Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A with ‘Ice Bear’ author Michael Engelhard

The following interview originally appeared in the Smithsonian magazine newsletter and is adapted and used with permission. The product of meticulous research, Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon by Michael Engelhard traces and illuminates over 8,000 years of history between polar bears and humans. With more than 160 color illustrations, Engelhard brings into focus the powerful and elusive White Bear—and explains how and why it endures as a source of wonder, terror, and fascination.


What new angle does your book bring out about polar bears?

I am proud to say that Ice Bear is the only book available in any language that focuses entirely on the cultural aspects of polar bears—on 8,000 years of history shared between them and us.

Why have polar bears captured the human imagination?

For a number of reasons: From their physique to their behavior, they resemble us in many ways. They are big, charismatic top predators living in one of Earth’s most unforgiving environments. They are symbolic of the Arctic, one of the last frontiers of the human imagination. Lastly, we’ve long associated whiteness in animals with certain qualities: the rare, the pure, or the sacred.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about the polar bears?

That they’re ruthless “man killers.” I think they are just getting a bad rap, often getting in trouble for what only amounts to curiosity—a trait that, ironically, makes them survivors in a sparse environment. The statistics show that brown bears kill and maul more people per year than polar bears do. Of course their smaller numbers and remoteness also play a role there. Like most creatures, polar bears just want to eat, to keep living, and to protect their young.

"The bear gripped them both." Art by Adrien Marie and Barbant from "Le Docteur Ox" by Jules Verne (1874).

“The bear gripped them both.” Art by Adrien Marie and Barbant from “Le Docteur Ox” by Jules Verne (1874).

Which individual story or fact were you most surprised to uncover?

It’s hard to choose. But I enjoyed learning about a scheme to train polar bears to pull Amundsen’s sleds to the pole. It involved the German circus entrepreneur and animal trader Carl Hagenbeck, who also revolutionized zoo design. Also, the early medieval commerce in Greenlandic polar bear cubs, which Norse settlers traded to European royalty, for their menageries.

How has writing the book changed the way you see polar bears?

I only now realize the degree to which they have been instrumentalized, how we always have molded them to fit our agendas. With all the symbolic ballast and history, it is hard, perhaps even impossible, to see them objectively. That’s because hardly any other animal has been burdened more with our projections. It’s as if their whiteness and remoteness invited that.


fairbanks-art-association-reading_10-7-2016

Photo by Melissa Guy.

Michael Engelhard works as a wilderness guide in Arctic Alaska and holds an MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His books include Where the Rain Children Sleep: A Sacred Geography of the Colorado Plateau, the anthology Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North, and a recent essay collection, American Wild: Explorations from the Grand Canyon to the Arctic Ocean. His writing has also appeared in Sierra, Outside, Audubon, National Wildlife, National Parks, High Country News, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Q&A with ‘The Deepest Roots’ author Kathleen Alcalá

In The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island, Kathleen Alcalá combines memoir, historical records, and powerful interviews in a charming and timely book that uses Bainbridge Island as a case study for thinking about our relationships with the land and each other. Alcalá meets Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II, and learns the unique histories of the blended Filipino and Native American community, the fishing practices of the descendants of Croatian immigrants, and the Suquamish elder who shares with her the food legacy of the island itself. We spoke with Alcalá about the book, publishing this fall.

Join us for these events:

October 13 at 7:30 p.m. // Eagle Harbor Book Co., Bainbridge Island Museum of Art auditorium, Bainbridge Island, WA

October 19 at 7:30 p.m. // University Book Store, University District

October 20 at 7 p.m. // Third Place Books-Lake Forest Park

October 27 at 7 p.m. // Hispanic Roundtable of South Sound at South Puget Sound Community College, Latino Youth Summit, Olympia, WA

November 2 at 5:30 p.m. // The Butcher’s Table, “50 Minutes with…” speaker series with University Book Store (2121 Westlake Ave., Seattle)

November 3 at 7 p.m.  // Village Books, Bellingham

November 10 at 6:30 p.m. // Book Larder, Fremont

November 19 from 3-5 p.m. // Seattle7 Holiday Bookfest, Phinney Ridge

December 2 at 7 p.m. // Tattered Cover Book Store, Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO

January 10 at 7 p.m. // Elliott Bay Book Company, Capitol Hill

What inspired you to write The Deepest Roots?

