Kirsten Fermaglich

 

On her book A Rosenberg by Any Other Name: A History of Jewish Name Changing in America

Cover Interview of June 12, 2019

In a nutshell

Despite the prevalence of name changing in American Jewish culture, few historians have studied the actual practice of name changing in the United States. A Rosenberg by Any Other Name – the first book to explore the phenomenon – relies on research into thousands of previously unexplored name change petitions submitted to the New York City Civil Court throughout the twentieth century. Using these petitions, I argue that name changing was a distinctive American Jewish practice in the middle of the century. Although many New Yorkers of different backgrounds changed their names, Jews did so at rates that were far disproportionate to their numbers in the city. They also changed their names together with family members in ways that historians have not considered before.

Jews’ middle-class status helps to explain these high rates of family name changing, as does the rising antisemitism of the era. Jews reached the middle class in the United States earlier than other immigrant groups in the early twentieth century, and they sought to maintain that status through education and white-collar work. By the 1920s, however, universities and employers were developing application forms, specifically, to weed out Jewish candidates by asking questions about birthplace, religion, and, importantly, name-changing. This institutionalized antisemitism formed the context for Jewish name changing in the first half of the twentieth century. Petitioners sought to erase the names that marked them as Jewish and thus exposed their families to discrimination.

The growth of the state during World War II further shaped the context within which Jews changed their names. As the government penetrated individuals’ daily lives to a greater extent, more Jews found it necessary to change their names officially to avoid discrimination and participate in the war effort.

During the war, Jewish communal groups understood name changing as a response to antisemitism, but after the war, the Jewish community became sharply divided over the phenomenon. Some Jewish leaders accused name changers of being “self-hating Jews” who were abandoning the community. A closer look at name change petitions, as well as contemporary literature, however, suggests that the majority of name changers remained members of the Jewish community, using their new names only to make it easier to work in the non-Jewish world. Jewish civil rights organizations understood this complicated balance, and defended name changers’ right to change their names as part of civil rights legislation in the 1940s.

Jews stopped changing their names in large numbers by the 1970s, and just as they did, negative representations of name changing flourished in popular culture. Misleading images of Jewish men betraying their families by changing their names or Ellis Island officials changing immigrant names circulated widely in the last quarter of the twentieth century. And since 2001, new ethnic groups have been changing their names in Civil Court for very different reasons than did Jews 75 years ago. Our culture has mostly forgotten the history of Jewish name changing in the United States. My book attempts to reconstruct that story.




 


 

Sara Lodge

 

On her book Inventing Edward Lear

Cover Interview of May 30, 2019

In a nutshell

Edward Lear, the author of ‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat’ and ‘The Quangle Wangle’s Hat,’ is rightly beloved as a nonsense poet. But few people know that he was also a brilliant musician, who sang and played the piano, the flute, the accordion and the small guitar, and a composer, who published twelve beautiful settings of his friend Tennyson’s poetry. Lear was also a naturalist, whose vivid lithographs of new species of animals and birds were consulted by Charles Darwin, and a landscape painter of surpassing skill, who taught Queen Victoria to draw. My book is the first study to examine Lear fully – as a musician, a visual artist, a naturalist, and a religious dissenter – relating all of these endeavours and identities to his writing. It places Lear firmly within the social, cultural, and intellectual life of his time.

Inventing Edward Lear crystallizes insights gained over six years of research, during which I transcribed over 10,000 pages of unpublished manuscript. It contains many pictures and writings by Lear that have not been seen before. Probably my most exciting realisation was that all of Lear’s poems are really songs. I recovered music for some of his re-settings of comic words to existing tunes by Thomas Haynes Bayly and Thomas Arne. I traced songs that we know from his diaries Lear regularly performed. And I began the process of recording, with the help of pianist David Owen Norris and various singers, the music that Lear wrote, parodied, sang and listened to throughout his long life. Readers of my book (and even those who don’t read it) can listen to these recordings at my website: edwardlearsmusic.com

