Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Excerpt: How Many is Too Many?

January 26, 2015
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Excerpt: How Many is Too Many?

Excerpted from

How Many is Too Many?: The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States 

by Philip Cafaro

***

How many immigrants should we allow into the United States annually, and who gets to come?

The question is easy to state but hard to answer, for thoughtful individuals and for our nation as a whole. It is a complex question, touching on issues of race and class, morals and money, power and political allegiance. It is an important question, since our answer will help determine what kind of country our children and grandchildren inherit. It is a contentious question: answer it wrongly and you may hear some choice personal epithets directed your way, depending on who you are talking to. It is also an endlessly recurring question, since conditions will change, and an immigration policy that made sense in one era may no longer work in another. Any answer we give must be open to revision.

This book explores the immigration question in light of current realities and defends one provisional answer to it. By exploring the question from a variety of angles and making my own political beliefs explicit, . . .

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Everything’s coming up Howie

January 23, 2015
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Everything’s coming up Howie

 

 

Adam Gopnik, writing in the New Yorker, recently profiled eminent American sociologist Howard S. Becker (Howie, please: “Only my mother ever called me Howard”), one of the biggest names in the field for over half a century, yet still, as with so many purveyors of haute critique, better known in France. Becker is no wilting lily on these shores, however—since the publication of his pathbreaking Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (1963), he’s been presiding as grand doyen over methodological confrontations with the particularly slippery slopes of human existence, including our very notion of “deviance.” All this, a half dozen or so honorary degrees, a lifetime achievement award, a smattering of our most prestigious fellowships, and the 86-year-old Becker is still going strong, with his most recent book published only this past year.

From the New Yorker profile:

This summer, Becker published a summing up of his life’s method and beliefs, called “What About Mozart? What About Murder?” (The title refers to the two caveats or complaints most often directed against his kind of sociology’s equable “relativism”: how can you study music as a mere social artifact—what about Mozart? How can you consider criminal justice a mutable convention—what about Murder?) The book is . . .

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A Show-Trial: An excerpt from Bengt Jangfeldt’s Mayakovsky

January 22, 2015
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A Show-Trial: An excerpt from Bengt Jangfeldt’s Mayakovsky

“A Show-Trial”

Excerpted from Mayakovsky: A Biography by Bengt Jangfeldt

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Mayakovsky returned to Moscow on 17 or 18 September. The following day, Krasnoshchokov was arrested, accused of a number of different offenses. He was supposed to have lent money to his brother Yakov, head of the firm American–Russian Constructor, at too low a rate of interest, and to have arranged drink– and sex–fueled orgies at the Hotel Europe in Petrograd, paying the Gypsy girls who entertained the company with pure gold. He was also accused of having passed on his salary from the Russian–American Industrial Corporation ($200 a month) to his wife (who had returned to the United States), of having bought his mistress flowers and furs out of state funds, of renting a luxury villa, and of keeping no fewer than three horses. Lenin was now so ill that he had not been able to intervene on Krasnoshchokov’s behalf even if he had wanted to.

His arrest was a sensation of the first order. It was the first time that such a highly placed Communist had been accused of corruption, and the event cast a shadow over the whole party apparatus. Immediately . . .

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Daniel Albright (1945–2015)

January 14, 2015
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Daniel Albright (1945–2015)

On January 3, 2015, scholar Daniel Albright (1945–2015), the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University—who counted himself, among other accolades, as an NEH Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin—passed away unexpectedly. The author of sixteen books, which straddled a range of interests from literary criticism and musicology to panaesthetics and the history of modernism, Albright taught in three departments at Harvard, where he had worked for the past decade.

From an article in the Harvard Crimson:

As an undergraduate at Rice University, Albright originally declared a major in mathematics before switching to English. Upon graduating from Rice in 1967, he attended Yale, where he received his M.Phil in 1969 and his Ph.D. in 1970. Prior to his arrival at Harvard in 2003, Albright taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Munich, the University of Rochester, and the Eastman School of Music.

Once at Harvard, he taught in the English, Music, and Comparative Literature departments. English Department chair and professor W. James Simpson spoke highly of Albright’s career in Cambridge.

“Whenever Dan was in a room, the room was full of fun and amusement and delight . . .

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Alice Kaplan on Patrick Modiano

January 7, 2015
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Alice Kaplan on Patrick Modiano

 

Below follows, in full, an interview with Alice Kaplan on the career of recent Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano. The interview was originally published online via the French-language journal Libération, shortly after the Nobel announcement.

***

The American academic Alice Kaplan, author of the outstanding The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach, and more recently, Dreaming in French, teaches Modiano at Yale University, where she chairs the Department of French. She evokes for us the particular aura of the French Nobel Laureate in the United States.

Is Patrick Modiano well known in American universities?

There have been sixteen PhD dissertations on Modiano in American universities since 1987, a significant number, given that he is a both foreigner and a contemporary novelist. Yale University Press has just published a trilogy of novels originally published by the Editions du Seuil under the title Suspended Sentences. Modiano’s attraction comes from his style, which is laconic and beautiful but also quite accessible, in English as well as in French. Then there is the particular genre he invented, inspired by detective fiction, familiar to American readers. The obstacle is obviously the number of references to specific places in Paris that are . . .

