Author: Yale University Press

Why Be “Nudged” Toward Better Decisions?

sunstein_nudgeFrom last minute impulse buying at the grocery store to the way we treat the environment, it goes without saying that we are sometimes prone to making decisions that are not in our own best interest. Sometimes we know intellectually that these decisions won’t ultimately make our lives better, while other choices we make out of a lack of awareness about the consequences. According to the authors of Nudge, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, this is part of our humanity. We make mistakes that do not improve our lives due to natural biases. We are simply susceptible to these kinds of lapses as humans, and this has interesting consequences for politics and the individual. Ultimately Sunstein and Thaler propose an outlook that starts from that premise: we will err, so how can things be designed so as to ensure the best result for ourselves? Through analyzing how we approach decisions, we can arrange our environment in a way that is conducive to choosing things that will benefit ourselves and our communities in the long term. This kind of “choice architecture” is the “nudge” to which the title refers. Crucially, it does not remove freedom of choice in these scenarios, but looks to creating situations in which we are more likely to choose those things will make our lives better. sunstein

In his new book, Why Nudge?, Sunstein — professor and former Obama administration official — takes this approach further to defend and clarify how we can embrace about this kind of paternalism. He admits that the concept of paternalism is sometimes controversial. “Paternalism stirs strong emotions,” he writes. “Many people abhor it. They think that human beings should be able to go their own way, even if they end up in a ditch.” Why Nudge explains how we can responsibly approach guiding people toward more beneficial choices, and how the effects of those healthy choices spread through the community. Sunstein takes issue with John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle that asserts, “the only purpose for which power may be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” That is, an individual’s own well-being is not a good enough reason to limit his or her autonomy. Yet Sunstein shows how we can honor people’s freedom while taking into account their tendency to veer from what would help them.

In short, Sunstein demonstrates that “in certain contexts, people are prone to error, and paternalistic interventions would make their lives go better.” Sunstein also acknowledges the limits of paternalism. One such issue is simply the diversity of human lives; what is “good” for one person at one time is not necessarily good for the other and one size does not fit all. Still, he notes the way in which being required to wear a seatbelt, or being disallowed from texting while driving applies to the welfare of the majority of the population, no matter how diverse. Indeed, Sunstein does not dismiss Mill’s argument on all grounds, rather he seeks to show how it is not always right, that indeed there are times where paternalistic interventions are a preferable option and should thus be considered.

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Cass R. Sunstein

Our Texts are Palatial: Words from Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger

Jews and Words is a book that celebrates the written word with a very particular voice that grew out of a lifetime of father-daughter conversations between co-authors Amos Oz, and Fania Oz-Salberger. As Martin Peretz of the Wall Street Journal noted, “You cannot get the taste of this book, let alone its essence, without reading it.” It seems natural to let Amos and Fania’s words speak for themselves.

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Amos and Fania’s interviews with NPR and i24 News provide another glimpse into their ongoing dialogue about the Jewish literary tradition. Hear in their own words what it means to be Jewish atheists, how the words “Jews” and “readers” can be interchangeable, and how Jews grew uniquely dependent on words.

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For more from Amos and Fania, listen to their conversation on the Yale Press Podcast with John Donatich and like Jews and Words on Facebook.

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What SUP from Your Favorite University Presses, April 11, 2014

sup-300x209Welcome to our weekly roundup of news from university presses! Once again, there is a lot to share this week from our fellow academic publishing houses and much to learn on What SUP at the social university presses. This week, we celebrate National Poetry Month, learn about modern art, and consider the concept of masculinity. What did you read this week?

Columbia University Press shares an excerpt from The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s by Mary Helen Washington and chats with author Michael Yogg about Paul Cabot, a pioneer of the mutual fund industry, and the emergence of this industry.

For National Poetry Month, Duke University Press provides recommendations of poetry titles old and new.

NYU Press muses on depictions of masculinity on television and stresses the importance of interrogating stories about men with an excerpt from Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the 21st Century by Amanda D. Lotz.