Kathleen Alcalá: In 2010, I wrote an essay about two couples I knew who left other jobs to go into farming. It turned out, each had a fascinating story and philosophy of life to go with that decision. Readers reacted so strongly, I realized I had touched on something fundamental, our relationship to the land, and how people yearn to strengthen that relationship. As a writer of historical, family-based fiction and essays, this was a topic about which I knew zilch. I thought. Then I realized that this was the basis of that family history: our relationship to the land. Understanding this is so important to our survival, and the survival of this island in particular, that I decided to pursue the topic with further interviews and research.

What would you have been if not a writer?

KA: Perhaps an architect, if I had the skills. I am a very visual thinker. I’m very interested in how people relate to their environment through built, or human-made intervention. Architecture is a form of shelter, but how close or how distant it keeps us from nature fascinates me. What the wealthy think they need versus what 90% of the world lives with is also interesting to me, in terms of the built environment. As resources become scarce, or we realize how toxic many of them are, we need to rethink how and where we live and build, so I guess there is some overlap here.

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Q&A with ‘Indian Blood’ author Andrew J. Jolivette

In his new book Indian Blood: HIV & Colonial Trauma in San Francisco’s Two-Spirit Community, Andrew J. Jolivette examines the correlation between mixed-race identity and HIV/AIDS among Native American gay men and transgendered people, and provides an analysis of the emerging and often contested LGBTQ “two-spirit” identification as it relates to public health and mixed-race identity.

Prior to contact with European settlers, most Native American tribes held their two-spirit members in high esteem, even considering them spiritually advanced. However, after contact—and religious conversion—attitudes changed and social and cultural support networks were ruptured. This discrimination led to a breakdown in traditional values, beliefs, and practices, which in turn pushed many two-spirit members to participate in high-risk behaviors. The result is a disproportionate number of two-spirit members who currently test positive for HIV.

Using surveys, focus groups, and community discussions to examine the experiences of HIV-positive members of San Francisco’s two-spirit community, Indian Blood provides an innovative approach to understanding how colonization continues to affect American Indian communities and opens a series of crucial dialogues in the fields of Native American studies, public health, queer studies, and critical mixed-race studies.

We spoke with Jolivette about his book, published this spring.

What inspired you to get into your field?

Andrew J. Jolivette: American Indian studies is in my blood. I felt I had a commitment and a responsibility to give back to my community and I also felt that it was important that more Native perspectives be centered and not just represented or driven by outsiders.

What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about Native American studies and what you do?

AJJ: I think the biggest misunderstanding about the field of Native American studies is that it limits students from working in any field or area that they want and I would also have to say the general sentiment that Native peoples don’t exist in great numbers. What about the millions of people we call Latino or African American or European American—many of them are also Native and this book is also about recognizing how Indigenous peoples of mixed descent are missed in areas like public health because of invisibility and colonial trauma.

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Q&A with ‘Power Interrupted’ author Sylvanna M. Falcón

March 8 is International Women’s Day (#IWD2016)—a global day celebrating the significant achievements of women and a reminder that urgent action is still needed to accelerate gender parity.

This International Women’s Day, we are taking the opportunity to highlight a new book on transnational feminist and antiracist activism from our Decolonizing Feminisms series. In Power Interrupted: Antiracist and Feminist Activism inside the United Nations, Sylvanna M. Falcón redirects the conversation about UN-based feminist activism to consider gender and race together. As the primary international institution that engages the issue of human rights, the United Nations has sponsored three World Conferences Against Racism (WCARs) and has been immersed in the debate around issues of racism for the past 50 years. The most recent, the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, presented race and gender intersectionally in certain contexts, thanks largely to the concurrent NGO Forum Against Racism, which gave activists, advocates, and concerned citizens a space in which thousands could intensely debate and discuss the ongoing global challenges of racial discrimination.

The goal of antiracist feminists, particularly feminists of color from the United States and Canada and feminists from Mexico and Peru, was to expand the discussion of racism at the UN level, especially because the UN had not explicitly addressed the issue of racism on a global level since the 1983 WCAR.

