Author: Yale University Press

Did DNA Really Prove the Identity of Jack the Ripper?

Paul Begg—

If it seems too good to be true—it probably is.

Over the last few days the newspapers and television have become very excited over a claim that DNA tests on a silk shawl of scarf had identified Jack the Ripper, the uncaught Victorian serial killer who murdered several women in London’s East End in 1888. The shawl/scarf had been passed down through several generations of descendants of an 1888 policeman, Acting Sergeant Amos Simpson. According to family tradition, Simpson had been near Mitre Square, where the Ripper murdered Catherine Eddowes and where the shawl was allegedly found, and Simpson was allowed to keep it.

The shawl/scarf has been known about for decades, it has even undergone inconclusive DNA tests for a TV program and for a while was on loan to the Crime Museum (formerly known as the Black Museum) at Scotland Yard. The then owners retrieved the shawl when they decided to sell it. It was put up for auction, being bought by Russell Edwards, the author of the book Naming Jack the Ripper which has caused the recent brouhaha.

The trouble is that while there really was a policeman named Amos Simpson he belonged to N Division, a police division some distance away from H Division where the murders were committed. Policemen had been drafted into the H Division from other divisions, but these were all recorded in Police Orders, issued to police stations every day, and there is no mention of Amos Simpson. So Amos Simpson shouldn’t have been anywhere near Mitre Square. Small wonder that the shawl hadn’t been given very much attention by Ripperologists, as writers and researchers into the mystery are collectively called.

But the problems with the provenance—the history of the shawl/scarf—move to the back burner if the DNA evidence proves solid.

The big question, of course, is who the DNA revealed as Jack the Ripper. The shawl was once loaned to Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum and during his research Russell Edwards contacted the curator, Alan McCormack, to see if he had further information about the shawl. In the course of their conversation the curator said the police had always known the identity of Jack the Ripper, he was a man named Aaron Kosminski.

A document written by a senior policeman a few years after the murders in which he sought to exonerate a man identified in a newspaper as the Ripper named three men who were more likely than the suspect to have been Jack. One of them was a Polish Jew named “Kosminski”. Then, in 1910, Sir Robert Anderson, the head of the CID at the time of the murders, published his autobiography in which he stated that the Ripper was a Polish Jew who had been positively identified by an eyewitness and was subsequently committed to an asylum. Frustratingly Anderson did not name the man and amazingly it wasn’t until 1987 that writer Martin Fido speculated that Anderson’s unnamed Polish Jew was the same man as the Polish Jew called “Kosminski”. Prompted by a newspaper article referring to Fido’s theory a descendant of Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, who headed the Ripper investigation, produced the Chief Inspector’s own copy of Anderson’s autobiography. Swanson had made some marginal notes in which he said the Anderson’s suspect was—“Kosminski”. Martin Fido had undertaken an exhaustive search through the asylum records and had found only one “Kosminski”, a young man named Aaron Kosminski.

Jack the Ripper Puck Magazine

The cover of the September 21, 1889, issue of Puck magazine, featuring a depiction of the unidentified Whitechapel murderer Jack the Ripper via

The identification of “Kosminski”/Aaron Kosminski as the Ripper is fraught with problems and it was probably wrong for the curator of the Crime Museum to say with such certainty that the police had always known the identity of Jack the Ripper. Nevertheless, that two policemen very close to the investigation claimed that Kosminski was the Ripper obviously carried a lot of weight.

Dr. Jari Louheleinen, from Finland, is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology at Liverpool’s John Moores University and an Associate Professor in Biochemistry and he has a list of publications only slightly shorter than your arm. He had met Russell Edwards, knew the story of the shawl, and was curious to see if he could extract any information from stains known to be on it. He offered to undertake a series of serious tests in his own time on condition that he could publish the results. Edwards jumped at the offer. Unless you know about DNA the information given in Mr. Edwards’ book is scientific gobbledygook, but initial tests revealed three things, a stain that appeared to be semen, a stain that appeared to be blood, and bloodstains which Jari, from his experience working with various law enforcement agencies, recognised as “’consistent with arterial blood spatter caused by slashing.’”

