Off the Shelf

A sampling of current books received at this magazine

Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals, by William Wright (St. Martin’s Press, $25.95). A student’s suicide in 1920 led administrators to identify a group of gay or presumed gay undergraduates. A secret court of deans and others, assembled by President A. Lawrence Lowell, brutally interrogated them, ousted eight students (one committed suicide on the day of his expulsion), and persecuted them thereafter, in some instances for decades. The Crimson reported the case in 2002. Wright expands the story and searches for an answer to what he finds a puzzlement: why presumably worldly-wise grown-ups — one of whom, Lowell, had a gay sister he loved and forbore — went after these students as if they represented “a spontaneous combustion of hellfire.”

The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting It Right, by Daniel Benjamin ’83 and Steven Simon, M.T.S. ’77 (Holt, $26). The U.S. government has over-militarized the war on terror, write Benjamin (a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies) and Simon (a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation).

Love, Amy: The Selected Letters of Amy Clampitt, edited by Willard Spiegelman, Ph.D. ’71 (Columbia University Press, $39.50). Poet Clampitt lived unknown in Manhattan for decades, until The Kingfisher (1983) lofted her to fame. Harvard’s Helen Vendler, the poetry critic, championed her; Clampitt wrote a friend, “[L]iterary people are such sheep, they mainly don’t know what to think, or even what to read, until somebody like her tells them....”

A larva of the swallowtail butterfly, Papilio troilus, has staring eye images that may intimidate predators. Younger larvae, instead, have markings that imitate bird droppings.
Courtesy of Thomas Eisner

Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures, by Thomas Eisner ’51, Ph.D. ’56, Maria Eisner, and Melody V.S. Siegler (Harvard University Press, $29.95). Thomas Eisner is Schurman professor of chemical ecology at Cornell and creator of the prizewinning film Secret Weapons. The book is part reference work, part field guide, and part photograph album, and is largely astonishing.

Dew of Death: The Story of Lewisite, America’s World War I Weapon of Mass Destruction, by Joel A. Vilensky (Indiana University Press, $24.95). The author tells the story of a poison gas that the New York Times called “the climax of this country’s achievements in the lethal arts.” It was developed as a weapon by James B. Conant ’14, Ph.D. ’16, LL.D. ’55, later Harvard’s president.

In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century, by Anthony J. Mayo, M.B.A. ’88, and Nitin Nohria (Harvard Business School Press, $35). The authors, both at the Business School, show in brief profiles that these leaders were great not least for their skill in reading the signs of their times.

North of Ithaka: A Journey Home through a Family’s Extraordinary Past, by Eleni N. Gage ’96 (St. Martin’s Press, $23.95). The beauty editor at People Magazine leaves Manhattan to come to terms with her family’s past in the tiny Greek village of Lia, where, her aunts tell her, she will be killed by Albanians and eaten by wolves. She is not, as this warmly told memoir reveals.

Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans, by Jed Horne ’70 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25). For the 1984 murder of a white woman, black man Curtis Kyles was tried five times and spent 14 years on death row before his release. The city editor of the Times-Picayune gives an account of his city’s bottom rung and of what he calls the “deeply corrupting zeal” of police and prosecutors.

Harvard’s Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, by Richard F. Miller ’74 (University Press of New England, $34.95). This storied regiment was officered largely by Harvard men, scribblers as a class, who left diaries, journals, and letters to fuel historians.

Fed Up! Winning the War against Childhood Obesity, by Susan Okie ’73, M.D. ’78 (Joseph Henry Press, $27.95). Obesity is not just a cosmetic problem; today’s generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents’ generation. Okie is a family physician and noted medical journalist.

Mew is for Murder, by Clea Simon ’83 (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95). The protagonist is a young Cantabrigian, a recent alumna of a nearby university, who is trying to make a living as a writer. Mayhem ensues. Simon plans a sequel: “Cattery Row.”

The Wounded Surgeon: Confession and Transformation in Six American Poets, by Adam Kirsch ’97 (Norton, $24.95). A study of Lowell, Bishop, Berryman, Jarrell, Schwartz, and Plath, by a contributing editor of this magazine.

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