Biography

Happy 200th Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

July 12, 2017
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Happy 200th Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

                  Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817. Laura Dassow Walls explains the trajectory of his life, which shaped his thinking about the world in every way: He was born on a colonial-era farm into a subsistence economy based on agriculture, on land that had sustained a stable Anglo-American community for two centuries and, before that, Native American communities for eleven thousand years. People had been shaping Thoreau’s landscape since the melting of the glaciers. By the time he died, in 1862, the Industrial Revolution had reshaped his world: the railroad transformed Concord from a local economy of small farms and artisanal industries to a suburban node on a global network of industrial farms and factories. His beloved woods had been cleared away, and the rural rivers he sailed in his youth powered cotton mills. In 1843, the railroad cut right across a corner of Walden Pond, but in 1845 Thoreau built his house there anyway, to confront the railroad as part of his reality. By the time he left Walden, at least twenty passenger and freight trains screeched past his house daily. His response was to call on his . . .

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Thoreau: A Life

June 12, 2017
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Thoreau: A Life

Coming this July. (A teaser, from Publishers Weekly: “The wonder is that, given her book’s richness, Walls still leaves the reader eager to read Thoreau. Her scholarly blockbuster is an awesome achievement, a merger of comprehensiveness in content with pleasure in reading.”) . . .

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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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Every student who studied with the Rev. Gary Davis

February 26, 2015
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Every student who studied with the Rev. Gary Davis

The Reverend Gary Davis was born in Laurens, South Carolina, on April 30, 1896. He died in Hammonton, New Jersey, on May 5, 1972. In between, he become one of the most protean guitar players of the twentieth century, and his finger-picking style influenced everyone from Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead to Keb’ Mo’ and Blind Boy Fuller. Born partially blind as the sole surviving son to two sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South, by the 1940s, Davis, ordained as a Baptist minister, was playing on Harlem streetcorners and storefronts, making his living as an itinerant, singing gospel preacher. By the beginning of the 1960s folk revival, he had moved in circles that included Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie, recorded a series of albums for Prestige Records, and been embraced by a generation of educated, middle-class young people eager for fodder to spur a folk revival. See his performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival for further illumination of this cultural congruence. Even before his death in 1970, he was the subject of two documentaries. Davis’s legacy, however, still exists outside a canon that has acknowledged his peers, including Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson—his music, like his troubled life, is the stuff of myth, and as . . .

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A Show-Trial: An excerpt from Bengt Jangfeldt’s Mayakovsky

January 22, 2015
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A Show-Trial: An excerpt from Bengt Jangfeldt’s Mayakovsky

“A Show-Trial” Excerpted from Mayakovsky: A Biography by Bengt Jangfeldt *** Mayakovsky returned to Moscow on 17 or 18 September. The following day, Krasnoshchokov was arrested, accused of a number of different offenses. He was supposed to have lent money to his brother Yakov, head of the firm American–Russian Constructor, at too low a rate of interest, and to have arranged drink– and sex–fueled orgies at the Hotel Europe in Petrograd, paying the Gypsy girls who entertained the company with pure gold. He was also accused of having passed on his salary from the Russian–American Industrial Corporation ($200 a month) to his wife (who had returned to the United States), of having bought his mistress flowers and furs out of state funds, of renting a luxury villa, and of keeping no fewer than three horses. Lenin was now so ill that he had not been able to intervene on Krasnoshchokov’s behalf even if he had wanted to. His arrest was a sensation of the first order. It was the first time that such a highly placed Communist had been accused of corruption, and the event cast a shadow over the whole party apparatus. Immediately after Krasnoshchokov’s arrest, and in order to . . .

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Liberace: our free ebook for June

June 2, 2014
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Liberace: our free ebook for June

More people watched his nationally syndicated television show between 1953 and 1955 than followed I Love Lucy. Decades after his death, the attendance records he set at Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl, and Radio City Music Hall still stand. Arguably the most popular entertainer of the twentieth century (check out the applause greeting his appearance on a 1984 episode of the David Letterman Show  in the video clip below; also, “What do you do when you get Crisco on those rings?”), this very public figure nonetheless kept more than a few secrets. Darden Asbury Pyron leads us through the life of America’s foremost showman with his fresh, provocative, and definitive portrait of Liberace, an American boy.Liberace’s career follows the trajectory of the classic American dream. Born in the Midwest to Polish-Italian immigrant parents, he was a child prodigy who, by the age of twenty, had performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Abandoning the concert stage for the lucrative and glittery world of nightclubs, celebrities, and television, Liberace became America’s most popular entertainer. While wildly successful and good-natured outwardly, Liberace, Pyron reveals, was a complicated man whose political, social, and religious conservativism existed side-by-side with a lifetime of secretive homosexuality. Even so, his . . .

