Kenneth Rogoff: James S. Henry’s early approach to the big bills problem

Presenting the next post in a series by Kenneth Rogoff, author of The Curse of Cash. You can read the other posts in the series here, here, here, and here.

RogoffMy new book, The Curse of Cash, calls for moving to a “less cash” society by very gradually phasing out big notes. I must mention, however, a closely-related idea by James S. Henry. In a prescient 1980 Washington Monthly article, Henry put forth a plan for rapidly swapping out $100s and $50s. While The Curse of Cash highlights his emphasis on the use of cash in crime, it should have noted his snap exchange plan early on (as it will in future printings).

Rather than gradually eliminate big bills as I suggest in the book and in my earlier 1998 article, Henry argues for having the government declare that large denomination bills are to expire and must be exchanged for new bills at short notice:

A surprise currency recall, similar to those that had been conducted by governments in post-World War II Europe, and Latin America, and by our own military in Vietnam. On any given Sunday, the Federal Reserve would announce that existing “big bills”—$50s and $100s—would no longer be accepted as legal tender, and would have to be exchanged at banks for new bills within a short period. When the tax cheats, Mafiosi, and other pillars of the criminal community rushed to their banks to exchange their precious notes, the IRS would be there to ask those with the most peculiar bundles some embarrassing questions. (Henry, “The Cash Connection: How to Make the Mob Miserable,” The Washington Monthly issue 4, p. 54).

This is certainly an interesting idea and, indeed, the U.S. is something of an outlier in allowing old bills to be valid forever, albeit most countries rotate from old to new bills very slowly, not at short notice.

Henry’s swap plan absolutely merits serious discussion, but there might be significant problems even if the government only handed out small bills for the old big bills. First, there are formidable logistical problems to doing anything quickly, since at least 40% of U.S. currency is held overseas. Moreover, there is a fine line between a snap currency exchange and a debt default, especially for a highly developed economy in peacetime. Foreign dollar holders especially would feel this way. Finally, any exchange at short notice would be extremely unfair to people who acquired their big bills completely legally but might not keep tabs on the news.

In general, a slow gradual currency swap would be far less disruptive in an advanced economy, and would leave room for dealing with unanticipated and unintended consequences. One idea, detailed in The Curse of Cash, is to allow people to exchange their expiring large bills relatively conveniently for the first few years (still subject to standard anti-money-laundering reporting requirements), then over time make it more inconvenient by accepting the big notes at ever fewer locations and with ever stronger reporting requirements. True, a more prolonged period would give criminals and tax evaders lots of time to launder their mass holdings of big bills into smaller ones or into other assets, and at relatively minimal cost. This appears to have been the case, for example, with exchange of legacy European currency (such as German deutschemarks and French francs) for new euro currency. Of course, in most past exchanges (such as the birth of the euro), governments were concerned with maintaining future demand for their “product.” If, instead, governments recognize that meeting massive cash demand by the underground economy is penny wise and pound foolish, they would be prepared to be more aggressive in seeking documentation in the exchange.

Lastly, just to reiterate a recurrent theme from earlier blogs, the aim should be a less-cash society—not a cashless one. There will likely always be a need for some physical currency, even a century from now.

RogoffKenneth S. Rogoff, the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly (Princeton). He appears frequently in the national media and writes a monthly newspaper column that is syndicated in more than fifty countries. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His latest book is The Curse of Cash.

Michael Chwe: Can democracy be saved by those who have been historically excluded?

Election 2016

by Michael Suk-Young Chwe

If only whites could vote, or only men could vote, Donald Trump would be elected president. The people we rely upon to save democracy are exactly those people whom the United States historically excluded: women and people of color.

Women and people of color have been fighting all these years not just for inclusion in U.S. democracy, but for democracy itself, it turns out. Trump’s candidacy is evidence that the project of Western liberal democracy is not self-sustaining; the ethnic and gender group that claims to have originated it has been unable to maintain consensus around its ideals, and must be bailed out by newcomers who actually take those ideals seriously. Women and people of color have been reluctantly invited to a storied and elegant social engagement, only to have to clean up after the hosts trashing the place.

Only since 2008 has our country’s choice of president differed from the choice of a majority or near-majority of white voters. In 1976 Jimmy Carter won 47 percent of the white vote compared with Gerald Ford’s 52 percent, and in 1992 Bill Clinton won 39 percent of the white vote compared with George H. W. Bush’s 40 percent (the remaining 20 percent of the white vote went to Ross Perot). In all other elections from 1972 to 2004, the candidate who won the white vote won the presidency. However, in 2008 Obama won 43 percent of the white vote compared with McCain’s 55 percent, and in 2012 Obama won only 39 percent of the white vote compared with Romney’s 59 percent.

