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The 17 Most Innovative University Presses And the Books You Will Want From Them (PHOTOS)

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Following our spotlight of independent literary presses, here is a special feature devoted to the most exciting university presses in the country.

For whatever shortsighted reasons, newspapers and mainstream media in general give short shrift to the vast output of our great university presses. This is especially sad in an era when the university presses are often the ones that provide the most thoughtful analyses of civil liberties, constitutional law, foreign and domestic policy, trade and finance, globalization, immigration and citizenship, and other areas where the rapidity of events in recent years has made it difficult to step back and put matters into perspective. The best among the university presses combine profound scholarship with accessible language, to present books that are both of the moment and can claim a place in the canon.

Few trade publishers in America can match the University Press of Kansas's output of distinguished political books. Or Oxford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton University Press's books on literary criticism. Or New York University Press's urgency in delivering compelling books on civil liberties and constitutional issues. Or MIT Press and Yale University Press's books on art and architecture. The trade publishers get the reviews and the attention, but one often has to look to the university presses for books of greater substance and authority. If trade publishers give us a provisional draft of history, university presses give us the more authoritative version.

Often their regional focus merges with discovering new voices, such as in Wayne State University Press's mission to find Michigan literary writers and to give them a unique platform, or the University of Nebraska's similar goal with respect to that region. The university presses specialize in subjects such as film criticism (the University of Illinois Press and the University of Chicago Press) or literary theory (Columbia University Press) or literature in translation (Slavic literature at Northwestern University Press) for which the trade publishers have neither the inclination nor the resources. Or consider the University of Arizona press's indispensable focus on the border--in a time of racism and anti-immigrant feeling, where else can one find such compelling books about the proliferating meanings of the border?

The misimpression should be removed: university presses do not publish boring or excessively weighty or arcane books. They may not be into showmanship and high-stakes publicity maneuvers, but their steady, unrelenting focus on particular subject areas creates vast bodies of new knowledge that the mainstream reviewing community makes a great mistake in ignoring.

In their comments to the Huffington Post, representatives of these presses were asked to discuss the transition to digital publishing in particular, and you can see that as a group they are addressing the challenge head-on.

There are books here for everyone's taste. Check out what these presses have to offer. You'll often discover history, depth, seriousness, charm, and beautiful design--all at once. And tell us your favorite university presses and what you like about them!

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