Lear performed all of his nonsense poems, and many other poems by Tennyson, Swinburne, and Shelley, to music. He also had a lively repertoire of contemporary comic songs, such as ‘Tea in the Arbour’, in which a town-bred visitor takes tea with country friends and is bothered by caterpillars in his tea and spiders in the butter, gets tar on his trousers, is peppered by birdshot, and is finally caught in a man-trap! Lear must have played this Harold Lloyd-style comic role to perfection, as friends forty years on still recalled him singing it. Lear was adept at transitioning, on improvised piano, from high tragedy to breathless comedy. Once we know that songs like ‘The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò’ are designed to sit uneasily – but brilliantly – between the sentimental yearning of drawing-room ballad and the cockney wordplay of Victorian musical-hall songs about foolish suitors, then it becomes easier to appreciate their genius. Lear creates a feedback loop between pathos and absurdity, where sentiment always threatens to be silly, yet the absurd frequently becomes moving. He makes us laugh and cry simultaneously.




 


 

Lesley A. Sharp

 

On her book Animal Ethos: The Morality of Human-Animal Encounters in Experimental Lab Science

Cover Interview of May 15, 2019

In a nutshell

Animal Ethos is framed by efforts to unearth and decipher moral thought and action in experimental forms of laboratory science. More specifically, as an ethnographic project, it attends to the ordinary, everyday, or mundane aspects of human-animal encounters in lab research. I purposefully distinguish between bioethics—or regulatory principles (that may be codified as law) that determine what one can and cannot do experimentally—and morality, namely, the personal and private musings of lab personnel whose research and livelihoods hinge on the use of animals for furthering medico-scientific knowledge. I consider moral thought in science as an imaginative project, where unexpected conundrums may challenge one to pause and consider the limits of dominant ethical frameworks.  Such reconsiderations lie at the heart of the making of oneself as a moral being, where the core questions I’ve posed to involved lab personnel might be phrased as “how do you think of your work when you go home at the end of the day?” or, as animal activists might restate it, “how do you live with yourself, knowing what you do?” I underscore here that I am not interested in whether one is practicing ethical science but, instead, in the private, subjective (and interspecies) dimensions of ongoing, often lifetime, work in which one engages, and how this plays out in personal efforts to forge a moral sense of self against the backdrop of scientific pursuits.

My earlier ethnographic engagements in specialized realms of transplantation—as described in my works Strange Harvest (2006, University of California Press) and The Transplant Imaginary (2013, University of California Press)—taught me that, whereas lab researchers readily convey complex understandings of regulations that define “ethical research,” there exists no similarly robust lexicon for describing personal experience and sentiment. Indeed, research personnel often explained to me that morality is the purview of philosophy and religion, not science.  As I slowly came to realize, though, when lab personnel talk about animals, which they do openly and often, they shift to a highly personalized, moral register. With this in mind, Animal Ethos is not a study of lab animals, but instead employs “animal talk,” so to speak, as a method for accessing how lab scientists think about the sociomoral underpinnings of what they do. As Claude Lévi-Strauss so famously proclaimed, “animals are good to think.” With this adage in mind, it is through the animal that I access moral thought and action among those whose careers rely on non-human species as essential research participants.




 


 

William L. Silber

 

On his book The Story of Silver: How the White Metal Shaped America and the Modern World

Cover Interview of May 08, 2019

In a nutshell

This book tells the story of the greatest commodities market manipulation of the 20th century – one that was perpetrated by the larger than life Nelson Bunker Hunt, who, at one time the richest man in the world, ultimately went bankrupt trying to corner the silver market with his brothers, Herbert and Lamar, in the 1970s. The Hunts rode the price of silver to a record $50 an ounce in January 1980 and nearly brought down the financial markets in the process.

But the Hunt brothers were not the first nor the last to be seduced by the white metal. In 1997 Warren Buffett, perhaps the most successful investor of the past fifty years, bought more than 100 million ounces, almost as much as the Hunts, and pushed the price of silver to a ten-year peak. In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt raised the price for silver at the U.S. Treasury to mollify senators from western mining states while ignoring the help it gave Japan in subjugating China.

Was FDR’s price manipulation in the 1930s less criminal than Nelson Bunker Hunt’s in the 1970s? Reading this book will let you make an informed judgment and it will also show that the white metal has been part of the country’s political system since the founding of the Republic. Perhaps the most famous speech in American electoral politics, Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” sermon at the 1896 Democratic convention, was all about silver. Bryan’s cause, the resurrection of silver as a monetary metal, aimed to rectify the injustice perpetrated by Congress in the Crime of 1873, which discontinued the coinage of silver dollars that Alexander Hamilton had recommended in 1791. Thus, the story of silver spans two centuries and is woven into the fabric of history like the stars and stripes.




