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7 questions for Daegan Miller about This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent

June 26, 2018
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7 questions for Daegan Miller about This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent

                    Daegan Miller’s new book This Radical Land  has been receiving strong praise for its unearthing of forgotten nineteenth-century stories of American dissent and environmental awareness. Kirkus Reviews wrote: A debut book that ranges across disciplines and decades to connect the natural environment–especially long-lived trees–to a scathing critique of American-style capitalism. Alternating abstract theory with impressive research, both bolstered by extensive sources . . . the author builds his case about understanding American history by examining destruction of the environment through essays grounded in the 19th century. . . . He offers an eclectic education often marked by soaring prose. A reviewer for Pacific Standard, meanwhile, praised Miller’s “interpretive brilliance and gorgeously crafted prose” and called the book “one of the most elegant and insightful examples of environmental writing I’ve seen in many, many years.” We asked Daegan to take time out from his daily routine of work, reading, writing, running, and raising a family to answer a few questions about the book and the stories it tells. This Radical Land maps a number of little-known stories of nineteenth-century America. Which one—if any of these—set you off on the project of the book? And how . . .

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RIP, Stanley Cavell (1926–2018)

June 21, 2018
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RIP, Stanley Cavell (1926–2018)

    The passing of philosopher Stanley Cavell has brought praise and reminiscences from all quarters. “An air of improvisation and fun hung over everything he did,” wrote Christopher Benfey for the New York Review of Books, while Martha C. Nussbaum told the New York Times that he “brought to philosophy a human depth and subtlety that it had all too often lacked.” Our editorial director, Alan Thomas, meanwhile, shared these thoughts on Cavell and his legacy: We will miss Stanley Cavell. His connection to the University of Chicago Press began in 1988, when he delivered the Carpenter Lectures. The lectures were sponsored, tellingly, by Chicago’s English department; Stanley was the most literary of philosophers. The Press went on to publish six of his books, including reissues of Themes out of School and Senses of Walden, and brought out Michael Fischer’s fine study, Stanley Cavell and Literary Skepticism.  Stanley influenced countless of our authors, including Charles Bernstein, who has written that “Cavell does not put forward assertions. The truth of what he says is finally left to whether it holds for you.” I remember best working with Stanley In Contesting Tears, his study of the film genre he called “the melodrama of . . .

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Seven Questions on Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering

June 15, 2018
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Seven Questions on Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering

Scott Samuelson is a philosopher in an old tradition: he’s interested, not in some sort of academic philosophy that only talks to others who are deeply embroiled in its history and traditions, but rather in a philosophy that helps us deal with the problems we face in our everyday lives. His book Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering draws on his study of the discipline and his experience as a teacher of philosophy in a variety of settings–including in prison–to explore the many ways humans have attempted to explain, understand, and philosophically ameliorate suffering over millennia. Scott was kind enough to answer seven questions for us. Have you looked at the news lately? Why on earth would I want to read about suffering right now? Because we have a hunger to seek out meaning in the suffering that bombards us. Thoreau says, “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.” Really, you should read both, but most of us could focus more on the Eternities. The fact is that there’s something deeply satisfying in thinking about suffering, just like there’s something deeply satisfying in a blues song. Once I was asked to lead a discussion at Laughing Sun Brewery in Bismarck called . . .

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Choice Outstanding Academic Titles 2017

January 31, 2018
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Choice, the review magazine from the ALA aimed at academic libraries, has released its annual list of Outstanding Academic Titles, and, as usual, we are proud to find the University of Chicago Press represented by a substantial number of books. Congratulations to all the authors of the books below!   CHOICE Outstanding Academic Titles, 2017 Robert C. Bartlett, Sophistry and Political Philosophy: Protagoras’ Challenge to Socrates Charles Bernstein, Pitch of Poetry David Brody, Housekeeping by Design: Hotels and Labor Alison A. Chapman, The Legal Epic: “Paradise Lost” and the Early Modern Law Chip Colwell, Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture Helen Anne Curry, Evolution Made to Order: Plant Breeding and Technological Innovation in Twentieth-Century America Joel Dinerstein, The Origins of Cool in Postwar America Niles Elderidge, Telmo Pievani, Emanuele Serreli, and Ilya Temkin, eds, Evolutionary Theory: A Hierarchical Perspective Constance M. Furey, Poetic Relations: Intimacy and Faith in the English Reformation John Hollander, The Substance of Shadow: A Darkening Trope in Poetic History Matthew L. Jones, Reckoning with Matter: Calculating Machines, Innovation, and Thinking about Thinking from Pascal to Babbage Daniel LaChance, Executing Freedom: The Cultural Life of Capital Punishment in the United . . .

