Monthly Archives: April 2009

Scott McLemee’s Class War

April 22, 2009
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Scott McLemee’s Class War

Scott McLemee’s column this week for Inside Higher Ed, titled “Stop the Insani-Tea!”, starts by noting some of the rhetorical dissonances of last week’s tax-day tea-party demonstrations: “‘No taxation without representation!’ they demanded, having evidently hibernated through the recent election cycle.” But the real point of the column is to call into question the anti-tax crowd assumption that Joe the Plumber’s opinions coincide with those of a majority of citizens. McLemee uses Benjamin I. Page and Lawrence R. Jacobs’ new book Class War?: What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality to “help to clarify why alarmist denunciations of higher taxation and (shudder!) ‘redistribution of the wealth’ just won’t cut it.” McLemee, quoting Page and Jacobs, writes: “Even Democrats and lower-income workers harbor rather conservative views about free enterprise, the value of material incentives to motivate work, individual self-reliance, and a generalized suspicion of government waste and unresponsiveness.” Their survey found that 58 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of low-income earners agreed that “large differences in pay are probably necessary to get people to work hard.” But at the same time they report a widespread concern that the gap between extremes of wealth and poverty is growing and poses a . . .

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Celebrate Earth Day with Books!

April 22, 2009
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Celebrate Earth Day with Books!

Today is Earth Day, a time to reflect on the wonders and fragility of our planet’s diverse environments. As CNN.com reported this morning, more than one billion people are expected to commemorate the occasion in 175 countries. Both the New York Times and the Environmental Protection Agency are encouraging Earthlings to appreciate their home by taking photographs of it. And it is in that vein that we present books that contain of astonishing images of the planet and the various creatures with whom we share it. On dry land, most organisms are confined to the surface, or at most to altitudes of a hundred meters—the height of the tallest trees. In the oceans, though, living space has both vertical and horizontal dimensions: with an average depth of 3800 meters, the oceans offer 99% of the space on Earth where life can develop. And the deep sea, which has been immersed in total darkness since the dawn of time, occupies 85% of ocean space, forming the planet’s largest habitat. Yet these depths abound with mystery. The deep sea is mostly uncharted—only about 5 percent of the seafloor has been mapped with any reasonable degree of detail—and we know very little about . . .

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How to talk like Shakespeare

April 21, 2009
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How to talk like Shakespeare

“Whereas, on his 445th birthday this April 23, Shakespeare still speaks to the people of Chicago through timeless words and works,” Mayor Daley proclaimed Thursday “to be Talk Like Shakespeare Day in Chicago”—much to the manifest delight of pun-loving reporters and headline writers across the country. But while the linguistic dexterity that gives us Da Bard is praiseworthy, it’s even more impressive to be able to pronounce Shakespeare’s lexicon correctly. That’s where Shakespearean voice and text coach Gary Logan comes in. In a book that was destined to have been published by a press whose hometown would eventually beget Talk Like Shakespeare Day, Logan aims to untie tongues and help anyone speak Shakespeare’s language with ease. The Eloquent Shakespeare includes more than 17,500 entries, making it the most comprehensive pronunciation guide to Shakespeare’s words—and the best possible preparation for this Thursday in Chicago. . . .

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What’s in a name of 45 letters?

April 21, 2009
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What’s in a name of 45 letters?

Yesterday, NPR’s All Things Considered reported on a three-mile long lake in central Massachusetts with a name that’s nearly as big. Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, known in daily conversation as the easier-on-the-tongue Lake Webster, is, according to local lore, named for a Native American phrase that means “You fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side and nobody fishes in the middle.” In 1954, the lake achieved immortally with a catchy ditty by Ethel Merman and Ray Bolger called the “The Lake Song” and it’s back in the news today: apparently, two local signs that misspelled the lake’s name are now being corrected. Geographer Mark Monmonier loves scanning maps for unusual place names, and a few years back, he published a book on odd toponyms called From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim, and Inflame. After hearing Robert Seigel’s story yesterday, we dipped back into Monmonier’s tome and found the lake on page 80; alas, it was too long, it seems, to print more than once, lest our ink budget be depleted in one word. But never fear. From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow is full of unusual places names and the stories behind them; it is, indeed, . . .

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Press Release: Burns, The Death of the American Trial

April 20, 2009
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Press Release: Burns, The Death of the American Trial

From the trial of O. J. Simpson to classic films like 12 Angry Men and the seemingly endless incarnations of Law & Order, jury trials real and imagined continue to play a powerful role in American culture. Their role in American justice, however, is shrinking rapidly, as juries decide a smaller fraction of criminal and civil cases with each passing year. In The Death of the American Trial, Robert Burns warns that this decline could lead not only to the loss of a vaunted institution, but also to the dangerous erosion of American democracy. The trial, Burns argues, is one of our greatest public achievements. Demonstrating how trials have always provided a defense against encroaching secrecy and bureaucracy, he lays out the profound consequences of losing an institution that so perfectly embodies democratic governance. As one federal judge put it, the jury is the ”canary in the mineshaft; if it goes, if our people lose their inherited right to do justice in court, other democratic institutions will lose breath too.“ An impassioned and eloquent case for resuscitation, The Death of the American Trial makes clear that to ensure the future health of the nation, the trial’s unique role must continue . . .

