In recent history 4 governors and 33 Chicago aldermen have been jailed in Illinois.

No wonder the authors of Corrupt Illinois, Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality make the dire claims as they recently did on Chicago’s WTTW-TV.

“Chicago is the most corrupt city in the nation,” author Dick Simpson told host Carol Marin on Chicago Tonight. “Every time we convict someone for corruption it’s a good idea. But that just takes care of the rotten apple. We have a rotten apple barrel.”

The authors decry the culture of corruption and offer solutions in Corrupt Illinois. The book offers a history of criminality that extends south of I-80 as well.

It is not all #1 Chicago, however dragging the state down. “Illinois is only the third most corrupt state in the nation,” Simpson says. “It’s not a good position. We should be ashamed at being number three in the nation in corruption.”

Read an excerpt of Corrupt Illinois here.

cattonNot long ago we received word that William R. Catton, Jr. passed away in January.

Catton, known for his influential ecological book Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, was eighty-eight years old.

The Rev. Michael Dowd at the Huffington Post collected tributes to Catton and links to blog posts and articles celebrating Catton’s far-seeing—indeed paradigm-altering—work and thought. As Richard Heinberg said, Overshoot “calls into question the very foundations of industrial civilization in a more radical fashion than Das Kapital.”

Alan Weisman of The World Without Us fame told Dowd: “William Catton was prescient enough to see what was coming from a long way off, and responsible enough to spend his life warning us. Peace on his soul, and heaven help our own.”

Polite and calm, but never a shrinking violet, Catton spent decades forcefully arguing for his ecological beliefs. A 2008 interview archived by YouTube offers a representative sample of the man and his theses, and his book remains available.

Keepers of the FlameWithout Ed Sabol, the Dallas Cowboys might not be known as “America’s Team” and those goofy sports bloopers would not be a staple of rainy weekends.

More importantly, the way Americans remember and watch the NFL might be totally different. With imaginative language and gripping narratives, NFL Films created the modern image of professional football and bolstered the drama of the gridiron.

Sabol, who founded NFL Films, passed away this week at age 98.

In Travis Vogan’s Keepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media, the author writes how Sabol’s influential documentary career started:

The story begins with Ed Sabol—an outsized personality who wore loud suits and boasted the fittingly conspicuous nickname Big Ed. Sabol had long maintained a fascination with the connections between sport and drama. . . . Though the handsome, charismatic, and fast-talking Big Ed was an excellent salesperson, he loathed his job—an experience he likened to “going to see the dentist every day.” One of his favorite hobbies during his fulfilling working life was making home movies and amateur films with an 8mm windup Bell & Howell camera he and his wife received as a wedding present.

Son Steve’s football games were the favorite subject of Ed Sabol’s hobby film making. After 5 years Sabol turned his hobby into a career by founding an independent production company.

The company bid on an contract to make documentaries for the NFL and the rest, as depicted in Keepers of the Flame, is history. The dramatic storytelling of NFL Films built a mythology around the game that influenced all of sports.

Ed Sabol was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

Yesterday, a wondrous headline lit up the Internet:

Diaper-Wearing Service Kangaroo Kicked Out of Wisconsin McDonald’s

You know who else liked kangaroos? P.T. Barnum. You know who publishes his every-word-guaranteed-to-be-true* autobiography? The University of Illinois Press. Without a doubt the Greatest Book on Earth, The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself, was a pioneer of that most American of genres, the tell-all celebrity biography. The UIP version reprints P.T.’s original 1855 fib fest in its brazen, confessional, and immensely entertaining entirety.

barnum kangarooOne of the surprises of Barnum’s life story is that some of his profit-making escapades enjoyed a certain respectability. New York newspapers, for example, celebrated the educational benefits of his famed American Museum, and indeed it held a natural history collection that, besides being more or less legitimate, was among the largest in the country. Its wonders included live curiosities from the animal kingdom—alligators, anacondas, a platypus, a kangaroo, and many other creatures. On July 13, 1865, a fire swept the premises. Though firefighters reportedly broke open the water tanks holding captive whales (!), the American Museum burned down. The kangaroo did not survive.

* Not legally binding.

For the month of February 2015, to coincide with Black History Month, we have lowered the e-book list price of four titles in the University of Illinois Press catalog to $2.99.

