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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

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Off the Shelf

Recent books with Harvard connections

November-December 2018

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

Photograph by Edmund Sumner/View/Alamy Stock Photo


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

Photograph by Edmund Sumner/View/Alamy Stock Photo

The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind, by Justin Driver, J.D. ’04 (Pantheon, $35). Lest anyone forget why the Supreme Court matters, Driver—now Wyatt professor of law at Chicago, and formerly a clerk for justices Stephen Breyer, LL.B. ’64, and Sandra Day O’Connor (the 2009 Radcliffe Institute medalist), and before that for might-have-been justice Merrick Garland ’74, J.D. ’77—has crafted a definitive analysis of the issues it decides in schooling: racial segregation, students’ freedom of expression, corporal punishment, the proper realm for religion in public life, and more. The treatment is thematic, rather than chronological, so lay readers may have to work a bit. But Americans can assume their own divisions on such matters will continue to reach, and be ruled upon, by the nine justices; this is an important guide.

Law’s Wars: The Fate of the Rule of Law in the U.S. “War on Terror,” by Richard L. Abel ’62 (Cambridge, $74.99). Even weightier is this exhaustive reference by the Connell Distinguished Professor of law emeritus at UCLA. Addressing detention, waterboarding, targeted killing, and more, the book summons up Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and contemporary matters like the civilian casualties of targeted drone strikes and the continuing bombing in Yemen: issues, and places, many people prefer to put out of mind, but of immediate relevance as the nation deploys unconventional forces, and means, in hidden combat around the globe today.

The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era, by Jonathan Gienapp (Harvard, $35). And while we have the Constitution in mind….The author, assistant professor of history at Stanford, looks underneath the contemporary assumption that the drafting and ratification of the Constitution more or less established the national playbook. Instead, he explains, its meaning, application, and interpretation emerged from uncertainty during the first critical decade of governance. Hence the “fixing” of the subtitle, and the powerful suggestion that traits seen today as innate and originalist, cannot in fact be anything of the sort.

Civilizing Torture: An American Tradition, by W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Ph.D. ’88 (Harvard, $35). Brundage, the University of North Carolina’s Umstead Distinguished Professor of history, finds an enduring dualism in the national fabric: abhorrence of Old World barbarity and torture, and ready willingness to resort to it at times of crisis, from the early Indian wars to Civil War prisons to the continuing War on Terror. The debates reflect “certainty in American exceptionalism.” Brundage shows they are at odds with the history.

Outbreak Culture: The Ebola Crisis and the Next Epidemic, by Pardis Sabeti, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology and professor of immunology and infectious diseases, and Lara Salahi (Harvard, $25.95). Gene-sequencer (and guitarist: Harvard Portrait, May-June 2009, page 49) Sabeti, who played a lead role in sorting out the epidemic that erupted in West Africa in 2014, here teams with a journalist to address the systemic issues that interrupted the flow of information and expertise to the healthcare workers engaged in fighting the outbreak—for some of those workers, at the cost of their lives.

Jerome Robbins: A Life in Dance, by Wendy Lesser ’73 (Yale, $25). Displaying anew her broad critical range, the founding editor of The Threepenny Review crafts a succinct life, at his centenary, of the acclaimed choreographer—who “may well have been the most hated man on Broadway.”

Tall Building Collection, by Scott Johnson, M.Arch. ’75 (Balcony Press, $150). Nearly a decade ago, Johnson documented the proliferation of very tall structures (“Skyscraper as Symbol,” May-June 2010, page 21). Now, he has updated that original work and accompanied it with a volume of essays on more recent tall buildings, built and imagined, and essays on the art and form. A fat collection, in three visually astonishing volumes.*

The Embattled Vote in America: From the Founding to the Present, by Allan J. Lichtman, Ph.D. ’73 (Harvard, $27.95). The Distinguished Professor of history at American University explains the troubles that have ensued from the founders’ decision to leave voting rights and regulations to the states’ discretion. In an era when the franchise has become newly politicized, the history is revealing, and often not to the nation’s credit.

Life in Culture: Selected Letters of Lionel Trilling, edited by Adam Kirsch ’97 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35). Kirsch, a critic and poet (and Harvard Magazine contributing editor), brings forward more of Trilling, one of the towering critics of the twentieth century (The Middle of the Journey, The Liberal Imagination)—and a wonderful stylist. For example, to Norman Podhoretz, in 1951: “The pleasure of your letter made me gladder than ever for that day 20 years ago when I picked the basket off the doorstep and found you inside….”

The Winter Soldier, by Daniel Mason ’98 (Little, Brown, $28). The third novel by Mason, a psychiatrist and author of the acclaimed The Piano Tuner, is a richly researched and imagined story, in sometimes brutal detail, of a young medical student who enlists for battlefield surgical duty during World War I. It memorably invokes a Europe “dark and hungry and tired of war.”

Japan in the American Century, by Kenneth B. Pyle ’58 (Harvard, $35). The Jackson professor emeritus of history and international studies at the University of Washington recalls a crucial trans-Pacific relationship, from before World War II to the present, at a time when the new American administration has posed challenges ranging from the terms of economic trade to the status of the Koreas and the big-power status of China. Powerful perspective on how former adversaries can ally, after differences far more extensive than those being brought into play now.

Howard Hiatt, by Mark Rosenberg ’67, M.D. ’71, M.P.P. ’72 (MIT, $30). A biography of a public-health leader (Hiatt, class of ’46, M.D. ’48, was dean of Harvard’s school from 1972 to 1984) and pioneer in defining global health equity (affectionately subtitled, “How this extraordinary mentor transformed health with science and compassion”). Foreword by Michelle A. Williams, the current public-health dean.

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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

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Illustration by Andrew James Hamilton

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