Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

An Orchard Invisible: Our free e-book for April

April 1, 2014
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An Orchard Invisible: Our free e-book for April

Just in time for garden prep, our free e-book for April is Jonathan Silvertown’s An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds.

“I have great faith in a seed,” Thoreau wrote. “Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

The story of seeds, in a nutshell, is a tale of evolution. From the tiny sesame that we sprinkle on our bagels to the forty-five-pound double coconut borne by the coco de mer tree, seeds are a perpetual reminder of the complexity and diversity of life on earth. With An Orchard Invisible, Jonathan Silvertown presents the oft-ignored seed with the natural history it deserves, one nearly as varied and surprising as the earth’s flora itself.

Beginning with the evolution of the first seed plant from fernlike ancestors more than 360 million years ago, Silvertown carries his tale through epochs and around the globe. In a clear and engaging style, he delves into the science of seeds: How and why do some lie dormant for years on end? How did seeds evolve? The wide variety of uses that humans have developed for seeds of all sorts also receives a fascinating look, . . .

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Economics for Humans: free e-book for March

March 4, 2014
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Economics for Humans: free e-book for March

More about Economics for Humans, our free e-book for March:

At its core, an economy is about providing goods and services for human well-being. But many economists and critics preach that an economy is something far different: a cold and heartless system that operates outside of human control. In this impassioned and perceptive work, Julie A. Nelson asks a compelling question: If our economic world is something that we as humans create, aren’t ethics and human relationships—dimensions of a full and rich life—intrinsically part of the picture? Is it possible to take this thing we call economics and give it a body and a soul?

Economics for Humans argues against the well-ingrained notion that economics is immune to moral values and distant from human relationships. Here, Nelson locates the impediment to envisioning a more considerate economic world in an assumption that is shared by both neoliberals and the political left. Despite their seemingly insurmountable differences, Nelson notes that they both make use of the metaphor, first proposed by Adam Smith, that the economy is a machine. This pervasive idea, Nelson argues, has blinded us to the qualities that make us work . . .

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Andrew Piper on aging and writing

February 25, 2014
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Andrew Piper on aging and writing

Above: Goethe’s published poems, color-coded by genre. From Andrew Piper’s striking analysis of Goethe’s shifting vocabulary, with its turn in later years to an increased degree of generic heterogeneity, part of a larger digital humanities project on aging and writing, which can be found here.

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The Democratic Surround

February 24, 2014
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The Democratic Surround

The jacket copy for Fred Turner’s The Democratic Surround summarizes the book:

In this prequel to his celebrated book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Turner rewrites the history of postwar America, showing how in the 1940s and ’50s American liberalism offered a far more radical social vision than we now remember.

One of the tricks of writing jacket copy, of course, is condensing the voluminous particularities of scholarship into an affable soundbite that neither undermines the intelligence of its reader nor offends the sensibilities of its author, who is most often the expert on her particular topic. The copy for Turner’s book is a classic example of this—and the excerpt below, from a recent post at Public Books, demonstrates just how much depth informs that single, sparse sentence. This is nothing new: the marketing of scholarly works has been around at least as long as the 1771 edition of  Encyclopedia Brittanica and parallels roughly the development of industrial capitalism. Maybe it is because I’m a fan of Turner’s work that I find the pantomime between what’s printed on the jacket and what informs that encapsulation so fascinating—or perhaps it is . . .

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Q & A with Peggy Shinner

February 21, 2014
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Q & A with Peggy Shinner

Peggy Shinner is a lifelong Chicagoan and author of the forthcoming collection You Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body. A Q & A about bodies, the book, and Shinner’s process follows below.

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What led you to write a collection of essays about the body? 

The first piece I wrote was about knives. At the time I was a practicing martial artist, and we trained with them in class. We called them practice knives; they were fake—rubber or wood. “Go get a knife,” the teacher would say. And so there we were, a room full of students stabbing and slashing each other. The purpose, of course, was to learn to defend ourselves against them. But I found the whole thing odd and disconcerting. Here I was learning to stab someone. From knives I went on to autopsies. I’d authorized one for my father, and for a long time after I’d been uncomfortable with that decision. Knives, autopsies. It didn’t take long for me to see that I was on to something, and from there the essays seemed to emerge.

