Emily Skidmore


On her book True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Cover Interview of October 16, 2017

In a nutshell

True Sex discusses the lives of eighteen individuals who were assigned female at birth but who lived as male in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century. By looking closely at their lives, I argue that much of what we think we know about queer history in America is not true.

I uncover a past where everyday Americans frequently encountered newspaper stories about “female husbands” and other gender transgressors, and where trans men lived in communities, large and small, throughout the nation. Perhaps most surprising of all, my book reveals that non-metropolitan spaces could be tolerant of trans men, as long as those men conformed to the normative expectations of masculinity. As long as they were economically productive, law-abiding, supportive husbands, and helpful neighbors, their masculinity was valued, not derided. Perhaps unsurprisingly, trans men of color found such tolerance more difficult to come by, and often found their best bet was to try to pass as white in order to attain the privileges of whiteness, including the presumption of innocence.

Much of True Sex challenges what we might assume transgender history looks like. Often, as Americans, we tell ourselves that our history is one of consistent improvement; that while things may have been hard in the past, they are always getting better (e.g., while slavery exists as a blight on our nation’s past, it was followed by Emancipation, and eventually Civil Rights). Given this frame of reference, we might expect that transgender people in the past experienced much worse treatment than they receive today. Yet, my book reveals many cases of trans men who were able to find tolerance instead of condemnation.

One such example is the case of George Green. Green was assigned female at birth in Ireland around 1833. He emigrated to the United States in 1865, and two years later, married a young woman in Erie, Pennsylvania. The pair moved East, and finally settled in the rural town of Ettrick, Virginia, where George worked as a farm hand. The couple was well-respected in the community—a community that appeared genuinely shocked when, after George died suddenly in 1902, neighbors discovered the body lacked the traditional markers of masculine anatomy. However, their shock did not translate into condemnation, and George’s life was positively memorialized in local newspapers. He was celebrated for having been a hard worker, a kind husband, and generous neighbor. In addition, his funeral was held in the local Catholic Church, and his body was buried in the parish cemetery—two actions which attest to the fact that the people of Ettrick were willing to stand by their queer neighbor in life and in death.

Green’s story, and the stories of the other trans men in my book, force us to confront the progressive narrative of history, and think more critically about transphobia that exists in present-day America.



Brandon L. Garrett


On his book End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice

Cover Interview of October 09, 2017

In a nutshell

End of its Rope explores why the death penalty in America unexpectedly faded away.

Twenty years ago, death sentencing was at its modern height. Across the Southern “death belt,” death sentences and executions were common. The death penalty was popular, as opinion polls showed, and politicians understood well.

Suddenly, this cycle of punishment began to slow down. The story of this great decline of death penalties in America teaches important lessons for all involved in the effort to reduce mass incarceration.

In 2016, just thirty-one people were sentenced to death in the entire country. If you look back at the mid-1990s, by way of contrast, several hundred people were sentenced to death in as many as two hundred counties per year. Executions are fading fast too. Only twenty people were executed in 2016.

In this book, I explain what changed. I draw on death penalty trials across the country, from high-profile cases like the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting trial, to small-town trials in Virginia and North Carolina that only made local news.

Increasingly, juries are rejecting the death penalty, even in cases of serious murders. Increasingly, they are hearing mental health evidence and background evidence that causes them to vote for mercy for convicted murderers. Those decisions have changed the shape of the American death penalty and represent a sea change in our attitudes towards criminal punishment.



Philip E. Auerswald


On his book The Code Economy: A Forty-Thousand Year History

Cover Interview of October 02, 2017

In a nutshell

The Code Economy is a book about the past and likely future of human progress. My aim in writing it was to combine history with economics to explain how human societies have evolved over the span of millennia. At a time when concern about the future impacts of technological advances seems to grow daily, better understanding long-term trends is important because it helps us anticipate the future. I draw from the work of some of the great thinkers of the past four centuries who shared a deep interest in understanding the “how” of human productive activity: Gottfried Leibniz, Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, Claude Shannon, and Herbert Simon.

In the book, I use the word “code” to refer to the instructions and algorithms that guide production in the economy, or, how ideas become things. To convey the intuitive meaning of the concept I intend to communicate with the word “code,” as well as its breadth, I use two specific and carefully selected words interchangeably with code: “technology” and “recipe.”

