PUP News of the World

Welcome to the next edition of our brand new series, PUP News of the World! Every week we will be posting a round-up of all of our most exciting national AND international reviews/interviews/events/etc. that took place in the last week.

Sides_TheGamble3By an astounding margin, our PUP Title of the Week this week is The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election by John Sides & Lynn Vavreck! Rick Hasen of The Slate Book Review chose The Gamble as his best book of 2013, calling it “A necessary corrective to the personality-driven and hyperventilating accounts of presidential campaigns driven by a news media out to sell half-baked narratives….Eminently readable.” It was also called “Probably the most successful attempt to integrate political science and narrative to date…If you really want to understand the 2012 elections, you should rely on The Gamble”, by Sean Trende in a review of the book by Real Clear Books. The Fix on The Washington Post said they read The Gamble over the holiday break, while Spundge included the book in a round-up of good gift suggestions. Plus The Independent wrote an article about it, as did Harvard Political Review. It also received kind mentions at Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, The Arkansas Times, and The Capital Times!

 Next, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton was reviewed in The Australian and declared “splendid” while Forbes named it the “Best Book of 2013″. Plus, Paul Theroux, writer for Barron’s, said “In his new book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, economist Angus Deaton questions the usefulness of all aid, and describes how the greater proportion of the world’s poor are found not in Africa but in the booming, yet radically unequal, economies of China and India.” Deaton was also interviewed recently for Social Science Bites on his recent trip to the UK.

http://press.princeton.edu/images/k10099.gifThe Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism by Robert E. Buswell Jr. & Donald S. Lopez Jr. was mentioned in a piece on scholarly religion in Publishers Weekly, along with The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the ‘People of the Book’ in the Language of Islam by Sidney H. Griffith. The Wild Fox Zen blog from the Patheos Buddhist Channel posted about ‘The Dictionary’ as well, saying: “One of the take-a ways is how we’re just scratching the surface on what we have translated into English. I almost regret the decision I made about 25 years ago not to shift my focus from training to learning languages so I could be a Buddhist scholar. Particularly, I was struck by how little I know about the Korean tradition! Except for Buswell’s work, there’s still very little translated into English, as far as I know.”

Short and sweet, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s books gift guide included Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 by Italo Calvino.

Rahul Sagar, author of Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy, had an Op Ed in CNN International about government secrecy.

New Scientist recently listed Bugs Rule!: An Introduction to the World of Insects by Whitney Cranshaw & Richard Redak in its ‘Gift Guide: Pick of the Best Science Books’, saying “When two entomologists who clearly love their subject get stuck in, the result is pure joy. With more than 830 colour photos, this book is a great desk guide to help you tell a crane fly from a giant mosquito.”

Ara Norenzayan,  author of Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, was interviewed on BBC World Service The Forum recently. (Ara comes in about 30 minutes in).

Margaret Lock’s title, The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging, was reviewed on Psychology Today where they said: “Comprehensive, cogent, and densely detailed, The Alzheimer Conundrum provides a useful antidote to media hype about ‘silver bullets’ that are ‘just around the corner’ and makes an important contribution to our understanding of an achingly tragic disease that touches virtually all of us.” Lock also did an interview recently with Everyday Health.

Helmreich_NewYorkBill Helmreich, author of The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City, recently wrote an op-ed for The Independent, talking about his experiences while writing his book. Helmreich also got two positive reviews this week. The first, from The New York Times, said that “[the] book is a chatty, buoyant and, despite his four decades in academia teaching classes on New York City and sociology, an unstuffy love letter to the delights of street-smart walking.” The second, from The Guardian called the book “excellent” and claimed that “It’s refreshing to read a book that celebrates so unreservedly the ethnic diversity of a city and entirely fitting that it should be about a metropolis that has always been defined by its cosmopolitan culture.”

The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland by Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens is still receiving some buzz as well as Stephen Moss of The Guardian named it one of his Best Nature Books of 2013. He called it “…a revolutionary new bird book”.

In a review for The Independent, Richard Holloway called Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation by Robert Bartlett a “magisterial work of scholarship”. Also, the Financial Times reviewed the book this week, saying “Devotion to the saints is manifestly still alive and well in the Catholic Church, and Bartlett’s impressive compendium will serve to explain the cult’s historical origins and evolution.” Lastly, Bartlett was interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland (he comes in about 1hr 40 minutes in).

