Good Reads Winter 2016
The newest edition of Good Reads is especially robust, with 21 recommendations by 13 professors from a variety of academic departments. Suggestions include a biography of Vladimir Putin, a search for meaning in life, and a story about the friendship between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney. There’s a “good listen” for the first time. And readers will have the opportunity to hear directly from recommended authors Hanan al-Shaykh and Zadie Smith, both of whom will visit Dartmouth in 2016.
Dartmouth graduates may also especially appreciate In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria, recommended by professor Charles Wheelan ’88.
Tap into your liberal arts education, select a book or two, and enjoy!
Professor of Women's and Gender Studies
Professor of Jewish Studies
The Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture by Wendy Doniger (pictured)
My "good read" for winter 2016 is actually a "good listen." The text is the Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture, delivered annually at the meeting of the American Council of Learned Societies. The Haskins Lecture is dedicated to the theme, A Lifetime of Learning, and in it, the lecturer is asked, "to reflect on a lifetime of work as a scholar . . . the motives, the chance determinations, the satisfactions (and dissatisfactions) of the life of learning.” This year's lecture—by Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at University of Chicago—can be heard at https://www.acls.org/media/haskins/, and it's truly remarkable. I was in the audience when it was delivered, and I was in tears by the end. The rest of the audience—composed entirely, mind, of cynical academics—was equally affected, as we all rose immediately to our feet when Wendy ended for a long and resounding ovation. It was easily one of the best lectures I have ever heard in my life.
Tuck School of Business
The Circle by Dave Eggers
I have enjoyed several books since reading The Circle when it came out last year, but no other book has stayed on my mind and continued to intrigue me for its foresight. The book chronicles the entrance of a young woman, named Mae Holland, into an Apple/Amazon/Google-type work environment. The fictional company, called the Circle, wants to control just about everything through its portal. As she gets sucked into this all-encompassing environment, we start to realize the dangers of today's social media environment. Eggers wrote about things that were not a reality then but have since come to fruition.
For example, the Circle controls money through its easy to use pay system and Mae wears cameras to transmit what she is seeing to others.
Like Brave New World, or 1984, The Circle offers a scary look at a believable future. Pick it up, and you won’t be able to put it down.
Adjunct Associate Professor of Business Administration
Tuck School of Business
The Richest Man Who Ever Lived by Greg Steinmetz
Steinmetz’s book is a biography of Jacob Fugger, a 16th-century German entrepreneur and banker who accumulated a vast amount of wealth through mining, textile production and, most significantly, developing a sophisticated method of banking and accounting principles that continue through to the present.
My Generation: Collected Nonfiction by William Styron
William Styron is one of the great American writers, and this collection captures much of his insight, brilliance, and facility of language. Reading Styron opens a window on to American society in a way that few other writers are able to do.
Professor of Physiology and Neurobiology
Geisel School of Medicine
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
Compelling and extraordinarily relevant today, especially for those of us at Ivy League institutions trying to understand the juxtaposition of different worlds and the cultural chasms that exist even among committed and well-meaning people.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
For those with aging parents and for those who will also someday be old (i.e., nearly all of us), an incredibly valuable book to understand how to end a good life.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
The most memorable lines likely should not be reprinted for public consumption (but I am laughing just thinking of them). Acerbic and uplifting at the same time, Sedaris’s humor was often the best thing at the end of many long days.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
My husband, who rowed, highly recommended this book, but it is certainly for more than just those with a first-hand familiarity with crew. There are trite references that one could make as to the meaning of the boat—but simply put, this is a beautifully written history of the Depression, the Dust Bowl, of America in the time of Nazi Germany, and a group of ordinary men who together were extraordinary. As Timothy Egan notes in his review, “The Boys in the Boat is about who we used to be. And who we still could be.”
Edward Tuck Professor of French
Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano
When French novelist Patrick Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, he was not familiar to many American readers. Since then, quite a few translations have been published, some new, some re-issued. Modiano is best known in France for his focus on the Nazi Occupation, a period that ended just before his birth. In a lucid and haunting prose style, his novels explore the power of memory and seek traces of the past in contemporary life. Like many of Modiano’s narrators and protagonists, readers must become “detectives,” constantly seeking clues in order to discover and reveal hidden meanings. Modiano’s first three novels have recently been translated as The Occupation Trilogy. I would suggest, however, that readers new to Modiano start with Dora Bruder, a 1997 novel in which a narrator pieces together the story of an adolescent Jewish girl who ran away from home in 1941 and was captured and deported to Auschwitz.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
The length of Ron Chernow's 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton is intimidating. However, the book is so superbly crafted and beautifully written that it deserves your attention. Hamilton had an amazing life, rising from the poorest and most miserable of origins to become George Washington's right-hand man and the nation's first Treasury Secretary. Chernow's descriptions of Hamilton's battles with Jefferson are engrossing and will put today's politics in perspective. If that is not enough to persuade you to give it a look, this was the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the brilliant hip-hop Broadway musical Hamilton. Read the book and go see the show!