Johns Hopkins University Press is also celebrating National Poetry Month – in a guest post, poet Brian Swann spotlights some poems from his latest collection In Late Light and contemplates poetry as a kind of presence.

Temple University Press showcases a recent TEDx talk from Liberty Walther Barnes, author of Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine, and Identity, and ponders if masculinity is stifling our scientific imaginations.

Over in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon State University Press reflects on current events and the 24-hour news cycle to make a case for why we need to slow down our news in a guest post from Slow News: A Manifesto for the Critical News Consumer author Peter Laufer.

For World Art Day, Oxford University Press investigates the history of street photography with an article by Lisa Hostetler from Grove Art Online. Street photography, she explains, consist of “photographs exposed in and of an urban environment and made with artistic intent.”

Princeton University Press shares highlights from the Oxford Literary Festival, which included talks from Princeton authors on what is sacred, why Byzantium is key to our understanding of other historical periods, differing forms of liberalism, and more.

Stanford University Press converses with 15 Sports Myths co-author Rodney Fort about the National Labor Relations Board decision regarding Northwestern football players and their right to unionize as well as what this might mean for college athletics. 

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, University of Texas Press features some UT titles that help us better understand the civil rights movement in Texas, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s civil rights legacy, the struggle for equality in American society, and more.

Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker

A “Must-Read” pick for the New York Post and a Daily Beast “Hot Reads” title!

 

As discussed in our March”WAR!” theme, it remains of the utmost importance to consider the individual experiences of soldiers. Those on the front lines provide a personal narrative – one that is often separate from political aims and general strategies.

Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918 is Edward M. Strauss‘s excellent translation of one soldier’s wartime writings to English-language readers for the first time. Louis Barthas is a thirty-five-year-old French barrelmaker enlisted to fight the Germans from the very start of World War I. His journals of the next four years present a vivid account of life and war.

Below are some excerpts from Barthas’s writings, journal entries detailing the perceptions of the war, the discouragement of soldiers, and the treatment of  the poilu – or “hairy one,” as French infantry men were often called. But perhaps most interesting are Barthas’s reflections at the end of World War I  once he is returned home and given time to process his experiences.

 

Garrison Duty: August 2–November 1, 1914

General mobilization. Departure for Narbonne.

August 2, 1914. A broiling hot August afternoon. The streets of the village all but deserted. Suddenly, a drumroll. Probably a traveling merchant setting up shop on the main square, or maybe some acrobats announcing their evening performance.

But no, it’s not that. When the drum falls silent, we hear the voice of the town clerk, the commissaire as we call this unique embodiment of local authority. So we lend our ears, expecting to hear the reading of a new decree about rabies or keeping the streets clean.

Alas! This fellow proceeded to announce the most frightful cataclysm to afflict humanity since the Flood. He announced the greatest of all scourges, the source of all evils. He announced the general mobilization, prelude to the war— the accursed, infamous war, which forever dishonored our century and blighted the civilization of which we were so proud.

This announcement, to my great amazement, aroused more enthusiasm than sorrow. Unthinking people seemed proud to live in a time when something so magnificent was about to happen. Even the most indifferent didn’t doubt for an instant that victory would be prompt and decisive.

 

The Somme Offensive: In the Blood-Soaked Mud:

August 29–November 1, 1916

And our bosses weren’t mistaken. They knew quite well that it wasn’t the flame of patriotism which inspired this spirit of sacrifice. It was simply a sense of bravado, to not seem more cowardly than one’s neighbor. Then there was the presumptuous faith in one’s own star; for others it was the secret and futile ambition for a medal, or a sleeve stripe. Finally, for the great mass, it was the uselessness of protesting against an implacable fate.

 

1918. Convalescence. Paris. Guingamp. Garrison life.

At Valence we disembarked quietly. But just like at Lyon, as soon as the train started up again we made a dash for the gates. This time most of us were held back by the station crews repulsing the assailants.

I managed to fly through a gate which wasn’t guarded and plunked myself down quietly at the end of a railway-car corridor.

