Books with a View

Members of the Tufts community share what they are reading this summer
books as sailing ships
Illustration: Katelyn Comeau
July 29, 2013

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Heading into prime vacation season each summer, we ask faculty, students, staff and alumni to tell us about books they like, and why they would recommend them to others. This year’s offerings are as extensive and diverse as ever: murder mysteries, elegant novels, thrillers, a children’s picture book and even a one-off short story, plus what motivates us to excel, the battle of Tippecanoe, a new view of Picasso, two U.N. peacemakers and Teddy Roosevelt in the jungle. We have so much this year that we’ve divided the list into fiction and nonfiction, for easier reading.

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

FICTION

Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen. Quick, which state comes to mind when you hear about Medicaid scams, zoning-defying real estate deals, clueless tourists and an unidentified severed human arm? If you said Florida, you already may be familiar with the crime novelist Carl Hiaasen, a native of the Sunshine State and a longtime columnist for the Miami Herald. Hiaasen’s two dozen books are humorous riffs on the actual characters, crimes and natural disasters that routinely make headlines in Florida. In his latest offering, Bad Monkey, disgraced Florida Keys police officer Andrew Yancy is looking for a way to get his badge back when his boss asks him to drive an unidentified human arm to the coroner’s office in Miami. Yancy packs the arm in a cooler of ice—in which he’ll also chill some nice fresh blue crabs—and embarks. He soon finds himself neck-deep in a murder mystery no one else wants to solve. Along the way, he’ll sabotage the sale of the McMansion next door, fall in love with the Dade County coroner and use his mad fly-fishing skills to save his own skin. As light-hearted and funny as the novels are, Hiaasen’s books are also a kind of revenge fantasy for environmentalists. Yancy, like most of Hiaasen’s heroes, is an outdoorsy sportsman whose knowledge of the local landscape gives him a leg up on the bad guys. Scientifically illiterate vacationers and snowbirds don’t fare so well in Hiaasen’s world. (In 2000’s Sick Puppy, Hiaasen’s slightly obsessive hero follows a highway litterbug home and arranges for a huge dumpster to be emptied into the offender’s open BMW convertible.) But Hiassen reserves most of his wrath for the corrupt politicians, lobbyists and real estate developers who trample Florida’s fragile ecosystem for their own financial gain. These guys meet hilarious and humiliating ends, leaving many of Hiaasen’s fans wishing his books really were ripped from the headlines.—Jackie Mitchell, senior health sciences writer, Office of Publications  

Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks. This book is a fictionalized account of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University, told by the daughter of one of the first Caucasian families to inhabit Martha’s Vineyard. The language is representative of the period, which brings you into the mid-1600s almost immediately.  The story comprises friendship, faith, magic, nature and the position and plight of women in the early pre-Revolutionary war times.  Reading it while on the Vineyard is a plus.—Jo Wellins, executive director, University Advancement

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. This novel tells the stories of multiple people whose lives are intertwined between time and space. Almost like a puzzle box, the book comes together with every page you read. It is enthralling, one of those rare can’t-put-it-down reads. The novel discusses power, and through the lives of its characters, different views are shown, and in the end it succeeds at both teaching and entertaining.—Steven Woodruff, incoming undergraduate class

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. Abraham Verghese, M.D., is a professor of the theory and practice of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine—and an accomplished writer. His medical background is apparent in this novel about twin brothers born at a hospital in Addis Ababa and their coming of age in Ethiopia on the verge of a bloody revolution. Orphaned by their mother and abandoned by their father, the twins journey apart and back again. Cutting for Stone is a complex story of family dynamics, politics, betrayal, love and medicine. It contains quite a bit of medical jargon, including the description of surgical methods and rare diseases, which may be interesting to those studying science or medicine.—Jamie Maguire, assistant professor of neuroscience, School of Medicine

11/22/63, by Stephen King. An extraordinarily weaved tale of a divorced teacher named Jake who finds a “rabbit hole” that transports him back 48 years in time to 1958. Jake embarks on the journey to stop the Kennedy assassination, in hope of preventing many other disasters, such as the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. On his journey, Jake also falls deeply in love, which further complicates his life and plans during the late 1950s and 60s.—Carissa, prospective student, via the web