COMING SOON: An interactive map of the world where you can check out all of our reviews from multiple countries and continents, sorted by publication.

The Buzz on Angus Deaton Events

The Great EscapeAngus Deaton, author of The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality recently did a podcast with Russ Roberts to talk about our standard of living and The Great Escape. Deaton surveys the improvements in life expectancy and income both in the developed and undeveloped world. Inequality of both health and wealth are discussed as well. The conversation closes with a discussion of foreign aid and what rich nations can do for the poor.

The interview was then discussed on another popular economics blog, Café Hayek, which includes an excerpt of the interview.

He will also be at an event at the World Bank on December 2nd at 12:30. Unfortunately, there isn’t an event page for this anywhere yet, but we’ll sure to post more about it when we can!

Financial Times Interview Angus Deaton

Angus Deaton, author of The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, recently did an interview with John McDermott of Financial Times. Deaton spoke about his book and the past and present of global inequality.

Alan Greenspan Calls The Battle of Bretton Woods “Excellent”

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently recommended The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order in an interview for the Associated Press, calling it “excellent”. The author of the book, Benn Steil, was delighted to see this tweet from Liberty News a few days ago, spreading the news of this exciting endorsement. You can read the full article from the Associated Press here.

Liberty News

Nobel Prize Winner Robert Shiller on “The World at One”

Shiller_auAs you may have seen on our blog yesterday, Robert J. Shiller, a professor at Yale University, has won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics along with Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen.

Shiller is the author of several PUP books, including Irrational Exuberance, The New Financial Order, The Subprime Solution, Animal Spirits, co-written with fellow Nobelist George Akerlof, and his most recent book,  Finance and the Good Society, which was published just last year.

Recently, Shiller was interviewed on “The World at One” about his Nobel Prize and about some of his books. The program can be found here and Shiller’s interview starts about 41 minutes in.

We’re sure this is just the first of many interviews for him and the other winners, so stay tuned!

Heather Gerken to Speak on Moyers & Company

The Democracy IndexAs the government shutdown takes off its shoes and makes itself at home, media outlets have been going wild to get the scoop. Heather Gerken, Professor of Law at Yale Law School and author of The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System Is Failing and How to Fix It, is set to appear on Moyers & Company to speak about the shutdown and how the government will be affected by it.

A preview of the show can be found here, and the official description for the show can be found below.

This week, as the government shutdown continues, the Supreme Court began its new term and justices heard arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The case has been billed as the successor to the court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that gave corporations, unions, and the wealthy the opportunity to pour vast and often anonymous amounts of cash into political campaigns. The new case challenges caps on how much individual donors can give to candidates and political parties and could raise the amount to more than $3.25 million.

This week on Moyers & Company (check local listings), Bill Moyers talks with Yale Law School election and constitutional law professor Heather Gerken who warns that McCutcheon has the potential to be even worse than Citizens United. Political parties pay attention to the people with money, and as the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation reports, most of the funding for congressional and presidential campaigns comes from the top one percent of the one percent of the rich – “the elite class that serves as gatekeepers of public office in the United States.”

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Viewers can find local tune-in information on our site. http://billmoyers.com/schedule/

Professor William G. Howell discusses his new book: ‘Thinking About Presidency’

Prof. William G. Howell hopes to focus the national conversation about the American presidency. In his new book, Thinking about the Presidency: The Primacy of Power, Howell argues that to understand presidential behavior, it is necessary to recognize that a president’s core interest is in guarding, acquiring and expanding his base of power.

“This single, simple insight about the president and power goes a long way to explaining presidential behavior,” said Howell, the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, in an interview about his new book, arguing that once this fundamental truth is more widely accepted, discourse on the presidency will become more coherent and fruitful.

Howell hopes his new work will advance presidential studies similarly to how David Mayhew’s 1974 book, Congress: The Electoral Connection affected legislative studies—providing an organizational template for future arguments and theories.

“Mayhew pointed out the profound effect that concern with reelection had on the behavior of legislators and that changed and focused the conversation,” Howell said. “Right now in presidential studies, there is a real preoccupation with anecdotes and stories while scholars are talking past one another.”

Howell contends that the presidential preoccupation with power is not a single-minded pursuit, but that its attainment and maintenance affects all presidential efforts, whether they involve bargaining with others or new sources of influence. In fact, he adds, concerns about power are logical and necessary to enact public policy, undo the work of predecessors, respond to perceived public mandates and secure a strong place in history.

