UPfront: May & June

April 28th, 2009 by EVENTS

Voice & Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction by Stephen J. Pyne

Harvard University Press, May 2009

This is a great age for creative nonfiction, and a boom time for books on writing. But historian and Macarthur Fellow Stephen J. Pyne noticed a gap in the literature when it comes to nonfiction writing guides. So he’s created a stylish instruction book for historians and scholars, people who are writing mainly to communicate facts and ideas. Combining the nuts and bolts instructional approach of Zinsser’s classic On Writing Well with the looser, meditative flavor of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, Pyne’s manual is loaded with solid tips about how to blend scholarship and art without sacrificing the essence of either. The first half of the book addresses the art of nonfiction, while the second half focuses on the craft. A concluding chapter describes the somewhat depressing “life cycle of a book,” but he ends with an uplifting reminder that it’s the life cycle of the writer/scholar that’s most important. [John Eklund]

Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality by Benjamin I. Page and Lawrence R. Jacobs

University of Chicago Press, May 2009

Over the past few months, the news has been full of stories about financial industry bonuses funded with taxpayer dollars and corporate jets carrying auto industry CEOs on their way to ask for their own share of public funds. So it doesn’t seem all that surprising that “some people are vengeful, calling for jail, public humiliation, or even revolution” (as the New York Times reported in a recent story about A.I.G.’s notorious plans to award those seemingly ill-deserved bonuses). Partly by giving voice to such anger, the economic crisis has intensified public awareness of the growing chasm between America’s haves and have-nots. But Class War? reveals that, beyond the embattled headlines, both sides of the class divide actually agree to a surprising—and heartening—extent about what the government should do to close it. [Megan Marz]

Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka

University of California Press, May 2009

This is a collection of essays by Amiri Baraka written over the last twenty years focused on jazz and other American music. The subjects range from Sarah Vaughan to Miles Davis, Marsalis to Springsteen, memoirs of musicians and colleagues, polemical essays, concert and record reviews, and a shout-out to the jazz culture of his hometown, Newark. His essays are lyrical and combative, steeped in the vernacular poetry of African American culture. [Tom Caldwell]

The Cultural Logic of Computation by David Golumbia

Harvard University Press, May 2009

Humans are analog creatures! Maybe that’s not such a controversial assertion to Front Table readers, but in too many quarters a kind of computationalism holds hegemonic sway. After working for ten years as a software designer, David Golumbia came to doubt the claims being made about our bright digital future. Stepping outside the “pro-computer/anti-computer” paradigm, where “you’re a luddite”/”no I’m not” passes for discourse, Golumbia challenges the notion that computers are different from previous technologies in some fundamental way. He doubts that they have the power to solve our social problems that is sometimes attributed to them. In fact, he notes that computation has been part of the repressive administrative apparatus used by regimes around the world long before the machines we call computers came to be. He doesn’t deny the many wonderful things they can do for us, but he sees computational ideology too often aiding the side of repression and hierarchy, not on the side of democracy. Golumbia’s is a smart, clever, synthetic approach that engages analytic philosophers like Rorty and Putnam, as well as thinkers in linguistics, computer science, and cultural studies. [John Eklund]

Camps: A Guide to 21st-Century Space by Charlie Hailey

The MIT Press, May 2009

When I was a bookseller, I remember being drawn to a certain combination of surprising subject matter and physical book design, and this was an area in which the MIT Press excelled. From Manhole Covers to The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox, many of these books (I’ve since learned) reflected the editorial panache of Roger Conover, who just celebrated his 30th year (and 800th title!) at the press. This season, a book that definitely fits this elusive desirable object status is Camps, a quirky user’s manual to a quintessentially 21st century space. The book is a mash-up of camp forms that we often don’t think of as elements of the same genre: summer camps, torture camps, refugee camps, sports camps, tourist camps, nudist camps. This is architecture theory with an activist, political bent. And the fantastic book design, suggesting a very hip Boy Scout manual, makes it a must-have for every book arts junkie. It’s a great testament to the resilience of the physical print book, as it’s hard to imagine anything digital achieving this effect. [John Eklund]

Chicago 1890: The Skyscraper and the Modern City by Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

