Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom

May 26, 2017
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Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom

Below follows an excerpt from Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China, first posted at Lapham’s Quarterly. *** One seems to have little choice but to retain the outmoded name for the Yangtze when discussing it in English; the modern Pinyin transliteration Yangzi feels somehow pedantically perverse. The name is in any event only a local one, derived from the ancient and now mostly forgotten fiefdom of Yang and strictly applying only to the last 300 kilometers. This was the entire “Yangtze” to the first Western travelers, since they rarely got much further upriver. The Chinese people do not use those names. There are local names for each stretch of the river, but the full channel, cutting the country in half geographically, climatically and culturally, is simply the Chang Jiang, the Long River. It is the longest in all of China, 6,380 kilometers from the source in a glacier lake to the great delta on the coast beyond Shanghai, where the alluvium pushes out into the sea and adds steadily to China’s vast surface area. “A China without such an immense torrent at its heart is almost impossible to contemplate,” says the writer Simon Winchester. Even this . . .

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The Case for Contentious Curricula

May 24, 2017
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The Case for Contentious Curricula

Here’s a brief chunk adopted from The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools, as featured in the Atlantic. *** Laws, school officials, and community opinion have all conspired to prevent or discourage American teachers from discussing controversial issues in their classrooms. This is not to say teachers have always avoided such issues: In 1953, at the height of the Cold War, a survey of social-studies teachers in Ohio revealed they were leading classroom discussions about whether President Harry Truman should have seized steel mills, whether Truman should have fired General Douglas MacArthur, and whether—as MacArthur wished—the United States should have used an atomic bomb in the Korean War. That same year, in another survey, New York City teachers reported holding debates on whether “Red” China should have a seat in the United Nations, whether Communists should be allowed to teach in public schools, whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg should have received the death penalty for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, and whether Senator Joseph McCarthy was “a menace to or savior of American democracy.” After several teachers were dismissed for their own Communist affiliations, some admitted they were afraid to discuss anything controversial in their classes. But the . . .

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Supersizing Urban America

May 19, 2017
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Supersizing Urban America

Here’s a clip from a recent Huffington Post interview with Chin Jou, author of Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food with Government Help, after the jump. *** Your book begins with an excerpt from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation discussing the role the SBA has played in the fast-food industry’s expansion. Why did this capture your curiosity? Why did you feel this was a story worth telling? I reread the Fast Food Nation excerpt in 2010. At the time, I was studying the history of obesity as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, so obesity was on my mind a lot. The Fast Food Nation excerpt, which was about the federal government’s loan guarantees to fast-food franchises, struck me because it occurred to me that such policies may have inadvertently and indirectly contributed to the obesity epidemic ― an epidemic that the government was in the process of trying to reduce with initiatives like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move.” The notion that the government may have indirectly contributed to the obesity epidemic was not a new idea ― Michael Pollan is perhaps most famously associated with promulgating the idea that agricultural subsidies for crops like corn and soy contribute to the relatively low . . .

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Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves

May 17, 2017
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Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves

Below: an excerpt from the NYRB review of Marie Jenkins Schwartz’s Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves. *** In 1794, a year after her husband John Todd died, Dolley Payne Todd married James Madison. She had grown up in a modest, slave-owning family in Virginia, though her Quaker parents liberated their five slaves while she was in her teens. But when Dolley and her young son Payne Todd moved to Montpelier, Madison’s Virginia estate, where more than a hundred slaves worked, she took to the part of plantation mistress as though she had been born to it. Fully engaged in running her household, she supervised the domestic slaves and even monitored some who toiled outside—field workers and artisans. Not least, like all other plantation mistresses, she was the “keeper of the keys,” a position, Schwartz notes, founded on the premise that slaves would steal anything they could if given the chance. For that infraction, Dolley once resorted to temporarily banishing her maid Sukey from the mansion. Years later, Madison expressed sympathy for the arduous tasks performed by women like his wife. According to the English writer Harriet Martineau, who visited Montpelier in 1835, the former president said, with an obtuseness . . .

