MY LIFE AND AMAZING ADVENTURES
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 KXEL Radio (1540am) and local television, and have been quoted in newspapers regarding:

Books I read in 2016:
    This Old Man: All in Pieces by Roger Angell. I first encountered Roger Angell in 1974 when my grandmother bought me The Summer Game for my birthday. His latest is a collection of short pieces, mostly written in the last few years, on aging, writing, editing and, of course, baseball. His power over the English language remains undiminished, nor his talent for free association (Ingmar Bergman makes it into a report on the 2012 World Series), nor his ability to illuminate overlooked aspects of the phenomena he explores. This may not serve as your introduction to his writing, but will richly reward his fans who don't subscribe to the New Yorker.
    The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis. This little book contains the papal bull issued in 2015 calling for a Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning last December, and a series of question-and-answer sessions conducted by Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli. The conversation is informed with frequent attribution of authorities, but readily accessible to non-scholars. Francis argues that mercy is the paramount value of the Christian faith, and the major way in which we manifest God in the world. It is also really really hard, both to grant and to accept. The format lends itself to repetitiveness, but that only serves to underscore his simple but difficult message.
    Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Elegantly written prose-poetry reflecting on how it is when race is not merely an issue to consider but an inescapable fact of life. Excellent revelation of the interior life of the mind. She makes clear that, even for the well-intentioned, race is a tangled web that it take maybe generations to unravel, if even then.

