Long before 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained, or even Amistad were nominated for Academy Awards, there was another suspenseful story about the brutalities of the slavery—one that so stunned Ralph Ellison that he borrowed a line from it for an epigraph to his groundbreaking novel on race in America, The Invisible Man.
In 1855, Herman Melville published the novella Benito Cereno, which follows Amasa Delano, an American sea captain who answers a call for help from a battered ship off the coast of Chile, in the South Pacific. As he observes the strange social interactions between the vessel’s white crew and black slave “cargo,” Delano—a liberal opposed, in theory, to slavery—finds himself yearning for a servant to closely attend to his needs the way the African Babo seems to dote upon his master, the Spanish captain Benito Cereno.
In his new book, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, NYU history professor Greg Grandin investigates the actual 1805 incident on which Melville’s story is based.
Citizens of Zaragoza, Spain, now carry “resident cards,” with which they can check out library books, pay bus fare, and connect to free citywide Wi-Fi. Tech giant Cisco is currently helping the government of Chongqing, China, outfit street corners with half-a-million surveillance cameras. And in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics, IBM has built an Intelligent Operations Center collecting municipal data in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.
Does it all sound a little like 1984? It should. With a majority of the world’s population calling cities home for the first time in history, and a billion of us predicted to be equipped with smartphones by 2016, the very technologies designed to make our urban lives easier are the same ones that would make any dystopian sci-fi fan pause.
By Perry N. Halkitis
Oxford University Press, 2013
Many of the 15 gay men whose stories make up Perry Halkitis’ new book, The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience, didn’t expect to live past the age of 30. When they learned they were HIV-positive, during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s, most lived by the “myth of two,” believing they could expect to last another two years, tops. Friends and partners suffered and died. Some turned to drugs, sex, and alcohol to dull the pain.
Decades later, they’re still here, thanks in part effective antiretroviral therapies—first introduced in 1996—that dramatically improved the prognosis for those living with the virus. Now confronting the physical and psychological realities of middle age, the men who eluded death in their twenties and thirties are now looking toward the end of their natural lives—and attempting to make sense of what their legacies will be.
By Elizabeth M. Norman
Random House, 2000, 2013
The first American land battle of WWII was also one of the worst military defeats in the nation’s history—the 1942 Battle of Bataan in the Philippines—and included the capture of 77 American military nurses.
We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of the American Women Trapped on Bataan (Random House), by Elizabeth Norman, a professor in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, chronicles how the “story-book lives” of these women came to an end with the invasion by the Japanese military shortly after Pearl Harbor.
By Tom Chapin and Phil Galdston
Sundance Music, Onc. & Kazzoom Music, Inc., 2013
Steinhardt songwriter-in-residence Phil Galdston, author of the Vanessa Williams hit “Save the Best for Last,” has written or produced songs on 13 albums that won or were nominated for GRAMMY awards. Over the course of his career, he’s worked with pop stars from from Beyoncé to Barry Manilow and produced comedy albums for Robert Klein and Robin Williams.
But for his latest songwriting project, he turned to a different set of collaborators— family-friendly crooner Tom Chapin and the group of child development experts behind Social Thinking, an educational curriculum geared toward children struggling to learn the nuances of communication. Together, Galdston and Chapin developed a CD to accompany a storybook series for 4-to-7-year-olds called The Incredible Flexible You (one of the story authors happens to be Galdston’s wife, Nancy Tarshis). With catchy tunes in styles ranging from reggae to funk to folk, the music drives home lessons about reading facial expressions, dealing with emotions, and working in a group. The Parents’ Choice foundation honored the album with its gold award, praising its “witty lyrics, stellar musicianship,” and “positive instruction in social interaction and critical thinking.”
Galdston sat down with NYU Stories to talk about his recent foray into the educational arena—and explained why songwriters needn’t condescend to kids.
By Shanna Rose
University of MIchigan Press, 2013
Detractors call Medicaid “the Pac-Man of state budgets” because, as the national health coverage for our country’s poor, it has a tendency to gobble up funds like no other program (think education or infrastructure). And yet, because of its joint financing structure—with open-ended grants from the federal government to match state spending—the program provides powerful financial incentives that, historically, state leaders have been unable to resist.
