Book Recommendations for Winter Nights
As we have in years past, we asked Tufts faculty, staff, and alumni for their suggestions for good books to help us make it through the dark months ahead, curled up on the couch in front of the fireplace—or space heater.
We have a rich selection of fiction and nonfiction—everything from mysteries, fantasies, classics, and literary fiction to biography, history, and current politics and events—many related to this political moment we are living through.
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’re a member of the Tufts community and have other suggestions, let us know at email@example.com, and we’ll post an update. And if you’d like to contribute a review for our summer book reviews feature in June, send us a note, and we’ll add you to our list of reviewers.
The City of Brass, by S.A. Chakraborty. I was at the library looking for a new fantasy novel to read and stumbled upon this book, which I highly recommend to anyone looking for an escape. The City of Brass is set in the Middle East, with plenty of magic and djinn—genies, that is. The protagonist, Nahri, is a con artist living in Egypt with a special knack for healing, who mistakenly summons a fierce warrior djinn. The story takes us on her trip from Egypt with this mysterious warrior to Daevabad, the city of brass, complete with enchanted beings, mythical creatures, and, of course, a magic carpet. Nahri arrives in a city with six tribes of scheming djinn and learns more about her own powers and her once-powerful family. She is caught up in court intrigue and increasingly dangerous situations, and must use all her con-artist savvy and her growing magical prowess to get by. This is the first of a trilogy; the second, The Kingdom of Copper, was as good as the first, and the third book comes out next year. —Britta Magnuson, D08, assistant professor, assistant director of biostatistics and experimental design, School of Dental Medicine
The Disappearances, by Emily Bain Murphy, A06. Imagine a world with no starlight; a world with no dreams; a world with no music. That’s the world the citizens of the mysterious small town of Sterling live in. Every seven years, another simple joy they took for granted vanishes: the smell of flowers and food, their reflections in mirrors and water, even the view of the stars in the sky. No one knows what causes the “disappearances,” and no one knows what the town will lose next. Newcomer Aila, sent to live in Sterling while her father fights in World War II, tries to figure out what is driving the disappearances. Could the mystery be traced back to her late mother, a Sterling outcast? The disappearances in Emily Bain Murphy’s novel are a lovely reminder of the small wonders of life, and a moving metaphor for the devastating impact of grief. A suspenseful, winning, and confident mystery novel, I found it hard to believe it was Bain Murphy’s debut. I could not put it down. —Robin Smyton, A09, media relations specialist, Office of Communications and Marketing
Dog on It, by Spencer Quinn. I’m at the age where I read to escape and/or be entertained. I am a huge fan of the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn. There are nine books in the series—Dog on It is the first—and once you are hooked, you will want to read them all. Chet is a would-be-K9 police dog who somehow flunked out of the police academy. Bernie Little is his faithful human companion, a private investigator, and together they run the Little Detective Agency. Yes, a dog narrates the books, but Quinn (pen name for Peter Abrahams) really understands the way dogs think and act, and you will be totally captivated by Chet-the-Jet. It helps if you are a crazy dog person like I am, but you don’t have to be. —Mary-Ellen Marks, academic affairs administrator, School of Dental Medicine
The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai. Reading The Great Believers was a highlight of my summer vacation—and competed (aggressively) with some of the sightseeing I probably should have been doing instead. It’s also the gift I’m giving to friends this holiday season. The novel offers, in alternating chapters, two stories: one, of a contemporary American woman who searches Paris for her estranged daughter—and the other, of a gay man in mid-1980s Chicago who seeks to determine the authenticity of a series of sketches purported to be by significant artists from the 1920s. Each thread carries its own mystery: How can the mother locate a daughter who has left no trace and does not want to be found? And these drawings: how to tell if they are treasures or fakes? Compellingly detailed and filled with rich, believable characters, these mysteries compete with another mystery that spans both stories: What is left to believe in when you are confronted at every turn by loss? — Dave Nuscher, executive director, content and planning, Office of Communications and Marketing
