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26. Nancy Holt (1938–2014)


From Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip through the Land Art of the American West by Erin Hogan:

The morning after my Spiral Jetty foray, I was ecstatic. So far I was doing exactly what I had set out to do. I had left Chicago with some trepidation, but I had pushed through 1,664 miles and hit my first landmark. Flush with success, I spontaneously decided to try and find Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1976). Holt was Smithson’s wife, an artist in her own right, who shared his drive to marry the natural world with the personal artistic statement. The Sun Tunnels are four giant concrete tubes (eighteen feet long and about nine feet in diameter) in the middle of nowhere, positioned such that at dawn and sunset on the summer and winter solstices, the sun rises and sets in alignment with the tubes; they perfectly frame the sun. At other times, holes in the sides of the tubes form constellations in their interior when the sun shines through them.

I liked the idea of this temporal precision—and the uncertain nature of the work’s existence for the thousands of minutes every year that it isn’t registering those specific astrological alignments. Like Spiral Jetty, the Sun Tunnels are about time in its broadest sense, but while Spiral Jetty undergoes a constant process of evolution, the Sun Tunnels, with their exact and limited focus, are kind of worthless; they exist only as an idea most of the year. This seemed a productive combination of site-specificity and conceptual art, a work that asks the question of whether an idea is enough and of how “relevant” a work has to be throughout the duration of its life.


“When you’re alone in the desert, you’re ageless, timeless. You start to lose a sense of being contained in your body.”—Nancy Holt

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27. 2013 PROSE Awards


The PROSE Awards (or, the American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence) are unique to the scholarly and professional publishing communities—not only prestigious, but selected from “over 535 entries of books, reference works, journals,and electronic products in more than 40 categories,” juried by a community of peer publishers, librarians, and academics. In addition to offering congratulations to all the winners, we are delighted to point you toward those books from our own list that received either a PROSE Award or honorable mention for general excellence:

Art Exhibitions

Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North
By Peter John Brownlee, Sarah Burns, Diane Dillon, Daniel Greene, and Scott Manning Stevens

Biological Sciences (Honorable Mention)

The Ornaments of Life: Coevolution and Conservation in the Tropics 
By Theodore H. Fleming and W. John Kress

Earth Sciences

The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep Time
By Lance Grande


Education, Justice, and Democracy
Edited by Danielle S. Allen and Rob Reich

Environmental Science (Honorable Mention)

Our Once and Future Planet: Restoring the World in the Climate Change Century 
By Paddy Woodworth

Literature (Honorable Mention)

Five Words: Critical Semantics in the Age of Shakespeare and Cervantes
By Roland Greene

Music and the Performing Arts

From the Score to the Stage: An Illustrated History of Continental Opera Production and Staging
By Evan Baker

Sociology and Social Work

Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality  Ambiguous Danger
By Patrick Sharkey

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28. Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities


Maia Bloomfield Cucchiara’s Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities considers the relationship between private markets and public education by focusing on Philadelphia’s Center City Schools Initiative. The Initiative targeted (largely white) middle- and upper-middle class families living in a recently gentrified downtown neighborhood and adopted a slick marketing campaign to convince these residents to elect (and thus, invest in) a series of hand-selected local public elementary schools. Hoping that the Initiative would result in an increase of both property tax revenue and personal investment these schools, proponents saw a viable link between a revitalized downtown and what would become an improved public school system. The problem? The School District of Philadelphia continues to face its worst-ever financial crisis, replete with layoffs, school closures, and program cuts. And those seats in the City Center elementary schools? Turns out they weren’t empty. As Cucchiara reports in a piece at the Atlantic drawn from the book’s research:

The marketing worked: According to my analysis of School District of Philadelphia data, by 2009 the number of Center City children enrolled in first grade in the three most desirable public schools had increased by 60 percent, from 111 to 177. Through fundraising and the activation of social and professional networks, these new families helped bring resources to the schools, including new playgrounds, libraries, and arts programs. But these Center City children weren’t taking empty slots. When they enrolled, they left fewer spots for low-income students from North and West Philadelphia, who had for years used those schools to escape failing ones in their neighborhoods. During this period, the number of first graders in Center City schools from outside the neighborhood decreased by 42 percent, from 64 to 37. Not surprisingly, this shift had racial dimensions: The percentage of white students in these schools in the early grades increased by 30 percent, and the percentage of African American students decreased a corresponding 29 percent.

Cucchiara goes on to address the grounds that on which these issues take root: “Americans have long accepted two aspects of the present education system as a fact of life. First, we are resigned to the idea that urban schools will always have financial struggles. Second, we do not discuss the divisions between city and suburbs.” You needn’t look far to uncover more of this troubling history: Boston, Chicago, and Detroit are well-evidenced examples. Asking us to question to viability of this institutional wall between city and suburb, Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities points to the problem inherent in funding around this divide: it’s fundamentally inequitable and attempting to recruit middle-class families is neither going to solve nor prevent the next public educational crisis.

As the Cucchiara concludes at the Atlantic, “Indeed, by singling out the middle-class for special treatment, they could end up creating even more unequal systems.”

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29. Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures


Congrats due to author Claudia L. Johnson, whose Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures garnered the Christian Gauss Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Johnson, the Murray Professor of English Literature at Princeton University, a specialist in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature, with a particular emphasis on the novel, is also the author of Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel and Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s—Wollstonecraft, Radcliffe, Burney, Austen, both of which we were fortunate enough to publish.

Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures

A quick description from the citation:

The Christian Gauss Award is offered for books in the field of literary scholarship or criticism. The prize was established in 1950 to honor the late Christian Gauss, the distinguished Princeton University scholar, teacher and dean who also served as President of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Other previous award winners have included books written by eminent authors such as Harold Bloom, Christopher Benfey, and Marjorie Garber.

Johnson’s book considers the transformation of Jane Austen, sort of well-heeled nineteenth-century author of six novels, into “Jane Austen,” the figure whose silhouette adorns greeting cards sent by your grandmother, who introduced most of the American public to Colin Firth and spawned her own Wikipedia sub-page, “Jane Austen in popular culture.” Johnson attests that for Austenites, the very concept of “Jane Austen” encapsulates powerful ideas and feelings about history, class, manners, intimacy, language, and the everyday. By carefully tracing how and why new generations of readers continue to claim Austen and her characters for all sorts of purposes—never replicated and always venerated?—Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures helps uncover fresh insights and new possibilities for Plain Jane.

Congrats, Claudia!

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30. End of an era: Farewell to Jack Cella


After this Sunday, October 13, Hyde Park will never be the same. Jack Cella, the general manager of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore for the past 43 years, will retire after helping the store transform from a locally centered cooperative to the nation’s premier scholarly bookstore, with more 50,000 members and three locations. It would be nearly impossible to exaggerate the depth and breadth of Cella’s contribution to the culture of scholarly publishing and to this remarkable institution, and in turn, his value to the Hyde Park community, and especially to the University of Chicago Press.

From our promotions director Levi Stahl:

Being a regular at a bookstore is one of life’s great pleasures. And what you want above all—your reward for being a regular—is good company: you go to the store to talk with the people there, to find out what they’ve been doing and seeing (and of course reading), to hear what they’ve spotted that they think you might like, to catch up on the flood of new books you’d otherwise miss.