I was duly warned that I would be put off at Avignon and handed over to the station police there, which left me utterly cold. I offered to pay my way; they refused. Even paying poilus weren’t welcome on this train. It just would not do to have crude, dusty, muddy creatures like us offending the fine messieurs and their belles dames lounging on the soft banquette cushions.

You should have seen the disdain with which they looked at me, crouched in my corner. Several times the conductors swore at me, threatened me.

 

1918. Armistice! Liberation!

I was free, after fifty-four months of slavery! I was finally escaping from the claws of militarism, to which I swore such a ferocious hatred.

I have sought to inculcate this hatred in my children, my friends, my neighbors. I will tell them that the fatherland, glory, military honor, laurels—all are only vain words, destined to mask what is frighteningly horrible, ugly, and cruel about war.

To keep up morale during this war, to justify it, they lied cynically, saying that we were fighting just for the triumph of Right and Justice, that they were not guided by ambition, no colonial covetousness or financial or commercial interests.

They lied when they said that we had to push right to the end, so that this would be the last of all wars.

They lied when they said that we, the poilus, wanted to continue the war in order to avenge the dead, so that our sacrifices would not be useless.

The End of the Nightmare:

August 11, 1918–February 14, 1919

Returned to the bosom of my family after the nightmare years, I taste the joy of life, or rather of new life. I feel tender happiness about things which, before, I didn’t pay attention to: sitting at home, at my table, lying in my bed, putting off sleep so I can hear the wind hitting the shutters, rustling the nearby plane trees, hearing the rain strike the windows, looking at a starry, serene, silent night or, on a dark, moonless night, thinking about similar nights spent up there . . .

Often I think about my many comrades fallen by my side. I heard their curses against the war and its authors, the revolt of their whole beings against their tragic fate, against their murder. And I, as a survivor, believe that I am inspired by their will to struggle without cease-fire nor mercy, to my last breath, for the idea of peace and human fraternity.

Video: Ship of Death, A Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World

In 1792, a ship set sail from England with the best of intentions. Its tragic journey would change the course of history forever.

Historian Billy Smith uncovered a remarkable story of tragedy unleashed from misguided humanitarianism in his book Ship of Death: A Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World. The Hankey was engaged to ferry abolitionists seeking to establish a colony free of slavery to West Africa. Lack of understanding and respect for the cultures they encountered doomed the ship’s original mission. The video below, narrated by Smith, traces the far-reaching results—the changes to the fate of the Haitian Slave Rebellion, contributions to the Louisiana Purchase and the death of hundreds of thousands across several continents.

Every Pope a Saint? The Politics of Canonization

For our #YUPapr conversations this month about “Ancient Texts, Modern Beliefs”, a closer inspection of contemporary religious practices—and their comparative differences— is important for our consideration of changing beliefs in the greater context of world history. Here, Yale University Press author Michael Coogan discusses the upcoming April 27 canonization of two popes and the rapidly increasing rate of sainthood for modern Bishops of Rome, offering some perspective on the changing political nature of the Church in today’s society.

Michael Coogan—

On April 27, ornately robed clerics will celebrate the canonization of two recent popes, John XXIII and John Paul II. In the modern Roman Catholic Church until the last few decades, canonization­—declaring someone a saint—was rare and occurred only after a protracted process. Successive steps lead to canonization: first, one is declared “Servant of God,” then “Venerable,” then “Blessed,” and finally “Saint.” From the beginning of the fourteenth century to the mid-twentieth, only two popes were canonized and another three were declared “Blessed.” Not so any more: since the papacy of John Paul II a flurry of canonizations has been underway, not just for ordinary individuals deemed holy, but also for modern popes.

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Pope John Paul II

Remarkably, all of the popes since the mid-twentieth century, except of course for those still alive, are on the path to canonization: Pius XII (1939–1958, declared Servant of God in 1990 and Venerable in 2009), John XXIII (1958–1963, declared Servant of God in 1965, Venerable in 1999, and Blessed in 2000), Paul VI (1963–1978, declared Servant of God in 1993 and Venerable in 2012), John Paul I (1978, declared Servant of God in 2003), and John Paul II (1978–2005, declared Servant of God in 2005, Venerable in 2009, and Blessed in 2011). Why this sudden, almost automatic rush to sainthood for recent popes?