The first half of the word “technology” derives from techné (τέχνη), which signifies “art, craft, or trade.” The second half derives from the word logos (λόγος), which signifies an “ordered account” or “reasoned discourse.” Thus, technology literally means “an ordered account of art, craft, or trade”— in other words, broadly speaking, a recipe.

The culinary recipe is not merely a metaphor for the how of production; the recipe is, rather, the most literal and direct example of code as I use the word. Anthropological research suggests that culinary recipes were the earliest and among the most transformative technologies employed by humans.

We have understood for some time that cooking accelerated human evolution by substantially increasing the nutrients absorbed in the stomach and small intestine. However, recent research suggests that human ancestors were using recipes to prepare food to dramatic effect as early as two million years ago—even before we learned to control fire and began cooking, which occurred about 400,000 years ago. Simply slicing meats and pounding tubers (such as yams), as was done by our earliest ancestors, turns out to yield digestive advantages that are comparable to those realized by cooking. Cooked or raw, increased nutrient intake enabled us to evolve smaller teeth and chewing muscles and even a smaller gut than our ancestors or primate cousins. These evolutionary adaptations in turn supported the development of humans’ larger, energy-hungry brain.

The first recipes—code at work—literally made humans what we are today.

That’s where the code economy begins.



Lynne Sagalyn


On her book Power at Ground Zero: Politics, Money, and the Remaking of Lower Manhattan

Cover Interview of September 24, 2017

In a nutshell

Power at Ground Zero tells the epic story of how the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan was rebuilt after the terrorist attack of 9/11. The destruction of this complex set in motion a chain of events that fundamentally transformed both the U.S. and the wider world. The attack’s historic trauma endowed these sixteen acres with deep symbolic and emotional meaning that shaped the process and politics of rebuilding. While modern city-building is often dismissed as cold-hearted and detached from meaning, the opposite was true at Ground Zero.

September 11 transformed the human meaning of the Trade Center site. What had been secular was now sacred, a graveyard for nearly three thousand souls. That meant redevelopment replacing 10 million square feet of commercial space would have to “co-exist harmoniously with the memorial itself.” Simply replicating past approaches to city building would constitute a pallid response to human loss and physical destruction of such magnitude. The rebuilding response demanded a big, inspiring, physical presence that embodied the symbolic aspirations of American values and accommodated the twin mandates—to remember and rebuild.

If those twin mandates were clear in the minds of public officials, how to achieve them was not. The lack of a playbook for this unprecedented planning situation created repeated controversies and conflicts. The process was terribly messy and, at times, terribly chaotic. Yet, contrary to the narrative of delay that prevailed throughout the many years of controversy—and that delay was destructive to the revitalization of Lower Manhattan—rebuilding most of the site in fifteen years was relatively fast paced by New York benchmarks for large-scale complex projects.

The money question—who would pay what to rebuild Ground Zero—eluded public consciousness for years. Even elected officials skimmed over this critical driver. By the time it became the obvious driving force after five years of high-profile architectural battles, an exhausted and frustrated public had turned its attention to more immediate stories. The political narrative was dead declared the Times’ Frank Rich in a deeply penetrating op-ed, “Ground Zero Is So Over.” In truth, it was just beginning. The backroom negotiations and the financial deals that would deliver a new World Trade Center were just heating up. This is the story of big money and powerful politicians I tell in Power at Ground Zero. The characters are colorful. The Manhattan real estate is historic. The battles were bellicose. And multiple legacies were lying in wait to be written.



Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval


On his book Starving for Justice: Hunger Strikes, Spectacular Speech, and the Struggle for Dignity

Cover Interview of September 18, 2017

In a nutshell

Starving for Justice examines three hunger strikes that took place in the 1990s on university campuses. Twenty years ago, Chicana/o, Latina/o students at UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and Stanford stopped eating. Anti-immigrant measures like Proposition 187, mass incarceration, rising racial and economic inequality, globalization, budget cuts, and higher tuition costs morally outraged many. Having exhausted all other mechanisms for redressing their grievances, they embraced César Chávez’s perhaps mostly widely-known and controversial tactic for creating social change—the fast or “hunger strike.”

