"Who Is Not a Fool?"

March 28, 2006
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"Who Is Not a Fool?"

Why do jesters show up almost everywhere, from the courts and tribes of ancient China and the Mogul emperors of India to those of medieval Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas? The universal jester is surveyed in Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World by Beatrice K. Otto. Written with wit and humor, Fools Are Everywhere is the most comprehensive look at these roguish characters who risked their necks not only to mock and entertain but also to fulfill a deep and widespread human and social need. Prepare for April 1 with an excerpt and an interview with the auhor. . . .

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WSJ‘s pick for art collectors: Duveen

March 28, 2006
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WSJ‘s pick for art collectors: Duveen

Earlier this month, as part of its coverage of the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF Maastricht), the European edition of the Wall Street Journal featured their top picks for "readings on art for collectors." Duveen: A Life in Art by Meryle Secrest made the list. Regarded as the most influential—or, in some circles, notorious—dealer of the twentieth century, Joseph Duveen (1869-1939) established himself selling the European masterpieces of Titian, Botticelli, Giotto, and Vermeer to newly and lavishly wealthy American businessmen—J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Mellon, to name just a few. It is no exaggeration to say that Duveen was the driving force behind every important private art collection in the United States. The key to Duveen’s success was his simple observation that while Europe had the art, America had the money; Duveen made his fortune by buying art from declining European aristocrats and selling them to the "squillionaires" in the United States. . . .

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Review: Dorrik Stow, Oceans

March 28, 2006
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Review: Dorrik Stow, Oceans

The New Scientist has praised Dorrik Stow’s Oceans: An Illustrated Reference. From the review by Adrian Barnett: "From sun-drenched atolls to the ice-capped Arctic, Oceans provides a photo-packed history of the seas, their geology, geochemistry and physics, their cycles and circulations. In elegant prose, Stow examines marine life in all its glorious strangeness and extreme abundance. He covers major areas of oceanographic research, including sociology, anthropology and archaeology, revealing how much we know, and the enormous amount we don’t. Helped by lots of colour photographs and explanatory diagrams, charts and maps, this is a splendid, fact-packed read." . . .

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Smith on AAUP’s "Iraq book list"

March 28, 2006
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Smith on AAUP’s "Iraq book list"

Since Iraq continues to be the daily focus of international news, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) has just announced the timely release of an updated and revised version of its "Iraq book list" at Books for Understanding. The comprehensive list "guides journalists, librarians, and other researchers to the best scholarship now available." Included on this list is Philip Smith’s new book, Why War?: The Cultural Logic of Iraq, the Gulf War, and Suez. Comprised of case studies of the War in Iraq, the Gulf War, and the Suez Crisis, Why War? decodes the cultural logic of the narratives that justify military action. Each nation, Smith argues, makes use of binary codes—good and evil, sacred and profane, rational and irrational, to name a few. These codes, in the hands of political leaders, activists, and the media, are deployed within four different types of narratives—mundane, tragic, romantic, or apocalyptic. With this cultural system, Smith is able to radically recast our "war stories" and show how nations can have vastly different understandings of crises as each identifies the relevant protagonists and antagonists, objects of struggle, and threats and dangers. Read an excerpt. View the AAUP’s Iraq book list. . . .

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Press release: Lawrence Weschler, A Wanderer in the Perfect City

March 28, 2006
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Press release: Lawrence Weschler, A Wanderer in the Perfect City

"There is something both marvelous and hilarious," writes Lawrence Weschler, "in watching the humdrum suddenly take flight. This is, in part, a collection of such launchings." Indeed, the eight essays collected in A Wanderer in the Perfect City do soar into the realm of passion as Weschler profiles people who "were just moseying down the street one day, minding their own business, when suddenly and almost spontaneously, they caught fire, they became obsessed, they became intensely focused and intensely alive." With keen observations and graceful prose, Weschler carries us along as a teacher of rudimentary English from India decides that his destiny is to promote the paintings of an obscure American abstract expressionist; a gifted poker player invents a more exciting version of chess; an avant-garde Russian émigré conductor speaks Latin, exclusively, to his infant daughter; and Art Spiegelman composes Maus. But simple summaries can’t do these stories justice: like music, they derive their character from digressions and details, cadence and tone. And like the upwelling of passion Weschler’s characters feel, they are better experienced than explained.… Read the press release. . . .