What you want is to talk to Jack Cella. It’s almost impossible to leave a conversation with Jack—quiet, understated, serious, friendly Jack—without a new book if not in hand then at least in mind. His awareness is astonishing: he doesn’t just separate the wheat from the chaff, he goes on to parcel it out perfectly to the people he knows will appreciate it most. Retirement suits readers, and no one would begrudge Jack his, but he’ll be greatly missed. Just as there’s no store quite like the Seminary Co-op, there’s no bookseller quite like Jack.

Similarly, its no understatement to quote UCP author Bruce Lincoln, who said of Cella, “He’s built the best bookstore in the U.S. and maybe beyond. He’s a treasure, and his institution is a treasure. I hope it will thrive without him, though it’s hard to imagine it without him.”

Cella certainly has impacted numerous lives through his endeavor, and Rodney Powell, editor of our film and cinema studies list, is one of them. As manager at 57th St. Books for nearly a decade, Powell wrote a send-off worthy of the man whose “vast storehouse of knowledge have come to symbolize the culture of the Co-op and what members value most about it.” It follows after the jump.


Yes, there they were, in the e-mail of October 1 from the Board of the Seminary Co-op: words that I had not expected to see in my lifetime: “Now that the Co-op is settled into its wonderful new space, Jack will be leaving on October 13.”

Jack leaving? When I had expected him to outlive me and pass away at his desk while checking out the information for a special order? Say it isn’t so!

Well, hardcore fans of the Seminary Co-op will have to accept the fact, and even though we know the Co-op will continue in all its eminence in its “wonderful new space,” we know it won’t be the same without Jack.

And of course it could not be— institutions change as personnel change. But it’s hard not to wax sentimental about Jack. Although he would be the first to downplay his own contribution, we also know—not to take away anything from the many others who have contributed to the Co-op’s success—that Jack has been its principal architect. Certainly that success could only be achieved in a community that loves books and shows its love by supporting such a bookstore. But without Jack’s unwavering commitment to making the Co-op one of the world’s best, it wouldn’t have happened.

However, to avoid the sentimental, I want to emphasize something other than Jack’s almost legendary modesty—his steely resolve to get things done despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I have some first-hand knowledge of that resolve because I was the manager of 57th St. Books when it opened in 1983 (and for about a dozen years thereafter); I was in on both the planning and working out of the plans for that enterprise, as well as the day-to-day operations that make or break any business.

So Jack was my boss—and in his own quiet way quite a tough cookie. That is, you didn’t want to disappoint him, to not do what he expected. And, of course, since he worked more than anybody else, whining about too much to do wouldn’t go very far, even if sympathy was expressed.

As I reflect on this quality after all these years, it seems to me analogous to the ruthlessness that artists must have about doing their work—you get it done, period. Think about the conclusion of Stephen Sondheim’s great song from Sunday in the Park with George, “Finishing the Hat”:

That however you live,
There’s a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat…
Starting on a hat…
Finishing a hat…
Look I made a hat…
Where there never was a hat.

Thank you, Jack, for making the hat that has served not only Hyde Park, but also a community of readers and scholars around the world, so well for so many years. Your will and work made it possible. Our best thanks for your efforts will be to treasure and maintain this remarkable institution, difficult as that will be after you leave.

Ave atque vale!

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31. Notre Dame Football and eighteenth-century revolutionary ephemera

FINAL Douthwaite football program Sept 21 2013 Ad

Actual page from a program distributed by the University of Notre Dame at the Michigan State–Notre Dame game on September 21, 2013, with FEATURED ACADEMIC Julia V. Douthwaite, professor of French and Francophone studies and expert on the French Enlightenment, the Revolution, and French–English relations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—

From Douthwaite’s The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France:

Consider a Juicy Couture print advertisement of 2010. A Marie Antoinette look-alike with an enormous pink hairdo stares out at viewers dolefully. She is cradling, with one hand, a huge bottle of perfume that has a bird perched on top, and gesturing suggestively, with her other hand, to her nether parts. This portrait’s subtle repurposing of the Greuze painting Jeune Fille qui pleure son oiseau mort (1765) or the eighteenth-century motif of a girl lamenting her pet bird’s demise or escape (read her lost virginity) makes a provocative commentary on the queen’s rumored promiscuity while inviting consumers to try it on for themselves. Or consider the bizarrely menacing “Napoleonic” ad campaign for Dolce and Gabbana clothing launched in 2006, one of whose advertisements showed two men in dapper period fashions threatening a third in a chair while another lay on the floor bleeding from a head wound. The melancholy for a racier, more dangerous time is tangible. Lest one judge these ads too harshly, it is essential to recall that their delivery systems, that is, high-end fashion magazines, predetermine the cultural values they can be expected to impart. The visual shock provided by sexual provocation and allusions to sadism and torture are attractive commodities among sixteen- to twenty-five-year-olds. It is unreasonable to expect messages of moral restraint and civic responsibility to be reproduced in a genre and product designed to market luxury to the young; elitism, power, and exclusivity sell better. Nevertheless, the slavish admiration of privilege that runs through these images gives pause: why should we citizens of modern democracies mourn this version of the past?

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32. Terrence Malick on Margaret Doody


A piece on Terrence Malick’s latest film To the Wonder appeared shortly after its release this April at New York Magazine‘s online site Vulture. Nothing about the title of the piece need grab you at first engagement—though “Radiant Zigzag Becoming: How Terrence Malick and His Team Constructed To the Wonder” is elegiac and ponderous and a bit of a mouthful, not unlike the reputation of Malick’s oeuvre. What ends up fascinating in this article—besides lines we like such as, “the film has struck some as a particularly Malick-y Terrence Malick film”—is the breakdown of that radiant zigzag becoming, which the writer traces to a scholarly introduction penned for an edition of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded, a tawdry Stockholm Syndrome-done-good epistolary novel that shocked and awed its eighteenth-century readers. The Intro was written by our own Margaret A. Doody, the John and Barbara Glynn Family Professor of Literature at Notre Dame and a specialist in Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature.

The relevant connection to Doody’s work?

One odd but telling reference point Malick gave his editors was Margaret A. Doody’s introduction to the Penguin Books edition of Samuel Richardson’s revolutionary 1740 novel Pamela. In the intro, Doody discusses the fact that Richardson’s novel, which unfolds as a series of letters, presents an internalized narrative that appears, on the surface, to lack any and all artifice. “He loves the formless, the radiant zigzag becoming,” Doody writes, and the phrase “radiant zigzag becoming” soon became an unofficial motto for the film, representing its constant sense of movement and the fact that the characters’ relationships seem to always be in flux.

For less radiant zigzag becoming and more screwball ancient whodunit, stay tuned for Doody’s Aristotle Detective novels this spring. Until then, more info about the series can be found here.

(H/T Alan Thomas via Margaret Doody via Fred Rush)

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33. Victor Brombert’s Musings on Mortality


Victor Brombert is the Henry Putnam University Professor Emeritus of Romance and Comparative Literatures at Princeton University. He is also an escapee of German-occupied France and a veteran of the Second World War; a scholar of comparative narrative studies and the history of ideas; the author of more than a dozen books; former president of the Modern Language Association and of the Association of Literary Studies; a Fulbright Fellow, a National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellow, a two-time Guggenheim Fellow, a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, and is Commandeur des Palmes Académiques.

