Back before the FBI was accused of throwing elections, it kept immense files on all sorts of American citizens. Many of these suspicious characters worked as public intellectuals, a class of people regarded in some circles as, by definition, subversive.

John Rodden cuts this tall tale down to its authentic pint size, refusing to indulge the public relations myth promoted by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. In Of G-Men and Eggheads, Rodden portrays federal agents’ hilarious obsession with monitoring that ever-present threat to national security, the American literary intellectual. Drawing on government dossiers and archives, Rodden focuses on the onetime members of a radical political sect of ex-Trotskyists (barely numbering a thousand at its height), the so-called New York intellectuals. He describes the nonsensical decades-long pursuit of this group of intellectuals, especially Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, and Irving Howe. The Keystone Cops style of numerous FBI agents is documented carefully in Rodden’s meticulous case studies of how Hoover’s men recruited informants to snoop on the “Commies,” opened their personal mail, tracked their movements, and reported on their wives and friends.

In a rich and stimulating epilogue, Rodden shows how his Cold War research possesses thought-provoking implications for us today, in our post-9/11 era of debates about data collection, privacy invasion, personal dignity, and the use and abuse of government and corporate power.









Outsiders, in general, consider January off-season for golf in the northern United States. The intemperate weather replaces the pond and sand trap with real hazards like frostbite and packs of ravening wolves.

The addicted golfer, however, believes that one only need a wide open space and visible flag to tee up. And if a mild snap clears patches of dead grass on a fairway, forget it, out come the clubs and the pants and the pocket edition of Bartlett’s Overly-Familiar Caddyshack Quotations. Anyone who lives near a golf course has wondered at the determination of people, almost always grown men, willing to delude themselves into believing they should go out for eighteen even when they have to put chains on the tires of the golf cart.

golfRichard J. Moss understands. His Golf and the American Country Club, however, ventures not into winter golf—a topic best suited for our Lunacy in American Life series—but into how a game created by skirted Scotsmen with anger management problems became the foundation of of an important American social institution.

Moss traces the evolution of country clubs from informal groups of golf-playing friends to “country estates” in the suburbs and eventually into public and private daily-fee courses, corporate country clubs, and gated golfing communities. The book shows how these developments reflect shifts in American values and attitudes toward health and sport, as well as changing social dynamics.

ammenMay Irwin reigned as America’s queen of comedy and song from the 1880s through the 1920s. A genuine pop culture phenomenon, Irwin conquered the legitimate stage, composed song lyrics, and parlayed her celebrity into success as a cookbook author, suffragette, and real estate mogul.

Sharon Ammen‘s in-depth study traces Irwin’s hurly-burly life. Irwin gained fame when, layering aspects of minstrelsy over ragtime, she popularized a racist “Negro song” genre. Ammen examines this forgotten music, the society it both reflected and entertained, and the ways white and black audiences received Irwin’s performances. She also delves into Irwin’s hands-on management of her image and career, revealing how Irwin carefully built a public persona as a nurturing housewife whose maternal skills and performing acumen reinforced one another. Irwin’s act, soaked in racist song and humor, built a fortune she never relinquished. Yet her career’s legacy led to a posthumous obscurity as the nation that once adored her evolved and changed.

A critical and historical biography, May Irwin offers an entrée to a troubling time through the life of one of its most vivid figures.

Excerpted from the new book The Red and the Black: American Film Noir in the 1950s, by Robert Miklitsch

D.O.A. begins at night with a tilt-down shot from the top of Los Angeles City Hall to a man, his back to us, walking into the frame. As the steeply slanted letters of the title flash up onto the screen, the man starts across the street, the camera tracking behind him as he walks down a long corridor, at the end of which a policeman engaged in conversation with another man jerks his finger to the right, pointing down yet another corridor. The camera continues to track behind the man until he comes to a door that reads “Homicide Division.”

miklitsch redAny number of things might be said about this opening sequence, but three will suffice. First, the sequence would not be nearly so dramatic without Dmitri Tiomkin’s music, which is “cleverly synchronized in mickey-mouse fashion with each move [Bigelow] makes.” Even though the underscore introduces what we will later recognize as the film’s ultraromantic motif, the martial air and ascending movement propel the film forward and upward, as if we’re on a musical escalator.

Second, although we do not see the man’s face nor know his name, the forward tracking shots, as in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, facilitate our identification with his character.

Continue reading

A roundup of recent media activity by Press authors:

Michael J. Socolow , author of Six Minutes in Berlin, contributed to an in-depth Only a Game piece on pioneering sportswriter Ted Husing and his secret effort at helping a Jewish family escape Nazi Germany in 1936-37.

Last week’s Inside Higher Education featured a Q&A with Dennis Deslippe, Eric Fure-Slocum, and John McKerley, the coeditors of Civic Labors: Scholar Activism and Working-Class Studies.

Finally, Mark A. Lause and Chad Pearson took a long and sobering look at the statement “Historians for Obama,” issued in April of 2008, and how the Obama Administration dealt with the issues raised in the document. Lause’s most recent UIP book is Free Spirits: Spiritualism, Republicanism, and Radicalism in the Civil War Era. Pearson coedited the forthcoming Against Labor: How U.S. Employers Organized to Defeat Union Activism.

When people ask me about life in a circus, all I can think is that it must be drafty in those tents. Fortunately for all of us, longtime circus performer Tiny Kline (1891-1964) provided a somewhat more detailed look at big top life. Circus Queen and Tinker Bell tells the story of the Hungarian-born performer as she moved from the burlesque house to the circus and beyond.

