Here are recommendations sure to transport you this summer, even if you're staying home.
As passionate readers, many alumni are interested in knowing what books Dartmouth faculty are reading and enjoying. We check in with faculty twice a year, every winter and summer.
Kate Conley Edward Tuck Professor of French and Comparative Literature
This spring I have read two thoughtful, thought-provoking nonfiction books that combine family memoir with history and philosophical reflection, one set in the United States and the other set in Europe and Japan. I highly recommend Terry Tempest Williams’s When Women Were Birds for a powerful and poetic follow-up to her bestseller Refuge, that completes the story of how she coped with the loss of her mother and her own aging process in terms of the ecological, familial, and social environments in which she lives. I also highly recommend Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, which is a beautiful history of the collection of netsuke he inherited from an uncle, from the moment when they entered into his family’s possession in Paris at the turn of the last century to the post-World War II period in a narrative that encompasses the history of a family at the same time and spans the European continent from Odessa to Vienna and then to the Netherlands, England, and Japan.
Aine Donovan Director, Ethics Institute Adjunct Professor of Business Administration, Tuck School
This Republic of Suffering, Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust is an extraordinary look at how a society’s view of death mirrors social circumstances.
The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt is a call for civil discourse and a fascinating overview of what divides American society.
Gregg Fairbrothers '76 Adjunct Professor of Business Administration, Tuck School Founding Director, Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network
I’ve been working with students a lot lately on the psychology of decision-making. Three great new books are out in 2011 on this subject, coming from different angles. All are important reads for anyone serious about making better decisions:
Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman has written Thinking, Fast and Slow. This book will stand for many years as the definitive overview of his life’s work in decision-making with Amos Tversky and others. Kahneman has come late in his career to a balanced view of the roles of rational heuristics and emotions in decision-making. No one should be able to read this book and not come away better prepared to make sound decisions.
Author Jonah Lehrer writes on the topics of psychology, neuroscience, and the relationship between science and the humanities. How We Decide is a terrific overview of the actual mechanics of decision-making, which is heavily influenced by the emotional centers in the brain. It’s a good balance to Kahneman and does a great job summarizing many of the key research findings in the field in a way readily accessible to non-specialists.
Everything is Obvious, Once You Know the Answer, written by Duncan Watts, pretty much sums up the key theme of this important book. A foundation of good decision-making is good epistemology—being careful and disciplined about what we think we know. As Watts convincingly shows from one angle after another, it’s much harder than we commonly think to know what leads to successes and failures. I’m using it now as an assigned reading in class.
Richard Ned Lebow James O. Freedman Presidential Professor of Government Emeritus and Professor of International Political Theory at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London
I heartily recommend Tracy Strong, Politics Without Vision: Thinking Without a Bannister in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). The 20th century rejected all certitudes and foundations for ethics and politics. Strong shows how Nietzsche, Weber, Freud, and other thinkers struggled to make sense of morality and politics in such a world.
Irene Kacandes The Dartmouth Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature
I’ve just finished reading Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, 2003 Nobel winner and the first author to win the Booker Prize twice. If you’ve never bumped into Coetzee before, I recommend him to you highly, and, if you know him, but haven’t read this book yet, I think anyone over a certain age or of a contemplative nature is going to love it. The plot is easily told, as it concerns an older writer who bumps into and then engages a gorgeous younger woman who lives in his apartment complex to type a manuscript for him. The writer’s current work is scheduled to be included in a German book called Strong Opinions, and the topics the writer takes up range from Al Qaeda to intelligent design to J.S. Bach. However, the heart of the book takes place through the juxtaposition of these short essays with entries from the writer’s and the young woman’s diaries, and those concern desire, deception, and ultimately decency. It’s great fun to notice which threads you find yourself wanting to follow the most and to contemplate the relationship between the very different matters that are taken up on any given page. I’ve been thinking a lot about aging and mortality lately; if you have, too, and your tastes run more to movies, I can recommend highly two German films, Cherry Blossoms (directed by Dorris Dörrie, 2009) and Cloud 9 (directed by Andreas Dresen, 2010)—which both, for a summer twist, also concern desire.
Rich Kremer Associate Professor of History
While participating in Dartmouth’s strategic planning this year, I read Richard A. DeMillo’s Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities. Yet another jeremiad about American higher education, DeMillo worries about the 2,000-plus institutions in “The Middle,” i.e. not the “Elite” top-ranked, wealthy schools (where Dartmouth finds itself) or the “For-Profits” that live solely from student tuition. DeMillo, who served as Hewlett-Packard’s chief IT officer, as dean of computing at Georgia Tech, and now as director of that university’s Center for 21st Century Universities, argues that The Middle must innovate or die. He calls for a renewed focus on teaching undergraduates. And his 10 rules for innovation could provide grist for Dartmouth’s mill of strategic planning. Rule 1: “Forget about who is above you.”
Lorie Loeb Research Associate Professor, Computer Science
I thought I’d recommend two first novels.