Death is a theme that has preoccupied Brombert at least as long as his youth: first, as the opening pages of his latest book Musings on Mortality alerts us, following the death of his pet canary, and later in the wake of his experiences during World War II. The liner notes read something like, death can be found all around us, but the literature we produce is on the side of life. In the book, Brombert takes on Coetzee, Bassani, Camus, Kafka, Woolf, Thomas Mann, and Primo Levi, among others, in order to ground the works of these writers in the philosophical complaints of the human condition, most notably their meditations on mortality.

From a recent review in the Times Higher Education:

Brombert begins with his childhood and the death of a beloved canary and quickly proceeds, along a widening autobiographical trajectory, to the death of his sister Nora and the deaths of his parents, to war, to the death camp in Auschwitz, to the visceral fear he experienced as a soldier at Omaha Beach. Beloved things become alien and feared, whether it is the one enlarged pore he notices on his dead father’s face or the “trains I so loved in my childhood, and continue to love in their remembered glory” which enter into “sinister associations” with wartime Europe. He begins, under the influence of André Malraux, to understand that in the face of encroaching death it is “art and the love of art” that allow us “to negate our nothingness.” Towards the end of the book he argues convincingly that “literature commemorates what death has undone.”

An excerpt from Musings on Mortality: From Tolstoy to Primo Levi:

Does Tolstoy, in his late years, load the dice for the sake of teaching a moral lesson? Does he leave room for any ambivalence, for any genuine irony? Edward Wasiolek reported years ago that his students, fed on Henry James’s belief that reality had myriad forms, used to complain that Tolstoy’s famous novella The Death of Ivan Ilych was arbitrary, preachy, painfully lacking in ambiguity and “levels of meaning.”

The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886) is in fact deceptively simple. Written years after War and Peace and Anna Karenina, this powerful narrative about dying and death is remarkable for its brevity, its succinctness, its ordinariness. The narrator himself comments on this apparent banality at the beginning of the story: “Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary, and therefore most terrible.” The tragic dimension of this work is thus from the outset attributed to a very common life experience. The title itself provides obvious signals: “Ivan Ilych.” It is hard to imagine a more remarkable first name and patronymic. It is like calling the protagonist John Smith or Everyman. And nothing could be more common or widespread than death, the first substantive of the title, a word that in Russian comes bluntly without a definite article, a reminder of a stark and generalized human condition, so generalized indeed as to exclude uniqueness.

All of us, Tolstoy might say, cherish the illusion that we are unique. Ivan Ilych recalls that in school he had learned from a textbook the syllogistic formula “Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal.” But what logically applied to Caius and to all the Caiuses of this world did not apply to him. He was special, after all—or so he had felt until now. He was not Caius; he was Ivan, or Vanya, as his mother used to cal him, and a very special Vanya at that. But, now that his body is failing and the terror of death has become a daily reality, he can no longer avoid staring into the face of a common destiny. In this new awareness of common law, a common doom, he feels more lonely than ever. As he lies on his deathbed, he hears the sounds of merriment in his household, the sounds of singing and laughter. He almost chokes with anger: “but they will die too! Fools! I first, and they later.” For they too will have to recognize the truth of the terrible law.


Tolstoy knew that fear and trembling remain supremely personal, that the discovery of death is made in utter solitude. Yet the sense of dereliction also comes with an awareness of a common destiny and a common humanity. Ivan Ilych is not a tragic figure. He is no King Lear; but in his illness, like Lear driven mad, he discovers that he too is not “ague-proof,” that the hand his courtiers used to kiss smells of mortality.

The crucial question for Tolstoy is how we face this revelation, what it tells us about the way we have lived. Ivan Ilych learns—the lesson may come too late—that emptiness, self-deception, and false values have been at the core of his life, that in the process of living we all deny the truth of our human condition, that we lie to ourselves when we pretend to forget about death, and that this lie is intimately bound up with all the other lies that vitiate our moral being. It is a denunciation of a spiritual world.

To read more about Musings on Mortality go here.

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34. Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence


Deborah Solomon’s American Mirror: The Life and Work of Norman Rockwell takes on the touted icon of American normalcy with a bit of a charge—paralleling the illustrator’s rise at the Saturday Evening Post with the unraveling of his marriages (some occasioned by loss) and his close friendships with other men. By the time the artist was invited to dinner with the Eisenhowers, he was deeply engaged in therapy with Erik Erikson. There are lots more anecdotes from Solomon over at the Smithsonian Magazine, including a bit about Andy Warhol’s fascination with and attendance at Rockwell’s first, late-in-life gallery show.

Before there was Solomon’s biography, there was Richard Halpern’s Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocencewhich argues that that the sense of innocence we locate in Rockwell’s work arises from our reluctance—and also Rockwell’s—to acknowledge its often disturbing dimensions (lust, desire, voyeurism, perversion), even though these acts remain more or less hidden in plain sight. As Halpern notes:

“To lay my cards on the table right away: the kinds of material that Rockwell’s work both exposes and disavows are to no small degree sexual in nature. The claim that forms of sexuality, often perverse, find a place in so wholesome and apparently innocent a figure as Rockwell maybe prove shocking and repellant to some of this more traditionally minded fans. It may be tempting to defend against the idea by chalking it up to the perversity of the interpreter, namely me, or to certain obsessions inherent in Freudian thinking itself. I counsel only patience and an open mind while I make my case. Individual readers may then decide whether, and to what degree, the case is convincing. This is not, in any event, an exercise in orthodox Freudianism, since I often criticize or modify Freud’s thinking. Freud offers nothing more than an initial way into Rockwell—a useful starting point for thought, not its goal. My argument relies not on psychoanalytic dogma bu ton a careful attention lavished upon the images themselves. My reading of Rockwell aims to be, in the end, a Rockwellian rather than a Freudian one. At the same time I feel that Rockwell and Freud are, in certain respects, kindred spirits—unrelenting analysis of the self and culture who often pose similar kinds of questions.”

Halpern’s book is worth a look if you’re interested in exploring this deviously brilliant artist and want to further consider the complexities of his treatment of young boys and women, the displacement of guilt and humiliation found in his portrayal of courtship and marriage, and the “repudiated underbelly” of his happy, painted world.


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35. Free ebook for October: Thirty Years of Phoenix Poets


In 1983, the University of Chicago Press published David Ferry’s Strangers, the first book of poems in its Phoenix Poets series, to critical acclaim. The New York Times Book Review lauded Ferry for his “short, sparse lyrics [that] are as perfectly and simply composed as Japanese haiku,” calling them, “a rare accomplishment in poetry written in English.” Thirty years later, the Press is still publishing a robust list in American poetry, from young poets pushing forward their first books to those still engaged masters, like Ferry, at the peak of storied careers.

Our free ebook for October, Thirty Years of Phoenix Poets, 1983–2012: An E-Sampler, presents some of the best poets and poems from those three decades, beginning with that first book by David Ferry and ending with his latest, the National Book Award–winning Bewilderment. The selections in between reveal the changing landscape of American poetry, though all are distinguished by keen awareness of the history and possibilities of poetry, as part of the mission of the Phoenix Poets series.

