Archives for April 2015

George Akerlof and Robert Shiller pose with their new book jacket

Nobel Prize winners Robert Shiller and George Akerlof got the chance to pose with the phenomenal cover for their forthcoming book, Phishing for Phools, the lead title on our Fall 2015 list (stay tuned for the posting of our new seasonal catalog!)  The drawing on the cover is an original by New Yorker cartoonist Edward Koren, and the jacket design is by our own Jason Alejandro. You can catch George talking about the book, which is a fascinating look at the central role of manipulation in economics, at this lecture at Duke University.

Akerloff and Shiller

 

An interview with Frank Cioffi, author of One Day in the Life of the English Language

This week we had the opportunity to ask Frank Cioffi questions about his new book, One Day in the Life of the English Language, which was recently featured in Inside Higher Ed. Cioffi offers insights on the “ethics” of usage, why grammar is “not just a set of rules”, and why students often readily grasp proper usage in exercises, but struggle with their own prose.

What was the inspiration for this book?Cioffi jacket

FC: Here is what I wrote in my five-year diary on 12/28/08: “millions of sentences are uttered and written. . . Most float off into a void, never to be heard of or recalled again. Most are ‘ungrammatical,’ no doubt unable to pass the scrutiny of a gimlet-eyed grammarian. But these sentences, and those of the previous days, and those of the next ones, make up our lives. They help to form the dense linguistic net of which we are all a part. And this book seeks to both represent that net and to show how you as a writer might well make a small, a human scale, a molecule-level, improvement of it.”

In what way or ways does your handbook differentiate itself from the thousand or so English handbooks already out on the market?

FC: I guess I am trying to persuade readers that Standard Written English (SWE) matters; it’s not just something to be memorized, like how to factor polynomials or the quadratic equation, but has a real impact on how we live and function as human beings. For example, using SWE usually improves one’s capacity for communicating to a wide and varied audience. More people will understand you if you use SWE than if you use, say, a dialect or an argot.

In addition, when you don’t use SWE you run the risk of stigmatizing yourself, of giving your audience the excuse to ignore what you say (“He can’t be saying anything of any importance—he’s clearly uneducated and dumb”). Now that’s not the right response, I know, and I emphasize in my book that we should not stigmatize people because their English is unpolished or somewhat far from the “standard,” but it still happens, so people need to learn SWE in order not to be stigmatized.

For many decades now I’ve been teaching English at the college level, and I have seen a lot of handbooks. None of them, I felt, had a sufficiently human voice. Most books say, “Here it is: learn it.” I say, “Here it is, and here is why it’s important to learn it.” Fred Crews’s Random House Handbook was something of an exception, but it’s now out of print. It is also not a compact book, which mine attempts to be.

Tell us a bit more about the “voice” of a handbook.

FC: Grammar books have multiple voices: the author who is lecturing, the author who is commenting on samples of English, and the sample sentences, often also by the author. I thought there was something wrong with all of these as they exist in current texts. In particular, I wanted the sentences to come from a real world, not the one of “Dick and Jane” books.

Here is the paradox I saw: students could do worksheets or exercises very readily, but their own prose didn’t reflect the lessons of those exercises. For example, my students did a worksheet on comma splices, but comma splices still marred their writing. We did a worksheet on apostrophes, but apostrophes were still a major problem in the formal papers. Why is that?

It seemed to me that maybe in our handbooks, workbooks, and even lectures, we tended to simplify example sentences too much. We tended to make them spare and simple so as to illustrate a grammatical point. But that point is easy to understand with simple sentences. As complexity grows, the capacity for error enlarges.

At the same time, students might think, “Only a total dummy would make a mistake like this sample sentence!” or maybe “That’s not me!”Or they might think, “This book is totally condescending.”

So I wanted sample sentences that were complex.

But the problem here was that making up sentences in the sample sentence genre suddenly grew difficult, since their lack of content becomes much more apparent as they grow in elaborateness. This made me wonder about the “world” depicted in the example sentences. It’s a made-up world. a world of nonevents, a world where nothing scary or awful or threatening or sexy happens. It’s the same world that the Educational Testing Service depicts in the “fairness guidelines” that they give to test preparers, which in some ways makes sense. We don’t want to distract students from the grammatical issue at hand.

Yet the world of these sample sentences has the interesting effect of making grammar somehow disembodied, disconnected from a real world. Its sentences emerge from a world where nothing is really happening, and where nothing really matters. What message does that send to our students or to our readers?

That’s when I decided to go for real-world sentences.

These come from the “one day,” then, of your title?

