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December/January Book Reviews

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Evil Summer by John Theodore. (Southern Illinois University Press, $24.95). Before there was a John Gacy and a Jeffrey Dahmer, there were Leopold and Loeb. Synonymous with malevolence and dread, their familiar names roll off our tongues, much like the titles of our favorite classic movies. In the 83 years since Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murdered their neighbor Bobby Franks for fun, the details of what became known as “the crime of the century” have grown fuzzy. Not to worry: John Theodore closes the time gap and refreshes our collective memories in Evil Summer. Theodore prefaces the narrative with his own childhood awareness of the two wealthy, privileged boys and details of their horrific deed, revealed to him in bits and pieces. The body of the book reads like a novel, set in the atmosphere of the affluent Hyde Park area where the boys lived and offers all sorts of revelations about the workings of their minds. It’s a compelling story with a generous selection of photographs. The eerie epilogue includes the fate of the killers, their shattered family members and the legend of the ghost of Clarence Darrow.—Tamara Shaffer

Learning to Cook in 1898: A Chicago Culinary Memoir by Ellen F. Steinberg, with recipe adaptations by Eleanor Hudera Hanson. (Wayne State University Press, $19.95). This is much more than a cookbook. Yes, it has more than 80 pages of intriguingly simple recipes—all tested by both women and updated (original cooking times, temperatures and measurements were sometimes vague). The book is also the story of a young Chicago woman of German-Jewish descent who realizes in the year before her marriage to a doctor that she wants to learn cooking, both as an art and a science. Irma Rosenthal Frankenstein, then a student teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, began collecting recipes from her mother and from newspapers and magazines. She says she soon realized that healthy food, properly prepared, “could lend, yes, even joy to existence.” Years later, Irma, who settled in Hyde Park-Kenwood, tells us she has a strong preference for newly-ironed gingham aprons with pockets big enough to hold a recipe or two and—perhaps—a “freshly-made poem.” She insists, “I adore parties, and I’m a good cook.” Her story is set in a rich, cultural context with well-researched comments about the prices and availability of various foods at the time and about the kitchen impact of the growing interest in domestic science, nutrition and the burgeoning temperance and suffrage movements. Celery, for instance, was considered particularly good for nervous and rheumatic people. Recipes of the day also tended to avoid spices. Author Steinberg, who has a PhD in anthropology, literally tripped over a box of Irma’s diaries and recipes while browsing in a used bookstore in Urbana, Ill. Curious, she asked the owner about it. “It’s nobody famous,” was the reply. She bought the box for $50 and discovered that the diaries, which Irma herself had hoped to make into a book, were fascinating enough in their historical context (Irma was a friend of Jane Addams and knew Thornton Wilder) to inspire a first book, Irma: A Chicago Woman's Story, 1871-1966. Steinberg saved Irma's cooking experiences and recipes for this sequel. The authors’ clear favorite among the recipes is the grape pie. Mine is the celery salad made with ripe olives and walnuts.— Lucia Mouat

Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons by Tim Russert. (Random House, $22.95). A wonderful thing happened to Tim Russert upon publication of his 2004 book, Big Russ and Me. Not only was the book, his first, a bestseller, but it also inspired 60,000 written responses from readers throughout the country. Russert read every one of the letters and emails and replied to each of them. The result: a great follow-up book, Wisdom of Our Fathers. The book is divided into 21 chapters, each starting with a picture of a father and his son or daughter and a non-intrusive introduction by Russert. The letters from the offspring are quoted verbatim. All of this makes for a tremendous read, warmhearted and uplifting. The letters glow with praise about wonderful fathers, most of whom were born in the early part of the 20th century. Even though parents today can learn a great deal from this book, there is nothing preachy or condescending in the book. On the contrary, there are excellent ideas running through every page, ideas that can help in rearing children during these challenging times.—Emily McCormack

We welcome your review. If we publish it, we will send you a gift certificate for dinner. E-mail to editorial@chicagolife.net or mail to Chicago Life Reviews, P.O. Box 11131, Chicago IL 60611-0311.

Published: December 02, 2007
Issue: December Philanthropy 07