Biography

UCP Best of 2012 Staff Picks, V. 2

December 19, 2012
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UCP Best of 2012 Staff Picks, V. 2

More staff selections for your holiday favor—today we asked Carol Kasper, marketing director extraordinaire, and Jeff Waxman, promotions manager/literary gadabout, to chime in about what moved them most this past year. Their picks for the Best Read of 2012 follow below:   Prague Winter:  A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948 by Madeleine Albright When I became an adolescent, I learned that our family boogeyman was (rather remarkably to me at the time) the interwar British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.  All my grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Austria-Hungary at the very beginning of the twentieth century, and they nurtured their ties to “the Old Country” even after the Slovak and Ruthenian regions of that empire became the nation of Czechoslovakia. When Britain signed the Munich Agreement in 1938 and gave Hitler the Czech area known as the Sudetenland, Chamberlain infamously implied that stopping another war with Germany was worth the price of those Slavs in “a far away country” populated by “people of whom we know nothing.” In Prague Winter, Madeleine Albright does a brilliant job of explaining the ethnic complexities in central and eastern Europe that made the area vulnerable to Hitler’s manipulations, the complicity . . .

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Get Beate

September 8, 2011
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Get Beate

Before porn was legal, there was Beate Uhse (1921-2001). Before there were iconic other javelin champions-turned-stunt pilots-turned-sex-shop-proprietors, there was Beate Uhse. And before there was Beate Uhse, there was an erotic underworld in Germany, rife with untrained abortionists, uneducated practitioners, and a whole lot of folks looking for guides to “marital hygiene.” Basically, before there was Beate Uhse, there was Beate Uhse undone: a perfectly fertile breeding ground, if you will, for an assertively proto-feminist stock offering. Elizabeth Heineman’s Before Porn was Legal: The Erotica Empire of Beate Uhse, recently profiled by New Books in History (which resulted in the most downloaded interview in the site’s existence), takes on the story of the former Luftwaffe pilot, war widow, and black marketer, ultimately placing the erotica entrepreneur at the forefront of Germany’s socio-sexual revolution. Through Uhse’s story, Heineman explores how one mail-order business (spearheaded by Uhse’s self-penned guide to the rhythm method) battled restrictive legislation and conservative mores in order to bring consumers the new products demanded by a burgeoning liberal marketplace that was anxious for sexual self-help. If that doesn’t quite tempt you enough into uncovering more of what’s—well, under the covers—of the book, then Heineman’s innovative reads of oral . . .

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The (auto)biography of Mark Twain: in which we hitch our wagon to a star

November 22, 2010
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The (auto)biography of Mark Twain: in which we hitch our wagon to a star

“Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.” In with a comet, out with a comet: Halley’s, that is. For elementary students, the life of Mark Twain is first introduced as celestial; later, with adolescent reads of that “great American novel” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, our humorist falls back to earth, where his larger-than-life sensibilities, rich use of narrative, and social critique sharply attuned to human vanity, frailty, and hypocrisy, introduce a particular breed of American pathos. Beyond the work—which spans everything from colloquial verse and travelogues to historical fiction running the gamut from realist-inspired to proto-science—is, of course, the life. Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910, and in keeping with his wishes, just this fall the University of California Press released the first volume of The Autobiography of Mark Twain, in celebration of that centenary. But as the New York Times reports this weekend, demand has far exceeded expectation for the surprise best-seller: and as we approach the holiday gift-giving season, booksellers are struggling to keep it on the shelves. “Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.” Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla’s laboratory, 1894 If you . . .

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Royko on ABC 7 News

September 3, 2010
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More television coverage of Royko in Love: Mike’s Letters to Carol. Last night David Royko sat down with WLS-TV news reporter Janet Davies: . . .

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Royko in Love on FOX Chicago News

September 2, 2010
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As promised yesterday, here is David Royko’s appearance last night on FOX Chicago News talking about Royko in Love: Mike’s Letters to Carol: . . .

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Literary Lives on Display

August 30, 2010
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Literary Lives on Display

Fans of National Book Award–winning novelist Shirley Hazzard and her late husband, Francis Steegmuller, a literary critic, translator, and biographer, are in for a treat if they can make it to New York before January 31st: the New York Society Library is featuring an exhibition of photos, manuscripts, correspondence, and literary ephemera from the couple. Given the pair’s long careers, great success, and wide-ranging literary friendships and contacts, the exhibition promises to be fun for any fans of twentieth-century literature. Us Chicago folks, of course, will be looking out in particular for any documents relating to the couple’s longtime second home, Naples—the subject of the one Hazzard and Steegmuller book that we’re proud to have on our list, The Ancient Shore: DIspatches from Naples. A highly literary account of a love affair with a complicated, rebarbative, but enchanting city, the book is perfect reading for late summer, when vacation is but a memory and the responsibilities of autumn loom. “The world of Francis Steegmuller and Shirley Hazzard has been defined by high civility, grace and an enduring dedication to literature,” writes the New York Society Library. We couldn’t agree more. . . .