You reveal very personal things about yourself in your essays. How is your collection of . . .

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College Art Association (2014)

February 20, 2014
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College Art Association (2014)

Some images from behind the scenes by sleuth photographer and marketing director Carol Kasper:

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Excerpt: Robert B. Pippin’s After the Beautiful

January 23, 2014
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Excerpt: Robert B. Pippin’s After the Beautiful

Excerpt from After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism by Robert B. Pippin

There are many reasons to be skeptical that anything of value can result from trying to project Hegel into the future like this. After all, anyone who has heard anything about Hegel has probably heard that he said two things: that philosophy was its own time understood in thought, and some summary of the following remarks.

In all these respects art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past. Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining its earlier necessity in reality and occupying its higher place. What is now aroused in us by works of art is not just immediate enjoyment but our judgment also, since we subject to our intellectual consideration (i) the content of art, and (ii) the work of art’s means of presentation, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of both to one another. The philosophy of art is therefore a greater need in our day than it . . .

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Arresting Citizenship and American crime control

January 21, 2014
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Arresting Citizenship and American crime control

Amy E. Lerman and Vesla M. Weaver’s forthcoming Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control considers the contemporary carceral state of American democracy—beginning with the mind-blowing premise that one-third of America’s adult population has passed through the criminal justice system and now carries a criminal record. Arguing that this system fundamentally creates a growing group of second-class American subjects through an ill-determined relationship between “citizen” and “state,” the authors argue that each stage of American criminal justice disempowers its constituents and defies America’s core democratic values. In a recent piece for the Stone blog at the New York Times, Weaver (along with Jason Stanley) pressed the book’s arguments further and questioned whether the United States has become a racial democracy.

As they write:

Given the centrality of liberty to democracy, one way to assess the democratic health of a state is by the fairness of the laws governing its removal. The fairness of a system of justice is measured by the degree to which its laws are fairly and consistently applied across all citizens. In a fair system, a group is singled out for punishment only insofar as its propensity for . . .

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Excerpt: Jamie Cohen-Cole’s The Open Mind

January 17, 2014
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Excerpt: Jamie Cohen-Cole’s The Open Mind

Excerpt from The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature by Jamie Cohen-Cole

The Cold War was a time when psychology came into its own as a tool of social analysis. With marked rapidity the structural, institutional, and economic ways of understanding American society that had dominated academic and public discourse in preceding decades gave way to explanations framed in terms of the psyche. Historian Carl Schorski, recalling the intellectual currents of the immediate postwar period, found the “sudden blaze of interest in Sigmund Freud” particularly memorable. “Truly the premises for understanding man and society,” he wrote, “seemed to be shifting from the social-historical to the psychological scene.” The sociologist Daniel Bell observed at the threshold of the 1960s that the previous decade “mark the difference” between “a Marxist analysis of America” and one cast in a “cultural anthropology cum a Jungian and nervous sociological idiom.” So warmly, it seems, had American intellectuals and social critics embraced the psychological idiom that eight years later the political writer Samuel Lubell could write, in the influential political journal Public Interest, “our society seems to have developed a predilection, even craze, for . . .

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Jonathan M. Hall’s Artifact and Artifice

January 16, 2014
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Jonathan M. Hall’s Artifact and Artifice

In Artifact and Artifice: Classic Archaeology and the Ancient Historian, Jonathan M. Hall considers the case for archaeological history as a form of living forensics, in which the relationship between text and material—dirt and words—allows us to understand the possibilities (and limits) of using archaeological evidence to write about the past. By focusing on methodology—and its relationship to pedagogy, the construction of the archaeological imaginary, and how it determines historical approaches to antiquity—Hall helps to cast the present and future of the field. At the same time, he makes use of nine case studies, or “cautionary tales,” which explore how previous scholars, themselves knowledgeable agents, correlated textual and physical evidence, “artfully” creating both material objects and written discourse as products that need to be interpreted with art and skill.

From the book’s opening pages:

Can the geology and geochemistry of the Delphi region offer clues to why the oracle of Apollo was so highly regarded in the ancient world? Should the proposed redating of a single temple cause us to revise the chronology we assign to Classical art? Why did the Athenians wait so long before repairing their temples after the Persian invasion of 480–479 BCE? Can . . .

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