Mark Dery '82 critiques contemporary America, professor Peter Dreier honors 20th-century trailblazers, and Jim Tranquada & John King put the 'ukulele in context.
I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams, by Mark Dery ’82 (University of Minnesota Press; $24.95). “Intellectual freedom is unimaginable without the right to think the unthinkable,” writes cultural critic Dery in introducing this collection of drive-by critiques of contemporary America, where chaos is the new normal. (Sample essay: “Stardust Memories: How David Bowie Killed the ’60s and Ushered in the ’70s and, for One Brief Shining Moment, Made the Mullet Hip.”) Exploring the darkest corners of the national psyche and the nethermost regions of the self, he makes sense of the cultural dynamics of the American “madhouse” early in the 21st century. Dery, who lives in Nyack. N.Y., is writing a biography of Edward Gorey.
The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, by Peter Dreier (Nation Books; $19.99). A hundred years ago, any soapbox orator who called for women’s suffrage, laws protecting the environment, an end to lynching, or a federal minimum wage was considered a utopian dreamer or a dangerous socialist. Now we take these ideas for granted, because the radical ideas of one generation are often the common sense of the next. Dreier honors the trailblazers who challenged the status quo of their day and, in doing so, changed the course of history. From Bill Moyers and Billie Jean King to Louis Brandeis and Lewis Hine, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century celebrates well-known figures and unknown pioneers side by side. Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and director of the urban and environmental policy program at Occidental.
How Ethical Systems Change: Lynching and Capital Punishment, by Sheldon Ekland-Olson & Danielle Dirks (Routledge, $10). Slavery, lynching, and capital punishment were interwoven in the United States—and by the mid-20th century these connections gave rise to a small but well-focused reform movement. Biased and perfunctory procedures were replaced by prolonged trials and appeals, which some found messy and meaningless; DNA profiling clearly established innocent persons had been sentenced to death. The debate over taking life to protect life continues; this book is based on a popular undergraduate course taught at the University of Texas. Dirks is an assistant professor of sociology at Occidental.
The ‘Ukulele: A History, by Jim Tranquada & John King (University of Hawaii Press; $20.99). Since its introduction to Hawaii in 1879, the ‘ukulele has been many things, among them a symbol of an island paradise; a tool of political protest; an instrument central to a rich musical culture; a musical joke; a sought-after collectible; and a cheap airport souvenir. The ‘Ukulele: A History places the instrument for the first time in a broad historical, cultural, and musical context. Tranquada, director of communications for Occidental since 2000, is a great-great grandson of ‘ukulele pioneer Augusto Dias.
The State of Health: Illness in Nazi Germany, by Geoffrey Campbell Cocks ’70 (Oxford University Press, UK, $110). The experience and management of illness was a vital element of modern German society before, during, and after the 12 long years of the short Third Reich. Here, Cocks argues that the modern individual self, constantly suspended between health and illness, had more to do with constructing social reality in the Third Reich than either the fantasy or the fact of Nazi racial community. Cocks (The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, and the Holocaust, 2004) is also interviewed in Room 237, director Rodney Ascher’s “experimental documentary” on Kubrick’s film The Shining (1980). The film screened at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals and will be released theatrically by IFC Midnight this year.
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