Category: Online Interview

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.


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.


Q&A With Kristie Macrakis, Author of Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies


Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda is a book about concealing and revealing secret communications. It is the first history of invisible writing, uncovered through stories about scoundrels and heroes. Spies were imprisoned or murdered, adultery unmasked, and battles lost because of faulty or intercepted secret communications. Yet, successfully hidden writing helped save lives, win battles, and ensure privacy. Yale University Press sat down with author Kristie Macrakis to talk about the spy wars, chemical discoveries, and famous characters that make up this hidden history.


Yale University Press:What inspired your research into the history of hidden writing?

Kristie Macrakis: It was precisely the hidden nature of the subject that inspired my research. It all began with a quest to uncover the Stasi’s (East German secret police and intelligence agency) secret writing methods in order to better understand the United States’ secret methods.

After spending considerable time probing secret writing files I finally hit pay dirt. I was handed a top secret Stasi Cold War invisible ink formula from the 1970s and successfully reproduced it. It was so exciting that my heart started pumping like that of a kid who just stole a candybar. When I was slated to deliver a lecture on invisible ink, I discovered no single book had been written about the subject though there were dozens about codes and ciphers.

The book grew out of that discovery, was research out of curiosity, and was written because of a need. It is the book I wish I had found on the shelf.


YUP: What is your all-time favorite story about invisible ink?

KM: It depends on my mood, but I’m particularly fond of the Nazi tooth spy story. I’ve just written a blog about it, but to make a long story short, a Nazi spy parachuted into England with secret ink hidden in his molar. It’s a good story, but it is just one example of many about the fascinating and bizarre ways in which people concealed their secret ink materials.


YUP: Do you reveal any previously secret hidden writing techniques or stories in Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies?

KM: The whole book is filled with secrets that have never been told before! It’s suitable for anyone who loves a secret. It started with the discovery of the Stasi secret writing method and goes backward from there. While some readers may have heard that General George Washington used sympathetic ink, not many know that the Nobel-prize winning discoverer of Vitamin C, Linus Pauling invented ingenious secret ink methods during World War II. He went to his grave with the secret revealed here for the first time. Of course, I can’t reveal all of them here!


YUP: Did hidden writing ever change the course of history?

KM: Probably one of the most changing the course of history events happened thousands of years ago in ancient Greece and shaped the future of Western civilization. It involved Demaratus’s (a Spartan exiled in Persia) warning of surprise attack by Xerxes, king of Persia, written on a blank wax tablet. How many changing the course of history events happened after that is up for debate.  Hidden messages save lives, win battles, ensure privacy, and occasionally change the course of history.


YUP: Do advances in hidden writing reflect changes in the way we wage war today? Is it possible to identify causal relationships between changes in hidden writing and changes in warfare?

KM: It’s not necessarily changes in warfare that reflect advancements in secret writing, but changes in society and technology in general. For example, one could say that digital steganography (or digital hidden writing on the internet or in digital images) is the modern technological sophisticated reincarnation of invisible inks like lemon juice, highly sophisticated chemical combinations or better yet, ancient seemingly blank wax tablets. Stego came about because of new sophisticated digital techniques. Generals and foot soldiers then use the most effective way to communicate available. As a result, you’d be more likely to see a CIA spy propped up against a tree trunk with a laptop encrypting messages and sending them through an image jpeg rather than mixing chemicals. However, don’t forget, you can always use old-fashioned invisible ink in a pinch. If a spy is holed up in an al-Qaeda prison, he or she might only have urine – or he, semen – to write with.


YUP: In the book you show that during WW I there was kind of an arms race to develop new invisible inks. In the absence of such an open global war do you think hidden writing will stagnate?

KMacrakislightblue2KM: Yes, there was an arms race or see saw battle of wits as each side responded to more sophisticated invisible ink methods. The same thing could happen in modern warfare. For example, the NSA’s perceived enemies might have figured out how the NSA spies on its communications so it will develop other ways to communicate. When it does this, the NSA will  respond with new communication methods. Sometimes the warfare context stimulates scientific or technical change.


Kristie Macrakis is professor of history, technology, and society at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a historian of science as well as espionage and the author of numerous books and articles, including Seduced by Secrets. She lives in Atlanta, GA. Visit her website at

The Political Decisions that Keep Guantanamo Bay Open

Listen to the podcast interview for The Terror Courts on iTunesU!

terrorCourtsOn the Yale Press Podcast, in conversation with Yale University Press Director John Donatich, author Jess Bravin revealed: “It was one of the commission’s big advocates, Senator Lindsey Graham, who told me, in effect, that you needed to put the 9/11 defendants on trial by military commission in order to justify the existence of military commissions . . . Justice in this case has been delayed in order to add to the creditability of military commissions by giving them marquee-level defendants to prosecute.”

Jess Bravin’s The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay has won numerous accolades for debunking presumptions like these about Guantanamo Bay and the military commissions. Terror Courts was a 2013 top political book pick by many, including the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly. Rolling Stone called it “captivating,” the New York Times labeled it a “welcome addition to the history of national security legal policy dilemmas in the Bush era.”

With The Terror Courts releasing in paperback this month, we are pleased to share an excerpt from the conversation between YUP Director John Donatich and Bravin. Guantanamo Bay once garnered enough public attention that then presidential candidate Barack Obama made closing the detention camp a campaign promise. John Donatich asks Bravin about the potential for sustained public outcry as the detainees cases drag on in the permanent military commissions:

John Donatich: What do you think now, with the hunger strikes getting more attention, at what point do you think Guantanamo will be an issue that Congress has no choice but to address, and will there be any kind of sustained public outcry against what’s happening?

Jess Bravin: Well there is no public outcry against what’s happening there that I can tell, there are certainly people that have been concerned about it, but it’s not an issue that motivates mass attention in the United States.

I think that if the congress remains as it is now—divided partisan control in the two chambers, and no constituency for addressing Guantanamo, it’s hard to image much happening from Capitol Hill. I think the initiative lies almost completely with President Obama. In his first term he was willing to expend zero political capital towards his campaign promise of closing Guantanamo and significantly altering the way that military trials worked—well, he did alter the way military trails work on paper, I have to say that. He did sponsor legislation that did afford defendants greater protections than they had previously, but in terms of closing the place and just closing the book on this post 9/11 experiment in parallel justice, he hasn’t really done anything to accomplish that after discovering there was some political price to pay for trying back in 2009.