FC: Yes. I didn’t want to make these the culled variety we see in Strunk and White, or Robert Graves and Alan Hodge’s book The Reader over Your Shoulder. No. I just wanted them to be from a single day, since that would show how we all make mistakes, how language is really tricky even for professionals to get just right.

So I combed magazines and newspapers published on December 29, 2008, and I tried to find examples of good sentences, elegant sentences, let’s say, as well as of sentences whose grammar struck me as “dubious,” as one of my colleagues likes to say. I came up with almost 300 of these sentences, so the book is at once a grammar handbook and a curious snapshot of history, on a day that is not particularly historical. And oddly enough, even though it’s more than six years later now, a lot of the sentences still resonate with current events.

What about the “rules” of Standard Written English: don’t you feel these need to be hammered home?

FC: As far as “learning grammar” goes, I didn’t want to provide just a set of rules, though of course I do emphasize what’s SWE and what is not. I instead argue that students and readers need to internalize the pattern and form of English sentences, really need to get inside them in a profound way, need to become, in a way, linguists themselves, in order to express themselves more fully.

In addition, I wanted to be honest. The rules of English are not apodictic: they are constantly being debated by professors; they are under constant pressure. Think of the problems with pronoun reference. Think of the “acceptable” comma splice. There are borderlands of acceptability in English that are becoming increasingly large.

And too we need to recognize that not all English needs to be SWE. We need to allow our students their own language in many situations, just as editors allowed that in the papers and magazines I looked at. One of the things we want to keep in mind is that so much of the success of one’s English has to do with accurately gauging what’s appropriate to a given situation, with assessing the audience for one’s words.

Your book also emphasizes the “ethics” of usage. Can you elaborate on this?

FC: I also suggest that grammaticality or accuracy is something that has an ethical component, since lives, careers, futures—our future—can hinge on the accuracy of English. At the same time, SWE often allows people to better express their ideas to a wider audience—people can get heard “when it matters,” if they properly gauge their audience and if they are able to be agile enough with their language to move from one register to the next, and to assume SWE when it’s needed and abandon it when it might be counterproductive, when it might sound stilted or stuffy or supercilious to use it.

What surprised you about writing and publishing this book?

FC: I was surprised by how hard it was to get published. It came close to being accepted by a couple of textbook houses, but it didn’t make the grade. One time, after three very positive outside reviews, I thought the book was as good as accepted. I was to meet with the editor soon and we were to work out the details. But then at the last minute the editor canceled our meeting and said the book could not be published by her press.

“Why not?” I wondered. Then it occurred to me that if I am writing a book that challenges the value of standard handbooks, then a publisher that has 100 such handbooks on its list isn’t likely to publish mine! This also clued me in to why it is that all the handbooks out there are so similar.

It’s as if there is a weird monopoly of ideas—we can’t rock the boat too much with new ideas or approaches, since we’re making a ton of money off of the old ones!

When I was teaching in Poland a few years ago, it was communist days, and I was complaining about censorship. One of my colleagues, though, challenged me on this: “You have censorship in America, too, you know, and it’s as repressive of new ideas as ours is, maybe more: books that aren’t deemed salesworthy are simply not published. That silences all sorts of voices.” So a book might be itself salesworthy, but might drag down the sales of the other books published by a press, so that book won’t see print, at least not by them.

So do you think your book might change the way that college writing is taught?

FC: My book attempts to get writing instructors to grapple on an ongoing basis with the complexities of English usage and grammar, and to work with students as they try to plumb these issues together. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a course of instruction in what, for many students, is a new language altogether. If we really want to change the quality of the work our students produce, we need to reimagine how the college composition course is structured, staffed, and funded.

How did you come up with the title of the book, which is a play on Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich?

FC: I was going to call it “One Day’s Sentences in America,” but I wasn’t all that happy with that title. One day, though, my wife, Kathleen Cioffi, said, “Hey, why not call the book ‘One Day in the Life of the English Language’?” Bingo.

What are you reading right now?

FC: Right now I am reading a collection of short stories by Alberto Moravia. He is a marvelous and, I think, neglected Italian writer. His stories examine the minutiae of daily life; they explore the psychological menace and poignancy of the ordinary. In some ways they are stories about a lack of communication between people and the effects of that.

What are your next writing projects?

FC: I have several going on right now. Probably I have too many. I have three completed book manuscripts: one is about teaching entitled Beyond Zombie Pedagogy. I’ve also written a biography of my late uncle, the philosopher Frank Cioffi. And I kept a detailed diary of my life in communist Poland. The diary is maybe 700,000 words, though—I kept it for three years—so I need to cut it down and turn it into a narrative/analysis of life in Poland in the waning days of communism. Still waiting for publishers and contracts for these three books—!

