Subjects

Free eBooks from The University of Chicago Press – Building the American Republic, Volumes 1 and 2

January 10, 2018
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Free eBooks from The University of Chicago Press – Building the American Republic, Volumes 1 and 2

Donald Trump takes the podium outside the Capitol Building to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States–freeze frame, record scratch, cue up the intro to that one song by The Who, and a narrator chimes in: “Now I bet you’re wondering how we ended up here?” Flashback to a bunch of seasick Europeans disembarking from their ship on the eastern shores of the new world–to the surprise and perhaps amusement of some of the locals who are just out for a stroll. And so begins the first volume of our magisterial new two-volume history of the United States, Building the American Republic. Okay, that’s not really how it starts–but it totally should be if anyone ever wants to option the television rights! Right now though you can see how the books really begin yourself by downloading the e-books of both volumes at buildingtheamericanrepublic.org absolutely free. With the need for an informed electorate more clear now than ever, these books, written by two of the foremost experts on American history working in the field today, are an indispensable asset in understanding America’s past and present, and what can be done to guarantee its future. At a time when knowledge . . .

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Going home for the Holidays? Take Scott Tong’s Fascinating Family History with You.

December 15, 2017
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Going home for the Holidays? Take Scott Tong’s Fascinating Family History with You.

Looking for something to listen to on the long road/flight/L ride to Grandma’s house? Well look no further, because Marketplace correspondent Scott Tong has been hitting the podcast circuit in the past week to promote the publication of his new book A Village with My Name: A Family History of China’s Opening to the World. In the tradition of Marketplace‘s fascinating coverage of the latest topics in business and economics, Scott Tong’s book takes an intimate look at China’s long and challenged ascendancy to the global political and economic powerhouse that it is today, as told through the life stories of members of his own extended family. The recent Marketplace interview with Kai Ryssdal does a great job of summarizing the book, touching on most of its most salient points, while a longer interview with Tong on the Sinica podcast (Warning: Contains spoilers) should get you most of the rest of the way to Grandma’s. Tong is also doing quite a few book signings and events early in the New Year, including one in DC on the 3rd and one in San Francisco on the 9th. Check out the UCP author events calendar for more upcoming dates on Tong’s book tour. . . .

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David Ferry’s The Aeneid: “perhaps, almost—the thing itself”

November 16, 2017
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Poet David Ferry has long been known as one of the foremost translators of classical literature from the Latin. And with much-praised translations of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics among his expansive oeuvre of translated works, his specific talent for channeling the world’s most revered Roman poet has been well documented. Now, at nearly twice the age of the author when The Aeneid was first drafted, the nonagenarian poet has now completed his translations of Virgil’s major works. And as April Bernard (also an accomplished poet in her own right and currently a Professor of English at Skidmore) writes for the New York Review of Books, Ferry’s Aeneid has captured the essence of Virgil’s original like no other English edition available today: Ferry’s previous outings with Virgil, in his matchless Eclogues and Georgics, had already convinced me that he has some sort of uncanny connection to the great poet. Especially when reading the Eclogues, one hears a new-old voice, as if Virgil had miraculously learned English and decided it might do as well as Latin. This kind of translation almost needs a new name, to distinguish it from all the other worthy efforts to bring the ancient poets to life: it is . . .

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Review: Pamela Bannos’ “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife”

November 8, 2017
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Review: Pamela Bannos’ “Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife”

(Photograph from the Ron Slattery negative collection. Courtesy of the Estate of Vivian Maier, copyright 2017 The Estate of Vivian Maier. All rights reserved.) During her lifetime Vivian Maier was unknown. A social recluse with a day job as a nanny and a habit of wandering about with her Rolleiflex, snapping photographs of the daily goings-on of the various places she inhabited throughout her life, including France, New York, L. A., and of course Chicago, where she lived for most of her life. She died in 2009, at the age of 82, the bulk of her photographic work filed away or abandoned in storage lockers, perhaps never to be seen again, were it not for its discovery by a cadre of lucky collectors who stumbled upon her work at auction. Soon after, the thousands of images she had created over her long photographic career went viral, and her work has since been lauded as some of the most iconic street photography of the twentieth century. Since her ouvre’s discovery and popularization, however, a particular narrative has developed surrounding her life and work, as Parul Sehgal notes in a recent article for the New York Times: “Stories—like snapshots—are shaped by people, and . . .

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The Soviet Union’s secret maps – of Chicago!

October 26, 2017
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The Soviet Union’s secret maps – of Chicago!

Lately, Russia seems to be soft-pedaling their attempts at world domination, choosing to use ads on Facebook or Youtube clickbait to exert their influence over global politics rather than overt threats of nuclear annihilation. But, of course, this wasn’t always the case. As well as providing a fascinating look at perhaps one of the most comprehensive pre-Google Maps mapping endeavors ever, John Davies and Alexander J. Kent’s The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World is a surefire way to reignite those bygone feelings of Cold War paranoia by demonstrating just how serious the Soviets may have been about invading a town near you, or your actual town, as the case might have been for many of America’s larger metropolises. Including, as the maps below illustrate, Chicago. As a review of the book in a recent issue of National Geographic notes, the detailed Russian maps–some of which were only smuggled out of the country within the last decade–were compiled from a variety of sources, including information borrowed from contemporary USGS maps, which the Soviet maps seem to mimic extensively. But other specifics, like detailed depictions of depths and channels around rivers and harbors, including the Soviet-era map . . .