The Tiger’s Wife is an extraordinary first novel by Tea Obreht. The Tiger’s Wife mixes myth and story in war-torn Croatia. The book reminded me of reading Garcia Marquez in the way it mixes history, narrative, and mythology. I particularly liked the sections about the tiger and the deathless man, which I found mesmerizing and painterly. This is a great book if you are in a book club.
Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee, another first novel, is part spy novel and part search for identity as a Korean-American leaves New England on a quest for understanding about his parent’s culture. I loved the way the book moves between two narratives and, at the same time, shifts between two voices—a more lyrical narrative voice and the language of spies and thrillers. The book reveals the struggle of immigrants who are also torn between languages and cultures. I found the book challenging to read, mesmerizing, and beautifully written.
James B. Murphy Professor of Government
I recommend two novels by Franz Werfel, who was a Jewish friend of Kafka. One is Song of Bernadette, about the origins of the Lourdes shrine in France; the other is The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, about the Armenian genocide.
Another pair of novels I recommend: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene and a novel inspired by it, Silenceby Shasuko Endo.
Deborah L. Nichols William J. Bryant 1925 Professor of Anthropology
A quick recommendation, as I am in Mexico doing research. I recommend two excellent books about the Maya calendar and 2012: The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012 by Anthony Aveni, who is one of foremost experts on archaeoastronomy, and The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth about 2012 by David Stuart, who is internationally known for his work deciphering ancient Maya writing.
Graziella Parati Professor of Italian, Comparative Literature, and Women’s and Gender Studies; Paul D. Paganucci Professor of Italian Language and Literature
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz is a book that everybody should it. It is the story of Oscar de Leon, a Dominican kid who lives in New Jersey. The story is told by Yunior, a character that frequently appears in Junot Diaz’s writings. Yunior is the protagonist of Diaz’s short story in the New Yorker of July 23. Oscar is obsessed with finding love and science fiction. His story is also complemented by the stories of his sister who ran away from home, his mother, and his grandfather.
Kader Abdolah is an Iranian Dutch author whose work is not very well known in the United States, but discovering him was a rewarding experience. I would encourage you to get his two books translated into English: My Father’s Notebook: A Novel of Iran and, above all, The House of the Mosque. The house near the mosque in Senejan, Iran, has been owned by the same family for eight centuries. Sons of the family have become imams for the mosque, and other sons have been prominent citizens engaged in commerce. The novel begins in 1969 with the story of one successful member of the family, Aqa Jaan. He is a respected and rich merchant in the town and he would like Shahbal, one of his grand-nephews, to follow in his footsteps. Abdolah’s books give us an intriguing glimpse at Iranian life and people who complicate and enrich our perception of that country.
Lindsay Whaley Professor of Classics and Linguistics
Here are two recommendations: Assassin’s Accomplice by Kate Clifford Larson. The book examines the evidence for Mary Surratt’s involvement in Lincoln’s assassination and explores the way public opinion of her shifted during her trial and execution.
Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome by Anthony Everrit. Given the limited sources we have about Hadrian from the classical world, Everrit provides a surprisingly rich biography of the 2nd century
William Wohlforth Daniel Webster Professor of Government
Let me start by adding my vote to Richard Wright’s recent suggestion of Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature. This is a truly good read on one of the biggest unsung success stories of human history: the dramatic decline (that’s right, decline) in violence at all levels of society. Two of his chapters cover scholarship I know very well—on inter-state and civil wars—and I can report that he does a splendid job of assimilating and reporting on what we know on this subject. This gives me confidence that he is similarly accurate and responsible concerning the rest of the story, which covers the whole sweep of the human experience from pre-history to the digital age.
I just finished Jonathan Steinberg’s Bismarck: A Life, the latest in a long line of biographies of that great but flawed Prussian statesman. It is one of the best accounts of leadership and grand strategy in print. Smoothly written but well researched, the book takes you through the incredible story of Bismarck’s grand strategy on three related but separate chessboards: Prussian politics, German politics, and European politics. Steinberg gently but authoritatively resolves many of the historical controversies surrounding this extraordinary figure. He does not hide the flaws, the odious prejudices, the weaknesses, but the undeniable strategic acumen comes through. Forget those airport books about strategy. This is the real deal.
Richard Wright Orvil E. Dryfoos Professor of Public Affairs and Geography
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. As the title suggests, the imprisonment of young black men for petty drug crimes in the United States constitutes a new racial caste system resembling, but actually more insidious than, the original Jim Crow. It’s a powerful analysis and a call to action. It stimulated me to plan a new research project around the mass incarceration of young people of color.
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo is also strong stuff but in the form of tightly wrought novel full of false leads about the search for a serial killer who spins a murderous web, at the center of which is the detective in charge of the hunt.
Good Reads Summer 2011 | Winter 2011 | Summer 2010 | Winter 2010 | Summer 2009
More Dartmouth faculty offerings for alumni: ACE on Audio | Alumni Travel