Blog Archives

When and how baseball became America’s Pastime: An interview with David Rapp

October 4, 2018
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When and how baseball became America’s Pastime: An interview with David Rapp

David Rapp has had a long career as a political journalist–including serving as editor of Congressional Quarterly. But he’s always been as much a baseball fan as a politics junkie, and this spring we published his first foray in that realm: Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America. Booklist called it “a potent reminder of how American first fell in love with its national pastime,” while Chicago magazine praised Rapp’s account of “a changing America that became suddenly and almost inexplicably gripped by baseball fever.” We asked Rapp some questions about baseball, then and now, and how it became what we’ll be watching in the playoffs tonight. It’s almost hard to imagine America without baseball. But clearly the sport had to start somewhere. Can you talk about what baseball was like at the turn of the century? After captivating American crowds with a freewheeling, if also rule-bending, form of entertainment in the 1880s, organized baseball turned cynical and sour in the 1890s. The players were crude and foul-mouthed. The fans were raucous, hungry for violence, and they cheered for mayhem on the field. And the owners were blatantly corrupt. Emerging fads like bicycling and “pedestrianism,” or walking races, . . .

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“I come to kill you”: An excerpt from Leo Durocher’s classic memoir of his years in baseball, Nice Guys Finish Last

October 3, 2018
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“I come to kill you”: An excerpt from Leo Durocher’s classic memoir of his years in baseball, Nice Guys Finish Last

Leo Durocher (1905–1991) was one of the most colorful characters in baseball’s storied history. A playing career that ran from 1925 to 1945 saw him in the uniforms of the Yankees, Reds, Cardinals and Dodgers; he won world championships with New York and St. Louis. In the last years of his playing career, he also took up the managerial reins, winning a pennant with the Dodgers in 1941. After hanging up his spikes, he continued managing until 1973, taking the Giants to the World Series in 1951 and winning it with them in 1954. In Chicago, he’s best known for managing the 1969 Cubs, who blew a giant lead down the stretch and lost the pennant to the Miracle Mets. Through all of this, Durocher’s wit, antics, and irascible personality made him a household name—and a regular guest on radio talk shows in the medium’s heyday. In 1975, Durocher hooked up with veteran writer Ed Linn to write a memoir, “Nice Guys Finish Last.” It quickly became a baseball classic, and the University of Chicago Press was proud to issue a new edition in 2009.     In this excerpt from “Nice Guys Finish Last,” Durocher explains the book’s title . . .

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“The name of the game is gamesmanship”: An excerpt from Veeck—As in Wreck

October 2, 2018
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“The name of the game is gamesmanship”: An excerpt from Veeck—As in Wreck

Any time you go to a baseball game today, you’re experiencing the legacy of Bill Veeck (1914–1986). Fireworks shooting from the scoreboard? Veeck. Concession stands all over the park? Veeck. T-shirt cannons and bands and on-field antics? Well, he didn’t have the tech to do that first one, but it’s definitely in a family with the latter two, and those were Veeck to a T. Oh, and when he was just a young man, working for his father, owner of the Chicago Cubs, he sold the team on growing the ivy. In a long career as a frequently cash-strapped owner of some, well, pretty bad teams, Veeck pursued innovation like few other figures in all of baseball history. Though he’s now best known for a stunt in 1951 in which he sent a 3-foot, 7-inch man named Eddie Gaedel to the plate in a White Sox game, wearing the uniform number 7/8, Veeck’s most lasting contribution to the game was to remind everyone—but particularly owners—that it was being put on for the fans, and that meant it should always be entertaining. As Ed linn, who teamed up with Veeck in 1962 to write his classic memoir of his time in . . .

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Talking baseball with John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball and coauthor of The Hidden Game

October 1, 2018
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Talking baseball with John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball and coauthor of The Hidden Game

(John Thorn, photo by Alison Richards; Bill Savage, photo by Rich Lalich.) In 1984, John Thorn and Pete Palmer helped launch what would become the sabermetric revolution in baseball by publishing The Hidden Game of Baseball: A Revolutionary Approach to Baseball and Its Statistics. More than thirty years later, we have seen the game of baseball absorb the insights of Thorn, Palmer, and those who came in their wake in a way that no one could ever have predicted back in the days when RBI, batting averages, and pitcher wins were king. In 2015, we were proud to bring The Hidden Game back into print. To kick off the baseball playoff season, we hooked up our old friend Bill Savage, lit prof and Cubs fan, with John Thorn to talk about the book and the game.   In The Hidden Game, you and Pete Palmer helped explain new forms of baseball statistics to fans (and the powers-that-be in The Game).   Many of these stats have come to be widely accepted, despite the stubborn adherence to BA/HR/RBI and W/L records among the more retrograde fans. Which of the even more recent statistical categories do you think most add to our understanding and enjoyment of . . .

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Guest post by Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, author of Phoenix Zones, on why process matters to survivors of sexual violence

September 25, 2018
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In her book Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives, Dr. Hope Ferdowsian draws on her experience working as an internist and public health physician around the world with survivors of trauma, including sexual violence. In this guest post, she offers her opinion, informed by the work she draws on in her book, on the US Senate’s approach to the allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of the University of Chicago Press. Process Matters to Sexual Violence Survivors: The Senate Should Pay Attention Dr. Hope Ferdowsian The US Senate leadership is inappropriately rushing to a vote in their attempt to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault, to a lifetime Supreme Court appointment. Immediately after learning of the alleged assault and the victim’s name, many members of Congress dug their heels in the sand, refusing to relent even after new allegations surfaced. Rather than launching an investigation, some members of the Senate have spent their time attempting to demean and bully Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Mr. Kavanaugh’s accuser. The matter has become more and . . .

