Heading into prime vacation season each summer, we ask the Tufts community to tell us about books they like, and why they recommend them to others. This year’s offerings are as extensive and diverse as ever: historical fiction, elegant novels, tales of good and evil, fun summer reads, plus true stories of elephants in World War II, the discovery of Mayan ruins, violence in America, Stalin’s youth and the value of waiting.
Dive in and enjoy. And for faculty, staff and students, don’t forget that many of these books are available at the Tufts libraries.
If you have a book recommendation, let us know at email@example.com, and we’ll post an update.
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. This Pulitzer Prize winner is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. The girl, Marie-Laure, lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is 6, she goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. Werner, the novel’s male protagonist, is an orphan. He grows up in a mining town in Germany with his younger sister, and, enchanted by a crude radio they find, he becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments. His skill wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, and then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways that people, against all odds, try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing and a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel. —Nancy Marks, Tisch-TUSDM Community Service Learning Program
Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen, unabridged audiobook (Random House). Listening to audiobooks in the car has brought me closer to being able to cast a book aside if it doesn’t hold my interest rather than soldier through to the finish. So I can assert with the wisdom of experience that your time will be more agreeably spent hearing Arte Johnson read Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey than listening to Scott Brown recite his memoir of misfortune and male modeling. Hiaasen’s métier is ostensibly the crime fiction genre, while the action in his books takes place in Florida, which allows him to veer into what used to be referred to euphemistically as Rabelaisian territory. Outlandish characters, unseemly behavior and coruscating social satire are pushed to the limit, with the result that, as I did, you may face the dilemma of having to pay close attention to your driving when you’re laughing so hard your eyes close shut. While I can imagine enjoying the book just as much if I read it silently to myself, there’s an additional pleasure in hearing certain choice passages read aloud. In a moment of impishness, I passed it along to a nonfiction reader whose response to my request for a quotable reaction was a befuddled silence. –Fred Kalil, marketing communications manager, University Relations
Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell. Black Swan Green is a small town in England where Jason Taylor is leading the life of a typical 13-year-old. Through chapters that read like vignettes, we see Jason struggle and succeed, navigating the muddy waters of adolescence with humor, despair, confusion and cleverness. This is one of those books where I actually felt heavy-hearted to have finished, because I knew I’d miss Jason, who seems like someone I once knew or maybe someone I would like to know, but definitely someone I understand. —Kimberly Moniz, social media strategist, Communications and Marketing
Death Before Bedtime by Gore Vidal, writing as Edgar Box. Making my way through the prolific output of Gore Vidal, I landed on a trio of mystery novels written in the ’50s under the nom de plume Edgar Box. Ever the caustic wit, Vidal lends a helping of mordant sangfroid to the genre trappings. The plot unfolds in the first-person voice of a narrator who finds himself within complicating proximity of a senator’s foul-play demise. Set in the nation’s capital during election season, the scene affords Vidal an opportunity to toss off a slew of canny jabs. (“She had been through too many political battles to be unnerved by such a small thing as murder.”) More than one Amazon comment notes the book being ahead of its time, but Vidal’s profligate literary talents have always provided an edifying read for those with a taste for his wicked barbs. —Fred Kalil, marketing communications manager, University Relations
Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld. There’s no shortage of Jane Austen adaptations and updates. For a case in point, consider Eligible, the latest installment in HarperCollins’s Austen Project, which puts the English novelist’s characters in contemporary settings. In this retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is a freelance writer in New York (with startling amounts of free time), Jane Bennet is a yoga instructor, Darcy is an Ohio-based neurosurgeon and Bingley is a reality TV star fresh off a run on the Bachelor-like show Eligible. The Bennet sisters spend a summer in Cincinnati to help their high-society father recover from heart issues and discover the family’s finances are in shambles. The tension between the older sisters’ pragmatism and the rest of the family’s optimism provides many opportunities for Austenian panic about money and propriety. Not all of the updates work—Catherine de Bourgh as a feminist icon?—but the satire of romantic reality TV and its truth-bending editing style is on point. Eligible is an especially good beach read for Cincinnati natives familiar with the Skyline Chili scene. —Robin Smyton, A09, public relations specialist, University Relations
