History

Free e-book for January: Dori Katz’s Looking for Strangers

January 3, 2017
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Free e-book for January: Dori Katz’s Looking for Strangers

It’s a new year, and our free e-book for January is Dori Katz’s Looking for Strangers: The True Story of My Hidden Wartime Childhood.  Download your copy here. *** Dori Katz is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who thought that her lost memories of her childhood years in Belgium were irrecoverable. But after a chance viewing of a documentary about hidden children in German-occupied Belgium, she realized that she might, in fact, be able to unearth those years. Looking for Strangers is the deeply honest record of her attempt to do so, a detective story that unfolds through one of the most horrifying periods in history in an attempt to understand one’s place within it. In alternating chapters, Katz journeys into multiple pasts, setting details from her mother’s stories that have captivated her throughout her life alongside an account of her own return to Belgium forty years later—against her mother’s urgings—in search of greater clarity. She reconnects her sharp but fragmented memories: being sent by her mother in 1943, at the age of three, to live with a Catholic family under a Christian identity; then being given up, inexplicably, to an orphanage in the years immediately following the war. Only after . . .

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The Birth of Theory at New Books in History

December 16, 2016
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The Birth of Theory at New Books in History

  Andrew Cole’s The Birth of Theory posits Hegel as the world’s ur-critical theorist, accounting for the origins of his dialectic as a theory, and situating the thinker’s unconventional (for modern philosophy) turn toward the medieval and premodern realms, which ultimately embedded Hegel in its long tradition, and suggested “that it is precisely Hegel’s engagement with medieval modes of thought that make his work a productive source for Marx and the later thinkers who develop dialectical thinking into theory as we know it today.” Cole’s work was previously reviewed by the likes of Qui Parle (“The Birth of Theory is filled with illuminating and often counterintuitive readings. . . . Cole’s argument touches on an array of important avenues of inquiry, offering counterproposals that should unsettle the doctrinally comfortable and reinvigorate theoretical discussions in a variety of connected fields: Hegel scholarship and the history of Continental philosophy; Marxist and post-Marxist analysis of culture, ideology, and commodity fetishism; literary criticism, whether historicist or not; and contemporary discussions of new vitalisms, materialisms, and speculative ontologies. . . . The Birth of Theory offers a set of tantalizing and highly original arguments.”) and the Review of Metaphysics (“The Birth of Theory is an ambitious, original, lucidly-written, scrupulously-researched, . . .

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Chicago Reader on Dirty Waters

December 12, 2016
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Chicago Reader on Dirty Waters

From a recent Chicago Reader review of R. J. Nelson’s Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago’s Last Harbor Boss, the story of one city employee’s rise and fall as Chicago’s director of Harbors and Marine Services: Dirty Waters, a fine chronicle of Nelson’s tenure as a city employee, begins with his first day on the job and concludes not long after he was ignominiously terminated by Forrest Claypool, then the Park District’s general superintendent. What Nelson encounters during that time will be familiar to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of local government: parks department supervisors who demand permits for their personal boats, inept public-sector employees who receive high salaries due to political connections, and obfuscatory paperwork designed to deaden the enthusiasm and limit the geographic and civic access of ordinary boaters. t a play-by-play account of Nelson’s time as harbor boss, Dirty Waters might get bogged down by inside-baseball accounts of bygone local politics. But there’s a certain Chicagoness to Nelson’s storytelling that’s highly entertaining—the book reads like a series of anecdotes being told by a lifelong resident of the city. Nelson can veer off on tangents, sometimes excessively so, but more often than not the asides keep the narrative interesting, provide valuable context, . . .

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Excerpt: They Thought They Were Free

December 5, 2016
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Excerpt: They Thought They Were Free

Following the 2016 presidential election, a group of Redditors digging for context and historical parallel rediscovered an excerpt on our website from Milton Mayer’s 1955 book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–1945. There, Mayer interviews ten German citizens, all Nazi Party members, following the war about the course of their lives during that decade, in order to determine what, precisely, had made them Nazis. As Mayer put it: What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it. Below is the excerpt in full. *** But Then It Was Too Late “What no one seemed to notice,” said a colleague of mine, a philologist, “was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and . . .

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Alice in Space (in Nature)

November 30, 2016
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Alice in Space (in Nature)

Gillian Beer wrote “History: Untangling Alice” for Nature, synthesizing some of the research from her book Alice In Space, which examines the Alice books by Lewis Carroll via the immediate context in which they landed: the 1860s, a decade rife with new languages and concepts drawn from scientific, linguistic, and educational developments. (Note: this book is so great!) In Beer’s words: When I started writing it more than a decade ago, I wondered how far intuition and familiarity with Victorian intellectual culture should take me in asserting Carroll’s participation in the ideas thronging around him. I had to rely on the Alice books for evidence of allusion and parodies. Now I have a fuller picture of how Carroll used fantasy to pursue thoughts — on radical mathematics and Boolean logic, for example — that he constrained in his professional life as a devout Euclidean. The Victorian culture within which the Alice books were written is largely invisible to us now. It was a period of immense intellectual upheaval in fields from mathematics to language theory, evolution and education. Carroll slips these ideas into the layers of his jokes, sliding infant puns above learned references. He had a teasing openness to the ideas being pursued by his contemporaries . . .

