Professors honored for teaching excellence give summer reading suggestions

2017 Quantrell and Graduate Teaching award winners offer their favorites

Whether sprawled on the sands of 57th Street Beach or just imagining an ocean view as an air conditioner hums, you’re likely looking for a summer reading recommendation. Here are books suggested by the 2017 Quantrell and Graduate Teaching award winners:

James T. Robinson, Professor of the History of Judaism and the College:

“There are some old-time ones that had a profound impact on my research: Werner Jaeger’s three-volume Paedaia, Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, Jacques Le Goff’s book The Birth of Purgatory and his edited volume Medieval Callings, and pretty much anything written by Anthony Grafton. These really shaped my understanding of what cultural history can be and inspired me to search quixotically for the ‘total history’ the Annales school dreamed of.”

Alison James, Associate Professor in Romance Languages & Literatures and the College:

Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec is the work that inspired me in my graduate studies and has led me to where I am now. This is an incredible encyclopedic novel. It’s set in an apartment building in Paris, and what happens is the narrator moves from room to room and in each room, you have multiple stories that come out of various elements. It’s an exuberant collection of stories but at the same time it has a very melancholic dimension.”

Agnes Callard, Assistant Professor in Philosophy and the College:

“I taught a class on self-creation, and we read two novels. We read James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for the first half and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend in the second. It’s about turning yourself into the person you want to be. In both of these cases it’s about turning yourself into an artist, but My Brilliant Friend is really about doing it from a position of oppression–how can you make yourself whoever you want to be when at every turn the world around you is resisting you doing that–and the way in which one tiny thing, like having one friend, can make the difference in making that project manageable.”

Julie Orlemanski, Assistant Professor in English Language & Literature and the College:

As a graduate student at Harvard, we had a philosophy group that made our way through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit three times while I was a member. We read other things, too, but that text transformed the way I thought. If not Hegel, I encourage students to tackle these huge works of conceptual thinking that rewire your brain with the mental gymnastics they entail.”

Joseph Masco, Professor in Anthropology and the College:

“One recent book that I think is quite important is S. Lochlann Jain’s book, Malignant. Jane is a science and technology medical anthropologist scholar, and she wrote a book on how the experience of cancer, the expertise around cancer, the American political space around cancer is organized. The text is at once a way of thinking about a medical condition, it’s a way of thinking about how illness is socially organized, and it’s also a bracing ethnographic exploration of the disease itself.”

Scott Snyder, Professor in Chemistry and the College:

“One that I recommend to my students is a book called Mauve by Simon Garfield. It’s about the discovery of the first synthetic dye for fabrics. It was a completely accidental discovery. The goal of the research was to synthesize a molecule of quinine which at the time was the only real cure for malaria. It was well beyond the capabilities of what was possible at that time. By a mistaken experiment that made a tarry residue that normally we would throw out, the main discover of this compound decided to try and extract that residue with some solvent, and out of it came a beautiful purple color which provided the first solution which could dye fabric purple. Prior to that the only way to get that color was reserved for royalty because Phoenician seas slugs were the only natural source to dye things purple.”

Andy Abbott, the Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology and the College:

“The book that I read in the last year that revealed the most to me was, I suppose, The Romance of Three Kingdoms. Why would I recommend a ramshackle Chinese historical novel from the fourteenth century? Because it provides access to central themes in Chinese culture like honor and betrayal, disloyalty and calculation, lying and misrepresentation, deception and domination, expertise and valor, etc. Not to mention that it is the origin of many of the characters in video games from East Asia. On the other hand, it’s 2200 pages or so.”

Bana Jabri, Professor in Medicine, Pediatrics and the College

“The two books that made an impression on me but for very different reasons and influence the way I think and look at things are: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins that helps put immunological concepts into an evolutionary perspective and Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. One sentence that speaks strongly to me in Thus Spoke Zarathustra is, “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” He pushes the idea that one should accept to explore, that one should accept confusion and complexity, and that there is no one solution for everybody and one should follow his or her own path. This applies very much to scientists, the way we question, we accept the unknown and deconstruct to rebuild and make discoveries.”

Jason MacLean, Associate Professor in Neurobiology and the College:

“Two recent reads that I enjoyed are The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom by UChicago statistics professor Stephen Stigler. And Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism by Peter Marshall.”

Books can be purchased at the Seminary Co-op.