Using a combination of interviews, participant observation, and extensive archival data, Falcón situates contemporary antiracist feminist organizing from the Americas alongside a critical historical reading of the UN and its agenda against racism. Her analysis of UN antiracism spaces, in particular the 2001 WCAR, considers how an intersectionality approach broadened opportunities for feminist organizing at the global level. The Durban conference gave feminist activists a pivotal opportunity to expand the debate about the ongoing challenges of global racism, which had largely privileged men’s experiences with racial injustice. When including the activist engagements and experiential knowledge of these antiracist feminist communities, the political significance of human rights becomes evident.

We spoke with Falcón about her book, publishing this spring.

Q: What inspired you to get into your field?

Sylvanna M. Falcón: Right after college graduation, I had the opportunity to attend the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. Meeting feminist activists from all over the world was an inspirational and life-changing experience. I then moved to San Francisco and became associated with a youth-based human rights group and started to work at the Family Violence Prevention Fund (now called Futures Without Violence). Taken together—the Beijing conference and my time in San Francisco—I learned in an applied way about human rights as an organizing framework and method, about the challenges and promise of community organizing, and about the importance of public policy. Sociology as a field gave me both the flexibility and the structure I needed to investigate the questions I wanted to ask as part of graduate study. I also have a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies and this interdisciplinary field provided me with the methods, models, and tools to think about scholar-activism. Continue reading

Q&A with ‘Humanizing the Sacred’ author Azza Basarudin

In her new book Humanizing the Sacred: Sisters in Islam and the Struggle for Gender Justice in Malaysia, Azza Basarudin shows how the Malay Sunni women activists of the Sisters of Islam (SIS), a nongovernmental organization promoting justice and equality, are working to reform Islamic law and public policies to address key issues of gender justice in Southeast Asia and beyond.

By weaving together thoughtful interviews and histories of the lives of SIS members, feminist interpretations of Islamic texts, and Malaysian cultural politics, Basarudin ties into global discussions about how women in communities of Muslims are revitalizing Islam by linking interpretation of religious ideas to the protection of rights and freedoms.

We spoke with Basarudin about the book, published this fall in the new Decolonizing Feminisms: Antiracist and Transnational Praxis series.

Q: What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing Humanizing the Sacred to life?

Azza Basarudin: The women activists I researched have dedicated their lives to struggling for self-determination and transforming the ways that Islam is understood and practiced in their community, which is no small feat given the historical marginalization of women from the processes of producing and transmitting Islamic knowledge. The biggest challenge was conveying the passion and dedication of these women through an analytical lens that centralizes gender and power politics and does justice to their activism without subscribing to the politics of Muslim exceptionalism. I wanted the women activists to come alive in the book and to have their words tell the stories of their intimate lives and professional commitments but at the same time be very clear that it is a combination of their class and educational background, Malaysian cultural politics, the historical tradition of Southeast Asian Islam, and Malay culture that has enabled (and constrained) their activism.

Q: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

AB: The book’s main contribution is that it highlights how women’s activism destabilizes the historical monopoly of textual interpretation in Malaysia and, consequently, the state’s authority to define and legislate Islam. Islam, in this context, becomes a central site for feminist dissent and political activism. The choice that the women activists made to study Islam rather than to reject it shows the depth of their passion for their religion and the strength of their conviction. More importantly, their refusal to surrender Islam to patriarchal interpretations that have compromised the rights of Muslim women has produced significant implications for themselves, their families and society, as well as the Islamic tradition itself.

Q: Who do you see as the audience?

AB: Specialists and non-specialists alike will find Humanizing the Sacred highly accessible. It can be utilized in undergraduate courses and graduate seminars in Women and Gender Studies, Asian Studies, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Sociology, and Area Studies. It is ideally suited to teach either specifically about Islam and gender, women’s activism, social justice, religion and politics, Muslim societies and cultures, and ethnographic encounters, or more generally about gender and religion, transnational feminisms, anthropology of Southeast Asia, law, and human rights.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

AB: I hope readers will be more aware of the diverse interpretations of Islam and the complex realities of Muslim lives. There is no monolithic interpretation of Islam or homogenous Muslim identity. Muslim practices are historically and contextually situated. At the same time, it is important to avoid understanding Islam as an overwhelming and predetermined force in the lives of Muslims. This is because Islam is one of many factors (e.g., gender, sexuality, class, nationality) that intersect to inform people’s existence.