Part of the answer lies in nineteenth-century realpolitik. For more than a thousand years, the pope was not just the spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church, but also a monarch, the ruler of the Papal States in the central Italian peninsula. As sovereigns of this territory, popes engaged in diplomacy and war to maintain and expand their control. In the nineteenth century, however, the papal domain was virtually eliminated by the unification of Italy under Garibaldi and his successors, culminating with the capture of Rome by Italian forces in September 1870. All that was left of papal territory was tiny Vatican City. Only a few months before, when the fall of Rome was already inevitable, the First Vatican Council, at Pope Pius IX’s prompting, declared the doctrine of papal infallibility. If the popes could not be political sovereigns, it seems, they could at least have absolute spiritual authority, especially, as the official wording has it, when they say they are speaking infallibly on an issue of faith or morals.

Although there has been only one technically infallible pronouncement since 1870—Pius XII’s proclamation in 1950 of the doctrine of the Assumption, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had been bodily taken up to heaven at her death—papal authoritarianism has expressed itself in other ways, as when John Paul II asserted in an apostolic letter that women could never be priests, and then Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) subsequently called this teaching infallible, unchangeable, and binding on all Catholics forever.

By the second half of the twentieth century, even the popes’ spiritual authority was being eroded, because of flawed leadership. Pius XII’s silence about the Holocaust was moral cowardice, if not latent anti-Semitism. Paul VI’s insistence on banning artificial contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, against the opinion of a majority of his advisors, effectively ended papal authority for many Catholics. John Paul II’s clericalism led to years of denial and coddling of predatory priest pedophiles and their episcopal superiors, which further diminished the Church’s authority as well as its coffers. Significantly, these last two issues concern what the current pope has called an obsessive preoccupation with sex and reproduction; it is of more than tangential interest that of the thousands of men and women put on the path to sainthood by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, only a tiny percentage were married. Most openly sexually active persons, it seems, can’t really be saintly.

The haste to canonize the last five deceased popes is an effort to shore up the diminished spiritual authority of the papacy. If every pope is a saint, who could dare disagree with them? Surely they are being elevated to sainthood not mainly because of their personal holiness but because they were popes, even though as popes most of them were deeply flawed. Is flawed leadership no bar to sainthood?

Among the popes whose canonization process John Paul II sped up was none other than Pius IX, declared Servant of God in 1907, but Venerable only in 1985 and Blessed in 2000: the most authoritarian pope of the nineteenth century was propelled toward sainthood by one of the most authoritarian popes of the twentieth. The Vatican is locked in a time warp of absolute monarchical authority, and popes canonizing their predecessors is an attempt to preserve and enhance it. The joint canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II—the first a darling of liberal Catholics, the second a favorite of traditional Catholics—is calculated to appeal to different constituencies. Even sainthood is political, and it is disingenuous to pretend that it is not.


Michael Coogan is the author of The Ten Commandments: A Short History of an Ancient Text, out this month from Yale University Press.

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Michael Coogan

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Message: Don’t Look to Suicide, Stay with Us

Twenty years ago, the suicide of Kurt Cobain shook not only the alternative music scene, but much of popular culture as we know it. The infamous 27 Club, which then included musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, and more recently, Amy Winehouse, was mainly a phenomenon of accidental deaths and murder. Though many died from drug and alcohol related causes, Cobain’s suicide has continued to be a subject of great spectacle and controversy, even as the case was re-opened briefly in March 2014 and confirmed as suicide. The heartfelt responses—both of today and yesteryear—have rippled out from Cobain’s native Seattle region and reached a global recognition of this type of tragedy.

Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against ItIn the critically-acclaimed, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, Jennifer Michael Hecht  examines suicide from a number of philosophical, religious, spiritual, and cultural traditions, bringing forward the argument of what its impact has become in our contemporary society and how we deal —collectively—with the pain. In the video below, recorded for The Dish, Hecht discusses the mimetic tendencies of suicide in response to the impact that an individual’s suicide has on friends, family, and community.  The message is to stay with us, as a part of a community: If you don’t kill yourself, you’re saving someone else’s life. “I’m grateful, you’re my hero. Thank you for not killing yourself.”

Jennifer Michael Hecht: The Impact Of A Suicide from The Dish on Vimeo.

What SUP from Your Favorite University Presses, April 4, 2014

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Welcome to our weekly roundup of news from university presses! Once again, there is a lot to share this week from our fellow academic publishing houses and much to learn on What SUP at the social university presses. From modern day slavery to human trafficking to the famous Amanda Knox case, we have a full lineup of stories for you. What did you read this week?

This week, Columbia University Press is highlighting a book on slavery in the modern day and ponders the question of how to put an end to it. You can also read an excerpt from the book.

Duke University Press chats with Denise Brennan, a professor an anthropology at Georgetown University, about human trafficking in the United States as well as on immigrant and labor reform.

Fordham University commemorates the work of their late academic publishing editor Helen Tartar and has established the Helen Tartar Memorial Fund to continue her work and preserve her legacy.

To celebrate April Fool’s Day earlier this week, NYU Press interviewed Kembrew McLeod on the history of pranks in America, what defines a prank, and more. (It’s no joke!)

Our friends at Harvard University Press examine corruption in America from the time of Benjamin Franklin to this week’s McCutcheon v. FEC ruling.

Forty-six years ago today, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. Indiana University Press shares its podcast discussion with author Jennifer J. Yanco on how people today misremember King’s legacy.

April is National Poetry Month and John Hopkins University Press speaks with poet X.J. Kennedy about his work and poetry’s place in his life.

Temple University Press celebrates Philadelphia and its mural art that has cropped up in the city over the last thirty years.

Stanford University Press looks at Austin Sarat’s new book Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and American Death Penalty which unravels the ethical repercussions of capital punishment.

Oxford University Press examines the legality and likelihood of Amanda Knox’s extradition to Italy if her appeal is thrown out and she is found guilty in absentia for the murder of roommate Meredith Kercher.

Princeton University Press talks to Michael Scott, classics and ancient history professor and television presenter for documentaries in National Geographic, the History Channel, Nova and the BBC. He discusses his new book about Delphi in Ancient Greece and you can read an excerpt from the book here.

The Catholic Church’s Role in World Development

Last week, President Obama and Pope Francis met for almost an hour in a much-anticipated private visit in which they discussed, among other issues, income inequality and global peace. Indeed, in his first year as Pope, Pope Francis has emphasized the necessity to care for the poor, both from the standpoint of the Church and in political terms. This special emphasis on the plight of the poor has touched many, and drawn particular attention to the Church’s role in addressing these needs. In his book Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development, Robert Calderisi places the role of the Church in global and historical context. This book takes on the Catholic Church’s practical role in developing nations, particularly in the last 60 years. In so doing, Calderisi touches on the relationship between religion and politics, the economy, and social progress.

Earthly MissionIndeed, in looking at both individual people and official institutional practice and dogma, this book obliquely raises the question, “What is the Church?” The tension between the institution and the individual occurs throughout Earthly Mission, in ways one wouldn’t always expect. The institution has often, but not exclusively, played a “conservative” role; in fact, the term “conservative” takes on wider meaning than a distinct place on the political spectrum. There are institutional, national, and economic issues at stake in the meeting between the Catholic Church and international development, not to mention the actions of persons outside the institution.

In addition to keen historical and economic investigation, Calderisi draws from the stories of people he met in fourteen developing nations from Rwanda, to Argentina, to Bangladesh. He speaks to cab drivers in Italy, economists in the Philippines and pastors in Tanzania. This approach gives Earthly Mission the insight that comes from individual experience alongside broader analysis with hard data.