White men have consistently voted Republican since 1972. When has their favored candidate lost? In 1976, 47 percent of white men voted for Carter and 51 percent voted for Ford, a 4 point “gap.” In 1992, Clinton won 37 percent of the white male vote compared to Bush’s 40 percent, a 3 point gap. In 1996, Clinton won 38 percent of the white male vote compared to Dole’s 49 percent, a much larger 11 point gap. In 2008, Obama won 41 percent of the white male vote compared to McCain’s 57 percent, a 16 point gap. In 2012, Obama won only 35 percent of the white male vote compared to Romney’s 62 percent, a 27 point gap. If only white men could vote, Romney would have been elected in a landslide. But the US elected Obama. As the population of color grows, and the power of women only increases, white men become less important.

How will whites, especially white men, adapt to the new demographic reality: gracefully, petulantly, or destructively? Even ostensibly liberal whites (for example Academy Awards voters, who are overwhelmingly white and male) will have to make changes far outside their previous experience. For example, the relatively liberal Bernie Sanders campaign never tried very hard to reach black voters and focused on working-class whites, an error which should have been obvious. Perhaps the U.S. avoids confronting global warming because of deeply-ingrained American consumer habits. But the U.S. has been led by white men longer than it has been a consumer society.

In a democracy, your goal is to get more votes than your opponents. So if you must offend one group in order to ingratiate yourself to another group, you should try to offend a small group. When Romney famously remarked in a private fundraiser that he was not going to “worry about” 47 percent of the U.S .electorate, what surprised me was not his callousness but his apparent belief that 47 percent was a small number. Maybe you can write off 10 percent of the population, but if you write off 47 percent, you have to win almost all of the 53 percent remaining to win a majority.

Trump insults very large groups such as women, Latinos, and veterans; indeed there are few groups whom Trump has not personally offended, including Republican voters. It is as if Trump does not realize that he should be trying to get votes, not express dominance over other people. His behavior is more consistent with an authoritarian strongman operating in pre-democratic times, or a vindictive mob boss seeking to defend territory in an autarkic free-for-all, not a candidate seeking to win an election. Perhaps Trump supporters, who tend to have authoritarian personality traits, also don’t really believe that we are operating in a democracy.

Much has been said about how Trump supporters are racist, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic, but it is possible to be racist or anti-immigrant and still support basic democratic values such as the rule of law, freedom of expression, and equal protection, and basic norms of civil society such as politeness, mutual respect, and avoiding threats of violence. What particularly delighted Trump supporters, and distinguished Trump from other Republican candidates such as Ted Cruz who took equally bigoted positions, was Trump’s demonstrated willingness to violate democratic values and basic norms of civil society. Evidently for Trump supporters, the “racial and gender order,” enforced by the authoritarian tactics of bullying, harassment, intimidation, and violence, is more important than democratic values. Trump has endorsed violence against protestors at his rallies, tried to intimidate the news media, called for his opponent to be jailed, and most recently stated that he will not necessarily respect the outcome of the election. Each statement crosses a new “red line” but should not be surprising; violating democratic norms is the essence of Trump’s brand and what attracts his supporters. Among Republican voters, 84 percent say that listening to Trump brag about sexually assaulting women does not change their support for him.

Elizabeth Warren has said that Trump is the “natural consequence” of Republican extremism. But this does not go back far enough. Democracy and protection of basic human rights are valued by people who seek protection from persecution. Perhaps the roughly 40 percent of U.S. voters who support Trump are willing to sacrifice democratic values because they never expect to be in need of the protection that democratic values provide; they have always been part of the ruling coalition, and believe they always will be. Trump is struggling among Mormons, who are normally solidly Republican but have a fear and real history of being persecuted, and is struggling among white Catholics for partly the same reason. Part of Trump’s weakness with women voters is that women understand being victimized by men in a way that men do not.

Another possibility is that Trump supporters fear being outside the ruling coalition so much that they feel they must resort to authoritarian means to preserve their ruling coalition. In other words, if they truly believed in the strength of democratic values and institutions, they would not fear becoming a numerical minority. But perhaps they never believed in the first place.

What we are seeing in the widespread support for Trump is not just right-wing extremism but a deep, almost fatal, weakness in the Western democratic project. Despite constant promulgation of democratic values in its civic, educational, and cultural institutions, the majority of the largest ethnic and gender group in one of the world’s most powerful democracies are willing to dispose of those values when their historical dominance is slightly threatened. In a country founded on the ideals of welcoming immigrants and religious tolerance, with even a national holiday celebrating these values, the majority of the members of the largest ethnic group support a candidate who calls immigrants murderers and rapists.