Listen to their complete conversation on the Yale Press Podcast, now available through Yale University on iTunesU.

Jess Bravin

Jess Bravin

Q&A With Author David Sedlak on the Future of Clean Water


With the planet’s clean water sources strained by over-population and pollution, Yale University Press sat down with Water 4.0 author David Sedlak to talk about the future of urban water systems. For more on what we must do to protect our most precious resource, visit


Yale University Press: In Water 4.0, you discuss the four stages of urban water solution’s history. Can you explain them for us?

David Sedlak: Whenever people congregate in big groups they need access to a water supply.  The first revolution in urban water occurred when the Romans created a complex system of dams, aqueducts, underground water pipes and sewers that could provide people with a daily allotment of water that was comparable to what we use today.  When medieval villages started growing into cities during the second half of the nineteenth century, they adopted this approach, creating bigger and better water systems in cities like Paris, London and New York.  The plentiful water supply made it possible to keep the streets free from the muck that had plagued medieval cities.   It also created a new problem by spreading disease to communities that drew their water downstream.  After a few decades of outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever, desperate engineers created drinking water treatment processes that made it possible to safely consume water from sewage-contaminated rivers.  The spread of this second revolution in urban water technology extended average life spans by almost a decade in the US.  Cities grew without worrying about the effects of water pollution until the environmental impacts of sewage discharged by cities became too obvious to ignore.  Between the 1950s and 1970s, the third revolution in urban water systems resulted in the construction of sewage treatment plants that eliminated the dead fish and noxious odors that had become commonplace downstream of cities.  As discussed in the book, a confluence of factors—including climate change, population growth and underinvestment in upkeep of pipes and treatment plants—is leading to a need to embark on a fourth revolution.


YUP: What were the major benefits that arose from the first three advances in the harnessing and treatment of water? Were there any drawbacks from each? 

DS: The first advance—an imported water supply and the use of water as a means of waste disposal—liberated people from the burden of having to haul and store water as well as the messy job of managing their own wastes.  Unfortunately, the dilution of feces and urine with large quantities of water made it virtually impossible to capture and reuse the nutrients locked up in the wastes.  By discharging sewage above a neighbor’s drinking water supply, the first set of innovations also spread waterborne disease to downstream communities.

The second advance—drinking water treatment—largely solved the problem of waterborne disease in developed countries, an advance that has been recognized by the US National Academy of Engineering as one of the top four most important technological advance of the twentieth century.  The main drawback of the newly created drinking water treatment system was related to a lack of knowledge about the risks to public health posed by the use of lead pipes and chlorine—two problems that many cities are still struggling with today.

Finally, the third advance—widespread construction of sewage treatment plants—helped to achieve the goal of making it possible to swim and fish in our lakes, rivers and estuaries.  Here, the main drawbacks were related to our inability to use the enthusiasm for building sewage treatment plants to create a system that assured that the plants would be maintained in the future.


YUP: So now that we approach the “Water 4.0” stage, where do we go from here? What responses and approaches are on offer?

DS: To get a better idea of what the future holds, we can look to the cities that are on the front lines of the struggle.  In cities where existing water supplies are unable to keep up with demand, we are seeing the traditional approach of water conservation and the development of more imported water sources being taken as far as they can go.  Some of these cities are starting to experiment with new approaches for turning water that hasn’t been seen as being fit for consumption—seawater, sewage, stormwater runoff—into drinking water.  In cities where too much water is posing problems, the tried-and-true engineering approaches of digging bigger underground drainage tunnels are being abandoned in lieu of green roofs, rain gardens and stormwater retention ponds.  The big challenge is to figure out which of the many possible approaches and specific technologies is actually practical, given financial limitations and need to maintain the reliable performance that we demand of our water systems.


YUP: What are some of the technology-based solutions that could be pursued?

DS: As communities struggle to address the inadequacies of their existing systems, a number of new technologies are emerging as candidates for the fourth revolution.  On the water supply side, water reuse and seawater desalination are becoming inexpensive and reliable enough to start replacing imported water supplies.  Newer technologies like urban stormwater capture and closed loop water systems in buildings have the potential to help cities break free of the need for centralized water treatment and distribution, but they are not as well developed.  Also, new technologies that employ the latest developments in information technology, wireless communication and materials science are creating opportunities to conserve water in ways that seemed impossible twenty years ago.  On the wastewater side, new technologies are creating modular sewage treatment plants that could be installed in a basement or in an unobtrusive shed in a neighborhood.  These tiny treatment plants extract the energy and nutrients in sewage and reuse the water for landscaping or non-potable applications within buildings.


David Sedlak. credit Peg Skorpinski

David Sedlak. credit Peg Skorpinski

YUP:  In your book, you note that cities are historically the first to both show manifestations of water pollution problems as well as find solutions. Are there cities around the world that are ahead of the curve with their water treatment and conservation? Are their methods adaptable in the U.S?

DS: Many people consider Singapore to be at the leading edge of new water technologies.  The Singaporeans certainly have made great efforts to advance water recycling, desalination and water conservation, but to me the most amazing thing about Singapore has been their success in capturing and using most of the rain that falls within the city.  If other cities around the world were to adopt Singapore’s practices of urban stormwater capture and use, it would go a long way toward solving many water supply problems.    This could also help cities avoid much of the damage caused by excess stormwater runoff.  Adopting this approach elsewhere is going to take some effort because Singapore receives a lot more rainfall than cities in places like California, Texas and Arizona where water supply concerns are greatest.

Israel is another example where progress is being made, particularly with respect to cost-effective seawater desalination.  Desalination currently accounts for almost 20% of Israel’s urban water supply, and the national plan calls for it to increase to 30% in the near future.  Cost has always been the big impediment to widespread investment in seawater desalination.  The Israelis were able to cut the costs of  this process by adopting a standardized set of designs, employing the latest energy-saving technologies and linking the plants together via the country’s regional water canal.  The development of widely adopted conventions for plant design and permitting as well as sharing the costs and benefits of desalination regionally could offer similar benefits for US cities, but we still have not resolved our concerns about the large amounts of energy consumed by the desalination process.


