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1. Barbara J. King on whale grief

9780226155203From National Geographic:

More than six species of the marine mammals have been seen clinging to the body of a dead compatriot, probably a podmate or relative, scientists say in a new study.

The most likely explanation for the animals’ refusal to let go of the corpses: grief.

“They are mourning,” says study co-author Melissa Reggente, a biologist at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy. “They are in pain and stressed. They know something is wrong.”

Scientists have found a growing number of species, from giraffes to chimps, that behave as if stricken with grief. Elephants, for example, return again and again to the body of a dead companion.

Such findings add to the debate about whether animals feel emotion—and, if they do, how such emotions should influence human treatment of other creatures. (See “Do Crows Hold Funerals for Their Dead?”)

Animal grief can be defined as emotional distress coupled with a disruption of usual behavior, according to Barbara King, emeritus professor of anthropology at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and author of the book How Animals Grieve.
Barbara J. King has long positioned her scholarship at the forefront of our study of animal emotions—in works like How Animals Grieve and in her criticism, which regularly appears in the TLS, King pushes us to understand the complex inner lives of animals, neither wholly similar nor dissimilar to the realm of human affects. The National Geographic piece makes a compelling case for the importance of King’s work on animal grief, which she refuses to anthropomorphize, while at the same time, grounding her findings in observations of marine animal life. Warning though: it will make you feel your own feelings.
To read more about How Animals Grieve, click here.
To read the National Geographic piece in full, click here.

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2. Blowin’ Up at Pop Matters



From a recent review of Jooyoung Lee’s Blowin’ Up: Rap Dreams in South Central, at Pop Matters:

One of the many powers of hip-hop, of course, is the intimacy it offers. Spend enough time listening to a certain rapper, and you begin to feel like you know that person as well as you do your own friends. Chuck D’s famous pronouncement that hip-hop is “CNN for black people”, pointed though it is, seems to miss part of the story. Hip-hop is CNN for white people, too, if you acknowledge the media’s systematic neglect of America’s black population. Through hip-hop, rappers are telling the stories that many journalists, and their publications, couldn’t be bothered to cover.

As a white hip-hop fan, there’s a seductive tendency to congratulate one’s self for gaining cultural competencies in African American culture, as if memorizing Tupac lyrics and attending Wu-Tang concerts confers a master’s degree in black studies. But the truth is that even in its rawest, most detailed form, hip-hop gives only what is at best a keyhole-sized view of the African American experience.

Jooyoung Lee’s Blowin’ Up: Rap Dreams in South Central represents a jump through the keyhole into the world of hip-hop as it is lived by some of the art form’s most dedicated practitioners.

To read more about Blowin’ Up, click here.

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3. Sara Goldrick-Rab and the United States of Debt


Sara Goldrick-Rab’s game-changing book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream publishes this September. To understand part of the urgency behind its central claim—that college is far too costly, and the confusing mix of federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid leaves countless students without the resources they need to pay for it—tune in to the most recent United States of Debt podcast from the folks at Slate.

Tackling the student loan crisis, Slate asks: “Just how many of us are really burdened by the cost of pursuing a higher education, and is there a way out? Are student loans more common now, and why? Why are student loans such a mess in the United States, compared to other countries? And what do for-profit schools have to do with all of this?” Listen in for more about Goldrick-Rab and the stakes of living with suffocating student debt—and what we might do about it.

To read more about Paying the Price, click here.

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4. In memoriam: William H. McNeill (1917–2016)


William H. McNeill (1917–2016)—historian, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago (where he began teaching in 1947), and prolific scholar—died July 8, 2016, at age 98. One of his most notable works, The Rise of the West: A History of Human Community, was the first University of Chicago Press title to win a National Book Award, and is often considered a major force in resituating “western” civilization in a more global context.

From the New York Times:

Professor McNeill’s opus, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963), took 10 years to write. It became a bestseller, won the National Book Award for history and biography and was lauded in the New York Times Book Review by the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. “This is not only the most learned and the most intelligent,” he wrote, “it is also the most stimulating and fascinating book that has ever set out to recount and explain the whole history of mankind.”

McNeill went on to write several books for the University of Chicago Press, including Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081–1797The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000; The Islamic World (coedited with Marilyn Robinson Waldman); Hutchins’ University: A Memoir of the University of Chicago, 1929–1950History of Western Civilization: A Handbook; and Europe’s Steppe Frontier: 1500–1800His honors included a National Humanities Medal for his work as a teacher, scholar, and author.

From the University of Chicago:

In a 1987 interview at the time of his retirement, McNeill said it was important for historians not to be too narrow in their outlook. “History has to look at the whole world,” he said. “And that means you have to know how the rest of the world is, how it got to be the way it is.”

McNeill was critical in launching the field of world history at a time when the discipline was narrowly focused on the history of Europe and its past and present colonies. In his work, he emphasized the connections and exchanges between civilizations rather than placing them in a vacuum.

“Bill McNeill was a scholar of extraordinary boldness, range and high creativity,” said John W. Boyer, the Martin A. Ryerson Professor in History and dean of the College. “He was able to see patterns and relationships among highly complex and disparate historical phenomena on a global level in ways that enabled him to write magnificent and courageous books of large intellectual compass.”

The NYT’s obit concludes with an prescient excerpt from McNeill’s 1992 review of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man:

“I do not believe that human nature is uniform and unchanging. Rather, whatever penchants and capabilities we inherit with our genes are so malleable that their expression takes infinitely diverse forms.”

“When Asian models of social and economic efficiency seem to be gaining ground every day, and when millions of Muslims are at pains to sustain the differences, great and small, that distinguish them from Americans,” he continued, “it is hard to believe that all the world is destined to imitate us.”

To read more about McNeill’s work, click here.

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5. Natasha Kumar Warikoo on affirmative action


Natasha Kumar Warikoo’s The Diversity Bargain and Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy at Elite Universities, which publishes this fall, examines how both white students and students of color understand race and privilege at three top-tier universities—Harvard, Yale, and Oxford. Culminating in what Warikoo calls “the diversity bargain”—white students agree with affirmative action abstractly as long as it benefits them personally—the book argues that the slippery notions that sustain social inequalities on college campuses are hugely impacted not only by the student body, but also by the practices of universities themselves.