Chávez’s initial fast lasted twenty-five days in 1968. Before he died in April 1993, the iconic and sometimes autocratic labor and civil rights leader endorsed a long-standing demand to create a Chicano Studies Department at UCLA. Several days after his death, UCLA Chancellor Charles Young rejected this proposal, which Chicana/o students, faculty, and community members had been making for twenty-five years. Young’s decision, along with a nonviolent demonstration that resulted in nearly one hundred arrests, essentially lit the match that sparked a two-week long hunger strike at UCLA.

Approximately one year later, Chicana/o, Latina/o students at UC Santa Barbara, the first UC campus to establish a Chicano Studies Department in 1970, went on a nine-day hunger strike. Besides calling for a stronger department with more faculty and a graduate program in Chicano Studies, these students demanded more resources for recruiting and retaining eligible Chicana/o high school students, banning table grapes from campus, creating a community center in nearby Isla Vista, and maintaining critical “safe spaces” where Chicana/o, Latina/o students had met for generations.

Just one day before this strike ended, another one emerged at Stanford. Unlike the other two public universities, this action took place on a highly prestigious private and generally quite conservative campus. When Provost Condoleezza Rice fired beloved and long-time Stanford administrator Cecilia Burciaga, Chicana/o, Latina/o students fought back. This action, along with other racist incidents on campus, sparked a three-day hunger strike that involved four Chicana students. Like their counterparts at UCLA and UCSB, these students called for creating a Chicano Studies Department, eliminating table grapes, and building a community center in East Palo Alto where many Latina/o campus service workers lived.



Stuart Banner


On his book Speculation: A History of the Fine Line between Gambling and Investing

Cover Interview of September 11, 2017

In a nutshell

Speculation is about a dilemma that has troubled the legal system for a long time. For centuries, there has been a consensus that investment is necessary and ought to be encouraged. There has also been a near consensus, one that has weakened recently but is still substantial, that gambling is dangerous and ought to be discouraged or even prohibited. But what about speculation?

Speculation lies somewhere between investing and gambling. It has attributes of both. Should speculation be legal? Should it be illegal? Should some kinds be legal and others illegal? Which kinds? Throughout American history (and the history of other places too, but this book is just about the United States), speculation has presented a puzzle to the legal system. To figure out how to treat speculation, we have always needed to distinguish between two kinds of risky commerce, a good kind the law should promote and a bad kind the law should deter. But how should that line be drawn?

My book traces the history of debates on this set of questions, from the crash of 1792 to the present.



Susan D. Blum


On her book “I Love Learning; I Hate School”: An Anthropology of College

Cover Interview of September 04, 2017

In a nutshell

Students do a lot of non-learning in school. They cheat, cut corners, cram, forget everything as fast as they can, and are often miserable in the process. This is a waste, a crying shame. But they are often excellent at learning outside school, because humans are terrific learners. I have concluded that the more school resembles the ways we learn outside school the more successful and engaging it will be.

I noticed that students were really good at learning what they wanted to learn and were really not invested in a lot of what I asked them to learn. So, I wanted to understand better. For about 15 years I’ve been using anthropological approaches to see how people learn in general and how that contrasts with how they learn in school. I have come to realize that the ways people learn in school don’t match the ways we learn in life in general.

I argue that if we are going to keep everyone going to school and if we really want them to learn, we need to change the motivation structure, the assessments, the activities, the goals. It can’t be that we lecture to passive students who regurgitate the information in a test and promptly forget it. This is not learning. It is a simulacrum of learning. To be learned, material has to be used.

This critique of school has roots in John Dewey, and progressive education, in the sense that we should be preparing students to engage in learning for life, but also in ideas of Paolo Freire and his notion of education for empowerment. The critique of industrial education, training docile workers for factory jobs, is old. But schools for the most part haven’t changed. And the lecture system from medieval times when book ownership was limited so the lecturer spoke the contents of the book he—it was always a he—possessed is still the paradigmatic model of school. We obviously don’t need that any more.

What do we need? There are lots of experiments in every corner of the education world, from flipped classrooms to problem-based learning to badges to internships to clickers to theses. Sometimes faculty are afraid to use them, though, because they’ll get dinged on evaluations.

Good students are doing what they’ve been trained to do. From early childhood, they have been trained to focus on grades, on pleasing teachers, on following instructions, on getting points in what I call the game of school. Achievement is the measure.

But it has all kinds of negative side effects and this must be attended to. Attention must be finally paid, to quote that great philosopher queen, Linda Loman, Willy’s widow in Death of a Salesman, to “such a person”: every single human being who comes our way.



