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Off the Shelf

Recent books with Harvard connections

July-August 2016

A star is born (in glass): a juvenile common sea star, Asterias rubens.

A star is born (in glass): a juvenile common sea star, Asterias rubens.

Photograph by Guido Mocafico/Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Ireland


A star is born (in glass): a juvenile common sea star, Asterias rubens.

Photograph by Guido Mocafico/Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Ireland

A typical example of informal urbanization, in Medellín, Colombia

A typical example of informal urbanization, in Medellín, Colombia


A typical example of informal urbanization, in Medellín, Colombia

A Sea of Glass, by Drew Harvell (University of California, $29.95). The Blaschkas, of glass-flowers fame, first modeled marine invertebrates (see “A Glass Menagerie,” on Harvard’s specimens). A professor at Cornell, who curates the marine invertebrate collection there, uses the glass creatures as her point of departure to examine the living equivalents today, and to probe the changing oceanic ecosystem and the threats that may make the actual fauna more fragile than the Blaschkas’ enduring works.

Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, by Louisa Thomas ’04 (Penguin, $30). The marriage of London-born Louisa Catherine Johnson and John Quincy Adams, as New England as they came, united Old World and New at a pivotal time. Their fruitful lives together, not always easy, unfolded on farms and in the White House, from Russia and Prussia to Washington. And during its course, she emerged as a distinctive, towering figure in her own right, here vividly portrayed in full for the first time.

Hogs Wild, by Ian Frazier ’73 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26). A collection of the author’s essays and journalism. The title piece, grounded as ever in fact—domesticated hogs become feral “readily,” and reproduce “quickly and abundantly,” meaning that “The wild hog is an infestation machine”—is a good point of departure. The omnicurious Frazier was profiled in “Seriously Funny.”

Legal Plunder, by Daniel Lord Smail, Baird professor of history (Harvard, $39.95). A close scholarly examination of household goods as they were accumulated in late medieval Marseille and Lucca reveals the rise of the modern consumer economy, with valuables enmeshed in webs of exchange, credit, and state-run debt collection: the “plunder” of the title.

Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art, by Virginia Heffernan, Ph.D. ’02 (Simon & Schuster, $26). An observer of digital culture for The New York Times (profiled in “Savant of Screens”) here sets out to address “the trippy, slanted, infinite dreamland” of the Web, assembling “a complete aesthetics—and poetics—of the Internet” from its basic building blocks of design, text, photos, video, and music.

Putin Country: A Journey to the Real Russia, by Anne Garrels ’72 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26). Life in the country today, outside Moscow, emerges in the little details: an “ideal prisoner,” up for early release, pays the judge’s $10,000 price—but when the head of the prison is left unhappy, not having received his cut, he blocks the deal. Solid on-the-ground reporting.

Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality since 1700, by Peter H. Lindert and Jeffrey G. Williamson, Bell professor of economics emeritus (Princeton, $35). A scholarly economic history details alternating periods of egalitarian and of unequal incomes in the United States. The authors don’t shy from the implications: “The second great rise of American income inequality after the 1970s was probably avoidable,” had the country not fallen short in education, financial regulation, and the taxation of heritable wealth.

What Works: Gender Equality by Design, by Iris Bohnet, professor of public policy (Harvard, $26.95). A behavioral economist suggests overcoming unconscious biases indirectly, by altering institutional arrangements in the workplace—from reviewing résumés in new ways to looking at how hallways are decorated and what role models are available.

Blue in a Red State, by Justin Krebs ’00 (New Press, $24.95). A MoveOn.org campaigner probes what it feels like to reside as a member of a political minority (in this case, liberals in conservative redoubts, but one can imagine the opposite) in an increasingly polarized, and geographically divided, country. And speaking of fish out of water, Joel K. Goldstein, J.D. ’81, a law professor, has explored America’s least-scrutinized, but potentially most important, leaders in The White House Vice Presidency (University Press of Kansas, $34.95); the subtitle refers to “the path to significance” during the past four decades. Scrutinize the entire ticket this fall, voters!

Metropolis Nonformal, by Christian Werthmann, former director, master in landscape architecture program, Graduate School of Design, and Jessica Bridger, M.L.A. ’09 (Applied Research and Design, $34.95). Multiple perspectives on the pervasive phenomenon of self-assembled urban growth (via slums, favelas, and shantytowns), with wonderful photographs. Separately, in Landscape as Urbanism (Princeton, $45), Charles Waldheim, Irving professor of landscape architecture, advances a theoretical underpinning for breaching the barriers that have separated urbanism and landscape; the aim is a more coherent view of what cities can be.

Illiberal Reformers, by Thomas C. Leonard ’82 (Princeton, $35). A reinterpretation of the Progressive Era economic reformers, whose enthusiasm for taming laissez-faire capitalism did not extend to everyone, as they also embraced Darwinism, racial science, and eugenic theory to exclude immigrants, people of color, women, and “mental defectives.” A timely complement to “Harvard’s Eugenics Era,” featured in this magazine’s March-April issue.

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Recent books with Harvard connections

You Might Also Like:

W.H. Auden

Photograph from the Library of Congress

Excerpt from “The Known Citizen” by Sarah E. Igo

When sail was swift. Pallada in Nagasaki (1854; no artist given), from A World of Empires.

Photograph by Paul Fearn/Alamy Stock Photo

Recent books with Harvard connections