Members of the Tufts community share their favorites in fiction and nonfiction for your reading pleasure
At the start of every summer vacation season, we ask members of the Tufts community to tell us about books that they’ve read and recommend to others.
This year’s offerings are as extensive and eclectic as ever: a fantasy reimagining of the 1890s, a hard-boiled mystery, a Greek myth, a fetching love story, a journey through post-apocalyptic America, and a World War II intrigue, plus nonfiction about everything from shipwrecks to DNA tests, a graphic memoir of surfing and loss, a history of the Hub, as well as biographies of a couple of poets from the past—and ancient past.
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 other suggestions, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll post an update.
American Hippo, by Sarah Gailey. Gailey’s series of novellas and short stories, set in the 1890s and collected in American Hippo, imagines an alternate history where hippopotami were imported and released into the bayous of Louisiana. Hippo cowboy and dapper conman Winslow Remington Houndstooth gathers an all-star team of cons, assassins, and outlaws to pull off the ultimate job: reclaiming the enormous swamp that was once the Mississippi River from the deadly feral hippos who now rule it. Alternately brutal, exciting, bleak, funny, and tender, American Hippo is a rollicking adventure. The setting is novel, the hippo facts are engrossing (and alarming), and the heists, tricky schemes, and action scenes are as wild as they are satisfying. But the collection’s true heart lies in its diverse cast of characters. Though most members of Houndstooth’s team previously knew each other by reputation only, they find themselves beginning to build life-changing connections. The tentative romance that blooms between Houndstooth and nonbinary demolitions expert Hero standing out as a particular highlight. All hippo shenanigans are just a bonus. —Lynne Powers, senior communications specialist, School of Engineering
Circe, by Madeline Miller. Thousands of years before she becomes a foil in The Odyssey, Circe is born and raised in the halls of titans, but possesses powers unlike any of them. Her witchcraft threatens the powers of both the gods and titans, and she is exiled to the deserted island Aiaia, where she creates her own lawless kingdom. Circe’s immortality allows Miller to cast an eagle’s eye view over millennia of Greek mythology. Circe witnesses the transformation of Scylla into the famous leviathan, the birth of the Minotaur, the craftsmanship of Daedalus, Madea’s obsession with violence, and, finally, Odysseus’ arrival at her shores. Unlike her fellow gods and goddesses, she harbors an affection for mortals. Famously, that can never end well. Miller, a former high school classics teacher, re-examined The Illiad in her debut novel, Song of Achilles, which viewed the Trojan War through the travails of Achilles’ companion and lover Patroclus. Here, she finds a fresh perspective on another 3,000-year-old Homeric text. In this compelling novel, Miller makes Circe, who once seemed like a footnote on Odysseus’ decades-long journey home from that same war, seem like the true heroine of the whole epic. —Robin Smyton, A09, media relations specialist
Electricity, by Claire Gem. Mercy Donohue moves back to New England with her son Reagan to rebuild/repair their lives after a traumatic divorce. Daniel Gallagher has resigned himself to a life without romance after his fiancé’s tragic death. While working together on the re-wiring of an old, haunted mental asylum that has been taken over by a school—sound familiar, Cummings School folks?—they find the electricity that flows between the two of them to be irresistible. As an avid fan of the writing of Claire Gem—pen name for Frances Brown, supervisor of histology at Cummings School in Grafton—I had been highly anticipating the release of Electricity. As expected, I was not disappointed. The chemistry between Mercy and Daniel is electrifying—no pun intended. The mysteries that are unraveled sent chills up my spine. I loved how effortlessly the paranormal suspense is intertwined with such intense passion, and on so many levels. I'll be recommending this read to anyone interested in a love story or a suspenseful thriller, guaranteed to give you chills. —Sarah Ducat, histotechnologist, Cummings School
