Subjects

Barbara J. King on the legal status of animals

June 16, 2017
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Barbara J. King on the legal status of animals

From an interview with Barbara J. King at Nonhuman Rights Blog: So far in our litigation, no court has challenged the idea that chimpanzees are self-aware, autonomous beings; a New York appellate court judge even called the NhRP’s affidavits from scientists “very impressive.” And yet, all the same, our chimpanzee clients remain legal “things” with no rights even though science and law suggest they should be recognized as legal “persons” with fundamental rights. How might you account for this gap between the science of animal cognition and emotion and animals’ legal status? Why do you think the law is still lagging behind the science as far as animals are concerned? The idea of animals as property or as things is so deeply entrenched in Western systems of law;  it’s hard to shake that loose from what years of animal-behavior, anthropology, and psychology studies tell us about chimpanzees as able to reason, remember, plan, suffer, and take into account factors that affect their own well-being. In thinking about the “why,” I remember Steve talking so movingly about this: we know about the not-so-distant past in which human beings other than white men were considered as property or less-than-human in our legal systems. As . . .

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Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

June 14, 2017
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Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

Elle Hunt at the Guardian takes on Evelleen Richards’s expansive account of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, perhaps the biologist’s most misunderstood and least explored supposition: Richards argues that, more than natural selection, Darwin’s theory of sexual selection was uniquely his own and, perhaps as a result, often misunderstood. His theorizing drew upon a wide range of influences, many of them deeply personal, including his grandfather Erasmus’s radical writings on evolution and his own relationship with his wife. In, On Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection, published last month by the University of Chicago Press, Richards explores this confluence of connections Darwin had to make and, just as crucially, the challenges he had to overcome in order to reach his conclusion. Given the conventional understandings of beauty, gender and sexuality of the Victorian era, it is difficult to overstate how radical Darwin’s theory was at the time. It was the culmination of a lifetime of intellectual legwork – and yet he was constantly called upon to validate it until his death in April 1882. “The accepted point of view was that all the beauty that we experience on Earth was created by God for his own and human delight,” says Richards. . . .

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Thoreau: A Life

June 12, 2017
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Thoreau: A Life

Coming this July. (A teaser, from Publishers Weekly: “The wonder is that, given her book’s richness, Walls still leaves the reader eager to read Thoreau. Her scholarly blockbuster is an awesome achievement, a merger of comprehensiveness in content with pleasure in reading.”) . . .

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How to Tame (Really Tame) a Fox

June 9, 2017
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How to Tame (Really Tame) a Fox

Below follows an excerpt from Lee Dugatkin’s piece on tameness at the Washington Post, which draws from his singular work of biology, How to Tame a Fox (And Build a Dog), a Cold War-driven suspense tale of scientific experimentation, Siberian winters, and one unconventional Space Race-era goal: recreating the domestication of dogs from wolves in real time, using the silver fox. *** He and Lyudmila began to test this idea in 1959. Every year they assessed hundreds of foxes and selected only those with the most “prosocial” interactions with humans — the ones that licked people’s hands, wagged their tails and whined sadly when interactions with humans were over.  These were the foxes chosen to parent the next generation. They would then assess whether subsequent generations became tamer over time, and equally important, whether traits associated with the domestication syndrome began popping up. They did, and quickly — remarkably quickly, given the thousands of years it took for our ancestors to domesticate dogs, cows and other creatures. Within the first decade of the fox domestication experiment, the animals were not only markedly tamer, offering up their stomachs for belly rubs, but some of them had curly tails and mottled fur. Lyudmila remembers one fox in particular from this time. . . .

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Amitav Ghosh interview in BOMB

June 7, 2017
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Amitav Ghosh interview in BOMB

Amitav Ghosh, on climate change, Ray Bradbury, and “serious fiction,” in conversation with Curt Stager, at BOMB (excerpt after the jump). *** Curt Stager: You are primarily known as a novelist. What led you to write this nonfiction book? Amitav Ghosh: Climate change became a matter of personal urgency for me while I was writing my 2005 novel The Hungry Tide. The novel is set in the Sundarbans, the great mangrove forest of the Bengal Delta. While working on the book I realized that this region was already being impacted by rising sea levels and a retreating coastline. In the years after that, even though I was occupied with a project of a different kind (the Ibis trilogy), I found myself becoming more and more preoccupied with climate change—no doubt because the impact was increasingly obvious. After I finished the trilogy, I felt a great need to put down my thoughts on environmental change and its bearing on my practice as a writer. I might add here, that the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is itself beginning to look increasingly strained in this era of anthropogenic climate change. CS: What, exactly, do you mean by The Great Derangement? Is it related to . . .

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Jed Purdy on Henry David Thoreau (and our new bio!)

June 5, 2017
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Jed Purdy on Henry David Thoreau (and our new bio!)

Laura Dassow Walls’s Henry David Thoreau: A Life (forthcoming this July) is set to be one of 2017’s blockbuster literary events: years in the making (the first Thoreau bio in a decade+) and hitting the printer at just over 600 pages, the book has already garnered pre-publication superlatives, piped up by every outlet who could get their hands on a galley, from Publishers Weekly to the Chronicles of Higher Education. And now, even the think-piece heavies are starting to weigh in—here’s an excerpt after the jump from one of our favorites, Jedediah Purdy, in his long-form piece on appreciating Thoreau, fresh off his read of Walls’s powerhouse biography, at the Nation. *** I would bet that fewer Americans have read Walden than have heard that Thoreau’s mother did his laundry. Yet Thoreau persists. Laura Dassow Walls, who teaches English at Notre Dame, has written an engaging, sympathetic, and subtly learned biography that makes a strong case for Thoreau’s importance; she also seems a little baffled that anyone could fail to admire him. Her Thoreau was an abolitionist who brought Frederick Douglass to speak at the Concord Lyceum—a kind of community university—and participated in the Underground Railroad, to the point of risking charges of treason by helping enslaved people flee . . .

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Derek Hyra on gentrification and neighborhood perception in DC

May 30, 2017
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Derek Hyra on gentrification and neighborhood perception in DC

From a recent interview with Derek Hyra at CityLab—based on his latest book Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City—on the diminishing returns of gentrification in DC’s Shaw/U Street neighborhood. *** In the book, you talk about how the black history of the neighborhood is being leveraged to advertise it to young urbanites. Could you talk about that? In the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, if a neighborhood was branded black, it usually led to economic decline and white flight. And in the ‘90s and 2000s, you see low-income African-American neighborhoods being branded black and yet attracting whites. That is the unique dynamic of the Shaw-U Street area. Many of the developers are branding the buildings after iconic African Americans. There’s the Langston Lofts, there’s the Ellington Apartments. There’s Marvin’s, which is a restaurant that’s named after Marvin Gaye, who grew up in Washington, D.C. There’s Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal’s restaurant, named after Langston Hughes, which is very well-known in the D.C. area and also around the country. There’s also a historic walking trail, and you can see where Alain Locke, who wrote The New Negro—the philosophy of the Harlem Renaissance—lived. There’s historic preservation related to this community’s . . .

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The Case for Contentious Curricula

May 24, 2017
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The Case for Contentious Curricula

Here’s a brief chunk adopted from The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools, as featured in the Atlantic. *** Laws, school officials, and community opinion have all conspired to prevent or discourage American teachers from discussing controversial issues in their classrooms. This is not to say teachers have always avoided such issues: In 1953, at the height of the Cold War, a survey of social-studies teachers in Ohio revealed they were leading classroom discussions about whether President Harry Truman should have seized steel mills, whether Truman should have fired General Douglas MacArthur, and whether—as MacArthur wished—the United States should have used an atomic bomb in the Korean War. That same year, in another survey, New York City teachers reported holding debates on whether “Red” China should have a seat in the United Nations, whether Communists should be allowed to teach in public schools, whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg should have received the death penalty for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, and whether Senator Joseph McCarthy was “a menace to or savior of American democracy.” After several teachers were dismissed for their own Communist affiliations, some admitted they were afraid to discuss anything controversial in their classes. But the . . .

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Tough Enough?

May 22, 2017
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Tough Enough?

From a recent profile of Deborah Nelson’s latest book Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil, at WBUR: In the book’s introduction, Nelson, a professor of English at the University of Chicago, acknowledges that these women initially “do not constitute a recognizable group.” In fact, each was quite determinedly not part of any organized faction. However, by book’s end Nelson has shown that, for all their differences, their work shares an essential bond: unsentimentality. Or, in Nelson’s expanded phrase: an “aesthetic, political, and moral obligation to face painful reality unsentimentally.” This artistic backbone would be useful in any era, but it was especially so in post-WWII America when the scale of suffering from the war, the Holocaust, the atom bomb, was practically impossible to comprehend. These horrors were followed by the Vietnam War, assassinations and the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. Nelson posits that there were two primal, contradictory responses to the events: empathy, “that required the public sharing of feelings,” or irony and coolness. The former could devolve into wallowing and the latter could disintegrate into disregard. Neither one a good jumpstart for external action or internal growth. In their work, the women of “Tough Enough” each . . .

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Supersizing Urban America

May 19, 2017
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Supersizing Urban America

Here’s a clip from a recent Huffington Post interview with Chin Jou, author of Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food with Government Help, after the jump. *** Your book begins with an excerpt from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation discussing the role the SBA has played in the fast-food industry’s expansion. Why did this capture your curiosity? Why did you feel this was a story worth telling? I reread the Fast Food Nation excerpt in 2010. At the time, I was studying the history of obesity as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, so obesity was on my mind a lot. The Fast Food Nation excerpt, which was about the federal government’s loan guarantees to fast-food franchises, struck me because it occurred to me that such policies may have inadvertently and indirectly contributed to the obesity epidemic ― an epidemic that the government was in the process of trying to reduce with initiatives like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move.” The notion that the government may have indirectly contributed to the obesity epidemic was not a new idea ― Michael Pollan is perhaps most famously associated with promulgating the idea that agricultural subsidies for crops like corn and soy contribute to the relatively low . . .

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