Peter H. Schuck


On his book One Nation Undecided: Clear Thinking about Five Hard Issues That Divide Us

Cover Interview of July 26, 2017

In a nutshell

One Nation Undecided (Princeton University Press, 2017) is a natural sequel to my last book, Why Government Fails So Often, and How It Can Do Better  (Princeton University Press, 2014).

Why Government Fails So Often analyzes the deep, structural factors that limit the coherence, performance, and effectiveness of the federal government – at all times, on all issues, regardless of which party controls the levers of power. It has three main parts: (1) the context of policymaking discusses how to measure policy performance, explains the functions, processes, missions, instruments, and institutions of policymaking, and explores the political culture in which all federal policymaking is embedded; (2) the structural sources of policy failure focuses on incentives, collective irrationality, information, inflexibility, incredibility, mismanagement, the role of markets, implementation obstacles, the inherent limits of law, the federal bureaucracy, and examples of great policy successes; and (3) reforms that would lower the government’s failure rate. I illustrate each of these analytical points with examples and social science data.

One Nation Undecided takes this analysis a step further and deeper, focusing in detail on five specific hard issues. In the introduction, I explain what makes a public issue especially “hard,” what I mean by “clear thinking,” and why I believe that the quality of public debate in America is so impoverished today. In the chapters that follow, I illustrate what I think is needed by drilling deeply into five of them, one per chapter. The five are: poverty, immigration, campaign finance, affirmative action, and religious exemption from general anti-discrimination rules after the Hobby Lobby and gay marriage decisions.

Each chapter begins with the issue’s context – the relevant history, law, institutions, politics, and public opinion. I then disaggregate the issue into its main components, beginning with key definitional and measurement questions (especially important in the case of poverty). After discussing the competing norms invoked by different groups, I identify that issue’s key factual claims and uncertainties (often suppressed or distorted by those who dominate public debates). Finally, each chapter explains the main pros and cons of the leading policy proposals in Congress and by reformers. (In the case of poverty, I also summarize the existing anti-poverty programs as well as the best evidence on their effectiveness).



Richard E. Ocejo


On his book Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy

Cover Interview of July 19, 2017

In a nutshell

Many blue-collar, manual labor, and service jobs that were once low-status have become “cool” in today’s economy. In fact, jobs like bartender, distiller, barber, and butcher have gone from providing basic services and making mundane products to being cultural tastemakers and influencers. It is elite versions of these jobs, namely cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole-animal butchers, in hip businesses that are shaping consumer choices in cities across the country.

The most fascinating part of this shift is who has been doing the shifting, or who has been pursuing these jobs. It’s mostly young people with other options for work, like college graduates and people with good jobs in other fields. They want to work in these jobs, and pursue them as careers. And they do so at a time when the economy is largely knowledge- and technology-based, and when jobs in high-end service and creative industries are among the most valued and desired.

At its most general, my book addresses the question: why do people choose the jobs that they do? Specifically, why do people who have the choice to do so refrain from pursuing good jobs in today’s economy and instead take up typically low-status trades?

I found a few key explanations. Primarily, they pursue the elite versions of these jobs because they allow them to use their heads, hands, and social skills. Like much knowledge-based work, these jobs require workers to use cultural information to be creative. Unlike it, however, they get to do so by using their bodies to perform craft-based tasks and provide tangible products and services. Finally, they also get to share this knowledge with consumers. Thus, these attributes give these jobs greater status than they normally have. They become knowledge workers who get to learn a craft and directly serve the public.

Readers of Masters of Craft will learn about the unique history and characteristics of each of these four jobs, workplaces, and industries, and the common features of these workers. Underlying the text is the tension between the positive revival and added social benefits of these jobs, and the negative exclusivity that surrounds them: the people who would most benefit from these jobs—people from working-class and low-income backgrounds—do not get them.



Tyler Volk


On his book Quarks to Culture: How We Came to Be

Cover Interview of July 12, 2017

In a nutshell

Quarks to Culture involves a new, big picture perspective of the universe. Now, by universe I do not mean the astronomical cosmos that the word usually refers to. I mean our lived universe. This includes living cells. It includes the works of all cultures. We might call this expanded universe the universe of all things.

