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Hamilton Alumni Review
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Alumni Review – Spring-Summer 2014

Bookshelf

The following are books published recently by Hamilton alumni. We welcome other new or recent books for annotation in the Alumni Review. Bibliographic information for ordering purposes may be sent to kdam@hamilton.edu, or, preferably, copies of books to ­Bookshelf Editor, Hamilton Alumni Review.

Thomas N. Bradbury ’81 and Benjamin R. Karney, Love Me Slender: How Smart Couples Team Up to Lose Weight, Exercise More, and Stay Healthy Together (New York: Touchstone Press, 2014). Combining the latest research about health with longstanding principles of couple communication, the authors demonstrate how people can become healthier when they join forces with a “significant other.” The results? Better moods, more energy and closer relationships. A professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, since 1990, ­Bradbury is co-director of the university’s Relation­ship Institute, which explores how and why relationships change over time.
 

Elspeth H. Brown ’83 and Thy Phu (edited), Feeling Photography (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014). With essays delving into “the tactile nature of photos, the relation of ­photography to sentiment and ­intimacy, and the ways that affect pervades the photographic archive,” this collection provides a fuller picture of the significant effects of feeling on how we experience and perceive photography. Brown, an associate professor of history at the University of Toronto, is also author of The Corporate Eye: Photography and the Rationalization of American Commercial Culture, 1884-1929 (2008).

How College Works

Daniel F. Chambliss, the Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Sociology, and Christopher G. Takacs ’05, How College Works (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 2014). Why do undergraduates choose one major over another? Are they drawn to that area of study because of the courses offered? Do they think they’ll get good grades? Or is it because they figure it will lead to a good job after graduation?

According to the authors, the answer is none of the above — it’s all about the people. “Colleges spend a huge amount of time and effort worrying will they have writing-intensive programs or a freshman seminar program or if a major is set up right or if their curriculum is done this way or that,” Chambliss told Nick Pandolfo at The Hechinger Report, one of dozens of major media outlets that interviewed him about the book. “The problem is not access to information. The problem is motivation. And student motivation goes up and down a lot. The key to motivation is face-to-face contact with another human being. That’s what really works.”

Chambliss’ book, which he coauthored with former student Takacs, now a University of Chicago doctoral student, presents the results of a decade-long study funded by the Mellon Foundation. Back in 2001, the researchers randomly selected 100 students from the incoming Hamilton Class of 2005 who were interviewed throughout their college careers and for two years afterward on such subjects as dorm life, friends, relationships, advising, classes, majors, professors, activities, study abroad, sports and other topics. Some 340 interviews later, Chambliss and Takacs came to this conclusion: “What really matters in college is who meets whom, and when. It’s the people, not the programs, that make a difference.”

Undergraduates are much more likely to major in an area of study if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introductory course. Likewise, a single negative experience with a professor most often results in that student writing off the field entirely.

This same concept applies to student-student interactions. “These apartment-style dormitories that are now coming up — it’s a terrible idea,” Chambliss told Hechinger. “Students think they want it, but what happens is they don’t make any friends. They’re isolated. It’s much better to be in a dorm they don’t like that has long hallways and shared bathrooms.”

The good news for colleges and universities is that they can create better experiences for their students simply by allocating resources differently — by assigning a seasoned professor to introductory courses or encouraging out-of-classroom interactions. “Talking to alumni who ­graduated 30 years ago, they’ll bring up, ‘I went to Professor So and So’s.’ One time? Are you kidding me? But it works,” Chambliss adds. “A little bit of contact with the right person at the right time seems to have this disproportionate impact. … It’s a low cost kind of intervention.”

Richard Chapin ’71 and Jerome Pitarresi ’71, Faithful Friends: A Jew and a Catholic Discuss Religion in Modern Life (North Charleston, S.C.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014). The authors, one a rabbi and other an English teacher, developed a friendship on College Hill that has endured for more than four decades. In this book, the two share insights on timeless topics from Jewish and Catholic perspectives. Less an academic study than a warm conversation, the writers address such issues as tragedy, anger, spirituality, marriage, temptation, the after life and forgiveness, all the while revealing much about the shared human condition.
 

Frank Costigliola ’68 (edited), The Kennan Diaries (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2014). Described as “a landmark collection, spanning 90 years of U.S. history, of the never-before-published diaries of George F. Kennan, America’s most famous diplomat,” this book provides candid insights into U.S. Cold War foreign policy and strategy. Costigliola is professor of history at the University of Connecticut. His book Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances (2012) received the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations’ Robert H. Ferrell Prize. He is also editor, with Michael J. Hogan, of America in the World: The Historiography of American Foreign Relations since 1941 (second edition, 2013).
 

