Your Summer Reading

The Tufts community weighs in with recommendations for fiction, biography, history, memoirs and more
illustration of summer camp, with books as tents
Illustration: Ellie Norton
June 23, 2015

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Every summer, members of the Tufts community recommend their favorite “good reads,” and this year the selection is as eclectic and wide-ranging as ever.

We’ve got historical fiction, short stories, science fiction and several timeless classics, plus a well-rounded sampling of nonfiction—biographies of scientists and philosophers, histories of the Great Migration and World War I, and memoirs, among others.

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

FICTION

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie. These two books make up an operatic space drama, set over a thousand-year period in which the narrator doesn’t recognize gender and refers to every character as a female. If that sounds extremely confusing, well, you’d be correct. But by the end of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, the first in a projected trilogy about a piece of artificial intelligence on a revenge mission, you realize that not only is Leckie’s writing strong enough to work, it’s a miraculously rich reading experience. Brisk, stylish and incredibly self-assured, Leckie throws us into the immense universe of the Radch Empire, a dictatorship spanning thousands of worlds and held together by utilizing ancillaries—essentially empty bodies that are plugged into an AI to work as one. In the big picture, it’s the story of the rise and (possible) fall of a vicious autocracy, but Leckie is able to zoom in to make every character a full-bodied person without losing focus. It takes a bit to acclimate yourself to the constant shifts in perspectives and time periods (not to mention that everyone in the book by default becomes a “she”), but once you do, you’ll race through it, and then pick up Ancillary Sword to immediately continue the journey. —Emma Johnson, communications specialist, School of Dental Medicine

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín. This 2009 novel seems far shorter than its 262 pages, and even within that space, not very much happens, at least by the standards of most plot-packed contemporary books, movies or TV shows. Yet this little jewel of a novel is so finely crafted that that’s OK. With a breathtaking economy of language, Tóibín creates two deeply detailed worlds for his protagonist, Eilis Lacey, to inhabit—her quiet Irish village and, as the title suggests, Brooklyn, the bustling borough to which she reluctantly emigrates in 1951. (For fans of the Irish-American novelist Alice McDermott, the Brooklyn scenes bring to mind the world of Charming Billy and Someone.) In a series of short scenes, we see Eilis go to work in a downtown department store (and witness the day the store integrates, when “colored ladies” arrive to buy dark-hued hosiery); maneuver the social minefields of the girls’ boardinghouse where she lives; endure the humiliations of a parish-hall dance; and, eventually, meet a man and fall in love. Tóibín presents an exquisitely sketched and emotionally subtle portrait of Eilis, who turns out to be far more complicated than the reader’s initial encounter with her might suggest. Brooklyn is so well-written I was disappointed when it ended, yet one more word would have been too much. —Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine

Crow Fair, by Thomas McGuane. This collection of short stories is haunting, personal and often gritty. McGuane’s characters have the same flaws and foes that we all face, but unexpected twists leave you slightly jarred at the end of many of these stories. Each piece stands alone, but the striking landscapes of Montana and the challenges and opportunities they present help provide a cohesiveness to the collection. The writing is straightforward and relatively light, but McGuane is a master of including just the essential details, which makes his writing so rich. —Benjamin Wolfe, assistant professor of biology, School of Arts and Sciences 

The Dog, by Jack Livings. Writing fiction set in a culture foreign to your own is fraught with peril: it’s so easy to sound “off,” like speaking a foreign language with a distinctly flat American accent. Which makes Jack Livings’ accomplishment in his collection of short stories set in China all the more impressive, because he seems to pull it off effortlessly. All but one of the eight stories in this slender collection have protagonists who are Chinese nationals—be they Han, Uyghur or Tibetan. Instead of stereotypes, though, we have real people, carefully observed. Livings is telling stories about the growing pains of modern China, but that’s not his point: he’s recounting the struggles of individuals. For someone who lived in China for only a few years, he seems to have picked up the nuances and everyday reality that are mostly missing in journalists’ coverage of the country. I knew about the Uyghurs’ persecution at the hands of the Han Chinese, but in “The Heir,” it’s palpable—and more hopeless than I’d imagined. The life of young financiers is likewise compellingly portrayed; these are people like us, and yet not. And finally, at the book’s end, is “Switchback, 1994”—a sad tale of the death of a bicycle rider on a rural road; it is poignant and bitter, and flawlessly rendered. After reading these stories, we know much more about what China is like, in its multifarious ways, but more to the point, we have come to know the characters as real people and care about them deeply.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