The Lady in the Lake, by Raymond Chandler. After visiting LA earlier this year, I’ve been rereading Chandler’s novels, and though his first two Philip Marlowe mysteries (The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely) get the most praise, The Lady in the Lake, his fourth, is to my mind the strongest. Taking place over three long days, it’s taut, driven, classic Chandler, filled with corrupt cops, the grime of late night on the wrong side of the tracks, gigolos, a sleazy doctor serving up morphine and worse to his clients, and tough, wise-guy banter that propels the story forward. Private eye Marlowe is mostly away from his usual haunts in downtown LA—he’s at a mountain resort eighty miles away, where a rich businessman’s wife was last seen a month before. The puzzle of where she is gets more complicated at each turn, the violence more vivid with each blow Marlowe takes from rogue cops. Unlike in his early novels, which are sometimes warped by a farfetched love interest, Chandler keeps the narrative tight and focused as the bodies pile up; it’s also refreshingly free of the slurs against every group that’s not straight-WASP-males that litter those earlier books. In this novel, Marlowe can say to one man who earlier beat him up, “I’m all done with hating you. It’s all washed out of me. I hate people hard, but I don’t hate them very long.” —Taylor McNeil, news editor, Tufts Now
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante. The first of the four “Neapolitan Novels” that took the world by storm in the original book form and, more recently, in an HBO series, this is a story that reels you in and never lets you go. Two young girls living in the same gritty, violent neighborhood in Naples, Italy, become both friends and rivals. Lenù, who narrates the story, is quiet and studious; Lila is impulsive and combative. Together and individually, they must navigate academic, familial, cultural, economic, and social challenges. As they grow up, their lives weave in and out of each other’s, and a multigenerational cast of characters influences—and is influenced by—their actions. As you read about the girls’ lives, you become intimately familiar with the streets, buildings, businesses, crime, poverty, politics, and values that define their insular neighborhood and its various inhabitants. I was so immersed in this series that it was pretty much all I could think or talk about during the couple of months in which I was reading it—a fact to which some of my co-workers and family members can attest! —Carol Lidington, J81, A15P, campaign management associate, University Advancement
Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston. College student Alex Claremont-Diaz hates Prince Henry. That wouldn’t be a problem for most people, but Alex isn’t most people: his mother was elected president of the United States in 2016. Under orders to stage a fake friendship with Henry for the sake of British-U.S. relations after he causes an international incident at a royal wedding, Alex slowly begins to realize that Henry isn’t who Alex thought he was. Alex is brilliant and ambitious, itching to follow in his parents’ successful political footsteps, but he has a lot to learn about himself—including the fact that hatred may not have been what he was feeling for Henry at all. Red, White & Royal Blue’s alternative universe is a hopeful one. The book centers Alex’s multiracial Texan political powerhouse family, surrounded by a delightful cast of supporters, and the biggest impediment to Alex and Henry’s happiness is their fame and other people’s expectations. McQuiston writes sharp, funny, modern dialogue, and her use of texts, emails, and internet memes rendered into prose is especially charming. While some of the plot twists didn’t feel fully earned in the end, the journey to get there was so delightful that it was hard to care. —Lynne Powers, senior communications specialist, School of Engineering
The Road, By Cormac McCarthy. Post-Apocalypse America. A man and his young son on a journey. They are not really sure what they are looking for, but they keep on moving through the ash, past other pathetic and threatening people and scenes of devastation. There’s no living off the land, but there is some leftover food from before the end. It’s grim, to be sure, one desperate moment after another. While there is clearly no hope, there’s something that drives them forward. The relationship between the man and the boy feels true and makes you consider what you would do in such circumstances—even well after you have put the book down. —James M. Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, professor of political science
The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu. “Science fiction is a literature that belongs to all humankind,” declares Cixin Liu exuberantly in the postscript to his mind-bending science fiction novel, The Three-Body Problem. But what happens to humankind in Liu’s vision of a “first contact” between humans and aliens is far fromsomething to be exuberant about. The novel begins with drama and human tragedy—a young woman, Ye Wenjie, in 1960s China watches helplessly as her scientist father is literally torn apart by anti-intellectual Red Guards during the brutal upheaval known as the Cultural Revolution. The bitterness engendered by her father’s fate leads Ye to a shocking and ultimately historic decision—to invite an alien civilization to do what it wants to humanity as she deliberately stacks the cards against the human side. This shocking premise pulled me into a book that I had been hearing about for several years now. The first Asian sci-fi novel