In her new book, Financing Medicaid: Federalism and the Growth of America’s Health Care Safety Net (University of Michigan Press), Shanna Rose, clinical assistant professor at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, tells the surprising story of how, starting with Medicaid’s creation in 1965, governors have successfully worked together in bipartisan groups to maximize federal aid while defending the program against cutbacks.
We caught up with Rose to talk about the governors as a lobbying force, Medicaid’s expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and what Nelson Rockefeller has in common with Mitt Romney.
By Diane Ravitch
Ever have the kind of argument that leaves you less certain of your original position and wondering just what to believe? Educational policy is a topic that tends to inspire such complex debates, and the efficacy of charter schools in particular is one of those American issues that many of us—regardless of political leaning—can’t quite settle on. Do they hold unlimited promise for the future of education, or do they cause more harm than good?
Diane Ravitch, professor in the Steinhardt School and former U.S. assistant Secretary of Education, has made up her mind. In her new book, Reign of Error, she points squarely at two culprits for the crisis in public schools: racial segregation and poverty. In fact, she says that charters only add to this inequality, further driving communities apart and drawing unnatural lines of exclusion within neighborhoods.
Ravitch goes a step beyond criticizing charters, calling for them to be banned, and for the programs No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to rid themselves of the high-stakes testing that puts unfair expectations on many high-crime, low-income school districts. In a time of partisan bickering, Ravitch offers an unflinching, untethered argument based on research she conducted at Steinhardt. “Public education is not broken,” she writes. “The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong.”
By Patrick Egan
Cambridge University Press, 2013
“October 2013 is off to a wild start,” says Patrick Egan, an assistant professor in NYU's Wilf Family Department of Politics, echoing a sentiment shared by many Americans in the midst of a partial U.S. government shutdown.
With nearly a million employees furloughed, the national parks shut, and a variety of federal nutrition, health, and preschool programs disrupted, a collective feeling of disgust toward the dysfunction in Washington is palpable. Most of us know the basics: Congress failed to pass the spending bill because of a partisan disagreement over the Affordable Health Care Act, with Republicans stubbornly insisting on provisions to defund Obamacare, and Democrats just as vehemently opposing them. But if you’ve felt yourself scratching your head over just how it is that the two parties arrived at such an intractable stalemate, you’re probably not alone.
That’s where Egan comes in. The author of the just-published Partisan Priorities: How Issue Ownership Drives and Distorts American Politics (Cambridge University Press), he’s an expert on “issue ownership,” the name political scientists have given to the phenomenon of Americans consistently telling pollsters they believe Republicans are better at handling some issues, like national security and crime, while trusting Democrats on others, such as education and the environment.
By Danielle Ofri
Beacon Press, 2013
Have you ever seen your doctor cry?
It happens more than once in What Doctors Feel, Danielle Ofri’s moving exploration of the often ignored emotional underpinnings of medical practice. In the book, Ofri describes one young doctor who becomes numb to patient suffering after watching a newborn die in her arms, another whose adrenaline-addled mind goes blank when he’s asked for a simple Tylenol prescription, and a third who self-medicates with alcohol until substance abuse begins to interfere with her work. That physicians are often stressed and overworked is no secret, but Ofri provides a rare glimpse of the interpersonal devastation caused when doctors shuttle from patient to patient without being allowed the time and space to process the powerful feelings—fear, anger, grief—that naturally arise in a profession in which lives are at stake each day.
by Marion Nestle
Rodale Books, 2013
“Food is of extraordinary public interest,” writes Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, in her latest book on food politics. “Everyone eats.”
In “Eat, Drink, Vote,” the longtime activist—once named by Michael Pollan as the nation’s second most influential foodie, after Michelle Obama—teams up with the Cartoonist Group to present more than 250 of her favorite political cartoons on topics ranging from the South Beach diet to childhood obesity. “A great cartoon makes my work easier—and a lot more fun,” Nestle writes in the book’s introduction, noting that illustrations can often get to the core of complex ideas more powerfully and succinctly than several pages of written explanation.
That’s not to say that the collection is simply a barrel of laughs. Nestle uses each cartoon as a jumping off point to talk about the myriad factors—from corporate marketing to economics and geography—that affect what we choose to eat. Her central message? We must “vote” not just with our forks—by opting for healthy diets—but with our ballots as well, in order to pressure the food industry and the government into making sustainable food choices accessible and affordable to all.