This weakness has always existed, but Trump’s candidacy has revealed it more fully and shockingly. Trump has taken more extreme positions than any major candidate has taken before, not on the left-right spectrum, but on the desirability and legitimacy of democracy itself, and we observe roughly 40 percent of America in support. A person’s preferences over two outcomes can be observed only when she chooses among those outcomes. For the first time in modern history, Americans have been offered a clear choice between democracy and authoritarianism, and 40 percent are choosing authoritarianism. Not all of this 40 percent are Trump enthusiasts; for example, some might support Trump out of Republican party loyalty. But in some sense the existence of reluctant Trump supporters is even more alarming: a reluctant supporter is willing to vote for authoritarian values and tactics despite revulsion for Trump, and might become enthusiastic if a more polished authoritarian comes along.

Until Obama’s election, the conflict between democratic institutions and the “racial and gender order” was less apparent because the outcomes of national elections were consistent with overall white and male dominance. It is often said that the first test of a fledgling democracy is when the first peaceful transfer of power takes place. If we think of this transfer as occurring from one ethnic and gender group to another, democracy in the United States and in most western European nations has not yet passed its first real test. Instead of willingly giving up power to multiracial and multi-gender coalitions, a majority of whites and males support a candidate who wants to upend the democratic process.

It is sometimes claimed that people not in the Western cultural tradition are not “ready” for democracy. But the opposite is true. The majority of the ethnic and cultural descendants of Western Europe in one of the largest democracies are demonstrating their willingness to abandon democracy in an attempt to preserve their ethnic and gender authority. If a majority of Asians, Latinos, or African Americans, or a majority of women, supported an openly insurrectionist leader, this would be considered a national emergency.

What will Trump supporters do once Trump loses? By 2065, white men are projected to be between 20 and 25 percent of the US population, and by then would presumably realize the futility of an electoral strategy centered around themselves. But in the medium term, the 40 percent of the population who are Trump supporters will maintain power, especially in regions such as the southern and mountain states. Our federal system, which gives less populous states like Nebraska and Wyoming disproportionate representation and allows state legislatures to create congressional districts, creates safe seats for Republicans but makes the party unresponsive to national demographic trends. Republicans will not build multiethnic coalitions or appeal broadly to women and thus will not win the presidency, but they will maintain seats in Congress and lose them only slowly. Hence they will continue to use tactics of obstruction at the federal level and maintain “white enclaves” in certain states which will last even as the percentage of whites in the nation as a whole declines.

After the Civil War, the federal government found it too costly to enforce the rights of African Americans in southern states, and tolerated lynching, Jim Crow, poll taxes, and literacy tests. Only more than a century later, when the civil rights movement forced the issue, did the federal government intervene. In the coming decades, will the federal government find it too costly to intervene and “pacify” the enclaves of Trump supporters?

What will people who oppose Trump do once he loses? Most of us will feel like a bad dream is finally over and things will go back to “normal.” But “normal” no longer exists. We used to see people like the armed white supremacists who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon as pathetic idiots, but now it is clear that circumstances exist in which 40 percent of the U.S. population would support people who are equally pathetic and idiotic, and much more dangerous. It is now obvious to everyone, including would-be demagogues, that these 40 percent are mobilizable, and that white male authoritarianism can attract much more than a fringe. Even before Trump, white nationalists enjoyed enough congressional support to force the dismantling of the branch of the Department of Homeland Security that monitored their activities. After Trump loses, will there be enough political will, for example among moderate Democrats, to confront the hatred and violence his campaign has legitimized?

The Republican party, which could have gone in the direction of multiethnic coalitions after its 2013 “autopsy report,” has gone in the opposite direction, and cannot really change course given its now close and radioactive (to women and people of color) association with Trump. Hence a large chunk of the U.S. political system is “locked in” to white male authoritarianism at least for a few decades.

Some recommend trying to understand and sympathize with Trump supporters, who feel like something is being taken away from them and have low education in an economy which increasingly rewards only smarts and favors “female” over “male” personality traits. This is of course necessary, but this sympathy and understanding is more expedient than fairly given; have you ever heard anyone advocating sympathy for the “Asian working class” or “Black working class?”

We need to think about how we can make whites, especially white men, feel that they can continue to be valued and respected members of society. The end of apartheid is a reasonable analogy: famously, Nelson Mandela appeared in full uniform for the 1995 world rugby final won by the South African team, lending his support to a sport and team that symbolized apartheid. For many, this gesture did more to unite post-apartheid South Africa than any other event. Perhaps Obama can go to Branson.

The danger to democracy itself from Trump supporters is real and must be confronted. It is the greatest danger to democracy since World War II, even perhaps since the Civil War, and completely internal. If we had done a better and earlier job with confronting, as opposed to accommodating, white and male privilege, and convincing people that what they feel is being taken away is something that they never should have felt they had in the first place, we might not have reached this situation. Combating white and male privilege is now not only about justice but also about steering democracy away from self-destruction. As it is, we made our society just inclusive enough to save it.

ChweMichael Suk-Young Chwe is professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the author of Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge and Jane Austen, Game Theorist (both Princeton).