YUP: Is there any good news in the race to confront the newest wave of urban water challenges? Do we see anything particular from the entrepreneurial or research and development communities that is taking positive shape?  Or are we looking at the likelihood that another crisis will be needed to activate meaningful pursuit of new solutions?

DS: Overall, it’s a good news-bad news situation.  The good news is that the latest technological developments coupled with research and experience gained in the cities that are on the frontline of the challenge are providing us with the tools needed to meet our future urban water needs without compromising on safety and reliability.  The bad news is that our expectations that water services will always be inexpensive is discouraging investments in developing the technologies more quickly or in retooling our water systems before they reach a state of crisis.  Hopefully, by paying attention to the high price of inaction and understanding the technologies that can help to solve our problems, we will be empowered to act before change is forced upon us in a crisis.


YUP:  What can a concerned citizen do? Do you have any advice for them?

DS:  There are a number of things that you can do to support your urban water systems and to pave the way for change.  The easiest and most direct actions involve water conservation. Upgrading to the latest versions of water-saving appliances is a good investment that can substantially reduce water consumption while saving energy.  It is also becoming easier to reduce outdoor water use without compromising aesthetics through the use of modern irrigation controllers that fine-tune watering based upon weather and soil conditions.  You also can choose household products more wisely, with an eye to the fact that all of the chemicals that you use in and around your home have the potential to end up in a nearby river or the drinking water of your downstream neighbors.  Although water conservation and consumer choices are powerful tools, the most important thing that you can do to bring about change is to become more actively involved in the decision-making process.  By bringing knowledge of the stakes and the range of solutions to discussions with elected officials and the people in charge of planning for future investments in your water system, you can assure that the next generation of urban water will be here when it is needed.


YUP:  David, anything else you want to add?

DS:  Concerns about the future of urban water systems are not limited to the dry Southwest.  Increasingly, cities in the southeast, like Atlanta, Tampa and Dallas, are struggling to provide enough water for their cities in dry years.  In the future, concerns about the costs and environmental impacts of imported water coupled with growing water demands is likely to make this issue more relevant to the rest of the country.  Furthermore, water supply problems and the solutions being developed in the United States have important implications for cities facing climate change and population growth in developed and developing countries around the world.

Members of the public are often surprised when they learn about the presence of hormones, drugs and personal care products in their water supply.  As explained in this book, the presence in drinking water of low concentrations of chemicals that were flushed down the toilet should not be a surprise.  The challenge we face is to determine which, if any, of those chemicals could pose a risk to our health or the health of waters where treated sewage is discharged and to design ways to prevent the chemicals from getting there in the first place.

David L. Sedlak is the Malozemoff Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, co-director of the Berkeley Water Center, and deputy director of the National Science Foundation’s engineering research center for Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). He is a leading authority on water technology. He lives in Berkeley, CA.

The Unbalanced Economic Relationship of the United States and China


What makes the economic relationship between the United States and China so fraught with anxiety, tension, and a surprising dependency on the successes and failures of the other? Particularly throughout the economic highs and lows of the 21st century so far, the question of China’s ascendance, even so far as surpassing the U.S. as the dominant superpower has been raised by journalists, economists, and political commentators alike, spilling over into daily conversation about everyday American lives and jobs. Now, Stephen Roach, senior fellow at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and School of Management and former Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley has written Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and ChinaIn clear facts and terms, Roach lays bare the pitfalls of the current economic codependency between the U.S. and China and describes new opportunities for improving both economies and their troubled relationship. Read below for an interview with Roach on the present challenges in U.S.-Chinese economic development, the next steps following the Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and a controversial take on what the United States needs to address in order to continue its prosperity.


Yale University Press: Who has the upper hand in the codependency of America and China?

Stephen Roach: As is the case in human relationships, codependency for economies is not sustainable.  It can lead to imbalances, a loss of identity, and a broad array of tensions and frictions.  As I argue in Unbalanced, there are visible manifestations of all of these characteristics now at work in both America and China.  It’s hard to say who has the upper hand in this relationship.  The United States, with its dominant military power and the world’s largest economy, certainly has a commanding position today.  But a rising China, with a huge reservoir of domestic saving – some 51 percent of its GDP in 2013, or fully three times the 17 percent national saving rate in the U.S. – certainly has the wherewithal to go its own way in the years ahead and break the shackles of its dependence on the United States if it choses to do so.  Saving-short America, still heavily dependent on surplus saving from abroad, has far less latitude in that key regard.


YUP: How has the U.S. and China’s unbalanced relationship created a false sense of prosperity?

SR: Beginning in the late 1990s, the income-strained U.S. economy drew increasing support from the so-called wealth effects of surging asset markets – first from equities, then from residential property and finally from cheap credit.  The problem was that each of these asset-dependent underpinnings ended in bubbles – bubbles that ultimately drew support from Chinese purchases of dollar-denominated assets.  Washington, Wall Street, and Main Street collectively deluded themselves into thinking this asset-dependent growth was a new recipe for economic prosperity.  When the bubbles popped, however, it quickly became apparent that this was a dangerous false prosperity. To the extent that export-led growth in China was dependent on America’s asset and credit bubbles, it, too, went down a path of false prosperity.  When the export underpinnings of China’s external demand collapsed in late 2008 in the depths of the Great Crisis, this, in fact, became painfully evident.


Stephen Roach, credit Tony Rinaldo

Stephen Roach, credit Tony Rinaldo

YUP: Why does the U.S. economy depend on China and how can we regain our independence?

SR: U.S. economic growth has long been led by American consumers.  In 2013, personal consumption expenditures accounted for fully 69 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) – a record for any nation in modern history.  Paradoxically, this consumer-led growth has occurred in a period of unusually sluggish real income growth for most American families.  That’s where China enters the equation – as a source of cheap goods that enables a hard-pressed middle class to buy more with their limited incomes. China has also become a huge source of demand for U.S. government securities; it is now America’s largest foreign lender, currently owning approximately $2 trillion of such assets.  That partially fills the void of a shortfall in U.S. domestic saving and helps prevent U.S. interest rates from rising – thereby providing further support to American economic growth. Regaining our economic independence is simple on paper – boosting our saving capacity and revitalizing the competiveness of our workers and manufacturing industries – but much tougher in practice.