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Black branding in the Cappuccino City

May 10, 2017
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Black branding in the Cappuccino City

Derek Hyra’s Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City, not only offers up an contemporary ethnography of gentrification—DC’s Shaw/U Street district—but also concretizes how we talk about urban displacement in neoliberal late capitalism, centered around the concepts of the “gilded ghetto,” “living the wire,” and the “cappuccino city.”  A cappuccino is basically a cup of coffee with (steamed) milk, but costs nearly double or triple the price, depending on whether or not the espresso bean is artisanal, or if the foam is sculpted into a the shape of a leaf or a heart. In Hyra’s cappuccino city, our black inner-city neighborhoods, under pressure from the gig economy, gutted social programs, and real estate investors luring white millennials, undergo enormous transformations and become racially “lighter” and more expensive by the year. You can listen to Hyra’s recent appearance on the Kojo Nnamdi Show here, or read an excerpt from a Washington Post profile after the jump. *** “Black branding” describes how developers and other mostly white business interests actively promoted Shaw’s historic black identity as a marketing strategy to attract white renters and buyers. Their success helped tip the neighborhood’s demographics from 70 percent black in 1970 to 30 percent in 2010. The Shaw/U Street area was an ideal candidate for . . .

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Our free e-book for April: Doodling for Academics

May 5, 2017
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Our free e-book for April: Doodling for Academics

Our free e-book for April is a real doozy: an LOL takedown of neoliberal academia—complete with its sidelining of the humanities in favor of STEM program, its reliance on adjunct labor, and the bureaucratization of its day-to-day “management”—in the form of an adult coloring book. Already covered by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Times Higher Ed (“I have difficulty imagining a group of philosophy professors sitting around together and coloring.”), and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Doodling for Academics pairs Julie Schumacher’s dry commentary on the life of a scholar with savvy illustrations by Lauren Nassef. You can download our free sampler here. You can also read more about the book after the jump, but in the meantime, here’s a profile on Schumacher, produced by PBS’s To the Point: *** To an outsider, working as a university professor might seem like a dream: summers off, a few hours of class each week, an exchange of ideas with brilliant colleagues, books and late afternoon lattes. . . . Who wouldn’t envy that life? But those in the trenches of academe are well acquainted with the professoriate’s dark underside: the hierarchies and pseudo-political power plays, the peculiar colleagues, the over-parented students, the stacks of essays that need to be graded ASAP. No one understands this world better than novelist . . .

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The Fox in the Big House

May 3, 2017
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The Fox in the Big House

Smarty Pants—a new podcast from the folks at the American Scholar—debuted “The Fox in the Big House,” a brand new episode featuring Lee Dugatkin, who talks up his latest book How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) by recounting the historical particularities behind a Cold War-era Soviet experiment that started with few dozen silver foxes from Siberian farms and then attempted to recreate the evolution of wolves into dogs in real time. Intrigue! Listen in here. To read more about How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog), click here. . . .

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Sara Goldrick-Rab: SXSWedu Keynote Address

April 28, 2017
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Sara Goldrick-Rab, whose Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, made waves in almost every major venue dedicated to the high-stakes consequences of American higher education—from Inside Higher Ed to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah—recently delivered #PricedOut, her keynote address at the 2017 SXSWedu conference. Here’s the official description: One of the most sustained and vigorous public debates today is about the value and crucially, the price of college. But an unspoken, outdated assumption underlies all side of this debate: If a young person works hard enough, they’ll be able to get a college degree and be on the path to a good life. That’s simply not true says sociologist Goldrick-Rab, one of the leading voices on issues of higher education today. In her book and research, she shows why in damning detail. *** You can watch Goldrick-Rab’s talk in full above, or in the meantime, read more about Paying the Price, here. . . .

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Our Fall 2017 seasonal catalog is here!

April 24, 2017
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Our Fall 2017 seasonal catalog is here!

Our Fall 2017 seasonal catalog has arrived—all 401 pages of it! Peruse at your leisure, here. . . .

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Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

April 19, 2017
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Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

Below follows an excerpt from David Velasco’s review of Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures at Artforum. What makes Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures so remarkable is not just its subject—the art historian and AIDS activist’s early years leading up to the epoch-defining 1977 exhibition at Artists Space and the pair of titular essays that were so critical to its historicization. It’s not just the casual meet-cutes at John Ashbery parties and the formative encounters with Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly and Charles James and Daniel Buren; the early, incisive formalist writings whose frissons eventually inspired one of the great innovations in late-twentieth-century criticism: the recognition of a breach, which Crimp labels postmodernism, in modernist parables of art and theatricality. It’s how the story is told. Before Pictures is a strange and shimmering chimera: Part memoir, part theory, it swerves and circles, often paragraph to paragraph, from anecdote to argument and back again, a graceful, unfussy waltz that sometimes seduces you into thinking that it’s “simply” autobiography. But the writing is also a performance of the necessary entanglement between serious thought and its “decor”—an entanglement that fascinates Crimp, and that makes him such an exceptional protagonist. The animating juxtaposition is announced early on, in the . . .

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