Monthly Archives: August 2009

Leo Durocher and the “Collapsing Cubs”

August 31, 2009
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Leo Durocher and the “Collapsing Cubs”

Leo “the Lip” Durocher began his five-decade career inauspiciously, riding the bench for the powerhouse 1928 Yankees, hitting so poorly that Babe Ruth nicknamed him “the All-American Out.” But soon Durocher—who would become infamous for his cantankerousness, fighting moxie, and will to win—hit his stride taking the 1934 World Series with the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals, turning the Brooklyn Dodgers around as player-manager five years later, and managing the New York Giants to their 1951 pennant win. But as Joe Distelheim notes in a recent review of Durocher’s autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last, not even “the Lip” could “swagger and tough talk” his way around The Curse of the Billy Goat. Distelheim writes:

Odds are good, dear reader, that I already was following the Cubs when your mother was born, so you’ll understand that I took particular interest in the Chicago part of the chronology. Durocher had an easy act to follow; he took over in 1966 after a particularly fallow period even for the Cubs of that era. They were coming off an eighth-place finish and a failed five-year experiment with a “college of coaches” running things instead of a manager.

In the book, Durocher doesn’t omit the oft-told . . .

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Remembering Katrina, Understanding the Weather

August 31, 2009
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Remembering Katrina, Understanding the Weather

This past weekend marked the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s deadly landfall on the Gulf Coast. The storm topped New Orleans’ levees, wiped out large swaths of the city, and ignited debate about severe weather preparedness as well as racism in modern America.

Though the floodwater has long since receded, the storm will continue to be of sociological, political, and meteorological interest for decades to come. And if the anniversary—not to mention the new storms swirling in the oceans—has you curious about how hurricanes form, travel, and destroy, The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America’s Weather is your one-stop shop for information about our country’s occasionally violent weather.

Esteemed science journalist and former USA Today weather editor Jack Williams overs everything from daily weather patterns, air pollution, and global warming to the stories of people coping with severe weather and those who devote their lives to understanding the atmosphere, oceans, and climate. Words alone, of course, are not adequate to explain many meteorological concepts, so The AMS Weather Book is filled with engaging full-color graphics that explain such concepts as why winds blow in a particular direction, how Doppler weather radar works, what happens inside hurricanes, how . . .

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By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million (minus one) strong

August 28, 2009
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By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million (minus one) strong

August 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the seminal festival of the sixties. Remembrances and tributes, not to mention a new film by Ang Lee, have commemorated the event as many participants experienced it: groovy, mythical, and drug-addled.

But not everyone who made it to Yasgur’s farm was having a transcendental experience. Poet Alan Shapiro, then a rising senior in high school, was more concerned with honing his basketball skills during the summer of 1969 than he was expanding his consciousness. But yet he found himself a member of Woodstock nation that August, and lived to tell the tale. “Woodstock Puritan,” from his 1996 essay collection The Last Happy Occasion, recounts not only the poet’s disheartening experience at the concert, but also explores the poetry of Thom Gunn, the importance of pleasing your parents, and, of course, the transcendence of basketball. In honor of the fortieth anniversary of those three days of peace, love, and music, we have excerpted the essay for the first time. Cue up Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner and transport yourself to another time, forgotten space.

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With no direction home, like a complete unknown

August 26, 2009
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With no direction home, like a complete unknown

Rock legend Bob Dylan was stopped by police last month in Long Branch, New Jersey, after anxious homeowners, into whose yard the hooded and sweat-panted troubadour had wandered during a rain storm, reported an “eccentric-looking old man.” The reporting officer, a 24-year-old cop, didn’t recognize Dylan, who was not carrying identification, and detained him until his identity could be established. The former Robert Zimmerman was in the area on a stopover of his cross-country tour with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson.

Dylan’s run-in with the law provided ample fodder for jokes (even the man himself quipped on his weekly satellite radio show “I am talking to a couple of car companies about possibly being the voice of their GPS system. I think it would be good if you’re looking for directions, and you heard my voice, saying something like, “Left at the next street. No, right. You know what? Just go straight.’”) and talk-radio discussion about the relevance of 1960s superstars in a twentieth-first century world. But lost in the coverage was a thoughtful debate about small towns—places where everybody knows each other—and the small-mindedness that comes with that insularity. It’s a topic that Robert Pinsky takes up in . . .

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Looting the birthplace of civilization

August 26, 2009
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Looting the birthplace of civilization

Lawrence Rothfield’s The Rape of Mesopotamia: Behind the Looting of the Iraq Museum offers a revealing look at the plundering of Iraq’s cultural heritage during the Iraq war. Housing relics dating back to the dawn of human civilization some twelve thousand years ago, Iraq’s National Museum as well as many important archeological sites were looted while, according to Rothfield, nearly everyone, including some of the highest ranking U.S. government officials, simply looked the other way. As Benjamin Moser writes his review for the September edition of Harper’s magazine:

The destruction inevitable in wartime might have been mitigated if Iraq had not suffered the bad luck of being invaded by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. One of the many low points of their low endeavor came when Rumsfeld (whose boundless self-regard was untethered to any reckonable aptitude) said that “stuff happens” in reply to early reports of widespread looting. “The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over,” Rumsfeld scoffed, “and its the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it twenty times and you think ‘M y goodness, were there that many vases?’”