Books I read in 2015:
    All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai. Retelling of the imploding candidacy of Gary Hart in 1987, with a decent argument it was a Rubicon point in American politics, albeit Bai is clearly sympathetic to Hart. Its best contribution is to raise questions about contemporary politics in America, specifically the role of news media, the substance of candidate messages, the balance between issue positions and personality in evaluating candidates, and what information is relevant to evaluating presidential character.
   Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Concise, powerful and disturbing. Effective and touching use of the tragedy of Coates's college classmate Prince Jones. The book jacket promises "a transcendent vision for a way forward," but I'm not seeing that.
    Diary of a Genius by Salvador Dali. Occasionally amusing, very public thoughts of the surrealist painter with the amazing mustache, set in the years 1952-1963.
    Political Theories, Ancient and Medieval by William Archibald Dunning. Old text (1902) but still valuable introduction to major political philosophers from Plato to Machiavelli, well-situated in their historical contexts. More attention to some texts--Machiavelli's Discourses, for one--than I'm used to in introductory texts.
    Purity by Jonathan Franzen. Through loops of time tells the stories of those who have intersected the life of our mysterious heroine. As we go back and forth through time some questions are answered while others get raised. By the end I was wondering whether nature or nurture offered the best hope for her.
    Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse by Mary Ann Glendon. While recognizing the importance of individual rights, author questions the American tendency--if anything amplified in the years since publication--to cast any political issue as a contest of rights. In an erudite but accessible discussion, she articulates what we lose: a sense of greater responsibility, a sense of community, and mostly the ability to have a conversation about the society we want to be.
   The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick. Beautifully written, prose poem about her life in and relationship with New York City. More segmented essay than memoir, though there are some memories in it. She expresses, rather like Thomas Merton on that street corner in Louisville, a love for the humanity around her that sees past peoples' frailties and faults... though it's the tough sort of love I guess one would expect from a New Yorker.
    Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by Kristen Green. Skillful weaving of historical narrative with personal and family connection. With many of the participants in the school shutdown still living, how people respond to it today (or don't) is as compelling as the original events.
    My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor by Alec Guinness. Diary written for public consumption, late (1995-96) in the life of the legendary actor. Sweet, good-natured commentary on his life and current events, liberally sprinkled with reminiscences. Even when he is candid it is gently couched. It's like encountering Obi-Wan Kenobi in retirement, except that Guinness is quite clearly ambivalent about being associated with that role.
    The Diary of James C. Hagerty: Eisenhower in Mid-Course, 1954-1955. Good blow-by-blow account of the Eisenhower administration, year 2 and most of year 3. Like a Boswell, Hagerty provides Eisenhower's best quotes and key interactions, but also insights into his own job as press secretary. Eisenhower comes across as a quasi-independent, frustrated by his own party's congressional leadership but suspicious of the motivations of the other party.
    An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris. Novelization of the notorious Dreyfus affair, covering the period between the first trial in 1894 and the second trial in 1898, from the perspective of Col. Piquart, who exposed the flaws in the evidence that led to his conviction. Fast-paced and suspenseful, while being true to the history. Dreyfus in this telling was doomed less by anti-Semitism (though it was a convenient way to rouse the rabble when needed) than by bureaucratic turf protection and standard operating procedures.
    The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William B. Helmreich. Exceptional profile of New York City--all of it, not just Manhattan--by a sociologist and lifelong resident who set out to walk every block of it. The walks and the conversations he starts serve as the basis for discussion of a variety of topics related to urban life. There are chapters on gentrification, ethnicity, safety, and social life, for example. To be at once thorough, engaging, personal and scientific is really a remarkable achievement.
    Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes. Female heroine of YA novel confronts changes in herself and the people around her. Feels like junior high enough that I'm sure it's authentic.
    Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. A new book by Nick Hornby, set in the early(ish) days of television... what's for me not to like? The book amusing in spots, and deeply reflective, though gentle on its characters--the few really bad things that happen occur outside the narrative. The core ensemble of characters are well-developed, and their interior lives sustain a rather thin plot.
    The Space Between: A Christian's Encounter with the Built Environment by Eric O. Jacobsen. A Christian's first book of urbanism, reflecting passions both for Biblical Christianity and for life in communities. It makes a persuasive case that Christians should care about the design of towns. Thorough, sometimes dense prose, interspersed with anecdotes and thought-provoking suggestions like "the orange juice test."
    Diary of a Nightmare: Berlin, 1942-1945 by Ursula von Kardorff. Another gutsy diary of the Nazi years, makes gripping reading. She and the people around her suffered under Hitler, during the Allies' offensive, and during the occupation. She is constantly worried about her family and friends, slowly becomes aware of the Holocaust, and weeps at tragedies but maintains her sense of humor as well.
    Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 by David Kynaston. First of three volumes (so far--three more are planned) on everyday life in post-WW2 Britain. Richly detailed, so much so that it sometimes gets bound up in itself, but on the whole fascinating. For an American, the degree of British government involvement in the economy (not to mention the persistent shortages of goods) is striking. Specific cultural references can be obscure to a foreigner, but not so much that you lose the points he's making.
    Family Britain, 1951-1957 by David Kynaston. Second in a series of post-war histories is chocked with details, sometimes dizzyingly presented. Yet the overall effect is a thorough picture of life in Britain out of wartime rationing and into the television age.
    Huck Finn's America: Mark Twain and the Era that Shaped His Masterpiece by Andrew Levy. Very interesting discussion of Huckleberry Finn in its historical context, and in the context of Twain's life. It says a lot more about child development than is normally thought, ably demonstrated by the author. The racial angle is as ambiguous as ever, but Levy turns over every rock to get there.