Unfortunately nuclear DNA deteriorates quickly and therefore when analyzing old material scientists have to rely on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Discovered in the 1960s, it is inherited through the female line and is popularly known as the “Eve Gene”, but there can be hundreds of thousands of people with the same mtDNA. In this instance, however, the recovered mtDNA proved to be a rare strain which meant that it would be shared by 1 in every 290,000 people in the world. That sounds like a lot, but according to Edwards it means that in 1888 Eddowes would have been one of about twenty-five people in London to have the mutation. The test on the DNA in the semen produced a near perfect match with DNA provided by a direct descendant of Aaron Kosminski’s sister.

That DNA on the shawl matches a victim of Jack the Ripper and the man who senior officers at the time believed was Jack the Ripper is remarkable, after all the mtDNA needn’t have matched anyone connected with the Ripper case at all.

But there are serious problems with all this and we must await the expert responses to Jari Louheleinen’s paper when it appears.

And then there is the problem of explaining how the shawl passed into the hands of Amos Simpson.

Paul Begg is a world authority on Jack the Ripper and the author of several books about him, including Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History. He is co-author with John Bennett of Jack the Ripper: CSI Whitechapel. His latest book is Jack the Ripper: The Forgotten Victims.

Further Reading:

Jack the Ripper: The Forgotten Victims by Paul Begg

What SUP From Your Favorite University Presses, September 12, 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 remembered 9/11 and it’s lasting effects, tested our literary cat knowledge, and investigated our preconceptions about beauty pageants. What did you read this week?


Temple University Press and Indiana University Press reflected on the anniversary of 9/11, investigating the after-effects of the terrorist attacks on Muslim communities and exploring the invisibility of carnage in the images of “the most photographed disaster in history”.

Stanford University Press shared an excerpt from Official Stories, to help explain the national narratives used by political powers in the Middle East to maintain authoritarian rule.

Columbia University Press shared a series of posts on the unequivocally titled book Learn or Die, featuring a book giveaway, and chapter-by-chapter video overviews of the book, recorded by the author.

On a more light-hearted note, and because this is the internet, Oxford University Press quizzed us on cats in literary history.

The University of Texas Press educated us with a post on “9 Things We didn’t Know about Miss America,” that compares the pageant myths with its realities.

UNC Press continued the pageant theme, sharing an excerpt from Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women that reflects on the southern image of female beauty.

The University of Georgia Press announced the winners of the 2014 National Poetry Series competition.

Johns Hopkins University Press went fishing this week, sharing a blog post from the Gibbes Museum of Art on the art of aquatic scientific illustration in A Field Guide to Coastal Fishes.

Finally, our neighbors at Wesleyan University Press got us ready for fall with a helpful roundup of upcoming agricultural fairs in Connecticut.

The Death of the Monarch Butterfly

Robert Michael Pyle—

Many people will have greeted the news that the monarch butterfly has been proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act with bewilderment, if not incredulity. How can this icon among American butterflies, once proposed in Congress as our National Butterfly, this common companion of childhood for generations, possibly be threatened with extinction?

It is true that the immediately recognizable, citrus-orange glider we call the monarch has been almost ubiquitous in many parts of the continent for much of the past century, and likely long before. But its numbers on the famous overwintering grounds in Mexico last winter were fewer than 10 % of what they were in the 1990s, and its breeding habitat in the Midwest—the breadbasket of monarchs—has been reduced by millions of acres in recent years. The petitioning parties are the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Professor Lincoln P. Brower, of Sweet Briar College. You can read many more details in their press release.

Monarch butterfly migration

Monarch butterfly migration, via Wikimedia Commons.

The entire species Danaus plexippus is not in equal jeopardy everywhere it occurs. But the main subspecies, D. plexippus plexippus, is certainly at risk as a whole. Introduced populations from Hawaii to Australia are subject to fluctuation and a variety of extinction factors as well as genetic isolation, and could not be counted on to restore the native North American population if it drops out. Nor could the non-migratory populations that occur in parts of the Neotropics and are vulnerable to drought, development, and many other threats. The core of the species, and the core concern, is also the grandest butterfly spectacle in the world: the migratory North American monarchs. These were declared a threatened phenomenon almost thirty years ago by Professor Brower and myself, in the IUCN Invertebrate Red Data Book and elsewhere. However, the subspecies as a whole must now be deemed threatened by extinction, for if the central population goes, the introduced and non-migratory outliers will surely follow eventually. So it’s true: the monarch is in serious trouble. How did this sad state come to pass?

