Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Bernard Harcourt case in the New Yorker

September 21, 2016
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Bernard Harcourt case in the New Yorker

Bernard E. Harcourt has written several books for the University of Chicago Press about issues in law, criminality, and policing that politicize problems around race and social inequality, especially as they complicate more staid academic considerations in sociology and contemporary critical theory. Harcourt is also a lawyer, and as recently profiled by the New Yorker, at the helm of a case decades in the making—a last ditch effort via a possible Supreme Court hearing to commute Doyle Lee Hamm’s death sentence into life without parole. Through the Alabama case and its resultant (denied) appeals, which could have been fodder for an Errol Morris documentary (in which Harcourt has represented his client pro bono since 1994 and assembled an archive of “eleven bankers boxes” of evidence), Harcourt has established a relationship with his client that has transcended his own career moves and life changes, and born witness to the dozens of friends Hamm made on death row and subsequently lost to the “Yellow Mama,” Alabama’s electric chair. The backstory makes for fascinating, albeit urgent, reading: on September 26th, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear Hamm’s case, the last resort for Harcourt and his client. As the New Yorker piece concludes: “He did a . . .

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The Restless Clock in the Baffler and TLS

September 19, 2016
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The Restless Clock in the Baffler and TLS

The TLS recently reviewed Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick, and though the full review is behind a paywall, its closing moments help to elucidate Riskin’s contribution to how we make sense of reasoning (no pun intended), from both a human and non-human perspective: But Riskin also uses history as a way of thinking about the world, not just as a way of getting facts about the past right. “Historical understanding is integral to scientific understanding,” she claims, as she explores discussions among biologists and philosophers about directed mutation, drawing on work by Lamarck, Darwin, August Weismann and Richard Dawkins. This concern—the lack of humanistic and historical thinking in scientists’ and philosophers’ work—bookends her study. Jessica Riskin shows us the many ways in which scholars have sought to understand those parts of the world that are material, movable and predictable, and those that are characterized by agency, passions, chance, suffering and consciousness, as well as the tricky areas where they overlap. She mobilizes powerful examples from the history of the life sciences of where and how attempts at explaining these areas have succeeded and failed. Her journey takes us everywhere in the . . .

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Sara Goldrick-Rab: #13 on the 2016 Politico 50

September 14, 2016
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Sara Goldrick-Rab: #13 on the 2016 Politico 50

Congrats to Temple University professor Sara Goldrick-Rab—author of the game-changing book on college debt, social inequality, and higher education, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream—on her appointment to the Politico 50, a “guide to the thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016.” Politico on Goldrick-Rab’s contributions to higher-ed policy in the coming election: Clinton’s plan, however, was neither the highest-profile nor most radical. It was Bernie Sanders who campaigned on the issue most vocally during the primaries, pushing not just debt-free college but universal free tuition for public higher education. That idea has roots in the work of Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University. In 2014, Goldrick-Rab proposed a “free two-year college option” that would cover tuition at public universities, as well as some living expenses. The plan drew on her study of more than 3,000 students receiving federal aid and Pell Grants in Wisconsin, which revealed that those students were still crippled by living costs. As a concession to Sanders during negotiations over the Democratic platform, Clinton broadened her plan to ensure that families with incomes below a certain level would pay no . . .

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Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China (Forthcoming 2017)

September 12, 2016
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Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China (Forthcoming 2017)

Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China won’t publish in North America until March of 2017, but the book is already making waves (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) in the UK, where it was recently profiled by the Economist: THE Chinese mental compass is oriented not north-south as with the rest of the world, but west-east—a consequence of tectonic forces that threw up mountains in inner Asia from which rivers seek a course down through China to the sea. “Twisting around ten thousand times but always going eastward,” said Confucius: it seemed a law of nature. Philip Ball argues in his new book, “The Water Kingdom”, that the two greatest waterways, the Yellow river that flows across the north China plain and the Yangzi that charges through the heart of the country, are both “symbols of the nation” and, for millennia, have been the “keys to its fate.” . . . Nearly all cultures have flood myths and legends. China’s are unusual in that at the heart of them are the engineering challenges of flood control. The first attempts to tame the Yellow river are ancient; the huge Three Gorges dam, which a decade ago turned a fast-flowing stretch into a reservoir the size of . . .

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Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016): A Tribute from His Translators

September 9, 2016
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Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016): A Tribute from His Translators

  The French poet and critic Yves Bonnefoy, who died on July 1, 2016, was unusually well served by his translators, who shepherded many of his books into publication in English. Thanks to their devotion and talent, readers in the English-speaking world can appreciate why Bonnefoy was, as the New York Times described him, “France’s pre-eminent poet of the postwar era.” The two most prolific publishers of Bonnefoy’s work in English have been Seagull Books and the University of Chicago Press. Seagull’s Naveen Kishore and Chicago’s Alan Thomas invited Bonnefoy’s translators to recall their collaborations with the poet. ***  Richard Pevear I first met Yves Bonnefoy at a lunch organized by Jonathan Galassi, who was then an editor at Random House and the poetry editor of The Paris Review. Galway Kinnell, translator of Bonnefoy’s first book of poems, Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve, joined us. He and Galassi had formed a project for translating the four books of poems Bonnefoy had published up to then . The first two were to be published by Ohio University . . .