    How It All Began by Penelope Lively. Why is plummy historian Henry being fleeced by on-the-make snothead Mark? Why are Jeremy and Stella Dalton on the brink of divorce? Because Charlotte Rainsford, whom none of them knows, was assaulted by a mugger on a London street. Lively artfully describes the emanations from this event, and the lives they intersect, without losing their threads or credulity.
    Dust Bowl Diary by Ann Marie Low. Edited version of a passionately written teenage diary of 1927-37, the Depression and dust bowl years in North Dakota. She writes of hardship, resourcefulness, and making do while trying to make a life, while being thoroughly immune to the charms of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Epilogue brings the story to the date of publication (1984).
    Thoughts on Building Strong Towns, vol. 1 by Charles L. Marohn Jr. Blog posts from 2011 provide a good introduction to the Strong Towns paradigm.
    What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund. Mendelsund attempts to intuit how we process the fiction we read, particularly what images the words create in our minds. He doesn't have a definitive answer, but watching him pose the question in a variety of ways is fascinating. The graphic design of the book, along with the excerpts from classic novels, make it a memorable read.
    Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation by Bruce M. Metzger.
    Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Weird but appealing little book. Crafty, too--the author skillfully deploys astronomy metaphors, shifts from first to third person, and short paragraphs that get even shorter and more disconnected depending on the mental state of the narrator (a middle aged woman in a struggling marriage).
    The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips. Little book about a strange-yet-familiar world in which a sensitive young woman deals with a soul-sucking job entering data at an enormous office. Can't quit... student loan debts, needs the health insurance. Reads like a nightmare, but realistic enough to be believable. A lot of wordplay that I didn't understand, which may have been there to indicate the young heroine's fragile mental state.
    Diary of a German Soldier by Wilhelm Prüller. Diary written for his wife by a young Austrian who was a true believer in everything the Nazis spewed. Hard to read, for that reason, but the tone is familiar as uncritical young idealism. He was horribly, awfully wrong, but couldn't see it. Don't be that guy.
    The Shepherd's Life: A People's History of the Lake District by James Rebanks. Author depicts with care the earthbound life of traditional English shepherds, who have somehow managed to carry on their lives in spite of modernized mechanized agriculture all around them. He describes a life lived close to nature, intimately involved with all of its processes, where farms, herds and reputations go back generations. Occasionally a bit defensive in tone, but he communicates across the cultural barriers.
    Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism by Benjamin Ross. Timely and impassioned commentary on urban sprawl--how it happened, why it's harmful, and what is being or can be done about it. Author brings an activist's perspective, which is valuable. Suggestions are sensible but assume some prior knowledge of the controversies.
    Guantanamo Diary by Mohammed Ould Slahi. Disturbing read but an important book: surprisingly good-natured memoir by Mauritanian Muslim detained at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. (The manuscript was written in 2005 but publication only was approved this year. He's still there, thanks to the Obama administration.) His story depicts the mix of brutality, fear, bureaucratic routine and occasional flashes of humanity that constitutes the war on terror being waged in our name. The manuscript is redacted, including removal of nearly all female pronouns, and at one point one word that would seem to be "tears;" this only adds to the tragic absurdity of his story.
    Oak Hill: A Portrait of Black Life in Cedar Rapids, Iowa by Eric A. Smith. Good use of oral histories and what documentary evidence exists about a historic and understudied Cedar Rapids neighborhood. Recent history gets way too short shrift, and the editing is awful.
    City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village by David Sucher. Seattle-based urbanist with practical design advice at three levels: three basic rules, several broad topics and a blizzard of micro-level suggestions. Liberally illustrated with excellent photographs.
    Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul Theroux. A travel book with a twist: Theroux returned several times during the course of the year to many of the places he visited, and re-interviewed many of the people he met. It's an important story, going off the beaten track in the American South to see places that the wave of modernization has left behind. (He doesn't go to Atlanta or Nashville or Dallas, but to little towns and farms along two-lane highways. Alas, he also doesn't spend much time in Louisiana, the one Southern state I know somewhat well.) Themes are developed, sometimes hammered home with repetition: I lost track of how many times he wondered why NGOs active in Africa are uninterested in American poverty. The rural and small-town poor, bewildered by a world that has left behind, turn to answers in--wait for it--religion and guns. It's an angry sort of religion, though, less about love than about the end times and "homosexuals taking over." Guns are not so much purchased as amassed into arsenals of several dozen. ("I suppose you have a gun," he says to one man. "A gun?" comes the reply. "I got 47.") Through it all Theroux treats those he encounters as fellow humans, though I could do without the phonetic transcriptions of their accents, which makes them seem dumbly alien.
    Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas. Sympathetic psychobiography of our endlessly fascinating 37th President. Using mostly secondary sources gets inside Nixon's head without speculating too wildly. Nixon comes across as a mix of traits--at various times ruthless, generous, opportunistic, scrupulous, strong-and-silent, demonstrative, awkward, sociable, focused and distracted--which often reveal themselves at the wrong times.
    Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth. Laura and Tyler have reached the age when being a party animal transitions from cute to gross. Their struggles to adjust are touching, not to mention carefully portrayed, but get tiresome after awhile.
  31 Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today by Barry Werth. Recounts the first month of the Ford administration. It brought back memories of that awkward but interesting period of U.S. history, in more detail than I would have gotten at 15. He shows Ford struggling with the transition, the economy, and the question of what to do about Nixon. His fundamental decency and self-assurance saw him through, but he was politically weakened by the pardon (and got no help from Nixon, who was self-concerned). Werth argues Ford's weakness allowed for conservatives to assert themselves in the Republican Party with lasting repercussions (Cheney, Rumsfeld, e.g.).
    Nepal Diary by Hugh B. Wood. U of Oregon education professor recalls being part of Nepal's 1950s efforts to create a nation-wide education system.

Books I read in 2011-2014
Books I read in 2010

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

last update 2/17/16