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Off the Shelf

Recent books with Harvard connections

January-February 2015

America’s (and Harvard’s) first Chinese-language teacher, Ge Kunhua, circa 1880

America’s (and Harvard’s) first Chinese-language teacher, Ge Kunhua, circa 1880

HUP Ko Kun-hua (4), Harvard University Archives

What Does a Black Hole Look Like? by Charles D. Bailyn, Ph.D. ’87, JF ’90 (Princeton, $34). The Giamatti professor of astronomy and physics at Yale (and inaugural dean of faculty at Yale-NUS College in Singapore) steers a middle course in explaining the science of observing black holes: some undergraduate physics helps, but you need not be an advanced theorist to follow along.

Why Government Fails So Often, by Peter H. Schuck, J.D. ’65, A.M. ’72 (Princeton, $27.95). Summing up why Americans hold a “dismal view of the federal government’s performance,” the Yale Law professor emeritus considers problems of incentives, information, powerful markets, and the limits of the law. No bomb-thrower (the subtitle is “And How It Can Do Better”), he points to successes (the GI Bill, Voting Rights Act, and Earned Income Tax Credit) and meliorative reforms. To put things in (dismal) perspective, consult Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, by Sarah Chayes ’84, G ’91 (W.W. Norton, $26.95). The former National Public Radio correspondent examines the criminalized state apparatus in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Nigeria, and the extreme responses it provokes.

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, by Karen Page, M.B.A. ’89 (Little, Brown, $40). A 554-page tome complete with vegetarian timeline (1847, the first Vegetarian Society is formed in England) and an A (açai) to Z (zucchini blossoms) directory of flavor affinities, dishes, etc. With yummier photos than the average reference book.

Bridging the Gender Gap, by Lynn Roseberry, LL.M. ’92, and Johan Roos (Oxford, $44.95). Combining legal, academic, and business experiences, the authors address persistent gender imbalances in positions of leadership as issues of governance. They colorfully address common misconceptions about gender, even searching cultural sources as diverse as the nursery rhyme about “Slugs and snails/And puppy-dogs’ tails.”

Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas, by Tamar Herzog, Gutman professor of Latin American affairs and Radcliffe Alumnae professor (Harvard, $35). A global history of Spain and Portugal, interacting on both sides of the Atlantic, as established nations and newly colonial powers, by one of the University’s recently arrived Latin Americanists.

Currency Politics: The Political Economy of Exchange Rate Policy, by Jeffry A. Frieden, Stanfield professor of international peace (Princeton, $39.95). Arriving, serendipitously, amid a strong dollar and weak yuan and euro, this book addresses “the most important price in any economy.” Frieden explicates the factors favoring exchange-rate fixity or (on the part of various trading interests) self-serving manipulation, and policymakers’ “trilemma” of managing openness, autonomy, and stability.

Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage, and Fatherhood, by Keren R. McGinity, A.L.M. ’97 (Indiana University Press, $28 paper). In a companion to an earlier volume on American Jewish women and intermarriage, the author probes attitudes and behaviors through oral histories, examining assumptions about the gendered transmission of faith, heritage, and ethnicity. Spicily illustrated with telling photos (Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding kiss) and other examples from popular culture.

A Tale of Two Plantations, by Richard S. Dunn ’50 (Harvard, $39.95). The author, long emeritus from the University of Pennsylvania, spent 40 years tracing 1,103 slaves from the Mesopotamia sugar plantation in Jamaica and 973 slaves from the Mount Airy plantation in tidewater Virginia, using their owners’ “property” records and family trees. The painstaking result explicates both their lives and the differing economies of Jamaica (where high mortality led to constant slave importing and buying) and Virginia (where high natural growth rates led to slave sales and the dispersal of families)—a topic of interest to this magazine’s November-December cover subject, sociologist Orlando Patterson, a native of Jamaica and scholar of slavery. The associated website (www.twoplantations.com) enables readers to explore these family histories in detail.

Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap, by Carrie James, lecturer on education (MIT, $24.95). The author, a sociologist and research director at Project Zero, explores the “digital dilemmas” of privacy, appropriation, and offensive speech in the flattened online world where so many young people spend so much time. Amid the Web’s attenuated sense of responsibility and seeming blindness to larger ethical relationships, one would like to feel encouraged by the “bright spot” she identifies in conclusion: the possibility of “conscientious connectivity.”

Only the Longest Threads, by Tasneem Zehra Husain (Paul Dry Books, $16.95 paper). A former Harvard postdoctoral fellow, now a theoretical physicist, crafts accounts—from the standpoint of fictional witnesses—that explain fundamental breakthroughs in her field: relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, and so on. Inventive in style and form.

Chinese and Americans: A Shared History, by Xu Guoqi, Ph.D. ’99, RI ’09 (Harvard, $39.95). The author, now professor of history at the University of Hong Kong, writes “not about cultural difference and confrontations…the clash of civilizations, America’s decline, or the collapse of China,” but about the cultural traffic as individuals from one country immersed themselves in the other—including a useful account of how of Ge Kunhua became America’s first Chinese-language teacher, at Harvard, in 1879 (see Vita, March-April 2008).

The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered, by Laura Auricchio ’90 (Knopf, $30). An admirably well-written, fresh look behind the encrusted myths at the French orphan who crossed the ocean to fight in the American Revolution under George Washington—and in so doing found an identity and acclaim always denied him in his native France, during its bloody revolution and after.

Patients with Passports: Medical Tourism, Law, and Ethics, by I. Glenn Cohen, professor of law (Oxford, $98.50; $39.95 paper). A definitive examination of exceptionally thorny issues on the horizon, or already here. Can your employer ship you overseas for a cheaper hip replacement? If such a procedure goes wrong, whom do you sue? And can citizens evade domestic laws by finding a jurisdiction for an abortion, or for assisted suicide? The author directs the center for health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics—a growth field, if ever there were one.

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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”

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

Photograph by Edmund Sumner/View/Alamy Stock Photo

Recent books with Harvard connections

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