Everyman, by Philip Roth. A beautiful book. It is grim and unrelenting in confronting the loneliness, emptiness and narrowing confines of old age and the utter finality of death, but it reaffirms the presence of beauty and love in the simple human decency that the characters display. Reading this book closely was very much like examining a small, brilliant jewel with the jeweler’s loupe that is one of the central images of the book. The description of the dazzling light, the brilliance, that closes the book as the protagonist slips into death “...freed from being, entering into nowhere without even knowing it” is particularly moving and effective.—Ed Dente, A71, retired director, Language Media Center and assistant director, AV Services for A&S

Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. This and The Round House, by Louise Erdrich, are two excellent books for this summer, exploring both society and personal transformations using elements of mystery and suspense. Flight Behavior is the story of a young mother in rural Tennessee who is forever changed and drawn into the center of spiritual, political and scientific controversy by the appearance of butterflies migrating far from their usual route. It is a personal journey that coincides with the threat of potential global disaster. In The Round House, Erdrich follows the effects of a rape through the eyes of the victim’s son—a 13-year-old living in Erdrich’s fictional North Dakota Indian reservation. It explores the role of violence, not only in terms of the crime itself, but the urge for violent revenge when laws fail.—Susan Ostrander, professor of sociology, School of Arts and Sciences

Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin. David’s girlfriend goes to Spain to think about their relationship, and David is left alone with his own sexuality, eventually falling for Giovanni, an openly gay Italian man. Baldwin’s perspective is particularly insightful—the novel is fictional, but Baldwin’s own life also necessitated coming to terms with his sexuality and the way that affected society’s perception of him. An important read, not only because of its significance in the continuing fight for LGBT equality, but because of its literary significance: Baldwin’s writing is as powerful and striking now as it was in 1956.—Dan Turkel, A15

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. A very quick and enjoyable read, about a young girl, Victoria, who kicks and fights her way through one foster home to another, and finally at age 18 is emancipated, with no formal education and no experience. Through her earlier time with one foster parent—a woman with a dark past—she develops a deep understanding of the biology and the meaning of flowers, stemming from Victorian times. She finds comfort in imagining and then creating bouquets with hidden messages, and finds a way to market that. Her inability to trust and accept love is challenged throughout the book. One minute you want to shake her, and the next, you’re rooting for her. The chapters alternate between the current day and 10 years prior until the threads of each come together at the end. Definitely more of a women’s book, given the mother-daughter themes, and filled with beautiful images, scents and flavors throughout.—Jo Wellins, executive director, University Advancement

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson. “Practice makes perfect,” Ursula’s mother persistently tells her, little knowing that her daughter’s life repeats again and again, each time another chance to get it right. Despite the reincarnation premise, Atkinson does not lead us down the overwrought New Age spiritual path, but entwines us emotionally with Ursula, her family and her friends, as we live and relive her childhood and adulthood and the consequences of two world wars. The ever-changing outcomes of Ursula’s incarnations are triggered by the seemingly insignificant choices we all make—in her case always involving the same people and circumstances. Sometimes Ursula remembers, and tries to chart the change; sometimes she has forgotten it ever happened before. The novel’s structure mirrors Ursula’s recurring resurrections. The day of her birth (and sometimes her death)—February 11, 1910—is repeated 12 times as the chapter titled “Snow.” Opening and closing the book, “Snow” creates an infinite loop of endings and beginnings that readers experience just as Ursula does. And there is the poetry that is Atkinson’s prose. Describing one of Ursula’s deaths: “The little heart. A helpless little heart beating wildly. Stopped suddenly like a bird dropped from the sky. A single shot. Darkness fell.” It is unlike anything else I have read, and leaves life’s most eternal questions echoing in the mind over and over, again and again.—Gail Bambrick, senior writer, Office of Publications

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. A beautiful tale about a love triangle that forms in college, and how the triangle is shattered afterward. It follows Madeleine, an English major at Brown who specializes in Victorian novels, and her infatuation with Leonard Bankhead, a manic depressive whose intelligence and charm is only rivaled by his tendencies towards self-destruction. Within that triangle is the religious studies major, Mitchell, who is in love with Madeleine, but can’t get her to fall for him. After college, Madeleine and Leonard’s relationship falls apart, and Leonard, acknowledging Madeleine’s need to be alone, doesn’t pursue her. It’s an incredibly accurate depiction of life and love, and shatters preconceived notions of how a relationship should work and how a girlfriend should act. Brilliant, as are his other books.—Christopher Blackett, A13