Carolin Emcke awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade Association

EmckePrinceton University Press congratulates German journalist and author Carolin Emcke on being chosen by the Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to be this year’s recipient. The prestigious prize was established in 1950 and reflects the German book trade’s commitment to peace and understanding. This year, the prize is awarded in recognition of Carolin Emcke’s significant contribution to social dialogue and peace through her books, articles, and speeches. The Board of Trustees noted,

The work of Carolin Emcke pays particular attention to those moments, situations and issues in which discussions threaten to break down and communication seems no longer possible. In her highly personal and vulnerable manner, she regularly places herself in perilous living situations in order to illustrate – especially in her essays and reports from war zones – how violence, hatred and speechlessness can change people. She then uses analytical empathy to call on everyone involved to find their way back to understanding and exchange. Carolin Emcke’s work has thus become a role model for social conduct and action in an era in which political, religious and cultural conflicts often leave no room for dialogue. She proves that communication is indeed possible, and her work reminds us that we must all strive to achieve this goal as well.

We are proud to have published her 2007 book, Echoes of Violence: Letters from a War Reporter, an award-winning collection of personal letters to friends from a foreign correspondent who is trying to understand what she witnessed during the iconic human disasters of our time—in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and New York City on September 11th, among many other places.

Previous recipients of the £25,000 prize include Amos Oz, Susan Sontag, and Albert Schweitzer.

Princeton University Press to Name Its Higher Education List in Honor of William G. Bowen

William G. Bowen, President Emeritus, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Photo credit: David Lubarsky

Princeton University Press has lost one of its greatest authors and closest friends and supporters. William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University and of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, died last Thursday night at age eighty-three. While President Bowen will be best remembered, and appropriately so, as a university leader, he raised the study of higher education and its institutions to a new level as an author, coauthor, and editor of books. In addition to the many Princeton University Press titles that bear his name, Bill recruited a score of authors to PUP and, through the impact of our list on the scholarship of higher education, attracted even more. To mark this singular contribution to our publishing endeavor, the Press has chosen to make the unprecedented gesture of naming our higher education list in his honor: henceforth, The William G. Bowen Memorial Series in Higher Education.

William Bowen began his decades-long association with Princeton University Press as an author in 1969 with the publication of his monograph (with T. Aldrich Finegan), The Economics of Labor Force Participation. Then, beginning in 1972, as president of Princeton, he served on the Press’s board of trustees. He resumed his role as a PUP author in 1988—the final year of his presidency—with the publication of Ever the Teacher, a collection of his official writings and remarks. Yet it was as president of the Mellon Foundation, rather than of the University, that Bill made his most lasting, significant mark on the Press, beginning with the 1989 publication (with Julie Ann Sosa) of Prospects for Faculty in the Arts and Sciences. Though, nearly thirty years on, he is more closely identified with other, later works, it was this book that initiated the parade of publications that defines not only our publishing in the field of higher education, but, indeed, the scholarly arc of analysis of higher education in America and in the world.

Bill’s engagement with PUP expressed itself in two ways. He was, first and foremost, author, coauthor, or coeditor of twelve books on higher education under the Princeton University Press imprint, the subject matter of which spanned the gamut of issues from admissions to diversity, sports, the market for scholars, digital technology, cost containment, degree completion, governance, leadership, and more.

Bowen_Shape of RiverHis greatest achievement as an author, indisputably, was his 1998 collaboration with Derek Bok, The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, which—in a research study unprecedented in scale and comprehensiveness—made the evidence-based case for affirmative action and influenced higher education policy nationwide. Beyond the extensive acclaim it gathered across the political spectrum, and the awards it garnered, The Shape of the River enjoyed the rare distinction of being cited by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the 2003 US Supreme Court case upholding affirmative action, Grutter v. Bollinger.

In addition to his prodigious work as an author, Bill was an informal PUP advisory editor, attracting to the Princeton list authors from his network of fellow researchers, thereby bringing a chorus of informed voices to the higher education conversation under the PUP imprint. Largely through Bill’s tireless work and enthusiastic editorial recruitment efforts, PUP can now boast as authors such distinguished scholars and higher education leaders as Harold T. Shapiro, Bill’s successor in the Princeton presidency; Derek Bok and Neil L. Rudenstine, presidents emeritus of Harvard University; Michael S. McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College; Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University; and Nancy Weiss Malkiel, Princeton’s former dean of the college—to name just a few.

Seen from a wider perspective, Bill was in effect the architect of a scholarly agenda that, translated into a publishing program, has raised and addressed many of the most relevant, urgent questions besetting higher education. The books he brought to the Princeton list constitute a whole far greater than the sum of its parts: emanating from Bill’s own field of economics outward through the work of historians, legal scholars, scholars of religion, sociologists, and others, the list both encompasses and defines the intellectual terrain of modern higher education while framing the big issues for future scholars to explore.