More importantly, I want to normalize the knowledge that women in communities of Muslims are active interpreters of the faith and agents of social transformation. If someone reads this book and rethinks their savior complex, I have done a small part in dismantling stereotypes and caricatures of Islam and Muslims. At this juncture in our history, rife with Islamophobia and xenophobia, there is nothing more dangerous than willful ignorance, misinformation, and stereotypes.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

AB: I wanted a title that conveyed the foundation of women’s activism, that is, how they humanize various aspects of Islamic knowledge that have been taken for granted as divine and therefore considered infallible and outside the scope of human comprehension. “Humanizing the Sacred” seems to capture what the book is about.

Q: What are you reading right now?

AB: I am reading My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution by Diana Darke. It’s a poignant story of Syria and its people by a woman who purchased and restored an Ottoman-era courtyard house in a mixed Sunni-Shia quarter of the Old City of Damascus. Darke skillfully weaves together Syria’s architectural and turbulent political history and sectarian conflicts to humanize the daily struggles of ordinary Syrians living under extraordinary circumstances. Her personal connections and interactions with Syrians provide much-needed insight into the human condition of the conflict: the resilience of citizens struggling to survive in spite of the relentless violence that has engulfed their lives, fragmented their families and communities, and destroyed precious historical sites.

Q: What would you have been if not an academic?

AB: I would most probably been an interior decorator, landscape designer, or travel writer.

Q: What is your next project?

AB: I am working on a collaborative project that examines the gendered and racial dimensions of the War on Terror in Southern California. This project focuses on a local organization of professional Muslim women that is collaborating closely with local law and federal enforcement agencies as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s new “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) initiative. I am interested in how the state identifies Muslim women as key actors in “counter-terrorism/counter-radicalization” programs and how it deploys the politics of American exceptionalism to enfold Muslim women as surveillance allies.

Q&A with ‘Enduring Conviction’ author Lorraine K. Bannai

In her new book Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice, Lorraine K. Bannai brings an insider’s knowledge to the famous legal case of Fred T. Korematsu, a young man who decided to resist F.D.R.’s Executive Order 9066, which provided authority for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. His was initially the case of a young man following his heart: he wanted to remain in California with his Italian American fiancée. However, he quickly came to realize that it was more than just a personal choice; it was a matter of basic human rights.

After refusing to leave for incarceration when ordered, Korematsu was eventually arrested and convicted of a federal crime before being confined at Topaz, Utah.

He appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court, which upheld the wartime orders in 1944. Forty years later, a team of young attorneys resurrected Korematsu’s case. This time, Korematsu prevailed and his conviction was overturned, helping to pave the way for Japanese American redress.

Bannai, who was a young attorney on the legal team that represented Korematsu in reopening his case in the 1980s, combines her experiences of working on the case with extensive archival research and first-person interviews. She uncovers the inspiring story of a humble, soft-spoken man who fought tirelessly against human rights abuses long after he was exonerated. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We spoke with Bannai about her book, published this fall.

Join us for the launch event with Lorraine K. Bannai, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, and Karen Korematsu:

Thursday, November 19, 4:30-6:30 p.m. // Seattle University, Sullivan Hall, Room C-5

Why did you want to put together this book?

Lorraine K. Bannai: There are several reasons. First and foremost, I wanted others to know Fred’s story. Fred was a 22-year-old welder in Oakland, California, at the time the government ordered Japanese Americans removed from the West Coast. He chose not to obey and chose instead to remain with the woman he loved in the area that was, and had always been, his home. For that, he was convicted of a federal crime. In 1944, in one the most infamous cases in its history, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and, in doing so, the removal of over 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry to desolate camps in the interior United States. Forty years later, on proof that the wartime government had lied to the Supreme Court, Fred reopened his case and gained vacation of his conviction; in related proceedings, two other wartime resisters, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, gained vacation of their convictions, as well. Fred then went on to speak nationally about the constant need to be vigilant to protect civil rights, especially during times of fear. Many people know of Fred’s case; it’s taught in most every law school Constitutional Law class in the country. I wanted to share the story of the good man behind the case and his commitment to protecting others from the type of ignorance and scapegoating that resulted in the wartime Japanese American incarceration.

