Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

5/6: Deirdre McCloskey at Seminary Co-op

May 6, 2016
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5/6: Deirdre McCloskey at Seminary Co-op

From a recent profile of Deirdre McCloskey in the Chronicle of Higher Education: As the University of Chicago Press plans to release next month the final volume of McCloskey’s ambitious trilogy arguing that bourgeois values, rather than material circumstances, catalyzed the past several centuries’ explosion in wealth, her gender change may be the least iconoclastic thing about her. A libertarian with tolerance for limited welfare interventions by government, an economist who critiques the way her colleagues apply statistics and mathematical models, a devout Christian who emphasizes charity and love but within free-market strictures, a learned humanist politically to the right of many of the scholars who inspire her, McCloskey is a school of one. “Everybody regards her as a superb intellectual and somebody who has for many years disregarded disciplinary boundaries,” says the economic historian Joel Mokyr, of Northwestern University. . . . “I’ve seen so many academic careers end not with a bang but with a whimper. I thought that would happen to me,” she says. “I am so glad that in my old age I have found a project that uses what talents I have.” McCloskey’s singularity can be traced to her lifelong journeys across gender, politics, academic outlook, . . .

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What Is a Dog? in the New York Times

April 22, 2016
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What Is a Dog? in the New York Times

Raymond and Lorna Coppinger have long been acknowledged as two of our foremost experts on canine behavior—a power couple for helping us to understand the nature of dogs, our attachments to them, and how genetic heritage, environmental conditions, and social construction govern our understanding of what a dog is and why it matters so much to us. In a profile of their latest book What Is a Dog?, the New York Times articulates what’s at stake in the Coppingers’ nearly four decades of research: Add them up, all the pet dogs on the planet, and you get about 250 million. But there are about a billion dogs on Earth, according to some estimates. The other 750 million don’t have flea collars. And they certainly don’t have humans who take them for walks and pick up their feces. They are called village dogs, street dogs and free-breeding dogs, among other things, and they haunt the garbage dumps and neighborhoods of most of the world. In their new book, “What Is a Dog?,” Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals. The vast majority are not strays or lost . . .

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Jessica Riskin on The Restless Clock

April 21, 2016
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Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick explores the history of a particular principle—that the life sciences should not ascribe agency to natural phenomena—and traces its remarkable history all the way back to the seventeenth century and the automata of early modern Europe. At the same time, the book tells the story of dissenters to this precept, whose own compelling model cast living things not as passive but as active, self-making machines, in an attempt to naturalize agency rather than outsourcing it to theology’s “divine engineer.” In a recent video trailer for the book (above), Riskin explains the nuances of both sides’ arguments, and accounts for nearly 300 years worth of approaches to nature and design, tracing questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, Darwin, and others. From a review at Times Higher Ed: The Restless Clock is a sweeping survey of the search for answers to the mystery of life. It begins with medieval automata – muttering mechanical Christs, devils rolling their eyes, cherubs “deliberately” aiming water jets at unsuspecting visitors who, in a still-mystical and religious era, half-believe that these contraptions are alive. Then come the Enlightenment android-builders and philosophers, Romantic poet-scientists, evolutionists, . . .

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Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journal wins the 2016 Pulitzer Prize

April 20, 2016
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Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journal wins the 2016 Pulitzer Prize

Congrats to Phoenix Poet Peter Balakian—his latest collection Ozone Journal took home the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, noted by the Pulitzer committee in their citation as, “poems that bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that undergird a global age of danger and uncertainty.” From a profile of Balakian at the Washington Post: “I’m interested in the collage form,” Balakian said. “I’m exploring, pushing the form of poetry, pushing it to have more stakes and more openness to the complexity of contemporary experience.” He describes poetry as living in “the speech-tongue-voice syntax of language’s music.” That, he says, gives the form unique power. “Any time you’re in the domain of the poem, you’re dealing with the most compressed and nuanced language that can be made. I believe that this affords us the possibility of going into a deeper place than any other literary art — deeper places of psychic, cultural and social reality.” From the book’s titular poem: Bach’s cantata in B-flat minor in the cassette, we lounged under the greenhouse-sky, the UVBs hacking at the acids and oxides and then I could hear the difference between an oboe and a bassoon at the river’s edge under cover— trees breathed in . . .

