Blog Archives

A Political Playlist Just in Time for the Presidential Primaries

February 2, 2020
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We know that many of you will be turning your attention to the Iowa Caucus on February 3rd as the 2020 Presidental Primaries get underway. And if you’re like us, you’re going to need a distraction from the stress and uncertainty of it all–and we have just the ticket! Peter La Chapelle, author of I’d Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music, has put together the ultimate playlist, which captures the deep bonds between country music and American politics since the very beginning. Long before the United States had presidents from the world of movies and reality TV, we had scores of politicians with connections to country music from the nineteenth-century rise of fiddler-politicians to more recent figures like Pappy O’Daniel, Roy Acuff, and Rob Quist. These performers and politicians both rode and resisted cultural waves: some advocated for the poor and dispossessed, and others voiced religious and racial anger, but they all walked the line between exploiting their celebrity and righteously taking on the world. While putting together this playlist, Peter has tried to use songs by the original artists themselves, but in cases where those weren’t available, he first tried to find a . . .

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5 Questions for Sonali Chakravarti, author of “Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life”

January 13, 2020
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Summoned for jury duty? In her new book, Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life, Sonali Chakravarti seeks to change the way Americans think about their participation in the judicial process, arguing that juries as an institution provide an important site for democratic action by citizens. We sent Chakravarti a few questions recently to learn more about her motivations for writing the book. First, for those who haven’t yet encountered the book, could you describe the key problems you saw with the process of jury duty in the United States that led you to write about this? In the 2018 film Can you Ever Forgive Me?, Melissa McCarthy plays author Lee Heller, a biographer who has fallen on hard times. To make ends meet, she begins forging letters of literary luminaries such as Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. She has a good run but is eventually arrested for fraud, found guilty, and sentenced to house arrest. The film ends with a quip about how when she is called for jury duty she responds, “I’m a convicted felon and am therefore unable to serve. Who said crime doesn’t pay?” The fact that evading jury duty can be the basis . . .

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By Way of Beginning: Read an Excerpt from “Dark Lens” by Françoise Meltzer

November 25, 2019
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The year 2020 will mark seventy-five years since the Second World War came to an end. In her new book, Dark Lens: Imaging Germany, 1945, Françoise Meltzer draws on her childhood memories of post-war Germany to consider how we construct our memories of war. Analyzing a collection of photographs taken by her mother, Jeanne Dumilieu, Meltzer confronts the ruins, wreckage, and ghosts that the war left behind. My mother, who was French, had been in the Resistance in Paris during the war. I never learned this from her (I found out from her friends, and by accident, in my late twenties); nor did she speak much about the occupation of Paris. The only thing she talked about was how hungry she and the Parisian population were throughout the war. When I asked her why she had never told me that she was in the Resistance, she retorted with some contained anger, “Today, everybody was in the Resistance. I have nothing to say about it.” But it must be said that this was a particularly tight-lipped genera­tion: my father never spoke of having been in the London Blitzkrieg, nor my uncle of surviving Buchenwald, nor my aunt of having hid­den my . . .

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6 Questions with Samuel Fleischacker, author of “Being Me Being You: Adam Smith and Empathy”

November 13, 2019
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In his new book, Samuel Fleischacker delves into the work of Adam Smith to draw out an understanding of empathy that respects both personal difference and shared humanity. We sent him a few questions to learn more about Smith, empathy, and how it all relates to our world today. Your book uses the philosophy of Adam Smith to explore the nature and value of empathy. To start us off, can you give us a quick introduction to Smithian empathy? Smithian empathy is the kind of shared feeling that arises when I imagine myself into your situation. David Hume had understood empathy (what he and Smith called “sympathy”—the word “empathy” wasn’t invented until after their time) as my feeling whatever you feel. Smith understands it as my feeling what I think I would feel if I were you, in your situation. Hume’s empathy is a kind of contagious feeling—I “catch” your feelings, whether of sadness or of joy, whether I want to do that or not. Smith’s empathy requires more action on our part and depends on imagination. I try to show that Smith’s kind of empathy is deeper and more important to morality. What drew you to Adam Smith, and to the topic of empathy . . .

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Celebrate National STEM/STEAM Day

November 8, 2019
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Celebrate National STEM/STEAM Day

November 8th is National STEM/STEAM Day, an opportunity to encourage study in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math.  In honor of #StemSteamDay, we’ve put together a round-up of recent titles that are sure to inspire curiosity and exploration. Check them out below! All of these books are available from our website or at your favorite bookseller. . . .

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It’s Time to Finally Write that Novel

November 1, 2019
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November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), a time when writers of all stripes set out on the audacious task of bringing to completion a novel of 50,000 words. Of course, we know that one of the best ways to become a good writer is to be a good reader, taking in the work of others to feed our own writing appetite and offer inspiration in the writing process. As we head into November and the month’s celebration of the novel, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite fiction for you to enjoy. And, for tips and tricks to guide you on your own novel-writing adventure, be sure to check out Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, a go-to sourcebook for fiction writers. Bealport: A Novel of a Town by Jeffrey Lewis. From Haus Publishing. In the shadow of a failing shoe factory, Bealport, Main is one of the forgotten towns of America. Jeffrey Lewis takes us inside the town, deploying a large cast of characters and revealing the intertwining threads of industry, livelihood, self-respect, and community. Bealport has been called “a hugely satisfying read” by the Evening Standard, “a moving and humane . . .