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a tragicomic seventy-year slice of Ireland’s history told through a queer perspective, with a quintessentially Irish sense of humor. Adrift young Cyril Avery is told by his cold adoptive parents that he is not a “real Avery.” Cyril pilots the next seventy years of his life trying to figure out who he is, grounded by his lifelong friendship with glamorous playboy Julian Woodbead. Hilarious and heart-wrenching, Boyne’s epic checks in on Cyril’s life every seven years, as he moves from Dublin to Amsterdam to New York, from birth through government jobs and run-ins with marriage, fatherhood, and the Catholic church. Throughout his life, he manages to keep connecting with the people who care about him the most and keep running into the ones who care about him the least. As Cyril tries to find his footing, so does his country, from independence, through the AIDS crisis to marriage equality. Think Andrew Sean Greer’s wonderful Less as a sprawling and engrossing historical fiction, with a brogue. —Robin Smyton, A09, media relations specialist, Office of Communications and Marketing
Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford. The holiday season provides many opportunities to reflect on the particular comedy and drama of family life and no author captures those dynamics with greater insight or humor than Nancy Mitford in this companion novel to The Pursuit of Love. Set in the 1930s, Love in a Cold Climate follows Polly Hampton upon her return to London after several years in India with her parents, Lord and Lady Montdore. Polly is disappointed to discover that despite the colder climate, the English are every bit as obsessed with romance and love affairs as were her acquaintances in India. She does not take naturally to London high society life, to the great frustration of her mother, but ultimately finds her own rather unconventional path to happiness—to the even greater frustration of her mother. —Josephine Wolff, assistant professor of cybersecurity policy, The Fletcher School
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott. Alice McDermott returns to the world of early- and mid-century Irish Catholic Brooklyn and Long Island in this novel. It’s territory she has explored before, most notably in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Charming Billy, and her exquisitely crafted prose creates a world filled with painfully human characters. The first chapter, which I read through twice before proceeding, is so tightly and carefully presented—not a word wasted—it could stand as a short story on its own. Pay attention—there is not a detail there that doesn’t reverberate somewhere later in the book, in sometimes tragic and heartbreaking ways. The story is simple, about the lives of a young widow and her daughter, and the order of nursing nuns who become the center of their lives. As an outsider to this world, I can’t tell you whether McDermott truly captures the spirit and culture of the convent (although I suspect she does); but the fears, joys, and conflicting emotions of her characters ring true to all human beings. Helene Ragovin, senior content producer/editor, Office of Communications and Marketing
Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A., by Eve Babitz. Written in the form of a memoir, this love letter to southern California circa 1974 is made up of ten set pieces, each as amusing and arch as Babitz must have been in her twenties, a party girl with brains and a sharp tongue. In what we’d nowadays call autofiction, she describes her travels to hot and dusty Bakersfield—mixing with farmers in the Central Valley—and to the alienating desert in Palm Springs for a long weekend, but it’s L.A. that’s her beloved home. She revels in the Santa Ana winds that drives others crazy, returns often to Sunset Boulevard, and even goes to Dodger Stadium, spinning stories about her many friends, brought vividly to life: not quite successful enough actors, actresses who are uncertain about how to deal with making it, empty Orange County suburbanites, and the world of scheming artists and designers. She seems to have taken up with new men about as often as most people change their socks, at a time when Quaaludes and coke were as common as chewing gum, and we enjoy the ride in her fast car, feeling the warmth of the L.A. sun, and then reveling in the rain, when it finally comes. —Taylor McNeil, senior content producer/editor, Office of Communications and Marketing
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. This was a stretch book for me. Aside from an attempt at The Hobbit in high school to impress a boy—don’t judge!—I don’t read fantasy fiction. But it was a choice for a book group I wanted to join, so I decided to broaden my horizons. I’m not sure how Spinning Silver falls for people who follow the genre—it has won some awards—but for this newbie, it was a fun, sometimes though-provoking read, although the prose was too cluttered for my taste. The setting is a world that approximates eighteenth century Russia or Poland. It’s peopled by Jews and Christians, who live alongside each other with the same mistrust and oppression recorded by history, but both populations also live alongside an assortment of demons, goblins, witches, and other supernatural creatures. The story centers on Miryem, the daughter of a Jewish moneylender, who makes a thoughtless boast and invites the unwanted attention of the magical king of winter. (You might want to brush up on your Rumplestiltskin references.) Miryem’s fate becomes tangled with that of Irina, a duke’s daughter who is having her own problems with a fire demon, and Wanda, a peasant girl who has problems enough just being a peasant. They are all strong-willed, smart young women who struggle to thrive despite the constraints placed on them by their society, and by men with power over them. The book raises interesting questions about what is necessary—and moral—for survival, both in the individual and collective sense. Novik’s intent was clearly to immerse her readers in this world with copious description—not my cup of tea, and I ended up listening to the last third on audiobook, which helped move things along better. In fact, I probably would have enjoyed this as a TV miniseries. But it is great fun and an exciting adventure, and ultimately was worth the detour from my usual fare. —Helene Ragovin, senior content producer/editor, Office of Communications and Marketing
Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung, by Nina MacLaughlin. As a first-year college student, I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses in a classics course that happened to be all women, taught by an elderly woman with a British accent. She always had jam-filled cookies and milky tea for us. I remember feeling unsettled by how much sexual assault and rape there was in the stories. Wake, Siren is the book I wished I had read in that classroom—MacLaughlin re-imagines the Metamorphoses from the perspective of the women. In poetic, powerful, mythic, and modern narratives, all those women get a chance to speak and tell their own story. The pieces are short, and I recommend reading them a voice at a time, savoring the beauty and power in each woman’s story. —Grace Talusan, J94, visiting instructor, Tisch College
Wayward Son, by Rainbow Rowell. As first mentioned in Rowell’s novel Fangirl, heroic Simon Snow and his archnemesis Tyrannus (Baz) Basilton Grimm-Pitch were the fictional hero and villain of a wildly popular children’s book and movie series about epic adventures at a British wizarding school. Rowell brought them to life in her next book, Carry On, about a teenaged Simon and Baz realizing their feelings for each other and saving the magical world together. Wayward Son picks up where Rowell’s riff on Harry Potter and the chosen-one narrative left off. It asks a big question: what comes after a happy ending? Wayward Son is a darker book than Rowell’s earlier novels. The characters flounder through the after-effects of trauma suffered while fulfilling their destinies. Simon is deeply depressed, Baz is uncertain, and their whip-smart friend Penelope Bunce struggles to figure out what she’s doing with her life. The setting of a cross-country road trip through the magical U.S. is perfect for a coming-of-age story. Witty, acerbic Baz, who hasn’t lost all his sharp edges, is a particular standout. So is the subplot where he’s able to explore his abilities and culture as a vampire for the first time after having been taught he’s a shameful monster all his life. It’s an obvious metaphor for LGBTQ people finding safe spaces where they can be themselves, and it’s surprisingly moving for scenes that are on the surface about fangs and supernatural powers. Wayward Son leaves most of its character arcs up in the air, but now that Rowell has announced that this was only the second book in a trilogy, I’m ready and impatiently waiting for what comes next. —Lynne Powers, communications manager, School of Engineering
The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, by William Dalrymple. Most of my friends who have read any book by William Dalrymple go on to read more. He is a unique author—learned but engaging, passionate but witty—and his new study of the origins of the British empire in India shows him at his best. Telling the story of the remarkable rise of the East India Company, he demonstrates how the pursuit of commercial gain led to corruption, violence, and eventually the transformation of a trading company into an imperial state. As usual, he excels at pen portraits of remarkable figures, Indians and Britons alike, making especially good use of relatively little-known Indian memoirs and histories of the period. The argument still sometimes gets made that British rule benefited Indians, whether through the stabilizing structures of political unity and the rule of law or the advantages of English education and transportation networks, but the story Dalrymple tells is not one to cheer the boosters of imperialism. Early British incursions destabilized the politics of the subcontinent, leading to a crucial period known as “the great anarchy,” while the British hegemony that followed saw the imposition of policies that devastated local economies and led at times to outright famine. Particularly dramatic and tragic was the transformation of Bengal from a flourishing center of textile manufacturing to an impoverished supplier of raw materials. At the same time that the East India Company was remaking India, of course, it was helping to remake Britain itself. Dalrymple’s lively book does justice to both the drama and the importance of a crucial historical period whose impact continues to resonate. —Michael Baenen, chief of staff, Office of the President
Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells, by Pico Iyer. The Indian-born American journalist Pico Iyer has lived in the achingly beautiful city of Kyoto, Japan for the last thirty years with his wife Hiroko. Autumn Light is his Zen-like meditation (appropriate for a childhood and continuing friend of the Dalai Lama) on all things autumnal: nature, life, mood, and surprisingly in this context, ping pong. It is the death of Hiroko’s ninety-one-year-old father that prompts the contemplative aspects of the book, but it is ping-pong that is the prism through which the weightiest reflections are viewed. Iyer is an almost nightly visitor to his local table-tennis club where his fellow members, most of them in the winter rather than the autumn of their lives, embody all the virtues and wisdom conferred by their age and refined sensibility. By turns humorous and poignant, accommodating and sneaky, these players in their twilight years bring a lot more to the table than their ability to spin a ball with a rubber-faced racket. They provide Iyer with a series of lessons on how to face out from autumn to the winter of one’s life with equanimity. Whatever the author learns in this regard seems subtly translated into the mastery of his prose, which is hauntingly lovely, both lyrical and elegiac. Autumn Light does contain a fascinating subplot, Hiroko’s attempt, after the death of her father, to reconnect with her brother Masahiro, a Jungian psychoanalyst, who cut himself off from his extended family twenty-three years earlier, but as everywhere in this book, sadness is leavened by Iyer’s delicacy of perception. Late in the book Hiroko gets a chance to ask the Dalai Lama how to re-establish a relationship with her brother. I won’t reveal his answer, only recommend that you sit for a couple of hours and allow yourself to be enchanted by the turning leaves and the autumn light. —Jonathan Wilson, Fletcher Professor of Rhetoric and Debate, Department of English
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. “Berries remind us that all flourishing is mutual,” writes Kimmerer, a botanist, educator, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, whose 2013 collection of essays on restoring a balanced relationship to the planet and respecting our interdependence with plants resonates with even more meaning and urgency today amid increasingly dire climate change forecasts. While a teacher and botanist by trade, Kimmerer shares her personal insights and values on a theme that science does not traditionally observe, measure, or record: the gratitude and reciprocity—and implicit humility—that defines the ancient knowledge of indigenous peoples. Writing with clarity and grace about strawberries, corn, algae, and maple trees, she weaves science with those transcendent lessons. Plants, luckily for humans, sustain life. Whether enjoyed as a bumper crop of pecans, corn, or beans, they yield up to us their goodness. Kimmerer, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology and founder of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, acknowledges that is difficult to get other scientists to consider the wisdom of indigenous knowledge; it is “like swimming upstream in cold, cold water.” But her essays, often drawing on her own experiences as a mother, a gardener, and a college teacher guiding young students about how to gather cattails for a wigwam, make a poetic case for a renewing of that understanding, to grasp, with heart and mind, that the “generosity of the earth is not invitation to take it all.” Instead, “the moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor all that we have been given, for all that we have taken. . . . Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.” —Laura Ferguson, senior content creator/editor, Office of Communications and Marketing
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, by Lee Israel. Author of a couple of well-received show business biographies, and a less-well-received quickie bio of Estée Lauder, Israel hit a dry patch in the late 1980s: her book pitches fell flat, literary agents started ignoring her, and bills were coming due. As a biographer, she’d done research in archives, which always included letters written to and from her subjects. Down to her last $5, she hit upon a scheme: she’d create fake letters from Fanny Brice, who she’d researched for her biography on Tallulah Bankhead. She sold them to dealers in New York, realized there was easy money to be had, and then added Louise Brooks, Noël Coward, and others to her repertoire. She knew more than enough about her subjects to make the letters plausible, and managed to buy used typewriters to fit the era of the letters she was producing. Needless to say, it didn’t work out in the end. Yes, you can simply watch the excellent Melissa McCarthy movie based on this memoir, but this slender volume has plenty of charm of its own. Probably the best parts are the eleven fake letters she reproduces here—Israel clearly had a terrific wit. —Taylor McNeil, senior content creator/editor, Office of Communications and Marketing
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. This book was written to explain how our greatest successes can be attributed to the many different relationships we foster in life. It highlights the different kinds of people and interactions that are common in day-to-day life. Some people are able to connect more deeply with people through conversations and have a more profound impact on the other person and their relationship. It is crucial to be able to confidently have these conversations, as they lead to a more precise understanding of people’s opinions, expectations, and priorities. Having productive and meaningful conversations leads to high performance and better outcomes. To not take the time to have these conversations is truly a missed opportunity, leading to a downward spiral of repeated unwanted outcomes. —Martha Forero, assistant professor of pediatric dentistry and public health and community service, School of Dental Medicine
