Commentary

Publishers Weekly on Patterns in Nature

February 12, 2016
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Publishers Weekly on Patterns in Nature

Advanced praise for Philip Ball’s forthcoming Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does (April 2016), from Publishers Weekly: Acclaimed English science writer Ball (Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen) curates a visually striking, riotously colorful photographic display of the most dramatic examples of the “sheer splendor” of physical patterns in the natural world. He lightly ties the work together with snippets of scientific history, using bits of physics, chemistry, and mathematics to show that although patterns in living beings can offer clear, functional evolutionary advantages, the small set of design elements that we can see—symmetries, branching fractals, spirals, flowing swirls, spots, and stripes—come from a basic set of organizing properties of growth and equilibrium seeking. Ball ranges across the whole spectrum of creation—from the living to the nonliving, and from the macroscopic to the microscopic—for displays of nature’s patterned beauty. He finds symmetry in grains of pollen, drops of falling water, and owl’s eyes; fractals in leaf veins, lungs, and nebulae; spirals in seashells, sunflowers, and cyclones; and flow patterns in wood grain, flocks of birds, and dunes on Mars. This is formidable eye candy for the I-love-science crowd, sure to spark a sense of impressed . . .

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Andrew R. Highsmith on the crisis in Flint

February 10, 2016
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Andrew R. Highsmith on the crisis in Flint

Below follows an excerpt from “Flint’s toxic water crisis was 50 years in the making,” Andrew R. Highsmith’s op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, which builds on the scholarship of his book Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis. Read his piece in full here. *** As with so many environmental disasters, this one was preventable. Evidence suggests that the simple failure to use proper anti-corrosive agents led to the leaching of lead into the city’s water. It has also become apparent that the slow responses of local, state and federal officials to this crisis — as well as their penchant for obfuscation — prolonged the lead exposure. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that Flint’s predicament is simply the result of government mismanagement. It’s also the product of a variety of larger structural problems that are much more difficult to untangle and remedy. Over the past three-quarters of a century, waves of deindustrialization, disinvestment and depopulation eviscerated Flint’s tax base, making it all but impossible to improve — or even maintain — the city’s crumbling infrastructure. Flint — which once claimed 200,000 residents — now contains fewer than 100,000, nearly half impoverished, more than half African American. . . .

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Verdi’s Nabucco at the Lyric Opera

February 9, 2016
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Verdi’s Nabucco at the Lyric Opera

Full of “blood and thunder“—words for the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, an amalgamation of quasi-stories from the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Daniel coalesced around a love triangle, here revived for the first time since 1998. On the heels of its opening—the full run is from January 23 to February 12—UCP hosted a talk and dinner featuring a lecture “Nabucco and the Verdi Edition” by Francesco Ives. That Verdi Edition, The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, is the most comprehensive critical edition of the composer’s works. In addition to publishing its many volumes, the University of Chicago Press also hosts a website devoted to all aspects of the project, which you can visit here; to do justice to the scope and necessity of the Verdi Edition, here’s an excerpt from “Why a Critical Edition?” on that same site: The need for a new edition of Verdi’s works is intimately tied to the history of earlier publications of the operas and other compositions. When Verdi completed the autograph orchestral manuscript of an opera, manuscript copies were made by the theater that commissioned the work or by his publisher (usually Casa Ricordi). These copies were used in performance, and most of the . . .

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What is an Air Guitar?

February 1, 2016
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What is an Air Guitar?

The University of Chicago Press: you’ve got the answer(s), we’ve got the question(s). (And by questions, I mean Dave Hickey’s other books.)          To read more about The Invisible Dragon, click here. To read more about 25 Women: Essays on Their Art, click here. . . .

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The Party Decides on The Brian Lehrer Show

January 27, 2016
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The Party Decides on The Brian Lehrer Show

The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform is having quite a week—and quite an election season, in general. The book was adopted early by Nate Silver at his FiveThirtyEight blog, which led to explorations of its hypothesis here and here, and most recently here: where Silver posits the book as the most “misunderstood” of the 2016 primary season. The point of Silver’s statement rests on whether or not a Trump nomination would destroy the Republican Party. The book’s argument is that party elites—unelected insiders—control who ultimately ends up nominated at the convention, and that decision is made many months before the primary campaign season even begins. Was anyone but Trump the nominee (say Marco Rubio, or even Jeb Bush), then The Party Decides had it right all along; if Republicans put forward DT, then it may be less a sign that the statistically supported data of the book is incorrect, and more a case of the possible dissolution of the Grand Old Party. In the meantime, you can hear more about the book and what a Trump nomination might signify on today’s episode of The Brian Lehrer Show below: To read more about The Party Decides, click here. . . .

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If the US economy is so good, why does it feel so bad?

January 19, 2016
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If the US economy is so good, why does it feel so bad?

