Between the Pages

Faculty, staff and alumni serve up their recommendations for your reading pleasure
December 17, 2012

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The year’s end is always a happy excuse for lists of favorite books, so we decided to take advantage of it again this year. We asked faculty, staff and alumni to tell us about the books that moved them, intrigued them or just plain amused them.

The result is a wonderful range of stories: an elephant whisperer, young cancer patients in love, wars, how our brains decide, a blind man who made it down from the 9/11 towers, young farmers and even our place in the universe. And much more besides.

If you have others, let us know at now@tufts.edu, and we’ll post an update.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach. The slightly bumbling but endearing characters in Harbach’s first novel will linger in your memory long after you’ve forgotten the somewhat convoluted plot. There is the dazzling shortstop, Henry Skrimshander, whose errant throw affects the lives of college president Guert Affenlight; his wayward daughter, Pella; baseball team stalwart Mike Schwartz; and Henry’s roommate, Owen. All are affiliated with Westish College in Wisconsin, whose claim to fame is that Herman Melville once lectured there, giving the baseball team a chance to dub itself the Harpooners. You cheer for them all, even though they commit error after error, like a losing but loveable baseball team. The book is sweetly funny and entertaining, and you find yourself wondering what will happen to this motley group after the book ends.—Marjorie Howard, senior writer, Tufts Now

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. This is an emotional, funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty and hope . . . as only a dog could tell it.—Pam G. Dwinell, J91, G92

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker. I study humanitarian crises and disasters. Most of the books I read have depressing titles like A Dark Side of Virtue or Victorian Atrocities. It’s all gloom and doom. But then I found Pinker’s latest book. It is a tour de force through human history, using all the latest databases and statistics to ask one question: Is life getting better? And Pinker’s answer is a resounding yes. He amasses a wealth of data to show how, for at least the last 2,000 years, the rate of violent killings within humanity has gone steadily down. Sure, there are blips like the two world wars, but the overall picture is one of a more peaceful and a more rights-driven society. Although bits of the world lag behind, there is reason for profound hope. The book is beautifully written and a superb antidote to the gloom of the news channels and political pundits. Read it and challenge the isolationists and gloom-mongers!—Peter Walker, the Irwin H. Rosenberg Professor of Nutrition and Human Security, Friedman School, and director of the Feinstein International Center, Tufts

The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies, by Alan Taylor. The United States does not pay too much attention to the War of 1812, even during this, its bicentennial year. Unclear motives and an apparently undramatic outcome mean a few vignettes have become the story of the conflict—the USS Constitution's besting of British adversaries or the burning of Washington, D.C. (perhaps why we chose to forget the conflict). But Taylor, a master historian of the early United States and the “Atlantic World” that surrounded it, gives reason to remember. He starts with a set of native, colonial and immigrant communities ripped apart by the American Revolution and struggling to define themselves in its aftermath. He shows how in the years before the war, the British sought to redefine what would become Canada as an imperial counterpoint to the boisterous and fractious breakaway republic beneath it. There was a sort of Cold War between the two sides, but one that had to contend with a fluid border and populations with mixed and uncertain loyalties. The War of 1812 was fed in part by this tense and indistinct line between British North America and the young United States. It has been forgotten that the actual fighting on this border—that dragged in numerous native tribes—was long and grinding. A succession of American assaults was beaten off by the Canadians, with varying degrees of success and at a very high price. The costs of the war and the memories that hardened afterwards helped make boundaries firmer and national identities stronger. In this, Taylor shows us a war that was more decisive, costly and important for all those involved than we now remember.—David Ekbladh, assistant professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences

The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies, by Alan Taylor. Highly recommended. Other recent books I’ve read and enjoyed: The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery and Endurance in Early America, by Scott Weidensaul; The American Colonies: The Settling of North America, by Alan Taylor; and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.—Robert H. Kasberg Jr., associate dean for admissions and student affairs, School of Dental Medicine