“The president sits alone atop his governing institution and has eyes on a broader and longer horizon than legislators or judges or bureaucrats,” he explained. “He represents the country as a whole. This is part and parcel of a president’s need to obtain power and to exert control. He needs to dominate his branch of government and the whole institution.”

Of course, wanting power and holding power are two different things. In the book, Howell explains that when the Founding Fathers wrote the U.S. Constitution they gave the president only a handful of enumerated powers, but the ambiguity of the document has allowed consecutive presidents to add to their powers over time.  At the same time, the Constitution posits that the general welfare will be protected and promoted not by any single branch of government, but through the interplay of all the three branches.

“Sitting alone on a hill and preaching wisdom and exercising self-restraint is not what the founders had in mind,” Howell said. “They built a government premised on the notion that power would be made to check power and that ambition would be made to check ambition.”

Howell believes that today’s popular notion that presidents should exercise more self-restraint and limit their executive authority is misguided.

“It ignores the foundational incentives that executives face, incentives where they are asked to address every conceivable problem in the world and yet they lack the formal authority within the constitution to fulfill those expectations. They have to manufacture power or they have to beseech the other branches of government to give them powers that are not automatically found in the Constitution if they stand any chance at survival.”

Interestingly, even as presidents accumulate more power for themselves, at no time are they seen more as failures than when they do not exercise that power, especially when it appears that they are refusing to act.

One example of this is President Jimmy Carter and the Iran hostage crisis. In 1979, a group of young Islamic militants stormed the embassy in Tehran and held 66 Americans prisoner for 444 days. Howell points out that Carter’s failure to end the crisis earlier derived not from unwillingness to act but from a lack of viable options. But the fact that more was not done ultimately led to Carter’s downfall.

Still, beyond the Constitutional limits on presidential power are other restrictions, such as cultural misgivings. Built into the American psyche, largely as a result of the dislike of the absolute power held by the British monarchy they left behind, is a condemnation of presidential candidates who betray too much interest in holding the office.

In the 2000 election George W. Bush regularly needled Vice President Al Gore for his long-standing ambition to become president. Further,Washington Post correspondent David Broder derided Gore’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention because he talked about “what he wants to do as president.” Consequently, Bush was elected, despite the fact that he also came from a long-standing political family. Howell points out that it was the perception of Gore’s thirst for power that defeated him, regardless of the fact that Bush was equally ambitious.

Howells’s nuanced examination of power and the presidency explores more than just the attainment of power, it also looks at how a president’s pursuit of power manifests itself, how it speaks to the standards Americans set for their presidents and how alternative models of executive leadership are ruled out by these standards. Thinking about the Presidency reframes the study of presidential behavior and could change the way the national electorate thinks about its leader.

To view the original article, please visit The University of Chicago’s website:

Thinking about the Presidency by William G. Howell With David Milton Brent
“In this brief, well-written book, William Howell ranges widely and astutely as he encourages readers to view the presidency through the prism of its core dimension–power. This volume will be a valuable complement to courses on the presidency.”–George C. Edwards III, author of Overreach: Leadership in the Obama Presidency
Thinking about the Presidency:
The Primacy of Power

William G. Howell
With David Milton Brent
Drawings by Catherine Hamilton

All American presidents, past and present, have cared deeply about power–acquiring, protecting, and expanding it. While individual presidents obviously have other concerns, such as shaping policy or building a legacy, the primacy of power considerations–exacerbated by expectations of the presidency and the inadequacy of explicit powers in the Constitution–sets presidents apart from other political actors. Thinking about the Presidency explores presidents’ preoccupation with power. Distinguished presidential scholar William Howell looks at the key aspects of executive power–political and constitutional origins, philosophical underpinnings, manifestations in contemporary political life, implications for political reform, and looming influences over the standards to which we hold those individuals elected to America’s highest office.

Howell shows that an appetite for power may not inform the original motivations of those who seek to become president. Rather, this need is built into the office of the presidency itself–and quickly takes hold of whomever bears the title of Chief Executive. In order to understand the modern presidency, and the degrees to which a president succeeds or fails, the acquisition, protection, and expansion of power in a president’s political life must be recognized–in policy tools and legislative strategies, the posture taken before the American public, and the disregard shown to those who would counsel modesty and deference within the White House.

