Posts by Berkshire Publishing

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The Peeps Potential

Guest post from Marjolijn Kaiser:

Detailed contents of package:

  1. 6 packs Peeps
  2. 2 bags Coconut M&Ms
  3. 3 bottles vanilla extract
  4. 1 bottle maple syrup

The shipping information on the box I am sending to myself after a short trip to the US pretty much sums up my culinary experience of the past week and a half. I hadn’t been here in over a year, and I’d forgotten how much I missed some of these items. Before departure, I already decided I would eat only bagels for breakfast, since those are surprisingly hard to come by here in Germany (even a visit to the Jewish quarters in Antwerp, Belgium, didn’t yield much bagel-success, which makes me wonder if they are a typical US invention?).  But as soon as I arrived, I realized there were many other treats I needed to catch up on, and so began a week long diet that was dominated by round- or animal shaped foods: bagels, (giant) muffins, tater tots, burgers, ice cream, Goldfish (“fishies”), and of course Peeps.

A Peeps cake, created by Marjolijn "Mar" Kaiser from specially imported (to Germany) Peeps.

A Peeps cake, created by Marjolijn “Mar” Kaiser from specially imported (to Germany) Peeps.


Now, you should know that I generally consider myself a healthy eater – I cook from scratch most days, am vegetarian, and enjoy exotic cuisines – although I do have a mild chocolate addiction and a weakness for baking. While I was living in the United States, I often wondered about, and marveled at, many of its dietary and nutritional habits. There is the issue of size, of course, that I never quite got used to. To this day, I still have to remind myself to NEVER order anything medium or large, because it is just too much. With one exception: muffins. I know quality is more important than quantity, but boy does a jumbonormous Double Chocolate muffin the size of a melon for breakfast make me happy (and crash shortly after consuming it, but that’s another story). My dad is still talking about the giant muffins he had when visiting me in the United States. Compared to these monsters, regular size cakes here don’t even deserve to be called mini-muffins.

As I caught up with colleagues and old friends, my obvious excitement about being able to indulge on all these seemingly ordinary food items was generally met with an endearing smile or appreciative nod. It is hard to make somebody who has easy access to, let’s say, tater tots (and who is perhaps over-exposed to said item) see the beauty and genius of that crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside piece of potato (wannabe?) heaven. I made it my duty to remind those around me of the fact that these items were absolutely wonderful, if they are enjoyed in moderation, and I like to believe I generally succeeded in doing so, with one exception: Peeps.

If the people at Peeps see an unexpected and seemingly unexplainable peak in their sales numbers for the first week of April, in the Western Massachusetts area, I can solve that mystery for them: it was me. I do not know why, but these colorful, corn-syrup-loaded, gelatin-filled, cute animal-shaped marshmallows are irresistible to me. They are a guilty pleasure, like binge-watching trash TV or Katy Perry songs (which, for the record, go great with beer and tater tots at the end of a work week: we institutionalized this in the office as “beer o’clock,” every Friday afternoon at 4 PM). But I have not been able to convince anybody during my week long stay of this fact. Instead, I was met with rejection and contempt at the mere mention of these soft, fluffy candy friends. Even the attendant at the post office looked disapproving at my package list and said “Sending home Peeps, are you? I don’t really like them.” My offer to bake a Peeps-decorated cake for our office party was met with equal disdain, and instead I opted for a continental mocca-sour cream cake. They’ll regret it when I send them pictures of my Easter Peeps cake!

While waiting on my flight out of JFK airport, I saw in the corner of my eye the bright yellow glow that only a pack of fresh Peeps has. Instinctively I was drawn towards it, and my firm belief that Peeps could be the latest and most successful American export product EVER was confirmed when I realized that the woman eating them was an elderly Irish lady. Peeps have potential, mark my words. Why else would I have just have spent US$50 to send 6 boxes home….

