Monthly Archives: June 2009

Inventing the Public Enemy

June 30, 2009
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Inventing the Public Enemy

Humboldt Park native Michael Mann’s new film Public Enemies, which portrays the life and death of one of the Chicago’s most notorious criminals, John Dillinger, premiers in theaters this weekend. And in all likelihood, similar to last year’s summer blockbuster Batman, you can be sure that thousands of Chicagoans, eager to see their city—or at least bits and pieces of their city—up on the big screen will be packing the theaters.

In light of such predictable crowds most reasonable people will choose to pass on Public Enemies in favor of some more edifying cultural experience this Fourth of July weekend. But, as David E. Ruth’s Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934 demonstrates, with the right frame of mind—and the right book—Public Enemies might be as edifying as it gets. In Inventing the Public Enemy Ruth scrutinizes innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, scores of novels, and hundreds of Hollywood movies, to show how the media’s “gangsters” are less a reflection of reality than a projection created from Americans’ values, concerns, and ideas about what sells.

Ruth takes us through a media landscape filled with efficient criminal executives demonstrating the multifarious uses of organization; dapper, big-spending gangsters . . .

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From bad to worst

June 30, 2009
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From bad to worst

People who live in fear of airplane accidents, flu pandemics, and other such disasters are often cast as alarmist or paranoid, despite the painful fruition of their fears in such incidents as the crash of a Yemeni jet this morning into the Indian Ocean (the second major plane crash this month), the lethal explosion last night of a freight train in northern Italy, and the collision last week of two Washington, D.C., Metro trains.

In Worst Cases, Lee Clark confirms that such individuals are more reasonable and prescient than they’re given credit for. Surveying the full range of possible catastrophes that animate and dominate the popular imagination—from toxic spills and terrorism to plane crashes and pandemics—he explores how the ubiquity of worst cases in everyday life has stripped them of some of their ability to shock us. Fear and dread, Clarke argues, have actually become too rare: only when the public has more substantial information and more credible warnings will it take worst cases as seriously as it should. A timely and necessary look into how we think about the unthinkable, Worst Cases is essential reading for anyone attuned to our current climate of threat and fear.

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Twitterature from the University of Chicago

June 29, 2009
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Twitterature from the University of Chicago

No, this isn’t a post about Tweety’s reading habits, but close. This morning’s Tribune as well as the Chicago web publication Gapers Block both picked up on an item previously posted to the New Yorker‘s Book Bench Blog about the University of Chicago and a new book being written by two of its students. The book, Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books, Now Presented in Twenty Tweets or Less, is the brainchild of college roommates Alex Aciman and Emmett Rensin, both 19. According to the Tribune the book is the authors’ attempt to rewrite (mangle?) “classics by Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Dante and other greats in 20 or fewer 140-character tweets.” The authors have signed a publishing contract with Penguin, known for its excellent editions of the classics.

The reaction so far from the book world seems to be of two minds with the Gapers Block undecided whether to label the news “sad or ironic” and the Tribune anticipating its reception by book lovers as “a mixture of horror and why-didn’t-I-think-of-that jealousy.” But, the Tribune article continues, literature professor W.J.T. Mitchell seemed to give “the project his backing recently, telling the Tribune, ‘this is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect University . . .

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Madoff an anomaly in an age of decency?

June 29, 2009
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Madoff an anomaly in an age of decency?

This morning, Bernard Madoff, convicted master-mind of a giant Ponzi scheme that swindled investors out of $65 billion, was sentenced to 150 years in jail. Over the course of two decades, the financier perpetuated a fraud that has erupted into one of the largest scandals of modern Wall Street history. Madoff’s name has become synonymous with greed and corruption, but despite his high-profile crimes, he is not symbolic of the country as a whole. In fact, despite recent corporate scandals, the United States is among the world’s least corrupt nations.

This wasn’t the case, however, in the nineteenth century. Then, municipal governments and robber barons alike found new ways to steal from taxpayers and swindle investors. In fact, in those days, the degree of fraud and corruption in America approached that of today’s most unscrupulous developing nations. Exploring this shadowy period of United States history in search of better methods to fight corruption worldwide today, the contributors to Corruption and Reform: Lessons from America’s Economic History reveal the measurement and consequences of fraud and corruption and the forces that ultimately led to their decline within the United States. They show that various approaches to reducing corruption have met with success, . . .

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Another chapter in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya

June 26, 2009
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Another chapter in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya

After being arrested in October of 2006 for the murder of acclaimed Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, three men—two Chechen brothers and a former police investigator—were found not guilty by a jury on charges that they provided logistical support for her killing. But today’s New York Times reports that Russia’s Supreme Court has now overturned their acquittals, as well as the acquittal of “a fourth defendant, a former colonel in the F.S.B., the successor to the K.G.B., who faced lesser charges,” on the grounds that “there had been procedural violations by the judges and the defense during the first trial.” According to the NYT:

Ms. Politkovskaya’s colleagues said they were not surprised by the court’s decision but said they feared that the new trial would be a distraction from their central concern: finding the gunman and the mastermind in the crime.… Investigators say they believe that Rustam Makhmudov, a brother of the two Chechen defendants, carried out the murder, shooting Ms. Politkovskaya, 48, with a Makarov 9-millimeter pistol on Oct. 7, 2006, in the hallway of her apartment building as she returned home.

