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Machiavelli offers a good way to see out August

August 30, 2017
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This weekend brings the end of summer, that season which, at its opening, always seems to offer such promise. Just think of all the books we’ll read in our sunny back yards! Then Labor Day arrives and the stack of unread books remains higher than we would like, our efforts stymied by life’s many agents of distraction. It can be a time of frustration, of disappointment; it’s all too easy to enter autumn in a mood less autumnal than wintry. So today, we offer a passage from Machiavelli that we have always found comforting, even inspiring. It comes from a letter–collected in our volume of Machiavelli’s letters–that he sent to his benefactor, Francesco Vettori, on December 10, 1513: On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day’s clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which is only mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the . . .

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Passchendaele, a century on

August 2, 2017
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Passchendaele, a century on

“Why should I not write it?” That’s Edmund Blunden, opening his now-classic memoir of World War I, Undertones of War, in 1928. Blunden, a poet, joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1915, and he served in a number of major battles of the war, including Passchendaele, which began July 31, 1917 and would continue–at a cost of nearly 600,000 dead–until November 10. Blunden’s book was one of a number published a decade or so after the war that both marked and brought about a change in English opinion about the war and its legacy. William Manchester, in The Last Lion, wrote, The most extraordinary thing about England’s disenchantment with the war is that it didn’t surface for over ten years. The reading public had been fed the self-serving memoirs of those responsible for the disaster and the thin fictional gruel of Bulldog Drummond and Richard Hannay. Those who had remained home were simply incapable of absorbing the truth. Aging Tommies told them that sixty thousand young Englishmen had fallen on the first day of the battle of the Somme without gaining a single yard. Sixty thousand! It couldn’t be true. Those who said so must be shell-shocked. But by 1929, after the publication of Undertones, Siegfried . . .

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Happy 200th Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

July 12, 2017
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Happy 200th Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

                  Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817. Laura Dassow Walls explains the trajectory of his life, which shaped his thinking about the world in every way: He was born on a colonial-era farm into a subsistence economy based on agriculture, on land that had sustained a stable Anglo-American community for two centuries and, before that, Native American communities for eleven thousand years. People had been shaping Thoreau’s landscape since the melting of the glaciers. By the time he died, in 1862, the Industrial Revolution had reshaped his world: the railroad transformed Concord from a local economy of small farms and artisanal industries to a suburban node on a global network of industrial farms and factories. His beloved woods had been cleared away, and the rural rivers he sailed in his youth powered cotton mills. In 1843, the railroad cut right across a corner of Walden Pond, but in 1845 Thoreau built his house there anyway, to confront the railroad as part of his reality. By the time he left Walden, at least twenty passenger and freight trains screeched past his house daily. His response was to call on his . . .

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Our free e-book for June: The Political Origins of Inequality

June 1, 2017
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Our free e-book for June: The Political Origins of Inequality

Our free e-book for June is Simon Reid-Henry’s The Political Origins of Inequality: Why a More Equal World Is Better for All of Us. Download your copy here. *** Inequality is the defining issue of our time. But it is not just a problem for the rich world. It is the global 1% that now owns fully half the world’s wealth—the true measure of our age of inequality. In this historical tour de force, Simon Reid-Henry rewrites the usual story of globalization and development as a story of the management of inequality. Reaching back to the eighteenth century and around the globe, The Political Origins of Inequality foregrounds the political turning points and decisions behind the making of today’s uneven societies. As it weaves together insights from the Victorian city to the Cold War, from US economic policy to Europe’s present migration crisis, a true picture emerges of the structure of inequality itself. The problem of inequality, Reid-Henry argues, is a problem that manifests between places as well as over time. This is one reason why it cannot be resolved by the usual arguments of left versus right, bound as they are to the national scale alone. Most of all, . . .

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#ReadUPScience: Green thinking in the era of Trump

March 17, 2017
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#ReadUPScience: Green thinking in the era of Trump

In a recent double review for the New Scientist, “Green thinking in the era of Trump,” Fred Pearce took on two of our recent books in environmental studies—Eric T. Freyfogle’s A Good that Transcends: How US Culture Undermines Environmental Reform and  Nathan F. Sayre’s The Politics of Scale: A History of Rangeland Science. Read clips from Pearce’s commentary on each, after the jump. *** “What’s going on? In his book A Good That Transcends, lawyer Eric Freyfogle doesn’t mention Trump. But he is clear that what lies behind long-standing and growing ‘popular resistance’ to green thinking is a devotion to the primacy of the individual and private property at the expense of any ideas that require collective endeavor, such as environmental management of the great spaces and wildernesses where bison once roamed. . . . If not controlled by strong environmental law, private property destroys natural assets by converting them into cash. Look at how fences and ploughs have wrecked the ecosystems of the US Midwest. Privatization didn’t prevent the dust bowl of the 1930s. Even access to rainfall—a quintessentially collective asset—is handed out as a private right that goes with land. Result: California is parched as farmers defend to the death their legal . . .

