Books Aplenty, Books Galore

The Tufts community weighs in with recommendations for your winter reading pleasure
December 16, 2013

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You might read on your phone, tablet, Kindle or Nook—or even, gasp!—holding a hardcover or paperback in your hands. Whatever your preferred medium, we have you covered with our yearend good-read recommendations from Tufts faculty, staff, students and alumni.

This winter, the choices are particularly wide-ranging, from several collections of short stories, thrillers, classic novels, poetry, a children’s verse book and young adult offerings to nonfiction about the financial crisis, 19th-century presidential politics that make modern scenarios seem tame, magicians, ancient creatures and the ever-trenchant Gore Vidal.

If you have others, let us know at now@tufts.edu, and we’ll post an update.

FICTION & POETRY

The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy. I first fell in love with Meloy’s stories when we were in the same writing workshop at UC Irvine; I have read all four of her books. Recently, while book shopping with my nieces, I was surprised to find that Meloy had written a novel for kids, The Apothecary. I was excited to buy it for my nieces, ages eight to 10, because I knew it would be good, but mostly because I thought it was time to shift the ratio of pictures to text in their reading. Given that they were born after 2003, when my nieces heard that the story unfolded in London during 1952, it was initially a hard sell. They asked a lot of questions before they would commit: What’s an apothecary? What’s “duck and cover”? What’s the Cold War? “Trust me,” I said. “I know it will be good.” I told them that it was about a girl named Janie, who is 14 and moves from Los Angeles to London after her parents, TV scriptwriters, are blacklisted. In her new school, Janie befriends a boy named Benjamin, the son of an apothecary. After the apothecary disappears, the two find the Pharmacopoeia, a sacred book of elixirs passed through generations, and rely on the magic potions to get themselves out of danger as they try to save the apothecary. Not only is Benjamin’s father’s life at stake, but Janie and Ben must save the world from nuclear war. At bedtime, I read to my nieces, and they kept pleading “just one more chapter” until my voice finally gave out. After they slept, I finished the novel. I look forward to what’s next for Janie in the second novel, The Apprentices.—Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Archangel, by Andrea Barrett. The trepidation and eagerness of coming upon a discovery is at the heart of Archangel, a book of stories. Each of the main characters lives at the cusp of a new era of knowledge: the Darwinian revolution, the birth of manned flight, an understanding of genetics, the nature of space and time, and, just as complex, a conception of one’s own fragmented world. Barrett recreates the scientific worlds of earlier eras with clarity and sensitivity, and brings her characters vividly to life in an unforced way. These five long stories—they range from 30 to almost 60 pages each—are linked, though sometimes so subtly that it’s only after finishing them that we fully realize the connections. Constantine Boyd, a boy who stays with his uncle in the summer of 1908, is enthralled by science and sees one of the first manned flights. We see him later using that knowledge in a wholly different way. Phoebe Cornelius tries to puzzle out the materiality of the ether that in 1920, some laggard scientists still were claiming lay at the heart of the universe. Her son, Sam, later takes his own sometimes faltering steps beyond conventional scientific thinking and suffers for his pains. The title story is set amid the Allied intervention in northern Russia in 1919, a long-forgotten and hopeless war against the Bolsheviks. Told with poignant and brutal clarity, it isn’t so much about science as learning to live with uncertainty. And this just scratches the surface of these luminous stories, whose complexities are enriching and engrossing.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. This is the best contemporary novel I’ve read in the last 10 years. Ten? Maybe 20. Its protagonist, Billy Lynn, is on leave from the war in Iraq, home with his fellow company members on a two-week tour to promote the war. Through his 19-year-old eyes, we see an image of America in general, and Bush’s Texas in particular, as hilariously, tragically engaged in end-of-empire shenanigans, tears of self-cherishing love in its eyes as it thanks the boys of Bravo Company for their “service.” Fountain’s language-intoxicated critique of our current situation is layered, impassioned and about as entertaining as writing gets. The narrator’s meld with his young hero is nothing short of miraculous, as is the balance between an engaging story and a pricelessly funny polemic. This book comes from deep and powerful emotions about our national situation. I can’t think of anything in recent years that combines linguistic brilliance, profound social insight and an intimacy with its characters as well as Billy Lynn. In addition to its other virtues, this book makes you feel smart.—Linda Bamber, associate professor of English, School of Arts and Sciences

