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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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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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Our free e-book for June: The Political Origins of Inequality

June 1, 2017
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Our free e-book for June: The Political Origins of Inequality

Our free e-book for June is Simon Reid-Henry’s The Political Origins of Inequality: Why a More Equal World Is Better for All of Us. Download your copy here. *** Inequality is the defining issue of our time. But it is not just a problem for the rich world. It is the global 1% that now owns fully half the world’s wealth—the true measure of our age of inequality. In this historical tour de force, Simon Reid-Henry rewrites the usual story of globalization and development as a story of the management of inequality. Reaching back to the eighteenth century and around the globe, The Political Origins of Inequality foregrounds the political turning points and decisions behind the making of today’s uneven societies. As it weaves together insights from the Victorian city to the Cold War, from US economic policy to Europe’s present migration crisis, a true picture emerges of the structure of inequality itself. The problem of inequality, Reid-Henry argues, is a problem that manifests between places as well as over time. This is one reason why it cannot be resolved by the usual arguments of left versus right, bound as they are to the national scale alone. Most of all, . . .

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#ReadUPScience: Green thinking in the era of Trump

March 17, 2017
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#ReadUPScience: Green thinking in the era of Trump

In a recent double review for the New Scientist, “Green thinking in the era of Trump,” Fred Pearce took on two of our recent books in environmental studies—Eric T. Freyfogle’s A Good that Transcends: How US Culture Undermines Environmental Reform and  Nathan F. Sayre’s The Politics of Scale: A History of Rangeland Science. Read clips from Pearce’s commentary on each, after the jump. *** “What’s going on? In his book A Good That Transcends, lawyer Eric Freyfogle doesn’t mention Trump. But he is clear that what lies behind long-standing and growing ‘popular resistance’ to green thinking is a devotion to the primacy of the individual and private property at the expense of any ideas that require collective endeavor, such as environmental management of the great spaces and wildernesses where bison once roamed. . . . If not controlled by strong environmental law, private property destroys natural assets by converting them into cash. Look at how fences and ploughs have wrecked the ecosystems of the US Midwest. Privatization didn’t prevent the dust bowl of the 1930s. Even access to rainfall—a quintessentially collective asset—is handed out as a private right that goes with land. Result: California is parched as farmers defend to the death their legal . . .

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