He is thought to be in hiding abroad. The person or people who ordered the killing have . . .

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A World of Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle

June 25, 2009
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A World of Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle

At the press conference he held yesterday to explain his now-infamous weekend jaunt to Argentina, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford seemed to be trying to say “that he screwed up, in the biggest possible way, because he lost his bearings. He lost his self-control. He was indulgent. He forgot that there were other humans in the world.” That, at least, is how Slate‘s John Dickerson tried to explain what others described as Sanford’s “rambling” and “strange” apology for the trip and the extramarital affair that prompted it.

Though the governor’s behavior may indeed be unorthodox, the scandal itself is, of course, not. A quick survey of news from Italy to Japan to the UK reconfirms that he shares indulgent behavior and loss of self-control with politicians the world over.

While these kinds of antics are mostly painful and costly, the silver lining to their global reach is that they can offer a singularly revealing means of comparing cultures. Mark D. West uses just such a method in Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle, in which he organizes the seemingly random worlds of Japanese and American scandal to explore well-ingrained similarities and contrasts in law and society.

His study of scandals ranging . . .

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A New Series from the University of Chicago Press

June 25, 2009
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American Beginnings, 1500—1900 Edited by Edward Gray, Stephen Mihm, and Mark Peterson

Our new series, American Beginnings will publish original books, written by scholars but accessible to students and a general readership, that address critical issues in American history from the initial period of European contact through the beginning of the twentieth century. The series will focus particularly on questions of power, in all its manifold forms, in the centuries when America evolved from a loose collection of disparate colonies to a full-fledged nation-state. While it will include books on the kinds of institutions typically associated with power— government, legal systems, and voluntary organizations, to name a few—the series also seeks studies that explore expressions of power in more intimate contexts, such as the family and the household.

By affording a broad chronological frame, American Beginnings encourages work that moves beyond conventional periodization and in turn brings new insight to the formative influences on the early American past.

The series will include works by senior and junior scholars from a broad array of subfields, including political history, labor history, African American history, gender history, and financial history. In doing so, it hopes to facilitate novel interdisciplinary discussions about the practices . . .

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Peg Boyers reads “The Fate of Pleasure”

June 25, 2009
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Peg Boyers reads “The Fate of Pleasure”

Just a quick post to point you towards Slate magazines’ weekly poem, which is currently featuring Peg Boyers, author of Hard Bread and more recently Honey with Tobacco, reading her poem “The Fate of Pleasure.”

Each week Slate‘s poetry editor Robert Pinsky chooses a poem to be featured on their site and added to the audio archive at Slate‘s Poetry Podcast. So in the spirit of full disclosure it should also be mentioned that Pinsky has recently released a new book with the Press as well: Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small Town. Though not a poetry book Thousands of Broadways does offer up some of the fascinating literary insights of its author as he examines the history and character of America’s small towns, including reflections on his own time growing up in one.

Find out more about Pinsky’s new book and Boyer’s poetry on the press’s website.

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Counterprotesting a reunion of the protest police

June 24, 2009
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Counterprotesting a reunion of the protest police

This Friday evening, the Chicago officers who policed the 1968 Democratic Convention will reunite for the first time in 41 years. The gathering, billed by organizers as an occasion for the “Chicago Police be honored and recognized for their contributions to maintaining law and order—and for taking a stand against Anarchy,” has rankled veterans of the anti-war demonstrations. As the Chicago Tribune reports

Don Rose, a former spokesman for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, condemned the reunion at a City Hall press conference held by Chicago Copwatch, a community group that is organizing a march to the Fraternal Order of Police hall—where the event is being held—on the night of the reunion.

Rose took issue with the “provocative language” used by reunion organizers. . .

“They seem to be seeking to rewrite history,” Rose said. “These were unprovoked assaults by the police.”

A counterprotest is planned.

John Schultz, a former professor and chair of the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College, was in the middle of the action on those tumultuous August days. While other writers contemplated the events of the 1968 Chicago riots from the safety of their hotel rooms, Schultz was in . . .

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Press Release: Brooks, Black Men Can’t Shoot

June 24, 2009
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Press Release: Brooks, Black Men Can’t Shoot

The lure of a career playing professional basketball—those infamous “hoop dreams”—is often blamed for distracting young African Americans from their studies and pushing them to spend more time on the playground than in school. But this jaundiced view ignores how much these young men can learn on the court—an education that Scott N. Brooks vividly brings to life in Black Men Can’t Shoot.

Brooks coached summer league ball in Philadelphia for four years, becoming intimately involved in the lives of the young black men on his team. Since no one is a born athlete, Brooks shows us that becoming a good player is a learning process—one that transcends the game of basketball and helps mold these kids into responsible adults. He illuminates this process through the stories of two young men, Jermaine and Ray, following them through their high school years, their breakthroughs and frustrations on the court, and their troubles at home. Black Men Can’t Shoot is at once a moving coming-of-age story, a thrilling sports tale, and a clear-eyed look at surviving the ghetto.

Read the press release.

Also, read an excerpt.

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