Thinking about the Presidency assesses how the search for and defense of presidential powers informs nearly every decision made by the leader of the nation.

William G. Howell is the Sydney Stein Professor in American Politics at the University of Chicago, where he holds appointments in the Harris School of Public Policy, the Department of Political Science, and the College. His books include While Dangers Gather and Power without Persuasion (both Princeton), as well as The Wartime President. David Milton Brent is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Yale University.


Thinking about the Presidency is an important antidote to all the rhetoric, reporting, prognostication, and public discourse that focuses on presidential individuality. Focusing on commonalities across presidents, Howell looks at how the institutional and political setting influences presidential behavior. His message is important.”–Jeffrey E. Cohen, Fordham University

“Howell is a formidable scholar. His informative book will be of broad interest to educated people who want to read a scholarly analysis of the presidency, as viewed through the lens of power.”–James P. Pfiffner, George Mason University

“This book is a crisp take on a key topic. What makes presidents tick? What makes them succeed? It is a good moment to pare down to fundamentals, and this book will serve as a useful guide to our next chief executive–no matter who that turns out to be.”–Andrew Rudalevige, Bowdoin College


Robert Wuthnow discusses the future of small towns and why people inhabiting them tend to vote republican

We are a nation that started as a nation of small towns. For much of our history, we have been a culture of small towns. Small towns are still very much in our consciousness.

–Robert Wuthnow, author of Small-Town America

Small-Town America: Finding Community, Shaping the Future by Robert WuthnowSmall-Town America:
Finding Community, Shaping the Future

Robert Wuthnow

More than thirty million Americans live in small, out-of-the-way places. Many of them could have chosen to join the vast majority of Americans who live in cities and suburbs. They could live closer to better paying jobs, more convenient shopping, a wider range of educational opportunities, and more robust health care. But they have opted to live differently.

In Small-Town America, we meet factory workers, shop owners, retirees, teachers, clergy, and mayors–residents who show neighborliness in small ways, but who also worry about everything from school closings and their children’s futures to the ups and downs of the local economy. Drawing on more than seven hundred in-depth interviews in hundreds of towns across America and three decades of census data, Robert Wuthnow shows the fragility of community in small towns. He covers a host of topics, including the symbols and rituals of small-town life, the roles of formal and informal leaders, the social role of religious congregations, the perception of moral and economic decline, and the myriad ways residents in small towns make sense of their own lives. Wuthnow also tackles difficult issues such as class and race, abortion, homosexuality, and substance abuse.

Small-Town America paints a rich panorama of the lives and livelihoods of people who reside in small communities, finding that, for many people, living in a small town is an important part of self-identity.

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University. His books include Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland and Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s (both Princeton).

TOMORROW: W. Bernard Carlson to be interviewed on The Diane Rehm Show


W. Bernard Carlson - Corcoran Department of History: University of VirginiaTune into The Diane Rehm Show 11:06 a.m. (ET) for an interview with W. Bernard Carlson, author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age.

Each week, more than 2.4 million listeners across the country tune in to The Diane Rehm Show, which has grown from a small local morning call-in show on Washington’s WAMU 88.5 to one of public broadcasting’s most-listened-to programs. In 2007 and 2008, the show placed among the top ten most powerful public radio programs, based on its ability to draw listeners to public radio stations. It is the only live call-in talk show on the list.

Diane’s guests include many of the nation’s top newsmakers, journalists and authors. Guests include former president Bill Clinton, General Tommy Franks, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Julie Andrews and Toni Morrison. Newsweek magazine calls the program one of the most interesting talk shows in the country. The National Journal says Diane is “the class act of the talk radio world.”

Each hour includes dialogue with listeners who call, e-mail, Tweet or post to Facebook to join Diane’s virtual community and take part in a civil exchange of ideas.

To find a station near you in the U.S. that broadcasts The Diane Rehm Show, click here: http://thedianerehmshow.org/stations

For stations outside of the United States, visit NPR Worldwide: http://www.npr.org/templates/stations/stations/

Look at the W. Bernard Carlson interview information on The Diane Rehm Show website: http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2013-07-10/w-bernard-carlson-tesla-inventor-electric-age

Inventor of the Electrical Age

W. Bernard Carlson

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard CarlsonNikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America’s first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft.

Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla’s private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an “idealist” inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion.

This major biography sheds new light on Tesla’s visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs.

