Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

Free e-book for September: Craig Packer’s Into Africa

September 1, 2015
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Free e-book for September: Craig Packer’s Into Africa

Our free e-book for September: Into Africa by Craig Packer *** Craig Packer takes us into Africa for a journey of fifty-two days in the fall of 1991. But this is more than a tour of magnificent animals in an exotic, faraway place. A field biologist since 1972, Packer began his work studying primates at Gombe and then the lions of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater with his wife and colleague Anne Pusey. Here, he introduces us to the real world of fieldwork—initiating assistants to lion research in the Serengeti, helping a doctoral student collect data, collaborating with Jane Goodall on primate research. As in the works of George Schaller and Cynthia Moss, Packer transports us to life in the field. He is addicted to this land—to the beauty of a male lion striding across the Serengeti plains, to the calls of a baboon troop through the rain forests of Gombe—and to understanding the animals that inhabit it. Through his vivid narration, we feel the dust and the bumps of the Arusha Road, smell the rosemary in the air at lunchtime on a Serengeti verandah, and hear the lyrics of the Grateful Dead playing off bootlegged tapes. Into Africa also . . .

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Excerpt: The Dead Ladies Project

August 21, 2015
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Excerpt: The Dead Ladies Project

“Berlin/William James” from Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries *** Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help! William James, Varieties of Religious Experience   “You’re in Berlin because you feel like a failure.” I had met this man all of ten minutes ago and he was already summing me up neatly. I made subtle readjustments to my clothing, as if it had been a wayward bra strap or an upwardly mobile hemline that had given me away. More likely it was my blank stare in response to his question, “So, what brings you to Berlin?” He has had to do this a lot, I imagine: greet lost boys and girls, still wild with jet lag, still unsure how to make ourselves look less obviously like what we are, we members of the Third Great Wave of American Expatriation to Berlin. This man before me was second on the list of names that everyone gets from worried friends when resettling overseas: Everyone I Know in the City to Which You Are Moving (Not Totally Vouched For). I had lasted about a week before I sent e-mails tinged with panic to everyone on my list. . . .

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Excerpt: Players and Pawns

August 17, 2015
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Excerpt: Players and Pawns

“The World of Chess” from Gary Alan Fine’s Players and Pawns: How Chess Builds Community and Culture *** Chess is not the oldest game of humankind. That honor goes to an Egyptian board game dating back to 3500– 4000 BC. But chess’s longevity is remarkable. While claims of the true beginnings of chess are various and the origins are shrouded in mystery, consensus exists that the game as we recognize it began on the Indian subcontinent in approximately 700 AD, although Persia shaped the early game as well. As with so many origin stories, one can find political motives. For instance, some claim that chess originated in Uzbekistan or even in China. Chess is considered a war game, or at least a game that models warfare or prepares soldiers, although some legendary origins (Myanmar or Sri Lanka) suggest in a more pacifist fashion that the game was developed to provide a less bloody equivalent to conflict. Given the passion of Napoleon for the game, such sublimation was not inevitably effective. When the game spread to the Islamic world, which rejected gambling and gaming, chess was permitted because it was considered preparation for war. In the Soviet Union, the game was treated . . .

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World Elephant Day

August 12, 2015
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World Elephant Day

Tuesday, August 12th, is the inaugural “World Elephant Day,” initiated by a number of elephant conservation organizations, each working in collaboration toward “better protection for wild elephants, improving enforcement policies to prevent the illegal poaching and trade of ivory, conserving elephant habitats, better treatment for captive elephants and, when appropriate, reintroducing captive elephants into natural, protected sanctuaries.” Caitlin O’Connell, the author of Elephant Don: The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse, recently posted at National Geographic about the loss of Greg, the iconic elephant whose rise and reign as a don among his peers was chronicled in her book. Finally reconciling that fact that she hadn’t seen Greg in four years with the increasing likelihood of his death inspired O’Connell to post a formal obit, of sorts, in which she reminisced on Greg’s presence, absence, and legacy. In part: Four years after what most probably marked the passing of the don, I can’t ignore the impact that his absence has had on this male society, and just how similar their social dynamics have been to a human society after the loss of a great figure head. In 2012, the first season without the don, there seemed to be competing factions, Prince Charles leading one camp and Luke . . .

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Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers: A Postscript

August 10, 2015
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Jennifer Ann Drobac’s Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers: Adolescent Development, Discrimination, and Consent Law—which focuses on the precarious positions, legal and otherwise, occupied by developing adolescents when sexually harassed by adults, including supervisors, teachers, and mentors—will publish in January 2016.  Following a recent change to California civil law spurred by Drobac’s scholarship, the following serves as postscript to the book. In November 2014, after I completed this manuscript, I spoke with Karen Foshay, a news reporter who was covering a case involving a California middle school student. Los Angeles School District lawyers used the girl’s consent to sex with her teacher to defend a civil action filed by her family. Then, after Arun Rath interviewed me on All Things Considered, I received calls from several California legislative aides regarding possible changes to California civil law. In July 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 14, effective January 1, 2016. This bill creates California Civil Code section 1708.5.5, which will prohibit the use of a minor’s consent in a civil action against an adult in a position of authority. It is not clear how this law will affect California civil cases involving adults who do not occupy positions of authority. Additionally, one cannot tell how this new . . .