What kind of new perspective? If we go down in scale into the human body and look at the kinds of systems we know about, it is like going back in time. Our bodily cells as living cells, as members of a type of system, came into existence well before bodies, such as we animals who are made of trillions of cells. Taking this time machine further downward in scale, we find the kind of thing known as molecules in this universe of all things. Molecules as a kind of fundamental thing came into existence, indeed, had to come into existence, before living cells.

So, in the questions I asked that led to this work, I wanted to find out if I could discover fundamental levels of kinds of things. I wanted to discern these levels with a consistent logic. I return here to the time machine just noted as one goes back downward inward in scale. Might one start with the simplest entities known to science and build up in a logical sequence from small and simple to large and complex? The logic involves a recurring pattern in time, in which prior existing things combined and integrated into larger things. At each level of larger things, the pattern or process repeated: those larger things now became the prior existing smaller things that combined and integrated into the next level of larger things.

When one follows this logic, as I hope to have done, or at least proposed, twelve fundamental levels emerge: Level 1 Fundamental particles; Level 2 Nucleons; Level 3 Atomic nuclei; Level 4 Atoms; Level 5 Molecules; Level 6 Prokaryotic cells; Level 7 Eukaryotic cells; Level 8 Multicellular organisms; Level 9 Animal social groups; Level 10 Cultural webs of “we”; Level 11 Agrovillages; Level 12 Geopolitical states.

rorotoko.com© Columbia University Press

There is more. Each level contains things that are fundamentally new, because innovations in the relations of the things at each level were necessary to create the things at the next level, at least in our universe of things. This remarkable and special sequence I call the grand sequence.

I have written the book so that readers are walked through the essential, best currently known science and scholarship of the things at each level, the innovative relations, and how those new things and relations led to each subsequent level. That walk takes place in part two of the book, following the general theory of the logic and the quest put forth in part one. Finally, in part three comes what I see as a very exciting part of the book. In part three I treat the levels as a set of phenomena in an attempt at a universal field of scholarship and ask about commonalities or groupings of families within the levels. I will say a bit more about this below.



Michael Sappol


On his book Body Modern: Fritz Kahn, Scientific Illustration, and the Homuncular Subject

Cover Interview of July 05, 2017

In a nutshell

Body Modern focuses on the history of a peculiar kind of imagery of the human body: the conceptual scientific illustration. Primarily found in America and Germany between 1915 and 1960, images of the body modern also traveled to the Soviet Union, China, Latin America, and many other countries, as well as across time; the book follows them to the twenty-first century, where they regularly appear in videos, training manuals, websites, textbooks and magazines—our media environment and experience.

To clarify: Body Modern is not about pictures that teach lessons about the anatomical structures of the body, but about pictures that attempt to entertain and instruct readers with visual explanations of the workings of the human body, using metaphors, sequences, analogies, diagrammatic elements, cross-sections, allusions, playful situations, and juxtapositions. To us, such images seem familiar, something that has always been around, but the genre was novel and remarkable when it was invented in Chicago in the first decades of the 20th century.

Its first great exponent was Fritz Kahn (1888-1968), a German-Jewish physician and popular science writer. In collaboration with a cadre of commercial artists, Kahn brilliantly deployed and redeployed—he was a great recycler and repurposer of his own pictures as well as those of his predecessors and contemporaries—thousands of illustrations, in books, articles and posters that reached a mass audience in Weimar Germany and around the world.

rorotoko.com Head, thorax, and abdomen, all contain gases and help to keep the body afloat in Der Mensch Gesund und Krank (Man in Health and Sickness), vol. 1 (1939).

Body Modern bombards the reader with images from the works of Kahn because Kahn’s pictures were one very remarkable, but now mostly forgotten, part of a pictorial/media regime change, a cultural revolution that aimed to remake the relationship between text, image, and body, and remake, perhaps re-engineer, human subjectivity.