Everybody’s Fool, by Richard Russo. The small city of North Bath, New York, is in a bad way. Its Ultimate Escape Fun Park went belly-up before it even opened. Whenever the thermometer hits 85, a thick, putrid odor, “The Great Bath Stench,” blankets the town. And the mineral springs that gave the town its name have long since dried up, even while the springs in the neighboring college town of Schuyler Falls keep attracting upscale tourists. If you’ve read Russo’s earlier work, Nobody’s Fool, you already know about North Bath and some of its citizens, especially Donald Sullivan, who you might remember as Sully (if you picture Sully as Paul Newman, it’s because he played the part in the 1994 movie). Less likely, you might also know about North Bath because, like the author and myself, you grew up there (it’s actually called Gloversville, and Russo chronicles his early life there in his memoir Elsewhere). But you need not have read Nobody’s Fool (though you should), nor have grown up in a mill town in upstate New York (probably be glad you didn’t), to enjoy Russo’s newest novel. While Sully is nobody’s fool, Doug Raymer, the chief of police, is everybody’s fool. Doug’s wife was having an affair before the freak accident that killed her. Doug has the garage door opener that was hidden in his wife’s car, and this may provide the key to finding who cuckolded him. But does he really want to know? There are enough other things to worry about: buildings collapse, snakes get loose, the Schuyler Falls police chief may take over his job, and Sully never pays his parking tickets. And Doug has never really figured out the answer to the question posed by the recently deceased Miss Beryl, the only teacher who ever took an interest in him: “Who are you, Doug?” Finding the answer to this question, and similar questions for Sully and all the other engaging characters in this masterful novel, provided me with hours of enjoyment, even long after I finished reading the last page. —Michael W. Klein, Wm. L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, Fletcher School
The Forgetting Time, by Sharon Guskin. There is no reason for 4-year-old Noah to be terrified of water. And every night, he wakes his mother after frightening dreams asking, “Is my other mother coming soon? I want my other mother. When is she coming? When can I go home?” The mystery of what Noah is remembering becomes a smart and surprising exploration into the realm of reincarnation and the human mind in Guskin’s debut novel. As riveting as any whodunit, the book follows Noah and his mother, Janie, as they investigate clues that may reveal if Noah indeed lived before or is instead suffering from some complex mental illness. While Noah appears to be remembering another life, psychologist Jerome Anderson is slowly forgetting his past and present. Diagnosed with aphasia, an incurable condition that will steal his facility with words and thoughts, Jerome takes up Noah’s case hoping to prove that his lifelong research into reincarnation was justified—before it is too late. Giving credence to the plot twists and narrative premises, the novel is laced with quotes from and references to Life Before Life: Children’s Memories of Previous Lives, by Jim B. Tucker, a book that uses case studies to explore the possibility that consciousness may continue after the brain dies. The Forgetting Time is that rare page-turner that also explores large questions: how memory shapes who we are, and if those memories include past lives. — Gail Bambrick, G91, lecturer, Experimental College
Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby. This fictional account of a self-made 1960s British sitcom star is a refreshing departure from Nick Hornby’s typical odes to the perpetual man-child. Not to be confused with Barbara Streisand’s Fanny Brice, Barbara Parker is a wannabe Lucille Ball from humble beginnings in seaside Blackpool who rises to fame under a new identity as Sophie Straw, and becomes a BBC darling on the top-rated series Barbara (and Jim). Told from a third-person perspective, Funny Girl captures the colorful personalities of the characters who inhabit the world of Barbara (and Jim), and therefore Sophie’s world. Though light in tone, the novel explores issues of sexism and ageism in the entertainment industry as well as cultural shifts in attitudes toward homosexuality. Weighing in at 452 pages, Funny Girl does not appear to be an obvious beach read, but coming from Hornby, who wrote the screenplays for An Education and Brooklyn and whose books Fever Pitch, About A Boy and High Fidelity were adapted into films, the novel is filled with sitcom-style breezy dialogue that makes it a speedy read. —Divya Amladi, content producer, Communications and Marketing