Lesson PlanBill Bowen’s last book, published by us earlier this year, eloquently embodies his PUP publishing legacy. Cowritten with his close colleague and frequent collaborator Michael McPherson, Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education offers a blueprint for addressing the central issues now facing colleges and universities, and touches upon all the relevant areas on which Bill and his co-researchers have shed light: educational attainment, completion rates, socioeconomic and racial disparities, affordability, student aid, efficiency, sports, teaching, technology, and leadership. In outlining their “agenda for change,” Bowen and McPherson display a characteristic purposefulness mixed with optimism:

There is much that can be accomplished. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous Democracy in America (1835), observed: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” However true this may have been in the early part of the nineteenth century, we fervently hope that it is true today.

William G. Bowen—author, editor, collaborator, adviser, supporter of the Press, and true friend—brought this combination of purpose and optimism to the Press as he worked with us to publish books, define our ongoing editorial agenda, and repair not a few of our faults as we strove to be better. In formally dedicating our higher education list in his name, his grateful associates at Princeton University Press hereby make a partial payment on the Bowen legacy, which will live on in the books he has inspired.

Peter J. Dougherty, Director
October 24, 2016

Presenting the trailer for Virus by Marilyn Roossinck

Virus by Marilyn Roossinck is your go-to guide to the fascinating world of viruses. This stunningly illustrated reference work offers an unprecedented look at 101 microbes that infect all branches of life on Earth—from humans and other animals to insects, plants, fungi, and bacteria. Check out our new trailer for an introduction:



VirusMarilyn J. Roossinck is professor of virus ecology in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology at Pennsylvania State University. She lives in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

Bird Fact Friday – Do birds create art?

From page 76 of Bird Brain:

As part of their mating ritual, male bowerbirds create complex structures (bowers) usually made from an intertwining of grasses and sticks in vast networks resembling nests that are often adorned with bright, colorful, natural and artificial objects. Females make an assessment of a bower, the objects, and the presentation skills and vocal ability of the male before deciding whether to mate with him.

Bird Brain
An Exploration of Avian Intelligence
Nathan Emery
With a foreword by Frans de Waal

EmeryBirds have not been known for their high IQs, which is why a person of questionable intelligence is sometimes called a “birdbrain.” Yet in the past two decades, the study of avian intelligence has witnessed dramatic advances. From a time when birds were seen as simple instinct machines responding only to stimuli in their external worlds, we now know that some birds have complex internal worlds as well. This beautifully illustrated book provides an engaging exploration of the avian mind, revealing how science is exploding one of the most widespread myths about our feathered friends—and changing the way we think about intelligence in other animals as well.

Bird Brain looks at the structures and functions of the avian brain, and describes the extraordinary behaviors that different types of avian intelligence give rise to. It offers insights into crows, jays, magpies, and other corvids—the “masterminds” of the avian world—as well as parrots and some less-studied species from around the world. This lively and accessible book shows how birds have sophisticated brains with abilities previously thought to be uniquely human, such as mental time travel, self-recognition, empathy, problem solving, imagination, and insight.

Written by a leading expert and featuring a foreword by Frans de Waal, renowned for his work on animal intelligence, Bird Brain shines critical new light on the mental lives of birds.

Barbara Miller Lane: 10 Favorite Books on Architecture

In honor of #Archtober, NYC’s month-long celebration of architecture and design, Barbara Miller Lane took the time to share with us her “top ten” architecture titles. Lane is the author of Houses for a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs.  Often dismissed as “little boxes, made of ticky-tacky,” the tract houses of America’s postwar suburbs represent the twentieth century’s most successful experiment in mass housing. Lane’s is the first comprehensive history.

Pioneers of the Modern Movement from William Morris to Walter Gropius
Nikolaus Pevsner

Writing in exile from his native Germany, this future giant among twentieth century architectural historians traced the influences of the English Arts and Crafts movement in Germany, and saw the movement as culminating in the famous Bauhaus led by Walter Gropius. Pevsner thus wedded the history of major buildings to the broader history of design (as revealed in furniture, wall paper, textiles, ironwork, print making and painting). He described the Bauhaus in Germany as the culmination of “modern” movements in all the arts. Pevsner inspired many works on the history of design, and he also brought to the attention of architectural historians everywhere the importance of modern Germany in the development of modern architecture. Beautifully written and illustrated.

The Shingle Style and the Stick Style:
Architectural Theory and Design from Downing to the Origins of Wright
Vincent Scully

In this classic study, as in his earlier work of 1955 (The Shingle Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Richardson to the Origins of Wright), Scully modified the patterns of American architectural history writing to include the history of innovative wooden buildings (mostly residences) of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scully identified a broad movement in American domestic architecture, one that stemmed from rustic and rural origins in American culture. He also traced the influence in the U. S. of important British architects such as Norman Shaw. Scully introduced into the mainstream of American architectural history writing a new canon of architects, men and firms like Bruce Price, Wilson Eyre, Peabody & Stearns, and McKim, Meade and White.