Further, I wanted to use Fred’s story to illuminate other themes. Fred’s story is also one about the Japanese American community, or at least my experience of the community. I am a third generation Japanese American—a sansei. My grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles were incarcerated at Manzanar in the Mojave Desert. In examining Fred’s life, I hoped to share the experience of this community, an experience unfortunately not unlike the experience of many immigrant communities of color—met by hostility, treated as suspicious and forever foreign. And I hoped to show that, while Japanese Americans share, in many respects, a common culture and historical experience, they are a community of diverse individuals who had multiple different responses to their incarceration—obedience, fear, hurt, anger, defiance—each response unique and understandable.

In addition, as a lawyer, I wanted to use Fred’s story as a case study about the law and legal system—how oftentimes law and justice aren’t the same thing; the need for government officials and the courts to protect the most vulnerable among us; our own roles and responsibilities as citizens to speak out against injustice; and what happens when we fail to live up to our national ideals. The incarceration of Japanese Americans was called for by civic organizations, officials at every level of government, and the popular media. Few spoke out against it. Most who called for the incarceration believed they were acting the best interests of the country. But we now know that the incarceration was an egregious violation of civil liberties.

At the same time Fred’s case can teach us about the ways in which the legal system and its actors can fail us, it also shows examples of ways in which they can be instruments of justice and the promotion of healing. I was privileged to serve on Fred’s legal team in reopening his case. Working with that team of committed, talented lawyers was one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences I’ve had in my career.

Q: Describe the process of putting together Enduring Conviction.

LKB: It was a long process. I don’t know if it was unusually long, but it certainly seems like it was! It had been simmering in my mind for a number of years, but did not have room to grow until my home institution, Seattle University School of Law, provided me sabbatical time to really dig in. Much of the work involved research in various depositories, including the national archives, libraries, museums, and the like. For example, it was amazing to see the 1942 handwritten entry checking Fred into the San Leandro Jail, in a log now kept by the San Leandro History Museum, as well as the photos of Fred’s parents in his mother’s immigration file at the National Archives in San Bruno. And it was moving to see the wartime letters between Fred and his ACLU legal advocate Ernest Besig at the California Historical Society in San Francisco. But most meaningful were the dozens of interviews I was able to conduct with people who knew Fred—his wife, Kathryn; his children, Karen and Ken; and other members of his family, his friends and acquaintances, and members of his legal team. There were a lot of trips to the Bay Area to do this work. And there were lots of hours at my dining table surrounded by books and papers. It’s nice to now have use of my dining table again.

Q: Who do you see as the audience for your book?

LKB: There are a number of books about Fred for younger audiences. I wrote this book for a college-age/adult audience. I hope that this book will reach readers interested in the Japanese American incarceration, American history, American ethnic studies, Asian American studies, civil rights, race and the law, constitutional law, and legal history. I am most hopeful, however, that this book reaches a general audience interested in the story of someone who simply took a stand against injustice, despite what others thought. In the end, I think that Fred speaks to each us and tells us that we each have both the responsibility and ability to help this country live up to its ideals, which includes vigilance in protecting the marginalized.

Q: Your book tells such a powerful and important story. How did you come up with the title?

LKB: Perhaps like many authors, I struggled to come up with a title that I felt really captured what this book was about (see above—I was trying to do a lot with this book). I spoke with friends and colleagues and just couldn’t seem to come up with anything that seemed quite right. For example, I didn’t want anything along the lines of “Justice Won,” because, while Fred won the vacation of his conviction, we, as a nation, are a long way from achieving justice of the type Fred sought, particularly racial justice.

I was very lucky to have a small, trusted group who read the manuscript (numerous times) and gave me great feedback from diverse points of view. One of these individuals was Uncle Sam Eng, a very wise, very smart, very well-read, and very exacting 80-year-old. He called me one day and said, “I have a title.” And it’s a great one, I think. I’m eternally grateful to Uncle Sam.

