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Evening Light Thunderstorms

If you think you have seen every possible type of weather, you have not and never will. Most weather systems seem to come in gradually and move from west to east across the country. Last Monday a front line of thunderstorms formed in eastern Iowa. It was very narrow, about one county wide, but was more than 200 miles long stretching across the entire state. It moved toward the southeast across the eastern half of the country and brought severe weather to many locations. This is a photo of it shortly before sunset.

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Evening Light Thunderstorms

If you think you have seen every possible type of weather, you have not and never will. Most weather systems seem to come in gradually and move from west to east across the country. Last Monday a front line of thunderstorms formed in eastern Iowa. It was very narrow, about one county wide, but was more than 200 miles long stretching across the entire state. It moved toward the southeast across the eastern half of the country and brought severe weather to many locations. This is a photo of it shortly before sunset.

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Translation Rights Available, December 2016

Hot topics include big history, women and leadership, major Chinese classics, and much more from the US’s leading publishers on cutting-edge global issues. Click here to email Kara Lozier with your credentials in order to obtain a prepublication proof copy for review. Please be sure to specific which of the books you would like to have for consideration.
Natural Resources for Sustainability, a Berkshire Essential
Edited by Lisa M. Butler HarringtonNatural Resources for Sustainability is a concise, expert reader that covers all major aspects of the physical properties, extraction and processing, and industrial and other uses of important natural resources. The book also discusses specific natural resource issues and different approaches to natural resource management. The expert authors come from around the world and give special emphasis to energy industries, water use and reuse, and to global topics such as the Green Revolution.176 pages, 15 illustrations.
Eminent Chinese of the Qing Period 1644-1911/2
With new introduction by Pamela Crossley, Dartmouth CollegeEminent Chinese of the Qing Period is a standard reference used by scholars, meticulously compiled and unique in its scope. The Berkshire edition contains the original text of 800 biographical entries, an up-to-date bibliography, biographies of Hummel and the main contributors (including John K. Fairbank), portraits, maps, timeline, and glossary. Simplified Chinese characters and pinyin have been added to the original complex characters. 1,200 pages, 50 illustrations.
Finance and Investment for Sustainability
Edited by Chris LaszloFinance and Investment for Sustainability looks at how a green economy can be created and sustained. Articles written for the non-expert reader cover topics such as green-collar jobs, energy and foreign investment law, public-private partnerships, the World Bank, smart growth, the financial services industry, the “base of the pyramid,” (i.e., the world’s poor), social enterprise, green taxes, and the concept of the triple bottom line. 162 pages, 15 illustrations.
Big History, Small World: From the Big Bang to You
By Cynthia Stokes BrownBig History, Small World is the first guide in English to a new approach to history that has been specifically designed for high school students. It’s also ideal for the general reader who shares Bill Gates’s fascination with this new blend of history and science, and fits neatly with the free curriculum available at the Big History Project. There are illustrations, charts, diagrams, a glossary and timeline, and short biographies of scientists and historians who have been influential in developing big history. 300 pages, 50 illustrations.
Recipes from the Garden of Contentment: A Manual of Chinese Gastronomy (Suiyuan Shidan 隨園食單) by YUAN Mei

Recipes from the Garden of Contentment  is the first complete English edition of one of the world’s most famous books about food. This collection of essays, written over 200 years ago by the Qing dynasty poet and official Yuan Mei 袁枚, serves as an introduction to Chinese culinary philosophy and food preparation as well as a guide to famous dishes such as birds nest and sharks fin. The Berkshire edition offers an enthralling view of Chinese history and culinary culture, and the charm, humor, and erudition of one of China’s greatest writers. 300 pages, 50 illustrations.

Women and Leadership: History, Concepts, and Case Studies
George R. Goethals and Crystal L. Hoyt, University of Richmond
Women and Leadership explores varied questions about women’s leadership and looks at how women have led in different fields, in different parts of the world, and in past centuries as well as today. The book is divided into four parts: 1 Women in an Evolving Society, 2 Women and Social Change, 3 Women in Politics, and 4 The Spectrum of Women’s Leadership. The last three sections include biographical entries illustrating how different aspects of leadership have played out in individual lives. 350 pages, 25 illustrations.
Football: An American Obsession Goes Global
Edited by Gerald R. Gems and Gertrud PfisterFootball: An American Obsession Goes Global is the first comprehensive guide to the history and culture of the sport, covering US college football as well as professional football worldwide. Sports experts cover rules and play as well as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, social class, and globalization, the importance of television, and debates about violence and safety. This is a readable, authoritative guide designed for people around the world. 320 pages, 50 illustrations.
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Brexit, TPP, and the UK-China Relationship

Kerry BrownKerry Brown discusses Brexit, UK-China relations, and how the anti-globalization mood evident today is likely to affect Chinese politics, both domestically and internationally. He presents a realistic but generally positive view of the opportunities for research and collaboration. This podcast will be useful to teachers, scholars, and business professionals concerned about China’s role in the global community.