A History of Architecture:
Settings and Rituals
Spiro Kostof

For far too long, the history of architecture was regarded as the story of a few great masters, and their few great masterpieces. Kostof’s 1985 book signaled a broad change in writing about the history of architecture. Now, buildings were to be seen as embedded in their environments—in the streets and street patterns that surrounded them, and also in their intellectual, economic, religious and social contexts. Buildings, Kostof argued, were part of cities, so that the history of architecture must also include the history of urban form. The story of architecture also, Kostof said, reached beyond Western Europe and the United States to include most other areas of the world. A brilliant and unusually readable book that can be enjoyed by students, teachers at all levels, and casual readers.

Living Downtown:
The History of Residential Hotels in the United States
Paul Groth

If architectural history is to deal with residential design, then we need to know about all residential design, not just the design of free-standing houses for wealthy patrons. Living Downtown examines one collective version of residential architecture, the residential hotel, a frequent place to live for American urban dwellers in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, during a period of rapid urbanization. Groth discusses a wide range of types, from luxury hotels, used by wealthy families who still maintained homes in the country, all the way along the social spectrum to the boarding houses used by workers in urban enterprises. Groth brings to bear on this topic a strong knowledge of urban society and economics, while providing masterful analyses of the entire range of housing plans. The design of residential hotels, though such dwellings are out of favor now, offers many lessons for the urban housing of the future.

Second Suburb:
Levittown, Pennsylvania
Dianne Harris ed.

Between 1945 and about 1965, the American urban landscape was transformed by great swathes of new “tract houses”, built outside the old cities and containing radically new house designs. To the extent that Americans have known much about the architecture and planning of these suburbs, they have known the name of the Levitt Brothers, builders of “Levittowns” in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But until very recently, even the Levitts have been remarkably neglected by serious scholars. In this path-breaking work on Levittown, Pennsylvania, the authors trace the history of design as manifested in street patterns, house types, house plans and furnishings, as well as social issues such as the sense of community among the occupants, and the town’s path toward racial integration. A good beginning to what I hope will be a new era in writing about American domestic architecture.

The Food Axis:
Cooking, Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses
Elizabeth C. Cromley

Cromley is a major writer about the typologies of American residential design—about the history of bedrooms, for example, and the history of apartment dwellings. In The Food Axis, she turns to cooking and eating, central functions of everyday life. But she finds that cooking and eating also depend, in their location and the designs that serve them, on the provision and storage of foodstuffs. Cromley deals with the whole of American history, an ambitious focus. The book is full of wonderful insights about the history of dining rooms, kitchens, and food storage areas. A must for those interested in the everyday functions of buildings.

Hitler at Home
Despina Stratigakos

Even though buildings are often products of a broad intellectual and social context, sometimes political power plays a dominant role in building design. This is most often the case in buildings designed for autocrats, for kings and dictators. Adolf Hitler had, it can be argued, absolute power in Germany from 1933 to 1945, and he commissioned many buildings. He was himself an architect manqué. There are a number of books that deal with Hitler’s building program in its entirely, but none until Hitler at Home deals with Hitler’s own residences. Drawing on many archives, including the papers of Gerdy Troost, an interior designer and the wife of Hitler’s first official architect, Stratigakos shows how Hitler’s preferences for his own dwellings blended a rather modern attitude to design with a rustic nostalgia and a kind of heavy abstemiousness, all qualities that he sought to display as indicative of his character as Leader of the Nazi state. A major work of scholarship.

Houses without Names:
Architectural Nomenclature and the Classification of America’s Common Houses
Thomas E. Hubka

Thomas Hubka shows us almost all of America’s typical house types, categorizes them, and explains how to read the plans from the exterior. American domestic architecture has been greatly neglected by architectural historians, except for those houses designed by “great architects” or designed for “great families”. Hubka’s book makes a giant step forward in our understanding our visual environment.

Looking Beyond the Icons:
Midcentury Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism
Richard Longstreth

In this collection of persuasive writings, Richard Longstreth urges American architectural and urban historians to pay more attention to mid-century building and landscape design. New forms of shopping centers, new kinds of community buildings, new types of buildings for business, and above all, “extraordinary” new kinds of suburbs, are the focus of the author’s essays. The book represents an important shift of emphasis from “the icons”, that is, from the “masters of modern architecture” emphasis of many architectural historians, and from the focus on earlier periods by many historians of planning. Longstreth sees landscape as the “central defining component of post-World War II development.”

