Quick Questions for Michael Cook

05-21 CookMichael 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.

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Michael is the author of:

05-21 Cook1 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]

Untranslatable Tuesdays – Media

media

To mark the publication of Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, we are delighted to share a series of playful graphics by our design team which illustrate some of the most interesting terms from the Dictionary. For week six in the “Untranslatable Tuesdays” series we present Media/Medium (of communication):

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the recognition of a family resemblance between the various “implements of intercommunication” meant that they could be compared and contrasted in profitable new ways. . . . The term “mass media” found its niche in scholarly articles by such influential American midcentury thinkers as Hadley Cantril, Harold Lasswell, and Paul Lazarsfeld. But European philosophers resisted this tendency. . . . For Sartre, Adorno, and their contemporaries, “mass media” was less an untranslatable than an untouchable sullied by intellectual and institutional associations with American cultural imperialism. . . . This resistance was soon exhausted. . . . Cognates like “multimedia,” “remediation,” and “mediality” proliferate globally. This reflects less the dominance of English than the collective urgency of an intellectual project. (Ben Kafka)

 

Quick Questions for Eric Cline, author of 1177 B.C.

Eric Cline at Megiddo high resEric H. Cline is Professor of Classics and Anthropology, Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at The George Washington University, in Washington DC. An active field archaeologist, he has excavated and surveyed in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Crete, and the United States for 29 seasons since 1980. He is currently Co-Director of two excavations in Israel: Megiddo (biblical Armageddon) and Tel Kabri. Dr. Cline has published fifteen books including The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age; Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel; From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible; Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction and The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction.

His most recent book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, has topped the Amazon.com best-seller list for Kindle, Audio, and Print Archaeology books for several weeks. Writing for The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik described 1177 B.C. as “new and exciting….adding an archaic flavor to the current stew of apprehension and awe about where the world is going, and what we might find when it gets there.”

Now, on to the questions!

What inspired you to get into your field?

My mother gave me a book when I was seven years old. It was called The Walls of Windy Troy and was a biography of Heinrich Schlieman. After reading it, I announced that I was going to become an archaeologist. When I graduated from college with a degree in Classical Archaeology, my mother gave me the same book again…

What would you have been if not an archaeologist?

Unemployed.

What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about what archaeologists do?

They think that I look for dinosaurs.


Civilizations have survived droughts, famines, earthquakes, invaders; but they only had to handle those disasters one at a time.


What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Do what you love and love what you do.

Why did you write 1177 BC?

I wanted to write about WHAT collapsed as well as explore how and why it collapsed…

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book?

There were numerous interesting things that I learned from writing the book. Among these I would highlight the fact that the Sea Peoples seem to have been given a raw deal in previous scholarly literature and have been used as convenient scapegoats, blamed for ending the Late Bronze Age. In fact, they were just one of the numerous factors that contributed to the demise of multiple civilizations at that time and may have been as much victims as oppressors.  Also, I was intrigued to see that there were so many factors, or stressors/drivers, that contributed to the collapse; I had initially thought that I’d be able to explain away and dismiss one or two, but all of them make some sort of sense. On the other hand, when one thinks about it, that in itself makes sense — civilizations have survived droughts; they have survived famines; they have survived earthquakes; they have survived invaders; but in almost every case, they only had to handle those disasters one at a time. So, when there are multiple disasters all at once, that’s when civilizations might not be able to outlast and survive them. And that seems to have been the case at the end of the Late Bronze Age.


I knew that the book’s theme of Collapse would resonate with many in today’s world, but I wasn’t quite prepared for its timeliness.


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

I think that the book’s most important contribution is going to depend upon the individual reader, for it will be different for each one.  Some readers, like Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, appreciate learning the history and stories of the 300 years during which the various Late Bronze Age civilizations were flourishing…and realizing the parallels to today’s globalized world. Others are more interested in the fact that the Collapse occurred and see parallels to today’s world. Perhaps most surprising to me is the extent to which some readers have latched on to the fact that there was climate change back then, even in the days before the burning of fossil fuels and emissions from cars, etc, etc, and are now applying it to their own arguments, for instance in the NY Post and the National Review Online. Also, I knew that the book’s theme of Collapse would resonate with many in today’s world, but I wasn’t quite prepared for its timeliness, with “disaster” and “collapse” scenarios for our own civilization seeming to appear on a weekly basis at the moment!

