Reviews

Alex Kotlowitz reviews The Wagon

July 9, 2010
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Alex Kotlowitz reviews The Wagon

A recent review of Martin Preib’s The Wagon and Other Stories from the City for barnesandnoblereview.com begins by citing the some of the recent media coverage involving the Chicago Police Department—from the conviction of former commander Jon Burge “for lying about having tortured scores of suspects over a twenty-year period in the 1970s and ’80s,” to the recent death of officer Thomas Wortham IV, shot as a gang of thugs tried to steal his motorcycle, and, of course, the re-escalation of homicides in the city. The review continues: Martin Preib’s The Wagon and Other Stories from the City is a welcome, albeit at times maddening, effort to fashion a narrative that reflects the reality of this messy, yet vital American city. Preib has been a Chicago cop for eight years, but he’s not defined by his police work. He greatly admires Walt Whitman and William Kennedy, writers who despite having seen the worst in mankind were (in the case of Kennedy, still is) capable of maintaining a faith—admittedly quivering at times—in the human spirit. Before his police work, Preib worked as a doorman at a downtown hotel, and there witnessed the grueling and often humiliating labor of those in the . . .

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Last Words of the Executed on the NYR Blog

July 8, 2010
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Last Words of the Executed on the NYR Blog

The New York Review of Books‘ NYR Blog has a review of Robert K. Elder’s Last Words of the Executed, posted yesterday by NYRB contributor Charles Simic. In the review Simic reprints a few of the quotations from the soon to be executed prisoners featured in the book, but remarks: Often more interesting than the final thoughts of some of these men and women are the short descriptions Elder provides of their backgrounds and the crimes they committed. Over the years, a few of them became the basis of novels and films, but there are plenty of others in the book that are just as tantalizing. Most likely, some of the executed were innocent, while others, who were guilty, had complicated and awful lives; one tends to feel sorry for them and wishes to know more about their stories. It’s when it comes to true monsters, and there are plenty of them here, that even someone like me, who opposes capital punishment, begins to wonder if there ought to be an exception now and then.… Navigate to the NYR Blog to read the full review. Also, read these excerpts from the book. . . .

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A rare voice in American writing

June 16, 2010
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A rare voice in American writing

Last Sunday’s Washington Post contains a rather interesting review of Martin Preib’s new book, The Wagon and Other Stories from the City. As the Post‘s Jonathan Yardley notes, in the The Wagon Preib has drawn on his blue-collar working class experiences in the city of Chicago—from bouncer, to union reformer, to doorman, to his current job as a Chicago police officer—to produce a unique collection of gritty, insightful, authentic, and captivating tales. As the Post‘s Jonathan Yardley writes: Preib’s is a voice that has almost never been heard in American writing: not merely the voice of an ordinary policeman, which is rare enough, but the voice of someone whose working life has been spent in the service industry, “the place for muddled worldviews, unclear ambitions, blunted desires, and other people who just never got it, or thought they had it but didn’t: the divorced, alcoholics, the new age philosophers, dopers, the indolent, the criminal.” That’s a stern view of the life in which Preib spent two decades—longer, if one considers the police force as part of the “service industry”—but it is tempered by a deep sympathy for the ways in which these invisible, or at best semi-visible, people are exploited . . .

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Two local papers review Last Words of the Executed

June 3, 2010
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Two local papers review Last Words of the Executed

Two reviews of Robert K. Elder’s new book Last Words of the Executed have appeared recently—one in the Chicago Tribune and the other in Chicago’s Newcity magazine. Both reviews praise the book’s author for his neutrality—Elder is a former staff writer for the Tribune—noting the book’s broad appeal regardless of one’s stance towards capital punishment. From the Tribune: Those with no interest in using the book to make the case against capital punishment (or, for that matter, to justify the death penalty) should still find it worthwhile reading. I hesitate to use the word “entertaining” to describe the text. “Compelling” is more appropriate. And from Newcity: He’s committed to neutrality here—just the facts, ma’am—to avoid “rubbernecking,” and successfully keeps the spotlight on the last words of the convicted without erring into self-righteous coyness. Read the reviews and see these excerpts from the book. . . .

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Robert K. Elder’s oral history of death row in Time Out Chicago

May 26, 2010
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Robert K. Elder’s oral history of death row in Time Out Chicago

This week’s edition of Time Out Chicago is running a review of Robert K. Elder’s new book Last Words of the Executed—a collection of the final words of inmates executed by the state. Some beg for forgiveness. Others claim innocence. At least three cheer for their favorite football teams. Documenting executions that range from 17th century women accused of witchcraft to some of the twentieth’s most infamous serial killers, as the Time Out article notes, Elder’s account remains surprisingly disinterested, asking only that readers listen closely to these voices that echo history. The result is a riveting, moving testament from the darkest corners of society. Read the review. Also see the author’s webiste for the book. . . .