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Press Release: Brague, The Legend of the Middle Ages

April 20, 2009
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Press Release: Brague, The Legend of the Middle Ages

For decades now, in volume after volume, the celebrated French thinker Rémi Brague has delved deep into the past and emerged, again and again, with fresh insights that sharply illuminate the present. In his acclaimed The Wisdom of the World, for example, Brague showed how modernity stripped the universe of its ethical and sacred wisdom. The Law of God, his last work, added depth and context to current debates about God’s role in worldly affairs. And now, The Legend of the Middle Ages proceeds in Brague’s characteristically brilliant style to unknot the long-tangled strands of our ideas about this misunderstood age. Recently, the Middle Ages have emerged as the model for a harmonious future—a time when different religions and cultures peacefully coexisted and exchanged ideas. This legend, Brague argues, comes no closer to telling the full story than the Enlightenment-era portrayal of the Middle Ages as a benighted past from which the West had to evolve. Here, in a penetrating interview and sixteen essays, he marshals nuanced readings of medieval religion and philosophy to reconstruct the true character of this complicated and intellectually rich period. Brague’s vibrant portrait—of an age neither dark nor devoid of conflict—not only makes for compelling . . .

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A conversation about the looting of Iraq’s cultural heritage

April 20, 2009
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A conversation about the looting of Iraq’s cultural heritage

In April of 2003, in the wake of a violent counter-insurgency, thousands of priceless relics from ancient Mesopotamian civilization were stolen from Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad. Despite the presence of an American tank unit, the pillaging went unchecked, and more than 15,000 artifacts—some of the oldest evidence of human culture—disappeared into the shadowy worldwide market in illicit antiquities. Since then, the looting and vandalism of the world’s cultural heritage in Iraq saw an increase as gangs continued to loot artifacts that had previously been unexcavated, and though on February 23, 2009 the museum was reopened by Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, many of its artifacts have yet to be restored. Recently Lawrence Rothfield, author of The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum, joined the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s David Glenn to discuss the reasons for the failure to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage and what might be done to prevent it in the future. From the Chronicle: Q. Why did the United States do such a bad job of protecting the museum in 2003? Before the war, nobody except archaeologists was worried about civilians looting the archaeological sites and the museum. And that includes the Iraqi . . .

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The story of seeds

April 17, 2009
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The story of seeds

As Chicago finally begins to see some springlike weather, the bits of color beginning to make their way back into the landscape serve as a reminder of the abundance of dormant life that’s been waiting patiently beneath the soot and the snow for the last six months. Thus, there is perhaps no other book on the press’s frontlist more apropos to the season than Jonathan Silvertown’s An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds—a book that presents the oft-ignored seed with the natural history it deserves, one nearly as varied and surprising as the springtime flora itself. As a review in yesterday’s Seattle Times notes, the book approaches its subject from a variety of angles “among them sexuality, pollination, dispersal, germination, predators and diseases, and the use of seeds, in all their glory, in gastronomy” (see this an excerpt on barley seeds and beer brewing). But the author never lets us forget that the driving force behind the story of seeds—its theme, even—is evolution, with its irrepressible habit of stumbling upon new solutions to the challenges of life. Written with a scientist’s knowledge and a gardener’s delight, An Orchard Invisible offers those wonders in a package that will be irresistible . . .

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Press Release: Three Parker Novels by RICHARD STARK

April 17, 2009
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Press Release: Three Parker Novels by RICHARD STARK

According to the New York Times, Donald Westlake was “one of the most successful and versatile mystery writers in the United States,” with over 100 books to his name. The University of Chicago Press has embarked on a project to return the early volumes of his Parker series, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark, to print for a new generation of readers to discover—and become addicted to. Stark’s ruthless antihero is one of the most unforgettable characters in hardboiled noir. Lauded by critics for his taut realism, unapologetic amorality, and razor-sharp prose-style—and adored by fans who turn each intoxicating page with increasing urgency—Richard Stark is a master of crime writing, his books as influential as any in the genre. “Whatever Stark writes, I read. He’s a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude.” —Elmore Leonard Parker … lumbers through the pages of Richard Stark’s noir novels scattering dead bodies like peanut shells.… In a complex world makes things simple.” —William Grimes, New York Times Read the press release or read an interview with the author. . . .

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Fifty years of The Elements of Style

April 16, 2009
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Fifty years of The Elements of Style

Strunk and White’s Elements of Style turns fifty today, according to a story on NPR’s Morning Edition. It’s just a slim youngster compared to our burly and venerable Chicago Manual of Style, but the little volume has influenced the prose of many an undergrad. Is that something to celebrate? Writer and NPR guest Barbara Wallraff thinks so, giving approving notice to a “certain zen-like quality” about such famous maxims from the book as “eliminate needless words,” and “be clear.” But Geoffrey Pullum, professor of linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and a press author, begs to differ in an article today in the Chronicle of Higher Ed: Some of the recommendations are vapid, like “Be clear” (how could one disagree?). Some are tautologous, like “Do not explain too much.” (Explaining too much means explaining more than you should, so of course you shouldn’t.) Many are useless, like “Omit needless words.” (The students who know which words are needless don’t need the instruction.) And more regrettable in a grammar guide, Pullum argues, the book’s toxic mix of purism, atavism, and personal eccentricity is not underpinned by a proper grounding in English grammar. It is often so misguided that the authors appear . . .

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