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Free E-Book for January: The Hunt for Nazi Spies

January 2, 2015
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Free E-Book for January: The Hunt for Nazi Spies

 

Our free e-book for January is Simon Kitson’s The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France; read more about the book below:

From 1940 to 1942, French secret agents arrested more than two thousand spies working for the Germans and executed several dozen of them—all despite the Vichy government’s declared collaboration with the Third Reich. A previously untold chapter in the history of World War II, this duplicitous activity is the gripping subject ofThe Hunt for Nazi Spies, a tautly narrated chronicle of the Vichy regime’s attempts to maintain sovereignty while supporting its Nazi occupiers.Simon Kitson informs this remarkable story with findings from his investigation—the first by any historian—of thousands of Vichy documents seized in turn by the Nazis and the Soviets and returned to France only in the 1990s. His pioneering detective work uncovers a puzzling paradox: a French government that was hunting down left-wing activists and supporters of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French forces was also working to undermine the influence of German spies who were pursuing the same Gaullists and resisters. In light of this apparent contradiction, Kitson does not deny that Vichy France was committed to assisting the Nazi cause, . . .

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Paddy Woodworth on Our Once and Future Planet

December 26, 2014
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Paddy Woodworth on Our Once and Future Planet

A little more than a year ago, we published Paddy Woodworth’s Our Once and Future Planet,  an ambitious, even monumental account of the past, present, and future of the ecological restoration movement that was recently named one of the year’s Outstanding Academic Titles by the ALA’s Choice. Then, this past autumn, Paddy came to the States and spent a little over a month talking with people about the book in a variety of settings. Now that he’s back in Ireland and settling in for the holidays, we asked Paddy to offer some thoughts on what it’s like to hit the road promoting not just a book, but an idea.

Publishing a book is a little like casting a stone into a well. We write, as Seamus Heaney put it, “to set the darkness echoing.” And often we wait a long time for the echoes, and must count ourselves lucky if we hear any at all.

Our Once and Future Planet was published by the University of Chicago Press a year ago last October. It charts my journey into the challenging world of ecological restoration projects worldwide; it examines and ultimately finds precious if tenuous hope in restoration ecology’s promise to reverse the globalized . . .

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House of Debt on the Independent’s Best of 2014

December 16, 2014
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House of Debt on the Independent’s Best of 2014

Atif Mian and Amir Sufi’s House of Debt, a polemic about the Great Recession and a call to action about the borrowing and lending practices that led us down the fiscal pits, already made a splash on the shortlist for the Financial Times‘s Best Business Book of 2014. Now, over at the Independent, the book tops another Best of 2014 list, this time proclaimed, “the jewel of 2014.” From Ben Chu’s review, which also heralds another university press title—HUP’s blockbuster Capital by Thomas Piketty (“the asteroid”):

As with Capital, House of Debt rests on some first-rate empirical research. Using micro data from America, the professors show that the localities where the accumulation of debt by households was the most rapid were also the areas that cut back on spending most drastically when the bubble burst. Mian and Sufi argue that policymakers across the developed world have had the wrong focus over the past half decade. Instead of seeking to restore growth by encouraging bust banks to lend, they should have been writing down household debts. If the professors are correct—and the evidence they assemble is powerful indeed—this work will take its place in the canon of literary economic breakthroughs.

. . .

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The Hoarders

December 15, 2014
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The Hoarders

This past week, New Yorker critic Joan Acocella profiled Scott Herring’s The Hoarders, a foray into the history of material culture from the perspective of clutter fetish and our fascination with the perils surrounding the urge to organize. The question Herring asks, namely, “What counts as an acceptable material life—and who decides?,” takes on a gradient of meaning for Acocella, who confronts the material preferences of her ninety-three-year-old mother, which prove to be in accord with the DSM V‘s suggestion that, “hoarding sometimes begins in childhood, but that by the time the hoarders come to the attention of the authorities they tend to be old.”

In The Hoarders, Herring tells the tale of Homer and Langley Collyer, two brothers to whom we can trace a legend (um, legacy?) of modern hoarding, whose eccentricity and ill health (Langley took care of Homer, who was both rheumatic and blind) led to a lion’s den of accrual, and a rather unfortunate end. As Acocella explains:

In 1947, a caller alerted the police that someone in the Collyer mansion may have died. After a day’s search, the police found the body of Homer, sitting bent over, with his head on his knees. But where was Langley? It took . . .

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Citizen: Jane Addams and the labor movement

December 10, 2014
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Citizen: Jane Addams and the labor movement

On this day in 1931, Jane Addams became the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Read an excerpt from Louise W. Knight’s Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy, about the ethics and deeply held moral beliefs permeating the labor movement—and Addams’s own relationship to it—after the jump.

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From Chapter 13, “Claims” (1894)

On May 11 Addams, after giving a talk at the University of Wisconsin and visiting Mary Addams Linn in Kenosha, wrote Alice that their sister’s health was improving. The same day, a major strike erupted at the Pullman Car Works, in the southernmost part of Chicago. The immediate cause of the strike was a series of wage cuts the company had made in response to the economic crisis. Since September the company had hired back most of the workers it had laid off at the beginning of the depression, but during the same period workers’ wages had also fallen an average of 30 percent. Meanwhile, the company, feeling pinched, was determined to increase its profits from rents. In addition to the company’s refusing to lower the rent rate to match the wage cuts, its foremen threatened to fire workers . . .

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