The Circle, by Dave Eggars. Dancing deftly between a parable and a novel, Eggars paints a what-could-be world through the disturbing journey of Mae Holland, the well-meaning innocent led astray. She just wants to belong and succeed; don’t we all? Mae is lured into and then swallowed by The Circle, a powerful and increasingly megalomaniacal Internet firm that twists human truths and virtues to erode any notion of privacy or individuality—think of data collection, social media and crowdsourcing gone mad. The illusion of choice and democracy is replaced by controlled collective decision-making, all sold in the name of altruistic principles. “SECRETS ARE LIES. SHARING IS CARING. PRIVACY IS THEFT” becomes the company’s mantra and brand. Our addiction to reality TV, to YouTube and to intimate moments tweeted or posted to Instagram are all taken to their extreme. We want Mae to do the right thing; we want humanity to triumph over the machines and marketing. As suspense builds in this plot-driven morality tale, you won’t be able to put the book down. Never again will you use the Internet without thinking twice.—Gail Bambrick, G79, G90, senior writer, Tufts Publications

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen. In a time dedicated to family and celebration, what better way to pass the snowy night than read about the crazy, dysfunctional Lambert family? Enid Lambert, the mother and commanding captain of her family’s slowly sinking ship, tries to bring her children home one last time for Christmas. As she slowly loses her husband to Parkinson’s, she will stop at nothing to create the perfect last Christmas for her memory book, a book already filled with false hope and lies. Her children, Chip, Gary and Denise, have tried their best to cut the ties between themselves and their parents, but they don’t stand a chance against Enid’s determination. In a story of deception, hopelessness and love, you’ll either finish feeling grateful for your own family, or you’ll never want to return home again.—Helen Schmidt, A17

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner. If you want to savor a clever, ironic, postmodern novel with all the convolutions and conundrums a writer can throw at you—do not look to Wallace Stegner’s deeply moving Crossing to Safety. This beautifully rendered meditation on friendship, academia and the creative life is old-fashioned in the very best sense of that term. It concerns the evolving friendship of two academic couples, the Langs and the Morgans, during the dirt-poor years of the Great Depression. Stegner (1909–1993)—a well-respected writer and teacher—brings a lucid and lyrical style to his narrative, which is free of all the too-clever-by-half techniques of so many postmodern writers. For those of us of a certain age, Stegner evokes the bittersweet juxtaposition of the ideals of youth with the encroaching realities of one’s later years. Filled with humor, grace and a reverence for the humane impulses of mankind, this novel is among the best I have read in the last decade.—Ronald Pies, clinical professor of psychiatry, School of Medicine

The Disaster Tourist, by Aiken Avery. Set on a cruise ship turned floating college, this story is often funny, sometimes offensive and always thought-provoking. If you are looking for a not-your-typical-read type of novel—this is it. You are bound to have many “wow that’s interesting” or “I can’t believe he wrote that” thoughts throughout this book, sometimes both together on the same page.—Paul Luppino

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. This latest novel by the author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson was my favorite beach read this summer, and I think it deserves year-round love. By turns hilarious and truly heartbreaking, it’s a bit like what might result if the cinematic weepie Beaches were directed by 80s teen movie maestro John Hughes (think Sixteen Cancer or Throwing Up Your Breakfast Club). As deadpan Hazel reluctantly nurses a crush on charming Augustus from her cancer support group, we are treated to verbal horseplay from the pair of hyper-literate teens and then a near-literal flight of fancy as their romance takes them to Amsterdam to meet a reclusive author. All the while, we know that the clock is ticking and that one or both might not see the end of the novel, making every witty scene double-edged, and every sad one painfully well earned.—David Valdes-Greenwood, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

419: How Far Would You Go for Revenge?, by Will Ferguson. This is an exciting story about Internet-based scams emanating from Lagos, Nigeria, that, while fictionalized, is based on a true story of a Canadian citizen who lost all his savings and ultimately his life to one of these scams. The book delves into many aspects of Nigerian life, with characters from diverse regions of this heavily populated and entrepreneurial country crossing paths in the story. While providing insight into the Internet scams with which we are all familiar, it also offers an in-depth view of the challenges that this nation has confronted due to the oil industry, environmental damage and rapid population growth.—David H. Hamer, adjunct professor of nutrition, Friedman School, and director of research and evaluation, Zambia Center for Applied Health Research and Development, Lusaka, Zambia

Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants, by Gelett Burgess. Lord preserve us from a world without the Goops. Thankfully they are now freely accessible to every reader electronically. Mom, thank you for reading me the Goops as a child. It was the forebear of our Gushymouth Club, the next best thing to Goopiness we could attain in rural New Hampshire. Admittedly, our kiddie noggins bore a closer resemblance to human heads than the flat, plate-like ones of our Goop brethren. I leave further analysis to the professional phrenologists and pediatric psychologists. For the uninitiated, Goops and How to Be Them is a child’s rhymed primer of etiquette, written in 1900 by Gelett Burgess (originator of the word “blurb” and author of the poem that begins “I never saw a purple cow…”). A classic of kid lit, it deserves as great a claim on our attention as ever.—Frederick Kalil, marketing communications manager, University Relations

The Group, by Mary McCarthy. When The Group begins, eight friends have just graduated from Vassar, class of 1933. One of the young women, Kay, is getting married to Harald, who no one seems to know very well or like very much. At the pretty casual wedding are the seven other members of the group—Dottie, Pokey, Lakey, Polly, Priss, Helena and Libby. Over the course of the next eight years, we see where life takes these women. And while members of the group have different experiences with their families, jobs, husbands, travel and children, what is really most interesting about this novel is the way it portrays the life of women in the 1930s.—Kimberly Moniz, online community specialist, Digital Communications

The Hundred Brothers, by Donald Antrim. Recent MacArthur “genius award” winner Antrim’s best work may be this enticingly surrealist novel. The plot is simple enough: 100 brothers meet in a huge dining room in their wealthy father’s estate to catch up and continue their odd and sometimes sordid traditions. Although the book can be dark, Antrim’s characters are absurdly quirky and get themselves into enough embarrassing predicaments to make the comedy work. Even though the entire novel takes place in one room, Antrim creates a vivid world for the reader to explore as the narrator traverses every nook and cranny of the room, meeting the few brothers he likes and the many he doesn’t. After the book’s fantastically climactic ending, the reader feels like a literal fly on the wall of this great, unforgettable gathering.—Pat Andriola, A11

The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer. Settle down on a comfy couch and get lost in this novel, which follows the lives of six teenagers as they grow into adulthood and middle age. The prose flows smoothly as they navigate their way through careers, relationships, marriages, children and illnesses. The group first meets at an art camp in the Berkshires, and one of them becomes rich and famous beyond all imagination, leaving the others to cope with envy while struggling to remain friends. Wolitzer is a fine writer who creates believable characters, especially in the case of Julie Jacobson. A would-be actress, she can never quite believe her good luck at being accepted into this affluent, trendy group of young New Yorkers because she comes from a dull, middle-class background. She is entranced by her friends, but we come to see that the specialness that’s often proclaimed in talented teenagers doesn’t always survive into adulthood. Julie’s story is the anchor of the book, as she discovers how to accept who she is as well as the life she has chosen.—Marjorie Howard, senior writer, Tufts Now

Nine Inches, by Tom Perrotta. The short stories in Perrotta’s latest book are hard-hitting, unsentimental and yet often extremely poignant tales about contemporary suburbanites embroiled in issues mostly of their own making. These are the people we all know, the people we quietly point to in our communities. Maybe they’re us. The collection opens with a story about a smart kid who is the only one among his peers not to get into any college, and how his “gap year” by default ends up defining his life; only at the end of this tale does Perrotta cleverly reveal why it is that the protagonist messed up his college applications. There’s a Little League umpire who cares too much about the outcome of the games; a middle school teacher chaperoning a dance who thinks about cheating on his pregnant wife; a pediatrician who did; and an upwardly mobile high schooler who earns his spending money by taking SATs for other upwardly mobile but not-so-smart kids—though, of course, it turns out that the uber test-taker is none too smart in the end. Each of Perrotta’s characters somehow loses his or her way. They fall out of grace with their families, their peers and their suburban communities of privilege. As ever, Perrotta’s writing is crisp, and his pacing moves each story along beautifully. He seems equally at home inside the head of a teenage boy or a middle-aged woman, and the voices seem equally authentic. It’s the kind of collection where you could easily read one story at a time and savor it. But I became so enamored that I stayed up late one night and read it all in one sitting—the book is that good.—Julie Dobrow, director of the Communications and Media Studies program in the School of Arts and Sciences

