Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Calling All Bostonians!

September 12, 2019
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This October, we are incredibly excited to be publishing the landmark volume, The Atlas of Boston History. Get a sneak peak at some of the fascinating maps and part of the preface, including detailed info on the book's content. . . .

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6 Questions with Mark Hineline, author of “Ground Truth: A Guide to Tracking Climate Change at Home”

September 9, 2019
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We know that the Earth’s climate is changing and that the magnitude of this change is colossal. At the same time, the world outside is still a natural world and one we can experience on a granular level every day. Ground Truth is a practical guide to living in this condition of changing nature, to paying attention instead of turning away. Ground Truth features detailed guidance for keeping records of the plants, animals, and seasonal changes that occur in our neighborhood. This practice is known as phenology—the study and timing of natural events—and these records can be put to practical use by scientists. We talked with author Mark L. Hineline about how he came to practice phenology, and why it’s more important now than ever. The media and scientists highlight increasing temperature when they talk about climate change, but you discount temperature and instead highlight phenology. What is phenology, and why do you think it is more important than temperature? Temperature, global temperature, is very important. But as people going about our daily business, we’re not equipped to make distinctions at the scale of a degree or two, or even five degrees. Humidity makes a difference in how we experience . . .

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Fall #ReadUCP Book Club: Read an Excerpt from the novel “Papi”

September 5, 2019
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Fellow readers, we are excited to share that our Fall #ReadUCP Twitter Book Club pick is Papi, a novel by Rita Indiana and translated by Achy Obejas. Drawing on her memories of a childhood split between Santo Domingo and visits with her father amid the luxuries of the United States, Indiana mixes satire with a child’s imagination, horror with science fiction, in a swirling tale of a daughter’s love, the lure of crime and machismo, and the violence of the adult world. Expertly translated into English for the first time, Papi is furious, musical, and full of wit—a passionate, overwhelming, and very human explosion of artistic virtuosity. Chapter One Papi is like Jason, the guy from Friday the 13th. Or like Freddy Krueger. But more like Jason than Freddy Krueger. He shows up when you least expect him. Sometimes when I hear that scary music, I get really happy cuz I know he might be coming this way. That scary music is sometimes just Mami telling me Papi called and said he’s picking me up to take me to the beach or shopping. I pretend I don’t care, like I’m sure he’s not coming cuz you don’t get told ahead of . . .

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Why the Sixties Won’t Go Away: Read an Excerpt from “The Art of the Return” by James Meyer

September 4, 2019
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More than any other decade, the sixties capture our collective cultural imagination, and in his new book, The Art of Return: The Sixties and Contemporary Culture, James Meyer turns to art criticism, theory, memoir, and fiction to examine the fascination with the long sixties and contemporary expressions of these cultural memories across the globe. In this excerpt, he offers a look at our continual fascination with the decade. Summer 1969. The summer to end all summers. On a steamy night in June the furious patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back during an abusive police raid, igniting the GLTBQ movement. That July Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin gathered lunar rocks as the world watched. August witnessed the Manson murders of Sharon Tate and four houseguests, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered on a farm in upstate New York for the greatest rock concert of the age; Jimi Hendrix concluded Woodstock’s “Three Days of Music and Peace” with a heavy metal rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” a searing prosecution of the Vietnam War. By the end of the year, 48,736 US troops had given their lives in the Indochina theater. All this happened a . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “The Importance of Being Urban” by David A. Gamson

August 19, 2019
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Read an Excerpt from “The Importance of Being Urban” by David A. Gamson

Summer days are slipping away and back-to-school season is upon us. With that in mind, we’ve put together this short excerpt from David A. Gamson’s The Importance of Being Urban: Designing the Progressive School District, 1890-1940. The book focuses on four western school systems—in Denver, Oakland, Portland, and Seattle—and their efforts to reconfigure public education. In an era of accelerated immigration, shifting economic foundations, and widespread municipal shake-ups, reformers argued that the urban school district could provide the broad blend of social, cultural, and educational services needed to prepare students for twentieth-century life. These school districts were a crucial force not only in orchestrating educational change but in delivering on the promise of democracy. The anomalous expansion of cities, no matter how celebrated by urban boosters, nevertheless troubled educators who worried about the unique hazards that the urban environment posed to growing children. The agrarian traditions that had once anchored country life had already begun to slip away, sparking anxiety among many late nineteenth-century educators, who feared the negative consequences that might befall pupils who were reared away from the natural world. For their part, university-based researchers called for investigations into the impact that urban influences had on the mental . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion”

