caucus training in 1992
(attending a caucus training session at Coe in 1992;
from the Cedar Rapids Gazette archives)

      I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois. My sister, Susan Dudek, and my brother, Mark Nesmith, still live in that area.  I attended Wheaton Central High School and graduated in 1977.

     I graduated from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois in 1981.  My main pursuit there was radio station WONC, where I did shows with names like "The Bruce Nesmith Extravaganza" and "Brucemania". You may go and check their web site (and listen to WONC on RealAudio!) but only if you promise to attend Coe instead!

    I worked briefly as a news announcer at WBOX in Bogalusa, Louisiana before turning to the relative sanity (?!) of professional academia.

    I received my Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1987, under the direction of the redoubtable and extremely helpful Professor Lester G. Seligman. My first full-time job was at Western Illinois University. I have been at Coe since 1989.

    My current research, collaborating with Paul J. Quirk of the University of British Columbia, evaluates the performance of presidents and Congress in a number of public policy cases. My one and only published book is The New Republican Coalition: The Reagan Campaigns and White Evangelicals, published by Peter Lang in 1994.  Quirk and I co-authored a chapter in The Elections of 2008, published by CQ Press, and have a chapter on presidential advising in Governing at Home, published by Kansas University Press in 2011.

     I am a member of the American Political Science Association, though I rarely am able to attend the annual meetings. On the other hand, I am not a member of the Midwest Political Science Association, but attend their meeting in Chicago almost every spring.

    I volunteer at Garfield School in Cedar Rapids. 

    My guest appearance on Iowa Public Radio's Politics Wednesday 7/28/2010 and 8/11/10 and 1/5/11. I am a frequent commentator on WMT Radio (600am) and local television, and have been quoted in newspapers regarding:

Books I read in 2014:
    A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution by Carol Berkin. Breezy tale of the 1787 Constitutional Convention that focuses on the personalities involved as well as the issues. Sort of a "Miracle at Philadelphia" updated with more recent scholarship. She is an academic historian but includes no citations.
    My Three Years with Eisenhower by Harry C. Butcher. Diaries intended for publication risk self-consciousness and spin, but Butcher's superb blow-by-blow of his three years as Eisenhower's Naval Aide during World War II has offsetting virtues. It takes the reader inside the laborious planning phase for the invasion of Normandy and the nearly yearlong endgame of the war in Europe, reminding us how many uncertainties surrounded the effort. It details the need to account not only for military necessities but national and personal rivalries. There is tension with the news media but nothing like what would follow in Vietnam. All this is told in Butcher's magnificent writing voice: he comes across as good-humored, friendly, modest and imperturbable. He must have been a valuable guy to have around.
    Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler. Little Wing, Wisconsin is a fictional small town that must have a great deal of energy compressed into it. The novel switches perspectives among four friends, one of whom stays on his family farm while the other go elsewhere to attain great success in their respective fields. Yet they are always drawn back to the town. At its best this is a paean to home and friendship; at other times it's awfully Hallmarky.
    A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers.
Alan Clay is 54 years old, trying to make sense of his life, to get back on the track he long since fell off, to matter somehow, to impress someone. The absurdity that his life has become finds its appropriate locale in Saudi Arabia, on a futile business trip to King Abdullah Economic City (acronymed KAEC, pronounced "Cake"). For a young man Eggers captures middle-aged angst perfectly.
    Working with Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History: A Diary, 1928-1930; Selling Black History for Carter G. Woodston: A Diary, 1930-1933 by Lorenzo J. Greene. These books are well-written diaries from the early career of Greene, who became professor of history at Lincoln University in Missouri. It's a vivid account of the beginning of an academic career (complete with persnickety advisor), the nature of historical research, and the conditions of black life in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In addition, Greene was an avid New York Yankees fan (surprisingly taking no interest in the Negro Leagues) and apparently something of a rake.
    Seeking the Sacred in Contemporary Religious Architecture by Douglas R. Hoffman. Analytical, accessible, and lavishly-photographed introduction to thinking about the physical aspect of sacred places. Hoffman's use of a small number of focal cases, like St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, is particularly useful.
    Dark Age Ahead  by Jane Jacobs. In her last book, the articulate ur-urbanist manages to be both prophetic about America's present and hopeful about America's future. She describes five signs of crisis as our culture enters the post-industrial era, which must be addressed to prevent slipping into a "dark age" like the prehistoric hunter-gatherers, ancient Romans, or modern farm belts. (Declaring ourselves "exceptional" is not a good sign of self-awareness. They probably did, too.) But history has several examples of several adaptations, too, and Americans can profit by their examples. "Is suburban sprawl, with its murders of communities and wastes of land, time, and energy, a sign of decay? Or is rising interest in means of overcoming sprawl a sign of vigor and adaptability in North American culture? Arguably, either could turn out to be true" (pp. 169-170).
    Thinking the Twentieth Century by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder. Sort of an intellectual autobiography through conversations with Snyder during the last years of Judt's life. Judt's interests are wide-ranging, and the conversational (as opposed to expository) format makes them particularly hard to follow for someone not versed in all those areas. The last chapter is an interesting commentary/update on Judt's Ill Fares the Land (2010).
    Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Jolly and highly readable romp through economics, formerly known as the dismal science. Less concerned with micro- or microeconomics than with seeing how powerful economic paradigms like incentives, and careful use of data, can illuminate the everyday world.
    How About Never--Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons by Robert Mankoff. Longtime New Yorker cartoonist, and their current cartoon editor, manages to be both analytical and humorous. Generously illustrated.
    The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armisted Maupin. 9th--9th?? yes, 9th--in Maupin's series of novels about San Francisco is just as sweet and life-affirming as its predecessors, even though Anna is in her 90s and suffering the effects of a stroke, and Michael "Mouse" is in his 60s and grumpy. Shit happens, as shit will, but it's endurable in the community of good friends. I had no problem following this though I haven't read the whole series, but it probably helps for the reader to have some prior familiarity with the characters. The sexual discussions are frank enough to make me uncomfortable, but that may be the point.
    The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America by Gary B. Nash. Detailed, edgy, second look at the movement for American independence. Nash shows how the elites throughout this period sought to manage, and in some cases betrayed, the poor, nonwhite and women inspired by the revolutionary rhetoric. Shameful treatment of native populations is not overlooked.
    The Early Diary of Ana´s Nin. The first three volumes of Nin's early diary cover the years 1914-1927, beginning with her voyage to America with her mother and brothers. The diaries are exceptionally-written given her age at the time: main themes include her delusional attempts to reunite her family, her struggles at school and with the genteel poverty of her home life, and, inevitably, boys. Through all this there is her ongoing compulsion to write, the mark of all professional writers. (Coe does not own volume 4, which covers the years 1927-1931.)
    The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer. Well-known data about our present discontents and uncertain future come alive in a representative series of personal stories, with conclusions left to the reader. It's about the survival struggles of individuals, pitted against corrupted institutions (economic as well as political) in a broken system. The winners (Newt Gingrich, Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey) seem to triumph through showmanship; more touchingly, ordinary men and women might get 19 out of 20 things right but it's the 20th that keeps them down, and once you start to fall there's not much left to stop you.
    Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by Parker J. Palmer. A truly exceptional work. Palmer manages in a relatively small book both to present a new vocabulary for discussing and participating in politics while keeping the language accessible and the tone passionate. Realistic about contemporary American politics, but also hopeful and encouraging about the future.
    Diary of My Songs by Francis Poulenc. Not a diary of daily life but a series of instructions, compiled over a period of nearly twenty years, on how his songs should be sung (inspired by a woman he heard "caterwauling" on the radio in November 1939). I don't know much of Poulenc's music but am inspired to find some to listen to. The English language editor promises that with certain of Poulenc's songs "Paris returns in a flash... the stamping ground of Cocteau and Picasso, the site of Max Jacob's slum and Marie-Blanche de Polignac's salon."
    What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel. Sandel notes the monetization of "almost everything," and argues that's sometimes but not always good. He uses highlights from the last decade to show market-oriented thinking breaking down social unity, eroding civic norms and virtues, and altering how individuals relate to each other. Even academic inquiry is subject to market power, as with corporate-produced materials for strapped public schools. Nice chapter on baseball, where everything seems to be up for sale.
    The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. Collection of essays published twelve years ago which show their age. At her best her insights are exceptional: ruminating on patriotism in title essay, or on not having the feelings you're supposed to have at Gettysburg or a family Thanksgiving (first two essays). There's way too much bitterness over the outcome of the 2000 election, which we've long since ceased to care about, and her self-deprecating humor gets tiresomely repetitive.
    Life is a Wheel: A Passage Across America by Bicycle by Bruce Weber. For a guy who says he's too busy concentrating on traffic to ruminate while he's riding, this book contains a lot of rumination. It's really three books in one: descriptions of America and the people he meets as he rides across it, reflections on his life and relationships personal and professional, and (implicitly) thoughts about solitude. Thought-provoking without a clear agenda.
    Protestant Worship and Church Architecture by John F. White. 50 years old but still valuable introduction to church design and its relevance to worship. Focusing on floor plans, White is gentle but so persuasive the reader can't help by the end feeling passionate about church floor plans.

Books I read in 2011-2013
Books I read in 2010

    Be it ever so humble, there's no place like Home!

last update 8/15/14