Maya’s Notebook, by Isabel Allende. Is there always a road back, no matter how far we fall? Allende presents a gritty yet mythic portrayal of characters literally and figuratively dashed on life’s rocks. Their stories are told by Maya—young, damaged yet spiritually attuned—in the notebooks she keeps to emotionally heal from grief, abandonment and addiction. As she finds respite from her nearly fatal street life in L.A. on an island off the coast of Chile, the novel unfolds with interlacing mysteries: What really happened to her in L.A.? Why does her protector, Manuel, moan and cry in his sleep? Does her grandfather’s spirit remain to protect her? As each mystery is solved, light is shed, and the message is simple: Yes, love is redemptive, if not always obvious in how it does its work. Allende defines salvation as uplifting, while leaving no one unscarred. Maya gives all of us the right to forgive ourselves and see life around the corner of our mistakes.—Gail Bambrick, senior writer, Office of Publications

The Memory of Love, by Linda Olsson. This is Linda Olsson’s third novel, and I have loved them all. She is a Swedish author living in New Zealand, and wrote this book in both Swedish and English. The common themes in her books are solitude, loss, the fragility of memory, the strength of the human heart and healing through friendship. Her writing style is lyrical, and the sea is a major character in this sparsely populated novel. A middle-aged single woman lives by the sea in a small town in New Zealand. She meets a young boy on the beach. The book is about the two of them slowly developing a friendship interspersed with the woman’s memories of her own childhood and finding out about the boy’s life. By helping him, she begins to remember and heal from her past. Olsson’s books are all beautifully written, with few characters and a wealth of nature’s rich symbolism.—Lynn Wiles, department administrator, Department of Anthropology

Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively. In my retirement, catching up on books I missed while I was working, I found this Man Booker–prize winner from 1987. A dying woman expresses her desire to write a history of the world, a history that is kaleidoscopic rather than systematic, and that is communal, yet also personal. But more than that, this is a reflection on life and death and how one exists after death as long as there is somebody to remember one. But this description is reductive, and suggests none of the poetry and beauty of this book. Having finished Moon Tiger, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems, Gerontion, by T. S. Eliot.  I think this selection from Gerontion is appropriate for this poetic novel: “...Think now/ History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors / And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions, / Guides us by vanities.  Think now / She gives when our attention is distracted / And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions  / That the giving famishes the craving.  Gives too late / What’s not believed in, or is still believed, / In memory only, reconsidered passion.” —Ed Dente, A71, retired director, Language Media Center and assistant director, AV Services for A&S 

My Struggle, Book 1, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Novels are often autobiographical, and memoirs usually have as much fiction as fact. So what is Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle? It’s clearly his life story, told in a hyper-realistic manner, but for all that, it reads as a novel. The almost guileless realism drew me in—all the small details that make up our everyday lives that rarely get acknowledged in books, but which completely resonate at some deep inner level. We see family scenes from his childhood and a long section from his teenage years that’s blissfully free of moralizing or wallowing in self-pity. Ultimately the book is about death, and what that means for the living. My Struggle opens with a meditation on life’s end, and the heart of the book recounts Karl Ove’s week after learning of his father’s death, most of it spent at his grandmother’s fetid home in Kristiansand, a town on the southern coast of Norway. It was here that his father spent the last years of his life, slowly drinking himself to death. Every detail is described with care; the story is more like a painting of an old Dutch master, rich in intricate and mundane detail, sparing nothing, engrossing us. This definitely isn’t a book for everyone; if you want plot development and action, look elsewhere. But for me it was rich, rewarding, thought-provoking and moving.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. The night circus is a magically awesome circus that begins at sundown and continues until the morning. Tents of black and white house mystical adventures like an ice garden, a labyrinth and a cloud maze, while patrons eat snacks such as cinnamon twists and chocolate mice with licorice tails. There’s a Wishing Tree, an illusionist, a fortune teller and a huge bonfire that never stops burning. And while the circus is amazing on its own, it’s actually the playing field for two magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood for this “challenge.” There’s not a minute while reading this book that you’re not guessing where the challenges will go. Morgenstern makes the night circus so real and amazing that I’m not sure you could read this book without wishing that it could visit your town.—Kimberly Moniz, online community specialist, Digital Communications

