What We Are Reading Today: Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch by Svetlana Alpers

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Updated 30 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch by Svetlana Alpers

Walker Evans (1903–75) was a great American artist photographing people and places in the US in unforgettable ways. He is known for his work for the Farm Security Administration, addressing the Great Depression, but what he actually saw was the diversity of people and the damage of the long Civil War.
In Walker Evans, renowned art historian Svetlana Alpers explores how Evans made his distinctive photographs. Delving into a lavish selection of Evans’s work, Alpers uncovers rich parallels between his creative approach and those of numerous literary and cultural figures, locating Evans within the wide context of a truly international circle.
Alpers demonstrates that Evans’s practice relied on his camera choices and willingness to edit multiple versions of a shot, as well as his keen eye and his distant straight-on view of visual objects. Illustrating the vital role of Evans’s dual love of text and images, Alpers places his writings in conversation with his photographs. She brings his techniques into dialogue with the work of a global cast of important artists—from Flaubert and Baudelaire to Elizabeth Bishop and William Faulkner—underscoring how Evans’s travels abroad in such places as France and Cuba.

What We Are Reading Today: The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell

Updated 29 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell

Ben Machell’s The Unusual Suspect details the remarkable story of socially isolated British college student Stephen Jackley who started robbing banks as the 2007 financial crisis unfolded, becoming a bank robber, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. 

Motivated by a belief that global capitalism was ruining lives and driving the planet towards ecological disaster, he dreamed of changing the world for the better through his crimes. 

The police, despite their concerted efforts, had no idea what was going on or who was responsible. That is, until Jackley’s ambition got the better of him.

Eventually agreeing to return to his native Britain after an arrest on American soil, Jackley wrote of his fears for the world, humanity “standing on the brink of massive change,” detailing his deeply revealing, morally complex motivations for the robberies. It was only later that psychiatric evaluation revealed that, unbeknownst to everybody, Stephen had been living with undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder.

What We Are Reading Today: Winners and Losers; The Psychology of Foreign Trade

Updated 28 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Winners and Losers; The Psychology of Foreign Trade

Author: Diana C. Mutz

Winners and Losers challenges conventional wisdom about how American citizens form opinions on international trade. While dominant explanations in economics emphasize personal self-interest— and whether individuals gain or lose financially as a result of trade — this book takes a psychological approach, demonstrating how people view the complex world of international trade through the lens of interpersonal relations.

Drawing on psychological theories of preference formation as well as original surveys and experiments, Diana Mutz finds that in contrast to the economic view of trade as cooperation for mutual benefit, many Americans view trade as a competition between the United States and other countries—a contest of us versus them. These people favor trade as long as they see Americans as the “winners” in these interactions, viewing trade as a way to establish dominance over foreign competitors. For others, trade is a means of maintaining more peaceful relations between countries. 

Just as individuals may exchange gifts to cement relationships, international trade is a tie that binds nations together in trust and cooperation.

Winners and Losers reveals how people’s orientations toward in-groups and out-groups play a central role in influencing how they think about trade with foreign countries, and shows how a better understanding of the psychological underpinnings of public opinion can lead to lasting economic and societal benefits.

What We Are Reading Today: Hoax by Brian Stelter

Updated 27 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Hoax by Brian Stelter

In Hoax, CNN anchor and chief media correspondent Brian Stelter tells the twisted story of the relationship between Donald Trump and Fox News. From the moment Trump glided down the golden escalator to announce his candidacy in the 2016 presidential election to his acquittal on two articles of impeachment in early 2020, Fox hosts spread his lies and smeared his enemies. 

Stelter spoke with over 250 current and former Fox insiders in an effort to understand the inner workings of Rupert Murdoch’s multibillion-dollar media empire. 

At the center of the story lies Sean Hannity, a college dropout who, following the death of Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes, reigns supreme at the network that pays him $30 million a year. 

Including never before reported details, Hoax exposes the media personalities who, though morally bankrupt, profit outrageously by promoting the President’s propaganda and radicalizing the American right. It is a book for anyone who reads the news and wonders: How did this happen?

What We Are Reading Today: Better to Have Gone by Akash Kapur

Updated 26 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Better to Have Gone by Akash Kapur

Better to Have Gone is a nonfiction book about the human cost of our age-old quest for a more perfect world.

Author Akash Kapur was very articulate, and it was clear that he spent a great deal of time researching this book. 

He also has a number of photographs in this book about a village in India called Auroville as well which were a real delight. 

“This is a haunting, heartbreaking story, deeply researched and lucidly told, with an almost painful emotional honesty — the use of present tense weaving a kind of trance,” Amy Waldman said in a review for The New York Times. 

Better to Have Gone “ends with an unexpected lightness, even transcendence, as Kapur helps us see what Auroville has given him, gives him still, despite the pain,”  Waldman said.

“In his descriptions of its landscape, made so lush by those early pioneers, as well as of the sphere at its heart, he conveys the internal concord and harmony, the peace, that he finds there.”

Waldman is the author of two novels: A Door in the Earth and The Submission.

What We Are Reading Today: Beethoven Hero by Scott Burnham

Updated 25 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Beethoven Hero by Scott Burnham

Bringing together reception history, music analysis and criticism, the history of music theory, and the philosophy of music, Beethoven Hero explores the nature and persistence of Beethoven’s heroic style. What have we come to value in this music, asks Scott Burnham, and why do generations of critics and analysts hear it in much the same way?

 Specifically, what is it that fosters the intensity of listener engagement with the heroic style, the often overwhelming sense of identification with its musical process?

Starting with the story of heroic quest heard time and again in the first movement of the Eroica Symphony, Burnham suggests that Beethoven’s music matters profoundly to its listeners because it projects an empowering sense of self, destiny, and freedom, while modeling ironic self consciousness.

In addition to thus identifying Beethoven’s music as an overarching expression of values central to the age of Goethe and Hegel, the author describes and then critiques the process by which the musical values of the heroic style quickly became the controlling model of compositional logic in Western music criticism and analysis.