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HIPPO Reads: TED Talks for the Literary Set

Just this morning, Kaitlin Solimine (whom I was lucky enough to meet in Lisbon this past summer), launched HIPPO Reads, an intriguing new project:

HIPPO Reads is a literary startup focused on curating and delivering high quality, previously published content with an academic bent.

Think of us as TED Talks for readers – short pithy pieces with educational appeal, a perpetual reading list for the most interesting classes out there. All pieces are accessible, but we don’t dumb it down. We select content with a level of depth that allows readers to sink their teeth into the subject at hand.

The first weekly reading list is all about the science and politics of interrogation:

In a poorly-lit room, a half naked man is being stuffed into a small plywood box. The interrogator, a disheveled PhD student, barks, “You lie to me, I hurt you.”

So begins the film Zero Dark Thirty, and with it, the debate about director Kathryn Bigelow’s jarring depictions of torture. But how did we get here?

In this inaugural edition of HIPPO Reads, we bring you four pieces, each a lens through which to examine “enhanced interrogation.” Taken together they paint a nuanced landscape against which the torture question is defined.

The first two pieces they recommend are “The Dark Art of Interrogation” by Mark Bowden and “Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue?” by John Tierney. Both of which sound interesting, although the last two really caught my eye:

As additional reading, there’s another piece of the puzzle, a fascinating study on the ability of humans to determine whether others are lying. It turns out normal people can tell a lie roughly 53% of the time, a track record slightly better than a coin toss. For those formally trained in lie detection, accuracy actually declines while confidence in their abilities increases. That’s why, as Techniques and Controversies in the Interrogation of Suspects argues, when an interrogator begins with a presumption of guilt, he will often find evidence to back that up. Coupled with intensive interrogation, this can – and has – led to false confessions, even without the presence of torture.

The last selection to round out our week is a creative piece – translated from the Arabic, an excerpt from the book Biography of Ash by Khadija Marouazi, a human rights activist and professor of modern literature in Morocco. In her depictions of a man undergoing torture, what resonates is the impact his revelations have upon interrogators.

They also have a short list of “Further Reading” that includes Elias Khoury’s Yalo (which was on the BTBA shortlist in 2009) and Dorothea Dieckmann’s Guantanamo which won the inaugural BTBA award. (Thanks in part to Richard Nash getting all Soft Skull fans to game the system—something that I appreciate to this day. Go, Richard! Go, readers!)

Anyway, I’m interested to see how HIPPO Reads evolves over the next few months. It’s a cool idea—providing a sort of in-depth primer on a particular subject—and I’m really impressed by how international this first entry is. Congrats to Kaitlin!



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