Reviews | Short Takes
David Suzuki: The Autobiography.
By David Suzuki ’58. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2006. 405 pp. $29.95 hardcover.
The author, who does not hold back in his disapproval of our culture’s obsession with celebrity, asks in his preface, “Why would anyone else be interested in my life?” The reasons are many and obvious: after spending part of his childhood in an internment camp for Japanese Canadians during World War II, Suzuki went on to earn numerous honors as a geneticist and environmentalist, to host a popular Canadian television show, to found an eponymous environmental organization and to write more than 40 books. In this one, he elaborates on his earlier autobiography, Metamorphosis: Stages in a Life, focusing more on his later years and hopes for the future. (And, yes, he does mention his well-rounded Amherst education: the college, he says, is where he discovered his aptitude for public speaking and teaching.)
The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture.
By Frederick S. Lane III ’85. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2006. 367 pp. $28 hardcover.
This book details the efforts of religious leaders, media conglomerates, corporations and government bodies to impose their own notions of “decency” on every facet of American life. The author guides us from “the New World’s first antiobscenity ordinance,” issued by the Puritans in 1711; to historic and current movements to teach Intelligent Design, abstinence and prayer in public schools; to the crackdown by the Federal Communications Commission after Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl. Lane, author of two other books on media and the law, sides squarely with the First Amendment and offers strategies to resist the public enforcement of what he believes should be private, individual values.
Emancipating New York: The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777-1827.
By David N. Gellman ’88. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. 297 pp. $45 hardcover.
New York had more slaves than any other state in the North until 1799, when it began a gradual process of liberation. Informed by the periodicals, pamphlets and organizational records of the time, Gellman’s thorough study explains why and how New Yorkers decided to make theirs a free state and how this decision helped lead to a free North and, eventually, to the Civil War. Gellman is an associate professor of history at DePauw University in Indiana.
Keep Up Good Courage: A Yankee Family and the Civil War.
By Alan Fraser Houston ’64. Portsmouth, N.H.: Peter E. Randall Publisher LLC, 2006. 337 pp. $24.95 hardcover.
Houston is a medical doctor and former Navy flight surgeon, as well as a historical researcher and writer. In 2002, a distant, elderly relative revealed that she owned the 1864 diary of Cpl. Lewis Q. Smith of Sandwich, N.H. Houston’s inspiration to write an article about the diary led him to the Sandwich Historical Society’s collection of more than 100 letters that Smith and his family exchanged while he was serving in Company K of the 14th Regiment of the New Hampshire Volunteers. Smith sends word to his loved ones as he faces camp life and battles in the South; they reply with messages of concern and news of their many struggles back home. Keep Up Good Courage weaves together this private correspondence from an extraordinary time in America’s past.
Migraine Auras: When the Visual World Fails.
By Richard Grossinger ’66. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 2006. 249 pp. $16.95 paperback.
For many sufferers, migraine headaches can come with blind spots and other distortions of vision, both disturbing and beautiful. Grossinger, a doctor of anthropology and author or editor of nonfiction works on a wide range of subjects, presents a multifaceted guide to migraine auras rather than a traditional scientific account. The book draws from historical sources, personal anecdotes, evolutionary biology, psychology, art and literature. Grossinger emphasizes homeopathic treatments and coping strategies, and he encourages individuals to understand their migraine auras not as mere troubling abnormalities but as fascinating gifts.
To the Ends of the Earth: Adventures of an Expedition Photographer.
By Gordon Wiltsie ’74. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006. 224 pp. $35 hardcover.
The images and stories collected in this volume make it clear that, over his three decades as a photojournalist, Wiltsie has indeed, as he writes, “been blessed to tag along with remarkable people who continue to explore a planet of astonishing beauty and power.” Most of his photographs present the icy expanses and towering, snow-covered peaks of Earth’s extremes: the Arctic, Antarctica and the Himalayas. By the time the reader turns to the lush greenery and Incan ruins of Peru, they seem warm and familiar by comparison. Wiltsie never forgets the human side of his global adventures, capturing moments with the children of Mongolian animal herders and members of his own rock-climbing and dog-sledding teams.
Transatlantic Stowe: Harriet Beecher Stowe and European Culture.
Co-edited by Denise Kohn, Sarah Meer and Emily B. Todd ’89. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006. 290 pp. $39.95 hardcover.
As author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe has long been known primarily for her role in the literary history of the United States. Few realize she was one of the first American writers to earn praise and fame across the Atlantic as well. In this interdisciplinary collection of essays, British, Irish and American scholars explore Stowe’s many mutually influential links to 19th-century Europe and its writers. Co-editor Todd is an associate professor of English at Westfield (Mass.) State College.
Writing Movies: The Practical Guide to Creating Stellar Screenplays.
Edited by Alexander Steele, with a chapter by Amy Fox ’97. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. 387 pp. $15.95 paperback.
The faculty of the Gotham Writers’ Workshop includes in this guide many of the same analyses, insights and “stepping-stone” exercises that they offer to aspiring screenwriters in their renowned classes. Fox, whose writing credits include numerous plays and the Merchant Ivory film Heights, contributes a chapter on the arduous but vital process of “Revision: From Rough to Ready.”
—Compiled by Katherine Duke ’05