UPDATE! The $50 was totally worth it. See here the results of a few hours baking and decorating fun: a double-layer sponge cake with lemon curd, butter cream, and a good amount of M&Ms and Peeps.

Marjolijn (Mar) KAISER

柯悠伦, China Projects Coordinator

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How Big is the Crimea?

In all the news about the Crimea lately, one thing I couldn’t quite figure out was how big a place the Crimea is. I then remembered a website I discovered a while back called “

MAPfrappe allows you to take the outline of one place and superimpose it on more familiar places. It’s clever enough to change scales as you get closer to the poles, which really excites the map geek in me.

Big thanks to MAPfrappe creator Kelvin Thompson for letting me post these examples.

To my surprise, the Crimea is actually a big place. The links below compare it to the New York / New England area (where I live), as well as to London, San Francisco, Switzerland, and Russia. I always find it’s helpful to visualize this kind of thing as I try to absorb the news. The Crimea is right about the same size as Switzerland.

Luckily, there are people out there who know a lot more about the political issues than I do. David Remnick of the New Yorker (last seen at Sochi for the Winter Olympics), had a good article about it the other day. As Remnick writes of Vladimir Putin, “his dreams of staying in office until 2024, of being the most formidable state-builder in Russian history since Peter the Great, may yet founder on the peninsula of Crimea.”

Below are the MAPfrappe maps. Just scroll down to the second image to see how big the Crimea is compared to the place shown at the top of each map.

My next thing to figure out: the Ukraine or just Ukraine? the Crimea or just Crimea? That’s the kind of problem an editor can wrap his head around.


-Bill Siever

Crimea compared to New York / New England

Crimea compared to London

Crimea compared to Switzerland (just about the same size)

Crimea compared to Russia (a LOT smaller!)

Crimea compared to San Francisco

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Fun with “parallel constructions”!

Hey boys and girls! Today’s topic is “parallel constructions.” Why, in God’s name, do I want to discuss something with such a horrible sounding name?

Parallel construction is the art of keeping lists in your writing consistent, whether it’s a list of things you’re going to do on vacation, a list of things that drive you crazy about Microsoft, a bullet list of key things to go over at your next meeting, or eating things that make you happy.

Did you catch that? That last phrase, “or eating things that make you happy,” doesn’t belong with the rest. While I’m all for eating things that make me happy (fried chicken, calamari, and oysters take top honors there), the first three items are lists, while the fourth item is not. If I can think back to Mrs. Gilhooly’s 10th grade English class, I believe it’s called a gerund phrase, but don’t quote me on that.

“WHY THE HECK DOES THIS MATTER!?” you may be asking. Well, you may not know it, but using parallel construction in your writing makes things clearer to your readers. Parallel construction is like a good roof. If it’s done properly, you won’t notice it’s there. But if it’s not, you’ll get a ton of snow and your roof will collapse, opening it up to the elements (bats, geese, poltergeists, etc.), making you sad.

Here’s an example of some “marketing-speak” I am making up for a yet-to-be-made movie about Mars, using un-parallel construction in the first instance and corrected in the second:

  • The CGI-heavy special effects will leave you breathless!
  • The acting will leave you speechless!
  • The lack of oxygen in the theater, reproducing the feeling of actually being on Mars, will leave you breathless!
  • Featuring a marvelous film score by Ratt that will leave you breathless!

Corrected, employing parallel construction:

  • The CGI-heavy special effects will leave you breathless!
  • The acting will leave you breathless!
  • The lack of oxygen in the theater, reproducing the feeling of actually being on Mars, will leave you breathless!
  • The marvelous film score by Ratt will leave you breathless!

There we go – not so bad, right? Note that while describing the acting as something that will leave you speechless may be technically correct, if three out of four of your bullet points refer to breathlessness, you should stick to that. And the fourth item about Ratt’s film score has now been corrected to “parallel” the other three in its syntax.

