Princeton University Press’s extended best-seller list for the holidays

What are people picking up for the holidays? Our best-seller list provides lots of clues — biography, literature, history, and birds!

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
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record by Errol Fuller
The Age of the Vikings Anders Winroth
The Future of the Brain: Essays by the World’s Leading Neuroscientists edited by Gary Marcus & Jeremy Freeman
On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt
The Mystery of the Invisible Hand: A Henry Spearman Mystery by Marshall Jevons
Mastering ’Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect by Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke
The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William B. Helmreich
The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter Richard P. Feynman
Penguins: The Ultimate Guide by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones & Julie Cornthwaite
The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle

1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed wins 2014 Award for the Best Popular Book, American Schools of Oriental Research

clineEric H. Cline, author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, is the first ever recipient of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s (ASOR) new award, the Best Popular Book Award (which will be officially named next year). “This award is presented to the author/editor of a book published in the last two years that offers a new synthesis of archaeological data intended to reach an audience of scholars as well as students and the broader public.”

Excerpts from the certificate presented to Cline at the annual ASOR meeting in San Diego praised his ability to inform and interest various types of readers:

“Eric Cline…masterfully brings together a wealth of information while maintaining a popular appeal throughout his study.”

“Cline’s extensive bibliography of source material makes this book extremely valuable for scholars, yet he explains the complexities of his subject in language easily understandable by the general public. This book possesses the rare quality of engaging both the academic and general readership.

Congratulations to Cline on winning the prestigious award and for setting the bar high for future nominations of the Best Popular Book. Below is a picture of Cline’s award alongside copies of 1177 B.C.

Cline_ASORprize-cert

 

Princeton University Press launches The Digital Einstein Papers

DEP front page

Launching today, THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS is a publicly available website of the collected and translated papers of Albert Einstein that allows readers to explore the writings of the world’s most famous scientist as never before.

Princeton, NJ – December 5, 2014 – Princeton University Press, in partnership with Tizra, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and California Institute of Technology, announces the launch of THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS (http://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu). This unique, authoritative resource provides full public access to the translated and annotated writings of the most influential scientist of the twentieth century: Albert Einstein.

“Princeton University Press has a long history of publishing books by and about Albert Einstein, including the incredible work found in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein,” said Peter Dougherty, director of Princeton University Press. “We are delighted to make these texts openly available to a global audience of researchers, scientists, historians, and students keen to learn more about Albert Einstein. This project not only furthers the mission of the press to publish works that contribute to discussions that have the power to change our world, but also illustrates our commitment to pursuing excellence in all forms of publishing—print and digital.”

THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS website presents the complete contents of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, and, upon its launch, the website—http://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu—will contain 5,000 documents covering the first forty-four years of Einstein’s life, up to and including the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics and his long voyage to the Far East. Additional material will be available on the website approximately eighteen months after the print publication of new volumes of The Collected Papers. Eventually, the website will provide access to all of Einstein’s writings and correspondence, accompanied by scholarly annotation and apparatus.

What sorts of gems will users discover in THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS? According to Diana L. Kormos-Buchwald, director of the Einstein Papers Project, “This material has been carefully researched and annotated over the last twenty-five years and contains all of Einstein’s scientific and popular writings, drafts, lecture notes, and diaries, and his professional and personal correspondence up to his forty-fourth birthday—so users will discover major scientific articles on the general theory of relativity, gravitation, and quantum theory alongside his love letters to his first wife, correspondence with his children, and his intense exchanges with other notable scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, and political personalities of the early twentieth century.”

Buchwald also noted that THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS will introduce current and future generations to important ideas and moments in history, saying, “It is exciting to think that thanks to the careful application of new technology, this work will now reach a much broader audience and stand as the authoritative digital source for Einstein’s written legacy.”

THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS enables readers to experience the writings of Albert Einstein in unprecedented ways. Advance search technology improves discoverability by allowing users to perform keyword searches across volumes of Einstein’s writing and, with a single click, navigate between the original languages in which the texts were written and their English translations. Further exploration is encouraged by extensive explanatory footnotes, introductory essays, and links to the Einstein Archives Online, where there are thousands of high-quality digital images of Einstein’s writings.