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. This is fantasy writer Neil Gaiman’s first novel for adults since 2005, but it’s easy to see how it could be mistaken for a children’s book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane centers on an unnamed boy navigating his rural English neighborhood, which turns out to be perilously close to a magical realm. The lonely child comes upon the Hempstock Farm, run by three women. They might be the witches from Macbeth; the pagan deities of the Maiden, Mother and Crone; or even just dairy farmers in Sussex. They show him the pond behind their house, which they call an ocean, and then the fun begins. As a person who used to be a timid, bookish child herself, it was both joyous and incredibly painful for me to delve so completely into our protagonist’s mind, fraught with childhood cares and hurts, as he is blindsided by the outside forces invading his neighborhood and family. I loved Gaiman’s fascination with the membrane that separates childhood from adulthood—or “magic” from reality—and how thin it is. We are, in fact, quite close to the children we once were. As the youngest Hempstock, Lettie, says wisely of adults, “Outside, they’re big and thoughtless, and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”—Emma Johnson, communications coordinator, Tufts School of Dental Medicine

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. After a funeral, a man returns to his childhood home, where he is reminded of a long-forgotten memory from when he was seven. As he stops at a familiar pond to recall the details, memories of fear and the occult unknown and a girl named Lettie Hempstock come flooding back. It’s a great fantasy read and quite the heart-strings tugger. And it’s by Neil Gaiman, so of course it’s wonderfully wonderful.—Mervett Hefyan, A13

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This classic book tells the story of the Buendía family in a small Latin American village, chronicling the family’s evolution over the generations. This strange but great book kept me guessing about what comes next, while providing valuable lessons on age, family, society and what we know about ourselves.—Kevin McDonald, A13

The Other Typist, by Suzanne Rindell. All of the addictive qualities of a beach read and none of the self-loathing after, mostly because you’re too busy trying to figure out what the hell just happened to feel self-conscious.—Rebecca, Class of 2013, via the web

Penguin on Vacation, by Salina Yoon. This is a book that I literally could not put down. And as a slim volume, I was able to reread the text multiple times each and every evening. The story describes a longing for change, the courage to seek it and a unique friendship resulting from enacting it. The pared down, almost cryptic prose and accompanying visuals lead the reader to ponder age-old questions: Do penguins display grandparental care? Do they tire of the cold? And do they actually need vacations? Although (physically) overshadowed by the lead, the story’s most compelling character is the crab (AKA ‘crab’). After witnessing the penguin’s inability to thrive on a tropical beach, crab steps forward to educate on the art of sandcastle construction and coconut drink consumption. This is all the more remarkable given that penguins sometimes eat crabs, and yet in this case, the two forge a long-term, and long-distance, friendship. Upon finishing the story, and immediately before being asked to read it “one more time,” you’ll ask yourself the question: if penguins and crabs can do it, why can’t we?—Phil Starks, associate professor of biology, School of Arts and Sciences, and father to William, a very crab-curious 2-year-old

“The Prospects,” by Michelle Seaton. In the July issue of One Story is “The Prospects,” a short story about high school football recruiting. The writer, a longtime contributor to National Public Radio’s “Only a Game,” came up with the idea while reporting for NPR on high school and college football. Using a group perspective, which toggles between the title characters—the high school football players who long to be chosen and the recruiters, who are former star athletes once chosen themselves—Seaton reveals what every side wants, but tries to hide. The players “believe in their own celebrity” while the recruiters “never talk about their own concussions.” During social gatherings, I’m always in the other room when football is on, but this story made me care about the lives of the players and coaches. I connected my desires (and occasional bouts of despair) as a writing teacher and perpetual writing student to those of the recruiters, former players themselves, fueled by the hope and promise of finding new prospects “because they must, because this is what the sport demands.” “The Prospects” is a beautifully written and moving piece about human desire and disappointment, and if you don’t have time for a novel this summer, you can enjoy this story on your commute or during a break and feel you’ve feasted on the best in fiction. One Story is a not-for-profit subscription publication devoted to promoting the short story. Every three weeks for less than two dollars per story, subscribers receive a standalone story and author interview printed in a booklet small enough to slide into your pocket. And if you’re so over paper, you can download the issue through Apple Newsstand or Amazon Kindle, which is what I did.—Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