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Royko writes of love

August 25, 2010
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Royko writes of love

Last week, we pointed you to a piece by Michael Miner in the Chicago Reader about Mike Royko’s early work. But Miner wasn’t done writing about Royko: on his “News Bite” blog, he also talked with Mike Royko’s son, David, about our book Royko in Love, a new collection of letters from Mike to the woman who would become his wife, Carol Duckman. Miner writes, Mike Royko’s letters burn with the passion and obsession of the moment. It is a state older men remember as happiness because they would be so happy to feel anything that intensely again. . . . . The letters begin in February 1954 with Royko, 21, still in the air force but home from Korea and stationed now in the state of Washington. The first letter is a nonchalant note to the Duckmans, the friends down the block back in Chicago that “Mick” somehow avoided dropping in on during a recent leave. He shrugs off his absence. Writing back, Carol Duckman, 19, drops the news that her brief marriage didn’t work out—she and her husband have separated. The information hits Royko like a miracle. “Writing this letter is going to be the toughest thing I’ve . . .

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William James, 100 years gone

August 23, 2010
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William James, 100 years gone

This Thursday, August 26th, will mark the centenary of the death of William James, and to mark that date the online literary site The Second Pass has declared this William James Week. In an introductory post, the site’s editor, John Williams, writes, I read The Varieties of Religious Experience for the first time about four years ago, and I quickly became a James fanatic.… I’ve found since discovering his work for myself that fellow fans share my affection for him, my sense that he is almost a real friend—a remarkable feeling to have for any author, much less one who has been gone for a century. It’s a feeling that is far from uncommon from those who read James—in many ways he is the opposite of his brother Henry, warm where Henry is cerebral, accessible where Henry is occluded, open and even friendly where Henry is stand-offish. On a recent episode of Melvyn Bragg’s BBC show “In Our Time,” philosopher Jonathan Ree described James in similar terms: First of all, I think William James is one of the greatest philosophers ever, and he’s untypical. Twentieth-century philosophers, I think, fall into two groups: they’re either nitpicking, pettifogging bureaucrats or else they’re . . .

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Bobby Thomson, Leo Durocher, and the “shot heard ’round the world”

August 18, 2010
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Bobby Thomson, Leo Durocher, and the “shot heard ’round the world”

Bobby Thomson who famously hit the ninth-inning homer that handed the Giants the 1951 National League pennant 5-4 against the Dodgers—colloquially known as the “shot heard ’round the world”—passed away Monday at his home in Savannah, Georgia. He was 86. There are many accounts of the fateful moment that rocketed Thomson to baseball stardom, a moment which some would argue was one of the most dramatic in the history of baseball. Thomson’s obituary in the NYT quotes the eminently quotable mid-century sportswriter Red Smith: Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again. But such hyperbolic journalistic accounts aside, first-hand narratives of the action from the players themselves are a bit more rare. In 2009 the press published Leo Durocher’s Nice Guys Finish Last. Durocher is known not only for sharing in the glory of Thomson’s win as the Giants’ manager at the time (only a few years earlier he was given the boot by the Dodger’s GM), but also for an entire career as one of the most loud mouth, cantankerous, and controversial figures . . .

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H. Allen Brooks, 1925—2010

August 13, 2010
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H. Allen Brooks, 1925—2010

H. Allen Brooks, architectural historian at the University of Toronto known for coining the name “Prairie School” and authoring a number of important books on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and pioneering architect and designer Le Corbusier, passed away last Monday at the age of 84. In 1997 the Press published: Le Corbusier’s Formative Years: Charles-Edouard Jeanneret at La Chaux-de-Fonds. According to this entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia his comprehensive biographical account of Le Corbusier’s early career—the culmination of over twenty years of research—was applauded for the challenge it posed to existing scholarship, “correcting the mistaken impression that Le Corbusier’s work had begun in Paris,” and “was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in biography and won a first prize from the Association of American Publishers for books in architecture and urban planning.” To find out more Brooks’ fascinating life and groundbreaking studies on the history of modern architecture navigate to the Canadian Encyclopedia or read his obituary at the University of Toronto website. Or follow the link for more on Le Corbusier’s Formative Years. . . .

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