I also have a volume of poetry that I’ve culled from the hundreds of poems I’ve written over the last three decades.

Really? Poetry? Perhaps you could give us a short poem?

FC:

Ok, here is a villanelle, “Noisome T. Rex”:

 

Fuse frayed synapses, hurt to reinvent.

Smooth feelings blunt as a plastic doll’s sex,

scrub brain raw of all, all that you repent.

 

Moving ‘midst throngs swarm-clogging the pavement,

lumb’ring dumb-monstrous as noisome T. Rex,

fuse frayed synapses, hurt to reinvent.

 

Pointless to think of her lips or prevent

recall of their blood-damp cling pre/post-X.

Scrub brain raw of all, all that you repent.

 

Don’t look directly—no, keep that gaze bent,

as eyes switchblade your so vulner’ble neck .

Fuse frayed synapses, hurt to reinvent.

 

Its fluid-flow blocked, mind needing a stent

or swift amputation—painless, unvex’d—

scrub brain raw of all, all that you repent.

 

Violate space through some vocal event.

Stall devolution, and fight your thrawn hex.

Scrub brain raw of all, all that you repent.

Fuse frayed synapses, hurt to reinvent.

 

Be sure to read the introduction here.

Jonathan Zimmerman on how to publish your Op Ed

Jonathan Zimmerman, author of the new book Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education, also happens to be known for writing (and publishing) more op eds than any other living historian. Recently he spoke to the History News Network about his unusual success in this area—a must-listen for authors and anyone whose desktop features a few op eds looking for a home.

 

 

Announcing Beth Shapiro’s “Mammoth” US & UK Book Tour

Hot on the heels of scientists sequencing the full mammoth genome and announcing they had created living elephant cells containing synthesised mammoth DNA, Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction, will be touring the US and UK, giving lectures on her book. Save the date for her visit to a town near you, and be sure to check out #MammothMonday blog posts and Chapter 1 of the book. Also, read Shapiro’s terrific piece on “de-extinction” on The Guardian website here.

US Tour:

5/3/15            Skeptics, Pasadena CA
5/4/15            Smithsonian
5/5/15            92nd St. Y
5/5/15            Princeton Public Library
5/6/15            Harvard Book Store
5/7/15            Philadelphia Free Library
5/11/15          Long Now Foundation
5/12/15          Seattle Town Hall/Pac Sci
5/13/15          Powell’s Books
6/25/15          Commonwealth Club

Shapiro Image for blog 3.30.15

UK Tour:

5/19/15        Natural History Museum, Oxford
5/20/15        How to Academy
5/21/15        Royal Institution
5/22/15        Bristol Festival of Ideas
5/23/15        Hay Festival

#MammothMonday: Could We Bring Back the Passenger Pigeon?

01_shapiro_plate blog

Just days ago, scientists were finally successful in sequencing the full mammoth genome. Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth offered commentary on this exciting and ethically controversial achievement. According to the BBC News, “A US team is already attempting to study the animals’ characteristics by inserting mammoth genes into elephant stem cells.”

For today’s #MammothMonday, Beth Shapiro expresses her doubts and concerns about bringing back the passenger pigeon, pointing out the unique difficulties involved in cloning a bird. Learn more about Shapiro’s reasoning in the video below.

[vimeo:https://vimeo.com/123646253]

Be sure to pick up a copy of How to Clone a Mammoth. You can read Chapter 1, here. Interested in learning more about passenger pigeons? Check out The Passenger Pigeon by Errol Fuller. Read the Introduction.

25th anniversary of the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope

Twenty-five years ago today, the shuttle mission STS-31 saw the space shuttle Discovery launch the Hubble Space telescope successfully into orbit. Since then, it has produced the most stunning images of the cosmos humanity has ever seen. (The beautiful image below is of the grand-design spiral galaxy Messier 74!) The Hubble has transformed our understanding of the universe around us, revealing new information about its age and evolution, the life cycle of stars, and the very existence of black holes, among other startling discoveries.

The grand-design spiral galaxy Messier 74 as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The grand-design spiral galaxy Messier 74 as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

However, behind the beautiful images taken by the telescope, there is the complex story of how the plans for the telescope came to fruition. But it took an amazing amount of work and perseverance to get the first space telescope up and running.

