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Boy, girl, boy, girl | Harmony in the Tropics | Students take over the classroom... | Best books


Best books
Looking for a good book this summer? Scope polled Skidmore’s emeritus
faculty for their leisure-reading suggestions—just take your pick:

Historian Dan Balmuth cites two nonfiction works of current interest: The Age of Sacred Terror by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon (“one of the best studies of Islamic revolution and the US response to 2001”) and Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman (“excellent study of a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was executed by Nasser”).

For biologist Denton Crocker, “Two of the great scientific discoveries of the last two centuries are the 1858 Darwin-Wallace statement of a mechanism of evolution and the 1953 Watson-Crick determination of the structure of DNA.” Among his readings:

Genes, Girls, and Gamow, by James D. Watson.
“A sequel to Watson’s lively 1968 account of his search with Crick for the structure of DNA (The Double Helix), this tells the story of his search both for the mechanism of DNA’s function and for a wife. An eye opener, but for me too much inconsequential gossip.”

Alfred Russel Wallace by Peter Raby. “Scholarly and also highly readable. Raby has a fascinating subject: not only Wallace’s travels as a collector of biological specimens in Amazonia and Malaysia, but his belief in spiritualism in later life.”

Evolution’s Captain, by Peter Nichols. “A fine study of a brilliant, troubled man—Darwin’s ship’s captain. Also includes much on Darwin and the voyage of the Beagle.”

Alberta Feynman (English) has been reading history too: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, by Jacques Barzun (“justly described as ‘peerless’; like taking a whole liberal-arts course”) and The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander (“every bit as engrossing as Alexander’s Endurance”).

Lynne Gelber (French) enjoys the imaginative Haruki Murakami, recommending his Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Sputnik Sweetheart. She says, “I’m as profoundly curious about other cultures and languages as ever. Now that I have more time, I love to travel; but when I can’t, I’m attracted to books that take me to new places”:

Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup. “A very readable account of how the French protected their vineyards from the Nazis with as much devotion as they preserved their art treasures.”

Alexander McCall Smith’s series of adventures set in Africa: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and its sequels.

Poet Barry Goldensohn doesn’t recommend his recent area of reading for light entertainment: he’s been immersed in Holocaust literature. For a more pleasant read, he suggests The Singing, “a wonderful book of poems by C. K. Williams,” and W. B. Yeats, A Life (Part II: The Arch Poet, 1915–1939) by R. F. Foster.

Charlotte Goodman (English) has been doing a lot of intercultural reading, such as:

Lost in America: A Journey with My Father by Sherwin B. Nuland. “In this poignant memoir, a prominent surgeon assesses the impact that his impoverished childhood and his uneducated Yiddish-speaking father had on his psyche. Vividly specific, but describes the archetypal experience of immigrants’ children.”

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. “Eighty years in the life of an immigrant Greek family, told by a child raised as a female but transformed into a male in adolescence. Insightful rather than sensational, the novel compassionately portrays the struggles of its narrator to come to terms with his heritage and conflicted identity.”

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi. “Tells of the clandestine meetings in which a university English professor’s female students discussed Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Jane Austen. The novels’ characters served as mirrors that helped the students reflect on their own lives under a repressive Iranian regime.”

Mathematician Peg Guyder mentions Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (“a new appreciation of an old favorite”) and Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston (“there’s new interest in this early black author”).

Philosopher J Honeywell recently enjoyed the “excellent but strange” Haruki Murakami novels The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Dance Dance Dance.

Retirement is allowing physicist Doug Huston to catch up on “all those books I had accumulated over the years but never had time to read.” He’s enjoyed:

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. “A superb introduction to string theory for both physicists and the general reader. A well-written account of superstrings, structure of space-time, hidden dimensions, and the Ultimate Theory.”

The Forest by Edward Rutherfurd. “A masterfully told story about the lives of several families in England’s New Forest. Epic in proportion, the book spans from the time of King William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, to the present.”

Geologist Ken Johnson recently taught “Human/Land Interaction: Attitudes and Impacts,” a distance-learning course for Skidmore’s University Without Walls. He recommends:

Winter World by Bernd Heinrich. “A professor of biology at the University of Vermont and an award-winning nature writer, Heinrich explains the ingenuity of animal cold-weather survival in graceful, light-hearted prose.”

Tinkering with Eden by Kim Todd. “Details the stories of several of the more than 4,000 exotic mammals, fish, insects, and birds that live in the United States. Her writing is entertaining and enlightening; she won the PEN/Jerard Award for this book.”

Musician Ruth Lakeway, still a member of the Senior All American Chorus and still teaching for the Academy of Learning in Retirement at Empire State College, suggests Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason (“interesting, as the location is British Burma”), John Adams by David McCullough, and Beethoven’s Hair by Russell Martin (“excellent!”).

Shirley Murphy (business) offers two suggestions in US history: America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines by Gail Collins (“interesting, easy-to-read historical development”) and The Hornet’s Nest by Jimmy Carter (“long but well-done historical novel of the Revolutionary War period, from the point of view of three southern states”).

John Reed (education), a docent at the New York State military museum in Saratoga Springs, recommends Civilization and the Limpet by Martin Wells (“short essays about little-known life forms, filled with fascinating information—a joy to read!”) and 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies (“whether you agree with the author’s conclusions or not, the story of his investigations and evidence is like a detective story”).

Alan Wheelock (English) endorses The Human Stain by Philip Roth and American Dynasty by Kevin Phillips, “a sobering look at the Bush clan and its far-reaching influence.”

—compiled by Susan Rosenberg