Friday, July 30, 2010

Today in History: Jamestown, Virginia

SAVAGE KINGDOM by Benjamin WoolleyOn July 30, 1619, the first representative assembly in America convened in Jamestown, Virginia.

Students who want to know more about the settlement can turn to Benjamin Woolley’s Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America. Drawing on new discoveries, neglected sources, and manuscript collections scattered across the world, Savage Kingdom challenges the textbook image of Jamestown—revealing instead a reckless, daring enterprise led by outcasts of the Old World who found themselves interlopers in a new one.

And, for another look at this time period in America, Dr. Paula Gunn Allen offers a bold biography of Pochahontas that is a striking contrast to conventional accounts.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Don’t Know Much About Tocqueville In America

Democracy in America: Abridged Edition by Alexis de TocquevilleIf you’re like me, and don’t instantly recognize the name Alexis de Tocqueville, then Kenneth C. Davis’ Today in History” blog post should prove both fascinating and informative to you. The author of A Nation Rising and Don’t Know Much about History, Davis focuses on Tocqueville in commemoration of his birthday. A French magistrate who spent nine months in America, examining American democracy to understand how the American experience could help form the developing democratic spirit in France and the rest of Europe, Tocqueville studied aspects of American life ranging from our penal system to our three branches of government. His work culminated in the book Democracy in America which included his philosophical interpretations, interviews with Americans such as President Andrew Jackson as well as frontiersmen, and journalistic observations.

Want to know more about Tocqueville, his work, and his views on America? Check out either the
abridged or unabridged versions of Democracy in America. His startlingly accurate foresight on topics such as slavery and the treatment of Native Americans will surely capture the attention of students of American History and studiers of political science.

A New Spin on a Classic Masterpiece. ANNE FRANK: THE BOOK, THE LIFE, THE AFTERLIFE by Francine Prose

Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine ProseHow many of us have, at one point in our lives, been exposed to the wonderfully heartbreaking Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank? Whether originally discovered in a classroom or read out of personal interest, millions of people have followed along as a young girl detailed her experiences hiding from the Nazi Regime. The popularity of this memoir endures more than 60 years after its original publication, and students across the country will surely encounter it for the first time this year, just as I did almost ten years ago.

These students, like many of us, will finish the diary having been changed forever and craving more information that goes beyond the two years of entries. In her book Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, Francine Prose provides a perfect supplement for teachers to incorporate into whole class use or provide to students seeking further information. Like the rest of us, Prose was thirsty for more information about Frank and her diary. Unlike many of us, she worked to find it.

Through close reading, Prose analyzes the text and marvels at how skillful a writer Frank was at such a young age; she notes the seemingly natural narrative voice, grasp on writing dialogue, and creation of such memorable characters from everyday people. While still considering it a work of art and an incredibly influential historical artifact, Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife places the original text in a new category as a deliberately written piece of literature. By pointing out the fact that Anne Frank spent her last months in hiding furiously revising and editing the diary, Prose addresses what few of the diary’s readers know: this book was written in the hopes that the public would read it after the war. Students (current and former) are sure to be enthralled by this new analysis of such a timeless classic.

Another helpful supplement to Diary of a Young Girl, in addition to Prose’s text, is the recently released film adaptation by PBS, which also provided an incredibly detailed teaching guide as a resource for adoption into the classroom.

With the Frank’s original text, Prose’s groundbreaking analysis, and PBS’s impressive adaptation, a new generation of students will be moved by the story and the rest of us will gain the new insight we have been so craving.

If you would like to consider Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife for one of your classes, please order an examination copy. If you've already decided to require this book, please request a desk copy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Are You Windspired?