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Forrest Stuart: Down, Out, and Under Arrest on Skid Row

September 2, 2016
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Forrest Stuart: Down, Out, and Under Arrest on Skid Row

Forrest Stuart’s Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row puts to use the author’s five years of ethnographic research on LA’s Skid Row, home to one of the most stable (and sizable) homeless populations in the nation, and demonstrates what it looks like to police poverty in the US today. (Hint: Stuart was stopped by police 14 times during his first year working in the neighborhood.) From an interview with Stuart at Mother Jones:   Mother Jones: What struck you during your time on the streets that might be useful to policymakers? Forrest Stuart: Right away I started seeing how the police, in part just because of their numbers in Skid Row, were creating a situation I’d never seen before. Just as a guy was starting to get on his feet—for example, he had finally secured a bed at a shelter—some small infraction would cut him back. “The places that people need most—like a soup kitchen or homeless shelter—become really risky, because that’s where the police are.” It could be as little as getting a single ticket for loitering. For people living on dollars at day, to suddenly have to pay $150 for a sidewalk ticket is huge! . . .

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August excerpt: Science, Conservation, and National Parks

August 24, 2016
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August excerpt: Science, Conservation, and National Parks

“Parks, Biodiversity, and Education” by Edward O. Wilson* This is a very important meeting and book, and I’m grateful to be part of it. First, I’ll summarize what scientists have learned about biodiversity and extinction, especially during the past 20 years. Then I’ll suggest what I believe is the only viable solution to stanch the continuing high and growing rate of species extinction. Then, finally, I’ll make the point already obvious to many of you, that our national parks are logical centers for both scientific research and education for many domains of science, but especially and critically biodiversity and conservation of the living part of the environment. The world is turning green, albeit pastel green, but humanity’s focus remains on the physical environment—on pollution, the shortage of fresh water, the shrinkage of arable land, and on that great, wrathful demon, climate change. In contrast, Earth’s biodiversity, and the wildlands on which biodiversity is concentrated, have continued to receive relatively little attention. This is a huge strategic mistake. Consider the following rule of our environmental responsibility: If we save the living environment of Earth, we will also save the physical nonliving environment, because each depends intimately on the other. But if . . .

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August 7, 2016
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In Memoriam: Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016)

July 5, 2016
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In Memoriam: Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016)

French poet, translator, and critic Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016) died on July 1, 2016. Professor emeritus and former chair of the comparative study of poetry (following the death of Roland Barthes) at the Collège de France, Bonnefoy was regarded by many, including the French president François Hollande and the Encyclopedia Britannica, as one of the most important poets of the second half of the twentieth century. Frequently speculated to be a candidate for the Nobel Prize, Bonnefoy was the recipient of many prizes in his lifetime, including the Prix Goncourt and the Griffin Lifetime Recognition Award. Bonnefoy was the author of more than 100 books, among them original collections of poetry, art and literary criticism, compilations on mythology, and works in translation (those of Shakespeare and Yeats, most prominently). The University of Chicago Press published four of those books—The Act and the Place of Poetry: Selected Essays (1989), In the Shadow’s Light (1991), New and Selected Poems (1995), Shakespeare and the French Poet (2004)—along with several volumes in his Mythologies series. In recent years, Seagull Books has published several additional works, including The Arrière-Pays (2012), The Present Hour (2013), Rue Traversière (1972; 2015), The Digamma (2014), The Anchor’s Long Chain (2015), and Ursa Major (forthcoming 2016). From the BBC: In his writing, he said he tried to capture some of primal emotions . . .

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Hélio Oiticica: Folding the Frame launch at e-flux

June 27, 2016
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Hélio Oiticica: Folding the Frame launch at e-flux

Irene V. Small recently launched her much-anticipated book Hélio Oiticica: Folding the Frame—a critical examination of the Brazilian conceptualist’s works, set against a backdrop of the nation’s dramatic postwar push for modernization—via a conversation with Sofia Hernández Chong Cuy at New York’s e-flux in late May. We’re late to the party with the photos, but not the swagger: To read more about Hélio Oiticica, click here.   . . .

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