Non-Fiction

What a week I’ve had hosting on Passive Voice.

9 October 2014

Join me for a drink?

From The Week~

Archaeologists Discover 4000 year old wine cellar in Northern Israel:

Archaeologists found clay vessels used to hold wine in a 4,000-year-old cellar at Tel Kabri, a Canaanite palace. The team used a micro-archaeology lab to analyze the wine samples found on ceramic sherds from the cellar. They discovered that the wine cellar had contained “a fine, aromatic vintage,” signaling that the wine had been made with royalty in mind, Haaretz reports.

The Tel Kabri palace dates to the Middle Bronze Age and was inhabited for more than 250 years, from roughly 1850 B.C.E. to the 1600s B.C.E., according to Haaretz. However, its inhabitants didn’t leave written evidence, so the wine cellar is a massive find for researchers who seek information on the palace’s occupants.

When the archaeologists analyzed the wine’s ingredients from the residue on the cellar’s jars, they found tantaric and syringic acid, which are components of wine, on roughly 40 jars. They also found evidence of cinnamic acid, which would have been used to make storax, a preservative to keep the wine from spoiling.

Sounds yummy! Read the rest here.

Julia

A Memoir or a New Feminist Manifesto?

8 October 2014

A review by Heather Wilhelm:

So, did you hear that Lena Dunham wrote a new memoir? The 28-year-old Dunham is, of course, the media-declared “voice of her generation.”  She is a “feminist icon.” She is also the “wunderkind” creator of HBO’s “Girls,” which, in case you’ve missed it, is a mediocre television show featuring confused, naked, largely Caucasian body parts flopping all over Brooklyn for no particular reason.

Over the past few years, Dunham has been vexingly omnipresent:  cheerfully cruising the red carpet for her eight Emmy nominations, clasping Golden Globe awards with a crazed look in her eyes, pocketing a $3.6 million book advance, hosting a particularly sanctimonious episode of “Saturday Night Live,” hijacking the cover of Vogue, and earning approximately 10,365 media stories per day. I don’t want to scare you, but she could be hiding in your closet right now.

Well, blow me down, and, apparently, don’t take my stock market advice. As of Tuesday night, “Not That Kind of Girl”—which, it should be noted, is authored by a young woman who recently got a bowl cut exactly like Jim Carrey’s in “Dumb and Dumber,” on purpose, and then posed naked, towel-wrapped, chewing a birth control pill packet for a Planned Parenthood e-mail enthusiastically comparing voting to doing Ecstasy—hit No. 2 on Amazon. Yes, this is actually happening. Let’s discuss, if only to combat a creeping sense of quiet existential despair.

***

“Wait a minute,” you might be saying, especially if you’re actually serious about women’s empowerment. “A man won’t solve your deep-seated issues. You need to address them yourself!” That is correct. I was reminded of this in high school, in fact, when my mom gave me a copy of “Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives,” written by one crazed genius, Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

Say what you will, but unlike “Not That Kind of Girl,” Dr. Laura’s book is pretty brilliant, centering on a simple thesis: Women, as Dr. Laura so eloquently puts it, should not be just “Wo- Wo- Wo- on a Man.” They should not, in other words, define themselves through their romantic relationships. This will make them crazy, Dr. Laura argues, and unhealthily dependent on men.

Lena Dunham has clearly not read this book, for at the end of “Not that Kind of Girl,” her conclusion centers on a man—her newest boyfriend, a hipster guitarist—who has indeed solved her problems, creating a new and lasting peace. I am not exaggerating. From the ending: “Stuff like this only happens to characters played by Jennifer Garner, right? … He seems to be there without reservation. He pays attention. He listens.” Yes, but how about when existential angst strikes in the middle of the night? “He settles that. … He helps you sleep.”

It’s kind of like the end of “A Tale of Two Cities,” except there’s no self-sacrifice, no introspection, and it doesn’t make any sense. But here’s the good news for the man-dependent Ms. Dunham: The feminist in-crowd won’t be blackballing her anytime soon. She’s got the “woe is me” act down cold.

Read the rest of the review here.

Julia

 

It’s the post-season. Baseball is everything.

7 October 2014

Good for future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter:

Derek Jeter is among the most media-savvy athletes on the planet, but he says it came through trial and error.

“I think you learn through experience,” he told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday, three days after he finished his 20th and final season with the New York Yankees. “I’ve made my fair share of mistakes with the media.”

Jeter is hoping to help other athletes avoid those mistakes — and get out their own “unfiltered” stories — with the launch of The Players Tribune website (www.theplayerstribune.com). His site, which went live Wednesday, promises unique access to top athletes in every sport — from videos to photos to podcasts and more — in their own words.

