In 1623, seven years after William Shakespeare died, two of his friends and fellow actors collected 36 of his plays, half of them never before published, thereby wresting such titles as Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest from oblivion. An original copy of this collection of the Bard’s work, known as the First Folio, now has an asking price of nearly $5 million. It is considered a rare book, writes Fred C. Robinson, a librarian of Yale’s Elizabethan Club collection of rare books, yet copies are not scarce: 230 are known to exist today. But as is the case for the Gutenberg Bible, printed in the 15th century and now surviving in 47 copies, the First Folio’s “desirability far exceeds its availability.”
Rare books’ real value, Robinson maintains, is not monetary but historical. Such books provide a window on the emergence of printing and, indeed, the “intellectual founders” of the modern age.
Books published before 1501, called incunabula (“swaddling clothes” in Latin, indicating their arrival during the “infancy of the art of printing”), tell a lot about the cultural history of their countries of origin. Early English printers, for instance, are notable for producing books in the vernacular, not Latin. Pioneer printer William Caxton strove for “the edification of ‘simple persones’ as much for ‘erudicion and lernyng,’ ” Robinson notes, and this... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Greatness and the Mere Politician
In his first major political speech, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” a young Abraham Lincoln lamented the “mobocratic spirit” and lynch mobs of the Jacksonian era, then in full swing. Americans, he said, needed to rekindle their “reverence for the Constitution and laws.” Lincoln gave the speech in 1838, at age 28, in Springfield, Illinois.
A quarter-century later, as president of the United States, Lincoln stayed true to his own counsel, embodying what Yale political science professor Steven B. Smith calls the constitutional style of leadership. The constitutional leader, Smith says, preserves constitutional order while promoting liberty and change. It’s a balancing act that requires equal parts boldness and restraint. Lincoln cast the challenge of this style of leadership in the form of a question included in an 1861 message to Congress: “Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?”
Juggling these conflicting priorities sets constitutional leadership apart from other leadership types, Smith says, focusing on three in particular. The first, which the 20th century would label “realpolitik,” was enunciated by Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince (1513): Leaders aspiring to greatness should let the ends justify the means. Charismatic leadership, described by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864&... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Why do kids develop autism? Before the 1980s, scientists blamed environmental factors, particularly inattentive and unloving mothers. Now they know better: Autism has a lot to do with genetics—and, perhaps, testosterone levels.
Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in England, says the hereditary details remain murky, but researchers are uncovering some surprising patterns in children with autism and the families they come from.
Extreme difficulty communicating and interacting with others is perhaps the most salient trait associated with autism, a condition that affects about one percent of the population. People with autism also exhibit a strong bias toward what Baron-Cohen calls “systemizing,” which he defines as “the drive to analyze or construct a system,” whether mechanical (cars or computers) or abstract (mathematics). Even as children, autistic people are prodigious systemizers. They obsess about details—putting all the light switches in the same position, for example—and perform impressive feats of memorization. Scientists, engineers, and mathematicians have this particular mental gift in spades. (In a 1998 study, Baron-Cohen and a colleague found that Cambridge math students were nine times more likely to be autistic than their counterparts in the humanities.)
Baron-Cohen says it’s no coincidence that autism is especially prevalent among children... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
The Surge Goes Awry
Imagine you’re a district governor in war-torn southern Afghanistan. A few years ago, nobody wanted your job. It was too dangerous; the Taliban lurked. In faraway Kabul, an unelected governing body widely seen as a tool of President Hamid Karzai appointed you anyway. Then, in 2009, President Barack Obama announced a “surge” of money and troops to Afghanistan, with an emphasis on winning hearts and minds in hotly contested areas such as yours. American soldiers harried the Taliban. Eager American civilians bypassed the ministries in Kabul and brought you cash to build schools, repair roads, and clean irrigation canals. You, an unelected political lightweight, suddenly became a very powerful local king.