The Tizra platform was selected for this project, according to Kenneth Reed, manager of digital production for Princeton University Press, because of its highly flexible, open, and intuitive content delivery approach, and its strong reputation for reliability. Equally important was creating a user-friendly reading experience.

“One of the reasons we chose Tizra is that we wanted to preserve the look and feel of the volumes,” said Reed. “You’ll see the pages as they appear in the print volumes, with added functionality such as linking between the documentary edition and translation, as well as linking to the Einstein Archives Online, and the ability to search across all the volumes in English and German.”

THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS is an unprecedented scholarly collaboration that highlights what is possible when technology, important content, and a commitment to global scholarly communication are brought together. We hope you will join us in celebrating this achievement and invite you to explore Einstein’s writings with the links below.

Work on THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS was supported by the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. endowment, the California Institute of Technology, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Arcadia Fund, U.K.

A Sampling of Documents Found in THE DIGITAL EINSTEIN PAPERS

Website: http://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu

“My Projects for the Future” — In this high school French essay, a seventeen-year-old Einstein describes his future plans, writing that “young people especially like to contemplate bold projects.”

Letter to Mileva Marić — The first volume of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein revealed that the young Einstein had fathered an illegitimate daughter. In this letter to his sweetheart and future wife, Einstein, age twenty-two, expresses his happiness at the birth of his daughter Lieserl, and asks about her health and feeding.

Einstein’s first job offer — Einstein graduated from university in 1900, but had great difficulty finding academic employment. He received this notice of his appointment as a technical clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in June 1902 and would later describe his time there as happy and productive.

“On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” — Einstein’s 1905 paper on the special theory of relativity is a landmark in the development of modern physics.

“On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light” — Einstein received the Nobel Prize in Physics for this paper on the hypothesis of energy quanta.

The telegram informing that Einstein he has won the Nobel Prize — Einstein was traveling in the Far East when he officially learned via telegram that he had been awarded the prize. However, he had long been expecting the prize, as evidenced by a clause regarding its disposition in a preliminary divorce agreement from Mileva in 1918.

“The Field Equations of Gravitation” — Einstein spent a decade developing the general theory of relativity and published this article in late 1915.

To his mother Pauline Einstein — Einstein writes to his ailing mother to share the happy news that his prediction of gravitational light bending was confirmed by a British eclipse expedition in 1919.

To Heinrich Zangger, on the mercurial nature of fame — Having been propelled to world fame, Einstein writes to his friend about the difficulties of being “worshipped today, scorned or even crucified tomorrow.”

To Max Planck, on receiving credible death threats — Einstein writes that he cannot attend the Scientist’s Convention in Berlin because he is “supposedly among the group of persons being targeted by nationalist assassins.”

Four Lectures on the Theory of Relativity, held at Princeton University in May 1921 — On his first trip to the United States, Einstein famously delivered these lectures on the theory of relativity.


About The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein
The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein is one of the most ambitious publishing ventures ever undertaken in the documentation of the history of science. Selected from among more than 40,000 documents contained in Einstein’s personal collection, and 15,000 Einstein and Einstein-related documents discovered by the editors since the beginning of the Einstein Project, The Collected Papers provides the first complete picture of a massive written legacy. When completed, the series will contain more than 14,000 documents as full text and will fill thirty volumes. The volumes are published by Princeton University Press, sponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and supported by the California Institute of Technology.
http://www.einstein.caltech.edu/

About Princeton University Press
Princeton University Press is an independent publisher with close connections, both formal and informal, to Princeton University. As such it has overlapping responsibilities to the University, the academic community, and the reading public. Our fundamental mission is to disseminate scholarship (through print and digital media) both within academia and to society at large.
http://press.princeton.edu | Twitter: @PrincetonUPress

About Tizra
Tizra’ digital publishing platform makes it easy to distribute and sell ebooks and other digital content directly to readers, with exceptional control over the user experience. Combining intuitive control panels with integrated ecommerce, SEO, mobile, multimedia, and content remixing capabilities, Tizra empowers content owners to respond quickly to market feedback and build audience relationships that will hold up over the long haul. The company is headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, and funded in part by Rhode Island’s Slater Technology Fund.
http://tizra.com  |  Twitter: @tizra