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Michael Riordan on United Technologies

April 13, 2016
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Michael Riordan on United Technologies

Michael Riordan, coauthor of Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Supercollider penned a recent op-ed for the New York Times on United Technologies and their subsidiary, the air-conditioning equipment maker Carrier Corporation, who plans “to transfer its Indianapolis plant’s manufacturing operations and about 1,400 jobs to Monterrey, Mexico.” Read a brief excerpt below, in which the author begins to untangle a web of corporate (mis)behavior, taxpayer investment, government policy, job exports—and their consequences. *** The transfers of domestic manufacturing jobs to Mexico and Asia have benefited Americans by bringing cheaper consumer goods to our shores and stores. But when the victims of these moves can find only lower-wage jobs at Target or Walmart, and residents of these blighted cities have much less money to spend, is that a fair distribution of the savings and costs? Recognizing this complex phenomenon, I can begin to understand the great upwelling of working-class support for Bernie Sanders and Donald J. Trump — especially for the latter in regions of postindustrial America left behind by these jarring economic dislocations. And as a United Technologies shareholder, I have to admit to a gnawing sense of guilt in unwittingly helping to foster this job exodus. In pursuing . . .

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Patterns in Nature is PW’s Most Beautiful Book of 2016

April 11, 2016
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Patterns in Nature is PW’s Most Beautiful Book of 2016

It might only be April, but there’s already one foregone conclusion: Philip Ball’s Patterns in Nature is “The Most Beautiful Book of 2016” at Publishers Weekly. As Ball writes: The topic is inherently visual, concerned as it is with the sheer splendor of nature’s artistry, from snowflakes to sand dunes to rivers and galaxies. But I was frustrated that my earlier efforts, while delving into the scientific issues in some depth, never secured the resources to do justice to the imagery. This is a science that, heedless of traditional boundaries between physics, chemistry, biology and geology, must be seen to be appreciated. We have probably already sensed the deep pattern of a tree’s branches, of a mackerel sky laced with clouds, of the organized whirlpools in turbulent water. Just by looking carefully at these things, we are halfway to an answer. I am thrilled at last to be able to show here the true riches of nature’s creativity. It is not mere mysticism to perceive profound unity in the repetition of themes that these images display. Richard Feynman, a scientist not given to flights of fancy, expressed it perfectly: “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of . . .

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Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

April 8, 2016
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Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

For those of you who missed it, here is Levi Stahl’s 31-part Twitter essay from late last week, which responds to an op-ed in the New York Times by columnist Ross Douthat comparing Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to Widmerpool, the anti-anti-hero from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time:   To read more about A Dance to the Music of Time, click here. . . .

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Free e-book for April: Pilgrimage to Dollywood

April 6, 2016
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Free e-book for April: Pilgrimage to Dollywood

Download your copy of our free e-book for April, Pilgrimage to Dollywood: A Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee by Helen Morales, here. *** A star par excellence, Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most likable personalities. Even a hard-rocking punk or orchestral aesthete can’t help cracking a smile or singing along with songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” More than a mere singer or actress, Parton is a true cultural phenomenon, immediately recognizable and beloved for her talent, tinkling laugh, and steel magnolia spirit. She is also the only female star to have her own themed amusement park: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every year thousands of fans flock to Dollywood to celebrate the icon, and Helen Morales is one of those fans. In Pilgrimage to Dollywood, Morales sets out to discover Parton’s Tennessee. Her travels begin at the top celebrity pilgrimage site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, then take her to Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills; the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; to Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; and finally to Pigeon Forge, home of the “Dolly Homecoming Parade,” featuring the star herself as grand marshall. Morales’s . . .

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Ted Levin on the reintroduction of timber rattlesnakes

March 30, 2016
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Ted Levin on the reintroduction of timber rattlesnakes

Ted Levin’s recent piece for the Boston Globe Magazine on reintroducing timber rattlesnakes to a Massachusetts island was aptly subheaded, “The plan to release poisonous snakes in the Quabbin freaks people out. But snakes are the ones that should be worried.” Timber rattlers are the subject of Levin’s forthcoming America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake, so he’s certainly the go-to authority on the situation. Below follows a brief excerpt, which outlines the perspective Levin suggests we embrace: Releasing snakes on Mount Zion may pose far more danger to the snakes themselves than there ever will be to shoreline fishermen or outdoors enthusiasts. Yes, rattlesnakes occasionally swim, but there is no evidence that they ever lived in the hills (now islands) in Quabbin Reservoir’s man-made wilderness. And it isn’t clear that Mount Zion could support a population of overwintering rattlesnakes. Even if the snakes could find a retreat below the frost line, no one knows if there are enough mice and chipmunks on the 1,400-plus-acre island to support them. The unleashing of rattlesnakes on Mount Zion should be viewed as a scientific experiment, starting with snakes from populations not as threatened as those here (like Pennsylvania). Step one should be: Release a . . .

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The Essential Paul Laffoley

March 25, 2016
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The Essential Paul Laffoley

The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell publishes this May (*super exciting*), but the meantime, here’s a teaser featuring a few of Laffoley’s paintings and video of the documentary The Mad One (Jean-Pierre Larroque/Doublethink Productions), after the jump. ***     To read more about The Essential Paul Laffoley, click here. . . .

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