Welcome to the wild world of post-surge Afghanistan. The United States sought quick gains in security and development at the local level, so it poured money into the most contentious of the country’s 399 districts, explains Frances Z. Brown, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the U.S. Institute of Peace. In Nawa, in the southern province of Helmand, American aid generated jobs for more than half of the men in the district and totaled $300 annually per person, a sum equal to almost a third of Afghanistan’s per capita gross domestic product.
The bonanza bred fundamental problems, however. “District governors became the primary distributors, and thus, the primary political beneficiaries, of an enormously effective new... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Whose Enlightenment Was It?
Move over, Voltaire, and make room for Yu Kilchun, Rammohan Roy, and a host of other strangers in the Enlightenment pantheon. Scholars and intellectuals have been hacking away at the Enlightenment for years, arguing that the “age of reason” was just a mirage or a cleverly veiled vehicle of oppression. Now Sebastian Conrad, a historian at Berlin’s Free University, argues that the very idea that the Enlightenment was solely a European creation is wrong.
The great ideas of the Enlightenment—individual rights, secularism, the belief in science—were not merely invented in the West and disseminated elsewhere, Conrad contends, but continuously reinvented around the world. And the Enlightenment didn’t end in 1800, as standard accounts say, but continued into the 19th century and beyond. As if to blur the old boundaries, Conrad often speaks of Enlightenment rather than the Enlightenment.
“Much of the debate about Enlightenment in Europe can be understood as a response to the challenges of global integration” as European explorers’ contacts with the Indians of North America, China’s Mandarins, and others raised new questions about human existence. But it wasn’t a one-way street. During the French Revolution, the National Assembly “explicitly denied the extension of civil rights to slaves.” It was only after a 1791 slave revolution in their Haitian colony that the French were compelled to rethink... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
India’s Billionaire Boom
Indian billionaires are a new and powerful breed. There were only two in the mid-1990s; today there are 46. Entrepreneurs and heirs alike are reaping the rewards of India’s burgeoning economy. Is the billionaire boom a sign of healthy business dynamism, or does it suggest that a tiny cabal of oligarchs is taking over?
The evidence is mixed but troubling. Using data compiled by Forbes magazine, economists Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton, of the New Delhi–based Center for Policy Research, generated an overview of Indian billionaires’ social and business backgrounds. Some are breaking the caste mold—18 of the 46 come from outside the traditional merchant classes. A small number, including Shiv Nadar, the founder of technology and outsourcing giant HCL, rose from lower and “backward” castes. Only one Muslim, Wipro chairman Azim Premji, has penetrated the uppermost echelons of the business elite. (Almost 15 percent of India’s population is Muslim.) Overall, the billionaires’ wealth equals about 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, more than twice the proportion of GDP claimed by billionaires in China, South Korea, and other developing countries.
To do the bulk of their analysis, Gandhi and Walton split the billionaires into two groups based on how they made their fortunes. One group struck it big in “rent-thick” industries such as media, telecommunications, real estate, mining, and cement&... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
The Wikipedia Way
Wikipedia is nothing if not thorough. Take the entry on the War of 1812. More than 2,400 self-appointed editors contributed to the 14,000-word article. Some 627 people spilled 200,000 words’ worth of digital ink arguing over its exact content. In April 2012, it garnered 172,000 page views.
Wikipedia is an impressive Internet ecosystem. The problem is that Wikipedians are running out of new material to write—and argue—about, and the number of dedicated editors is dwindling, according to Richard Jensen, a retired history professor and himself an avid Wikipedia editor.
Over a typical month in 2012, the English-language Wikipedia was the sixth most frequently visited Web site in the United States. Yet not even one visitor in a thousand opts to write or edit an article. In terms of productivity, Wikipedia’s heyday came and went in 2006 and 2007. Unpaid amateurs churned out 2,000 articles per day in the summer of 2006. But “by the time one million articles are written, it must tax ingenuity to think up something new.” Still, narrow-gauge articles have proliferated; Wikipedia passed the four-million mark last year.
A core group of a few thousand highly active editors keeps Wikipedia humming. Fifteen hundred administrators, elected by their peers, have special powers. Ninety percent of active editors are male; 27 percent are under 21. (Some 13 percent are only in high school.)
With fewer articles to be added comes more scrutiny... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Debating America’s Pivot
Many American grand strategists agree: Europe is slumbering and Asia is stirring. China is the great power the United States should keep an eye on. In 2010, the Obama administration announced a long-term “pivot” toward Asia, which involves, among other things, drawing down long-deployed military forces in Europe and inking defense deals and basing agreements with allies in East Asia.
The pivot will leave little in the realm of international affairs unaffected. America has been a sturdy presence in Europe for 70 years, stationing fleets of ships and hundreds of thousands of troops there. After the Vietnam War, it took the opposite approach in the Pacific, preferring a lighter touch of economic engagement and maritime dominance.
The sudden switch has gone little discussed amid a welter of more pressing concerns, from Iran to the domestic fiscal crisis. Now, however, a few foreign-policy specialists are weighing in.
Robert S. Ross, a political scientist at Boston College, thinks the pivot is a mistake. China has made more trouble than usual for the United States over the last few years, he admits. That’s not because it seeks conflict. Rather, the regime in Beijing is skittish. The global recession wreaked havoc on the Chinese economy and spurred social unrest. The communist regime could no longer buy popularity with spectacular economic growth. Instead, it resorted to “appeasing an increasingly nationalist public with symbolic gestures of... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Farewell to Football
Football is the new gladiatorial combat, and players bear the wounds to prove it. Sixty-three percent of National Football League players sustained an injury of some sort during the 2010 season. One in 20 suffered at least one concussion, an injury which, if incurred repeatedly, is linked to cognitive and emotional problems that appear years after players hang up their cleats. Benjamin J. Dueholm, a Lutheran pastor in Wauconda, Illinois, and a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan, loves the gridiron. But he argues that it’s time for American Christians to take a long look at the damage done by the game.
It wouldn’t be the first time Christians have cried foul on popular sport, Dueholm notes. Church fathers objected to violent spectacles in ancient Rome, not least the bouts between gladiators. “The man who when he sees a quarrel on the streets coming to blows will try to quiet it,” wrote the early Christian theologian Tertullian, “will in the stadium applaud fights far more dangerous.” Tertullian mourned the fate of the bloodied gladiators, many of whom were criminals serving out sentences. Like Augustine, another Church Father, Tertullian worried that the deadly games desensitized eager onlookers and stripped them of compassion.
Dueholm argues that the same spiritual and, particularly, physical concerns apply to America’s most popular sport. Some 67,000 high school football players suffer concussions every year, according to... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
A Farewell to Growth
Economic growth as we know it is over, argues Northwestern University economist Robert J. Gordon. It hasn’t ended completely, but the United States will never again see living standards double in a few decades, as they did between 1957 and ’88. Indeed, Gordon calculates that it will take a century for the U.S. economy to achieve a comparable improvement. Not only have the most important growth-generating innovations already occurred, but the United States faces powerful “headwinds” that will dampen the progress that does take place.
There have been three industrial revolutions in U.S. history, Gordon observes. The first occurred between 1750 and 1830, when steam engines, cotton gins, and railroads transformed manufacturing and transportation. The second (1870–1900) produced electricity, the internal combustion engine, running water, and indoor plumbing. We are still in the midst of the third revolution, involving information technology, which began in the 1960s and reached its climax three decades later.
Not all industrial revolutions are alike, however. The digital age has made the lives of many Americans easier, but its influence on productivity has been pitiful in comparison to that of previous breakthroughs. No, not because office workers spend their days watching cat videos on the Internet. Information technology’s contributions to productivity don’t hold a candle to innovations such as running water and indoor... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
The secret to early Jewish success: literacy.
One-third of the world’s poor were not born in poverty. They fell into it.
On the unlikely origins of the slide guitar.
Did genetic diversity play a decisive role in determining which lands would hit the economic jackpot?
Pulling back from America’s global commitments would amount to a “massive experiment.”
The federal stimulus often neglected the areas hit hardest by the recession.