Books for the News

Town Hall: Political Scientists Look Toward the Presidential Debates

September 25, 2020
By

With the first presidential debate rapidly approaching, many questions are zipping through voters’ minds. What is the most important topic for them this election? How will they even manage to vote safely during a pandemic? And, if they could, what question would they ask at a town hall debate? We reached out to three of our political science authors to find out which question they would like to ask the candidates. Hahrie Han, coauthor of Prisms of the People: Power and Organizing in the Twenty-First Century One of the greatest challenges in contemporary politics is the broken link between people and government. Even though democracy is supposed to be “of, by, and for” the people, what we find is that government is often unresponsive both to public opinion and people’s activism. How do the candidates think about their own accountability to the public? I would ask, “Elected officials often seem to use people as props instead of being willing to enter into a true relationship of mutual accountability. At best, elected officials treat the public merely as data points for information and input. What mechanisms would you create to ensure that the people affected by the policies you proposed had . . .

Read more »

Read an Excerpt from “Tacit Racism” by Anne Warfield Rawls and Waverly Duck

September 8, 2020
By

As shown every time we read or watch the news, racism is ubiquitous in America. Yet racism is so insidious that it exists on a more micro, common level as well. Effecting all swaths of culture and society, it permeates aspects of day-to-day life, especially when it is unexpected. In Tacit Racism, Anne Warfield Rawls and Waverly Duck illustrate the many ways in which racism is coded into the everyday social expectations of Americans. The following is a slightly altered excerpt from the introduction to Tacit Racism.  Racism Is a Clear and Present Danger If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you. —Lyndon B. Johnson Since the 1670’s, fifty years after the first Africans were sold into slavery at Jamestown in 1619, racism has steadily and relentlessly wormed its way so deeply into the foundations of the American democratic experiment that we typically don’t even notice it. Racism does not usually take an obvious form that we can see and prevent, rather it masquerades as the most ordinary of daily actions: . . .

Read more »

Scott L. Montgomery on the Importance of Communicating Science Today

August 14, 2020
By

Scott L. Montgomery, author of The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science, is widely known for his writings on energy matters, intellectual history, language and translation, and history of science. In light of the disparate messaging surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we invited him to share his thoughts with us. Communicating science is more essential today than it has ever been. This means not only among scientists themselves but a range of non-scientific audiences. Such may sound like an opinion donning the mask of fact (forgive the simile). But I wager almost every scientist and a great many others agree with it.   There are several reasons for me to say this. One, of course, is the Covid-19 pandemic. In this case, communicating the science and doing so accurately counts as both an ethical and moral act, as well as a political necessity, due to the near-bacterial spread of misinformation, conspiracy ideas, and outright denials of the disease. Internet technology provides pathways for anti-science to mobilize and proliferate, and it is this same technology (social media) that needs to be employed as a counter such intellectual toxins. Thankfully, a good bit of this is happening. It needs to continue and expand in both relentless and eloquent fashion to counter and contain the appeals it . . .

Read more »

What Does Patriotism Mean in America Today?

July 2, 2020
By

July 4th generally conjures images of barbeques, fireworks, and large, billowing flags. But due to large protests against police brutality, concerns of COVID, and an upcoming election that symbolizes both fear and hope for many, the holiday this year looks very different. This Independence Day, instead of a celebration of patriotism, we wanted to dedicate some time to reflecting on it. We invited three of our political science authors to answer the following questions: What does patriotism mean in America today? Given that definition, should Americans be patriotic today? Below are their thoughtful responses. LaFleur Stephens-Dougan author of Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics Reflecting on what patriotism means to me so close to the celebration of our nation’s Independence Day is a weighty endeavor.  In my opinion, patriotism in the United States is fraught with contradiction, especially for Black Americans. Black Americans have made countless contributions to the United States, a country they love, but are still engaged in a centuries-old struggle for economic, political, and social equality.  As the child of Black immigrants, who came to this country voluntarily, I am acutely aware of the sacrifices that African Americans have made on behalf . . .

Read more »

Racism in America: Suggested Readings

June 1, 2020
By

As we grieve and seek a way forward for a more just, more equitable world, it’s important to understand what has brought us here and the obstacles we have yet to overcome. To get started, here are some suggestions for further reading. You can browse even more in our subject listings. The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence Laurence Ralph Citizen Brown: Race, Democracy, and Inequality in the St. Louis Suburbs Colin Gordon Tacit Racism Anne Warfield Rawls and Waverly Duck Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells Second Edition Edited by Alfreda M. Duster, With a New Foreword by Eve L. Ewing and a New Afterword by Michelle Duster Remembering Emmett Till Dave Tell Beyond the Usual Beating: The Jon Burge Police Torture Scandal and Social Movements for Police Accountability in Chicago Andrew S. Baer Murder in New Orleans: The Creation of Jim Crow Policing Jeffrey S. Adler Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side Eve L. Ewing The Color of Mind: Why the Origins of the Achievement Gap Matter for Justice Derrick Darby and John L. Rury Building the Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration Heather Schoenfeld The . . .

