Behind the curtain: Scandal, tragedy, art and politics at the Bolshoi

By Jamie Saxon

ON THE NIGHT OF JAN. 17, 2013, a hooded assailant approached Sergey Filin, artistic director of the Bolshoi Theater Ballet, and flung battery acid in his face. The crime made international headlines and stunned a community of artists known for elegance rather than violence. Some months later at a gala at the Kremlin, Simon Morrison, a professor of music and an expert on 20th-century Russian and Soviet music and ballet, met Filin, who had undergone numerous operations in Germany and had lost all of his sight in one eye.

“You could still see the scars on his neck from the acid,” Morrison said. “He wore these dark wraparound glasses and had an attendant with him administering drops. It was horrific, deeply macabre.”

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today

In his new book, Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016), Professor of Music Simon Morrison weaves a richly detailed account of the Bolshoi Ballet from its origins in 1776 under Catherine the Great through its glorious history as a cradle for high art, political intrigue and shocking scandal. Book cover courtesy W. W. Norton & Sons.

Morrison’s encounter with Filin inspired him to explore whether the Bolshoi — a symbol of Russia presented to the world as a great cultural icon — had been roiled by these types of scandals in the past, and what that said about the institution historically and politically. He wrote a piece about the attack for the London Review of Books, prompting a literary agent to suggest that he write a book about the incident.

Morrison knew that the story of the attack, despite its tragedy, would not on its own have a lot of traction or depth as a book. He had to get into the history of the organization, explore the archives and talk with other scholars. To learn more about how art and politics intersect at the Bolshoi, Morrison began an intensive three-year research process.

The result is a richly detailed account of the crown jewel of Russian culture, considered an emblem of power by the government since its founding in 1776, according to Morrison. “It is a tale about the kind of negative pressures that lead to the creation of great art,” he said. “One of the morals of the story is that in the Soviet experience there’s something about immense censorship, repression and threat that leads to the production of masterpieces. The Bolshoi has been burned and rebuilt and almost liquidated numerous times, yet has produced some of the world’s greatest ballets, including Swan Lake.”

A member of the Princeton faculty since 1998, Morrison has been diving deep into the Moscow archives — once with mittens on his fingers — for nearly two decades and knows them well. He also knows the art of “gentle pestering” often required to access them. Morrison earned his Ph.D. in music history from Princeton in 1997, and his previous works include Russian Opera and the Symbolist Movement, The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years, and Lina and Serge: The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev, a biography of Prokofiev’s first wife.

His research for Bolshoi Confidential took him into the small theater museum at the Bolshoi and the immense theater and dance archives in the Bakhrushin Museum as well as the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art and the Russian State Archive of Social Political History, which houses the records of the Central Committee (the operating division of the Stalinist government in the Kremlin), among others. He also enlisted the help of freelance archivist Ilya Magin, whom he said was indispensable for researching the Imperial era in the St. Petersburg archives. In addition, Morrison conversed with dance critics and historians in Moscow “who have lived and breathed ballet all their lives.” He even wrangled an invitation to spend the day at the dacha, or country house, of Yuri Grigorovich, ballet master from the Khrushchev-Brezhnev era into the 1990s, now almost 90.

Among the gems Morrison uncovered was an enormous box of bureaucratic correspondence about the search for a real donkey for the ballet Don Quixote, created by the famous choreographer Marius Petipa. During the ballet’s first run in St. Petersburg in 1869-70, a female donkey was borrowed from a nearby vaudeville show. “This poor thing had a heart attack and died on the stage during a rehearsal,” said Morrison, who read the long veterinary report. In Moscow, the Bolshoi used a male donkey from the Moscow Zoo. “This donkey was trotted in with its minder from the zoo to the theater every day for the show and there was a budget for ‘treats in the form of bread and oats’ for the donkey. To the present day in Moscow, they use a donkey in Don Quixote,” he said.