The Collected Stories, by William Trevor. These are brilliant, the best short stories I have ever read. The range of characters and feeling, from misery to humor, is absolutely incredible. Trevor can make you laugh while a pit of dread simultaneously opens in your gut. So typically Irish, that. After all, it seems you never laugh so much as at an Irish wake. Characters are isolated from each other in most of these stories; if there are happy marriages, they are dismissed in a line and attention returned to the miserable ones, the malicious ones or simply the broken ones. People are stingy, mean or psychotically anxious in social situations, or just averagely unpleasant, lonely or misunderstood. Somehow, despite this, in 1,261 pages I never got tired of them, because they are so richly drawn and fully fleshed. If you aren’t up for the entire book, but would rather dip in here and there, here are a few of my favorite stories to get a good sampling of Trevor’s powers: “A Meeting in Middle Age,” “The Penthouse Apartment,” “In at the Birth,” “The Hotel of the Idle Moon,” “The Mark-2 Wife,” “A Choice of Butchers,” “Another Christmas,” “Attracta,” “Being Stolen From,” “A Trinity” and “Kathleen’s Field.”—Sarah Courchesne, V07, SEANET Project Coordinator, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

The Collective, by Don Lee. From the first page’s lyrical description of a road outside of Boston and the introduction to a man running towards his imminent end, I knew this would be a book that would take over any spare moment for the next few days of my life. Good thing I was on Thanksgiving break when I picked it up. Lee visited my writing class when his first book of stories, Yellow, was published, and I’ve been eagerly following his work since then. The story of how Joshua Yoon, a writer, dies is complicated by the fact that he took two other people with him; Lee succeeds in making me feel both angry at and sympathetic to all those involved in the accident. The bulk of the novel goes back in time, tracing Joshua’s friendship with two other artists, Jessica Tsai and Eric Cho. After college, the three friends create 3AC, the Asian American Arts Collective. As an Asian American writer myself (who is also a member of an Asian American writing collective), I was grateful for Lee’s focus on our community and one group of friends. I’ve read plenty of books about the struggles of artists and writers, but until now, have never had the opportunity to read a novel about the struggles of Asian American artists. But of course, when you’re fully engrossed in a novel, you don’t think about labels such as Asian American. You go on a journey to unfamiliar and familiar places (Lee sets the novel in places I frequent in Harvard Square and Boston), you meet fascinating characters, and you explore what went on in a life that would result in a writer jogging towards death.—Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

The Elephant Whisperer, by Lawrence Anthony. This is a richly told story of a remarkable relationship between a herd of rogue elephants and a conservationist who runs a wildlife reserve in South Africa, a tale of the most phenomenal human-animal bond. The challenges of running a game reserve are vividly portrayed, from negotiating with local tribesmen to coping with the devastating reality of poaching. But the real joy of the book comes in its colorful prose. There is a brilliant description of an approaching thunderstorm and a hilarious depiction of an unsuspecting game ranger being chased by the most unpredictable animal in the bush, the Cape buffalo. If you ever have been on safari or have a desire to go on safari, this book is a must-read.—Ginny Rentko, medical director, Hospital for Large Animals and Foster Hospital for Small Animals, Cummings School

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing. If you really want to understand the skill and pain of leadership, read this book. It is the story of failure, of Shackelton’s mad obsession to fund an expedition to the South Pole at the time when World War I was drawing on, of how the expedition failed and ground to a halt before it hardly got started and of the incredible heroism, endurance and leadership shown by Shackleton as he and his 27 men survived for more than a year ice-bound in the Antarctic. This is at once an adventure, a geography of the Antarctic, a glimpse into history and a superb study of leadership. It was written in 1959, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, but the language is not dated, and the pace is furious.—Peter Walker, the Irwin H. Rosenberg Professor of Nutrition and Human Security, Friedman School, and director of the Feinstein International Center, Tufts

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Green writes and publishes books for young adults, but The Fault in Our Stars is a gift to all readers. I curled up with this book one weekend, and its brilliance lingered long after I finished. This book demands to be felt. This is the story of Hazel and Augustus, two teens who meet at a kids-with-cancer support group and fall in love. Given the subject matter, their love story is full of unexpected humor. I cherish this book for its smartly crafted characters and its witty, philosophical dialogue. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the book: “I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it—or my observation of it—is temporary?”—Jennifer Au, program coordinator, Department of Public Health and Community Service, School of Dental Medicine

