Monday, August 2, 2010

Thanks for reading

We want to thank you all for following this blog for the past few years. We're focusing our efforts on the SUNY Press Facebook page at this time, and for that and a number of other reasons, we're going to let the blog go to an archival status for now. Again, thanks go out to those who followed it reguarly and even those who only read a few posts in recent weeks. We've enjoyed writing for all of you on this blog and hope you'll continue to follow us for the same news and notes on our Facebook page. (And if you haven't signed up for Facebook yet, maybe this is a good enough reason to join!)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Truckin' with Sam Review

Lee and Sam Gutkind's father and son memoir, Truckin' with Sam: A Father and Son, The Mick and The Dyl, Rockin' and Rollin', On the Road, was recently reviewed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here's an excerpt of Peter Oresick's review:

Mr. Gutkind typically works like an anthropologist garnering material for his books. He spends years gaining entrance to and carefully observing a closed community -- organ transplantation, robotics engineers, baseball umpires -- then delivers an insightful, character-driven chronicle that unveils that subculture with dramatic flair and intensity.

In Truckin' With Sam, however, the closed-community motif is personal: His own father-son relationships.

In his 2003 memoir, Forever Fat, Mr. Gutkind first delved into his stormy relationship with his dad. This new book amplifies many of those 1950s traumas, but it aims to be a corrective by focusing on the new generation. Sam Gutkind's coming-of-age, under the tutelage of a literati father, will not resemble Mr. Gutkind's bar mitzvah experience.

Read the full review and learn more about the book here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Now available: Teaching the Silk Road

Teaching the Silk Road discusses why and how to teach about China’s Silk Road. Subtitled "A Guide for College Teachers", the book advocates for a global rather than Eurocentric perspective in the college classroom.

The romance of the Silk Road journey, with its exotic locales and luxury goods, still excites the popular imagination. But study of the trade routes between China and central Asia that flourished from about 200 BCE to the 1500s can also greatly enhance contemporary higher education curricula. With people, plants, animals, ideas, and beliefs traversing it, the Silk Road is both a metaphor of globalization and an early example of it.

Editors Jacqueline M. Moore and Rebecca Woodward Wendelken highlight the reasons to incorporate this material into a variety of courses and share resources to facilitate that process. The book is intended for those who are not Silk Road or Asian specialists but who wish to embrace a global history and civilizations perspective in teaching, as opposed to the more traditional approach that focuses on cultures in isolation.

Visit our website to view the book's table of contents to see how the essays explore both classroom and experiential learning in an intentionally interdisciplinary manner.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Now available: A Soaring Minaret

Laury Silvers, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Toronto, is the author of the newly released A Soaring Minaret: Abu Bakr al-Wasiti and the Rise of Baghdadi Sufism. The book traces the development of early Islamic mysticism and metaphysics through the life and work of theologian Abu Bakr al-Wasiti. Today we're offering you a teaser of the book, via Laury's introduction. Enjoy!

Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Musa al-Wasiti (d. ca. 320 AH/932 ce) was an unpopular shaykh. He had the knack of alienating almost anyone with his exquisitely honest observations on the divine-human relationship. When a man asked Wasiti if his good or bad deeds will matter on the Last Day, Wasiti bluntly informed the man that God creates one’s bad deeds and then punishes one for them. Despite being theologi- cally sound in its particulars, Wasiti’s explanations for positions such as this one do not make them any more comforting. It is not hard to imagine why he may have been driven out of nearly every town he visited and died with only one known devoted companion. But these same statements are also praised in the classical Sufi literature for their uncompromising eloquence and theological sophistication. Several biographers depicted his habit of calling people to account with his sublime if forceful expressions by naming him “a soaring minaret.”

Wasiti’s legacy is a number of firsts: He was one the first students of the great Baghdadi Sufis, Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd (d. 298/910) and Abu al-Husayn al-Nuri (d. 295/907–08). He may have been the first of them to migrate east and establish the Baghdadi Sufi tradition in Khurasan. He was among the first Sufis to articulate a complete metaphysics in keeping with developments in early Ahl a-Hadith theology. Wasiti’s thought anticipates important discussions in later Islamic metaphysics, demonstrating that questions concerning ontology and ethics were being explored with subtlety and rigor from the earliest period onward. Moreover, his sayings offer insight into the development of theological norms in the period just prior to the rise of Ash`arism. Finally, he was one of the first Sufis to compose a Qur'an commentary. Although the original text of his commentary is now lost, Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami (d. 412/1021) included Wasiti’s work in his compendium of Sufi glosses on the Qur'an, Haqa’iq al-tafsir and its appendix Ziyadat haqa’iq al-tafsir preserving his thought and establishing his influence for the later tradition.

Part One is Wasiti’s life told as a story about the development of Sufism in the formative period. The account of Abu Bakr al-Wasiti’s studies, travels, and teaching—especially the story of his Qur'an commentary and its transmission—takes us through the beginnings of Sufism in Baghdadi Ahl al-Hadith culture, the spread of Ahl al-Hadith culture and Baghdadi Sufism East to Khurasan, the consolidation of Baghdadi Sufism and the Khurasani interiorizing traditions by Sulami’s day in the fifth/eleventh century, and finally the contribution of Khurasani Sufism to the rise of the Sufi orders in the sixth/twelfth century....

Part Two turns to an analysis of Wasiti’s understanding the nature of the divine reality. As is typical of nearly all classical Islamic theology, no matter how intellectually detached or theoretical the language may sound, one primarily seeks to understand the divine reality for the sake of conforming one’s own nature to God and His will. In keeping with the theological trends of his day, Wasiti stresses God’s utter incomparability even as he affirms God’s self-manifestation through creation. Wasiti is at pains to preserve the proper boundaries of God’s incomparable Essence such that even as one recognizes God’s manifestation of His attributes through the creatures, one also affirms that the creatures possess nothing of those attributes. Wasiti’s position is seemingly at odds with the goal to conform one’s nature to divine reality. By denying human agency, he claims all human activities, even worship, are “indecent acts.” But in Wasiti’s way of looking at things, abandoning agency is nothing other than conforming to the divine nature and will.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Now available: Arsenic and Clam Chowder

The latest from our Excelsior Editions imprint recounts the sensational story of the 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, who was accused of murdering her mother with an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder and faced the possibility of becoming the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair. Arsenic and Clam Chowder, written by James D. Livingston, is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life. In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tales of New York Government

A couple of new Excelsior titles received a good deal of attention in recent days. The New York Times featured both books—Tales from the Sausage Factory and The Man Who Saved New York—in Sunday's edition. The Albany Times Union ran an extensive interview with the authors of The Man Who Saved New York, Seymour Lachman and Robert Polner, and the Staten Island Advance also featured an article on the book and interview with Seymour Lachman.

At a time when New York State's government seems more dysfuntional than ever, these books provide prime examples of how governments—local, state, and federal—can work to avoid the renewed threat of bankruptcy that now confronts not only New York, but most states.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Hugh Carey and the Great Fiscal Crisis

NY1 Online's "Inside City Hall" recently featured a lively panel discussion between Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch and authors Seymour Lachman and Robert Polner to discuss former New York Governor Hugh Carey. Lachman and Polner's new book on Carey, The Man Who Saved New York—a portrait of one of New York’s most remarkable governors, with emphasis on his leadership during the fiscal crisis of 1975—will be available next week. You can preorder a copy here or at any other online retailer. Look for it in stores soon as well. It's certainly relevant reading for these times, as New York and most states in the nation once again find themselves in major financial distress.

Watch the panel discussion over at NY1 Online.