Commentary

Send a valentine: give a book

February 10, 2006
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Send a valentine: give a book

Since ancient times, the heart has been associated with love and passion, but the familiar heart shape (♥) dates from the Middle Ages. Heart-shaped valentines are actually a special instance of the entwining of books and hearts that Eric Jager examined in The Book of the Heart. When we published his book, Jager wrote a special feature for our website in which he traces the heart-as-book metaphor through history. Read his essay, “Reading the Book of the Heart from the Middle Ages to the Twenty-First Century.” . . .

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Only an idiot laughs at everything

February 6, 2006
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Paul Lewis, a professor of English at Boston College, has an op-ed piece in the Hartford Courant on the protests in the Muslim world over cartoons originally published in a Danish newspaper. “It’s easy to see that the protesters fail to appreciate how a free press operates,” says Lewis. The question however is not whether newspapers have a right to publish such satire, “but whether papers should have chosen to print these cartoons.” Lewis has thought a great deal about the place of humor in contentious times, as will be evident in his book, Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict, which we will publish later this year. . . .

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Foucault and the Iranian Revolution

February 1, 2006
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Foucault and the Iranian Revolution

On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran after fifteen years of exile. The Shah had fled Iran about two weeks earlier and Khomeini was acclaimed the leader of the Iranian Revolution. Later that year revolutionary students would storm the U.S. embassy in Tehran and take the staff hostage, to profound consequence. One observer of the Iranian Revolution was Michel Foucault, who was a special correspondent for Corriere della Sera and le Nouvel Observateur, for whom he wrote a series of articles. In Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson illuminate Foucault’s support of the Islamist movement. and show how Foucault’s experiences in Iran contributed to a turning point in his thought. Read one of Foucault’s essays, “What Are the Iranians Dreaming About?” . . .

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Three years after the Columbia accident

February 1, 2006
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Three years after the Columbia accident

Howard Nemerov (1920-1991), many of whose books were published by Chicago, wrote two poems about the space shuttle. “On An Occasion of National Mourning” was written after the Challenger accident. “Witnessing the Launch of the Shuttle Atlantis” was written for NASA, during the time that Nemerov was poet laureate of the United States. . . .

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The State of the Sovereign

January 31, 2006
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The State of the Sovereign

These days, the state of the sovereign is strong. But issues such as warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency have now prompted a debate over how much power the executive should have in times of war and crisis. Two recently published books offer some philosophical perspectives on the powers of the sovereign. The first is Giorgio Agamben’s State of Exception; see an excerpt, “A Brief History of the State of Exception.” The second book is our just-released reprint of Carl Schmitt’s Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty.. . . .

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One of the most important books of our time?

January 27, 2006
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One of the most important books of our time?

Why would anyone say this fifty-year-old book is “one of the most important books of our time,” as a customer recently described it on Amazon? They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer has been bubbling through the online zeitgeist for a little while now—most recently it was passed around the social bookmarking sites del.icio.us, reddit, and stumbleupon. Ten years after World War II, Mayer went to Germany and spent a year interviewing ordinary Germans to try to understand how they came to accept—even embrace—fascism. Is there any similarity to our current situation, as liberals and libertarians like to claim by citing Mayer’s book? Decide for yourself. Start with an excerpt. . . .

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Twenty years after the Challenger

January 24, 2006
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Twenty years after the Challenger

A piece by John Noble Wilford in the New York Times is occasioned by the anniversaries of the destruction of the space shuttles Challenger (twenty years ago on January 28, 1986) and Columbia (three years ago on February 1, 2003) and the fire that killed three Apollo astronauts (thirty-nine years ago on January 27, 1967). Ten years ago we published The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA by Diane Vaughan which put forth the view—now widely accepted—that the Challenger accident was not the result of bad engineeering but of a management culture that normalized deviance: that flew missions even when presented with evidence of serious problems. The Columbia accident showed how difficult it is to change the patterns of organizational life. Another author brought a different sensibility to the shuttle; you can read Howard Nemerov’s two poems on the space shuttle. . . .

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Lawrence Weschler, Artistic Director

January 21, 2006
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Lawrence Weschler, Artistic Director

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Lawrence Weschler has been named the first artistic director of the Chicago Humanities Festival. The University of Chicago Press has published and reprinted a number of Weschler’s books over the past few years, including A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers, Boggs: A Comedy of Values, and Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas. In March we will bring back into print Weschler’s A Wanderer in the Perfect City: Selected Passion Pieces. . . .

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