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Bookselling Without Borders

September 24, 2018
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Bookselling Without Borders

It’s no secret that the American book market is insular. There are reasons for that–it’s a big country, and American culture has been a dominant force internationally for decades. But there’s no question that we as readers are missing out because of it. Bookselling Without Borders wants to change that. And they’ve come up with a great first step: enlist booksellers. Who can do more for a book than a bookseller who has decided it’s something that should be widely known? So they’ve launched a Kickstarter to fund scholarships that will send selected booksellers to international book fairs, where they’ll learn about the publishing world in other countries and come home with new authors and books to advocate for. A number of publishers, including Chicago, have joined in to support the project–which means there are some very choice rewards on offer, including a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style if you pledge $50 or more. For more information, or to back the project, you can go to the Bookselling Without Borders Kickstarter page. Who knows–you just might be funding the person who will hand-sell you your next favorite book! . . .

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Understanding American politics today: identity, the triumph of the national over the local, and the triumph of politics over all else

September 12, 2018
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Understanding American politics today: identity, the triumph of the national over the local, and the triumph of politics over all else

  The surprising outcome of the 2016 presidential election led to a good bit of soul-searching among America’s political pundit class. How could they have gotten things so wrong? The earliest attempts to understand latched onto story and anecdote, as books like J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy were picked apart for their purported insights into the voters who elected Donald Trump. Nearly two years out, it’s clear that more rigorous analysis is likely to prove much more fruitful. And a trio of Chicago books are getting their due, hailed for their insights into the forces driving American politics today. Each offers a piece of the whole, and together, they build a picture of a nation deeply divided, though perhaps not in exactly the ways, or for the reasons, we think. Daniel Hopkins’s The Increasingly United States: How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized lays the groundwork for understanding why our relationship with our local representatives, and the issues they’ve historically been most responsive to, has changed. All politics may once have been local, but that’s no longer the case. As an article in the New Yorker explained: Voters pay vastly more attention to what is going on in Washington, D.C., than to what’s going . . .

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Beyond the cemetery gates: 6 questions for David Charles Sloane about cemeteries and the past and future of memorials

September 4, 2018
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Beyond the cemetery gates: 6 questions for David Charles Sloane about cemeteries and the past and future of memorials

David Charles Sloane’s Is the Cemetery Dead? has attracted notice for its thorough and empathetic survey of emerging trends in how we mourn our loved ones. The Los Angeles Review of Books called it “a levelheaded report on the death care industry,” while Publishers Weekly praised the “personal experience and knowledge” that Sloane interweaves with history and proclaimed the book to be “a great overview of mourning rituals in modern American culture.” We sent David six questions—one, let’s say, for every foot deep that tradition calls for a grave to be dug . . . Is the Cemetery Dead? details what you call the “changing cultural landscape of death and commemoration” by exploring such nontraditional mourning rites as ghost bikes, memory tattoos, and online memorials. Are there any of these new rituals that you find particularly moving or appealing? As a professor of urban planning, I am especially affected by ghost bikes, the spectral white bicycles placed along the roadway at the site of the death of a cyclist. American cities too often have been developed for cars, not people. Over the last half-century, reformers have tried to change that, and make our cities more multi-modal—a place where you can drive, ride, . . .

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Modernity and the Jews

August 17, 2018
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Modernity and the Jews

     “Jews were good to think.” Borrowing a phrase from Claude Levi-Strauss, that’s how Chad Alan Goldberg sums up the crucial role played by ideas and ideologies about Jews in the conceptualization of the major themes of modernity by thinkers like Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. In his book Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, Goldberg shows how social thinkers from France, Germany, and the United States, as they tried to understand the modern world taking shape around them, repeatedly invoked Jews as a touchstone for defining modernity and national identity in a context of rapid social change. In all three countries, intellectuals invoked real or purported differences between Jews and gentiles to elucidate key dualisms of modern social thought. The Jews, he shows, thus became an intermediary through which social thinkers discerned in a roundabout fashion the nature, problems, and trajectory of their own wider societies. The Center for Holocaust and Genocide recently interviewed Goldberg about his book, with particular attention to how it helps us better understand antisemitism: You claim that post-colonial theory has shown a very limited understanding of antisemitism, basically seeing only the reactionary . . .

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Chicago “Renaissance Woman” Eve L. Ewing on the great Chicago Public School Purge

July 27, 2018
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Chicago “Renaissance Woman” Eve L. Ewing on the great Chicago Public School Purge

The history of of the city of Chicago is one of massive investment in industrial, social, and architectural innovations. Yet, as is obvious to anyone who knows a bit about the town, the returns on these investments are not, and never have been, fairly allocated throughout all segments of society. Alongside, or perhaps in spite of, the city’s achievements, the history of Chicago is fraught with systemic racism and inequality that has engendered a deep-rooted distrust of its social and political institutions among its minority populations–a term which is itself a misnomer, really, as a quick look at the data on Chicago from the census bureau reveals that these minority populations comprise more than half of the total population. It is no wonder, then, that when in 2013 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced an unprecedented wave of school closings located mostly on the city’s heavily black and Latino south and west sides, the plan was met with a roar of protest from parents, students, and teachers. The Emmanuel administration pitched the closings as a solution to a budget problem, a response to declining enrollments, and a chance to purge bad schools that were dragging down the whole system. Years later, have . . .