The Finishing School, by Muriel Spark. Readers of a certain age may recall Scottish writer Muriel Spark’s 1961 novel (later made into a movie) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which concerned a rather controversial teacher in a private school for girls. Shortly before her death in 2006, Dame Muriel penned another novel with a similar theme, this time set in a modern—and rather louche—mixed-sex finishing school in Switzerland. The central characters are a mysterious wunderkind writer (aptly named Chris Wiley) and his pathologically envious writing instructor, Rowland Mahler. The novel focuses on the insidious and obsessive quality of envy, and how it can come to dominate and ruin even the most intelligent person’s life. But there are many humorous diversions in this brief and sardonic work, not to mention sexual tension and escapades aplenty. The writing is sometimes uneven or merely workmanlike, but at its best, The Finishing School is a sharp, ironic commentary on literary jealousy and obsession.—Ronald Pies, clinical professor of psychiatry, School of Medicine

The Greenhorns: The Next Generation of American Farmers, edited by Zoe Ida Bradbury, Severine von Tscharner Fleming and Paula Manalo. The book is composed of “50 dispatches from the new farmers’ movement” and features inspirational stories of new farmers connecting to hard work, land and community. As more and more people are interested in where their food comes from, who is growing it, how it is produced and the broader social implications of local food production, this book shares the real-world experience of new folks starting out—their successes, challenges, musings and sage advice. The diverse experiences of the numerous authors provide a snapshot of the realities of food production. It’s a great read and makes one appreciate all the more our daily bread.—Jennifer Hashley, G05, project director, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Friedman School

Icefields, by Thomas Wharton. Arcturus Glacier in the Canadian Rockies slowly reveals its secrets in Wharton’s first novel, set in 1898. Science becomes spiritual revelation for those whose lifetimes revolve around an obsession with the glacier, its icefields and their mysteries. “Immense pressure, coupled with extreme cold. Combining to produce hitherto unknown effects upon matter. Or upon the spirit,” the novel’s main character, Dr. Ned Byrne, writes in his diary. For characters facing punishing physical and metaphysical challenges, the glacier becomes a metaphor for two unfolding love affairs, for how history is created through myth and how civilization and nature find a fragile coexistence. This is a novel that takes you to a world of ice, of solitude, of beauty, discovery and disappointment. “The basic paradox: frozen flow. Fragments embedded in the ice do not move, yet are ceaselessly in motion,” Wharton writes, not only about the glacier, but about us and our collective consciousness.—Gail Bambrick, G79, G90, senior writer, Tufts Publications

In Your Face, by Mario Testino. Celebrity photographer Mario Testino captures the raw essence of the famous people we know and love in this book that encapsulates his exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, running through Feb. 3. In Your Face lets readers experience not just his contributions to Vogue and Vanity Fair, but the range of his 30-year career, including portraits of superstars Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow, music legends Mick Jagger, Madonna and Lady Gaga and sports greats David Beckham and Tom Brady. There are also behind-the-scenes and private-party shots that round out his innovation in advertising and fashion photography.—Ronald Perry, DG99, clinical professor and director of the Gavel Center for Restorative Research, School of Dental Medicine

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman. A neuroscientist, Eagleman discusses in everyday lingo the roles and powers of the conscious and unconscious brain in all of us; he stresses that a surprising percentage of the decisions we make is a result of the unconscious brain. Even though we may think we are making a conscious decision to, say, buy that ice cream, it is really our unconscious brain that runs most of the show. He asks and addresses such surprising questions as: How is your brain like a conflicted democracy engaged in civil war? Why do strippers make more money at certain times of month, related to their fertility level, even though no one is consciously aware of that? Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? By exploring brain damage, criminal law, perception, genetics, drugs and other topics of popular interest, Eagleman gives insights into our own slightly twisted brains. A really fantastic read.—Elizabeth Frennette, A09, MPH11, research associate, pediatrics, Tufts Medical Center

Memory Wall, by Anthony Doerr. There are six stories in here, not all short, and while one fell flat for me, the rest are amazing. The title piece and final one, “Afterworld,” make you think after finishing, “What just happened?” An elderly white woman in South Africa has her memories stored on cartridges that a young black man steals. A teenage American girl goes to live with her grandfather in Lithuania after her parents are killed. An old woman in China contemplates what to do in light of the dam being built that will inundate her village. A young Jewish girl in Germany faces the Holocaust—in a remarkably fresh and chilling take on well-known history. The theme of memory is woven through each story, and Doerr, who reviews science books for the Boston Globe, sprinkles science—and even science fiction—throughout. The diversity of characters and settings is also terrific.—Marny Ashburne, production manager, Advancement Communications

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, by Tony Horwitz. What drove John Brown on his quixotic mission to Harper’s Ferry in October 1859 is the question underlying this gripping and very well-written history. Brown was a failure as a businessman as he moved around the newly expanded Western territories from the 1830s to 1850s, racking up debts and lawsuits and fathering more than a dozen children. Always passionately opposed to slavery, he kept thinking he was bound for greater things. While living in Kansas, Brown led several raids, killing a few slave owners and freeing handfuls of slaves. He wasn’t alone, of course: he attracted a tiny group of men, including several of his sons, to the cause. He also had rich supporters in New England and made frequent fundraising trips there in the late 1850s to undertake his big strike: taking the fight to “Africa,” as he called the slave-holding South. Finally, he gathered his men and arms and struck out on an ill-planned takeover of the armory in tiny Harper’s Ferry. Disaster predictably ensued: he was no guerrilla strategist. Most of his men were shot and killed—including two sons—and Brown was captured, wounded but alive. He was rushed through a kangaroo court trial and sentenced to hang. It’s as if his whole life led to this point: to make himself a martyr fighting slavery. His attack and his threats to free slaves did in fact help spark Southern secessionist efforts and embolden previously pacifist abolitionists to take up the sword. The bloody civil war was just around the corner.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, by Melissa Fay Greene. This funny nonfiction book by a two-time National Book Award finalist has been called “a Cheaper by the Dozen for a new planet.” In it, Greene shares the joys and challenges of raising nine children—four of whom she and her husband brought into the world and five whom they adopted at various ages from Ethiopia and Bulgaria. Greene has written movingly elsewhere about civil rights and the African HIV/AIDS pandemic, and this book, while more personal, shows a similar deep care for the world and our place in it, tempered by an upbeat, self-deprecating tone. Her tales will delight parents in particular.—Heather Stephenson, editor, Advancement Communications

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez. In 2003, my family and I spent Christmas in Spain, taking subways, buses and trains everywhere. The book that held all Spanish commuters spellbound was The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown. It was that endorsement that prompted me to get my own copy—a guilty-pleasure book that I would complete in one week of Red Line travel to and from work. These days it is a lot harder to be influenced by bookworm travelers, what with commuters tapping through Kindles and Nooks now the rule rather than the exception. Absent subliminal, virtual hints from unsuspecting T-reading passengers, I recently reread the magical One Hundred Years of Solitude. Reading it for the third time felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend—García Márquez is still my standard bearer for fine storytelling. I am happy to recommend this timeless masterpiece for reading and e-reading.—Helen Rasmussen, senior research dietitian, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging; instructor, Friedman School

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. We read this in my book group, along with The Sun Also Rises. That book was OK, but this one, about Hemingway’s first wife, I absolutely loved. I felt as though I really got to know the main character and got a sense of the era in which she lived.—Beatrice Lorge Rogers, professor of economics and food policy and director of the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition Program, Friedman School

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro. Long but compelling.—Eric Miller, professor of electrical and computer engineering, School of Engineering

