Off the Shelf

Recent books with Harvard connections

Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education, by John Palfrey ’94, J.D. ’01 (MIT, $19.95). The author, previously Harvard Law’s vice dean for library and information resources, now head of Phillips Academy, Andover, plunges into the fierce debate over “snowflakes” and calls to restrict speech. To reconcile liberty and equality, free expression and diversity, he makes the case for safe spaces (say, for LGBTQ students) and brave spaces (“learning environments that approximate the world outside” academia—where robust, unconstrained debate in pursuit of truth proceeds) and says the latter should envelop “the vast majority” of students’ time during their education.

Looking with Robert Gardner, edited by Rebeca Meyers, William Rothman ’65, Ph.D. ’74, and Charles Warren ’69 (SUNY, $59; $35 paper). Critical appraisals, copiously illustrated, of the work of the late, pioneering anthropological filmmaker (’48, A.M. ’58) and founder of the Harvard Film Study Center.

Alongside other contemporary interpretations of the Ur Founder’s applied intelligence (see the review at page 56), Stanford’s Jack N. Rakove, Ph.D. ’75, revisits A Politician Thinking: The Creative Mind of James Madison (University of Oklahoma, $29.95). He considers Madison less as persuader than as analyst, thinking his way into issues before, rather than when, making a case to others.

Ever the Leader: Selected Writings 1995-2016, William G. Bowen [LL.D. ’73], edited by Kevin M. Guthrie (Princeton, $29.95). Bowen, a past president of Princeton and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was an authoritative voice for higher education’s values, a powerful advocate for diversity in admissions, a sharp critic of athletic excesses, and an astute analyst of educational technology. From an inaugural speech for a new Williams president: “One of the most insidious aspects of being part of a wealthy, prestigious institution is that the association can lead to a most unfortunate blend of pomposity, smugness, and complacency. The assumption of superiority is what gives elitism a bad name.” In face of pressure to be practical, he continued, “colleges and universities have always had an otherworldly side.” A useful gift, perhaps, for Harvard’s future president.

Digital World War, by Haroon K. Ullah, M.P.A. ’02 (Yale, $25). Social media, useful in helping oppressed populations gain voice against oppressive regimes, have been weaponized by Islamic extremists. The introduction—which describes a virtual, online beheading and its subsequent realization via an actual execution by machine gun—is a vivid point of entry to a disturbing threat.

Crusade and Jihad, by William R. Polk ’51, Ph.D. ’58 (Yale, $37.50). An ambitious one-volume overview of what the subtitle calls “The Thousand-Year War between the Muslim World and the Global North.” Given Americans’ cartoon understanding of these forces, it is bracing, and maybe helpful, to be guided through such themes as “the Muslim recognition that, as practiced and conceived, Islam did not suffice to stop the European powers from invading and occupying their lands”—giving rise to a nationalistic response.

Life without End, by Karl S. Guthke, Francke professor of Germanic art and culture emeritus (Camden House, $99). As biologists and computer scientists raise the possibility of extended life or deferred aging, what has literature to say about immortality? Lots, and much of it not good, Guthke explains, in a survey sweeping in Swift, Barrie, Babbitt, Amis, Rushdie, and many more. Hopefuls may be brought back to earth by a section titled “Immortality and Its Discontents”—a problem addressed anew in a contemporary novel (see page 55).

In City on the Verge (Basic, $30), journalist Mark Pendergrast ’70 returns to his natal city, Atlanta, to see whether a 22-mile circumferential streetcar corridor, the BeltLine, can knit together a sprawling, divided community that is the de facto capital of the Southeast. From the policy-analyst’s perspective, Stephen Goldsmith, Paul professor of the practice of government, and Neil Kleiman, of NYU, advance A New City O/S (Brookings, $31.99 paper), proposing ways mayors (Goldsmith’s former occupation, in Indianapolis) can harness technology, data, and social engagement to, you know, make local government work.

The Year I Was Peter the Great, by Marvin Kalb, A.M. ’53 (Brookings, $24.99). A memoir of 1956: the USSR’s temporary post-Stalin thaw, the crushing of the revolt in Hungary, and the suggestion that Russia might have a different future. The journalist was then an attaché in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, fluent in the language, fortified by his Harvard studies, and able to travel the country widely.

And Again: Photographs from the Harvard Forest, by John Hirsch (distributed by Harvard University Press, $50). Useful for armchair visiting during the winter; a photo collection that captures the forest’s simultaneous beauty and utility and importance as a working scientific venue. Essays by David R. Foster and Clarisse M. Hart, the forest’s director and its outreach and development manager, and by writer and photographer Margot Anne Kelley complement Hirsch’s images.

Humanity without Dignity: Moral Equality, Respect, and Human Rights, by Andrea Sangiovanni ’95, Ph.D. ’06 (Harvard, $39.95). A philosophical inquiry into the basic respect due fellow humans advances the useful, if perhaps uncomfortable, argument that it depends not on intrinsic human qualities but rather on a negative: aversion to cruelty. Pursuing a separate moral inquiry, Bruce Robbins ’71, Ph.D. ’80, now at Columbia, examines, in The Beneficiary (Duke, $23.95 paper), the literary idea of the prosperous helping the poor, and then applies the concept to contemporary problems of global consumption, inequality, and social justice.

Financial Decisions and Markets, by John Y. Campbell, Olshan professor of economics (Princeton, $75). An exhaustive, mathematically dense text based on the author’s graduate course, “Asset Pricing,” that provides academic underpinnings for investing. Campbell knows about practice, too: he is a founding partner of Arrowstreet Capital ($89 billion under management) and a former member of Harvard Management Company’s board. Confronting the material, individual investors will perceive that institutional investing is a different proposition entirely.

Building the Intentional University: Minerva and the Future of Higher Education, edited by Stephen M. Kosslyn and Ben Nelson (MIT, $45). Kosslyn, former professor of psychology and dean of social science at Harvard, is now chief academic officer of Minerva Schools, the interesting experiment in liberal arts profiled in “An Educated Core” (July-August 2017, page 47) and explained in thought-provoking depth here.

Pictures with Stories: A Memoir, by Tony Mendoza, M.Arch. ’68 (Thomson-Shore, $27). In 1973, the author quit his job as an architect “and became an artist.” His newest collection of photographs and quirky text (including some past favorites like Ernie the New York cat) demonstrates the continuing felicitous result.

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