What is your next project?

Continue to dig at Megiddo and Kabri during the summers. Writing a book about Megiddo – an archaeological history of Armageddon

 


Eric is the author of:

bookjacket 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
Eric H. Cline
Hardcover | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691140896
264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 halftones. 2 maps.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400849987
Also available as an audiobook
Reviews
Table of Contents
Free Excerpt, read the Prologue[PDF]

Jacqueline Bhaba on Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age [VIDEO]

Why have our governments and societies been unable to effectively address the human rights and legal problems around the growing number of children who cross borders alone every year? How do we (and how should we) apply laws and policies designed for adult migrants to children and adolescents?

Distinguished human rights and legal scholar Jacqueline Bhabha has been studying complex ethical and legal questions such as these around immigration and children’s rights for over a decade and the results of her research may surprise you. Faculti Media recently posted this video of Bhabha discussing her work and her new book Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age:

Quick Questions for Michael Scott, author of Delphi

Michael Scott, credit, David WilsonMichael Scott is an assistant professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Warwick, though he is perhaps most recognized as a presenter for ancient history documentaries on National Geographic, the History channel, Nova, and the BBC. His new book on Delphi has been getting excellent reviews so far, including this from The Spectator: “Tells you everything there is to know about Delphi.” We couldn’t agree more and hope you will sample this complimentary chapter.

The book presents a thorough history of this historical site–expanding our understanding beyond the oracle to incorporate Delphi’s importance as a site of commerce, international politics, sporting competitions, culture, and on and on. It also includes a brief chapter for present-day visitors with insider’s tips on the sights to see making it the perfect companion for anyone planning a trip to see Delphi for themselves.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Michael Scott: A trip to Greece–indeed to Delphi–when I was 17 at school convinced me to study Classics at University. Whilst there, I was lucky enough to study at the British Schools at Rome and at Athens and to study in and amongst a wide range of fascinating archaeological sites. From that point on, I never looked back

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

For me, this book highlights what history, and particularly ancient history, really is. Not a list of undisputed facts about what happened, but a continuing dialogue–from then right up to now–of different, sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory arguments about how to understand the past, and the place of the past in our present and future. As the saying goes, ‘the future is certain, the past just keeps on changing.’


To properly understand any one moment and event, I argue that we need to connect histories from around the globe.


What was the most influential book you’ve read?

Tough one. In regard to the study of the ancient world, probably E R Dodds’s Greeks and the Irrational. I remember reading it just before starting my undergraduate degree and it entirely changing my perception of what studying the ancient world would be like.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote this book because while Delphi has been extensively studied, that study has often been piecemeal (in focusing on one particular activity at Delphi), or compartmentalized (in terms of focusing on what particular period of its 1000+ year history), or written from the standpoint of a particular kind of evidence (literary, inscriptional or archaeological). But that is not how the ancients saw, used or perceived Delphi. If we are to understand Delphi and its unique place and longevity within the ancient world, we have to get to grips with how the different sources portray Delphi’s portfolio of activities interacting across its lifespan to create a place that remained at the centre of the ancient world for so long.

PUP: What is your next project?