In a recent piece for the Boston Globe, Warikoo expanded on her findings:

However, in my research with undergraduates at Ivy League universities, I have found that this narrow justification shapes students’ conceptions of fairness and equity in admissions. Many white students at elite colleges agree with affirmative action only because they understand it benefits them through interaction with their minority peers. As a result, some are upset when they see tables of black peers in the cafeteria, when their black peers join the Black Students Association, or when Latino peers spend their time at Centers for Students of Color. What they don’t understand is that those organizations can be lifelines for students unfamiliar with the culture of elite, predominantly white universities, and who share experiences with racial injustice.

The sole emphasis on benefits to themselves also leads many white students to fear that affirmative action may in the future limit their opportunities. Affirmative action becomes an easy scapegoat when they fail in competitive processes like graduate school admission, summer internships, and jobs. One student at Harvard shared his worries about what some call reverse discrimination: “If I hadn’t gotten into Harvard I would have felt that I’d been discriminated against. If someone else that I knew and was equally qualified who was an ethnic minority had gotten in above me.” Affirmative action is an easy target when its only justification is the benefit of whites.

The diversity-of-voices lens misses the point. Affirmative action is about expanding opportunity and recalibrating our imprecise measures of merit so that they take our nation’s legacy of systemic and institutional racism into consideration. And we adults feed white students’ anxiety when we do not say so.

To read Warikoo’s piece at the Boston Globe in full, click here.

To read more about The Diversity Bargain, click here.

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6. Free e-book for July: Bigfoot


Our free e-book for July is Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs—
download your copy here!


In August 2009, two men in rural Georgia announced that they had killed Bigfoot. The claim drew instant, feverish attention, leading to more than 1,000 news stories worldwide—despite the fact that nearly everyone knew it was a hoax. Though Bigfoot may not exist, there’s no denying Bigfoot mania.

With Bigfoot, Joshua Blu Buhs traces the wild and wooly story of America’s favorite homegrown monster. He begins with nineteenth-century accounts of wildmen roaming the forests of America, treks to the Himalayas to reckon with the Abominable Snowman, then takes us to northern California in 1958, when reports of a hairy hominid loping through remote woodlands marked Bigfoot’s emergence as a modern marvel. Buhs delves deeply into the trove of lore and misinformation that has sprung up around Bigfoot in the ensuing half century. We meet charlatans, pseudo-scientists, and dedicated hunters of the beast—and with Buhs as our guide, the focus is always less on evaluating their claims than on understanding why Bigfoot has inspired all this drama and devotion in the first place. What does our fascination with this monster say about our modern relationship to wilderness, individuality, class, consumerism, and the media?

Writing with a scientist’s skepticism but an enthusiast’s deep engagement, Buhs invests the story of Bigfoot with the detail and power of a novel, offering the definitive take on this elusive beast.

To download your free copy, click here.

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7. In Memoriam: Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016)


French poet, translator, and critic Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016) died on July 1, 2016. Professor emeritus and former chair of the comparative study of poetry (following the death of Roland Barthes) at the Collège de France, Bonnefoy was regarded by many, including the French president François Hollande and the Encyclopedia Britannica, as one of the most important poets of the second half of the twentieth century. Frequently speculated to be a candidate for the Nobel Prize, Bonnefoy was the recipient of many prizes in his lifetime, including the Prix Goncourt and the Griffin Lifetime Recognition Award.

Bonnefoy was the author of more than 100 books, among them original collections of poetry, art and literary criticism, compilations on mythology, and works in translation (those of Shakespeare and Yeats, most prominently).

The University of Chicago Press published four of those books—The Act and the Place of Poetry: Selected Essays (1989), In the Shadow’s Light (1991), New and Selected Poems (1995), Shakespeare and the French Poet (2004)—along with several volumes in his Mythologies series. In recent years, Seagull Books has published several additional works, including The Arrière-Pays (2012), The Present Hour (2013), Rue Traversière (1972; 2015), The Digamma (2014), The Anchor’s Long Chain (2015), and Ursa Major (forthcoming 2016).

From the BBC:

In his writing, he said he tried to capture some of primal emotions that he associated with his own happy childhood. In his poetry, he tried to seek “what is immediate in life” by staying faithful to the “truth of language.”

“A poet’s job is to show us a tree, before our mind tells us what a tree is,” said Bonnefoy.

To read more about Bonnefoy’s works published or distributed by the University of Chicago Press, click here.

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8. In Memoriam: Alison Winter (1965–2016)




Alison Winter (1965–2016), historian of the mind, as well as professor of history, the conceptual and historical studies of science, and the college at the University of Chicago, passed away last week from complications related to a brain tumor. A formidable scholar, teacher, and friend, Winter counted among her contributions to the history of sciences of mind two books published by the University of Chicago Press, Memory: Fragments of a Modern History (2012), winner of the 2014 Gordon J. Laing Prize for a book published in the previous three years by a Chicago faculty member that brings the Press the greatest distinction, and Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (2000). As noted by her colleague, Emilio Kourí, chair of the Department of History: “We will all miss her uncommon intelligence, her boundless curiosity, and her joie de vivre.”

From the Department of History at the University of Chicago:

The Guggenheim, Andrew W. Mellon, and National Science foundations awarded Winter fellowships to research her second book, Memory: Fragments of a Modern History (2012). Memory received a Gordon J. Laing Prize in 2014 for most distinguished book published by the University of Chicago Press. Daniel Kevles of Yale University called the book an “original history of the intertwined theories of memory and attempts to recall past experience. Winter writes with engaging discernment about the clinic and the courtroom, trauma and therapy, neuroscience and neurospeculation.” In a 2012 Australian Broadcast Corporation interview Winter discussed how scientists groped for metaphors to explain “such an elusive thing” as memory, and how these metaphors evolved in the twentieth century to reflect changing technology—from memory as a filing cabinet to a photograph to the rewind button on a tape recorder. Hearkening back to her undergraduate curiosity to combine ideas from the sciences and humanities, Winter explained: “We are remaking how we think about the mind and the brain. . . . I think it’s an extraordinarily interesting time right now because so many different fields are talking to each other in ways that they never did before.”

