Monthly Archives: January 2009

John Patrick Diggins, 1936-2009

January 30, 2009
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John Patrick Diggins, 1936-2009

The New York Times reports today that intellectual historian and author John Patrick Diggins passed away Wednesday in Manhattan at the age of 73. Diggins—whose scholarly work encompassed the breadth of American political thought from “the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the present day”—was known for his “provocative, revisionist approach to the history of the American left and right.” The NYT notes that “he nourished a sneaking fondness for the Lyrical Left but declared Ronald Reagan to be ‘one of the two or three truly great presidents in history.’” The NYT article continues: “The tension between liberal ideals, pragmatism and authority ran like a leitmotif through books like The Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-Interest and the Foundation of Liberalism, The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority and Eugene O’Neill’s America: Desire Under Democracy“—all of which the University of Chicago Press is honored to have published.

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The Things They Carried (and Painted)

January 29, 2009
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The Things They Carried (and Painted)

This weekend marks the 41st anniversary of the beginning of the Tet Offensive, a major assault launched during the tacit lunar New Year ceasefire by the Viet Cong against the South Vietnamese and American armies. Though American forces quickly turned back the onslaught, the campaign was a political and psychological victory for the Communists and further eroded US support for the war.

Demonized by Americans as reds, gooks, and fanatical killers, the Viet Cong were said to have “committed the most unbelievable acts of terrorism the world has ever known,” as Hubert Humphrey once declared. But a new book offers an entirely new perspective on these enemy fighters. Mekong Diaries: Viet Cong Drawings and Stories, 1964-1975, by Sherry Buchanan, presents never-before-published drawings, poems, letters, and oral histories by ten of the most celebrated Viet Cong war artists.

These guerrilla artists—some military officers and some civilians—lived clandestinely with the fighters, moving camp alongside them, going on reconnaissance missions, and carrying their sketchbooks, ink, and watercolors into combat. Trained by professors from the Hanoi Institute of Fine Arts who journeyed down the perilous Ho Chi Minh Trail to ensure a pictorial history of the war, they recorded battles and events from . . .

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Hyra and Pritchett on the Future of Public Housing

January 28, 2009
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Hyra and Pritchett on the Future of Public Housing

This morning at the Urban Institute Derek Hyra, author of The New Urban Renewal, and Wendell Pritchett, author of Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City joined a forum with other experts on urban affairs to discuss the question: Can public housing overcome its history of racial discrimination and segregation?

The discussion addressed such issues as whether public housing policies can simultaneously address the problems of poverty and race. And, if so, how? You can listen to a webcast of the panel and, for historical perspective, read an excerpt of Pritchett’s book.

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Publicity news from all over

January 27, 2009
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Publicity news from all over

Some news of note from all around the world wide web:

Over at ReadySteadyBook, Sharon Cameron’s Impersonality: Seven Essays has been selected as a book of the month for January.

After the New Yorker‘s Book Bench blog posted on Guy P. Raffa’s Danteworlds:A Reader’s Guide to the Inferno, the Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy blog picked up on the thread. All of this excitement comes as the Press prepares to issue Raffa’s The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader’s Guide to the Divine Comedy in June.

Elsewhere on the blogosphere, Leonard Harris and Charles Molesworth’s Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher is subjected to the page 99 test.

Ann Southworth, author of Lawyers of the Right: Professionalizing the Conservative Coalition has been guest-blogging about her book this week on the Volokh Conspiracy blog.

The twelve books of A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell collectively occupied spot number 32 on the Telegraph‘s list of 100 novels everyone should read.

And finally, in the wake of the Obama inauguration, suggestions for books to occupy the coveted space on the new President’s bedside table have been circulating. In Washington Monthly, Andrew J. Bacevich recommends more from Reinhold Niebuhr, whom . . .

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Is Turbulence Still Good in this Economy?

January 27, 2009
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Is Turbulence Still Good in this Economy?

Dubbed “the day of layoffs” by the New York Times, Monday, January 26, 2009 saw companies across a wide range of industries cut more than 65,000 jobs worldwide. From Caterpillar and Home Depot to Sprint/Nextel and Texas Instruments, layoffs Monday came as news that unemployment rose to 7.2 percent last month. Reports the Times, “The United States economy has dropped some 2.59 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.… Economists worry that the economy could now be losing as many as 600,000 jobs a month, and they said Monday’s layoff announcements served to underline the stricken state of the labor market.”

Most of us (especially those who’ve lost jobs) would conclude that the grim employment picture is bad news. But in October 2006, the Press published a book that argued that job turnover and firm disappearance may actually have positive effects in the aggregate. Economic Turbulence: Is a Volatile Economy Good for America? by Clair Brown, John Haltiwanger, and Julia Lane claims that while shifts in consumer demand, changes in technology, mergers and acquisitions, and increased competition can contribute to economic turbulence, our economy as a whole remains, by and large, stronger for it, because these processes of . . .