“You want players to feel like this is a safe place where they can get their message across how they want to portray it,” the former shortstop said.

Thursday morning, the Players Tribune introduced Seatlle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as its new senior editor.

Read the rest here: ESPN

By the way, a most magnificent cover:

Jeter

Julia

“The Guns of August” Is Still WWI’s Peerless Chronicle

29 September 2014

From The Daily Beast:

The historian Fritz Stern memorably called World War I “the first calamity of the twentieth century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang.” No one in late June 1914 anticipated that the assassination by a Serbian nationalist of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, would draw in all five major European powers and their various allies into a cataclysm that would snuff out the lives of 20 million soldiers and civilians, destroy three empires, and lay the groundwork for an even bloodier World War II.

Shock and disillusionment over such vast, seemingly senseless destruction led the writers and artists dubbed a “lost generation” to toss out most of the old assumptions about the meaning and purpose of human experience, and gave birth to what scholars in the humanities generally refer to these days as “modernity.”

Historians have never stopped debating the Great War’s causes and consequences, and they never will. The centenary of the conflict’s outbreak this year has ushered in a torrent of new books about its origins, as well new editions of contemporary memoirs and classic histories.

. . . .

It’s fair to say, though, that the first literary event to mark the centenary of the War happened a bit further back in time, when in 2012 the Library of America published its edition of Barbara W. Tuchman’s classic, The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I.

. . . .

Originally published in 1962, The Guns of August spent more than 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1963. It has never been out of print. Rereading the book for the first time since the early ’70s, it’s not hard to see why it continues to attract a wide readership even to this day.

The Guns of August is a spell-binding exploration of the failure of great-power diplomacy to prevent a war no one wanted, and an elegantly written, lucid military history of the war up to the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914. It was at the Marne that the German drive on Paris was miraculously halted at the very last moment, and the Western front settled down into a seemingly futile, static war of attrition that would not break open for more than three years.

“After the Marne,” Tuchman writes with characteristic sagacity, “the war grew and spread until it drew in the nations of both hemispheres and entangled them in a pattern of world conflict no peace treaty could dissolve. The Battle of the Marne was one of the decisive battles of the world not because it determined that Germany would ultimately lose or the Allies would ultimately win the war but because it determined that the war would go on. There was no looking back …”

And so in a single paragraph she captures brilliantly both the tragedy and the significance of the basic story line of her fine book.

. . . .

Academic historians over the years have generally praised the elegance and incisiveness of Tuchman’s prose, but they have also taken her to task, often with an undeserved measure of condescension, for being too tough on the Germans, as well as for leaving developments on the Serbian-Austrian and Russian-Austrian fronts out of her narrative entirely. She’s also been criticized for abstaining from extended analytical forays into what one might call abstract causes, such as the inadequacy of supranational institutions for crisis resolution, or the absence of transparent decision-making protocols within the key government departments.

Tuchman, of course, never earned a PhD; nor was she ever affiliated with a university history department. She described herself as a writer whose subject was history, not as a historian. She struck back at the “professional” historians more than once over a long and distinguished career. “The academic historian,” she opined, “suffers from having a captive audience, first in the supervisor of his dissertation, then in the lecture hall. Keeping the reader turning the page has not been his primary concern.”

As it happens, The Guns of August is one of the greatest page-turners in the English language. And it has to be said: having been a longtime editor of history books at an Ivy League press myself a few years back, the problem with academic history writing that she alluded to in the ’60s has only gotten considerably worse—a development that deeply troubles many of the best academic historians, as well as the readers of history, wherever and whoever they are.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG will add his recommendation of Ms. Tuchman. He is not certain whether he has read all her books, but he has read a great many and found her to be an immensely-talented writer.

A Useful List of Books About Depression by Someone Being Treated For Chronic Depression

6 September 2014

From BookRiot:

Like just about everyone, I was saddened to hear of Robin Williams’s death.

As someone who has been treated for chronic depression, I wanted to share a quick list of some of the books that have helped me. Reading about, and studying depression has given me solace at times when talking with people about my challenges has been too humiliating or difficult.

There’s been an outpouring on social media of tweets and Facebook posts about the help that is available. I wish it were always that simple. Depression collapses reality, as does most pain. You might tell yourself help is available, and you might believe it, and you might know it’s true, but it might not seem relevant.

Yes, there is help. But if you can’t get out of bed, you can’t get to the doctor. If you can’t reach for your phone, you can’t always make the call.

When you are depressed, the big things become overwhelming, and the small things become big. Everything takes too much effort. The tiniest choices become agonizing and appear to have high stakes.

. . . .

