How “The Cancer of War” Alters the DNA of Nations

978-1-59051-505-1By Shahan Mufti, author of The Faithful Scribe (Other Press, September 2013).

As a writer of narrative non-fiction, I’m always searching for the most compelling characters to carry the story. In the years that I covered war as journalist from the front lines in Pakistan, a country that I call home, there were always plenty of them to choose from. War always offers extraordinary characters. There are plenty of violent, bloodthirsty villains and then there are those larger than life heroes, capable of compassion and goodness that can only be drawn from the madness of war.

Yet I repeatedly found myself drawn those characters living ordinary lives, navigating the extraordinary landscape of war: the real estate agent who finds that the war attracts speculative buyers, which allows him to make a profit of his nation’s misery; the curator who watches the collection of ancient artifacts bleed out of his museum and witnesses his culture sapped of its history; a gutsy boxer who tries to deliver hope in his fight but crumbles under the weight of his own expectation. War, I found through these characters’ lives, wasn’t always about choosing between life and death. For most people, war is about figuring out a way to survive. Continue reading

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Kinder Than Solitude: Mystery, Tragedy and Friendship with Yiyun Li

978-1-4000-6814-2By Yiyun Li, author of Kinder Than Solitude: A Novel (Random House, February 2014).

When I left China in the mid 1990s, it was still a country largely unknown to the West. Americans sometimes asked me if I had ever eaten chocolate before, or if my parents had arranged a marriage for me. But over the past twenty years, with rapid changes in technology, the world seems to have become a smaller place. A photographer in Madrid told me that he had a language partner, a high school student in Wisconsin, and he practiced English on Skype with the student, and the student practiced Spanish with him. A woman I met in London makes a living by teaching English long-distance to Chinese business people. At a playground the other day, a man was using FaceTime with his family in Europe: he showed his children on swings, and his brother and sister-in-law showed an album of their traveling in Senegal, all on their iPhone screens. Continue reading

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Would humanities courses produce doctors who are more in tune with their patients’ needs?

What Doctors FeelBeyond the usual curriculum of science and math courses for pre-med students, would a few required courses in the humanities turn out doctors who are more in tune with their patients’ needs? In “Humanities for Science Majors,” published in the September 16th issue of Publishers Weekly, Dr. Danielle Ofri writes, “When I think about the ongoing debate about the value of humanities in higher education, I’m reminded that it’s not (just) about the dwindling number of English majors. It’s about the totality of students who enter the university gates and then branch out into society.” Ofri, author of What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine (Beacon), says that the “unexpected opportunity to steep in the humanities offered me ways to think and write about medicine that I doubt would have been accessible to me otherwise.” Continue reading

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Disregarding Scholarship on the Basis of an Author’s Religious Belief

ZealotIn “Attack on Religion Scholar Puts His Book on Jesus in the Spotlight“, published August 1 by The Chronicle of Higher Education, writer Peter Monaghan discusses the controversy surrounding Reza Aslan’s recent interview on Fox News about his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House, July 2013).  Zealot argues that “Jesus of Nazareth little resemble[d] the figure embraced by Christianity” where his motivations for writing the book were questioned during the interview, as he is a practicing Muslim.

“You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Lauren Green asked Mr. Aslan on “Spirited Debate,” to which Aslan explained, “I’m a scholar of religions with four degrees…who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who just happens to be a Muslim.”

What do you think? Is it legitimate to question one’s work on the basis of their identity or religious belief?

Read an excerpt from Zealot by clicking here.

Have a comment or question?  Post below to receive a complimentary copy of Zealot.

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If you are a college professor simply post a meaningful response or comment to any of the essays on this blog and you’ll receive a free copy of the book that’s discussed in that essay.  We will contact once we receive your comment to request your mailing information.  Please go ahead and debate this book–and a get a free book while you’re at it.

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The Hidden Roots of Political Orientations

Our Political Nature HCBy Avi Tuschman, author of Our Political Nature (Prometheus Books, September 2013).

In 2002 I found myself traveling to the far corners of Peru, visiting the country’s largest mining and energy investments for a political-risk consultancy. Peru still had fresh scars from the recent Maoist guerilla war and counterinsurgency; and the conflicts festering over the earth’s assets kept these ideological specters very much alive. While gathering field intelligence, I encountered an unlikely collection of movers and shakers: the CEOs of fantastically wealthy corporations, communist defense fronts, indigenous leaders, priests, and authoritarian thugs. I also saw greed, corruption, and coercion. These experiences exposed me to radically different worldviews – and to political extremism. I was riveted by how one group’s notion of good represented another one’s idea of evil.

Since the mining-and-energy sector had billions of dollars at stake in the country, we also kept close tabs on the political dramas that unfolded within the national government. I grew fascinated by the story of the president and first lady, who was also a Stanford alumna and anthropologist. Soon after meeting her I became the youngest advisor in the Palace, where I worked on indigenous people’s affairs. Eventually, I was recruited as President Toledo’s Senior Writer. In this role I crafted articles with the seasoned statesman to shape public opinion. As we traveled around the world after his term, I had the privilege to work with numerous other presidents, and to meet prime ministers, secretaries of state, and legislators from five continents. Continue reading

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Oil Wealth and Political Poverty: Rethinking the History of Energy

Carbon Democracy TPBy Timothy Mitchell, author of Carbon Democracy (Verso, June 2013).

In the eighteen months since the publication of the first edition of this book, the United States appears to have entered a new age of energy abundance.  The extraction of gas and oil from shale formations has led to the most rapid increase in new energy supplies in the country’s history. Political leaders and the news media present this sudden reversing of a thirty-five-year decline in the US production of fossil fuels as a sign of the recovery of the country’s national independence. After the breakdown of financial institutions in 2008 – which erased trillions of dollars in wealth as stock markets, pension funds and property values crashed, and led to the loss of 7 million US jobs in the recession that followed – the energy boom also seemed to promise a return of real wealth. The fragile paper economy of financial speculation and consumer credit would give way to a ‘potential re-industrialization of the US’, built on the solid foundation of expanding material resources. Continue reading

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