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David Blight. Frederick Douglass has always been given his due in American history, but in this Pulitzer Prize-winning book, his pivotal, defining place in it is made plain. Douglass’ varied life that took him from slavery to freedom to international fame as an abolitionist and even on to an ambassadorship to Haiti. A powerful speaker in a time when oratory was a decisive part of public life, what makes his words memorable is not the rhetoric but the penetrating insights within that can still touch—or sting—a conscience centuries later. It might easy to embalm him as a superhuman figure battling for justice on a number of fronts, but it’s a trap that Blight avoids. Even as he shows Douglass’ remarkable reach, Blight incisively shows the impacts and cost of some of the very things the battled for and against on this very human figure. —David Ekbladh, associate professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, by David Treuer. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is an important new book. In a highly readable way, David Treuer (whose mother was Ojibwe) re-reads narratives of older and more contemporary Native American history. Treuer interweaves personal experience with thoughtful interpretations of American Indian experiences. Rather than the traditional white mainstream stories of frontier freedom and Indian subordination, Treuer recounts historical events—from the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 to the battles over the Dakota Access Pipeline—as a significant way of understanding not only Native American experience, but a way of reinterpreting American history. Chapters on “Boom City – Tribal Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century” and “Digital Indians” incorporate recent economic, political, and activism trends and bring the book up to the present. Treuer, whose graduate training was in anthropology and whose professional experience outside of academia has included stints as a journalist and a novelist, uses all of his tools in telling compelling stories and getting us to re-think many of the ways in which we’ve been taught to look at Native American experiences. Ultimately, he argues, if we ignore the history of Indians in America or limit the ways in which their stories have been told, we ignore a lot of America. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development; senior fellow, media and civic engagement, Tisch College of Civic Life
Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, by John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck. Why read another account of the 2016 campaign? Haven’t all the lessons been learned? The answers to these questions are pretty simple: this is the best account of 2016 and all the lessons have not been learned. In quite convincing prose, backed up by lots of data, Sides, Tesler, and Vareck demonstrate that the 2016 campaign was driven by the question of identity and not economic anxiety. The authors make a subtle argument that while economic issues matter, these issues are now perceived through racial lenses. This perspective makes issues that were controversial and hard to deal with simply explosive. A key point of Identity Crisis is that Trump is more of a cause than an effect or, as his detractors would say, a symptom but not the disease. The issues which Trump ran on were in the GOP playbook—Trump simply turned up the volume. Given all of Trump’s anti-news media rhetoric, we have forgotten how positively essential they were to his rise to power. Sides et al present data to back up their point. They also share a quote from former CBS CEO Les Moonves that is simply devastating: “It [media coverage of Trump] may not be good for America, but its damn good for CBS.” There are more than enough “horse race” and inside politics tidbits in Identity Crisis to keep the political nerd in all of us happy. The authors also raise a tactical question that has real implication for the Democrats in 2020. Instead of highlighting Trump’s character issues, the authors argue that Clinton should have focused on issues. How the Democrats answer this question for 2020 is a work in progress. —Martin Burns, A81
The Library Book, by Susan Orlean. A massive seven-hour fire at the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986 destroyed 400,000 books and caused $22 million in damages. Still the most devastating library fire in American history, it got little international attention—it occurred the same week as the Chernobyl disaster. The Los Angeles community rallied around the library, fundraising to repair and restore the damaged and destroyed books. Volunteers worked nonstop to find and box salvageable books in the ash. The McDonnell Douglas Corporation engineered a drying system for books waterlogged by fire hoses. Celebrities like Charlton Heston, Angie Dickinson, and then-Lakers coach Pat Riley read passages from their favorite books aloud during the “Save the Books!” telethon. Orlean tracks the history of the Los Angeles library before and since the fire, talking to current librarians and patrons. In doing so, she writes a compelling, thoughtful, and inspiring portrait not just of the city of Los Angeles but also of the American library system. From philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s impact in building free libraries, to the current challenge of servicing cities’ homeless populations, libraries function as community centers, schools, and sanctuaries. You will never look a library the same way again. —Robin Smyton, A09, media relations specialist, Office of Communications and Marketing