William Strunk uses a familiar biblical example in The Elements of Style, which Berkshire will be reissuing soon as the Berkshire Elements of Style, updated for the weird world we find ourselves in today:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

And now for my smart-alecky “unparallel” version:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • They that mourn are great: for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek: the meek shall inherit the earth, so they too are great.
  • People who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness are blessed: for they shall be filled, ideally with fried chicken.

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? Parallel construction is, essentially, making sure that your writing compares apples to apples. If you want your readers to understand your writing – especially people whose native language is not English – it’s essential to be clear and consistent.

I hope this has been useful to people! Please email us with any thoughts or questions you may have about this and other tips for better writing in English. We’re glad to hear them, and it will give us more grist for the mill when we’re considering things to add to The Berkshire Elements of Style.

– Bill Siever

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Let the Games Begin!

Ski jumping
A young ski jumper at the annual Salisbury, Connecticut Ski Jumps, February 2013. The record jump for the day was 71 meters. Photo by Ryan Siever.

The Winter Olympics start today in Sochi, Russia!

While many in the Western world view Russia as a bewildering place of vodka and extreme cold, those who know better know the host country as a place with a deep cultural appreciation of the arts; a place where people spend all day on New Year’s Eve perfecting dishes such as “shuba”—the delicious (and bright purple) layered beet, egg, potato, and herring salad that is translated in English as “herring under fur coat salad”—to be shared with loved ones.

And while most of Russia is indeed cold, Sochi is not. The selection of Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics was controversial for several reasons. It is one of Russia’s southernmost cities—it is an extremely popular summer getaway, where mountains meet the sea—and thus was a strange choice for hosting winter events. As a result, the city has undergone extensive renovations to accommodate the events. As The Guardian newspaper put it, “The race to turn the beach resort of Sochi into a Winter Olympic host venue has been described by critics of the Kremlin as one of the most corrupt projects in Russia’s history.”

Here’s some sports-related trivia gleaned from the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport to wow your friends and colleagues:

  • Lieutenant (later General) George S. Patton participated in the modern pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912; he might have won had he not done so poorly in the shooting event, where he insisted on using his service revolver while the rest of the pentathletes      used target pistols.
  • The entire first day of the original modern Olympics was devoted to religious rituals—a kind of prolonged opening ceremony when religion mattered more than patriotism or commercial glitz.
  • Prior to 1937, the national flags of Lichtenstein and Haiti were identical by coincidence; a fact neither country discovered until they competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.
  • The  earliest recorded attempt to move skating from the winter ice was made by Joseph Merlin (1735–1803), a Belgian maker of musical instruments. He introduced roller skating to the public at a reception in London in 1760. As he played the violin and skated about for the crowd, Merlin, his violin, and a large mirror discovered that he could not turn or brake on his new invention.
  • Commonly viewed as a genteel sport for the well-heeled, croquet was originally a sport played by French peasants using altered broomsticks for mallets.

Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport 3rd EditionThe third edition of this groundbreaking work brings the study of sports into the 21st century by integrating Berkshire’s past work on women’s sports and extreme sports into a complete sporting library. The encyclopedia features over 300 new and updated articles on:

  • sports management and marketing
  • every sport from cricket and baseball to buzkashi and motorcycle polo
  • six kinds of football: association (a.k.a. soccer), American, Australian Rules, Canadian, Gaelic, and flag
  • the history and globalization of sport
  • the Olympics, past and future
  • environmental and economic issues

Click here for a list of events at the Winter Olympics. Update: there will indeed be women’s ski jump for the first time this year!

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We have a government again! Time to publish some books

Hooray! We have a government again. That means it’s time to get our applications sent off to the Library of Congress for all our upcoming books: This Is America (oh, the irony that this book was delayed by the shut-down); the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, which we’ll be officially launching in Sydney, Australia in early 2014; and our next “Berkshire Essential,” Religion and Sustainability, a short guide that helps answer the question: what do people’s religious and ethical beliefs have to do with the environment? (Answer: a lot.)

Time to quit typing and get those applications in to the LOC before the government changes its mind!

