Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Biking west, part two: Skokie to Niles

sculpture and water court at Skokie public library
Things at the Skokie Public Library: "Swans" steel sculpture by Elliott Balter (1979). 
Chairs designed by Mies Van der Rohe.


So, leaving downtown Skokie by taking Oakton west seemed like a good idea at the time. As you pass the very modern library, it's a nice two-lane street. There are pleasant, if a bit weird, public sculptures and little ranch houses. And then the traffic gets nasty. I've biked down some busy streets, but the speeding trucks and cars here made me a bit nervous, so I switched over to the sidewalk. It's an old, grainy and bumpy sidewalk, but serviceable. While it lasts. Which is until you enter Morton Grove.


skokie public sculpture
The public sculpture mocks your attempts at escape. ("Gourd Man" by Shen Cheng Xu, 2009)

I mean, who needs sidewalks, right? Everyone knows you're supposed to drive from your job to your little house and then down to the mall. That's why everyone works, to drive little boxes around everywhere. Except for the many factory workers I passed trying to walk to whatever bus stops or pickup points exist along the shoulder of the road.


construction ahead
This'll keep those weird car-less people out.

There is no shoulder here. Just semi trucks rocketing by the other side of a long stainless steel barrier. There's a bit of trail worn down from all the sad, despondent working class people, littered with odd bits of debris tossed from car windows.


bike trail overpass at Oakton
Hey, there's the bike trail...

I actually ended up under the North Branch Trail passover. Again, it's a fine bike trail if you're going north or south. Scurrying across Caldwell is another thing altogether. But I did it, and after that the sidewalk re-appeared. I guess people in Niles are nicer than those in Morton Grove. Or pay more taxes.


Oak Mill Mall
Mall of the Living Dead

At Milwaukee, I pulled off to rest my nerves at Oak Mill Mall. When I was a kid, this was an ordinary neighborhood mall, with a nice restaurant and local stores. Now it seems to cater to that elderly aunt who sends you cute greeting cards with cats on them. It's conveniently set up so that you can get your medication, some orthopedic shoes, a wig and "youth style" clothing all in one spot. 


Oak Mill Fountain
The funeral lilies are a nice touch.

I grabbed a Gatorade at Minelli's, an Italian deli very much out of place, just so I wouldn't feel like an intruder. There's nothing like purchasing a refreshing consumer item to justify your presence in a shopping mall. It was either that or a Precious Moments statue from "European Imports & Gifts."

cruisin
Why are sidewalks too much to ask for?

Anyway, I hit the sidewalk again, which would disappear and reappear, sending me off into various parking lots and driveways. I decided that I'd had enough of Oakton and decided to take my life in my hands one last time, biking down the shoulder of the road until I hit the Des Plaines River Trail.


dp trail
Freeeddoooooom!

Which, of course, was the best idea ever. Not only was it ten degrees cooler, but getting away from the constant sound of motor traffic immediately lowered my blood pressure. From here, it was just a short ride to my next destination, The Methodist Camp Grounds, which I'll cover in the next blog.

Bicycle adventures: From Chicago to Skokie

Today I decided to try to push further west on my bike. It may sound silly, but it's fairly easy to bike north or south in the suburbs around me. There aren't many good bike lines or trails going west from the lake. I tried a few different major streets and ended up covering 27 miles. So, I'll break up my adventure into multiple posts.

First, I zigged over to Rogers from my apartment. If you want to play along, this is a good starting point:


Indian Boundary historical marker at Clark and Rogers
Hidden from the scrap metal thieves, behind an electrical box.

Screwed to a storefront at Clark & Rogers, and since covered up by an traffic control box, is an old historical marker. It celebrates the family that gave their name to both streets, and the Indian Boundary Line, which Rogers Avenue follows.


Sandler's Drugstore on Rogers
Sandler's Drugs, just east of Rogers & Touhy (since remodeled)

Rogers takes us up to Touhy, which isn't as bad to bike on as I feared. Going west on Touhy takes one through an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood with kosher pizza restaurants and religious centers.


mosaic celebrating united hebrew trades
Bernard Horwich Community Center

Upon hitting the Sanitary Canal, I turned north and followed the bike path to Howard. Howard was a pretty easy ride west, passing lots of ranch houses until I hit Lincoln. I turned onto Lincoln, following a pokey street cleaning machine, until arriving in downtown Skokie.


painted electrical boxes in Skokie
Aww Yeah, electrical boxes!