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Interview with Harvard Professor of Education Daniel Koretz on “The Testing Charade”

October 18, 2017
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As a recent Washington Post article featuring an interview with Harvard Professor of Education Daniel Koretz notes, over the past decades the American public and its political officials have sought to reform the public educational system by holding teachers, educational methods, and education officials, accountable for the performance of their students. One increasingly common way to enforce this accountability is by holding the various constituents of our public educational system responsible for student performance on standardized tests. Beginning perhaps most visibly with the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, and again augmented under the Obama administration with the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, standardized test scores have become the holy grail of educational achievement at the K-12 level and beyond.

But in his new book The Testing Charade Koretz puts forth a strong critique of the efficacy of high-stakes testing in evaluating the performance and utility of public education strategies and its practitioners. He illuminates among other problems, the extent to which test scores, taken out of context, miss the mark in demonstrating the value of less traditional educational programs, and the extent to which standardized tests lend themselves to manipulation, and in some cases, downright cheating. From the interview:

“Used appropriately, standardized tests are a valuable source of information, sometimes an irreplaceable one. …

But in our educational system, the use of tests has been anything but appropriate. Policymakers have ignored the fact that tests capture only some of what we want students to accomplish and even less of what we want schools to do. And they created perverse incentives that led educators to cut corners and inflate scores. Ironically, this made test scores less valuable than they would have been. Inflated scores don’t provide a trustworthy indicator of what students actually learn.

For well over 60 years, testing experts have warned educators that pressure to raise scores would cause score inflation and that test scores by themselves are not sufficient to evaluate schools. Over 40 years ago, in one of the most cited papers in the social sciences, Don Campbell repeated the warning about score inflation and the corruption of instruction. As I note in “Charade,” studies documenting bad test prep and score inflation in response to high-stakes testing started appearing almost 30 years ago, and the first study documenting more severe score inflation among disadvantaged students — and, hence, illusory improvements in achievement gaps — was published more than 15 years ago. And very consistent evidence of these problems continued to accumulate over the years.

So … why did people persist with this approach despite all of those warnings and all of the evidence? Just based on my own experience, I think it was for several reasons. Some policymakers simply didn’t know; most don’t read social science; and many had no experts on hand to warn them.”

Fortunately, with Koretz’s The Testing Charade now we do.

Continue reading the interview on the Washington Post website where they have also posted several excerpts from the book.

For more on Koretz and his critique of  American educational policy check out a video of a recent discussion between Koretz and Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. Or see another interview with Koretz on a special video edition of the Harvard EdCast.

The Book of Caterpillars

September 25, 2017
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The Book of Caterpillars

I’ll open this post with a confession: I once watched a little green caterpillar eat the entirety of a dill plant my wife had planted in a windowbox. How could I not? He was so cute, and so industrious! If you feel the same way, but you also would like to retain your plants for your own use, might I suggest our new Book of Caterpillars?   A very big book about little creatures, offering life-size photographs of six hundred species, accompanied by information about their range, habitat, diet, and the moths and butterflies they eventually become. To whet your appetite, some samples follow. The Loepa Megacore. The Forest Tent Caterpillar. The unforgettably named Lettuce Shark. And the, well, commandingly named Commander. The Book of Caterpillars is inching its way to a bookstore near you right now! . . .

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Our Latest Longest War . . . still going on

August 23, 2017
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Our Latest Longest War . . . still going on

On Monday night, President Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan, where American forces have been fighting since late 2001. He gave few details, but the general indication was that the war would go on–with possibly as many as 4,000 additional troops–and that the strategy wouldn’t differ markedly from those followed by the Bush and Obama administrations. Aaron O’Connell, retired Marine lieutenant colonel, Afghan war veteran, and the editor of our collection of analysis of the Afghan war by those who have fought it, Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan, talked with NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday. That was before the president’s speech, but O’Connell had a sense of what he was likely to say, and he wasn’t impressed: Nobody thinks 5,000 more troops is going to end the war in Afghanistan. For context, we have about 8,400 American troops there now. And at the height of the surge in 2011, we had 100,000. So adding 5,000 more won’t end the war. The hope is that it will buy the Afghan government a bit more time to bring the Taliban to a negotiated peace, or at least to halt the loss of momentum and halt the Taliban advance. . . .

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You thought that by coming here you were going to escape all the Russia news, didn’t you?

July 23, 2017
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You thought that by coming here you were going to escape all the Russia news, didn’t you?

Well, define “news.” Because what we have to offer is nearly a century old–but it’s also little known. Over at Aeon, Julia Mickenberg has written a piece drawing on her book American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream about the almost unknown stories of the many American women who moved to the young Soviet Union in the early part of the twentieth century in search of a better life. Most of these were ordinary women, tempted by promises of greater freedom, more equality, and a broader spectrum of rights than they could have in the United States at the time. But a few were famous–including dancer Isadora Duncan; you can read about her Soviet years in  an excerpt from the book at Lapham’s Quarterly. See? Nary a word about secret meetings, dodgy dossiers, or anything contemporary. It’s okay sometimes to live in the past–especially when that past reminds you of long-forgotten (if ultimately tragic) dreams of the future. . . .

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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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