to win the prestigious Hugo Award, The Three Body Problem crosses space, time, and all kinds of dimensions, from an epic virtual reality game set in a world of three suns, to a tiny proton on its way to destroy the Earth. It’s a thrilling read. Even if, like me, you didn’t study physics and almost failed geometry, you can appreciate the boundlessly imaginative world that Liu creates, inspired by such Western “hard” science fiction writers as Arthur Clarke or Jules Verne. Liu, an engineer by training, makes his scientific extrapolations logical, approachable, and fascinating, but what really impresses are his vivid, genuinely awe-inspiring descriptions of other realities. One piece in particular remains in my memory—in the world of the three suns there are no advanced technological instruments, but the ruler of the world orders the creation of a “motherboard” of 30 million men whose white and black flags comprise a “human-formation” computer. This is only one of many tour de force visions of alterity that Liu offers us, but the book also suggests complex and disturbing moral dilemmas. Does the human race deserve to be saved? Who and what can we legitimately sacrifice and for what end? Don’t expect much in the way of three-dimensional characters, but do look forward to a visceral, beautiful, and utterly immersive read. —Susan Napier, Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences
The Time of Our Singing, by Richard Powers. It’s important that I first read this book in Philadelphia. I was on summer break from my job as a public school teacher. Like other books by Powers, The Time of Our Singing is a tapestry—to borrow an image from a pivotal scene in the novel—stitched together by science and art. Delia, a gifted African-American singer, and David, an exiled Jewish physicist, form an unlikely bond after meeting in Washington, D.C., at the historic 1939 concert given by Philadelphia-born and transcendent vocalist Marian Anderson. The story unfolds through the eyes of Joseph, the couple’s middle child and pianist for his brother, Jonah, a prodigious tenor. Mixed-race, they straddle white and Black worlds, trusting there are answers in the classical music of the past just as their sister, Ruth, laments her brothers’ race politics and sees a future for herself with the Black Panthers. As the title suggests, the book is a meditation on time, especially as time is refracted through America’s original sin: how music promises an escape from the slow tempo of racial progress, how racism denies opportunities to talents ahead of their time, how science alone can’t help us bend time and bring full liberation now. I returned to the book five years later, now as a researcher of racial inequality in public schools. I read The Time of Our Singing with a pair of turn-of-the-twentieth-century books by W. E. B. Du Bois in mind, themselves animated by the power of music and science: Souls of Black Folk—reflections on how the “sorrow songs” of slaves haunt the present—and The Philadelphia Negro, an empirical study of Black life in the City of Brotherly Love. I saw in The Time of Our Singing how science and music can be allies in racial struggle. We should listen to the truths they reveal. —Freeden Blume Oeur, associate professor of sociology, School of Arts and Sciences
Transcription, by Kate Atkinson. Once again, Kate Atkinson’s prose has shapeshifted. Known early on for procedurals featuring detective Jackson Brodie, she defied expectations with an award-winning formalist novel, Life After Life, which kept re-starting its narrative. Transcription charts yet another course, navigating a path between spy conventions and existential reckoning as it tracks the life of mild-mannered British woman Juliet Armstrong from 1940 to 1981. From her job on a children’s television show to her secret employment by the MI5 as a typist recording the words of British fascists and Nazi sympathizers, we witness Juliet coming into her own, wrestling with what—or who—is worth trusting, even as she and we wait for the proverbial shoe to drop. Meanwhile, Atkinson builds a portrait of wartime England that brings the era vividly to life, inviting readers to imagine what they might have done in Juliet’s shoes. —David Valdes Greenwood, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences
Transcription, by Kate Atkinson. Juliet Armstrong is a very young woman in a London that has just entered World War II. Without realizing what has happened until it has happened, she finds herself recruited by the MI5 intelligence service, where her job becomes transcribing—hence, the title of the book—secretly recorded conversations between an undercover MI5 agent posing as a member of the Gestapo, and a cell of ragtag Nazi sympathizers who think they are helping to undermine the British war effort. Juliet’s wartime life, her fellow spies, friends, and acquaintances—both those she knows “in real life” and those she meets when she’s released from her typewriter to go undercover—and London itself are vividly and engagingly portrayed. If you’ve read Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices, also set in London during the war, some of this may be familiar territory—and, interestingly, Juliet also finds herself working at the BBC (the setting of Human Voices) after the war ends. This is not a slight story—there are twists and turns, and every character, no matter how seemingly slight, requires attention, because he or she may turn up later. In fact, reading carefully is the key to making sense of the ending of this novel—there is one gigantic plot twist before things are done, and, to be honest, I didn’t pick up on any of the clues leading there. Like a good spy, Atkinson left them hiding in plain sight. —Helene Ragovin, senior content producer/editor, Communications & Marketing
Where Reasons End, by Yiyun Li. In this short novel, a grieving mother recounts conversations with her young son, who has just taken his own life. Nikolai was only sixteen years and twenty-two days old when he died. His mother is filled with a profound sadness, and discovers him in what he calls the aftertime; soon they are talking again, picking up where they left off before his death. Nikolai is still arguing with his mother—a writer—over words, over meaning, over perfection. Neither mother nor son is religious, and these conversations both are and aren’t real. Mostly they are a way to keep the thread of connection alive. Li writes what she knows: her teenaged son took his own life several years ago, but he lives on in this book—his cleverness, his asperity, his kindness: the boy who knit, the boy who played oboe, the boy who baked, the boy who called his mother Mommy until the end. He’s also the young man who shocked his friends by leaving far too soon, and the mystery of that departure is always floating like a cloud, just out of reach. This poetic book is achingly real; I know because my own son left this world at age fifteen and a half, and while every loss is different, Li’s and mine are enough alike that her book touched me deeply. This is how it feels. Li’s book, like her other novels, is also a tribute to the beauty of language—so many turns of phrase that seem more like poetry than prose, and all the more remarkable considering her first language is Chinese. —Taylor McNeil, news editor, Tufts Now
Where Reasons End, by Yiyun Li. This spare and cerebral book—Li’s new novel of intense retrospection—takes the form of a back-and-forth between a writer and the writer’s son, who has died by his own hand at age sixteen. He comes to the writer intermittently to discuss his life and afterlife; she attempts to locate him in space and time, or to accept the impossibility of location, or to maintain his attention, or to accept his attention’s ebbs and flows. It’s a taut, protracted exchange that reads sometimes like a theater piece, sometimes like a Socratic dialogue, and sometimes like a fully solitary treatise on art and loss. —Natalie Shapero, professor of the practice of poetry, Department of English
White Elephant, by Julie Langsdorf. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was really right: you can’t go home again. Because these days “home” is more likely than not a place that changes with the whims of the market. White Elephant, Julie Langsdorf’s debut novel, tells a tale of shifting real estate markets, shifty marriages, and how the changes in housing in suburban America often reflect changes in relationships. Sometimes they even cause them. Allison and Ted Miller and their young daughter live in the home where Ted grew up, a small house in the fictional D.C. bedroom community of Willard Park. The town is being fundamentally altered by changes in the people who come to live there, and older homes are dwarfed by the McMansions being built by sleazy developer Nick Cox and his trophy wife, Kaye. The plot thickens when someone in Willard Park begins to decimate its trees and a contentious building moratorium movement divides the town. It’s just not safe to go get a latte at the local coffeeshop anymore. Langdorf’s clever parody of suburban excess will remind some of Tom Perotta. Her characters, while well-drawn, don’t ultimately have the same kind of dark or deranged depth that make Perotta’s suburban skewering so compelling. Still, White Elephant is a promising first book and a very good summer read—especially if you’re sipping something refreshing while listening to your neighbor’s ongoing construction. —Julie Dobrow, senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