The Strait Gate:
Thresholds and Power in Western History
Daniel Jütte

Doors are the thresholds between public space and private or semi-private space. As such, they are sites of power: the power to admit or bar entry, the power to permit or prevent exit. According to Daniel Jütte, door-design has therefore accumulated strong symbolic meanings in every society. This erudite book focuses on the “early modern” period (c. 1400-1800), but it has broad implications for the architectural history of other periods in history and for non-Western societies. It inspires architectural historians to think more carefully about passageways—about buildings as penetrable from the street and streets as accessible from the surrounding buildings. The author plans a sequel on windows.

LaneBarbara Miller Lane is Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and Research Professor in Growth and Structure of Cities at Bryn Mawr College. Her books include Architecture and Politics in Germany, 1918–1945, National Romanticism and Modern ArchitectureHousing and Dwelling, and Houses for a New World.

Stanley Fish debates the eternal

This podcast on Stanley Fish’s panel discussion was originally posted by the Institute for Arts and Ideas

While the world turns we think ideas, right or wrong, are eternal. Yet meaning changes over time and context. Should we conclude that, like the material world, ideas are transient and knowledge and morality passing stories? Or is the eternal in our grasp after all? New York Times columnist and author of Think Again Stanley Fish, philosopher of language Barry C. Smith, and award-winning novelist Joanna Kavenna seek out the eternal.

Stanley Fish is the author of numerous books, including How to Write a Sentence, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and Versions of Academic Freedom. He is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Florida International University and the Visiting Floersheimer Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School. He previously taught at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and the University of Illinois, Chicago. He is the author of Think Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law, and Education.

Reiner Stach explores neglected period of Kafka’s life in crowning volume

The culmination of two decades of work, Reiner Stach’s three-part, masterful biography of Franz Kafka, one of the 20th century’s most fascinating and mysterious writers, is now complete. Kafka: The Early Years joins Kafka: The Decisive Years and Kafka: The Years of Insight, offering an unmatched account of how a boy who grew up in an old Central European monarchy helped create modern literature. The book makes use of previously untapped sources, including including family letters, schoolmates’ memoirs, and early diaries of Kafka’s close friend Max Brod.

High praise for the previous volumes from John Banville, New York Review of Books:

“This is one of the great literary biographies, to be set up there with, or perhaps placed on an even higher shelf than, Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce, George Painter’s Marcel Proust, and Leon Edel’s Henry James. . . . [A]n eerily immediate portrait of one of literature’s most enduring and enigmatic masters.”

Check out the trailer for the complete three-volume biography here:

Reiner Stach worked extensively on the definitive edition of Kafka’s collected works before embarking on his three-volume biography of the writer. Shelley Frisch’s translations of those volumes were awarded the Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize.

Natural disaster, experienced virtually

by Susan Scott Parrish

ParrishAs North Carolina towns like Goldsboro, Kinston, and Lumberton experience intense flooding long after Hurricane Matthew veered away from the coast, we are reminded again how disasters can take their own sluggish time. In the current case, it has taken days for intense rain water to move from inland streams to larger rivers, raising them to record heights.  “This is going to be a prolonged event,” announced North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, after having signed an expedited Major Disaster Declaration for his beleaguered state.

My book, which is just about to be released with Princeton University Press, considers a different “prolonged event,” a “superflood” which took not three or four days to arrive, but rather months. The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History is about the year-long disaster known colloquially as “The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.” In a magnified version of the 2016 disaster, intense rains and snow fell for months throughout the upper branches of the river system, creating upstream flooding. Then these swollen tributaries all disgorged into the Lower Mississippi River simultaneously, evincing what one commentator at the time called a “sinister rhythm.”

If you have been following Hurricane Matthew and its path through Haiti, Florida and North Carolina, you understand that in the modern era, we experience most disasters virtually. I started thinking about this issue of virtual disaster consumption in the days surrounding, and months following, the New Orleans levee disaster of 2005 (“Katrina”). I began to wonder: how and why do disasters become publicly meaningful? Why do certain environmental catastrophes receive scant attention while others seem to place our national character on public trial? Is attention an unqualified good? How should we communicate with ourselves about disasters, especially now, in a time when human activity largely determines their makeup?

After much research, I came to realize that the first U.S. disaster to occur in a media landscape as well as in an industrialized, stress-bearing environment much like our own was the Mississippi Flood of 1927. The ways in which this flood went public, and then lost unified public meaning and indeed national attention, represent a fascinating case in modern disaster communication and consumption.