Those poets included: Elizabeth Arnold, Peter Balakian, Turner Cassity, Dan Chiasson, Michael Chitwood, W. S. Di Piero, David Ferry, Kenneth Field, Christine Garren, Reginald Gibbons, Susan Hahn, Mark Halliday, Ha Jin, Paul Lake, James Longenbach, Randall Mann, Gail Mazur, Greg Miller, Robert Polito, Jim Powell, Victoria Redel, Lloyd Schwartz, Alan Shapiro, Tom Sleigh, Bruce Smith, Jason Sommer, Susan Stewart, Joshua Weiner, Eleanor Wilner, Anne Winters, Stephen Yenser

Download your copy here.

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36. Picture God: Roger Grenier


The most recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement reviews Roger Grenier’s A Box of Photographs, a chronicle of Grenier’s exploits in writing (as a journalist; an editor at Éditions Gallimard; and the author of more than thirty novels, short stories, and literary essays) alongside the story of a life spent in conversation with the medium of photography. Included are vignettes about his own experiences and those of the photographers he admired or with whom he crossed paths while paired on assignment for newspapers like Combat (founded by Albert Camus) and France-Soir.  All of this comes, of course, with meditations on the photographic image, as Grenier champions the work of those like Lee Miller, who placed themselves in positions perilous to their own safety to capture the atrocities of war, and voices disapproval for those photos circulated by the “proto-paparazzi,” filled with a kind of carrion fatigue, often portraying the moments just before or after famous death.

As Peter Read writes in the TLS:

Divided into short chapters, like selections from a newspaper column or pages from a photo album, A Box of Photographs tells in words and images the story of a life spent with cameras and typewriters, while also tracing a path through the social and cultural history of twentieth-century France. A voice at the outset instructs the author, “Talk about photography all you like, but spare me the clichés,” and although the pun is untranslatable, because a cliché in French is both a photograph and a hackneyed truism, we get the message that Roger Grenier cares as much about language as he does photography.

This might be more of less obvious to those familiar with Grenier’s life in print, which weaves its way into both the book and this particular review. Near the end of A Box of Photographs, Grenier remembers:

After I left the world of journalism, I started to walk around with a camera, like everyone else. Once you make it your business to be a writer, photos—whether you’ve taken them yourself or not—become much more than memories or documentation. They are trampolines for the imagination, a source of inspiration I could not do without. Writing becomes like those curious infrared photos where, thanks to the body heat that’s been left behind, the film manages to record the image of someone who hasn’t been there for an hour, who is already swallowed up by the past.

Read captures the spirit of the book when he picks up a proposition silently espoused by Grenier: “writers and photographers are often natural soulmates.” As he concludes:

Grenier wrote the preface for that book [Brassaï's tome on À la Recherche du temps perdu] and in A Box of Photographs he in turn explores the relevance of photography to his own literary output. Photographs are for him an essential creative springboard, prompting recall of past events otherwise lost in the vast archives of memory, events that then inspire essays, novels and short stories. He also refers to those opportunities that Willy Ronis called “the perfect moment,” making photography a metaphor for life itself, well lived if you seize the time.


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37. Alexander von Humboldt’s new world


Alexander von Humboldt was a biogeographical maximalist, if that makes any sense. The Prussian-born von Humboldt had traveled through much of Latin America by the time he was 40, where he scientifically documented many of its surface features for the first time, and forwarded research that developed the burgeoning fields of meteorology and physical geography. His approach was holistic—by the end of the nineteenth century, “Humboldtian science” was the term generated for the combination of scientific empiricism, precise instrumentation, and the pursuit of the interconnectedness of all things von Humboldt found in his approach to the natural world.

A recent profile in Nature Conservancy magazine, “Humboldt’s New World,” takes on the explorer-scientist and his encounters in Latin America, many of which involve terrain protected by the Conservancy. Of his journey, Julian Smith writes:

The Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt was midway through a five-year, 6,000 mile voyage of scientific discovery through Latin America that would revolutionize thinking in fields form astronomy to zoology. Charles Darwin himself called Humboldt “the greatest scientific traveler who ever lived,” and when Darwin set off on his own journey aboard the Beagle three decades later, he took a copy of von Humboldt’s seven-volume travel narrative.

The article goes on to engage with von Humboldt’s travels at length, helping to raise the profile of this forgotten scientist as, among other roles, a big-picture conservationist.

We publish volumes integral to the further study of von Humboldt (a series aptly named, “Alexander von Humboldt in English“), which include Political Essay on Cuba , Views of the Cordilleras and Monuments of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americasand Essay on the Geography of Plants. Interested readers might want to know that the image Humboldt made of the Chimborazo volcano mentioned in the Nature Conservancy piece, as translator Sylvie Romanowski pointed out, is part of a much larger plate, “Physical Tableau of the Andes and Neighboring Countries,” which is reproduced full-size and folded into the Chicago edition of Essay on the Geography of Plantsaccompanied by analysis from Romanowski and detailed bibliographic materials from the book’s editor, Stephen T. Jackson.

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38. Excerpt: The Triumph of Human Empire


Excerpt from The Triumph of Human Empire: Verne, Morris, and Stevenson at the End of the World

by Rosalind Williams



The phrase human empire comes from a haunting tale by Sir Francis Bacon titled New Atlantis (Latin 1624, English 1627), in which he imagines a storm-tossed European ship lost in the South Seas, “in the midst of the greatest wilderness of waters in the world.” The vessel providentially washes up on an uncharted island, where the ship’s company discovers descendents of survivors of the lost city of Atlantis, a superior race that has established there a great research foundation, Salomon’s House. Most of the fable recounts the “Preparations and Instruments” they use. First, however, Salomon, the “Father of the House” who oversees its activities, explains its purpose in a single sentence:

The End of our Foundation is the knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible.

There is no article “the” before “human empire.” It is not like the Roman Empire or any other territory-based empire that wields power by extracting tribute from the ruled. Human empire is limited in territory to one fantasy island. Its rule comes from command of knowledge and powers that can make “all things possible” in multiple ways regardless of political boundaries.

When the concepts and practices of history arose in Greece of the fifth century BCE, the historical record was defined as the words and deeds of humans, set in the context of much larger, more enduring, more powerful structures and forces of non-human nature. Those actions and words of human beings were small, frail, and brief compared to the non-human stage on which they were performed—but they were special to humans as a species, and marked the separation between them and the rest of creation.

In Salomon’s House, the historical record was defined as the progressive conquest of non-human nature. Rather than being the greater whole in which humanity is embedded, nature was transformed from humanity’s Mother to a problem child. Humans asserted responsibility for knowing and controlling the rest of nature. In today’s language, the historical mission was redefined as turning the earth into “a smarter planet” to better meet our needs and wants.

The turning point in history described in this book—the realistic claim of human civilization as a whole to world domination—has recently been named “the age of the Anthropocene,” meaning “the age of man” and denoting an unprecedented human ability to alter the planet. However realistic this may be as a description of the current relationship between human and natural history, it does little to help us understand the distinctiveness and finer detail of human history. The same sweeping abstraction is true of the terminology of “first nature” being displaced by “second nature.” Again, this may be true, but it is not helpful in understanding in historical time how this displacement happened and how it was perceived as happening. Neither term begins to convey the power politics and violence inherent in the process of enlarging the bounds of human empire.

The language and concepts of ecology, ecosystems, and the earth sciences, as well as of technologies and technological systems, have grown to be and will continue to be indispensable in understanding the material manifestations of these transformations. This book emerges from a humanist’s—more specifically, a historian’s—concern for apprehending and describing the new conditions of human experience. Here I am paraphrasing philosopher and cultural critic Hannah Arendt, whose analysis of the human condition permeates every page of this study. In her book by that title, she asserts that “the earth is the very quintessence of the human condition.” Our relationship with our planetary home involves meaning and purpose as well as material resources. What is it like to live in the self-created circumstances of human empire? How does it work? How does it feel?

