Monthly Archives: August 2013

Undercover and Understated: The Story of a Reluctant Hero of WWII

CBR_Logo2Code Name Pauline:
Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent
by Pearl Witherington Cornioley;
Edited by Kathryn J. Atwood

Pearl Witherington Cornioley was one tough cookie. The eldest child in a poor family, she led a hard-scrabble life, stealing half-rotten potatoes discarded by street vendors at the crack of dawn in order to provide something to eat for her mother and siblings, going to work full-time at age seventeen as a secretary, and teaching at night after work to make some extra money.

Code Name Pauline_coverAbandoned by her charming but alcoholic father, Pearl did whatever it took to help her mother make ends meet in prewar Paris. A British subject, she was born and raised in the City of Light, an Englishwoman who spoke fluent French. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and France and Britain subsequently entered World War II, there was no doubt in Pearl’s mind that she wanted to do her bit to defeat the Nazis.

Code Name Pauline tells Pearl’s fascinating story—one that, for decades, she was reluctant to share, until, late in life, she relented, allowing herself to be interviewed for a French publisher. Chicago writer Kathryn Atwood has “gathered, translated, and gently edited” Pearl’s reminisces in this newly released memoir.

Tough and considerate, patriotic and determined, Pearl volunteered for service in Britain, becoming personal assistant to the director of Allied Air Forces and Foreign Liaison at the Air Ministry in England. Wanting to do more, she applied to the Inter-Services Research Bureau. Unknown to just about everyone at the time—and even for decades after World War II—that bureau was, in fact, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Britain’s secret organization created to conduct espionage, sabotage, guerrilla warfare, and reconnaissance missions in occupied Europe. SOE agents also recruited and assisted local resistance movements.

It was this work that Pearl undertook after parachuting into France in September 1943, when she was just twenty-nine years old. For months, Pearl, whose code name was “Pauline,” worked as a courier delivering coded messages and, later, as an organizer and leader coordinating the efforts of resistance fighters.

Code Name Pauline reveals Pearl’s life, from her scrappy childhood in Paris to her secret work in the SOE to the daunting postwar efforts she undertook advocating for recognition of SOE agents and resistance fighters. Like many of those who were part of World War II, Pearl never considered herself a hero, despite the danger she faced day in and day out. Modest and plain-spoken, Pearl’s story is revealed in a matter-of-fact manner that belies the real-life drama she encountered while working undercover in France.

The understated tone of Code Name Pauline can at times feel a bit dry. Pearl’s sense of humility does not lend itself well to a romantic tale of wartime adventure—indeed, Pearl herself hated it when others attempted to glamorize her story. As a result, Code Name Pauline at times feels a little flat, even if Pearl’s story is a compelling and significant one.

The understated tone of the book, however, does not diminish the meaningfulness of this important story. As one of only thirty-nine women to serve the British as undercover agents in France, Pearl’s story is exceptional. And, as more and more of those who served in World War II depart this world, it is important to hear the first-hand accounts of their service.


Author Kathryn Atwood

Code Name Pauline is intended for the young adult reader. Indeed, Pearl herself said that part of the reason she decided to share her story was to inspire young people. Young readers, however, may not be familiar with some of the places, people, and events that are featured in the book, which may make it a difficult read for them. Although Atwood has added some contextual details at the beginning of each chapter to help set the stage, some additional information may have been useful to paint a richer picture of Pearl’s wartime experiences.

In some ways, in fact, Code Name Pauline raises more questions than it answers. We get only sketchy information about how Pearl survived on a daily basis. We get only glimpses of the actions in which she participated. Little is said about the messages she delivered, to whom she delivered them, or what the result was. That’s not to say that Code Name Pauline isn’t without such stories; indeed, some of the stories she shares convey tension, fear, urgency, and even humor. But it seems Pearl has been selective about the memories she decided to share, and, in doing so, the story presented here feels somewhat incomplete.

Code Name Pauline provides a taste of Pearl’s life as an undercover agent during World War II as well as a glimpse into the SOE. As such the book will be of interest to anyone who studies World War II, particularly those with a penchant for stories about resistance fighters and of the women who contributed to the war effort. Readers who are familiar with such works as A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm (in which Pearl is mentioned several times) or with Sebastian Faulks’s novel Charlotte Gray will find much of interest in Pearl’s story.

Two-Star Review

August 2013, Chicago Review Press
YA Nonfiction/Autobiography
$19.95, 184 pages pages, hardcover with maps and photo insert
ISBN: 978-0-226-02093-8

Author Kathryn Atwood discusses Pearl’s story with the BBC.
Learn more
about Pearl Witherington Cornioley.
Watch a video about Code Name Pauline.

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen


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Hit the Books!

CBR_Logo2It’s back-to-school time!