Stalin at the Bolshoi

Professor of Music Simon Morrison explores how the Bolshoi Ballet was used throughout history as a political tool. Pictured is Joseph Stalin (fourth from right), former leader of the Soviet Union, attending the Bolshoi in the mid-1930s. (Photo courtesy of the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art)

Throughout its storied past and to this day, the Bolshoi — the theater and its eponymous ballet company, arguably the finest in the world — has been indelibly controlled by the government — culture and politics, performers and bureaucrats, forever entwined. For example, the iconic Soviet ballet of the late 1920s, The Red Poppy, a tale of Soviet sailors who are detained in China, is about the Stalinist regime’s involvement in the rise of Communist China. “The Central Committee decided when and how this ballet would be produced and performed in 1927,” Morrison said.

The Bolshoi, with more than 2,000 seats, was a kind of political convention center during the Soviet period, Morrison said, and was used for the signing of the Soviet Constitution in 1935. After the Revolution, Vladimir Lenin gave speeches there.

In 2005, at the start of its most recent renovation — which took six years and cost $680 million — the theater was gutted and boxes of ancient materials were found in the basement and attic. Soldiers were brought in to move the materials into the administrative building next door. “There is always that connection between arts and the government,” Morrison said. “The Bolshoi is a national treasure.”

Dancers practicing

Elizaveta Gerdt, one of the few ballerinas who did not leave Russia after the Soviets took over, instructs Bolshoi ballet dancers Maya Plisetskaya and Vladimir Preobrazhensky in 1947. (Photo Courtesy of the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art)

While once accessible to people of all classes with affordable tickets in the Soviet era, today the Bolshoi is no longer “the people’s house,” Morrison said. Tickets can cost as much as $500. “It’s a kind of playground for the petrolruble crowd in that way in which oligarchs now control so much of the culture in Russia, much of it eroded into popularized entertainment.”

But still the Bolshoi Ballet goes on. In late May, Pavel Dmitrichenko, the dancer who was convicted of and imprisoned for organizing the attack against Sergey Filin, was released on bail having served only half his sentence. “He now wants to dance again at the Bolshoi,” Morrison said. “If he does, which I think is 50-50 at this point, he may well be performing in the ballet that he was performing in when he was convicted, which is Ivan the Terrible. If that happens, the perverse ironies pile up because Ivan the Terrible is rumored to have blinded the architects of St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square to ensure that they never again built anything as beautiful. Dmitrichenko’s rehabilitation is so implausible that it is almost guaranteed of happening. Ballet is like that.”

Cosmic background: 51 years ago, an accidental discovery sparked a big bang in astrophysics

SPIDER

The balloon-borne spacecraft, SPIDER, prior to launch. PHOTO BY ZIGMUND KERMISH

ON NEW YEAR’S DAY 2015, A BALLOON-BORNE SPACECRAFT ascended above Antarctica and snapped crisp photos of space, unobscured by the humidity of Earth’s atmosphere. Meanwhile, a telescope located 4,000 miles to the north, in the desolate Chilean desert, scanned roughly half of the visible sky.

By air and by land, physicists have staked out the best vantage points on the globe, not for stargazing, but for peering between the stars at the thermal traces of the Big Bang.

Spread nearly evenly across the universe is a sea of invisible radiation called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) that keeps space a chilly 2.7 degrees above absolute zero. The now-cold CMB, however, is a remnant of a much hotter, more violent cosmic epoch. About 13.8 billion years ago, immediately after the Big Bang, the universe was filled with a hot gas of ionized particles and radiation. As space expanded, the waves of radiation were stretched and diluted into their current low-energy state. The boiling plasma has since cooled and clumped into galaxies, stars, planets and human beings, all drifting through the faint afterimage of the first flash.

The prediction, discovery and study of the CMB 50 years ago comprise a story that is deeply intertwined with several generations of faculty at the Princeton physics department. The story continues today as University researchers probe the microwave background with the goal of understanding the past and future of our cosmos.

The discovery of the background radiation was a serendipitous one. In 1964, Bell Laboratories technicians Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias racked their brains for an explanation of the noisy signal recorded by their radio antenna. When it turned out that the “noise” was actually radiation from the CMB, the two engineers found themselves unexpectedly pulled into the growing field of modern cosmology. The detection of the CMB earned them the Nobel Prize.

