Blog Archives

The transformation of Harlem

June 11, 2008
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The transformation of Harlem

Derek S. Hyra, author of The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville, was interviewed today on the BBC Radio 4 program Thinking Allowed. Host Laurie Taylor, on the ground in Harlem, interviewed Harlem residents and neighborhood leaders, as well as Hyra and other authors to understand both the history of Harlem and the “Second Harlem Renaissance” that is renewing and stressing the neighborhood. Does gentrification bring upheaval or stability? Is change always good? Who are the winners and who are the losers? The archived audio is available from the BBC. . . .

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The Messiah can wait

June 10, 2008
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The Messiah can wait

Jonathan Rosen, editorial director of Nextbook, wrote an appreciative review of Robert Pogue Harrison’s Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition for the June 7 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Titled “Paradox Among the Petals,” the review begins: The rabbis of the Talmud counseled that if you are planting a tree and someone tells you that the Messiah has come, you should finish planting your tree and then go out to investigate. Robert Pogue Harrison implies something similar in his rich and beguiling Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Gardens, though they offer peace and repose, are islands of care, he writes, not a refuge from it. That is why they are important, since care is what makes us human. This is the third book by Harrison that we have published and each has been a meditation on humanity and the natural world. As a professor of Italian literature, Harrison’s work is steeped in classical and modern literature, but as the quote above suggests, he also draws deeply from the religious and philosophical traditions. His previous books include The Dominion of the Dead and Forests: The Shadow of Civilization. Update June 11: Gardens was also reviewed in today’s . . .

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How to be alone, get lost, and find art

June 9, 2008
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How to be alone, get lost, and find art

“Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” asked Jack Kerouac. Erin Hogan was going on a solitary tour of the monumental land art of the American West. She says in an interview Saturday in the Salt Lake Tribune that she re-read Kerouac and “definitely felt like I was involving myself in the Great American Road saga.” Reporter Julie Checkoway wonders: why visit land art? Land art is this arena you walk into, and it changes your sense of space and time. The people who made it were trying to set up a different experience, giving us something. I wanted to experience that, a surprising built environment. But really, the book is mostly a road book. Yeah, I meditate on Michael Fried and the theatricality of landscape, but I’d like to think that someone who didn’t study art history like I did would encounter something very beautiful in Spiral Jetty. Update June 11: Erin Hogan is also interviewed today on ArtInfo. We have an excerpt from the Spiral Jetty section of the book as well as our own interview with Hogan. . . .

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Digital book burning

May 23, 2008
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Digital book burning

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Google’s laser beam

May 19, 2008
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Google’s laser beam

Forty-eight years ago last Friday, Theodore Maiman demonstrated the first laser at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California. We could have written a blog post about that. Turns out we didn’t have to. Last Friday Google had a special logo to mark the anniversary. A click on the logo executed a web search for “first laser” and the first search result was a book excerpt we created five years ago for A Century of Nature: Twenty-One Discoveries that Changed Science and the World. The ensuing traffic was incredible. Our website had almost half a million visitors last Friday, more than 25 times the traffic of the previous Friday. The uptick in traffic actually began about 6pm CDT on Thursday, as the clock turned to Friday in the Far East, and continued into the first few hours of Saturday. A “Google day” appears to last about 44 hours. Numbers like this are, of course, a testament to the worldwide reach and popularity of Google. They also testify to the boundless extent of human curiosity. . . .

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Audio: Gabriela Mistral’s mad poems

May 13, 2008
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Audio: Gabriela Mistral’s mad poems

Gabriela Mistral was the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1945. Madwomen: The “Locas mujeres” Poems of Gabriela Mistral is the first appearance in English of all twenty-six poems of the “Locas mujeres” series, including those left unpublished at her death. Randall Couch edited and translated Madwomen and he recently gave a reading of seven poems from the book (together with a reading of the Spanish texts) at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania. The complete one-hour reading can be downloaded from the Writers House site. . . .

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The vast wasteland of 1961

May 9, 2008
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The vast wasteland of 1961

On May 9, 1961 Newton N. Minow addressed the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC. President John F. Kennedy had recently appointed Minow to the chair of the Federal Communications Commission. To the assembled executives of broadcast television he said: I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials—many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it. You can read the text and listen to the audio . . .

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Has a Svengali mesmerized the Pentagon?

May 6, 2008
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Has a Svengali mesmerized the Pentagon?

The war in Iraq is more than five years old and even though the end is not in sight, the lessons of the war are already being debated within the military. National Public Radio has a story this morning about the sharpening disagreement in the US Army over how great a role counterinsurgency tactics should play. The story is prompted by an internal Pentagon report that suggests the Army is excessively focused on counterinsurgency training and neglecting conventional force capabilities such as field artillery. The report asserts that 90 percent of artillery units are “unqualified to fire artillery accurately.” We have of course paid a great deal of attention in this space to the rise of counterinsurgency doctrine within the military, since our publication in book form of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Not only is it interesting to see some Army strategists question whether the pendulum has swung too far in the COIN direction, but some of the commentary would seem to implicate our own role in bringing the COIN manual to a wider audience. NPR reporter Guy Raz quotes a recent lecture by Gian Gentile, chairman of the history department at West Point: Gentile, who served two tours in . . .

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Another tenure controversy

April 14, 2008
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Another tenure controversy

Disputes over tenure know no ideological bounds. Controversy surrounds the tenure status of another UCP author, this time with the criticism coming from a different corner of the political arena. John Yoo, author of The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs after 9/11 is a tenured professor at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He has long been under attack for his role in authoring memos while working for the Department of Justice that were used to justify DoJ policies for the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists (including practices defined in international law as torture). A campaign has developed calling for Yoo’s ouster from his academic position. The story was covered today by the online publication Inside Higher Ed. Last week Christopher Edley, Jr. , the Dean of Boalt Hall, released a statement asserting that he had seen no evidence of wrongdoing that would merit Yoo’s dismissal. When we published his book, Yoo explained his view of executive war powers in an interview. Updated: The Chronicle of Higher Education has a roundup of blogger commentary on the Yoo case. . . .

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Race, Gender, and Politics: Dangerous Frames

March 17, 2008
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Race, Gender, and Politics: Dangerous Frames

Nicholas J. G. Winter is publishing his book, Dangerous Frames: How Ideas about Race and Gender Shape Public Opinion at the perfect time, just as these issues are getting their most concrete expression in the political sphere. We asked him to reflect on the the Democratic presidential race in light of the ideas he explores in his book. The historic presence in the Democratic primary race of both the first woman and the first African American with serious shots at a major party nomination has understandably brought lots of media attention to the roles of gender and race in Americans’ political thinking and voting. Much of this coverage obscures rather than clarifies those roles. On the one hand, commentators ask whether black and female voters support “one of their own.” Do black voters support Obama? Do women support Clinton? On the other hand, others ask some version of the question “Are Americans more racist or more sexist?” Is gender more fundamental to American social structure, or is racism more centrally embedded in American politics. More concretely, will white male swing voters be more disinclined to vote for a woman or an African American man in the general election? . . .

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