However you arrive downtown, one is cheerfully greeted by traffic control boxes that have been painted by Art Baltazar. Besides being a local artist, he co-owns the local comic book store.


first national bank building in skokie
First National Bank building (now Chase) built in 1973

The downtown is dominated by a massive, brutalist office building. Around this block are arranged the local stores and restaurants. I decided to stop and have some carbs and coffee at Sweetie Pie's.  Besides having tasty outdoor cafes, Skokie also provides free wifi in the downtown area. So, a good commuter stop all around.

sitting outside at Sweetie Pies in skokie
Iced coffee, day old pastries and free wi-fi.

While sitting outside, I noticed that Skokie is having some sort of weird fire hydrant sculpture fest. You know, like how Chicago had big cows all over the city that local artists decorated? But fire hydrants. Because that's what I think of when I think of Skokie. Perhaps it's meant to refer to the old Engine House? I don't know.


skokie engine house
Historic Fire Engine House built in 1887

Anyway, I decided to try Oakton for the next bit of my excursion west. It started off well, lots of room, lots of weird mid-century architecture.


lockwood
8001 Lockwood, built in 1966

And then things started to get bad....

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cranky Book Review: The Cage by Martin Vaughn-James

(goodreads)
"...the entire elaborate network of components begins to shudder into wild spasmodic motion, rattling almost farcically within the framework of the machine."

In Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead there's a wonderful character named Lois Cook, obviously built upon the public persona of Gertrude Stein. She's a writer who "refuses" to follow the conventional rules of grammar or syntax. With a bit of a wink, she's actually taking advantage of psuedo-intellectuals who need works of art to point to and feel superior about, without being able to actually state what those works mean.

I think this book falls into that category; it's designed in some way to make us think that something is going on, rather than nothing.

Every page has a wonderful pen and ink drawing of various objects interacting within various rooms. Sometimes they float. Sometimes they pierce each other. Sometimes there are pictures of the objects. Often, there are blots of ink. They are drawn in a style that reminds me of David Macaulay's 1970s architecture books (Motel of the Mysteries could almost be a parody of this), especially in the precise shading of stone.

Every page also has text that usually has no relation to the picture. There are vague descriptions of things that make up some sort of imprecise machinery. Or perhaps some sort of odd sexual practice is taking place. I suppose the whole book could be some sort of metaphor for the creative process as a combination of the two. But there's no way to know.

I guess this is a curiosity, a look into what the 1970s avant-garde thought was a pushing of the limits of narrative. But it's also fairly cold and boring. The descriptions evoke technical scientific text to the point of monotony that mirrors the constant rearranging of objects and rooms in relation to each other. It takes too long to read to just be a surreal amusement. If it wasn't for the fact that this was a small-press offering that couldn't possibly make any money when it was released in 1975, I would think that this must be a joke of some kind, another spot-on parody of artists being weird for the sake of attention.

But I must be wrong, because the "experts" like it. Follow the link and judge for yourself.

As for me, I never thought I'd read an art book that would make me nostalgic for Ayn Rand...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wandering down Clark Street in Andersonville

vintage arrow shaped sign in Andersonville
storefront near Clark & Foster (sign now removed)

Today I went down to Andersonville. I needed some more blank cards for mailing my artwork off in, and some more summer clothing. I don't know what it says about our society that I have to go down to Boys' Town or Andersonville to find used clothing that skinny people once wore.


swedishtank
old water tank near Clark & Foster (also since removed)

This used to be the area primarily settled by Swedish immigrants, with related businesses stretching down from Foster to Kimball. Now, there are only a few restaurants left and the Swedish-American Museum.


funereal
Former funeral home at Clark & Gregory

This is also a center for the LGBT community, probably best represented by Women & Children First , an excellent local specialty bookstore. There is also an outpost of The Brown Elephant, a great non-profit thrift store that helps people get needed medical services.


audience participation
Inside of The Brown Elephant, looking toward the "stage"

Besides being the best thrift store in the area, I also like visiting to admire what's left of the Calo Theater's former glory. This space was originally home to a movie theater, built in 1915. Many of the original murals and decorative elements are still intact.


employees only
Brown Elephant, looking toward the projection booth

After finding some great deals, I wandered up and down Clark Street. It was a bit difficult, partly due to the sidewalk sale that was going on, partly due to the insistence of many people to push giant baby buggies through the crowds. I watched one woman with a single child in a double stroller push tables and boxes out of her way, mashing into people with abandon. Metaphor for upper-class privilege, I guess.


chicago eagle
facade of Hamburger Mary's, once the Calo Restaurant. note the Chicago "Y"

I also stopped at a new resale shop, Good Deal Garage, which I found interesting because it IS operating out of a former garage. This one was probably built for the apartment building at Clark and Olive.