William H. Galperin


On his book The History of Missed Opportunities: British Romanticism and the Emergence of the Everyday

Cover Interview of June 27, 2017

In a nutshell

The History of Missed Opportunities explores an unrecognized, certainly an unappreciated, development in Romantic-era Britain: the discovery of everyday life as a world that had been overlooked or, as Maurice Blanchot later describes it, “what we never see a first time, but only see again.” Emergence, first theorized somewhat later in the nineteenth century, focused––to no real surprise––on the rise and synthesis of complex entities from components that were less complicated. But in a reversal of this dynamic that might be deemed pre-Darwinian, the impetus behind the everyday’s emergence as a separate stratum of experience involved two things: the emancipation of the world from subjective or phenomenological misprision in allowing a symbol derived from nature (in, say, a Wordsworth poem) to revert back to a more basic materiality or thingness; and second, and related, the recognition that the lives and experiences of individuals (but also of nations and societies) were myopically bound to futurity––to horizons of progress or development––that took little stock of the present, which was increasingly “missable” (as Stanley Cavell has termed it) but as a prelude now to being (re)discovered.

The everyday’s emergence is in the most basic sense, then, an act of recovery that Romantic-period literature restages, transforming “history” into a placeholder for possibilities that had been ignored in deference to the “open futures” toward which seemingly everything, from science to social progress, to bildung on a personal scale, was hurtling in “the age of revolution.”

And what of history at this moment? Well, in addition to being made daily (or so it seemed), history was being mobilized––notably by empirical philosophy––to establish generalities and probabilities so that “what we have found to be most usual,” as David Hume put it, “is always most probable.” For a skeptic like Hume, for whom nothing was knowable beyond a mere impression, history––experience in aggregate––was more than just a guide to understanding what was out there; it was just as importantly a conservative wish that our tomorrows would resemble yesterday.

For the Romantics, however, who were progressively invested in tomorrows that were different and transformative––and less concerned, for their parts, with the limits posed by subjectivity––history was put to different uses. The most common were histories that are broadly linear––so-called Whig histories––where the past and the future were coextensive in the assumption that each moment in time was a step toward absolute modernity and, eventually, the end of history. But there was another use and, as my book shows, it involved something very different: a reckoning where possibility abides in reminders and remainders––opportunities I call them––that are accessible in the wake of being missed after which they are recognized, again and for the first time.



Caleb Everett


On his book Numbers and the Making of Us: Counting and the Course of Human Cultures

Cover Interview of June 20, 2017

In a nutshell

Numbers, words and other symbols for precise quantities, are a human invention that had a broad impact on our cognitive and behavioral lives. This claim is based on extensive findings obtained by many researchers across a host of fields including linguistics, psychology, and archaeology. Through a novel synthesis of these findings, Numbers and the Making of Us shows that the invention and refinement of numbers across cultures had a profound impact on the human condition.

A key point underscored in the experimental data surveyed is the following: While even at birth humans have some abilities to differentiate quantities, these abilities are very limited until we are taught number words and counting. We seem to have a native ability to discriminate small quantities from each other, say two from three items. We also have a native ability to discriminate large quantities from each other if they differ in marked ways. We can differentiate, for instance, four from twelve items even at birth.

Surprisingly, perhaps, we require numbers to build upon these basic quantity differentiation skills. Numbers are the conceptual scaffolding that allows us to construct uniquely human quantitative thought. In the book, this point is supported with data from prenumeric children, anumeric adults in places like Amazonia, and members of other species.

So how do humans arrive at numbers if we do not just “grow” into the recognition that, for instance, eight items can be consistently and precisely distinguished from nine items? How were numbers ever invented?

Through the examination of linguistic data across cultures, the book highlights a simple point: Numbers are typically invented after people come to recognize correspondences between the fingers on their hands and other items in their natural environment.

This manual route to numbers is not the only one cultures may take, but it is the most common route. As people come to recognize, in a haphazard and inconsistent manner, that a “hand” of something can refer to a specific quantity (five) of that something, they verbally reify numerical concepts. These verbal numbers can then be passed to others, refined, and built upon. The subsequent construction of more elaborate numerical concepts is essential to the development of other impactful cultural practices like agriculture and writing. In other words, the book suggests that the cognitive tools called numbers helped lead to a reshaping of the lives of most humans.



William D. Araiza


On his book Animus: A Short Introduction to Bias in the Law

Cover Interview of June 14, 2017

In a nutshell

This book explores the concept of “animus” in the law of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Over the last thirty years, the Supreme Court has decided several important equal protection cases by concluding that the challenged government action was motivated by “animus.” Animus is a tricky concept in constitutional law. It has an everyday meaning, denoting action that is motivated by ill-will. But this common-sense meaning does not easily translate into equal protection law. Equal protection concerns itself with government action, and thus, action that is often institutional, rather than action taken by an individual whose subjective motivations can be examined.