Dune, by Frank Herbert. Forget David Lynch’s poor filmic excuse to dip Sting in oil—if you haven’t read Frank Herbert’s lushly imagined 1965 sci-fi epic, you’re really missing out. This story has it all: giant sand worms of mysterious purpose, political intrigue among ancestral foes, manipulation of space-time for interstellar travel and a terrifying universal shadow-government of women trained in psychic communication and mind control. Herbert’s masterful storytelling, intricately weaving themes of heroism, religion, fate and time across the beautifully rendered backdrop of an alien universe, makes this a fantastic book for summer reading on the beach. For the best Dune-immersion experience, be sure to turn your beach chair away from the ocean and pretend the waves are the sounds of an arid breeze flowing across vast, desolate stretches of sand. —Sarah Cronin, communications specialist, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, by Giorgio Bassani. For those who have been enjoying the flawless prose and psychological acuity evident in the first three volumes of Elena Ferrante’s extraordinary Naples tetralogy, I recommend a slight geographical shift, to Ferrara in the north of Italy, and a dip back to the ominous years before World War II. Giorgio Bassani’s hauntingly beautiful novel is at once a tale of unrequited love and a deftly charged account of the impact of Fascist race laws on the small Jewish community of Ferrara. Bassani’s nameless narrator, a young Jewish student of Italian literature (and such a heavily autobiographical figure that he has sometimes been referred to by critics as “B”) is in love with Micól, the daughter of the wealthy and aristocratic Finzi-Contini family, who lead sequestered lives on their grand walled-in estate. As Italy’s Nazi-inspired race laws begin to take effect and Jews are barred from various public institutions, including the local tennis club, the Finzi-Continis open their gates, and their private court, to a small cadre of young people from the local Jewish community. Like the tree-filled garden, the novel is full of shadows. We know the fate that awaits most of the characters, which makes the love story at the heart of the novel all the more poignant. —Jonathan Wilson, professor and director of the Center for the Humanities at Tufts

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. This debut thriller novel deserves all the comparisons it has gotten to Gone Girl: it has an unreliable narrator (or three), a missing wife and plenty of terrible things to say about the state of modern marriage. Train does not have the same mid-way heel turn as Gone, however, and a less stomach-churning ending. Lonely English commuter Rachel imagines a perfect life for a young married couple—“Jason” and “Jess”—whose morning routine she observes when her daily train to London stops by their back garden. But then she catches “Jess” (actually Megan) kissing another man. Suddenly, the narrative flips to a year earlier, and to Megan’s perspective. Then the narrative shifts again, to the perspective of Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife, who lives on Megan’s street. And then Megan disappears. Hawkins unpacks information about her three narrators in ways that make them more pitiful and sympathetic by turns. The revelations come fast enough that the pages turn quickly, too. Read this on a beach unless you want to ruin your train commute. —Robin Smyton, A09, public relations coordinator, University Relations

House of Suns, by Alistair Reynolds. Released in 2009, House of Suns is a sci-fi novel of the “space-opera” variety: a drama on a cosmic scale, complete with fascinating characters and a plot that is as audacious as it is successful. Describing the plot in a few words is a difficult proposition, given that the novel spans millions of years and multiple galaxies. The story revolves around two members of what is known as the “Gentian Line,” a group of immortal (or at least something close to it) clones whose creator has tasked them with exploring the universe and gathering knowledge. Members of the Line meet for a “reunion” every 200,000 years to share the knowledge they’ve gained. Their upcoming reunion, however, will not go as expected, as the Line itself comes under attack by a mysterious foe. —Samuel Ruth, associate director, Office of Continuing Education, School of Dental Medicine

