Readers Scene

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Some people look at big cities and see dirty streets, crowded subway cars, and muggers lurking around every falafel truck. But Harvard economist and author Edward Glaeser sees the American metropolis as more innovative, greener, and healthier than the leafy suburb.

Glaeser’s new book, Triumph of the City : How our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier shatters many myths about American cities.

For one thing, the human density of big cities drives innovation and competition – the more people, the more possibility for change and growth, Glaeser argues.

“Cities play to mankind’s greatest asset, which is being able to learn from each other face to face,” Glaeser recently said on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Glaeser finds that far from being plagued by crime and filth, people in big cities are healthier and wealthier than other Americans, and they use 40 percent less energy than their suburban counterparts.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

By changing the way Americans eat out, Fred Harvey changed the way we eat, period. As founder of America’s first interstate restaurant chain, the English-born entrepreneur filled bellies all along the westward-expanding Atchinson, Topeka & Sante Fe railroad at the turn of the 20th century.

Not only were Harvey House meals of consistent quality and value, they were served up by the refined, morally upright, and danged cute Harvey Girls  –  quite possibly the Platonic ideal of what it means to be a waitress. They even inspired a “gay and lusty” 1946 Judy Garland musical. (Watch the trailer.)

Harvey also had a major impact on Kansas City. In 1914, Union Station opened and became a nerve center for the American railroad. With the Fred Harvey company headquarters located in the building, alongside a 525-seater Harvey House, Harvey's enterprise was feeding the growth of Kansas City and the West. (Harvey died in 1901, but his name lived on through the company and its owner, his son Ford Harvey, who helped shape KC in his own right.)

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Monday, May 2, 2011

In today's 24/7 news cycle, it's impossible to imagine President Obama boarding a yacht to undergo major surgery, disappearing for two days, and spending weeks recovering on a fishing trip with no explanation beyond a case of rheumatism, a toothache, and a much-needed vacation.

But in the summer of 1893, that's exactly what Grover Cleveland did. And even then, he barely got away with it.

In his new book, The President Is a Sick Man, Matthew Algeo, author of Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, recounts the story of how Cleveland pulled the wool over the public's eyes regarding his debilitating health problems – and then vilified the reporter who had the gall to tell the real story.

Algeo gives a free presentation about his new book – the first full account of this relatively forgotten but culturally revealing period in our nation's history – on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, at the Central Library, at 6:30 p.m. (RSVP to attend.)

Joe Louis and Natie Brown
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When Joe Louis fought in Kansas City on February 17, 1937, Boss Tom Pendergast was in power, jazz was jumping downtown, and black athletes were decades from being accepted as equal to their white counterparts. In fact, some historians believe that Louis' only local fight, against Jewish-American boxer Natie Brown at Municipal Auditorium, was the first interracial sporting event in Missouri history.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Art is subjective. Yet when viewing a work, most of us are quick to formulate opinions that are either positive or negative, for or against. But how often do we stop ourselves in the midst of our own judgment and take time to consider the artist’s own point of view? How often do we try to climb inside their head and ask, “What is it they are trying to say with this piece?”

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In advance of bestselling author Jasper Fforde’s appearance at the Plaza Branch on March 17, 2011, the Kansas City Public Library is giving away two first-edition hardback copies of his new book, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, the latest installment in the Thursday Next series. The Library will give away both books via a random drawing facilitated by Twitter.

Kenneth Armitage
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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kenneth Armitage knows his marmots. Though he spent much of his 40-year academic career at the University of Kansas studying the yellow-bellied marmot or “rockchuck,” he’s enough of an expert on the burrowing beasts that he’s featured in the bonus materials of the 15th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of the hit ‘90s comedy Groundhog Day.

KC Unbound recently caught up with Dr. Armitage, professor emeritus of behavioral ecology at KU, to get the lowdown on marmots, including how they are dealing with climate change, and whether or not their shadows can tell us anything about the length of winter.

This year, it seems that Punxsutawney Phil has predicted an early Spring -- he did not see his shadow upon emerging from his den in Gobbler's Knob, PA. Were he in KC, however, he'd probably be unable to exit his burrow because of all the snow. And, unfortunately, due to the inclement weather, Dr. Armitage's lecture at the Central Library on Wednesday, February 2, at 6:30 p.m. has been canceled.

Read on to learn more about marmot biology and the history of Groundhog Day.

KC Unbound: What’s the difference between a marmot and a groundhog?

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

The recent release of Mark Twain’s uncensored autobiography has set the literary world ablaze. And that excitement was in the air a few weeks ago at the Central Library, when one of the editors of Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, Robert H. Hirst, came to give a presentation before a crowd of nearly 450 “Twainiacs.”