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Review: Robert E. Wright, Financial Founding Fathers

March 27, 2006
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Review: Robert E. Wright, Financial Founding Fathers

Library Journal recently reviewed Robert E. Wright and David J. Cowen’s Financial Founding Fathers: The Men Who Made America. From the review: "The early financial history of the United States merits additional popular and scholarly attention, and Wright and Cowen provide biographical information on nine founders of America’s financial and economic systems, from Alexander Hamilton to Andrew Jackson and Nicholas Biddle.… The book emphasizes biographical information with limited explanation of financial and economic arguments.… This book is useful for large public libraries so that general readers may understand formative economic ideas in American history." Robert E. Wright and David J. Cowen chronicle how a different group of founding fathers forged the wealth and institutions necessary to transform the American colonies from a diffuse alliance of contending business interests into one cohesive economic superpower. From Alexander Hamilton to Andrew Jackson, the authors focus on the lives of nine Americans in particular—some famous, some unknown, others misunderstood, but all among our nation’s financial founding fathers. Read an excerpt. Visit Wright and Cowen’s Financial Founding Fathers Web site. . . .

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Press release: Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things

March 27, 2006
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Press release: Jeffrey C. Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things

Entering the 2004 Democratic Party presidential primary, Howard Dean’s candidacy figured to be a brief one. For one, Dean had zero experience in national politics and emerged, at least politically-speaking, from a relatively inconsequential state. Worse, he was viewed as an outsider by major donors to the party, all but ensuring that his would be a minimally funded venture. Yet, powered by grassroots Internet initiatives like MoveOn.org and Meetup.com, Dean, in a remarkably short period of time, would not only generate an unprecedented amount of campaign donations, but emerge as the party’s frontrunner. Given what we thought we knew about presidential politics, Dean’s ascent as a viable candidate was not only improbable, but also revelatory and inspiring. How did this rapid accumulation of political momentum occur? For Jeffrey Goldfarb, the secret to the Dean campaign was its recognition of power latent in the "politics of small things"—the human interactions that take place within our homes, workplaces, schools, churches, and elsewhere in our everyday lives.… Read the press release. . . .

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Revising the Suburbs

March 24, 2006
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Revising the Suburbs

In an article in the March 24 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, reporter Jennifer Howard sees a new wave of scholars challenging the usual wisdom about sprawl and urban growth. Three of our books are discussed in the article. Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century by Andrew Wiese is cited as an example of new work being done in suburbs populated by people other than the white middle-class. Wiese says that his project “challenges historians to think and write about suburbs in a different way.” We have an excerpt from his book. Howard notes that “in 1961 the urban historian Lewis Mumford indicted suburbia as a leveler of the worst order” and that Mumford’s critique is subjected to analysis in our forthcoming collection The New Suburban History (July), edited by Kevin M. Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue. “The contributors to The New Suburban History focus on the role of African-Americans, other ethnic minorities, and immigrants in the history of suburbanization, as well as on the legal and economic mechanisms that shaped suburban identities and geographies in post-World War II America.” Not surprisingly, a lot of room is given over to Robert Bruegmann’s Sprawl: . . .

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Press release: Michele de La Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

March 23, 2006
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Press release: Michele de La Pradelle, Market Day in Provence

An institution as old as time, the outdoor farmers’ market has experienced a renaissance in recent decades as consumers have sought an alternative to chain supermarkets and pre-packaged goods. For patrons of these street markets, the tomatoes are always redder, the lettuce greener, the melons larger, and the meat and fish more fresh. But are they? In Market Day in Provence, the late Michèle de La Pradelle (1944-2004) lifts the curtain behind the traditional farmers’ market once and for all in her award-winning study of the street market of Carpentras, France One of the oldest and most celebrated markets, Carpentras is the model for its more modern cousins. But they are all alike, according to de La Pradelle, in that above all else, money rules. On any Friday, several hours before dawn, trucks file in along the cobblestone streets of the city bearing goods not brought in from farmers but from wholesalers—many of whom supply the superstore chains surrounding the city. The vast majority of produce, meats, dairy products, and fruit here is of the same quality and price as elsewhere in the city. But the products at the market appear different, even fresher—a tribute to the market’s spectacle of . . .

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Review: Robert Bruegmann, Sprawl

March 21, 2006
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Review: Robert Bruegmann, Sprawl

The Weekly Standard recently praised Robert Bruegmann’s Sprawl: A Compact History. From the review by Vincent J. Cannato: "his book is a refreshing antidote to the avalanche of pessimism emanating from the so-called sprawl debate. As Bruegmann writes in his introduction, it seemed as if "so many ‘right-minded’ people were so vociferous on the subject that I began to suspect that there must be something suspicious about the argument itself." He approaches the topic with some much-needed skepticism toward these ‘right-minded’ critics and adds a healthy dose of nondogmatic libertarianism to the mix. The result is an eminently readable and rational book." In his incisive history of the expanded city, Bruegmann overturns every assumption we have about sprawl. Taking a long view of urban development, he demonstrates that sprawl is neither recent nor particularly American but as old as cities themselves, just as characteristic of ancient Rome and eighteenth-century Paris as it is of Atlanta or Los Angeles. Nor is sprawl the disaster claimed by many contemporary observers. Although sprawl, like any settlement pattern, has undoubtedly produced problems that must be addressed, it has also provided millions of people with the kinds of mobility, privacy, . . .

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