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Our Once and Future Planet

October 16, 2013
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Our Once and Future Planet

Paddy Woodworth is an investigative journalist and a former staff writer for the Irish Times, used to taking on assignments from the foreign affairs desk, such as the terrorism of Basque separatist groups or the relationship between political turmoil in Spain that faced by Northern Ireland. In his most recent book Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Century—a project ten years in the making—he instead focuses on the global challenges and successes of one of the least known and most dynamic areas of environmental experimentation: ecological restoration. In a recent appearance on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, Woodworth pointed out some of the restorative projects taking place on our home turf, here in Chicago (an accompanying excerpt offers some background). But to help frame the arguments central to environmental restoration’s rise, Woodworth turns early in his book to American naturalist Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) and an approach central, though understated, in much of Leopold’s writings: what happens when we turn to the past in order to face the challenges of the future. More on all of this, excerpted from Our Once and Future Planet, below: *** Keeping Every Cog and Wheel A quotation from Leopold became one . . .

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PODCASTS: A not-quite episodic series

February 7, 2013
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PODCASTS: A not-quite episodic series

The phonograph predates the podcast by about 125 years, but theoretically any device used to reproduce sound could carry the moniker. So we say: ready your zonographs and talking machines—as part of our ongoing podcast series, hosted by Chris Gondek of Heron & Crane, we’re delivering a fresh batch from some of our Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 favorites. More information and links for listening below. *** Stephen T. Asma’s Against Fairness vindicates our unspoken and undeniable instinct to favor—and makes the case for favoring favoritism, so to speak. In this podcast interview, Asma considers where preferential bias fits in our utilitarian construction of fairness—and what this might have to say about our larger ethical worldview. The job of the philosopher, the evolutionary advantages of favoritism, Confucian thought, quotable Gandhi, the multinational politics of maternity leave, and the ideology of equality all make an appearance in a larger discussion about what might lead us to happier, more productive lives. Listen to the podcast here. *** First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daley has already been heralded by Publishers Weekly as “compelling,” “dynamic,” “highly focused” and “meticulous.” In his discussion of the sometimes Shakespearean, sometimes Machiavellian life of the American . . .

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Introducing Chicago Shorts

February 1, 2013
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Introducing Chicago Shorts

“Longer than a tweet and shorter than A River Runs Through It—” INTRODUCING CHICAGO SHORTS  The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of Chicago Shorts—distinguished selections, including never-before-published material, off-the-radar reads culled from the University of Chicago Press’s commanding archive, and the best of our newest books, all priced for impulse buying and presented exclusively in DRM-free e-book format. Aimed at the general reader and running the gamut from the latest in contemporary scholarship to can’t-miss chapters from classic publications, Chicago Shorts turn the page on the twenty-first-century reading experience. Among the inaugural batch of nine Shorts, you’ll find: What Every Novelist Needs to Know about Narrators by Wayne C. Booth Ebert’s Bests by Roger Ebert Nixon and the Silver Screen by Mark Feeney A Little History of Photography Criticism; or, Why Do Photography Critics Hate Photography? by Susie Linfield Custer’s Last Stand: The Unfinished Manuscript by Norman Maclean Shylock on Trial: The Appellate Briefs by Richard Posner and Charles Fried Erika and Klaus Mann in New York: Escape from the Magic Mountain by Andrea Weiss Bill Veeck’s Crosstown Classic by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn Rabbits with Horns and Other Astounding Viruses by Carl Zimmer . . .

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2012: A Year in Books

December 21, 2012
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2012: A Year in Books

In wrapping of the year’s best-of-2012 lists, we couldn’t help but single out the University of Chicago Press titles that made the cut as reads worth remembering. With that in mind, here’s a list of our books that earned praise as cream of the crop here and abroad, from scholarly journals, literary blogs, metropolitan newspapers, and the like. If you’re looking, might we (and others) recommend—          A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava made the Philadelphia City Paper’s Best of the Year list named one of the best books of the year by the Houston Chronicle included in Bookriot’s list of the five most overlooked books of 2012 picked as the book of the year by a bookseller at the Oxford Blackwell’s: “ feel so evangelical about I want to run around screaming ‘YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK OR YOUR LIFE WILL BE INCOMPLETE,’ in Billy Graham style.” named one of the ten best fiction books of 2012 by the Wall Street Journal named by Wall Street Journal fiction editor Sam Sacks as one of his own favorite fiction books of 2012 named by Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker as one of his top books of . . .

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