Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

The Guardian’s #21 Best Nonfiction Book: Kuhn’s The Structure

June 20, 2016
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The Guardian’s #21 Best Nonfiction Book: Kuhn’s The Structure

The Guardian recently began chronicling their “100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time.” Placing 21st on the list and profiled by Robert McCrum, Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions proves not only why it merited a new edition for its fiftieth anniversary in 2012, but also why new generations continue to find relevance in Kuhn’s concept of the “paradigm shift,” and the potential in situating the history of science in a dialectic composed of “normal” and “revolutionary” phases. From the Guardian: Yet, against the odds, Kuhn remains evergreen. His great insight, which owed something to Kant, but was based on his own study of the Copernican revolution, was provocatively at odds with Karl Popper (a later entry in this series). Kuhn’s description of the dialectic of change in science (the making of a paradigm; the recognition of anomalies, with an ensuing crisis; finally, the resolution of the crisis by a new paradigm) still holds true today, albeit in a radically different intellectual environment dominated by information science and biotechnology. Kuhn’s argument for an episodic model of scientific development in which periods of continuity are interrupted by passages of revolutionary science remains disputed by some, but is widely accepted within most circles. He himself has written . . .

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Love Game in the New York Times

June 10, 2016
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Love Game in the New York Times

From a recent review of Elizabeth Wilson’s Love Game: A History of Tennis from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon (or, In Defense of Scholarly Publishing) in the New York Times: Wilson drop-shots mini-essays on broader intellectual topics like corporate dominance (“McDonaldization”) into the mix, and occasionally hits the mark, as in a paragraph on punk culture: “When Nastase and Connors brought the spectators into the drama this was a distinctly punk tactic, whether they realized it or not.” Caveat emptor for tennis fans, however: It’s an indication of the content and tone of the book that the Baader-Meinhof Group receives two mentions while the late tennis writer, historian and commentator Bud Collins shamefully gets none. No shame in the Indexical Cultural Context (Love) Game. To read more about Love Game, click here. . . .

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Deirdre N. McCloskey on “How the West Got Rich”

June 6, 2016
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Deirdre N. McCloskey on “How the West Got Rich”

In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Deirdre N. McCloskey underlines some of the major themes that inform her decade-in-the-making trilogy The Bourgeois Era, including those particular to its most recent volume, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World. Denying the centrality of accumulated capital, and turning instead to the accumulation of ideas, McCloskey posits “betterment” at the core of, well, how we became bourgeois. More about this in her book, but here’s a teaser from the WSJ: What caused it? The usual explanations follow ideology. On the left, from Marx onward, the key is said to be exploitation. Capitalists after 1800 seized surplus value from their workers and invested it in dark, satanic mills. On the right, from the blessed Adam Smithonward, the trick was thought to be savings. The wild Highlanders could become as rich as the Dutch—“the highest degree of opulence,” as Smith put it in 1776—if they would merely save enough to accumulate capital (and stop stealing cattle from one another). A recent extension of Smith’s claim, put forward by the late economics Nobelist Douglass North (and now embraced as orthodoxy by the World Bank) is that the real elixir is institutions. On this . . .

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“The most mind-boggling coffee table art book of 2016 (or any time)”

June 3, 2016
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“The most mind-boggling coffee table art book of 2016 (or any time)”

I, too, am biased. I find Paul Laffoley’s work speculatively seductive—the paranoiac bad vibes-side of the New Age, mixed with some pretty great architectural schematics that anticipate accelerationism and our non-anthropocentric future. As part of a pretty compelling interview with Douglas Walla, Paul Laffoley’s legendary gallerist and editor of his catalogue raisonné, conducted by Richard Metzger (another pal of Laffoley’s) for Dangerous Minds, here’s a chunk that capitalizes on the wonder: Richard Metzger: Right after the publisher sent me a black and white print out of the book, you called me up and gingerly suggested that I “might want to give Paul a call at the hospital.” I indicated how great I thought the book was and you replied—more poetically than I’m putting it here—that you were relieved and satisfied that Paul would die knowing that he was on his way into the modern art pantheon, on his own terms. “He’s not going to die an enigma” is what you said. How did he feel about knowing the book would be coming out and the likely trajectory of his posthumous reputation as an artist? Considering his global renown and the financial success that it brought him in the final 15 years of his . . .