Good Deal Garage
interior of Good Deal Garage

After all that walking in the sun, I stopped at the decidedly non-vintage Coffee Studio. It's a bit pricey, but definitely offers higher quality drinks. I had a nice mocha in which I could actually taste the wonderful bitterness of the espresso, where most coffee shops would drown it in sugar.


coffee studio
Lounging in the hip, modern Coffee Studio

And that's kind of the story of Andersonville, now. Many of the little stores are too expensive for me to even walk into, though there are still many oddballs here and there. And I always recommend walking down Clark Street just to admire the classic retail architecture. Just watch out for the strollers.


flower spirit
detail of building at Clark & Bryn Mawr

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Walk Down Broadway

It was nice and cool today, plus that "sun" thing that I'm always hearing about was out in the sky, so the wife and I went for a walk down broadway.

We ended up making a browsing stop at the Broadway Antique Market. I often buy comic books and weird old cooking pamphlets here. I didn't buy anything today, but I did notice the increasing amount of items from my 1970s childhood that are becoming "antiques." It seems really weird that there would be a demand for, say, a plastic burnt orange clock radio. I must finally be old enough that there is a generation of younger folk that don't have any context for this stuff.

Postcard of Pakan Furniture, 6130 N Broadway
from Chicago History in Postcards

The Market itself is in a fairly intact 1940s retail building. Near the main entrance there's even a neat curvy stairway that leads to the upper showroom. If you wander up and down Broadway, you'll discover all kind of remnants of retail past, from ghost signs for "undertakers" to disused neon advertising.


granville clock
Granville & Broadway (built in 1925)

After looking at things that we can't afford, we wandered over to Lickety Split. It's a modern version of something that rarely exists: the corner ice cream parlor. They have a great selection of British candy, and nifty vintage fixtures to display all the "retro" brands that are still around. I always feel bad lately about spending money on something I don't really need, but cheap guilty pleasures are better than none.

After having too many Caramello's, I went over to the Green Element Resale shop. And that's where I went a little crazy.

pile of vintage mail
you could say I went postal (rimshot)

I purchased a garbage-bag's worth of correspondence, some of it dating back to the 1950s. I bought all this for the stamps and ephemera, but I also have someone's life story. Lovers and friends, foreign postcards and professional letters, 60 years of someone's life all gathered up and left in a thrift store. And I guess that's today's lesson. Even our words won't outlast us.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cranky Book Reviews: Mid-Life and Sin Titulo

Well, I've been away from the internets for a short while. I was busy in the real world working at the store and making more art cards. And futilely looking for a second "real" job. Everything requires a driver's license now for some reason, or just the generic "experience" (experienced bowling alley workers, really?). I'll probably end up washing dishes or something. Whatever middle aged guys with no paper education end up doing.

Everything's just kinda creeping up, financially. Rent in my "high crime" neighborhood is still going up. The city signed a ridiculous deal with a new electricity provider which was supposed to save us all money, but instead we now have a provider and a delivery system both raising their rates. I still have the ACA hanging over my head, trying to force me to buy insurance that I can't afford. C'mon America, I'm not asking to be a rich asshole, I just want to pay my bills on time.

I'm beginning to sound like one of these graphic novel auto-biography guys.


(goodreads)

yeah, I'm still reading books. The libertarians haven't shut down the libraries yet, so I might as well get my readin' in while I have free time. And there's a free wi-fi signal in the air tonight, so...

I probably should swear off this whole genre, but every now and then I'm surprised. Joe Ollmann IS whiny and middle-class and hipster-ish, but he's also genuinely making sacrifices for his family. This isn't a book about what a terrible person he is, but about how he ends up doing the right thing despite sometimes being a terrible person.

He uses a strict nine-panel grid to tell two stories. There's the fictional version of himself, going through mid-life changes while starting a second family. Then there's Sherry Smalls, an alt-rock girl who has made a career out of performing children's songs. She's having her own twenty-something crisis and is a bit desperate for sane male company. Their two stories head toward a merging point, and a possible affair. Soap opera stuff, but good and honest. Check out the publisher's preview here.