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7 questions for Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve

July 27, 2018
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7 questions for Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve

Anthropology professor and science writer Barbara J. King has been writing about animals—and pushing the boundaries of what we know and can say about their minds and emotions—for years now. Chicago has been proud to share those discoveries through the books Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat, How Animals Grieve, and Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, all of which have found enthusiastic audiences of both general readers and scholars. Knowing that Barbara was deep into work on her next book (and could probably use a distraction!), we send her a fewquestions. It’s been a year since we published Personalities on the Plate, so I’ll ask that most-dreaded question: what are you working on right now? My writing life works best if I trade off among three speeds at once: banging out a short book review for NPR, the Washington Post, or the Times Literary Supplement; crafting a magazine-length piece that requires more in-depth research; and plugging away at a book manuscript. I’m pretty much always in the middle of three writing projects, as a result.  The book project that very much preoccupies me now–for Chicago, as you know—plunges me into thorny issues related . . .

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Nature reviews Henry Gee’s “Across the Bridge: Understanding the Origin of the Vertebrates”

July 9, 2018
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Nature reviews Henry Gee’s “Across the Bridge: Understanding the Origin of the Vertebrates”

The story of the evolution of life on earth is an incomplete one, with many ellipses in the narrative of how simple organisms, some of which seem like little more than spontaneous experiments in organic chemistry, somehow grew to become the massively complex organisms that we see around us today. Interestingly, one of the gaps that has both confounded and fascinated scientists the most is the origin of the vertebrates—the origins of us. Over the past few decades there has been an abundance of research done on the subject, so much so that distilling it into a clear picture of our current understanding of the subject could be a daunting task.  Though daunting it may be, there is perhaps no one more suited to it than paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Henry Gee, whose new book, Across the Bridge: Understanding the Origin of the Vertebrates draws on his many years as senior editor at Nature to comb through the research to help us to see how far the field has come in crossing the invertebrate-to-vertebrate divide—and how far we still have to go. But you don’t have to take our word for it. A recent review penned by one of Gee’s . . .

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Barbara J. King Discusses her Provocative View on the Origins of Religion at the 2018 World Science Festival

June 21, 2018
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Barbara J. King Discusses her Provocative View on the Origins of Religion at the 2018 World Science Festival

In the wake of the this year’s World Science Festival, which took place at the beginning of June in New York City, Robert Lamb, host of the Stuff to Blow Your Mind Podcast has posted a series of interviews he conducted with some of the speakers at this year’s festival, including anthropologist Barbara J. King, whose research focuses on animal emotion and cognition, as do her many books, including How Animals Grieve, Personalities on the Plate, and her latest, Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion, Expanded Edition. For the festival, King participated in a panel moderated by physicist Brian Greene exploring the evolutionary origins of religious thought in human beings and other primates titled “The Believing Brain: Evolution, Neuroscience, and the Spiritual Instinct.” In the interview Lamb revisits the topics discussed in the panel, exploring the vital function that religious or spiritual thought has played in the development of primate social interactions, from apes to people. The conversation with King starts about 53 minutes in, but the other interviews are interesting as well and segue nicely into King’s discussion. Check it out on the Stuff to Blow Your Mind website or find out more about Barbara . . .

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Jesse Bering on Religion and Suicide

June 12, 2018
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Jesse Bering on Religion and Suicide

In the wake of the high-profile suicides of chef and author Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, the media has turned an unusual amount of attention to the problem. But several insightful articles, including one penned by Jesse Bering, author of Suicidal: Why We Kill Ourselves, are now attempting to dissect the media response itself, exposing both popular misconceptions about the phenomenon as well as at least one outright attempt to appropriate it in the name of furthering an ideological agenda. In a recent post for the Skeptic blog Bering responds to a piece written by Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, in which Donohue argues that if Bourdain had been a religious man, he wouldn’t have taken his own life. Bering writes: Among the more obnoxious things I’ve read in the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s death is that if only he had been a man of faith, he wouldn’t have taken his own life. Consider the almost sneering commentary offered by Bill Donohue . . .  in a syndicated piece written less than a day after the rogue chef’s body was found hanging by the belt of his bathrobe in a Strasbourg hotel room. . . . . .

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Spiders are friends!

May 22, 2018
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Spiders are friends!

SO as long as they just hang out in the basement or garage or whatever I’m completely fine with spiders. Hey, they make great listeners! And (as far as I know), with the exception of two easily identifiable species – the brown recluse, and the black widow – North American arachnids are pretty much harmless to humans, but an absolute scourge to other nuisance insects like flies and mosquitoes and whatnot. It can get kinda gross when they start laying eggs all over the place though. Still, awesome little critters – in moderation. Knowing something about them is essential to their appreciation though – the rap they get in popular culture, as well as people’s perhaps innate fear of them, makes the majority of folks probably more likely to swat one than make a pet out of it, (though as a compromise you could always just catch it and toss it in the garden), which is where Christopher M. Buddle and Eleanor Spicer Rice’s new book, Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Spiders, comes in. Here Eleanor Spicer-Rice, renown science writer and entomologist by training (entomologists btw study insects, not arachnids), teams up with arachnologist Christopher Buddle to uncover the hidden . . .

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