Monthly Archives: December 2008

“Who knew Camus had something to say about gardens?”

December 8, 2008
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“Who knew Camus had something to say about gardens?”

If you’re living in the northern U.S. it is likely that your garden is presently covered under several inches of snow, but as a recent article in the New York Times demonstrates, through the long winter months many gardeners never cease thinking about them. Writing for yesterday’s “Sunday Book Review” Dominique Browning offers a list of a few of her favorite gardening books for midwinter reading that includes Robert Pogue Harrison’s new book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Browning writes: The year’s most thought-provoking, original and weighty garden book (though the lightest in heft) is Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, by Robert Pogue Harrison. Here the author of Forests: The Shadow of Civilization and The Dominion of the Dead, a book about cemeteries and burial practices, turns his thoughts to the garden as “sanctuary of repose.” Making a garden fulfills, as Harrison puts it, “a distinctly human need, as opposed to shelter, which is a distinctly animal need.” Burrowing into a more refined issue than what makes a garden, he meditates on why we garden. It’s impossible to summarize the answer, overflowing as his book is with eccentric connections and voracious readings, ranging over centuries and . . .

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Friday Remainders

December 5, 2008
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Friday Remainders

Topping this Friday’s publicity round-up we have an interview with Brian Ladd, author of the timely new book, Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age, for the Patt Morrison show on Southern California’s KPCC radio. In the interview, Ladd gives a fascinating historical account of how the American addiction to the automobile, (and by proxy the currently imperiled automobile industry) has come to be. For more read an excerpt and listen to another audio interview with Ladd for the Chicago Audio Works podcast. The Nota Bene section of the December 5 Chronicle of Higher Education contains a succinct synopsis of Mustapha Chérif’s Islam and the West: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida. One of Derrida’s last intellectual engagements before his death in 2004, the book includes the Algerian born philosopher’s definitive take on Islam and, as the Chronicle notes, the pressing need given the current state of world affairs, to “deconstruct the European intellectual construct of Islam” and rediscover the “reciprocal fertilization of the Greek, the Arab, and the Jew.” If you haven’t made plans for your Friday night, stay warm, stay home, and watch Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen, author’s of Tim & Tom: an American comedy in Black . . .

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The Chicagoan talk and book signing

December 4, 2008
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The Chicagoan talk and book signing

Historian Neil Harris, author of The Chicagoan: A Lost Magazine of the Jazz Age, will speak at the Harold Washington Library Center next Wednesday, December 10. The Chicagoan (“a book you’ll want to own, a coffee-table book nicer and better made than most coffee tables,” said Matt Weiland in the NYTBR) will be available for purchase and signing afterward. The Harold Washington Library Center is at 400 S. State Street in Chicago—right next to the “L” and just a hop, skip, and a jump from commuter train lines. The lecture is in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at 6 PM and is free and open to the public. If you’re interested in Chicago history, the Jazz Age, or need a gift for somebody who is, Harris’s talk is not to be missed! If you’re not in Chicago, you can listen to this interview he did for last week’s installment of the Book Show on Australia’s ABC National Radio. In the interview, Harris joins host Ramona Koval to discuss how he discovered a set of Chicagoan magazines deep in the stacks of the University of Chicago’s Regenstein library, and how the story of the magazine’s rise and fall opens a window into . . .

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Surviving the crises locally

December 4, 2008
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Surviving the crises locally

The auto industry’s struggles have headlined national news for the past couple of weeks, but they have been a local story for much longer than that. Michigan has been in recession for the past five years and has seen a steady loss of jobs every year since 2000. While policy makers in Washington continue to debate possible solutions to these kinds of problems, what’s going on at the local level, and what can be done about it? Guian McKee’s new The Problem of Jobs provides a germane history lesson. With a focus on Philadelphia, it illuminates the central role of local political and policy struggles in shaping the fortunes of city and citizen alike. In the process, it tells the remarkable story of how Philadelphia’s policymakers and community activists energetically worked to challenge deindustrialization through an innovative series of job retention initiatives, training programs, inner-city business development projects, and early affirmative action programs. Interpreting economic decline as an arena for intervention rather than a historical inevitability, The Problem of Jobs serves as a timely reminder of policy’s potential to combat inequality and joblessness. A complementary local history of deindustrialization, Kathryn Marie Dudley’s The End of the Line tells the story . . .

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Defeat runs through it

December 3, 2008
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Defeat runs through it

In his November 30th review for the L. A. Times critic Art Winslow delivers an insightful assessment of the Norman Maclean Reader, which includes both previously unpublished Maclean material as well as selections from his two published works. The Reader, Winslow writes, offers Maclean fans invaluable insight into the author’s life and works and exposes the deeply tragic themes that underlie them both. There is a river that runs through Maclean’s work, a strong and dark current of defeat, and if we needed further proof of that, both from his self-testimony and as evidenced in previously unpublished writing, it has arrived in the form of The Norman Maclean Reader. Those who have read Young Men and Fire, Maclean’s nonfiction reconstruction of the 1949 Mann Gulch fire in Montana, in which 13 smokejumpers were burned to death, may recall the multiple parallels Maclean drew between their fate and that of the 7th Cavalry troops under George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn, another death-dealing Montana site.… The surprise here is to learn that the Custer comparisons were hardly incidental: From 1959 to 1963, primarily, Maclean struggled to write a book about the battle of the Little Bighorn and its cultural afterlife, . . .