Winter taught historical topics in ethics to medical students and enjoyed welcoming undergraduates and graduate students into intensive seminars on Victorian science or the uses of film in the sciences. Each year she taught Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization, which was the same core sequence she had taken as a student in the College. She served on thirteen dissertation committees in the Department of History, the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, and the Pritzker School of Medicine. Caitjan Gainty, PhD’12 (history), lecturer in the history of science, technology, and medicine at King’s College, said of Winter: “She had confidence in me as a scholar before I even understood what it meant to do that kind of work.”

To read more about Winter’s work, click here.

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9. Responses to the New York Times on Chicago’s problem with gun violence


Photo by Joshua Lott for the New York Times.

Earlier this month, the New York Times published a blockbuster piece of investigative reporting that involved sending a team of journalists and photographers to Chicago to cover the unfolding events of a Memorial Day weekend that culminated in 64 shootings and 6 deaths in just under 72 hours. As the violence escalated, reporters on the scene followed the blotter, interviewing those injured, witnesses on the scene, and community members, many of whom live on the city’s South and Southwest sides, leading to a portrait in real time not only the weekend’s events, but also how these bloody circumstances significantly impact the neighborhoods in which they continue to occur. The coverage comes on the heels of several other recent pieces by the NYT on Chicago’s ongoing problems with gun-related bloodshed, including “Chicago’s Murder Problem” (May 27, 2016), “Pleading for Peace in Chicago Amid Fears of a Bloody Summer” (May 28, 2016), and “When Violence Hits Home in Chicago,” a feature from the Lens Blog, on the photos that accompanied that major piece, “A Weekend in Chicago” (June 4, 2016).

We asked Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist whose work on crime, civic engagement, inequality, and the neighborhood effect was used as research by the NYT in the piece, and Susan A. Phillips, an anthropologist who focuses on urban violence, criminal justice, and the relationship between gangs and the state, to respond to what the coverage emphasized or reaffirmed, missed or undermined, and what that indicates about broader concerns for the city and its residents, whose daily lives remain impacted by a particularly terrifying reality—an already jolting homicide rate, up 62 percent already this year. Their responses follow after the jump.


Below, Robert J. Sampson, author of Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effectweighs in on the deep structural disadvantage that promotes neighborhood inequality, particularly in Chicago.

The New York Times series on Chicago was remarkable for the intensity of its focus both at the neighborhood level and in the detailed portrayal of lives lost over the Memorial Day weekend. Drawing attention to the recent upswing in murder exposes what in years past was often ignored by the press—the disproportionate toll that violence takes on our most disadvantaged populations.

Nonetheless, we should not lose sight of two important facts. First, murders in Chicago remain significantly below levels of recent decades. In the early 1990s, for example, homicides approached 1,000 per year. The rate of violence has declined dramatically since then, and even if the current pace continues, the number of murders in 2016 will be much less. The problem of murder is still severe, but Chicago today is safer overall, hard as that is to believe given the enormous press attention.

The second fact is that homicides are driven by the same set of social conditions as the past, and in many cases are occurring in identical places. Maps of violence over the years reveal a reoccurring concentration in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and segregation, especially on the west and south sides of the city. As I have shown in Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, low-income minority neighborhoods have a long history of linked adversities, not just violence but incarceration, physical disinvestment, family instability, and poor health. The persistent concentration of social disadvantage goes beyond any one indicator and breeds institutional cynicism.

Violence, then, is part of a cycle of disadvantage in deeply distressed communities. This is not a problem unique to Chicago—all cities show similar concentrations of violence. Neighborhood inequality is deeper and more durable in Chicago, however, and it is there our attention should be paid.

Robert J. Sampson is the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Director of the Boston Area Research Initiative. Prior to Harvard, he was chair of the department of sociology and taught at the University of Chicago for twelve years. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Susan A. Phillips, author of Operation Fly Trap: L. A. Gangs, Drugs, and the Lawsituates the NYT‘s coverage as part of a larger dynamic in contemporary journalism that needs to emphasize not only the effects of aggressive policing, but also the difficulty communities face in creating alternative forms of public safety.

The recent New York Times coverage of violence within the City of Chicago is powerful journalism, tweaked a bit by the exigencies of the Black Lives Matter movement. But the coverage stops short of creating a form of journalism that either mirrors transformative anti-violence work or that is, in itself, transformative.

The portraits in each article begin to blur lines between categories of victim and perpetrator, but this is only partially successful. The stream of images in the online version contributes to the pornography of pain surrounding black communities. This visual accompaniment may create momentary sympathy, but it also replays a familiar entrenchment of difference that ultimately undermines the articles’ humanizing goals. The coverage also demonstrates little understanding of gangs, which are pitched as something you can “get out of” or that, if we could just put the right people in prison (maybe the 140 mentioned in the gang sweep), we might be getting somewhere.

Chicago has historically had the most corrupt police force in the country. Aggressive policing has moved in lockstep with gang violence in the City of Chicago for generations. Entrenched racism in the United States has helped make Chicago neighborhoods into militarized zones. Gangs within these zones are both perpetrators and victims of violence. As direct arbiters of global inequality, gangs have become fundamentally intertwined with neighborhood life. Removing gang members in sweeps can create leadership vacuums that contribute to rises in violence, just as relying on punitive punishment can weaken families and communities.

Many Chicago organizations have done good work to decrease violence in the past. From 2009 to 2012, Youth Advocate Programs conducted over 1,000 gang conflict mediations, and created programs that both kept youth safe and that minimized reliance on punitive measures like suspension and expulsion. More recently, Cheryl Graves of the Community Justice for Youth Institute began creating “Restorative Justice Hubs” in Chicago. For Graves, restorative justice is both philosophy and daily practice that demonstrates the power of people to identify and heal their own problems.

In the articles we get hints of people’s thoughts to this end: the idea that kids needs jobs, or that there are few educational opportunities. To turn in guns as a salve to the violence is a symbolic gesture rather than a demonstration of serious commitment to the youth of Chicago.

To understand Chicago’s rampant violence, we need stories that examine not only the publicized harms of police brutality, but that look at what has compromised community members’ abilities to create lateral forms of public safety in the first place. We need to question assumptions about the effectiveness of policing and to understand the unpublicized harms of incarceration on families. Most important, we need journalists to write about the successful programs and transformational ideologies that address violence based on people’s own capacity to make change.

