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Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Review

Some believe progress is at odds with tradition, but Josef Pieper argues otherwise. In this essay collection, the eloquently simple-spoken German philosopher makes meaningful distinctions between tradition and social habits, tradition and knee-jerk conservatism. Learning can't proceed without memory and Pieper puts forward...
02.05.2009 | | Posted at 12:00 AM
By David Luhrssen
When they were introduced in the 1890s, motion pictures were a marvel in an age of marvels. Cities were being lit by electricity and crowned by skyscrapers, telephones carried distant voices and pictures began to move in a jerky semblance of real life. But with new technology came old controversy. One of the first movies shown publicly in New York, The May Irwin Kiss (1896), drew fire. Only 18...
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

(Little, Brown) by Joe Nick Patoski

Joe Nick Patoski draws a portrait of Willie Nelson based on 35 years of covering his subject. He does an especially good job with Nelson’s early years, describing the difficulty of breaking into the music scene. Unfortunately, as the book continues, it often reads as if the journalist has stitched together his various
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

(Simon & Schuster), by Peter Pringle

Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov wanted to feed the world, but died of starvation in the Soviet Gulag. British journalist Peter Pringle reconstructs Vavilov’s attempts to revolutionize agriculture by breeding hardier crops through plant genetics. Pringle paints the dapper, courageous Vavilov as a real-life Indiana Jones . . .
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ginsberg’s search for enlightenment

In 1961 Allen Ginsberg, who proclaimed just about everything to be holy in his seminal poem “Howl,” left America for India. What he brought back would become essential to American counterculture. Deborah Baker’s A Blue Hand: The Beats in India (Penguin) is exceptionally detailed regarding what happened and what did not. In the tradition of the Beats, if something did not happen, it still did. In Blue Hand, Baker found a rare path to biography, paying close attention to Ginsberg’s 15-month quest for enlightenment in India, using what might have been his own way of writing the book, had he done so. Blue Hand is a well-researched, elegant biography written in Ginsberg’s tradition of an open field of composition, where everything counts as long as it can be accounted for in one sitting and with no revision.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Roxy Music’s serious fun

Roxy Music was too slippery and evasive to comfortably fit into any of the usual niches of their time or ours. They flirted with glam and skirted art rock without fully committing themselves to the conventions of either. They were avant-garde and pop. The voice of Bryan Ferry was at once ironic and romantic. American audiences were baffled, at least until a touch of Roxy seeped into the mainstream through their influence on The Cars and other new wave acts...
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Yorker critic shares his vision

A decade ago The New Yorker magazine hired Peter Schjeldahl as their visual art critic. What a coup for a chap who spent his early years in the small towns of Minnesota and South Dakota, dropped out of college and existed on the ragged edge while writing five books of poetry between 1967 and 1981. He’s taught at Harvard and received a Guggenheim fellowship. Come fall, he’ll add the 2008 Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing.
Monday, May 26, 2008

The women behind the rise of America

More than two centuries after the birth of America, our nation’s founders still transfix us, says broadcaster and author Cokie Roberts. “They are so much part of our fabric as a people that I was dying to know more about them,” says Roberts, who was named one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting by the American Women in Radio and Television. The results are found in Ladies of Liberty (Morrow), the follow-up to Roberts’ best-selling book, Founding Mothers (2004), in which she examines the lives and times of some of the women who helped shape America. The author says that even though women were central to the survival of the country, female contributions have been overshadowed by the Founding Fathers.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

by Sherry Strub

From North Avenue to the South Side, from Shorewood to Brookfield, the Milwaukee area has ghosts—or so says Sherry Strub in Milwaukee Ghosts. Strub takes the reader from place to place—homes, cemeteries, historic sites and even the hallowed Pfister Hotel—in a trek around the area. The interviews and stories are interesting, but they lack a sense of authority and spookiness. Accounts of people saying, “I had this

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