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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

9780198714149_450

Lies, truth, and meaning

Words have meaning. We use them to communicate to one another, and what we communicate depends, in part, on which words we use. What words mean varies from language to language. In many cases, we can communicate the same thing in different languages, but require different words to do so. And conversely, sometimes the very same words communicate different things in different languages.

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9780199669042_450

DIY democracy: Festivals, parks, and fun

Wimbledon has started, the barbeques have been dusted off, the sun is shining, and all our newly elected MPs will soon be leaving Westminster for the summer recess. Domestic politics, to some extent, winds down for July and August but the nation never seems to collapse. Indeed, the summer months offer a quite different focus on, for example, a frenzy of festivals and picnics in the park. But could this more relaxed approach to life teach us something about how we ‘do’ politics? Is politics really taking place at festivals and in the parks? Can politics really be fun?

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9780199391844

Sustainability If

Environmental sustainability includes an ‘if’. The ‘if’ is implied, but invariably left unstated. Sustainability means ‘ability to endure across time’. When used as a matter of physical limitation, no ‘if’ is implied or needed.

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9780190217266 - Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Global Jihadist Movement: What Everyone Needs to Know (WENTK)

Five things to know about Al Qaeda and Bin Laden

Despite Bin Laden’s death in 2011, the extremist group Al Qaeda has since survived and, some argue, continued to thrive. The effort and resources Bin Laden invested into Al Qaeda fortified its foundation, making it difficult, if not impossible, to disband or weaken the group after his death. But how did the terrorist group come to be what it is today?

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9780195396195_450

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland artifacts: [slideshow]

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a children’s story that has captivated the world since its publication in the 1860s. The book is celebrated each year on 4th July, which is also known as “Alice’s Day”, because this is the date that Charles Dodgson (known under the pen name of Lewis Carroll) took 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters on a boating trip in Oxford, and told the story that later evolved into the book that is much-loved across the world.

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9780190230869

The meanings behind the anthems of Fourth of July

On the Fourth of July, Americans will celebrate Independence Day at picnics, concerts, fireworks displays, and gatherings of many kinds, and they almost always sing. “America the Beautiful” will be popular, and so will “Our County, ’Tis of Thee” and of course the national anthem, “Star-Spangled Banner” (despite its notoriously unsingable tune). The words are so familiar that, really, no one pays attention to their meaning. But read them closely and be surprised how the lyrics describe the meaning of America in three very different ways.

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9780199756315

What marriage (equality) means

Like many, I’m still digesting the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision—not just its text, but its personal and social significance. When I wrote Debating Same-Sex Marriage with Maggie Gallagher (Oxford University Press, 2012), only a handful of states permitted same-sex couples to marry. In the three years since, that handful grew to dozens; last Friday’s decision grows it to all 50. One striking thing about the decision itself is the importance of the definitional question: What is marriage?

One striking thing about the decision itself is the importance of the definitional question: What is marriage?

If the state prohibits same-sex couples from marrying, does it thereby interfere with their liberty, as the majority argues, or does it simply decline to grant them certain benefits? If the latter, is it treating them unequally—and thus violating the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment—by privileging certain citizens without sufficient reason for the distinction? The answer depends on what marriage is. If marriage by definition requires (at least) one man and one woman, then same-sex “marriage” is impossible by definition, and one does not treat people unfairly by denying them something impossible.

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scienceinwonderland

Alice down the microscope

Tomorrow Oxford will celebrate Alice’s Day, with mass lobster quadrilles, artwork and performances, croquet, talks, and teapot cocktails, and exhibitions of photographic and scientific equipment. The diverse ways in which Alice and her wonderland are remembered and recast reveal how both heroine and story continue to speak to many different kinds of audience, 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s book was first published.

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9780199328338 - American Women's History: A Very Short Introduction (VSI)

The history of American women [quiz]

Over the past several decades, few fields of American history have grown as dramatically as women’s history. Today, courses in women’s history are standard in most colleges and universities, and historians regularly produce scholarship on women and gender. In 1981, historian Gerda Lerner provocatively challenged, “always ask what did the women do while the men were doing what the textbook tells us was important.”

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podcastlogov1

Entertaining Judgment – Episode 24 – The Oxford Comment

What truly awaits us on the ‘other side?’ From heaven to hell (and everything in between), our conceptions of the afterlife are more likely to be shaped by shows like The Walking Dead than biblical scripture. Speculation about death, it seems, has permeated every aspect of our everyday experience, manifesting itself in lyrics, paintings, and works of literature.

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9780199313396 - Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Going sour: sweet words in slang

Slang—mocking, sneering, casting a jaundiced eye on the world’s proprieties—is by its nature sour. It finds approval hard, congratulation challenging, and affection almost impossible. Yet even if slang’s oldest meaning of “sugar” is money, and the second oldest a euphemism for the most common term for defecation, slang, for all its skepticism, cannot resist the tempting possibilities of “sweet.”

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9780199687756_450

International Kissing Day and DNA

Another ‘Awareness Day’, International Kissing Day, is coming up on July 6. It might not seem obvious but kissing, like most subjects can now be easily linked to the science of DNA. Thus, there could be no more perfect opener for my Double Helix column, given the elegance and beauty of a kiss. To start, there is the obvious biological link between kissing and DNA: propagation of the species. Kissing is not only pleasurable but seems to be a solid way to assess the quality and suitability of a mate.

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Word Origins And How We Know Them

Monthly etymology gleanings for June 2015

Several years ago, I wrote a post on the origin of the word frigate. The reason I embarked on that venture was explained in the post: I had run into what seemed to me a promising conjecture by Vittorio Pisani. As far as I could judge, his note had attracted no attention, and I felt it my duty to rectify the injustice.

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9780195181593

George Washington and an army of liberty

It was March 17, 1776, the mud season in New England. A Continental officer of high rank was guiding his horse through the potholed streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Those who knew horses noticed that he rode with the easy grace of a natural rider, and a complete mastery of himself.

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9780198719090_450

Hearing, but not understanding

Imagine that your hearing sensitivity for pure tones is exquisite: not affected by the kind of damage that occurs through frequent exposure to loud music or other noises. Now imagine that, despite this, you have great problems in understanding speech, even in a quiet environment. This is what occurs if you have a temporal processing disorder

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9780199322190_450

The limits of regulatory cooperation

One of the most striking structural weaknesses uncovered by the euro crisis is the lack of consistent banking regulation and supervision in Europe. Although the European Banking Authority has existed since 2011, its influence is often trumped by national authorities. And many national governments within the European Union do not seem anxious to submit their financial institutions to European-wide regulation and supervision.

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