alu_books_2014-1027210853William Firshein, Daniel Ayres Professor of Biology, Emeritus
The Infectious Microbe
(Oxford University Press, 2014)

An analysis of one ton of soil revealed that the number of microorganisms in it exceeded the number of stars in our galaxy by a factor of 100,000. We live in a dense sea of microorganisms; our bodies exist in symbiotic relationships to trillions of them; and without microorganisms, life on earth could not exist as we know it. A tiny fraction of them cause trouble for us, but they cause a lot of trouble. In this short book, Professor Firshein provides a fascinating account of infectious microbes, ranging from basic biology to use by terrorists. Remember SARS? It’s disappeared. Scarlet fever, once a dreaded disease (caused by Streptococcus pyogenes) with a 30 percent fatality rate, has become much less virulent over time, but there are tantalizing clues that the genetic information to express the scarlet fever toxin “jumped” to a related microorganism responsible for the relatively new and often-fatal “flesh-eating disease.” Microorganisms evolve right before our eyes, constantly posing new challenges for humans and furnishing scientists like Firshein plenty of material for research and writing.— Bill Holder

51lY1aG8zBL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Steve Almond ’88
Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto
(Melville House, 2014)

In this provocative book, Almond, a longtime football fan, explains why he no longer watches the game he still loves. He argues that American fans adore football so much that they have ignored its dangers, including the medical research proving that football accidents cause brain damage, with Hall of Famers suffering from dementia and taking their own lives. He also points out that children and teenagers are subject to similar injuries with the same long-term results. Almond shares an incident that attuned him to the horror of brain damage—an illness his mother suffered that resulted in her experiencing temporary acute dementia. By combining memoir, reportage, and cultural critique, he asks us to consider the following: What does it mean that our society has transmuted the intuitive physical joys of childhood—run, leap, throw, tackle—into a billion-dollar industry? How did a sport that causes brain damage become such an important part of college culture? And does the national addiction to football foster a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia?

alu_books_2014-1027211011Amy Bloom ’75
Lucky Us
(Random House, 2014)

Bloom’s witty and lively third novel centers around two resourceful half-sisters who reinvent themselves from 1939–1949. The story begins when 12-year-old Eva is left by her mother on her father Edgar’s doorstep in Windsor, Ohio; it turns out Edgar has another wealthy wife who has died and another daughter, the 16-year-old pretty and sophisticated Iris. The sisters bond, escape to California, and never look back. Iris soon becomes a movie star in a glamorous, decadent Hollywood but a scandal puts her on the blacklist. The sisters head back east to frequent the jazz clubs and mansions of Long Island as Bloom introduces an assortment of intriguing individuals, including a kindly gay Mexican makeup artist, a black lounge singer, and a mechanic who is deported to Germany, suspected of being a spy. Bloom’s characters take on new identities to adjust to life’s challenges, and several of them prove their resilience in the face of tragedy and broken love affairs.

alu_books_2014-1027210914Victoria Fish ’84
A Brief Moment of Weightlessness
(Mayapple Press, 2014)

In her touching collection of 11 short stories, Fish writes in an unadorned style that illuminates the daily lives of characters often caught in difficult situations that are immediately recognizable. Her highly emotional tales range from a young girl visiting her father in jail to a war veteran coping with a dying dog to an American student abroad dealing with her mother’s death to the effects of a serious injury on the lives of a married couple. She skillfully explores serious issues of death, infidelity, the aftermath of war, sibling rivalry, and more with sensitivity and wonder as she remains strongly attuned to the small, everyday moments that matter.

alu_books_2014-1027211044Robert E. Gallamore ’63 and John R. Meyer
American Railroads: Decline and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century
(Harvard University Press, 2014)

Gallamore and Meyer’s book tells the compelling story of how railroads, once iconic of American industry, fell into a long decline beginning around the turn of the 20th century but then the industry turned itself around by the end of ’90s. Stymied by regulation and often displaced by barge traffic on government-maintained waterways, trucking on interstate highways, and jet aviation, the railroad industry was subject to lost market share, abandoned track, bankruptcies, and unemployment. However, the authors demonstrate that current rail transportation is reviving, rescued by new sources of traffic and advanced technology, as well as less bureaucracy. Today, trains have smaller crews, operate over better track, and are longer and heavier than ever before. Near the end of the 20th century, after several difficult but important mergers, privately owned railroads increased their investments in safe, energy-efficient, environmentally friendly freight transportation.

alu_books_2014-1027211057Alison Bick Hirsch ’00

City Choreographer: Lawrence Halprin in Urban Renewal America
(University of Minnesota Press, 2014)

Urban designer and historian Hirsch provides the first up-close look at the work of one of the 20th century’s most prolific and influential landscape architects, Lawrence Halprin (1916–2009), best known for the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Sea Ranch, the iconic planned community in California. His projects introduced fresh ideas to urban landscapes and grew out of a participatory design process central to his work and relevant to urban design today. This book explains and interprets this creative process, called the RSVP Cycles, referring to the four components: resources, score, valuation, and performance. Blurring the line between observer and participant, Halprin sought a way to bring openness to the rigidly controlled worlds of architectural modernism and urban renewal in densely settled metropolitan areas. His designs were influenced by the work of his wife, Anna, a renowned dancer and choreographer.