Brexit, the June 2016 UK referendum to leave the European Union, sent shockwaves across the world. Its epicenter was London, the city Kerry Brown had recently returned to after three years in Australia. In this podcast, Christensen asks what Brexit means to him and others whose job is studying and analyzing China. They discuss globalization (and antiglobalization), the growing backlash against trade agreements, and prospects for the Trans Pacific Partnership. Brown looks at China’s success as a result of the market access it gained through WTO membership, its view of the UK and the EU, and talks about dealing with the China that is rather than the China we might have been hoping for.

Length: 26 minutes. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

Two days after the US presidential election of 2016, Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at Kings College London, spoke in New York at a program hosted by Steve Orlins, president of the National Committee on US-China Relations. Berkshire Publishing is pleased to share the links to recordings from that program here.

“Chinese Leadership and the Tide of History”

10 November 2016, National Committee on US-China Relations, New York

Do leaders make history or does history make leaders? Kerry Brown tackles these perennial questions, drawing on the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography, which he edited, and his recent book CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping.

Continue reading Brexit, TPP, and the UK-China Relationship

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Teaching Big History

Big History Small World coverCynthia Stokes Brown discusses how she teaches big history in this episode of Berkshire Bookworld. As she discussed last week, in “An Introduction to Big History,” big history incorporates many disciplines, from cosmology and chemistry to archaeology and history. Join us today to find out how to bring all these aspects of big history into your classroom. Cynthia has decades of experience teaching history and training teachers, and Berkshire is proud to publish her new book, Big History, Small World: From the Big Bang to You.

Length: 19 minutes.

Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

Continue reading Teaching Big History

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An Introduction to Big History

Big History Small World coverCynthia Stokes Brown, a professor and popular author, explains how she came to write about Big History in this episode of Berkshire Bookworld. Big History is the study of how we all got here, from the Big Bang to the present day, and Cynthia has written and coauthored three books on the subject, including a textbook she wrote with David Christian and Craig Benjamin.

In this podcast, you’ll find out why her new book, Big History, Small World: From the Big Bang to You, published by Berkshire, is different, and why Cynthia has devoted herself to teaching this biggest of all histories. Big History, Small World is designed for those completely new to the subject, not only high school students but any reader who wants to know more about how we got here and what we know about the challenges that face all of us, across the globe, in the twenty-first century. We’ll be back with Cynthia next week to discuss how to bring big history into the classroom.

Length: 21 minutes.

Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

Continue reading An Introduction to Big History

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Telling Our Stories, Writing Our Lives

My friend Emma once complimented me on an anecdote I’d told, saying, “I can dine out on that for years.” And there are a few stories about Emma and my days as housemates in London I still tell, especially the one about how we acted out the Lucan murder, on the stairs where it had taken place just a few years earlier. We would pull in a male dinner guest to play Lord Lucan, the villain of the piece, and tease anyone who got queasy about dessert.

As Emma knew so well, there are stories and anecdotes worth retelling. They keep a party going. They make people laugh and bring us together. Anecdotes are a form of gossip, a kind of oral history. Good ones get passed along, retold, and adapted. They get better: the timing just right, the punch line dropped with just the right inflection.

Political people are an endless source of anecdotes, and people who work in China always have amusing stories. Some are so good, and so informative, that they’ve become part of my repetoire. Just ask me about the time Kevin Nealer was lost on a country road in China, or what happened when Tim Clissold’s book Chinese Rules was translated into Chinese.

Searching for Valerie Eliot

TS Eliot coverLiterary people, in particular, live and dine on anecdote. Valerie Eliot told this one often: “My husband, T. S. Eliot, loved to recount how late one evening he stopped a taxi. As he got in the driver said: ‘You’re T. S. Eliot.’ When asked how he knew, he replied: ‘Ah, I’ve got an eye for a celebrity. Only the other evening I picked up Bertrand Russell, and I said to him, “Well, Lord Russell, what’s it all about,” and, do you know, he couldn’t tell me.’” (This, unusually for her, was published, in a letter to The Times.)

Valerie was Eliot’s second wife and thirty-eight years younger than he. She was known as a raconteur, telling stories of famous people she’d known, over meals in the best London restaurants. People would encourage her to write them down, but she was reluctant. She once agreed at the end of a bibulous lunch to write an article for the Financial Times literary pages. She agonized for weeks. In the end I wrote it for her, and you can read about that here.