In the Country: Stories, by Mia Alvar. Several years ago for The Rumpus, I inventoried books published in the U.S. by writers of Filipino ancestry, and called for more of our voices in American literature. New York-based Mia Alvar’s debut short story collection, In the Country, is a stunning addition. The nine stories are set where Filipinos live—the U.S., the Philippines and Bahrain—and in historical moments such as in “Old Girl,” a fictional account of the Aquinos’ years in Boston leading up to the morning that Benigno Aquino Jr. boards a flight at Logan Airport in August 1983. (He was shot and killed in Manila upon disembarking that plane. His widow, Corazon, and later his son, Benigno Aquino III, were elected president of the Philippines.) The first story, “The Kontrabida,” follows a Filipino immigrant home to Manila in the last days of his father’s life. The son, a pharmacist, steals pain medication, which sets off unexpected consequences. In “The Miracle Worker,” the wife of an overseas Filipino worker joins her husband in the Middle East and is hired to teach 5-year old Aroush, a child with special needs. While Aroush cannot walk or speak, soon the narrator learns secrets about her life. As the best fiction does, each of Alvar’s stories deep-dives into the lives of people at turning points. As an added bonus, readers will become acquainted with the Filipino diaspora. —Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult. This is a beautifully written study of grief, loss and the bond between parent and child. Thirteen-year-old Jenna longs to understand why her mother disappeared after an accident at an elephant sanctuary 10 years earlier. Is she dead, or did she abandon Jenna? Not sure which one is more painful, she enlists the help of a washed-up television psychic and a retired detective to help her find out. These three voices alternate to tell the story of her search, along with excerpts from her mother’s journals, which detail her study of grief rituals in female elephants. The ending is one you’ll never see coming and will stay with you long beyond the last page of this heartbreakingly beautiful novel. —Tina Riedel, senior web developer/technical writer, Tufts Technology Services

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, by Teddy Wayne. Meet Jonny Valentine, an 11-year-old pop star à la Justin Bieber, whose tween fans swoon over the slim boy with the angelic voice and the hairstyle they emulate, known as a “Jonny.” But Jonny Valentine is lonely; his only friend is his bodyguard, and he longs to meet his father, out of the picture since Jonny was small. Jonny’s mother, Jane, keeps a close eye on what Jonny eats (too many calories means it’s off to the treadmill) as well as on the bottom line. Jonny, still a child yet also a savvy star, tosses around such show-biz money concepts as “merch” (merchandise) and “packaging strategy.” Teddy Wayne manages to make Jonny into an appealing, if sad, character, and we root for him to break out of his world of touring, buses and hotels. Wayne creates three-dimensional characters, even helping us understand domineering Jane and what drives her. The book is entertaining and manages to be both funny and poignant. —Marjorie Howard, senior writer, Tufts Now

The Martian, by Andy Weir. In this novel, Weir tells the story of the ill-fated first manned mission to Mars. A devastating dust storm forces the crew of the Ares 3 to evacuate with little warning. During the evacuation, astronaut and scientist Mark Watney is impaled by a large piece of equipment and blown away from the rest of the crew. Believing him to be dead, the five surviving members of the Ares mission lift off, leaving Watney stranded on the surface of Mars. Alone in an alien and unforgiving world, Watney must rely on his wits and ingenuity if he is to survive. Though Watney narrates his plight with much humor, his desperation becomes evident as food and supplies start to dwindle. Weir’s writing is both poignant and playful, and should serve to delight both hardened science fiction fans as well as the more casual reader. —Rosemary Hilliard, assistant director of financial aid, Tufts School of Dental Medicine