Media contacts:

In North America, Australia, & Asia:
Jessica Pellien
Phone: (609) 258-7879
Fax: (609) 258-1335
jessica_pellien@press.princeton.edu
In Europe, Africa, & the Middle East:
Julia Hall
Phone: 1993-814-900
Fax: 1993-814-504
julia_hall@press.princeton.edu

Final stop on the Gayborhood tour- Seattle, Washington

Ghaziani _ Elliott Bay_image

Amin Ghaziani will make his sixth and final stop of his There Goes the Gayborhood tour at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington at 7PM on December 12th. All of Amin’s previous events have been standing-room-only, people-spilling-out-of-the-doors types of events, so arrive early to grab a seat.

More information can be found on Elliot Bay Book Company’s website as December 12th gets closer.

If you’re in the area, be sure to catch this event!

The Visioneers wins Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis HSS Prize

mccrayPatrick McCray, author of The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future, is the winner of the History of Science Society’s (HSS) Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize. The prize, which” honors books in the history of science directed to a wide public (including undergraduate instruction),” also comes with $1000 and a certificate. For more information on the history of the award, check out McCray’s own blog “Leaping Robot Blog,” or the History of Science Society’s website.

Congratulations Patrick McCray!

Ai Weiwei exhibition at Blenheim Palace: Our UK publicity assistant investigates!

Visitors can expect to experience something different this autumn at Blenheim Palace. Tradition meets modernity as the 18th century baroque architecture of Blenheim, the birthplace of wartime British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, is host to an exhibition of the artwork of Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei.Ai weiwei sign

This exciting exhibition is especially relevant to Princeton University Press for two reasons: not only is Blenheim Palace a stone’s throw from Princeton University Press’s European office in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, but Princeton University Press published Ai Weiwei’s ‘Little Black Book’, Weiwei-isms, last year.

Weiwei-isms is a collection of quotes demonstrating Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on key aspects of his art, politics and life, carefully selected by Larry Warsh from articles, tweets and interviews.

“Everything is art. Everything is politics.” — Weiwei-isms

Like Weiwei-isms, the exhibition at Blenheim Palace clearly demonstrates Ai Weiwei’s commitment to art as a powerful political statement, as a means of reacting against injustice, and inspiring others to do the same.

Blenheim chandelier“I want people to see their own power.” – Weiwei-isms

This certainly becomes clear as you enter the exhibition. You are given a leaflet which serves as a guide to Ai’s artwork, dispersed throughout the rooms of the palace. Despite this, none of the artwork is signposted and it becomes the visitor’s responsibility to seek it out and take meaning and inspiration from what they see.

The collection brings together pieces created by the artist over the past 30 years. It is especially impressive given that it was curated remotely, Ai Weiwei having been under house arrest since 2011. The old and new are often brought together, with artefacts from the past being reimagined in novel ways. Take, for example, the Han Dynasty vases transformed beyond recognition by car paint or by being ‘rebranded’ with the Coca Cola logo.

Blenheim zodiacHis ‘Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads’ (2010), previously displayed at a year-long exhibition at Princeton University, is also at Blenheim. This work is an ironic interpretation of the bronze zodiac head statues that were looted from the Emperor’s summer palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) in Beijing in 1860.

Other highlights include ‘He Xie’ (2012), a work comprised of 2,300 porcelain crabs on the floor of the Red Drawing Room (‘He Xie’, meaning ‘river crabs’, puns on the Chinese phrase for ‘harmony’).

While some pieces are the first thing you see when you walk into a room, other pieces are integrated more subtly into the sumptuous interiors of Blenheim Palace. The Wave Plate (2014) is seamlessly integrated into the lavish table decoration as the centrepiece in the Salon, and a pair of handcuffs made of Huali wood (2012) – a reminder of Ai Weiwei’s current situation – placed suggestively on the bed in Churchill’s birth room might escape your attention due to the large number of visitors moving from room to room, all engrossed in the same treasure hunt as you.