One quick caveat: if you have depression and reading about depression is one of your triggers, please consider carefully before opening these. Just be honest with yourself. They go into great depth and turn over all the proverbial stones. If you’re in a place where you can be helped by a book, these have my highest recommendation. If you fear that an in-depth examination of depression might not be a good thing for you, please trust your intuition.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Feel free to add other book suggestions in the comments. Touched With Fire has been around for a while, but it talks about the connection between manic-depression and creativity.

A service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points

30 August 2014

From Android Police:

Let’s be honest, busy people don’t have time to trudge through long books made of mostly filler. Unfortunately, publishers know they can’t put a high price on a 40-page book. In the end, authors are stuck building a lavish sea of meaningless words around the simple concepts they want to convey. That’s where Blinkist comes in. It’s a service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points. Think of it like Cliffs Notes, but even shorter and not funded entirely by high school students.

. . . .

Blinkist suggests you can fly through Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start in 18 minutes and Phil Rosenzweig’s The Halo Effect in just 13. Each book has a brief description and hints about who might want to read it, and all of the content is laid out in simple sections with just enough text to get the point without a bunch of repetition or unnecessary examples. There are currently over 400 books in the catalog, with about 40 new books added each month.

Link to the rest at Android Police

To answer an obvious question, copyright protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

17 U.S. Code s102 (b) states:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

The distinction between an idea and the expression of an idea may not always be clear but, for example, the idea of a young man going off to a boarding school where magic is taught and magical creatures are kept is not protected by copyright law while Harry, Hermione, Hogwarts and the particular world created by Rowling is protected..

Respected Medical Journal Sold To Scammers Willing To Publish Anything… For A Fee

28 August 2014

From TechDirt:

We’ve talked in the past about the ridiculous nature of the academic publishing world these days, which involve a variety of questionable tactics mostly focused on (1) predatorily preying on those who “need” to be published, (2) enabling researchers (and sometimes large companies) to whitewash shoddy research by “publishing” it for a fee, and (3) making the “publishers” filthy stinking rich despite doing no actual work. The problem is that, while much of this is scammy, the line between fraudulent practices and more “legitimate” practices are pretty damn blurry. After all, when you have “legitimate” names like the American Psychological Association trying to charge $2,500 to “deposit” newly published papers with PubMed (as required to do for NIH funded papers) or publishing giant Elsevier having an entire division devoted to publishing fake journals paid for by giant pharmaceutical companies promoting their drugs, sometimes it’s tough to tell who’s legit and who’s the out and out swindler.

. . . .

The Ottawa Citizen has a story highlighting yet another twist and turn in this ongoing battle of bogosity in academic research, involving sketchy people stepping in to buy a formerly respected journal and turning it into a pure pay-to-play publication willing to publish absolute gibberish (which the Ottawa Citizen tested and easily proved). The Ottawa Citizen was turned onto the story by Jeffrey Beall, author of Scholarly Open Access, a site that chronicles predatory publishing scams, and who was last mentioned on these pages after being threatened with a $1 billion lawsuit and “criminal charges” for outing a predatory publisher based in India.

In this case, the Experimental & Clinical Cardiology journal had been a widely respected publication covering research on (you guessed it) experimental and clinical cardiology. However, last year it got sold to some unknown folks who appear to have turned it into a pure gibberish publishing enterprise — so long as you can pay the $1,200 fee. In other words, the new publishers are trading on the old reputation of the journal, now allowing it to publish junk science or nonsensical rantings.

Link to the rest at TechDirt and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

The Allure of Imagined Meals

28 August 2014

From The New Yorker:

Biologists talk of pre-adapted systems: things used for purposes other than the ones they evolved for. The middle-ear bones in mammals, for example, have their origins in the reptilian jaw. A more obvious example is the mouth. Our tongues and teeth evolved as a way to take foods into the body. At some later point, the existing structure was co-opted for a new task, the expulsion of words out into the world.

The old injunction “Don’t talk with your mouth full” is based on the presumption that, however multifunctional a mouth may be, it should only perform one job at a time. Humans have found a way around this limitation in the form of food writing. When we read one of the twenty-four thousand cookbooks published annually, we are indulging in the exquisite pleasure of combining the two functions: food and language mixed together.

“Why,” asks Sandra Gilbert in “The Culinary Imagination,” a new history of “eating words” in a cultural context, “do we so massively—and often so hungrily—meditate on food, its history, its preparation, its stories, its vices and virtues?” An obvious response is: Why wouldn’t we? Along with sex and death, food is one of the three great universals, and it can be discussed in a far wider range of registers than those other two. When breaking the ice with someone you’ve just met, you might hesitate to bring up sex (creepy!) or death (morbid!). Food, on the other hand, provides an instant topic of conversation that anyone can join, inoffensive without being boring.