PUP author Robert Zimmerman’s The Universe in a Mirror tells the story of this telescope and the visionaries responsible for its extraordinary accomplishments. He takes readers behind the scenes of one of the most ambitious scientific instruments ever sent into space. After World War II, astronomer Lyman Spitzer and a handful of scientists waged a fifty-year struggle to build the first space telescope capable of seeing beyond Earth’s atmospheric veil. Zimmerman shows how many of the telescope’s advocates sacrificed careers and family to get it launched, and how others devoted their lives to Hubble only to have their hopes and reputations shattered when its mirror was found to be flawed. This is the story of an idea that would not die–and of the dauntless human spirit. Illustrated with striking color images, The Universe in a Mirror describes the heated battles between scientists and bureaucrats, the perseverance of astronauts to repair and maintain the telescope, and much more. Hubble, and the men and women behind it, opened a rare window onto the universe, dazzling humanity with sights never before seen.

Read Chapter 1 of The Universe in a Mirror here.

 

 

"Hubble 01" by NASA

“Hubble 01” by NASA

Ronald Suny on the anniversary of the Armenian genocide

Suny jacketToday marks the 100th anniversary of the first day of the Armenian Genocide. Beginning on April 24, 1915, up to 1.5 million Armenians would die in massacres at the hands of the Ottoman government. The executions took place during and after WWI, targeting able-bodied males, and sending women, children, and the infirm on death marches into the Syrian desert. And yet, as Armenians around the world commemorate the anniversary, and numerous nations offer condolences to the descendents of the victims, the use of the term “genocide” to describe these atrocities has been politically fraught. Turkey, as the successor state of the Ottoman empire, has taken a stance of denial; Obama stopped short of using the term, with Israel seeming to follow his lead. Ronald Suny, author of the new book “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else”, argues that the fact of the Armenian Genocide is indisputable. In his op ed in yesterday’s New York Times, Suny writes about the “cost of Turkey’s genocide denial”:

…governments that fail to accept and confront the harsh consequences of historical truth are giving comfort to ultranationalist and anti-democratic forces that threaten liberty and democracy in Turkey.

Read his full New York Times op ed here, and his piece in The Daily Beast, in which he discusses the term “genocide” and its application. Suny recently took time to answer questions about the genocide, his book, and the inherent difficulty in explaining events that remain for many—at least emotionally—inexplicable.

What was the status of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire before the Genocide began in 1915? Did the government openly discriminate against them?

RS: The roughly two million Armenians in the Empire were distinct — religiously distinct, as Christians in a majority Muslim society, as well as culturally and linguistically distinct in many cases. Most of them were peasants and townspeople in the six provinces of eastern Anatolia, often living in homogeneous villages and sections of towns, and occasionally dominated larger rural and urban areas. The most influential and prosperous Armenians lived in the imperial capital, Istanbul (Constantinople), where their visibility made them the target of both official and popular resentment. But they of course were Ottomans, so they were part of this society. Many Armenians even spoke Turkish and not Armenian and so forth, but at least you could identify who they were – they went to different churches and clubs, etc., and they lived in concentrated areas. At a certain point, resentment developed against Armenians who were better off, more closely tied to Europe, and better educated. Then as the propaganda about Armenians and Greeks, another Christian minority, developed suggesting they were linked to foreigners, that they were threat to the Empire, etc., more and more people begin to turn against them. So eventually fear, anger, and resentment became hatred.

The Assyrians are also part of your book – were they seen as a distinct group from the Armenians at that time?

RS: They saw themselves as distinct groups, but the Assyrians, who as another Monophysite Christian group, were often identified with Armenians. Some of them were part of ermeni millet, the official Armenian community, and they were also perceived to have links with foreigners. So the Assyrians were somewhat outcasts, both in Persia and in the Ottoman Empire, and they also suffered tremendously.

Why did the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire perceive the Armenians and Assyrians as a threat, and why they chose such an extreme approach to handle them?

RS: That is the central question of this book. There is a tendency on the part of some scholars – particularly Armenians – not to try to explain the genocide because – “why do you need to explain it? These are Turks, this is what they do, and this is the kind of regime it was.” Or, slightly more sophisticated – “oh, it’s Christians and Muslims – they are inevitably in conflict.” Or — “it’s clashes of nationalism.” Now for me, religion, nationalism, the nature of Turkish culture, Ottoman society, the state – all of these are the questions to be asked, not the answers. That is, they need to be investigated. The way I would explain this genocide, and I think it has relevance for other kinds of ethnic cleansings and mass killings, is that the regime developed what I call an “affective disposition” – that is, an emotional understanding of who the enemy was. They constructed the Armenians as an existential threat to the Ottoman Empire and to the Turkish nation, what they conceived as the Turkish nation at that time. I try to explain the origins of this affective disposition – this mental universe – in which emotion, fear, anger, and resentment combined to create an image of Armenians. Armenians originally had been thought of as a loyal part of the empire, but by 1878 they became an instrument of certain foreign powers to intervene in the Ottoman regime and internal policy — the Ottomans began to see them as a threat.

