Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

6 Questions for Alastair Bonnett, author of ‘Beyond the Map’

July 13, 2018
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You never quite know where Alastair Bonnett will be off exploring on any given week. A modern day adventurer and lover of unusual places, Bonnett collected stories about his favorite intriguing spots around the world in his new book—Beyond the Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias. The New York Times Book Review praises: “Bonnett has a flair for communicating his passion for ‘the glee and the drama, the love and the loathing’ that emanate from the earth’s most perplexing and mutable places. . . .  provocative detours show us how much more we can know of the known world, if we know where to look, and how.” Publishers Weekly says, “By turns delightful and sobering, this book, like the best travel, inspires both the mind and the imagination.” We spoke with Bonnett recently to learn more about his upcoming travels, his motivations for writing the book, and some of his recommended reads. What are you reading at the moment? I’m going to Budapest next week so I thought I’d try something Hungarian; which has turned out to be Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai. The title sounds really pretentious—maybe it’s better in Hungarian—and the sentences are ten miles long, but it’s . . .

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7 questions for Daegan Miller about This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent

June 26, 2018
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7 questions for Daegan Miller about This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent

                    Daegan Miller’s new book This Radical Land  has been receiving strong praise for its unearthing of forgotten nineteenth-century stories of American dissent and environmental awareness. Kirkus Reviews wrote: A debut book that ranges across disciplines and decades to connect the natural environment–especially long-lived trees–to a scathing critique of American-style capitalism. Alternating abstract theory with impressive research, both bolstered by extensive sources . . . the author builds his case about understanding American history by examining destruction of the environment through essays grounded in the 19th century. . . . He offers an eclectic education often marked by soaring prose. A reviewer for Pacific Standard, meanwhile, praised Miller’s “interpretive brilliance and gorgeously crafted prose” and called the book “one of the most elegant and insightful examples of environmental writing I’ve seen in many, many years.” We asked Daegan to take time out from his daily routine of work, reading, writing, running, and raising a family to answer a few questions about the book and the stories it tells. This Radical Land maps a number of little-known stories of nineteenth-century America. Which one—if any of these—set you off on the project of the book? And how . . .

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Seven Questions on Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering

June 15, 2018
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Seven Questions on Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering

Scott Samuelson is a philosopher in an old tradition: he’s interested, not in some sort of academic philosophy that only talks to others who are deeply embroiled in its history and traditions, but rather in a philosophy that helps us deal with the problems we face in our everyday lives. His book Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering draws on his study of the discipline and his experience as a teacher of philosophy in a variety of settings–including in prison–to explore the many ways humans have attempted to explain, understand, and philosophically ameliorate suffering over millennia. Scott was kind enough to answer seven questions for us. Have you looked at the news lately? Why on earth would I want to read about suffering right now? Because we have a hunger to seek out meaning in the suffering that bombards us. Thoreau says, “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.” Really, you should read both, but most of us could focus more on the Eternities. The fact is that there’s something deeply satisfying in thinking about suffering, just like there’s something deeply satisfying in a blues song. Once I was asked to lead a discussion at Laughing Sun Brewery in Bismarck called . . .

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Why did Barbara Streisand clone her dog?

March 14, 2018
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Why did Barbara Streisand clone her dog?

Jessica Pierce has done a lot of thinking about animals and ethics. A bioethicist by training, her books on the subject include The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, coauthored with Marc Bekoff, and more recently Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets. So who better to weigh in on the ethics of pet cloning – a topic which, as you likely know, has captured a bit of public attention recently due to the news of Barbara Streisand having cloned her coton de tulear (a breed that coincidentally looks a lot like this guy, or gal as the case may be <–). Pierce’s recent op-ed in the New York Times titled “You Love Dogs? Then Don’t Clone Them” argues that the cloning industry creates a canine underclass of egg donors and surrogate mothers whose welfare is overlooked in the rush to profit by reproducing facsimile copies of rich people’s dead pets. From the article: “Clones like Ms. Streisand’s dogs Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett don’t materialize out of thin air but require the help of a whole team of female dogs. The cloning process begins with . . .

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Author Interview: Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens

January 26, 2018
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Author Interview: Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens

The last election cycle brought the process of assigning votes under the electoral college renewed scrutiny, while also highlighting the susceptibility of the American voting public to propagandistic appeals, and turning attention to the extreme amount of influence of wealthy corporations and wealthy individuals on both sides of the aisle. These, among other factors, are seen by many as increasingly dire threats to the core values of the American democratic voting system, threats that, if left unchecked, have the potential to grow exponentially in relation to the wealthy’s bank accounts in what Jared Bernstein describes, in a recent interview with political scientists Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens, as a kind of “self-reinforcing cycle, where wealth concentration drives political outcomes that enrich and strengthen the donor class while blocking policies that would push the other way.” But is it too late? Has our democracy reached the same tipping point as our climate? Has this feedback loop already snowballed into an unstoppable avalanche whose path cuts straight through our most sacred American democratic values? Are we already secretly but not-so-secretly living under a plutocratic system and everybody knows it but nobody says anything because they just don’t want to seem unpatriotic . . .

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Going home for the Holidays? Take Scott Tong’s Fascinating Family History with You.

December 15, 2017
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Going home for the Holidays? Take Scott Tong’s Fascinating Family History with You.