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The end of the road?

December 3, 2008
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The end of the road?

Heads of the Big 3 automakers were back in Washington, D.C. this week to ask Congress for a bailout to to forestall financial collapse. After a disastrous visit to Congress in mid-November—to which the chief executives of Ford, Chrysler, and GM flew in private jets—the representatives from Detroit returned to plead their case for $34 billion in loans, much of it taxpayer funded. The very survival of an American industry—and an American product—hangs in the balance. But the controversy the plan—and the conduct of the execs—has engendered is nothing new. In fact, paradox of the passion we have for our cars—the independence and the freedom they represent—and the conclusion they are the scourge of civilization—responsible for suburban sprawl, urban decay, environmental devastation, rampant climate change, and dependence on foreign oil—is not a recent development. Brian Ladd’s new book Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age reveals that this vexed relationship with the automobile is nothing new—in fact, debates over whether cars are good or evil have raged ever since the automobile was invented. And, in a new age of automaker bailouts, this love/hate relationship will extend beyond the boundaries of our dashboards to executives who make the decisions in . . .

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The love of Jane Addams’s Life

December 2, 2008
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The love of Jane Addams’s Life

A couple of months ago, we noted that Chicago’s Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame planned to induct Jane Addams, whose life story Louise Knight vividly recounts in Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy. In commemoration of that honor, the new Lambda Literary Salon features an essay by Louise Knight, which eloquently explores the role of love in Addams’s life. “I believe that love was Jane Addams’s most absorbing passion,” Knight writes. “She was one of those rare people who was thinking about the importance of love all the time—not always succeeding in being loving, of course, but steadily trying.” Focusing in particular on Addams’s experiences with romantic, intimate love, Knight concludes that “it has been a revelation and a joy to learn about the remarkable contributions gay men and lesbian women have made to the United States. We all want to see ourselves reflected in the great accomplishments of history; now, finally, the gay and lesbian communities are beginning to be able to have that deeply human satisfaction. Jane Addams, too, belongs to lesbian history.” For more reading, we also have an excerpt from Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy. . . .

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Press Release: Barnes and Dupré, Genomes and What to Make of Them

December 2, 2008
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Press Release: Barnes and Dupré, Genomes and What to Make of Them

The mapping of the human genome at the turn of the twenty-first century by the Human Genome Project was a scientific sensation. The media abounded with stories about our new knowledge of the building blocks of human life and the tremendous medical breakthroughs that were sure to follow—while other accounts put a darker spin on the achievement, warning of consequences from genetic discrimination to designer germs. For the layman, the claims and counterclaims can be dizzying; it’s hard to know just what the genomics revolution is likely to mean in our everyday lives. With Genomes and What to Make of Them, Barry Barnes and John Dupré cut through the confusion and offer a smart and straightforward account of what we know, what we can hope for, and what, if anything, we should fear. Opening with a brief history of genetics and genomics, from Mendel to Watson and Crick to Craig Venter, Genomes and What to Make of Them explains what genomics tells us about our evolutionary history and what it can reveal on the individual level, such as our risk of disease. Meanwhile, the authors argue, the dangers of genetic research—from biological warfare to a revived eugenics—are very real, and . . .

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Remembering Fermi

December 1, 2008
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Remembering Fermi

At 3:25 p.m. on December 2, 1942, the Atomic Age began just a few blocks from the Press on the grounds on Stagg Field on campus at the University of Chicago. That day, Enrico Fermi engineered the first controlled nuclear fission chain reaction, ushering in an age of nuclear weaponry and power. The world changed forever that day, and 66 years later, Fermi’s achievements and persona loom large over many institutions at the University and beyond. His legacy is also alive in many of the books the Press publishes in physics and nuclear science. Here are just two: On the occasion of the centenary of his birth, University of Chicago physicist and Nobel laureate James W. Cronin edited a tender tribute to Fermi. A collection of essays and newly commissioned reminiscences combined with private material from Fermi’s research notebooks, correspondence, speech outlines, and teaching Fermi Remembered documents the profound and enduring significance of the great scientist’s life and labors. Read an excerpt here. The lab that bears his name will finally get the book length-history it deserves when Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier, and Megascience by Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne W. Kolb, and Catherine Westfall is published later this month. Since 1972, . . .

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We live in an age of obsession

December 1, 2008
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We live in an age of obsession

Cultural critic Julia Keller has written an interesting article about Lennard J. Davis’s new book Obsession: A History for the lifestyle section of the Sunday Chicago Tribune. In her article, Keller notes how “obsessive” behavior has come to define our culture, though in a very polarized way. We admire those whose drive leads them to professional or athletic success. But we also might recommend someone who can’t stop washing their hands every five minutes, or spends hours straightening the picture frames in their living room, to go find a good psychologist to help them with their OCD. In her article Keller quotes Davis: “To be obsessive is to be American, to be modern.” Yet the term has never been a stable category. When does an eccentricity become an obsession? When does a quirk become a pathology? You can’t understand obsession, the professor believes, without considering “the social, cultural, historical, anthropological and political” swirl in which it lives. And in Obsession Davis does just that, tracing the evolution of obsessive behavior from a social and religious fact of life into a medical and psychiatric problem. From obsessive aspects of professional specialization to obsessive sex and nymphomania, no variety of obsession eludes . . .

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