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Bookselling Without Borders

September 24, 2018
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Bookselling Without Borders

It’s no secret that the American book market is insular. There are reasons for that–it’s a big country, and American culture has been a dominant force internationally for decades. But there’s no question that we as readers are missing out because of it. Bookselling Without Borders wants to change that. And they’ve come up with a great first step: enlist booksellers. Who can do more for a book than a bookseller who has decided it’s something that should be widely known? So they’ve launched a Kickstarter to fund scholarships that will send selected booksellers to international book fairs, where they’ll learn about the publishing world in other countries and come home with new authors and books to advocate for. A number of publishers, including Chicago, have joined in to support the project–which means there are some very choice rewards on offer, including a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style if you pledge $50 or more. For more information, or to back the project, you can go to the Bookselling Without Borders Kickstarter page. Who knows–you just might be funding the person who will hand-sell you your next favorite book! . . .

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Understanding American politics today: identity, the triumph of the national over the local, and the triumph of politics over all else

September 12, 2018
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Understanding American politics today: identity, the triumph of the national over the local, and the triumph of politics over all else

  The surprising outcome of the 2016 presidential election led to a good bit of soul-searching among America’s political pundit class. How could they have gotten things so wrong? The earliest attempts to understand latched onto story and anecdote, as books like J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy were picked apart for their purported insights into the voters who elected Donald Trump. Nearly two years out, it’s clear that more rigorous analysis is likely to prove much more fruitful. And a trio of Chicago books are getting their due, hailed for their insights into the forces driving American politics today. Each offers a piece of the whole, and together, they build a picture of a nation deeply divided, though perhaps not in exactly the ways, or for the reasons, we think. Daniel Hopkins’s The Increasingly United States: How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized lays the groundwork for understanding why our relationship with our local representatives, and the issues they’ve historically been most responsive to, has changed. All politics may once have been local, but that’s no longer the case. As an article in the New Yorker explained: Voters pay vastly more attention to what is going on in Washington, D.C., than to what’s going . . .

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Beyond the cemetery gates: 6 questions for David Charles Sloane about cemeteries and the past and future of memorials

September 4, 2018
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Beyond the cemetery gates: 6 questions for David Charles Sloane about cemeteries and the past and future of memorials

David Charles Sloane’s Is the Cemetery Dead? has attracted notice for its thorough and empathetic survey of emerging trends in how we mourn our loved ones. The Los Angeles Review of Books called it “a levelheaded report on the death care industry,” while Publishers Weekly praised the “personal experience and knowledge” that Sloane interweaves with history and proclaimed the book to be “a great overview of mourning rituals in modern American culture.” We sent David six questions—one, let’s say, for every foot deep that tradition calls for a grave to be dug . . . Is the Cemetery Dead? details what you call the “changing cultural landscape of death and commemoration” by exploring such nontraditional mourning rites as ghost bikes, memory tattoos, and online memorials. Are there any of these new rituals that you find particularly moving or appealing? As a professor of urban planning, I am especially affected by ghost bikes, the spectral white bicycles placed along the roadway at the site of the death of a cyclist. American cities too often have been developed for cars, not people. Over the last half-century, reformers have tried to change that, and make our cities more multi-modal—a place where you can drive, ride, . . .

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Modernity and the Jews

August 17, 2018
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Modernity and the Jews

     “Jews were good to think.” Borrowing a phrase from Claude Levi-Strauss, that’s how Chad Alan Goldberg sums up the crucial role played by ideas and ideologies about Jews in the conceptualization of the major themes of modernity by thinkers like Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. In his book Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, Goldberg shows how social thinkers from France, Germany, and the United States, as they tried to understand the modern world taking shape around them, repeatedly invoked Jews as a touchstone for defining modernity and national identity in a context of rapid social change. In all three countries, intellectuals invoked real or purported differences between Jews and gentiles to elucidate key dualisms of modern social thought. The Jews, he shows, thus became an intermediary through which social thinkers discerned in a roundabout fashion the nature, problems, and trajectory of their own wider societies. The Center for Holocaust and Genocide recently interviewed Goldberg about his book, with particular attention to how it helps us better understand antisemitism: You claim that post-colonial theory has shown a very limited understanding of antisemitism, basically seeing only the reactionary . . .

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7 questions for Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve

July 27, 2018
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7 questions for Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve

Anthropology professor and science writer Barbara J. King has been writing about animals—and pushing the boundaries of what we know and can say about their minds and emotions—for years now. Chicago has been proud to share those discoveries through the books Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat, How Animals Grieve, and Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, all of which have found enthusiastic audiences of both general readers and scholars. Knowing that Barbara was deep into work on her next book (and could probably use a distraction!), we send her a fewquestions. It’s been a year since we published Personalities on the Plate, so I’ll ask that most-dreaded question: what are you working on right now? My writing life works best if I trade off among three speeds at once: banging out a short book review for NPR, the Washington Post, or the Times Literary Supplement; crafting a magazine-length piece that requires more in-depth research; and plugging away at a book manuscript. I’m pretty much always in the middle of three writing projects, as a result.  The book project that very much preoccupies me now–for Chicago, as you know—plunges me into thorny issues related . . .

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