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND by William KamkwambaWilliam Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope has inspired countless individuals by demonstrating the power that one person has to change the world around them. The story centers around William, who was unable to attend school in his native Malawi, Africa; like many other families in the impoverished nation, William’s parents couldn’t afford the $80 annual tuition needed to attend school. Discovering a book about windmills, he set out to build one for his family to try and enhance their living conditions, if only slightly. What started out as his homemade windmill powering four light bulbs and two radios in his home while also supplying some power to William’s village quickly turned into an outpouring of support and praise. News of this 14-year-old and his “electric wind” spread quickly as William became (and remains) a symbol of ingenuity and inspiration in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

As this young man’s journey becomes more widely known his inspirational impact continues to grow. The message of determination and hope has led Kamkwamba to accolades ranging from a profile in the Wall Street Journal to an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Following this trend, California State University, Chico has named The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind its “Book-In-Common” and the University’s Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology has announced a photography competition inspired by the text.

Titled “Become Windspired,” the museum’s 26th annual National American Visions Juried Photograph Exhibition is looking for photographs that “harness the creative spirit in you, while telling the potent stories of wind in our world.” The entry form and more details about the competition can be found here. An anthropologist, a photographer/artist, and a community member will judge your image(s) during the exhibition, which will take place from September 29th – October 15th. Then the $500 Valene Smith Award for Excellence in Visual Anthropology, as well as three honorable mentions, will be announced.

If you would like to consider this book for one of your classes, please order an examination copy. If you've already decided to require this book, please request a desk copy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Life in Writing: William Zinsser's WRITING PLACES

Nobody has had a greater effect on writers, teachers, and editors in recent decades than William Zinsser, the author of the bestselling classic On Writing Well.

In his new book, Writing Places, Zinsser describes more than 50 years of writing and teaching in a series of unusual locations, starting with his first job at the legendary New York Herald Tribune and including freelance stints in lonely apartments; a decade as master of Branford College at Yale, where his office was under a carillon; and various quirky offices in New York, one of which had a firepole.

Each place taught him valuable lessons that shaped the influential writer and teacher he would become. Written with humor, elegance, and vividly remembered detail about the men and women who kept crossing his life, Writing Places will delight students who dream of writing their own distinctive story.

Gay Talese calls Writing Places, “Wonderful,” while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praises this unique memoir for possessing “all the qualities that Zinsser believes matter most in good writing—clarity, brevity, simplicity and humanity.”

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tell Me "Why?"

Why We FightWhy We Need LoveWhy Our Decisions Don't Matter

Edited by Simon Van Booy, author of Love Begins in Winter, the three volumes entitled Why We Fight, Why We Need Love, and Why Our Decisions Don't Matter offer gems of insight from across time on these subjects from the likes of William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, Vincent Van Gogh, Ludwig Wittgenstein, James Joyce, Anaïs Nin, Marc Chagall, Jack Kerouac, Emily Brontë, and Friedrich Nietzsche, along with deft commentary that help unlock the mysteries that have long confounded humanity.

Provocative and eye-opening, these books introduce students to age-old themes through memorable passages and rarely seen extracts that stimulate intellectual energies and grant a greater understanding of why we fight, why we need love, and why our decisions don’t matter.

If you would like to consider these books for one of your classes, please order an examination copy. If you've already decided to require these books, please request a desk copy.

THIS JUST IN: Check out the terrific review of Why Our Decisions Don't Matter in the form of a clever cartoon featured online now at The Rumpus.

Numb by Sean Ferrell

Early one morning‚ after a sandstorm had ripped through north Texas‚ I wandered into Mr. Tilly’s circus. I wore a black suit and blood ran down my face. When some of the carnies came up to me, I said, “I’m numb.” This became my name.

NUMB by Sean FerrellThat’s from the first chapter of the debut novel from Sean Ferrell. Numb is the endearing tale of a man with no memory or ability to feel pain, who attracts a colorful crowd of sycophants and exploiters while trying to come to terms with who he really is. Fans of the work of Richard Powers, Gary Shteyngart, and Thomas Pynchon—and the cinematic oeuvre of Charlie Kaufman—will love the unique and entertaining Numb.

You can find out more about Sean Ferrell here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Today in History: Perry Arrives in Japan

BREAKING OPEN JAPAN by George FeiferOn July 15, 1853, four warships of America’s East Asia Squadron arrived in Japan. After nearly a decade of intense planning, Commodore Matthew Perry had come to pry open Japan after her two and a half centuries of isolation. The spoils of the recent Mexican Spanish-American War had whetted a powerful American appetite for using her soaring wealth and power for commercial and political advantage.