Q&A with ‘Too High and Too Steep’ author David B. Williams

TooHigh-WilliamsIn his new book Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, David B. Williams tells an engaging story about the radical ways in which the leaders and inhabitants of Seattle have altered the landscape to better accommodate their visions for the city. Williams uses his science and nature writing background, extensive research and interviews, and deep knowledge of Seattle to illuminate the real physical challenges and sometimes rather startling hubris of these large-scale transformations: the altering of the original shoreline and lowering of the inconvenient bluffs; the filling in of the vast tideflats at the mouth of the Duwamish to make new, flat land; the creation of the ship canal to link Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington; and the removal of millions of cubic yards of earth in order to lower Denny Hill at the north end of downtown. He also helps readers connect the landscape of today with the landscape of the past and find the visible traces of the ways the topography has been changed. Senior acquisitions editor Regan Huff spoke with Williams about the book, published this fall.

Join us for these events:

Saturday, October 10, 2:00 p.m. // Seattle Public Library with Elliott Bay Book Company

Thursday, November 12, 7:00 p.m. // Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park

Regan Huff: Topographic change is an unusual subject. What led you to it?

David B. Williams: I have long been interested in Seattle and its landscape. In particular I am intrigued by how our geologic past has influenced and continues to influence the city in many ways, from where we build to how we move through the landscape to why Seattle even came into existence. Several years ago I got involved with The Waterlines Project, a Burke Museum endeavor that focuses on Seattle history through an examination of its shorelines. Working with them, I realized that the incredible story of topographic change—of regrades, tideflat filling, and waterway replumbing—had never been told in a detailed, accessible manner. As I dug deeper into the topic, I became more and more fascinated with the stories, people, and engineering and how they provided an intriguing way to tell a history of Seattle.

Q: Do you see any relationships between the subject matter of your book and the current much-publicized woes of Seattle’s urban tunnel project?

David B. Williams: Yes, on several levels. The first is that the problems we’ve had with groundwater and sinking buildings are due precisely to our history of altering the landscape. If the city were built on bedrock instead of a stew of fill, including sand, coal, old lumber, piles, and cinders, those concerns would not exist. Hard rock does not have the hydrology and building stability issues that are creating our present-day problems.

Author David Williams. Photo by Andrew Croneberger.

Author David B. Williams. Photo by Andrew Croneberger.

The second relationship has to do with how we view landscape. I think that altering our topography has become part of our collective DNA. So many projects took place in the past that it created the mentality that large scale engineering was the only way to deal with our challenging topography. This is certainly what we are seeing with the new tunnel, the removal of the Viaduct, and the new seawall. Each is a response to the landscape, both natural and human created.

Q: You have said that one aim of your book is to help Seattle readers become better observers of their city; in other contexts you’ve expressed a lot of enthusiasm for urban walks and urban exploration. Why do you think this is important?

David B. Williams: On the most basic level, getting out and exploring the city and paying attention to what one sees simply makes this a more interesting place to live. It allows one to make connections between disparate areas and ideas and also promotes a stronger connection to the place itself. By discovering these stories of the land and people, we have richer and I would argue happier lives. Research even shows that such connections make us healthier, more creative, and smarter.

In addition, by getting to know the city more intimately, we are better able to understand the issues it faces, whether it’s salmon in our streams, troubles with tunnels, or too many geese. For instance, consider the recent news about sinking buildings. Walk around Pioneer Square and you cannot help but notice that there is something odd underfoot. Tilting sidewalks, buckling streets, and below grade sinking foundations all point to the fact that the city has been settling long before Bertha. That does not mean that the tunnel is not problematic, but that it is not the lone issue challenging the engineers.

Q: Did you come away from your research admiring or questioning the hubris of Seattle’s past efforts to change the urban landscape?

David B. Williams: It’s hard not to be both amazed and flabbergasted by our predecessor’s projects. None of the large-scale changes I write about could take place today. We have too many regulations and too many people who would protest. Back in the day, all it took was a person with an idea and the ability to raise money and the project could begin. Nor can we even fathom the scale of these projects. Filling the tideflats, cutting down hills, and rejiggering lakes were epic, landscape-scale changes with profound consequences economically and ecologically. Nothing taking place at present compares.

I am not saying that I approve of the projects but I cannot condemn them either. The people who undertook them truly believed that they were making Seattle a better place to live. Yes, they often benefited financially, but that was not typically what drove them. You have to remember that these endeavors were undertaken when Seattle was not the hip, trendy, financially successful place it is now. It was a relatively small city, or even a town, on the edge of the continent. These projects developed because their proponents often thought they had no other choice; in their minds, these projects were essential for growing and developing the city’s business and industry. Without them, Seattle would not survive.