 


 

Michelle Baddeley

 

On her book Copycats and Contrarians: Why We Follow Others... and When We Don't

Cover Interview of May 01, 2019

In a nutshell

Copycats and Contrarians takes on the idea, promulgated by some economists, that humans are selfish and independently-minded creatures, who use complex mathematical rules to solve problems. This book argues that we are also social animals, and our instincts to follow, herd, and copy others are deeply ingrained.

So, is herding mindless and stupid? When we suspect that people around us know more than we do, then following them is common sense. We may join long restaurant queues but avoid empty restaurants. Social media reviews may help us to choose our holidays. Policy-makers, who release social information about others’ choices, may encourage us to be more responsible about everything from energy consumption to organ donation.

But imitation is also the product of ancient impulses and instincts. It evolved in our ancestors, enabling them to survive harsh natural environments. When food and resources were scarce and threats were ever-present, our ancestors followed others around them because they might have had better information about where to find food or water. Or, as part of a group, they would find safety from predators and environmental threats. Over the course of human history, however, civilizations have grown, technologies have become ever more sophisticated, and our herding tendencies now seem more maladaptive than effective survival strategies.

Copycats and Contrarians explores how, today, we face a delicate, fragile balance of individual, group, and social interests. In the modern world, following others sometimes works well. But other times it generates perversions. The Internet has given mob-leaders a power to manipulate crowds that is unrivalled in human history. The political tensions around the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the US election of Donald Trump have both been driven by rapid shifts in herd opinions. These shifts are catalyzed by online gossip, twitter trolls, and false news that speed along globalized social media channels. In computerized financial markets, too, herding develops quickly and precipitates large and destabilizing speculative bubbles, including flash crashes on futures and currency exchanges.




 


 

Mimi Sheller

 

On her book Mobility Justice: The Politics of Movement in an Age of Extremes

Cover Interview of April 24, 2019

In a nutshell

Mobility justice is one of the crucial political and ethical issues of the contemporary world. We are currently experiencing a series of crises related to how we move. As cities across the world face the effects of climate change, congestion, and pollution, and as nations struggle with debates over social inequality, immigration, and growing racism, it is increasingly evident that our old ways of moving around and of governing mobilities (and dwelling) are broken. This book contributes to generating new ways of thinking about transforming mobility to make a more sustainable and equitable world. I argue that the transition toward sustainable mobilities and greater social justice must happen together, because they are fundamentally interconnected. The societal challenge consists in democratically transitioning towards both low-carbon and socially just mobility systems, locally and globally.

What is unique about this book is that it highlights the power relations between bodies, streets, cities, nations, and the globe. Mobility justice is an overarching concept for thinking about how power and inequality shape connected patterns of mobility and immobility across many scales. It allows us to see how class, race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and citizenship all are affected by mobility design and the systems that control and channel our mobilities. It asks: Who is able to exercise rights to mobility and who is not capable of mobility? How can sustainable transport in cities be more aware of the micro-politics of racial, gendered, (dis)abling embodiment? And how does the management of migration, tourism, and travel intersect with both everyday mobilities and with wider geo-ecological problems surrounding energy consumption and resource extraction around the world?

Mobility Justice seeks to push forward debates around sustainable cities and social movements for transport equity toward a more holistic and multi-scalar approach that I call “kinopolitics” – meaning the politics of movement. While much attention has been given to sustainable transportation in response to climate change, including by the Green New Deal currently being proposed by progressive Democrats in Congress, future mobility transitions must encompass wider mobility justice concerns. The introduction of cleaner electric vehicles, alternative fuels, bicycling lanes, complete streets, and congestion charging will promote sustainability only in a very limited sense if it is not coupled with reconfigurations of the wider power relations and cultural practices that guide urban planning and decision making.

I hope this book will help readers to think about how to transform mobility systems in deeper ways. I hope readers will find ideas about how to link together movements for environmental justice, racial justice, migrant justice, climate justice and infrastructure justice through the lens of the overarching concept of mobility justice. I hope they will be inspired to debate and discuss the principles for mobility justice that are at the end of each chapter and listed in the Appendix. I hope they will mobilize to build more just and sustainable mobile commons.