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Sara Goldrick-Rab: What Colleges Can Do Right Now

September 8, 2016
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Sara Goldrick-Rab: What Colleges Can Do Right Now

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream publishes this month and it isn’t hyperbole to claim it will soon become the definitive text on how higher education has let students down, as the cost of college continues to soar, while combinations of federal, state, institutional, and private aid fail to give students the resources they need to pay for it. In a recent piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Goldrick-Rab bluntly outlined five things she and her team of researchers learned (see below) in tracking 3,000 federal Pell Grant recipients enrolled in Wisconsin public universities through their college journeys. Hint: as Goldrick-Rab teases in the intro, the kids are most definitely not alright. You can read her piece in full here. *** Here are five things we learned: 1. The way the federal government measures students’ financial need is misleading and even flat-out wrong. It overstates a family’s ability to pay for college by ignoring debt and the hardships that go with it, and grossly understates the actual costs of attending college. 2. Although colleges often expect families to financially support their children while they attend college, the reverse is happening — low-income children are . . .

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Free e-book for September: Hope on Earth

September 6, 2016
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Free e-book for September: Hope on Earth

Our free e-book for September is Paul R. Ehrlich and Michael Charles Tobias’s Hope on Earth: A Conversation. Download your copy here. *** Hope on Earth is the thought-provoking result of a lively and wide-ranging conversation between two of the world’s leading interdisciplinary environmental scientists: Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book The Population Bomb shook the world in 1968 (and continues to shake it), and Michael Charles Tobias, whose over 40 books and 150 films have been read and/or viewed throughout the world.  Hope on Earthoffers a rare opportunity to listen in as these deeply knowledgeable and highly creative thinkers offer their takes on the most pressing environmental concerns of the moment. Both Ehrlich and Tobias argue that we are on the verge of environmental catastrophe, as the human population continues to grow without restraint and without significant attempts to deal with overconsumption and the vast depletion of resources and climate problems it creates. Though their views are sympathetic, they differ in their approach and in some key moral stances, giving rise to a heated and engaging dialogue that opens up dozens of new avenues of exploration.  They both believe that the impact of a human society on its environment is . . .

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Forrest Stuart: Down, Out, and Under Arrest on Skid Row

September 2, 2016
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Forrest Stuart: Down, Out, and Under Arrest on Skid Row

Forrest Stuart’s Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row puts to use the author’s five years of ethnographic research on LA’s Skid Row, home to one of the most stable (and sizable) homeless populations in the nation, and demonstrates what it looks like to police poverty in the US today. (Hint: Stuart was stopped by police 14 times during his first year working in the neighborhood.) From an interview with Stuart at Mother Jones:   Mother Jones: What struck you during your time on the streets that might be useful to policymakers? Forrest Stuart: Right away I started seeing how the police, in part just because of their numbers in Skid Row, were creating a situation I’d never seen before. Just as a guy was starting to get on his feet—for example, he had finally secured a bed at a shelter—some small infraction would cut him back. “The places that people need most—like a soup kitchen or homeless shelter—become really risky, because that’s where the police are.” It could be as little as getting a single ticket for loitering. For people living on dollars at day, to suddenly have to pay $150 for a sidewalk ticket is huge! . . .

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Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris

August 31, 2016
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Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris

Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris tells the story of the titular primate, who (to cite the book’s jacket copy) “drinks tea, sews, draws on papers and is a self-taught master of tying and untying knots.” Again, and true to the title, it was in Paris where author Chris Herzfeld first fell in like with Wattana, who lives in the Jardin des Plantes Zoo, and where she began her expansive chronicle of primates in captivity—from the first arrival of orangutans from Europe in 1776 to the experience of caretakers and their captive subjects in several contemporary zoos. Along the way, Herzfeld’s research confirmed an ominous likelihood: scientists anticipate that orangutans will disappear from the wild by 2030. The book epitomizes recent efforts by the University of Chicago Press to lead the field in scholarship on human-animal relationships, capped off by our new Animal Lives series, and showcased in the bond that develops between Herzfeld and Wattana, which extends beyond the anthropological into the intimacies of daily life. In the meantime, Herzfeld has produced a series of videos documenting Wattana’s activities. Below, you’ll see a nine minute clip in which she ties and unties knots in over twenty different sequences, each more complex than . . .

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Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel

August 29, 2016
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Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel

Kirkus Reviews on Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel, a refreshingly singular and urgent look at life “after” the US–Mexico border from one of Latin America’s most prominent literary voices, in a starred review: The lives of a mentally ill savant, a young artist, and a serial killer converge in a powerful novel that shuttles across the U.S.–Mexico border. The wide-ranging Bolivia-born Paz Soldán delivers a small cross-section of very different lives of Latinos in the United States, better to counter casual generalizations about them. But its key strength is its well-formed individual characterizations. In 2008, Michelle is a Bolivia-born college student and budding graphic novelist in Texas who risks being pulled astray by hard-partying friends and a professor she’s sleeping with. In 1931, Martín is a schizophrenic Mexican immigrant who becomes a celebrated outsider artist after his institutionalization in California. (Michelle will be invited to write about Martín’s work decades later.) And in northern Mexico in 1984, Jesús has begun his career as a serial killer, hopping trains across the border to hunt likely victims in Texas. Jesús, modeled after the real-life “Railroad Killer” Ángel Maturino Reséndiz, hogs the novel’s stage, largely thanks to Paz Soldán’s visceral descriptions of his killings, which rival Bret . . .

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