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Author Archive: "C. P. Farley"

Whitney Otto: The Powells.com Interview

As a writer, Whitney Otto is a democrat. Her tendency is to tell a story through a plurality of voices, to refract her narrative through a prism of perspectives. This is most obvious in her bestselling first novel, How to Make an American Quilt, whose central metaphor is literally a collection of discarded bits of cloth pieced together into a cohesive whole, but the theme recurs in all her work. Her new novel is no exception.

Each chapter in her new book, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, tells the story of one woman photographer. Six of the eight are based on historical figures, though Otto changed the names and played freely with the facts of their lives. So, Imogen Cunningham becomes Cymbeline Kelley, Madame Yevonde becomes Amadora Allesbury, Tina Modotti becomes Clara Argento, etc. The final two photographers are invented entirely, though their work is based on the work of photographers Judy Dater and Sally Mann.

It's an interesting, engaging experiment. Through the fascinating lives of these eight unconventional women, the reader not only travels the arc of 20th century history, technology, and art but is brought face to face with ...


Steven Johnson: The Powells.com Interview

In a 2003 TED Talk, Steven Johnson quipped:

"Who decides that SoHo should have this personality and that the Latin Quarter should have that personality? There are some kind of executive decisions, but mostly the answer is, everybody and nobody."

A running theme through Johnson's work is that complex systems operate best when they are left to their own mysterious devices. "Everybody and nobody" would make a concise, three-word summary of his life's work.

For example, in his 2001 bestseller, Emergence, he took the reader on a tour of emergence theory, which posits that in complex systems the whole is often smarter than the sum of its parts, even when the individual parts are literally as dumb as slime mold. In Everything Bad Is Good for You (2005), he argued that despite what your mother says, television is not only getting better, it's actually making us smarter. Yes, even reality TV.

In his latest book, Future Perfect, Johnson brings his understanding of the intelligence of diverse, decentralized networks to bear on our politics, going so far as to coin a new political worldview. Rooted in the power of decentralized peer networks and with its eye pointed ...


Joseph E. Stiglitz: The Powells.com Interview

Joseph StiglitzAfter sitting on the President's Council of Economic Advisers from 1995 to 1997, acting as Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank from 1997 to 2000, and winning the Nobel Prize for economics in 2001, Joseph E. Stiglitz has clearly established his bona fides. As one of the leading economists in the world, his expertise has been sought after by policy wonks and power brokers from advanced economies and from developing nations alike.

In his previous book, Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, Stiglitz argued that the financial crisis that began in 2008 was the result of structural changes made to the U.S. economy starting in the 1980s — and that since the crisis, we have only made things worse.

In his new book, The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future, he argues that over the past few decades, our government and our economy have become increasingly corrupt. The system has been rigged to shovel up the ladder as much of the country's wealth as possible, from the poor and middle class to the wealthy — and, increasingly, to the ...


Rachel Maddow: The Powells.com Interview

Rachel MaddowRachel Maddow's first book, Drift, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. This isn't terribly surprising. Not only is Maddow the host of the top-rated liberal television show in the country, MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, but also in our current, highly polarized political climate, books by partisan pundits are invariably reliable sellers.

Yet Maddow has long claimed she is not a partisan. An unabashed progressive, for sure, but hardly a firebrand. As she puts it: "I'm undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I'm in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican Party platform."

Anyone inclined to disbelieve her should pick up a copy of Drift, in which she outlines the radical shift we've made as a country over the past few decades in the way we make the decision to go to war. Maddow doesn't try to score political points or to lay responsibility for the problems she identifies at the feet of the "other" side. This might explain why pundits from across the aisle have felt free to actually like the book. Not only did she receive a generally positive blurb from the chairman and CEO of Fox News, ...


Tony Horwitz: The Powells.com Interview

Tony HorwitzTony Horwitz got his start as a journalist at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel in Indiana and later at the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia (where he met his wife, celebrated author Geraldine Brooks). He cut his teeth at the Wall Street Journal, first as an overseas war correspondent and later as a reporter on national affairs, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. He is best known, though, for his marvelously chatty, informative book-length accounts of his many elaborate adventures.

As an author, Horwitz is hard to categorize. Is he a travel writer? A popular historian? A naturalist? A commentator on contemporary culture? The easy answer is that he's all of the above. But what truly unites his books is a fascination with the almost incestuous relationship between past and present.

In his new book, Horwitz has made a return of sorts to the subject of the delightfully deranged Confederates in the Attic, in which he explored those (very) strange nooks and crannies in the American South where, to this day, the Civil War is more present than the Present. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked ...


Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch: The Powells.com Interview

Nick Gillespie and Matt WelchIn their new book, The Declaration of Independents, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch note with alarm:

You have to go back to 1946, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, to find spending that equaled as large a percentage of GDP [as it does now]. You need to return to 1945 to find a deficit that big on a percentage basis as well.

One might be tempted to point out that in response to this massive post-war debt, the U.S. government invested even more money into the economy — and things didn't turn out so badly. But, as further government action to stimulate the economy is no longer even on the table, why bother?

As Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin lamented, the recent debt ceiling deal signaled the "final internment" of Keynesian economics, which guided American economic policy through much of the (very prosperous) 20th century. Conservative curmudgeon George Will, who may be old enough to have donned his bowtie in the presence of Keynes himself, put it more succinctly: "America is moving in the libertarians' direction."

This is good news for Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. Not many Americans really understand what libertarianism ...


God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

One of the most informed journalists in the country (he seems to have been everywhere, met everyone, and read everything), he is also one of the most entertaining. His command of the language is legendary; his wit ferocious. His skill in marshalling facts in service to an argument is a wonder to behold. Readers won't pick up this book just to find out what Christopher Hitchens thinks about religion. They'll read it because, whether or not he persuades, he always makes it worth your while to hear him out.


Losing Moses on the Freeway: The Ten Commandments in America

In 2002, after fifteen years traversing the world's most dangerous places, war correspondent Chris Hedges published a widely-acclaimed meditation on the psychology of war. Now, he's entered yet another battlefield. In Losing Moses on the Freeway, Hedges explores the Ten Commandments, which he finds not only relevant, but a rich and essential resource for contemporary Americans of all political and religious persuasions.


For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend

In her last book, animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell helped dog owners better understand their dog by discussing how canines (your dog) and primates (you) view the world differently. Fascinating, original, and eminently readable, The Other End of the Leash was an instant classic. But in her new book, McConnell marshals her considerable skills to tell us dog-lubbers what we really want to know: does Fido love me or does he just want another treat? Another great book from the dog writers' leader of the pack.


No Country for Old Men (Vintage International)

This may not be Cormac McCarthy's best book, or even one of the best books of the year (in fact, its construction is a bit incoherent), yet I remain a sucker for the peculiar blend of melancholy and savagery that permeates all of McCarthy's work. Frightening, depressing, bleak: don't miss it.


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