Susan A. Phillips is associate professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer College, and an urban ethnographer who studies gangs, violence, and incarceration in the United States. Phillips was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow in 2008, and received a Harry Frank Guggenheim research grant in 2005 to fund her fieldwork. Previous to that she was a fellow at the Getty Research Institute from 1996–97, during the scholar year on Los Angeles.


To read the NYT coverage of Chicago’s Memorial Day weekend in full, click here.

To see more from UCP on sociology and urban anthropology, click here.

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10. Hélio Oiticica: Folding the Frame launch at e-flux


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

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To read more about Hélio Oiticica, click here.


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11. Sonia Sotomayor cites Pulled Over in her Supreme Court dissent


From Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent to this week’s Supreme Court verdict in Utah vs. Strieff, which twice cited Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenshipincluding its core argument about how police stops deleteriously convey messages about citizenship and racial disparity:

Writing only for myself, and drawing on my professional experiences, I would add that unlawful “stops” have severe consequences much greater than the inconvenience suggested by the name. This Court has given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine you. When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner. We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens. Although many Americans have been stopped for speeding or jaywalking, few may realize how degrading a stop can be when the officer is looking for more. This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants—so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact. . . . The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal (See Epp, Pulled Over, at 5).

To read more about Pulled Over, click here.

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12. The Book of Frogs lights the internet aflame


I mean, truly—here’s a positively radiant review, by Jesse Nee-Vogelman for Spectrum Culture:

Review 1
I’m not an expert on frogs. In all likelihood neither are you. If you desire to remedy this ignorance, The Book of Frogs contains a significant amount of information about frogs. Two thumbs up.

Review 2
I don’t think I’ve ever cared for anything the way Tim Halliday cares for frogs. By comparison, I am emotionally barren. I can barely handle a single romantic relationship. Batrachophilia is a much more work-intensive ardor.

The Book of Frogs details over 600 species of frogs, which, mind-bogglingly, comprises less than one-tenth of total frog species. Tim Halliday writes about each one as if it were his lover. Consider his description of the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog, a “slim, athletic frog with…long, muscular legs,” which isn’t even one of the prettier frogs in the catalog. Halliday is an emotional cosmonaut, exploring the outermost reaches of human feeling. He has breached the extremities of passion. Should not we all hope to touch, if briefly, such fondness for the world and its creatures? . . . [another 300 or so words that are LOL funny and incisive, critical in the best sense of the term]

All in all, Halliday captures both the extraordinary and ordinary of frogs in the same breathless prose that you wrote in love notes to your eighth-grade crush. Couple that with six hundred beautifully composed pictures of sometimes beautiful animals, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a novelty book. In its several months as the centerpiece of my coffee table, The Book of Frogs has generated more conversation than any other item in my apartment. It’s an aesthetic pleasure as an art object, informative as a reference guide, and gives me hope that one day, just like Tim Halliday, I will learn to love.

To read more about The Book of Frogs, click here.

To vote Jesse Nee-Vogelman for president of Nature, etc., click here.

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13. Jellyfish (in nature—the other Nature)

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Just in time for this weekend’s unofficial “start of summer” gong, Nature (yea, that Nature—though also, ostensibly, “nature,” the wilder of nouns, not that other one qua Lucretius’s De rerum natura) came through with a review of Lisa-ann Gershwin’s Jellyfish: A Natural History. Stuck behind a paywall? Here it is in its glory, for your holiday reads:

One resembles an exquisitely ruffled and pleated confection of pale silk chiffon; another, a tangle of bioluminescent necklaces cascading from a bauble. Both marine drifters (Desmonema glaciale and Physalia) feature in jellyfish expert Gershwin’s absorbing coffee-table book on this transparent group with three evolutionary lineages. Succinct science is intercut with surreal portraiture — from the twinkling Santa’s hat jellyfish (Periphylla periphylla) to the delicate blue by-the-wind sailor (Velella velella).

To read more about Jellyfish, click here.

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14. Rachel Havrelock on the Sykes-Picot Agreement for Foreign Affairs



The Sykes-Picot Agreement, ratified on May 16, 1916, was a concord developed in secret between France and the UK, with acknowledgement of the Russian Empire, that allocated control and influence over much of Southwestern Asia, carving up and establishing much of today’s Middle East, along with Western and Arab sociopolitical tensions. The real reason for the divide? The region’s petroleum fields, and the desire to share in its reserves, but not its pipelines. Rachel Havrelock’s book River JordanThe Mythology of a Dividing Line considers the implications of yet another border in the region, the river that defines the edge of the Promised Land in the Hebrew Bible—an integral parcel of land for both the Israeli and Palestinian states. With her expertise in the ideologies that undermine much cartography of the region (her book includes a map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement’s splitting of territories), Havrelock understands how the demarcation of influence was central to the production of very specific oil-producing nation states.

In a recent piece for Foreign Affairs, appearing a century after the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Havrelock writes about the potential for the region to remake itself, in the self-image of its peoples and their local resources:

The dissolution of oil concessions could hold the key to this transformation. Consider the Kurdish case. Following the Second Gulf War, private oil companies flocked to Iraq. Iraq’s national oil company reserved the right to pump existing wells with partners of its choosing, but local bodies such as the Kurdistan Regional Government were allowed to explore new wells and forge their own partnerships—a boon to the Kurdish economy.

Kurdish oil shares made all the difference when ISIS emerged in 2014. The largely effective Kurdish Peshmerga fight against ISIS owes to Kurds’ desire to protect not just their homeland but also the resources within it. Kurds harbor longstanding desires for autonomy, but their jurisdiction over local oil is a form of sovereignty—over resources rather than territory—that models a truly post‑Sykes–Picot Middle East. Because Sykes–Picot divided territory in the name of extracting and transporting oil to Europe, reforming the ownership of oil is the first step in dissolving the legacy of colonial administration and authoritarian rule.

Ideally, people across the Middle East should hold shares in local resources and have a say in their sale, use, and conservation. In an age of increased migration, this principle could help people inhabit new places with a sense of belonging and stewardship. Of course, local officials will still need to partner with global firms to drill, refine, and export oil, but such contracts will work best when driven by local needs rather than corporate profits. The Kurdish case proves that local stakeholders will raise an army where oil companies will not.