YUP: How has China been able to challenge the U.S.’s global economic leadership?

SR: Thirty years of 10 percent economic growth has now pushed China past Japan as the second largest economy in the world.  It is only a question of when, not if, China will surpass the United States as number one. In Unbalanced, I lay out a scenario that such convergence should come by 2027; there is a distinct possibility that it might occur even sooner than that.  With China having more than four times the population of the United States, these trends are hardly a surprise.  The real measure of prosperity, however, adjusts for population disparities and finds China’s per capita income of $6,600 in 2013, far short of the $51,200 level in the United States.  Under heroic assumptions for sustainable rapid growth and development in China, convergence on a per capita basis is still many decades away.  As that point draws near, only then can we begin to speak of a Chinese challenge to American economic hegemony. 


YUP: Which superpower will rebalance their economy first, the U.S. or China?

SR: By all indications, it will be China.  Seven years ago, China’s former premier, Wen Jiabao, sparked the rebalancing debate by his famous critique of the “Four Uns” – a Chinese economy that he depicted as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and (ultimately) unstable.”  This led to the enactment of the 12th Five-Year Plan in March 2011, which laid out the broad framework of a consumer-led rebalancing of the Chinese economy.  In retrospect, that plan was more a rhetorical commitment to rebalancing than a detailed blueprint for change.  It was lacking an implementation mechanism.  This has been subsequently addressed in the recently concluded Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party that was held in November 2013, which contained 60 specific reform initiatives and the establishment of a new “leading committee,” headed up by President Xi Jinping, to focus on implementation.  In light of these developments, it is now safe to say that China is firmly on the path of a fundamental economic rebalancing.  The United States, by contrast, seems intent on resurrecting the timeworn model of consumer-led growth – relying on quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve to boost consumer demand through the wealth effects arising from surging asset markets and seemingly unwilling, or unable, to boost its long-term saving potential as a source of future economic growth.


YUP:  Is the American Century over? Is the Chinese Century next?

SR: History underscores the ebb and flow of global economic leadership.  China was the dominant economy in the world through the mid-19th century.  Then it was Europe and now the United States.  The fickle fate of economic power is very hard to predict with any certainty.  Mindless extrapolation would argue for the ascendancy of China and the end of America as the world’s dominant economy.  But so much could happen along the way to render simple extrapolations far off the mark – either in China, the United States, or in both of these codependent economies.  China has been on an extraordinary course for thirty years.  But, if it doesn’t make meaningful progress on the road to rebalancing, or if it gets tangled up in geopolitical security tensions with its Asian neighbors, it could fall into the dreaded “middle-income trap” that has ensnared most developing economies since the end of World War II.  Similarly, America is living on borrowed time – literally and figuratively.  If it doesn’t focus on its long-term saving agenda, it will lack the wherewithal to invest in its people and productive capacity, undermining its longer-term growth potential and squandering its seemingly invincible role as the global hegemon.


YUP: Going forward, what does the U.S. need in order to prosper in this relationship?

SR: First and foremost, the U.S. body politic needs to take a long and hard look in the mirror and accept responsibility for America’s homegrown economic problems such as inadequate saving, bubble-prone monetary and regulatory policies, and a loss of competitiveness.  In doing so, it must stop pinning the blame on others, especially China.  Yes, America has a large bilateral trade deficit with China that many believe is putting pressure on jobs and real wages of American workers.  China’s alleged currency manipulation only compounds its blame, goes this view.  But the so-called China problem is only part of a much broader multilateral problem as underscored by U.S. trade deficits with 102 nations in 2012.  The cause of this multilateral imbalance again goes back to America’s chronic saving shortfall and the need for the U.S. to run a large current-account and multilateral trade deficit in order to attract the foreign capital that it needs to fill its saving void.  As I stress in Unbalanced, there is no bilateral fix for America’s multilateral problem.  In other words, China bashing is not the answer to that which ails American workers.  At the same time, Washington’s trade negotiators have every reason to demand fair and equal treatment from China under international trade conventions – especially on grounds of market access in light of the limited penetration of China’s domestic markets by U.S. manufacturers and services providers.  As China shifts to more of a consumer led model, the market access issue will become increasingly critical for China’s major trading partners, such as the United States. China is America’s third largest and most rapidly growing export market.  Shame on us if we squander the opportunity to convert Chinese rebalancing into a new source of growth for a growth-starved U.S. economy.

Stephen Roach is senior fellow, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and School of Management, Yale University. Prior to that he was Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, and for the bulk of his career on Wall Street was Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley in 1982, Mr. Roach served on the research staff of the Federal Reserve Board and was also a research fellow at the Brookings Institution. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from New York University. Roach has written extensively for the international media and appears regularly on television around the world. Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China is available now from booksellers.

Surprising Trends from the World of Online Gaming


Read Nick Yee’s piece on how the media gets video games wrong on the Huffington Post.


Online games such as Second Life or EverQuest might seem escapes from reality, opportunities to create new persona and new worlds. In his book, The Proteus Paradox, gaming researcher Nick Yee instead contends that these games often serve to replicate the offline world, from its superstitions to its furniture.  We asked Dr. Yee about his research, his biggest concerns about the future of gaming, and why the NSA would want to play World of Warcraft.


Yale University Press:  Could you describe how you became interested in gaming research?

Nick Yee: I’ve always been a gamer. I remember playing the original SimCity and Civilization games from floppy disks when I was a kid. Of course, I could have never imagined I would end up studying gamers for a living.

During my junior year in college, back in 1999, two seniors a year ahead of me did their theses on the personality differences among gamers of different video game genres. One of those genres was the Massively-Multiplayer Role-Playing Game. And so their thesis adviser got them a copy of EverQuest so they could better understand the game context. I was the lab techie for their adviser and installed the game for them. For whatever reason, I was the only one of the three who enjoyed playing the game. It was playing EverQuest that made me realize how interesting these online communities are.