As you shop for school supplies, fill those reading list requirements, and stuff backpacks, take a minute to really look at the books your MC900439592kids are hauling to and from school every day. Chances are at least a couple of those books were published by a company with offices here in Chicago.

In recent blogs, we’ve focused on various aspects of Chicagoland’s publishing industry, looking at children’s publishing, university presses, association publishing, and some local bookstores. Today we offer a roundup of just some of the education publishers in Chicago—those publishers that are producing textbooks, eLearning products, online instruction, supplements, and all sorts of cool new teaching and learning materials that are finding their way into classrooms these days.

But, first, a little bit of history about textbook and education publishing here in the Windy City.

dickjane3Chicago has long been home to education publishing. Scott Foresman was launched in 1889 in a tiny office on Wabash Avenue, publishing everything from Latin textbooks to the popular Dick and Jane series. Foresman later moved its headquarters to Glenview, and now it is part of Pearson, which is based in London.

Pearson is just one of the big-name education publishers that has ties to Chicago. McGraw-Hill, Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, and Macmillan—all those names you’ll find on the spines and copyright pages of textbooks—also have had or still have offices here. Consolidation, bankruptcy, and restructuring have brought many changes to these houses over the years. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt declared bankruptcy in 2012 and has since reorganized. McGraw-Hill recently spun off its education unit to the venture capital firm Apollo Global Management, and there is talk that something might happen between Apollo, McGraw-Hill Education, and Cengage Learning, which owns National Geographic School Publishing, which has offices in Evanston.

Today, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill Education “control 85 percent of the $3.2 billion elementary and high-school market.” Aside from the big three, though, Chicago is home to a number of other, smaller education publishers, packagers, and content deliverers. Among them are Follett, Goodheart-Willcox, Learning Resources, and Quarasan.

liner_historyFormed in 1873 in west suburban Wheaton, Follett is now a $2.7 billion global publisher. Originally launched as a used bookstore by Charles Barnes, the company moved from Wheaton to Chicago in 1876, where Barnes sold new and used textbooks, school supplies, and stationary. In 1901, C. W. Follett joined the company, and eventually the organization evolved into a wholesaler before reorganizing as Barnes–Wilcox and eventually becoming the Follett College Book Company in 1930. (Charles Barnes went on to found what would become Barnes & Noble.) Today, Follett provides libraries, schools, and universities with a variety of educational tools and services that “fuel the learning process and spark the imagination” for students of all ages. As it has done for more than 135 years, Follett continues to evolve, moving beyond traditional textbooks to publish digital textbooks, course materials, and software.

About the time that Follett was morphing from wholesale bookseller to educational publisher, Goodheart-Willcox was entering the fray. Launched in 1921 to publish Dyke’s Automobile and Gasoline Engine Encyclopedia, the publisher has since become a leader in the field of career and technical education.

9781619601994Originally established in Chicago, Goodheart-Willcox has moved around the south suburbs a few times, from Homewood to South Holland to Tinley Park, where its current headquarters are. As the publisher has grown, it has added more titles and more subjects, moving beyond its original automotive titles to publish books on such topics as refrigeration, welding, home economics, anatomy, construction, information technology … the list goes on and on. A number of Goodheart-Willcox titles have become standards in their field: According to the company’s website, Modern Electric and Gas Refrigeration by Andrew H. Althouse was first published in 1933 and is currently in its 18th edition as Modern Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. Similarly, Modern Welding is the updated 11th edition of Modern Welding Practice, first published in 1942, and Clothes and Your Appearance by Louise Liddell, originally published in 1977, is now in its 10th edition.

While Goodheart-Willcox focuses on career and technical education, Learning Resources is targeting a much younger audience, publishing educational materials for children and their families with a focus on the PK–5 market.

For nearly three decades, the educational publisher, headquartered in Vernon Hills, has developed materials that go beyond simple board books to include bilingual products, electronic toys, play and learning activity sets, manipulatives, games, and puzzles, among other things. The house also publishes technology products and teacher resources to support the delivery of education. In addition, Learning Resources also offers a variety of materials for special-needs children, helping them learn through interactive products and providing solutions for struggling students.

prod7101_thThe colorful, educational materials from Learning Resources have earned kudos from a variety of corners, from blogger moms to magazines like Good Housekeeping and from teachers to science and technology experts.

Pulling together all the material for the wide variety of educational resources available today is no easy task. In fact, a number of education and textbook publishers turn to packagers and content developers to help create products that will help children learn and teachers teach. Among them is Quarasan, a Chicago-based content provider.

