Blog Archives

You thought that by coming here you were going to escape all the Russia news, didn’t you?

July 23, 2017
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You thought that by coming here you were going to escape all the Russia news, didn’t you?

Well, define “news.” Because what we have to offer is nearly a century old–but it’s also little known. Over at Aeon, Julia Mickenberg has written a piece drawing on her book American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream about the almost unknown stories of the many American women who moved to the young Soviet Union in the early part of the twentieth century in search of a better life. Most of these were ordinary women, tempted by promises of greater freedom, more equality, and a broader spectrum of rights than they could have in the United States at the time. But a few were famous–including dancer Isadora Duncan; you can read about her Soviet years in  an excerpt from the book at Lapham’s Quarterly. See? Nary a word about secret meetings, dodgy dossiers, or anything contemporary. It’s okay sometimes to live in the past–especially when that past reminds you of long-forgotten (if ultimately tragic) dreams of the future. . . .

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Happy 200th Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

July 12, 2017
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Happy 200th Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

                  Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817. Laura Dassow Walls explains the trajectory of his life, which shaped his thinking about the world in every way: He was born on a colonial-era farm into a subsistence economy based on agriculture, on land that had sustained a stable Anglo-American community for two centuries and, before that, Native American communities for eleven thousand years. People had been shaping Thoreau’s landscape since the melting of the glaciers. By the time he died, in 1862, the Industrial Revolution had reshaped his world: the railroad transformed Concord from a local economy of small farms and artisanal industries to a suburban node on a global network of industrial farms and factories. His beloved woods had been cleared away, and the rural rivers he sailed in his youth powered cotton mills. In 1843, the railroad cut right across a corner of Walden Pond, but in 1845 Thoreau built his house there anyway, to confront the railroad as part of his reality. By the time he left Walden, at least twenty passenger and freight trains screeched past his house daily. His response was to call on his . . .

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Philip Gossett (1941–2017)

June 19, 2017
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Philip Gossett (1941–2017)

                  The world of music and opera lost one of its great champions last week with the death of Philip Gossett. It would be hard to overstate Gossett’s contribution to our understanding and experience of opera, particularly of the works of Verdi and Rossini. As the New York Times noted in their obituary, Gossett “was a pioneer in the creation of scholarly critical editions of opera scores,” and he used the knowledge he gleaned from archives and manuscripts not merely in the scholarly world, but also in the realm of performance, working with opera companies, conductors, and singers to bring the most accurate and authentic versions of both familiar and long-forgotten works to audiences around the world. In the Times, Ricardo Muti called Gossett “a blessing for the conductors that wanted, really, to bring back a certain dignity to the scores, to bring back the original ideas of the composers.” In recognition of his service to Italian opera, the Italian government awarded him the Cavaliere di Gran Croce, their highest civilian honor. At the University of Chicago, Gossett served as the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor of Music and also as Dean of  Humanities. The . . .

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“Never have empty bedrooms looked so full.”

July 3, 2014
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The Fourth of July will be marked tomorrow, as usual, with barbecues and fireworks and displays of patriotic fervor. This year, it will also be marked by the publication of a book that honors patriotism–and counts its costs–in a more somber way: Ashley Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen. The book presents photographs of the bedrooms of forty soldiers–the number in a platoon–who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The bedrooms, preserved by the families as memorials in honor of their lost loved ones, are a stark, heartbreaking reminder of the real pain and loss that war brings. As NPR’s The Two-Way put it, “Never have empty bedrooms looked so full.”   {Marine Corporal Christopher G. Scherer, 21, was killed by a sniper on July 21, 2007, in Karmah, Iraq. He was from East Northport, New York. His bedroom was photographed in February 2009.} A moving essay by Gilbertson tells the story of his work on the project, of how he came to it after photographing the Iraq War, and about the experience of working with grieving families, gaining their trust and working to honor it. As Philip Gourevitch writes in his foreword, “The need to see America’s twenty-first-century war dead, and to make them . . .

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We are here

July 23, 2013
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We are here

Ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does the University of Chicago Press. We share a corner of a immensely beautiful campus where Gothic structures mingle with modernist marvels, and a who’s who of architects give the Loop a run for its money (people aren’t quite lining up to stare down from the top of the Logan Center yet, but just give it time!). Even our heating and chiller plants are stunning, an especially lucky fact since the Press building overlooks the towering South Campus Chiller Plant with its engineering inner workings fully on display. But while they make impressive photo ops and allow for games of spot-the-gargoyle, why the gothic buildings? Why did the forward-thinking university start with an architectural style that was centuries old? The answer lies in the beautifully illustrated new book Building Ideas: An Architectural Guide to the University of Chicago. *** For the physical plan and architectural design, the founding trustees considered six local firms. Chicago’s architectural talent was adept at executing large projects, maintaining budgets, and creating designs that consistently impressed (albeit grudgingly) the critics from the East Coast. Chicago School architects designed for a demanding city: for developers who craved square footage, for . . .

