MY LIFE AND AMAZING ADVENTURES
(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
My guest appearance on Iowa Public Radio's Politics
I am a frequent commentator on WMT Radio (600am) and local television,
and have been quoted in newspapers regarding:
read in 2014:
- party identification data (Gazette,
- Monica Lewinsky (Gazette, 3/4/99)
- the Republican Party (Gazette, 3/14/99)
- George W. Bush (NY Times, 6/11/99)
- negative campaigning (Gazette,
- Orrin Hatch and the Mormon Church
- the 22nd Amendment (Gazette, 2/27/01)
- Cedar Rapids city elections
elections and the war (USA Today, 10/9/02)
- Midwestern values (Gazette, 8/6/04)
- Cedar Rapids's proposed charter
- John G. Roberts, Supreme Court nominee (Gazette, 7/19/05)
Vilsack's presidential campaign (KGAN, 2/23/07)
McCain's presidential campaign (Gazette, 7/14/07)
State of the Union address (1/24/12)
visit to Cedar Rapids (7/10/12)
Cruz's visit to Iowa (10/25/13)
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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).
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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