Blenheim crabsAll in all, the collaboration between Blenheim Palace and Ai Weiwei really does merit a visit. Ai Weiwei’s work is all the more interesting and thought-provoking for being situated in the context of Blenheim Palace and its grounds.

The exhibition at Blenheim Palace highlights the ‘clash’ of the old and new, which is indeed something that is key to much of Ai Weiwei’s work.

“If a nation cannot face its past, it has no future.” – Weiwei-isms

In years to come, the Ai Weiwei exhibition at Blenheim Palace is sure to become part of the artist’s legacy and a poignant reminder of his struggle for justice and truth.

“The art always wins. Anything can happen to me, but the art will stay.” – Weiwei-isms

The exhibition runs until 14th December.

“Governor Christie, Fidel Castro, and Hurricane Sandy,” a guest post by Stuart Schwartz

Hurricane Sandy on October 25, 2012 (Source: NASA, MODIS, LANCE, HDF File Data processed by Supportstorm: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sandy_Oct_25_2012_1530Z.jpg)

In late October, 2012 superstorm Sandy swept up from the Caribbean and pounded the Northeast. The damage was horrendous: 268 dead, $68 billion in property loss, the most expensive disaster in the United States after Hurricane Katrina. The images of President Obama and Republican Governor Christie walking the beaches of New Jersey became an icon of collaboration at a time when the country was frustrated by Washington’s seeming deadlock. Obama was swept into office the following month, and Christie’s popularity soared in the aftermath. Sandy was not the only reason for these political results, but exit polls confirmed that it was certainly a factor. It was a demonstration that government can effectively provide help in a time of crisis when those in authority do not hold government in contempt, to paraphrase Paul Krugman. It was a message that resonated with large segments of the public.

Governor Christie gives a no-nonsense update on the state of things, post Hurricane Sandy. Credit:  Alec Perkins. Source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/alecperkins/8155687190/

Governor Christie gives a no-nonsense update on the state of things, post Hurricane Sandy.
Credit: Alec Perkins. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alecperkins/8155687190/

But Hurricane Sandy had come in the midst of a scientific and political controversies about the effects of climate change on the intensity and frequency of cyclonic storms, and about the nature or role of government in protecting citizens from calamities. The response to Hurricane Sandy revealed the complex and sometimes contradictory responses to these debates. Governor Christie’s post-Sandy pleading for Federal aid moved some fellow Republicans to criticize him for “big government” solutions and excessive dependence on Washington, but before Sandy and thereafter on the question of global warming like many of his Republican colleagues he had voiced his own doubts on climate change, and emphasized that he had more immediate problems to solve than to debate such arcane issues. That seemingly “practical” approach contributed to his reelection, and in October of last year in his victory speech, the governor spoke of “the spirit of Sandy,” the sense of community and cooperation in problem solving that could become the way he would meet many kinds of political and social challenges.

Unknowingly, Governor Christie was repeating the arguments of Fidel Castro in a similar situation following the disastrous Hurricane Flora of 1963. Flora, the second deadliest storm in the history of the Atlantic had killed about 8,000 people in Haiti and Cuba. Castro at the time, embarrassed by the Missile crisis mobilized all of the institutions of Cuba in the relief effort. Cuba suffered over 1,200 death which was bad enough, but given the dimension of the storm, the government effort was a tremendous success. The successful cooperation and mobilization of society convinced him that this spirit of Flora could become the attitude in which all the country’s problems were met. Castro’s actions after Flora were used to justify the effectiveness of the Revolution and, in fact, Cuba subsequently became a model for disaster mitigation and preparation, but whatever the immediate political benefits, overtime Castro’s speeches also became “greener,”and like many leaders in the Caribbean, he began to emphasize the need to take global warming and the rise of the oceans seriously.