Read more »

Pandemic Participation: Christopher M. Kelty on Isolation and Participation in a Public Health Crisis

May 28, 2020
By

Drawing from ideas in his book, The Participant: A Century of Participation in Four Stories, Christopher M. Kelty discusses how participation changes during a pandemic and what it means for the future. I make a provocative claim in The Participant: To treat participation as general—and democracy as a more specific apparatus to which it responds—amounts to asserting that participation is prior to democracy. Participation is not a simple component of democracy, but something problematic enough that things like representative parliamentary democracy, federal constitutions, secret ballots, and regimes of audit and regulation are oriented toward dealing with too much, too little, or the wrong kind of participation. This is not a conventional way of looking at democracy, and it will not fit well with a political theory tradition in which participation plays only a bit part in the great historical drama of democracy. I think, however, there is something to be gained by reversing this relation. Instead, one can view participation as a longstanding problem of the relation between persons and collectives, and see liberal democracy as existing in an intermediate temporality where institutions, theories, constitutions, legal systems are in a process of steady transformation. The apparatus we call “liberal representative . . .

Read more »

Zachary Dorner, author of “Merchants of Medicine,” on the Coronavirus and Black Americans

April 15, 2020
By

The death of black Americans due to coronavirus at a disproportionately high rate recalls the ways differential mortality reflects and has shaped ideas of inherent bodily difference in the past. Zachary Dorner discusses this connection using ideas and examples from his book Merchants of Medicines: The Commerce and Coercion of Health in Britain’s Long Eighteenth Century (available in May). Data recently collected by The Washington Post (link) point to stark disparities in morbidity and mortality during the current pandemic between black and white Americans. While upsetting, such a finding does not come as a particular surprise to a historian of medicine and empire. (Nor, for that matter, does it to scholars of race or to people whose lived experience is one of unequal health). Such health outcomes are often the result, intended and not, of longstanding policies and practices used to construct the economic and political realities we live with today. Notably, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has attributed his own cardiovascular issues, and therefore susceptibility to the virus, to the “legacy of growing up poor and black in America.” Structural disparities not only contribute to disparate health outcomes as starkly demonstrated this year by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but historically . . .

Read more »

Voting by Mail? Read an Excerpt from “Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It”

March 31, 2020
By
Voting by Mail? Read an Excerpt from “Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It”

With fears of COVID-19 keeping some away from in-person polling areas, is it time for all elections to be held by mail? Would this increase overall voter turnout even during times that aren’t faced with a pandemic? Could it make voter turnout more representative? In Democracy in America?: What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens examine how, even though mail-in voting can increase turnout in currently registered voters, it is not enough on its own to handle low, and often unrepresentative, voter turnout. REFORMS TO FACILITATE VOTING. It is easy to come up with reforms that would lower individuals’ costs of voting and thereby increase voter turnout. The best single reform would be universal, government-administered registration, about which we will have more to say in a moment. Short of universal registration, we could at least allow same-day registration at polling places when people show up to vote. Online registration and registration updating were shown in the 2012 California election to increase the number of voters, especially among young people. After more (preferably all) Americans are registered, we could make it much easier to vote by holding elections on a holiday . . .

Read more »

Reflections on “Young Men and Fire” by James Kincaid

August 2, 2019
By

August 5, 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the Mann Gulch tragedy, when a crew of fifteen of the US Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of the men were dead or mortally burned. Haunted by these deaths for forty years, Norman Maclean put together the scattered pieces of the Mann Gulch tragedy in his Young Men and Fire, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. In honor of the anniversary, we invited James Kincaid, who reviewed Young Men and Fire for the New York Times Book Review when it was first published, to offer his reflections on the book and its enduring significance. My first encounter with Mann Gulch came when my raucous, unpredictable editor at the New York Times Book Review called:  “Kincaid, got the best thing in years.  Homeric, positively Homeric.  I’ll send it on if you think you’re up for it.  I know you’re not up for it, but you probably think different.” I don’t know if I thought different, but within a few days, I was there, in my head . . .

Read more »

“How did we get into this mess?” Two new books offering a deeper look into the state of democracy in America

December 12, 2018
By
“How did we get into this mess?” Two new books offering a deeper look into the state of democracy in America

“How did we get into this mess? Every morning, many Americans ask this as, with a cringe, they pick up their phones and look to see what terrible thing President Trump has just said or done.” Those lines are stolen directly from the opening of the jacket copy for Boston College political scientist Alan Wolfe’s new book The Politics of Petulance, which just published this October. And they now seem more appropriate than ever. With the Mueller inquiry rapidly decreasing the degrees of separation between individuals who have already been indicted, and members of Trump’s inner circle, including the President himself, institutional corruption and the unraveling of the electorate’s faith in the modern democratic system are topics now making front page news on an almost daily basis. But while the headlines might seem to implicate the Trump administration in particular in the current state of affairs, in the New York Times Book Review, Norman J. Ornstein offers a review of two new books from the University of Chicago Press that take a deeper look at the issue, teasing out the historical, cultural, and institutional trends that the authors argue are the real culprits responsible for “what ails America.”  Ornstein’s review offers a nice summary of both . . .

Read more »

Search for books and authors