June 4, 2003: Features

Professors’ picks
These books aren’t all for the beach

Need a breezy new novel to bring to the beach? Perhaps something more demanding, to keep your brain from melting in the summer sun? Here are reading suggestions from a handful of Princeton professors. For more suggestions, click here.

Christopher Eisgruber ’83, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values:

• The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History, by Philip Bobbitt ’71 (Knopf, 2002). Bobbitt, a law professor and former senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, examines how the threat of terrorism may change the constitutional structure of the U.S. and other nations. At about 900 pages, the book may be more suited to a Russian winter than a week at the beach. Treat it like a swim in the ocean: Dip into the approachable parts, and dive elsewhere when the waters seem too deep!

• Cabal, by Michael Dibdin (Faber & Faber, 1992). In Dibdin’s darkly elegant mysteries, Italian detective Aurelio Zen battles crime and the corruption of his superiors. In this volume, Zen confronts murder and intrigue in the Vatican.

• The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice, by Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel (Oxford, 2002). This lucid and provocative book examines the ethical issues posed by the tax system. Written for a general audience by two of the world’s leading philosophers – one of whom, Nagel, taught for many years at Princeton.

Simon Morrison *97, assistant professor of music:

• White Swan, Black Swan, by Adrienne Sharp (Ballantine, 2002). This collection of stories, a balletomane’s dream, meditates on the ephemerality of dancers’ careers and the works in which they perform. Paradoxically, it suggests that the impermanence of dance is its most enduring and precious quality.

• On Beauty and Being Just, by Elaine Scarry (Princeton, 1999). This short essay furnishes an antidote to writings about the political economy of artistic creation. For our less-than-beautiful times, Scarry intimates that the surface of art, rather than its philosophical or sociopolitical subtexts, has the potential to mirror the divine.

• Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin, 2001). One billion readers can’t be wrong. This novel merits repeated leisurely reading for its miraculous examination of the entirety of human experience. Anna’s affair with Vronsky is the least of Tolstoy’s concerns.

Elaine Pagels, Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion:

• Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James (reissued by Random House, 1999). In this groundbreaking work on religion, a century old, the philosopher and psychologist addresses questions about the nature and existence of God and examines topics such as the sick soul, conversion, saintliness, and mysticism.

• Reinventing Paul, by John Gager, (Oxford, 2002). Through a close analysis of Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians, a Princeton professor offers a new understanding of Paul and the apostle’s beliefs about Judaism.

Andrew P. Dobson h’76, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology:

• Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters, by Robert Gordon (Little, Brown, 2002). An important cultural history of one of the United States’ seminal music figures.

• Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to the Present Crisis, by Michael Williams (Chicago, 2002). A masterly overview of how the world’s forests have disappeared at a steady but now rapidly increasing rate. Read it and be very worried about the future of your children’s world.

• Searching for Yellowstone, by Paul Schullery (Houghton Mifflin, 1999). The best book on the history and biology of Yellowstone and its surrounding area. If you’re visiting a national park anywhere, you should read it.

Daphne A. Brooks, assistant professor of English:

• The White Boy Shuffle, by Paul Beatty (St. Martin’s, 2001). A wickedly irreverent post-civil-rights satirical novel. Blending Toni Morrison’s elegant cogency and black feminist perspective with Ishmael Reed’s biting humor, yoking James Baldwin’s sharp racial commentary with the hip-hop savvy humor of Aaron McGruder’s “Boondocks” comic strip, Beatty has produced a manifesto about American multiculturalism.

• Caucasia, by Danzy Senna (Penguin Putnam, 1999). A modern-day racial-passing narrative in which a young girl, a twin in a biracial family, creates a new identity as the daughter of a deceased white, Jewish professor. Along with Zadie Smith, Senna was one of the most promising young writers to emerge in the 1990s.

Elaine Showalter, Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities and professor of English. (She offers “students’ favorites from the past decade of reading lists” in Contemporary Fiction 351.):

• The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides (Warner, 2000). In Eugenides’s acclaimed first novel, five teenage sisters in the Lisbon family commit suicide. Later, the narrator describes how he and his young suburban pals had tried to understand the sisters, and how neighbors reacted as the sisters became unhinged and events unfolded.

• Monkeys, by Susan Minot (Vantage, 2000). A depiction of the troubles and strife of the large, well-to-do Vincent family, with its seven children, living in the suburbs of Boston. One reviewer wrote that “not since J. D. Salinger has an American writer so feelingly evoked the special affections and loyalties that may develop among children in a large family.”

• The Beach, by Alex Garland (Berkeley, 1998). The Beach tells of several young, Western travelers who are adrift in Thailand’s backpacker culture, searching for mystery and that last untrampled spot.

Lawrence Rosen, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Anthropology:

• My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk (Knopf, 2002). Set in Turkey, this novel tells about miniaturist painters whose concerns with innovation lead them to challenge and violate many of their own moral views.

• Man and Wife in America: A History, by Hendrik Hartog (Harvard, 2002). A Princeton professor demonstrates that American marriage did not have a golden age of stability, but often offered possibilities for escape.

• Islam in the World, by Malise Ruthven (Oxford, 2000). A comprehensive and insightful assessment of Islamic cultures.

Neta Bahcall, professor of astrophysical sciences and director of the Council on Science and Technology:

• Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe, by J. Richard Gott *73 (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). Gott, a Princeton astrophysicist, offers a guided tour of the potential of traveling through time. Gott explains how time travel to the future is possible, and examines whether travel to the past might be possible as well.

• Our Cosmic Habitat, by Martin J. Rees (Princeton, 2001). Rees, a cosmologist, provides a comprehensible summary of how we got here, how the universe began, and how it might end. Reviewers have lauded the book for its clear prose on a tough subject.

• First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe, by Richard Preston *83 (Random House, 1996). This book tells the story of scientists at the Palomar Observatory in California; they peer through the Hale Telescope at the edges of space and attempt to understand the beginning of time.

Theodore Rabb *61, professor of history:

• The Defeat of the Spanish Armada, by Garrett Mattingly (Houghton Mifflin, 1984). One of the most dramatic stories of all time, told by a master of history and prose in a book that was a bestseller when it first appeared.

• Montaillou, by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (Ashgate, 1978). A fascinating evocation of life in a medieval village, full of surprises and dramatic characters.

• Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, by William Cronon (Norton, 1992). A beautifully written account of Chicago’s rise to prominence, and the heroes, villains, and economic forces behind it.


And on stage . . .

For those who prefer another form of summer stimulation, Michael Cadden, director of the Program in Theater and Dance, recommends these plays being staged around the world. Cadden’s descriptions of the plays are available at www.princeton.edu/paw.

The Birds, by Aristophanes. Stratford Festival of Canada, Stratford, Ontario, Canada; through June 27.

Jerry Springer: The Opera, by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee. Royal National Theater, London, England; through August 30.

Travesties, by Tom Stoppard. Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Massachusetts; August 6—17.

Lorca in a Green Dress, by Nilo Cruz. Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Oregon; July 8—November 2.

The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci, by Mary Zimmerman. Second Stage, New York, N.Y.; through July 20.

Homebody/Kabul, by Tony Kushner. Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, Illinois; July 10—August 31.

The Plough and the Stars, by Sean O’Casey. Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Ireland; June 4—July 12.

Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov, La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla, California; through June 29.

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