctively interdisciplinary nature of environmental policy and how that is both a positive and a negative:

One of the things that has always struck me about environmental policy is that it’s very interdisciplinary. It incorporates law, politics, environmental science, engineering, and more. At the same time, most of the experts only know one field: economists consider the environmental problem one of market failure and engineers think of environmental protection as an issue related to pollution-control technology. I wanted to develop a framework that explicitly looked at all the factors I considered important to environmental policy—the underlying values, science and technology, economics, public policy and management.

Cohen also offers a fascinating overview of how studying the environment has changed over time and the ways in which Bloomberg’s policies in New York underscored these developments:

The environment as an issue has evolved. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries [in the United States], it was Teddy Roosevelt preserving the west, preserving wild areas, and creating national parks. In the 1960s and ’70s it became an issue of public health. People like Barry Commoner and Rachel Carson talked about the spread of toxics through the ecosphere. By the time I got to the EPA in the late 1970s the health aspects of the environment were starting to dominate. And in the last decade, the field of economic development and the environment seem to have combined; we talk about sustainability and protecting the environment because it’s the source of our [collective] wealth.

You can look at [former New York City mayor] Mike Bloomberg as an illustration of this. He’s didn’t enter office as an environmentalist. But in the middle of his first term, his planners said the city will gain a million people by 2030. He quickly understood the impact of that growth on our quality of life and insightfully asked: How does that kind of growth affect the city’s use of energy and water? How will it affect traffic? So Bloomberg developed PlaNYC 2030 [which took these factors into consideration]. A lot of environmental policy is about preserving scarce resources, and in New York City one of the scarcest resources is surface space on streets south of 59th Street.

The field has really morphed over the years. I use the word environment and sustainability almost interchangeably now. We have to preserve the planet because we’re all biological creatures. You can’t build a gated community to keep out bad air.

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June 24th, 2014

An Interview with Jenny Davidson, author of Reading Style: A Life in Sentences



Jenny Davidson, Reading Style

“Sentences are my obsession—I linger on them compulsively, it is the feeling of words in the mouth that got me hooked on literature in the first place as a very young child and I wanted to write a book that conveyed some of the magic of that way of reading.”—Jenny Davidson

The following is an interview with Jenny Davidson, author of Reading Style: A Life in Sentences:

Q: You’re a scholar of eighteenth-century English literature, a novelist, and a blogger; how did these three hats you wear inform your approach to writing Reading Style?

Jenny Davidson: From my point of view, those three hats—scholarship, fiction-writing, blogging—are part of a single fully integrated set of activities, and I wrote this book partly to show what that means for me as a reader and writer. The separation between scholarship and fiction-writing has always seemed to me largely artificial—I will write a novel because there’s a problem or topic that I’ve pursued as far as I can by scholarly means and want to think about further in a different medium, and the same thing goes in the other direction. Blogging is something I took up about ten years ago: it was largely for my own enjoyment, with some minor self-promotional aspect I suppose, but I found as I continued to do it that it became an excellent way to develop and refine an easy, fluent critical voice that I could then take back into the more formal kinds of criticism I also write.

Q: In an age of “big data” and “distant reading,” why have you decided to focus on the sentence?

JD: Not so much a choice as a compulsion, I think. Work by new media theorists and literary scholars like Lev Manovich and Franco Moretti is motivated in part by a sense of the insufficiencies of the kind of mainstream historicist literary criticism that predominates inside the academy in the United States. My own dissatisfaction with that kind of criticism increasingly stemmed from the sense I had that the kinds of interpretation I practiced in the classroom were at least as exciting and revealing as anything I was doing in my published scholarship, but that for some reason the professional protocol seemed to be that I couldn’t just “do” that kind of very close work with sentences in print. I’m kicking back against that here, and I’m interested in thinking more about how to explain and defend a methodology that is related to some older kinds of formalism—as practiced by critics like Roman Jakobson and Victor Shklovskii—and even to the New Criticism or Cambridge-style practical criticism in the tradition of I. A. Richards, but that also benefits from the insights of other more obviously historicized and politicized schools of criticism.

That is a fancy way, though, of saying that sentences are my obsession—I linger on them compulsively, it is the feeling of words in the mouth that got me hooked on literature in the first place as a very young child and I wanted to write a book that conveyed some of the magic of that way of reading.

Q: You begin the book by acknowledging that you’ve always been bothered by the notion that literature can “teach” us about life. What do we miss out on when we focus on the “lessons” of literature?

JD: That opening is a little bit tongue-in-cheek, in that obviously we do learn things about life from literature, and I have hugely enjoyed books like Alain de Bouton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, Sarah Bakewell’s Montaigne biography and Rebecca Mead’s recent book about a lifetime of reading Middlemarch. But when it’s done with less sensitivity than these authors muster, it often leads to a kind of oversimplification—a lack of attention to what the books are actually doing, how they work—that makes me really annoyed. I will read novels by Austen or Henry James again and again neither because of the psychological insights they offer nor because of how those insights might illuminate aspects of my own experience in the world, but rather because the sentences are utterly ravishing, and because there is nowhere else on earth I can learn the things these books teach about narration and the techniques and conventions by which human experience is translated into language.

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June 24th, 2014

New Book Tuesday: Mormons, William Gass, and More New Books!



The Columbia Sourcebook of Mormons in the United StatesThe following titles are now available:

The Columbia Sourcebook of Mormons in the United States
Edited by Terryl L. Givens and Reid L. Neilson

Radical History and the Politics of Art
Gabriel Rockhill

River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers (Now available in paper)
Daniel McCool

Tests of Time: Essays
William H. Gass

The World within the Word: Essays
William H. Gass

War and Literature: Looking Back on 20th Century Armed Conflicts
Edited by Tom Burns, Volker Jaeckel, Elcio Cornelsen, and Luiz Gustavo Vieira

The Quest for an Ideal Youth in Putin’s Russia II: The Search for Distinctive Conformism in the Political Communication of Nashi, 2005-2009
Jussi Lassila