Remind us what happened in 1878.

RS: This was the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878. The Russians beat the Turks, and they were going to enforce reforms on the Ottoman Empire, and that was the beginning of the new “Armenian question” that continued right up to the war. Now, some people would say “well, you don’t need to go into emotions – it was a perfectly strategic, rational choice. The Armenians were actually a threat in World War I, and the Turks decided to get rid of them for national security reasons.” My view is that’s an insufficient explanation. Why did they see them as a threat? A threat is always a perception. It’s about emotion, it’s about understanding, feeling, sentiment, and construction – both cognitive and emotional construction. I’m taking a step backwards to see how they got into the position that they could imagine people this way and then carry out the worst possible kinds of things. I’m bringing emotion into it.

By some accounts, Armenians sided with Russia at the beginning of World War I —was that something the Ottomans could point to that the Armenians were a threat?

RS: This is the problem. You can’t say the Armenians sided with Russia. That is what the Ottomans would say, and they perceived that. So there are people who try to justify what the Ottomans did to the Armenians by saying they were with the enemy. What I try to show in the book is that the overwhelming majority of Ottoman Armenians wanted to stay in the Empire and attempted to prove to the Turks that they were loyal, but they also wanted reforms to protect them and allow them to prosper. They wanted Kurdish predations against Armenians to be contained, for example. The Ottoman government was opposed to these reforms, but ultimately had to agree to them in February 1914. When the war came, though, they used the first opportunity to get rid of them. I’ll give you an example. As the Ottomans are going to war, they mobilize the population. Hundreds and thousands of young Armenian men are drafted and join the Ottoman army. A few desert and go over to the Russian side. Some prominent leaders go over to the Russian side. The Russians form Armenian voluntary units on the Caucasian side against the Ottomans, but the Turks see this as treachery and demobilize hundreds of thousands of Armenian soldiers, take their weapons and uniforms away, turn them into labor battalions, and eventually murder them. So it’s a very different thing. It’s not that there wasn’t sympathy among some for Russia, but there was also no particular love for Russia. Russians didn’t like the Armenian nationalist revolutionaries any more than the Turks did so they were persecuting them as well. The Armenians were in an unfortunate position – in Persia, in Russia, and in Turkey. They were like the Kurds today.

How did they try to prove their loyalty?

RS: They mobilized their young men to fight in the army, they raised money for hospitals and aid to the government, they spoke in favor of the war effort, and many other things. They told them – we’re loyal, don’t push us into opposition. But there was an imbalance of agency. You see this today in the Armenian and Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh, or the Israel-Palestine conflict. One side has more power and has more cards to play: the Israelis in the case of Palestine, the Armenians in the case of the Armenian- Azerbaijani conflict, and the Ottomans in 1915. The Armenians had what I’d call a dilemma of the damned. As they were being constructed as the enemy, there was very little they could do. And then they were disarmed, their leaders were arrested, they were systematically deported, and many hundreds of thousands were murdered.

The Ottoman Turks mobilized the population, in a completely chaotic and disorganized way, and there was dislocation, food shortages, soldiers marching hundreds of miles to get to the front. They were inadequately equipped, and huge numbers of desertions took place. There were half a million deserters, Muslims as well as Christians and others. Many of those deserters would either pillage villages for food, rape women, or clash with the army, and the Ottoman government claimed these were Armenian revolts. A lot of soldiers deserted, and it was general chaos.

To what extent did ordinary people participate or was it mostly carried out by special military forces?

RS: Genocides are ordered from the top: secret orders go out that say “take care of these people” (start the deportations), but we don’t have very good records on that. The orders bring about massacres, and in a systematic way. In the Armenian genocide, the deportations and massacres were often carried out by nomadic Kurds, Circassians (or, Cherkess, as they’re also called), Chechens — many of them refugees from the Caucasus or the Balkans, so called mujahedeen, other refugees who were to be settled in the Armenian villages, and ordinary people, even women. We have reports of women cutting down people so there is some popular participation.

