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Stocking stuffers for book lovers

With the holidays upon us, we asked an interesting cross-section of Lehigh faculty and staff members to name one book that people should buy for a friend or family member on their holiday shopping list with a short reason why that book would make the perfect gift.

Here are the stocking-stuffer ideas they had for the readers and book collectors in your life.

Yaba Blay, Academic Director, Joint Multicultural Program, and Research Professor, Africana Studies & Women's Studies
The Secret Lives of Bees, by Sue Monk Kid

The Secret Lives of Bees is a heart warmer indeed. You will read it once, if not twice and fall in love with the characters each and every time. The energy between the characters is vivid and you will be able to picture and imagine every scene as you read. It will read like you are watching it unfold in front of you (and yes, the movie did an excellent job!). I was hooked all the way through and was able to finish it in two sittings. Full of political relevance and racial tension, it is an uplifting story about women—mothers and daughters especially. There are so many lessons and messages about life, womanhood and motherhood that you may find yourself experiencing deep moments of reflection, whether you are a woman or not. This will definitely be a stocking stuffer for my 14-year daughter this year.”

Dork Sahagian, Director, Environmental Initiative and Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences
The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability, by James Gustave Speth

“This one is not for the faint of heart. Speth seems to be shouting at the choir as I read this, but for those not deeply immersed in the study of global environmental change, climate science, national and international policies driven by short-term economic interests, and the geologic perspective that shows that no species is immune from extinction, this book is a wonderful, yet disturbing treatment of the fundamental mismatch between economic ‘growth,’ human culture, and the natural environment upon which we ultimately depend. I certainly hope I can find a suitable hole in the sand from which to call out that this is all an inflammatory exaggeration, and we don't really need to find solutions or alter our ‘way of life’ And yet, who ever thought, back in 1948, that Orwell's 1984 was understating the issue?”

Chris Mulvihill, Assistant Dean of Students, Office of Student Conduct
The Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe

“It often seems like every problem we face is insurmountably complex and that things now are worse than they have ever been. This book takes a cyclical view of American history and shows that what we are experiencing now, we have experienced before. I have purchased several copies of this book and am always giving them away or lending them out without hope of return once someone gets hooked. It is a book that will make people think about things in a completely different way.”

Linda Harbrecht, communications manager, University Relations
The Last Campaign of Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America, by Thurston Clarke

“I initially was inspired to pick it up to mark the 40th anniversary of RFK's assassination, but reading it underscored the parallels between the political climate that existed nearly half a century ago and today—a bitterly divided country, an unpopular war, a candidate who combined the lofty ability to inspire with cunning political skills, an appeal to a sense of social conscience and moral strength—someone who called on citizens to act on our better angels instead of indulging our darkest impulses. I know some reviewers have accused the author of over-sentimentality or even idol worship, and I wouldn't argue with that. But the book is also eloquent and insightful and fills in gaps that I didn't realize existed in what many consider the best book written about Kennedy—Jack Newfield's Robert Kennedy: A Memoir—and it captures the frenetic energy of the campaign, which was distilled down to such a brief and emotional period during the spring of 1968.”

Rajan Menon, Monroe J. Rathbone Professor of International Relations
The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“It's on how little we know about the stuff we are sure we know lots about. I'd ask all economist and Wall Streeters in particular to read it.”

J. Bruce Gardiner, Director of Admissions
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

“This book is written in an unusual fashion in that the characters have no names and there are no chapters. It is frightening, but at the same time I couldn't put it down. Given the terrorist attacks we face in this world, and the potential for a nuclear device falling into the hands of terrorist organizations, the book is timely and a strong warning to all of us of the value of peace in our world.”

Wight Martindale ’60, Martindale Center Fellow
South Wind through the Kitchen, by Elizabeth David

"This book is the best of Elizabeth David. She is the finest writer ever on the subject of food, which she loves passionately. Another idea for a reader is anything by Charles Dickens ... he takes you to another time and place, and he remains the best of all novelists writing in English.”

Richard Weisman, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Robert Fagles’ translations of Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey

“Robert Fagles' translations of The Iliad (published in 1990) and The Odyssey (published in 1996) are superb. They are both stories of the beginnings of Western civilization: war, love, leadership, and man's journey through life. To me, all literature starts with Homer.”

Bill Doherty, assistant editorial director, University Relations
The Tender Bar, by J.R. Moehringer

“In this superbly written memoir, Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize winner for feature writing in 2000, fondly recalls growing up without a father in Manhasset, Long Island, a hometown that he says was famous for producing a ‘disproportionate number of superb lacrosse players and a still-greater number of distended livers.’ Because his father left before he had spoken his first word, J.R. turned to the neighborhood bar—where his Uncle Charlie was a bartender and where all sorts of men gathered to tell their stories and forget their cares—in search of male role models. In this intoxicating book, Moehringer recalls how the men taught him, tended him, and provided him with a kind of fatherhood-by-committee.”