Samuel Crowl ’62, Screen Adaptations: Shakespeare’s Hamlet (The Relationship between Text and Film) (New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2014). Focusing on two sharply contrasting film portrayals of Hamlet — one by Laurence Olivier in 1948 and the other by Kenneth Branagh in 1996 — the author analyzes the process of adapting from text to screen. “The films’ socio-political contexts are explored, and the importance of their screenplay, film score, setting, cinematography and editing examined.” Crowl is the Trustee Professor of English at Ohio University and author of several books on Shakespeare in performance.
 

George Kalogeropoulos ’80, One Hundred Photos Ago (Athens, Greece: Eurasia Publications, 2012). A photographic journal, this collection of black-and-white images chronicles the artist’s experiences and travels. Many of the photos in the first section, “The Journey,” were taken during his Hamilton days; others focus on his time at Columbia University followed by his return to his native Greece. Having worked previously to promote Greek cinema in the U.S., including organizing the retrospective Cine-mythology and tribute to the films of Theo Angelopoulos at the Museum of Modern Art, Kalogeropoulos is founding director of the Mediterranean Film Institute, a European organization that trains emerging screenwriters and directors.
 

Michael Lent ’84 (writer) and Marc Rene (artist), TMS: The Machine Stops (Gloucester, Mass.: Alterna Comics, 2014). This three-issue comic book series, adapted from the 1909 E.M. Forster short story “The Machine Stops,” describes a world in which humans “dwell in a netherworld of vast colonies of individual pods where nearly all life functions and interaction with others is through the Machine.” A prolific screenwriter, video game writer and graphic novelist, Lent also executive produced the film If You’re Serious (2014), which was nominated for the Verna Fields Award by the Motion Pictures Sound Editors.

Wendy Lower ’87, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields (Chicago: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). A finalist for the prestigious 2013 National Book Award, Lower provides a chilling account of the previously undocumented role that as many as half a million German women played during World War II.

“We know plenty about the lives of young men in the Nazi regime,” noted Dwight Garner in a review that appeared in The New York Times. “Ms. Lower is here to fill us in further on the young women — she calls them a ‘lost generation’ — who, swept up in a nationalistic fervor, fled dull lives by going to work for the Reich. … They were after travel, nice clothes, adventure, paychecks, romance. Once there, many connived at genocide.”

Through the interwoven biographies of 13 women, Lower, the John K. Roth Professor of History at Claremont McKenna College, paints a haunting picture of how seemingly ordinary young women — nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives — were transformed into cruel and apathetic witnesses and perpetrators in the extermination of millions of Jews. “‘Hitler’s Furies’ were not marginal sociopaths,” writes the author, “They believed that their violent deeds were justified acts of revenge meted out to enemies of the Reich; such deeds were, in their minds, expressions of loyalty.”

Based on extensive research in archives that had been closed for 70 years, as well as two decades of archival and fieldwork on the Holocaust and interviews with German witnesses, Lower provides evidence that the capacity for indifferent cruelty is not reserved for men. “These women were more than ‘desk murderers’ or comforters of murderous German men … they went on ‘shopping sprees’ for Jewish-owned goods and also brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus … they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shooting.”

As horrific as these acts were, perhaps just as sickening was the lack of repercussions. According to Lower, at the end of the war, the majority of these women quietly returned to civilian life. In the rare instances where they did discuss events of the Holocaust, many denied any wrongdoing, even blaming the Jewish victims.

The author and co-author of several books on the Holocaust, Lower is a research associate at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and serves as a historical consultant for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

John Hammond Moore ’49 (edited), When South Carolina Was an Armed Camp: The Reconstruction Essays of Belton O’Neall Townsend (Charleston, S.C.: Home House Press, 2013). As one reviewer noted, “Edited with a poignant introduction by John Hammond Moore, this volume introduces an unconventional view of Reconstruction from a brilliant, young South Carolinian. A frustrated poet, Belton O’Neall Townsend found fame as a trenchant and brutally honest commentator on Reconstruction South Carolina’s politics, society and morals.” Moore has taught history at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., Georgia State University and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He has written 18 books, most about South Carolina history.
 

Julie Faith Parker ’83, Valuable and Vulnerable: Children in the Hebrew Bible, Especially the Elisha Cycle (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013). Although they bring compelling stories and unique perspectives, children in the Bible have been largely ignored by scholars. In this book, the author “introduces a new methodology of childist interpretation and applies it to the Elisha cycle (2 Kings 2-8), which contains 49 child characters. Combining literary insights with social-scientific evidence, [she] demonstrates that children play critical roles in the world of the text as well as the culture that produced it.” Parker is assistant professor at Andover Newton Theological School and a 2013 Society of Biblical Literature Regional Scholar.