One problem I have is – how much did the Ottomans understand what they were doing, and how much did they believe in it? There were some Ottoman governors who refused to carry out the killings and the deportations. And there were Turks and Kurds who took Armenian refugees into their homes, sometimes forcibly making women part of their harem or family, converting them to Islam. But others believed in the necessity of the massacre. You can now access intelligence reports, and certain commanders were sending reports of Armenian insurrections. Some scholars have read these reports — a kind of new, sophisticated denialism — and taken the Ottomans at their word that there really was a revolt. While there were individual moments of resistance, as at Van or Musa Dagh, because they were being attacked. there was no coordinated, general insurrection of Armenians during the war.

Were the Chechens and Circassians specially sought out for the killings or were they already living in the Empire?

RS: There had always been clashes between Kurds and Circassians and Armenians about land so there was a base of hostilities and tensions. The Ottoman government would often recruit them into special organizations, which hired them as well as criminals and others into gangs, and these people carried out a lot of massacres. The Kurds today, in the Republic of Turkey, are one major group who recognize the genocide, who have apologized for what they did, who believe they were used by the Turks, and they are trying to make up for that now. For example, in the city of Diyarbakır where my grandmother is from, the local Kurds have opened churches and talk about living in the land together with Armenians.

So the Kurds have tried reconciliation?

RS: Yes, because they also feel persecuted by the Turks. Kurdish discourse is something like “they had you for breakfast, and they’re going to have us for dinner.” I really think Turkey is the country to watch. Something’s happening there, and we don’t know where it will go. We don’t know where Russia or Armenia will go either.

Armenians began to view themselves as a nation during this period – how did the genocide contribute to that process? What caused the growing sense of a nation?

RS: I’m a constructivist — I believe that nations are creations of human beings. At a certain point people begin to think of themselves as a nation rather than a religious group or other identity, and this happened for the Armenians in the 19th century. Turks began to think this way a bit later, more in the 20th century, and Kurds even later than that. The genocide happened at a time when some people were thinking in this nationalist idiom, but simultaneously, many others were thinking of themselves as Ottomans, with special Armenian characteristics. Armenian nationalism in a sense won the day in World War I, and the post-war period, until, of course, the Soviets took over the Armenian republic, and nationalism became an alien ideology that couldn’t be expressed openly. It then became the ideology of the diaspora.

Best Sellers

These are the best-selling books for the past week.

Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game by Andrew Hodges
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull
On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Tóibín
Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
One Day in the Life of the English Language: A Microcosmic Usage Handbook by Frank L. Cioffi
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro

Beth Shapiro at Kepler’s

Shapiro at Kelper's

Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth, has begun her book tour across the US and the UK. Last Thursday, April 16, Beth had a wonderful event at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA, where she gave an overview of her intriguing book and fielded questions from the audience. We are featuring content related to How to Clone a Mammoth every Monday on our blog as part of our #MammothMonday series. Be sure to read the first chapter and pick up a copy of the book.

Kelper's blog 3

#WinnerWednesdays

In the past two weeks, our authors have received quite a few honors. Check out the complete list of awards:

Winner of the 2015 AAPOR Book Award, American Association for Public Opinion Research

  • Peter V. Marsden (Editor) – Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey since 1972

“The AAPOR Book Award seeks to recognize influential books that have stimulated theoretical and scientific research in public opinion; and/or influenced our understanding or application of survey research methodology.” Peter Marsden will be present at the May 16, 2015 “Meet the Author” session at the AAPOR annual conference in Hollywood, Florida. Check out the press release, here.

Honorable Mention for the 2015 René Wellek Prize, American Comparative Literature Association

  • Rivkah Zim – The Consolations of Writing: Literary Strategies of Resistance from Boethius to Primo Levi

“The René Wellek Prize recognizes an outstanding book in the discipline of comparative literature; fields may include literary or cultural theory or history, or any other field of comparative literature.” The award was announced at ACLA’s annual meeting in Seattle, WA in March 2015. Read the judges’ citation, here.

Shortlisted for the 2015 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, Pen American Center

  • David Bromwich – Moral Imagination: Essays

The 2015 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award is given “…for a book of essays published in 2014 that exemplifies the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature.” Judges: Diane Johnson, Dahlia Lithwick, Vijay Seshadri, Mark Slouka. The committee has narrowed down the long list of ten titles to five finalists. Winners of this particular award will be announced in June 8th at the PEN’s Literary Awards ceremony at The New School in New York City. More information about the full 2015 shortlists can be found, here.