W. Bernard Carlson is professor of science, technology, and society in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and professor of history at the University of Virginia. His books include Technology in World History and Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900.


“Carlson sheds light on the man and plenty of his inventions. . . . [An] electric portrait.”–Publishers Weekly

“Superb. . . . Carlson brings to life Tesla’s extravagant self-promotion, as well as his eccentricity and innate talents, revealing him as a celebrity-inventor of the ‘second industrial revolution’ to rival Thomas Alva Edison.”–W. Patrick McCray, Nature

“A scholarly, critical, mostly illuminating study of the life and work of the great Serbian inventor.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Carlson even has something to teach readers familiar with Seifer’s dissection of Tesla’s tortured psyche in Wizard (2001) and O’Neill’s much earlier chronicle of Tesla’s childhood and early career in Prodigal Genius (1944). Carlson provides not only a more detailed explanation of Tesla’s science but also a more focused psychological account of Tesla’s inventive process than do his predecessors. Carlson also surpasses his predecessors in showing how Tesla promoted his inventions by creating luminous illusions of progress, prosperity, and peace, illusions so strong that they finally unhinge their creator. An exceptional fusion of technical analysis of revolutionary devices and imaginative sympathy for a lacerated ego.”–Bryce Christensen, Booklist starred review

“This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a monumental inventor whose impact on our contemporary world is all too unfamiliar to the general public. Carlson relates the science behind Tesla’s inventions with a judicial balance that will engage both the novice and the academic alike. Highly recommended to serious biography buffs and to readers of scientific subjects.”–Brian Odom, Library Journal

Q&A with Toby Tyrrell, author of “On Gaia”


tyrell_toby_au photo

Toby Tyrrell is professor of Earth system science at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (University of Southampton). His new book On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth publishes at the end of July.

He kindly answered some questions from our UK Director of Publicity Caroline Priday.

Q: Why did you write this book

A: My aim was to determine whether the Gaia hypothesis is a credible explanation of how life and environment interact on Earth.


Q: What is the Gaia hypothesis?

A: James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, first put forward in the 1970’s, proposes that life has played a critical role in shaping the planetary environment and climate over ~3 bil­lion years, in order to keep it habitable or even optimal for life down through the geological ages. Life has not been merely a passive pas­senger on a fortuitously habitable Earth, it is claimed, but rather has shaped the environment and helped to keep it comfortable.


Q: Why has there been so much interest in the Gaia hypothesis?

A: In part because it suggests answers to some fundamental questions of widespread interest, such as how it is that Earth remained continuously habitable for so long, how did our planet and the life upon it end up the way they are, and how does the Earth system work?


Q: Lots of scientists have considered Gaia before – what is different about this book?

A: Previous books have been mostly reviews of the scientific debates over Gaia, collections of scientific papers, or congratulatory restatements of Gaia by supporters. This book is the first to submit the Gaia hypothesis to detailed sceptical scrutiny, subjecting each of three main arguments put forward in support of Gaia to close analysis, and comparing them to modern evidence collected in the more than 30 years since the Gaia hypothesis was first proposed. It is the first book containing a hard-nosed and thorough examination of the Gaia hypothesis.


Q: What are the three main arguments that have been advanced in support of Gaia?

A: Firstly, that the Earth is very comfortable for life. Secondly, that the presence of life on Earth has profoundly altered the nature of the planetary environment. And thirdly, that the environment has remained fairly stable over geological time.


Q: What is the main conclusion of the book?

A: That the Gaia hypothesis does not “hold up in court”: it is not consistent with modern scientific evidence and understanding and should therefore be rejected.


Q: What are the reasons given for rejecting the Gaia hypothesis?

A: Firstly because there are no facts or phenomena that can be explained only by Gaia (no ‘smoking gun’). Secondly because there is no proven mechanism for Gaia (no accepted reason for why it should emerge out of natural selection). And thirdly because the key lines of argument that Lovelock and others advanced in support of Gaia either give equally strong support to alternative hypotheses or else are mistaken. For instance the planet is not excessively favourable for life: it has been colder than optimal during the ice ages that have occupied the majority of the last few million years, and unnecessary nitrogen starvation is ubiquitous. Its environmental history has not been all that stable: we now have abundant evidence of past environmental instability, from ice age cycles to seawater Mg/Ca variation to Snowball/Slushball Earths.


