Monthly Archives: June 2009

Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism—talk and book signing at the Corcoran Gallery

June 8, 2009
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Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism—talk and book signing at the Corcoran Gallery

In the spring of 1900, British archaeologist Arthur Evans began an unprecedented project to reconstruct the palace of Knossos on Crete, but instead, as Cathy Gere demonstrates in her new book, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, created a complex of concrete buildings on the site owing at least as much to modernist architecture as to Bronze Age remains. As Tom Holland of the Times Literary Supplement writes: “the fabulously ancient palace of Knossos enjoys, as Gere points out in her arresting first sentence, ‘the dubious distinction of being one of the first reinforced concrete buildings ever erected on the island.’”

Gere shows how Evans’ idiosyncratic reconstruction of the palace of Knossos was nevertheless successful at bringing ancient Greek legends to life and sparking the imaginations of a host of twentieth century artists and intellectuals. Influencing the likes of Joyce, Picasso, and Sigmund Freud to name a few, Evans’ often fanciful vision of Cretan civilization, promulgated through the work of visionaries like these, had a profoundly transformative effect on the way Western culture viewed its past, as well as its future.

On Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 7:00 PM Gere is scheduled to make an appearance at Washington DC’s . . .

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The Weather Behind the Air France Tragedy

June 5, 2009
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The Weather Behind the Air France Tragedy

It has been more than five days since Air France Flight 447, en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro, disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean, and the fate of the plane, and its 228 passengers, is still a mystery. Despite a massive sea search, debris from the crash has been difficult to locate, and today Brazilian officials announced what had been pulled from the ocean thus far was likely not from the doomed flight. The cause of the catastrophe, as well, remains a topic of heated speculation: the flight encountered bad weather and turbulence four hours into its journey, but was that enough to cause a modern jet to plunge into the sea?

Our weather and aviation expert Jack Williams, author of The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America’s Weather, is back to discuss how his book can help everyone—from reporters and pilots to lay men and women—better understand the weather related to the crash.

Most news stories about the June 1 crash of Air France Flight 447 into the Atlantic Ocean mention that it was flying through an area of thunderstorms when it went down, but these stories leave readers hungry for more information.

The crash has . . .

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NYT Sunday Book Review: Bigfoot

June 5, 2009
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NYT Sunday  Book Review: Bigfoot

NYT contributor Florence Williams begins her review of Joshua Blu Buhs’ new book for this weekend’s Sunday Book Review:

Because I watched TV in the 1970s, I have an image of Bigfoot stamped on my brain like a paw print. He resembles Chewbacca (minus the bandolier) walking through a grainy forest, scowling over his shoulder at the camera. But your Bigfoot image might be different, because for a while the hairy hominid was everywhere, in B movies and liquor advertisements and docu- and mocumentaries. He also starred in some “real” footage taken in 1967. That one was actually a she, complete with pendulous breasts.

Why did this ginormous, nonexistent ape capture our collective imaginations for five decades, and what does our infatuation say about us? Joshua Blu Buhs, the author of a previous book, about fire ants, takes up these questions in Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend.

Writing with a scientist’s skepticism but an enthusiast’s deep engagement in Bigfoot Buhs traces the wild and wooly story of America’s favorite homegrown monster beginning with nineteenth-century accounts of wildmen roaming the forests of America and treks to the Himalayas to reckon with the Abominable Snowman, all the way . . .

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Tank Man of Tiananmen: enough said?

June 4, 2009
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Tank Man of Tiananmen: enough said?

Tomorrow, June 5, marks the twentieth anniversary of one of the most famous images in recent memory. On this day in 1989, the Los Angeles Times was probably the first American newspaper to publish a photograph that continued (and still continues) to appear on countless TV screens and in publications around the world: that of an anonymous man who had stepped in front of a row of tanks near the embattled Tiananmen Square.

Four photographers captured this now-iconic moment, and in commemoration of its anniversary they reflect on the the encounter at the New York Times‘s Lens blog. Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, authors of No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy, have also reflected—extensively—on the definitive image. In their chapter devoted to Tiananmen imagery, they reconsider its meaning, arguing that the photo can be seen as both a progressive celebration of human rights and as a societal vision limited by individualism. “The choice between the individual and the authoritarian state is any easy one,” they conclude, “but either way you get the empty street.”

In addition to their extensive discussion in No Caption Needed, Hariman and Lucaites also have discussed the matter on their . . .

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Remembering Koko Taylor and the real Chicago Blues

June 4, 2009
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Remembering Koko Taylor and the real Chicago Blues

With yesterday’s passing of legendary blues singer Koko Taylor Chicago has lost one of it’s most endearing and authentic blues masters whose career spanned the golden era of the Chicago blues all the way to the present. Though born in Tennessee, Taylor relocated to Chicago in 1952 and called the Windy City home for the rest of her life, releasing her first hit single “Wang Dang Doodle” on Chicago’s famous Chess Records alongside other blues icons including Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Little Walter Jacobs and Muddy Waters. And though most of the aforementioned musicians passed on years ago, for many Taylor’s passing is another reminder of the passing of an era when one could still seek out and find the real Chicago blues—when run-down dimly lit clubs were a matter of necessity and not aesthetics, and the heartbreak and loss were real and not feigned for the amusement of high tipping tourists.