Museum of the Weird, by Amelia Gray. I’m not usually drawn to short fiction, and I like absurdism more on the stage than the page, so why did I fall in love with Amelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird, a collection premised on both? Like any commanding writer, Gray is able to persuade reluctant readers to join her by serving up great language, demonstrating mastery of her craft and displaying true inventiveness. You won’t have to worry about the fatigue of the familiar here as you enter her universe, one in which a man marries his paring knife (while another woos a frozen fish fillet), a penguin chats up an armadillo, and a tour guide sells you on the virtues of one of many Reagan boyhood homes. With pieces ranging in length from a single page to a dozen, some with clear arcs and some stubbornly withholding such niceties, there’s no predicting what will happen story to story. The continual sense of discovery kept me reading despite myself. —David Valdes Greenwood, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Seveneves, by Neil Stephenson. A big, quirky, endlessly rewarding book of science fiction, Seveneves begins as the earth’s moon suddenly explodes into seven massive pieces. All seems relatively well until the pieces start to collide with each other, beginning a chain reaction that mathematicians quickly deduce will end up creating an earth-destroying shower of rocks in about two years. Faced with the ultimate deadline, the earth’s fractious nations more or less pull together to create the mother of all space missions: putting as many humans as possible, from every country in the world, in space on a jerry-rigged platform composed of the existing International Space Station (“Izzy”) and whatever can be launched to hook up to it. Catastrophe after catastrophe ensues, and the seven pieces of the moon turn out to be mere foreshadowing of the new mothers of the human species, the seven Eves of the title. This is a book that combines the poignancy of Neville Shute’s Cold War masterpiece On the Beach with superb and complex science-based views of the future of astrophysics, architecture and synthetic biology, and the most delicate of ethical questions looking five millennia into the future. Brilliant, tense and utterly fresh in every dimension, Seveneves poses the biggest of questions, while delivering punch after punch of surprise and readability. Ultimately a largely hopeful book that shows us the human race is both resilient and innovative, all the while carrying its faults forward generation after generation. And yes, to answer Maureen Dowd’s question, it turns out men really aren’t necessary after all—not that there is much doubt of that these days. —James Stavridis, F83, F84, dean of the Fletcher School

The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls. I knew I had to read this book after having read two of Walls’ other bestsellers, a memoir and a “true-life” novel. This book, a full-fledged novel, doesn’t disappoint. Set in a small rural town in the late ’60s/early ’70s, the story focuses on family and the perseverance of children when faced with adversity. The resilient Holladay sisters cope with a life of instability: living with their nomadic mother when she’s able to cope with reality, with recently found family members and, occasionally, alone. The girls learn quickly about life, the politically charged landscape of the time and making good decisions. This is a fast read with a tone that, although somber at times, makes the reader want to cheer on the teenagers and recognize their tenacity. —Carol Liedes, knowledge manager, Tufts Support Services

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Living in extreme poverty in Brooklyn in the early 1900s, Francie is sentimental and inquisitive. Her alcoholic but loving father is her hero, and she desperately tries to understand her abrasive and hardworking mother. Francie and her brother Neeley make a great team, selling junk for extra pennies and entertaining each other, even while cold and hungry. Seeing Francie navigate life through tragedy and tiny rays of sunshine is amazing. She and her family are just as strong and tenacious as the “Tree of Heaven” that sprouts up between tenement housing in the poorest sections of Brooklyn. —Kimberly Moniz, online community specialist, Digital Communications

Ulysses, by James Joyce; unabridged audiobook (Naxos). Yes, yes, I know: it’s difficult, willfully obscure, over the top. But it’s also funny, stirring, timeless and richly humane. By the time I reached the end, Leopold Bloom, whose wanderings we follow, had become more real, more nuanced, more painfully human than almost any other character I’ve come across in fiction. Joyce’s conceit is well-known: the book takes place on June 16, 1904, in Dublin, the structure loosely modeled on The Odyssey. But Bloom is no Odysseus, young Stephen Dedalus no Telemachus, Molly Bloom no Penelope. This is the modern age, and there are no heroes—just everyday people who are flawed and driven by desire, fear, impulse and hope. Did I catch every invented word, every obscure reference? Not even close. Letting the narrative wash over me, I probably got—well, who knows how much. More than enough to make the time spent completely worthwhile. As Joyce experiments with narrative styles—interior monologues, fantasies, theatrical plays, Q&As, frilly language—he sometimes seems to be simply showing off, but his wit and wordplay more than make up for it. Through it all, we learn more and more about Bloom and all the people he knows and has known, and grow to feel deeply sympathetic toward him and his friends, family and acquaintances. Strip away the frills and it’s clear that Ulysses is about the struggle to make one’s way through life, to cope with suffering, to become fully human. Narrating the audiobook, actor Jim Norton does a magnificent job with the multitudinous characters—they all come to life in his hands. —Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor. Relying heavily on magical realism and fantasy, this book is set in Sudan in a post-apocalyptic future where a young woman, Onyesonwu, is born an outcast, but comes into her own. Who Fears Death, winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, tells the story of her movement from childhood into adulthood, and her eventual journey to stop an evil sorcerer named Daib with her own emerging magical powers. —Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer and associate provost