 


 

W. Fitzhugh Brundage

 

On his book Civilizing Torture: An American Tradition

Cover Interview of April 17, 2019

In a nutshell

The “American tradition” in this book’s subtitle is not a particular method of tormenting the body. It refers instead to the debates that Americans have waged regarding torture. At the outset I decided that it was not feasible for me to produce an inventory of torture in the United States across four centuries. My interest instead lies with how Americans have debated, justified, and condemned torture. Like a minuet in which the dancers change fashions over time, yet the steps remain the same, American debates about torture have unfolded in predictable fashion. During these debates, Americans invariably have invoked the nation’s utopian ambitions to serve as the exemplar of modern democratic civilization. Torture, which Americans have associated with barbarism or tyranny, cannot easily be squared with the notion that the United States is a unique nation with uniquely humane laws and principles.

A common thread in American debates over torture is the presumption that Americans should exist in a state of national innocence, with torture held at arm’s length. Americans have been at best complacent and at worst willful in presuming that torture is something that other people do elsewhere. Any claims that torture is an exceptional aberration whenever Americans commit it are difficult to reconcile with the history recounted in my book. We cannot credibly claim that when other countries torture it reflects their basic character, but when we torture it violates ours. The history of torture in the United States, above all, reveals the toxic consequences when rhetoric and policies that dehumanize “the enemy within” or a foreign foe exploit popular anxiety about security. Appeals to security have been the ultimate excuse for and defense of torture. When the preservation of rights is believed to impede or diminish security, then rights have been jettisoned and even the prohibition of torture has been conditional.




 


 

Dean Keith Simonton

 

On his book The Genius Checklist: Nine Paradoxical Tips on How You Can Become a Creative Genius

Cover Interview of April 10, 2019

In a nutshell

The Genius Checklist addresses the most essential questions about identifying, developing, and manifesting creative genius. Some of these questions have been examined by thinkers for centuries. These recurrent issues include: Is genius born or made? Is genius mad? Does genius just require living at the right place at the right time? How much does genius depend on pure luck? Other questions have emerged during the course of scientific research on genius. What IQ score marks someone as a genius? Do geniuses exhibit distinctive personality profiles? Can anybody become a genius if they just devote 10 full years to domain-specific study and practice? Or should the aspirant acquire a tremendous breadth of knowledge and skill? Were geniuses all former child prodigies, or can some become late bloomers? Are firstborn children more likely to become geniuses than their laterborn siblings? What role is played by gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic class? How does creative achievement change across the life span? At what age are geniuses most likely to produce their definitive masterworks? When are they over the hill? How long do geniuses live? Do the greatest among them die young? And to what extent do scientific and artistic geniuses offer different answers to the foregoing questions?

Now there’s no shortage of books that treat one or more of these questions. Yet some books are scholarly monographs that systematically review the scientific findings without sufficient concrete illustrations for the main points. Others are trade books that rely on ample anecdotes to get their points across, but often with the most minimal connection with the actual science of genius. My book negotiates an intermediate path. Although deeply grounded in the latest scientific results, abundant examples convert the abstractions into a rich narrative. In addition, rather than use the citation formats favored by the scientific disciplines, everything scholarly is hidden in the endnotes; not a single stuffy superscript to be found anywhere. Better yet, to render the science more accessible, I’ve tried to incorporate tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. This humor is most immediately apparent in the book’s title, subtitle, and chapter titles (aka “tips”). In fact, if it’s not obvious from the dust jacket, let me just say it out loud: This book is something of a parody of the all too numerous self-help pieces that fill up the online and brick bookstores.

One warning, though. Some books are designed for dipping. Readers can open up the volume at any page and find something of interest; that author’s presentation thus consists of relatively isolated tidbits. That practice won’t work for a book like mine, where the material is organized in a logical order. Sections build upon earlier sections, and even upon sections that appeared in previous chapters. The upside of this integration is a more coherent understanding of creative genius. That benefit justifies the regimen.




