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Off the Shelf

Recent books with Harvard connections

March-April 2011

Brunelleschi’s Egg: Nature, Art, and Gender in Renaissance Italy, by Mary D. Garrard, A.M. ’60 (University of California, $60). A monumental, and copiously illustrated, gendered reading of the interplay of art and nature in the Renaissance, by the American University professor emerita of art history. The delights range from the egg-shaped domes of the major cathedrals to a Titian chalk of a mother bear licking her cub.

Elizabeth I: The Voice of a Monarch, by Ilona Bell ’69 (Palgrave, $26 paper). This volume in a series on “Queenship and Power” studies Elizabeth through her own words: speeches, reported conversations, poems. The author, Clarke professor of English at Williams College, finds the young monarch creating her own reign and marriage--provocative acts, with consequences for both England and English.

The Big Ditch, by Noel Maurer, associate professor of business administration, and Carlos Yu (Princeton, $35). A political-economic history of, as the subtitle puts it, “How America Took, Built, Ran, and Ultimately Gave Away the Panama Canal.” A story of large-scale American infrastructure, colonial ambition, successful public management, diplomacy, and successful for-profit management. A very big ditch indeed.

Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous, by Joan Nathan, M.P.A. ’76 (Knopf, $39.95). The latest from PBS’s Jewish cooking expert, this time on “My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.” It was a circuitous route from the Kennedy School to this, via New York’s Ninth Avenue Food Festival, but the results--both narratives and recipes--are enticing.

Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets, by Wendy Lesser ’73 (Yale, $28). An unusual biography of the “often dubious and always divided” composer through his less-studied chamber music, by the editor of the Threepenny Review.

Health Care Reform and American Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Lawrence R. Jacobs and Theda Skocpol, Thomas professor of government and sociology (Oxford, $16.95 paper). For those who have already forgotten, a brief review of how the healthcare bill was enacted in 2009-10, and a primer on what it means and how it would have to be implemented: useful reminders for those who will litigate or legislate against it, those who will try to put it into effect, and the 300-million-plus other Americans who are affected.

Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, by Maya Jasanoff, Loeb associate professor of the social sciences (Knopf, $30). A groundbreaking global history of the 60,000 Loyalist refugees who fled the newly independent United States for Canada, the Caribbean, India, and beyond. It begins with George Washington’s triumphal entry into New York City on November 25, 1783, and bracingly proceeds to the losers’ tales.

The Future of Power, by Joseph Nye, Distinguished Service Professor (PublicAffairs, $27.95). The power of narratives, and narrative power, on the world stage, now concern the author, former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School. As the United States faces shifts in economic, military, and political power, this perspective--historical and analytical--is important, if not always reassuring.

Short Cuts, by Alexander Humez, Nicholas Humez ’69, and Rob Flynn (Oxford, $19.95). Readers will be glad that the authors determined to commit an amusing book-length exploration of “miniature forms of verbal communication”--from oaths and ring tones to ransom notes and famous last words.

Thinking in an Emergency, by Elaine Scarry, Cabot professor of aesthetics and the general theory of value (Norton, $23.95). A small book on a large topic: why democracies, in times of emergency, unthinkingly opt for action and executive power--and why thinking and rapid action are in fact compatible, and consistent with the principles of democratic governance.

The Use and Abuse of Literature, by Marjorie Garber, Kenan professor of English and of visual and environmental studies (Pantheon, $27.95). At a time of instrumental thinking, a full-throated defense of reading and of the enduring value of encountering literature as a deep, human experience.

The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse, by Steven C. Schlozman, assistant professor of psychiatry (Grand Central, $19.99). If your kids (and perhaps you) are going to watch that trash, might as well let the “avid observer of the living dead” teach you something via these purported diagrams and lab notes. For example, “Spleen is enlarged and displaced.” And how.

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Standing tall: Mikimoto Ginza 2, in Tokyo, Japan: one of the new generation of striking highrises

Photograph by Edmund Sumner/View/Alamy Stock Photo

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Philip Johnson at his iconic modernist Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, 1949

Photograph by Arnold Newman/Liaison Agency/Getty Images

Philip Johnson biography by Mark Lamster reviewed by Spencer Lee Lenfield

From the Peabody Museum collections, a reduced-scale macaw-feather fan—a burial offering—and its larger model, a real fan
Illustration by Andrew James Hamilton

Excerpt from “Scale & the Incas”