The Library Book, by Susan Orlean. If you have any sort of interest in libraries, the history of Southern California, the science behind fires and arson investigations, or criminal whodunits, there’s likely something to capture your attention in The Library Book. The book centers on the Los Angeles central library building, using the catastrophic 1986 fire that damaged a hefty portion of the historic structure and destroyed or damaged more than a million books as her jumping-off point. (If you’re old enough to recall 1986 but had no idea about this fire, you’re not alone—the world’s attention was focused on an accident at a nuclear reactor in a Ukrainian town called Chernobyl that had occurred some days earlier.) Along the way, Orlean, queen of the deep-dive, offers a grab-bag of fascinating tidbits, from the stories of the often-colorful characters who ran the L.A. library in its early days, to the life of the drifter/slacker/wannabe-actor accused of setting the 1986 fire, to the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prosecute the suspected arsonist. (Not exactly a spoiler: If you’re expecting Orlean to solve the mystery here, you’ll be disappointed. There’s a possibility that it wasn’t even arson.) Above all, the book is a beautiful reflection on the role of libraries to individuals and societies. I’ll admit that some of the chapters did not hold my interest, but there’s enough here to make it worthwhile. —Helene Ragovin, senior content producer/editor, Office of Communications and Marketing
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, by Anne Boyd Rioux. Last year was the 150th anniversary of the publication of the classic and much-beloved novel Little Women. A series of new films, television renderings, and books appeared to mark this occasion. One of the most interesting discussions came in biographer Anne Boyd Rioux’s book, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy. Not a strictly a biography of Louisa May Alcott, this book might better be thought of as a biography of Little Women. Rioux combines research about Alcott’s life (some of which has not appeared in any of the prior biographies) with fascinating discussions of how Little Women was received at the time of its publication and the ways in which the book has lived many lives in its many interpretations in print and on screens, big and little. Also of great interest is Rioux’s discussion of some of the interpretive literature about Little Women, including what the book has meant in the lives of countless young people around the world, the ways in which the personalities of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy have become “a kind of shorthand that girls could use to make sense of their own identities for 150 years,” and how, despite and maybe because of new waves of feminism, Little Women is a book that continues to resonate and spawns new generations of readers. Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy is a fresh, interdisciplinary look at Louisa May Alcott and her most well-known book. It’s a read that is both engaging and entertaining. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development; senior fellow, media and civic engagement, Tisch College of Civic Life
The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell. Because of her excellent mix of history, politics, pop culture, and commentary, I think books by Sarah Vowell make for great reading, particularly The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Assassination Vacation. The first is a collection of essays, which makes it good to read while traveling or lounging around. The second chronicles a road trip she took to visit sites associated with presidential assassinations in the United States. Vowell’s books make me wish I wrote like her, make me wish I were friends with her, and remind me of just how wondrously complex being an American is. —Deborah J. Schildkraut, professor and chair, Department of Political Science
Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change, by Eitan Hersh. Do you consume a lot of political news? Do you post your views on social media? Do you yell back at the TV or argue with friends about the demise of the republic? If so, you may be a political hobbyist, according to Eitan Hersh in his forthcoming book called Politics Is for Power. Hersh, an associate professor in Tufts’ Department of Political Science and the Tisch College of Civic Life, wants to help you use politics for power. At a time when many Americans (of all ideologies) are rightly concerned about the direction of the country and the tenor of our discourse, Hersh argues that too many of us are pursuing the path of least resistance. Rather than doing the time-consuming work of community organizing, getting involved in local government or seeking ways to truly help our neighbors, we are engaging in fiery debates, often on social media and often in an echo chamber. We make ourselves feel better (“I really told that guy!”), but do we make change? Are we spending our political time wisely? Hersh is not interested in browbeating us, though. With accessible research, an engaging writing style, and compelling stories of everyday activism woven throughout, he is much more concerned with providing a roadmap for how we can start exercising our personal political power. His message, in a nutshell: if you don’t like the way things are going, put down the iPhone and do something about it. Others have done it, as Hersh shows us. And you can, too. Available from Scribner on January 14, 2020. —Jen McAndrew, A96, director of communications, Tisch College, and elected member of the Melrose, Massachusetts School Committee