Read more about The Triumph of Human Empire here.

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39. Sergio De La Pava on crime and punishment

Maclehouse Press, which publishes the UK edition of the Bingham Prize-winning debut novel A Naked Singularity recently filmed a sit-down conversation with Sergio De La Pava. If you haven’t read the book yet, this is a chance for you to encounter one of its core virtues—an author capable of riffing on the criminal justice system in a manner that both encapsulates its essential predicaments and exposes the paradoxical thinking and ethical challenges that often undermine its success. 

De La Pava focuses on the drug war here, and while much of ANS engages with different conceptions of criminality, the stakes are the same. If you like what you see, you might want a head’s up about De La Pava’s follow-up novel Personae, which publishes next month.

More about the book here.


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40. Excerpt: The Gaia Hypothesis


An excerpt from the Introduction to The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet

To fill out the picture, the 1960s was the decade when this uneasy face-off between the established power of the older generation, backed by and enthusiastic about science and technology, and the rebellious doubt of the younger generation regarding the course of the nation and its authorities’ enthusiasms led more and more people to explore new ways of making sense of existence, new dimensions of thought and action. Matters are rarely as simple and straightforward as the surface suggests. Overnight, the advent of birth-control pills changed sexual attitudes and behaviors as women were suddenly freed form the fear of unwanted pregnancy. Yet obviously, in its way, “the pill” was a triumph of the very technology that was being berated. One work that became standard reading for every teenager, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (fifteen thousand copies were sold in the United States in 1960 and more than half a million in 1962) is deeply rooted in the venerable doctrine of original sin. There was continuity and there was change. We see this very clearly in questions to do with ultimate meaning and practice. In the West, America has always been distinctive in its deeply religious foundation and nature. But the tensions of the times, whether they were rooted in the Cold War between the United States and Russia or int he rejection of the status quo and the search for a new order of things, led to explorations, developments, and innovations in unanticipated directions. On the right, reflecting the move of many Americans (particularly in the South) from traditional political bases to those offering comfort and protection against radical social changes, there was the rise of so-called Young Earth Creationism, which argued for a literal interpretation of the Bible—six thousand years since the beginning of the universe, six literal days of creation, a universal deluge shortly thereafter. Published in 1961, Genesis Flood, by biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb and hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris, was the defining text. Its dispensational framework screamed the tensions of the times. The Flood was the end of the first period of Earth history, and Armageddon (with its images of nuclear warfare) will be the last. Are you ready? The Lord will come like a “thief in the night.” Forget attempts to create paradise here on Earth and prepare for end times. On the left, also thinking in segments of time and history, many proclaimed our entry into the astrologically determined “Age of Aquarius.” There was the obsession with Eastern religions, perhaps best reflected in popular culture by the friendship of the Beatles with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, deviser of Transcendental Meditation. But just as some went geographically outward to find their new metaphysics, some went historically backward to find their new metaphysics. There was a fascination with ancient mysteries and movements, with more basic, more Earth-centered creeds, often (fitting in with the spirit of the times) less patriarchal and more female-sensitive and also less technological and more organic or ecologically friendly. Completing the circle, the bible of all on this side of things was Silent Spring, published in 1962 by the powerful science writer Rachel Carson. She showed how a frenzied reliance on technology and science had led to the destruction of the environment—that our home was tainted and spoiled, unfit for us and our children, and crying for healing, for new, warmer ways of thinking and acting.

The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet tells a story that comes out of the 1960s, a story that reflects all of the beliefs and enthusiasms and tensions of that decade. It is a story that carries the themes through to the present, showing how the various ideas developed, changed, and matured, and sometimes withered. There are different lines, but they are not isolated, because they twist back and forth and entwine in some ways before diverging again. It is a story primarily but not exclusively about America. Britain in particular has a major contribution to make. That is no surprise. For all of the jokes about two countries separated by a common language, there is much cultural overlap, and that was true back then. The British adored Kennedy and the group around him, who represented such a break from the staid 1950s—the old war hero Dwight Eisenhower in the United States and the equally old Harold Macmillan in the United Kingdom. Similar social changes were happening. The number of university places doubled, thanks to the founding of new institutions in places like Sussex and Warwick. The Beatles, of course, were British, and for all the old country is less intoxicated by religion than the new, some of the most influential movements had strong British links.

Although this is a story that comes out of the 1960s, it is not a story that began in the 1960s. Any evolutionist will tell you that the secret to the present is to be found in the past, and this holds as much in the realm of ideas as in the realm of organisms. In succeeding chapters, we dig back into the distant past. The exploration is fascinating in its own right, but always it is a story with an eye to future events and developments. The aim is not at all to show that we are wiser than those who went before, but to show that is only in the context that full understanding can emerge. The final chapters of analysis, when we return to the present era, will furnish the proof.

Read more about The Gaia Hypothesis here.

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41. Mike Royko: One More Time


Mike Royko (right), in conversation with Studs Terkel

If you called Chicago home at some point during the second-half of the twentieth century, you probably don’t require an introduction to Mike Royko, or to the work he produced as a columnist for the Chicago Daily News, the Sun-Times, and the Tribune. If you digested these newspapers on a regular basis (you know, as people did before the “reality talkies”), you knew him as a Pulitzer Prize winner with working-class roots, sparse and specific with language, sparser still with pretension, hypocrisy, and corrupt politicking. Royko would have turned eighty-one today—we publish a solid sampling of his work including Early Royko: Up Against It in Chicago, For the Love of Mike: More of the Best of Mike Royko, Royko in Love: Mike’s Letters to Carol, and One More Time: The Best of Mike Royko, from which the excerpt below is drawn. “Ticket to the Good Life Punched with Pain” is later Royko—written just after Rodney King’s beating at the hands of the LAPD and six years before Royko’s premature death at age 64—but a classic example of the writer’s sense of justice and outrage, coupled with an everyday kind of diction that spared no humor or humility, even when framing the dark side of a radically changing America.

So, with a hat tip to Royko, the piece follows below:

March 19, 1991

Ticket to Good Life Punched with Pain

The police chief of Los Angeles is being widely condemned because of the now-famous videotaped flogging of a traffic offender.

But Chief Daryl Gates, while refusing to resign, suggests that the brutal beating might have been an uplifting act that could bring long-range positive results for the beating victim.

As the chief put it at a press conference Monday:

“We regret what took place. I hope he [Rodney King, the beating victim] gets his life straightened out. Perhaps this will be the vehicle to move him down the road to a good life instead of the life he’s been involved in for such a long time.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but there could be something in what Chief Gates says.

There’s no doubt that King, 25, hasn’t been an exemplary citizen, although he’s no John Dillinger. When the police stopped him for speeding, he was on parole for using a tire iron to threaten and rob a grocer.

But as Chief Gates said, the experience of being beaten, kicked, and shot with an electric stun gun might be what it takes to “move him down the road to a good life.”

Who knows, in a few years when all of this is forgotten, a reporter might drive out to a nice house in a California suburb and find a peaceful Rodney King pushing a mower across his lawn.

