Books for the News

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 crisis in non-fiction publishing

June 26, 2015
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The crisis in non-fiction publishing

Bolder. More global. Risk-taking. The home of future stars. Not a tagline for a well-placed index fund portfolio (thank G-d), but the crux of a piece by Sam Leith for the Guardian on the “crisis in non-fiction publishing”—ostensibly the result of copycat, smart-thinking, point-taking trade fodder that made Malcolm Gladwell not just a columnist, but a brand. As Leith asserts: We have a flock of books arguing that the internet is either the answer to all our problems or the cause of them; we have scads of books telling us about the importance of mindfulness, or forgetfulness, or distraction, or stress. We have any number about what one recent press release called the “always topical” debate between science and religion. We have a whole subcategory that concern themselves with “what it means to be human.” Enter the university presses. Though Leith acknowledges they’re still capable of producing academic jargon dressed-up in always already pantalettes, they are also home to deeper, more complex, and vital trade non-fiction that produces new scholarship and nuanced contributions to the world of ideas, while still targeting their offerings to the general reader. If big-house publishers produce brands, scholarly presses produce the sharp, intelligent, and individualized contributions that later (after, . . .

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The Dead Ladies Project at Public Books

June 17, 2015
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The Dead Ladies Project at Public Books

From Nandini Ramachandran’s review of The Dead Ladies Project at Public Books: The Dead Ladies Project is part of a long literary tradition of single ladies having adventures. As a genre, it has had to contend with the collective energies of late capitalism (which tries to convert all adventure into tourism), patriarchy (which tries to make all single women into threatening and/or pathetic monsters), and publishing (which tries to repackage and flatten all women who write into “women writers”). It does, on the whole, remarkably well, perhaps because it’s written by insightful people who have resisted, for an entire century, the call to cynicism. It’s easy, these days, to be jaded about human relationships, to believe that they have been fabricated and marketed and focus-grouped into torpor and that no one remains capable of an authentic emotion. Jessa Crispin, like so many writers before her, flatly refuses to believe that. She insists on the fleeting, transcendental passion, the abjection of unrequited longing, the thrill and terror of waking up in an alien city. She insists, further, that a woman can revel in all that tumult. (I choose this excerpt as the best teaser for the book, yet a part earlier on, a . . .

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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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Revisiting Paul R. Ehrlich’s Population Bomb

June 12, 2015
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Revisiting Paul R. Ehrlich’s Population Bomb

Earlier this month, the New York Times revisited Paul R. Ehrlich—through both his cult favorite 1968 work The Population Bomb, and as a doomsday-advocating talk show guest, who spent much of the 1970s and years since advancing the notion that it was just a matter of time before the strained resources of our overcrowded planet could no support humanity. Though the years since might have seeded us with a kinder, gentler apocalypse, Ehrlich remains (mostly) resolute: But Dr. Ehrlich, now 83, is not retreating from his bleak prophesies. He would not echo everything that he once wrote, he says. But his intention back then was to raise awareness of a menacing situation, he says, and he accomplished that. He remains convinced that doom lurks around the corner, not some distant prospect for the year 2525 and beyond. What he wrote in the 1960s was comparatively mild, he suggested, telling Retro Report: “My language would be even more apocalyptic today.” And yet, in a second Times piece, an op-ed, “Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb Argument Was Right,” by statistics professor Paul A. Murtaugh, Ehrlich’s ideas are framed less as nostalgia for a time of reasonable doomsday bets, and more as the inevitable catastrophic . . .

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Feral wins the 2015 Orion Book Award

June 10, 2015
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Feral wins the 2015 Orion Book Award

Congratulations to George Monbiot, author of Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, Human Life, which was just announced as the winner of the 2015 Orion Book Award for nonfiction, which honors “books that deepen the reader’s connection to the natural world, represent excellence in writing.” In Feral, Monbiot, a journalist, columnist for the Guardian, and environmentalist (see his recent TED talk here), argues for a twenty-first-century movement based upon the concept of rewilding, which seeks to free nature from human intervention and allow ecosystems to resume their natural processes. From a recent profile of the book at the Orion Blog: When’s the last time you walked into the woods, or a park, or your garden, and felt unsure of what—or who—you might see? If the answer is “it’s been a while,” you’re not alone. With his intrepid and imaginative new book, Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, journalist George Monbiot has invented a term for this twenty-first-century condition that afflicts so many of us in the developed world: “ecological boredom.” He’s come up with a prescription, too, which involves large-scale reintroductions of keystone species to the landscapes that humans have emptied out and made their own. If this sounds reckless and implausible, it’s . . .