Girl Waits with Gun, by Amy Stewart. The period during which automobiles started replacing horse-drawn carriages was challenging, in terms of both sharing the road and accepting non-conformist women. A smart and sassy woman with no interest in marriage or domestic affairs but with family responsibilities takes on a high and mighty man to correct a wrong. Plenty of background drama to keep this book fast moving and engaging. A great summer read with a nice plot twist at the end. —Alice H. Lichtenstein, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Friedman School
In Another Life, Julie Christine Johnson. So, a friend publishes her first novel, and my deep-down fear is, “What do I say if this book doesn’t turn out to be my cup of tea?” Narrative nonfiction is my sweet spot; would I like a book that’s by turns a contemporary love story, a mystery and historical fiction, with a dose of time-travel thrown in? I needn’t have worried. In Another Life is a tremendously fun, well-constructed story that sweeps you along and immerses you in two fully realized worlds: the tranquil wine country of Languedoc, in southern France, and that same region, roiled by political and religious conflict, in the 13th century. What happened centuries ago will profoundly affect the life of the story’s protagonist, newly widowed historian Lia Carrer. The level of careful craftsmanship in Johnson’s writing, and the extraordinary level of detail—whether it’s describing a glass of wine, the smell of a meadow, or the feel of a medieval tunic—transport you entirely to two very different eras. The story slides effortlessly between the present day and 1208, and so fully constructed are the two fictional worlds that the time-travel element, when it appears, is natural and believable. Fans of A.S. Byatt’s 1990 Booker Prize-winning Possession will likely enjoy this. —Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine, Office of Publications
Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult. Jenna was just a small child when her mother, Anna, disappeared in Africa while researching how elephants grieve. Now an adolescent, Jenna is obsessed with finding her, dead or alive, and discovering what happened that fateful day. But she is equally fixated on learning about her mother from the voluminous journals she left behind that document her observations of the elephant behavior. They include entries like this: “One of the most amazing things about elephants mourning in the wild is their ability to grieve hard, but then truly, unequivocally, let go. Humans can’t seem to do that. I’ve always thought it’s because of religion. We expect to see our loved ones again in the next life, whatever that might be. Elephants don’t have that hope, only the memories of this life. Maybe that’s why it is easier for them to move on.” Jenna enlists two unlikely partners in her quest: an alcoholic former police detective and an aging psychic who thinks she has lost her paranormal gift. Combined, their talents slowly peel away the veil that has obscured startling truths not only about Jenna’s mother, but about Jenna herself. Nothing is as it seems, and the novel’s ending is superbly unanticipated. It all makes sense in a milieu that combines science and the paranormal, and that is enhanced by Picoult’s depiction of evocative, exotic environments: “You have to understand—there is a romance to Africa. You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the hand of God. You watch the slow lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. . . . In Africa, in the midday heat, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.” Picoult’s novel is a riveting mystery that will leave you wondering about grief and letting go. —Gail Bambrick, G91, lecturer, Experimental College
The North Water, by Ian McGuire. This is a big, unstoppable and absolutely riveting tale of ambiguous good and determined evil set over a century ago in the brutally cold waters of the Arctic Circle. The story opens in the Shetland Islands in the late 1850s as a badly used Irish military physician, more or less on the run after some not-so-heroic service with the British Army in India, signs on as ship's surgeon on the whaler Volunteer, which is headed into northern waters. There he collides with evil in its most primitive and frightening form, incarnated in one of the ship’s harpooners. Their lives and fortunes become deeply intertwined in the High North, and a tale of shipwrecks, betrayals, muted heroism, tragic deaths and questionable resolution ensues. The novel is one part Joseph Conrad’s epic Heart of Darkness and another part Cormac McCarthy’s lean and beautifully written The Road, with a setting straight out of Herman Melville— except this voyage makes the story of the ill-fated whaler Pequod in Moby Dick look like a midsummer walk in the park. The North Water brilliantly unpacks fundamental questions about the motivation, inspiration and culpability of evil in a way that leaves the reader gasping for air. This is a dark and unsettling voyage to the boundaries of human experience that resonates in memory again and again, challenging us to face the darkness as bravely as we can—a message of real import in this turbulent 21st century. —James Stavridis, F83, F84, dean, Fletcher School