The key lies with the monarchs’ necessary caterpillar food plants: milkweeds, and only milkweeds. For the last century, the monarchs got on fine with the farmers, utilizing harmless milkweed that thrived in the field edges and corners, hedgerows and windrows. But in this century, Monsanto has introduced herbicide-tolerant, genetically modified soy, corn, and other crops, which farmers have little choice but to use, and this binds them into massively increased use of glyphosate herbicide, also manufactured by Monsanto. This expensive and reckless cycle is already generating glyphosate-resistant weeds; but it has also led to the destruction of millions of milkweed plants across the Midwest. And the monarch numbers have plummeted in response. Many now consider “Monsanto” the antonym of “monarch.”

Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed

A monarch buttefly on swamp milkweed, via Wikimedia Commons

The listing process will probably be lengthy, involving much debate. So far, most of the monarch scientists and conservationists, including me, support it. If a listing of threatened or endangered species comes about, there may be many repercussions. But the petitioners have taken care to stipulate that ongoing monarch science and citizen science—such as schoolchildren raising wild local monarchs in their classroom, and the tagging of monarchs for migration studies—should not be unduly affected by restrictions Nor should the burden all fall on the farmers. As ethnobotanist and author Gary Nabhan, co-author of The Forgotten Pollinators and co-founder of the consortium Make Way for Monarchs, has written, “Farmers already are, and will continue to be, part of the solution to recover the monarch butterfly populations; much of the milkweed restoration work that has already begun is within our nation’s farmscapes. We hope that a broad spectrum of participants across the entire food supply chain—from fertilizer and herbicide producers to restaurant owners and consumers—will begin to invest in farmers’ efforts to restore habitat for monarchs and other pollinators on private lands.” The listing should help this collaborative process to happen.

A few days after the extraordinarily detailed 159-page monarch petition was lodged with the Department of the Interior, we marked the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. There, too, was a hugely abundant organism that no one thought could possibly become extinct. Yet for a variety of reasons, it did. While some may consider monarch listing to be an overreaction or premature, I think of it as a properly cautious use of what I call the Passenger Pigeon Principle: if we don’t do everything we can now to protect and perpetuate our once-abundant wildlife species, they may well become the passenger pigeons of tomorrow.

When the pigeons were finally gone, the skies were wiped clean of these beautiful and valuable birds that once darkened them for hundreds of miles. Shall we also watch our most beloved butterflies, which have always brightened our childhoods and lifted our hearts—Canadians, Mexicans, and Americans alike—be wiped away as well? I, for one, do not want to wait to find out. Listing might or might not make the difference, but it seems the least we can do for monarchs now. And far from being hasty, I only hope we are not too late.

Robert Michael Pyle is an award-winning author of eighteen books, including Wintergreen, for which he received the John Burroughs Medal, and Chasing Monarchs. He is founder of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and has worked in every state and many countries as a butterfly ecologist, writer, speaker, and teacher.

Further Reading:

Chasing Monarchs Cover

What SUP From Your Favorite University Presses, September 5, 2014

supWelcome 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, education was a major focus for the academic presses as students flooded back to campus. What did you read this week?

The MIT Press started a back to school series this week discussing new curriculum models in an increasingly digital world, touching on coding education for K-12 students, MOOCs, and more.

UNC Press shared a guest post from the author of The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, examining current racial, religious, and economic issues as Elijah Muhammad might have seen them.

The University of Chicago Press offers a free ebook of Blair Kamin’s Terror and Wonder: Architecture in a Tumultuous Age.

The Wesleyan University Press continues their Throwback Thursday theme, sharing a poem from  Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple: The Poems of Francis Chung (2000)

Columbia University Press interviews James Liebman, author of The Wrong Carlos about studying capital punishment in Texas.

Oxford University Press explains ebola from the biological level to the social, infrastructural, and governmental challenges to containing the virus.

Stanford University Press shares their fall catalog in an engaging flow chart format. Will you make it past the first question?