Yet the discovery wouldn’t have been possible without the work of physicists at Princeton, 40 miles down the road from Bell Labs. Back then, the branch of science known as cosmology was ignored by most serious researchers. The physics community viewed the origin and development of the universe as dead-end topics, yet a few at Princeton had dared to tackle it.

At the time, P. James Peebles was a physics postdoctoral researcher at Princeton. “When I started working in this field, everyone was saying, ‘There’s no evidence. Why are you studying this?’” said Peebles, who today is the Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus. Instead, the mainstream focus was particle physics, which studies the subatomic particles that make up the universe.

Guyot Hall

David Wilkinson and Peter Roll used this experimental setup on the roof of Guyot Hall, which housed the Department of Geology (now Geosciences), to search for the CMB, at Bob Dicke’s suggestion. Wilkinson is holding a screwdriver, and Roll is almost obscured by the instrument. Photo by Robert Matthews circa 1964-65

Two Princeton professors, John Wheeler and Peebles’ mentor, Robert Dicke, decided that research on the cosmic scale should not be neglected. Since 1915, when Einstein developed the theory of general relativity to explain the behavior of large objects in space, hardly any further research had been done on gravity or the structure of the universe. This was due in part to respect for Einstein’s picture of the cosmos, and in part to the difficulty of devising fruitful experiments. “In the mid-1950s, Bob started a serious program of laboratory and extraterrestrial tests for general relativity,” said Peebles. “John started a school for the theoretical study of the subject. These changes marked a renaissance.”

While everyone else was thinking small, Dicke and Wheeler were thinking big. More specifically, Dicke was thinking about the Big Bang, a concept that dated back to the 1920s, when it was first observed that the universe is expanding. Yet extrapolating the current expansion back in time to a tiny, hot, dense state from which it all began was not a widely accepted leap. Peebles said: “Until the ’60s, the evidence that this is what happened was minimal. It was still just an idea, popular in some circles, detested in others.”

Dicke took the Big Bang theory from guesswork firmly into the realm of empirical physics when he proposed the CMB as evidence for a hot, dense beginning. Peebles recalls how Dicke almost casually set the course for his career and that of his peers: “He persuaded Dave Wilkinson and Peter Roll [Princeton physics faculty members] to build a device called a Dicke radiometer to look for this radiation, and he told me with a wave of his hand, ‘Why don’t you go think about the theory.’ And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

By 1970, the scientific community had accepted that the CMB had the properties that made it undeniable evidence for the Big Bang. Physicists then shifted their attention to more detailed scrutiny of the remnant radiation as a way of deepening our understanding of the birth of the universe, its expansion and its fate.

One area of scrutiny is whether the universe went through a period of rapid expansion, or inflation, after the Big Bang. To look for signs of inflation and to map the CMB in our region of space, NASA in partnership with Princeton and other universities launched the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite, named postmortem in honor of Wilkinson’s contribution to experimental cosmology.

The inflationary model predicts a particular pattern to the fluctuations of the CMB. When WMAP released its first set of results in 2003, they neatly matched the predictions of inflation. Among the many Princeton researchers who played significant roles in WMAP were Lyman Page, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Physics; Norman Jarosik, senior research physicist; and David Spergel, the Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy on the Class of 1897 Foundation. Thanks to WMAP, Spergel said, “We have a coherent cosmological model that fits all the data.”

Since then, several other projects, including most recently the European Space Agency’s Planck space telescope, have mapped the CMB and provided evidence for inflation. But scientists are looking for additional evidence in the form of long undulations — called gravitational waves — stretching across the fabric of space. The remnants of these waves could be detected as a faint pattern in the CMB known as B-mode polarization. A reported detection of gravitational waves earlier this year from another project, BICEP2, created a stir in the astrophysics community but turned out to be an artifact of interstellar dust.

Detecting the remnants of gravitational waves is one of the goals of the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT), an international project funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Princeton’s Suzanne Staggs, the Henry DeWolf Smyth Professor of Physics. The team includes Lyman Page, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics; Spergel, the Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy on the Class of 1897 Foundation; and many colleagues at collaborating institutions.

