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Free e-book for May: Ebert’s Best

May 2, 2016
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Free e-book for May: Ebert’s Best

Our free e-book for March is Ebert’s Best by Roger Ebert. Download your copy here. *** Roger Ebert is a name synonymous with the movies. In Ebert’s Bests, he takes readers through the journey of how he became a film critic, from his days at a student-run cinema club to his rise as a television commentator in At the Movies and Siskel & Ebert. Recounting the influence of the French New Wave, his friendships with Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese, as well as travels to Sweden and Rome to visit Ingrid Bergman and Federico Fellini, Ebert never loses sight of film as a key component of our cultural identity. In considering the ethics of film criticism—why we should take all film seriously, without prejudgment or condescension—he argues that film critics ought always to engage in open-minded dialogue with a movie. Extending this to his accompanying selection of “10 Bests,” he reminds us that hearts and minds—and even rankings—are bound to change. *** To read more about books by Roger Ebert published by the University of Chicago Press, click here. . . .

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House of Debt awarded the 2016 Laing Prize

April 28, 2016
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House of Debt awarded the 2016 Laing Prize

*** The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce that House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again, by Amir Sufi and Atif Mian, has been awarded the 2016 Gordon J. Laing Prize. The prize was announced during a reception on April 21st at the University of Chicago Quadrangle Club. The Gordon J. Laing Prize is awarded annually by the University of Chicago Press to the faculty author, editor, or translator of a book published in the previous three years that has brought the greatest distinction to the Press’s list. Books published in 2013 or 2014 were eligible for this year’s award. The prize is named in honor of the scholar who, serving as general editor from 1909 until 1940, firmly established the character and reputation of the University of Chicago Press as the premier academic publisher in the United States. Taking a close look at the financial crisis and housing bust of 2008, House of Debt digs deep into economic data to show that it wasn’t the banks themselves that caused the crisis to be so bad—it was an incredible increase in household debt in the . . .

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What Is a Dog? in the New York Times

April 22, 2016
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What Is a Dog? in the New York Times

Raymond and Lorna Coppinger have long been acknowledged as two of our foremost experts on canine behavior—a power couple for helping us to understand the nature of dogs, our attachments to them, and how genetic heritage, environmental conditions, and social construction govern our understanding of what a dog is and why it matters so much to us. In a profile of their latest book What Is a Dog?, the New York Times articulates what’s at stake in the Coppingers’ nearly four decades of research: Add them up, all the pet dogs on the planet, and you get about 250 million. But there are about a billion dogs on Earth, according to some estimates. The other 750 million don’t have flea collars. And they certainly don’t have humans who take them for walks and pick up their feces. They are called village dogs, street dogs and free-breeding dogs, among other things, and they haunt the garbage dumps and neighborhoods of most of the world. In their new book, “What Is a Dog?,” Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals. The vast majority are not strays or lost . . .

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Jessica Riskin on The Restless Clock

April 21, 2016
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Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick explores the history of a particular principle—that the life sciences should not ascribe agency to natural phenomena—and traces its remarkable history all the way back to the seventeenth century and the automata of early modern Europe. At the same time, the book tells the story of dissenters to this precept, whose own compelling model cast living things not as passive but as active, self-making machines, in an attempt to naturalize agency rather than outsourcing it to theology’s “divine engineer.” In a recent video trailer for the book (above), Riskin explains the nuances of both sides’ arguments, and accounts for nearly 300 years worth of approaches to nature and design, tracing questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, Darwin, and others. From a review at Times Higher Ed: The Restless Clock is a sweeping survey of the search for answers to the mystery of life. It begins with medieval automata – muttering mechanical Christs, devils rolling their eyes, cherubs “deliberately” aiming water jets at unsuspecting visitors who, in a still-mystical and religious era, half-believe that these contraptions are alive. Then come the Enlightenment android-builders and philosophers, Romantic poet-scientists, evolutionists, . . .

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Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journal wins the 2016 Pulitzer Prize

April 20, 2016
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Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journal wins the 2016 Pulitzer Prize

Congrats to Phoenix Poet Peter Balakian—his latest collection Ozone Journal took home the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, noted by the Pulitzer committee in their citation as, “poems that bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that undergird a global age of danger and uncertainty.” From a profile of Balakian at the Washington Post: “I’m interested in the collage form,” Balakian said. “I’m exploring, pushing the form of poetry, pushing it to have more stakes and more openness to the complexity of contemporary experience.” He describes poetry as living in “the speech-tongue-voice syntax of language’s music.” That, he says, gives the form unique power. “Any time you’re in the domain of the poem, you’re dealing with the most compressed and nuanced language that can be made. I believe that this affords us the possibility of going into a deeper place than any other literary art — deeper places of psychic, cultural and social reality.” From the book’s titular poem: Bach’s cantata in B-flat minor in the cassette, we lounged under the greenhouse-sky, the UVBs hacking at the acids and oxides and then I could hear the difference between an oboe and a bassoon at the river’s edge under cover— trees breathed in . . .

