UPfront: March & April

February 20th, 2009 by EVENTS

Alcatraz: The Gangster Years by David Ward

University of California Press, March 2009

Alcatraz: The Gangster Years provides a comprehensive account of the lives of bank robbers, escape artists, and bandits (including Al Capone) who passed through the notorious penitentiary during the gangster era—1934-1948—and beyond. The book draws on the author’s exclusive access to FBI, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Federal Parole records, as well as interviews he conducted with more than 100 Alcatraz convicts, guards, and administrators. This is the only book that really evokes the experience of confinement here, and authoritatively answers questions that have swirled for decades around “The Rock”: How did the nation’s “public enemies” cope with the harsh regime on the island?; What provoked protests, strikes, and acts of resistance that forced some inmates to spend years in solitary confinement?; How did security flaws in the country’s most secure prison lead to some of the most sensational escape attempts in American penal history?; What were the psychological costs of doing time in a prison described by one inmate as “the tomb of the living dead?” This is the definitive book on the world’s most famous prison and on America’s most notorious criminals. [Tom Caldwell]

The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty, Revised and Expanded by Dave Hickey

University of Chicago Press, March 2009

In some sense, reading The Invisible Dragon is like being transported back to the early 1990s, when art was the political football of choice, and the outrage meter on certain congressmen and media types was permanently set to high. Originally published in 1993 as an impassioned response to what Hickey saw as misrepresentations and misunderstandings on both sides of the debate—and as a defense of the beauty of Mapplethorpe’s art—The Invisible Dragon managed to infuriate people on all sides of the debate. Yet it got people talking, and more than fifteen years later, they’re still talking, and Hickey is back with a new, revised and updated edition that both sets the original book in the context of its time and reception and brings its argument fully up to date. Written with a passion that is all too rare in serious criticism, The Invisible Dragon reads sort of like a conversation with a very smart (and very opinionated) friend, and it’s lost none of its punch in the years since its first publication. [Levi Stahl]

Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art by Judith L. Sensibar

Yale University Press, March 2009

It takes a special kind of literary sleuthing to unearth something truly new about an iconic writer when so much has already been said. But Judith Sensibar is up to the task. Faulkner the man has sometimes seemed to stand apart from Faulkner the work, but this deeply personal exploration of the women in his life opens up a whole new perspective on both life and imagination. Maud Faulkner was his biological mother, but the family’s African-American servant, Caroline Barr, was largely responsible for his upbringing. Rounding out the trio of powerful women was his childhood friend and eventual wife, Estelle Oldham. The relationships are fascinating in their own right, but Sensibar neatly traces some of Faulkner’s signature literary themes—tormented love, addiction, race —to his complex relationships with these amazing women. The rare photographs, many never before seen, are icing on the cake. [John Eklund]

Tocqueville’s Political Economy by Richard Swedberg

Princeton University Press, March 2009

Although Tocqueville is primarily known as a chronicler of the early US republic and a political theorist, Swedberg traces Tocqueville’s thought on economics (or political economy, as it was called in the day). Though he never wrote a book explicitly on economics, the strikingly modern belief that economic behavior underpins the social mores of a country is embedded in Tocqueville’s thought. Swedberg shows how economic thought percolates through Tocqueville’s major and minor works to show Tocqueville’s continuing relevance to readers in economics and sociology. Swedberg reads Democracy in America as a masterful analysis of American entrepreneurialism. In The Old Regime and the Revolution, Tocqueville suggests that oppressive French regulation and taxation policies foster class conflicts. [Tom Caldwell]

Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers by Scott Norton

University of Chicago Press, March 2009

Developmental editing is a tricky business, requiring analytical flair and creative panache, the patience of a saint and the vision of a writer. And, of course, the occasional magic trick: author Scott Norton can transform a stack of paper into a bestseller, or, at the very least, a book that edifies, enlightens, and entertains. In Developmental Editing he shares years of knowledge (gleaned from his work as a developmental editor at the University of California Press) with the rest of us. [Laura Anderson]

Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform & the Constitution by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Princeton University Press, April 2009

Prison Fellowship Ministries was licensed by the state of Iowa to set up a program for prisoners that combined rigorous prison discipline with intense Bible study and Christian worship. Although the program was voluntary and the participants lived apart from other prisoners, it was challenged on First Amendment grounds. The trial that followed is the focus of the book—and Sullivan was an expert witness. She uses the litigation, still ongoing, to consider again the problems of separating church and state. And, like her earlier book, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom, she concludes that it’s simply impossible. The separation clause in the constitution speaks to institutions - church and state - but religion, she argues, is not institutional but personal and therefore cannot be separated from any person in whatever institutional setting. [Tom Caldwell]

