Academics and Research

DU-affiliated authors behind a crop of new titles

In a host of books just off the press, members of the University of Denver community share their research passions, storytelling skills and memories. Here’s a roundup of several new titles well worth reading.

“Ugo Foscolo’s Tragic Vision in Italy and England” (University of Toronto Press, October 2014), by Rachel Walsh

With her new book, “Ugo Foscolo’s Tragic Vision in Italy and England,” Rachel Walsh aims to introduce English readers to one of the great names of Italian letters.

Poet, novelist, playwright and patriot Ugo Foscolo (1778–1827) is much beloved in his homeland but scarcely known in the United States. “Foscolo is sort of a mysterious, mythical figure in Italy. He ranks up there with the greatest Italian novelists and poets,” Walsh says, noting that Italians drop his name in conversations referencing Dante and Italo Calvino. “Students study him in school, but here in the U.S., he’s not studied.”

That’s about to change, if Walsh has her way. An associate professor of Italian in the Department of Languages and Literatures, Walsh makes Foscolo the centerpiece of a seminar for first-year students. Most of them come to the class without an inkling as to Foscolo’s identity, but by the time the quarter ends, they’ve come to appreciate his Romantic sensibilities. A particular favorite? Foscolo’s “The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis,” an epistolary novel centered on an impossible love.

Walsh’s new book, meanwhile, explores Foscolo’s lifelong preoccupation and struggle with tragedy. It’s the first book in English to focus on this theme.

“He wrote three tragedies, and they were horrible, horrible failures,” Walsh says.

That said, his tragic outlook shaped his more successful works. “He thought tragedy was the highest form of art,” she says.


“In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands Before Israel” (NYU Press, December 2014), by Adam Rovner

Well before the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, Jews from all over the globe longed to create a national home where they would be free of persecution. Their proposed states — to be sited in spots ranging from Angola to Suriname — came to embody Jewish hopes of religious freedom, self-sufficiency and community.

In his new book, “In the Shadow of Zion. Promised Lands Before Israel,” Associate Professor Adam Rovner of the Department of English introduces readers to the fascinating founders — from authors and politicians to rabbis and revolutionaries — of six of these “dream states.” Critics note that this is the only book to detail the connections between these visionary schemes, thus offering new insight into modern Zionism.

An expert on Jewish literature, Rovner brings to this subject matter a deep-seated appreciation for Israel’s complex challenges. He lived in Israel for several years, milking cows on a kibbutz, managing an Italian restaurant in Jerusalem, and, as a naturalized citizen of the country, serving in the military as an educator and administrator.


“Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy” (Simon & Schuster, October 2014), by Christopher Hill

Hailed as one of the most successful diplomats of his generation, Christopher Hill, now dean of DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, takes readers through 33 years of foreign service in “Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American Diplomacy.”

The memoir recounts Hill’s experiences helping to resolve the Bosnian crisis via the Dayton Peace Accords; his controversial role in the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear weapons program; and his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, which ended when he retired from the U.S. Foreign Service and assumed his post at the Korbel School.

Readers are also treated to fascinating anecdotes about various world players —everyone from former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who nods off during a breakfast meeting, to the late Richard Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the Bosnian talks, who halted a Hill commentary by pointing a remote control at him and pressing mute.

A four-time ambassador (to Iraq, Macedonia, Poland and South Korea), Hill served three presidents and represented his country in some of the most challenging diplomatic arenas. His takeaway from the time spent in the trenches? In the end, he writes, “It is always about relationships, not transactions.”


“Too Weak to Govern: Majority Party Power and Appropriations in the U.S. Senate” (Cambridge University Press, 2014), by Peter Hanson

Once a staff member in the office of former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Peter Hanson, assistant professor of political science, has seen the inner workings of the U.S. Senate for himself. He brings that insight, as well as his scrupulous research, to this study of budgetary politics.

Policy wonks and general readers alike will appreciate Hanson’s use of case studies to show the constraints facing the majority party, particularly as it tries to formulate spending bills. Interviews with former majority leaders Daschle and Trent Lott, R-Miss., reveal how unwieldy omnibus spending bills — which have become increasingly common in recent years — arise when “a weak majority party loses control of the Senate floor.”

As Hanson told the University of Denver Magazine in December 2014, after Congress had passed a last-minute omnibus bill, the result is a disservice to the American taxpayer.

“Omnibus bills are bad for everyone,” he said. “This year, we passed a $1 trillion bill containing all the discretionary funding for the government. It was hastily debated at the end of session, and no member of the House or Senate had the opportunity to amend it. It included provisions that shouldn’t be in the budget at all, such as the one loosening campaign finance laws to allow bigger donations to political parties. This way of passing the budget allows it to be written behind closed doors and prevents most members from carrying out their basic responsibility of lawmaking. There’s no transparency or accountability. It needs to change.”

Hanson concludes his book with a discussion of the challenges facing Congressional leaders today. As he sees it, the workable budget process established in 1974 “appears to be on the verge of collapse,” a reality that should be of concern to both sides of the partisan divide.


“Letters From Heaven/Cartas Del Cielo” (Arte Público Press, October 2014), by Lydia Gil

In this story of family and friendship, aimed at children ages 8 to 12, Lydia Gil of the Department of Languages and Literatures showcases the traditions of the Spanish Caribbean.

Born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, to Cuban parents, Gil tells the story of a young girl, Celeste, overcome by sadness at the loss of her beloved grandmother.

Celeste’s grief is relieved one day with the arrival of a mysterious letter — from Grandma! Other letters from beyond the grave follow, each with one of Grandma’s celebrated recipes. As she learns how to prepare the recipes, Celeste not only finds consolation for her loss, she taps into cultural and family resources to address some of the challenges confronting her. By book’s end, she is ready to prepare a Cuban feast to honor her grandmother’s life.

With its 10 brief chapters, this novel addresses issues related to troubled friendships and the loss of family members. As a bonus, the book includes six traditional Cuban recipes with easy-to-follow instructions.

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