– Bill Siever


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New at Berkshire: Custom Publishing

We’ve started a new service here at Berkshire – custom publishing. This link on our website has more about this service. In a nutshell, this is for academic authors (or institutions like non-profits and NGOs) who have a wonderful manuscript all ready to go … and who don’t want to wait around for three years while the book goes through the usual series of hoops and delays that can afflict university presses. We’ve just come out with our first book from our first imprint – and we took it from manuscript to finished book in one month! Very exciting. Details are below in a press release that we sent out recently. I’m looking forward to working on more books like this – it was a rewarding one to work on, especially since the subject matter (Chinese prison camps for hooliganism) is so vitally important to the thousands of people (and their families) caught up in the system.

-Bill Siever

Challenge to China cover
Challenge to China, the first book to come out of Berkshire’s Custom Publishing service.


Great Barrington, Mass., USA

US-Asia Law Institute Books, an imprint of Berkshire Publishing Group, is pleased to announce the publication of Challenge to China: How Taiwan Abolished Its Version of Re-Education Through Labor.

This timely publication is co-authored by USALI founder and NYU professor Jerome A. Cohen, whose groundbreaking work at Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s stimulated study of the expanding field of Chinese law, and USALI affiliated scholar Margaret K. Lewis, professor at Seton Hall University School of Law and an expert on Chinese and Taiwanese law. The book will be enlightening to scholars, lawyers, judges, and criminal justice professionals, as well as to government officials and others interested in legal reform in China and in the development of criminal justice systems generally.

The subject of the book, unfettered police power to detain anyone for a long period—finally abolished by Taiwan in 2009—is attracting considerable interest at the moment in both the general and professional press because of China’s current attempts to deal with the problem. Professor Lewis notes, “The top leaders in China have publicly stated their intentions to reform the police-dominated sanction of re-education through labor, perhaps as early as this year. Our research on Taiwan’s experience provides fresh ideas for the Mainland’s future reform path.” The book’s crisp, clear presentation makes it accessible to the general reader as well as China specialists.

English-language books explaining the dramatic changes to Taiwan’s legal system in recent decades are rare. Books analyzing developments in Taiwan’s criminal justice system are exceedingly rare. This book explains reforms in an in-depth and accessible manner. It also brings a fresh perspective to the long-standing debate about the future of re-education through labor on the Mainland.

More details on the book are available in this flyer from Berkshire’s website: Here is a link to a recent press release on USALI Books:

To order copies of the book, please contact Berkshire at; here is a link to a library request form: The book is also available through major book distributors such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Please note that the price on the library form is for hardcover, but softcover, cloth, and ebook versions are also available. Special prepublication prices end Monday, 30 September.

Ebooks of Challenge to China are available on Berkshire’s website, Berkshire Digital (, and will soon be available through many other ebook and database distributors. Special print/digital bundle pricing is also available in cooperation with Credo Reference; contact Berkshire Publishing for details.

Review copies will be made available; contact Managing Editor Bill Siever,

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Seven Things I’ve Learned Recently

1. The northeastern Australian state of Queensland is four times the size of California but has only 3.5 million people – about the size of Connecticut, or one-fifth the size of New York City.

2. You’ve heard of 3-D printing, right? Well, now there is 4-D printing. This involves printing 3-D items that have the ability to build themselves into something if they are immersed in, say, water. This proves that the world is a very weird place, although that was proven beyond a doubt back in the ’60s by the existence of Capt. Beefheart.

3. You know those European-style oval bumper stickers people put on their cars? GB and F are pretty easy to guess – Great Britain and France. Some are a little tricky – CH is Confederation Helvetia, better known as Switzerland. Some, however, are impossible to get, especially because they don’t refer to countries, but tourist spots. OBX is Outer Banks (of North Carolina). One that has irked me for years is “AUK.” Finally, after doing some Googling and other digging around (including asking a company that sells them, and them guessing that it was referring to the seabird), I have an answer to this question that has plagued me all this time: it is the airport code for NAntUcKet Island. Couldn’t they just use NAN?!