(goodreads)


I also read this collection of Sin Titulo. Cameron Stewart is kind of a big name now, and I loved his work with Grant Morrison on Batman and Robin, so I was interested seeing what this artist does on his own.

Apparently, this is a print collection of his (weekly?) web comic series. And it reads like a comic strip collection, albeit a stream-of-consciousness, psychological one. Which is fine, but the bits that work the best are the "flashbacks" to the main character's childhood. The surreal sections kind of lead us around from one episode to the next. For me, the whole effect was spoiled by a Matrix-style explanation towards the end, where someone gives a speech about Platonic ideals and belief. I would have preferred just the weirdness for its own sake in this case, rather than a supervillian's explanation. But, it's not bad, and I look forward to his upcoming Batgirl title.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cranky Book Review: The Annotated Mother Goose

The Annotated Mother Goose, notes by William S. Baring-Gould and Ceil Baring-Gould
(Goodreads)

"The 'true' nursery or 'Mother Goose' rhyme, then, is generally, but not always, of anonymous authorship."

So, I've been reading this off and on; it's not the sort of book one can read from cover-to-cover. Well, not without going mad and constantly thinking in sing-song rhythm.


Or having terrifying nightmares. (wikipedia)


The Baring-Goulds do a great job of dividing their subject up into distinct publishing time periods. We start in 1744 with Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book and end up roughly in the 1930s. Which about covers the modern public domain period.

The annotations are scholarly and chatty in turns, with polite allusions to early obscene or offensive versions of some of the rhymes. Where possible, they run down the original song or poem that somehow got bundled into a collection over the years. Most of these, of course, have been anonymously passed down through oral traditions.

(wikisource)


They also aren't afraid to smack down spurious interpretations, taking many opportunities to mention Katherine Elwes Thomas' unverifiable political interpretations of simple rhymes like Bah Bah Black Sheep ("a complaint of the common people..against the amount of wool that went to the King...").

And, of course, there are hundreds of wonderful illustrations, ranging from simple woodcuts to the more complex modern lines of Arthur Rackham.

As is usual with many of the old reference books that I pick up these days, there's the question of how much more useful this is than just looking things up on the internets. But, there's something satisfying about this labor of love. The annotations and essays are short and to the point, authoritative without being too stuffy. With the current craze for fancy annotated editions of children's books crowding the "classics" shelves, it's nice to see the fieldwork done, sanely and without today's need for trivia, by an earlier generation.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Favorite Book Covers: Tom Adams

One of the joys of digging through piles of old, musty books is finding an old friend with an unfamiliar cover. I've taken to replacing some recent copies of favorite novels with yellowing paperback versions, merely because I enjoy the cover art more.

cover to The Big Sleep by Tom Adams
(1971) Ballantine Books

A great example of this would be the 1970s mass market reprints of Raymond Chandler's novels and stories. They have beautiful painted covers by Tom Adams that turn California into a humid, dangerous jungle.


Farewell My Lovely cover art by Tom Adams
(1971) Ballantine Books

I much prefer these to the current Chip Kidd influenced ones. Slowly, book titles have been taking over the design of the entire front cover of today's novels, to the point that the local bookstore display window looks like the generic aisle from a 1980s grocery store.

Pickup on Noon Street cover art by Tom Adams
(1972) Ballantine Books

At some point, I've also picked up a Tom Adams illustrated hardcover of John Fowles' The Magus. This one is a wonderful wrap-around, so I had to make two passes on the scanner and combine them...


cover art to The Magus by Tom Adams
(1965) Little, Brown & Co.

I hadn't even realized that I found a first printing; I was just going for a pre-1977 edition. He revised the book, and apparently adjusted the ending, so I'm curious as to what the older version will be like. And, of course, I'm keeping an eye out for the rest of the Tom Adams versions of Fowles' other novels.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cranky Book Review: Terminal City

Cover to The Compleat Terminal City
(Goodreads)

So, I've gotten 200 pages into this beast, and just have no desire to finish it. Usually I can tell within the first chapter if something isn't going to click with me. Here, the basic idea and artwork kept me going for a while, but the story constantly feels as if nothing is happening.


panel from Terminal City showing man crashing through a window
Shades of Soderbergh's Kafka?

