What We Are Reading Today: Valcour by Jack Kelly

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Updated 09 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Valcour by Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly’s Valcour is a wild and suspenseful story of one of the most crucial and least known campaigns of the Revolutionary War when America’s scrappy navy took on the full might of Britain’s sea power.

During the summer of 1776, a British incursion from Canada loomed. In response, citizen soldiers of the newly independent nation mounted a heroic defense. Patriots constructed a small fleet of gunboats on Lake Champlain in northern New York and confronted the Royal Navy in a desperate three-day battle near Valcour Island. 

Their effort surprised the arrogant British and forced the enemy to call off their invasion.

Valcour is a story of people. 

The northern campaign of 1776 was led by the underrated general Philip Schuyler (Hamilton’s father-in-law), the ambitious former British officer Horatio Gates, and the notorious Benedict Arnold. An experienced sea captain, Arnold devised a brilliant strategy that confounded his slow-witted opponents.


What We Are Reading Today: Making Peace with the 60s by David Burner

Updated 16 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Making Peace with the 60s by David Burner

David Burner’s panoramic history of the 1960s conveys the ferocity of debate and the testing of visionary hopes that still require us to make sense of the decade. He begins with the civil rights and black power movements and then turns to nuanced descriptions of Kennedy and the Cold War, the counterculture and its antecedents in the Beat Generation, the student rebellion, the poverty wars, and the liberals’ war in Vietnam.

As he considers each topic, Burner advances a provocative argument about how liberalism self-destructed in the 1960s. In his view, the civil rights movement took a wrong turn as it gradually came to emphasize the identity politics of race and ethnicity at the expense of the vastly more important politics of class and distribution of wealth.

The expansion of the Vietnam War did force radicals to confront the most terrible mistake of American liberalism, but that they also turned against the social goals of the New Deal was destructive to all concerned.

Liberals seemed to rule in politics and in the media, Burner points out, yet they failed to make adequate use of their power to advance the purposes that both liberalism and the left endorsed.


What We Are Reading Today: Stony the Road by Henry Louis Gates Jr

Updated 15 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Stony the Road by Henry Louis Gates Jr

Stony the Road by Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a profound new rendering of the struggle by African-Americans for equality after the Civil War and the violent counter-revolution that resubjugated them, as seen through the prism of the war of images and ideas that have left an enduring racist stain on the American mind.

The story Gates tells begins with great hope, with the Emancipation Proclamation, Union victory, and the liberation of nearly 4 million enslaved African-Americans. Until 1877, the federal government, goaded by the activism of Frederick Douglass and many others, tried at various turns to sustain their new rights. But the terror unleashed by white paramilitary groups in the former Confederacy, combined with deteriorating economic conditions and a loss of Northern will, restored home rule to the South. The retreat from Reconstruction was followed by one of the most violent periods in our history, with thousands of black people murdered or lynched and many more afflicted by the degrading impositions of Jim Crow segregation.


What We Are Reading Today: Camille Saint-Saens and His World by Edited by Jann Pasler

Updated 14 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Camille Saint-Saens and His World by Edited by Jann Pasler

Camille Saint-Saens—perhaps the foremost French musical figure of the late 19th century and a composer who wrote in nearly every musical genre, from opera and the symphony to film music — is now being rediscovered after a century of modernism overshadowed his earlier importance. 

In a wide-ranging and trenchant series of essays, articles, and documents, Camille Saint-Saens and His World deconstructs the multiple realities behind the man and his music. Topics range from intimate glimpses of the private and playful Saint-Saens, to the composer’s interest in astronomy and republican politics, his performances of Mozart and Rameau over eight decades, and his extensive travels around the world. This collection also analyzes the role he played in various musical societies and his complicated relationship with such composers as Liszt, Massenet, Wagner, and Ravel. Featuring the best contemporary scholarship on this crucial, formative period in French music, Camille Saint-Saëns and His World restores the composer to his vital role as innovator and curator of Western music.


What We Are Reading Today: Figures of the Future by Michael Rodriguez Muñiz

Updated 13 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Figures of the Future by Michael Rodriguez Muñiz

For years, newspaper headlines, partisan speeches, academic research, and even comedy routines have communicated that the US is undergoing a profound demographic transformation — one that will purportedly change the “face” of the country in a matter of decades. But the so-called browning of America, sociologist Michael Rodriguez-Muñiz contends, has less to do with the complexion of growing populations than with past and present struggles shaping how demographic trends are popularly imagined and experienced. Offering an original and timely window into these struggles, Figures of the Future explores the population politics of national Latino civil rights groups.

Based on eight years of ethnographic and qualitative research, spanning both the Obama and Trump administrations, this book investigates how several of the most prominent of these organizations—including UnidosUS (formerly NCLR), the League of United Latin American Citizens, and Voto Latino—have mobilized demographic data about the Latino population in dogged pursuit of political recognition and influence. 

In census promotions, get-out-the-vote campaigns, and policy advocacy, this knowledge has been infused with meaning, variously serving as future-oriented sources of inspiration, emblems for identification, and weapons for contestation. At the same time, Rodriguez-Muñiz considers why these political actors have struggled to translate this demographic growth into tangible political gain and how concerns about white backlash have affected how they forecast demographic futures.


What We Are Reading Today: The Drop by Thad Ziolkowski

Updated 12 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Drop by Thad Ziolkowski

In this revelatory and original book, award-winning author of the acclaimed surf memoir On a Wave illuminates the connection between waves, addiction, and recovery, exploring what surfing can teach us about the powerful undertow of addictive behaviors and the ways to swim free of them.

“Combining his own story with insights from scientists, progressive thinkers and the experiences of top surfers and addicts from around the world, Ziolkowski shows how getting on a board and catching a wave is a unique and deeply instructive means of riding out of the darkness and back into the light,” said a review on goodreads.com. 

Tom Bissell said in a review for The New York Times that Ziolkowski’s On a Wave, which appeared in 2002, “chronicled Ziolkowski’s harrowing early life, experiencing divorce and a suicide in the family, as well as the solace surfing often provided him. He’s now returned with a weirder, more diaphanous book.” 

The Drop “is not really a book about surfing, or addiction. It’s a paper rectangle of stormy, gorgeous energy,” said Bissell.