Salt to Summit: A Vagabond Journey from Death Valley to Mount Whitney, by Daniel Arnold. When Arnold set out to trek from Death Valley to the peak of Mount Whitney in eastern California—from the lowest point in the continental United States to the highest—it was clear that this would be no ordinary two-week hike. As the crow flies, it’s only 80 miles, but those miles multiply on land and run the gamut from parching blasts of heat to heavy snowfall, at least in April, when he made the trip. The book is really two stories. One is Arnold’s rugged journey, step by step, through blistering salt flats, up mountains, down canyons, across the appropriately named Saline Valley and into the Sierras and finally, Mount Whitney. The second story weaved throughout is that of the people who blazed the trails Arnold follows: the gold miners, the hopeful and the hopeless, the dreamers, the schemers. He digs out wonderful quotes from these men, and occasionally women, who were drawn to the barren emptiness. Vivid images of the trek stuck with me long after finishing the book, from the rocky salt flats to the precarious ledges in narrow canyons.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Story of America: Essays on Origins, by Jill Lepore, J87. Besides being one of our own undergrads, Jill is also arguably the successor to another Tufts undergraduate, Gordon Wood, A55, H10, as the premiere academic historian of the Founding Fathers and the meaning of the Constitution. She writes for everyone—almost all of these brief essays have appeared in The New Yorker. Jill is a consummate storyteller, and these chronologically organized nuggets are a course in the reader’s continuing education about American history.—Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost

The Thousand Islands of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell. This novel is more accessible than Mitchell’s previous work, Cloud Atlas. Set in a Dutch trading post off the coast of Japan at the turn of the 19th century, this book weaves together the story of a young clerk seeking his fortune in the Orient with that of a Japanese midwife caught in a bizarre ancient cult. I’ve read many historical novels, but I found this completely original, not just because of its exotic setting, but because of Mitchell’s imagination and daring.—Jim Glaser, dean of academic affairs and professor of political science, School of Arts and Sciences

Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, by Michael Hingson and Susy Flory. OK, there’s no way a story about a blind man who escapes from the 78th floor of the North Tower on 9/11 led by his guide dog cannot be gripping. But even more so is Michael Hingson’s life story, which is told in alternating chapters with the tale of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Blind since early infancy, Hingson grew up at a time when expectations for anyone with disabilities were limited. Undaunted, his parents refused to let Michael’s blindness stand in the way of an ordinary childhood (would you let your blind kid ride a bike unaccompanied around the neighborhood?), and he learned how to buck conventional wisdom, absurd regulations and outright prejudice to attend college, travel the world and develop a successful career. The heart of the book, though, is Hingson’s moving relationships with his guide dogs, particularly the remarkable Roselle, the yellow Lab who led him through a hell that no trainer could ever have imagined. Hingson also touches on how 9/11 strengthened his religious faith; even for those who don’t share his beliefs, it’s an enlightening look at the psychological and emotional implications of surviving a catastrophe. Flory’s prose is generally workmanlike, but the story overcomes the plain writing.—Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine magazine, Office of Publications

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman. Feldman was raised in the fiercely insular Satmar Hasidic sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The book describes how, a few years into her arranged marriage, with her toddler son in tow, she takes the life-altering step of leaving—not just her husband, but her entire family and community. (Her departure is not entirely shocking, as her own mother had abandoned the Satmar world some years before, leaving Feldman behind to be raised by her paternal grandparents.) Feldman has predictably come under fire from the Satmar for her story; the validity of one of the more sensational events retold in the book has also been questioned by reporting in the independent, non-sectarian Jewish Week newspaper. But what makes the book so gripping and seductively readable is Feldman’s depiction of the small moments—her finely detailed, emotionally nuanced look at the day-to-day reality of growing up within the tightly defined web of the Satmar’s separate world (so isolated that on Sept. 11, 2001, she encountered debris that had blown into Brooklyn from the burning towers, yet had absolutely no idea what was happening, because her family did not have radio, TV or the Internet). Feldman begins to break through the boundaries by reading books in secret—secular novels and even religious content traditionally denied to girls—and anyone who has grown up as a reader can easily identify with the ability of books to take you away and beyond any ordinary existence.—Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine magazine, Office of Publications

