According to The New York Times‘s David Leonhardt, the United States federal government gets an honorable mention when it comes to reform, innovation, and protection – but it’s not quite enough. In a recent op-ed for “The Upshot,” the paper’s politics and policy blog, Leonhardt pays due diligence to the large-scale achievements of the United States: dismantling totalitarian governments, putting men on the moon, and the invention of the Internet among them. And yet, despite our big picture success stories, we continue to stumble in the day-to-day.
Leonhardt references Yale Law professor and Princeton University Press author Peter Schuck’s latest book, Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better in evaluating the current role of the federal government and the extent to which its activity is productive and beneficial, particularly when it comes to the siphoning of federal funds.
“When the federal government is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad (or at least deeply inefficient), it’s the norm.”
Soon, however, we might start to see some returns on our investments. The growing popularity of programs that are funded based on their initial success suggests a growing demand for tangible results, to see where our money is going and to ensure that we’re not wasting it. These programs “span child care, job training and juvenile recidivism,” and are sometimes known as “pay for success,” wherein controlled trials are set up to determine the effect of such projects. And really, that’s the only way to know if something works. Professor Schuck is right to re-evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these initiatives, and with any luck, the government will start to fail just a little less.
Peter H. Schuck is the author of:
|Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better by Peter H. Schuck
Hardcover | 2014 | $27.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691161624
488 pp. | 6 x 9 | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850044 | Reviews Table of Contents Chapter 1[PDF]
Interested in learning more about how to do math like an ancient Egyptian, check out David Reimer’s book Count Like an Egyptian.
Princeton University Press author and Charlie Chaplin aficionado (mustache included) Chuck Maland, along with hundreds of other black-and-white buffs, will flock to Bologna, Italy in late June to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic “Tramp” character.
Participants include British director Mike Leigh, Chaplin biographer David Robinson, David Totheroh (grandson of Chaplin’s long-time cameraman), Chaplin’s son Michael, and many Chaplin enthusiasts and scholars. It is, then, a perfect moment to revisit Maland’s book, Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image; in it, Maland recounts the rise and fall of Chaplin’s public reputation in America, including his rapid ascent to fame in the 1910s and 1920s, as well the rocky time Chaplin endured in the Red Scare of the early 1950s, which led to his decision to leave the U.S. and settle in Switzerland for the rest of his life.
Based in part on Maland’s research into 1700 pages of FBI files and other government documents, the book clarifies how and why Chaplin left the country in 1952, but it also traces Chaplin’s amazing popularity from 1915 to World War Two, as well as the ways that Chaplin’s star image lived on even after the filmmaker’s death in 1977 through the re-release of his films in home video formats and the use of the Tramp character’s image in ads for the early IBM PC’s.
The centenary celebrations, sponsored by the Cineteca di Bologna and the Association Chaplin, will begin on the evening of Wednesday, June 25th, with an agenda set to include film screenings, performances, and an art show, in addition to presentations. Paper topics for the latter will range from Chaplin’s imitators and his critical reception in the industry, to the Tramp’s global influence on art and philosophy.
See what it’s all about, with this trailer from the official Chaplin website:
In There Goes the Gayborhood?, sociologist Amin Ghaziani shows why the rumors of the demise of gay neighborhoods like Boystown, Chelsea, the Castro District, and Dupont Circle are premature. Publishers Weekly says his “findings are not to be missed,” while Library Journal says the book represents, “a fascinating, rich view that is supported by up-to-date statistics.” This video gives a quick overview of what the book covers.
You can sample a free chapter here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i10211.pdf
It may seem strange, but as James Turner argues on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Conversations blog, the modern humanities may not be at “death’s door,” as so many commentators imply. He says that a longer view–one that extends back to ancient times–tells us that what we are seeing is a reemergence of a generalist, philological approach to the humanities. Back to Philology indeed!
Listen to the dire talk around colleges and universities, read op-eds and magazines, and you might think the humanities were in greater danger than the earth’s climate. In fact, despite the overheated rhetoric, the humanities are not at death’s door. Contemporary pressures will more likely push them into a new shape, even ultimately a healthier one.
That claim might seem bizarre. The proportion of college students majoring in the humanities has sunk to an all-time low. Students have turned their backs on art history and literature in favor of studies, like accounting and nursing, that lead directly to jobs. Governors like Florida’s Rick Scott have worked to undercut fields of study not tuned closely to employment. President Obama wants education to stress science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Funds for research in disciplines like history and linguistics are drying up. Congress has already slashed the budget of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and now Rep. Paul Ryan wants to kill it.