In my next book project, I want to break down some of the disciplinary boundaries between arenas of study in our ancient past. The book will focus on some of the most famous dates in our ancient story: 2000 BC and the completion of Stonehenge; 508 BC and the origins of democracy; 218 BC and Hannibal’s march across the Alps as well as 312 AD Constantine’s victory at the battle of Milvian Bridge. But exploring these critical moments is only the beginning. To properly understand any one moment and event, I argue that we need to connect histories from around the globe to examine what was happening elsewhere at these crucial times. So, yes, democracy may have been invented in ancient Greece in 508 BC, but what was happening politically at that time in Italy, or indeed in China? Constantine may have begun Rome’s march to Christianity in 312 AD, but what great shifts in religious observance were happening in India or North Africa? In asking that question, this book will connect up our different pasts and as a result enable us to understand the varying speeds, and kinds, of evolution that the regions of our world have been through. It will open up a window onto the similar and different challenges and issues we have faced, as well as the responses and ideas we have developed as a result.


Michael is the author of:

bookjacket Delphi
A History of the Center of the Ancient World

Michael Scott
Cloth | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691150819
448 pp. | 6 x 9 | 8 color illus. 41 halftones. 3 maps.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400851324″Like the two eagles released by Zeus from opposite ends of the world who then met in Delphi, Michael Scott gets to the heart of antiquity’s most celebrated and enigmatic oracle. A vivid and lucid study that reanimates the mentality of those who consulted Apollo more convincingly than any other I have read.”–Tom Holland, author of Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

Angela Stent on US-Russia relations – a video

Angela Stent discusses the issues within her new book The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century with The Economist’s Europe Editor, John Peet in this video from The Economist. What are the main factors contributing to the prickly political relationship between Russia and the United States? Angela Stent explains here.

 

New History Catalog!

Be among the first to browse and download our new history catalog!

Of particular interest is The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jürgen Osterhammel. This is the highly anticipated English edition of the spectacularly successful and critically acclaimed German book, which is also being translated into Chinese, Polish, Russian, and French. Indispensable for any historian, The Transformation of the World sheds important new light on this momentous epoch, showing how the nineteenth century paved the way for the global catastrophes of the twentieth century, yet how it also gave rise to pacifism, liberalism, the trade union, and a host of other crucial developments.

Also be sure to note The Golden Age Shtetl: A New History of Jewish Life in East Europe by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern. The shtetl was home to two-thirds of East Europe’s Jews in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet it has long been one of the most neglected and misunderstood chapters of the Jewish experience. This book provides the first grassroots social, economic, and cultural history of the shtetl. Challenging popular misconceptions of the shtetl as an isolated, ramshackle Jewish village stricken by poverty and pogroms, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern argues that, in its heyday from the 1790s to the 1840s, the shtetl was a thriving Jewish community as vibrant as any in Europe.

And don’t miss out on Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age by Jacqueline Bhabha. Spanning several continents and drawing on the actual stories of young migrants, the book shows how difficult it is for children to reunite with parents who left them behind to seek work abroad. It looks at the often-insurmountable obstacles we place in the paths of adolescents fleeing war, exploitation, or destitution; the contradictory elements in our approach to international adoption; and the limited support we give to young people brutalized as child soldiers. Part history, part in-depth legal and political analysis, this powerful book challenges the prevailing wisdom that widespread protection failures are caused by our lack of awareness of the problems these children face, arguing instead that our societies have a deep-seated ambivalence to migrant children—one we need to address head-on.

Even more foremost titles in history can be found in the catalog. You may also sign up with ease to be notified of forthcoming titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/. Your e-mail address will remain confidential!

If you’re heading to the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., January 2nd-5th, come visit us at booth 706-708 and follow #AHA2014 and @PrincetonUnivPress on Twitter for updates and information on our new and forthcoming titles throughout the meeting. See you there!

Steven A. Barnes Wins 2013 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize

Steven A. Barnes - Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society
Winner of the 2013 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize, American Historical Association

The American Historical Association offers the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize annually for a distinguished book by an American author in the field of European history. The Adams prize was established in 1905 in memory of the first secretary of the Association, Herbert Adams of Johns Hopkins University, who was also one of the Association’s founders. The Adams Prize and the Leo Gershoy Award (also bestowed by the AHA) are widely considered to be the most prestigious prizes in the field of European history.

To read more about the award, click here.