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The Rise of Secularism

July 19, 2013
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The Rise of Secularism

When it comes to American religious history, few books have caused as much debate as John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America. In the book, Modern uncovers surprising connections between secular ideology and the rise of new technologies that opened up new ways of being religious in the nineteenth century, and he challenges the strict separation between the religious and the secular that remains integral to the discussions of religion we engage in today. The Immanent Frame describes the debate thusly: Modern’s understanding of secularism and his argument that mid-nineteenth century American religious movements are in some sense responsible for the secularizing ethos which the majority of them opposed. From Modern’s perspective secularization represents not the separation of the religious from the profane but the opportunity for religion to discover within the secular its true meaning. Religion thus confronts modernity not by disappearing but inventing modern figures to adapt to the novelty of the technological age, and to redefine itself.  Perhaps Modern’s most compelling example of these claims is mid-nineteenth century American evangelicalism—specifically its reliance on modern media and technologies. At last fall’s American Academy of Religion conference, the book was the subject of a panel that saw each scholar responding to a specific chapter. . . .

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The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

July 17, 2013
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The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

Guest blogger: Ryo Yamaguchi It is hard to imagine the world—or ourselves for that matter —without DNA, but for most of our intellectual history we knew nothing about those slender molecules. The modern microscope was invented near the beginning of the seventeenth century, with Friedrich Miescher isolating DNA in the late nineteenth, and between those times theories regarding biological formation and reproduction were explored by Enlightenment thinkers and scientists such as John Locke, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Carl Linnaeus, and Comte de Buffon. We overlook it now as common knowledge, but biological reproduction was something these people had to think through, to explain without DNA, and the debates between concepts such as God, mechanics, fermentation, homunculi—and how they could inform life’s larger lineages, of the differences between species, of a natural history as a whole—abounded. Enter Immanuel Kant. Many of us do not think of Kant as a biologist, but he was deeply interested in natural history throughout his career, an interest that Jennifer Mensch takes up in Kant’s Organicism, published last month. Situating Kant among the above thinkers, she shows not only that Kant had theories of his own on the generation of life but that he applied these theories . . .

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Edmund S. Morgan, 1916-2013

July 10, 2013
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Edmund S. Morgan, 1916-2013

We are saddened to hear of the passing of award-winning historian Edmund S. Morgan (1916-2013) this week. Over his sixty-year career, Morgan authored many books on the history of colonial and Revolutionary America that became required reading for students of history. The University of Chicago Press has been proud to publish one of these, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, since 1956. Now in its fourth edition, The Birth of the Republic remains the classic account of the beginnings of American government. This edition features a foreword by Joseph J. Ellis, who lauded Morgan’s achievements in the book and in his impressive career: Apart from its uplifting argument, part of the appeal of The Birth of the Republic is its prose style, which is blissfully bereft of academic jargon, sophisticated but simple in a way that scholarly specialists find impressive and ordinary readers find comprehensible. Morgan makes the story he is telling take precedence over the note cards he has assembled. He regards narrative as the highest form of analysis, and he has a natural gift for telling a story, silently digesting mountains of historical evidence to produce the distilled essence of the issue at stake. He is fond of . . .

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Earth Day

April 22, 2013
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Earth Day

As Adam Rome’s new history of Earth Day–recently reviewed in the New Yorker–reminds us: Earth Day has been around for a long, long time now. And while progress certainly has been made, from the big (the establishment of the EPA) to the small (the fact that when Don Draper casually chucks a beer can into the park in Mad Men, it feels as old-timey as anything in the whole series), the overall project–of conservation, preservation, and restoration–is never done. Given the strength of our list in science and conservation, it’s no surprise that we’re big Earth Day fans over here–we’d be fans of Earth Year, Earth Millennium, or even Universe Eternity if it could be worked. But you start with what you know, so here we are for Earth Day, with a reminder about some of our best recent conservation photography books, perfect for inspiring and educating people about the importance of biodiversity and conservation. The best way to appreciate David Liitschwager’s A World in One Cubic Foot is to check out the slideshow at National Geographic‘s site. There you’ll see Liittschwager’s breathtaking portraits of the stunning variety (and quantity) of living things that passed through a single cubic foot . . .

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Parker knows where the money is: Hollywood!

January 24, 2013
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Parker knows where the money is: Hollywood!

One of the reasons that the master heister Parker is still with us fifty years after pulling his first job is that he’s very good at keeping quiet. He knows better than to plan a job in the town where he’s going to pull it, and he certainly doesn’t encourage advance attention. That’s too bad, because the job he’s pulling this weekend is getting a lot of publicity. Tomorrow night sees the premiere of Parker, a new movie starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez—the first adaptation to actually use Parker’s name—and that’s brought a spate of attention to Parker in all his incarnations. In the Village Voice, Nick Pinkerton runs through the long (and, let’s be honest, checkered) history of adaptations of Parker. Statham’s English accent is a first for Parker, but Pinkerton points out that the movies have always found him mutable: e has been black—Jim Brown, too gentle in 1968’s wasted opportunity The Split —and (sort of) a 25-year-old Danish girl. Made in U.S.A. (1966), with a trench-coated Anna Karina in the lead, is ostensibly based on Stark’s The Jugger, though it’s really but one element in Jean-Luc Godard’s mulligan stew of American pulp references. . . .

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