What is 4’33″?

gann_pbcover.inddToday is the birthday of the composer John Cage, who is best known for 4’33″, a piece of music in which no intentional sounds are made by the artist or performer. Many, if not most, have encountered references to the piece, at least in comics and cartoons. Yet it may not be immediately clear how to approach or categorize 4’33″. Critics and fans have called it, among other things, a hoax, a joke, a bit of Dada, a piece of theater, a thought experiment, a kind of apotheosis of twentieth-century music, and an example of Zen practice. In No Such Thing as SilenceKyle Gann argues that some of these interpretations are more compelling than others and he offers insights into Cage’s life, influences, work, and legacy.

The details of the first performance of 4’33″ give useful context. Gann describes the scene in 1952 at the open-air Maverick Concert Hall just south of Woodstock, New York. David Tudor sat down at the piano, closed the keyboard over the piano keys, and looked at his stopwatch. Over the following minutes, he inaudibly uncovered and covered the keys twice and turned pages of blank sheet music. After four minutes and thirty-three seconds, he stood up to receive applause.

With that account in mind, Gann dismisses the idea that 4’33″ was a hoax. Cage made no attempt to deceive his audience or make them think they’d heard music they did not hear. Gann also refutes the suggestion that Cage was after financial gain. The piece was not commissioned and the occasion for its performance was a benefit concert, so the money went to neither Tudor nor Cage. The notion that 4’33″ was intended to amuse also seems unlikely since the composer feared people would call it a joke. He spoke about the piece in a deeply serious, even philosophical tone register throughout his life.

Gann does see a plausible connection between 4’33″ and Dadaism, the early twentieth-century art movement. Cage counted Erik Satie among his favorite composers and noted that “what was Dada in Duchamp’s today is now just art.” The theatrical aspects of 4’33″ deserve mention as well. The audience expected sound from the musician and the performer expected silence from the recital audience. Often, both expectations were frustrated, as the musician made no audible sound and audience members cleared their throats, muttered, or heckled. The musician and the audience broke character in refusing to act out their conventional roles.

David Tudor performs in 4'33" in 1952

David Tudor performs 4’33″ in 1952

The remaining interpretations—that 4’33″ was a thought experiment, a kind of apotheosis of twentieth-century music, or an example of Zen practice—strike Gann as more likely to capture the essence of the piece. 4’33″ worked as a thought experiment in that Cage used the scenario of a performance to frame the mundane sounds the audience heard for those four and a half minutes. That framing, Gann writes, worked to “drive home the point that the difference between ‘art’ and ‘non-art’ is merely one of perception, and that we can control how we organize our perceptions.” Gann, as a composer, also makes a case for understanding Cage’s work as a kind of apotheosis of twentieth-century music. He explains how classical music had become so highly structured and complex that it verged on the incomprehensible, and that 4’33″ symbolically cleared the ground and began a shift towards minimalism. The three sections Cage designated in the piece identify 4’33″ as a sonata, which reaffirms its place in the classical world.

A significant part of No Such Thing as Silence deals with the ways in which John Cage was inspired by Zen and Zen practice. Zen’s relationship to 4’33″ is complex, but it is possible to sketch a few key connections. Zen involves letting go of desire because desire underlies frustration and suffering. If you attend a concert with a desire to hear specific sounds, you will be frustrated, as some who listened to 4’33″ clearly were. Zen also teaches that all divisions are illusions of thought, and that in reality there is no difference between life and death, good and bad, or happiness and misery. All existence is one. It is in this spirit it that Gann describes a powerful way of approaching 4’33″:

If you are able to appreciate, at least on an intellectual level, that from a Zen standpoint there is no difference between playing a note and not playing a note, that a chord on the piano and a cough from an audience member behind you and the patter of rain on the Maverick Concert Hall roof are not different, but the same thing—then you may be able to think of 4′33″ as something more profound than a joke, a hoax, or a deliberately provocative and nihilistic act of Dada. If you can turn toward the whir of the wind in the oak trees or the pulse of the ceiling fan the same attention you were about to turn to the melodies of the pianist, you may have a few moments of realizing that the division you habitually maintain between art and life, between beautiful things and commonplace ones, is artificial, and that making it separates you off from life and deadens you to the magic around you.