For the most part, that has not been the case in New Jersey. The problem is that separation of practical issues from long-term issues like global warming is short-sighted. In Sandy, for example, the New Jersey Transit Corporation, basing its decision on past experience failed to move its rolling stock to high ground and as a result suffered a loss of a quarter of its trains and $150 million in damages. New York’s MTA under Governor Cuomo suffered far less because he had taken climate change as a reality and had taken necessary precautions. Both governors had been handicapped, however, by the fact that FEMA funding had been so reduced prior to Sandy that the shoreline maps of areas of possible flooding of New York and New Jersey were decades out of date.

Castro’s experience following hurricane Flora made him an advocate of strong government action in response to natural disasters, but it had also made him responsive to the challenges of environmental change. It remains unclear if Governor Christie who is looking forward to 2016 has learned a similar lesson, and more importantly, if he could make that message appealing to his political party, the leadership of which continues to deny scientific evidence of human caused climate change, or suggests that even if it does exist, there is little that can be done about it. That position combined with a neo-liberal argument for weakening financial support for the public sector, lowering investments in infrastructure, and the dismantling of central authority that has gained much support since the 1980s, and it raises the question for Governor Christie and the rest of us if the “spirit of Sandy” that he so passionately invoked will be enough to confront the challenges of climate change.


Stuart B. Schwartz is the George Burton Adams Professor of History and chair of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University. His many books include All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World and Sea of Storms. A History of Caribbean Hurricanes from Columbus to Katrina (forthcoming January 2015).

Andrew Delbanco in Ivory Tower


Andrew Delbanco, author of College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, is one of several interviewees in Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack’s movie Ivory Tower. The movie, which made its debut at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, will make its global television premiere on CNN/U.S. on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 9:00pm and 11:00pm Eastern.

“As tuition rates spiral beyond reach for many students, and student loan debt passes $1 trillion (more than credit card debt), the film asks: Is college worth the cost?  From the halls of Harvard, to public colleges in financial crisis, to new models for accessing higher education influenced by Silicon Valley, the filmmakers assemble an urgent portrait of a great American institution at a transformational breaking point.”

Source: CNN, http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2014/11/07/ivory-tower-asks-is-college-worth-the-cost/

For more information on the documentary that is sure to spark conversations about the state of higher education in America, click here.


 

bookjacket

College:
What It Was, Is, and Should Be
Andrew Delbanco 

 

Q&A with Andrew Needham, author of POWER LINES: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest

In only four decades, Phoenix, Arizona, grew from a town of sixty-five thousand to the sixth largest city in America. But the air-conditioned subdivision homes that drew new residents from the East Coast and Midwest came at a price. As Phoenix grew, so did its reliance on electricity and resources from the neighboring territory of the Navajo Nation. Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest explores the often untold story of Phoenix’s growth—a federally subsidized postwar boom that exploited the Navajo Nation and spurred the roots of the contemporary coal-fueled climate change crisis.

Princeton University Press catches up with Andrew Needham, author of Power Lines, to discuss his inspiration and the challenges of organizing this multifaceted story of Southwest growth.

Needham

PUP: Why did you write this book?

AN: I started thinking about the ideas in this book long before I started graduate school. We were driving from Albuquerque to the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, crossing what I’ve come to know as the eastern portion of the Colorado Plateau, which is a really beautiful mesa country, lots of the stark buttes and redrock sandstone characteristic of the Southwest.

Somewhere in northwest New Mexico, I saw a giant smoke plume on the horizon, which I initially assumed was a forest fire, because the West was in the midst of fire season. When we came over a rise and I saw Four Corners Power Plant, which is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the US, I was outraged, primarily because it seemed to represent a violation of everything we were on vacation to do, go see Big Nature, get away from “civilization.” Of course, I probably used that electricity, unthinkingly, that night.

But that experience started me thinking about how the production of electricity has become largely hidden from contemporary life, even as its use, particularly for the consumer goods in the “post-industrial age,” continues to increase. And it led me to start thinking about patterns of metropolitan development and underdevelopment, which at the time I was writing were largely told as a story of non-white inner cities surrounded by suburbs that people since the 1960s have characterized as a white noose.

