Posts by Berkshire Publishing

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Do we need more science education? How big history explains climate change

A major barrier to effective international action is skepticism about climate change in the United States, the richest and most powerful country in the world, and the country with the largest scientific establishment and the largest number of Nobel Prize winners. This skepticism baffles many. It is true that powerful interests have conducted a well-funded and skillfully managed campaign of disinformation, efficiently exploiting every loophole or ambiguity in the discussions about climate change. But their success also depends on ignorance—on the fact that not enough people have enough understanding of the science to see through bad arguments.

Do we need more science education? Not necessarily, because understanding environmental issues requires some familiarity with the social sciences and humanities as well as the natural sciences: it requires a global perspective and also a sense of how the environment changes at many different timescales. Such perspectives lie at the heart of a new approach to education known as big history.

Big History, Small WorldLike all origin stories, big history uses the best available knowledge to construct an evolutionary map of the entire universe, onto which individuals and societies can map themselves. Such stories empower students intellectually by giving them an overview within which they can situate themselves, their home communities, and everything they know. Origin stories offer a view from the mountaintop: that view may lack detail, but it shows how different landscapes fit together, and that perspective can transform how you see your home landscapes. Their absence from modern education is anomalous and disastrous, because it leaves students without compass or sketch map in the vast tsunami of information available on the Internet.

Big history courses will be particularly valuable in informing students about the global challenges that the planet faces. Three aspects of big history are particularly relevant: (1) big history studies the past at multiple scales; (2) it teaches interdisciplinarity by leading students seamlessly from cosmology to geology to biology and human history; and (3) big history is global and holistic, so it can help students see humanity as a global species facing global problems requiring global solutions. Each of these perspectives can contribute powerfully to environmental understanding.

Christian_DavidDavid Christian, Macquarie University; WCU Professor, Ewha Womans University, Seoul

This article is adapted from an article that originally appeared in March of 2012 in Volume 3, Issue 3 of the online journal Solutions.

Continue reading Do we need more science education? How big history explains climate change

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What is science anyway?

Christian_DavidDavid Christian, Macquarie University; WCU Professor, Ewha Womans University, Seoul

This article is adapted from the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History.

The English word science derives from the Latin scire, “to know.” In many languages, the word science or its equivalents can be used broadly to mean “a systematic body of knowledge that guides our relations with the world.” This is the sense that is present in phrases such as “the social sciences.” There have existed many different knowledge systems of this type. All animals with brains have, and make use of, structured knowledge of the external world, so in principle we could claim that even animals depend on some form of science.

Used in a narrower sense, the word science refers to the distinctive body of systematic knowledge about the material world that emerged in Europe within the last five hundred years and that underpinned the technological achievements of modern societies. Many societies have had complex technologies, and many have had rich and rigorous systems of religious and philosophical thought, but what is distinctive about modern science is that its theories have been used to generate extraordinarily powerful and effective technologies. As a recent study puts it, “Modern science is not just a thought-construction among others—it entails both an intellectual and an operative mastery of nature. Whereas empirical technology is a feature of every major civilization, the systematic application of scientific insights to change our natural environment (‘to conquer Nature by obeying her’, as Francis Bacon phrased it) is a creation of Europe alone” (Cohen 1994, 4). Conceived in this sense, science is a distinctively modern way of understanding the world. So, to understand the modern world, we have to understand science. Continue reading What is science anyway?

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Chinese app saves hours a day and improves relationships

April fool!

In spite of all the promise of artificial intelligence and the huge amount of data being collected and crunched, the ideas in our April Fool’s Day email are just a joke. You’re still going to devote all too much time to Facebook.

We spun a similar April Fool’s story in in 2005 with the names HALWrite and Dave, characters from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even then, when the idea of computers composing letters was more like scifi than it seems today, HALWrite caught out a few people. This year’s joke is, we hope, low key enough to calm everyone who fell for our 2016 story about moving to Seattle and joining Amazon. It was influenced by the real news that China’s science and technology sector is really and truly booming. Here are a couple of stories about that:

The app’s name, Homer, is Greek, but the company name, Libai, comes from the Chinese poet Li Bai (who came from Jiangyou near Chengdu in Sichuan Province). Here’s the biography of Li Bai (free PDF download) from the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, and some prank suggestions from the Harvard Crimson. I like the idea of putting glitter into someone’s socks – or pockets.­­­

Most of our April Fools stories have been about technology or China, about which people will believe just about anything. As mentioned, one year we claimed that Google had an algorithm that would write personalized letters. (How thrilling it was when a world-renowned expert on technology asked for a link to the beta version.) Another year we claimed that China was making the Fourth of July an official holiday, and a startling number of people believed it, probably because of the brilliant graphics that went with the story. You can see them all here at our archive page.

Friendship WallOne of our past April Fools jokes seems a little too close to reality. In 2012, we wrote about a “Friendship Wall” between the United States and Mexico. What’s not to love about the Northeastern Friendship Construction and Heavy Industry Transportation and Advertising Company, a division of National Pacific Patriotic People’s Southern Construction, Investing, Securities, and Commercial Services Group?

The 2016 April Fool’s Day email is the one we’re still hearing about. For those who missed it, here’s a link to our April Fool’s email in 2016. It began innocently. Karen Christensen explains, “I’d just landed in Seattle and my team was setting up at the Association of Asian Studies conference. The sun was shining on the mountains and I was a little jetlagged. A very simple joke – that Berkshire Publishing is moving to Seattle to be closer to Amazon – popped into my head. I did a quick edit and sent it on its way. A year later, I still meet people who ask how I’m liking life in Seattle.”

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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