Professors share their must-read books
RELEASED: December 6, 2007
DANVILLE, KY—Professors at Centre College are known for handing out reading assignments--just ask their students! But what books do they recommend that everyone read before another year passes? Here are some of the answers.
Beth Glazier-McDonald, H.W. Stodghill Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Religion
My first selection (although not necessarily in order of preference) is Tom Friedman's fascinating and often provocative book, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree." The two images that dominate the book's title effectively rivet the reader's attention on the way in which global economic growth (the Lexus) is a clear and present danger to particular cultural identity (the olive tree). To turn a phrase from my discipline--the global democratization of technology, finance and information threatens to eradicate all that stands in its way--like a second flood of biblical proportion.
My second selection is J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books. I've enjoyed each and every one of them...multiple times (I even have them on CD's for listening pleasure when I drive). They always remind me that there is, in fact, magic in the world. They remind me also of times shared with my sons as we wrangled over who would get to read each book first (eventually I broke down and bought three copies so that we could read together), as we debated the merits of each book and as we combed the books for clues about which characters (Harry, Ron and Hermione, in particular) would survive the final battle with Lord Voldemort.
Art Moore, associate professor of mathematics and computer science and director of information technology services
"Paris 1919" by Margaret MacMillan: To understand fully the turmoil in Eastern Europe and the Middle East over the past 90 years, one must explore the events that evolved from the six months of treaty negotiations following the "war to end all wars."
Lee Patterson, visiting assistant professor of classics
"The March of Folly" by Barbara Tuchman: So much that's happening in the world today has played out before. This book shows us how history is there to teach us, if we'll pay attention. Specifically, it talks about how governments often pursue policies contrary to their own interests, and it maps out some of the very mistakes that have been made in the 21st century with eerily similar results.
Milton Scarborough, professor emeritus of philosophy and religion
"The World's Religions" by Huston Smith: It's a widely used (perhaps the most widely used) book for courses that survey the religions of the world. So, why is it important to read it?
1. Globalization is not simply an economic phenomenon. There's a globalization of religions. That means that each of the major religions has now spread to every part of the world. The result is that all of the religions have moved into close proximity to each other. This is especially true in the United States. If we want to get along with our neighbors, we need to know something about their religions.
2. For more intelligent and effective foreign policy, we need to know about the dominant religions of the various nation-states that we interact with. Clearly, during the Vietnam War we did not understand the Buddhist view of time (they see time in terms of extremely long eras, while we want things to happen immediately), and this steeled the Viet Cong psychologically. They were mentally prepared to outlast us. It worked. Also, it's clear that top people in the present administration and even people on the Foreign Relations Committee of the Congress didn't appreciate the hatred of Sunni and Shia Muslims for each other. At best, they thought the differences were of the same order as the differences between Baptists and Methodists. Scholars who knew something about Islam understood the can of worms we were getting into.
3. Even if people are committed to one religion, they have something they can learn from other religions. Not only about the other religions but also about their own religion as seen through the eyes of members of other religions.
4. About 10 years ago, the Lexington Herald-Leader (I believe it was) did a survey of librarians in central Kentucky and asked them to compose a list of must-read books. The lists were then published in the newspaper. Nearly every librarian included Smith's book.
It was, I think, the most often mentioned book. Smith is regarded as particularly lucid and sensitive in his treatment of the various religions.
Paul Sikkel, visiting assistant professor of biology
1. "The Future of Life" by E.O. Wilson
2. "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv
3. "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" by Charles Darwin
4. "In the Shadow of Man" by Jane Goodall
5. "50 Things You Can Do to Save the Ocean"
All of these books foster an appreciation for the natural world and a deeper understanding of the human relationship with it. I think these books are especially important for future educators who increasingly find themselves interacting with technologically savvy students who have lost or never gained the ability to perceive patterns and processes in the natural world. I might also add "So Excellent a Fishe" by Archie Carr, a book about sea turtles.
Andrea Abrams, Consortium for Faculty Diversity at Liberal Arts Colleges Postdoctoral Fellow
1. "Blue-Chip Black: Race, Class and Status in the New Black Middle Class" by Karyn Lacy: Lacy is a sociologist who uses anthropological methodology to examine identity among middle-class African Americans in Washington, D.C. This is an important book to read not only because it reminds us that not all black people are poor, but also because it makes us think about the differences between race and class. Do middle-class black people act white? What does it mean to act white? Does class create rifts and problems between poor black people and more affluent black people? What does it mean to be black? This book doesn't answer these questions, but it helps us to think about them in better ways.
2. "Woman: An Intimate Geography" by Natalie Angier: I loved reading this book. The author describes it as asking the question, "What makes a woman?" It challenges gender stereotypes about how women are naturally supposed to be and it demonstrates how sexism and cultural biases have influenced the scientific study of women. But what it does really well is provide fascinating theories about how and why women's bodies have evolved in the particular ways that they have. It's not a dense academic book but an accessible informative discussion about all the interesting things that our bodies do that we aren't always aware of and how much potential women's bodies embody.
3. "Homegirls in the Public Sphere" by Marie Keta Miranda: Miranda is a professor of Mexican-American studies who has written an ethnography on Chicana girl gangs. But what makes this book different is that it's not another text describing why poor people of color behave in certain ways. Rather, the author worked with members of a gang so that they could tell their own stories and contest some of the stereotypes about them. In fact, Miranda collaborated with the young women to produce a documentary film called "It's a Homie Thang." This book describes what it's like for the social scientist to balance her academic perception of a situation with how people in the situation perceive their own lives.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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