TOP TEN UNI­VER­SITY PRESS PICKS

Foreword Reviews - - Contents - by Scott Neuffer

Uni­ver­sity presses are the in­tel­lec­tual van­guard of pub­lish­ing. Their aims can never be solely com­mer­cial or cor­po­rate. They op­er­ate un­der dif­fer­ent pa­ram­e­ters than other pub­lish­ing houses as both stew­ards of in­tel­lec­tual and artis­tic lega­cies and cham­pi­ons of new schol­ar­ship. Al­though part of pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions them­selves, uni­ver­sity presses give life to new ideas and voices that con­stantly chal­lenge the sta­tus quo. In this way, they’re at the cut­ting edge of cul­ture and in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge. Ten new releases this win­ter ex­em­plify how far and wide uni­ver­sity presses are search­ing for work of merit and sub­stance.

DAN­GER­OUS YEARS Cli­mate Change, the Long Emer­gency, and the Way For­ward David W. Orr, Yale Uni­ver­sity Press Hard­cover $28.50 (320pp), 978-0-300-22281-4

En­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy wonk and sus­tain­abil­ity pi­o­neer David W. Orr pulls the prover­bial fire alarm on Amer­i­can com­pla­cence and ap­a­thy in his rous­ing new polemic, Dan­ger­ous Years.

Front and cen­ter is the phys­i­cal re­al­ity of cli­mate change and Amer­ica’s in­abil­ity to deal with it ef­fec­tively. Even if emis­sions were cur­tailed dra­mat­i­cally in the near fu­ture, in­creased amounts of car­bon diox­ide will re­main in the at­mos­phere for thou­sands of years and af­fect global cli­mate sys­tems in un­pre­dictable ways, Orr ex­plains. In other words, the time to act was years ago, though act we still should.

Pulling from some of the best minds in sci­ence, eco­nomics, po­lit­i­cal thought, and phi­los­o­phy, Orr de­liv­ers a deep and thor­ough cri­tique of the psy­cho­log­i­cal and cul­tural un­der­pin­nings of mod­ern in­dus­tri­al­ism that ul­ti­mately fa­cil­i­tated the cli­mate cri­sis. In­su­lar, self­ish, un­demo­cratic cor­po­rate cul­tures come un­der heavy fire, as do some top-down mod­els of gov­er­nance im­per­vi­ous to needs of spe­cific biore­gions. With­out struc­tural po­lit­i­cal changes that con­nect eco­nomics and ecol­ogy at the lo­cal, na­tional, and global lev­els, hu­man civ­i­liza­tion will out­strip avail­able re­sources, heat the planet to dan­ger­ous highs, and de­stroy it­self.

The book is much more than a cau­tion­ary in­dict­ment, how­ever. Dan­ger­ous Years posits real, proac­tive so­lu­tions in­volv­ing the best as­pects of busi­ness and gov­ern­ment—a holis­tic ap­proach to public pol­icy that ac­counts for com­plex, in­ter­re­lated eco­log­i­cal sys­tems. Orr is like a twenty-first-cen­tury James Madi­son, re­fram­ing ba­sic po­lit­i­cal pre­cepts to bet­ter serve democ­racy and the long-term prospects of hu­man­ity.

LEVI STRAUSS The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World Lynn Downey, Uni­ver­sity of Mas­sachusetts Press Hard­cover $34.95 (288pp), 978-1-62534-229-4

Denim pants have never been so in­ter­est­ing as in Lynn Downey’s new bi­og­ra­phy of the very man who birthed blue jeans. Levi Strauss is a fresh, in-depth, ground­break­ing look at an Amer­i­can icon.

The first of­fi­cial his­to­rian for Levi Strauss & Co., Downey has had ac­cess to com­pany records other bi­og­ra­phers could only dream of, though many of those records were de­stroyed by earth­quake and fire in the early days of San Fran­cisco. Still, her com­pre­hen­sive re­search has pro­duced a full, true-to-life ac­count of Levi Strauss that some­times con­tra­dicts the com­pany’s own mythol­ogy sur­round­ing its founder.

From the first chap­ter on, the prose is ac­ces­si­ble, leanly de­scrip­tive, and flows at a nice nar­ra­tive clip. Downey writes as if nar­rat­ing a novel and pro­vides his­tor­i­cal de­tail from the point of view of Strauss him­self. But as much as Downey rel­ishes the minu­tiae of time and place, her real ge­nius lies in the larger macro his­to­ries she weaves to­gether in a com­plex ta­pes­try. For ex­am­ple, she ex­plores Jewish Bavaria ex­ten­sively, es­pe­cially the dis­crim­i­na­tory laws that caused Jews to em­i­grate to Amer­ica in the nine­teenth cen­tury. The Cal­i­for­nia Gold Rush also plays a cru­cial role in the bi­og­ra­phy.