My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness by Adina Hoffman

Yale University Press, April 2009

Adina Hoffman’s incredibly moving biography of the Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali is one of those rare books that changes the way you see the world. Born in 1931 in Galilee, Taha’s village was wiped out in 1948, and he’s spent a lifetime working to re-create his beloved Saffuriyya through his poetry. An irresistibly charming autodidactic shopkeeper, the young Taha traded some land for a dictionary, and hung around with a band of poetry-hungry teenagers who reminded me of Bolaño’s Savage Detectives. Part historical detective story, part memoir, part meditation on the transformative power of words and the meaning of exile, everything about this project is compelling- including the author, who is a writer, journalist, and publisher of the lovely Ibis Editions. While you wait for the book to release in April, check out the Copper Canyon Press edition of Taha’s poetry, So What. [John Eklund]

Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneers by John Broven

University of Illinois, April 2009

Back in the early ’90s when I managed a regional rock band, Fredric Dannen’s “Hit Men” warned of what I could expect from the music business if my band made it to the next level. Pay for (radio) play. Megalomaniacal label heads. Thievery and deceit. In the new book Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneers author John Broven provides a more sympathetic take on the path-breaking record label personalities of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Broven interviewed legends Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, Sam Phillips, and Marshall Chess (among others) and weaves their individual stories into a broader narrative about the independent labels’ profound impact on music history. And, I never knew how important jukebox distribution was to the growth of rock ’n’ roll. [Michael Roux]

Rosenfeld’s Lives: Fame, Oblivion & the Furies of Writing by Steven J. Zipperstein

Yale University Press, April 2009

I wasn’t familiar with this nearly forgotten Chicago writer who died at age 38, and whose reputation was eclipsed by that of his pal, Saul Bellow. He wrote one novel, Passage From Home, (now out of print, a crime!) and several short story and nonfiction collections. But he left a mountain of manuscripts and notes, which have been tenderly recovered by Zipperstein. “Few have written with Rosenfeld’s acuity about what life spent at a writing desk gives and takes away,” says Zipperstein, and his pursuit of Rosenfeld becomes his own great white whale. If you have struggled with writing demons, or are intrigued by how it is that geniuses don’t always live up to their billing, you will be fascinated by this haunting story. Midwest Jewish Trotskyism and competitive literary intrigue, what more could you ask? The mid-century sense of place and detail is top-notch. At times I felt like I was reading a Chicago version of Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City, or Daniel Fuch’s masterpiece The Brooklyn Novels, recently resurrected by Black Sparrow Press. [John Eklund]

Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism by Herve This

Columbia University Press, April 2009

This is the third book by renowned French chef Herve This that we’ve published and his legion of fans continues to grow here in the states (he has been a celebrity in France for a while now) as does the number of chefs in who employ his techniques of molecular gastronomy. This not only loves food but he’s a chemist and he brings both his scientific and gastronomic knowledge to the fore as he “deconstructs” some of the staples of French bistro cooking. The book is a lot of fun to read and This’s charm comes through the pages as he explains, among other things, the scientific and culinary principles behind how to boil an egg, keeping French fries from becoming greasy, and keeping green beans green. This also lays out a recipe for a new kind of chocolate mousse! Many of the things we think about food or we take for granted are turned upside-down in This’s hands. The book will certainly change the way you think about food, how it is prepared, and its importance in our daily lives. [Philip Leventhal]

Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples by Mark Dowie

The MIT Press, April 2009

If you’ve read Mark Dowie before, you know that he’s a muck-raking journalist of the old school. A former editor of Mother Jones magazine, he excels at taking seemingly simple black vs. white conflicts and opening up the shades of gray within. In this fascinating and surprising book, he unearths the unintended but ruinous consequences that have resulted from the establishment of internationally protected conservation areas, from Yellowstone to east Africa. Focusing on five major conservation organizations, he finds that their victories have prompted the dislocation of ten million indigenous people to date, most of whom had been living innocently and sustainably on their land for years. It’s a “good guy vs. good guy” story, and Dowie isn’t out to pick a fight with the environmental movement. But the issues he raises make for uncomfortable reading. [John Eklund]

The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic by Slavoj Žižek & John Milbank

The MIT Press, April 2009

What happens when a passionate Marxist atheist squares off against a radical Christian theologian? Great fun and surprisingly nuanced debate about the nature of religion and myriad other topics. Unlike the stances adopted by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, Žižek’s atheism turns Christianity inside out, and asserts that true Christianity is a sort of permanent revolt. Milbank, who has run into his own problems with Anglican orthodoxy, is the perfect counterpoint, and sometimes seems to be trying to salvage something from Žižek’s world while arguing against it. If we couldn’t be present to hear the debate ourselves, this is definitely the next best thing. Žižek’s “Short Circuits” series keeps getting better and better. [John Eklund]

Enjoy these books the day they become available and preorder online today!

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