The scope of the Catholic Church’s role in world development is vast and complex, and Earthly Mission includes the range from hopeful moments where poverty has been alleviated and to the most difficult ones. Calderisi examines heartbreaking moments in world history, such as the horrors of the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. Calderisi speaks to those who were there and grapples with the incomprehensible violence.  “Church leaders did nothing to prevent the butchery,” he explains, “and some even seemed to encourage it.” The heroism of some individuals is set up against failures of courage on the other. Priests, nuns and lay Catholics all participated, some as victims, others as perpetrators.

In the end Earthly Mission provides a dynamic picture of the intersection between religion and politics and the diverse ways that appears in different places on the globe. It is in part a story of the Church’s institution meeting governmental institutions, and the individuals in between. “Diverse and all too human in its internal organization,” Calderisi writes, “the Church has varied greatly in its responses to social challenges. Vagaries of character, pressures of circumstance, and instincts of self-preservation have sometimes won out over the eternal truths to which it is dedicated.” Laying his cards on the table, Calderisi himself does not give up hope for the Catholic Church, yet leaves the story open for readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether the Catholic Church, as a whole, has been a force for good.

March Theme: War!

Although it may be an uneasy topic, the discussion of war, military studies, and the related political and governmental histories and current events are a vital part of the cultural conversation to which Yale University Press authors contribute.

Now out in paperback, Wall Street Journal  Supreme Court correspondent Jess Bravin’s The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay covers the Guantanamo Bay prison camp since its inception reports on the legal, political, and moral issues that have stood in the way of justice. Read an excerpt and listen to the Yale Press Podcast interview with YUP Director John Donatich, now available on iTunesU.

On the 11th anniversary of the Iraq War, we posted about Peter Mansoor’s Surge, accounting for his time served during he turning days of the conflict in 2007-2008, in the final days of the Bush administration. Mansoor writes: “The American people need a more comprehensive account of the Iraq War during the years of the surge, one written from the inside perspective of a member of General Petraeus’s team.”

And for the 2014 centennial, the relentless progression of World War I and the devastated wartime landscape of Flanders Fields are presented in unprecedented detail in Birger Stichelbaut and Piet Chielens’s The Great War Seen from the Air in Flanders Field, 1914-1918, a unique historical record comprised primarily of aerial photographs taken over the bitter four-year course of the Great War. Visit the Yale ARTbooks blog for image details of the trenches and bunkers seen from above.

mar2014Two books of letters from the western front are now available: Life, Death and Growing Up on the Western Front, written from historian Anthony Fletcher’s discovery of his grandfather’s letters and French Corporal Louis Barthas’s writings, translated by Edward M Strauss in Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918, one of “This Week’s Hot Reads” for the Daily Beast (along with Michael Coogan’s The Ten Commandments, an upcoming feature in our April “Ancient Texts, Modern Beliefs” theme).

One hundred years before the Great War put two notable generals in direct conflict, and two new biographies, Rory Muir’s Wellington: The Path to Victory: 1769-1814, and Philip Dwyer’s Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power, the second volume in his study of France’s most notorious general,  illustrate one of the greatest military rivalries of modern history.

We were saddened to learn of the passing of Tennent Harrington Bagley in February; Bagley had been the author of Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games and a guest on the Yale Press Podcast in 2007. Read our full obituary here.

Kristie Macrakis is the author of the new YUP book, Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda—the first history of invisible writing, uncovered through stories about scoundrels and heroes. Read an interview with the author and learn about the spy wars, chemical discoveries, and famous characters that make up this hidden history.

In Through a Screen Darkly, Martha Bayles explains the use of popular culture, politics, and the projection of America’s global image  – our post on “The Urban Singles Comedy and Public Diplomacy” covers the perspective on popular shows like Friends, Sex and the City, or Desperate Housewives and their role in the culture wars of America as seen from abroad.

Be sure to sign up by this Friday, April 4, to receive our March “War!” e-newsletter, with a special discount on all the titles discussed this month on the Yale Press Log, and more!