Analysts of higher education paint a more ambiguous picture. How many years ago you start counting—either majors or research dollars—determines how gloomy the humanities numbers look. And with more and more Americans going to college only to qualify themselves for work, most time-honored fields of study have taken a hit, not just the humanities. But even at a traditional, elite institution like Stanford, majors in humanities disciplines have fallen so low as to alarm faculty members into unprecedented missionary efforts.
To see how, paradoxically, a starvation diet may rejuvenate the humanities, it helps to take a long view. First of all, the humanities disciplines familiar in American higher education today did not even exist 200 years ago. Sure, in 1814 students learned the Greek and Latin languages, but no discipline called “classics” devoted itself to ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Yes, a college president in that era was likely to lecture on moral philosophy, but the broad range of topics covered by a modern philosophy department had no place in his institution.
Continue reading at The Chronicle of Higher Education web site: http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2014/06/09/yes-the-humanities-are-struggling-but-they-will-endure/
In the eye of the storm – that is to say, in the unrelenting public discussion that is climate change – author Eric H. Cline’s latest Op-Ed for The New York Times packs quite a gale force.
Holding both ancient and contemporary society up to the proverbial light, Cline asks if we’re really all that different from our forebears and whether or not we’re capable of avoiding a similarly abrupt end.
Eric H. Cline, a Professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University and the Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute, doesn’t hesitate to present these very early, and very scary repercussions of environmental catastrophe. He reminds readers that these events have acted as catalysts of warfare and harbingers of destruction since the days of old, or, more specifically, since the tail-end of the Late Bronze Age.
In his new book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, Cline reveals that the thriving cultures within Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia didn’t necessarily succumb to the military prowess of the ‘Sea Peoples’ alone, but rather, fell victim to Mother Nature herself: earthquakes, changes in water temperature, drought, and famine hearkened in a period of rebellion, followed by complete ruin.
“We still do not know the specific details of the collapse at the end of the Late Bronze Age or how the cascade of events came to change society so drastically. But it is clear that climate change was one of the primary drivers or stressors, leading to the societal breakdown.”
The real question Cline seems to be getting at is: “Why not us?” We’re no more able to control the weather than they were – or are we? Recent debates about global warming suggest that we might just be able to put off our own demise, at least temporarily.
What happens if we don’t change our habits, however, is less certain; but Cline is fairly convinced, based on the evidence from his book, that it won’t be good. For him, the possibility of total collapse is far from the realm of the ridiculous, and his article is not so much a threat as it is a warning. Maybe if we know what brought our ancestors into the Dark Ages, we can stay in a light for just a little while longer.
Eric H. Cline is the author of:
|1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691140896
264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 halftones. 2 maps. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400849987
Reviews Table of Contents Prologue[PDF]
A hearty congratulations are in order for Michael Cook: he has been named the winner of the 2014 Holberg Prize, an award given annually to a scholar who has made outstanding contributions to research in the arts and humanities, social sciences, law, or theology.
The 2014 Holberg committee says of the laureate that, “Michael Cook is one of today’s leading experts on the history and religious thought of Islam. He has reshaped fields that span Ottoman studies, the genesis of early Islamic polity, the history of the Wahhabiya movement, and Islamic law, ethics, and theology. His contribution to the entire field, from Islam’s genesis to the present, displays a mastery of textual, economic, and social approaches.”
Michael Cook is the Class of 1943 University Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, and is widely considered one of today’s leading experts on the history and religious thoughtof Islam. His work explicitly asserts the role of religion in the formation of Islamic civilization, stretching from the medieval period to the present. His newest book, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective (2014) carefully considers the connection between modern fundamentalism and the political role of religion in Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. He is also the author of Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought and A Brief History of the Human Race, among other books. He is also the general editor of The New Cambridge History of Islam.
Dear Friends, Book Lovers, and Knowledge Seekers:
A recent government-issued report on the security threats posed by climate change warns of the potential for widespread conflict due to food shortages and competition for resources. The fragility of our interconnected and interdependent global civilization is at stake. An unprecedented event? Not at all. In the 12th century B.C., the great civilizations of the late Bronze Age came tumbling down one by one wracked by war, famine, drought and numerous other calamities which in part may have been caused, recent evidence indicates, by an apparent change in climate. The archaeologist Eric Cline tells the story of this collapse in his fantastic and best-selling new book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. The book is part of a brand new series just launched here at the press: Turning Points in Ancient History, edited by ancient historian Barry Strauss. Professor Cline’s book is one the most exciting I have ever published (if you don’t believe me, watch this trailer).