The reporter might ask: “Mr. King, what is it that moved you down the road to a good life?”

“That’s a good question,” Mr. King might reply, “and I’ll be glad to explain it to you. You’ll have to excuse me if I wobble and drool a bit; my face has nerve damage and my coordination hasn’t been the same since they damaged my brain.”

“Of course.”

“But to get back to your question. I think it was after L.A.’s finest hit me about fifty or fifty-five times with their clubs. As you recall, some of the fillings flew out of my teeth and one of my eye sockets sort of exploded.”

“Must have been a tad uncomfortable.”

“Yes. And at that point, I’m pretty sure that those nine skull fractures and internal injuries had already occurred, my cheekbone was fractured, one of my legs was broken, and I had this burning sensation from being zapped with that electric stun gun. I was feeling kind of low.”

“That’s to be expected.”

“Right. But as I was lying there, and they were getting in a few final kicks, and then sort of hog-tying my hands to my legs and dragging me along the ground, I said to myself: ‘Why not try to look at the bright side?’”

“And did you?”

“Yes. I thought: ‘Well, one of my legs isn’t broken; one of my eye sockets isn’t fractured; one of my cheekbones isn’t broken. And although my skull is fractured, my head remains attached to my body; and while fillings have popped out of my teeth, I still have the teeth.’ And I said to myself: ‘Half a body is better than none.’”

“Very inspiring.”

“Thank you. And I had a chance to think about why the police were treating me that way. It was their way of telling me that speeding is an act of antisocial behavior and I had been very bad, bad, bad.”

“You have unusual insight.”

“I try. And I thought that if only I had led the life of a model citizen, this wouldn’t have happened to me. Let’s face it. The L.A. police never fracture the skull of the president of the chamber of commerce, the chief antler in the Loyal Order of Moose, or the head of the PTA. No, it was my past history of antisocial behavior that brought it on.”

“But they had no way of knowing you were on parole.”

“Yes, but I’m sure they could guess just by the look of me. Be honest, I don’t look at all like the head of the PTA, do I?”


“Then, later, when Police Chief Gates said that the beating, although regrettable, could be the vehicle that would get me on the road to the good life, everything became clear. I realized that the beating would turn my life around and be a one-way ticket to the good life.”

“The chief’s words inspired you?”

“Not exactly. To be honest Chief Gates’ words convinced me that he had to be as dumb an S.O.B. as ever opened his mouth at a press conference.”

“But you said he helped you to a good life.”

“That’s right, he did.”


“When I took his police department to court, that jury awarded me a couple of million in damages, and I’ve been leading the good life ever since.”

“I don’t think that’s what the chief had in mind.”

“I don’t think that chief had anything in mind.”

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42. Jonathan Franzen on Karl Kraus



This is a mighty essay in a recent issue of the Guardian Review by the American novelist Jonathan Franzen. Heard of this guy? I’m not certain, exactly, what led me to the adjective, “mighty.” There is an obvious forcefulness to the writing, per Franzen’s style, and the essay itself, um, runs several pages (“girth,” “length”). Franzen’s polemical positioning of Karl Kraus is more than plausible; he’s certainly not the first to take on this cause—Kraus was both terse and dexterous with his prose and the economy of his aphoristic, contra capital rants largely directed at certain foibles of the bourgeois Viennese cultural community to which he claimed membership. Franzen even has a forthcoming book on Kraus; this is the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from a Marxian scholar of rhetoric or a comp lit professor feverishly working on the printed ephemera of modernist journalism, not the product of a literary novelist working on the next big thing. So, that’s great.

Weirdly, the essay itself works as a  détournement of JonathanFranzenism—and the sometimes goading lack of self-awareness with which Franzen pens reflective pieces on late-capitalist American culture is about as anti-Kraus as it gets. An example: Franzen can devote whole paragraphs to the “insufferable smugness” of a dude in an Apple commercial while carrying on an extended metaphor about the tech industry’s co-opting of coolness in order to take us along begrudgingly into a narrative about the failures of his romantic coming-of-age. Someplace after Kraus’s Vienna became “in between place” like “Windows Vista” and before Franzen became an angry young man, Kraus the Great Hater was lost, cryogenized, and turned over in a makeshift grave made out of replica iPad parts.

Oh, boy.

In The Anti-Journalist: Karl Kraus and Jewish Self-Fashioning in Fin-de-Siècle Europe, Paul Reitter examines how Kraus’s own hostile critiques and satirical stylings were actually part of a much larger project of radical self-fashioning among fin-de-siècle German-Jewish intellectual society. It provides background for understanding the implication’s Franzen’s piece and positions Kraus as more than a curmudgeonly anti-technoconsumerist; here, his journalistic output is recontextualized by the milieu that fostered it. Kraus is still the Great Hater, but his would-be misanthropy is not only blisteringly self-aware, but a reaction to mainstream German-Jewish strategies for assimilation.

And, of course, there’s the work of Kraus himself: we publish Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half-Truths: Selected Aphorisms, which samples Kraus’s favored form of linguistic parlance. He’s snappy here, and Harry Zohn’s Introduction to the translation further situates his work in scope and purpose.

For more info on either, click here.

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43. From Black Sox to Three-Peats


Chicago sportswriting is synonymous with, well, um, as far as I know: dude who had a peg leg; dude who has the same initials as that one guy in the Sega Genesis-era Moonwalker game circa 1990; dudes who did coordinated shuffling (including dude who appeared at Wrestlemania II and was the subject of the Fat Boys’ “Chillin’ with the Refrigerator”); that one team with the curse; that other team, which once featured Bobby Jenks, who looks like Bobby from King of the Hill; dudes with the sticks that make it impossible to get a beer at the Whirlaway Lounge, assorted evenings October through April; dudes whose team is named after an 1871 domestic disaster; and various other dudes, lady dudes, mimeograph machines, folded and unfolded periodicals, and residual jouissance. Bear down, Bull up or something. Confusing Harry Caray with Andy Rooney many times as a Midwestern pre-adolescent given free range with the remote control.

But seriously: you know who really knows Chicago sportswriting? Ron Rapoport, longtime sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and the Los Angeles Daily News and a sports commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition. Rapoport’s most recent edited anthology From Black Sox to Three-Peats: A Century of Chicago’s Best Sportswriting from the Tribune, Sun-Times, and Other Newspapers assembles one hundred of the best columns and articles from our local rags to tell the unforgettable, occasionally unaccountable, and incomparable history of Chicago sports. The Tribune recently praised the book as a “flip-page feast for sports fans,” and the personnel discussed needs no introduction: “What writers, what characters, what moments!”

Rapoport is coming to town for a whirlwind series of appearances, so stay tuned for spots on NBC Chicago’s Weekend Morning News, Rick Kogan’s radio show, WBEZ, WLS Radio with Richard Roeper, WGN, Sportstalk Live, Chicago Tonight, and ESPN Radio Chicago.

Want to catch the man in person? Stop by the Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan Avenue) at 5 PM on Thursday, September 19th, for a reading and signing.

In the meantime, read more about the book here.