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Jonathan Z. Smith, historian of religion, 1938-2017

January 12, 2018
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Jonathan Z. Smith, historian of religion, 1938-2017

Historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith died on December 30, aged seventy-nine. He leaves a remarkable legacy from his forty-five-year career at the University of Chicago as a teacher, mentor, writer, and scholar. His colleague Margaret M. Mitchell told the University of Chicago’s Andrew Bauld that Smith was “a quintessential Chicago scholar of indomitable intellectual energy and unforgettable wit, iconoclastic in the very best sense, and utterly dedicated to a life of learning and teaching—for himself, his students and for a civil society.” Bruce Lincoln, who studied with Smith as a graduate student, recalled him as a teacher: “As a lecturer, he was absolutely spellbinding. In exchanges with students he was wonderfully encouraging, challenging and inspiring.” We are proud to have published five books by Jonathan Smith. If you want to get a sense of his voice and breadth of knowledge, you can look at an excerpt from his book Relating Religion here. The University of Chicago has a more extensive obituary appreciation on its main site. Our thoughts are with his family.   . . .

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The Limits of “Diversity”

October 9, 2017
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In recent years, diversity has become a hallowed American value, shared and honored in a wide range of contexts. And even as the concept has faced renewed criticism since the rise of Donald Trump, it remains a much-praised cornerstone of corporate, educational, and civic values. But what do we mean by it? What are we talking about when we talk about diversity? What goals is it intended to serve? And who is it for? The answers to those questions are surprisingly hard to pin down, and they vary by context. Ellen Berrey has been studying diversity for years, in neighborhoods, colleges, and corporations, and in a piece for Salon a few years ago, she was blunt about what she’s discovered: Here’s what I’ve learned: diversity is how we talk about race when we can’t talk about race. It has become a stand-in when open discussion of race is too controversial or — let’s be frank — when white people find the topic of race uncomfortable. Diversity seems polite, positive, hopeful. Who is willing to say they don’t value diversity? One national survey found that more than 90 percent of respondents said they valued diversity in their communities and friendships. Berrey’s book The Enigma . . .

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Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

October 2, 2017
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Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

Sure–there are some subjects you wouldn’t ever go to a student for an opinion on. Proper nutrition, for one. Work-life balance, for another. But sleep? Oh, they understand sleep. That may be because it’s all they do–or it may be because they barely do it at all. But their knowledge? Rock solid. So to assess The Science of Sleep,  we turn to one of our student employees, Tunisia Kenyatta, an undergrad who, when we’re not loading her down with work for our publicity team, studies in the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. Penned by Wallace B. Mendelson, retired professor of psychiatry and clinical pharmacology at the University of Chicago and former president of the Sleep Research Society, The Science of Sleep illuminates a phenomenon that has for far too long been kept in darkness. Approaching the topic of sleep from not only a scientific standpoint, but also evolutionary, historical, and social ones, the book offers an understanding of sleep in packaging that is accesible and valuable to those both inside and outside the realm of science. Mendelson did not hesitate to cast a wide net. In addition to the elements of human sleep states and clinical sleep disorders being thoroughly addressed, the book debunks . . .

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The Book of Caterpillars

September 25, 2017
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The Book of Caterpillars

I’ll open this post with a confession: I once watched a little green caterpillar eat the entirety of a dill plant my wife had planted in a windowbox. How could I not? He was so cute, and so industrious! If you feel the same way, but you also would like to retain your plants for your own use, might I suggest our new Book of Caterpillars?   A very big book about little creatures, offering life-size photographs of six hundred species, accompanied by information about their range, habitat, diet, and the moths and butterflies they eventually become. To whet your appetite, some samples follow. The Loepa Megacore. The Forest Tent Caterpillar. The unforgettably named Lettuce Shark. And the, well, commandingly named Commander. The Book of Caterpillars is inching its way to a bookstore near you right now! . . .

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Review of David Ikard’s Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs

September 15, 2017
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Review of David Ikard’s Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs

One of the great things about being part of a university is that our part-timers tend to be students—and tend to be engaged with the content of the books we publish. Here’s an example: a review by Tunisia Kenyatta, an undergrad who, when we’re not loading her down with work for our publicity team, studies in the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. “As I was writing this book, America felt like it was on fire . . .” – David Ikard   Full of contemplative, sobering analyses, Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs identifies, defines, and locates the origin of white supremacist tropes, presenting strikingly clear pictures of the methods and manifestations of each. While asserting that he who controls the master narrative controls the perception of reality, Ikard offers compelling criticism of this reality as he engages with the work and insights of black artists and activists like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Frederick Douglas, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. In addition to addressing racially biased political campaigns and administrations, Ikard examines how media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, Sandy Hook, and the Charleston shooting show how racial bias raises its head even in tragedy. Rich in reference to . . .

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Machiavelli offers a good way to see out August

August 30, 2017
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This weekend brings the end of summer, that season which, at its opening, always seems to offer such promise. Just think of all the books we’ll read in our sunny back yards! Then Labor Day arrives and the stack of unread books remains higher than we would like, our efforts stymied by life’s many agents of distraction. It can be a time of frustration, of disappointment; it’s all too easy to enter autumn in a mood less autumnal than wintry. So today, we offer a passage from Machiavelli that we have always found comforting, even inspiring. It comes from a letter–collected in our volume of Machiavelli’s letters–that he sent to his benefactor, Francesco Vettori, on December 10, 1513: On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day’s clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which is only mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the . . .

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