I began running online surveys of EverQuest players in the spring of 2000, as part of an independent study project with Professor Doug Davis at Haverford College. Over the years, I’ve surveyed over 50,000 online gamers on a diverse range of topics— asking why they play, how they fall in love, how they manage drama in guilds, etc.

Yee Author Photo

Nick Yee


YUP:  What are the Daedalus Project and the Proteus Effect? Why all these names from Greek mythology?

Yee: As I began surveying online gamers and generated findings, I used blogging software to archive, categorize, and index all these findings. And so the Daedalus Project was born. It was a website that I used to recruit from, engage with, and share my findings with the online gaming community.

In 2003, as I was running the Daedalus Project while working full-time in Chicago, I realized that I probably should go to grad school if I was doing all this research on my own time. I was accepted to Stanford’s Ph.D. program in Communication and began four  incredibly productive years with Professor Jeremy Bailenson. For my dissertation, I ran a series of experiments exploring how our digital avatars might change us in turn. We found that people given more attractive avatars walk closer to and share more personal information with virtual strangers. And people given taller avatars negotiate more aggressively in a bargaining task. And so it turns out that in virtual worlds, our digital bodies change how we think and behave. We referred to this as the Proteus Effect, a reference to the Greek sea god Proteus who could change his physical form at will.

Why Greek mythology names? Whenever I find myself choosing names for projects, I gravitate towards Greek mythology names. The reasoning behind “Proteus” is more clear, but for other names like “Daedalus”, I just liked the way the word sounds.


YUP:  What is your biggest concern about the current state of online games and virtual worlds?

Yee: Our contemporary online games and virtual worlds tend to replicate reality, and, in doing so, they encourage people to perpetuate social norms and stereotypes. At first glance, this claim makes no sense—aren’t these fantasy worlds all about becoming someone else? But we create virtual chairs even though our virtual bodies don’t get tired. In Second Life, a virtual sandbox where people can be and do anything they want, most users strive for virtual (and thus attainable) replicas of their earthly desires—gym-fit bodies, brand name clothing and accessories, and a spacious shorefront home.

In World of Warcraft, we found that gamers have a strong stereotype that women prefer to heal in these games. When we analyzed the game server data, we found that this stereotype was false—male and female gamers have roughly the same propensity for healing. But there was a difference in terms of avatar gender—female avatars heal more than male avatars. When we dug deeper into the data, we found that this in-game effect was created when players were using avatars of the opposite gender. When men gender-bend, they heal more frequently. When women gender-bend, they heal less frequently. So via play, these gamers were making a false stereotype true.

So the risk is that we assume that virtual worlds are a digital escape when they are in fact perpetuating the norms, assumptions, and prejudices of our offline lives.


YUP: Could you help us to understand some of the recent news regarding the U.S. National Security Agency and the United Kingdom GCHQ’s use of online games such as World of Warcraft? How does surveillance work in online worlds? What information might such agencies gain from virtual reconnaissance?

Yee: The recent news stories on NSA/GCHQ’s involvement in virtual worlds highlights how the persistent journalistic trope that online games are detached from reality is both misleading and distracting. For example, the ProPublica article begins with phrases like “fantasy worlds” and “digital avatars that include elves, gnomes.” This framing helps these news stories build to the conclusion that the government’s interest in virtual worlds is misguided and a waste of time and money.

The framing of these online games as fantasy worlds sidelines the fact that they are novel communication platforms. Everyday, millions of people all over the world are interacting with each other in persistent graphical worlds using digital avatars. And as with every new communication tool, the scientific and practical questions abound. How is using an avatar different from using typed chat alone? Do people maintain a sense of personal space when using digital avatars or do they create new social norms? When everyone can choose an attractive avatar, what makes an avatar more persuasive? What kind of society do people create when they can be anyone and do anything they want? Recent news stories insist on framing these communication platforms as fantasy worlds and imply that the sole function of intelligence agencies is to look for terrorists. I think this perspective is somewhat naive. An intelligence agency that ignores a novel communication platform isn’t doing its job.

These virtual worlds are also the most perfect surveillance states that have ever existed—a boon to both social scientists and intelligence analysts. Everything you do, everyone you speak to, and everywhere you’ve been is meticulously tracked by the game server. Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft, publicly releases thousands of variables for every active character on a daily basis. My colleagues and I have used this public data to map out the many connections between online behaviors and offline personality. For example, gamers who are less conscientious offline are more likely to die falling from high places in World of Warcraft. Our online and offline selves are entangled in many unexpected ways.

The connection between gaming and warfare is also worth highlighting. America’s Army is a video game created by the US Army; it has proven to be a more effective recruitment tool than all other forms of Army advertising combined. When a video game can persuade people to risk their lives for a cause, it would only be a surprise if intelligence agencies were not paying attention to virtual worlds and online games. Whether they are obtaining data legally or not is a separate issue, but their interest in virtual worlds should not be a surprise.

Nick Yee has explored online games and virtual worlds with a variety of research methods and tools for over a decade. He is widely known for the Daedalus Project, an extensive survey study of online gamers, and for his original research at Stanford University on the Proteus Effect, which describes how our avatars change the way we behave online and off. Formerly a researcher at the Palo Alto Research Center, he is currently a senior research scientist at Ubisoft, where he studies gamer behavior. He lives in Mountain View, California.

Animating Anthro with Art: An interview with Paleo-Artist John Gurche


View a gallery of images and read an excerpt from Shaping Humanity on Discover!


When you see dug-up primate bones at a natural history museum or in the science classroom, it can be difficult to fully grasp the notion that they belonged to beings that lived and breathed millennia ago. Even more difficult is to visualize what now extinct or evolved animals actually looked like to our human eyes. Paleo-artist John Gurche helps us overcome both challenges with his reconstructions of primates that allow us to see not only what they looked like but also appreciate that these creatures were thinking, feeling beings as well. Through lucid prose and visually stunning images, Gurche chronicles the challenges and successes of  the reconstruction process in his book Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins. YUP presents a Q&A with Gurche to learn more about his experience.

Yale University Press: What do you hope readers will take away from their experience of encountering Shaping Humanity?