Now that I’m writing her biography, I have a new sympathy for the historians I’ve worked with over the years, people who spend their time in archives and agonize over footnotes. They want to get the facts right, and I now see that our easy acceptance of anecdotal information as historical fact can be problematic. Anecdotes are supposed to be true, but they are not fact checked, and depend on memory – which is, as forensic science tells us, highly malleable.

Valerie EliotThere is much we will never know about Esmé Valerie Fletcher Eliot. Was she, as she claimed, on the school playing field when a German plane flew over in 1943? This is a story that everyone seems to know. The student who gave me a tour of the school in 2016, seventy-five years later, knew about the plane and that there were bullet holes in the chapel roof. When I heard the story from Valerie, I could picture her, a fair-haired teenager in a long bright-red Queen Anne’s School cloak, standing upright in the middle of the field while the other girls lay flat on the ground covering their heads.

The Scarlet RunnersBut last year I interviewed an elderly schoolmate who was emphatic that Valerie had embellished her role, and it’s not clear that she was even there. Judging from other accounts, including a first-hand report written immediately after the event, there was no girl standing alone in the middle of the field, braving the Luftwaffe. And the odds that they were wearing red cloaks that day are slim because during the War fabric was scarce and the cloaks became reserved for special occasions.In another example, it’s clear that Valerie wrote herself into a story. Here is antiquarian bookseller Rick Gekoski’s account in the Guardian:

Valerie’s charming little story as I remember it, went like this.

“We were having dinner at Wystan (W. H. Auden) and Chester (Kallman) ‘s flat, and they were flitting about in and out of the kitchen, making a fuss, while we sat at the table and had a drink with the Stravinskys. At one point, I stretched my leg out, and my foot hit something hard. I peered under the table and – would you believe it? – there was one of those decorated Victorian chamber pots, filled to the brim with … Well, something frothy and not very nice.

“I was horrified, and thought I ought to do something. So I dropped my knife on the floor and bent down and put my scarf over the chamber pot. At this point, luckily, Wystan came in and diverted attention, and I straightened up quickly with the pot in my hands, and headed off to the bathroom. I emptied the contents into the toilet, flushed it away, washed it out and put it on top of the cabinet.

“When I got back they were still all chattering away. Dinner was served, everyone drank rather a lot, the plates were cleared. At which point Chester looked under the table, then dropped to his knees and looked again.

“‘Wystan, darling,’ he said, ‘do you know where the zabaglione has gone?’”

The poet Craig Raine, one of Valerie’s executors, repeated this story in a eulogy at her memorial service in 2013. But here is an account by Robert Craft, the collaborator of Igor Stravinsky, of dinner with the same couple, W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, in 1952, five years before Valerie married T. S. Eliot:

Visiting the lavatory and finding shaving utensils and other matter in the sink, a glass containing a set of snappers (store teeth), a mirror in which it would be impossible even to recognize oneself, a towel that would oblige the user to start over again, and a basin of dirty fluid on the floor, [Vera Stravinsky] unthinkingly empties the basin and fills it with fresh water. Not until dessert time do we discover, with mixed emotions, that she has flushed away Chester’s chocolate pudding.

Valerie’s adaption of Craft’s anecdote, with her playing the role of Madame Stravinsky, reminds me that she was a truly wicked practical joker, who loosened the tops of catsup and Worcestershire sauce bottles at restaurants. It also suggests that she was rather a good comic writer. (Here’s a photo of her and Eliot taken at about the time they would have dined with Auden, included in a 2012 obituary.)

Unfortunately for Valerie, anecdotes are assumed to be true, as are responses to interview questions. Perhaps not the entire truth, but not outright lies or distortions. In this case, because Valerie and now the Eliot estate have maintained complete control over Eliot’s papers – they are still in the flat in Kensington where I sorted and filed and typed in the 1980s – biographers have had no access to papers that in the case of other writers are kept in special collections at university libraries. This means that Valerie’s handful of interviews and the anecdotes she told have become the authoritative source for journalists and academics. I am part of this process because my 2005 memoir in the Guardian Review includes some of Valerie’s stories. My piece adds to background for further articles, like the recent TIME magazine piece on what would have been Valerie’s 90thbirthday.

History is written not only by the victors, as Winston Churchill said, but by the survivors. She was nearly forty years younger than her husband so she outlived almost everyone.

All this has made me think about the work of historians and literary scholars in a new way, and about the way we record the histories of our times. Bill (William H.) McNeill, the world historian I worked with for many years, was impatient with scholars who are religiously tied to documentary evidence. Bill felt that to get there it was essential to use your imagination as well as research. He said that if you limited yourself to documentary evidence, you were leaving out too much.