Even if Strauss’s tran­si­tion from dis­tribut­ing dry goods to man­u­fac­tur­ing blue jeans was in fact not as capri­cious or en­ter­tain­ing as pre­vi­ously thought, Levi Strauss re­veals the in­spir­ing story of a man who ul­ti­mately trans­formed mod­ern fash­ion. It is a quin­tes­sen­tial im­mi­grant story with fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights into Amer­i­can his­tory.

ATOMIC GE­OG­RA­PHY A Per­sonal His­tory of the Han­ford Nu­clear Reser­va­tion Melvin R. Adams, Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­sity Press Soft­cover $22.95 (144pp), 978-0-87422-341-5

For a book about nu­clear waste cleanup, para­dox and irony fig­ure promi­nently—atomic Ge­og­ra­phy is an in­tel­li­gent, prob­ing, and strangely po­etic read.

En­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer Melvin Adams spent more than two decades work­ing at the Han­ford nu­clear site in eastern Wash­ing­ton. His keen per­sonal his­tory re­veals how a ru­ral stretch of arid steppe along the Columbia River was con­verted into Amer­ica’s pre­em­i­nent plu­to­nium fac­tory dur­ing World War II and the Cold War. That weapons of mass de­struc­tion sprung from an idyl­lic set­ting of sage­brush and bunch­grass is one of the book’s over­ar­ch­ing ironies.

Adams ex­plores tech­ni­cal is­sues of en­vi­ron­men­tal mit­i­ga­tion with clear, per­son­able prose rem­i­nis­cent of non­fic­tion greats like John Mcphee. The scale of both con­tam­i­na­tion and cleanup at the Han­ford site are mind-bog­gling, but the book does a good job of putting sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion within a hu­man con­text.

The para­dox that emerges is a rather amaz­ing one: life flour­ishes even in a toxic en­vi­ron­ment. Adams waxes po­etic about the re­silient species of plants and an­i­mals that thrive in and around the site. Han­ford has since be­come a na­tional mon­u­ment and part of a his­toric park ded­i­cated to the Man­hat­tan Project. In this trans­for­ma­tion, the au­thor sees redemp­tion of the hu­man race. Atomic Ge­og­ra­phy doesn’t merely map a spe­cific place in time; it charts a greater course away from nu­clear ar­ma­ment and to­ward en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

COM­ING OF AGE AT THE END OF NA­TURE A Gen­er­a­tion Faces Liv­ing on a Changed Planet Julie Dun­lap, Su­san A. Cohen, edi­tors Trin­ity Uni­ver­sity Press, Soft­cover $18.95 (260pp) 978-1-59534-780-0

Com­ing of Age at the End of Na­ture ush­ers in a new wave of mil­len­nial thought on the en­vi­ron­ment, cli­mate change, and the art of liv­ing.

This ground­break­ing col­lec­tion of es­says, with a fore­word by Bill Mck­ibben, fea­tures twenty-two young writ­ers in three dif­fer­ent top­i­cal sec­tions. Im­pres­sive in scope, the es­says vary from the pleas­antly anec­do­tal to the pen­e­trat­ingly philo­soph­i­cal. All fo­cus on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­man­ity and na­ture, the in­her­i­tance of an in­dus­tri­al­ized, desta­bi­lized global ecosys­tem, and how mil­len­ni­als, more than any other gen­er­a­tion, will be tasked with heal­ing the planet.

An over­whelm­ing sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity per­me­ates these pages. It man­i­fests it­self in fiery polemics, such as in Bon­nie Frye Hem­phill’s “We Are the Fos­sil-fuel Free­dom Fight­ers.” The un­holy al­liance of big oil and big pol­i­tics is tar­geted more than once. But these es­says reach deeper than po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism. They ex­am­ine un­der­ly­ing val­ues and pop­u­lar con­cep­tions of con­sumerism, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism, wilder­ness, and na­ture. In Lau­ren Mccrady’s won­der­fully sub­ver­sive “My Present is Not Your Tomb­stone,” the elit­ist, sanc­ti­mo­nious strain present in so much en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist writ­ing is iden­ti­fied and taken to task. Public lands are for ev­ery­one, Mccrady ar­gues, even cheesy tourists.

Com­ing of Age at the End of Na­ture dis­tills the zeit­geist of the twenty-first cen­tury. Here are the age’s youth­ful voices in the full bloom of their protest. But even more than protest, these es­says of­fer new ways of iden­ti­fy­ing one­self with na­ture in a postin­dus­trial world.