In his book Blue Chicago David Grazian undertakes a fascinating study of this sea change in the Chicago blues scene, uncovering how the “authentic” blues experience is today manufactured and sold to contemporary music fans and audiences. Drawing on countless nights in dozens . . .

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La Divina Commedia di Roberto Benigni

June 3, 2009
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La Divina Commedia di Roberto Benigni

Roberto Benigni, last seen around these parts leaping over chairs at the Academy Awards to accept his Oscar for the film Life is Beautiful and threatening to kiss everybody, is back stateside with a new project. In his one-man show TuttoDante, Benigni channels his natural ebullience to celebrate his love of the Divine Comedy; all in two hours, the Italian actor riffs on current events and his colorful mangling of English before launching into a verse-by-verse analysis of the fifth canto of the “Inferno,” which he then, in a climactic finale, recites, in its entirety, in Italian.

Long known for bridging seemingly incongruous genres (remember, this is the man who directed a comedy about the Holocaust), Benigni here combines stand-up comedy with critical exegesis of a fourteenth century epic poem, which, despite the long odds against it, apparently makes for riveting live theater. Widely popular in his native Italy, the show is now drawing sell-out crowds in San Francisco (where, according to this review, he ran laps around the stage and said, “I feel like to undress myself and to jump on you.”) and New York. If your appreciation of Dante’s masterwork is, well, a little less exuberant than . . .

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The definitive wildman

June 2, 2009
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The definitive wildman

Two recent reviews of Joshua Blu Buhs’ new book, Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend focus attention on the author’s ability to extract a penetrating cultural critique from his book’s unlikely subject. From nineteenth-century accounts of wildmen roaming the forests of America, right up to the claims of two hunters in rural Georgia last August that they killed Bigfoot, Buhs traces the cultural transformation of the myth from its early days when “Bigfoot hunting was a means by which white working class men could… their manhood in difficult conditions,” to its various modern uses as a highly effective marketing tool.

Delivering an insightful exploration of what our fascination with this monster says about our modern relationship to wilderness, individuality, class, consumerism, and the media, Buhs’ Bigfoot offers the definitive history of the legendary wildman.

Check out the reviews on the Bookslut website and on John Rimmer’s Magonia blog. (“Magonia”—I’ll save you a trip to Wikipedia—is a magical land that is described in French folktales.)

Also, read an excerpt from the book and an interview with the author.

. . .

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Regrets in the wild

June 2, 2009
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Regrets in the wild

In his column for today’s New York Times, John Tierney reports on a recent study that provided what researcher Ben Hayden touted as “the first evidence that monkeys, like people, have ‘would-have, could-have, should-have’ thoughts. ”

Hayden and two other researchers scanned the brains of monkeys who were “trying to win a large prize of juice by guessing where it was hidden. When the monkeys picked wrongly and were shown the location of the prize, the neurons in their brain clearly registered what might have been.”

Weighing in on these findings, Mark Bekoff, author of the new Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, told Tierney that “these animals are not as emotionally sophisticated as humans, but they have to know what’s right and wrong because it’s the only way their social groups can work. Regret is essential, especially in the wild. Humans are very forgiving to their pets, but if a coyote in the wild gets a reputation as a cheater, he’s ignored or ostracized, and he ends up leaving the group. ”

In fact, as Bekoff and coauthor Jessica Pierce reveal in Wild Justice, animals exhibit a broad repertoire of such behaviors, including fairness, empathy, trust, and reciprocity. . . .

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North America’s lost abundance

June 1, 2009
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North America’s lost abundance

Two new reviews of Steve Nicholls’ Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery begin by offering a picture of the North American wilderness before European settlement—rivers teaming with more salmon than water, “colonies of nesting seabirds in nearly unimaginable numbers,” and “great herds of ruminants” grazing their way across endless plains—a far cry from the American landscape that most of see today. But while the reality of this unspoiled natural habitat maybe forever lost, both reviews point out that in Paradise Found Nicholls has managed to successfully reproduce its fascinating history. With the benefit of the copious records left behind by the first European settlers, Nicholls employs both historical narrative and scientific inquiry to produce an enthralling description of just what an amazing place North America was and how it looked when the explorers first found it. But more than a celebration of what once was, as Gregory McNamee notes in the Washington Post , Nicholls’ book also serves as a potent reminder of how much we have lost along the way, and an urgent call to action for future generations. McNamee writes:

Nicholls’s book is an effort at making a blueprint of sorts, a plan by . . .

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Lightning strikes and airplanes

June 1, 2009
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Lightning strikes and airplanes

This morning, news of the missing Air France plane en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro, which disappeared from radar following an electrical systems breakdown as it flew through heavy turbulence Sunday night, has led some to speculate that the jet was brought down by a lightning strike. Our weather and aviation expert Jack Williams weighs in:

Today’s disappearance of an Air France Airbus 330 over the Atlantic Ocean has led to speculation that it was hit by lightning. While it’s possible that lightning could have been involved in the crash, reporters and commentators shouldn’t jump to this conclusion.

When lightning hits an airplane in the air the electrical current flows through the metal skin and back into the air, almost always doing little more than leaving burn marks on the skin.

The last lightning-caused crash of an airliner in the United States was on December 8, 1962 when lightning hit a Pan American Boeing 707 flying in a holding pattern over Elkton, Maryland. It caused a spark that ignited fuel vapor in a tank. The resulting explosion brought the airplane down, killing all 81 aboard.

The Pan Am crash and others somewhat like it elsewhere in the world . . .

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