Compiled by Andrea Dimino
Every year, New College faculty, administration and staff present an annual Holiday Book Guide, with reviews compiled by English professor Andrea Dimino. The full list, published in the Dec. 11 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, offers a wide range of interests and perspectives. Here’s an excerpt. Happy reading.
Donal O’Shea, President of New College of Florida
On Sept. 14, 2015, our planet and everyone on it squeezed down in one direction and bounced back. Eight seconds away, our sun shortened, then lengthened, in the same direction.
Clocks and hearts slowed, then quickened. It was the first time that a gravitational wave had ever been observed.
The full confirmation and analysis this February awed the scientific community. There was, to be sure, recognition of the technological feat (each of us contracted by less than the width of a proton) and the eerie timing: a few days short of 100 years from Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves. But the awe has deeper roots. To understand them, read Thibault Damour’s short book “Once Upon Einstein” (A. K. Peters, 2006).
Writing especially for young readers whose high school courses “may not always reveal the fundamental beauty of the concepts of science,” Damour does a superb job explaining gravitational waves and other parts of Einstein’s work without using equations. He discusses orbiting neutron stars and black holes, without mentioning his work solving Einstein’s equations near singularities (that would help identify the Sept. 14 gravitational wave as resulting from the merger 1.3 billion years ago of two orbiting black holes, each 15 solar masses). The book brilliantly conveys the beauty and revolutionary simplicity of Einstein’s ideas. Its portrayal of Einstein’s intellectual virtues is just as timely: his curiosity, his struggle to understand, his respect for observation, his fearlessness, and his efforts to free himself from unconscious assumptions.
Jack Reilly, Political Science
The surprising result of the 2016 presidential election — at least, surprising to pollsters and the political class — was just the most recent unanticipated electoral result from world and American politics, where ruling economic and political elites had their expectations overturned by voters at the polls. This result was not surprising to many outside the political mainstream, however, and the political distance between rural America and urban America is arguably greater than it has been for generations.
In her recent book, “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker” (University of Chicago Press, 2016), Katherine Cramer takes a look at this divide in an in-depth series of interviews with rural voters that circle around a series of highly contentious state elections in Wisconsin. While the book is ostensibly about Wisconsin politics, what Cramer illustrates in her state clearly holds broader importance for all of American politics, and gives compelling insight into the rise of Donald Trump and his supporters in the 2016 elections.
Katherine Walstrom, Biochemistry
Felicia Day is a multitalented entrepreneur and actress who is familiar to anyone who enjoys science fiction shows, online gaming, or early YouTube channels. Her memoir “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)” (Touchstone, 2015) is a funny, engaging and inspiring story about how she goes from a home-schooled savant to an online trailblazer who creates an early crowd-funded online show called “The Guild.” Facing her fears, she draws on her strengths, and survives the impostor syndrome and depression.
One of my favorite scenes is when she is shopping with her father and runs into a fan. It reminds me of a common scientist’s interaction with a relative who asks “What is it you do again?” Day takes the initiative to find her own path to success because other people keep trying to make her conform to their vision. She has good advice for anyone who has felt out of place or needs inspiration. In the audiobook, narrated by the author, her great personality comes through.
Ms. Day reminds me of many of my students at New College. If you don’t know her yet, I recommend an internet search to see what you’ve been missing.
Theresa Burress, Jane Bancroft Cook Library
Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat” (Penguin Books, 2014) is the astonishing story of Joe Rentz and his University of Washington crew team, who represented the United States during the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. I was captivated by the humble portrayal of Seattle as a tar-and-paper shanty town during the depths of the Great Depression, and deeply moved by the physical, mental, and emotional challenges that Joe Rentz and the other young men overcame throughout their journey.
Many of them first learned rowing as college freshmen, and the reader learns along with them the many nuances of the sport along with the craft of building racing shells. They competed fiercely against the elite East Coast teams, made their overland trek to the national competition in New York, and then traveled to Adolf Hitler’s carefully staged pre-war Berlin, which was polished to receive a global audience.
Despite knowing the final outcome, I remained riveted as the team came together as one spirit and rowed their way to the ultimate reward of Olympic gold. (“The Boys in the Boat” is the 2017 One Book One Community selection in Sarasota County.)