And things do happen, there is a lot of death and mayhem, but Michael Lark does such a good job at portraying this stagnant city of progress that the artwork outshines the obvious and flat neo-noir writing. The characters are either "types" from 1930s pop culture or bad riffs on puns. or both.

panel from Terminal City featuring Basil Fawlty robot
Somehow, a 1930s robot based on John Cleese's Basil Fawlty just isn't funny.

This would seem to be a gold mine of ideas and commentary, portraying the inhabitants of a retro-future city whose founding ideals have deteriorated over time. But nothing gets past that flat, four-color surface. You'd think that having the story's only African-American, a washed-up boxer, fight a literal series of "missing links" would turn out to be a commentary on racism and social darwinism. But no, it's just another thing that happens, with a sort of  "wink wink, isn't that clever" feel to it.

panel from Terminal City
and yes, the cavemen are based on the Three Stooges

This may have worked better in short, comic-book sized installments; but as a 350 page graphic novel this is just an endless parade of punny jokes, incompetent gangsters and mysterious deaths. You may want to dig out the original Vertigo issues from the dollar boxes to enjoy the luscious line art and coloring, but I can't recommend this as something to sit down and read.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cranky Book Review: The Exterminators: Bug Brothers


Well, this is a big mess.

(Goodreads)

The main plot line of this one involves an exterminator, Henry James (who displays no characteristics in common with the eponymous author), fresh out of jail for an undetailed crime. As part of his parole, he's working for his step-father's "Bug-Bee-Gone" business. Nothing really comes of the main plot, and we never learn anything about our "hero." He just goes around and has wacky, gross adventures with wacky, gross co-workers. It's kind of like Buckaroo Banzai, but without John Lithgow lizards.


panel from Exterminators: Bug Brothers by Simon Oliver & Tony Moore


There's a sub-plot involving the idea that cockroaches in the most neglected part of town have been evolving into a better organized form of insect life. But this doesn't go anywhere either, outside of providing many moments for (former Walking Dead artist) Tony Moore to draw lots of disgusting things. Which is fine, but there's a hint of the writer intending this to be some sort of metaphor about people living in poverty.


panel from Exterminators: Bug Brothers by Simon Oliver & Tony Moore


It would be fairly offensive if the people had any development higher than that of the roaches. Or maybe that makes it worse. We have the stereotypical bad landlord, the working mom with a heart of gold, her asthmatic son who needs a father figure and sexist, leering male neighbors.  Not that Simon Oliver is only bad at writing poor people. Everyone in this story is defined by one or two characteristics, just enough to use them for a few panels, then put them back in the "toy box" again. 


panel from Exterminators: Bug Brothers by Simon Oliver & Tony Moore


A good case in point is Henry's girlfriend, Laura. Supposedly, they've been living and sleeping together for a long time, but they act like room mates who barely know each other. The only reason Laura is in the story is to provide a bridge to the mysterious business that makes a certain cockroach poison. She's persuing a position in the upper echelons of the corporation just as we're told that the bug bait is genetically modifying the insects. See! writing!

This is so by-the-books that I wonder if the story was originally a television or movie pitch. Henry and generic single mom even meet "cute." They pass each other in a convenience store and our heroic exterminator decides to giver her one of his business cards to help her out. It took me forever to realize HOW he knows she needs bug help. She must be buying more roach motels or poison, but either no one told Tony Moore, or he doesn't know how to draw them.

(Sorry, kids, I seem to have lost the scan and I'm not going back home to re-do it. You'll just have to take my word for it.)

This is a big disappointment from the once reliable Vertigo brand name. I'd expect this sort of thing from the DC side of the company, putting gross-out moments and cardboard characters in pseudo "literate" packaging (oh look, blurbs from people who like things! minimalist cover! mature readers warning!). But, judging from the success of Walking Dead and Fables, this is what people want. Television without commercial breaks. 


panel from Exterminators: Bug Brothers by Simon Oliver & Tony Moore

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Streetwise in suburbia


So, while on break from work, I walked over to the nearby Whole Foods to pick up some chips to go with my lunch. As usual, there was a Streetwise vendor out front; also as usual, the good people of Evanston not only walked right by the poor guy, but refused to make eye contact.

If you live in a major city, you probably have a local equivalent to Streetwise. Basically, they give people living in poverty shelter and job training. In return, these folks go out to sell newspapers for money. Half of it goes back to the organization, half to the vendor.