alu_books_2014-1027210935Blake Nelson ’84
The Prince of Venice Beach
(Little Brown and Company, 2014)

Nelson’s latest young adult novel centers around a 17-year-old runaway from Nebraska, Robert “Cali” Callahan, who lives on the streets of Venice Beach, California, skateboarding, playing basketball, and sleeping in the treehouse of a yoga instructor. One day, a private investigator asks him to help locate another runaway, and he discovers he has a gift for finding others. But when he’s hired to find a rich, beautiful young girl who doesn’t want to be found, Cali’s carefree existence becomes more complicated. He also considers a future career as a private investigator. The Los Angeles Times calls the novel  “an engaging hybrid of young adult and noir genres” with “the kind of ending [Raymond] Chandler might have written.”

alu_books_2014-1027211019Matthew Palmer ’88
The American Mission
(Putnam, 2014)

A 20-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, Palmer drew upon his experience in Africa as inspiration for this enjoyable thriller of intrigue and international politics set in the Congo. In the book, Alex Baines, a former rising star of the State Department, loses his security clearances after a devastating experience in Darfur. Baines can either spend the rest of his career in visa-stamping limbo or move to the private sector. As he is about to resign, he receives a call from an old mentor with a tantalizing opportunity to begin again with restoration of both his security clearances and reputation. Baines soon discovers a shady U.S.-based mining company. As violence in the political climate escalates, he struggles to balance the best interests of the United States with the fate of the Congo and its people. His loyalties are tested as he seeks the right course of action. Kirkus Reviews writes: “An exciting story unfolds that’s filled with intrigue, murder and even romance. … This is first-rate fiction.”

alu_books_2014-1027210937Stan Parish ’06
Down the Shore
(Viking, 2014)

The protagonist of Parish’s assured first novel is Tom Alison, a smart, handsome fellow who attends an elite boarding school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, as a day student while helping his mother with her catering business in Princeton. His plans to move on to Columbia University and then to Wall Street are shut down when he gets busted for selling drugs to his wealthier classmates. Tom forms a bond with ex-schoolmate Clare Savage, whose financier father is under investigation for insider trading. After a summer of surfing and partying, the two friends go abroad to St. Andrews University in Scotland, where rich Americans hope for a second chance alongside the British ruling class. Tom soon becomes embroiled in a life fueled by greed and ambition, and his time spent with an elite crowd into sex, drugs, and status leads him to more trouble. The Fort-Worth Star Telegram calls the novel a “beautifully written work. Scene-after-scene, expositions create complex characters and capture the details of the excess of the years right after the turn of this century while also carrying out timeless and compelling themes of friendship, family, and self-discovery.”

alu_books_2014-1027211112Tamara I. Sears ’96
Worldly Gurus and Spiritual Kings: Architecture and Asceticism in Medieval India
(Yale University Press, 2014)

Drawing upon entirely new primary research, Sears, an assistant professor of South Asian art and architectural history at Yale, examines the architectural and archaeological histories of six little-known monasteries in Central India and reveals the relationships between political power, religion, and the production of sacred space. Her pioneering book is the first full-length study of the matha, or Hindu monastery, which developed in India at the turn of the first millennium. The matha, built majestically in stone, represented not just an architectural innovation but also the institutionalization of asceticism into a formal monastic practice, and marked the emergence of the guru as an influential public figure. This important work of scholarship offers a vast amount of new material to those interested in Asian art, religious studies, and cultural history.

alu_books_2014-1027211030Ayelet Waldman ’86
Love and Treasure
(Knopf, 2014)

Waldman’s thoughtful and ambitious novel told from multiple perspectives was inspired by the true story of the Hungarian Gold Train during World War II. In 1945, on the outskirts of Salzburg, American soldiers come upon a train full of expensive items including gold watches, wedding rings, picture frames, and Shabbat candlesticks. Lieutenant Jack Wiseman is assigned to guard this treasure in the war’s aftermath, a task that becomes complicated when he meets Ilona, a striking Hungarian woman who has lost everything. Decades later, Jack gives a pendant to his granddaughter, Natalie, and asks her to return it to its owner. Natalie agrees, and her search for an unknown woman may help her understand the guilt her grandfather experienced. The novel’s powerful last section, narrated by a Jewish psychoanalyst, brings to life the Jewish Budapest of 1913 and introduces individuals whose possessions would later be found on the Gold Train.
—BOOK REVIEWS BY DAVID LOW ’76 unless otherwise noted

If you are a member of the Wesleyan community with a new book, please let us know by contacting David Low at dlow@wesleyan.edu. Please send a review copy of your book to David Low, c/o Office of University Communications, South College, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459.

For news about recent faculty publications, please see the Faculty Bookshelf at wesleyan.edu/academics/faculty/bookshelf.html.

David Low '76 writes about arts and culture for the Wesleyan magazine and Wesleyan Connection. He is associate director of publications in the Office of University Communications. He is also a published fiction writer. E-mail: dlow@wesleyan.edu