Shelf Life

November/December 2002

Reading time min

Crossing the Sauer: A Memoir of World War II
Charles Reis Felix, ’50
Burford Books, 2002

The author dispels any notion of combat “glory” as he recreates life in an assault platoon within the 5th Infantry Division of Patton’s Third Army. Leavening his gritty narrative with stories of unexpected kindness and humor, Felix conveys both the despair and the deep camaraderie of men sent out to die. When a case of jaundice sends him home after three months, he finishes college, marries, raises a family and enjoys a teaching career in Redwood City. Pondering his fortune some 50 years later, he concludes: “Chance dictates everything.”

Saguaro: The Desert Giant
Anna Humphreys and Susan Lowell, ’72, MA ’74
Rio Nuevo, 2002

This book is a lavishly illustrated, fact-packed guide to the world’s most recognizable cactus. The saguaro plays a remarkable role in Southwest life and lore, and the authors cover topics ranging from traditional uses for its ribs—birdcages, splints, shelves, grave coverings, fencing, oars, among many others—to recipes for syrups and sundaes and the saguaro’s place in pop culture.

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
Atul Gawande, ’87
Metropolitan Books, 2002

A surgical resident and staff writer for the New Yorker, the author reminds readers that every physician makes mistakes; that, for better or worse, doctors must learn on the job with human guinea pigs in teaching hospitals; and that diagnosis is sometimes a hit-or-miss affair with disastrous or miraculous results. By being candid about his profession’s inescapable shortcomings, he makes its successes seem all the more triumphant.

The Complete Poetry of Catullus
trans. David Mulroy, PhD ’71
University of Wisconsin Press, 2002

Not all Latin texts are dry descriptions of Gaul and military campaigns. Catullus, a wealthy young eques, or knight, in the 1st century B.C., wrote scathing lines about Caesar and his circle (“lowlife scumbucket pig,” “detestable perverts”) and graphic obscenities about his rivals in love. Mulroy is associate professor of classics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; he has performed these translations at poetry slams.

Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown
Michael Cunningham, ’75
Crown, 2002
Despite his dubious first impressions of Provincetown during the bleak off-season, this unconventional outpost at the tip of Cape Cod grew on Cunningham. In 175 pages, he offers perspectives on the town’s history and landmarks, the habits and mindset of locals and sojourners, and the peculiarities of the ecosystem—interspersed with verses by poets who are linked to his subject.
School Choice Tradeoffs: Liberty, Equity and Diversity
R. Kenneth Godwin and Frank R. Kemerer, ’63, MA ’68, PhD ’75
University of Texas Press, 2002
Godwin, a public policy expert, and Kemerer, a specialist in law and education, probe the costs and benefits of school reforms that involve parental choice. Asserting that all policies require tradeoffs among conflicting legal, moral, political and economic goals, they propose legislation “a liberal democratic society should find acceptable.”
The Red Count: The Life and Times of Harry Kessler
Laird Easton, MA ’82, PhD ’91
UC Press, 2002
This is the first full biography in English of the German aristocrat-turned-leftist, who flourished in the Weimar Republic then fled Nazism toward the end of his life (1868-1937). With Kessler’s exhaustive diaries and correspondence at his disposal, Easton charts a cosmopolitan existence that spanned diplomacy, the avant-garde art and literary scene, and international politics.
Inside the Cult of Kibu and Other Tales of the Millennial Gold Rush
Lori Gottlieb, ’89, and Jesse Jacobs
Perseus, 2002
Gottlieb and Jacobs chronicle the hype, hopes and hangovers wrought by the dot-com bubble through interviews with nearly 100 people who participated or kept close watch. Gottlieb weaves in her own surreal experience with the amply funded but fuzzily conceived, a website aimed at teenage girls that missed its target.

Opera, Sex, and Other Vital Matters
Paul Robinson
University of Chicago Press, 2002

The Stanford humanities professor offers essays ranging from the role of opera in intellectual history to the sexual politics of Orwell’s 1984. He also includes a “reverie on cats” and an account of his liver transplant—in a collection he calls representative of the “perhaps extravagant heterogeneity” of his interests.

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