Present Company, by W.S. Merwin. This book of poems continues to delight me, years after its first publication. How can Merwin write as copiously as he does and still retain in so many of these poems the lean, fresh surprise of immediacy? Partly it’s that the poems are all about gratitude, without saying so. Each one is addressed to something or someone—and one understands that everything addressed is present and is companioning him and us. Partly also, it’s the astonishing variety of addressees: here we have (to open the book randomly) “To the Thief at the Airport” followed by “To the Afterlife.” There’s a conventional address, “To My Brother,” preceded by “To the Sound of the Gate.” The book is suffused with acknowledgment for the otherness of things and with the love of them. Continually refreshing.—Rebecca Kaiser Gibson, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

The Son, by Philipp Meyer. This epic coming-of-age and family saga set in Texas between 1836 and 2012 is a great read for anyone who loves the English language and doesn’t mind a bit (well more than a bit) of gore. If you appreciated Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty, you’ll want to spend time with the McCulloughs of Texas. For the most part, they aren’t particularly nice, inspiring or uplifting, but they are very human in their determination to survive and conquer all obstacles. And perhaps they reveal more about that American character than we care to acknowledge.—Noreen O’Gara, G88

The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks. In The Traveler, people cannot escape “the grid”—the systems of credit cards, phones, security cameras, etc. that track people. Some people (often great people in history) can travel to other dimensions to gain knowledge. They are hunted down by people called the Tabula, who have access to all security cameras and grid information. I would give this book, the first in a trilogy, a 10 out of 10; the other two are just as good.—Ted Rohrer

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple. This is a pointed, funny novel about the life around middle schooler Bee Branch and her eccentric parents (including titular mom Bernadette) in present-day Seattle. The story is told through scattered documents—emails, bills, even a report card—about situations that seem trivial until they turn and become surprisingly dark. The book starts off strong enough to make up for a mediocre last act. Semple was a writer on Arrested Development, so the satire here is sharp. I’ve never been to Seattle, and those who are familiar with the area may enjoy this book more, but it’s great for anyone who spends time with bright, quirky people.—Robin Smyton, A09, public relations assistant, University Relations

NONFICTION

After the Music Stopped, by Alan Blinder. Some people read about natural disasters; others are drawn to books about fires. I read everything that comes out about the Great Recession. Books on the crisis started to appear relatively early. The first of these had a breathless, journalistic quality as they focused on the run-up to, and immediate aftermath of, the “Lehman Weekend” in September 2008, when, in the words of Ben Bernanke, “We came very, very close to a global financial meltdown.” Later books considered one or another deeper antecedent to the crisis, such as securitization, the housing price boom or the globalization of finance. But now we have a masterful book that offers a wider perspective. Blinder is a leading academic macroeconomist and has served as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and a member of the Council of Economic Advisors. He brings together, in a coherent framework, the range of events that led to the crisis, the consequences of the crisis and the effects of policies that were undertaken to bring us back from the abyss. This is all delivered in an accessible and even entertaining manner; Blinder is one of the best writers that the economics profession offers to the general public (the first chapter of the book is titled “What’s a Nice Economy Like You Doing in a Place Like This?”). I will assign this book in the course I teach on the financial crisis, and I will also recommend it to anyone who asks me, “What happened, and what can we do about it now?”—Michael W. Klein, the William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, Fletcher School

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, by James McBride. McBride is a biracial journalist and saxophonist who describes the emotional conflicts he experienced growing up as one of 12 children born to a white, Jewish mother in the 1940s in Brooklyn. In this autobiography, McBride alternates between his mother’s voice and his own, offering a stunning view of this remarkable woman and his family’s life.—Gloria Riccobono, business analyst, Tufts Technology Services

Deadly Feasts, by Richard Rhodes. You may never eat a hamburger again after reading this book. It is a fascinating medical detective story about connecting Kuru, an exotic New Guinea brain disease, with mad cow disease and other “transmissible spongiform encephalopathies” apparently related to intraspecies cannibalism. Maybe it doesn’t sound like beach reading, but I found it really interesting. The book describes how, over time, researchers were able to put together evidence to support the theory of prion-related diseases as a completely different form of infectious disease. Then it raises doubts about whether this is indeed true. The personalities of the researchers add to the drama of the narrative. It seems this is a story whose ending has not yet been written.—Beatrice Rogers, professor of economics and food policy and director of the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition Program, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard. The most neglected era of American history is undoubtedly the second half of the 19th century. Think back to history class: one minute it’s the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse; the next, we hear the guns of August. Challenged to recount anything about that period, all I could do was conjure up an image of mutton-chopped presidents with names like Rutherford and Grover. After finishing Millard’s finely crafted narrative history, I was amazed—and slightly horrified—by the world of 1881, and how very much it resembled and differed from our own time. Four months into his presidency, James Garfield—completely unprotected—walked into a railroad station and was shot point-blank by a man we would now describe as being deep in the throes of mental illness. Garfield spent the next two months slowly dying from infection, most likely introduced by doctors who scoffed at the idea of bacteria and disinfectants. Meanwhile, political intrigue bubbled; the vice president wept in terror at the idea of assuming the presidency, and Alexander Graham Bell—already a celebrity for having invented the telephone—worked frantically, and in vain, to develop a machine that could save the president’s life. Millard’s vivid portraits of Garfield, his assassin, vice president Chester Arthur, inventor Bell and political mastermind Roscoe Conkling, among others, and her touching portrayal of the relationship between Garfield and his wife, add an extra layer to a story that’s already engrossing on its own.—Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine magazine

Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, by Alex Stone. Although I had no interest in magic, I found this book mesmerizing as it shifted between one man’s passion to become a master magician and his voyage into the “black” and true sciences. It enters the worlds of neuroscience, street hustlers and Las Vegas casinos and shows how easily our minds can become fooled when encountered by people devoted to making us believe and disbelieve. The cast of characters is bizarre, eccentric, brilliant and very cool, and I recommend this book to those looking for something a bit off the beaten track.—Mort Rosenberg, D74, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery, School of Dental Medicine

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. I couldn’t put down this intriguing memoir written by a woman who describes the childhood of homelessness and poverty that she and her siblings endured with dysfunctional parents. You will cheer as she graduates from Barnard College and becomes a successful editor and journalist.—Gloria Riccobono, business analyst, Tufts Technology Services

I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics, edited by Jon Wiener. Arguably the last of our public intellectuals following the death of Susan Sontag, Gore Vidal represented another dying breed: the thinking man’s Renaissance writer successful in adapting to any creative endeavor in which he chose to engage. Equally accomplished as a historical novelist, playwright, screenwriter and essayist, he was remembered for a vituperative exchange on live television with William F. Buckley during the 1968 Democratic convention. Roots in the Gore family ensured a front-row observation of the political scene, allowing Vidal to expose the pretension of adopting “historical truth” in place of “agreed-upon facts.” This posthumous publication of interviews will provide a taste of Vidal’s famous wit, enough to infect anyone susceptible to his tartness of voice. On JFK, for example: “…any man who gave us an invasion of Cuba, a missile crisis and the war in Vietnam in 1,000 days—give him another thousand days and we would be irradiated atoms in space.” Enjoy.—Frederick Kalil, marketing communications manager, University Relations

The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, by Sam Moyn. Human rights have achieved a central role in international affairs in the last 40 years, and Moyn views this as something particular in the history of these powerful ideas. Rather than seeing this quest for “utopia,” where human rights are both a means to and the ends of activism, as a culmination of the principle, he describes it as a departure. While human rights have had a long history, it was only in the 1970s that they became a leading theme in world affairs. Their arrival in importance came after other global agendas, such as developmentalism, had collapsed. The suggestion is that human rights also may be one of those broad global agendas that can run out of steam. You may not agree with Moyn, but because of the verve of his argument, he compels you to think in new ways.—David Ekbladh, assistant professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris. This easy-to-read and engaging book begins with a hilarious essay about the differences between the U.S. and French health-care systems.—Alia Bucciarelli, adjunct professor of public health and community medicine, School of Medicine

Missing Lucile, by Suzanne Berne. Technically, a memoir is defined as an individual’s account of remembrances: their memories, told through the lens of their own perception. Suzanne Berne took on a bigger challenge in writing Missing Lucile. She chose to write about a grandmother she never knew. The result is a fascinating, Sherlock Holmes-style sleuthing of history, where the author pieces together a life from physical fragments found in a fruitcake tin. She lists the items inside, among them a diary from Lucile’s first year at Wellesley in 1911, some letters written in French during her years spent in France as a relief worker, some negatives, some snapshots, a silver charm bracelet. The author refers to these as “snips of historical DNA.” They lead her on an exploration of the life of Lucile Kroger Berne, daughter of the founder of the Kroger grocery store chain, a company valued in the billions today. Lucile was not only an enigma to the author, but to her father, since he lost his mom when he was only 6 years old. She died of stomach cancer at age 43, leaving behind a son who, it seemed, hardly knew her. This left her dad, she says, “in a perpetual state of melancholy.” Family history is difficult to depict in a larger arena that might appeal to an audience beyond one’s own family. Berne’s memoir—and I think her work goes far beyond that definition—seeks to encompass a universal concept: how we define who we are, individuals set against a backdrop of history we cannot dictate or define. Rich with photographs, suppositions, hypotheses and many “perhaps,” this book takes the art of memoir to a new level. Anyone who cherishes family and history will also cherish Missing Lucile.—Frances Brown, supervisor of histopathology, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World's Most Interesting Facts, by Dan Lewis. I wrote it!—Dan Lewis, A00

