Friday, September 23, 2016

Amanda I. Seligman

Amanda I. Seligman is professor of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is an editor of the Historical Studies of Urban America series. Her new book is Chicago's Block Clubs: How Neighbors Shape the City.

Recently I asked Seligman about what she was reading. Her reply:
When I was in graduate school in the mid-1990s, writing my dissertation, working two academic jobs, and abstaining from fiction, I dreamed of the day when I would have tenure and work on just one work of scholarship at a time, in an orderly, sequential, and logical fashion, without the constant sense that I was behind in everything. That fantasy was nothing more than an illusion, as I seem always to have several projects going at the same time. Two decades on, I have surrendered to my natural condition. The tendency to multitask turns out to infect my reading habits as well. The books I am pretty sure I am currently reading more or less actively include:

Robert C. Ellickson, Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes (1991): I have been poking around in legal research lately and stumbled across this book, which resonates very strongly Chicago’s Block Clubs’ emphasis on how urban dwellers cooperate with their neighbors. In the first few chapters, Ellickson argues that neighboring cattle ranchers resolve their disputes without resorting to legal remedies. I can’t decide yet whether this argument is completely banal or a brilliant execution of a foundational insight.

Anders Ericcson and Robert Pool, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016): For a project on the history of educational provision for gifted children, I have been trying to understand genius and creativity, primarily by reading biographies and psychology. Ericcson and Pool report inter alia on how people teach themselves to memorize amazingly long sequences of numbers.

Robert Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (2005): Because music and history and genius. And because my 12-year-old wanted to read it.

Gary Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution (1979): This classic work of urban history traces the social foundations of the American Revolution in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. I don’t usually spend this much time in the cognitive world of the 18th century, but the change of pace is illuminating.

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963): I pull this extended essay off my shelf from time to time and have recently felt moved to driving it around in my car. More than five decades after its initial publication, Hofstadter’s distinction between intelligence and intellect feels like prophecy.

Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2007): My current leisure read. I am a younger and/or more sensitive viewer and cannot watch action movies. But I adore dystopian fiction—especially post-apocalyptic novels—and I was captivated by the trailers for the movie version of this novel. Fortunately for me, Brooks focuses on the social and political effects of the zombie germ and minimizes the moaning and the gore. World War Z does not quite have the brilliant realism of Daniel H. Wilson’s meditation on what it means to be human in the Robopocalypse series, but it is a roaring good yarn that does not give me nightmares.
Learn more about Chicago's Block Clubs at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue