Books for the News

The Fox in the Big House

May 3, 2017
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The Fox in the Big House

Smarty Pants—a new podcast from the folks at the American Scholar—debuted “The Fox in the Big House,” a brand new episode featuring Lee Dugatkin, who talks up his latest book How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) by recounting the historical particularities behind a Cold War-era Soviet experiment that started with few dozen silver foxes from Siberian farms and then attempted to recreate the evolution of wolves into dogs in real time. Intrigue! Listen in here. To read more about How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog), click here. . . .

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Microbes from Hell!

May 1, 2017
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Microbes from Hell!

From “Fungi to be with,” a recent joint review of Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes  and Patrick Forterre’s Microbes from Hell in the TLS: Yong takes his readers to the forefront of microbial science by interviewing the relevant researchers, one of whom could have been Patrick Forterrre of the Institut Pasteur. The fact that Yong didn’t make it to Paris makes Forterre’s memoir, Microbes from Hell, read as a clean take on some of the same material, in particular the micro-organisms that have adapted to live in extreme environments. These “extremophiles” can cope with the high temperatures of hot springs and deep sea thermal vents, which are often also highly acidic or abound with sulphur. Others thrive in intensely salty places, or with amounts of radiation that were long thought to be inimical to life. Their adaptations and coexistence with their own viruses have much to tell us about life on earth and its history. To read more about Microbes from Hell, click here. . . .

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Sara Goldrick-Rab: SXSWedu Keynote Address

April 28, 2017
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Sara Goldrick-Rab, whose Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, made waves in almost every major venue dedicated to the high-stakes consequences of American higher education—from Inside Higher Ed to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah—recently delivered #PricedOut, her keynote address at the 2017 SXSWedu conference. Here’s the official description: One of the most sustained and vigorous public debates today is about the value and crucially, the price of college. But an unspoken, outdated assumption underlies all side of this debate: If a young person works hard enough, they’ll be able to get a college degree and be on the path to a good life. That’s simply not true says sociologist Goldrick-Rab, one of the leading voices on issues of higher education today. In her book and research, she shows why in damning detail. *** You can watch Goldrick-Rab’s talk in full above, or in the meantime, read more about Paying the Price, here. . . .

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Crime Scenes: Donald Westlake on Screen

April 26, 2017
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Crime Scenes: Donald Westlake on Screen

Great news for fans of Donald E. Westlake—aka Richard Stark; aka Alan Marshall; aka, all the other pseudonyms—this May 12–14, the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY, is playing host to Crime Scenes, a 7-film series of the author’s screen adaptations, co-curated by Eric Hynes, David Schwartz, and our own Levi Stahl. Among the highlights are the O.G. Point Blank  (May 12, accompanied by a conversation with Abby Westlake, Donald Westlake’s wife, and historian Luc Sante, moderated by LTS), Godard’s Made in the U.S.A. (May 14), and Anjelica Huston’s star turn in The Grifters (May 13). Here’s a more expansive description from MoMI (visit their site to view the complete schedule, here): Donald E. Westlake (1933–2008) was born in Brooklyn and grew up mostly in Albany. He claimed that the first word he learned to read was “police.” “Sometimes,” he wrote, “life really is banal.” As a young man, he moved to New York and learned how to write in large part by seeing how not to do it, assessing submissions at a literary agency that also encouraged amateurs to send in work to be critiqued for a fee. That led to him writing a few stories to spec for low-end magazines, then a stint churning . . .

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Our Fall 2017 seasonal catalog is here!

April 24, 2017
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Our Fall 2017 seasonal catalog is here!

Our Fall 2017 seasonal catalog has arrived—all 401 pages of it! Peruse at your leisure, here. . . .

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks/Life on Ice

April 21, 2017
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks/Life on Ice

This weekend, The Immortal Life on Henrietta Lacks premieres on HBO, adapted from Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed book, and starring none other than Oprah Winfrey. The story that book tells—how one woman’s cancerous cells, obtained without permission during a 1951 biopsy, went on to become the HeLa cell line, which introduced the idea of the “immortalized” cell (cells that, if properly maintained, can and will reproduce themselves indefinitely—even outside of the human body), and changed biomedical research forever. Lacks’s story is only part of a larger narrative about the history of biobanking—when, under pressure from Cold War-era atomic survivalism, scientists began stockpiling and freezing blood samples from global indigenous communities—samples believed to hold crucial keys about everything from microbes to genetic evolution—all the while facilitating the birth of the genomic age.  Joanna Radin’s Life on Ice: A History of New Uses for Cold Blood unpacks that complex history, reframing the biobank experiments as building blocks for today’s biomedicine, and locating them in their unique technical and social milieu, while offering up an endlessly fascinating digestion of a biological timeline set toward immortality. From a review of the book in Nature: sharply original history focuses on serum collected from indigenous communities and frozen during the cold war. Some samples have . . .

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Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

April 19, 2017
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Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

Below follows an excerpt from David Velasco’s review of Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures at Artforum. What makes Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures so remarkable is not just its subject—the art historian and AIDS activist’s early years leading up to the epoch-defining 1977 exhibition at Artists Space and the pair of titular essays that were so critical to its historicization. It’s not just the casual meet-cutes at John Ashbery parties and the formative encounters with Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly and Charles James and Daniel Buren; the early, incisive formalist writings whose frissons eventually inspired one of the great innovations in late-twentieth-century criticism: the recognition of a breach, which Crimp labels postmodernism, in modernist parables of art and theatricality. It’s how the story is told. Before Pictures is a strange and shimmering chimera: Part memoir, part theory, it swerves and circles, often paragraph to paragraph, from anecdote to argument and back again, a graceful, unfussy waltz that sometimes seduces you into thinking that it’s “simply” autobiography. But the writing is also a performance of the necessary entanglement between serious thought and its “decor”—an entanglement that fascinates Crimp, and that makes him such an exceptional protagonist. The animating juxtaposition is announced early on, in the . . .

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Cognitive Fireworks: Synthetic in Science

April 17, 2017
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Cognitive Fireworks: Synthetic in Science

Don’t miss this clip from a glowing review in the latest Science for Sophia Roosth’s Synthetic: How Life Got Made. *** It is at times hard to distill that which unites the people and projects that travel under the name ‘synthetic biology,’” Sophia Roosth notes in this new ethnography, but that doesn’t stop her from following the field in flux, tracking “brave new organisms” (and those who make them) through classrooms and industrial laboratories from Boston to the Bay Area and from neighborhood bars to far-flung conferences. A chimera of anthropology bred with a dash of history, Synthetic reads synthetic biology’s constructs both as “materialized theories” and as “postcards from a particular cultural moment.” Navigating the shimmering categories of the natural, unnatural, supernatural, and postnatural, Roosth plays with traditional ethnographic conventions of the anthropologists’ toolkit—religion, kinship, economy and property, labor, household, and origin tales—to show how “the form and function of life-forms have … oftentimes paralleled social, historical, and political forms of life.” . . . “There is no there there,” Roosth ultimately concludes, channeling Gertrude Stein’s method of wreaking worlds with words. “What counts as ‘real’ or ‘original’ no longer makes any genetic, genealogical, ontological, or historical sense.” But at this point . . .

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Paying the Price: The Student Debt Crisis and Its Deniers

April 14, 2017
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Paying the Price: The Student Debt Crisis and Its Deniers

Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying the Price is the hammer that hits the point home in Elizabeth Tandy Shermer’s “The Student Debt Crisis and Its Deniers,” over at Public Books. More after the jump. *** Sara Goldrick-Rab doesn’t think a disaster is coming; instead, she believes it is already here. The few years of data that Baum, Akers, and Chingos parsed may have indicated that the status quo is fine, but the emergence of a new higher education economy is painfully clear from Goldrick-Rab’s parsing three decades of both policy changes and economic trends. The financial assistance underpinning the entire higher education system doesn’t lessen inequality—but actually exacerbates it. Tuition costs, as Goldrick-Rab points out, were once low enough that students could easily choose to either borrow or work their way through school. Her book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, documents that fees and expenses now force most students to do both, even those from low-income families who qualify for federal grants and work-study opportunities on campus. Of course, offsite part-time jobs are more readily available, but rarely pay enough or have schedules suitable for students studying full time (a prerequisite for maximum state, federal, and . . .

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Excerpt: The Personalities on the Plate

April 12, 2017
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Excerpt: The Personalities on the Plate

Frequent NPR contributor, animal intelligence expert, and anthropologist Barbara J. King steals the show—and the front page—at NPR, with the below excerpts from her latest book, Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat. *** Chickens may be resplendently different one from the other, as was immediately apparent when I made six hen acquaintances at Wilder Ranch State Park near Santa Cruz, Calif., in the summer of 2015. These beautiful birds, with names like Goosey and Bella, ranging in color from white to gold and yellow, sometimes with patches of a soft iridescent blue, live in an outdoor coop outfitted with a chicken swing for exercise. During my visit they were turned out into a vegetable garden; there among the planted rows, one sunbathed and several foraged. Some invited human interaction, and others did not. I gently picked up Bella — so white, so soft — and held her against my chest in a serene encounter that I enjoyed greatly and that Bella seemed to soak up pleasurably as well. That I held, stroked and talked to a chicken for the first time in my 50s is very much a product of my time and place. In . . .

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