Apollinaire in the Great War, 1914-18, by David Hunter. When I think of the poetry of World War One, I think of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves—but the English, obviously, weren’t the only ones writing about their wartime experiences. The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire spent time in the trenches, too, an often-overlooked aspect of his life. Apollinaire—Wilhelm de Kostrowitzky at birth—was a fascinating character, born of a freewheeling mother and unknown father. He never stayed too long in any one place growing up, but came to call Paris home. By the outbreak of the Great War, he was lauded in literary circles for his poetry and art criticism (he was an early champion of Cubism) and was good friends with many in the avant-garde movement, such as Picasso. In the late summer of 1914, he volunteered to serve in the French armed forces, full of misplaced enthusiasm for the war against “the Huns,” and headed eventually to the trenches. Hunter follows Apollinaire’s life—and loves—during the war, often through his poetry. Even in the trenches, Apollinaire continued to write, and his war poems sometimes take on radical forms—visual art with words. At the front lines, he’s appalled by the horrors of war, which is reflected in his poetry. Suffering a head wound in 1916, he was in Paris as the war ended, writing feverishly (plays, poetry, criticism—coining the term surrealism). But like millions of others, he succumbed to the deadly influenza that swept the world in the fall of 1918. He was just thirty-eight years old, but left a legacy that lives on to this day. —Taylor McNeil, news editor, Tufts Now
The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai, by Ha Jin. The poet Li Bai lived in turbulent times in Tang-dynasty China, from 701-762, and yet, somehow, not only are his poems still widely read and recited in China and abroad some 1,300 years later, his life story can be vividly told. Ha Jin, a novelist and sometime poet who has lived in the U.S. since the mid-1980s, brings Li to life in this masterful biography that is also, appropriately, a primer on his poetry. Li was likely not pure Han Chinese. His father was a trader who lived in the western regions outside of China proper, but recognized that his son was bound for better things, and Li got a good education. Brilliant at poetry, with its complex meters, Li desired above all else for much of his life to receive an appointment at the emperor’s court. Unable to take the exam to qualify for the royal bureaucracy because he was too low-born, he constantly traveled the country, networking to get civil appointments. The difficulty was that he was obviously brilliant, which made lesser men wary of him, and he was a bit of a loose cannon—he was a heavy drinker. But he kept traveling even during his two marriages, never content to settle down, renowned for his poetry and ballads throughout the country. For a brief period, he did land that coveted position—and it at least temporarily disillusioned him of his aspirations for rank and success. Jin translates many of Li’s poems that form the basis for much of what we know of his life; it brings this biography to a very personal level. All these centuries later, we marvel with Li about nature and beauty and pain and sorrow. —Taylor McNeil, news editor, Tufts Now
The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865, by Mark Peterson. Boston loves to think of itself as the “hub of the solar system.” A new book helps get past Oliver Wendell Holmes’ self-satirizing comment to suggest that Boston not only thought about itself differently but operated more as a sort of quasi-sovereign city-state with its own interests and agenda well into the nineteenth century. While part of the British Empire, the willful city would create a hinterland in New England and cultivate Atlantic and global connections that both supported and underlined its distinctiveness. The stern self-concept of the Bostonians always made it hard for the British crown to impose its will, and it would be the ornery New Englanders who would inspire a revolt against that rule. However, in joining the new republic growing around them, the city-state would find in the United States forces that would eventually bring its long age of distinctiveness to an end. —David Ekbladh, associate professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences
In Waves, by AJ Dungo. Published in June, this book is unlike any I’ve ever read. It is a graphic memoir about surfing and surfing history intertwined with the story of the author’s first love, Kristen, who develops and eventually succumbs to osteosarcoma in her twenties. The drawings are beautiful and emotional, and each page surprises me. The artist makes unique choices, distilling his experiences and transforming them. I was moved to tears many times, not out of sadness and grief, but from an appreciation of what it means to love and be alive. I was also moved by Dungo’s history of surfing, which is not something I ever thought I wanted to learn about, because the history is told through the story of specific people, in particular Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake. I’ve been reading more graphic memoirs recently, especially by authors like me, of Filipino ancestry, including most notably Malaka Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream, which is another coming-of-age graphic memoir that I loved, set around the same time and place as In Waves, but so completely different. Dungo is also Filipino, and while In Waves isn’t about typical themes of immigration, race, and culture, it feels Filipino. I recognize the family relationships in a deep way. The book is gorgeous and moving—and hard to describe. It’s best to ride the book’s waves and experience it for yourself. —Grace Talusan, J94