John Gurche: When I began this book, I thought it would be pretty much a nuts and bolts book, a little like a paleo-CSI. I would explain how we look at clues in the fossil bones to learn about the lives and appearances of ancient hominins. But working with these ancestors, you make such powerful connections with them, and these connections, a bit surreal at times, began creeping into the writing. So yes, I hope readers will take away information about how we reconstruct ancient humans, but also, I hope to have captured some of the ancestral connection itself, and I hope to transmit this to readers as well. Carl Sagan was big on promoting the “cosmic connection,” a way of seeing our lives and our world within the larger context of space. The ancestral connection is a way of seeing ourselves and our time within the larger context of our evolutionary history. I find this tremendously life-enriching and I hope readers will too.


YUP: Which of the hominid ancestors you depict for the book is your favorite?  Which was the hardest to execute?  The easiest? The most controversial (and why…)

JG: My favorite ancestor would be the one I am working on at the moment. Then I start the next one and that becomes my favorite.

The hardest issues in reconstruction of extinct hominins are those relating to features which do not leave bony clues. Eyebrows. Lip coloration. The uniquely human configuration of fatty tissue in the cheek. As it happens, many of these have a role in visual communication in humans. But since they leave no trace in the bones, you are stuck with trying to guess at their timing in human evolution. So the hardest reconstructions are probably those roughly in the late middle of the human career – early species of Homo, meaning habilis, rudolfensis and erectus, because in these forms you have hints that their communication systems are becoming more sophisticated: brain asymmetries that may relate to language ability, suggested by casts of the inside of their skulls; and cranial bases that are beginning to flex, indicating to some that the vocal tract is changing. So it is tempting to think that maybe some of the features with a role in visual communication are beginning to appear as well. But we just don’t know. I just have to talk to the experts and make my best guess, and that bothers me a little.


John Gurche, Credit Julie Prisloe

John Gurche, Credit Julie Prisloe

YUP: When you are close to completing one of your sculptures or reconstructions, what are the most exciting moments?  The most frustrating?  The most inspiring?

JG: The most inspiring and exciting (and also the weirdest) moments are when you find yourself responding to your sculpture as if it were a living being. Maybe you are taking notes on the reconstruction or working out some calculations, and you look up to find the thing watching you. Rationally you know it’s only plaster, clay and plastic. But if communication of the individual as a living being is one of your main goals, you have to overcome this. It’s like writing fiction. If you want to fool others, you first have to fool yourself. So it I want other people to see these creations as living beings, I have to work on them until I begin to see them this way. The most frustrating? Probably getting the eyelashes just right. They have to be perfect.


YUP: Do you ever have “conversations” with your subjects as you are working on them?  If you do, what are they like?

JG: I don’t have conversations with these creations. That idea strikes me as a little silly. These beings-in-progress command respect, and speaking to them in the language of my time is asking that our interaction take place on my turf. It’s a refusal to meet them on theirs, which is more interesting anyway.


YUP: What’s your next project?

JG: The leader of the Dmanisi research team has asked me to do reconstructions of the 1.8 million year old Skull 5 individual, just announced last month. This will probably include both a full figure bronze (They have a partial skeleton for this individual.) and a lifelike silicone head reconstruction. We’re now in the process of trying to figure out the funding for this project, maybe by partnering with a museum here. I’m very eager to see what this individual looked like.


YUP: Long hours working with each ancestor sounds like total immersion. After several years of this, has this experience changed the way you view humanity?

JG: Yes. Viewing humanity within the larger context of the tree of life makes you realize how unique the human niche is. Although our closest relatives among the great apes may display some forms of the elements that make up human culture and adaptation, humans take these much further, to a point where the human niche emerges as something entirely different from any seen previously on earth. Some biologists consider humans and their society to represent a new level in life’s organization, so that you have a series: prokaryotic cell, eukaryotic cell, multicellular organism, human society. Each of these levels emerges from a linkage among individuals of the previous level. Humanity represents a new level of linkage among multicellular organisms, where individual humans are linked by culture, especially symbolic behaviors like art and language.


Award-winning paleo-artist John Gurche is artist-in-residence, Museum of the Earth, Paleontological Research Institute, Ithaca, NY. His works have appeared frequently in National Geographic and similar publications and in major natural history museums including the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum. Watch a video animation of his work for Shaping Humanity below.

Q & A with the Authors of Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry


With the holiday season in full-swing, Christmas carols are playing every where you go. These hymns are part of a much larger tradition of devotional poetry extensively laid out in Before the Door of God, an anthology edited by Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson. We spoke with Hopler and Johnson recently on how the anthology came together; read on for their perspective on the cultural and spiritual diversity in the three-thousand-year history of devotional poetry.


Yale University Press: What were your selection criteria for the anthology?

Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson: We concentrated our selections on the English-speaking poetic tradition, as well as on some of the cultures upon which that tradition is based.  Within that broad field, we focused our attention on lyrics that were colloquial, exhibiting some kind of address to the divine, however that term might be defined.


YUP: What are some of your favorite lines from the anthology?

JH and KJ: Our favorite lines seem to change by the day.  But some lines that are currently ravishing us include the first two lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “God’s Grandeur”:

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God./ It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”

These lines crackle with Hopkins’s characteristic energy and sonic intensity.  We also love “Wild Nights” by Emily Dickinson, which begins,

“Wild Nights–Wild Nights! / Were I with thee / Wild nights should be / Our luxury!”


YUP: How did the devotional lyric originate in the Western world?

JH and KJ: It grew out of two overlapping traditions:  the hymnic mode which was used for ritual celebration and petitions to the gods, and the performance of inturned, private expression in lyric poetry.  These two modes of writing were alive and well in ancient Greece and Rome, and they filtered through western culture, aided in part by the literacy that attended upon the spread of Christianity.


YUP: Why is the literary genre of the lyric well-suited to devotion?

JH and KJ: We examined the devotional lyric particularly because of the ways that devotion and lyric are practices so similar to one another.  Both involve speech in isolation in the process of working to understand that which may be unknowable.  It should be said that this is not a collection of religious verse; rather, it’s an anthology that recognizes that the devotional posture has become a useful poetic tool for generations of writers who are not necessarily religious.  In this particular volume, we have chosen to focus more on these poems as literary artifacts rather than spiritual exercises per se.