Research Professor in Computer Science
Director, Digital Arts
Dali & Disney: Destino: The Story, Artwork, and Friendship Behind the Legendary Film
by David A. Bossert
Since co-founding the DALI Lab [Digital Arts, Leadership & Innovation] at Dartmouth nearly three years ago, I have been devouring books and articles about Salvador Dali. I've been following the life and career of Walt Disney for 30 years because of my work in animation. This book brings both together to chronicle the creation of the short animated film, Destino. Dali and Disney started working on the film in 1945, but it wasn't released until 2004, when it was nominated for an Academy Award. The book tells the intriguing story of the friendship and collaboration, and is full of artwork and photos.
After the American Century: The Ends of the U.S. Culture in the Middle East
by Brian Edwards
This book, which has just come out, can help shape and frame our understanding of both the representation and the influence of American culture in the Middle East and the connection this interaction has with the emergence of ISIS and other radical Islamic movements.
Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
The Story of Zahra
by Hanan al-Shaykh
As the Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh will come to Dartmouth in the spring, I would like to recommend her novel The Story of Zahra because it is one of the masterpieces in the Arabic language. During the war that ravaged Beirut, Zahra is involved in the family intrigue as her mother uses her as a cover for her encounters with her lover. She is punished by her father for being complicit in her mother's betrayal. This is the beginning of a girl and then a woman's search for her own identity along a trajectory that takes her from Beirut to West Africa and then back to Beirut where the war is ongoing. Hanan al-Shaykh writes provocative books about women and the complexity of their lives. The Story of Zahra was banned in many Arabic countries when it was published in 1986. It is now a classic as is another novel Women of Sand and Myrrh, published in 1988. She recounts the story of four privileged women who enjoy every economic advantage, but cannot enjoy freedom in the unnamed desert country where they live.
by Zadie Smith
The well-known British writer Zadie Smith will come to Dartmouth in February 2016. I would recommend any of her books starting with her first novel White Teeth that follows its characters across generations and decades when British multiculturalism was being created. Inspired by E.M. Forster's Howards End, her novel On Beauty tells of two families, the relationship between parents and children, academic life, politics and the messiness of life. Do not hesitate to read any other book by Smith as her voice and her comments on contemporary society follow the reader long after reading her books.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
by Mary Roach
I had not thought a great deal about what donating one’s body or organs to science actually means in current times or what it has meant in the past. The author tackles a macabre subject with just the right balance of humor and serious reflection to make the book, if not enjoyable to read, at least palpable. You learn a great deal about the use (and misuse) of dead bodies and are provoked to think about your own views of what the line of decency is when using cadavers to serve the needs of the living.
Meaning in Life and Why It Matters
by Susan Wolf
The book contains two essays by the Princeton philosopher in which she argues that meaningfulness is a key component of the good life and that meaningfulness is the intersection of subjective attraction and objective attractiveness. Several respondents then react to her claims and bring further refinement to her ideas. Ultimately, Wolf’s arguments raise as many questions for me as they answer, but she provides an accessible 21st century investigation into the question of what makes a life worth living.
In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria
My recommendation is In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria. This is a short, readable, relevant book that makes a powerful case for the liberal arts. That said, Zakaria takes the academy to task for a variety of sins, ranging from overly narrow courses to unsustainable tuition increases. He expounds on the potential of online education, albeit with some skepticism. (Who knew that radio education—listening to lectures broadcast over the airwaves—was once heralded as a transformative technology for American education?) Mostly, this book offers a concise but insightful encapsulation of what education is supposed to accomplish. Along the way, Zakaria’s elegant writing reminds us that public intellectuals can play an important role in refining how we think about important social issues.
Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy
If you want to know pretty much all that is reliably known about Forbes magazine’s most powerful person in the world Vladimir V. Putin, you can’t do better than Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. Unlike many books of this sort, Hill and Gaddy are careful to separate speculation from reasoning based on real evidence. The book is too long, but it is a readable, hugely informative, smart and penetrating look into the person behind Russia’s personalistic regime and the ways in which his faults and virtues interact with the system of rule built around him.
An Officer and a Spy
by Robert Harris
Robert Harris is way too successful a writer to need a boost from the likes of me but his page-turner of a historical thriller on the Dreyfus Affair, An Officer and a Spy, is just too good not to tout. I’m not a specialist on French history and will defer to my colleagues across North Main Street on the accuracy question, but it has the markings of a very well researched book. It makes you feel the painful sting of anti-Semitism in fin de siècle France in a visceral way hard to replicate in a more conventional scholarly work. You know the outcome, but somehow that doesn’t affect the tension that keeps you reading obsessively.
Professor of Geography
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A student was in my office recently. She had joined a protest on campus over #BlackLivesMatter. She’d seen a confrontation between Black and non-Black students in Baker Berry library and observed that the look in the faces of people on both sides of the divide could have been from 50 years ago. Ta-Nehisi Coates does not try to bridge that divide in Between the World and Me. His beautiful and poetic essay, written by a Black man to his Black son, pivots around the observation that “in America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” No simple answers or quick fixes here. Coates is asking not just his son but you and me to struggle to come to terms with this reality. Easy read? Definitely not. Good read? Yes. Required read? Without question.
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
I read Behind the Scenes in the Museum ages ago and for some reason had not picked up another Kate Atkinson book since. Big mistake. Great character development meets clever plot lines meets terrific story telling. Two thumbs way up.
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