Beth Dolan, associate professor of English; director of the Health, Medicine and Society minor
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jumpa Lahiri

“Lahiri's powerful first collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, immediately seduced me with its beautiful language and imagery—at once lyrical and startling. Her new short story collection (following the popular novel and film The Namesake) is equally masterful: realistic, achingly beautiful, and emotionally astute. Pulitzer Prize winner Lahiri focuses her keen eye and sympathic narration on a variety of dislocated people of varying ages and circumstances, and these stories about relationships, cultural inheritance, and life transition are set in India, Thailand, Rome, Cambridge, and Seattle. The stories are heart rending, inspiring, and demsuasive argument that urges Democrats, specifically, to pay more attention to how issues, frames, and positions are presented to the public in the context of political debate. ‘Emotion,’ as his subtitle implies, has a profound influence on how people track, process, and participate in politics and successful candidates—as Westen shows through an analysis of commercials, speeches, etc.—are those who realize this and are not tethered to the myth of the steadily rational and calculating voter. It is too bad that revelations of this sort have to come from outside the discipline of political science."

Dean Koski, head coach of Lehigh’s men’s soccer team
Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

“Best book I've ever read.”

Lisa Hersh, Associate Director of Communication, Lehigh Fund
World Without End, by Ken Follett

“This year I tackled Ken Follett's sequel World Without End. The epic begins two centuries after building the Gothic cathedral in Pillars of the Earth, and it has the same great plot of love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge, all against the backdrop of the most devastating natural disaster ever to strike the human race—the Black Death. It's fabulous.”

Martin Harmer, director of Lehigh’s Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology
The Hungry Ocean, by Linda Greenlaw

“This book is for anyone that loves the sea as much as I do. Linda Greenlaw writes a brilliant and gritty account of her real-life exploits as the captain of the Hannah Boden, sister ship to the Andrea Gail in the Perfect Storm. If you enjoy watching the documentaries of the Alaskan crab fishing in the Bering Sea, you’ll love this book. Her other books The Lobster Chronicles and All Fisherman are Liars are equally compelling and filled with great humor that down-to-earth Englishmen like me really appreciate.”

Silagh White, director of ArtsLehigh
A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink

“There's one particular book I've not only been recommending, but BUYING for my colleagues: This book is a new approach to the left-brain, right-brain understanding. His argument is that the right-brain qualities (inventiveness, empathy, meaning) will be leading the direction towards the Conceptual Age from the previously left-brain-dominated Information Age. But his conclusion is that we all need to use BOTH sides of our brains to understand the complexity of our times. After reading this book, I not only see things differently, but I experience the world differently. This book is not only for personal reflection, but an interesting awareness as I watch my own children develop their understanding of the world, relationships and strengths.”

Kevin Cassese, Smith Family Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach
Good to Great, by James C. Collins

“This book is not only pertinent to athletics (although it might be the most popular book going right now in my field), but any group or individual who strives to be the best at what they do.”

Aurelie Thiele, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science
The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida

“This book describes a rising force in today's economy, the creative class, which has grown to represent almost a third of the workforce and consists of anyone using ideas and creativity in their work, such as scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, consultants, professors, and, of course, artists. The book discusses the kind of environment that appeals to the creative class and how cities can make themselves more attractive to this group of increasing socioeconomic importance. It will make a great gift for any resident of the Lehigh Valley interested in ways to help the region flourish. Florida was a long-time resident of Pittsburgh at the time he wrote the book, and as such has first-hand knowledge of the economic challenges facing former steel cities. The Allentown/Bethlehem area is even mentioned twice in passing.”

Ian Duffy, professor of history and director of the Office of Fellowship Advising
Vermeer’s Hat. The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global Age, by Timothy Brook

“Brook, a professor of Chinese studies, uses everyday objects in Vermeer’s paintings as windows into the wider world of the seventeenth century. His account of the movement of such items as beaver pelts, tobacco, and silver from the Americas and porcelain and spices from Asia is enriched by tales of shipwrecks, pirates, invasions, gun-battles, and massacres. The result is a highly entertaining and innovative picture of a world whose intercultural links are comparable to those of today.”

Michael Gill, associate professor of psychology
Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

“My recommendation would be Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Or better yet, browse through his books at a book store and choose what seems most suitable for your giftee. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Master and poet whose writing is both simple and, when read with awareness, ultimately profound. Reading his books can make you feel like you are walking on clouds, like you are connected to all of humanity, like you are connected to the Universe, like your life is so meaningful that even the way you close a door has significance. He can make you see the world with fresh, new eyes. If you suspect that one of your giftees would like to feel these things, get him or her a book by Thich Nhat Hanh!”

Carolina Hernandez, Director of Community Service
Mary, by Janis Cooke Newman

“Mary is a historical fiction written about one of history's most misunderstood and riveting women, Mary Todd Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln’s wife). Comprised of notes composed by Mary Todd Lincoln when she was an inmate of a lunatic asylum, Mary captures both your attention and heart. It’s quite simply one of those amazing books you cannot stop reading. This book makes you a fan of both the author and the subject. It’s a must read.”