The collapse of the Bronze Age is, as the ancient historian Ian Morris put it, “one of history’s greatest mysteries.” And yet so few people are aware of this pivotal event in human history. Eric Cline’s book is going a long way to remedy that. And so far, readers like it—they really like it.
Would the inhabitants of the Bronze Age World have seen it coming if they had an oracle like the famous one at Delphi? Probably not. As Michael Scott points out in his new book, Delphi: The History of the Center of the Ancient World, the oracle’s pronouncements were almost always cryptic and open to the interpretation those seeking answers wanted to give it—often with disastrous empire-ending results (see Croesus, King). Yet people from around the ancient world flocked to the site for nearly a thousand years for religious, political, and even financial reasons as Delphi was also the banking capital of the Greek city-states. A sacred site indeed. Michael Scott tells the full story of this magnificent site from its founding to its archaeological rediscovery in the 19th century. It truly was the center of the world in ancient times. In fact, the Greeks called the site the omphalos or “the belly-button of the ancient world” (which I guess is better than being “the armpit of America” like us here in NJ).
Speaking of seeing it coming, I recently came across a peculiar ad in the New York Subway system for the Manhattan Mini Storage reminding (warning?) New Yorkers that in 1789 the French aristocracy failed to see the revolution that was in their midst—a revolution which would end with many of them headed to the guillotine.
Does Manhattan Mini Storage know something we don’t? What exactly were the signs of the coming revolution that those decadent aristocrats missed (and which apparently should have had them heading for their storage lockers)? To find out more about the animating ideas of the French Revolution (and possible signs for our own times) read historian Jonathan Israel’s major new intellectual history of the French Revolution, Revolutionary Ideas.
As we head into Memorial Day weekend, I can heartily recommend any of these books for reading at the beach (or the shore if you live in New Jersey), especially if you’d like to impress your fellow beachgoers with your intellect, if not your tan. Our Bronze Age is better for your skin anyway. But as you work on your tan, it would do you well to remember that vanity has its drawbacks, as the philosopher Simon Blackburn reminds us in his wonderful meditation on the use and abuses of self-love, Mirror, Mirror.
It’s been a great pleasure to work on these books and so many other important and fascinating books this past year. I hope you’ll find one you like. Or why not more than one? After all, you’re worth it.
Happy reading this summer!
Rob Tempio, Executive Editor of Philosophy, Political Theory, and the Ancient World
Michael Cook is a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He studied history and Oriental Studies at King’s College, in Cambridge, England, and completed his postgraduate studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, where he taught and researched Islamic history until 1986.
Cook’s research interests are largely concerned with “the formation of Islamic civilization, and the role played by religious values in that process,” particularly the strict value systems of Islam and the subsequent adherence to “al-amr bi`l-ma`ruf - roughly, the duty of each and every Muslim to tell people off for violating God’s law.”
His latest book, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective (Princeton) was published in April 2014. Cook is also the recipient of the 2014 Holberg Prize. He continues to supervise graduate dissertations and contributes regularly to corresponding publications in his field of study.
Now, on to the questions!
PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?
Michael Cook: A dim awareness – I must have been only 18 at the time – that the study of Islamic history was vastly underdeveloped compared to the study of Western history. I figured that I’d get a higher yield on my limited abilities if I went into Islamic history – and I did.
What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
It asks a big, obvious question about Islamic and politics that academics tend to avoid, and it makes a good-faith effort to come up with an answer.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
Mr. Unwin, my high school math teacher, once told me that as a mathematician, I was “OK – but nothing special.” The next day I became a historian.
What are you reading right now?
A book about the archaeological record of early Christianity. I’m curious how much we would know about the religion if Christianity had perished in the early fourth century.
Experiment till you’ve found what works for you.
Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?
I have an idea at the back of my mind, so I start mulling it over and making random notes on scraps of paper. Then I sit down at home and write out a draft in one sitting. After that, I check the scraps of paper for anything I’ve forgotten. Finally, having set the draft aside for at least a few days, I come back to it and spend a lot of time tinkering with it. But you ask about a whole book – well, this one took me ten years.
PUP: Do you have advice for other authors?
Experiment till you’ve found what works for you. And if nothing works for you, find something else to do with your life – brick walls are not the best place to beat heads. If you’re interested in technique, pay attention to what other writers get up to, and not just writers in your chosen genre. I once learned a lot from reading an analysis of the craft of writers of crime fiction of the “hard-boiled dick” variety.
Michael is the author of:
|Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective by Michael Cook
Hardcover | 2014 | $39.50 / £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691144900
568 pp. | 6 x 9 |eBook | ISBN: 9781400850273 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]