 


 

Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh

 

On her book The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice

Cover Interview of April 03, 2019

In a nutshell

In 2010, the world’s wealthiest art institution, the J. Paul Getty Museum, found itself confronted by a century-old genocide. The Armenian Church in Los Angeles was suing for the return of eight pages from the Zeytun Gospels, a manuscript illuminated by the greatest medieval Armenian artist, Toros Roslin. Protected for centuries in a remote church, the holy manuscript had followed the waves of displaced people killed during the Armenian genocide. Passed from hand to hand, caught in the confusion and brutality of the First World War, it was cleaved in two. Decades later, the manuscript found its way to the Republic of Armenia, while its missing eight pages came to the Getty in California.

The Missing Pages is the biography of the Zeytun Gospels, a medieval manuscript that is at once art, sacred object, and cultural heritage. The book follows in the manuscript’s footsteps through seven centuries, from medieval Armenia to the killing fields of 1915 Anatolia, the refugee camps of Aleppo, Ellis Island, and Soviet Armenia, and ultimately to a Los Angeles courtroom. The story of how the pages came to be missing unfolds the entire tragic history of the Armenian people in the 20th century.

The tale of this beautiful and meaningful object and its extraordinary journey embody some of the defining elements of art history in the 21st century. I take the much-publicized legal battle as a point of entry to explore how contests over art objects are framed, what cultural heritage signifies to survivor communities, and how institutions like museums curate and display works of art with painful histories.

Reconstructing the path of the pages, I sought to uncover not only the rich tapestry of an extraordinary artwork, but also the individuals and communities touched by it. At once a story of genocide and survival, of unimaginable loss and resilience, The Missing Pages captures the human costs of war and persuasively makes the case for a human right to art.




 


 

David L. Hu

 

On his book How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls: Animal Movement and the Robots of the Future

Cover Interview of March 27, 2019

In a nutshell

From cave paintings to the anatomical sketches of Leonardo da Vinci, the movement of animals has long fascinated people. Now there is an explosion of new interest and understanding in animal motion. Recent technological developments and the combined interest of computer scientists, physicists, and engineers are enabling us to find new ways to understand how animals can move with such grace and beauty. Understanding how animals move can lead to the development of new kinds of robots and devices, such as crash-resistant drones, robots that walk on water, and exoskeletons that improve the efficiency of walking.

If you have enjoyed watching animals on the Discovery channel, this book will provide a conversational explanation of the things that you see in the show. In the book, I explain the physical principles at work—without it feeling like a full college course.




 


 

Gary C. Jacobson

 

On his book Presidents and Parties in the Public Mind

Cover Interview of March 20, 2019

In a nutshell

From analyses of thousands of commercial and academic public opinion surveys covering presidents from Truman to Trump, with results detailed in 54 tables and 93 figures, I argue that modern American presidents have had a profound and pervasive impact on how the public views their parties. Every president has shaped public attitudes toward his party and the other politicians in it; beliefs about who and what it stands for; assessments of how well it governs when in power; and its attractiveness as an object of personal identification. Insofar as the party label represents a brand name, the president bears prime responsibility for the brand’s current image and status.

Specifically, I find that:

One. Although existing partisan biases influence people’s feelings about prospective presidents as soon as they appear on the political scene, presidential candidates and presidents immediately begin to exert a reciprocal influence on how people feel about their parties that grows stronger as election day approaches, remains potent while they serve, and continues, though with diminished force, after they have departed.

Two. Evaluations of and feelings toward sitting presidents strongly and persistently influence how Americans evaluate and feel about their parties generally and about their party’s congressional wing and its leaders more specifically. Presidential influence on attitudes toward the party remains consistent across partisan subgroups (self-identified Republicans, Democrats and independents), administrations and survey question formats.

Three. Popular evaluations of the president’s performance generally and in specific domains have a direct effect on his party’s reputation for competence in dealing with national problems generally and in managing foreign relations, the economy, and several other issue domains.

Four. Presidents and presidential candidates shape and reshape public perceptions of their party’s position on policy issues. Although Americans have durable beliefs about where the parties stand on specific issues and their location on the general left-right dimension, they adjust their beliefs according to where they place the current president or presidential candidates.