To read Havrelock’s piece in full at Foreign Affairs, click here.

To read more about River Jordan, click here.

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15. The Dead Ladies Art of Memoir Writing


From “Live through This,” by Catherine Hollis, her recent essay at Public Books on how much of our own lives we construct when we read and write memoirs:

In The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries, Jessa Crispin, the scrappy founding editor of Bookslut and Spolia, finds herself at an impasse when a suicide threat brings the Chicago police to her apartment. She needs a reason to live, and turns to the dead for help. “The writers and artists and composers who kept me company in the late hours of the night: I needed to know how they did it.” How did they stay alive? She decides to go visit them—her “dead ladies”—in Europe, and leave the husk of her old life behind. Crispin’s list includes men and women, exiles and expatriates, each of whom is paired with a European city. Her first port of call is Berlin, and William James. Rather than explicitly narrating her own struggle, Crispin focuses on James’s depressive crisis in Berlin, where as a young man he learned how to disentangle his thoughts and desires from his father’s. Out of James’s own decision to live—“my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will”—the rest of his life takes shape. Crispin reconstructs what it might have felt like to be William James before he was William James, professor at Harvard and author of The Varieties of Religious Experience. If he can live through the uncertainty of a life-in-progress, so too might she.

But not before checking in with Nora Barnacle in Trieste, Rebecca West in Sarajevo, Margaret Anderson in the south of France, W. Somerset Maugham in St. Petersburg, Jean Rhys in London, and the miraculous and amazing surrealist photographer Claude Cahun on Jersey Island. Through each biographical anecdote, each place, Crispin analyzes some issue at work in her own life: wives and mistresses, revolutionaries with messy love lives, and the problem of carting around a suicidal brain. Crispin travels with one suitcase, but a good deal of emotional baggage. While she focuses on each subject’s pain, what she’s seeking is how these writers and artists alchemized their suffering into art, and how that transmutation opens up an individual’s story to others. . . .

In the end, learning how other women and men decided to live helps Crispin decide that suicide is a failure of imagination. “Here is something else you could do,” Crispin’s ladies tell her; here is some other way to live.

To read the piece in full at Public Books, click here.

To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here.

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16. Barry Schwabsky on Kristin Ross’s May ’68 and Its Afterlives


Barry Schwabsky on Kristin Ross’s May ’68 and Its Afterlives at Hyperallergic:

Okay, but when she dismisses a detractor’s charge that “nothing happened in France in ’68. Institutions didn’t change, the university didn’t change, conditions for workers didn’t change — nothing happened,” I have to wonder. Yes, something happened in the moment, with echoes that went on resonating for a few more years — but really, what long-term upshot did it have? That it’s hard to point to one is sobering, and to brush that aside seems to me too much like turning an uprising into (an unfortunate understanding of) a work of art: useless, complete in and of itself, to be admired, wondered at, and taken as exemplary. From May ’68 to the Arab Spring and Occupy, these beautiful apparitions, so easily quashed, can seem in retrospect a great argument for Leninism, and I can’t help sympathizing with, of all people, the embittered Maoist veteran of May, quoted by Ross, who came away from it with the lesson: “Never seize speech without seizing power.” Except that anyone who thinks they know how to do that is probably deluded.

To read the Hyperallergic piece in full, click here.

To read more about May ’68 and Its Afterlives, click here.

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17. Scorsese Goes to Dinner


Via an excerpt from the postscript to Roger Ebert’s Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, up at Esquire:

My wife and I sit all by ourselves at the table for 10, awaiting Monsieur Scorsese. Around us, desperate and harried waiters ricochet from table to table with steaming tureens of fish soup and groaning platters of whole lobster, grilled fish, garlic paste, crisp toast, boiled potatoes, and the other accoutrements of a bowl of bouillabaisse. To occupy an unused table in a busy French restaurant is to be the object of dirty looks from every waiter; if you are going to be late, be late—don’t be the ones who get there early and take the heat.

Around us, tout le Hollywood slurps its soup. There is Rob Friedman, second in command at Paramount. Over there is Woody Harrelson, who explains he partied till 6 A.M. and then slept two hours, and that was 15 hours ago. He wears the same thoughtful facial expression that his character in Kingpin did when his hand was amputated in the bowling ball polisher. Next to him is Milos Forman, who directed him in The People vs. Larry Flynt. Across from him is director Sydney Pollack (Tootsie). Across from him is director John Boorman (Deliverance). All of these people regard their bouillabaisse like poker players with a good hand.

“It is no more, sorry, impossible! You must now to go outside!” cries the owner. He wrings his hands with anguish. “The people who are waiting, they are very angry! I cannot wait them no more! Impossible! Monsieur Scorsese plus tard! Monsieur DeNiro, etc., etc.”

We are banished from the table and go to wait outside in the road. Tétou is so small that you are either seated at a table or standing on the curb dodging Renaults and motorbikes. The Scorsese table has been given to angry patrons who have been waiting outside for, one gathers, days or weeks. I picture them in pup tents. Immediately after we are evicted, Monsieur Scorsese arrives—but not in time to beat out the new occupants of his table, who sit down with the air of wronged exiles returning to their ancestral homeland.

“Jeez, what are we, 15 minutes late?” asks Scorsese. His party includes his agent Rick Nicita, his collaborator Rafael Donatello, his friend Helen Morris, his agent Manny Nunez, Touchstone execs Jordi Ross and Mimi Hare, his producer Barbara de Fina, and his assistant Kim Sockwell. Counting us, there are 11, not 10. No problem, since there is no room for any of us.

Four of us are parked at a table in the corner while the rest of the party hovers uncertainly beside the traffic lanes. We are promised seating in five minutes. Well, not precisely five minutes, but cinq minutes, which is a French expression translating as “five unspecified units of time.”

I do my imitation of the restaurateur saying “impossible.” Scorsese is delighted: “He sounds exactly like Susan Alexander’s vocal coach in Citizen Kane, telling Orson Welles that his wife will never be an opera singer.”

To read the excerpt in full at Esquire, click here.

To read more about Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, click here.

