Biography

John Keats, Fanny Brawne, and “Bright Star”

September 25, 2009
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John Keats, Fanny Brawne, and “Bright Star”

Bright Star, the new film written and directed by Jane Campion, opened in the Chicago area yesterday. Bright Star weaves a story of the romantic love and poetic longing of John Keats and Fanny Brawne during the last three years of Keats’ too-short life. Campion’s script was, according to today’s review in the Chicago Tribune, “inspired by the exceptional Andrew Motion biography Keats,” which we published in paperback in 1999. Motion’s biography is an interesting choice for a filmmaker. Andrew Motion is a poet above all; he served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009. He has numerous books of poetry to his credit, as well as criticism and several other biographies. Keats is a poet’s biography of a poet; it is steeped in the words of the poet, shaped primarily by Keats’ letters and punctuated by Keats’ poems. It is as textual as you can get. Keats has come down to us, Motion writes, as a poets’ poet: the champion of truth and beauty, a sensualist, the archetype of the Romantic poet, who poured out words in a frenetic rush, writing all the poems we know him for in the space of a month or . . .

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Press Release: Durocher, Nice Guys Finish Last

September 10, 2009
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Press Release: Durocher, Nice Guys Finish Last

Forty years ago this month, the Chicago Cubs were on top of the baseball world, holding an eight-and-a-half-game lead and ready to cruise to their first pennant in more than forty years. But over the course of a few weeks, it all fell apart, with loss after loss culminating in one of the worst collapses in baseball history. The man at the helm of that disaster was the outspoken, cantankerous Leo Durocher, who always seemed to be on the scene of baseball’s most memorable moments throughout a fifty year career as a player or manager. From riding the bench as a rookie with the ’27 Yankees, to breaking out as a hard-charging shortstop with the Gashouse Gang Cardinals in the 1930s, to managing the previously hapless Dodgers to their first World Series, to watching Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” propel his Giants to the 1951 pennant, to, yes, that horrible Cubs collapse—Durocher saw it all, and in 1975 he told his side of these stories and more in Nice Guys Finish Last. Now the University of Chicago Press is bringing Durocher’s classic back into print for a new generation of baseball fans to enjoy. All the larger-than-life players, . . .

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Dorothea Lange’s forgotten photographs

September 10, 2009
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Dorothea Lange’s forgotten photographs

Having produced some of the most powerful images of Depression-era rural America, including the now iconic Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange’s documentary photography for the Farm Security Administration offers a profound (and timely) record of the devastating effects of the Depression, as well as American’s resilience in the face of hardship. But surprisingly, many of Lange’s photographs for the FSA, (and arguably some of her best) have remained hidden from the public eye, consigned to archives where they have languished for years, rarely seen. Now, in Anne Whiston Spirn’s recent Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange’s Photographs and Reports from the Field Lange’s never-before-published photos and captions from her fieldwork in California, the Pacific Northwest, and North Carolina during 1939 can finally receive the exposure they merit. Focusing on selections of photographs accompanied by field notes and citations strategically selected by Spirn, as a recent review in Bookforum notes, “presents a case study of Lange’s artistic agility”—the juxtapositions of image and text allowing readers to experience a diversity of voices and points of view, dismissing what reviewer Jordan Bear calls the “maudlin sentimentality” sometimes ascribed to Lange’s work. And for a sampling of some of these images see this . . .

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Press Release: Rowland, Giordano Bruno

September 2, 2009
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Press Release: Rowland, Giordano Bruno

New in Paperback—Giordano Bruno (1548—1600) is one of the great figures of early modern Europe, and one of the least understood. Ingrid D. Rowland’s biography establishes him once and for all as a peer of Erasmus, Shakespeare, and Galileo—a thinker whose vision of the world prefigures ours. Writing with great verve and erudition, Rowland traces Bruno’s wanderings through a sixteenth-century Europe where every certainty of religion and philosophy has been called into question, and reveals how he valiantly defended his ideas to the very end, when he was burned at the stake as a heretic on Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori. Read the press release. . . .

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Leo Durocher and the “Collapsing Cubs”

August 31, 2009
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Leo Durocher and the “Collapsing Cubs”

Leo “the Lip” Durocher began his five-decade career inauspiciously, riding the bench for the powerhouse 1928 Yankees, hitting so poorly that Babe Ruth nicknamed him “the All-American Out.” But soon Durocher—who would become infamous for his cantankerousness, fighting moxie, and will to win—hit his stride taking the 1934 World Series with the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals, turning the Brooklyn Dodgers around as player-manager five years later, and managing the New York Giants to their 1951 pennant win. But as Joe Distelheim notes in a recent review of Durocher’s autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last, not even “the Lip” could “swagger and tough talk” his way around The Curse of the Billy Goat. Distelheim writes: Odds are good, dear reader, that I already was following the Cubs when your mother was born, so you’ll understand that I took particular interest in the Chicago part of the chronology. Durocher had an easy act to follow; he took over in 1966 after a particularly fallow period even for the Cubs of that era. They were coming off an eighth-place finish and a failed five-year experiment with a “college of coaches” running things instead of a manager. In the book, Durocher doesn’t omit the oft-told story: . . .