Jo Pitkin K’78 (edited), Lost Orchard: Prose and Poetry from the Kirkland College Community (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2014). “We were pioneers. We were innovators. We were independent learners and thinkers. In the 1960s and 1970s, we were among the first generation of college students to study creative writing, American studies, environmental studies, women’s studies and other disciplines. We were drawn to a young college full of promise and unencumbered by traditional academia. Few of us comprehended how challenging this path would sometimes prove to be.” 

This is how Pitkin begins her preface to Lost Orchard, a literary anthology of poems, fiction, plays and creative non-fiction by more than 50 Kirkland alumnae, faculty members and administrators. Although all of the contributors may not have studied creative writing, they share the common experience of having lived and learned in the vibrant writing community that Kirkland fostered. “Facilitating this literary union has been immensely satisfying and profoundly poignant: the project of a lifetime,” Pitkin notes. “Selfishly, I wanted to gather the Kirkland community together once again — even if only in the pages of a book — to preserve our legacy.”

The collection has garnered much admiration, described by author Peter Cameron ’82 this way: “Lost Orchard is a paradise regained. How wonderful to have the brilliant and beautiful work of so many talented writers, all once part of the Edenic community that was Kirkland College, collected and preserved. Jo Pitkin’s editorial eye is both acute and sensitive, and I salute and thank her.”

Pitkin, who founded the Red Weather literary journal during her student days, organized Kirkland Voices in 2007, a reading of works by Kirkland alumnae. A former editor at Houghton Mifflin, she is the author of a chapbook, The Measure (2007), and a collection of poetry, Cradle of the American Circus: Poems from Somers, New York (2012). Her poems have appeared in such journals and anthologies as The New York Review of Books, Little Star, Quarterly West, Salamander, Crab Orchard Review, Nimrod International Journal and Riverine: An Anthology of Hudson Valley Writers.

 

S. Brent Plate, visiting associate professor of religious studies, A History of Religion in 5 1/2 Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014). The dust jacket opens with this observation: “Humans are needy. We need things: objects, keepsakes, stuff, tokens, knickknacks, bits and pieces, junk, and treasure. We carry special objects in our pockets and purses, and place them on shelves in our homes and offices. As commonplace as these objects are, they can also be extraordinary, as they allow us to connect with the world beyond our skin.”

To illustrate this, the author takes ordinary objects often associated with religious significance — stones, incense, drums, crosses and bread — and explores how the world’s religious traditions have used them. (The “1/2” refers to the human soul, which is incomplete.) In doing so, he shows that religion has as much to do with our senses as our beliefs. Notes Gary Laderman, author of Sacred Matters, “A book written by a scholar of religion that confuses as it clarifies, obscures as it illuminates and challenges as it reassures; it takes an innovative approach to thinking about religion, feeling it in our lives, and highlighting its downright sensational aspects as a material and spiritual reality.”
 

Heidi Ravven, professor of religious studies, The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will (New York: The New Press, 2013). The choices people make, and the actions they take, lead to conclusions about their character and moral fiber. In 2004, the author received an unsolicited $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to write a book that would consider ethics from a new perspective. Her work is a multidisciplinary inquiry into why we are moral, why and when we are not, and how we can become more moral.

According to Tablet Magazine, one of several media outlets to interview Ravven about her study: “Researchers in sociology, psychology and neuroscience are increasingly asserting that the independent self that we are all so attached to doesn’t really exist. What’s more, there are philosophical traditions dating back to Aristotle, Maimonides and Spinoza that may offer more useful ways of thinking about how to foster ethical behavior and moral societies.”

Ravven, a neurophilosopher, is a specialist on the 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. She was the first not only to argue that his moral philosophy is a systems theory of ethics, but also to propose that Spinoza anticipated central discoveries in the neuroscience of the emotions.
 

Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner ’07, These Broken Stars (New York: Disney-Hyperion, 2013). The first in a young adult science fiction trilogy, this book tells the story of two teens from different backgrounds who find themselves alone on a strange planet and forced to work together to survive. As one reviewer noted, the book is “rich with fascinating characters that cannot be put in a box, a world that is intriguing and mysterious, and a plot that twists in its directions, compelling the reader to journey to the end, regardless of the indignation, suspense, heartbreak, joy, hope and fear you’ll feel along the way.” The final installment of Spooner’s earlier fantasy series, that included Skylark and Shadowlark, will be published this fall, along with This Shattered World, the sequel to These Broken Stars.
 

Christopher Wilkinson ’68, Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia, 1930-1942 (Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2012). The author, a professor of music history at West Virginia University, describes how the seemingly unlikely cohort of black coal miners became a bustling market for big band jazz during the Depression era. New Deal industrial policies resulted in a growing level of prosperity that not only attracted renowned bands to West Virginia, but also allowed mountaineers to travel considerable distances to hear bands led by Count Basie and Duke Ellington, among others. Wilkinson specializes in the history of African-American music as well as the history of art music from a multicultural perspective.

 

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