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Free e-book for November: Carl H. Nightingale’s Segregation

November 3, 2016
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Free e-book for November: Carl H. Nightingale’s Segregation

Our free e-book for November is Carl H. Nightingale’s Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities. Read more and download your copy below: When we think of segregation, what often comes to mind is apartheid South Africa, or the American South in the age of Jim Crow—two societies fundamentally premised on the concept of the separation of the races. But as Carl H. Nightingale shows us in this magisterial history, segregation is everywhere, deforming cities and societies worldwide. Starting with segregation’s ancient roots, and what the archaeological evidence reveals about humanity’s long-standing use of urban divisions to reinforce political and economic inequality, Nightingale then moves to the world of European colonialism. It was there, he shows, segregation based on color—and eventually on race—took hold; the British East India Company, for example, split Calcutta into “White Town” and “Black Town.” As we follow Nightingale’s story around the globe, we see that division replicated from Hong Kong to Nairobi, Baltimore to San Francisco, and more. The turn of the twentieth century saw the most aggressive segregation movements yet, as white communities almost everywhere set to rearranging whole cities along racial lines. Nightingale focuses closely on two striking examples: Johannesburg, with its state-sponsored separation, and . . .

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The Fixers on the Leonard Lopate Show

November 2, 2016
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The Fixers on the Leonard Lopate Show

  The Fixers: Devolution, Development, and Civil Society in Newark, 1960–1990 chronicles the sociocultural revelations behind three decades of change and tumult that manifested in Newark, New Jersey’s postwar decline—and the coalitions of residents, lay activists, public housing policy advocates, black nationalists, white Catholic priests, and other “fixers,” who fought to organize their communities as a form of resistance. Recently, the book was a topic on the Leonard Lopate Show, where author Julia Rabig expanded upon the roles of these individuals in transforming a limited welfare state into a series of collective causes. To listen to streaming audio from the broadcast, click below: To read more about The Fixers, click here. . . .

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Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China (Forthcoming 2017)

September 12, 2016
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Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China (Forthcoming 2017)

Philip Ball’s The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China won’t publish in North America until March of 2017, but the book is already making waves (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) in the UK, where it was recently profiled by the Economist: THE Chinese mental compass is oriented not north-south as with the rest of the world, but west-east—a consequence of tectonic forces that threw up mountains in inner Asia from which rivers seek a course down through China to the sea. “Twisting around ten thousand times but always going eastward,” said Confucius: it seemed a law of nature. Philip Ball argues in his new book, “The Water Kingdom”, that the two greatest waterways, the Yellow river that flows across the north China plain and the Yangzi that charges through the heart of the country, are both “symbols of the nation” and, for millennia, have been the “keys to its fate.” . . . Nearly all cultures have flood myths and legends. China’s are unusual in that at the heart of them are the engineering challenges of flood control. The first attempts to tame the Yellow river are ancient; the huge Three Gorges dam, which a decade ago turned a fast-flowing stretch into a reservoir the size of . . .

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Our free e-book for August: Rising Up from Indian Country

August 1, 2016
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Our free e-book for August: Rising Up from Indian Country

Our free e-book for August is Ann Durkin Keating’s Rising Up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago. Download your copy here. *** In August 1812, under threat from the Potawatomi, Captain Nathan Heald began the evacuation of ninety-four people from the isolated outpost of Fort Dearborn to Fort Wayne, hundreds of miles away. The group included several dozen soldiers, as well as nine women and eighteen children. After traveling only a mile and a half, they were attacked by five hundred Potawatomi warriors. In under an hour, fifty-two members of Heald’s party were killed, and the rest were taken prisoner; the Potawatomi then burned Fort Dearborn before returning to their villages. These events are now seen as a foundational moment in Chicago’s storied past. With Rising up from Indian Country, noted historian Ann Durkin Keating richly recounts the Battle of Fort Dearborn while situating it within the context of several wider histories that span the nearly four decades between the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, in which Native Americans gave up a square mile at the mouth of the Chicago River, and the 1833 Treaty of Chicago, in which the American government and the Potawatomi . . .

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In memoriam: William H. McNeill (1917–2016)

July 19, 2016
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In memoriam: William H. McNeill (1917–2016)

William H. McNeill (1917–2016)—historian, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago (where he began teaching in 1947), and prolific scholar—died July 8, 2016, at age 98. One of his most notable works, The Rise of the West: A History of Human Community, was the first University of Chicago Press title to win a National Book Award, and is often considered a major force in resituating “western” civilization in a more global context. From the New York Times: Professor McNeill’s opus, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963), took 10 years to write. It became a bestseller, won the National Book Award for history and biography and was lauded in the New York Times Book Review by the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. “This is not only the most learned and the most intelligent,” he wrote, “it is also the most stimulating and fascinating book that has ever set out to recount and explain the whole history of mankind.” McNeill went on to write several books for the University of Chicago Press, including Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081–1797; The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000; The Islamic World (coedited with Marilyn Robinson Waldman); Hutchins’ University: A Memoir of the University of . . .

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