While workklineing for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Kline became well known for her signature “slide for life” stunt, an “iron jaw” act in which she slid on a high wire—in the bonkers video above, she crosses Times Square—while dangling by her teeth from a trapeze bar. Kline renewed her spectacular acrobatics at the age of seventy when she played Tinker Bell in the “Fantasy in the Sky” fireworks show at Disneyland.

Extensively annotated by Janet M. Davis, this memoir documents twentieth-century changes in popular amusements while providing fresh insight into circus personalities such as John Ringling, acrobat Lillian Leitzel, and big cat trainer Mabel Stark, as well as mainstream entertainers like Florenz Ziegfeld, John Philip Sousa, and others. Kline also provides intimate details about the daily machinations at the circus, including fascinating accounts of its sexual politics, racial dynamics, risky work, and labor relations.

The publishing industry puts out thousands of academic books in a calendar year and Choice takes on the task of finding the performances at the apex of scholarship. Recognition as a Choice Academic Title marks a book as essential, not just within its narrow field, but as concerns the public at large. Indeed, the criteria used by the editors includes a book’s suitability and importance for undergraduate library collections.

In 2016, six University of Illinois Press made the Choice list. Interestingly, the six highlight the wide range of books published at the UIP book barn. The topics represented include biography, film, history, African American studies, sports, gender and sexuality studies, and communication. Our congratulations to the very deserving authors and editors and our thanks to Choice for their recognition.

beckDaisy Turner’s Kin: An African American Saga
by Jane C. Beck

A daughter of freed African American slaves, Daisy Turner became a living repository of history. The family narrative entrusted to her—”a well-polished artifact, an heirloom that had been carefully preserved”—began among the Yoruba in West Africa and continued with her own long lifetime.

In 1983, folklorist Jane Beck began to interview Turner, then one hundred years old and still relating four generations of oral history. Beck uses Turner’s storytelling to build the Turner family saga, using at its foundation the oft-repeated touchstone stories at the heart of their experiences: the abduction into slavery of Turner’s African ancestors; Daisy’s father learning to read; his return as a soldier to his former plantation to kill the overseer; Daisy’s childhood stand against racism; and her family’s life in Vermont. Beck weaves in historical research and offers a folklorist’s perspective on oral history and the hazards and uses of memory.

Continue reading

von hoffmanScorned since antiquity as low and animal, the sense of taste is celebrated today as an ally of joy, a source of adventure, and an arena for pursuing sophistication. The French exalted taste as an entrée to ecstasy, and revolutionized their cuisine and language to express this new way of engaging with the world.

Viktoria von Hoffmann explores four kinds of early modern texts—culinary, medical, religious, and philosophical—to follow taste’s ascent from the sinful to the beautiful. Combining food studies and sensory history, she takes readers on an odyssey that redefined a fundamental human experience. Scholars and cooks rediscovered a vast array of ways to prepare and present foods. Far-sailing fleets returned to Europe bursting with new vegetables, exotic fruits, and pungent spices. Hosts refined notions of hospitality in the home while philosophers pondered the body and its perceptions. As von Hoffmann shows, these labors produced a sea change in perception and thought, one that moved taste from the base realm of the tongue to the ethereal heights of aesthetics.

da costaScholars increasingly view the arts, creativity, and the creative economy as engines for regenerating global citizenship, renewing decayed local economies, and nurturing a new type of all-inclusive politics. Dia Da Costa delves into the global development, nationalist and leftist/progressive histories shaping these ideas with a critical ethnography of two activist performance groups in India: the Communist-affiliated Jana Natya Manch, and Budhan Theatre, a community-based group of the indigenous Chhara people.

As Da Costa shows, commodification, heritage, and management discussions inevitably creep into performance. Yet the ability of performance to undermine such subtle invasions make activist theater a crucial site for considering what counts as creativity in the cultural politics of creative economy. Da Costa explores the precarious lives, livelihoods, and ideologies at the intersection of heritage projects, planning discourse, and activist performance. By analyzing the creators, performers, and activists involved—individuals at the margins of creative economy as well as society—Da Costa builds a provocative argument. Their creative economy practices may survive, challenge, and even reinforce the economies of death, displacement, and divisiveness used by the urban poor to survive.

Excerpted from Jad Smith‘s book Alfred Bester, the latest volume in the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series.

After Boucher accepted “Fondly Fahrenheit,” Bester revealed his particular investment in the story, saying: “My heart really was in that experiment”; and later in his career, he selected it for Harry Harrison’s Author’s Choice anthology series, including an unusually detailed account of his writing process.

smith besterThe story originated when he recorded the Twain anecdote in his commonplace book alongside a note to extrapolate the situation into an android-slave society. Though he thought about this entry occasionally, it remained there for “years” before he once again gave it “serious attention,” outlining several scenes unsuccessfully and then leaving the matter to stew in his “unconscious.” Several months later he looked back over his notes and realized that the android was the equivalent of a murderous robot. He had not considered what would cause it to circumvent its conditioning, and he pulled a note from elsewhere in his commonplace book concerning spikes in the crime rate during heat waves. He went back and changed the settings to match the “temperature gimmick” but felt that the story still lacked suspense and put it aside again until “much later.” Though Bester does not mention as much in his account, he probably started thinking about the story idea again in September 1953. A lighthearted note preceding his outline of “5,271,009” reads:

Since I suffer from synesthesia . . . and am deluded into believing that I am a jellied eel whenever the temperature rises above 78°, I have not been able to think until our heat spell broke. Now the temperature is 73°, and in that range I suffer from the delusion that I am a writer.

Continue reading