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44. Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)


Implicit in those lines is a view of poetry which I think is implicit in the few
poems I have written that give me any right to speak: poetry as divination, poetry
as revelation of the self to the self, as restoration of the culture to itself; poems as
elements of continuity, with the aura and authenticity of archaeological finds,
where the buried shard has an importance that is not diminished by the
importance of the buried city; poetry as a dig, a dig for finds that end up being

‘Digging,’ in fact, was the name of the first poem I wrote where I thought
my feelings had got into words, or to put it more accurately, where I thought my
feel had had got into words. Its rhythms and noises still please me, although there
are a couple of lines in it that have more of the theatricality of the gunslinger than
the self-absorption of the digger. I wrote it in the summer of 1964, almost two
years after I had begun to ‘dabble in verses.’ This was the first place where I felt I
had done more than make an arrangement of words: I felt that I had let down a
shaft into real life. The facts and surfaces of the thing were true, but more
important, the excitement that came from naming them gave me a kind of
insouciance and a kind of confidence. I didn’t care who thought what
about it: somehow, it had surprised me by coming out with a stance and an idea
that I would stand over:


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

From “Feeling into Words” in The Poet’s Work: 29 Poets on the Origins and Practice of Their Art (edited by Reginald Gibbons)

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45. How to Succeed in College


The days surrounding Labor Day weekend usher in the end of summer, and with it, for millions of families, the start of the school year (literally, millions of families: why does that sounds so banal? “millions of families”—probably because I’m a single thirty-two year-old woman on my third cup of coffee eating desiccated coconut flakes out of the bag and thinking of Carl Sagan). With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine an increase in anxiety for parents and students alike, especially those on the cusp of pointed new territory: the start of college and the end of life-as-it-was-previously known. Jon B. Gould, longtime college professor and award-winning teacher, actually wrote the book about this sort of thing. This evening, he’ll be appearing on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight in support of How to Succeed in College (While Really Trying), which gives readers the lay of the land and demystifies the college experience, offering advice from an insider who has witnessed the transitions—in life and in learning—of innumerable newbie undergrads. But, real talk for a moment: who gets the lion’s share of that anxiety? My own mom wept on the driveway when I threw all my belongings into four garbage bags and drove down I-275 with a bookshelf rigged to the back of my pick-up truck, screeching Mazzy Star or Cat Stevens or something equal parts terrible and unforgettable. We expect Here Come the Co-Eds or Heaven’s Gate; we get a mix of Legally Blonde, The Sterile Cuckoo, and Higher Learning. Gould was kind enough to send along five tips for parents staring down the first-year college experience—like much of what is found in the book, they’re pragmatic and offer some simple, real world-based advice to settle the nerves. For more on that note, tune in tonight—tips follow below:

1.  Give your children space. Let them adjust and ease into their new surroundings. Don’t come visit right away, and don’t be on the phone or text constantly.  

2.  Be supportive, but don’t try to solve their problems. When the tearful call inevitably comes, they really just want a sympathetic ear.  You don’t need to fix the problem, and most of the time you couldn’t anyway.

3.  A few “life lessons” never hurt anyone. If they blow off studying for an exam, they should get that C. If they’re smart, they’ll learn from the experience and not repeat it. One bad grade does not a semester ruin.

4. Don’t remodel their room—yet.  First-year students still want the security of “home.” Try not to make major changes to their room—or the family—until they’ve successfully completed a semester.

5.  Take a deep breath and take pride in getting your children this far. The vast majority of students will transition to college successfully. You played a big part in that. They’ll be okay. Really.

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46. A Naked Singularity wins big with PEN


Congratulations are due to UCP author, novelist, public defender, and, um, really nice dude/polymath Sergio De la Pava, who just took home the Robert W. Bingham Prize (a PEN Literary Award) for A Naked Singularity, a debut work that demonstrates “distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.” Along with the $25,000 kitty, De la Pava earns more than just renewed DIY bragging rights. From a write-up in the Wall Street Journal, which (for interested parties) engages with the book’s back story:

Mr. De La Pava, reached on his way to a speaking engagement at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland, said he intends to continue his legal case-load but was grateful to be recognized by an organization with a human-rights agenda. “What I do on a daily basis is very important to me,” he said. “[PEN] has a social-justice mission, so it’s even more meaningful.”

Recently, De la Pava took to the stage at MOMA/PS 1′s Expo 1 New York, where he delivered a two-part talk on the legacy of Philip K. Dick and the future of the criminal justice system, a piece of Venn Diagram portraiture surrounding some of the larger issues at stake in A Naked Singularity. Check out the footage below + stop here for info on De la Pava’s forthcoming follow-up Personae, out this October:

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47. Milton Friedman at 100 (+1)

Last year, to mark what would have been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday, we recapped tributes from the web. As a refresher, here’s Friedman at 100 again, +1:

From the Chicago Tribune:

On the 100th anniversary of his birth Tuesday, one may wonder what the Nobel laureate would say about the more controversial policies now unfolding across America. What would Friedman have thought about the recent advances in school choice, an idea he developed in 1955? How would he react to the government’s decision to tax Americans who do not purchase health insurance? Would Friedman take a position regarding the financial impact of soaring public union pensions on state economies? As an expert on monetary policy, certainly Friedman would have an opinion regarding the federal government’s bailout of the financial industry and its impact on our personal freedom.

From Forbes:

I think the most important measure of a thinker’s influence are his once-controversial ideas that are now considered so obvious that no one seriously disputes them. I’ve recently been reading a collection of Friedman’s Newsweek columns from the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time when he was at the peak of his fame and influence. Among the proposals he wrote about most frequently were: severing the link to gold and letting the dollar float, fighting inflation by reducing the growth of the money supply, ending the draft, abolishing wage and price controls, and cutting taxes.

From Slate:

Friedman had a two-part counterattack. Part one was to argue—fairly persuasively—that monetary policy rather than fiscal policy was the key to recovery from the Great Depression.

Part two has a more complicated legacy. The straightforward reading of Friedman’s point about monetary policy and the Depression is that, yes, a propserous market economy does require active public sector management of the demand side of the economy. But Friedman wanted it to be read a different way, as an example of the damage done by the government doing bad things. These characterizations are basically equivalent, but Friedman’s way better suited his ideological proclivities regarding income redistribution. But faced with a new depression, Friedman’s way of putting this has created two problems. One is that on the right a lot of folks view calls for central banks to adopt appropriate monetary policy as just another form of government activism. Meanwhile on the left thanks to co-branding between a monetary focused view of macroeconomic policy and Friedman’s views on other matters, many view it as a kind of sellout to argue that business cycle problems can be cured with monetary policy.

From the Wall Street Journal:

He loved turning the intellectual tables on liberals by making the case that regulation often does more harm than good. His favorite example was the Food and Drug Administration, whose regulations routinely delay the introduction of lifesaving drugs. “When the FDA boasts a new drug will save 10,000 lives a year,” he would ask, “how many lives were lost because it didn’t let the drug on the market last year?”

He supported drug legalization (much to the dismay of supporters on the right) and was particularly proud to be an influential voice in ending the military draft in the 1970s. When his critics argued that he favored a military of mercenaries, he would retort: “If you insist on calling our volunteer soldiers ‘mercenaries,’ I will call those who you want drafted into service involuntarily ‘slaves.’”

By the way, he rarely got angry and even when he was intellectually slicing and dicing his sparring partners he almost always did it with a smile. It used to be said that over the decades at the University of Chicago and across the globe, the only one who ever defeated him in a debate was his beloved wife and co-author Rose Friedman.