The data collected during the flight of the balloon-borne SPIDER mission in Antarctica — funded by NASA, the National Science Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; and led by Assistant Professor of Physics William Jones — could also reveal evidence of these waves in the CMB.

The search for gravitational waves is just one of the ways in which the CMB provides opportunities for studying the early universe. The ACT collaboration is also looking for evidence of dark energy, a mysterious force that is speeding up the expansion of the universe, and answers to even bigger questions about the cosmological model. It is clear that the CMB is an important tool for the foreseeable future of cosmology. However faint, it illuminates the distant past, which in turn illuminates the future.

–By Takim Williams

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Life among strangers: Exile in the Middle Ages

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IN THE 1300s, A ROVING GANG OF THUGS went on a crime spree in France that included robbery, homicide and burial — possibly alive — of a body in a public privy. One of the gang’s members was Philip “Little Phil” Cavillon, an Englishman who’d been sentenced to exile in France.

The lives of Little Phil and other exiled English subjects in the late Middle Ages are the focus of a new book by historian William Chester Jordan, the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History. By studying English judicial documents, petitions to the king for pardon and surviving French records, Jordan pieced together the stories of these forsaken individuals in the scholarly work From England to France: Felony and Exile in the High Middle Ages (2015, Princeton University Press).

Not all of the exiles were murderers, but most had committed a serious crime, such as arson or theft, and then sought refuge in a church where they confessed their sins. Protected from execution by the church, the offenders were condemned to exile.

Between 1180 and 1350, thousands of men and the occasional woman went into exile, or “abjured the realm,” boarding ships in the port of Dover and arriving, often penniless and desperate, in the village of Wissant in a Dutch-speaking region of France. Some sought work as farm laborers, servants or prostitutes, while others, like Little Phil, resumed their lawless behaviors.

Jordan’s stories of these exiles bring to life what it was like to live at the height of the Middle Ages, an era that was prosperous by medieval standards but was close enough to subsistence level that theft was a threat to survival and punishable by death.

The practice of sentencing of criminals to exile probably arose as a backlash to the harsh punishments — notably hanging — allowed by medieval English law, Jordan said, drawing comparisons to the use of exile by France, which transferred felons to French Guiana, and Russia, which shipped political prisoners to Siberia.

“When society realizes that too many people are being executed,” Jordan said, “you begin to see the rise of alternatives such as exile, which itself contributed to many deaths, but far out of sight of the authorities.”

–By Catherine Zandonella

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Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 – 1928

StalinIt has the quality of myth: a poor cobbler’s son, a seminarian from an oppressed outer province of the Russian empire, reinvents himself as a top leader in a band of revolutionary zealots. He later embarks upon the greatest gamble of his political life and the largest program of social reengineering ever attempted: the collectivization of all agriculture and industry across one-sixth of the Earth.

In Stalin, Stephen Kotkin, Princeton’s John P. Birkelund ’52 Professor in History and International Affairs, offers a biography that, at long last, is equal to this shrewd, sociopathic, charismatic dictator in all his dimensions. Kotkin rejects the inherited wisdom about Stalin’s psychological makeup, showing us instead how Stalin’s near paranoia was fundamentally political, and closely tracks the Bolshevik revolution’s structural paranoia, the predicament of a Communist regime in an overwhelmingly capitalist world, surrounded and penetrated by enemies. At the same time, Kotkin demonstrates the impossibility of understanding Stalin’s momentous decisions outside of the context of the tragic history of imperial Russia.

Found in translation: Scholar locates source of 18th-century Quran

Alexander Bevilacqua

Graduate student Alexander Bevilacqua with George Sale’s 1734 edition of the Quran, a highly influential English translation, in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton’s Firestone Library. Bevilacqua rediscovered the source material for Sale’s translation in a London archive. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In a London archive, Alexander Bevilacqua found it: a medieval copy of the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Its aging pages, Bevilacqua knew, contained the original source for a highly influential 18th-century English translation of the Quran by George Sale.

Bevilacqua had embarked on a quest to find out how Sale, a self-taught Arabic speaker and amateur scholar in England, came to write such an enduring and unprejudiced translation in 1734, at a time when many Europeans viewed Islam with distrust.