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18. Jessa Crispin on US literary culture


From Michelle Dean’s profile of Jessa Crispin for the Guardian:

Staying outside of that mainstream, Crispin said, had some professional costs. “We didn’t generate people that are now writing for the New Yorker,” Crispin said. “If we had, I would have thought that we were failures anyway.” She’s bored by the New Yorker. In fact, of the current crop of literary magazines, she said only the London Review of Books currently interested her, especially articles by Jenny Diski or Terry Castle. Of the New Yorker itself, she said: “It’s like a dentist magazine.”

Crispin’s general assessment of the current literary situation is fairly widely shared in, of all places, New York. It is simply rarely voiced online. Writers, in an age where an errant tweet can set off an avalanche of op-eds more widely read than the writers’ actual books, are cautious folk.

And Crispin can’t stand the way some of these people have become boosters of the industry just at the moment of what she sees as its decline. “I don’t know why people are doing this, but people are identifying themselves with the system,” Crispin said. “So if you attack publishing, they feel that they are personally being attacked. Which is not the case.”

It’s not that she doesn’t understand these writers’ reasoning. “Everything is so precarious, and none of us can get the work and the attention or the time that we need, and so we all have to be in job-interview mode all of the time, just in case somebody wants to hire us,” Crispin added. “So we’re not allowed to say, ‘The Paris Review is boring as fuck!’ Because what if the Paris Review is just about to call us?” The freedom from such questions is something Crispin personally cherishes.

To read more, visit the Guardian here.

To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here.

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19. Our 2016 Fall Books catalog has arrived!


Our 2016 Fall Books catalog has arrived—at 427+ pages, it’s our biggest yet. Click here to download a PDF and read up on its 759 titles, or visit Edelweiss for up-to-the minute, detailed bibliographic information for each book. Phew!

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20. Free e-book for May: Ebert’s Best

9780226048901 (1)

Our free e-book for March is Ebert’s Best by Roger Ebert. Download your copy here.


Roger Ebert is a name synonymous with the movies. In Ebert’s Bests, he takes readers through the journey of how he became a film critic, from his days at a student-run cinema club to his rise as a television commentator in At the Movies and Siskel & Ebert. Recounting the influence of the French New Wave, his friendships with Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese, as well as travels to Sweden and Rome to visit Ingrid Bergman and Federico Fellini, Ebert never loses sight of film as a key component of our cultural identity. In considering the ethics of film criticism—why we should take all film seriously, without prejudgment or condescension—he argues that film critics ought always to engage in open-minded dialogue with a movie. Extending this to his accompanying selection of “10 Bests,” he reminds us that hearts and minds—and even rankings—are bound to change.


To read more about books by Roger Ebert published by the University of Chicago Press, click here.

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Publishers Weekly already christened Philip Ball’s Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does as the “Most Beautiful Book of 2016.” In a recent interview he did with Smithsonian Magazine, Ball lets us in on why, exactly we’re so drawn to the idea of patterns and their visual manifestations, as well as what let him to follow that curiosity and write the book. Read an excerpt after the jump.


What exactly is a pattern?

I left it slightly ambiguous in the book, on purpose, because it feels like we know it when we see it. Traditionally, we think of patterns as something that just repeats again and again throughout space in an identical way, sort of like a wallpaper pattern. But many patterns that we see in nature aren’t quite like that. We sense that there is something regular or at least not random about them, but that doesn’t mean that all the elements are identical. I think a very familiar example of that would be the zebra’s stripes. Everyone can recognize that as a pattern, but no stripe is like any other stripe.

I think we can make a case for saying that anything that isn’t purely random has a kind of pattern in it. There must be something in that system that has pulled it away from that pure randomness or at the other extreme, from pure uniformity.

Why did you decide to write a book about natural patterns?

At first, it was a result of having been an editor at Nature. There, I started to see a lot of work come through the journal—and through scientific literature more broadly—about this topic. What struck me was that it’s a topic that doesn’t have any kind of natural disciplinary boundaries. People that are interested in these types of questions might be biologists, might be mathematicians, they might be physicists or chemists. That appealed to me. I always liked subjects that don’t respect those traditional boundaries.

But I think also it was the visuals. The patterns are just so striking, beautiful and remarkable.

Then, underpinning that aspect is the question: How does nature without any kind of blueprint or design put together patterns like this? When we make patterns, it is because we planned it that way, putting the elements into place. In nature, there is no planner, but somehow natural forces conspire to bring about something that looks quite beautiful.

To read more about Patterns in Nature, click here.

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22. Sara Goldrick-Rab on #RealCollege


Sara Goldrick-Rab, recently named one of *the* indispensable academics to follow on Twitter by the Chronicle of Higher Education, will publish her much-anticipated Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream this fall. Needless to say, the book couldn’t be more timely—and important—to the continued conversation and policy debates surrounding the hyperbolic costs associated with American higher education. The book, which draws on Goldrick-Rab’s study of more than 3,000 young adults who entered public colleges and universities in Wisconsin in 2008 with the support of federal aid and Pell Grants, demonstrates that the cost of college is no longer affordable, or even sustainable—despite the assistance of federal, state, and local aid, the insurmountable price of an undergraduate degree leaves a staggering number of students crippled by debt, working a series of outside jobs (sometimes with inadequate food or housing), and more often than not, taking time off or withdrawing before matriculation. One of Goldrick-Rab’s possible solutions, a public sector–focused “first degree free” program, deserves its own blog entry.

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from a piece by Goldrick-Rab recently published at the Washington Post, which provides human faces to some of the data circulating around the central issues:

When he runs out of options, some nights Sam sleeps in his car. The students he attends class with at Milwaukee Area Technical College don’t know — his bright smile, carefully assembled outfits, and optimistic chatter are all they see. But his friend Angel understands; he and his three sisters are barely able to make it day to day since their mom was deported. His older sister works full-time to support them and their elderly grandmother while Angel works on his associate’s degree.

Over at Madison College, Jenna has been taking a class or two at a time for nearly four years. She can’t do more while raising two children on her own, though food stamps help a bit. She’s frustrated and wishes it would be easier to finish her degree, so that she could get a better job and secure a better life for her family.

Every year about three in 10 college students leave college without a degree. Many receive financial aid and also work, but the prices are so high that they can’t make ends meet. Even at community colleges, their basic needs go unmet: food runs short, and safe housing is hard to come by.