From the internet meme “Milton Friedman quote or Toby Keith lyric?”:

1. Governments never learn, only people learn.
2. All the happiness in the world can’t buy you money.
3. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
4. The glass won’t ever be half empty in my optimistic mind.
5. Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.
6. Inflation is taxation without legislation.
7. I won’t break my back for a million bucks I can’t take to my grave.
8. The power to do good is also the power to do harm.
9. One man’s opportunism is another man’s statesmanship.
10. I’ll have a hot tub full of hotties icin’ down a 24-pack.

 Capitalism and Freedom

For more Milton Friedman, including Capitalism and Freedom, see a selection of his writings here.

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48. We are here

Greetings from Chicago!

Looking east across the University of Chicago campus.

The exterior of Cobb Hall.Ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does the University of Chicago Press. We share a corner of a immensely beautiful campus where Gothic structures mingle with modernist marvels, and a who’s who of architects give the Loop a run for its money (people aren’t quite lining up to stare down from the top of the Logan Center yet, but just give it time!). Even our heating and chiller plants are stunning, an especially lucky fact since the Press building overlooks the towering South Campus Chiller Plant with its engineering inner workings fully on display.

But while they make impressive photo ops and allow for games of spot-the-gargoyle, why the gothic buildings? Why did the forward-thinking university start with an architectural style that was centuries old? The answer lies in the beautifully illustrated new book Building Ideas: An Architectural Guide to the University of Chicago.


Aerial View_2013_Guidebook_BI_C1_1For the physical plan and architectural design, the founding trustees considered six local firms. Chicago’s architectural talent was adept at executing large projects, maintaining budgets, and creating designs that consistently impressed (albeit grudgingly) the critics from the East Coast. Chicago School architects designed for a demanding city: for developers who craved square footage, for building occupants who loved abundant natural light and fresh air, and for Chicagoans who aspired to distinctive and occasionally sublime architecture. The trustees appeared determined to create a campus as emblematic of the university mission as the downtown skyscrapers were of the city’s soaring economic ambitions.

The winning proposal was submitted by Henry Ives Cobb, whose portfolio in Chicago included tall office buildings along with well-appointed residences. Cobb’s was not the most beautifully rendered entry, but the relationship he had formed with Hutchinson and Ryerson—Hutchinson was a member of the Chicago Athletic Association, which Cobb had recently designed to significant praise— may have helped him secure the university commission.

Cobb’s original proposal for buildings in the Romanesque style was quickly revised to the Gothic, which lent the campus an air of distinction and erudition—this in a city that had often defended itself against an image as hog butcher. Not long after the first buildings went up, the magazine and arbiter Architectural Record endorsed the university’s campus in conception as well as execution. The Gothic style was “selected as far as possible to remind one of the old English Universities of Cambridge and Oxford; in fact to remove the mind of the student from the busy mercantile conditions of Chicago.”

The choice of Gothic offered other advantages as well. Among them was the timeless quality of the buildings, which “struck Gothic notes of permanence and immortality,” as Harper and his compatriots desired. The style harkened to medieval times, a period romanticized as the antithesis of industrialization, impersonalization, and the oppression of the working classes. That bygone age of chivalry, noted for artisanship and individuality, had inspired writers such as Walter Scott, John Ruskin, and William Morris to revive medieval customs, including architecture. On a practical level, Gothic’s asymmetrical massing enabled numerous building types—libraries, classrooms, and laboratories among them. The style’s endless variations of detail assured that the campus would remain unified even as it grew over time.

—from Building Ideas: An Architectural Guide to the University of Chicago by Jay Pridmore (2013)


To take an at-your-desk tour of the University of Chicago campus, visit http://on.fb.me/18xzkdH.

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49. The Rise of Secularism

When it comes to American religious history, few books have caused as much debate as John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America. In the book, Modern uncovers surprising connections between secular ideology and the rise of new technologies that opened up new ways of being religious in the nineteenth century, and he challenges the strict separation between the religious and the secular that remains integral to the discussions of religion we engage in today. The Immanent Frame describes the debate thusly:

Modern’s understanding of secularism and his argument that mid-nineteenth century American religious movements are in some sense responsible for the secularizing ethos which the majority of them opposed. From Modern’s perspective secularization represents not the separation of the religious from the profane but the opportunity for religion to discover within the secular its true meaning.

Religion thus confronts modernity not by disappearing but inventing modern figures to adapt to the novelty of the technological age, and to redefine itself.  Perhaps Modern’s most compelling example of these claims is mid-nineteenth century American evangelicalism—specifically its reliance on modern media and technologies.

At last fall’s American Academy of Religion conference, the book was the subject of a panel that saw each scholar responding to a specific chapter. These fascinating discussions have now been written up in a series of posts on the Religion and American History blog, addressing such subjects as Modern’s paradoxical notion of evangelical secularism and the relationship between American Catholicism and secularization, and concluding with Modern’s reply to his interlocutors.

Find more information on Secularism in Antebellum America here.

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50. The Idea of Nature, the Nature of Ideas

Kant's Organicism cover

Guest blogger: Ryo Yamaguchi

It is hard to imagine the world—or ourselves for that matter —without DNA, but for most of our intellectual history we knew nothing about those slender molecules. The modern microscope was invented near the beginning of the seventeenth century, with Friedrich Miescher isolating DNA in the late nineteenth, and between those times theories regarding biological formation and reproduction were explored by Enlightenment thinkers and scientists such as John Locke, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Carl Linnaeus, and Comte de Buffon. We overlook it now as common knowledge, but biological reproduction was something these people had to think through, to explain without DNA, and the debates between concepts such as God, mechanics, fermentation, homunculi—and how they could inform life’s larger lineages, of the differences between species, of a natural history as a whole—abounded.

Enter Immanuel Kant. Many of us do not think of Kant as a biologist, but he was deeply interested in natural history throughout his career, an interest that Jennifer Mensch takes up in Kant’s Organicism, published last month. Situating Kant among the above thinkers, she shows not only that Kant had theories of his own on the generation of life but that he applied these theories to another equally vexing project: the generation of knowledge. It’s easy enough to know that we have sensations—that we see, hear, smell, and feel the world—but how do we organize that raw cacophony into coherent and meaningful representations. What is that faculty and where did it come from? How do we take experience and with it, think? Mensch explains how Kant used organic models to explore this question:

Kant took the generation of representations to be something requiring a juggling of factors directly parallel to those in play when considering organic generation. There had to be something regular, like a set of rules, guaranteeing uniformity of production. There had to be material content, and there had to be some kind of force, something capable of putting the parts together according to the rules. Finally, there had to be something capable of maintaining the unity, if not the identity, of the whole—a simple enough set of requirements perhaps, but the work, as usual, lay in the details.

Starting from this shared set of simple requirements, she shows just how much organic concepts informed Kant’s theories of reason, landing on a term from embryological theory—“epigenesis”—as a guiding concept of biological formation that “opened up possibilities for thinking about reason as an organic system, as something that was self-developing and operating according to an organic logic.”

The result of Mensch’s exploration is a riveting reinterpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as a truly interdisciplinary project, one that brought together some of the Enlightenment’s largest but seemingly most distant concerns in the pursuit of a “natural history of reason.” While many might not consider a book on Kant a great summer read, Mensch’s approachability entices us into a fascinating and highly graspable synthesis of history, philosophy, and science. And with summer’s proliferation of life on full view, it instills renewed appreciation—for both the proliferation itself and our ability to be in awe of it.

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