“If the US economy is so good, why does it feel so bad?”* by Salvatore Babones (*adapted from Sixteen for ’16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America, first published on the Policy Press Blog) *** With a 2 percent annual growth rate, 5 percent unemployment, and zero inflation, the US economy is the envy of the world. Growth seems to be rising and unemployment seems to be falling, which means that most analysts expect an even better US economy in 2016. Throw in low gas prices and a strong dollar, and what’s not to like? If the US economy is doing so well, why are ordinary people so unhappy with their own economic prospects? The aggregate US economy may be growing but most people’s personal economies are not. Census Bureau data show that real per capita income is still below 2007 levels—despite six years of solid economic growth. And Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that despite today’s low unemployment rates the jobs still haven’t come back. Back in 2006 the employment rate of the civilian population—the proportion of adults who had jobs—was over 63 percent. Allowing for people who are still in school, people who are retired, people who . . .

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The New York Times Magazine on Alice Goffman

January 13, 2016
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The New York Times Magazine on Alice Goffman

The controversy surrounding Alice Goffman’s On the Run is nothing new—the book’s appearance was met with both laudatory curiosity and defensive criticism, from within and outside academic sociology. On the Run offers an ethnographic account based on Goffman’s work in the field—and the field happens to be a mixed-income, West Philadelphia neighborhood, whose largely African American residents lived their lives under the persistence presence of the cops, whose pervasive policing left Goffman’s subjects, the members of her community, caught in a web of presumed criminality. The elephant(s) in the room: how does a privileged white woman engage in this kind of (often passé) participant-observer research without constantly self-checking her positionality? How can this type of book—and its more sensational elements—be true to the word? Who has permission to write about whom? And what happens when these questions leave the back-and-forth behind the closed doors of the academy and bring up very real suggestions about legal culpability, fabrication, and the politics of representation? In a long-form piece for the New York Times Magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus assesses Goffman’s predicament and how her personal experiences shaped several of the more controversial aspects of the book’s account. All the while, he traces the book’s emergence during a crucial (and heated) moment for the . . .

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Jessa Crispin on St. Teresa and the Single Ladies for the NYT

January 12, 2016
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Jessa Crispin on St. Teresa and the Single Ladies for the NYT

In addition to making an appearance in the “Briefly Noted” books section of the New Yorker, the Cheers equivalent of finding an empty chair between Norm and Cliff at the bar, this week Jessa Crispin, author of The Dead Ladies Project, published an opinion piece at the New York Times on singlehood and St. Teresa, riffing on her pilgrimage to Ávila, the saint’s town. Here’s a nugget of what’s waiting over at the NYT: Five hundred years after St. Teresa, and there are still very few models for women of how to live outside of coupledom, whether that is the result of a choice or just bad luck. I can’t remember the last time I saw a television show or a film about a single woman, unless her single status was a problem to be solved or an illustration of how deeply damaged she was. This continues even as more and more women are staying single longer and longer. I’ve been single for the most part going on 11 years now, and so I have heard every derogatory, patronizing, demeaning thing said about single women. “There has to be someone for you,” a married woman friend once said exasperatedly after I recounted another bad date. Implying, unconsciously, . . .

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The New York Times on Craig Packer

December 30, 2015
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The New York Times on Craig Packer

From an expansive profile of lion expert and University of Chicago Press author Craig Packer at the New York Times: Like many scientists, Dr. Packer, a professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota, has fought his share of battles in the pages of professional journals. But he has also tangled with far more formidable adversaries than dissenting colleagues. He has sparred with angry trophy hunters, taken on corrupt politicians, fended off death threats and, in one case, thwarted a mugging. Like the lioness, his opponents discovered that he is unlikely to give ground. “My reflex is to confront the danger and go right at it,” he said. Dr. Packer’s boldness — he concedes some might call it naïveté — eventually led to the upheaval of his life in Tanzania, where for 35 years he ran the Serengeti Lion Project, dividing his time between Minnesota and Africa. Assisted by a bevy of graduate students, he conducted studies of lion behavior that have shaped much of what scientists understand about the big cats. But in 2014, Tanzanian wildlife officials withdrew his research permit, accusing him of “tarnishing the image of the Government of Tanzania” by making derogatory statements about . . .

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Necessary Fiction on Eduardo Lalo’s Simone

December 28, 2015
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Necessary Fiction on Eduardo Lalo’s Simone

  Eduardo Lalo, as a review in Necessary Fiction notes, is a name familiar to very few English readers. “At the time of this review, a Google search of ‘Eduardo Lalo’ turns up very little in English—only a basic Wikipedia page. One hoping to read more about the author must brush up on one’s dusty Spanish skills.” The Cuban-born Lalo, however, began to gain more cosmopolitan acclaim with the publication of his book Simone, which won the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, an award that aims to “perpetuate and honor the work of the eminent novelist and also to stimulate the creative activity of Spanish language writers.” (The award is somewhat comparable, though much larger in scope, to the Man Booker Prize.) ” On the heels of the award, the the book’s first English language translation, by David Frye, has recently been published by the University of Chicago Press. The plot arc of the novel is complex, and the book’s narrative fealty vacillates between the subject positions of a self-educated Chinese immigrant, a jaded novelist, and the eponymous Simone. From Necessary Fiction, which manages to condense the core of what is at stake for Lalo: Just when we have uncomfortably settled into . . .

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