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Scorsese Goes to Dinner

May 18, 2016
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Scorsese Goes to Dinner

Via an excerpt from the postscript to Roger Ebert’s Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, up at Esquire: My wife and I sit all by ourselves at the table for 10, awaiting Monsieur Scorsese. Around us, desperate and harried waiters ricochet from table to table with steaming tureens of fish soup and groaning platters of whole lobster, grilled fish, garlic paste, crisp toast, boiled potatoes, and the other accoutrements of a bowl of bouillabaisse. To occupy an unused table in a busy French restaurant is to be the object of dirty looks from every waiter; if you are going to be late, be late—don’t be the ones who get there early and take the heat. Around us, tout le Hollywood slurps its soup. There is Rob Friedman, second in command at Paramount. Over there is Woody Harrelson, who explains he partied till 6 A.M. and then slept two hours, and that was 15 hours ago. He wears the same thoughtful facial expression that his character in Kingpin did when his hand was amputated in the bowling ball polisher. Next to him is Milos Forman, who directed him in The People vs. Larry Flynt. Across from him is director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie). Across from . . .

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Jessa Crispin on US literary culture

May 16, 2016
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Jessa Crispin on US literary culture

From Michelle Dean’s profile of Jessa Crispin for the Guardian: Staying outside of that mainstream, Crispin said, had some professional costs. “We didn’t generate people that are now writing for the New Yorker,” Crispin said. “If we had, I would have thought that we were failures anyway.” She’s bored by the New Yorker. In fact, of the current crop of literary magazines, she said only the London Review of Books currently interested her, especially articles by Jenny Diski or Terry Castle. Of the New Yorker itself, she said: “It’s like a dentist magazine.” Crispin’s general assessment of the current literary situation is fairly widely shared in, of all places, New York. It is simply rarely voiced online. Writers, in an age where an errant tweet can set off an avalanche of op-eds more widely read than the writers’ actual books, are cautious folk. And Crispin can’t stand the way some of these people have become boosters of the industry just at the moment of what she sees as its decline. “I don’t know why people are doing this, but people are identifying themselves with the system,” Crispin said. “So if you attack publishing, they feel that they are personally being attacked. Which . . .

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May 13, 2016
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Publishers Weekly already christened Philip Ball’s Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does as the “Most Beautiful Book of 2016.” In a recent interview he did with Smithsonian Magazine, Ball lets us in on why, exactly we’re so drawn to the idea of patterns and their visual manifestations, as well as what let him to follow that curiosity and write the book. Read an excerpt after the jump. *** What exactly is a pattern? I left it slightly ambiguous in the book, on purpose, because it feels like we know it when we see it. Traditionally, we think of patterns as something that just repeats again and again throughout space in an identical way, sort of like a wallpaper pattern. But many patterns that we see in nature aren’t quite like that. We sense that there is something regular or at least not random about them, but that doesn’t mean that all the elements are identical. I think a very familiar example of that would be the zebra’s stripes. Everyone can recognize that as a pattern, but no stripe is like any other stripe. I think we can make a case for saying that anything that isn’t purely random has . . .

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Sara Goldrick-Rab on #RealCollege

May 11, 2016
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Sara Goldrick-Rab on #RealCollege

Sara Goldrick-Rab, recently named one of *the* indispensable academics to follow on Twitter by the Chronicle of Higher Education, will publish her much-anticipated Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream this fall. Needless to say, the book couldn’t be more timely—and important—to the continued conversation and policy debates surrounding the hyperbolic costs associated with American higher education. The book, which draws on Goldrick-Rab’s study of more than 3,000 young adults who entered public colleges and universities in Wisconsin in 2008 with the support of federal aid and Pell Grants, demonstrates that the cost of college is no longer affordable, or even sustainable—despite the assistance of federal, state, and local aid, the insurmountable price of an undergraduate degree leaves a staggering number of students crippled by debt, working a series of outside jobs (sometimes with inadequate food or housing), and more often than not, taking time off or withdrawing before matriculation. One of Goldrick-Rab’s possible solutions, a public sector–focused “first degree free” program, deserves its own blog entry. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from a piece by Goldrick-Rab recently published at the Washington Post, which provides human faces to some of the data circulating around the central issues: When he runs . . .

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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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