Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Barbara J. King on whale grief

July 25, 2016
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Barbara J. King on whale grief

From National Geographic: More than six species of the marine mammals have been seen clinging to the body of a dead compatriot, probably a podmate or relative, scientists say in a new study. The most likely explanation for the animals’ refusal to let go of the corpses: grief. “They are mourning,” says study co-author Melissa Reggente, a biologist at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy. “They are in pain and stressed. They know something is wrong.” Scientists have found a growing number of species, from giraffes to chimps, that behave as if stricken with grief. Elephants, for example, return again and again to the body of a dead companion. Such findings add to the debate about whether animals feel emotion—and, if they do, how such emotions should influence human treatment of other creatures. (See “Do Crows Hold Funerals for Their Dead?”) Animal grief can be defined as emotional distress coupled with a disruption of usual behavior, according to Barbara King, emeritus professor of anthropology at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and author of the book How Animals Grieve. Barbara J. King has long positioned her scholarship at the forefront of our study of animal emotions—in works like How Animals Grieve and in . . .

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Sara Goldrick-Rab and the United States of Debt

July 20, 2016
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Sara Goldrick-Rab and the United States of Debt

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s game-changing book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream publishes this September. To understand part of the urgency behind its central claim—that college is far too costly, and the confusing mix of federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid leaves countless students without the resources they need to pay for it—tune in to the most recent United States of Debt podcast from the folks at Slate. Tackling the student loan crisis, Slate asks: “Just how many of us are really burdened by the cost of pursuing a higher education, and is there a way out? Are student loans more common now, and why? Why are student loans such a mess in the United States, compared to other countries? And what do for-profit schools have to do with all of this?” Listen in for more about Goldrick-Rab and the stakes of living with suffocating student debt—and what we might do about it. To read more about Paying the Price, click here. . . .

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Natasha Kumar Warikoo on affirmative action

July 8, 2016
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Natasha Kumar Warikoo on affirmative action

Natasha Kumar Warikoo’s The Diversity Bargain and Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy at Elite Universities, which publishes this fall, examines how both white students and students of color understand race and privilege at three top-tier universities—Harvard, Yale, and Oxford. Culminating in what Warikoo calls “the diversity bargain”—white students agree with affirmative action abstractly as long as it benefits them personally—the book argues that the slippery notions that sustain social inequalities on college campuses are hugely impacted not only by the student body, but also by the practices of universities themselves. In a recent piece for the Boston Globe, Warikoo expanded on her findings: However, in my research with undergraduates at Ivy League universities, I have found that this narrow justification shapes students’ conceptions of fairness and equity in admissions. Many white students at elite colleges agree with affirmative action only because they understand it benefits them through interaction with their minority peers. As a result, some are upset when they see tables of black peers in the cafeteria, when their black peers join the Black Students Association, or when Latino peers spend their time at Centers for Students of Color. What they don’t understand is that those organizations can be lifelines for students unfamiliar with . . .

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In Memoriam: Alison Winter (1965–2016)

June 30, 2016
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In Memoriam: Alison Winter (1965–2016)

*** Alison Winter (1965–2016), historian of the mind, as well as professor of history, the conceptual and historical studies of science, and the college at the University of Chicago, passed away last week from complications related to a brain tumor. A formidable scholar, teacher, and friend, Winter counted among her contributions to the history of sciences of mind two books published by the University of Chicago Press, Memory: Fragments of a Modern History (2012), winner of the 2014 Gordon J. Laing Prize for a book published in the previous three years by a Chicago faculty member that brings the Press the greatest distinction, and Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (2000). As noted by her colleague, Emilio Kourí, chair of the Department of History: “We will all miss her uncommon intelligence, her boundless curiosity, and her joie de vivre.” From the Department of History at the University of Chicago: The Guggenheim, Andrew W. Mellon, and National Science foundations awarded Winter fellowships to research her second book, Memory: Fragments of a Modern History (2012). Memory received a Gordon J. Laing Prize in 2014 for most distinguished book published by the University of Chicago Press. Daniel Kevles of Yale University called the book an “original history of the intertwined . . .

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Responses to the New York Times on Chicago’s problem with gun violence

June 28, 2016
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Responses to the New York Times on Chicago’s problem with gun violence

Earlier this month, the New York Times published a blockbuster piece of investigative reporting that involved sending a team of journalists and photographers to Chicago to cover the unfolding events of a Memorial Day weekend that culminated in 64 shootings and 6 deaths in just under 72 hours. As the violence escalated, reporters on the scene followed the blotter, interviewing those injured, witnesses on the scene, and community members, many of whom live on the city’s South and Southwest sides, leading to a portrait in real time not only the weekend’s events, but also how these bloody circumstances significantly impact the neighborhoods in which they continue to occur. The coverage comes on the heels of several other recent pieces by the NYT on Chicago’s ongoing problems with gun-related bloodshed, including “Chicago’s Murder Problem” (May 27, 2016), “Pleading for Peace in Chicago Amid Fears of a Bloody Summer” (May 28, 2016), and “When Violence Hits Home in Chicago,” a feature from the Lens Blog, on the photos that accompanied that major piece, “A Weekend in Chicago” (June 4, 2016). We asked Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist whose work on crime, civic engagement, inequality, and the neighborhood effect was used as research by the NYT in the piece, and Susan A. Phillips, an anthropologist who focuses on urban violence, . . .

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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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