NONFICTION

Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, by Eboo Patel. The author was born in India, raised and educated in Illinois and eventually earned a Rhodes Scholarship to pursue a doctorate at Oxford. This coming-of-age story tells of his quest to understand and integrate multiple and conflicting identities—as an Indian, a Muslim and an American. From racist bullying endured as a child in school, through adolescent antics to try to fit in, to grappling with the injustices of both of his homelands, India and America, Patel seeks to understand who he is and his calling in the world. His journey provides a framework for understanding geopolitical movements that shape all of our lives today—from terrorism of all kinds, to the long history of those of all faiths who have striven for justice and peace. The book has been chosen as the Common Reading Program book for Tufts undergraduates entering in September, and will be sent to all first-year and transfer students. Patel will visit campus to lecture on Sept. 21, and the University Chaplaincy and other partner departments will be offering related programming throughout the fall semester. —The Rev. Greg McGonigle, university chaplain

American Ghost: A Family's Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest, by Hannah Nordhaus. Hannah Nordhaus didn’t believe in ghosts, but she had to know: Was the spirit of her great-great-grandmother Julia haunting Hotel La Posada, once her opulent Santa Fe home, as witnesses claimed? More importantly, why would she still be there nearly a century after she died? Had she been abused and finally murdered by her husband? Had the tragic loss of a child sent her into depression and madness? To find out, Nordhaus, an historian, takes us on a quest to discover Julia’s true story. The journey winds through the lives of pioneers who opened the American West and founded Santa Fe; it stretches across the Atlantic to the German village of Julia’s childhood and follows her family’s threads through the terrors and tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust. But Nordhaus comes to realize that history offers only partial answers. So she also looks, skeptically at first, through the lens of spiritualists and psychics to fill in the gaps by talking to the dead. In the end a larger mystery looms. We are left to ponder how we are all haunted by history’s truths and myths, and wonder if, in the end, it is memory that can make an afterlife real. You may change your mind about believing in ghosts. —Gail Bambrick, senior writer, Office of Publications

Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present, by Christian Sahner. As the conflagration that is Syria—or was Syria—seems to grow, extend itself and throw flames in a wider arc through the Middle East, this short book is a necessary corrective to the horrors of the immediate moment. Working on a doctorate in history, Sahner lived in Syria off and on in 2008 and 2009 and in neighboring Beirut in the several years following; his book is part travelogue, part history and part meditation on the inevitable nature of change. In Syria, he says, “the deep past exerts a powerful influence on the present”—true in most places, but even more so in such a crossroads of history. Syria is in some respects a modern invention of colonial powers following World War I. With its majority of Sunni Arabs, and significant minority populations of Shia and Christian sects, Syria was always ripe for sectarianism. Sahner details the power relations between the groups over many centuries, with telling details from his travels around the country, back when that was possible. In the current brutal conflict, Sahner sees a possible parallel: the civil war in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, which was both sectarian and much more than sectarian. In the end, no one group there could overcome all the others; a negotiated end to the conflict was the answer. When that might happen in Syria is anyone’s guess, but the fighting cannot go on forever, even though every day it feels like there will be no end. With its historical view, Among the Ruins is a useful antidote to shallow day-to-day reporting and pronouncements concerning this ancient land. —Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, by Henry Marsh. “I often have to cut into the brain, and it is something I hate doing,” writes British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh in the opening line of his frank, frightening and fascinating memoir in which he recounts a career of life-and-death decisions in the operating theater. For Marsh, the brain is a beautiful, always mysterious terrain where cure and catastrophe live just microns apart and where outcomes are decided as much by a surgeon’s judgment as by his medical knowledge. Each of the 25 chapters is named for a brain tumor or condition, and details the patients dealing with them, as well as Marsh’s internal debates about whether surgery may be lifesaving. But even seemingly simple surgeries can go wrong, leaving patients with devastating paralysis, blindness or cognitive dysfunction. Marsh agonizes over these failures, but equally rejoices in the miracles that medicine brings when he succeeds. As Marsh describes it, the book is “the story of an all-encompassing love affair and an explanation of why it is such a privilege—although a very painful one—to be a neurosurgeon.” —Gail Bambrick, senior writer, Tufts Now