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Get to Know the Polka King: Read an Excerpt from “American Warsaw”

October 22, 2019
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We may have missed National Polka Day (August 9) and National Accordion Awareness Month (June), but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate a Polka legend any time of the year. And since October is Polish American Heritage Month, it seemed the perfect time to talk about Li’l Wally Jagiello, the Polka King, a favorite performer and icon of Polish Chicago. We’ll let Dominic A. Pacyga tell the story in this piece from his new book American Warsaw: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Polish Chicago. “Walter Jagiello, known as Mały Władziu to his Polish American fans, was born and raised in Chicago. He began playing and singing polka music at the age of eight and started his career on Division Street in those same bars that Algren wrote about, places like the Gold Star, the Midnight Inn, Phyllis’s, Zosia’s, Al’s Village Inn, the Orange Lantern, and the Lucky Stop. Roughly sixty taverns lined Division Street in Polonia, and most offered live music. A consummate performer, Li’l Wally performed nearly nonstop his entire career. His 1956 hit “I Wish I Was Single Again” was on the top 40 charts, a rarity for a polka recording. Jagiello was one of the first . . .

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6 Questions with Michael Rossi, author of “The Republic of Color: Science, Perception, and the Making of Modern America”

October 14, 2019
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In Michael Rossi’s compelling new history, The Republic of Color, he shows readers how the control and regulation of color shaped the social contours of modern America—and redefined the way we see the world. We sent Rossi a few questions to learn more about color science and how it affects us today. First, can you give us a quick introduction to the “republic of color”—what does this term describe? As you might know, “the Republic of Color” was not the original title for the book. Credit goes to Prof. Kathleen Belew for coming up with the felicitous wording over dinner after a workshop session. Credit also to numerous other readers, colleagues, and friends who convinced me that my own titular ideas were obtuse and/or confusing. Thank you, all! This said, “the Republic of Color” works so well as a title because it emphasizes that the book is about color and politics. Rather than simply an ideologically neutral fact about the visual world, color perception—and especially scientific research about how human beings see, experience, and talk about color (or not)—was an important part of the project of American statecraft at the turn of the century. Instead of being ancillary to politics, . . .

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Celebrate #WorldMigratoryBirdDay with “The Art of the Bird”

October 12, 2019
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Celebrate #WorldMigratoryBirdDay with “The Art of the Bird”

Each year, the second Saturday in October marks the autumn celebration of World Migratory Bird Day, a biannual, international “awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats.” Stretched along Lake Michigan and sitting squarely on the Mississippi Flyway, the Chicago region is an incredibly important habitat for migratory birds—and a great place to go birdwatching. This October 12 and beyond, take a peek (or beak?) inside the recently published The Art of the Bird: The History of Ornithological Art through Forty Artists by expert ornithologist Roger J. Lederer. Lavishly illustrated with 200 color plates, this is a coffee table book that art lovers and birdwatchers alike will flock to. Below, we include some of the birds (or their cousins) to watch out for in Chicago this autumn. If you’ve hung hummingbird feeders in your garden, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a migrating ruby-throated hummingbird. These (not ruby-throated) hummingbirds, painted by American artist Arthur B. Singer (1917–90), were featured on the cover of Alexander Skutch’s The Life of the Hummingbird in 1973. As Lederer writes, Singer’s “reputation was made in 1961 with Oliver Austin’s Birds of the World book, which . . .

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Excerpt from “On the Heels of Ignorance” by Owen Whooley

October 10, 2019
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October 10 is #WorldMentalHealthDay, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world. In honor, we’d like to share a short excerpt from the introduction to On the Heels of Ignorance: Psychiatry and the Politics of Not Knowing by Owen Whooley. His well-researched history begins with psychiatry’s formal inception in the 1840s and moves through two centuries of constant struggle to define and redefine mental illness as well as the best ways to treat it. Whooley’s book is no antipsychiatric screed, however; instead, he reveals a field that has muddled through periodic reinventions and conflicting agendas of curiosity, compassion, and professional striving to get to where it is today. The history of American psychiatry is a history of ignorance. Underlying psychiatry’s curious past—its repeated crises and dramatic transformations, its faddish theories and epistemic somersaults, its occasional achievements and egregious abuses—is a stubborn, inconvenient fact. Psychiatrists lack basic knowledge regarding mental illness. Madness evades articulation. Charged with the quixotic, perhaps doomed, mandate to impose reason on madness, psychiatrists have searched for an understanding of the mechanisms that produce mental distress, be they psychological, neurological, genetic, or social. These searches have been in vain. The most fundamental . . .

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