Q: If life and its environment do not interact in the way suggested by Gaia (life moulding the environment towards its own convenience) then how do they interact?

A: Through ‘coevolution’. Stephen Schneider and Randi Londer put forward the idea of a coevolution between life and its environment: biological processes such as oxygen production by photosynthesis shape the environment, and, clearly, the environment also strongly influences life through evolution of organisms to fit their environments. Coevolution recognises that both affect the other. Unlike Gaia, however, coevolution does not claim any emergent property out of the two-way interaction between life and environment. It is neutral with regards to predictions about the resulting effect on the environment. It does not suggest that the interaction tends to improve living conditions on Earth.


Q: If the Gaia hypothesis is not the reason, then why did the Earth remain habitable for such an enormously long interval of time?

A: This may relate partly to the weak Anthropic Principle, whereby we logically cannot observe any facts that preclude our own existence. So however infrequent it may be in the universe for a planet to remain continuously habitable over billions of years, we happen to be on just such a planet. According to this way of thinking, Earth may just have been lucky, with no sentient observers having evolved on other planets which were not so lucky, i.e. where conditions became sterile at some point. Another possible explanation for extended habitability in the absence of Gaia is a predominantly inorganic thermostat, such as has been suggested for silicate weathering.


Q: Why would people be interested in this book?

A: It considers some of the great questions about the nature of our planet, its history, and how it came to give rise to us. Many fascinating topics are covered, often from little-known corners of the natural world. Examples include: hummingbirds in the High Andes and the similarity of their beaks to the flowers they extract nectar from, the wonderfully-named Walsby’s square archaeon in the Dead Sea, the ever-lasting durability of the waste that coral reefs generate (not everything in nature is recycled), changes in the nature of the saltiness of seawater over geological time, and differences in the way Australian snakes bear young depending on climate (they don’t always lay eggs).


Q: Are there any implications for the current era of global change?

A: Yes, it is suggested that belief in the Gaia hypothesis can lead to excessive complacency about the robustness and resilience of the natural system. Gaia emphasizes stabilising feedbacks and protective mechanisms that keep the environment in check. If Gaia is rejected, however, we are left with a less comforting view of the natural system. Without Gaia it is easier to appreciate that the natural system contains lines of weakness and other susceptibilities. One such line of weakness that has already been demonstrated is the ozone layer depletion by CFC’s. I have argued in the book that there is no over-riding Gaia to protect our planet’s life support system. Maintaining the Earth’s environment is up to us.


Read a sample chapter from On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship between Life and Earth [PDF].

Exploring Fungi’s Kingdom

Some things just don’t get enough credit. The fungi kingdom is a sometimes forgotten but extremely important kingdom within our world. Why are organisms that are so small so important? Jens Peterson, author of The Kingdom of Fungi answers this question and more in BBC The Forum’s latest interview. Check out the interview here.

The fungi realm has been called the “hidden kingdom,” a mysterious world populated by microscopic spores, gigantic mushrooms and toadstools, and a host of other multicellular organisms ranging widely in color, size, and shape. The Kingdom of Fungi provides an intimate look at the world’s astonishing variety of fungi species, from cup fungi and lichens to truffles and tooth fungi, clubs and corals, and jelly fungi and puffballs. This beautifully illustrated book features more than 800 stunning color photographs as well as a concise text that describes the biology and ecology of fungi, fungal morphology, where fungi grow, and human interactions with and uses of fungi.

The Kingdom of Fungi is a feast for the senses, and the ideal reference for naturalists, researchers, and anyone interested in fungi.

  • Reveals fungal life as never seen before
  • Features more than 800 stunning color photos
  • Describes fungal biology, morphology, distribution, and uses
  • A must-have reference book for naturalists and researchers

Anat Admati interview with EconTalk

Earlier this week Anat Admati, coauthor of The Bankers’ New Clothes, appeared on EconTalk with Russ Roberts to discuss the book. Hear the full interview here.

Anat Admati of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about her new book (co-authored with Martin Hellwig), The Bankers’ New Clothes. Admati argues that the best way to reduce the fragility of the banking system is to increase capital requirements–that is, require banks to finance their activities with a greater proportion of equity rather than debt. She explains how debt magnifies returns and losses while making each bank more fragile. Despite claims to the contrary, she argues that the costs of reducing debt are relatively small for society as a whole while the benefits are substantial.