Winner of the 2015 NAVSA Best book of the Year Award, North American Victorian Studies Association

  • Seth Koven, The Match Girl and the Heiress

“NAVSA is pleased to announce the annual prize for the best book of the year in Victorian studies. In addition to receiving complimentary registration and up to $1000 for travel, the winner of the NAVSA Best Book of the Year will be honored with a special session devoted to the book at the annual NAVSA conference. Books may be on any topic related to the study of Victorian Britain or its empire, and the winning book will be selected according to three criteria: (1) Potential significance for Victorian studies; (2) Quality and depth of scholarly research and interpretation; (3) Clarity and effectiveness of presentation. Only monographs are eligible; no essay collections or new editions.” View the online announcement here.

Winner of the 2015 Certificate of Merit for a Preeminent Contribution to Creative Scholarship, American Society of International Law

  • Karen J. Alter- The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights

“The Society annually bestows three book awards, known as ASIL Certificates of Merit, for a “preeminent contribution to creative scholarship;” “a specialized area of international law;” and “high technical craftsmanship and utility to practicing lawyers and scholars.” The awardees are selected by the Society’s Executive Council on the nomination of the Scholarship Awards Committee and presented at the Society’s Annual Meeting.” View the online announcement here.

Winner of the 2014 Best First Book, Immigration and Ethnic History Society

  • Ellen D. Wu – The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority

Ellen Wu is the first winner of this new prize. She was presented with the award at the IEHS annual dinner. “The Immigration and Ethnic History Society announces a new prize to recognize the work of early career scholars in the field of U.S. immigration and ethnic history. The 2014 “First Book Award” award will be presented to the book judged best on any aspect of the immigration and ethnic history of the United States and/or North America. To be eligible for the award, a book must be copyrighted 2014, must be based on substantial primary research, must present a major new scholarly interpretation, and must be an author’s first academic monograph. The $2000 award will be presented at the annual dinner meeting of the Society in April 2015.”

Honorable Mention for the 2015 Delmos Jones and Jagna Scharff Memorial Book Award, Society for the Anthropology of North America

  • Kenneth T. MacLeish – Making War at Fort Hood, Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community

“The Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharf Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America is awarded every two years for a single or multiple authored book (not edited collections). Books should deal with an important social issue within the discipline of anthropology, have broader implications for social change or justice, and be accessible beyond the discipline of anthropology.” Awards were presented at the Spring 2015 SANA meetings in New York City on April 17th.

Winner of the 2015 AERA Division J Outstanding Publication Award, American Education Research Association

  • Roger L. Geiger – The History of American Higher Education: Learning and Culture from the Founding to World War II

Roger Geiger’s book was selected from a group of eight finalists. “The purpose of this award is to bestow recognition on a colleague for a specific publication (book, book chapter, or journal article) judged as making a substantial contribution to the literature and/or practice of higher education.” Awards were presented last week at the Division J Business meeting at AERA in Chicago. Read the official announcement in “The Pen” Spring 2015 newsletter of AERA Division J Post-secondary Education.

Selected for the 2015 Over the Rainbow Project book list, American Library Association

  • Amin Ghaziani – There Goes the Gayborhood?

“The 2015 Over the Rainbow Project book list, sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) of the American Library Association (ALA), has been decided at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. This year’s list includes 78 titles published between July 1, 2013 and December 31, 2014. The committee’s mission is to create a bibliography of books that exhibit commendable literary quality and significant authentic GLBT content and are recommended for adults over age 18. It is not meant to be all-inclusive but is intended as an annual core list for readers and librarians searching for recommendations for a cross-section of the year’s titles. Although the committee attempts to present titles for a variety of reading tastes and levels, no effort is made to balance this bibliography according to subject, area of interest, age, or genre.” Read more about the award on the website.

 

Congratulations to the authors and books that have won awards!

 

Poetry by Heart

For the final entry in this year’s National Poetry Month (#npm15) series, we have a special piece by Catherine Robson, author of Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem, on what changed her mind about the merits of poetry recitation.

Poetry By Heart
by Catherine Robson

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoLast month, the third annual final “Poetry By Heart”, a national recitation competition for British 14-18 year olds, was staged in Homerton College, Cambridge. Sitting there as one of the judges in the packed auditorium, I witnessed a series of magical transformations. Time and again, slightly awkward or diffident young people walked onto the stage, paused, and then became entirely different individuals altogether. When they started to speak the words they had committed to heart, they took possession not just of themselves and their poems, but of every other person in the room. I found it an exceptionally moving experience.Heart Beats

If you had told me ten years ago that I would volunteer to work on such a competition, I would have been very surprised. Back then, when I first began work on a book about the strange phenomenon of the memorized poem, I held few positive feelings about recitation. I knew that reciting poetry used to hold a privileged place in the elementary curricular programs of the past, but I didn’t know why or when the practice became mainstream, nor why and when we all stopped doing it. But I was sure that I was not a fan. Enforcing poetry on (or into) the unwilling brains and bodies of the young seemed to me a questionable activity at best. What happened, then, to change my mind?