Historians and biographers are after truth, what really happened, and why. My experience with Valerie Eliot has made me more sympathetic to scholars who want to footnote every detail. Before starting on the Eliot project, I had never used the word corroborate. Now I sympathize with lawyers searching for corroborating evidence. I see them trying to find calendar or emails or travel records to proof that their client was or wasn’t in a place at exactly the right moment, or listening to WhatsApp and WeChat voice clips, trying to find something with a date stamp. I get excited now when I find some new document, or trace another person who might be able to fill details from the 1940s or 1950s, because I might be a little closer to the truth.

More Truth Than Fact

Literary writing – essays and narratives – is nonfiction, but not necessarily fact. Virginia Woolf made a case for this in A Room of One’s Own, an essay about women as writers that has become a landmark in feminist thought:

One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact. Therefore I propose, making use of all the liberties and licences of a novelist, to tell you the story of the two days that preceded my coming here—how, bowed down by the weight of the subject which you have laid upon my shoulders, I pondered it, and made it work in and out of my daily life. I need not say that what I am about to describe has no existence; Oxbridge is an invention; so is Fernham; ‘I’ is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being. Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.

What lessons are there here for writers, for publishers, for anyone who tells a story at the dinner table?

I’ve become more careful about the stories I tell, and more cautious about the stories I hear. Of course trust comes into the equation: is there a reason for a history to be distorted, or covered up? Is someone just showing off?

And it depends what the work is. Arguments about climate change, for example, should be based on data, and I’ve long demanded more data from authors writing about concepts and theories. We’ll be publishing more on sustainability science, as well as more biography, and I’d like Berkshire to be known for rigorous scholarship in both.

Last night I attended a talk by Kerry Brown, editor in chief of the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography. One of the points he made is that biography – the stories of individuals – is an exceptionally good way into China’s long and complex history (you can hear more from Kerry on this subject at the Bookworld podcast). Volume 1 of the Dictionary opens with a chapter on “Mythical Figures,” the Yellow Emperor and Yu the Great, because the stories of people who may or may not have lived have nonetheless influenced the world.

Biographies teach us about our world and help us understand and sympathize with other people’s beliefs and values, and show us all the things we have in common. The anecdotes we tell have a similar purpose: they shed light, and let us laugh, sometimes at other people’s foibles, but also at our own.

In short, we need facts, and we need truth. I hope all storytellers – historians and scientists, journalists and speech writers, novelists and critics – will think not only of readers and viewers today, but of people who will turn to us in years to come, looking for a true account of our times.

How appropriate it is to send this message on Remembrance Day, and on my friend Emma’s birthday. It’s been a long time since we were play-acting Lord Lucan, but we’re still sharing stories and memories!

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Remember, Remember, the Eighth of November

guy_fawkes_v_for_vendettaUntil today, Election Day 2016, I thought of Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) as an English eccentricity, one of those quirky and rather charming mysteries, like the fact that one cannot eat marmalade at teatime. But as we go to the polls in the United States, I found myself thinking that this day (November 8th) will also be a day to remember, and for similar reasons.

Of all the tumultuous events that took place during the Jacobean era of English and Scottish history, November 5, 1605 remains the most notorious. On that date Guy Fawkes led a group of radical Catholics in the Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to rid England of its Protestant king and aristocracy by blowing up the Parliament at Westminster.

The plot was unsuccessful, but its annual celebration is so lively that for years after I moved back to the United States I would try to be in England for the bonfire party at Lettsom Gardens in Camberwell, my London neighborhood.

During the preceding days, little boys were stationed outside the supermarket with a floppy scarecrow. “Penny for the Guy?” they’d ask, collecting money to buy firecrackers. Adults prepared by taking scrap wood and old furniture to bonfire piles in parks and open ground all over the country. On Bonfire Night, everyone gathered, the piles were lit, and the children would throw their Guys into the flames while we ate sausages and roast potatoes and gingerbread.

Today, we have an election that enables us, the American people, to avert disaster and choose a better path, to follow what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. The world is watching. (If you need a distraction, keep busy by writing your own “The Eighth of November” lyrics, based on the English folk song “The Fifth of November.” Anyone who submits a 2016 version will get a free copy of your chosen book from the This World of Ours series. I’ve included the original, anti-Catholic lyrics, which you may know from the movie V, below.)

Now, time to change into a pantsuit.


Karen Christensen
Karen CHRISTENSEN, CEO & PublisherThe Fifth of November
Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Guy Fawkes and his companions
Did the scheme contrive,
To blow the King and Parliament
All up alive.
Threescore barrels, laid below,
To prove old England’s overthrow.
But, by God’s providence, him they catch,
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!
A stick and a stake
For King James’s sake!
If you won’t give me one,
I’ll take two,
The better for me,
And the worse for you.
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!From