The book constructs a constitutional theory of animus—that is, a theory that provides a workable approach by which courts can determine whether an action is based in animus. The first half of the book is mainly taken up with examining the Court’s most important statements about animus. The foundational case, from 1973, stated that “a bare ... desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate government interest.” That case, Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, struck down an amendment to the federal food stamp law that denied food stamps to unrelated groupings of persons living in the same household. The Court cited congresspersons’ statements that the amendment targeted “hippies” and “hippie communes” to conclude that the statute was, indeed, motivated by “a bare ... desire to harm” such persons.

Starting a dozen years later, in 1985, the Court began building on Moreno’s statement as a justification to strike down laws ranging from a city’s rejection of a group home for the intellectually disabled to the federal government’s refusal, in the Defense of Marriage Act, to recognize same-sex marriages valid in the states where they were performed. While all of these cases relied on a conclusion that the challenged action was motivated by animus, and while all of them added to our understanding of the emerging animus doctrine, the Court has yet to unite these strands into a coherent whole.

The second part of the book attempts to create that doctrinal fabric. It explains how the strands of animus doctrine parallel another equal protection doctrine, one that governs how courts determine whether a government action was taken with “discriminatory intent.” The concepts of discriminatory intent and animus are analogous. As the book explains, it thus makes sense that the Court’s approach to discriminatory intent provides a template for its emerging animus doctrine. But even though the concepts are similar, they’re not identical. Thus, the book also explains how its proposed approach to uncovering animus differs from discriminatory intent doctrine.

After setting forth this approach, the book concludes by applying it to a variety of current equal protection issues, from gay rights to transgender rights to the rights of disabled people. It concludes by returning to a point the book makes in Chapter 1: namely, that the concept of “animus” is one with deep roots in American law that go back even before the Equal Protection Clause was drafted. Thus, it argues that our modern concern with animus is faithful to our deepest constitutional traditions.



Mark Bartholomew


On his book Adcreep: The Case Against Modern Marketing

Cover Interview of June 07, 2017

In a nutshell

By some counts, the average American is exposed to over three thousand advertisements each day. It is not just the number, but the nature of these ads that are different from those in the past. They are more personalized, more insistent, and, somewhat paradoxically, more clandestine. What does it mean to live in a world of non-stop selling? Are consumers adequately equipped to deal with modern marketing’s use of new technologies to surveil our activities, study our brains, and score our social interactions? Are there costs to this fundamental rebalancing of the relationship between advertiser and audience? If so, why hasn’t there been more resistance on the part of lawmakers and the general public?

Adcreep exposes the initiatives that advertisers try to keep hidden. Each chapter in the book describes a new advertising technique and its accompanying social dangers. Advances in neuroscience have become a tool for subconsciously stimulating shoppers’ appetites. Corporate infiltration of schools, state parks, and other civic territories alters the way identities are formed so as to best suit Madison Avenue. A world of non-stop digital surveillance leaves consumers open to blackmail and discrimination. Celebrity advertising on social media creates a false equivalence: the famous possess special VIP tools to manage online disclosures while ordinary citizens must forfeit control of their posts to false friends, hostile outsiders, and data-hungry marketers.

This is a book that should especially appeal to readers with an interest in history. To explain why advertisers have been allowed to proceed with these new selling techniques, it helps to have a historical backdrop in mind.

Past controversies over invasive advertising strategies triggered a series of legal battles, ultimately producing a regulatory framework meant to keep business freedom and consumer protection in balance. The book describes this regulatory framework, and uses historical examples to show how it has dealt over time with a variety of advertising innovations. Disputes over billboard regulation, snake oil salesmen, subliminal advertising, and the use of digital technology to reanimate dead celebrities are all instructive examples. They illustrate how the new advertising techniques of today echo the forbidden techniques of the past.

The book’s ultimate conclusion is that, on a variety of fronts, the legal system is allowing invasive advertising to proceed unchecked. Novel interpretations of the First Amendment, contract law, intellectual property law, and the publicity rights of celebrities all handcuff fledgling efforts to adjust the law to account for commercial innovation.

By the end of the book, readers should be convinced of two things. One is that modern marketing has entered a new, profoundly different era. The other is that, in contrast to the past, lawmakers have done little to safeguard consumers from adcreep.