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Off the Shelf

Recent books with Harvard connections

March-April 2007

Breaking Open Japan: Commodore Perry, Lord Abe, and American Imperialism in 1853, by George Feifer ’56 (Smithsonian Books, $25.95). Commodore Matthew Perry, with his four American warships, pried open a sovereign country in the name of free trade. Among the unintended consequences of that wallop to Japanese self-esteem, Feifer argues, was Japan’s fierce militarization and attack on Pearl Harbor.

Final Exam: A Young Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality, by Pauline W. Chen (Knopf, $23.95). “[I]n a society where more than 90 percent of us will die from a prolonged illness, physicians are the final guardians of life, charged with shepherding the terminally ill and their families through the intricacies of the end…. Unfortunately, few doctors are up to the task.” Chen writes with feeling and narrative skill about the balm of acknowledging death.

Cures Include Travel, by Susan Rich, Ed.M. ’88 (White Pine Press, $14, paper). Rich has been an election supervisor in Bosnia, a Fulbright Fellow in South Africa, and a human-rights trainer in Gaza. This second collection of lyrical poems is wide-ranging in geography and emotion.

The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century, by Martha Hodes, M.T.S. ’84 (Norton, $24.95). A professor of history at New York University, Hodes vividly tells of the life of Eunice Connolly, born white and poor in New England, who lost a husband and a brother on opposite sides of the Civil War, became well acquainted with despair, and yet fetched up as a genteel lady in an elite family of color in the Cayman Islands.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Polarizing First Lady, by Gil Troy ’82, Ph.D. ’88 (University Press of Kansas, $24.95). Justly characterized by its publisher as “neither a ‘hit job’ nor a facile tribute,” this is an enlightening, readable account of Clinton’s tenure as First Lady. The author is professor of history at McGill University.

The Mailbox, by Audrey Shafer ’78 (Delacorte Press, $15.95). Twelve-year-old foster child Gabe is the protagonist of this gentle novel for young readers in which troubled souls find strength in connectedness. The author is an associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Romare Bearden: The Caribbean Dimension, by Sally Price ’65 and Richard Price ’63, Ph.D. ’70 (University of Pennsylvania Press, $49.95). Artist Bearden lived the last two decades of his life on St. Martin and moved from imagery of Harlem and rural North Carolina to the “smoldering” Caribbean. The Prices, also islanders, come north to teach at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Take a Nap! Change Your Life: The Scientific Plan to Make You Smarter, Healthier, More Productive, by Sara C. Mednick, Ph.D. ’03 (Workman Publishing, $12.95, paper). Although it looks to have been packaged by a snake-oil salesman, this book is in fact a useful account of the nap’s many benefits, by a research scientist (and inveterate napper) at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.