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Galileo’s telescope

August 25, 2009
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Galileo’s telescope

Today’s “Google Doodle” acknowledges the 400th anniversary of the public debut of Galileo Galilei’s telescope, commemorating one of the most important technical innovations in the history of science. As the Guardian‘s Peter Walker writes, it was “exactly 400 years ago today, on 25 August 1609, the Italian astronomer and philosopher Galileo Galilei showed Venetian merchants his new creation, a telescope.”

Though a rather crude instrument by today’s standards, Galileo’s scope allowed him to demonstrate some of the most solid empirical evidence in support of Copernicanism the world had ever seen, producing a revolution, not only in astronomy and cosmology, but in the social fabric of renaissance Italy (and the rest of the western world). With the publication of his observations in Sidereus Nuncius the preeminent scientist immediately found himself at odds with the Vatican and the Medici court, resulting in one of the most famous instances of the intellectual as martyr since Socrates. His struggles to reconcile the troubled relationship between Copernicanism and Scripture, along with his treatment at the hands of the Vatican (put under house arrest for the remainder of his life after being put to trial on suspicion of heresy in 1633), have sparked perennial . . .

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Edith Wyschogrod, 1930–2009

August 25, 2009
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Edith Wyschogrod, 1930–2009

Edith Wyschogrod, an influential philosopher of religion and Press author, died on July 16 at the age of 79. Over the years, the Press published two of her books, as well as an essay on value in Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Her Saints and Postmodernism was a key book in our Religion and Postmodernism series.

Mark C. Taylor, a long-time Press author, was close friends with Wyschogrod for more than three decades. We asked him for his remembrance of this extraordinary woman, and he offered this thoughtful memorial.

To speak from the burial place is to inhabit a terrain that is not a terrain, an exteriority that is the non-place of ethics, the “space” of authorization of historical narrative.—Edith Wyschogrod, An Ethics of Remembering

Edith Wyschogrod now speaks to us from the burial place—speaks to us from the non-place of ethics she probed so thoughtfully, speaks to us of spirit and ashes, saints and terrorists, calculation and the incalculable, memory and forgetfulness. Memory and forgetting she taught us are never innocent but are ethical acts for which each individual must take responsibility. How to remember? How to forget?

I first met Edith over thirty years ago and for . . .

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Rose Friedman, 1910-2009

August 24, 2009
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Rose Friedman, 1910-2009

Last week, Rose Friedman, wife of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and a respected economist in her own right, died at the age of 98. She was preceded in death by her husband of 68 years, who passed in 2006. Rose collaborated with her husband—a leader of the Chicago School of economics—on a number of books, including the classic Capitalism and Freedom, in which Friedman provides the definitive statement of his immensely influential economic philosophy—one in which competitive capitalism serves as both a device for achieving economic freedom and a necessary condition for political freedom.

In 1998, the Press published Two Lucky People: Memoirs, a memorable and lively account of Rose and Milton’s lives together, the people they knew, and the work they shared. In its pages, they set the record straight regarding their involvement with world leaders and many of the twentieth century’s most important public policy issues. Included in Two Lucky People are previously unpublished documents of significant interest, such as a letter Milton Friedman wrote to General Pinochet in 1975 on his return from Chile along with Pinochet’s reply; a memo from Friedman prepared in 1988 for Zhao Zi Yang, the general secretary for the Communist . . .

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Shedding new light on the unraveling of Chicago public housing

August 21, 2009
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Shedding new light on the unraveling of Chicago public housing

Chicago projects like Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor Homes have gained national notoriety as some of the worst disasters in public housing since the federal programs that created them were born out of the wake of the Great Depression. Cabrini Green in particular stands out due to its immediate proximity to the upper-class Gold Coast neighborhood, the scar of poverty amongst Cabrini’s residents made painfully visible against a backdrop of an otherwise wealthy urban center.

But with the eventual acknowledgment of the projects’ failure and the subsequent tear-down of these two icons of failed policy, sociologists, government officials, and others have begun intensely scrutinizing the program’s history in an attempt to find out what went wrong, and to prevent it from happening again. One of the latest additions to the canon of sociological studies focusing on the failure of Chicago’s housing projects, D. Bradford Hunt’s Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing challenges explanations that attribute the projects’ decline primarily to racial discrimination and real estate interests, arguing that well-intentioned but misguided policy decisions—ranging from design choices to maintenance contracts—also paved the road to failure. As Elizabeth Taylor writes in a recent review of the book . . .

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Google can enable us to go faster and farther?

August 20, 2009
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Google can enable us to go faster and farther?

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is reportedly on the verge of a deal with Google to digitize the library’s archive. Denis Bruckmann, director of collections, told the Times of London that “the decision was purely financial,” for the library, which said it needed more money than France provided for digitizing its collection. “If Google can enable us to go faster and farther, then why not?” Bruckman asked.

Why not Google is a question that Jean-Noël Jeanneney answered several times over during his five-year tenure as president of the BnF, a post from which he argued passionately that the company’s mass digitization effort would insidiously extend American cultural dominance abroad. In Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge, he contends that Google’s unsystematic approach must be countered by long-term planning on the part of cultural and governmental institutions worldwide—a serious effort to create a truly comprehensive library, one based on the politics of inclusion and multiculturalism.

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