If you want to continue celebrating Cage’s birthday, check out Silence, by Toby Kamps and Steve Seid. The book examines the ways twenty-nine artists invoke silence to shape space and consciousness. You can read an excerpt here, so long as you remember that the divisions between here and there, excerpts and full texts, and one book and another are illusory.

What does 4’33″ mean to you? Let us know in the comments!

What Does Rock ‘n’ Roll Mean To You?

Greil Marcus has weighed in on the ten songs that define rock n roll history. In this video, we hit the streets to find out what people thought of his list and what rock ‘n’ roll means to them. See Greil’s list, watch the video, then tell us what you think. What songs best tell the story of rock? What does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you?

Greil’s List:

1. “Shake Some Action” - Flaming Groovies

Greil Marcus

Greil Marcus; Photo by Thierry Arditti, Paris.

2. “Transmission” - Joy Division

3. “In the Still of the Nite” - Five Satins/Slades

4. “All I Could Do Was Cry” - Etta James/Beyoncé

5. “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” - Buddy Holly/Beatles

6. “Money (That’s What I Want”) - Barrett Strong/Beatles

7. “Money Changes Everything” - Brains/Cyndi Lauper/Delta Moon

8. “This Magic Moment” – Drifters/Ben E. King with Lou Reed

9. “Guitar Drag” - Christian Marclay

10. “To Know Him Is to Love Him” - Teddy Bears/Amy Winehouse

Further Reading:

history rock n roll cover

King’s Dream: Civil Rights and the History of Nonviolent Protest

King's Dream CoverOn this day in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave what is widely hailed as the best political speech of the twentieth century. King famously departed from his prepared text to expound upon his dream, a vision of a nation living in racial harmony. Folk history has it that Mahalia Jackson, a singer and activist, prompted the improvisation by calling out “Tell ‘em about the dream Martin!” What followed has become so deeply ingrained in our national consciousness that we might imagine its message to be as clear and obvious as it is powerful and resonant. King’s Dream by Eric J. Sundquist shows how complex and open to interpretation King’s words were and are.

In the decades after King’s death, liberals and conservatives have both gestured towards King to support their stances on affirmative action and reparations for slavery. Apple Computer, the New Republic, and many others have advertised using imagery that evokes the “I Have a Dream” speech. It is at least partially in response to these reductive (and sometimes contradictory) political and popular appropriations that Sundquist gives a fuller and more nuanced sense of the man and his most famous speech.

Sundquist supplies useful context through his account of King’s work in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. The successes and struggles of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sit-ins, in Nashville and elsewhere, the Freedom Rides, and the especially controversial Birmingham campaign all played into the hopes and fears surrounding the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the occasion for King’s speech. King addresses himself not only to segregationists but to Alabama Governor George Wallace, and, implicitly, to those within the movement who doubted the power of nonviolent protest.

King’s Dream also emphasizes two key American texts that preceded the “I Have a Dream” speech. Sundquist shows how King positioned himself in conversation with Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, the writers of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence. The 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech calls for the promise of Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation to be fulfilled, and for the nation to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” Through analysis along these lines, Sundquist arrives at one of his core interpretive claims. He writes:

King’s greatness, as well as the greatness of his speech, lay in his ability to elevate the cause of civil rights and the cause of America at the same time. The nation had failed black Americans, no doubt, but it was not—contrary to the opinions of some raising the fist of Black Power—irredeemably corrupt and ripe for overthrow. Enlisting his audience in a crusade sanctioned equally by the Declaration of Independence and the Bible, King in no way rejected America’s foundational values. Rather, he purified and consolidated those values by insisting that only when the revolutionary rights they guaranteed were shared by Americans of all colors, creeds, and nationalities would they truly be America’s foundational values.

Sundquist addresses the anniversary of King’s speech most directly, but three other authors also critically consider “the cause of civil rights and the cause of America at the same time.” In We Shall Overcome, Alexander Tsesis traces the history of legal efforts to achieve civil rights for all Americans, beginning with the years leading up to the Revolution and continuing to our own times. Tsesis also argues, in opposition to other legal theorists, that the Constitution fundamentally requires the U.S. government to defend individual liberties for the benefit of general welfare.