For one thing, I discovered in the course of my researches that my negative opinion was entirely typical for one of my age and nationality. Born in Britain in 1962, I attended state primary and secondary schools that had no time for what was then regarded as an outmoded pedagogical endeavor, an endeavor likely to turn individuals against poetry for life. Today this is not the prevailing attitude in all quarters – for one thing, the British government, in addition to funding “Poetry By Heart,” now makes “reciting” a specified activity for the youngest children in state education – but the concept of compulsory mass recitation continues to make many of my countrymen uncomfortable. The idea of the memorized poem in Britain summons up thoughts of both a discredited instructional practice and a discredited educational formation – which is to say, learning by rote, and the Victorian elementary school, the institution which supposedly backed up that rote-learning with liberal applications of the rod.

Because I have now lived in the United States for over a quarter of a century, I know that Americans, by and large, are much more positive about poetry recitation. If the topic comes up in casual conversation or the media, it tends to generates not just polite interest, but passionate engagement. I’ve lost count of the number of times an octogenarian has launched into a performance of “Thanatopsis” or a bit of Longfellow for me, and I’ve heard individuals of a range of ages and from both sides of the political spectrum turn wistful, lamenting the passing of a time when all were seemingly united by a joint stock of poetic knowledge.

Digging into the rich and at times complicated story of the memorized poem’s progress in two sharply distinct public education systems has helped me to understand why it is that Britons and Americans today feel so differently about this pedagogical practice: the book I’ve written devotes its first half to this history, and its second to the recitational fortunes of three short poems that were once school classics on two sides of the Atlantic. Coming to terms with my own dismissive attitude towards the repetition of poetry has been another kind of project altogether.

It took me some time, but today I can draw a line between bad recitation and good.  I still think it’s important to notice that dismal experiences with poetry afflicted the lives of many children in less-than-ideal pedagogical environments in the past, but I no longer believe that this fact negates the value of the practice.  I now feel that in the right circumstances, and for certain kinds of people, the memorized poem carries an enormous potential charge.  Last month in Cambridge, its power took hold of us all.

Earth Day 2015

This year we will be celebrating the 45th anniversary of the environmental movement, Earth Day. Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, founded Earth Day to inform the public on the importance of a healthy Earth. Earth Day has since evolved to focus on global warming and clean energy. Learn more about the history of Earth Day, here. To celebrate the day, we have compiled a book list.

Climate Shock Climate Shock: The Consequences of a Hotter Planet

Gernot Wagner & Martin L. Weitzman

Climate Shock analyzes the repercussions of a hotter planet. The authors take a stance that climate change can and should be dealt with. Climate Shock depicts what could happen if we don’t deal with the environment. “This informative, convincing, and easily read book offers general audiences the basic case for global climate mitigation.” –Ian Perry, Finance & Development

Read Chapter 1.

How to Clone a Mammoth How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction

Beth Shapiro

Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. Beth Shapiro explains the process of De-extinction, what species should be restored, and anticipating how revived populations might be seen in the wild. Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. “[A] fascinating book…A great popular science title, and one that makes it clear that a future you may have imagined is already underway.” —Library Journal, starred review

Check out our behind-the-scenes, #MammothMonday blog posts.

Read Chapter 1.

OffShore Sea ID Guide Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: West Coast

Steve N.G. Howell & Brian L. Sullivan

Released in May, this Offshore Sea Life ID Guide, is designed for quick use on day trips off the West Coast. Color plates show species as they typically appear at sea, and expert text highlights identification features. “Filled with concise information and accurate illustrations, this terrific field guide will be a handy, quick reference for the layperson and serious naturalist on boat trips off the West Coast of the United States. No other useful guides for this region deal with both marine mammals and seabirds in the same book.” –Sophie Webb, coauthor of Field Guide to Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast

Wilson-Rich_theBee The Bee: A Natural History

Noah Wilson-Rich

With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley

Bees pollinate more than 130 fruit, vegetable, and seed crops that we rely on to survive. They are crucial to the reproduction and diversity of flowering plants, and the economic contributions of these irreplaceable insects measure in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Noah Wilson-Rich and his team of bee experts provide a window into the vitally important role that bees play in the life of our planet. “A well-illustrated introduction to the biology of bees.” –Ian Paulsen, Birdbooker Report

Check out 10 Bee Facts from the book, here.

Read the Introduction.