Cover for LaRoche: Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance. Click for larger imageFree Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche
In this enlightening study, Cheryl Janifer LaRoche employs the tools of archaeology to uncover a new historical perspective on the Underground Railroad. Unlike previous histories of the Underground Railroad, which have focused on frightened fugitive slaves and their benevolent abolitionist accomplices, LaRoche focuses instead on free African American communities, the crucial help they provided to individuals fleeing slavery, and the terrain where those flights to freedom occurred. This study foregrounds several small, rural hamlets on the treacherous southern edge of the free North. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for Hendricks: Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race. Click for larger imageFannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race by Wanda A. Hendricks
Born shortly before the Civil War, activist and reformer Fannie Barrier Williams (1855–1944) became one of the most prominent educated African American women of her generation. In this first biography of Williams, Wanda A. Hendricks focuses on the critical role geography and social position played in Williams’s life, illustrating how the reform activism of Williams and other black women was bound up with place and space. By highlighting how Williams experienced a set of freedoms in the North that were not imaginable in the South, this biography expands how we understand intellectual possibilities, economic success, and social mobility in post-Reconstruction America. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for Foley: Jean Toomer: Race, Repression, and Revolution. Click for larger imageJean Toomer: Race, Repression, and Revolution by Barbara Foley
The 1923 publication of Cane established Jean Toomer as a modernist master and one of the key literary figures of the emerging Harlem Renaissance. Though critics and biographers alike have praised his artistic experimentation and unflinching eyewitness portraits of Jim Crow violence, few seem to recognize how much Toomer’s interest in class struggle, catalyzed by the Russian Revolution and the post–World War One radical upsurge, situate his masterwork in its immediate historical context. In Jean Toomer, Barbara Foley explores Toomer’s political and intellectual connections with socialism, the New Negro movement, and the project of Young America. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

Cover for tracy: Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance. Click for larger imageWriters of the Black Chicago Renaissance
Edited by Steven C. Tracy
Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance comprehensively explores the contours and content of the Black Chicago Renaissance, a creative movement that emerged from the crucible of rigid segregation in Chicago’s “Black Belt” from the 1930s through the 1960s. Heavily influenced by the Harlem Renaissance and the Chicago Renaissance of white writers, its participants were invested in political activism and social change as much as literature, art, and aesthetics. The revolutionary writing of this era produced some of the first great accolades for African American literature and set up much of the important writing that came to fruition in the Black Arts Movement. Buy the Kindle version here. Buy the Kobo version here. Buy the Google Play version here. Buy the Nook version here.

DowF14In 1970, the big three television networks of ABC, CBS and NBC took notice of the feminist movement. The stories on TV news ranged from a patronizing dismissal of feminists to balanced reports on child care needs and employment discrimination.

“Television news both hurt and helped the feminist movement,” says Bonnie J. Dow, author of Watching Women’s Liberation, 1970.

In the book Dow uses case studies of key media events to delve into the reasons that 1970 was a pivotal year for feminism on the network news. Feminist activists gained broadcast attention as the networks were eager for the story. Some activists were more successful utilizing the media attention than others. Dow chronicles the conditions that precipitated feminism’s new visibility and analyzes the verbal and visual strategies of broadcast news discourses that tried to make sense of the movement.

linklaterLike a lot of Hollywood stars on awards night, we’re a little late to the Golden Globes party. But the subjects of titles in UIP’s Contemporary Film Directors series filled in admirably for us by picking up awards at the annual shindig. David T. Johnson reveals the method behind the genre-hopping madness of Richard Linklater, a Golden Globe winner for Boyhood, in his book of the same name. First coming to notice with Slacker and Dazed and Confused, Linklater has maintained a sense of integrity while working with all levels of budget and subject matter that ranges from Fast Food Nation to School of Rock.

inarrituThe Birdman awards juggernaut included screenwriter Alejandro González Iñárritu. Celestino Deleyto and Maria del Mar Azcona delve into Iñárritu’s landmark directorial efforts, including 21 Grams and Amores perros, in the CFD book Alejandro González Iñárritu, a rare English-language consideration of the Mexican auteur.

WadeS15_144Stephen Wade, author of The Beautiful Music All Around Us, opened up his residency at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s  Stackner Cabaret on Sunday, January 18. There, the author/musician will spend the better part of the next eight weeks introducing audiences to the astonishing music and stories he unearthed for his award-winning University of Illinois Press book.

As always, Stephen is a tireless advocate for the music. The Kathleen Dunn Show on Milwaukee Public Radio brought him into the studio to discuss his work, the show, and the stories behind the songs. Click here to listen to the entire segment.

Lake Effect, the local affairs magazine on WUWM, had Stephen into the studio to play live.

For the visually minded, hosts Molly Fay and Tiffany Ogle interview Stephen on the daytime TV show The Morning Blend.

The reviews, meanwhile, are in, and glowing. Broadway World:

On the Stackner’s intimate stage, the award-winning Wade breathes life into these musician’s stories—their personalities, their lyrics and melodies such as “Shortenin’ Bread” or “Tom Dooley,” even the first lilting measures of Aaron Copland’s famous opera “Rodeo.” Photographs projected on a screen behind Wade illuminate these private histories while Wade embellishes their unknown names with the facts and myths surrounding their lives.