4. People use the short-video-clip-sharing tool Vine to post trailers of movie trailers – and apparently Hollywood looks at these trailers-of-trailers for potential talent.

5. Corn (as we call it here in the US) is weird. Scientists have determined that of all the world’s crops, corn / maize is the one that no one knows the origins of. Some historians and archaeologists have concluded that the creation of corn by mesoamerican cultures is one of the hardest to explain engineering feats in the history of the world.

6. Just before the American Revolution broke out, the northeastern US states of New Hampshire and New York nearly went to war over the settlement of the future state of Vermont. (The royal governors of both had been busy getting filthy rich selling the land rights to hapless settlers, even though the area now known as Vermont was claimed by by both New Hampshire and New York.) The Vermonters were protected from the predations of the evil “Yorkers” by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. Allen – truly a character if ever there was one – was one of the first public figures in the American colonies to proclaim his disbelief in Christianity, which did not make him particularly popular with his neighbors, which explains the fact that he moved quite a lot.

7. Last but not least, the Hudson Bay Company still exists! It was founded in 1670 and is North America’s longest continually operated company. I thought it went kaput back in the 1700s sometime. (They go by “HBC” now.) They own the department store Lord and Taylor.

– Bill Siever

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Coming Soon: Short ‘n Sweet “This is America”

I’m looking forward to digging into our next project – This Is America: A short history of the United States. The subtitle is tentative, and we welcome suggestions from people — but we want to stick with the “America” part in order to generate discussion on the fact that the US is a small part of the Americas. (Incidentally, during our travels in Britain, we’ve found that people invariably ask if we’re from America, or, just as commonly — I suppose because we try to be polite — Canada. But never the United States.)

We see this new book as being very useful with Chinese and other foreign students who need a survey of US history and how it affects the world today, and the America they are experiencing in their day-to-day lives, at college or in high school exchange programs. This will not be a Lonely Planet guide so much as a quick tour of US history as it is relevant to understanding America in the world in the 21st century. I think it’ll be a great book, and one that will be illuminating to work on.

The idea of the United States has been on my mind a lot lately, having recently returned from a relaxing (and cheap! only $61 one way) 7-hour train journey to beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia, for my Texan cousin Lauren’s wedding. While we were there we got to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s hilltop home and gardens. We learned, among other things, that Jefferson was an extremely enthusiastic wine drinker — he even installed a dumb waiter, just for wine from the cellar below, on either side of his fireplace so that discussions with visiting diplomats could be candid and uninterrupted — and that he introduced macaroni and cheese to the newly formed United States. I hope to work these kinds of interesting details into the book, since everyone can relate to food, and it helps to bring history alive.

We also learned that, much like the country he helped to form, Jefferson was a conflicted and often contradictory person. He was the “Founding Father” responsible for introducing the concept of freedom of religion to the Constitution, but he was also a life-long slave owner. Jefferson understood well the horror of slavery but thought that, realistically, it would have to be up to future generations to end the institution of slavery. (I am currently reading a fascinating account of Jefferson’s trip to France as commerce secretary, titled Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America, whose title says it all.) My family and I talked about this as we strolled around the gardens and thought that it was probably similar to someone trying to get an entire country off of oil, or industrial-scale agriculture: easier said than done.

Jefferson was also an avid gardener, so we very much enjoyed visiting the hillside gardens of Monticello – especially since the climate of Virginia was so much more advanced and spring-like than the cold spring we’ve been suffering through here at home in Massachusetts!

-Bill Siever

I've eaten many an artichoke but never seen one growing! Artichokes at Monticello, early June.
I’ve eaten many an artichoke but never seen one growing! Artichokes at Monticello, early June.
I am a big fan of the name of this flower.
I am a big fan of the name of this flower.