Looking for something to listen to on the long road/flight/L ride to Grandma’s house? Well look no further, because Marketplace correspondent Scott Tong has been hitting the podcast circuit in the past week to promote the publication of his new book A Village with My Name: A Family History of China’s Opening to the World. In the tradition of Marketplace‘s fascinating coverage of the latest topics in business and economics, Scott Tong’s book takes an intimate look at China’s long and challenged ascendancy to the global political and economic powerhouse that it is today, as told through the life stories of members of his own extended family. The recent Marketplace interview with Kai Ryssdal does a great job of summarizing the book, touching on most of its most salient points, while a longer interview with Tong on the Sinica podcast (Warning: Contains spoilers) should get you most of the rest of the way to Grandma’s. Tong is also doing quite a few book signings and events early in the New Year, including one in DC on the 3rd and one in San Francisco on the 9th. Check out the UCP author events calendar for more upcoming dates on Tong’s book tour. . . .

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Face/On: The ethics of the transplant

June 28, 2017
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Face/On: The ethics of the transplant

At New Books Network, you’ll find a podcast interview with Sharrona Pearl, author of one of our best-covered (as in images) books of late, Face/On: Face Transplants and the Ethics of the Other, a perfect storm of cultural studies and synthetic and biogenetic technologies. A brief description from their post follows below, but here’s the real link: to listen in to the fascinating hour-long talk with Pearl! *** Troubling the indexical relationship between the face and character and reminding us that “he self has always been a set of choices,” Pearl explores face transplantation as it relates to cosmetic surgery and whole-organ transplants, the cinema of the 1960s, television shows, and more. She carefully and sensitively takes us into the debates among surgeons, bioethicists, and journalists that circled the first partial face transplant of Isabelle Dinoire in 2005, and offers a way toward a philosophical approach that brings together Levinas with the kind of (Deleuzian) subjectivity that allows for individuality through constant change and understands the self to be constantly in a process of becoming. The final chapter of the book also situates the analysis within larger contexts of online subjectivities and work with facial and bodily manipulation by artists and performers. . . .

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Paying the Price: Should College Be Free?

June 26, 2017
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Paying the Price: Should College Be Free?

Just a soundbite from a recent New York Times Magazine piece on free college, fueled by Sara Goldrick-Rab’s efficacious research in Paying the Price, follows below. *** Sara Goldrick-Rab, a self-described “scholar-activist” who teaches higher education policy at Temple University, has a more expansive idea: Make the first two years free for everyone who attends a community college (all of which are public) or four-year state school. Directing more resources to the first two years of college would help people from lower-income families overcome the biggest barrier to their success, which is the living costs associated with housing, food, transportation and books while they attend school. “When students are able to focus on college, and not work, they graduate,” Goldrick-Rab told me recently. The federal government currently gives tens of billions of dollars in grants and subsidies each year to private colleges and for-profit trade schools in the United States, despite the fact that public colleges educate three-quarters of the students pursuing a postsecondary degree. “I say let the privates and for-profits fend for themselves,” Goldrick-Rab says, and put that money instead toward what she sometimes calls Grades 13 and 14. Finishing high school might once have provided enough education to find employment that pays well. . . .

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The Real Million Dollar Baby

June 23, 2017
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The Real Million Dollar Baby

“Claressa Shields is the Real Million Dollar Baby,” Sarah Deming’s piece from our new anthology The Bittersweet Science: Fifteen Writers in the Gym, in the Corner, and at Ringside, first ran at Deadspin. Here’s an excerpt from that essay below. More at Deadspin, of course. *** Claressa Shields was born in Flint, Mich., the middleweight champion of hard-luck towns. Her dad was an underground fighter called Cannonball who went to prison when she was two. Her mother was an imperfect protector. When Cannonball got out, Claressa was nine years old and already a survivor. Father and daughter drove around Flint in his big burgundy van, trying to make up for lost time. Cannonball told Claressa it was a shame nobody else in the family boxed. All the Shieldses could fight; most of the men had gone to jail, and some of the women, too. He said prison was a cycle somebody had to break. He said it was sad how Muhammad Ali had all those sons and none of them followed him into the ring. “Laila did,” said Claressa. “She’s a bad girl,” said Cannonball. Claressa thought he was telling her to box. Her favorite cartoon was The Powerpuff Girls, about three little superheroines who . . .

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(Higher Educations is) A Perfect Mess

June 21, 2017
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(Higher Educations is) A Perfect Mess

David F. Larabee’s A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education reminds us that the combination that colors higher education—neoliberal fiscalization, massive student debt, conflicts between administration and faculty, and debates over the future of our public schools—isn’t anything new. In fact, as Larabee argues, it’s been around as long as … free enterprise, or rather, as long as the free market, which never guaranteed a place for higher education in society. After the jump, read an excerpt from an interview with Larabee at Inside Higher Ed, which touches on his book’s argument: in this witch’s brew of the populist, the practical, and the elite, no single individual or institution can determine the future of the system. It takes a village, for better or worse. *** Q: You seem to be suggesting not to worry too much about today’s problems, because higher education has always been a “perfect mess.” But are there issues that are notably worse today than in the past? A: First, let me say a little about the advantages of the system’s messiness. In the next section, I’ll respond about the problem facing the system today. The relative autonomy and decentralization of American higher education allows individual colleges and universities . . .

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