BEA Is Coming!

Book Expo America is Coming to Los Angeles

Will you be there? I won’t, but Cambridge will! I went last year and had a great time, but this year I’ll begetting married instead, so I think that’s a reasonable excuse. Anyway, On to the fun stuff:

Our booth number is 1346. Come say hello!

Charles Bamforth, author of Grape vs. Grain will be at our booth in the afternoon of Saturday, May 31. Come meet one of the greatest brewing scientists alive, and talk about the culture and taste of his favorite beverages, beer and wine. He’ll probably have samples on hand for… uh, SCIENCE!

That’s just part of the action. You may not know this, but Cambridge is home of the Darwin Correspondence Project. Deep in the bowels of the University Library is a glass and steel climate-controlled room full of pretty much ALL of Darwin’s personal letters. What does that mean for you? Origins and Evolution are already available, and the beautiful Charles Darwin: The Beagle Letters is on the way. Yes, the great naturalist was young once. A confused 19-year-old with little direction, until he wound up on that famous boat on a 2-year (oops, make that 5-year) journey. We’ve got the full scoop of what’s to come as we roll out the letters and as his 200th birthday approaches.

Questions? Let us know!


Spy-Tech Monday

Goodness, it’s Monday already. The sky is gray here at Cambridge Americas, and the office is quiet. But I’m in high spirits, because we have some itty-bitty spy toys to showcase today. Kristie Macrakis, what do we have here?

It’s Mini Monday!

Spies can conceal cameras in many places, not just bras.

This is a “microdot” camera with a remote release.

It’s about as big as my thumbnail, you can catch a glimpse of it on the cover of Seduced by Secrets.

Just to fully convey the teensyness, have a look at this:


What a cool-looking old cigarette case. The brand is “Ernte 23.”

It looks straight out of James Bond. Wait until you see what’s inside of this one:


This is an exquisitely crafted, and very expensive Swiss-made Tessina Wristwatch Camera. It fits very nicely into that cigarette case, and looks very Dick Tracy! Click the image to zoom in and see the full detail–all of the controls are there.


Seduced by Secrets chronicles the Stasi, their culture, and the gadgets they produced. Kristie Macrakis is visiting professor at Harvard University and professor at Michigan State University.

War Poet Wednesday

poetry-of-war.jpgJames Winn shows us that language, too, is broken down during war. The words employed by soldiers are quick, acronym-heavy, and devoid of flowery, unnecessary syllables, but in some cases, language is “eroded” by those off the battlefield. Winn is the author of The Poetry of War; you’ll see him soon in The Wall Street Journal and The Chronicle of Higher Education.


One form of “collateral damage” inflicted by war is the emptying and debasement of language. In a passage from a poem written at the height of the war in Vietnam, Denise Levertov takes that debasement as her subject.

Prologue: An Interim (excerpt)
‘“It became necessary
to destroy the town to save it,”
a United States major said today.
He was talking about the decision
by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town
regardless of civilian casualties,
to rout the Vietcong.’

O language, mother of thought,
are you rejecting us as we reject you?
Language, coral island
accrued from human comprehensions,
human dreams,

you are eroded as war erodes us.

As the double quotation marks show, Levertov begins by quoting an actual news bulletin, which in turn quotes an Army spokesman. But then her tone becomes elegiac. She addresses language as the “mother of thought” and laments its erosion by war. The danger Levertov fears is real. The disinformation, propaganda, and empty slogans of war can erode the coral island of language. Fortunately, her own poem, even as it sounds the alarm about the erosion of language, constitutes a stand against that erosion. Thanks to its capacity for irony, poetry is one of the most expressive media for showing how traditional symbols have lost their meaning while simultaneously lamenting that loss.

Poem Source:

Denise Levertov, “Prologue: An Interim,” in Poems, 1968-1972 (New York: New Directions, 1987), 130–31.

