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Tis’ the season for a list of gift books for the holidays!

December 7, 2017
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Tis’ the season for a list of gift books for the holidays!

So, once again ’tis the season for a post about holiday gift books, at least judging by the recent appearance of an abundance of similarly themed articles from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times. First off, we have press authors Laura Dassow Walls and Alice Kaplan with their recent biographies of Henry David Thoreau and Albert Camus respectively taking two of the top fifty nonfiction slots in a recent article, “100 Notable Books of 2017”  from the editors of The New York Times Book Review. The Times editors write of Walls’ book, “This new life of Thoreau, in time for his 200th birthday, paints a moving portrait of a brilliant, complex man.” And of Kaplan’s Looking for The Stanger, “Impressive research illuminates the context and history of Camus’s classic novel.” Not sure who has the time or the money to travel with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but wouldn’t you like to escape it all for a minute or two? Well, maybe you can at least fantasize about actually getting a little R&R over your holiday break with some of the recommendations in this recent NYT article on travel books that included some very . . .

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David Ferry’s The Aeneid: “perhaps, almost—the thing itself”

November 16, 2017
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Poet David Ferry has long been known as one of the foremost translators of classical literature from the Latin. And with much-praised translations of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics among his expansive oeuvre of translated works, his specific talent for channeling the world’s most revered Roman poet has been well documented. Now, at nearly twice the age of the author when The Aeneid was first drafted, the nonagenarian poet has now completed his translations of Virgil’s major works. And as April Bernard (also an accomplished poet in her own right and currently a Professor of English at Skidmore) writes for the New York Review of Books, Ferry’s Aeneid has captured the essence of Virgil’s original like no other English edition available today: Ferry’s previous outings with Virgil, in his matchless Eclogues and Georgics, had already convinced me that he has some sort of uncanny connection to the great poet. Especially when reading the Eclogues, one hears a new-old voice, as if Virgil had miraculously learned English and decided it might do as well as Latin. This kind of translation almost needs a new name, to distinguish it from all the other worthy efforts to bring the ancient poets to life: it is . . .

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Review: Pamela Bannos’ “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife”

November 8, 2017
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Review: Pamela Bannos’ “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife”

(Photograph from the Ron Slattery negative collection. Courtesy of the Estate of Vivian Maier, copyright 2017 The Estate of Vivian Maier. All rights reserved.) During her lifetime Vivian Maier was unknown. A social recluse with a day job as a nanny and a habit of wandering about with her Rolleiflex, snapping photographs of the daily goings-on of the various places she inhabited throughout her life, including France, New York, L. A., and of course Chicago, where she lived for most of her life. She died in 2009, at the age of 82, the bulk of her photographic work filed away or abandoned in storage lockers, perhaps never to be seen again, were it not for its discovery by a cadre of lucky collectors who stumbled upon her work at auction. Soon after, the thousands of images she had created over her long photographic career went viral, and her work has since been lauded as some of the most iconic street photography of the twentieth century. Since her ouvre’s discovery and popularization, however, a particular narrative has developed surrounding her life and work, as Parul Sehgal notes in a recent article for the New York Times: “Stories—like snapshots—are shaped by people, and . . .

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The Soviet Union’s secret maps – of Chicago!

October 26, 2017
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The Soviet Union’s secret maps – of Chicago!

Lately, Russia seems to be soft-pedaling their attempts at world domination, choosing to use ads on Facebook or Youtube clickbait to exert their influence over global politics rather than overt threats of nuclear annihilation. But, of course, this wasn’t always the case. As well as providing a fascinating look at perhaps one of the most comprehensive pre-Google Maps mapping endeavors ever, John Davies and Alexander J. Kent’s The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World is a surefire way to reignite those bygone feelings of Cold War paranoia by demonstrating just how serious the Soviets may have been about invading a town near you, or your actual town, as the case might have been for many of America’s larger metropolises. Including, as the maps below illustrate, Chicago. As a review of the book in a recent issue of National Geographic notes, the detailed Russian maps–some of which were only smuggled out of the country within the last decade–were compiled from a variety of sources, including information borrowed from contemporary USGS maps, which the Soviet maps seem to mimic extensively. But other specifics, like detailed depictions of depths and channels around rivers and harbors, including the Soviet-era map . . .

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Interview with Harvard Professor of Education Daniel Koretz on “The Testing Charade”

October 18, 2017
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As a recent Washington Post article featuring an interview with Harvard Professor of Education Daniel Koretz notes, over the past decades the American public and its political officials have sought to reform the public educational system by holding teachers, educational methods, and education officials, accountable for the performance of their students. One increasingly common way to enforce this accountability is by holding the various constituents of our public educational system responsible for student performance on standardized tests. Beginning perhaps most visibly with the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, and again augmented under the Obama administration with the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, standardized test scores have become the holy grail of educational achievement at the K-12 level and beyond.

But in his new book The Testing Charade Koretz puts forth a strong critique of the efficacy of high-stakes testing in evaluating the performance and utility of public education strategies and its practitioners. He illuminates among other problems, the extent to which test scores, taken out of context, miss the mark in demonstrating the value of less traditional educational programs, and the extent to which standardized tests lend themselves to manipulation, and in some cases, downright cheating. From the interview:

“Used appropriately, standardized tests are a valuable source of information, sometimes an irreplaceable one. …

But in our educational system, the use of tests has been anything but appropriate. Policymakers have ignored the fact that tests capture only some of what we want students to accomplish and even less of what we want schools to do. And they created perverse incentives that led educators to cut corners and inflate scores. Ironically, this made test scores less valuable than they would have been. Inflated scores don’t provide a trustworthy indicator of what students actually learn.

