Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

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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Free e-book for December: Swordfish

December 9, 2014
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Free e-book for December: Swordfish

Our free e-book for December is renowned marine biologist Richard Ellis’s Swordfish: A Biography of the Ocean Gladiator. *** A perfect fish in the evolutionary sense, the broadbill swordfish derives its name from its distinctive bill—much longer and wider than the bill of any other billfish—which is flattened into the sword we all recognize. And though the majesty and allure of this warrior fish has commanded much attention—from adventurous sportfishers eager to land one to ravenous diners eager to taste one—no one has yet been bold enough to truly take on the swordfish as a biographer. Who better to do so than Richard Ellis, a master of marine natural history?Swordfish: A Biography of the Ocean Gladiatoris his masterly ode to this mighty fighter.

The swordfish, whose scientific name means “gladiator,” can take on anyone and anything, including ships, boats, sharks, submarines, divers, and whales, and in this book Ellis regales us with tales of its vitality and strength. Ellis makes it easy to understand why it has inspired so many to take up the challenge of epic sportfishing battles as well as the longline fishing expeditions recounted by writers such as Linda Greenlaw and Sebastian Junger. Ellis shows us how the . . .

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Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration

December 4, 2014
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Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration

An excerpt from Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration

by Devah Pager

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Introduction

At the start of the 1970s, incarceration appeared to be a practice in decline. Criticized for its overuse and detrimental effects, practitioners and reformers looked to community-based alternatives as a more promising strategy for managing criminal offenders. A 1967 report published by the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice concluded: “Life in many institutions is at best barren and futile, at worst unspeakably brutal and degrading. The conditions in which live are the poorest possible preparation for their successful reentry into society, and often merely reinforces in them a pattern of manipulation or destructiveness.” The commission’s primary recommendation involved developing “more extensive community programs providing special, intensive treatment as an alternative to institutionalization for both juvenile and adult offenders.” Echoing this sentiment, a 1973 report by the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals took a strong stand against the use of incarceration. “The prison, the reformatory, and the jail have achieved . . .

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Top 40 Democracy

November 19, 2014
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Top 40 Democracy

Eric Weisbard’s Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music considers the shifting terrain of the pop music landscape, in which FM radio (once an indisputably dominant medium) constructed multiple mainstreams, tailoring each to target communities built on race, gender, class, and social identity. Charting (no pun intended) how categories rivaled and pushed against each other in their rise to reach American audiences, the book posits a counterintuitive notion: when even the blandest incarnation of a particular sub-group (the Isley Brothers version of R & B, for instance) rose to the top of the charts, so too did the visibility of that group’s culture and perspective, making musical formatting one of the master narratives of late-twentieth-century identity.

In a recent piece for the Sound Studies blog, Weisbard wrote about the rise of both Taylor Swift and, via mid-term elections, the Republican Party:

The genius, and curse, of the commercial-cultural system that produced Taylor Swift’s Top 40 democracy win in the week of the 2014 elections, is that its disposition is inherently centrist. Our dominant music formats, rival mainstreams engaged in friendly combat rather than culture war, locked into place by the early 1970s. That it happened right . . .

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UPWeek Day 2: Irina Baronova launch in pictures

November 11, 2014
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UPWeek Day 2: Irina Baronova launch in pictures

Today is day two of #UPWeek, which considers the past, present, and future of scholarly publishing through pictures. Among posts dotting the web, you’ll find: a photographic history of Indiana University Press, documentation of 1950s and ’60s print publishing at Stanford University Press, a photo collage from Fordham University Press, a Q & A with art director Martha Sewell and short film of author and illustrator Val Kells at Johns Hopkins University Press, and images of the University Press of Florida through the years. With these surveys in mind, we’re happy to share a few snapshots from our own recent launch of Victoria Tennant’s Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo at Peter Fetterman’s Gallery in Santa Monica, California (including a cameo by Norman Lear). Don’t forget to follow #UPWeek on Twitter to keep up with the AAUP’s celebration of university presses’ blogging culture.

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To read more about Irina Baronova and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, click here.

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Free e-book for November: Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose

November 3, 2014
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Free e-book for November: Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose

 

Lee Alan Dugatkin’s Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose, our free e-book for November, reconsiders the crucial supporting role played by a moose carcass in Jeffersonian democracy.

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Thomas Jefferson—author of the Declaration of Independence, US president, and ardent naturalist—spent years countering the French conception of American degeneracy. His Notes on Virginia systematically and scientifically dismantled Buffon’s case through a series of tables and equally compelling writing on the nature of his home state. But the book did little to counter the arrogance of the French and hardly satisfied Jefferson’s quest to demonstrate that his young nation was every bit the equal of a well-established Europe. Enter the giant moose.

The American moose, which Jefferson claimed was so enormous a European reindeer could walk under it, became the cornerstone of his defense. Convinced that the sight of such a magnificent beast would cause Buffon to revise his claims, Jefferson had the remains of a seven-foot ungulate shipped first class from New Hampshire to Paris. Unfortunately, Buffon died before he could make any revisions to his Histoire Naturelle, but the legend of the moose makes for a fascinating tale about Jefferson’s passion to prove that American nature . . .

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On the Run: Best Nonfiction of 2014

October 31, 2014
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On the Run: Best Nonfiction of 2014

 

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City chronicles the effects the War on Drugs levied on one inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood and its largely African American population. Based on Goffman’s six-year-long ethnographic experience as a participant-observer in the community, the book considers how a cycle of presumed criminality engendered by pervasive policing obscures the friendships and associations of a group of residents, small-time drug dealers, everyday persons, and the lives they lead into nodes in a network of surveillance under operation 24 hours a day—and the very human costs involved. The book was recently named to Publishers Weekly’s list, Best Nonfiction of 2014, after garnering praise from both the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review.

You can read an excerpt from the book, “The Art of Running,” here.

To read more, click here.

 

 

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Excerpt: Serving the Reich

October 29, 2014
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Excerpt: Serving the Reich

“Physics Must Be Rebuilt”

from Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler by Philip Ball

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Quantum theory, with its paradoxes and uncertainties, its mysteries and challenges to intuition, is something of a refuge for scoundrels and charlatans, as well as a fount of more serious but nonetheless fantastic speculation. Could it explain Consciousness? Does it undermine causality? Everything from homeopathy to mind control and manifestations of the paranormal has been laid at its seemingly tolerant door.

Mostly that represents a blend of wishful thinking, misconception and pseudoscience. Because quantum theory defies common sense and ‘rational’ expectation, it can easily be hijacked to justify almost any wild idea. The extracurricular uses to which quantum theory has been put tend inevitably to reflect the preoccupations of the times: in the 1970s parallels were drawn with Zen Buddhism, today alternative medicine and theories of mind are in vogue.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that fundamental aspects of quantum physics are still not fully understood, and it has genuinely profound philosophical implications. Many of these aspects were evident to the early pioneers of the field – indeed, in the transformation of scientific thought that . . .

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