A Ph.D. candidate in history, and fluent in five languages, Bevilacqua studies the ways in which cultures exchange ideas across the ages. His inspiration comes from growing up in Italy, surrounded by Roman ruins and the Musliminfluenced architecture of nearby Spain.

In this interview, Bevilacqua explains the importance of his finding.

Arabic manuscript

Bevilacqua discovered this medieval Arabic manuscript of the Quran, which served as a basis for George Sale’s English translation, in the London Metropolitan Archive. Sale borrowed this copy from the Dutch Church in 1733. (Reproduced with permission of the trustees, Nederlandse Kerk Austin Friars, London)

Why was George Sale’s English version of the Quran so influential?

Prior to his version, the best information about Islam was available in Latin. Sale included a lengthy preface in which he explained many historical facts about Islam. His efforts undercut the prejudicial notions about Islam that had circulated since medieval times. Sale’s translation remained the standard English version into the 20th century.

How did you come to discover the Arabic manuscript that Sale used?

Sale tells us in his preface that he employed a commentary written by a medieval Arabic scholar named Baydawi, which he had borrowed from the Dutch Church library in London. According to church records, the manuscript was donated in 1633 by a Dutch trader who had purchased it in Istanbul. The book sat in the library for 100 years until Sale borrowed it. I found out that the Dutch Church’s collection had been transferred to the London Metropolitan Archive, which houses city records. Its custodians didn’t quite realize they possessed such a precious book. The first time I visited, I was able to touch it, but after I explained its significance, I was asked to wear gloves.

What influence did the manuscript have on Sale’s translation?

Sale used particular words and phrases that were my smoking gun to show that he was working from this particular copy of the Quran rather than from existing European translations. Sale’s reliance on the commentary that accompanies the text shows us that Europeans of the time wanted to know how Muslims read and understood the Quran.

English version

An edition of George Sale’s translation of the Quran is held in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton’s Firestone Library. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

What have you learned about historical research?

One thing I’ve learned is that knowledge is so often produced in collaboration, or rather, by the efforts of multiple people, sometimes in the same time and place and sometimes over the centuries in different places. Sale consulted both European and Arabic authorities. This kind of discovery also reminds me how much remains to be learned about our past.

“Alex’s finding adds to our understanding of the 18th-century European mind and its openness to using tools from the Arab tradition to understand the Quran,” said Anthony Grafton, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History. Bevilacqua’s advisers are Grafton and Michael Cook, the Class of 1943 University Professor of Near Eastern Studies.

Bevilacqua’s research was funded by the American Historical Association, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the Society for French Historical Studies. His article on George Sale’s translation of the Quran, an edition of which is held in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton’s Firestone Library, will appear in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes in November 2013.

–By Catherine Zandonella

Three win Guggenheim Fellowships

D. Graham Burnett

D. Graham Burnett (Photo by D. Hong)

Three professors have received 2013 Guggenheim Fellowships for demonstrated excellence in scholarship or creative work.

D. Graham Burnett, professor of history; Deana Lawson, lecturer in visual arts and the Lewis Center for the Arts; and Colson Whitehead, lecturer in creative writing and the Lewis Center for the Arts, were selected by a network of former Guggenheim Fellows to receive grants that would provide them with the ability to work with significant creative freedom for six months to one year.

Deana Lawson

Deana Lawson, D. Graham Burnett, and Colson Whitehead win Guggenheim Fellowships (Photo by Dru Donovan)

Burnett focuses on the history of earth and oceanic science from the 17th through the 20th centuries. He has written about changing human conceptions of nature, art and technology, and serves as an editor at the Brooklyn-based art magazine Cabinet.

Lawson’s work uses photography to approach personal and social histories, particularly in black culture. Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries throughout New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta, including the Museum of Modern Art, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Print Center and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. She has also displayed her photographs in the Helene Bailly Gallery in Paris and the KIT Museum in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead (Photo courtesy of Colson Whitehead)

Whitehead’s novel John Henry Days was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the Los Angeles Times Fiction Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and his collection of essays The Colossus of New York was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Whitehead has received a MacArthur Fellowship and a Whiting Writers Award.