The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The Sympathizer is a multitude of books in one: a memoir-style confessional, a spy thriller, a satire of American culture, and a fresh take on war fiction. As the unnamed narrator recounts his double life as a communist sleeper agent after the end of the Vietnam War, Nguyen displays not only a talent for plotting and character development, but a caustic wit that infuses passage after passage. (Upon receiving welfare in the U.S., the narrator wryly notes, “I could not help but wonder whether my need for American charity was due to my first having been the recipient of American aid.”) Having deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize with his debut novel, Nguyen has set a high bar for his future work. —David Valdes Greenwood, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences
2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino. Madeleine is a jazz singer who likes to chain smoke, swear like a sailor and shimmy the way her mama taught her. She’s also 9 years old. So begins 2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas, a slice-of-life novel about the residents of a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood. Stories are told from different perspectives: Madeleine; her Miss Lonelyhearts teacher, Sarina; Lorca, the owner of the Cat’s Pajamas, a jazz club on the verge of being shut down; and a host of side characters that make up the beating heart of the neighborhood. Bertino’s work has a gritty exterior of drug addicts, death and cockroach-infested apartments, but a surprisingly compassionate center, where flawed people try their best, even when it’s not good enough. The book is wonderfully self-contained, taking place over 24 hours on Christmas Eve, and packed with details of both the setting and the people we meet. Madeleine is by far the richest character; anything but precocious or twee, she is tough and acerbic, but also achingly recognizable as a traumatized 9-year-old whose mother has died and whose father can’t get out of bed to parent her. As you might imagine, these lost souls congregate at the eponymous time and place, in an end that seems both realistic and magical. —Emma Johnson, communications specialist, School of Dental Medicine
A Bestiary, by Lily Hoang. This book is composed of hundreds of mini-essays on addiction, family ties, identity and marriage. Hoang writes, “I am supposed to be a doctor. This is the immigrant parents’ dream and I am its failure.” The pieces circle over the same moments—such as her sister’s death—in the writer’s life, but every time, there’s a slight variation. Some fragments are raw and associative, while others are tiny, beautifully crafted complete stories. Like the lyric fragments themselves, Hoang challenges, complicates and upends our ideas about these common themes. –Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer, Department of English
Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II, by Vicki Constantine Croke. This is a riveting book about a British guy who goes out to Burma to train elephants for a teak timber company, and remains there during World War II. Fascinating insights into elephants, Burma, colonial life in Asia, and the role elephants played during the war—who knew? I was totally surprised by what an engaging and exciting book this was. —Beatrice Lorge Rogers, professor of economics and food policy and director of the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition Program, Friedman School
Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood, by Terry Masear. If you are an animal rehabber or a bird lover, or are just fascinated by hummingbirds, here is the book for you. This collection of snippets about many hummingbirds in the Los Angeles area that Terry Masear has saved (and one, saved a second time) provides an insight into all the work, time and energy that goes into giving these injured birds a chance to continue living. You’ll find yourself rooting for Pepper and Gabriel to rejoin their fellow hummingbirds outside the protected cages of Masear’s backyard. As an added benefit, readers learn some interesting tidbits about hummingbirds themselves as they enjoy this quick read. —Suzanne Duncan, library assistant III, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence, by Geoffrey Canada. Inner city violence is a concept that most Americans are familiar with, but for those of us who grew up in areas where overt violence is less common, it can be difficult to appreciate what it means to actually fear for our safety on a daily basis. In this memoir, author, teacher and activist Geoffrey Canada recounts his experience growing up in the South Bronx, where he and other adolescents found themselves in an arms race (quite literally), in which each individual seemed constantly faced with the choice to become either a predator or a victim. If everyone else on your block has a knife, Canada asks, is there not a natural pressure for someone to trump that threat by obtaining a gun? In an area plagued by violence and insecurity, what is more natural than the desire to defend oneself and one’s family? And yet, when this scenario is played out fully, it is easy to see how an endless cycle of weapons, gangs and escalating violence is the result. Check out the book to learn more about this vicious cycle, and about ways that Canada and others are striving to break it. —Samuel Ruth, director of continuing education, Marketing and Communications, School of Dental Medicine