The 1927 flood was a humanly caused event. Deforestation, wetlands drainage, and monoculture farming throughout the Mississippi watershed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century seriously reduced the storage capacity of its soil.  Moreover, designers of the flood protection system elected not to mimic an alluvial basin’s own mechanisms for holding and dispersing water in times of overflow. Engineers decided instead to impound the river within a towering levee system. Months of very intense rain and snowfall turned this precarious situation into catastrophe in the Lower Mississippi Valley as levees, and more levees, burst—one was even intentionally detonated to save the wealthy banking center and port of New Orleans. Over 600,000 people—mostly African American—were made homeless, land in seven states was inundated, thirteen major crevasses occurred, as many as 1,000 people died, and a year’s worth of cotton and sugar crops were ruined. The Red Cross was established, and the National Guard patrolled 154 “concentration camps” to house the evacuees but also to keep the Delta’s labor force in place.

Media technologies which produced this flood for a virtual audience were distinctly modern.  Wired telegraphy, aerial photography, recorded music, documentary film, a rapid and extensive AP service, and a brand new nationwide radio system were all put into use to transport this flood into homes in the US and around the world.  In the wake of World War I, moreover, governmental organizations knew how to use narrative and representational techniques to weld its citizenry into a unified mass. As communications theorist Harold Laswell put it in 1926, speaking of machine-age propaganda, “more can be won by illusion than by coercion.”

The flood of 1927 did seem to configure, at the flip of an all-powerful speaker switch, a coherent public audience.  FEMA did not yet exist and Congress refused to appropriate special funds, so the Red Cross had to commandeer the communications infrastructure of the nation to involve the public in the work and cost of relief. Newspapers, movie houses, vaudeville stages, and radio stations became vital pathways in a top-down, diffusive program of national coherence. It was not just any story though which made the “huge relief machine” hum, but a particular story about historical redemption. Because the course of the flood moved from north to south, retracing the 1863 river-borne assault on the Confederate strongholds of Mississippi and Louisiana, this flood had the peculiar power to make sixty-four-year-old history feel unfinished—to make it feel even biologically reenacted. When Herbert Hoover, the Commerce Secretary in charge of rescue and relief operations, first spoke to a national radio audience, he thus summoned memories of the Civil War. He imagined a new battle being waged between an invading “water enemy” and the people of “our South,” a “great army of unfortunate people.” Northern whites cast themselves this time around, in the words of The New York Times, as “an army of rescuers.” The Red Cross and its news outlets positioned this flood as a redemptive reenactment of the War between the States. This “illusion,” to use Laswell’s word, summoned national investment for about one month, and then public feeling split along regional and racial lines.

Sociologists at this time believed that disasters acted like helpful galvanic events to reset and repair a given society’s structural problems. The North’s disaster narrative, while it did symbolically bring accord, did nothing to actually address southern, and particularly, black southern, economic and political grievances.  White southerners came to express with great trenchancy their dissenting view that this calamity was neither natural nor redemptive, but was due to mainly northern environmental practices and the Federal government’s misguided levees-only policy. When they looked at the water destroying their crops, they saw Yankee water.

Advocates for southern black farm laborers likewise found old politics written all over the flood.  As conditions in the evacuee camps spelled for their black populations both forced labor and violently guarded movement, it seemed to many that slavery had returned to Dixie, and that northern institutions were abetting its reestablishment. W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Walter White and others publicly decried this situation in The Crisis, The Chicago Defender, and The Nation.

Whites outside the South began to lose enthusiasm too for Hoover’s “reconstruction machine.” Valiant scenarios of rescuing southern brethren gave way to a regretful feeling that the South was forever an intractable “problem.” H.L. Mencken acerbically wondered why anyone would care about such a backward place of “tinpot revivals” and anti-intellectualism. And others just felt the story had grown dull. An editorial in The Nation averred that “people can stand only so much calamity. After a while it begins to pall, and finally it has no meaning whatever.” Another complained that the flood, lacking the dramatic unities of place and time, was aesthetically unsatisfying. And another observed that it is very hard to care for “a mud-besmattered mass of human beings” because only individual peril really moves an audience.

Once the flood slipped from the national headlines, it continued for some time to resonate in the black press and in the southern press. Eventually the event took up lodging in the imaginations, and the work of two of our major authors, who both happen to hail from Mississippi. Richard Wright and William Faulkner were young men living in or near the flood zone in 1927; each read Memphis’ paper, The Commercial Appeal, and its refutation of the dominant northern flood narrative. Wright was an avid reader of the black press coverage as well. For the next thirteen years, floods would seep into their fiction. While we tend to associate the Great War with modern narrative experimentation, for these two American authors, it was the 1927 flood which brought home the realization that the world was run on chance and risk, and, even more, that humans had made their physical and social worlds still more violently unpredictable.

In the 1920s, the Gulf South represented a leading edge of environmental peril. The region made manifest early what has since become more globally shared. Wright, Faulkner, and other attentive southern authors and performers of that day help us even now think about which stories, and which ways of bending language, comport most searchingly with the world of diffuse, chronic environmental risk in which we now live.

Susan Scott Parrish is a Professor in the Department of English and the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan. Her book, The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History, will be published this January.