An accomplished and life-long banjo player, Wade picks and stomps through the notes and melodies woven into the audience’s memories. Strains of familiar tunes resonate in the Cabaret while merged with Wade’s enthusiasm and his exceptional banjos to elevate these street musicians to their rightful place in musical history.

The Journal-Sentinel:

“It’s a world of sound,” Wade sighed, that “can bark down low and up high sounds like bells.” “It goes from a harpsichord to a talking drum. It’s like a Model T in syncopated rhythm…. It’s like a watercolor, full of happy accidents. And it’s hard to tune. It’s a musical mule.”

It’s a glorious description that’s also true to how Wade thinks about both music and life, in which everything becomes a metaphor for something else—forging connections between the sounds we make and the beautiful music all around us.

Express Milwaukee:

Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s The Beautiful Music All Around Us is a journey through the American South’s musical history led by Grammy-nominee Stephen Wade, who combines the intellectual excitement of a dedicated scholar with the unabashed emotional expressivity of a folk demigod. The show is drawn from his award-winning book of the same title and is a compilation of live banjo and guitar performance, spoken word and projected historic photographs. These elements combine to create a window into the lives of Americans whose names are not well known but whose contributions are staggering.

Going north? “The Beautiful Music All Around Us” continues through March 15 at the Stackner Cabaret, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, WI. For tickets, visit or call (414) 224-9490.

FaithF14Thomas I. Faith is a historian at the U.S. Department of State. He answered some questions about his book Behind the Gas Mask: The U.S. Chemical Warfare Service in War and Peace.

Q: When was poison gas first utilized as method of warfare? Which country was the first to adopt it?

Thomas Faith: At the outset of World War I, France, Britain, and Germany began to investigate the use of various types of chemical weapons. The French army used tear gas grenades in battle against the Germans in August 1914, but in such small quantities that their German opponents failed to notice. In October the Germans fired artillery shells filled with a chemical irritant at the British near Neuve-Chapelle, and in January 1915 the Germans launched an assault against the Russians on the eastern front using eighteen thousand tear gas shells, but in both cases the weapons failed to have any effect. The first successful use of poison gas in World War I came when German Pioneer Regiment 35, under the direction of chemist Fritz Haber, released a lethal cloud of chlorine gas from storage cylinders at Ypres on April 22, 1915—routing and killing the British, Canadian, French, and Algerian soldiers positioned there.

Q: What was the public view of chemical weapons in the United States after World War I? How did this effect military policy on these weapons in future conflicts?

Faith: The immediate experience of chemical warfare during the First World War resulted in a wide diversity of views about chemical weapons. Most in the United States were aware that chemical weapons had caused soldiers a great deal of suffering and were responsible for a large proportion of casualties. Policy makers worked to reduce the potential for future chemical warfare by marginalizing chemical weapons development in military policy, and seeking methods of restricting gas warfare internationally. Those who believed that chemical weapons were nonetheless critical to national security, however, worked to ensure that the military remained prepared for chemical warfare despite opposition. Poison gas policies in the United States were ultimately shaped by these competing interests. Continue reading

Initially published soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., David Levering Lewis’s King: A Biography was acclaimed by historians as a foundational work on the life of the civil rights icon.

In 2013 the University of Illinois Press published an updated Third Edition of the biography. Lewis wrote in the preface:

A half century beyond the March on Washington. . . . history should oblige Americans to pause to make an informed appreciation if the soaring democratic vision Martin Luther King shared with his nation that day in 1963. After fifty years of rote evocation of those lapidary phrases broadcast from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. it should not be too much to hope that something of the economics of empowerment implicit in “I Have A Dream” is heard above the thunder of ceremonial applause—that, as King charged, the Negro had been dealt a check “that came back ‘marked insufficient funds.’” If the deposit funds are still insufficient fifty years after the March on Washington and the Dream dreamt that long day, there are positive things to be said, nevertheless, about how far the nation has come. . . . More of us have also come to realize that the extreme inequalities under capitalism are ordained neither by God nor birth. For that wisdom we owe an incommensurable debt to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fifty years after the path-breaking events of King’s crusade Lewis reflected on moments such as the letter from Birmingham jail, which the biographer describes as a “milestone. . . . in the republic’s growth.”

The personal and professional life of Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to be told in books or films like 2014′s Selma.

As King was both canonized and reinvented with new depictions of his life, Lewis wrote “with each January 15 commemoration of his birth , Martin Luther King recedes deeper into the mists of his mountain top.” The fear Lewis voiced was that King would become “a man for all reasons, an elastic fetish as potent for one cause as for another.”

With civil rights issues on the front page of newspapers well into the 21st century, there is little chance that King’s life and legacy can be obscured by the mist.