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2015 Robert Motherwell Book Award

June 8, 2015
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2015 Robert Motherwell Book Award

Fresh off an embargo of the news, we’re delighted to announce that Megan R. Luke’s Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile is the recipient of the 2015 Robert Motherwell Prize from the Dedalus Foundation. The Motherwell Prize, accompanied by a $10,000 award, “honors an outstanding publication in the history and criticism of modernism in the arts.” Luke’s book contextualizes, for the first time, the multidisciplinary work produced by one of modernism’s foremost innovators during the last years of his life, both during the Nazi regime and while in exile in Western Europe. From the official announcement: The Dedalus Foundation is pleased to announce that Megan R. Luke is the winner of the fourteenth annual Robert Motherwell Book Award, for Kurt Schwitters: Space, Image, Exile, published by The University of Chicago Press. The award, which carries a prize of $10,000, honors an outstanding publication in the history and criticism of modernism in the arts for the year 2014. German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) is best known for his pioneering work in fusing collage and abstraction, the two most transformative innovations of twentieth-century art. Considered the father of installation art, Schwitters was also a theorist and a writer whose influence extends from Robert Rauschenberg and . . .

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Douglas Mitchell on Donald Levine

June 5, 2015
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Douglas Mitchell on Donald Levine

When sociologist Donald Levine (1931–2015) passed away this April, the Chicago Tribune asked University of Chicago Press executive editor Douglas Mitchell to offer up some remarks on his decades long personal and professional relationship with the longtime University of Chicago professor and former dean of the College. With Mitchell’s permission, they follow, in full, after the jump. *** Don Levine and I go back a ways. In fact, the Chicago Tribune plays a role in my memories because of a “First Person” feature the Trib did about me on June 22, 1986 (you probably remember these full-page bio-vignettes in the Sunday magazine, usually on or near the back page—inspired no doubt by Studs Terkel’s Working, the reporters would sniff out interesting occupations, usually stuff like pizza delivery guy, parking lot attendant, hotel housekeeper, and the like, but then they got the idea of doing a white-collar type). I told the story of how I had been leafing through old files and found a one-paragraph sketch of a book on precision vs. ambiguity in language, and how the worship of precision actually disrupts understanding and relationships. It turned out to be Donald Levine’s book idea. I was smitten. I called him (we had no . . .

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Free e-book for June: Prospero’s Son

June 1, 2015
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Free e-book for June: Prospero’s Son

Our free e-book for June: Prospero’s Son: Life, Books, Love and Theater by Seth Lerer *** “This book is the record of a struggle between two temperaments, two consciousnesses and almost two epochs.” That’s how Edmund Gosse opened Father and Son, the classic 1907 book about his relationship with his father. Seth Lerer’s Prospero’s Son is, as fits our latter days, altogether more complicated, layered, and multivalent, but at its heart is that same problem: the fraught relationship between fathers and sons. At the same time, Lerer’s memoir is about the power of books and theater, the excitement of stories in a young man’s life, and the transformative magic of words and performance. A flamboyantly performative father, a teacher and lifelong actor, comes to terms with his life as a gay man. A bookish boy becomes a professor of literature and an acclaimed expert on the very children’s books that set him on his path in the first place. And when that boy grows up, he learns how hard it is to be a father and how much books can, and cannot, instruct him. Throughout these intertwined accounts of changing selves, Lerer returns again and again to stories—the ways they . . .

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Excerpt: Edible Memory

May 22, 2015
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Excerpt: Edible Memory

An excerpt from Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods by Jennifer A. Jordan *** “Making Heirlooms” How could anything as perishable as fruits and vegetables become an heirloom? Many things that are heirlooms today were once simple everyday objects. A quilt made of fabric scraps, a wooden bowl used in the last stages of making butter, both become heirlooms only as time increases between now and the era of their everyday use. Likewise, the Montafoner Braunvieh—a tawny, gorgeously crooked-horned cow that roams a handful of pastures and zoos in Europe, a tuft of hair like bangs above her big brown eyes—or the Ossabaw pigs that scurry around on spindly legs at Mount Vernon were not always “heirlooms.” Nor were the piles of multicolored tomatoes that periodically grace the cover of Martha Stewart Living magazine or the food pages of daily newspapers. What happened to change these plants and animals from everyday objects into something rare and precious, imbued with stories of the past? In fact, food has always been an heirloom in the sense of saving seeds, of passing down the food you eat to your children and your children’s children, in a mixture of the . . .

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