Frida Kahlo’s Garden, edited by Adriana Zavala, Mia D’Avanza and Joanna L. Groarke. This book, which accompanies the two-part exhibition Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx through Nov. 1, is a delightful read for anyone interested in an underexplored side of Kahlo’s creativity—the garden she conceptually cultivated at her familial home in Coyoacán, a suburb of Mexico City, from 1929 (the year she married fellow artist Diego Rivera) until her death in 1954. Kahlo’s deep knowledge of the botanical world, especially the native flora of Mexico, is demonstrated in the book through close readings of the works of art selected for the exhibition by Tufts associate professor of art history Adriana Zavala. This knowledge is also demonstrated through a conceptual reconstruction of Kahlo’s garden inside the Enid Haupt Conservatory. Both the art and the botanical exhibitions echo Zavala’s thesis that Kahlo was intensely interested in hybridity—in the blending of native and imported species as well as the mixing of human races. This theme is reflected in each of the gallery exhibition’s 14 paintings, drawings and prints. Since the art on view is intimate in scale and intensely wrought, the book’s full-page reproductions allow one to scrutinize these works and to linger over them more easily than in the gallery itself. The book also includes interesting archival photos and architectural plans of Kahlo’s garden as it evolved during her lifetime. —Amy Ingrid Schlegel, director of Tufts Galleries and Collections

Harvest the Wind: America’s Journey to Jobs, Energy Independence, and Climate Stability, by Philip Warburg. In an effort to better understand how we can respond to societal issues that are grounded in climate change, I looked for a book that would offer perspectives into sources of alternative energy. Harvest the Wind is a surprisingly accessible account of wind power’s American ascent. Warburg, a lifelong environmental lawyer, offers important insights about this clean energy technology, from its early struggles during the Carter years to its dramatic take-off over the past decade. I was surprised to learn that wind power today supplies more than a fifth of some states’ power needs, and is a fast-growing presence in dozens of other states. Warburg explores the inner reaches of the American heartland and the outer reaches of the global marketplace, adopting the tone of a roving reporter as he describes his encounters with farmers, ranchers, local business boosters and high-tech entrepreneurs. I find his insights about what wind power can do to shift America off fossil fuels extremely compelling, and his reflections on wind power’s admitted downsides sobering. Clearly a proponent of responsibly sited wind power, he deals head-on with issues such as the noise generated by turbines, their visual presence on the landscape and the risks they can pose to birds and bats. I found this book a highly informative window onto a transformative technology that I previously knew little about. Warburg’s journalistic flair makes his subject matter lively and accessible, yet he writes with an analytical rigor that is essential to understanding the tradeoffs we face in this new energy era. This combination makes for a winning book. —Jonathan Garlick, professor of oral and maxillofacial pathology, School of Dental Medicine

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick. Not for the faint of heart, this thrilling retelling of the maritime disaster that served as the inspiration for Moby Dick is a fascinating read for anyone interested in stories of survival at sea. Philbrick goes out of his way to impart to readers an understanding of the whaling industry itself, with a particular focus on Nantucket, which for a brief period was the heart of one of the most important industries in the 1800s. While Philbrick’s graphic descriptions of whale hunting may lead readers to cheer when (spoiler alert!) an angry whale sends the Essex to the bottom of the ocean, the subsequent trials and tribulations of the stranded crew are yet another example of the amazing resiliency of the human spirit. —Samuel Ruth, associate director, Office of Continuing Education, School of Dental Medicine

The Night of the Gun, by David Carr. When respected New York Times media columnist David Carr crumpled to the floor of the newsroom one day last February and died at age 58, American journalism lost a great and original voice. The improbable account of how he got to the Times is told in Carr’s harrowing memoir, The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own. Dark doesn’t begin to touch it. Born in Minnesota, and variously employed as a writer and editor for the alternative press, Carr was a roaring-drunk, cocaine-addicted, physically abusive loser for years before getting his act together and rising in the world. He may have been a drug addict, but an addict capable of quoting Melville in his postmodern narrative replete with copies of personal rejection letters and arrest reports. The book, available in paperback, is funny and terrifying all at once as the author revisits the scenes of his youthful crimes and interviews friends and associates who knew him when. Most are astonished he’s not dead or in jail, let alone turning out incisive commentary for the nation’s best newspaper. “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve,” Carr writes feelingly at the end. Too bad it didn’t last longer. —Bruce Morgan, editor, Tufts Medicine magazine