YUP: You mention in your preface that as the English-speaking world is becoming more culturally diverse, “its poetry likewise reflects a wider spectrum of devotional perspectives.” What are some examples of how the later sections of the anthology demonstrate more diverse perspectives in devotional lyric poetry?

JH and KJ: The twentieth century really sees a more prominent representation of non-Christian religious poems in English.  For much of its early development, English poetry was a product of an almost universally Christian paradigm.  But more recent centuries have seen the integration of near-Eastern and Eastern faith traditions into English speaking cultures, so naturally later poetry registers that increased diversity.  We are pleased to be able to include in this anthology poetry that reflects the widening influence of non-Christian traditions in the Anglophone canon.


YUP: What are some themes that have persisted in devotional lyric poetry across the centuries and cultures?

JH and KJ: One major theme involves unknowability and the limits of humanity’s understanding.  Other recurrent ideas include the isolation of the individual, the ever-evolving grappling with the character of the supernatural, and those perennial existential questions about why life is difficulty and what the meaning of life is.


YUP: Why does devotional lyric poetry continue to appeal to poets and readers today?

JH and KJ: Because it is one of the few literary modes available to poets today that allows for some measure of genuine emotion without running the risk of seeming trite.  So much of our contemporary moment is dominated by irony and self-deprecation, which are really technique rather than worldviews, and this long and rich tradition of the devotional lyric continues to provide a space for sincerity, perhaps because it begins from a point of vulnerable intimacy.


Jay Hopler is associate professor of English at the University of South Florida. He received the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 2005, as well as several other awards, for his first book of poems, Green Squall. He lives in Tampa, FL. Kimberly Johnson is associate professor of English at Brigham Young University. She is the author of two collections of poetry and a translation of Virgil’s Georgics, as well as a number of scholarly works on Renaissance literature. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT

Veterans Day Photography

WAR_PHOTOToday is Veteran’s Day in the United States, on which day we honor all of those who have served our nation in armed service.   It is also Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which recognize the end of World War I.  A visually and emotionally powerful monument to war and those whose lives it affects has been making its way around the country over the past year.  It is a photography exhibition entitled WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and its Aftermath, and it was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where it opened one year ago today, on November 11th, 2012.   The exhibition was at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles from March 23rd through June 2nd, and then at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. from June 29th through September 29th.  It has just opened at its final venue, the Brooklyn Museum, where it will be on view through February 2nd.

The exhibition includes images recorded by more than 280 photographers, from 28 nations, spanning 6 continents and more than 165 years, from the Mexican-American War in the mid-1800s to present-day conflicts; it includes iconic photographs as well as previously unknown images taken by military photographers, commercial photographers, amateurs, and artists.

We commemorate Veteran’s Day, Armistice Day, and Remembrance Day with a slideshow of images from WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY, along with a short q&a with the brilliant co-curator of the exhibition and co-editor of the award-winning exhibition catalogue, Anne Wilkes Tucker.

Y@artBooks: You mentioned in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in May of 2013 that many veterans and groups of veterans came to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to see this exhibition; their reactions were overwhelmingly positive, and in many cases veterans were interested in having copies of the catalogue for their vet centers.  Were there any specific reactions from individual veterans that particularly struck you, or stuck with you?

Anne Wilkes Tucker: At each of the three venues thus far, 20-30% of the visitors have been active service military or veterans. The veterans in Houston asked for an evening when they and their families could attend, which we were happy to arrange. All active service and veterans have been admitted free to the exhibition.

Comments from veteran centers that have received the book include:

“Each article was very interesting and the photography was just outstanding.  I have seen books in the past containing war time pictures but never any like this.”

“This is an incredible catalogue. I am most impressed.”

“This book is an excellent addition to our library and has already been a topic of several conversations and discussions among our veterans.”

“We plan to make this our “book of the month” for folks to come to the library and view.”

“This book puts our service in Iraq and Afghanistan into a meaningful tapestry.”

“This book is a wonderful addition to our museum’s research library.”

Comments from visitors to the exhibition include:

“One of the most profound exhibits I have ever seen anywhere. Thank you”

“I appreciate this collection and how you pay tribute to past and active Veterans. God bless you.”

“As a veteran of two combat conflicts I have for the first time seen this moving and real representation of combat.”

”This exhibition reminds me of why I am proud to serve.”

“I spent three hours looking and am glad I came.”

“Great exhibit of the humanity affected by war.”

“Amazing how these photographs can be so beautiful and horrific all at once.”

“This is a very good awaking for me. Now when I am in my office and a soldier comes in I will be able to communicate better with them.”

“Great exhibit but a shattering experience.”

Y: How do you think the public’s reactions to war have been changed by the advent of photographic representations of armed conflict and other aspects of life during wartime?  Do you think this change is also reflected in a different attitude toward veterans returning from war since access to wartime photography has become widespread?

AWT: Response to the exhibition has been strong and varied. Pacifists see it as an argument for being against war.  Those who serve have seen it as a tribute to their service. Those two opinions are not incompatible, but show that we all bring our own expectations, experiences, and opinions to view any photograph and those shape our responses.  The photographs do have great informational value to bring to people’s attentions aspects of war that never occurred to them.  People who have seen the show have then researched aspects that engaged or intrigued or horrified them.

Photographs have swayed public opinion regarding certain wars, most specifically the Viet Nam war, and negative public opinion was very had on returning veterans.  But photographs are never the sole cause of such responses.

Y: How did your contact with the many photographers you had the opportunity to meet as you were working on War/Photography shape your vision of the project – of the intersection of war and photography?

AWT: We met and interviewed hundreds of photographers of wars ranging from WWII to the present and their perceptions and experiences helped us shape the project as did our work with military historians, curators at museums and archives, news editors and others.  That is why it took us 10 years.  We had a huge amount of information and thousands of photographs to process and a lot of research to test our ideas and the whole structure of the project.  All those we worked with played important roles in the final result.

