American Made Arts and Ideas

1. Big deal: Bob Fosse and dance in the American musical
Winkler, Kevin. Oxford, 2018

Winkler began as a dancer and then, for more than 20 years, worked as curator, archivist, and library administrator at the New York Public Library. His published articles and book contributions range from performing arts libraries and archives to queer performance, film, dance, and the websites TheaterMania and Broadway World. A huge Fosse fan, Winkler was coached by Fosse for a revival, so he speaks with personal authority. In Big Deal Winkler explores the progression of Fosse’s career over four decades in the Broadway musical theater, his early dance years, the importance of mentors George Abbott and Jerome Robbins to his work, and how each woman in his life, all dancers, influenced his dance aesthetic, including his trademark style of hunched shoulders, turned-in stance, and staccato jazz movements.
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2. Mahalia Jackson and the black gospel field
Burford, Mark. Oxford, 2019

In the 1950s, critics hailed Mahalia Jackson (1911–72) as “the world’s greatest gospel singer”—an apt designation that stuck. In Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field, Burford (Reed College) draws from troves of previously unavailable interviews, archival collections, and other historical resources to provide readers with an insightful and in-depth analysis of Jackson’s life and career. In so doing, the author also tracks the rise of black gospel music and the social and political culture of the US in the post–WW II era. Burford’s critical analysis transcends the typical biographical treatment and offers a dynamic and engrossing glimpse into the America in which black gospel music sprouted and blossomed.
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3. Sofia Coppola: the politics of visual pleasure
Backman Rogers, Anna. Berghahn Books, 2019

Those who expect from this book a familiar approach—biography mixed with production notes and critical analyses—will be surprised. Backman Rogers (feminist philosophy and visual culture, Univ. of Gothenburg, Sweden) is interested in neither biography nor pro-filmic details. It is Coppola’s overall philosophy that fascinates her, and that fascination is very much a part of her subject, starting when she was 17 and sufficiently beguiled by Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999) to decide to become a film scholar. Backman Rogers detected in that film and Coppola’s subsequent films a deeply philosophical mind at work, one anxious to engage with postfeminism and existentialism from a specific, unabashed female subjective point of view.
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4. Walter Kaufmann: philosopher, humanist, heretic
Corngold, Stanley. Princeton, 2019

German-American philosopher, translator, and author Walter Kaufmann (1921–80) is one the most important and unjustly neglected philosophical interpreters of the postwar era. Kaufmann would be worth remembering even if he had only written a reinterpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought that led to a wholesale reappraisal of his work. Condemned as the philosophical inspiration of national socialism, Nietzsche had been all but forgotten until the publication of Kaufmann’s Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1950, now in its fifth edition)—a book that single-handedly made Nietzsche’s thought worthy of study once more. But Corngold’s excellent biography reveals that there was much more to Kaufmann’s work than just this worthy study of Nietzsche.
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5. Edward Condon’s cooperative vision: science, industry, and innovation in modern America
Lassman, Thoma C. Pittsburgh, 2018

Lassman (National Air and Space Museum) combines a scientific biography of Edward Condon with an institutional biography of industry-based scientific research in Pittsburgh. Both subjects sorely need historical attention. Condon is best remembered for battles over his security clearance during McCarthyism; lesser known are his scientific contributions, which helped power the golden age of American industrial research. Pittsburgh is a famed center of industrial production, but few appreciate the way science and technology blended in its industrial laboratories. Lassman rectifies this neglect, weaving together the story of Condon’s career with the rise of industrial research in Pittsburgh, particularly at Westinghouse Electric, arguing that Condon’s vision of a cooperative balance between academic and industrial interests was instrumental for Westinghouse’s contributions to the most fruitful age of American industrial science.
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