Ivan Margolius, author of “Reflections of Prague: Journeys through the 20th Century” and “Prague: A Guide to 20th Century Architecture”
“There is no visitor to Prague who is not enchanted by this city.  Prague has everything: the ancient and the modern, the history and the culture, the music and the tranquility, the contradictions and the harmony.  Derek Sayer’s excellent book captures all of these facets of Prague to make any visit even more worthwhile.”
Jindrich Toman, University of Michigan
“Meticulous, imaginative, unconventional—all the way from old palaces to Little Hanoi.”

 


prague-22

I have long wanted to write a non-academic book on Prague that would both provide a readable short history of the city and act as a guide to visitors who might be interested in more than just the standard tourist trail.  When I was approached by Reaktion Books to write on Prague for their excellent Cityscopes series, I jumped at the opportunity.   This is the result.  Out this month.  It was fun to write, and I hope it serves its purpose.


Publisher’s description

Thirty years ago, Prague was a closed book to most travelers.  Today, it is Europe’s fifth-most-visited city, surpassed only by London, Paris, Istanbul, and Rome.  With a stunning natural setting on the Vltava river and featuring a spectacular architectural potpourri of everything from Romanesque rotundas to gothic towers, Renaissance palaces, Baroque churches, art nouveau cafés, and cubist apartment buildings, Prague may well be Europe’s most beautiful capital city.

But behind this beauty lies a turbulent and often violent history, and in this book, Derek Sayer explores both.  Located at the uneasy center of the continent, Prague has been a crossroads of cultures for more than a millennium.  From the religious wars of the middle ages and the nationalist struggles of the nineteenth century to the modern conflicts of fascism, communism, and democracy, Prague’s history is the history of the forces that have shaped Europe.

Sayer also goes beyond the complexities of Prague’s colorful past: his expert, very readable, and exquisitely illustrated guide helps us to see what Prague is today.  He not only provides listings of what to see, hear, and do and where to eat, drink, and shop, but also offers deep personal reflection on the sides of Prague tourists seldom see, from a model interwar modernist villa colony to Europe’s biggest Vietnamese market.

Hardback, 280 pages, 105 illustrations, 71 in color.


Availability
Published by Reaktion Books (UK) and Chicago University Press (in North America).
Available from amazon.co.uk (£12.45) and amazon.com ($22.00).
Preview (including Table of Contents and Prologue) here.


T for Texas

trump mural

For more than a year, the old Walmart along the Mexican border here has been a mystery to those driving by on the highway. In place of the supercenter’s trademark logo hangs a curious sign: “Casa Padre.”

But behind the sliding doors is a bustling city unto itself, equipped with classrooms, recreation centers and medical examination rooms. Casa Padre now houses more than 1,400 immigrant boys in federal custody. While most are teenagers who entered the United States alone, dozens of others — often younger — were forcibly separated from their parents at the border by a new Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy.

On Wednesday evening, for the first time since that policy was announced — and amid increased national interest after a U.S. senator, Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, was turned away — federal authorities allowed a small group of reporters to tour the secretive shelter, the largest of its kind in the nation … ” (From the Washington Post)


 

T for Tennessee

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Nataly Luna, 12, whose father, Reniel, was detained in the raid, at a march through downtown Morristown on April 12. Charles Mostoller for The New York Times

“The day Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Southeastern Provision plant outside the city and sent dozens of workers to out-of-state detention centers was the day people in Morristown began to ask questions many hadn’t thought through before — to the federal government, to the police, to their church leaders, to each other.

Donations of food, clothing and toys for families of the workers streamed in at such volume there was a traffic jam to get into the parking lot of a church. Professors at the college extended a speaking invitation to a young man whose brother and uncle were detained in the raid. Schoolteachers cried as they tried to comfort students whose parents were suddenly gone. There was standing room only at a prayer vigil that drew about 1,000 people to a school gym.

Here, based on interviews with dozens of workers and townspeople, and in their own words (some edited for length and clarity), is how it happened.”  (From the New York Times.)


 

food I

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“In 1988, aged 15, I made my first expedition to a magical, otherworldly kingdom. It was cold, frosty and pale in places, like Narnia, while other parts were a Willy-Wonka-esque explosion of colour and exquisite tastes. A land of limitless opportunity, it was just off junction 44 on the M6 near Gretna. The big Asda had come to Carlisle.

For the Dent family, this was akin to a religious awakening. My mother went first, while we were at school, after hearing about it on the local news. She arrived home breathless, the car loaded with dozens of fresh white rolls, boxes of Findus crispy pancakes and family-size microwave lasagnes. She had spotted her emancipation from the kitchen and she was grabbing it with both hands. Or at least she would once she had unloaded a family-sized Sara Lee gateau and three bags of McCain oven chips from the boot of her Austin Princess …”

Grace Dent on the joy of processed food.  A hilarious (and very sharp) take on the Great British Class War.


 

food II

bourdain obama
President Barack Obama shares a beer in a Hanoi noodle parlor with Anthony Bourdain in a 2016 episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” (CNN)

“What really interested him about food was the sensual pleasure of eating it and the hard reality of the labor that went into it, and he never lost sight of either. His mission was to affirm the value of life, even as he saw it devalued all around him. When he traveled to war zones, from Libya to Iraqi Kurdistan, he sought to relate to the people caught in them as familiarly as anyone he met in London or Tokyo or New York. He reported on Brexit and Israeli settlements; he traveled to Gaza (probably no mainstream American TV journalist has ever produced a more humanizing segment on Palestinians); he showcased thriving immigrant communities in Houston at the height of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign … Depression can sometimes be the price paid for seeing the world too clearly, in all its contradiction and cruelty, and for being unable to endure the full weight of it. No one saw more of the world more clearly than Anthony Bourdain, and the awful tragedy is that the one thing he may not have seen clearly was his own irreplaceable contribution.”  David Klion in The Nation.


 

culture on the rocks

hanif kureishi

“The furore over Penguin’s wise and brave decision to “reflect the diversity of British society” in its publishing and hiring output seems to have awoken the usual knuckle-dragging, semi-blind suspects with their endlessly repeated terrors and fears. They appear to believe that what is called “diversity” or “positive action” will lead to a dilution of their culture. Their stupidity and the sound of their pathetic whining would be funny if it weren’t so tragic for Britain. You might even want to call it a form of self-loathing; it is certainly unpatriotic and lacking in generosity.

The industries I’ve worked in for most of my life – film, TV, theatre, publishing – have all been more or less entirely dominated by white Oxbridge men, and they still mostly are. These men and their lackeys have been the beneficiaries of positive discrimination, to say the least, for centuries. The world has always been theirs, and they now believe they own it …

It is good news that the master race is becoming anxious about whom they might have to hear from. At this terrible Brexit moment, with its retreat into panic and nationalism, and with the same thing happening across Europe, it is time for all artists to speak up, particularly those whose voices have been neglected.”

Hanif Kureishi in excellent form.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.