Sam, Angel and Jenna have managed to stay in college despite the odds, and at the end of April they joined more than 150 people from around the country at the first-ever national meeting about college food and housing insecurity. Hosted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab at Milwaukee Area Technical College, the #RealCollege convening was intended to inspire action. At the end of 2015, my team at the Lab published an op-ed in the New York Times describing our latest research about the prevalence of material hardship among the nation’s community college students.

Data from a survey of more than 4,000 students at 10 institutions around the country revealed that one in five was hungry, and 13 percent were homeless. Sadly, we weren’t surprised. Since 2008, we have been tracking food and housing insecurity in Wisconsin, while a handful of other scholars around the nation have been doing the same. It’s become increasingly clear that rising child poverty rates in the United States, coupled with broadened college enrollment, means that the same challenges confronting elementary and secondary schools now face colleges and universities too.

To read the Washington Post piece in full, click here.

For more about Paying the Price, click here.

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23. Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook


Just in time for this week’s opening days of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, we’re thrilled to publish Roger Ebert’s Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook, with a new foreword by Martin Scorsese and a new postscript. You can read more about the book below, and for the next month, download a free e-book version of Ebert’s Bests, which combines a selection of Ebert’s beloved “10 Bests” lists with the story of how he became a film critic.


A paragon of cinema criticism for decades, Roger Ebert—with his humor, sagacity, and no-nonsense thumb—achieved a renown unlikely ever to be equaled. His tireless commentary has been greatly missed since his death, but, thankfully, in addition to his mountains of daily reviews, Ebert also left behind a legacy of lyrical long-form writing. And with Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, we get a glimpse not only into Ebert the man, but also behind the scenes of one of the most glamorous and peculiar of cinematic rituals: the Cannes Film Festival.

More about people than movies, this book is an intimate, quirky, and witty account of the parade of personalities attending the 1987 festival—Ebert’s twelfth, and the fortieth anniversary of the event. A wonderful raconteur with an excellent sense of pacing, Ebert presents lighthearted ruminations on his daily routine and computer troubles alongside more serious reflection on directors such as Fellini and Coppola, screenwriters like Charles Bukowski, actors such as Isabella Rossellini and John Malkovich, the very American press agent and social maverick Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter, and the stylishly plunging necklines of yore. He also comments on the trajectory of the festival itself and the “enormous happiness” of sitting, anonymous and quiet, in an ordinary French café. And, of course, he talks movies.

Illustrated with Ebert’s charming sketches of the festival and featuring both a new foreword by Martin Scorsese and a new postscript by Ebert about an eventful 1997 dinner with Scorsese at Cannes, Two Weeks in the Midday Sun is a small treasure, a window onto the mind of this connoisseur of criticism and satire, a man always so funny, so un-phony, so completely, unabashedly himself.

To read more about Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, click here.

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24. 5/6: Deirdre McCloskey at Seminary Co-op


From a recent profile of Deirdre McCloskey in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

As the University of Chicago Press plans to release next month the final volume of McCloskey’s ambitious trilogy arguing that bourgeois values, rather than material circumstances, catalyzed the past several centuries’ explosion in wealth, her gender change may be the least iconoclastic thing about her. A libertarian with tolerance for limited welfare interventions by government, an economist who critiques the way her colleagues apply statistics and mathematical models, a devout Christian who emphasizes charity and love but within free-market strictures, a learned humanist politically to the right of many of the scholars who inspire her, McCloskey is a school of one.

“Everybody regards her as a superb intellectual and somebody who has for many years disregarded disciplinary boundaries,” says the economic historian Joel Mokyr, of Northwestern University. . . .

“I’ve seen so many academic careers end not with a bang but with a whimper. I thought that would happen to me,” she says. “I am so glad that in my old age I have found a project that uses what talents I have.”

McCloskey’s singularity can be traced to her lifelong journeys across gender, politics, academic outlook, and religious viewpoint. She has shifted from male to female, from left to right, from narrow, math-centered economist to wide-ranging interdisciplinarian, and from secular to progressive Episcopalian. Those four strands have intertwined and influenced one another. In the experience of a lesser and less determined mind, they might have added up to flakiness or hopeless confusion. But even McCloskey’s critics tend to venerate two or three phases of her varied career, if not all of them, and the word “brilliant” comes up not infrequently.

McCloskey is wry about the changes. “I seem to be condemned to spending the second half of my career contradicting the first half,” she tells a trio of graduate students in an informal seminar at her home one evening when the rest of the country is watching the Super Bowl.

It’s a good line, but the truth is more complicated. Each stage was necessary to the next, built on the models and knowledge of the period before, but improved as she confronted her disillusionment when those models proved fallible or at least insufficient to explain the complex world around her. The shifts, some reflected over the course of her 17 books, weren’t fickle changes of mind but a pentimento layering of experience. “I think that’s true of all our lives,” she says, “don’t you?”


Join McCloskey for a discussion of her latest book Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, Friday, May 6th, 6PM, at  the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 South Woodlawn, Chicago, IL 60637.

To read more about Bourgeois Equality, click here.

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25. An excerpt from America’s Snake by Ted Levin


“Diamond Dave and the Porcupine Hollow”
An excerpt from the Prologue to America’s Snake by Ted Levin


Why would Alcott Smith, at the time nearly seventy, affable and supposedly of sound mind, a blue-eyed veterinarian with a whittled-down woodman’s frame and lupine stamina, abruptly change his plans (and clothes) for a quiet Memorial Day dinner with his companion, Lou-Anne, and drive from his home in New Hampshire to New York State, north along the western rim of a wild lake, to a cabin on a corrugated dirt lane called Porcupine Hollow? Inside the cabin fifteen men quaffed beer, while outside a twenty-five-inch rattlesnake with a mouth full of porcupine quills idled in a homemade rabbit hutch. It was the snake that had interrupted Smith’s holiday dinner. Because of a cascade of consequences there aren’t many left in the Northeast: timber rattlesnakes are classified as a threatened species in New York and an endangered species everywhere in New England except Maine and Rhode Island where they’re already extinct. They could be gone from New Hampshire before the next presidential primary. Among the cognoscenti it’s speculated whether timber rattlesnakes ever lived in Quebec; they definitely did in Ontario, where rattlesnakes inhabited the sedimentary shelves of the Niagara Gorge but eventually died off like so many failed honeymoons consummated in the vicinity of the falls.

