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Book Beat

‘The Colonel’ Was Writing to Unger

April 28, 2011 | Book Beat, City College, CUNY Lecture Series

Many artists have a source of inspiration that forever holds a place in their heart, and for Guatemalan-born David Unger it is Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his book, “No One Writes to the Colonel.” “That book forged my identity as a Latin American native and writer,” says Unger, who, through a shared language and culture, felt a kinship with Marquez. Today, Unger, who teaches translation at City College’s MFA program, is the author of four books, including his latest novel, “The Prince of Escape.” As part of the City College Center for Worker Education Book Talk Lecture Series: Writers on Writing, Unger reads from his work and talks about his brief encounter with Marquez as a graduate student at Columbia University.
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New York in Turmoil: The Draft Riots

March 31, 2011 | Book Beat, City College, CUNY Lecture Series

The draft riots in New York City, which took place during the summer of 1863, remain to this day the worst civil disturbance in American history. In his 2002 book, “Paradise Alley,” Kevin Baker used the chaotic event as a backdrop for the critically acclaimed historical novel. “This really was more of a revolution than a riot, as one observer noted, it was a pitched battle.” At a Book Talk Lecture Series: Writers on Writing, sponsored by City College’s Center for Worker Education, Baker describes the mob of mostly poor, Irish Catholics, as overcome with anger at the Protestants who had exploited them and with resentment toward African Americans for being forced to fight for their freedom by the newly enforced Civil War draft. What happened during the riots was horrific, says Baker, including “killing, raping and looting.”

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‘Everything Was Gone’

March 10, 2011 | Book Beat, Queens College

A year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, Nicole Cooley saw the scale of destruction for the first time, as she drove from Florida to her hometown of New Orleans to visit her parents. “Everything was gone,” says Cooley, a professor of English at Queens College, recalling the ride with her husband and two daughters along Highway 90. “It was as if someone had erased all of the towns — from Mississippi to New Orleans.” Cooley, a poet and founding director of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at the college, was so affected by what she witnessed, she devoted her next book of poems, “Breach,” (April 2010), to the tragedy and its aftermath. “I had to spend the next year working on this book about Katrina.”
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If There Are Humans, There Will Be Eavesdropping

November 2, 2010 | Book Beat, Lehman College

Eavesdropping is a vital part of human communication, says John Locke, professor of linguistics at Lehman College and language sciences at the Graduate Center. “It’s essential,” Locke says, it’s one of the ways humans gather needed information. “You can tell people not to — but they’ll do it anyway.” In his new book, “Eavesdropping: An Intimate History,” Locke draws on documentation of the practice from centuries ago right up to today’s world of Facebook and YouTube. But Locke does have some fears about the ocean of personal postings in cyberspace. “I worry about those who could be seriously damaged in the future. All of us need to be on guard if we donate information about ourselves in the form of words or visual images that the recipient will respect that material.”

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Inside the World of Human Guinea Pigs

October 6, 2010 | Book Beat, Graduate Center

Since 1980, when Phase 1 drug tests were banned in the United States, the pharmaceutical industry has relied on medical volunteers to participate in safety trials of new drugs. In his recently published book, “The Professional Guinea Pig: Big Pharma and the Risky World of Human Subjects,” Robert Abadie, an anthropologist and a visiting scholar in the health sciences program at the Graduate Center, examines this subculture of paid “volunteers.” “Most of these guys have 50 to 100 trials over the course of five to ten years,” says Abadie, who spent 18 months living among some of them in youth hostels and group houses in Philadelphia. “My worry is that 20 to 30 years from now these drugs, which are toxic, may interact with each other to create serious health problems.”
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Warm and Fuzzy Science (and other nonsense)

August 11, 2010 | Book Beat, Lehman College, Newsmakers

Intelligent design, global warming, and UFOs–what distinguishes science from pseudoscience? Massimo Pigliucci, chair of the philosophy department at Lehman College, tackles that question and raises some more in his recently published book, “Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk.” There’s no problem “if you open your horoscope and just read it for fun,” explains Pigliucci, “on the other hand, if you plan your financial investments based on what your horoscope tells you, you’re likely to run into trouble.” In an interview, Pigliucci, who previously taught evolutionary biology at SUNY at Stony Brook, also discusses the difference between “hard” sciences, like physics and chemistry, and “soft,” including sociology and anthropology, and how they both shape our world.
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National Book Award Winner Colum McCann

December 16, 2009 | Book Beat, Newsmakers

“I’m bursting with joy and pride — and a certain amount of terror, to be honest,” said Colum McCann on winning the 2009 National Book Award for fiction, now in its 60th year. “But one must go on to the next book, and that, sometimes, is the more difficult.” McCann’s bold novel, “Let the Great World Spin,” which uses Philippe Petit’s famous high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 as a prism to examine the story’s main characters, took home the top prize on Nov. 18. Author of two short-story collections and five previous novels including bestsellers “Dancer” and “Zoli,” McCann has taught in Hunter College’s MFA Creative Writing program for nearly five years. At his office, he discussed his teaching approach and how his love for American literature began early in Ireland. “My father was a literary editor for a newspaper in Dublin and he would come home with books by Steinbeck and Faulkner. I remember holding them in my hands.”
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Religious Wars and Peace

November 17, 2009 | Book Beat

Like others who felt compelled to make something good out of so much evil, Paul Moses turned to religious history after 9/11 as he struggled to make sense of the senseless. As a reporter for Newsday, Moses wrote the main story on that horrific day. Not long after, he read a story about Saint Francis of Assisi that would become the kernel of a book. Eight years later, “The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and St. Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace,” captures a meeting between St. Francis, who crossed enemy lines to gain an audience with Malik al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt, in 1219. “If, in the middle of a Crusade, Francis and the sultan can speak to each other with great respect, than we, today, should be able to sit down and talk to each other, as Christians and Muslims,” said Moses, now a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College. In a discussion about his book, Prof. Moses draws lessons from the past and sees a future where dialogue can triumph over war.
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The Power of Music in War

September 14, 2009 | Book Beat, City College, Newsmakers

For his new book “Sound Targets: American Soldiers and Music in the Iraq War,” Jonathan Pieslak, an associate professor of music at City College, interviewed soldiers who have served in Iraq to learn about the roles music they compose, write, and listen to, play in the war and in American military culture. “Some soldiers speak about how music puts them in a predatory mindset,” said Prof. Pieslak, who analyzed some of the troops’ original lyrics and explored the impact of certain musical genres, including heavy metal and rap, in contemporary military recruiting campaigns and in combat.
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Lincoln, Believer in Freedom and the Written Word

March 10, 2009 | Book Beat, Graduate Center, Queens College

If Mark Twain was the Abraham Lincoln of American literature, then Lincoln was the Twain of American politics. So says Fred Kaplan, distinguished professor emeritus of English at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center, who has written biographies on both men. His new book, “Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer,” has been generating attention, in this bicentennial year of Lincoln’s birth. Just months before his inauguration, President Obama was photographed by the Associated Press holding a copy of the book. Prof. Kaplan discusses how he seized an unprecedented opportunity to “look into the origin and development of Lincoln’s genius with language, especially since I saw that no one else had done that before.”
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