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August 5, 1949: Young Men and Fire

August 5, 2015
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August 5, 1949: Young Men and Fire

August 5, 2015, marks the 66th anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire, which eventually spread to cover 4,500 acres of Montana’s Gates of the Mountain Wilderness in Helena National Forest, and claimed the lives of 12 of the 15 elite US Forest Service Smokejumpers, who acted as first responders in the moments before the blaze jumped up a slope and “blew up” its surrounding grass. Haunted by the event, Montana native, author, and former University of Chicago professor Norman Maclean devoted much of his life’s work to researching and writing an account of the events that unfolded that first week of August 1949, which would met publication posthumously two years after Maclean’s death as Young Men and Fire. The book, now considered a classic reconstruction of an American tragedy and a premier piece of elegiac memoir qua historical non-fiction, went on to win a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. Below follows an excerpt. *** Then Dodge saw it. Rumsey and Sallee didn’t, and probably none of the rest of the crew did either. Dodge was thirty-three and foreman and was supposed to see; he was in front where he could see. Besides, he hadn’t liked what he had seen when he looked down . . .

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The Freedom Principle

July 13, 2015
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The Freedom Principle

This past weekend, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago launched the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, co-organized by Naomi Beckwith and Dieter Roelstraete. An easy explication for the impetus behind the show takes the viewer to the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s, where African American artists and musicians grappled with new language and forms inspired by the black nationalist turn in the Civil Rights movement. I’m plucking that line from the jacket copy, but the show (and its associated book) goes beyond cultural inventory and instead repositions the wide-ranging experimental works and the community of artists who made them in one particular canon to which they have long-belonged: the history of avant-garde collectives engaged equally in art and social justice. You can view sample pages from the book here. From a very brief description via the Art Newspaper: This year, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an avant-garde jazz collective founded on the South Side of Chicago, celebrates its 50th birthday. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is joining the festivities with the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now. Hingeing on the themes of improvisation, experimentation and collectivity, it . . .

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The tenacity of the Little Magazine in the digital age

July 9, 2015
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The tenacity of the Little Magazine in the digital age

From a recent piece in the New Yorker by Stephen Burt on the plight/flight of the little magazine in the digital age: Ditto machines in the nineteen-sixties and seventies, offset printing and, in the past two decades, Web-based publishing have made it at least seem easier for each new generation. In 1980, the Pushcart Press—known for its annual Pushcart Prizes—published a seven-hundred-and-fifty-page brick of a book, “The Little Magazine in America,” of memoirs and interviews with editors of small journals. “The Little Magazine in Contemporary America,” a much more manageable collection of interviews and essays that was published in April, looks at the years since then, the years that included—so say the book’s editors, Ian Morris and Joanne Diaz— “the end of the ascendancy of print periodicals,” meaning that the best small litmags have moved online. The Little Magazine in America does indeed chronicle the history and trajectory of the “little magazine” through the past half-century of American life, from its origins in universities, urban centers and rural fringes, and among self-identified peers. Featuring contributions from the editors of BOMB and n + 1  to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and the Women’s Review of Books, Morris and Diaz’s collection pays special attention to the fate of these idiosyncratic cultural touchstones in an age fueled . . .

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Heat Wave

June 29, 2015
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Heat Wave

Below follows a brief excerpt from “Heat Wave,” Chicago magazine’s excellent, comprehensive oral history of the week of record-breaking temperatures in July 1995 that killed more than 700 people, became one of the nation’s worst disasters, and left a legacy of unanswered questions about how civic, social, and medical respondents were ill-equipped and unable to contend with trauma on such a scale. *** Mark Cichon, emergency room physician at Chicago Osteopathic Hospital I remember talking to friends at other hospitals who said, “Man, we’re in the middle of a crisis mode.” It was across the city. Our waiting room and the emergency departments were packed. We were going from one emergency to another, all bunched together, almost like a pit crew. The most severe cases were the patients with asthma who were so far into an attack we couldn’t resuscitate them. I remember a woman in her early 30s. The paramedics had already put a tube into her lungs. We were trying to turn her around, but there was nothing that could be done. Eric Klinenberg, sociologist and author of the 2002 book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (to the Chicago Tribune in July 2012) did . . .

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The Culture Wars Are Over?

June 15, 2015
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The Culture Wars Are Over?

From an interview between Micah Uetricht and Andrew Hartman, author of The War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, at In These Times: You write about people on the Left realizing that, in addition to restrictive ideas about gender and race, perhaps the whole American project is rotten to the core, and they need a different way to define themselves. And so there increasingly was no unifying project for the Left to feel a part of anymore—while the average American still probably wanted to be a part of that kind of project. There were some people from the ‘60s onward who saw the whole American project as irredeemable: racist, sexist, imperialist. But for the most part that was a very small minority. Multiculturalists, the people who Schlesinger was arguing against, just wanted the U.S. to reflect what it actually was: a very multicultural society. People wanted to stop the U.S. from thinking of itself as better than others, reject American exceptionalism. But most of these people weren’t giving up the project of the U.S., they just wanted the project to look different. Derrick Bell, the critical race theorist and law professor who I write about in the . . .

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