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‘Metropolitan Denver’ and other new titles from DU writers

Photo by Miles Woolen

Metropolitan Denver: Growth and Change in the Mile High City” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)

In Metropolitan Denver: Growth and Change in the Mile High City” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), professors Andrew Goetz and Eric Boschmann, of DU’s Department of Geography and the Environment, take a look at Denver’s emergence as an urban success story.

A recent installment in the publisher’s Metropolitan Portraits series, “Metropolitan Denver” ranges over 161 years of boom-and-bust development — from Denver’s origins as a remote outpost to its heyday as an oil-and-gas commercial center to its current status as a “next frontier” city, a designation made in 2010 by the Brookings Institution’s “State of Metropolitan America” report. As a next frontier city, Goetz explains, Denver joins Seattle, Austin and other metroplexes with levels of population growth, diversity and education that outpace the national average. 

Although they are positioned for prosperous futures, next frontier cities face their own set of perplexing problems. Denver’s are by no means unique — congestion, deteriorating air quality, housing affordability and the resulting displacement of marginalized populations — but they do require thoughtful solutions.  

Served up with what the authors call “a geographic perspective,” the Denver story makes great reading for anyone in search of those thoughtful solutions. City planners, zoning officials and policy makers will all want to dive in, but the book is also useful for anyone who wants, as Boschmann puts it, “to understand what does it mean to live in this landscape, what does it mean to live in this place?”

Louisa May Alcott goes to war

Author of the much beloved 19th-century classic “Little Women,” Louisa May Alcott occupies a tall pedestal in American literature. Not only did she write books that have withstood the test of time, but for generations of young women, she modeled a life of independence and achievement.

In “Louisa on the Front Lines” (De Capo Press, 2019), alumna Samantha Seiple (BA ’89) explores a little-known chapter of Alcott’s life: her six-week stint as a nurse in Union Hotel Hospital in Washington, D.C. The experience proved formative, drawing on Alcott’s passion for abolition and introducing her to the intense suffering associated with the war. Her service was cut short when she contracted a near-fatal case of typhoid, but while recuperating, she wrote “Hospital Sketches,” the book that established her as a serious writer. 

The Washington Post calls the book “an inspirational story about perseverance and commitment to ideals” and notes that “Seiple paints a compelling picture of the upbringing and personal traits that drew Alcott to volunteer and the tremendous impact her experience as a nurse had on her later life and work. In a larger sense, it is the story of a woman finding her voice in a society that offered women very constrained and narrow roles.”  

Just what is good music? And who gets to decide?

When Lamont School of Music professor John Sheinbaum (Jack to his friends and colleagues) was growing up, he sampled widely from the musical adventures on offer, whether it was Wagner at the Metropolitan Opera or Van Halen at New Jersey’s Meadowlands.

According to traditional models of evaluating music, the former could be considered an encounter with good music, worthy of parental approval. The latter — not so much.

With his new book, Good Music: What It Is & Who Gets to Decide (University of Chicago Press, 2019) Sheinbaum challenges those traditional models and the idea that good music has to be “good for you” — in other words, that it has to be music for the brain: serious, original, innovative and the product of a great artist toiling away against enormous odds.

Humans have been categorizing music as better or lesser for as long as harps have had strings. But whether it’s opera or rock opera, Schumann or Springsteen, Sheinbaum says, “there are tons of interesting things going on, if you choose to look for [them].”  

With those interesting things in mind, “Good Music” dives into the artistic core of a vast array of works — everything from Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” to Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” All of these defy the generalizations associated with their categories. They’re not formulaic, but highly original and innovative. Like their classical counterparts, Sheinbaum says, they’re thought pieces that reward deep thinking while providing satisfying entertainment. By the same token, classical genres often offer more than just cerebral stimulation — they can, Sheinbaum insists, “be explored for how they engage the whole person.”

Just as important, music can be explored for how it enriches lives and communities. In fact, that may be the criteria that merits primary consideration. “We should value the ways music connects people and breaks boundaries between mind and body,” Sheinbaum says.

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