Death and RedemptionDeath and Redemption offers a fundamental reinterpretation of the role of the Gulag–the Soviet Union’s vast system of forced-labor camps, internal exile, and prisons–in Soviet society. Soviet authorities undoubtedly had the means to exterminate all the prisoners who passed through the Gulag, but unlike the Nazis they did not conceive of their concentration camps as instruments of genocide. In this provocative book, Steven Barnes argues that the Gulag must be understood primarily as a penal institution where prisoners were given one final chance to reintegrate into Soviet society. Millions whom authorities deemed “reeducated” through brutal forced labor were allowed to leave. Millions more who “failed” never got out alive.

Drawing on newly opened archives in Russia and Kazakhstan as well as memoirs by actual prisoners, Barnes shows how the Gulag was integral to the Soviet goal of building a utopian socialist society. He takes readers into the Gulag itself, focusing on one outpost of the Gulag system in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan, a location that featured the full panoply of Soviet detention institutions. Barnes traces the Gulag experience from its beginnings after the 1917 Russian Revolution to its decline following the 1953 death of Stalin.

Death and Redemption reveals how the Gulag defined the border between those who would reenter Soviet society and those who would be excluded through death.

Steven A. Barnes is associate professor of history and director of the Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Mason University.

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!

More Upcoming Ruth Wisse Events You Don’t Want to Miss

NoJokeAuthor Ruth R. Wisse will be making several appearances in the next couple of months to discuss her new book, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor. In this book, Ruth Wisse evokes and applauds the genius of spontaneous Jewish joking–as well as the brilliance of comic masterworks by writers like Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, S. Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Philip Roth. At the same time, Wisse draws attention to the precarious conditions that have called Jewish humor into being–and the price it may exact from its practitioners and audience.

The next two events will be held in November, the first being November 20th at 7:00 PM at the APJCC Auditorium in Silicon Valley. To learn more about the event, click here.

The second event will be held at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on November 21st at 7:00 PM. To learn more about the event, click here.

For both events, Wisse will discuss “No Joke: Making Jewish Humor,” her book about the most celebrated of all Jewish responses to modernity. Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University. She is the author of The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture, which won a National Jewish Book Award. Her other books include Jews and Power (Schocken) and The Schlemiel as Modern Hero.

Steven Barnes Shortlisted for the 2013 Central Eurasian Studies Society Book Award

Steven A. Barnes - Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society
Shortlisted for the 2013 Central Eurasian Studies Society Book Award

Each year the CESS Book Award and a monetary prize of $500 is presented to the author of the research monograph, published in the preceding two years, that represents the most important contribution to Central Eurasian studies, or that holds the greatest potential for furthering scholarship on the Central Eurasian region.  Although Barnes’ book did not win, it was one of a “very strong shortlist of six books.”

Death and RedemptionDeath and Redemption offers a fundamental reinterpretation of the role of the Gulag– the Soviet Union’s vast system of forced-labor camps, internal exile, and prisons– in Soviet society. Soviet authorities undoubtedly had the means to exterminate all the prisoners who passed through the Gulag, but unlike the Nazis they did not conceive of their concentration camps as instruments of genocide. In this provocative book, Steven Barnes argues that the Gulag must be understood primarily as a penal institution where prisoners were given one final chance to reintegrate into Soviet society. Millions whom authorities deemed “reeducated” through brutal forced labor were allowed to leave. Millions more who “failed” never got out alive.

Drawing on newly opened archives in Russia and Kazakhstan as well as memoirs by actual prisoners, Barnes shows how the Gulag was integral to the Soviet goal of building a utopian socialist society. He takes readers into the Gulag itself, focusing on one outpost of the Gulag system in the Karaganda region of Kazakhstan, a location that featured the full panoply of Soviet detention institutions. Barnes traces the Gulag experience from its beginnings after the 1917 Russian Revolution to its decline following the 1953 death of Stalin.

Death and Redemption reveals how the Gulag defined the border between those who would reenter Soviet society and those who would be excluded through death.

Steven A. Barnes is associate professor of history and director of the Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Mason University.

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.