Ricardo Viera, professor of art, Director and curator Lehigh University Art Galleries museum
Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Danny Danzinger

A Back Stage Pass to The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a fascinating
world unto its own—from the aristocratic, acerbic director of the museum to the curators who
have a deep knowledge and passionate appreciation of their collections, from the security guard
and gardeners to the philanthropists who keep the museum's financial lifeblood flowing.”

Bill Hunter, director of Global Union and Lehigh/United Nations Partnership
The Post American World, by Farid Zakaria

“It's a good follow-up to The World is Flat.”

Ilhan Citak, Archives and Special Collections Librarian
Travels in the Scriptorium, by Paul Auster

Travels in the Scriptorium is a typical Paul Auster book: So hard to put aside until you finish reading it and at the same time so hard to deal with the anxiety of coming to its end ... It is a ritual to read Paul Auster. Undoubtedly, the best American author alive, Paul Auster shows his gift of storytelling in this book too. It is an invitation to the ‘good literature,’ to the style and quality that we think only belongs to the classics. You won't feel guilty for reading it before you give it away as a gift.”

Jill Brown, Assistant Professor, Management Department
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Relin

“It is an entertaining and inspirational true story about mountain climber Greg Mortenson, who failed an attempt to climb Pakistan's K2 mountain in 1993. Mortenson is nursed back to health by Pakistani villagers and subsequently pledges to build them a school. He eventually fulfills this pledge and goes on to build 77 more schools in the area. The book is not just a ‘good read,’ but it is truly heartwarming as you read about Mortenson's challenges in raising money and awareness about this remote area of the world. My 19-year old daughter loved it as well, so this is a book that crosses generations. We both laughed and wept for this wonderful man and his commitment to improving education in central Asia.”

Timothy Gardner, director of LGBTQA Services
Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman, by Leslie Feinberg

“As (author) Kate Bornstein says, ‘Men and Women have had their histories. This is the history book for the rest of us.’ Transgender Warriors is an exploration of Transgender and gender non-conforming history. Through pictures, research and biographies this book shakes up our notions of gender, how we use it, and who's included under the transgender and gender non-conforming spectrum.”

Nikki Tannenbaum, professor of sociology and anthropology
Astronomy: 365 Days, by Jerry T. Bonnell and Robert J. Nemiroff

“This is a best of the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). This is one of my favorite sites, I check it every day. All the pictures are amazing: the stars, star forming regions, and sometimes just views of the sky from earth. They often resemble wonderful abstract art. And the captions are informative and fun to read.”

Becky Straw, communications associate, University Relations
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard

“For this Pulitzer Prize winning book, Dillard draws from her year of lone wanderings through the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia. Her muses begin in the suddenly dramatic lives of praying mantis, muskrats and grasshoppers, but quickly branches into metaphysics. Dillard expresses her exuberant and contagious awe in a prose that approaches poetry.”

Frank Pazzaglia, chair of the department of earth and environmental science
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, by David R. Montgomery

“In this book, Montgomery explores the linkage between the rise and falls of human cultures and agriculture. In the process, he illustrates how soil and agricultural practices are central to the health of modern societies including our own. He presents compelling data to argue that the degree of soil erosion we, including the United States, have caused by poor agricultural practices are not sustainable and that we must adopt smart conservation methods if we are to enter a future of economic prosperity and agricultural plenty."

Sue Cady, director of administration, planning & advancement, Library and Technology Services
Captivity, by Debbie Lee Wesselmann

“It has a university/laboratory-type setting, but a very unique one that explores the relationship between chimps and people and to a much greater degree, human relationships. The research angle is very interesting and makes you curious to know more; it also highlights the ways in which certain academic fields and public perceptions about animal experimentation have changed in a few decades. It's an easy and interesting read with an intriguing plot line. The author teaches English at Lehigh and is married to computer science and engineering professor Dan Lopresti. Let's support our local authors, of whom there are many!”

Jill Anderson ’91, director of regional alumni clubs and off-campus affinity programs, Alumni Association
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, by Mary S. Lovell

“Absolutely fascinating read! You need to construct a family tree or a large chart to keep track of Nancy, Diana, Pamela, Unity, Jessica, Deborah, their brother, their parents and everyone they were related to or knew ... from Churchill to Hitler. But, the extra work is worth it!”

Ted Morgan, professor of political science
Getting A Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad, Frances Moore Lappé

”A slim (155 pages) and highly readable account in which Lappé draws on a variety of sources, including research on the human brain, to juxtapose the ‘thin democracy’ that we currently live under against a ‘living democracy’ that trusts and nurtures human beings' inherent inclination toward empathy. Lappé explains how our contemporary paradigm, resting as it does on a foundation of human self-interest, generates a ‘spiral of powerlessness’ and an increasingly non-sustainable world system. Against this paradigm, she sketches out a ‘spiral of empowerment’ that provides the foundation for a richer and more gratifying ‘living democracy.’ This is a good read that students in one of my classes greatly enjoyed.”

In conjunction with this year’s list, the Lehigh University Bookstore has set up a table in the lobby area with a cross-section of the aforementioned books and has offered to special order any of the recommended books—with no obligation to buy and with no ordering fee—if the one the shopper wants is not in stock.

--Bill Doherty

 

Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2008

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