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Off the Shelf

Recent books with Harvard connections

January-February 2014

Who knew? One result of combining the profit motive with musicals: an American-Standard product tribute in song

Who knew? One result of combining the profit motive with musicals: an American-Standard product tribute in song

Courtesy of the Publisher

The late, great Walter Jackson Bate, mentor beyond measure

The late, great Walter Jackson Bate, mentor beyond measure

Courtesy of the Publisher

Why I Read, by Wendy Lesser ’73 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25). The founding editor of The Threepenny Review, addressing “the serious pleasure of books” (the subtitle), explains why engaging with literature is “a compulsion” yielding rewards that “tend toward the intangible, and sometimes the inexpressible.” With a list of 100 favorites, from Ackerley to Zola.

Splendor of Heart: Walter Jackson Bate and the Teaching of Literature, by Robert D. Richardson ’56, Ph.D. ’61 (Godine, $19.95). A loving tribute to a towering mentor, “our present, concrete, living example of greatness,” by a biographer and literary historian. With the transcript of a 1986 interview by John Paul Russo ’65, Ph.D. ’69, professor of English and classics at the Univerity of Miami, who learned how to lecture as an assistant in Bate’s criticism course.

Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, by Rachel Cohen ’94 (Yale, $25). A brisk modern biography, in the publisher’s Jewish Lives series, captures the Lithuanian Jewish origins of the art connoisseur, whose Villa I Tatti is now Harvard’s Renaissance-studies center. Cohen usefully characterizes her subject as “one of the leading figures in a new generation of seeing” the art he loved.

Capital Culture, by Neil Harris, Ph.D. ’65 (University of Chicago, $35). An emeritus historian at Chicago explores a modern Berenson equivalent (who apprenticed with the master for a year in Italy), in the institutional context of the later twentieth century: the late J. Carter Brown ’56, M.B.A. ’58, who perfected the craft of museum showmanship as director of the National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992.

The Selected Letters of Bernard DeVoto and Katherine Sterne, edited by Mark DeVoto ’61 (University of Utah, $29.95). A portion of the correspondence (the rest is online) from 1933 to 1944 between the writer, editor, and historian Bernard DeVoto ’18, and a young fan hospitalized for tuberculosis. Perhaps because they never met, the letters are both an intellectual chronicle of the time and charmingly personal—and mutually witty.

The Empire Trap, by Noel Maurer, associate professor of business administration (Princeton, $39.50). The U.S. government often projects power to protect American investments. Through that lens, Mauer traces the pattern of conduct, from small initial steps through the modern era—what the subtitle labels “the rise and fall of U.S. intervention to protect American property overseas, 1893-2013.”

Neutrino Hunters, by Ray Jayawardhana, Ph.D. ’00, RI ’12 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27). The author, a University of Toronto astrophysicist, writes popularly as well. In this case, he approachably and accessibly explains the search for the “pathologically shy” elementary particles that zip through the universe without so much as an electric charge.

Everything’s Coming Up Profits, by Steve Young ’87 and Sport Murphy (BlastBooks/Publishers West, $39.95). A loving, lavishly illustrated tribute to “The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals,” commissioned to fire up the sales force. One is grateful to the authors for saving for history the 1969 American-Standard classic, The Bathrooms Are Coming! and for the “industrial show rhyme hall of fame” (“So keep your parchment and papyrus/For just one thing am I desirous,” 1969, International Paper, Dolls Alive!).

The Fissured Workplace, by David Weil, M.P.P. ’85, Ph.D. ’87 (Harvard, $29.95). A Boston University professor who also co-directs the transparency policy project at Harvard Kennedy School examines how shareholder-oriented, customer-courting businesses have outsourced work and deemphasized employees’ well-being. The results of this fissure and the challenges it poses are the subject of a book about “why work became so bad for so many and what can be done to improve it.”

The Blood Telegram, by Gary J. Bass ’92, Ph.D. ’98 (Knopf, $30). A Princeton professor reexamines the whole record—documents, voice recordings—to document how President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ’50, Ph.D. ’54, backed the losing side in the blood-soaked and unsuccessful war that led to the separation of Bangladesh amid sharp conflict between Pakistan and India—what Bass calls “a forgotten genocide.”

Fortune Tellers: The Story of America’s First Economic Forecasters, by Walter A. Friedman (Princeton, $29.95). Those economic seers who predict GNP and unemployment—and move markets? They were not always with us. The director of the Business School’s business history initiative takes readers back to some pioneers of the art; his title, and the appearance of “astrologer” as the third word in his introduction, suggest some of the underlying hopes invested in forecasting today.

Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Madame Nhu, by Monique Brinson Demery, A.M. ’03 (PublicAffairs, $26.99). The U.S.-backed 1963 coup that deposed South Vietnam’s government cost the life of President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, whose wife, the feared Madame Nhu, survived, only to live in exile for decades. The author fills in this uncovered chapter from the war that escalated so horribly after the coup.

Turmoil and Transition in Boston, by Lawrence S. DiCara ’71, M.P.A. ’77, with Chris Black (Hamilton/Rowan and Littlefield, $24.99 paper). At a time of generational change in Boston’s mayoral suite, DiCara’s political memoir of his service on the Boston City Council (he was the youngest person ever elected, in 1971) and his 1983 campaign for mayor recalls the city during the busing crisis, when today’s prosperity and appeal could not even be envisioned.

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A rehearsal scene from The Squirrel Plays

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Photograph by Audrey Kotkin

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