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The history of young men and fire

August 5, 2009
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The history of young men and fire

Sixty years ago today, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or mortally burned. One of those three survivors, Bob Sallee, will speak to the public this week in Montana as part of ceremonies held to observe the anniversary of the conflagration. Sallee, of course, also figures prominently in Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire, which hauntingly searches out and fits together the scattered pieces of the Mann Gulch tragedy. In this evocative excerpt, Maclean reflects on how it was that of the crew only Rumsey and Sallee survived. If you had known ahead of time that only two would survive, you probably never would have picked these two—they were first-year jumpers, this was the first fire they had ever jumped on, Sallee was one year younger than the minimum age, and around the base they were known as roommates who had a pretty good time for themselves. They both became big operators in the world of the woods and prairies, and part of this story . . .

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HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s inspiration

July 28, 2009
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HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s inspiration

Earlier this month at the Brookings Institution, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan talked with former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros about the challenges posed by concentrated poverty and the lessons of recent development initiatives. In the midst of the discussion, Donovan told Cisneros that: As I embark on my own path as HUD Secretary, Henry I want to say to you that I’m in the midst of reading Robert Weaver’s biography. A great biography that was recently published and I say quite seriously that only in Weaver’s example can I find any other HUD Secretary that has brought together the intellectual leadership, the practice, the passion, the commitment that you have brought to the work that you did not only as HUD Secretary, but to literally a lifetime of work in transforming neighborhoods and communities. The “great biography,” of course, can’t be any other than Wendell Pritchett’s Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City, the first and only biography of the first African American to hold a cabinet position in the federal government. From his role as FDR’s “negro advisor” to his appointment, under Lyndon Johnson, as the first secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Robert Clifton Weaver was . . .

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Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine

July 27, 2009
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Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine

The NYT published a story today about a new sign of hope for the peaceful co-habitation of the West Bank coming from a group of ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews living in the outlying communities of Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit. According to the Times, though the rapidly growing populations of their settlements along disputed territories account for much of the Israeli government’s claims for the need to expand into Palestinian territory, “these ultra-Orthodox inhabitants often express contempt for the settler movement, with its vows never to move.” The people here, who shun most aspects of modernity, came for three reasons: they needed affordable housing no longer available in and around Jerusalem or Tel Aviv; they were rejected by other Israeli cities as too cult-like; and officials wanted their presence to broaden Israel’s narrow border.… Yet they are lumped with everyone else. With an unsurpassed ideological commitment to their religion, but not to the hardline Zionist movements with which ultra-Orthodox communities are sometimes associated, their desire to divorce themselves from the broader nationalist movement brings new hope for a deal with the Palestinians over many existing land disputes and the possibility of a future in which both groups can co-exist peacefully. In . . .

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From the Earth to the Moon and back

July 21, 2009
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From the Earth to the Moon and back

Where were you on July 20, 1969? Newspapers all over the United States posed this question to readers over the past couple of days, generating hundreds of responses that explain how the moon landing, with its worldwide scale, also had countless much more personal dimensions. “At that moment I had serious doubts about the relevance of our hard work and the ordering of my personal priorities,” remembers a then-student archaeologist. “We had the technology to put a man on the moon,” a Vietnam veteran remembers thinking, “yet here I am, dirty and worn out, fighting like it was 1869.” At the National Review Online, John Derbyshire remembers being at work as a bartender in Liverpool when “in a fragile contraption hurled by a spasm of burning gases across a quarter million miles of empty space (and built, as it happens, less than ten miles from my present home), human beings set themselves down on the surface of another world, in an alien landscape.” Though the unfamiliar landscape he traverses is a bit closer to home, and though the moon he writes of is artificial, Phillip Graham’s forthcoming The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon has more in common with . . .

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The Smokejumper’s Story: Bob Sallee on the Mann Gulch Fire

July 8, 2009
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The Smokejumper’s Story: Bob Sallee on the Mann Gulch Fire

Sixty years ago this August, a crew of fifteen of the Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or mortally burned. Bob Sallee, then just seventeen, was one of the survivors. In a new radio interview for American Public Media’s The Story Sallee relates the harrowing tale of how he survived the blaze that raced up Mann Gulch. For years Sallee declined to talk about that day, until Norman Maclean—best known for authoring the classic story, A River Runs Through It—contacted Sallee in the course of research for Young Men and Fire. Maclean, an English professor at the University of Chicago and a former wilderness firefighter, spent the final years of his life researching the story which, for him exemplified a moment when “life takes on the shape of art,” whose “remembered remnants… are largely what we come to mean by life and become almost all of what we remember of ourselves.” Listen to the archived audio from Sallee’s interview and see our website for Maclean, including an excerpt of the decisive moment of . . .

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