Dean David Ray return to top contents
Robert Bickers, The Scramble for China: Foreign Devils in the Qing Empire, 1832-1914. Penguin Global, 2011.
As China’s rapid and sustained economic growth propels it into the roles of world’s second largest economy and potential 21st-century superpower rival to the US, this brand new book by a meticulous and major historian is highly useful. The Chinese are sure to see their contemporary rise in the context of a century of defeat and humiliation by the early-modernizing Western powers and Japan. It is a dramatic, complicated and painful story, and one that is much better known to educated Chinese than to Americans. In the period covered by this rich and well-written book, there were two Anglo-Chinese opium wars; China’s wars with France, Russia and Japan; the Taiping rebellion and the Boxer uprising; the Russian occupation of Manchuria; and at the turn of the century the invasion of north China by troops from eight countries. Of course worse was to come with the Japanese invasions of the 1930s. Much of China’s current international behavior, and especially its determination never again to appear weak, is more easily comprehended after reading this powerful book.
Associate Dean Rich Hamerla return to top contents
Robert Graves, I, Claudius. Vintage International, 1939 (1989).
In this novel, English poet and author, Robert Graves, tells the story of Roman Emperor Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, as if Graves is actually Claudius himself. In other words, Graves writes an autobiography of Claudius, contemporary of numerous Roman leaders, to include the notorious Caligula. Written like a steamy modern soap opera or prime-time dramatic television series, this historical fiction demonstrates the differences and, more importantly, the similarities in politics, social structure, culture, and daily life between the ancient world and today.
Professor Ben Alpers return to top contents
Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt. Mass Market Paperback, 2003.
This book reimagines world history if the Black Death had entirely wiped out European civilization. It's far from a perfect book--in its last quarter Robinson seems to become frustrated with his characters and the book becomes a bit too expository--but it's a smart, fascinating, and engaging exploration of a world history (and what some might call the "clash of civilizations") without "the West."
Professor Marcia Chatelain return to top contents
Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains: Healing the World: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer. Random House, 2009.
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, many Americans not only witnessed the devastation of the natural disaster, but also learned of the nation's struggles with poverty. Long before the earthquake, doctors were addressing the needs of Haiti's people in different ways. In Mountain Beyond Mountains, Tracy Kidder presents the life story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Duke University and Harvard Medical School graduate, and his commitment to improving the health of people in Cange, Haiti. His organization, Partners in Health, is a model for 'redistributive justice' in health care to the poor.
Professor Maria Dallam return to top contents
Gabriel Thompson, Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won't Do. Nation Books, 2010.
Gabriel Thompson decided to spend one year working in various types of “unskilled” labor positions that are often held by recent immigrants. He harvested lettuce on farms, he worked the night shift in a chicken processing plant, and he became a bicycle deliveryman in New York City. These jobs brought him into contact with many different subcultures of America: not merely various ethnic groups, but groups of people whose cultural identity is defined by work life and economic status. He also discovers the demanding physical and psychological skills that these jobs require. Thompson’s diary tracks his work life through the year with details both engaging and gruesome, and it will surely be an inspiring read for those beginning their college degree.
Professor Julia Ehrhardt return to top contents
Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway, 2011.
This book documents the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cancerous cells were developed in culture without her knowledge and became the HeLa line, which scientists used while researching some of the most important and astounding medical discoveries of the 20th century. Cures for many diseases, medical reputations, and millions of dollars resulted from the cultivation of HeLa, but neither Lacks (who perished from cancer), nor her children, were asked to give their consent for their use. Skloot's book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and the difficult relationships her descendants have had with her medical legacy, the healthcare system in America, and the sensationalist stories that have proliferated about HeLa: the cells that will not die. The book raises complicated questions about race and medical research, the ethics of informed consent policies, and the property rights people have--or do not have--when their bodies are medicalized. Skloot also discusses the personal and professional challenges she faced as a white graduate student who had to earn the trust of an African American family whose suspicion of anyone interested in its history were certainly well-founded.
Professor Brian Johnson return to top contents
Kate Chopin, The Awakening. Soho Books, 1899 (2011).
Kate Chopin’s classic fin-de-siecle novel concerning Edna Pontellier, a woman who increasingly feels boxed in by the cultural conventions that defined womanhood in the late 1900s. Much like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Paper” or Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, this novel’s trajectory takes the protagonist up to a point of no return, to a crisis in which the Edna must either conform to societal norms or seek out a drastic, life-threatening solution—in this case to swim out into the Gulf of Mexico never to come back. In addition to this being a classic of American literature, it also presents the cultural gumbo that is southern Louisiana. Here we see a wide variety of cultural contacts within the highly hybridized Creole culture with which Edna and her family are closely associated.
