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Causes of death have changed irrevocably across time. In the course of a few centuries we have gone from a world where disease or violence were likely to strike anyone at any age, and where famine could be just one bad harvest away, to one where in many countries excess food is more of a problem than a lack of it. Why have the reasons we die change…
 
In Sorcery or Science? Contesting Knowledge and Practice in West African Sufi Texts (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2022) Ariela Marcus-Sells examines two Sufi Muslim theologians, known as Kunta scholars, who rose to prominence in the western Sahara Desert in the late eighteenth century. Sīdi al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī (d. 1811) and his son and …
 
In There's a Disco Ball Between Us: A Theory of Black Gay Life (Duke UP, 2022), Jafari S. Allen offers a sweeping and lively ethnographic and intellectual history of what he calls “Black gay habits of mind.” In conversational and lyrical language, Allen locates this sensibility as it emerged from radical Black lesbian activism and writing during th…
 
What are the connections between the past and modern politics? In Heritage and Nationalism: Understanding Populism through Big Data (UCL Press, 2022), Chiara Bonacchi, a Chancellor's Fellow in Heritage, Text and Data Mining and Senior Lecturer in Heritage at History, Classics & Archaeology and Edinburgh Futures Institute at University of Edinburgh,…
 
In this groundbreaking work, Professor Brandon T. Jett unearths how police departments evolved with the urbanization of the Jim Crow South, to target African Americans through a variety of mechanisms of control and violence, such as violent interactions, unjust arrests, and the enforcement of segregation laws and customs. Race, Crime, and Policing …
 
Kim talks to Amy Wong, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, and Alicia Christoff about ‘Undisciplining’, a term they borrowed from Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake and have used in an article and a journal issue to signify a heuristic that would help bring modes of knowledge and methodologies to Victorian Studies that are unfamiliar or would be considered unnatural…
 
Today I talked to Dean Sluyter about his book The Dharma Bum's Guide to Western Literature: Finding Nirvana in the Classics (New World Library, 2022). Suppose we could read Hemingway as haiku . . . learn mindfulness from Virginia Woolf and liberation from Frederick Douglass . . . see Dickinson and Whitman as buddhas of poetry, and Huck Finn and Gat…
 
Today I spoke to Anjanette Delgado, a Puerto Rican writer and journalist based in Miami who has compiled emblematic stories and essays by writers from many countries who congregate in the city of Miami and the state of Florida. The stories are about those who have been touched by the Florida and Miami experience, and who have made the state their h…
 
Ronald Reagan’s hagiography has created an entire mythology around the 40th president of the US; anticommunism and the fight against the ‘Evil Empire’ are the central tropes of the Reagan story to this day. The culmination of this narrative arc is the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event which is still routinely attributed to Reagan and, particul…
 
Cheryl Collins Isaac speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her story “Spin,” which appears in The Common’s new spring issue. “Spin” is about two Liberian immigrants making a new life in Appalachia. In this conversation, Cheryl talks about the inspiration behind this story: writing from music and toward beautiful, sensual language. She also …
 
Textiles were the second-most-traded commodity in world history, preceded only by grain. In the Ottoman Empire, in particular, the sale and exchange of silks, cottons, and woolens generated an immense amount of revenue. They touched every level of society, from rural women tending silkworms to pashas flaunting layers of watered camlet to merchants …
 
In The Disenchanted Earth: Reflections on Ecosocialism & Barbarism (Indigo Press, 2022), Richard Seymour, one of the UK's leading left-wing writers, gives an account of his 'ecological awakening'. A search for transcendence, beyond the illusory eternal present. These essays chronicle the kindling of ecological consciousness in a confessed ignoramus…
 
NB: This is part 2 of a two part interview with Ehud Olert. Part 1 is here. Written almost entirely from inside a prison cell, Searching for Peace: A Memoir of Israel (Brookings Institution, 2022) is the compelling memoir of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. The child of parents who were members of the Irgun, the paramilitary group that fo…
 
Have you ever read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises? When asked how he went bankrupt, a character replies, “Gradually, then suddenly.” In this conversation, Julie Yu-Wen Chen, professor of Chinese studies at the University of Helsinki, discusses with Jonathan Fulton about his newly edited Routledge Handbook on China–Middle East Relations. Jonathan Fu…
 
The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names of Ireland (Oxford UP, 2021) contains explanations of over 3,800 family names, of any origin, that are established in Ireland, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. It provides an entry for every family name that has more than 100 bearers in the 1911 Census of Ireland. The entries bring together a varie…
 
Walt Whitman knew a great deal about democracy that we don’t. Most of that knowledge is concentrated in one stunning poem, Song of Myself. In Song of Ourselves: Walt Whitman and the Fight for Democracy (Harvard UP, 2021), esteemed cultural and literary thinker Mark Edmundson offers a bold reading of the 1855 poem, included here in its entirety. He …
 
When we think of Nazi camps, names such as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau come instantly to mind. Yet the history of the Holocaust extends beyond those notorious sites. In the former territory of Transnistria, located in occupied Soviet Ukraine and governed by Nazi Germany’s Romanian allies, many Jews perished due to disease, starvation, and …
 
Today I talked to Mike Errico about his new book Music, Lyrics, and Life: A Field Guide for the Advancing Songwriter (Backbeat Books, 2022). Brain teasers invite you; brain embarrassers are songs you can’t get a handle on readily enough, causing listeners to give up. That is but one of the many fine distinctions Mike Errico makes in this engaging, …
 
Rachel Buurma and Laura Heffernan's The Teaching Archive: A New History for Literary Study (University of Chicago Press, 2020) is an excavation of a discipline through the work of its teachers, the traces of the tremendous and varied labour that went into preparing for and practicing literary study in classrooms from the first decades of the twenti…
 
In Unsettled Heritage: Living Next to Poland's Material Jewish Traces After the Holocaust (Cornell UP, 2022), Yechiel Weizman explores what happened to the thousands of abandoned Jewish cemeteries and places of worship that remained in Poland after the Holocaust, asking how postwar society in small, provincial towns perceived, experienced, and inte…
 
Dr. Christopher Gilbert, Assistant Professor of English at Assumption College, has a new book that examines the understanding of American national character and culture through the works of caricature and comic representations. Gilbert specifically focuses on this kind of work that is produced during moments of crisis, particularly during wartime. …
 
Duncan Ryuken Williams was born in Tokyo, Japan to a Japanese mother and British father. After growing up in Japan and England until age 17, he moved to the U.S. to attend college (Reed College) and graduate school (Harvard University, where he received a Ph.D. in Religion). Williams is currently a Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages & C…
 
In Academic Apartheid: Race and the Criminalization of Failure in an American Suburb (U California Press, 2022), sociologist Sean J. Drake addresses long-standing problems of educational inequality from a nuanced perspective, looking at how race and class intersect to affect modern school segregation. Drawing on more than two years of ethnographic …
 
The great forces of population change – the balance of births, deaths and migrations – have made the world what it is today. They have determined which countries are superpowers and which languish in relative obscurity, which economies top the international league tables and which are at best also-rans. The same forces that have shaped our past and…
 
Few substances have been researched as extensively, and debated as fiercely, as cannabis. In Marijuana on My Mind: The Science and Mystique of Cannabis (Cambridge University Press, 2022), psychiatrist Timmen Cermak offers a balanced, science-based analysis of how marijuana affects people physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually. Cermak dra…
 
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