University of Chicago Press, May 2009

Signs and banners have appeared on State Street; long-awaited pavilions are about to arise in Millennium Park; lectures and events have been planned across the region. The 100th anniversary celebration of Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago is in full swing. And Joanna Merwood-Salisbury has done her part to make sure that, in the midst of all this excitement, we don’t forget Burnham’s taller accomplishments. An ambitious reinterpretation of the buildings of Burnham, his partner John Wellborn Root, and Louis Sullivan, Chicago 1890 volume uses their towering achievements as a lens through which to view late nineteenth-century urban history. By situating the Masonic Temple, the Monadnock Building, and the Reliance Building at the center of the city’s cultural and political crosscurrents, it sheds new light on many of Chicago’s defining events—including the violent building trade strikes of the 1880s, the Haymarket bombing, the World’s Columbian Exposition, and, of course, the Plan of Chicago. [Megan Marz]

Savages & Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America’s Road to Empire through Indian Territory by Paul VanDevelder

Yale University Press, May 2009

Here is a profound dismantling of the whole mythical edifice surrounding the westward expansion that shaped the republic. VanDevelder identifies our historical amnesia about federal Indian policy as a profound moral crisis that needs to be confronted, and after reading his book, it’s hard to argue with him. He’s spent a lifetime exposing some of the ruthless conduct that continued well into the 20th century, and his previous book, Coyote Warrior, really had an impact. Some have called Savages & Scoundrels a Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for the 21st century, and it’s an apt comparison. With the 1851 Treaty at Horse Creek as Exhibit A, VanDevelder unpacks the consequences of this broken treaty. It’s a shocking and passionate book, but one anchored in impeccable scholarship. [John Eklund]

Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois & Jeff Schonberg

University of California Press, May 2009

Have you ever said to yourself “I’m glad I’m not a Junkie”? Or “I’m glad I’m not homeless”? Or both? Have you ever been curious about those who are? If so, this book is for you. Righteous Dopefiend is an ethnographic look at those who live on the fringes of our society and struggle with many of the same issues we all do but their world is far more complex and difficult that ours will ever be. The authors followed a social network of two dozen heroin injectors and crack smokers on the streets of San Francisco, accompanying them as they scrambled to generate income through burglary, panhandling, recycling, and day labor. Woven throughout the text are stunning, harrowing, and at times, repulsive photos of these people showing in vivid detail the lives they lead. A heart-wrenching look at a side of our world we never hope to see. It’s like watching a train wreck! [Tom Caldwell]

Localist Movements in a Global Economy: Sustainability, Justice, and Urban Development in the United States by David J. Hess

The MIT Press, May 2009

From the ubiquitous “buy local” campaigns, to the spread of local business associations, to the growing popularity of urban agriculture, sustainability and localism have become mass phenomena. David Hess has produced the first academic study of this movement in all its facets, including retail, food, transportation, energy and media. This is a state-of-the-movement snapshot, but it’s also a subtly stated argument. He’s not just a cheer-leader for localism. He thinks there’s great potential for the movement to have an impact on global issues of social justice, but for this to happen, the independent sector of the economy needs to team up more effectively with other movements. This book could have been sub-titled “beyond nostalgia,” because he really gets beyond the fascination with localism as a way of simply re-creating Mayberry. There have been shelves-full of books published recently on all things green, but this one makes a uniquely scholarly contribution. [John Eklund]

Plato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues by Catherine H. Zuckert

University of Chicago Press, June 2009

In her Acknowledgments for Plato’s Philosophers, Catherine Zuckert recalls a comment one of her colleagues made at a recent conference: “No one takes twelve years to write a book anymore.” Zuckert brings this up, of course, because she did precisely that, and the 888-page result is as magnificent as it is long. As G. R. F. Ferrari says, “a scholar who ventures to interpret the entire corpus of Platonic dialogues by arranging them in the order of their dramatic dates had better be rigorous, through, and resourceful, and had better have pondered the dialogues long and deeply. Catherine Zuckert more than qualifies on all counts.” We couldn’t have put it more precisely. [Megan Marz]

Bite the Hand That Feeds You: Essays & Provocations by Henry Fairlie; edited by Jeremy McCarter and with a foreword by Leon Wieseltier

Yale University Press, June 2009

Henry Fairlie, who died in 1990, was one of the 20th century’s greatest political critics, and this collection of some of his best and most fearless journalism brings him back into the public square at long last. A British journalist who began his career on Fleet Street, he was once known for coining the term “the establishment.” He emigrated to the US in the sixties, and his essays appeared regularly in The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post and Harper’s. He wrote a number of books about American politics and culture, and Gaddis Smith compared him to Edmund Burke. Caustic and controversial, he takes on everything from Winston Churchill to bathtubs, George Will’s books, and comparative British and American morals. The essays are a treat, and are dated only in the best sense of the word. [John Eklund]

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

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