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro. Shapiro did what many of us do: she took a DNA test on a lark. Because she was able to write a book about what happened next, it isn’t a spoiler to tell you that what she eventually learned was that her father wasn’t her biological father—shaking her sense of self and identity to its core. Not that there weren’t clues. She was a pale blonde in a family of dark-eyed, dark-haired Ashkenazi Jews; as a young adult, Shapiro learned that she had been conceived when her parents went for “treatments” at an early fertility clinic. Shapiro’s brief memoir is a tightly written and well-informed look at the implications of DNA testing; the evolution of fertility medicine; and the ease with which a long-ago medical student sperm donor was discovered with a minimum of internet sleuthing. More so, it’s a very human story about creating relationships, families, and love. —Helene Ragovin, senior content producer/editor, Communications & Marketing
Into the Raging Sea, by Rachel Slade. Are you ready for an excursion likely well out of your everyday experiences? This book, Into the Raging Sea, could be such a diversion for you, taking you into the current world of merchant shipping which is largely out of sight and out of mind for most of our population. It is thestory of a container ship, El Faro, which in late September 2015 left Jacksonville loaded with sustenance for Puerto Rico, sailed into the Bermuda Triangle, and vanished into the maw of a category 4 hurricane. El Faro and an equally aged sister ship provided a lifeline of foodstuffs and manufactured goods for the island via a three-day run they alternately made on a regular schedule from Jacksonville. This story relives the short last voyage of El Faro, its deficient loading by inattentive stevedores, equipment and maintenance shortcomings owing to a neglectful owner, and the ship’s steady travel to a rendezvous with volatile Hurricane Joaquin. Slade digresses early on to describe what remains of the U.S. merchant marine—in decline since it girdled the globe at the end of World War II—to sketch the professional situations and predicaments of today’s merchant mariners, review the physics of tropical cyclones, and depict colorfully the main characters aboard El Faro. The ship’s demise, taking with it thirty-three mariners, was due to a confluence of factors, including unreliable weather prediction and ship design deficiencies. It was possibly also due to the ship captain’s obstinacy, pride, and foolhardiness, and the fact that he was essentially unchallenged by deferential subordinate officers. This harrowing account is supported by abundant research and interviews by a first-time author who generates a very easy read and adventurous tale; it is also supported by twenty-six final hours of bridge conversation extracted from the ship’s “black box” that was almost miraculously snatched from the ocean floor 15,000 feet deep. It makes for perhaps the most substantial of three books on the same subject that were released within seven days of one another in mid-2018, after the conclusion of USCG and NTSB hearings into the loss of El Faro. Those board hearings made starkly apparent the incompetence of the ship company, where lines of responsibility disappeared into groups and were never traced to individuals. Yet the overriding question of this saga is why a large merchantman would steer so determinedly into a major hurricane. In the conclusion, Slade invites the reader to speculate whether this tragic event could have been a deliberate suicide by a professionally disillusioned master. That is yours to decide. —Robert W. Barry, A63
My Brother, by Jamaica Kincaid. Spoiler alert: Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid writes about her brother, Devon Kincaid, dying of AIDS. “I had expected him to,” she writes. From that beginning passage and throughout the entire book, there is a raw, uncomfortable sense of dread. Although knowing how this ends, I hoped, foolishly, that there must have been a mistake. Jamaica is writing fiction, and penned the book’s ending, choosing the life option. Nope. He died, and he died painfully. “I heard about my brother’s illness and his dying, I knew, instinctively, that to understand it, or to make an attempt at understanding his dying, and not to die with him, I would write about it,” writes Kincaid, who received an honorary doctor of humane letters from Tufts in 2011. Kincaid’s memoir of her brother is commingled with her thoughts tinged with anger about her relationship with her mother. We are led through the branches of a family tree of siblings, and are then brought back to read a description of how her mother has become a larger-than-life threat to her: “My mother hates her children.” The book is as much about her mother as it is about her brother dying—both involve sadness, finality, and the honesty of who we are, and who we leave behind. — Helen Rasmussen, instructor, Friedman School of Nutrition and Science Policy; research dietician, HNRCA