NO­BODY RICH OR FA­MOUS A Fam­ily Mem­oir Richard Shel­ton, The Uni­ver­sity of Ari­zona Press Soft­cover $19.95 (288pp), 978-0-8165-3399-2

In his new mem­oir, No­body Rich or Fa­mous, poet Richard Shel­ton doesn’t so much tug on the heart­strings as play an en­tire set upon them.

Rightly sub­ti­tled “a fam­ily mem­oir,” the book mixes so­cial his­tory with lyri­cal vi­gnettes. Shel­ton be­comes re­searcher and bi­og­ra­pher of his own fam­ily, the roots of which run deep in Boise, Idaho. He digs into the jour­nals of his grand­par­ents and par­ents and their strug­gles com­ing west­ward. Like an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist, he tracks down rem­nants of their for­mer lives and slowly cre­ates a mem­o­rable por­trait of an im­per­fect but dis­tinctly Western fam­ily.

The prose is stel­lar. The sen­tences flow clearly and then swell with just the right amount of fig­u­ra­tive lan­guage. Char­ac­ters like Shel­ton’s own mother, Hazel, come to fully fleshed life in ex­pertly crafted episodes, in­clud­ing, among other things, a shoot-out in a bar and a ter­ri­fy­ing en­counter with a moun­tain lion. Shel­ton writes of his fam­ily mem­bers with com­pas­sion and ten­der­ness but doesn’t shy away from their flaws. Their short­com­ings and strug­gles give the book its hu­man face.

Per­haps noth­ing in No­body Rich or Fa­mous reads as beau­ti­fully as Shel­ton’s evo­ca­tions of the nat­u­ral world. From a boy’s per­spec­tive, the land­scape changes mys­te­ri­ously from the forested moun­tains of the North­west to the vast deserts of Ne­vada and Cal­i­for­nia. By de­lin­eat­ing a per­sonal his­tory in re­la­tion to this high and dry en­vi­ron­ment, No­body Rich or Fa­mous re­calls the best nov­els and non­fic­tion of Wal­lace Steg­ner. It’s an im­pres­sive en­try in the lit­er­ary canon of the Amer­i­can West.

TO­WARDS A PRAIRIE ATONEMENT Trevor Her­riot, Uni­ver­sity of Regina Press Hard­cover $17.95 (110pp), 978-0-88977-454-4

Nat­u­ral­ist Trevor Her­riot makes a pas­sion­ate and beau­ti­ful plea for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in To­wards a Prairie Atonement, a short but pow­er­ful med­i­ta­tion on the fu­ture of Saskatchewan’s na­tive prairie lands.

The book al­ter­nates be­tween lyri­cal, al­most ele­giac first-per­son ac­counts of the Cana­dian plains and in­ci­sive so­cial his­tory of colo­nial white set­tle­ment and dis­place­ment and op­pres­sion of indige­nous peo­ples. Much of the book fol­lows Her­riot’s trip to a com­mu­nal grass­land pre­serve— like an is­land sur­rounded by a sea of mono­cul­ture crop­land—with a Metis el­der named Nor­man Fleury. Their open, hon­est, and af­fec­tion­ate re­la­tion­ship of­fers a touch­ing model of how his­tor­i­cal in­jus­tices can be ad­dressed be­tween white peo­ple and mem­bers of indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

Her­riot’s writ­ing sweeps across the page with the same breadth of the prairie he loves, cap­tur­ing na­tive species, bird­song, and the way grass­lands swell and dip into forested ravines. These beau­ti­ful de­scrip­tions, how­ever, cul­mi­nate in mo­ments of pro­found sad­ness. “But an un­easi­ness in­vades my thoughts,” Her­riot writes. “There is no peace here be­cause there is no jus­tice.”

Es­sen­tial to the book’s con­cept of atonement is per­sonal and so­ci­etal recog­ni­tion of wrong­do­ing, pain, and loss. In the au­thor’s own words, such aware­ness must also be cou­pled with gratitude for what’s left to build upon. By book’s end, To­wards a Prairie Atonement be­comes an im­por­tant call to ac­tion for in­creased prairie con­ser­va­tion and more com­mu­nal land use.

BADGE 387 The Story of Jim Si­mone, Amer­ica’s Most Dec­o­rated Cop Robert Sberna, The Kent State Uni­ver­sity Press Soft­cover $19.95 (256pp), 978-1-60635-288-5

This grip­ping and timely por­trait of a highly dec­o­rated po­lice of­fi­cer sheds light on the chal­lenges of in­ner-city polic­ing.