William G. Bowen and Natalie Davis receive National Humanities Medal

William Bowen (Photo by David Lubarsky)

William Bowen (Photo by David Lubarsky)

At a White House ceremony, William G. Bowen, Princeton’s 17th president, and Natalie Zemon Davis, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Emerita, were awarded the National Humanities Medal for 2012. The medal recognizes 12 individuals for their commitment to deepening the nation’s appreciation of, as well as access to, resources in the humanities.

The National Endowment for the Humanities nominated Bowen, a professor of economics and public affairs, emeritus, for the award in recognition of his contributions to higher education and economics research in America. According to the official citation for the medal, Bowen has “used his leadership to put theories into practice and strive for new heights of academic excellence.” Bowen served as Princeton University president from 1972 to 1988.

Natalie Zemon Davis

Natalie Zemon Davis (Photo by Michael van Leur)

Davis was honored for insights into historical research, which has allowed the public to engage with history and better understand what life might have looked like for previous generations. Davis, who focuses on the social and cultural history of early modern Europe, has worked as a consultant and scriptwriter for the 1982 film Le retour de Martin Guerre, which led to the publication of her book on historical events in France in the 16th century, The Return of Martin Guerre.

360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story by Sean Wilentz

360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story

Professor Sean Wilentz tells the story of Columbia Records’ rich history and the creation of some of the greatest albums ever made.

For 125 years, Columbia Records has remained one of the most vibrant and storied names in prerecorded sound, nurturing the careers of legends such as Bessie Smith, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé and many more.

Written by Sean Wilentz, Princeton’s George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History, 360 Sound tells the story of the label’s rich history as it interweaves threads of technical and social change with the creation of some of the greatest albums ever made. The lavishly illustrated book contains over 300 rare and revealing images from the Columbia archives. Wilentz is a preeminent historian whose work spans music, politics and the arts.

 

Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2012 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher.)

Daniel Rodgers Age of Fracture

Rodgers cover

(Cover image courtesy of the publisher)

Daniel Rodgers, Princeton’s Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, offers a powerful reinterpretation of the ways in which the decades surrounding the 1980s changed America in his Bancroft Prize-winning book. Through a contagion of visions and metaphors, on both the intellectual right and the intellectual left, earlier notions of history and society that stressed solidity, collective institutions and social circumstances gave way to a more individualized human nature that emphasized choice, agency, performance and desire.

(Harvard University Press, 2011)

 

Sheldon Garon – Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves

(Cover image courtesy of the publisher)

(Cover image courtesy of the publisher)

How important are government policies and institutions in encouraging savings?

Very important. My book shows that people tend to save more when they are offered accessible, convenient and safe savings institutions. In the United States today, some 25 percent of lower-income households are “unbanked” — often because our banks charge them hefty fees and require high minimum balances.

What’s the relationship between policy initiatives and cultural attitudes?

While many love to talk about Japanese, Korean or German culture as being innately thrifty, I show how the various cultures of saving have been shaped and reshaped by states and institutions. “Moral suasion” campaigns, such as Americans and citizens of other countries experienced during the two World Wars, also have been influential in inculcating enduring habits of saving. Indeed, East Asian and European nations went beyond the United States in developing nationwide savings campaigns in peacetime as well.

The current economic situation in the United States and other countries puts into sharp relief the perils of “living beyond our means.” What would need to change for these dangers to be less severe in the future?

My book concludes with several policy recommendations. First, improving small savers’ access to banks. Second, encouraging banks to offer small savers’ accounts. Then, possibly reviving postal savings both to improve access and save the U.S. Postal Service, as well as promoting youth saving in schools and banks, and revising tax laws to encourage low- and middleincome individuals to build assets. Then, we need better regulation of predatory lending, and, finally, we need to promote universal access to savings accounts in terms of democracy and “financial inclusion.”

Sheldon Garon is Princeton’s Nissan Professor in Japanese Studies and professor of history and East Asian studies.

Princeton University Press, 2011