Off the Shelf

Recent books with a Harvard accent

The Crimson Letter: Harvard, Homosexuality, and the Shaping of American Culture, by Douglass Shand-Tucci '72 (St. Martin's, $25.95). After characterizing the two dominant nineteenth-century gay archetypes — the warrior and the aesthete — Shand-Tucci shows, in a richly textured history, how their oppositions and tensions shaped gay culture from the 1800s to today within and without these ivied walls.

 

The Gangster We Are All Looking For, by lê thi diem thúy (Knopf, $18). A heralded debut novel portrays the life of a Vietnamese family in America, as seen through the eyes of a child. The author, who left Vietnam in 1978, by boat, has been at Harvard this year as a Radcliffe Fellow.

 

Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ph.D. '58 (HarperSanFrancisco, $12.95, paper). The University Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University provides a primer on a world-view with 1.2 billion adherents.

 

Imagining Numbers (particularly the square root of minus fifteen) by Barry Mazur, Jf '62, Gade University Professor (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $22). Mazur is both poet and mathematician. This book, written for those without mathematical training, is an invitation to exert in mathematical imagining the same sort of imaginative effort needed to understand a phrase in a poem.

 

Learning Joy from Dogs without Collars: A Memoir, by Lauralee Summer '98 (Simon and Schuster, $24). The press swarmed over Summer when she entered Harvard because she had been a homeless person, moving 20 times before she was 12. She drew more notice by becoming a varsity wrestler, the first woman to join a Harvard wrestling team (see "Woman of the Mats," March-April 1996, page 83). Having paused to write this bittersweet account of her life to date, she is now earning a master's degree in education at Berkeley.

 

Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist, by Alston Chase '57 (W.W. Norton, $26.95). Theodore Kaczynski '62 entered Harvard as a malleable 16-year-old. He was a subject in a nasty, allegedly scarring psychological experiment overseen by Professor Henry A. Murray and, argues Chase, he was immersed in the general "culture of despair" then pervasive in academe. Thus, he left Harvard disposed to an antisocial rage that is not the concoction of one paranoid schizophrenic, but is near epidemic today.

 

Richard Caton Woodville: American Painter, Artful Dodger, by Justin Wolff, preceptor in expository writing (Princeton University Press, $39.95). This is the first book to examine the life and art of this genre painter, who died in 1855, at 30, of a morphine overdose. "He was a dashing, quixotic cavalier," writes Wolff, "an occasionally mischievous scion of a privileged Baltimore family; he was a scrupulous chronicler of his era; he was an instrument in the project to reify American stereotypes and to make what was a difficult period 'look easy'; and he was a shifty dissembler."

 

Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography, by David Loftus '81 (Thunder's Mouth Press, $17.95, paper). Journalist Loftus asked some 150 men what they like about pornography and how they use it. "Contrary to the anti-female, pro-violence messages that antiporn crusaders ascribe to it, many of its fans in fact see something totally different," Nadine Strossen '72, J.D. '75, of the American Civil Liberties Union, writes of this book. "It was long past time we heard from them..."

 

The Captain Lands in Paradise, by Sarah Manguso '96 (Alice James, $12.95, paper). The Village Voice named this collection of poems one of its "favorite books of 2002." It is now being translated into Danish.

 

Gray Cavalier: The Life and Wars of General W.H.F. "Rooney" Lee, by Mary Bandy Daughtry (Da Capo Press, $27.50). The first biography of Robert E. Lee's second son, one of the South's most capable cavalrymen and a member of the Harvard class of 1858 (see "The College Pump," May-June 2002, page 76).

 

Bill W., A Different Kind of Hero: The Story of Alcoholics Anonymous, by Tom White '44 (Boyds Mills Press, $16.95). A short biography, for youngsters 10 and over, of a cofounder of AA, who hit rock bottom himself.

 

Liberal Education and the Public Interest, by James O. Freedman '57, L '60 (University of Iowa Press, $29.95). The author is a member of the board of directors of Harvard Magazine. In this collection of essays, two of which appeared originally in this magazine, the former president of Dartmouth and the University of Iowa addresses himself to leadership in higher education and specifically to how college presidents may make the case for liberal education.

             

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