I always try to scrounge up a couple of dollars for the men or women who are out all day. If I don't have any cash, I can get them something from the store. Today's gentleman politely asked if I could get him a bunch of bananas. No problem.

Meanwhile, the local citizens were staying as far away from the man as they could, walking on the opposite side, running into each other. He didn't smell bad. He was well dressed. Nothing particularly threatening. Streetwise vendors don't even ask for money, they just cry out the name of their paper. Yet, all these well-to-do people seemed very afraid.

And I'm not writing about this out of pride; it's not a big thing to help someone out now and then. I'm writing this out of disgust. This is a supposedly liberal, well-to-do suburb. The median income is $68,051 (from my point of view, that's a five-year budget). Yet no one can stop to say hello to a man, who is following all the rules of our society and working for his money, much less buy him a few bananas or an orange juice.

Bah.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: (Finishing up) The Gilded Age

(Librarything)

So, I decided to sit down and finish this collection of essays about post-Civil War America. I was a little disappointed with the last selections. The next one up, for instance, Lewis Gould's "The Republican Search for a National Majority" is primarily just a booster piece extolling various things that the early GOPers accomplished. The tone made me a bit suspicious of the author's intentions, and then I got to this:
"Dissappointed Democrats have persuaded historians that Republicans in 1896 used economic coercion and vote frauds to swell McKinley's total. This explanation ignores both the relative honesty of American national elections following the adoption of the Australian ballot, and the continuation of Republican majorities for thirty years after 1896."

The author obviously lives in some sort of strange parallel universe where the urban political machines didn't exist.  And while McKinley's campaign didn't rely on the machine system for money, it did take in a huge amount of cash from capitalism's new elite. Not to say that votes were being bought outright, but private money was used for the first time to build up the candidate by hiring professional travelling orators, as well as the usual tactic of distributing printed material.

Hooray for money!
(Library of Congress via Wikipedia)

The next essay was even more reactionary. Paul S. Holbo wrote his "Economics, Emotion, and Expansion: An Emerging Foreign Policy" to refute a specific 1920s historian, Charles A. Beard, who by the 1970s wasn't taken seriously, anyway. You really have to be into the minutiae of the ongoing tariff battle between the Republicans and Democrats to be interested. I skimmed through the dry words of this one, looking for odd bits of trivia.
 "In 1891, for example, the House Democrats introduced a series of 'pop-gun bills,' which had no chance to pass the Republican Senate but kept the Cleveland policy of free raw materials before the public."
Putting aside the fun nomenclature of "pop-gun bills," the author makes an interesting point about Social Darwinists not wanting to get involved in expansionism. Those savages in the jungles of the Philippines or Hawaii just wouldn't be able to handle democracy.

AND Hawaii is ruled by a woman! another threat to democracy!
(Linn's Stamp News)

The next bit, "The Writer's Search for Reality" by Robert Falk, is a pedestrian essay which holds up William Dean Howells, Mark Twain and Henry James as the holy triumvirate of the era's literature. He doesn't really have anything to say about them, outside of the obvious move toward "naturalism."
"In an informal poll taken by some British scientists in the 1930's, Sir Isaac Newton was rated the greatest scientist to appear since the Renaissance. Charles Darwin's name was second on the list, and Michael Faraday and Albert Einsten tied for third place. The fourth highest was an American: Josiah Willard Gibbs, professor of mathematical physics at Yale from 1871 until his death in 1903."
Paul F. Boller, Jr.'s essay on "The New Science and American Thought" is a vast improvement. It's a loving look at all the forgotten men of science that contributed so much to our ability to understand the universe, while living in a country that expressed a fear of evolutionary theory. Darwin, of course, had help from many American naturalists and fossil hunters. We also had the amazing William James, who tried to point out that religion and science fulfill two different needs of the human psyche.

Robert E. Roberts has the trying task of describing "Popular Culture and Public Taste" in just a few pages. It's not really possible and he ends up flying quickly through circuses, tent revivals and dime novels. This was a ridiculous decision for the editor to make, shoe-horning in the cultural context of a few decades into a small essay at the end of the book. If the whole point of this project was to refute a few liberal political theories about the time period, then that should have been made clear at the beginning. Don't call your anthology "The Gilded Age" and then spend only two paragraphs on minstrel shows. Which brings me to one of my favorite understated sentences, anywhere:
"The stock Negro character of the stage bore little resemblance to any actual person."
Thanks guys!