Out of Nazi Germany in Time, a Gift to American Science, by David Stollar. A professor emeritus of biochemistry at the Tufts School of Medicine, Stollar has written a biography about his colleague Gerhard Schmidt, a German scientist who lost his job as a professor when Adolf Hitler fired the Jews on the faculty of all the German universities. Eventually, after some years of wandering, Schmidt landed at Tufts School of Medicine, where he had a distinguished career. But there is more to the story, because he didn’t come alone. Thanks to the efforts of one Gentile and one Jew—Joseph Pratt, the chief of the hospital, and Sam Proger, dean of the medical school—14 other German refugee scientist/physicians came to Tufts and transformed the medical school. There are two stories in Stollar’s book: the first is about a medical school that teetered on the edge of extinction in the 1920s and was reborn in the 1930s; the second is about the destruction of the German universities and the great “gift” handed to American higher education. By the time Hitler had destroyed all of the European universities, the United States reluctantly opened its immigration doors a crack, just wide enough to let in the scientists who gave us the atom bomb and propelled American universities to the top of the world. Some countries have all the luck. —Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough. This National Book Award winner from 1977 is a fascinating read, from the political, public health and technical engineering perspective. I found it fascinating—there is something for everyone. —Alice H. Lichtenstein, the Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Friedman School

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark. World War I was not inevitable. Europe went to war not because of impersonal, structural forces, Clark argues, but because of how individuals with ingrained national narratives and ways of seeing the world saw those “impersonal forces.” Clark seeks to explain the war as not being inevitable, and to show why it started in the Balkans and escalated into a greater European war. He places causal weight on the Serbian government and the armed clandestine organizations it sponsored, especially the Black Hand. If Serbia had controlled its ultranationalist organizations more, the war might not have happened, he writes. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand occurred at a particularly delicate moment, when all the states were in a maximum state of tension. Alliances were too weak to make states feel secure enough not to defer to their militaries, but too strong not to lead to escalation and a widening of the war. In sum, Clark suggests that the war began in part because of the confluence of unfortunate timing in the assassination and rigidity and tension in the alliance. Taking this approach, he explicitly cuts against the approach that seeks to place culpability for the war on one state or a limited group of states. Clark thinks blame is too simplistic, because it assumes that one side is right and another wrong, and that states and their leaders know what they are doing and have control of events. This is why he titled the book The Sleepwalkers, because the protagonist states and their leaders were semi-conscious of the risks and walked forward “watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.” —Leila Fawaz, the Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson. The title comes from a Richard Wright poem that symbolizes the hope of starting a new life, fitting for this book that details the lives of three people who did just that: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping in Mississippi and headed to Chicago; George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a career in medicine in Los Angeles. They took part in what is called the Great Migration, in which it is estimated that six million black Americans fled the South between 1916 and the 1970s in search of a better life in the North and the West. Fleeing widespread racism, limited opportunities and racial segregation under the “Jim Crow” laws, many black Americans headed north to take advantage of opportunities in response to the need for industrial workers after World War I. Wilkerson shows how the Great Migration changed neighborhoods throughout the nation, with large populations of black Americans being forced to live in densely packed communities, creating a new urban African-American culture, such as that epitomized by the Harlem Renaissance. Prior to the Great Migration, nine out of 10 black Americans lived in the South, and three out of every four lived on farms. By the 1970s, less than half of the country’s African-American population remained in the South, and only a quarter lived in rural areas. Wilkerson captures the hope and the struggles of the unknowing participants in the Great Migration and shows how it transformed America.—Jamie Maguire, assistant professor of neuroscience, School of Medicine

Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman, by Jeremy Adelman. It is rare to find intellectual biography as entrancing and vivid as this one by Jeremy Adelman. It transcends a genre that can sometimes be recitations of a figure’s ideas. Albert Hirschman was a remarkably versatile scholar whose work redefined a set of debates and fields, but more than that, he led a dramatic life. In Adelman’s hands, Hirschman, a person whose life was regularly pushed into the flux of world events, becomes not just a thinker, but a genially picaresque figure whose experiences reveal the history that surrounded him. Not only do we see how his experiences shaped his beliefs and his scholarship, but through this perceptive human being we get to see the costs and opportunities of a tumultuous time. —David Ekbladh, associate professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences

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