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Birding Lessons, and That Ugly Word “Taxonomy”

Yesterday I joined a nice “Birding for Beginners” group at our community center, led by wonderful local naturalist Christine Ward and others, and it was lots of fun – and I learned how much I don’t know! Just what I need. I love trying to identify birds and am fantastically bad at it. Here’s a summary of what I learned:

1. Here in western Massachusetts, 99% of the bird sounds you hear in the woods are catbirds, slate-grey birds that are clever mimics. So even though you think you’re hearing 10 different birds, they’re all actually catbirds.

2. Another 99% of bird sounds are actually various kinds of tree frogs that sound like birds, but aren’t.

3. Yes, I realize that’s 198% of creatures – I am an aspiring birder, not an aspiring mathematician.

4. When going about learning your birds, it’s best to break things down. I own a great book called the Sibley Guide to Birds – an instant classic. (Ironically, it was sent to a newspaper where I once worked for review; the editors thought it wasn’t “local” enough – as if there were no birds there! – so I got to take it home: a nice bonus for a sorely underpaid job.) Anyway, it’s a fantastic book but a bit overwhelming for the beginner – it covers every bird in North America, so many of the birds in it aren’t found where I live. I then bought a guide to birds in Massachusetts – also good, but I found that several of the birds we found on the walk yesterday weren’t in there. I guess I need to find a good middle ground – comprehensive but not overwhelming – the “happy medium” as the late, great Bob Ross would have said.

5. Other lessons: be patient, and learn to sit in your back yard with a cooler of beer. (That’s what they told me.) Birds will come to you. Learn to walk very slowly and quietly out in the woods, and you’ll see more birds and other creatures and you’ll be more “in the present” if I may verge into the realm of New Agey-ness.

6. As David Sibley, the authority on birds, has said, put your book down and watch the birds – while you’re trying to find the bird in the book, it will fly away. Also, learn to read signs like “what ecosystem is the bird in” – swamp, heavy foliage, garden – and look at subtle things like flight patterns, time of year, numbers of birds found together, time of day.

7. Most of all, go with people who know their birds – many people are a fountain of knowledge and are happy to share their knowledge with poor saps like me.

8. The overall lesson I learned was that birding seems like a preposterously complicated activity, until you learn to break it down into component parts: divide and conquer.

I’m trying to put that knowledge to use at work as we at Berkshire try to tackle the thorniest of thorny subjects – the way we keep our contacts organized. Right now it’s as if all of our many contacts are categorized as “Crows,” and some are categorized as “Crows” or “Crows –> Subset: Caterpillars.” I think it’s a problem many companies struggle with – they start with a small group of people and don’t set up proper “rules” for organizing people early on, and soon enough, like us, you have 40,000 people we deal with (or have dealt with, or want to deal with more) who need for a Carl Linnaeus to come along and put everyone into nice neat categories: that oh so ugly word “taxonomy” that always reminds me of stuffed mammal heads staring at me from glassy eyes. We hope to share our findings with others once we’ve gotten to the bottom of the snakepit that is database management: I know we’re not alone in finding our systems hopelessly convoluted after years of confusion.

How anyone ever figured out how to sort all the birds in, say, Papua New Guinea is absolutely beyond me, but my hat’s off to them!

-Bill Siever

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“Yay,” “yeah,” heck “yea,” and “w00t! w00t!”

Important bulletin to staff on the use of the words “yay,” “yeah,” and “yea”:

“Yay” is not in Merriam Webster* (our standard) but yes, everyone uses it so that should be the standard spelling.
“Yeah” is the informal version of Yes.
“Yea” (pronounced “yay”) is used when voting: yea or nay.
* But this is!

Merriam Webster 2007 Word of the Year
1. w00t (interjection): expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word “yay”

When contacting authors et al., please don’t say Yay or w00t! w00t!, unless they’re very informal people, of course. This will go in the revised edition of the BMSIP [Berkshire Manual of Style for International Publishing] – w00t w00t!

Bill Siever