Anne Wilkes Tucker is the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

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Curator Barbara Haskell on Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE

One of the exhibitions currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art is the extraordinary Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE.  According to Forbes magazine, the exhibition is “A long overdue celebration of the depth and breadth of the 85-year-old Indiana’s work over five generations.”  Yale University Press is distributing the stunning accompanying catalogue of the same title, and we recently had the keen pleasure of talking to Barbara Haskell, the exhibition’s curator and editor of the catalog, about Robert Indiana.


Robert Indiana Beyond LOVE

Y@rtBooks: Robert Indiana is known overwhelmingly for his work LOVE.  Tell us about how this iconic image has managed to be both a blessing and a curse.

Barbara Haskell: This image, which is arguably one of the most recognizable and famous images in 20th-century art, and is beloved all around the world, has, for Indiana, had a dramatically two-pronged effect.  On one hand, it has brought him immense fame, and on the other it’s brought him a certain kind of marginalization within the art world. When it first appeared and was taken up by the counterculture as a talisman of free love and free sex, and put on all manner of trinkets, the assumption was that Indiana was making money by selling the design, which he wasn’t.  He had never copyrighted it. In 1966, when he first introduced it, artists didn’t think about copyrighting artwork. And so the work has saddled him in the art world with an unshakable association; even art connoisseurs associate him with this one image. The rest of his work, which is a vibrant, often caustic comment on America – both a celebration as well as a criticism of the country – just got lost. Few people are aware or remember that in the early 60s, he was considered one of the seminal Pop artists.  Thomas Crow has noted that if you named, in 1962 or 1963, the top five Pop artists, Indiana might have been first on the list.

Y: Were the artists that came up alongside Indiana concerned about how his reputation was being increasingly dominated by this single image, and were they distressed on his behalf that his real voice was being lost?

BH: I don’t actually think so; his close friends were probably distressed, because they saw this image taking over the perception of his art and getting out of his control.  But most people in the art world probably weren’t aware that he wasn’t the motor behind all of these commercial products.  So I think the people that were concerned were a very small number.


Y: Robert Indiana had a troubled, unhappy, poor, and peripatetic childhood.  How has this influenced the art that he has made over a career more than a half-century long?

BH: I think his biography is a filter through which he saw everything.  His childhood was one of emotional conflict.  He was adopted, and his adoptive family was very poor – he has talked about always living on the wrong side of the tracks. His mother was pathological about various things; she suffered from an obsessive preoccupation with death, and she was unable to live in the same house for much longer than half a year at a time. His father deserted the family.  Indiana, though, saw himself as different from the people who had adopted him.  He has said that he realized early on that they were inept.  Art became his refuge – the vehicle for exiting what he called a “bleak, tawdry environment.” But those early experiences stayed with him to the extent that his vision of the world, his vision of love, remained very fraught.  Throughout his career, he dealt with the idea of love. One of his earliest pieces, The Sweet Mystery, is actually about love – “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” being a song about the pain and longing of love from the operetta Naughty Marietta. In the Indiana painting titled The Sweet Mystery, there are danger bars, like in a highway sign, so we see that already in 1961, he’s presenting the idea of love as a difficult, painful experience, one that is precarious and doesn’t last; it’s dangerous for human beings.  Later, in 1989, Indiana began work on the Hartley Elegies series, which are a lament for lost love.  Marsden Hartley had been in love with a German officer who died in WWI, and the whole Hartley Elegies series, particularly as Indiana begins to inject elements of his own biography into it, becomes about lost love.  The childhood disappointments that he experienced early on permeate everything that he did. And it creates a tension between celebration and alienation.  Because in many ways, Indiana is celebrating America – there’s an embrace of the innocence and the naïveté and the honesty of America, invoked through bold highway signs and visual symbols of the Midwest. And yet the subtext is disappointment and the difference between the idealized notion of love or the American dream, and the reality of these things, which, in Indiana’s paintings, is presented as failing to live up to the promise.


Y: How do Indiana’s pervasive nostalgia, and his use of language, contribute to his identity as a quintessentially American artist?

BH: Even his choice of name: Robert Indiana.  Until the eve of his 30th birthday, he was known as Robert Clark.  In choosing the new name Robert Indiana, he sought to assert his identity as an American. Stylistically and thematically, his work echoes this assertion. Indiana once said about the hard edges and highly saturated colors in his work: “How much more American can a technique be?”  And the very imagery in the work, too: it’s filled with references to highway signs, roulette wheels, billiard balls, and five-pointed stars. The wooden beam sculptures that he called herms have a quality of Americana about them – a sense of American folk art. In the paintings, there’s dynamic motion, circles that seem to be constantly moving; there’s a sense of energy, a sense of bold brashness that’s very American.  He makes this identity even more unequivocal by looking back to earlier American painters and making homages to Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella, and also to American writers; he begins his literary series by looking at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha – which is among the most iconically American poems. He makes homages to Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Hart Crane. All of the literary texts that he chooses are iconcally American. And it’s very self-conscious, this notion that he has of being an American painter.


Y: Are there notable differences between the work that Indiana did in the 60s, when he was living in New York and surrounded by other artists, and the work that he did later, living a relatively more isolated life on an island off the coast of Maine?

BH: Living in a community of artists that included Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Jack Youngerman, Lenore Tawney, and Charles Hinman, among others, in New York in the 1960s was totally seminal for him.  His trademark features of highly saturated colors and hard-edged forms were the result of influence from Kelly and others in this group.  There is a nostalgia, especially in the work of the 1960s. He looks back on his childhood through rose-colored glasses, portraying his years growing up in Indiana as being rife with precious memories, and yet the actual experience of his childhood was so different.  As a result, there’s an ambiguity in the work from the early 60s. As he became more successful, his work did change to some extent.  The series he called Self-Portraits, each canvas depicting a different year of his life in the 60s and 1970s, is less critical – it’s more an inventory of things that he’s experienced, places he’s been, people he’s known. He uses the same hard-edged, highly saturated colors, but they tend not to have the caustic ambiguity that the early work has.  So I do think there’s a shift.   He goes back to earlier things, refreshing his art by reworking themes and images he introduced in the ‘60s. The works of that formative 10 year period were charged with a tension between celebration and alienation that is not always present in his post-1960s art.



Barbara Haskell is curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art.