Books for the News

What Does Patriotism Mean in America Today?

July 2, 2020
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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 . . .

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Racism in America: Suggested Readings

June 1, 2020
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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 . . .

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

May 28, 2020
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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 . . .

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

April 15, 2020
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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 . . .

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

March 31, 2020
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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 . . .

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Reflections on “Young Men and Fire” by James Kincaid

August 2, 2019
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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 . . .

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

December 12, 2018
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“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 . . .

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Trapped in an inescapable flood of information – it’s sink or swim

September 26, 2018
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Trapped in an inescapable flood of information – it’s sink or swim

Has there ever been an era in human history in which communication slowed down? Or is the increasing rate at which information is shared a historical constant? My money’s on the latter. In attempting to navigate the flood of information online, which seems in no danger of slowing down, it’s pretty much sink or swim. So why not invest some time checking out Professor of Education and History at Stanford University Sam Wineburg’s new book Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone). Confronting head-on the deluge of information that modern technology has made available, and offering crucial tips for navigating it, Wineburg’s book is of value to citizens and students alike, offering readers a tool set for vetting and verifying the myriad sources of information we encounter online, while laying bare the many rhetorical devices used to spin and bias purportedly factual information. Recently Slate magazine has invested a decent sized chunk of their online real estate to what Wineburg has to say, with an eye-opening interview with the author as well as an excerpt from his new book in which Wineburg offers an insightful and penetrating critique of Howard Zinn’s classic, A People’s History of the United States. Wineburg . . .

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Remembering the last time the Cubs were this good

April 6, 2018
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Remembering the last time the Cubs were this good

Monday Tuesday is the 2018 season home opener for the Cubs, and still riding high on 2016’s Series win, fans are expecting another post-season winning team with a better-than-good chance of making it all the way. Today’s Cubs team has a deep roster of better than average players, and a coach that has been masterful at coordinating their varied talents, but of course this hasn’t really been the case for quite a while. There was a time though, a long, long time ago, when the Cubs of old looked a lot more like the team does now. Rather than a team chocked full of All-Star prospects though, a small cadre of elite players, Joe Tinker, shortstop; Johnny Evers, second baseman; and Frank Chance, first; came together in rough-and-tumble early twentieth-century Chicago to form the defensive core of the most formidable team in big league baseball. A team that would lead the Chicago Cubs to four National League pennants and two World Series championships from 1906 to 1910. In Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America David Rapp brings this storied episode in Chicago Cubs history back to life, situating these early glory-days of . . .

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Free eBooks from The University of Chicago Press – Building the American Republic, Volumes 1 and 2

January 10, 2018
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Free eBooks from The University of Chicago Press – Building the American Republic, Volumes 1 and 2

Donald Trump takes the podium outside the Capitol Building to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States–freeze frame, record scratch, cue up the intro to that one song by The Who, and a narrator chimes in: “Now I bet you’re wondering how we ended up here?” Flashback to a bunch of seasick Europeans disembarking from their ship on the eastern shores of the new world–to the surprise and perhaps amusement of some of the locals who are just out for a stroll. And so begins the first volume of our magisterial new two-volume history of the United States, Building the American Republic. Okay, that’s not really how it starts–but it totally should be if anyone ever wants to option the television rights! Right now though you can see how the books really begin yourself by downloading the e-books of both volumes at buildingtheamericanrepublic.org absolutely free. With the need for an informed electorate more clear now than ever, these books, written by two of the foremost experts on American history working in the field today, are an indispensable asset in understanding America’s past and present, and what can be done to guarantee its future. At a time when knowledge . . .

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