In Badge 387, Cleve­land-based jour­nal­ist Robert Sberna weaves skill­ful bi­og­ra­phy with gritty true-crime episodes to por­tray the life and hero­ism of long-time Cleve­land pa­trol­man Jim Si­mone, nick­named “Su­per­cop” by lo­cal me­dia for his crime-fight­ing feats.

Sberna knows how to set the stage for dra­matic show­downs. Some chap­ters read like sen­sa­tional page-turn­ers as the ac­tion builds and cli­maxes. But the book ul­ti­mately tran­scends its pro­ce­dural trap­pings. To find the foun­da­tions of Si­mone’s char­ac­ter and hu­man­ity, Sberna de­votes an enor­mous amount of ink to Si­mone’s stint in Viet­nam as a young pla­toon sergeant. In the mad­ness of war, where lines be­tween good and evil are of­ten blurred, Si­mone finds sin­gu­lar pur­pose in pur­su­ing the good, though he’s never able to leave be­hind the scars and trauma of war.

Most im­por­tantly, the book plumbs the dy­nam­ics of in­ner-city polic­ing and the re­la­tion­ship be­tween cops and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties plagued by crime. Though sym­pa­thetic to the po­lice of­fi­cer’s per­spec­tive in fa­tal shoot­ings, the book raises im­por­tant points about judg­ment and re­straint in the line of duty. Badge 387 prof­fers an ex­am­ple of an of­fi­cer who holds him­self to the high­est stan­dards of con­duct, trans­parency, and ac­count­abil­ity. Not only does Si­mone reg­u­larly in­ter­act with the com­mu­nity he serves, Sberna demon­strates, but he strives to po­lice ev­ery­one the same, in­clud­ing city of­fi­cials and of­fi­cers in his own de­part­ment who break the law. In a time of na­tional dis­cus­sion and de­bate about such is­sues, Badge 387 in­creases our un­der­stand­ing of law en­force­ment.

RE­LI­GION AND SUS­TAIN­ABLE AGRI­CUL­TURE World Spir­i­tual Tra­di­tions and Food Ethics Todd Levasseur, Pramod Para­juli, Nor­man Wirzba, edi­tors Uni­ver­sity Press of Ken­tucky. Hard­cover $50 (394pp) 978-0-8131-6797-8

This com­modi­ous study of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween spir­i­tu­al­ity and agri­cul­ture calls into ques­tion pre­vail­ing prac­tices of mod­ern in­dus­tri­al­ism.

Re­li­gion and Sus­tain­able Agri­cul­ture in­cludes fif­teen se­lec­tions from lead­ing schol­ars in the ar­eas of re­li­gion, an­thro­pol­ogy, en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence, and sus­tain­abil­ity, among other fields. The eth­i­cal tenets of Chris­tian­ity, Is­lam, Ju­daism, Hin­duism, Bud­dhism, and a num­ber of indige­nous spir­i­tual tra­di­tions come into sharp fo­cus, specif­i­cally in the ways be­lief sys­tems in­form hus­bandry and re­spec­tive land ethics.

The book’s broad, mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary ap­proach delves into the re­li­gious and moral be­liefs un­der­ly­ing food pro­duc­tion in lo­cales as var­i­ous as the Ama­zon and the Hi­malayas. Crit­i­cal ex­plo­rations of con­cepts and prac­tices like “per­ma­cul­ture” and “biochar” put the book at the fore­front of eco­log­i­cal thought, con­nect­ing mod­ern back-to-earth po­lit­i­cal move­ments with age-old cul­tural prece­dents.

The book is thin­ner in as­sess­ing ur­ban ecosys­tems and the re­al­ity of mod­ern cities. Fur­ther­more, the au­thors all have a ten­dency to glo­rify lo­cal rus­ti­cisms at the ex­pense of com­plex macroe­co­nomics. For in­stance, Fred­erique Apf­fel-mar­glin dis­cusses the strug­gle for indige­nous rights—and by ex­ten­sion, food sovereignty—in the Peru­vian jun­gle in the 1970s and ’80s but doesn’t ad­dress the hard left­ist eco­nomic poli­cies that crip­pled Peru’s econ­omy in the same time pe­riod.

Even if one-sided po­lit­i­cally, Re­li­gion and Sus­tain­able Agri­cul­ture still suc­ceeds as an en­light­en­ing trea­tise on eth­i­cal agri­cul­ture. As Pramod Para­juli elo­quently ar­gues in the book’s con­clu­sion, blend­ing spir­i­tu­al­ity back into food pro­duc­tion will en­able greater com­mu­nity and en­vi­ron­men­tal health around the globe.