Parsing Spitzer’s Apology

Nick Smith is professor of Philosophy at the University of New Hampshire with a particular interest in how apologies work. He’s also a former trial lawyer for a major New York law firm. What does this mean for us? An unusually close look at Spitzer’s oft-sound-bite-ed public apology for his involvement with a prostitution ring.

He’ll be on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show tomorrow.

Watch the apology:

* * *

Elliot Spitzer’s recent statements accompanying his resignation as governor of New York provide an occasion to reflect on the meanings of apologies. I find apologies dizzyingly complex social rituals. In I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies—published by Cambridge University Press—I identified more than a dozen kinds of meaning that we seek from gestures of contrition. Instead of worrying whether an example “is or is not” an apology, I wonder how well it serves certain purposes and to what extent it conveys certain kinds of subtle social meanings.

The book considers the many nuances and gritty details of apologetic meaning, but in general I find that asking a few simple questions can take us to the heart of the meaning of an apology: Did the offender explain what she did with an appropriate degree of specificity? Does she accept blame? Does she make clear why her actions were wrong and identify the principles she violated? Does she promise not to do it again redress the problem she caused?

These questions tend to lead to further questions about the meanings of any given apology, but they can provide some insight in Spitzer’s case.

First, Spitzer’s statements obviously admit very little. Rather than “coming clean” and confessing the details of his wrongdoing, he leaves us to speculate. He could have admitted all of the relevant facts, but instead it may require years of investigations and legal proceedings to disclose the extent of his transgressions. Or he might strike a deal that effectively ends the discussion. His repeated description of the reason for his resignation as a “private failing” seems untenable given that he is a former governor and attorney general facing charges in several federal crimes, but casting the offense in this way suggests that he may deny the prostitution-related charges and instead cast the sexual relations as an affair but not a crime. This may seem like a losing argument given the facts discussed publicly to date, but Spitzer may negotiate himself into a position to sustain this claim and avoid criminal charges. If he denies relations with a prostitute, he will not apologize for that specifically.

Continue reading

Spy-Tech Mondays

seduced-by-secrets.jpgKristie Macrakis, author of Seduced by Secrets brings us some of the gadgets of the Stasi’s hidden spy-world, one photo at a time.

There are a lot of cool images surrounding the hidden world of espionage, many of them surprising. Hidden in plain sight, in a mind-boggling array of forms, spy gadgets have a clever way of concealing secrets. I think these images of objects of espionage are fascinating visual representations of the shadowy world of spying.

Each Monday, I’ll be opening my own photo-album of spy gadgets to show you the real Stasi espionage. I’ve been in and out of East Germany before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and have recently done a lot of research on the organization.

Here’s the first two:

shelves-containers.jpgThis is a backroom at the German Federal Criminal Police, which houses spy evidence for court cases. It could be your garage, but alongside the seemingly innocuous tennis rackets are rows and rows of leather briefcase containers to hide documents and false documents like forged passports.


Of course, every spy needs to have a camera handy:

minox-deer.jpgThis carved deer statute has a Minox camera – the workhorse of the Cold War – hidden in the bottom. It is my favorite concealment. The spy inserts a pin in a hole in the bottom to activate the release mechanism.

Kristie Macrakis is author of Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi’s Spy-Tech World, new April 17 from Cambridge.

Coming Soon: The Poetry of War – James Winn



The Poetry of War is on its way to booksellers. James Winn launched the book at an event on March 4  at Boston University. Be on the lookout!

From the time of Homer and before, poets have embraced war as a grand and challenging subject. Despite the radical differences between warfare and poetry, author of John Dryden and His World and Pulitzer Prize nominee James Anderson Winn seeks to piece together the many threads that tie them in The Poetry of War.

According to Winn: “We need poems to counter the mindless simplifications of war propaganda.” Poetry boils war down to its most basic human experiences, without the lens of country, enemy or cause. The Poetry of War captures the tension created between the super-human efforts of soldiers and the awful, nearly absurd spectacle of warfare.