Five. Popular assessments of the president’s performance influence both individual and mass partisanship both in the short and longer runs. The balance of Democrats and Republicans in the electorate varies with presidential approval ratings; such short run effects are usually reversible but have at times solidified into durable changes. Because party loyalties are most malleable early in political life, citizens newly entering the electorate contribute disproportionately to shifts in mass partisanship. A president’s most enduring influence is thus on the partisan identities of people who come of political age during his administration, and the extent of a president’s appeal—or lack thereof—to younger citizens has long-term implications for the future partisan composition of the electorate.

Six. Views of presidents and presidential candidates affect voters’ decisions in down-ballot races both directly and, through their effect on party images and party identification, indirectly, and thereby influence their party’s performance in congressional and other elections.

Seven. Presidents and presidential candidates have contributed importantly to the gradual realignment of the parties that has left the current American electorate more deeply divided along party lines than at any time in living memory.

Eight. Partisan polarization was essential to the election of Donald Trump. Although Trump executed a hostile takeover of the Republican Party and continues to attract vigorous criticism from some of its luminaries, his impact during his first year in office on how people view his party has been at least as large as that of previous presidents. In the intra-party struggle for the hearts and minds of ordinary Republicans, Trump has so far emerged as the consistent winner. But given his unpopularity outside core Republican circles, and especially among growing segments of the population, Trump’s dominance and prospective rebranding of the Republican Party threatens to erode its popular image, reputation, and appeal both immediately and for the long term.




 


 

Ralph James Savarese

 

On his book See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor

Cover Interview of March 13, 2019

In a nutshell

Can autistic people, across the spectrum, read literary fiction? Can they enjoy and profit from the experience? For years, experts have said no. A “triad of impairments”—in language, social understanding, and imagination—made literature a bad fit for the autistic brain. This population, the logic went, was better suited to mathematical or scientific endeavors, arenas that don’t depend on “theory of mind” or a nuanced appreciation of figurative language. (The former involves the ability to ascertain the mental states of others; the latter involves the ability to handle sentences like this one: “Fiction is a moody jungle-gym of make-believe conflict.”) This view of autism became so prevalent that a best-selling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, used social and metaphorical bafflement as a central aspect of the protagonist’s characterization. My book offers a radically opposing view. An ethnographic project involving six autistic readers, See It Feelingly presents the rich, and sometimes richly different, responses to literary works by people whom the medical community would describe as “impaired” but who would describe themselves as “neurodivergent”—distinctive neurologically. My collaborators include my son, DJ Savarese (with him I discussed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn); Tito Mukhopadhyay (Moby-Dick); Jamie Burke (Ceremony); Dora Raymaker (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?); Eugenie Belkin (The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter); and Temple Grandin (two short stories from Among Animals: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction). Referencing the burgeoning field of cognitive literary studies, which asks what our brain is doing when we read literature, See It Feelingly seeks to explore the nature of fiction’s hold on us: in particular, its powerful emotional appeal and its ability to acquaint us with people very different from ourselves.




 


 

Simon Lailvaux

 

On his book Feats of Strength: How Evolution Shapes Animal Athletic Abilities

Cover Interview of March 05, 2019

In a nutshell

This book is about the often amazing athletic abilities that animals possess. It aims to explain how and why evolution has equipped certain animals with the capacity to do things like climb waterfalls with their jaws, run across the surface of the water without sinking, or shoot water bubbles at potential prey. As strange as some of these things are, they are all explicable according to the rules of mechanics, physics, and physiology, and they happen because they help the animals that possess these strengths to survive and reproduce in the face of their specific challenges.

I suppose one feature of this book that is a bit different is the style. I read popular science books to learn cool stuff about science, and I am sometimes annoyed by the intrusion of too many personal stories and narratives into the proceedings. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, and it is very effective when done well, but it isn’t to my taste and nor is it one of my strengths. The challenge then was to make this book entertaining, fun to read, and not at all like a textbook without relying overmuch on storytelling. I think I ultimately produced something that explains the exciting and compelling science involving performance but that isn’t self-important or dry. I wouldn’t call it “moist,” because nobody likes that word, but maybe it’s “humid.” Or “sultry.” (Both of those are bad. You’re going to edit this so that nobody finds out I described my book as “humid,” right? Cool.)