For more, you can turn to George Feifer’s Breaking Open Japan.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Today in History: NYC's Draft Riots

Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don’t Know Much About History and A Nation Rising, gives you and your students the nuts-and-bolts of the four-day riots that began in New York City on July 13, 1863 in today’s post. The Draft Riots were a reaction to the Civil War draft law. The draft could be avoided by paying $300 or by hiring a substitute—giving rise to the phrase “a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.”

Students can get a feel for the New York City of the mid-19th century by reading Kevin Baker’s novel Paradise Alley. They’ll meet the runaway slaves and Irish immigrants who saught refuge in the slums of lower Manhattan. They’ll learn that $300 was “two years’ salary to an Irish hod-carrier from the Five Points.” And, they’ll be in the middle of those tumtultous four days that are still considered one of the most violent riots in American history.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How Soccer Explains the World - What Students Can Learn About Globalization from the World Cup

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer Though I’m not usually much of a sports fan, I have been keeping up with the World Cup this summer. Maybe it’s because I got the chance to visit my sister who was studying abroad in Seville earlier this year, maybe (probably) it’s for some of the reasons mentioned here, but I have really been looking forward to the championship game between Spain and the Netherlands this Sunday.

After the tournament is over, if you’re still looking for a soccer fix, or maybe even trying to understand the seemingly unprecedented interest your friends have taken in soccer, be sure to read a copy of Franklin Foer’s book, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. In it, Foer takes readers and students on a surprising tour through the world of soccer, shining a spotlight on the clash of civilizations, the international economy, and just about everything in between. In this book, soccer is the lens through which complex international relations are examined, making it a great introduction to globalization for students and sports fans of all ages.

Praise for How Soccer Explains the World:

"Foer’s skills as a narrator are enviable. His characterizations… are comparable to those in Norman Mailer's journalism." —The Boston Globe

“An eccentric, fascinating exposé of a world most of us know nothing about.” —The New York Times Book Review

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Simpsons Go to College (Yes, You Read That Correctly)

The Simpsons A Complete Guide to Our Favorite FamilyI love The Simpsons. My favorite character? Krusty the Clown. After 21 seasons on television The Simpsons are firmly embedded in pop culture history and here's the proof: a wonderfully clever syllabus for teaching The Simpsons at the university level (I dare you not to break out in a smile while reading the curriculum). And even better, our book, The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family, is the required course text. As Mr. Burns would say, "Excellent..."

July 11, 2010 Marks the 50th Anniversary of Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

July 11, 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s cherished American classic, To Kill A Mockingbird.

First published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird has won the Pulitzer Prize, been translated into more than 40 languages, sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and been made into an enormously popular movie. Most recently, librarians across the United States gave the book the highest of honors by voting it the best novel of the 20th century.

To Kill A Mockingbird is truly a testament to the enduring power of the written word, as it continues to move and inspire readers a half-century after publication.

If you would like to be a part of the 50th anniversary celebration, visit to post your thoughts about To Kill a Mockingbird and for teacher resources.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Maintaining Academic Integrity in the 21st Century

Cheating. It is the elephant in the room in regards to a classroom education and students, who are literally told from the time they enter the educational system as young children that cheating is wrong—yet they continue to cheat as young adults in the collegiate environment. Today's students seem to be particularly brazen with applying their high-tech tricks to deceptively obtain a passing grade, since the simple hands-on wizardry of the 21st century—the Internet, smartphones, digital cameras—leads to the easy temptation to cheat.

The New York Times has recently devoted a series of articles to the problem of cheating in education. How do you deal with cheating students at your school? Does your academic institution use software to spot plagiarism? What do you do when you catch a student cheat? Do you feel that an honor code against cheating is enforceable?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

O, Canada!

I flipped over my paper calendar to discover that today is Canada Day!

I'm a publishing geek so I'm always thinking about books and authors. Here's a list of Canadian authors that you can read in honor of Canada Day: Margaret Atwood, Saul Bellow, Douglas Coupland, Malcolm Lowry, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, and Carol Shields.