According to the company’s website, Quarasan was launched in 1982 by graphic designer Randi Brill, who had $57 in her checking account and some room in her basement from which to start the business. “She was heavily armed with circa 1982 tools: a pica stick, two file cabinets, a blue Princess phone, and a typewriter (yes, a typewriter!) that didn’t type the lowercase letter o!” After adding a number of clients, a lot of employees, and some good projects, Quarasan moved a few times before landing in its current location in downtown Chicago.

Today, the company develops content for the likes of Loyola Press, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, and World Book, Inc., focusing on the PK–16 market. From conceptualization to customization to correlations, Quarasan’s team of writers, reviewers, copy editors, proofreaders, designers, illustrators, and project managers works on scores of projects for a variety of clients, all toward the goal of “getting today’s kids ready for their tomorrows.”

MC900048059Today’s students have at their disposal learning materials that many of us could never have dreamed of when we were young. Chicago’s education and textbook publishers are developing innovative books and related products that help students of all ages learn in fun ways. Although the city may have fewer education publishers today than it did just a few decades ago, Chicago publishers remain at the forefront of cutting-edge educational materials that will, indeed, help kids prepare for tomorrow.

—Kelli Christiansen

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For Sale: Fountain of Youth

CBR_Logo2The Longevity Seekers:
Science, Business, and the Fountain of Youth
by Ted Anton

In a day and age when women will pay as much as $600 an ounce for anti-aging facial crème, there’s no doubt that the pursuit of youth is big business. In today’s youth-obsessed culture, it seems everyone is looking for ways to look younger, feel younger, and live longer. Ted Anton explores this phenomenon in The Longevity Seekers.

9780226020938Anton, a professor of English at DePaul University in Chicago, has crafted an engaging, accessible examination of the quest to understand longevity with this, his latest book. (Anton’s previously published titles include Bold Science and Eros, Magic, and the Murder of Professor Culianu). Thoroughly researched and well documented, The Longevity Seekers was more than a decade in the making as Anton traveled far and wide talking with scientists, researchers, venture capitalists, and others as he sought to unravel the “personal, economic, and intellectual motivations shaping discovery in our time.”

The Longevity Seekers examines more than two decades of research into life span and longevity, focusing on studies that explore the genes, enzymes, and proteins that may make us live longer, healthier lives. Anton takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the labs and the scientists in them who study worms, flies, mice, mole rats, primates, and other beings, all of which may point the way to anti-aging pharmaceuticals for humans.

Anton’s exposé unwinds like a fast-paced thriller as he recounts the highly competitive race in which scientists, research labs, and global drug companies are engaged in the search for a magic bullet that could extend human life. Quirky, temperamental scientists butt heads. Wealthy venture capitalists seek to monetize scientific research. Scientific journals rush to publish unsubstantiated findings. Big pharma capitalizes on promising though nascent studies.

In recounting the race to fight aging, Anton reveals that, by 2010, 247 “longevity genes” had been claimed “… just to treat something [aging] most people through most of history considered perfectly normal.” But, he notes, scientists soon discovered that “… a single gene does not create a single protein that produces a single effect.” Finding the antidote to death would take more than isolating a single gene, protein, or enzyme.

The Longevity Seekers offers a fascinating look at the players who have brought the notion of anti-aging to the fore. Anton goes beyond the elements of science and business that have been driving the quest for longevity, also discussing the social, economic, and political implications of a world full of centenarians. And, although he dives deep into the science behind anti-aging—even going so far as to provide scientific shorthand for various genes—The Longevity Seekers remains accessible even for those without PhDs in molecular biology.

Anton, Ted S13

Author Ted Anton

Indeed, the book is more than accessible. Engaging and lively, The Longevity Seekers is compelling and revealing. In providing such a thorough examination of the science, business, and politics behind the quest for immortality, Anton also pushes us to examine ourselves, to question why aging is considered a disease when it is, after all, a natural part of life.

Anton does an excellent job of simplifying a complex subject, and he does so with verve. Unfortunately, the book is marred by some sloppy copy editing, which is rather disturbing since the work is published by the house that literally wrote the book on copy editing. In addition, the story of the quest for longevity is slightly derailed when Anton veers into discussions about his parents, his siblings, and himself as they consider whether it’s time to move the folks into an assisted-living facility. These personal asides, although not entirely off topic, seem somewhat misplaced in an objective examination of the science behind the business of youth.

Readers who are looking for a simple how-to guide on how to live longer, more healthful lives won’t find it here. Although that’s not the focus, some tips for extending life do surface: daily exercise, reasonable nutrition, and social engagement. Instead, The Longevity Seekers provides a thoughtful, thought-provoking examination of the quest for immortality and the people, science, business, and politics that shape that quest.

Three-Star Review

May 2013, University of Chicago Press
Science/Current Affairs
$26, 223 pages, hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-226-02093-8

Learn more about Ted Anton and The Longevity Seekers.

Listen to author Ted Anton discuss the book.

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen

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