Off the Shelf
Recent books with Harvard connections
Learning to Depolarize: Helping Students and Teachers Reach Across Lines of Disagreement, by Kent Lenci, Ed.M. ’05 (Routledge, $29.95 paper). Drawing on two decades of experience in middle schools, the author crafts a surprisingly warm and hopeful guidebook with application beyond the classroom. For instance, in addressing parental anxieties—a source of rising political friction about education—he reminds readers “what it feels like to be a parent of a growing child: suddenly, inexplicably, on the outside, trying in vain to look back in.”
The Patient Priority, by Stefan Larsson, Jennifer Clawson ’91, and Josh Kellar (McGraw Hill, $32). As the COVID-19 pandemic has left medical workers exhausted, hospitals financially damaged, and patients bewildered, the authors, from Boston Consulting Group’s healthcare practice, observe bluntly that the “$10-trillion global healthcare sector, the world’s largest and, in many respects, most complex industry, suffers from serious…problems of cost and quality.” Their remedy: return to “first principles,” namely: “continuous improvement in the delivery of health outcomes that matter to patients.” One can hope policymakers are listening.
The Red Ear Blows Its Nose, by Robert Schechter, J.D. ’80 (Able Muse, $19.95 paper). A first collection of children’s verse by an author whom you may have encountered in Highlights, Cricket, Ladybug, etc. For example, “CO2”: “It may strike you as strange, but it’s true:/when you breathe you breathe out CO2,/and so it may be/that some plant or some tree/made a leaf from what came out of you.”
America’s Energy Gamble: People, Economy, and Planet, by Shanti Gamper-Rabindran ’94 (Cambridge, $29.99 paper). The author, an early graduate of the College’s environmental science and public policy concentration, now at the University of Pittsburgh’s school of public and international affairs, comprehensively dissects the Trump administration’s oil- and gas-focused America First Energy Plan. She concludes that the risk of entrenching “expanded extraction and deregulation for generations to come” posed a serious threat—worth recalling, should future governments seek to weaken or reverse the nascent pivot to renewable sources of power.
Occupation: Boundary, by Cathy Simon, M.Arch. ’69 (Oro, $40 paper). The San Francisco-based architect and collaborators consider the issues of design and building at water’s edge: combining texts on the theoretical and the practical, adaptive reuse and new construction, with a viewbook of stunning projects. Given what climate change is going to effect along those boundaries, this volume becomes part of an important, looming-ever-larger subject worldwide.
How Data Happened, by Chris Wiggins and Matthew L. Jones ’94, Ph.D. ’00 (W.W. Norton, $30). Wiggins and historian of science Jones, the Barker professor of contemporary civilization (both at Columbia), trace the subject “from the Age of Reason to the Age of Algorithms.” Drawing upon their teaching, they unspool a lively story “replete with contests: contests to define what is true, contests to use data to advance one’s power, and, on occasion, to use algorithms and data to shine a light into darkness and empower the defenseless.”
More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech, by Meredith Broussard ’95 (MIT, $26.95). The author, of NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute, probes problems in information technologies—work featured in the 2020 documentary Coded Bias (see harvardmag.com/aibias-doc-21). Here, she peels the bark off the myth that algorithms are neutral. The foundational problem comes down to the differences between “social fairness” and “mathematical fairness.” Computers can calculate only the latter, she notes; failing to remember that is at the heart of “all the magical thinking about what computers do.”
Invisible Trillions, by Raymond W. Baker, M.B.A. ’60 (Berrett-Koehler, $29.95). An expert on illegal money flows, corruption, and flight capital probes the threat that financial secrecy—now as powerful a motivation as profits—poses to capitalism and democracy. With “trillions and trillions, hidden from view, driving oppressive economic inequality,” he writes, the danger is real and a major cause of “the relentless rise of authoritarianism.” Unless capitalism is reformed by transparency, he warns, the adverse effects on democracy will inevitably undercut freedom and liberty.
Truth and Repair: How Trauma Survivors Envision Justice, by Judith L. Herman, professor of psychiatry (Basic Books, $28). The author of Trauma and Recovery—whose practice involves survivors of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, and related horrors—here considers not only psychology and recovery but also justice for victims. “If trauma is truly a social problem,” she writes, “then recovery cannot be simply a private, individual matter.” By listening to survivors, she learns what they need, and relates “how different our justice systems might be if their needs and wishes were truly taken into account.”
The Revolt Against Humanity: Imagining a Future Without Us, by Adam Kirsch ’97 (Columbia Global Reports, $16 paper). The author, a critic and contributing editor of this magazine, assesses the emerging ideas of antihumanism and transhumanism—arising, respectively, from revulsion over the destruction of Earth’s natural environment, and from glorifying the potential of science, technology, and artificial forms of intelligence. They have in common a vision of “worlds from which we have disappeared, and rightfully so.” Kirsch is at pains to push back with an enduring humanist credo, but he is also alarmed at the new ideas’ appeal. (See a review by Kirsch elsewhere in this issue.)
Ideas That Created the Future: Classic Papers of Computer Science, edited by Harry R. Lewis, Gordon McKay research professor of computer science (MIT, $60 paper), and Leibniz on Binary: The Invention of Computer Arithmetic, by Lloyd Strickland and Harry R. Lewis (MIT, $35 paper). Information technology did not just spring to life from, you know, a computer. The eminent Harvard computer scientist (and former College dean) has essentially created a humanities approach to his field, organizing the thinking and papers, from Aristotle through Alan Turing, Grace Hopper, Gordon Moore, and others: the works that are the history of computing (and the source material of C.S. 191, a popular course Lewis created and teaches on the subject). Separately, he and a British scholar have exhumed from the archives and translated papers by the mathematical polymath who is more widely known for his independent invention of calculus than for his invention of binary arithmetic, the basis of digital computing. Laypeople ought to put down their screens and look into both volumes.
Cold Peace: Avoiding the New Cold War, by Michael W. Doyle ’70, Ph.D. ’77 (Liveright, $30). The Cold War was far from costless, and the author, University Professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, is at pains to help avert careless stumbling into a successor. He suggests that “we need a more concerted effort to manage global security tensions by developing compromises and common ground” on issues from climate and cyber relations to Ukraine and Taiwan. “In a cold peace,” he argues, “no great power attempts to subvert the political independence or territorial integrity of another. That is not the world we are in today….”
Wonders and Rarities: The Marvelous Book That Traveled the World and Mapped the Cosmos, by Travis Zadeh, Ph.D. ’07 (Harvard, $39.95). AYale associate professor of religious studies traces early Islamic philosophy, science, and literature through the global reach of a sweeping thirteenth-century work of natural history, Wonders and Rarities, by Persian naturalist and judge Zakariyyā’ Qazwīnī. Intellectual and book history combine with the mystical and fantastic (beginning from, “Yes, there is a mermaid”) to summon a worldview that held vast sway, but is little known in the West today.
Tomorrowmind, by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman ‘03 and Martin Seligman (Atria, $28.99). Kellerman, a coaching and behavioral-change entrepreneur (and an M.D.) and the University of Pennsylvania positive-psychology pioneer explore “thriving at work with resilience, creativity, and connection” (part of the subtitle). They are both serious (“The best industrialist-era employers could do was help their employees get sober.…This time around…we have the opportunity to prevent harm, yes, but to…cultivate greatness, innovation, and well-being”) and peppy: “Each of us…can build PRISM powers: Prospection; Resilience and agility; Innovation and creativity; Social connection…; and Mattering.”