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Do animals have a sense of morality?

January 27, 2009
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Do animals have a sense of morality?

Scientists have long counseled against interpreting animal behavior in terms of human emotions, warning that such anthropomorphizing limits our ability to understand animals as they really are. But in a recent opinion piece for Boulder, Colorado’s Daily Camera, Marc Bekoff, author of the forthcoming Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, cites numerous examples of animal behavior that he claims would be quite difficult to explain otherwise. Bekoff’s article begins:

Do animals have a sense of morality? Do they know right from wrong? In our forthcoming book, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, philosopher Jessica Pierce and I argue that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding “yes.” “Ought” and “should” regarding what’s right and what’s wrong play important roles in the social interactions of animals, just as they do in ours. …

Consider the following scenarios. A teenage female elephant nursing an injured leg is knocked over by a rambunctious hormone-laden teenage male. An older female sees this happen, chases the male away, and goes back to the younger female and touches her sore leg with her trunk.

Eleven elephants rescue a group of captive antelope in KwaZula-Natal; the matriarch elephant undoes all of . . .

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Lerer’s Children’s Literature is an NBCC nominee

January 26, 2009
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Lerer’s Children’s Literature is an NBCC nominee

The National Book Critics Circle announced the nominees for its 2008 awards on Saturday. We were pleased that Seth Lerer’s recent Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter is a finalist for this year’s award in criticism. Offering insightful analyses of everything from Aesop’s fables to Harry Potter, Lerer’s book captures the rich and diverse history of children’s literature in its full panorama, examining both the factors that have shaped children’s literature, and how children’s literature has, in turn, shaped us.

When we contacted Lerer about his nomination, he noted that since he dedicated the book to his mother, he would dedicate this honor to her as well: “She read to me, and took me to the library. There’s a little vignette in the book about her taking me to the library; it’s in the chapter on American libraries and American literature—the section on Johnny Tremaine.”

To see the complete list of the NBCC nominees go to the NBCC Board of Directors blog. The winners will be announced on Thursday, March 12, 2009, at a ceremony held at the New School in New York.

You can read an excerpt from Children’s Literature.

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University of Chicago Press books spotted in Pakistan

January 26, 2009
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University of Chicago Press books spotted in Pakistan

Since its founding in 1891, the University of Chicago Press has embraced as its mission the obligation to disseminate scholarship of the highest standard and to publish serious works that promote education, foster public understanding, and enrich cultural life. The dissemination imperative of our mission can often be one of the most surprising and rewarding aspects of publishing. Whether it’s sitting across from someone on the El who is reading a Chicago book or coming across an UCP title in an unexpected bookstore in a far off land, it’s fascinating to see where our books wind up. So this photo in that accompanied a Guardian article earlier this month on Pakistani efforts to root out terrorists naturally caught our eye.

Alongside folders labeled “Taliban”, “al-Qaeda”, and “Misc”, two UCP titles share space on a shelf in the office of the director general of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency in Islamabad. Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam by John A. Nagl considers the crucial question of how armies adapt to changing circumstances during the course of conflicts for which they are initially unprepared. And to the right of that volume rests The U.S. Army/Marine Corps . . .

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Writing on deadline

January 23, 2009
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Writing on deadline

Each day is another deadline. Then there is that ultimate deadline at the end of our lives. Our sense of the passage of time, and how our experience is shaped by the complexities of multiple deadlines, is the subject of Harald Weinrich’s book, On Borrowed Time: The Art and Economy of Living with Deadlines. John Gilbey reviewed the book for the Times Higher Education:

Any tome that starts with a discussion of Hippocrates, Socrates, and Plato and ends with an analysis of the 1998 film Run Lola Run has to be worthy of closer study. This one does not disappoint.

Weinrich gives himself a very broad canvas—the impact that shortness of time has had on humanity across history—and he fills it well. He uses an unhurried, easy, and assured narrative style to tease out the complex nature of how we perceive time in natural and contrived situations.

Gilbey goes so far as to venture:

I believe that the structure and style of this book would lend itself well to being adapted for the screen, either as a single banquet or as a selection of very tasty snacks. If there is anyone out there looking to produce a high-quality, slightly quirky . . .

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Talk to strangers

January 22, 2009
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Talk to strangers

Echoing his own previous speeches and the hopes of countless predecessors, Barack Obama called in his inagural address for more meaningful civic participation. “As much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies,” he argued. “It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.”

But, absent such extraordinary and heartrending situations, how might we most effectively wield the civic “instruments”—which Obama, for one, identified as “honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism”—with which we are supposed to meet the myriad challenges we face?

In an attempt to begin to answer that question, we’d like to close out this week of Presidential posts by pointing out that Danielle Allen’s Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education is a thought-provoking place to start. An extended essay that Toni Morrison deemed “a profound meditation on citizenship, race, and the astonishing transformative power of true democracy,” Talking to Strangers . . .

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