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson. In these post-9/11 times, we often talk about how the world has become “more dangerous than ever before.” Steven Johnson reminds us that in a time before antibiotics, antisepsis, sewage treatment and running water, when microbes were yet undiscovered and infectious diseases still little-understood, drinking a glass of water from the neighborhood pump could be far more dangerous than anything those of us in the developed world now live with. The Ghost Map tells the story of London’s cholera epidemic of 1854, the two men who sought to buck conventional wisdom and solve the riddle of how the disease was spread, and the birth of epidemiology and modern-day public health. It’s a medical detective story and a vibrant social history of mid-19th-century London, filled with accessible scientific detail and a larger look at the development and function of cities. Above all, it’s tightly written, detail-filled and well-paced—we know cholera doesn’t stalk London anymore, but that doesn’t make the unraveling of this story any less interesting, or terrifying. —Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine, Office of Publications
Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, by Adam Grant. This New York Times best-seller was written by Wharton’s top-rated professor, Adam Grant, who is the youngest tenured professor and single highest-rated teacher at the school. It is a groundbreaking look at why our interactions with others hold the key to success, and would be most fitting and useful in our culture at Tufts and in the workplace. —Peter Arsenault, D94, associate clinical professor of comprehensive care, School of Dental Medicine
Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels, by Loretta Graziano Breuning. Have you ever had a bad mood you couldn’t kick?
Or resolved to get up earlier in the morning, or stop losing your temper around family members, only to give up after an uphill slog that never seemed to get easier? It’s not you, says Loretta Graziano Breuning. Although the full-scale rebellion by your own body, mind and emotions against the smallest positive change may feel like a personal failure, it’s nothing more than a trick—one of many orchestrated by an ancient neurochemical system whose dips and surges once kept you alive on the savannah, but don’t work quite as well with the very different stresses of modern human society. Breuning says that by understanding the purposes and mechanisms of four of your neurochemicals—dopamine, boosted by working toward a reward; serotonin, which rises with perceived social status; oxytocin, which flows when you feel closely connected with others; and endorphins, unleashed to offset pain—you can biologically explain why getting what you want doesn’t make you happy for long; why being embarrassed in front of friends or beaten by a competitor at work is so uniquely painful; and why starting a healthier, more productive daily routine can feel so slow, boring and torturous. Even though harmful responses to stress, such as eating unhealthy foods or lashing out at others, may be lifelong and unconscious, you can defuse them. The first step is to notice when you’re exhibiting them. This knowledge equips you to abandon the habits you don’t want, and to select and build new ones in 45 days, beginning with a simple, counterintuitive but totally revolutionary response to stress: doing absolutely nothing. Habits of a Happy Brain
is a well-written, well-reasoned guide for anyone seeking to understand why we do what we do, and can help us harness the peculiarities of our own natures to work for rather than against us. –Monica Jimenez, senior writer/editor, Office of Communications and Marketing
Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya, by William Carlsen. In October 1839, a New York lawyer named John Lloyd Stephens, armed with a commission from President Martin Van Buren to negotiate a trade treaty with the newly independent states in Central America, set sail for the region, accompanied by British architect and artist Frederick Catherwood. Their real goal, though, was to hunt for ruins in the region, rumors of which had quietly swirled for several years. What they found, buried in the jungles of Guatemala and Mexico, astonished them: a civilization that had vanished some distant time in the past, leaving magnificent traces now overgrown by jungle. The hardships the two encountered were legion, not least stumbling through insurrections and violent revolutions, hacking paths in dense jungles, and fighting multitudes of insects and the diseases they carried. Catherwood made exquisitely detailed drawings of the ruins, and Stephens went on to pen two best-sellers that are still in print today: Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán. Carlsen tells their story with the same narrative drive that made Stephens’ books a hit, with sensitive attention to the personalities of the two men and the story behind the Maya, whose origins Stephens in part deduced, despite prevailing theories that natives of the region couldn’t possibly have built the spectacular ruins. It’s all a wonderful bit of history, quite well-told. Now, inspired by Carlsen, I’m off to read the originals. —Taylor McNeil, senior editor, Tufts Now