BLUE­PRINT FOR AMER­ICA Ge­orge P. Shultz, edi­tor, Hoover In­sti­tu­tion Press Soft­cover $19.95 (224pp), 978-0-8179-1995-5

Edited by for­mer US sec­re­tary of state Ge­orge Shultz, Blue­print for Amer­ica show­cases cen­ter-right pol­icy ideas from econ­o­mists like John Cochrane and Michael Boskin, and for­eign-pol­icy big­wigs like Gen. James Mattis and Kori Schake. Be­sides na­tional se­cu­rity and en­ergy is­sues, fed­eral debt and en­ti­tle­ment re­form are dis­cussed at length, as well as mon­e­tary pol­icy, fi­nan­cial re­form, health care, im­mi­gra­tion, trade, and ed­u­ca­tion.

Some se­lec­tions re­gur­gi­tate cen­ter-right po­si­tions too eas­ily with­out enough crit­i­cal speci­ficity. Boskin’s “The Do­mes­tic Land­scape,” for in­stance, breezes through com­fort­able, market-friendly clichés like “in­cen­tives for in­no­va­tion” and cut­ting “red tape.” It’s also hard to take se­ri­ously any in­ter­ven­tion­ist for­eign-pol­icy dis­cus­sion in later es­says with­out an ad­e­quate ac­count­ing of the hu­man costs of the Iraq War and the greater desta­bi­liza­tion which that war caused.

In con­trast, the best es­says of­fer more non­par­ti­san per­spec­tives and proac­tive so­lu­tions. Cochrane makes some im­por­tant points about the dan­gers of short-term debt, in his es­say on fi­nan­cial re­form. He also blasts right-wing xeno­pho­bia and, while not quite call­ing for open bor­ders, makes a strong case that free trade and im­mi­gra­tion ben­e­fit the United States and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries alike. Also note­wor­thy is Ad­mi­ral James El­lis Jr.’s pro­posed car­bon tax, which, he ar­gues, would in­cor­po­rate the en­vi­ron­men­tal costs of pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change into the eco­nomic costs of do­ing busi­ness.

Re­ac­tions to Blue­print for Amer­ica will likely vary, but the es­says of­fer enough sub­stan­tive pol­icy dis­cus­sion to stim­u­late the in­tel­lect and, at the very least, open di­a­logue be­tween op­pos­ing par­ties.

THROUGH A GREEN LENS Fifty Years of Writ­ing for Na­ture Robert Michael Pyle, Ore­gon State Uni­ver­sity Press Soft­cover $22.95 (304pp), 978-0-87071-881-6

Renowned nat­u­ral­ist and lep­i­dopter­ist Robert Michael Pyle show­cases five decades of per­sonal es­says that to­gether un­tan­gle and il­lu­mine the mys­ter­ies of na­ture and be­ing.

Through a Green Lens of­fers haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful macro and mi­cro views of the nat­u­ral world. Pyle is a writer of un­de­ni­able tal­ent and style. He can turn from the pan­e­gyric to the polemic in a sin­gle sen­tence. From es­say to es­say, his scope is even wider. Many se­lec­tions fo­cus on his per­sonal love of land­scape, wa­ter­courses, flora and fauna, es­pe­cially but­ter­flies, all of which he de­scribes with Whit­manesque ebul­lience. On the other hand, he writes of po­lit­i­cal and tech­ni­cal is­sues, such as Euro­pean land use, with lay­ered knowl­edge and in­sight.

As much as these es­says pick at the body politic and ad­dress is­sues of gov­er­nance and con­ser­va­tion, the best se­lec­tions dig be­neath the ve­neer of pol­i­tics and touch the quick of life. “No Soil Re­quired,” for ex­am­ple, finds mirac­u­lous res­ur­rec­tion in a com­post heap. “In Praise of the Tangled Bank” cel­e­brates na­ture’s diver­sity and up­ends the hu­man need to ho­mog­e­nize.

Per­haps the book’s most novel and re­fresh­ing per­spec­tive is not its ex­al­ta­tion of wilder­ness and pris­tine lands, but rather its por­trayal of the au­thor’s love and care of abused and de­graded lands, those sub­ur­ban and ur­ban land­scapes in need of hu­man un­der­stand­ing and com­pas­sion. In this and myr­iad other ways, Through a Green Lens is an un­usu­ally in­tel­li­gent and beau­ti­ful read that cap­tures the ever-evolv­ing sub­stance of na­ture as much as a cre­ative mind in splen­did bloom.

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