That rattlesnakes still survive in the Northeast may come as a big surprise to you, but that they have such an impassioned advocate might come as an even bigger surprise. Actually, rattlesnakes have more than a few advocates, both the affiliated and the unaffiliated, and as is so often the case, this is a source of emotional and political misunderstandings, turf battles and bruised egos. As you may have guessed already, Alcott Smith is a timber rattlesnake advocate, an obsessive really, who inhabits the demilitarized zone between the warring factions. How else to explain this spur-of-the-moment, four-hour road trip?

By the time Smith arrived, the party had been percolating for a while. Larry Boswell opened the door. As he spoke, a silver timber rattlesnake embossed on an upper eyetooth caught the light. Boswell owned the cabin and access to a nearby snake den, a very healthy one, where each October the unfortunate rattlesnake outside, following its own prehistoric biorhythms, had crawled down a crevice and spent more than half the year below the frost line dreaming snake dreams. Porcupines also favor sunny slopes, which likely is how the two met, one coiled and motionless and the other blundering forward. You’d think that after thousands of years of cohabitation on the sunny, rocky slopes of the Northeast, rattlesnakes and porcupines might have worked things out, but not so. No doubt, both animals instinctually took a defensive stance, and whether the snake struck and quills came out, or the startled porcupine lashed the snake with its pincushion tail, both had been severely compromised.

Without Smith’s help, the rattlesnake might have been doomed to starve as the quills festered. Ailing snakes die slowly, very slowly. One western diamondback is reported to have survived (and grown longer) in a wooden box for eighteen months without food and water, and a timber rattlesnake from Massachusetts lived twelve months (in and out of captivity) with its face consumed by a white gelatin-like fungus, a Quasimodo in the Blue Hills.

The cabin was small, dank, poorly lit. There wasn’t a sober individual in the group. Lou-Anne thought of Deliverance, and all evening she stood by the front door. Smith examined the snake and found fifteen quills embedded inside its mouth, which curled back a corner of the upper lip and perforated the margin of the glottis, gateway to the lungs, compromising both the snake’s breathing and its eating while protecting the outside world from the business end of the fabled, hollow (and grossly misunderstood) fangs. Essentially, the snake’s mouth had been pinned open.

Although this was a rattlesnake-tolerant (if not friendly) group, Smith wasn’t about to trust any of their less-than-steady hands to hold the animal. With imaginary blinkers on, Smith worked on a cleared-off coffee table in the middle of the cabin, with the overly supportive crowd keyed to every nuance. Smith gripped the head with one hand and pulled quills with the other, while the snake’s dark, thick torso sluggishly undulated across the coffee table. Slowly, methodically, he plucked each quill with a hemostat, and the men, who had tightened into a knot around the coffee table, cheered, toasted, chugged. After the last quill was pulled, the ebullient crowd roared approvingly, and the snake was returned to the hutch. Eight-years later, Lou-Anne, still jazzed by the potpourri of emotions, intensity, and images of that night, remembers feeling “relieved to have left there alive” as the couple returned home on the morning side of midnight.


The timber rattlesnake had been discovered several days before the tabletop surger y. Three of the unaffiliated herpetological adventurers — a couple from Connecticut and a man from northern Florida — had concluded an annual spring survey of the bare-bone outcrops behind the cabin. There, in the remote foothills above the shores of a narrow valley, where a wild brook strings together a run of beaver ponds, is one of the most isolated series of rattlesnake dens in the Northeast, perhaps in the entire country. (The word infested might come to more discriminatory minds.) For me, seeing those small, gorgeous pods of snakes basking in the October sunshine is stunning, a natural history right of passage, sort of like a bar mitzvah without the rabbi.

Beside the rattlesnakes, the trio found a fresh porcupine carcass in the rocks, unblemished, and on their way back down the mountain, they found the quilled snake, coiled loosely in a small rock pile one hundred fifty feet behind the cabin, last snake of the afternoon. The rock pile was at the base of a corridor, a bedrock groove in the side of the mountain that rattlesnakes use as a seasonal pathway from the den to the wooded shore and back. The cabin’s unkempt backyard is a veritable (and historic) snake thoroughfare. One of these three, a man who calls himself Diamondback Dave, thought he could pull the quills. Well known in the small, fervid circle of snake enthusiasts, Diamondback Dave maintains the website Fieldherping.com, where, among scores of photographs posted of himself (and a few friends) holding various large and mostly venomous snakes, you can view a full-frame picture of his bloody hand, the injury compliments of a recalcitrant banded water snake. You can also read synopses of field trips and random journalistic entries like this one:

I had a meeting with the director of a wildlife conservation society to discuss strategies on protecting rattlesnake populations in Eastern North America. What turned out was a weird combination of trespass warnings and a lengthy and unnecessary lecture on going back to school and finishing my degree, so that I could make 80,000 a year . . . welcome to the new age of Academic Wildlife Exploitation! . . . Business as usual.

Although in the spring of 2003, Diamondback Dave had never “pinned” a snake, a term that means immobilizing a venomous reptile’s head against the ground using any of a number of implements — snake hook, snake stick, forked branch, golf putter, and so forth — he convinced his two friends that he knew what he was doing. He did. Once the rattlesnake was pinned, Diamondback Dave directed his female companion to hold the body. Three visible quills protruded several inches from a corner of the snake’s mouth, fixed like miniature harpoons with their barbed tips. Dave’s efforts to pull them proved fruitless, however; not wanting to risk further injury to the snake, he released it.

On their way back to the car, they reported the incident to Boswell, who returned the following day and transferred the rattlesnake from rock pile to rabbit hutch. In his spare time, Boswell taught police officers and game wardens how to safely catch and relocate nuisance snakes, and he had been issued a permit by New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to harbor them on a temporary basis. This snake needed more than he could offer, though, so the next afternoon, Boswell phoned Alcott Smith.


After surgery, the timber rattlesnake recuperated in the hutch on Larry’s side of the bed. Three weeks later, when it was able to swallow a chipmunk, the snake was returned to the rock pile, where it immediately disappeared into a jumble of sun-heated stones. Today, the quilled snake can be found on Dave’s glitzy website among a host of other photographs. Just scroll down to the image labeled “Spike.”


To read more about America’s Snake, click here.

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