. . . .

As Gilbert notes, “it’s virtually impossible for language to describe the ‘physiology of taste’ in the pure moment of biting, chewing and swallowing.” The meal itself cannot be recaptured in words. Restaurant critics all struggle with the difficulty of writing about eating without resorting to the word “delicious” and its synonyms. Or, as Anthony Bourdain—quoted in one of Gilbert’s many epigraphs—puts it: “Writing incessantly about food is like writing porn. How many adjectives can there be before you repeat yourself?”

. . . .

This is not such a paradox, however, if we see that imaginary food—whether onscreen or on the page—is feeding separate hungers. Growing up in Soviet Russia, Anya von Bremzen, the author of “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking,” found that “dreaming about food … was just as rewarding as eating.’ ” Gilbert quotes the well-worn line from “The Song of Songs”: “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” Gilbert notes that “it isn’t just flagons and apples that stay and comfort us; it’s the knowledge that there are flagons and apples.” Unlike an apple, which, however satisfying, is gone in minutes, the knowledge that there are apples is something you can return to any number of times, whether in moments of hunger, sadness, or when you are eating potato chips. Maybe people want to watch chefs on TV while eating microwave chow in order to remind themselves that there are still cooks in this godforsaken world.

Recipes, according to Gilbert, are always, in some sense, instructions for “recuperation, transformation, preservation.” All food writing is a way to pin down “a few of the fleeting things of this world.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Going to the Beach with a Public Intellectual

26 August 2014

From The Scholarly Kitchen:

With the last days of summer upon us, I am packing up the sunscreen and the dog for our annual family vacation at the beach. Traveling with us, of course, will be my familiar companions, the many public intellectuals who have, presumably as a matter of civic duty, graced us with their presence in the form of books.

. . . .

This year’s entourage is as rich as ever, richer perhaps, as we live in a platinum age for the intellectually curious. I am well into Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August,  wondering how it is that I never read this before. Loaded on my Kindle and ready to fire is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, one of several books about the mind that have caught my attention. I just completed the mind-blowing The Future of the Mind by Dr. Michio Kaku,  which lives on the border of science fiction, but which nonetheless has colored my experience for the last two months.

. . . .

What’s curious about these books and the tiny subgenre they belong to (nonfiction books written by people who actually know something) is that they lie outside the reputation and career structure of the modern academic. No one gets promoted for publishing a book with HarperCollins or Penguin Random House. (A moment of silence, please, to contemplate how wonderful quality trade publishing is.) Lisa Randall took time off from her work at Harvard to write Knocking on Heaven’s Door–to my benefit–and Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both professors at MIT reshaped my thinking about the economy and social policy with their urgent The Second Machine Age. I imagine that their colleagues rib them about this. Why are you wasting your time? Does your ego require you to beg for the praise of idiots?

Link to the rest at The Scholarly Kitchen and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

PG noted the mention of a Kindle and wondered if it was inadvertent. Certainly no one from HarperCollins or Penguin Random House would have mentioned Kindle in a similar manner.

Photographers Share Details of Their Recent Book Deals

15 August 2014

From Photo District News:

We asked photographers who have published books within the last three years to share some details of the deals they made with book publishers. Arrangements vary not only from publisher to publisher, but also within book publishing houses, depending upon variables such as the photographer’s reputation, the book design and specifications, the target market, and other factors.

. . . .

Many of the photographers chose to manage tasks traditionally handled by book publishing houses, including design and publicity. Publishers are also shifting the risk of publishing a book to photographers, asking them to help raise funds to cover production and other costs.

A photographer who has published 12 books said he felt “lucky” that he had never had to pay his publishers’ production costs.

. . . .

Noting that photographers now see publishing a book as a necessary step before landing a gallery show, he says, “It used to be the opposite.” He fears that publishers extend offers to unknown artists while also telling them, “But you have to front all the expenses… removing the risk for us.”

We asked photographers who contributed money to cover their publishers’ cost why they chose not to self-publish their books. One said self-publishing demanded too much in time and resources.

. . . .

PHOTOGRAPHER B:

Fees/contributions to costs: $35,000, or “about 50 percent of the cost for production, PR, distribution.”

Editing/design/publicity: Photographer hired an outside editor. “The publisher agreed to pay $1,000 toward editorial cost.”

Special design stipulations: None.

Copies photographer or gallery was asked to purchase: Photographer bought 400.

Other expenses: “The expenses for scanning of all the film were tremendous, and I had not factored those in at all.”

Photographer’s notes: “I had two book offers … and they were both fairly similar as far as cost was concerned. In the end I went with the publisher that has a stronger name and very good distribution attached.”

Link to the rest at Photo District News and thanks to Tony for the tip.

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