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The endurance of American culture and character

May 25, 2010
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The endurance of American culture and character

Claude S. Fischer’s Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character has received another positive review, this time in the May 24 edition of the Financial Times. The review begins: Everyone likes to generalise about Americans, all 300m of them. But few are likely to be able to do so with the authority of Claude S. Fischer, professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. In Made in America, Fischer embarks on a vastly ambitious project: “to sketch how American culture and character changed—or did not change—over the course of the nation’s history”, from the colonial era until now. That he does so in fewer than 250 pages (there are 200 pages of notes), and in a readable and entertaining way, is a formidable achievement. Fischer narrows his frame of reference by considering the American people’s relationship with five basic aspects of life: physical security, material goods, social groups, public spaces and mental attitude. He concludes that, if anything, prosperity has enabled Americans to become more American, with more people aspiring to the prosperity and individual freedom that became socially and culturally embedded more than 300 years ago. Read the rest of the review on the . . .

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Reflections of “The Light Club of Batavia”

May 24, 2010
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Reflections of “The Light Club of Batavia”

The June edition of ARTnews magazine contains a piece on artist Josiah McElheny and his obsession with the work of German novelist, poet, and artist, Paul Scheerbart. Through his many writings and drawings Scheerbart envisioned an electrified future, a world composed entirely of crystalline, colored glass—a vision which had a profound influence on many of his contemporaries in the worlds of art and architecture, including Walter Benjamin, Bruno Taut, and Walter Gropius. As the ARTnews article notes, after discovering Scheerbart’s work for himself, McElheny’s work has been similarly influenced by the ideas of this nineteenth century visionary—not only inspiring McElheny’s recent book, The Light Club: On Paul Scheerbart’s “The Light Club of Batavia”, but also a whole series of McElheny’s other work, from film, to performances, to sculptures. To find out more navigate to the article at the ARTnews magazine website . . . .

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The anatomy and engineering of modern architecture

May 21, 2010
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The anatomy and engineering of modern architecture

Modern technology allows architects and engineers to design and construct buildings that were impossible just a few years ago. At the same time, what lies underneath these surfaces is more mysterious than ever before. In Architecture under Construction, photographer Stanley Greenberg explores the anatomy and engineering of some of our most unusual new buildings, helping us to understand our own fascination with what makes buildings stand up, and what makes them fall down. From a recent article on the book in the San Francisco Chronicle: Shooting in black and white with a view camera, Greenberg approaches his subjects with what looks like naive—or architecturally unschooled—fascination. Part of his book’s appeal lies in its recording of what must disappear to give buildings the structure and appearance they have. Former San Francisco Museum of Modern Art curator of architecture and design Joseph Rosa, now director of the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, provides a foreword. But Greenberg’s pictures by themselves make a powerful argument for city dwellers to enjoy their privileged view of architecture as a process, not merely a product. Read the review at SFGate.com or see a gallery of photographs from the book. . . .

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Science magazine on The Dawn of Green

May 20, 2010
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Science magazine on The Dawn of Green

Environmental conservation and sustainable development are hallmarks of the modern green movement. But few people realize these concepts have been around for centuries. In fact, according to historian Harriet Ritvo, the environmental movement as we know it can be traced back to an unlikely place at an unlikely time: a bucolic reservoir in Victorian Britian. This week’s Science magazine reviews The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism, which “chronicles water-starved, late-19th-century Manchester’s determination to convert tiny Thirlmere … into the world’s largest reservoir.” Ritvo’s history brings to vivid life the colorful and strong-minded characters who populated both sides of the debate, revisiting notions of the natural promulgated by Romantic poets, recreationists, resource managers, and industrial developers to establish Thirlmere as the template for subsequent—and continuing—environmental struggles. Deemed “a penetrating microstudy that mixes environmental, scientific, urban, and political history” by Science, The Dawn of Green investigates Victorian ideas about industry, development, and technology to shows how the lessons learned in the Lake District can inform and guide modern environmental and conservation campaigns. . . .

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The Terror of Natural Right reviewed in The Nation

May 20, 2010
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The Terror of Natural Right reviewed in The Nation

Lots of books consider the Enlightenment, but few earn such high marks as Dan Edelstein’s The Terror of Natural Right: Republicanism, the Cult of Nature, and the French Revolution. In a recent review essay in the Nation, Samuel Moyn calls Edelstein’s history “one of the most memorable and absorbing books on the era I have ever read.” He goes on: Edelstein argues that Enlightenment naturalism turned out to be a recipe for terrible wrongs. Edelstein wants to know how the Jacobins, whom he rightly credits with some of the most progressive and egalitarian aims any political movement has ever professed (notably the invention of social rights to work and education), ended up orchestrating a reign of terror. Against interpretations that simply blame circumstances, Edelstein too insists that ideas mattered. But the most provocative argument in his book is that the ideas that made the revolution spiral out of control were the cult of nature and the belief in natural rights. A highly original work of historical analysis, political theory, literary criticism, and intellectual history, The Terror of Natural Right challenges, as Moyn notes, prevailing assumptions of the Terror to offer a new perspective on the Revolutionary period. Read more about . . .

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