As I began researching the electrical power networks that I saw on that car trip, I started to think that we needed to rethink that map of metropolitan inequality to account for all the ways that the land and resources of the metropolitan periphery, that space beyond the suburban frontier, are used as the location for institutions like power plants and landfills. Those institutions serve the needs of predominantly metropolitan consumers but displace most of their negative effects over great spatial distance. So in part, I wrote this book to figure out and explain how these two spaces – in this case Phoenix and the Navajo Reservation – that seem so far apart are actually intimately connected.

PUP: What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

AN: The biggest challenge for me is that the book involves so many pieces that are so disparate. There’s municipal politics in Phoenix and federal oversight of public lands. It contains stories about home builders in Phoenix and stories about federal Indian policy. There’s environmental politics and Indian politics. Figuring out a narrative strategy to have all of these elements makes sense in the same story took a long time.

The first chapter was the hardest to write, because I basically had to narrate the story of a region that didn’t yet exist cohesively, I call it “a region of fragments.” It covers a huge swath of time, from the formation of coal 100 million years ago to the eve of World War II, just to put the story in motion. I think it was worthwhile doing, though, because the pre-history that’s contained in that chapter is really important to the broader story. Phoenix doesn’t grow just because of air conditioning or particularly savvy public officials, it also grows because it’s located near these rich coal supplies that are not developed for reasons having to do with the region’s fragmentation. But I probably went through 30 drafts of that chapter, with many parts that got thrown out because they were interesting but peripheral.


I did not set out to write a book that tells the underlying history of climate change, but I think I accidentally stumbled into writing that book. And I think that lesson, about how our daily actions of turning light switches has dramatic and far reaching consequences for the social and natural worlds we live in, are lessons that many Americans are ready to think hard about. They need to be.


PUP: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

AN: I think there are three contributions the book makes to the way we understand American life in the past 60 or so years. The first is just how dramatically electrical consumption grew over that time period. Between 1945 and 1970, Phoenix sees on the order of a 7500 percent increase in electrical consumption. Phoenix is somewhat anomalous, in that its population grows so much, but even if you break down the per capita consumption, the growth is really stark. The average home in Phoenix in 1945 uses about 1500 kilowatt hours annually. By 1970, that number is above 12,000. And it’s not just air conditioning. The Federal Housing Administration’s underwriting guidelines in the late 1930s ensure that even inexpensive houses will use much more electricity than they did previously, and a lot of local businessmen are deeply involved in promoting (and benefiting from) the growth of Arizona Public Service, the main private utility based in Phoenix.

The second contribution is the story of how the people who lived on these energy lands responded to these dramatic changes. And it surprised me, because it was a far more complicated story than I expected that disrupted many of the stories that told about Indians in modern America. I discovered deep divisions among Navajos responding to these rapid changes: from great hopes that the Navajo Tribe could harness this development to replicate the kinds of things Phoenix had done to attract high tech industry and to enjoy consumer modernity — a dream of “two light bulbs in every Hogan” in the words of one tribal official — to beliefs that the tribe could nationalize their energy holdings and become part of “an Indian OPEC,” to arguments that tribal leaders had misused their authority and had betrayed people at the grass roots by negotiating with energy companies.

I think I discovered two really important things in exploring those arguments. The first was that organized political action had surprising efficacy in contesting the ability of energy companies to claim resources as long as it happened before infrastructure was built. Once there was infrastructural investment made, in the form of coal mines, power plants, and transmission lines, however, political challenges proved much more difficult. The second, more simply, was that Navajos, and other people living near this new landscape of energy production, have grappled far longer with questions about where electricity comes from and what damages its production does than metropolitan Americans, who are just beginning to think about these questions in relation to the current crisis of climate change.

Finally, the book tells how coal became the fuel that powers modern America. Coal seems to symbolize the 19th century, railroads and steel production, not the 21st, but it’s coal-fired power, power whose production is “hidden” on the periphery of metropolitan America, that’s created “post-industrial” society. When people think of electricity in the Southwest, they think of the dams on the Colorado River. And these did allow a vision of modernity powered by, as Lewis Mumford wrote when the first of those dams were going up, “clean, flowing energy.” But the other side of that was ever-rising consumption. Water’s energy was limited, both by the capacity of the falling water in the Colorado River and by politics, which rendered new dams both overly costly and environmentally destructive by the early 1960s. Coal served as a convenient alternative, both for environmentalists who sought to save “the living river” and for private utility executives who sought to avoid the federal control involved with the dams. And this story was replicated, in different local forms, across the nation between 1970 and today, when 594 new coal burning power plants were built.