So Far Away, by Meg Mitchell Moore. When a close friend of yours of more than 20 years writes a novel, you expect to like it because, well, what choice do you have really? What you might not expect is to love it—unapologetically and without any sense of bias, for it is a beautifully written story. So Far Away did that for me. It brings you into the world of Natalie Gallagher, a teenager trying to find a place of comfort between her parents’ bitter divorce and the betrayal of her cyber-bullying best friend. When she uncovers a diary from the 1920s of an Irish housemaid for a privileged Boston family, Natalie finds in those pages the camaraderie and courage she needs to make sense of the injury people cause each other and to determine how to move on. If you enjoy rich dialogue and a local vibe in your summer reading, you will appreciate So Far Away in its splendor. Meg’s books always provide a reason to prioritize fiction over journal articles—a treat in and of itself.—Jennifer Towers, director of dental research affairs, School of Dental Medicine

 

A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter. Salter is one of America’s great late-20th and early-21st century writers, and he’s still going strong at age 80. This, one of his early books, is among his best. The first chapter, a description of the narrator’s train journey from Paris to Autun, is both stunning and beautiful. It also suggests the narrator’s essential unreliability, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. This book is a brilliant introduction to Salter’s works, and it inspired me to read further: I recommend also his collection of short stories, Last Night.—Ed Dente, A71, retired director, Language Media Center and assistant director, AV Services for A&S

The Summons, by Peter Lovesey. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good plot as much as anyone. But in a mystery I often don’t care as much about whodunit as I do about the character tracking down the villain. That’s why I enjoyed The Summons, featuring Peter Diamond, a bald, overweight curmudgeon who rails against technology, seeing absolutely no use for computers. He’s perfectly clever without them, and when he’s called in the middle of the night to help find a man who has broken out of prison and kidnapped a constable’s daughter, he’s on his game. The squad that needs his help is the very one he resigned from after being slighted by his superiors. Since then he has been forced to take a series of low-level jobs, including one as a Christmas Santa and another in which he rounds up supermarket carts in a parking lot. He manages to track down the villain, all the while entertaining us with repartee with his patient wife and his relationship with the one detective he respects, Inspector Julie Hargreaves. This is just one in a series, and I look forward to learning more about Peter Diamond and the food he enjoys.—Marjorie Howard, senior writer, Tufts Now

The Sunset Limited, by Cormac McCarthy. A short, minimalist play in the form of a conversation between two men, known only as “White” and “Black.” An unusually engaging and simple read about suicide, genocide, heaven, redemption, perseverance, failure, forgiveness, choice and despair. There is also an HBO film adaptation starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, which exactly follows the text of the play.—Brandon Archambault, A13

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O’Farrell. This engrossing story starts with an out-of-the-blue phone call about an unknown maiden grant-aunt who is being released from an institution and needs to be picked up. The story unfolds on two levels, past and present. Remarkable twists and turns in the plot, particularly in the past. The fictional story provides context about the differences in the treatment and expectations of women and men in the early 20th century. Every time the story seems to be revealed, there is a new twist.—Alice Lichtenstein, the Stanley N. Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at the Friedman School and director of the cardiovascular nutrition laboratory at the HNRCA

NONFICTION

As Always, Julia, edited by Joan Reardon. This book is the correspondence between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto (the mother of Mark DeVoto, professor of music emeritus—Mark is all over these letters!). The two women hadn’t met each other, but started a correspondence between Paris and Cambridge, Mass., during the 1940s and kept going all through the ’50s, when they finally met, and kept writing while pursuing a lasting friendship that never wavered. The letters are marvelous: political, personal and terrific background for American culture, expatriates, publishing, sexism and the Age of McCarthy, Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson—and Julia Child!—Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor

Breakpoint, by Jeff Stibel, A95. In the book, Stibel discusses the intersection of brain science, biology, entrepreneurship and technology. He shows how exceptional companies are using their understanding of the Internet’s brain-like powers to create a competitive advantage by building more effective websites, utilizing cloud computing, engaging social media, monetizing effectively and leveraging a collective consciousness. He claims that all networks have three phases—the hyper-growth, the breakpoint and the equilibrium—and provides examples from biology and business to support his theory.—Tomo Yokose, A14

Breakpoint, by Jeff Stibel, A95. Breakpoint is a very forward-thinking, innovative book, warning about how all growth hits a “breakpoint”—grows, grows, grows, hits its “carrying capacity” and then collapses. This is a great book for students as we grow to our potential. Further, it looks at such companies as MySpace and studies their fall while examining modern companies such as Facebook and Google and how they are delaying their breakpoint.—Denali, Class of 2017, via the web

Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, by Samantha Power. Killed in a 2003 bombing in Baghdad, Sergio Mello was a lifelong diplomat, at one point holding the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and, prior to his death, a likely candidate for the position of U.N. secretary-general. Mello’s professional life illustrates the all-too-familiar tension that comes from the need to square our lofty ideals with the reality on the ground. In truth, there are few answers in this book on how to “do it right,” but we can learn from Mello’s journey as we navigate the personal and institutional dynamics in our lives. Whatever we endeavor to achieve will not be easy, but knowing that even at the highest echelons of global policymaking and service such struggles remain is, in a strange way, comforting.—Aeden Pilla, A13

Drive, by Daniel H. Pink. The “carrot-and-stick” style of management, used extensively in the workplace, is based on offering a combination of rewards and punishments to modify behavior. But Daniel Pink shows in Drive the incongruence between what scientific research has uncovered regarding human motivation and these commonly used management practices. The takeaway is that autonomy is deeply connected to satisfaction in the workplace. There is an increasing trend toward uncompensated work, including work for charities and nonprofit organizations, highlighting the fact that individuals want more out of their experience than just monetary rewards. This book reviews some interesting primary literature about the basis of motivation and questions the current management practices.—Jamie Maguire, assistant professor of neuroscience, School of Medicine

Fearless, by Eric Blehm. This book is the true story of Adam Brown, an elite U.S. soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country in the far-off mountains of Afghanistan. The story begins, as many such stories do, when a smart, funny, athletic young boy with a bright future makes a bad choice, falling in with the wrong crowd and ending up fighting demons that haunt him most of his adult life. And that’s where the story really begins. Family, faith and Brown’s wife, Kelly (who is nothing short of a guardian angel)—plus a little luck—bring Brown from the suburban crack houses of Arkansas to the very highest level of our nation’s military: the now well-known SEAL Team Six. Brown’s journey is about the human spirit and how everything in life is not perfect. Sometimes events take you off the beaten path, but only you have the power to stay the course or let life dictate its terms to you. It’s a must-read for every patriotic American willing to come to terms with the sacrifices made, day in and day out, on their behalf by those who ask for nothing in return and whose families don’t accept the risk—until one day their loved ones don’t come home.—Chris Jackson, senior IT support specialist, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier, by Adam Jortner. If we remember William Henry Harrison at all it’s through the moldy campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Jortner’s lively, well-written book revives this not-always-savory historical character through the retelling of an early 19th-century struggle over what was then a strategic piece of turf—Indiana. As an ambitious territorial governor in the first decade of the century, Harrison squared off with the Shawnee religious leader Tenskwatawa. Both men had conflicting agendas that put them on a collision course. Harrison wanted to use his post to accrue power and position in the young republic, while Tenskwatawa, with his brother Tecumseh, strove to forge a broad pan-tribal coalition, not simply to oppose the encroaching United States but to forge a new identity. Jortner sees nothing as foreordained and takes the social and religious imperatives of both sides seriously, putting together a rich and sometimes surprising story. The natives are not doomed; indeed, at one point it is the Americans who are seen as struggling to maintain their position against Tenskwatawa and other native groups as well as British support coming from what would become Canada. In the end, there is a decisive outcome, but it is not the battle of Tippecanoe (an indecisive draw that Harrison played up as a major victory to burnish his reputation). Rather, the course of the War of 1812 decided that Tenskwatawa’s star would fall as Harrison’s rose toward a (very brief) term as president of the United States.—David Ekbladh, assistant professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences

Hammarskjöld: A Life, by Roger Lipsey. Is there anything that we can learn today from the life of Dag Hammarskjöld, the secretary-general of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961? More than 50 years after Hammarskjöld’s death, Roger Lipsey most definitely thinks there is. He plumbs Hammarskjöld’s life as diligent U.N. peacemaker and spiritual seeker for meaning and direction. In this new biography, Lipsey tells the tale in elegant prose, wise and compelling, very much in keeping with his subject. Hammarskjöld was an outsider when he was pegged as a compromise candidate for secretary-general of the fledgling U.N., but soon became a strong proponent of its postwar ideals. He was, ultimately, the man in the middle, the inventor of shuttle diplomacy, willing to take the heat to get wars, or incipient wars, defused. For example, during the Suez crisis of 1956–57—as Britain and France joined with Israel to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt—he encouraged the U.N. to send peacekeeping troops to keep combatants apart, a first. While crises like this consumed Hammarskjöld, he had another life, hidden from most everyone: a deep spiritual yearning for meaning. That became evident several years after his death with the publication of Markings, his journal of self-discovery. Consumed by private loneliness and doubt, he persisted in his search, comforted and challenged by mystic Christian seekers such as Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471). A complicated man, Hammarskjöld was the ideal diplomat, and his ideals live on in this fascinating book.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph J. Ellis. I’ve just read, for a third time, Ellis’s strong biography of George Washington, an entertaining and direct look at the life of this founding father. Ellis does a good job of giving a sense of the forces that shaped young Washington’s life—particularly the early, horrific violence he witnessed during the French and Indian War, and later, the financial sparring he went through as a young landowner with British merchants. The author shows us how these experiences eventually informed Washington’s actions as a revolutionary, and how they kept him from taking absolute power when he might have. Finally we see how the personality of the man—with his strength and pragmatism and stubbornness and faults—became, in many ways, the personality of his country. I’ve read a number of accounts of Washington, but this is the closest I’ve ever felt to him.—Joseph Hurka, lecturer, Department of English, School of Arts and Sciences

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. In an undergraduate biology class, Rebecca Skloot first heard the name Henrietta Lacks, which set into motion her quest to uncover the origin of HeLa cells, a commonly used immortalized cell line in science. Her book depicts the life, death and immortalization of Lacks, whose unwitting contribution led to the cell line. As Skloot explores the life of Lacks, she becomes enmeshed in her extended family, seeing them through the challenges of trying to understand what HeLa cells are and how these cells were obtained, including such issues as informed consent. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks touches on the ethics underlying the use of human materials for scientific research and reminds us that there is a story behind these cells we use every day.—Jamie Maguire, assistant professor of neuroscience, School of Medicine

Into the Abyss, by Carol Shaben. On rare occasion, I can confidently recommend a book I haven’t yet finished. For the last three days, I’ve been glued to the pages of Carol Shaben’s hauntingly realistic account of four strangers who find themselves clinging to life during a long, snowy night after a small commuter plane crash on a forested hilltop in remote western Canada. Beyond retelling the chilling events of the crash and the quest for overnight survival, a true story that took place in 1984, Shaben demonstrates mastery in developing the characters involved, among them her own father. I was drawn to this summer read after hearing an NPR segment about the book, which alluded to Jack London’s memorable short story “To Build a Fire.”—Jonathan Burton, senior associate director of stewardship and development, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, by Mitchell Zuckoff. About halfway through Lost in Shangri-La, it hit me: this is Argo, with a soundtrack by the Andrews Sisters. Like the Academy Award-winning movie, Zuckoff’s book tells the story of a group of Americans stranded in an unlikely and threatening place, and the against-all-odds plan to get them out of there. In Shangri-La, those in need of rescue are the survivors of a military plane crash in the nearly impenetrable jungles of New Guinea in 1945. The dangers include lack of food and water, life-threatening injuries, hidden Japanese soldiers and warring native tribes who may—or may not—be headhunters or cannibals. The Ben Affleck role is more or less played by Capt. C. Earl Walter Jr., the charismatic leader of a paratrooper team who arrive to aid the survivors. And even though you realize pretty quickly that the group will make its way home—otherwise, how could Zuckoff have reconstructed the story in such painstaking detail?—the storytelling is masterful, and you hold your breath until the moment the little band takes off into the air, headed to safety.—Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine magazine

Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958–1962, by Frank Dikötter. This book is astounding to me since as a nutritionist, I was unaware of this great tragedy until 10 years after it happened. Hopefully with more awareness on the part of the international community, these horrific episodes of dictators murdering their own people by starvation will become rarer, but looking at North Korea, one wonders. All nutrition students and faculty should read this book and many who do so will weep.—Johanna Dwyer, professor of medicine and community health at the School of Medicine, director of the Frances Stern Nutrition Center and adjunct professor at the Friedman School

Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, by Megan Marshall. Through any set of lenses, Margaret Fuller led an extraordinary life. The 19th-century American woman was brilliant and ambitious. She was an important part of the Concordian Transcendentalist circle; the first editor of The Dial, the Transcendentalist magazine; and a widely published writer, including her work as front-page columnist for the New York Tribune and as one of the first international correspondents for that paper. She counted among her friends Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Elizabeth Peabody, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and other literary, social and political luminaries of the era. She traveled to Europe, secretly had an affair and had a child with and then wed an Italian man considerably younger than herself. Her little family all tragically died in a shipwreck in a hurricane only a couple of miles off the coast of Fire Island, N.Y., on their much-heralded return to America. Megan Marshall strides into territory covered by many other biographers in this new book, yet her treatment of Fuller’s life is fresh. As she did in her epic award-winning biography The Peabody Sisters, Marshall uses a variety of primary sources to tell Fuller’s story, and does so in an appealing and highly readable manner. She excels at giving her readers enough context, both historical and cultural, so that we can realize just how extraordinary a woman Fuller was in her time. To do this in a way that is complete and yet not didactic is an art form, which Marshall most aptly demonstrates.—Julie Dobrow, director, Communications and Media Studies Program

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, Gladwell takes a closer look at the idea of self-made success and innate genius. For many individuals we consider to be exceptional—from Bill Gates to Canadian professional hockey players—success came from seizing unique opportunities and from hard work. A common theme throughout the book is the “10,000 hour rule,” based on work by the psychologist Anders Ericsson suggesting that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at any task. I appreciate the take-home message that hard work and not innate genius is required for success. Instead of viewing successful people in our society as “outliers,” we should appreciate that their success comes from hard work and seizing every opportunity afforded to them—and use this as a framework to create our own success.—Jamie Maguire, assistant professor of neuroscience, School of Medicine

Picasso and Truth, by T.J. Clark. Pablo Picasso was unquestionably one of the giants of 20th-century art, but he also courted publicity and became a media celebrity. Art historian T.J. Clark argues that a gossipy focus on the painter’s turbulent personal life has distracted us from his real achievements, and in Picasso and Truth, he attempts to direct our gaze back where it really belongs—on the work. In a stunning series of essays on major works from the 1920s through Guernica, Clark shows that the representation of space remained an abiding concern for Picasso long after the Cubist years and across his various shifts in subject, scale and style. While Wittgenstein and Nietzsche provide key points of reference, Clark’s take on these great paintings is never reductive; he does Picasso’s art justice by treating it as a significant example in its own right of 20th-century thought, albeit in pictorial form. I’m sure I’ll be looking more carefully, and seeing more, the next time I stand in front of a Picasso.—Michael Baenen, chief of staff, Office of the President

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard. A fascinating account of Roosevelt’s perilous trip down an unexplored tributary of the Amazon River. The descriptions of the landscape—geography, plants and animals—are notable. The book also provides interesting insights about the hierarchy among team members, down to the different foods available to them. There was no time that the adventurers could relax, nor the reader.—Alice Lichtenstein, the Stanley N. Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at the Friedman School and director of the cardiovascular nutrition laboratory at the HNRCA

The Smaller Majority, by Piotr Naskrecki. They outnumber us by exponential degrees, and in sheer biomass, they lay claim to more of the earth than humans do. But insects and other small animals get no respect; they are background noise to our human existence—not to mention the inevitable ick factor. Naskrecki sets out to even that score a bit with The Smaller Majority, a coffee-table–sized masterpiece of photography and sympathetic explication of the secret lives of these creatures. His full-page close-ups of katydids, arachnids, ants, geckos and much more are stunning, no doubt each photograph the product of many hours of patient waiting for the exact right moment to click the shutter. Naskrecki has an artist’s eye for framing shots, making many of these images beautiful almost in spite of their subject’s appearances. Reading The Smaller Majority, it is hard not to be struck by the ruthless eat-or-be-eaten world that most animal life occupies. Evolutionary adaptation to avoid being killed and eaten is utterly astounding: take the giant leaf katydid. As protection against predators, it has evolved a body that looks exactly like a decaying leaf: nobody’s idea of a good lunch. And that’s only one example out of many that Naskrecki documents and explains, always with admiration for the power of nature.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Upstream Doctors, by Rishi Manchanda. This TEDxBook by Tufts alum Rishi Manchanda [A97, M03, MPH03] discusses the upstream movement in public health medicine in a readable, comprehensible way. The movement begins with readers and active participants in the health-care system.—Zara Day, M14