Professor Bob Lifset return to top contents
Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty, Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920’s. Farrar, Straus and Girous, 1996.
This is a portrait of the men and women who made New York City the capital of American music, theater and literature in the 1920’s. In this portrait of the Jazz Age, Douglas argues that New York was at the heart of a historic transformation that brought together blacks and whites, men and women, to create a new American culture.
Professor Amanda Minks return to top contents
John Charles Chasteen, National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance. University of New Mexico Press, 2004.
In recent years, Latin dance has become increasingly popular outside of Latin America, and it has even entered into the cultural life of the Honors College. You can learn where some of these dances came from, how they developed, and what they meant for Latin American societies by reading National Rhythms, African Roots: The Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance. Taking Cuban danzón (the antecedent of salsa), Brazilian samba, and Argentine tango as case studies, Chasteen addresses a central paradox: How did transgressive dances become official national symbols? The book moves from the present to the past, like an archeological excavation, and allows the reader to uncover layers of social change and cultural mixture that form the basis of contemporary Latin American societies. Chasteen’s vivid prose and suspenseful structure keep the reader turning pages to discover the social and political significance of these dances. He reveals how cultural contact moved in multiple directions, across continents and up and down hierarchies of class, gender, and race. At the heart of the paradox of transgressive, national dances is the “myth of mestizaje”—the appearance of a seamless fusion of race and culture that supposedly created homogeneous nations, when in fact, racial and cultural differences endured in the radically unequal societies of Latin America. But Chasteen also notes that the ideologies of mixture, which became nation-building tools in Latin America were somewhat more inclusive than the purist ideologies of nationalism in the U.S. and Western Europe. Ultimately, the book reveals how the Western paradigm of nationalism was adapted and transformed in the new societies forged in Latin America.
Professor Carolyn Morgan return to top contents
S. C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. Scribner, 2011.
This is a story of the war with the Comanches, which lasted four decades, and in effect held up the development of the new American nation. The story includes Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads. Culturally, it also the story of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by Comanches from the Texas frontier in 1836 and who refused to return until her capture by Texas Rangers in 1860. Her mixed-blood son, Quanah, became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches and was never defeated. Students from the Southwest or those who attend school here should find this a fascinating story of cultural contact.
Professor Sarah Tracy return to top contents
Jerome Groopman, How Doctors Think. Mariner Books, 2008.
How Doctors Think is a brilliant examination of medical culture and the ways in which physicians of different specialties synthesize and organize clinical data when they come in contact with patients and must diagnose and treat them. The book reveals in fascinating ways how cultural prejudices and stereotypes can affect clinical decision-making, as well as how the "cultures" of medicine steer physicians down both right and wrong pathways when they assess their patients' clinical status. Jerome Groopman is a physician at Harvard Medical School and addresses "how doctors think" as a participant-observer. He draws detailed and compassionate portraits of the "medical masterminds" whose clinical successes and failures he dissects. This book is a must-read for anyone contemplating a career in medicine or interested in doctor-patient communication.
Professor Andreana Prichard return to top contents
Abdulrazak Gurnah, Desertion. Anchor, 2006.
Abdulrazak Gurnah, a native of Zanzibar (the small archipelago just off the east coast of Africa near Tanzania), sets this story of cross-cultural love and its implications against the backdrop of colonial rule in East Africa; the story spans three generations and two continents between 1899 and an undefined present. An unidentified narrator tells the story of Martin Pearce, an Englishman deserted by his Somali guides in the Kenyan desert, who is found and cared for by a family of Indian Muslims. There Martin begins an illicit love affair with Rehana, his caretaker's sister, that scandalizes both the local British and Indian communities. Half a century later, now on the nearby island of Zanzibar, Rehana and Martin's divorced granddaughter Jamila enters into a relationship with a young man named Amin, and begins an affair which again violates local cultural and religious taboos. Meanwhile Amin's brother Rashid, the student of the family, is away studying in Britain. The brothers exchange letters about their lives and the political climate of the last years of empire, at least until the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution. The end of colonial rule and the trauma and bloodshed of the period further complicate this multi-generational, interconnected story of forbidden love and cultural upheaval.