For well over 60 years, testing experts have warned educators that pressure to raise scores would cause score inflation and that test scores by themselves are not sufficient to evaluate schools. Over 40 years ago, in one of the most cited papers in the social sciences, Don Campbell repeated the warning about score inflation and the corruption of instruction. As I note in “Charade,” studies documenting bad test prep and score inflation in response to high-stakes testing started appearing almost 30 years ago, and the first study documenting more severe score inflation among disadvantaged students — and, hence, illusory improvements in achievement gaps — was published more than 15 years ago. And very consistent evidence of these problems continued to accumulate over the years.

So … why did people persist with this approach despite all of those warnings and all of the evidence? Just based on my own experience, I think it was for several reasons. Some policymakers simply didn’t know; most don’t read social science; and many had no experts on hand to warn them.”

Fortunately, with Koretz’s The Testing Charade now we do.

Continue reading the interview on the Washington Post website where they have also posted several excerpts from the book.

For more on Koretz and his critique of  American educational policy check out a video of a recent discussion between Koretz and Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. Or see another interview with Koretz on a special video edition of the Harvard EdCast.

The Limits of “Diversity”

October 9, 2017
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In recent years, diversity has become a hallowed American value, shared and honored in a wide range of contexts. And even as the concept has faced renewed criticism since the rise of Donald Trump, it remains a much-praised cornerstone of corporate, educational, and civic values. But what do we mean by it? What are we talking about when we talk about diversity? What goals is it intended to serve? And who is it for? The answers to those questions are surprisingly hard to pin down, and they vary by context. Ellen Berrey has been studying diversity for years, in neighborhoods, colleges, and corporations, and in a piece for Salon a few years ago, she was blunt about what she’s discovered: Here’s what I’ve learned: diversity is how we talk about race when we can’t talk about race. It has become a stand-in when open discussion of race is too controversial or — let’s be frank — when white people find the topic of race uncomfortable. Diversity seems polite, positive, hopeful. Who is willing to say they don’t value diversity? One national survey found that more than 90 percent of respondents said they valued diversity in their communities and friendships. Berrey’s book The Enigma . . .

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Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

October 2, 2017
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Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

Sure–there are some subjects you wouldn’t ever go to a student for an opinion on. Proper nutrition, for one. Work-life balance, for another. But sleep? Oh, they understand sleep. That may be because it’s all they do–or it may be because they barely do it at all. But their knowledge? Rock solid. So to assess The Science of Sleep,  we turn to one of our student employees, Tunisia Kenyatta, an undergrad who, when we’re not loading her down with work for our publicity team, studies in the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. Penned by Wallace B. Mendelson, retired professor of psychiatry and clinical pharmacology at the University of Chicago and former president of the Sleep Research Society, The Science of Sleep illuminates a phenomenon that has for far too long been kept in darkness. Approaching the topic of sleep from not only a scientific standpoint, but also evolutionary, historical, and social ones, the book offers an understanding of sleep in packaging that is accesible and valuable to those both inside and outside the realm of science. Mendelson did not hesitate to cast a wide net. In addition to the elements of human sleep states and clinical sleep disorders being thoroughly addressed, the book debunks . . .

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The Book of Caterpillars

September 25, 2017
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The Book of Caterpillars

I’ll open this post with a confession: I once watched a little green caterpillar eat the entirety of a dill plant my wife had planted in a windowbox. How could I not? He was so cute, and so industrious! If you feel the same way, but you also would like to retain your plants for your own use, might I suggest our new Book of Caterpillars?   A very big book about little creatures, offering life-size photographs of six hundred species, accompanied by information about their range, habitat, diet, and the moths and butterflies they eventually become. To whet your appetite, some samples follow. The Loepa Megacore. The Forest Tent Caterpillar. The unforgettably named Lettuce Shark. And the, well, commandingly named Commander. The Book of Caterpillars is inching its way to a bookstore near you right now! . . .

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Review of David Ikard’s Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs

September 15, 2017
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Review of David Ikard’s Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs

One of the great things about being part of a university is that our part-timers tend to be students—and tend to be engaged with the content of the books we publish. Here’s an example: a review by Tunisia Kenyatta, an undergrad who, when we’re not loading her down with work for our publicity team, studies in the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. “As I was writing this book, America felt like it was on fire . . .” – David Ikard   Full of contemplative, sobering analyses, Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs identifies, defines, and locates the origin of white supremacist tropes, presenting strikingly clear pictures of the methods and manifestations of each. While asserting that he who controls the master narrative controls the perception of reality, Ikard offers compelling criticism of this reality as he engages with the work and insights of black artists and activists like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Frederick Douglas, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. In addition to addressing racially biased political campaigns and administrations, Ikard examines how media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, Sandy Hook, and the Charleston shooting show how racial bias raises its head even in tragedy. Rich in reference to . . .

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Machiavelli offers a good way to see out August

August 30, 2017
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This weekend brings the end of summer, that season which, at its opening, always seems to offer such promise. Just think of all the books we’ll read in our sunny back yards! Then Labor Day arrives and the stack of unread books remains higher than we would like, our efforts stymied by life’s many agents of distraction. It can be a time of frustration, of disappointment; it’s all too easy to enter autumn in a mood less autumnal than wintry. So today, we offer a passage from Machiavelli that we have always found comforting, even inspiring. It comes from a letter–collected in our volume of Machiavelli’s letters–that he sent to his benefactor, Francesco Vettori, on December 10, 1513: On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day’s clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which is only mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the . . .

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