She Said, by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Published earlier this year, She Said describes the investigation of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Written by the two New York Times reporters who broke the story, the book operates on two levels. The first concerns Weinstein’s alleged criminal activity involving both sexual harassment and sexual violence. Kantor and Twohey’s account is disturbing and painful. A number of Weinstein’s victims spoke in secret with the reporters and recounted what had happened to them, but then refused to go on record accusing Weinstein of rape, intimidation, or harassment. These were women in the movie business and they not only feared the end of their careers, but they also recognized that they would be no match for Weinstein’s lawyers, private detectives, and PR flacks, all of whom would work to humiliate them. Eventually, Kantor and Twohey convinced some of Weinstein’s victims to allow the Times to use their names and the story finally went forward. On the second level, this book is a powerful testament to the value of investigative journalism. In this era when people can choose their news, many of the sites we turn to focus on opinion and not real news gathering. Moreover, with the decline of so many mainstream media organizations, the strength of the New York Times stands out. The newsgathering on Weinstein went on for many months and cost the paper a considerable amount of money. Weinstein threatened the Times with aggressive legal action, but the paper stood firm. Kantor and Twohey’s Pulitzer Prize winning story shocked the nation and catalyzed the Me Too Movement. —Jeffrey M. Berry, Professor of Political Science, Arts and Sciences
The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey, by Derick Lugo. A city person, Lugo cares a lot about personal grooming. But then he decides to try and thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, even though he has no hiking experience. The Unlikely Thru-Hiker is the book he wrote about his adventure. At first, this book seems like a humorous fish-out-of-water-meets-adventure story. But it is so much more than that, especially in our current political moment where it can seem that we are hopelessly divided as a country. Lugo doesn’t talk about current politics himself, but I found it hard to read the book without linking it to the world beyond the wilderness. As Lugo leaves behind the comforts, but also the stresses, of daily urban life, he illustrates how people of such different backgrounds (across race, age, gender, region, and more) find solidarity, camaraderie, and connection. Strangers trust and help one another and share experiences that they hope to carry with them as they return to “normal” life. After I read this book, I talked about it with my own kids as we were hiking this fall, and Lugo’s misadventures led us to have great conversations about race, the outdoors, pushing oneself to the limit, and human connections. —Deborah J. Schildkraut, professor and chair, Department of Political Science
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson. I started reading this magnificent and monumental book early in the summer, at first in small evocative segments and then in a sustained, unrelenting need to know. On the cover is an endorsement by Toni Morrison: “Profound, necessary, and an absolute delight to read.” Of course, she’s right. Isabel Wilkerson traces three individuals: Ida Mae Brandon Gadney, George Swanton Starling, and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, whose lives involved the decision to leave the South and become part of the Great Migration of black people to the North and West. By midway in the book, one feels one knows George, who became a Pullman Porter, his dignity and despair, his unhappy marriage to Inez; Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, the dedicated doctor who moved to California and tried to emulate and be included in the life he knew was there; and Ida Mae, who with her husband is finally able to buy a house in Chicago, only to watch the white families move out in droves and a culture of drugs and violence surround the oasis of her family. The research, extensive interviews, and recreated journeys Wilkerson took that parallel that of each of her subjects provide a novelistic intensity as one begins to understand in new dimensions the years 1915 to 1970, when the Great Migration occurred. For those who have lived any of those decades, the enhanced perspective is vital—especially these days, especially all those days. — Rebecca Kaiser-Gibson, former lecturer, Department of English