Off the Shelf

A sampling of current books received at this magazine

Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class, by Ross Gregory Douthat '02 (Hyperion, $24.95). "Harvard was not what I had expected: It was not a refuge of genius and a sanctuary of intellect. Instead, it was something darker and more complex, more alienating and more interesting." The real business of Harvard, writes the author, "is understood to be the pursuit of success, and the personal connections from which such success has always flowed." This revelation the author engagingly reports in a book that is part memoir of an undergraduate life (rejection by the Porcellian, job-hunting, and sex -- of course), part recent history of Harvard (the departure of Cornel West, the embezzlement scandal at the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the Living Wage Movement), and part reflection on the state of America's elite colleges. Douthat edited the Harvard Salient, a conservative undergraduate journal, and now works at the Atlantic Monthly.

Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, by Neil deGrasse Tyson '80 and Donald Goldsmith '63 (Norton, $27.95). Quit thinking of yourself as kin to apes; you are kin to starlight. Goldsmith, a writer on astronomy, and Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, explain. 

Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, by Seth Mnookin '94 (Random House, $25.95). A lively and important piece of reporting about the Jayson Blair plagiarism tumult at the Times, the paper's former and imperious executive editor, Howell Raines, and a host of other irregular characters at the grand and durable institution.

Sing Me to Heaven: The Story of a Marriage, by Margaret Kim Peterson (Brazos Press, $19.99). The author married Hyung Goo Kim '80 in 1991, knowing that he was HIV-positive; he died in 1995. This is a memoir about love in the face of terminal illness and about the theological struggle with grief.

A church in Chora, on the Greek island of Serifos, photographed by McCabe in 1963

Greece: Images of an Enchanted Land, 1954-1965, by Robert A. McCabe, M.B.A. '58 (Patakis Publishers, Athens, or from Amazon, $59). As a young man, McCabe and his Rolleiflex made this lovely portrait of Greece, where he spends time today. These 111 black-and-white photographs in a large-format book have been superbly printed in tritone. The text is in both Greek and English.

Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, by James M. Ault Jr. '68 (Knopf, $27.95). A Sixties activist and communard, now a sociologist and documentary filmmaker, Ault tells how and what he learned about what makes a community of fundamentalist Christians tick.

Alice Walker: A Life, by Evelyn C. White, M.P.A. '91 (Norton, $29.95). The first substantial biography of the outspoken and influential author of The Color Purple.

Wounds of War, by Julie M. Lamb, SPH '05; Marcy Levy, M.P.I. '04; and Michael R. Reich, Takemi professor of international health policy (Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, distributed by Harvard University Press, $15, paper). A succinct and powerful report on the impacts of recent and ongoing wars on human beings, especially on women and children, told through text, tables, and remarkable photographs.

Ponzi: The Man and His Legendary Scheme, by Mitchell Zuckoff (Random House, $25.95). An entertaining account of the charismatic get-rich-quickster Charles Ponzi and of his nemesis Richard Grozier '09. Usually on probation and "as restless as the sea" in college, Grozier grounded and, in charge of the Boston Post, did much to bring Ponzi down.

"Parsis love to laugh," says the author.

Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India; A Photographic Journey, by Sooni Taraporevala '79 (Overlook, $60). A photo essay, full of stories, about India's Parsi community -- a small religious and ethnic group, generally well-educated, well-off, and urban. Taraporevala is Parsi; so is conductor Zubin Mehta; so was the late rock singer Freddy Mercury. 

My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor's Tale, by James Atlas '71 (HarperCollins, $25.95). Writer and editor Atlas offers in 11 well-aimed essays a sort of biography of his generation of more-or-less-privileged urbanites, as he and they begin to reach the limits of their lives. He takes on such absolutes as "Mom and Dad," "God," "Shrinks," "Failure," "Death," and the highly charged "Money": "When I open the envelopes [as he pays his bills], I'm as nervous as a presenter at the Academy Awards; my hand literally trembles."  

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