Waging Heavy Peace, by Neil Young. Young’s latest book is a very nice read.—Brendan Ben Feeney, G96

Wake Up, Sir, by Jonathan Ames. A struggling writer travels from his aunt and uncle’s home to an artist’s colony, with his trusty valet Jeeves in tow. Among their adventures, they visit a deserted inn, witness a slipper theft and meet a cast of crazy characters. Nothing is ever as it seems, and we’re left to wonder what is really happening on this trip and at the colony. If you want to read, discuss and second guess, Wake Up, Sir! certainly gives you plenty to ponder.—Kimberly Moniz, online community specialist, Web Communications

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. Highly recommended.—Betsy Port, J81

The Way of the World, by Nicolas Bouvier. Travel books are often a dime a dozen: set up housekeeping in the south of France for a year, and presto, you’ve got a book deal. The classics of the genre are rare, but I recently discovered this one, first published in English in 1992. Bouvier recounts a youthful wanderjahr driving a finicky two-seater with a painter pal from their hometown of Geneva, Switzerland, all the way to Afghanistan, from 1953 to 1954. It’s a world long since gone: Communist Yugoslavia before civil war rent it apart; Turkey still feeling its way in the world; Iran in the early days of the Shah, mere months after the overthrow of Mossadegh. Bouvier and his traveling companion search for work periodically to refresh their meager funds, and it’s interactions with the people they meet in these efforts that give the book its special appeal. By late 1953, the pair has landed in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, their little car unable to make it through the snow-covered passes that lead to Tehran and points east. They find a cheap apartment in the Christian Armenian quarter and settle in, Bouvier teaching French to quietly desperate students. The delay in Tabriz is priceless for us: Bouvier paints a picture of daily life so real, and now so long gone, that it’s aching in its poignancy. With the spring thaw, the two travelers straggle into Tehran, then across eastern Iran to newly born Pakistan, and end up in Afghanistan, cast back in time before the modern world intruded. Wonderfully written, the book is a quiet march through history as well as a young man’s awakening to worldly-wise maturity.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

Why Calories Count, by Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim. This new book nicely bridges the world of food policy commentary and nutrition science. It offers a great counterpoint to the loud and untrustworthy bazaar of diet books, each blaming some simple villain for the obesity epidemic (too many carbs, too much fat, too little calcium, whatever). Why Calories Count offers a wealth of detail about how calories are measured and how their effects are studied. It also tells great stories, from the history of nutrition science to the poignant service of wartime conscientious objectors who participated in a clinical study of human starvation. If I were a graduate student in nutrition or public health, I would find this book inspiring as eloquent and engaging secondary reading alongside a nutrition science textbook. Strongly recommended.—Parke Wilde, associate professor of nutrition, Friedman School

You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe, by Christopher Potter. We all have those fleeting moments when a switch is suddenly flipped and you catch yourself zooming back to a wide-angle perspective on reality. Scary, isn’t it? Or you might choose to confront that sinking feeling and follow it in an effort to apprehend whatever you can about our relationship to the great unknown. Christopher Potter’s witty and readable history of mankind’s attempts to understand the universe covers as much about its (literally) infinite subject as is practical to encompass. I was immediately hooked upon reading the introductory Orientation (“historically, science developed out of philosophy and creation stories, and what science now knows is our modern creation story”), and following sections are introduced by choice quotations from the likes of T. S. Eliot, Pascal, Wordsworth, Protagoras and Jung. Potter proves to be a secure guide in making abstruse scientific theories comprehensible to the uninitiated. He holds a master’s degree in the history and philosophy of science, so the investigational stance informs his presentation and outlook on the material. This is mind-expanding stuff, profound enough that you’ll find yourself pondering a reassessment of daily assumptions regarding time and space. Talk about broadening your horizons. Deep-thinking bedtime fodder for some, bathroom reading for the more pointy-headed, here’s that perfect holiday gift for the speculative reader who likes to chew well before swallowing.—Fred Kalil, marketing communications manager, University Relations

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