Magicians & Charlatans, by Jed Perl. A longtime art critic for the New Republic and of late for the New York Review of Books, Perl isn’t afraid to hold strong opinions, and they are on offer in spades in this 2012 collection of essays. The magicians in question are the artists whose works Perl views as transcendent: from Chagall and Arp to contemporary artists like Bill Jensen, whose paintings are “heartfelt, exuberant, exultant.” The charlatans make better copy, though, such as the likes of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, “for whom the idea is not so much to make art as to make money”; dealers like the legendary Leo Castelli, whom Perl derides as a mere opportunist, “a social animal, a scene-maker, a trend-spotter, an enemy of all fixed or even evolving concepts of value”; and collectors like billionaire Eli Broad—in his new museum in L.A., he “does not present art, he places products.” Magicians & Charlatans is much more than this, though, with insightful reviews of exhibitions, museums, books, and the lives of artists and the occasional writer. It’s an eye-opening book by a critic with a deep-felt love for an art world that is all too often letting him down. —Taylor McNeil, senior editor, Tufts Now
New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America, by Wendy Warren. Whatever the strength of their religious motivation, New England’s founders also needed to support themselves. Wendy Warren shows that the region’s economic development depended from the start on its intimate connections to the larger British Atlantic economy, a trade network dependent on the fabulous profits generated by enslaved laborers on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. New England prospered by providing the islands with staples such as fish, poor in quality and often rotting, that were fed to the enslaved in the West Indies. It was not long before New Englanders—ministers and magistrates as well as merchants and farmers—sought to secure enslaved laborers for themselves. The slave system that resulted may have been less lethal than on the islands, but it was hardly benign, and it became an accepted feature of society even though the enslaved population was not large. Not all of those enslaved in 17th-century New England were Africans. Some of them were Native Americans, forced into a form of heritable chattel slavery far different from the slavery that had been practiced in some native cultures, which sought to incorporate captured peoples into the victors’ society. Most of the Native Americans enslaved in New England were sold out of the region to the West Indies, where the horrific mortality rates in the cane fields ensured an early death. Warren has tackled troubling topics that have been too long ignored, and her outstanding study is beautifully written, even as it makes for difficult reading. —Michael A. Baenen, chief of staff, Office of the President
Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, by Stephen Kotkin. Joseph Jughashvili does not lack for biographies, as the man he became, Stalin, reshaped the world. Kotkin’s new biography is a fantastic addition to the catalog of biographies with its emphasis on how geopolitics can make the man. The author is a guide through the dramatic events and characters of the era that helped shape Stalin and opened the doors to his rise to power. The picture that emerges is less the brutal, tortured character that others have drawn than an intelligent, savvy, if bloody-minded, individual very much in tune with his times. —David Ekbladh, professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences
The Waiting Game: An Essay on the Gift of Time, by Andrea Köhler. All the excitements and longueurs of anticipation are fully satisfied in this gem of a book. Andrea Köhler’s beautiful and profound reflections on life’s interstitial spaces—the queue, the waiting room, the place held for two when only one has arrived—at once poetic and philosophical, intimate and analytical, form the perfect antidote to the headlong rush of our culture. I picked this slim volume up in a bookstore and didn’t leave until I had almost finished it. It is one of those rare books that, like Rilke’s archaic torso of Apollo, makes you feel that you must change your life, or perhaps more urgently, the way you think about your life. Truant time is rescued and restored here, and nothing could waste it less than to read this lovely book. —Jonathan Wilson, professor of English, School of Arts and Sciences