Susan Wallace Boehmer
Assistant Director & Editor-in-Chief
For some observers, the daily disruption emanating from Washington represents creative destruction at its best, upending government-as-usual and offering high-reward opportunities to a fortunate few. For others, each stroke of the President’s pen rips a seam in the social fabric holding U.S. democracy intact. It will be the task of historians to assign weight to the various interpretations, as they come to terms with this turbulent administration. Meanwhile, for those living through America’s political chaos in real time, Harvard University Press offers fresh analysis, perspective, and policy proposals in an array of new books from distinguished authors around the globe.
Making Sense of Science: Separating Substance from Spin. At a time when science is coming under increasing attack, Cordelia Dean equips nonscientists with the critical tools to evaluate scientific claims and controversies, whether the threat is climate change, pandemics, or genetically modified crops. Dean draws on thirty years’ experience as a science journalist with the New York Times to expose the flawed reasoning and knowledge gaps that handicap readers with little background in science.
Improving How Universities Teach Science. Carl Wieman’s strategy for reducing the gap between those who understand scientific thinking and those who dismiss it outright is to improve the way science is taught to undergraduates. Wieman gives detailed, effective, tested strategies that universities can use to measure and improve the quality of their science teaching, so that graduates can make better-informed decisions about the complex issues they face as citizens.
Is Capitalism Obsolete? A Journey through Alternative Economic Systems. Giacomo Corneo presents a refreshingly antidogmatic review of economic systems, in the form of a fictional dialogue between a daughter indignant about economic injustice and her father, a professor of economics. They tour hypothetical systems in which production and consumption obey noncapitalistic rules, and they test the systems’ economic feasibility.
Constitutional Coup: Privatization’s Threat to the American Republic. Americans hate bureaucracy—though they love the services it provides—and demand that government run like a business. Hence today’s privatization revolution. Jon Michaels shows how the fusion of politics and profits commercializes government and consolidates state power in ways the Constitution’s framers endeavored to disaggregate.
Technosystem: The Social Life of Reason. We inhabit a world of technical systems designed in accordance with technical disciplines and operated by technically trained personnel—a unique social organization that largely determines our twenty-first-century way of life. Andrew Feenberg’s theory of social rationality addresses both the threats of technocratic modernity and the potential for democratic change.
Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between. A Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse trains an autobiographical lens on a moment of remarkable transition in U.S. journalism. Calling herself “an accidental activist,” she raises urgent questions about the role of journalists as citizens and participants in the world around them.
When the State Meets the Street: Public Service and Moral Agency. Bernardo Zacka probes the complex moral lives of street-level bureaucrats—the frontline social and welfare workers, police officers, and educators who represent government’s human face to ordinary citizens. Too often dismissed as soulless operators, these workers wield significant discretion to make decisions that profoundly affect people’s lives.
End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice. Today, death sentences in the United States are as rare as lightning strikes. Brandon Garrett shows us the many reasons why, and explains what the failed death penalty experiment teaches about the effects of inept lawyering, overzealous prosecution, race discrimination, wrongful convictions, and excessive punishments throughout the criminal justice system.
Unequal Colleges in the Age of Disparity. Despite the civil rights revolution and billions spent on financial aid in pursuit of a diverse student body, stratification in higher education has grown starker. Charles Clotfelter clarifies why undergraduate education—unequal in 1970—is even more so today.
The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap. In 1863 black communities owned less than 1 percent of total U.S. wealth. Today that number has barely budged. Mehrsa Baradaran pursues this wealth gap by focusing on black banks. She challenges the myth that black banking is the solution to the racial wealth gap and argues that black communities can never accumulate wealth in a segregated economy.
City of Debtors: A Century of Fringe Finance. Since the 1890s, people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder in the United States have paid the highest price for credit. Drawing on data from New York City, Anne Fleming explains how each generation has tackled the problem of fringe finance and its regulation. Her detailed work contributes to the broader, ongoing debate about the meaning of fairness within capitalistic societies.
The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life. In a GDP-run world, prices are the measure of not only goods and commodities but our environment, communities, nation, even self-worth. Why did Americans come to quantify their society’s well-being in units of money? Eli Cook shows how we moderns lost sight of earlier social and moral metrics that did not put a price on everyday life.
A Century of Wealth in America. Understanding wealth—who has it, how they acquired it, how they preserve it—is crucial to addressing challenges facing the United States. Edward Wolff’s account of patterns in the accumulation and distribution of U.S. wealth since 1900 provides a sober bedrock of facts and analysis, and an indispensable resource for future public debate.
Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court. In ruling after ruling, the three most important pre-Civil War justices—Marshall, Taney, and Story—upheld slavery. Paul Finkelman establishes an authoritative account of each justice’s proslavery position, the reasoning behind his opposition to black freedom, and the personal incentives that embedded racism ever deeper in American civic life.
The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power. Many books offer information about the world’s most populous country, but few make sense of what is truly at stake. Thirty of the world’s leading China experts—affiliates of Harvard’s renowned Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies—answer key questions about where this new superpower is headed and what makes its people and their leaders tick.
Encountering China: Michael Sandel and Chinese Philosophy. In philosopher Michael Sandel the Chinese have found a guide through the ethical dilemmas created by their swift embrace of a market economy—a person whose communitarian ideas resonate with China’s own rich, ancient philosophical traditions. Encountering China explores the connections and tensions revealed in this unlikely episode of Chinese engagement with the West.