Edited by Robert Cohen
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013
Prior to the 1960s, college campuses in the South were parochial and racially segregated institutions with little academic freedom and almost no progressive student activism. But in the 1960s, student protesters worked to transform the south both on and off campus. First, students from historically black colleges and universities launched a sit-in movement that ended segregation at lunch counters and restaurants and created the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which launched a larger student movement to topple Jim Crow.
Student activism soon spread across the South and involved both white and black students in struggles for racial justice, gender equity, academic freedom, and an end to the war in Vietnam. Rebellion in Black and White, edited by Robert Cohen— professor of social studies at Steinhardt and an affiliated member of the FAS history department—is the first book to offer a panoramic view of this Southern student activism, bringing together original essays on all phases of the student movement by historians who beckon us to look south and recognize that some of the 1960s' most impressive political efforts occurred there.
By Jesper Juul
The MIT Press, 2013
We may think of video games as being “fun,” but in The Art of Failure, Jesper Juul claims that this is almost entirely mistaken. When we play video games, our facial expressions are rarely those of happiness or bliss. Instead, we frown, grimace, and shout in frustration as we lose or die or fail to advance to the next level. Humans may have a fundamental desire to succeed and feel competent, but game players choose to engage in an activity in which they are nearly certain to fail and feel incompetent.
So why do we play video games even though they make us unhappy? Juul, an assistant professor at the NYU Game Center, examines this paradox.
In video games, as in tragic works of art, literature, theater, and cinema, it seems that we want to experience unpleasantness even if we also dislike it. Reader or audience reaction to tragedy is often explained as catharsis, a purging of negative emotions. But, Juul points out, this doesn’t seem to be the case for video game players because games don’t purge us of unpleasant emotions; they produce them in the first place.
What, then, does failure in video game playing do? Juul argues that failure in a game is unique in that when you fail in a game, you (not a character) are in some way inadequate. Yet games also motivate us to play more in order to escape that inadequacy, and the feeling of escaping failure, often by improving skills, is a central enjoyment of games. According to Juul, games are the art of failure—the singular art form that sets us up for failure and allows us to experience it and experiment with it.
Edited by Hasia R. Diner and Gennady Estraikh
NYU Press, 2013
The final year of the Roaring Twenties is best remembered for the stock market crash that fall, setting off the Great Depression in the 1930s.
But 1929 also marked a major turning point in Jewish society around the globe—changes chronicled by NYU historians Hasia Diner and Gennady Estraikh in their co-edited volume, 1929: Mapping the Jewish World. In the United States, Wall Street’s meltdown brought lasting economic, social, and ideological changes to the Jewish community while also limiting its ability to support humanitarian and nationalist projects in other countries. Meanwhile, in Palestine, anti-Jewish riots in Hebron and other towns underscored the vulnerability of the Zionist enterprise and ignited heated discussions among various Jewish political groups about the wisdom of establishing a Jewish state on its historical site. Further east, Joseph Stalin’s consolidation of power created a much more dogmatic climate in the international Communist movement, including its Jewish branches.
Drawing from a range of scholars, 1929 surveys the Jewish world in one year, offering examples of the transnational connections that linked Jews to each other—from politics and diplomacy to culture and the fate of Yiddish. Chapters also include insights into Jewish American literature, Jewish migration in the interwar period, and Jewish American philanthropy. Taken together, the book’s essays posit that, whether American, Soviet, German, Polish, or Palestinian, Jews throughout the world lived in a global context.
Diner is the Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History in NYU’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies. She previously authored the award-winning We Remember With Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence After the Holocaust, 1945-1962 (NYU Press). Estraikh is an associate professor of Yiddish Studies in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies.
By G. Gabrielle Starr
The MIT Press, 2013
In Feeling Beauty, G. Gabrielle Starr, Seryl Kushner Dean of the College of Arts and Science and a professor in the Department of English, blends the artistic and aesthetic worlds with the discipline of neuroscience. She posits that this approach, called "neuroaesthetics," offers new insight into the relationships among the arts and how our differences in aesthetic judgments shape the range of aesthetic experiences.
Starr considers several works of art—including a poem by Keats, a painting by van Gogh, a sculpture by Bernini, and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations—to shed light on why works that address different senses using different means seem to produce the same set of feelings. She shows that aesthetic experience relies on parts of the brain involved in emotion, perception, imagery, memory, and language—and how these coordinated neural interactions drive how we see, and feel, artistic beauty.