Civil Disobedience CoverLewis Perry writes from a similarly broad perspective in his book, Civil Disobedience. He considers the history of nonviolent protest and the ways it has been and become an American institution. Perry attends to the subtleties of King’s position, noting that although he eventually abandoned the practice, King carried a pistol for a time and publicly conceded the right to defend home and family.

In Protest at Selma, David J. Garrow closely examines how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came into being. He emphasizes how crucial it was that Martin Luther King Jr. learned to exploit the media, an influential third-party audience. By shifting focus from nonviolent persuasion, intended to win over attackers, to nonviolent provocation, intended to win over the media and its audience, King was able to make dramatic progress.

Each of these books helps us understand the magic of the “I Have a Dream” speech and the courage of the Civil Rights Movement. They consider, sometimes critically, what it meant to be an American fifty years ago and what it means to be an American today. They ask us to look carefully at our laws and culture and they assure us that we need not be satisfied with the status quo. Sundquist, Tsesis, Perry, and Garrow insist that we treat this anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, and their books remind us to live deliberately so that the nation may honor its promises and fulfill the true meaning of its creed.


Why Augustus Should Be Remembered alongside Julius Caesar

Adrian Goldsworthy—

Maybe sometimes a person can be too successful, or at least you are tempted to wonder this when you think about how Augustus is scarcely remembered these days. We have all heard of Julius Caesar, and we have all heard of Antony and Cleopatra—in each case their names now as familiar from Shakespeare’s plays as the real history. In contrast Rome’s first emperor and Julius Caesar’s great nephew and heir is no longer so well known. He appears as Octavius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and as Caesar in his Antony and Cleopatra, but his role is always as a supporting character and he tends to come across as somewhat lifeless. Augustus did not get a play of his own, perhaps because he won, and kept on winning, living on into his seventies and dying peacefully in his bed. Compared to being murdered at a meeting of the Senate by men he considered friends, or to committing suicide and dying in a lover’s arms, it was an end lacking in drama. Doomed love or assassination at the height of power offered the playwright far better material.

Bust of Augustus

Bust of Augustus, first emperor of Rome, via Wikimedia Commons

Yet Augustus was important, changing the very nature of the Roman state and turning it into a system that was a monarchy in all but name, and a system that would endure for centuries. Some people, including the late first century AD biographer Suetonius, counted Julius Caesar as Rome’s first emperor and there is something to be said for this verdict, mainly because it was as his heir that Augustus claimed power, raised a private army, and thrust himself into the heart of the Republic’s violent politics in the months after the Ides of March. Mark Antony dismissed him as a “boy who owes everything to a name,” and he was partly right, even if we should add that he owed a lot to his precocious ambition, political skill, and financial backing. Ultimately it was because he took the name Caesar that he mattered.

Without Caesar there could have been no Augustus, but we should also never forget how little time Julius Caesar spent in Rome in his last years. The Civil War that had begun in 49 BC kept flaring back into life and was not finally won until 45 BC. Caesar returned in October of that year and was killed in the following March. Whatever his longer term plans—something at which we can only guess—he had very little time to shape a new regime.

Augustus was one of the three most powerful men in Rome by 43 BC, had disposed of his last rival by 30 BC and then lived on unchallenged until AD 14. During that time a new political system was gradually created. It was not a steady evolution, but a series of experiments, with several changes of direction and moments of backtracking, but he made it work. Monopolising military power meant that there was no chance of a rival warlord emerging to restart the civil wars. Augustus was also a politician of genius, and he was helped by the desperate longing of Romans and people in the provinces alike for peace and stability. Underlying his propaganda and image-making was sheer hard graft, as he restored order and continuity to the administration of a vast empire. Much of this he did himself, touring the provinces, listening to petition after petition, and making decisions that would be kept and not reversed when the balance of power shifted at Rome as it had done so often over the last decades.

The Roman Empire under Augustus Caesar

The Roman Empire under Augustus Caesar (31 BC – AD 6), via Wikimedia Commons

Julius Caesar was flamboyant, charismatic, and immensely talented whether as a soldier, writer, or politician. Augustus’ personality is far more elusive and it is no coincidence that one of his seals was the inscrutable sphinx. He cultivated a persona of a simple, old-fashioned Roman gentleman who devoted his life to the service of the state, doing not just the glorious acts but also many that were dull, even unpleasant, though necessary. They are the only two men to have months named after them in the calendar we still use today—which in all its important features is the one introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Both of them changed Rome, shaping the empire that has had such a profound influence on the history and culture of the western world.