Relics: Travels in Nature’s Time Machine, by Piotr Naskrecki. Curious about what creatures looked like millions of years ago? It turns out you can still see their living descendants, often in exotic locales, but some really close by. These creatures and plants—some dating back more than 500 million years—discovered their niche and were adaptable enough to survive all that nature could throw at them: ice ages, drought, cataclysms of earth-shattering proportions (think meteors slamming into Earth and wiping out 95 percent of all living matter)—you name it. Take the lowly horseshoe crab. They have been coming out of the ocean to lay eggs on the beach for 100 million years, give or take. Naskrecki photographs them in the Delaware Bay with the eye of an artist for this beautiful coffee-table book, and tells their story, like all the others here, in deft prose. He travels the globe to document these critters and plants, from the deserts of Namibia and jungles of Guyana to the lush lands of New Zealand, and even suburban Boston. Millions of years have gone by, and yes, evolution has changed them in subtle ways from their ancestors. But they are similar enough. It probably goes without saying that these plants and animals that have withstood all the challenges that nature offered for millennia upon millennia are finding it tough going, now that they are up against nature’s premier destructive mechanism: mankind. Through habitat loss and outright killing, we’re decimating these last remnants of an earlier age, species by species. Naskrecki documents tentative efforts to save them, but it’s hard not to be pessimistic. Still, one knows that even long after we’re merely part of the fossil record, some of this diversity will survive and go on to thrive, as it has for hundreds of millions of years.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Wise Men, by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas. Although this book can be tedious for those not interested in the minute detail of Cold War diplomacy and policy formation, it can be an absolute treasure trove for any who do. The book has the capacity to quickly pull any engaged reader deep into the uncertainty and rapid geopolitical shifts that defined the mid-to-late 20th century.—Pieter Block

The Zombie Curse: A Doctor’s 25-year Journey into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti, by Arthur Fournier, M73. This book was written by a Tufts Medical School grad about the unique situations involved with volunteering in Haiti during the early days (1980s) of the HIV crisis. Fournier is a professor and vice chair of family medicine and community health at the Miami University Miller School of Medicine and spent years working in Haiti. More reality than Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains.—David Paul, D89, associate professor of oral diagnosis and health promotion, School of Dental Medicine

MAGAZINES

Wired magazine, Bill Gates edition. The December 2013 Wired may be the magazine’s greatest issue ever. As guest editor, Bill Gates devoted months to guiding the agenda, which closely aligns with his philanthropy: a quest for thoughtful ways to improve education for all and to better the lives of the world’s poorest billion. The result is an issue brimming with goodwill and world-saving ingenuity. “Reality Check,” by Jessica Benko, shows how the same kind of randomized trials that are used to test medical treatments can be applied to solving social problems. (In efforts to promote purer water in Kenya, for example, nothing—not coupons for free chlorine, not door-to-door chlorine giveaways—worked as well as placing chlorine dispensers next to water sources.) Matthieu Aikins writes on the challenges of eradicating polio in war-torn areas. In an essay called “I Believe,” Gates himself traces the development of his “catalytic philanthropy” to a visit to Africa in the 1990s with his wife, Melinda: “I remember peering out a car window at a long line of women walking down the road with big jerricans of water on their heads. How far away do these women live? we wondered. Who’s watching their children while they’re away?” An interview with Gates and Bill Clinton adds to the heft, if not necessarily the sparkle, of the issue. Wired tempers its usual gadget porn with a Whole Earth Catalog ethos, promoting efficient camping stoves, crank-powered gizmos and other “guiltless gifts.” Gates even unveils four socially redeeming items of his own invention—among them a walking stick for farmers that analyzes soil and a “healthy baby kit” for use in regions that lack prenatal care. The guest editor can be forgiven a few indulgences (a plug for his favorite Seattle burger joints, a glimpse into his tote bags full of books). Under his hand, Wired reminds us what a magazine can do when it channels its energy and personality toward weighty concerns.—David Brittan, editor, Tufts Magazine

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