Calendar

Feb
24
Sat
Michael Ryan @ BookPeople
Feb 24 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

RyanDarwin developed the theory of sexual selection to explain why the animal world abounds in stunning beauty, from the brilliant colors of butterflies and fishes to the songs of birds and frogs. He argued that animals have “a taste for the beautiful” that drives their potential mates to evolve features that make them more sexually attractive and reproductively successful. But if Darwin explained why sexual beauty evolved in animals, he struggled to understand how. In A Taste for the Beautiful, Michael Ryan, one of the world’s leading authorities on animal behavior, tells the remarkable story of how he and other scientists have taken up where Darwin left off and transformed our understanding of sexual selection, shedding new light on human behavior in the process.

Drawing on cutting-edge work in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, as well as his own important studies of the tiny Túngara frog deep in the jungles of Panama, Ryan explores the key questions: Why do animals perceive certain traits as beautiful and others not? Do animals have an inherent sexual aesthetic and, if so, where is it rooted? Ryan argues that the answers to these questions lie in the brain—particularly of females, who act as biological puppeteers, spurring the development of beautiful traits in males. This theory of how sexual beauty evolves explains its astonishing diversity and provides new insights about the degree to which our own perception of beauty resembles that of other animals.

Vividly written and filled with fascinating stories, A Taste for the Beautiful will change how you think about beauty and attraction.

Michael J. Ryan is the Clark Hubbs Regents Professor in Zoology at the University of Texas and a Senior Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. He is a leading researcher in the fields of sexual selection, mate choice, and animal communication. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Feb
25
Sun
Jerry Muller @ Politics & Prose
Feb 25 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

MullerToday, organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicizing the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers. But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigor, we’ve gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself. The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and most important institutions. In this timely and powerful book, Jerry Muller uncovers the damage our obsession with metrics is causing—and shows how we can begin to fix the problem.

Filled with examples from education, medicine, business and finance, government, the police and military, and philanthropy and foreign aid, this brief and accessible book explains why the seemingly irresistible pressure to quantify performance distorts and distracts, whether by encouraging “gaming the stats” or “teaching to the test.” That’s because what can and does get measured is not always worth measuring, may not be what we really want to know, and may draw effort away from the things we care about. Along the way, we learn why paying for measured performance doesn’t work, why surgical scorecards may increase deaths, and much more. But metrics can be good when used as a complement to—rather than a replacement for—judgment based on personal experience, and Muller also gives examples of when metrics have been beneficial.

Complete with a checklist of when and how to use metrics, The Tyranny of Metrics is an essential corrective to a rarely questioned trend that increasingly affects us all.

Jerry Z. Muller is the author of many books, including The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought (Knopf), Adam Smith in His Time and Ours, and Capitalism and the Jews. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, and Foreign Affairs, among other publications. He is professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Feb
27
Tue
Michael Ryan @ Pacific Science Center
Feb 27 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

RyanDarwin developed the theory of sexual selection to explain why the animal world abounds in stunning beauty, from the brilliant colors of butterflies and fishes to the songs of birds and frogs. He argued that animals have “a taste for the beautiful” that drives their potential mates to evolve features that make them more sexually attractive and reproductively successful. But if Darwin explained why sexual beauty evolved in animals, he struggled to understand how. In A Taste for the Beautiful, Michael Ryan, one of the world’s leading authorities on animal behavior, tells the remarkable story of how he and other scientists have taken up where Darwin left off and transformed our understanding of sexual selection, shedding new light on human behavior in the process.

Drawing on cutting-edge work in neuroscience and evolutionary biology, as well as his own important studies of the tiny Túngara frog deep in the jungles of Panama, Ryan explores the key questions: Why do animals perceive certain traits as beautiful and others not? Do animals have an inherent sexual aesthetic and, if so, where is it rooted? Ryan argues that the answers to these questions lie in the brain—particularly of females, who act as biological puppeteers, spurring the development of beautiful traits in males. This theory of how sexual beauty evolves explains its astonishing diversity and provides new insights about the degree to which our own perception of beauty resembles that of other animals.

Vividly written and filled with fascinating stories, A Taste for the Beautiful will change how you think about beauty and attraction.

Michael J. Ryan is the Clark Hubbs Regents Professor in Zoology at the University of Texas and a Senior Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. He is a leading researcher in the fields of sexual selection, mate choice, and animal communication. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Feb
28
Wed
Joshua Kotin @ Labyrinth Books
Feb 28 @ 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

KotinUtopias fail. Utopias of one do not. They are perfect worlds. Yet their success comes at a cost. They are radically singular—and thus exclusive and inimitable.

Utopias of One is a major new account of utopian writing. Joshua Kotin examines how eight writers—Henry David Thoreau, W. E. B. Du Bois, Osip and Nadezhda Mandel’shtam, Anna Akhmatova, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and J. H. Prynne—construct utopias of one within and against modernity’s two large-scale attempts to harmonize individual and collective interests: liberalism and communism. The book begins in the United States between the buildup to the Civil War and the end of Jim Crow; continues in the Soviet Union between Stalinism and the late Soviet period; and concludes in England and the United States between World War I and the end of the Cold War. The book, in this way, captures how writers from disparate geopolitical contexts resist state and normative power to construct perfect worlds—for themselves alone.

Utopias of One makes a vital contribution to debates about literature and politics, presenting innovative arguments about aesthetic difficulty, personal autonomy, and complicity and dissent. The book also models a new approach to transnational and comparative scholarship, combining original research in English and Russian to illuminate more than a century and a half of literary and political history.

Joshua Kotin is associate professor of English at Princeton University and an affiliated faculty member in the university’s Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

John Tutino @ Mexican Cultural Institute
Feb 28 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

TutinoThe Mexican Heartland provides a new history of capitalism from the perspective of the landed communities surrounding Mexico City. In a sweeping analytical narrative spanning the sixteenth century to today, John Tutino challenges our basic assumptions about the forces that shaped global capitalism—setting families and communities at the center of histories that transformed the world.

Despite invasion, disease, and depopulation, Mexico’s heartland communities held strong on the land, adapting to sustain and shape the dynamic silver capitalism so pivotal to Spain’s empire and world trade for centuries after 1550. They joined in insurgencies that brought the collapse of silver and other key global trades after 1810 as Mexico became a nation, then struggled to keep land and self-rule in the face of liberal national projects. They drove Zapata’s 1910 revolution—a rising that rattled Mexico and the world of industrial capitalism. Although the revolt faced defeat, adamant communities forced a land reform that put them at the center of Mexico’s experiment in national capitalism after 1920. Then, from the 1950s, population growth and technical innovations drove people from rural communities to a metropolis spreading across the land. The heartland urbanized, leaving people searching for new lives—dependent, often desperate, yet still pressing their needs in a globalizing world.

A masterful work of scholarship, The Mexican Heartland is the story of how landed communities and families around Mexico City sustained silver capitalism, challenged industrial capitalism—and now struggle under globalizing urban capitalism.

John Tutino is professor of history and international affairs and director of the Americas Initiative at Georgetown University. His books include Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America and From Insurrection to Revolution in Mexico: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750–1940 (Princeton).