Without Caesar there could have been no Augustus. Without Augustus then it is more than likely that we would not remember Julius Caesar as being much different from the other Roman warlords like Sulla or Pompey. It was the success of Augustus which ensured that all future emperors would take the name Caesar, turning what was simply another family name into a title of ultimate power which was to endure into the twentieth century in the forms Kaiser and Tsar. Both Caesar and Augustus deserve to be remembered, but any balanced judgement must acknowledge that it was the latter who did the most to shape the history of Rome and the wider world.

Adrian Goldsworthy is a leading historian of the ancient world and author of acclaimed biographies of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra among many other books. He lectures widely and consults on historical documentaries produced by the History Channel, National Geographic, and the BBC.

Further Reading:

Augustus by Adrian Goldsworthy  Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy

Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts

Eugene O'NeillFour seems to be Eugene O’Neill’s lucky number. He was the recipient of four Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, the most won by any single playwright. His most famous play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, was written in four acts. Robert Dowling’s new biography Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts, forthcoming this October continues that theme, highlighting how the stories he told through his plays interweave with his life, divided out into four episodes. We sat down with Dowling to talk about writing the biography of such an immense figure in American theater.

Yale University Press: You have long been a fan of O’Neill’s work, but what prompted you to write a book about his life?

Robert M. Dowling: In the final session of the first O’Neill seminar I taught, I asked my students, “Which plays did you enjoy the most?” Without missing a beat, one raised his hand and said that O’Neill’s life was his greatest play. Many others nodded in agreement. That moment planted the seed for this book. It turns out that the dramatic structure of O’Neill’s life uncannily matches that of his best plays. And, even more fascinating for a biographer, nearly every fictional story O’Neill told interweaves with actual stories from his own life.

YUP: O’Neill won the Nobel Prize for Literature—the only American playwright to do so. How is his literary achievement viewed today, some 60 years after his death?

RMD: O’Neill also won four Pulitzers, yet he probably received more bad reviews than any other major American author. However, having scrutinized virtually every review of his premieres and books, I can say that even his so-called clunkers were still credited with breakthroughs that offered something unique, something never before attempted on the American stage. O’Neill is enjoying a new “renaissance,” with dozens of revivals over the past decade. American and international audiences alike show an unquenchable desire for his plays, and there’s no end in sight for this playwright’s potential to speak to contemporary audiences as he once spoke to his own.

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What SUP From Your Favorite University Presses, August 22, 2014

What Sup from your favorite University PressesWelcome 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 explore several facets of history, from the light-hearted to the sobering: romance strategies, economics, warfare, and racial violence. What did you read this week?

The University of Chicago Press examines a topic that hits close to home, “The State of the University Press.”

Columbia University featured a series of posts on  The Kenneth J. Arrow Lecture Series this week. They offered a chance to win a copy of the first three books in the series and shared several excerpts to help you brush up on the latest economic theory.

John’s Hopkins University Press explained how linen armor can stop an arrow in a guest post by Scott Bartell, author of Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor. Bartell risked his own flesh to test the ancient Greek and Roman warrior’s version of Kevlar.

Harvard University Press offered a drawing lesson from William Kentridge, an artist of many mediums whose stop-motion charcoal drawing animations gained him international renown.

Louisiana State University Press shared a Thoreau-esque description of a Louisiana summer day – something to savor here in New Haven as fall rapidly heads our way.

University of Minnesota Press launched a new weekly blog series from comedian Lorna Landvik. In this fist installment Landvik wonders if being the youngest child made her funnier.

MIT Press spoke with Margaret Murray, author of Women Becoming Mathematicians, on the impact that the first female winner of the Fields medal will have.

NYU Press reflected on the disturbing events in Ferguson and the history of racial tension and state-sanctioned violence in St. Louis.

Oxford University Press asks if we are “too ‘smart’ to understand how we see?”

Stanford University Press shares New York  Sephardi-Ashkenazi Jewish dating advice from 1916.