Off the Shelf

A sampling of current books received at this magazine

On the jacket, a detail of an idealized image of a chief (or mwanangana, "lord of the land"), created by an artist in Angola in the mid-nineteenth century

Art of the Senses: African Masterpieces from the Teel Collection, edited by Suzanne Preston Blier, Clowes professor of fine arts and professor of African and African-American studies (MFA Publications, $50). Once thought most suitable for display in ethnology museums, African masks, figures, and decorative objects are now at home in palaces of art. This book shows more than a hundred objects, beautiful and strong, given to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts by William Teel '49 and his late wife, Bertha Landau Teel.

 

Codex, by Lev Grossman '91 (Harcourt, $24). Time magazine's book critic, in this page-turner novel, finds strange parallels between the virtual reality of a computer game and the legend surrounding a medieval codex.

 

Participant Observer: A Memoir of a Transatlantic Life, by Robin Fox, G '59 (Transaction, $39.95). Before he went on to found the anthropology department at Rutgers, Englishman Fox spent several years doing graduate work at Harvard, and he writes of his study-abroad experience vividly (the 99-cent lunch special at HoJo's gave him joy; Professor Evon Vogt's perfectly flat-topped crew cut hypnotized him; and he judged that American football "comprised brief episodes of violent activity interrupted by what looked like prayer meetings"). This is a memoir of Fox's life and, equally, of the ideas and movements of his times.

 

The Gold-Plated Porsche: How I Sank a Small Fortune into a Used Car, and Other Misadventures, by Stephan Wilkinson '58 (Lyons Press, $21.95). If you can understand why a well person might spend two years and $59,805.55 rebuilding a 1983 911SC Porsche, creating "something worth far less than the sum of its parts," this book may delight you.

 

Aged by Culture, by Margaret Morganroth Gullette '62, Ph.D. '75 (University of Chicago Press; $46, cloth; $18.50, paper). In America today, aging is pitched as synonymous with decay. Thus, the boom in Botox. Gullette, resident scholar in women's studies at Brandeis and a pioneer in age studies, thinks that society ought to abandon pernicious ideologies and screw its head on straight about wrinkles.

 

Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833-2003, by James L. Merriner '69 (Southern Illinois University Press, $29.50). Chicago enjoys a reputation as the U.S. capital of political corruption and of reformers' largely ineffectual efforts to clean it up. Merriner, former political editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, traces the ongoing struggle to its nineteenth-century roots and argues that it is less about heroes and villains than it is about conflicting class, ethnic, and religious values.

 

Loreta Velazquez as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford. She raised a battalion of men in Arkansas and went off to join her husband in the field.

She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War, by Bonnie Tsui '99 (Globe Pequot Press, $19.95). Perhaps as many as 1,000 women, disguised as men, fought in the American Civil War, and others were nurses, spies, underground railroad conductors, and daughters of the regiment. Here are some of their stories, told by a freelance writer and former associate editor at Travel & Leisure.

 

Classical Music without Fear: A Guide for General Audiences, by Marianne Williams Tobias '62 (Indiana University Press; $49.95, cloth; $19.95, paper). This is a fine book even if you don't have a mental-health problem with classical music: widely informative, entertaining, and nicely illustrated, with fine-art works in color to show parallel developments with music, and other helpful images, such as a snapshot of the terrifying Arnold Schoenberg playing ping-pong.

 

Beach-blanket mayhem: Crimson authors visit murder and confusion upon Princeton and Dartmouth. Orange Crushed: An Ivy League Mystery, by Pamela Thomas-Graham '85, M.B.A.-J.D. '89 (Simon & Schuster, $24). Thomas-Graham's sleuth, Harvard economics professor Nikki Chase, on her third outing here, visits Princeton, where the body of the head of the African-American studies department is found in a building destroyed by fire. Police deem the death an accident, but Chase has her doubts (well founded). The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason '98 (Dial Press, $24). This amalgam of scholarship and treachery involves a Renaissance text with an embedded code, a Renaissance prince, clever Princeton undergraduates, and blood on the ground — actually, on the floor of the history department. The Blackbird Papers, by Ian Smith '91 (Doubleday, $24.95). A Dartmouth professor is found dead with a racist epithet carved into his chest. Police arrest two white supremacists, but the professor's brother, an FBI agent, doesn't buy that pat explanation and focuses instead on a nearly completed paper by the professor about the mysterious deaths of hundreds of local blackbirds.          

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