PUP: Who do you see as the audience for this book?

AN: Like all authors, I think everyone would benefit from reading my book. Particularly the editorial boards of the New York Times and NPR. But seriously, I think, beyond its core academic readerships of urban, western, American Indian and environmental historians, it has interesting lessons for people interested in how the built environment of the past half-century, the built environment of suburbia has reshaped both human society and the natural world. I did not set out to write a book that tells the underlying history of climate change, but I think I accidentally stumbled into writing that book. And I think that lesson, about how our daily actions of turning light switches has dramatic and far reaching consequences for the social and natural worlds we live in, are lessons that many Americans are ready to think hard about. They need to be.

Check out the introduction of Power Lines here. For more on Andrew Needham’s work, hop over to KPCC, Southern California Public Radio — Andrew was interviewed earlier this fall. During the interview, he discusses the background behind this fall’s historic settlement between the US government and the Navajo Nation regarding misuse of land.

Cowardice: A Brief History, the song

Walsh_CowardiceCowardice: A Brief History explores a subject that is as important as it has been overlooked. The book shows that over the course of modern western history, the idea of cowardice has faded–a welcome trend because the fear of being judged cowardly has led to much recklessness and violence. Yet when this trend goes too far, when cowardice is dismissed as an absurd or irrelevant idea, we lose an essential part of our ethical vocabulary. So while the book condemns specious and harmful invocations of cowardice, it also argues that a rigorous and nuanced conception of cowardice–one that condemns failures of duty born of excessive fear, to give a quick definition–is worth keeping.

The book focuses on the archetypal home of cowardice, the battlefield. Sometimes I felt like I was in a battle (mostly with myself) in writing it. It took me a long time–almost twenty years--to finish. But the last part of the book escapes from war to explore cowardice in everyday life, in religion and crime and in love (another kind of battlefield). As I was writing this part I was actually able to have some fun–even to the point that I wrote lyrics and sent them to the amazing Chandler Travis who put them to music and recorded a demo you can listen to here. We titled the tune… “Cowardice: A Brief History.”

This is probably the only scholarly book to have its own eponymous song released with it. This is probably the only song that alludes to The Temptations and the Russian General Georgy Zhukov (1896-1974) in the same verse. And this is probably not the sort of thing a writer should do if he wants to maintain any sense of dignity, gravitas, etc.

But one of the things Cowardice advocates is not giving in to the cowardice of fearing excessively what people might think. The book argues that fear of cowardice can–sometimes–actually be useful in battling against other fears, more useful even than the aspiration to courage. The existence of the book itself is a modest example of this usefulness. It didn’t require me to be courageous, but once I decided that it was my duty to write it, to start a conversation that would not take place without a book called Cowardice, the fear of being cowardly helped me finish it.


This is a guest post by Chris Walsh, associate director of the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program at Boston University.

Cowardice: A Brief History  

Chris Walsh

 

Angela Stent on 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and her book The Limits of Partnership

angela stentOn November 9th, 2014, the world will join Berlin in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Also on that day, PBS will air  Angela Stent’s American Forum discussion of the fall, as well as her book, The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century. The discussion, to take place today at 11:00AM at the University of Virginia Miller Center, can be live streamed here (for those of you who can’t wait until November 9th!).

Derek Sayer’s Prague, winner of 2014 George L. Mosse Prize, American Historical Association

pragueThe American Historical Association recently announced its 2014 prize winners, and congratulations are in order (again) for Derek Sayer and his book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History. 

Prague will be the recipient of the George L. Mosse Prize, an award given to “an outstanding major work of extraordinary scholarly distinction, creativity, and originality in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since 1500.” The award ceremony will be held at AHA’s Annual Meeting in New York on Friday, January 2nd.

For the full list of 2014 prize winners, click here. Again, congratulations to Derek Sayer on yet another noteworthy (and blog worthy) achievement!