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Jonathan Z. Smith, historian of religion, 1938-2017

January 12, 2018
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Jonathan Z. Smith, historian of religion, 1938-2017

Historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith died on December 30, aged seventy-nine. He leaves a remarkable legacy from his forty-five-year career at the University of Chicago as a teacher, mentor, writer, and scholar. His colleague Margaret M. Mitchell told the University of Chicago’s Andrew Bauld that Smith was “a quintessential Chicago scholar of indomitable intellectual energy and unforgettable wit, iconoclastic in the very best sense, and utterly dedicated to a life of learning and teaching—for himself, his students and for a civil society.” Bruce Lincoln, who studied with Smith as a graduate student, recalled him as a teacher: “As a lecturer, he was absolutely spellbinding. In exchanges with students he was wonderfully encouraging, challenging and inspiring.” We are proud to have published five books by Jonathan Smith. If you want to get a sense of his voice and breadth of knowledge, you can look at an excerpt from his book Relating Religion here. The University of Chicago has a more extensive obituary appreciation on its main site. Our thoughts are with his family.   . . .

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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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The Limits of “Diversity”

October 9, 2017
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In recent years, diversity has become a hallowed American value, shared and honored in a wide range of contexts. And even as the concept has faced renewed criticism since the rise of Donald Trump, it remains a much-praised cornerstone of corporate, educational, and civic values. But what do we mean by it? What are we talking about when we talk about diversity? What goals is it intended to serve? And who is it for? The answers to those questions are surprisingly hard to pin down, and they vary by context. Ellen Berrey has been studying diversity for years, in neighborhoods, colleges, and corporations, and in a piece for Salon a few years ago, she was blunt about what she’s discovered: Here’s what I’ve learned: diversity is how we talk about race when we can’t talk about race. It has become a stand-in when open discussion of race is too controversial or — let’s be frank — when white people find the topic of race uncomfortable. Diversity seems polite, positive, hopeful. Who is willing to say they don’t value diversity? One national survey found that more than 90 percent of respondents said they valued diversity in their communities and friendships. Berrey’s book The Enigma . . .

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Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

October 2, 2017
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Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

Sure–there are some subjects you wouldn’t ever go to a student for an opinion on. Proper nutrition, for one. Work-life balance, for another. But sleep? Oh, they understand sleep. That may be because it’s all they do–or it may be because they barely do it at all. But their knowledge? Rock solid. So to assess The Science of Sleep,  we turn to one of our student employees, Tunisia Kenyatta, an undergrad who, when we’re not loading her down with work for our publicity team, studies in the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. Penned by Wallace B. Mendelson, retired professor of psychiatry and clinical pharmacology at the University of Chicago and former president of the Sleep Research Society, The Science of Sleep illuminates a phenomenon that has for far too long been kept in darkness. Approaching the topic of sleep from not only a scientific standpoint, but also evolutionary, historical, and social ones, the book offers an understanding of sleep in packaging that is accesible and valuable to those both inside and outside the realm of science. Mendelson did not hesitate to cast a wide net. In addition to the elements of human sleep states and clinical sleep disorders being thoroughly addressed, the book debunks . . .

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Machiavelli offers a good way to see out August

August 30, 2017
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This weekend brings the end of summer, that season which, at its opening, always seems to offer such promise. Just think of all the books we’ll read in our sunny back yards! Then Labor Day arrives and the stack of unread books remains higher than we would like, our efforts stymied by life’s many agents of distraction. It can be a time of frustration, of disappointment; it’s all too easy to enter autumn in a mood less autumnal than wintry. So today, we offer a passage from Machiavelli that we have always found comforting, even inspiring. It comes from a letter–collected in our volume of Machiavelli’s letters–that he sent to his benefactor, Francesco Vettori, on December 10, 1513: On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day’s clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which is only mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the . . .

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Passchendaele, a century on

August 2, 2017
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Passchendaele, a century on

“Why should I not write it?” That’s Edmund Blunden, opening his now-classic memoir of World War I, Undertones of War, in 1928. Blunden, a poet, joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1915, and he served in a number of major battles of the war, including Passchendaele, which began July 31, 1917 and would continue–at a cost of nearly 600,000 dead–until November 10. Blunden’s book was one of a number published a decade or so after the war that both marked and brought about a change in English opinion about the war and its legacy. William Manchester, in The Last Lion, wrote, The most extraordinary thing about England’s disenchantment with the war is that it didn’t surface for over ten years. The reading public had been fed the self-serving memoirs of those responsible for the disaster and the thin fictional gruel of Bulldog Drummond and Richard Hannay. Those who had remained home were simply incapable of absorbing the truth. Aging Tommies told them that sixty thousand young Englishmen had fallen on the first day of the battle of the Somme without gaining a single yard. Sixty thousand! It couldn’t be true. Those who said so must be shell-shocked. But by 1929, after the publication of Undertones, Siegfried . . .

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