August 13, 2019
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Although Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) was one of the most famous scientists in the world at the time of his death at the age of ninety, today he is known to many as a kind of “almost-Darwin,” a secondary figure relegated to the footnotes of Darwin’s prodigious insights. But this diminution could hardly be less justified. Research into the life of this brilliant naturalist and social critic continues to produce new insights into his significance to history and his role in helping to shape modern thought. Wallace declared his eight years of exploration in Southeast Asia to be “the central and controlling incident” of his life. As 2019 marks one hundred and fifty years since the publication of The Malay Archipelago, Wallace’s canonical work chronicling his epic voyage, read on for an excerpt from the editors’ introduction to An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion—a collaborative, interdisciplinary new book that celebrates Wallace’s remarkable life and diverse scholarly accomplishments. Although Wallace’s four years in the Amazon Valley had convinced him he was on the right track as regards a causal relationship between geography and evolution, his thoughts on the mechanism of transmutation had actually not advanced much, nor did he now have collections . . .

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5 Questions with Colin Koopman, Author of “How We Became Our Data”

July 29, 2019
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From banking to social media, our lives are becoming ever-more entwined with our data, and questions about the truthfulness and privacy of our records feel increasingly pressing. In his new book, How We Became Our Data, Colin Koopman takes us back to where this explosion of record-keeping all started. To understand more about our data and why it’s so important, we asked Colin a few questions. He shows us how central data is to so much of our lives and what it has to do with cultural phenomena from redlining to The Great Gatsby and Buzzfeed quizzes. First, can you give us a quick introduction to the “informational person” —who does this term describe? Informational persons live through, are recognized by, and reflect on themselves in terms of their data. How We Became Our Data describes how, in a period of a few quick decades in the early twentieth century, it became obligatory for us to live as informational persons. Why does this matter for us now? In short, because we are poignantly aware of how much of our lives are today transacted in terms of data. Consider social media selfhood and mass surveillance dossiers as two convenient exemplars. The . . .

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What Atari and the “Worst Video Game of all Time” Can Teach Us About the Crisis in American Public Service

July 24, 2019
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What does American public service have in common with a hastily produced video game adaptation of Spielberg’s E.T.? If you’ve endured the DMV—or, really, any overworked government office—you might find it difficult to identify which was described as “a confusing mess that left frustrated and disoriented.” No, this isn’t a Yelp review of the USPS; it’s NPR’s take on the 1982 video game, published on the film’s thirty-fifth anniversary. Like the American government, Atari had to defend against a serious reputation crisis. E.T. would change how people saw Atari, and the company found it difficult to correct that perception despite the later success of Q*bert and Ms. Pac-Man. Today, the government faces the similar challenge of changing people’s minds about the quality of public services with serious consequences in some cases for its continued ability to provide them, including to those without access to private-sector alternatives. The following is an excerpt from Good Enough for Government Work: The Public Reputation Crisis in America (And What We Can Do to Fix It) by Amy E. Lerman, where she describes what happened at Atari and what the “worst video game of all time” can teach us about American public service today. . . .

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Summer Book Club Feature: Five Questions with Jennifer Jordan, Author of “Edible Memory”

July 16, 2019
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Now that the dog days of summer are truly upon us, we hope you’re staying cool lakeside or under a shady umbrella with our summer #ReadUCP Twitter book club pick, Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods by Jennifer Jordan. And if you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s not too late! We’re reading throughout July and August, so there’s plenty of time for reading in-between watering your tomato and pepper plants or checking out the latest at the farmers’ market. (And there’s a handy discount code below.) Though we’ll soon be announcing dates for our Twitter chats with Jennifer, we decided to get things started with a few questions about what inspired her interest in heirloom foods and what’s next on her plate. Where did your interest in heirloom fruits and vegetables come from? I’d say it came from two sources, one personal, one sociological. I’ll submit this photo as evidence of the personal part. I grew up in California in the 70s, and my parents (both teachers) had a cooperative garden when I was tiny. Amazingly, one of the babies I grew up with ALSO became a sociology professor! So my childhood was surrounded . . .

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It’s Independence Day! Read an Excerpt from “Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose”

July 4, 2019
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In the years after the Revolutionary War, the fledgling republic of America was viewed by many Europeans as a degenerate backwater, populated by subspecies weak and feeble. Chief among these naysayers was the French Count and world-renowned naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, who wrote that the flora and fauna of America (humans included) were inferior to European specimens. Thomas Jefferson spent years countering the French conception of American degeneracy. 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 deserved prestige. In Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose, first published in 2009 and reissued in paperback this year, Lee Alan Dugatkin vividly recreates the origin and evolution of the debates about natural history in America and, in so doing, returns the prize moose to its rightful place in . . .

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