One Nation, Indivisible: Seeking Liberty and Justice from the Pulpit to the Streets, edited by Celene Ibrahim. In this timely anthology, Ibrahim, the current Muslim chaplain at Tufts, has collected impactful stories from social justice leaders across the country who are working to build a more pluralistic society. The book contains poetry, essays, sermons, and other reflections that reveal the many ways people from across religious and intellectual spaces can work—and are already working—toward pluralism in the United States of America. Whether you are looking to be rejuvenated, nurtured, educated, or challenged, you’re sure to find entries in this thoughtful text that will resonate. The text is grouped in seven sections: Eclipsing Hate, Crossing Thresholds, Healing Divides, Seeking Liberty, Celebrating Feminine Wisdom, Beyond Comfort Zones, and Standing with Resilience. Many of the pieces selected by Ibrahim feature the voices and stories of people who identify as Muslim. In a time of increased bigotry and bias against Muslims and Islam, this volume works to counteract what novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls “the danger of a single story” by sharing stories that reveal the practices and civic commitments of lived Islam. The result is an inspiring volume for all who seek a more indivisible country and world. I’m sure to be working through this text for challenge and support in the months to come. —Zachary Cole, program manager, University Chaplaincy
Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today, by Denise Murrell. The exhibition Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today was a deserved hit when it was on display last winter at Columbia University in New York. The show’s power derived as much from its forceful art-historical argument as from the outstanding works on display, so the resulting catalogue stands on its own. Murrell pushes us to focus on the image of the black female figure—hidden in plain sight in Manet’s groundbreaking Olympia (1863) and thereafter a recurring but overlooked character in the history of modernism. Murrell’s argument combines research in social history with smart visual interpretation, and I was fascinated by both her insights into the little-known community of black Parisians in the nineteenth century and her assessments of individual pictures. From the late nineteenth century Murrell moves forward to the Jazz Age in both France and America, juxtaposing Matisse and the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout the catalogue, as in the show, we are asked to reconsider works we thought we knew, and introduced to new ones well worth knowing. The image of the black female model remains a powerful one in contemporary art, and in her final chapter Murrell shows us how the figure of the maid from Olympia appears today as a participant in our own era’s dialogues about race, sexuality, and colonialism. The past, Murrell knows, is not done with us, in society or in art. —Michael Baenen, chief of staff, Office of the President
Working, by Robert A. Caro. In this slim volume, Caro tells us how he writes his insightful books and why he does so. It is understandable for a reader to think that in hisbiographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Caro is trying to tell the life stories of two individuals who shaped America in the twentieth century. What he is really doing, he says, is painting a portrait of political power and how it impacts ordinary people. For example, Caro examines the lives of people whose lives were ruined when Robert Moses destroyed their communities. His account of interviews with these individuals years after their worlds were shattered is heartbreaking. By sharing these stories, Caro reminds us how political power can impact our lives—for better or worse. The second part of the book focused on how he learned to do research. Caro starts out by telling us the lessons he learned along the way. Most eloquent of these is the one from his editor at Newsday: “Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddamn page.” Caro offers fascinating accounts of digging in the archives and turning up hidden information—such as how Robert Moses forgot about his carbon copies and how Caro found them. In addition to his archival research, Caro tells us how he works to understand his subject. For example, he tells us how he spent a night in the Texas Hill country sleeping under the stars to understand the isolation Johnson experienced. The only drawback to this book is that it will make you impatient for Caro’s next volume on Johnson to come out. —Martin Burns, A81, AARP manager of political intelligence