I also thought it was important to point out the many things that we don’t know, or instances where we understand something only poorly. Nonscientists often view contradictory results or corrections to previous findings with suspicion. In fact, making sense of those contradictions and fixing the flaws in our understanding is how science works! Scientists are far more comfortable with uncertainty than one might suspect, and I think it’s important to note that there are certain areas and subjects that we just don’t know much about, and that’s OK. As someone almost definitely probably already said, the first step towards learning is knowing what you don’t know.

I’d recommend the reader read this book in the normal way: in public at 10am on a Wednesday whilst drinking a daiquiri and dressed as a clown. (I should probably note that it’s Mardi Gras here in New Orleans right now so my sense of “normal” might be a bit off.)




 


 

Tim Lomas

 

On his book Translating Happiness: A Cross-Cultural Lexicon of Well-Being

Cover Interview of February 27, 2019

In a nutshell

Translating Happiness celebrates the idea that untranslatable words – terms without an exact equivalent in our own language – can expand our emotional, intellectual, and even experiential horizons. Such words represent phenomena or ideas which have been overlooked or underappreciated in one’s own culture, hence the lack of a specific signifier. Crucially though, they have been identified and labelled by another culture, from whom we can learn. These words therefore have the potential to help us better understand and articulate our experiences, providing us with new linguistic tools to make sense of our world. They can even reveal new phenomena, which had previously been veiled to us, pointing us towards realms of life which we had not before noticed.

The book is based on an on-going lexicographic research project, initiated in 2015, to collect and analyze untranslatable words. To limit its scope to a manageable area of enquiry, the project’s focus is on wellbeing, specifically. This is because I am a researcher in positive psychology, which is essentially the scientific study of wellbeing. The lexicography currently comprises over 1,000 words, many of which have been crowd-sourced through generous contributions to a website I created to host the project. My analytical approach to these words has been to explore and organize them thematically. I have identified six main categories, each encompassing many different themes. These are positive emotions, ambivalent emotions, love, prosociality, character, and spirituality. Together, I treat these categories and themes as offering a comprehensive ‘map’ of wellbeing.

The book covers the regions of this map in detail, delving into the various categories and themes by analysing a selection of untranslatable words encompassed within them. The book also looks more generally at the role of language in ‘mapping’ our experience, and the significance of untranslatable words in that respect. In doing so, it also reflects critically on the viability and validity of transposing words and ideas from one cultural context to another. Overall though, it advocates for the idea that cultures can develop and evolve (and always have) by learning from each other. In that respect, the book argues that ‘we’ – readers personally, the field of psychology, and English-speaking cultures more broadly – have much to learn from the ideas and insights developed across the globe.


 

Alastair Bonnett

 

On his book Beyond the Map: Unruly Enclaves, Ghostly Places, Emerging Lands and Our Search for New Utopias

Cover Interview of February 20, 2019

In a nutshell

In Beyond the Map I explore our curious but intense relationship to place by telling the story of thirty-nine extraordinary places. It’s a geographical roller coaster. But it’s not just a thrill ride. Beyond the Map takes us to new islands that are rising in the Arctic; a ‘Garbage City’ in Cairo; a guerrilla garden in England; and remnants of a utopian undersea village. Each of the thirty-nine chapters offers a unique and surprising story and, I hope, pushes us to think about why place matters, and why we still pour our hope and dreams into it.

It is often said that the planet is becoming ever more the same: that unique places are disappearing and that there is nowhere new left to explore. Beyond the Map turns all that on its head and shows that the world is riddled with strange, hidden places; some are remote and exotic, but others are just around the corner or under our feet.

There is a new mood in the air: a rising rebellion against blandness and sameness, and it has been a long time coming. You don’t have to walk far into our coagulated roadscape to realise that, over the past hundred years or so, we have been much better at destroying places than creating them. I see that every day in my home city, Newcastle, in England’s far north, which has been pulled apart and rebuilt so many times that its now hard to recognise. The resulting landscape feels impermanent; temporarily bolted into view. To illustrate that point, one of the chapters takes us to the bizarre and dilapidated ‘skywalks’ that some hare-brained local planner carelessly strung across Newcastle city centre in the 1970s. So many of us have to pick our way through something similar; the soon-to-be-debris; broken layers of other people’s grand and not so grand plans.

So that’s Beyond the Map. It is a travel book with a difference. It takes us to deeply unusual destinations – it even includes a chapter on a noisy traffic island – in order to think about what place means to us.