Off the Shelf

A sampling of current books received at this magazine

Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Forgotten Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe, by George Johnson (W.W. Norton, $22.95). Henrietta Swan Leavitt took the certificate she earned in 1892 from what would later be called Radcliffe and went to work at the Harvard College Observatory as a “computer” for $.25 an hour. Computers counted and catalogued the stars in photographs of the night sky. Hunched over her glass plates, this computer made a revelatory observation about variable stars and the relationship between period and apparent magnitude. Fellow astronomers Harlow Shapley and Edwin Hubble latched onto Miss Leavitt’s findings, which enabled them to measure the Milky Way and beyond. She died in 1921 at 53.

The House on Ipswich Marsh: Exploring the Natural History of New England, by William Sargent ’69 (University Press of New England, $24.95). A natural and cultural history of an agreeable part of the world, in a conversational style.

Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, by Michael Downing ’80 (Shoemaker & Hoard, $23). The decades-long horologic kerfuffle chronicled here is by no means over. The Upton-Markey Amendment to extend Daylight Saving a month at either end, passed in April by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, would, say its sponsors, “shorten the winter, lengthen the summer, and save energy.” Who could object to that?

The Fool’s Tale, by Nicole Galland ’87 (Morrow, $25.95). An historical romance featuring a temperamental Welsh king, the strong-willed Englishwoman he marries for political advantage, the king’s hyperactive royal fool, and much steamy trysting in 1198.

Maxfield Parrish and the American Imagists, by Laurence S. Cutler, M.Arch. ’66, M.A.U. ’67, Judy Goffman Cutler, and the National Museum of American Illustration (Wellfleet Press, $29.99). Parrish was “one of the greatest illustrators of the ‘Golden Age of American illustration,’ a period from about 1895 to 1930,” write the authors of this large-format, colorful book. The immensely popular Parrish, a “master of make-believe,” was fond of painting girls on rocks.

Devils on the Deep Blue Sea: The Dreams, Schemes, and Showdowns That Built America’s Cruise-Ship Empires, by Kristoffer A. Garin ’01 (Viking, $24.95). The notion of a thriving fleet of ocean liners transporting people from, say, New York to Southampton sank some decades ago, but then along came The Love Boat. Today, 12 million people, most of them American, spend $13 billion a year to vacation on ships. Journalist Garin tells the salty story of the rise of the industry.

China Obscura, photographs by Mark Leong ’88 (Chronicle Books, $24.95). A photo essay in 140 black-and-white images of a China not in the tourist brochures. Pretty is not in the viewfinder.

The World of Christopher Marlowe, by David Riggs ’63, Ph.D. ’68 (Holt, $30). “He offered spectators a thrilling repertory of poetic tragedies that spoke to their most urgent concerns—grinding poverty, class conflict, erotic desire, religious dissent, and the fear of hell,” writes Riggs. “Marlowe’s eight-year career exploded with masterpieces. Tamburlaine the Great, Dr. Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward II transformed the Elizabethan stage into a place of astonishing creativity.” He had his critics. A few days before his murder at an early age, a fellow spy denounced him as “a proselytizing atheist, a counterfeiter, and a consumer of ‘boys and tobacco.’” A profile of Marlowe and his age.

Most Wanted, by Michele Martinez ’84 (Morrow, $23.95). A former New York City federal prosecutor turns author to give us a smart, sexy heroine named Melanie Vargas, a current New York City federal prosecutor, who teams up with a hard-to-resist FBI agent to catch a sadistic killer. Capital beach reading.

The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, by Stanley Kunitz ’26, A.M. ’27, with Genine Lentine, with photographs by Marnie Crawford Samuelson (W.W. Norton, $23.95). “Hostas can be difficult to work into a garden,” says Kunitz, “because they have a tendency to have a kind of pride, a self assertion that can be offensive.” Here are transcriptions by Lentine of recent conversations that she had with Kunitz about his twin, poetry and gardening passions. The two-time poet laureate, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, turns 100 in July.

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