What We Are Reading Today: Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

Updated 20 March 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

  • Marion Turner reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life

More than any other canonical English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer lived and worked at the center of political life—yet his poems are anything but conventional. Edgy, complicated, and often dark, they reflect a conflicted world, and their astonishing diversity and innovative language earned Chaucer renown as the father of English literature. Marion Turner, however, reveals him as a great European writer and thinker. To understand his accomplishment, she reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination, according to a review on the Princeton University Press website. 

Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the early circulation of his writings, this innovative biography documents a series of vivid episodes, moving from the commercial wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence and the kingdom of Navarre, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived side by side. The narrative recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan, where he encountered the writings of Dante and Boccaccio. The book also offers a comprehensive exploration of Chaucer’s writings.


What We Are Reading Today: Red Meat Republic by Joshua Specht

Updated 23 April 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Red Meat Republic by Joshua Specht

  • Joshua Specht puts people at the heart of his story — the big cattle ranchers who helped to drive the nation’s westward expansion

By the late 19th century, Americans rich and poor had come to expect high-quality fresh beef with almost every meal. 

Beef production in the US had gone from small-scale, localized operations to a highly centralized industry spanning the country, with cattle bred on ranches in the rural West, slaughtered in Chicago, and consumed in the nation’s rapidly growing cities. 

Red Meat Republic tells the remarkable story of the violent conflict over who would reap the benefits of this new industry and who would bear its heavy costs, says a review on the University Press website.

Joshua Specht puts people at the heart of his story — the big cattle ranchers who helped to drive the nation’s westward expansion, the meatpackers who created a radically new kind of industrialized slaughterhouse, and the stockyard workers who were subjected to the shocking and unsanitary conditions described by Upton Sinclair in his novel The Jungle. 

Specht brings to life a turbulent era marked by Indian wars, Chicago labor unrest, and food riots in the streets of New York.