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Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

April 8, 2016
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Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

For those of you who missed it, here is Levi Stahl’s 31-part Twitter essay from late last week, which responds to an op-ed in the New York Times by columnist Ross Douthat comparing Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to Widmerpool, the anti-anti-hero from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time:   To read more about A Dance to the Music of Time, click here. . . .

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Free e-book for April: Pilgrimage to Dollywood

April 6, 2016
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Free e-book for April: Pilgrimage to Dollywood

Download your copy of our free e-book for April, Pilgrimage to Dollywood: A Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee by Helen Morales, here. *** A star par excellence, Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most likable personalities. Even a hard-rocking punk or orchestral aesthete can’t help cracking a smile or singing along with songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” More than a mere singer or actress, Parton is a true cultural phenomenon, immediately recognizable and beloved for her talent, tinkling laugh, and steel magnolia spirit. She is also the only female star to have her own themed amusement park: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every year thousands of fans flock to Dollywood to celebrate the icon, and Helen Morales is one of those fans. In Pilgrimage to Dollywood, Morales sets out to discover Parton’s Tennessee. Her travels begin at the top celebrity pilgrimage site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, then take her to Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills; the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; to Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; and finally to Pigeon Forge, home of the “Dolly Homecoming Parade,” featuring the star herself as grand marshall. Morales’s . . .

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Rodney Powell on the anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death

April 4, 2016
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Rodney Powell on the anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death

To commemorate the third anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death, we asked UCP film studies editor Rodney Powell to consider his legacy. Read after the jump below. *** It’s three years since Roger Ebert’s death; for three years we’ve been deprived of his reviews, “Great Movies” essays, and journal entries. Fortunately most of his writing remains available online, and the University of Chicago Press has been privileged to publish three of his books—Awake in the Dark, Scorsese by Ebert, and The Great Movies III, with a fourth, a reprint of Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook just out. And there’s more to come, with The Great Movies IV due this fall. So I think this should be an occasion for celebrating rather than lamenting. My own hope is that, as the celebrity status he attained fades from memory, he will be recognized for the brilliant writer he was. Within the confines of the shorter forms in which he wrote, he was an absolute master. Of course not every piece was at the same high level, but a remarkable percentage of his vast output will, I think, stand the test of time. Here I will only mention the high . . .

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Ted Levin on the reintroduction of timber rattlesnakes

March 30, 2016
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Ted Levin on the reintroduction of timber rattlesnakes

Ted Levin’s recent piece for the Boston Globe Magazine on reintroducing timber rattlesnakes to a Massachusetts island was aptly subheaded, “The plan to release poisonous snakes in the Quabbin freaks people out. But snakes are the ones that should be worried.” Timber rattlers are the subject of Levin’s forthcoming America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake, so he’s certainly the go-to authority on the situation. Below follows a brief excerpt, which outlines the perspective Levin suggests we embrace: Releasing snakes on Mount Zion may pose far more danger to the snakes themselves than there ever will be to shoreline fishermen or outdoors enthusiasts. Yes, rattlesnakes occasionally swim, but there is no evidence that they ever lived in the hills (now islands) in Quabbin Reservoir’s man-made wilderness. And it isn’t clear that Mount Zion could support a population of overwintering rattlesnakes. Even if the snakes could find a retreat below the frost line, no one knows if there are enough mice and chipmunks on the 1,400-plus-acre island to support them. The unleashing of rattlesnakes on Mount Zion should be viewed as a scientific experiment, starting with snakes from populations not as threatened as those here (like Pennsylvania). Step one should be: Release a . . .

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Ted Cruz as Kenneth Widmerpool next Halloween

March 28, 2016
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Ted Cruz as Kenneth Widmerpool next Halloween

File under deep cuts. Recently in the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat suggested an apt analogy, or at least a plausibly shared archetype, between Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool, the fictional (anti) anti-hero from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series: A dogged, charmless, unembarrassed striver, Widmerpool begins Powell’s novels as a figure of mockery for his upper-class schoolmates. But over the course of the books he ascends past them — to power, influence, a peerage — through a mix of ruthless effort, ideological flexibility, and calculated kissing-up. Enduring all manner of humiliations, bouncing back from every setback, tacking right and left with the times, he embodies the triumph of raw ambition over aristocratic rules of order. “Widmerpool,” the narrator realizes at last, sounding like a baffled, Cruz-hating Republican senator today, “once so derided by all of us, had in some mysterious manner become a person of authority.” This is not exactly a flattering comparison. But the American reader, less enamored of a fated aristocratic order, may find aspects of Widmerpool’s character curiously sympathetic. And some of that strange sympathy could be extended to Cruz. To read more about A Dance to the Music of Time, click here. . . .

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