How Life Imitates Chess book jacket
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Monday, November 29, 2010

For Garry Kasparov, life really does imitate chess. The top-ranked chess player in the world for nearly 22 years, Kasparov retired from international competition in 2005 and took on an even more challenging career. He entered Russian politics and became the leader of the opposition movement, playing democracy’s white against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s black.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Here at the Kansas City Public Library, we like to think big. Brobdignagian books line our parking garage, baffling bloggers worldwide. Our collection is huge, numbering over a million titles. And as the 2010-11 Script-in-Hand season of free public plays shows, we like our drama big, too.

What’s big about Script-in-Hand? The abilities of the actors and directors from the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre – which has produced this program for all of its’ five-year existence – are tremendous. And the plays they deliver each year are towering works of literature.

But most of all, in this 2010-11 season, it’s the ideas that are biggest.

Polsinelli-Shughart office
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Friday, November 19, 2010

In his preamble to the Fall 2010 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly Lewis Lapham writes, “Pericles conceived of ancient Athens as the expression of man’s humanity to man.” Though this notion seems a far shot from today’s Midwestern cityscapes, a recent battle over an old building in the heart of Kansas City shows that people feel a definite, human connection to our city’s defining places.

Juxtaposing texts from history and literature over the centuries with essays by contemporary thinkers, the Fall LQ (most of which is readable for free online) explores the evolution of the city in civilization – and our relationship to it over time. From expressions of the greatness of gods and kings in ancient times to today’s sprawling conduits of commerce, cities have shown the aspirations and limitations of society – a constant push and pull between higher ideals and economic expediency.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

If you had to pick one writer alive today whose autobiography could become a bestseller 100 years after his or her death, who would you choose? Rowling? Roth? Franzen, perhaps? It’s hard to fathom which of today’s literary celebrities might still be relevant in 2110.

When it comes to native Missourian Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, his power to get people talking is as potent as it was during his lifetime. This year, on the centenary of his death in 1910, a complete and unexpurgated version of Twain’s autobiography has the literary world abuzz.

Resting comfortably in the Amazon top 10 as it awaits its November 15 release, volume one of the University of California Press’ three-volume, 500,000-word Autobiography of Mark Twain begins the fulfillment of Twain’s own decree that his memoirs not be published until 100 years after his death. The book is the work of a team of editors at UC-Berkeley, where the Mark Twain Papers are held at the Bancroft Library.

Soldier says goodbye to his wife in the Buenavista station (1913). Agustín Víctor Casasola
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Thursday, November 4, 2010

In 1908, American journalist John Kenneth Turner, posing as a wealthy investor, infiltrated hemp plantations in the Yucatán peninsula. His goal: to expose the “chattel slavery” abundant Mexico under the oppressive regime of Porfirio Díaz.

“Slavery in Mexico! Yes, I found it,” he wrote in his 1910 book Barbarous Mexico. A bestseller at the time, Turner’s exposé of the so-called “Porfirian Peace” provided context for understanding the revolution that eventually drove Díaz out of the country and ushered in years of upheaval and reform.

With Barbarous Mexico, he addressed an American audience that viewed its “Sister Republic” as perhaps a bit poorer and less technologically advanced than the U.S. but not much different in terms of liberty and justice. And while Mexico did have democratic written laws, Turner found the government to be hopelessly corrupt:

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Monday, January 10, 2011

What would you do if you had to build a nation? Start Googling? Download an app? When John Adams strode onto the world stage by joining the Continental Congress as a representative from Massachusetts, he had no iPhone or MacBook Air. Contemporary European books (often in their original languages) and Greek and Latin classics were his RSS and HTML.

Unlike his more privileged colleague Thomas Jefferson, Adams was the son of an uneducated farmer. His father had to sell ten acres of land to pay his son’s tuition at Harvard. Mindpower, not money, was Adams’ currency in the social climate of colonial America, and devouring the knowledge contained in books was Adam’s ticket to self-betterment.

A more-than-avid reader, Adams built a library of thousands of volumes – a search engine in paper, ink, and binding. The knowledge contained in Adams' vast library not only fueled his passionately principled mind but shaped the creation of our country -- and set the course of a family.

A brand-new exhibit and a special event happening this week at the Kansas City Public Library celebrate Adams’ bibliophilic legacy.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

The world may have never known Doonesbury if it weren’t for Jim Andrews and John McMeel. The founders of Andrews McMeel Universal (then called Universal Press Syndicate) were headquartered in a rented house in Leawood when they discovered a young cartoonist named Garry Trudeau.

Forty years, 14,000 strips, and one Pulitzer later, Trudeau and AMU are still going strong.

On October 25, Trudeau visits the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library to present his brand-new book, 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective. We caught up with John McMeel and CEO Hugh Andrews of AMU to discuss the iconic Doonesbury from a publisher’s perspective.

What’s so special about Kansas City that has kept AMU rooted here all these decades?

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