Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2013

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The new science center at New London Hall. Photo by Bob Macdonnell

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Faculty and alumni books


The Politics of the President's Wife
By MaryAnne Borrelli
2011, Texas A&M University Press, $24.95
Available at Amazon.com

Borrelli, a professor of government at the College, analyzes the roles played and influence wielded by first ladies from Lou Henry Hoover to Michelle Obama. Drawing from the archival resources of the presidential libraries, Borrelli makes a compelling case for the first lady as an important member of the president's administration.

“This post is a complicated mixture of the formal and the informal,” she says. “These women receive their highest approval ratings when presenting themselves as apolitical and nonpartisan moral guardians, yet they are popularly expected to advance public policy initiatives and reforms.”

Readers get an in-depth look at how these women, filling an extremely gendered role, have navigated and negotiated presidential politics. Each has brought her own set of values with her, and those often dictate where she exerts her influence and where she rebels against the constructed norms. For example, Borrelli says Michelle Obama's outreach to children and to parents is very much in keeping with first lady traditions of addressing women-centered, private-sphere issues, but she has made her mark by reaching out to people typically neglected or stigmatized by decision-makers, such as urban families, families of color, the working poor and military families.

“The Politics of the President's Wife” explores prevailing conceptions of power, identity and office and further examines the presidency as an evolving philosophical, cultural and political creation. “As we study the first ladies, we learn about ourselves, our political system and our values,” Borrelli says.

Moreover, Obama has made her mark while dealing with especially complicated gender and race stereotypes.

“People seldom consider the ways in which race and gender interact,” Borelli says. “Because a white first lady has been the norm, those women could sidestep this association. But that isn't an option for Obama. She has to negotiate a diverse public's presumptions and judgments about black women. And she has done this well.”

Borrelli added that Obama's cautious shifting of traditions is entirely absent from her personal style, which Borrelli describes as powerful.

“Obama takes a very distinctive approach to fashion,” Borrelli says. “Very consistently, the designer and the design deliver a message. The dress Obama wore when speaking at the recent Democratic Party Convention, for example, was designed by an African American woman designer from Detroit, and it will be sold in retail stores. It was a subtle, powerful, strategic statement, a gender performance that epitomized the complexity of this first lady's politics. There are those who will say, 'Who cares about a dress?' But she was the most watched of all the convention speakers and people will remember her self presentation, her gender performance.”


Embodying Latino Masculinities
By Jennifer Domino Rudolph
2012, Palgrave MacMillan, $85
Available at Amazon.com

To most, the 2000 crime drama “Traffic” is just a movie. For Hispanic Studies Professor Jennifer Rudolph, it is a fascinating study of issues of Latino masculinity, both real and imagined.

“The movie explores the Mexican-U.S. drug trade, presenting the good people and the 'less bad' as 'less Mexican,'” Rudolph says.
The film inspired her to begin exploring representations of Latino masculinity, leading to an in-depth analysis of six case studies in her new book, “Embodying Latino Masculinities.” The book examines Latino manhood and representations of masculinity in theater, literature, media, music and sports.

“What the book does is push us to consider: to what extent is developing these representations empowering and to what extent are they a detriment? And how do we negotiate the two?” Rudolph asks.

In one case study Rudolph analyzes the public persona of Major League Baseball player Manny Ramirez. The Dominican-born Ramirez was a fan favorite, as much for his child-like antics as his pure hitting power.

Other chapters examine gang life, prison experiences, literature by Latino authors, a performance piece by an all-Latina women's theater group, and the experience of reggaetón musician Don Omar.

“The range of insights Rudolph brings to the topic of Latino masculinity is nothing short of magisterial and groundbreaking,” reviewer Richard T. Rodriguez, associate professor of English and Latina/ Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has written.

Rudolph, who teaches courses on Latino/a identities and cultures, plans to discuss parts of the work in her own classes.


Uncommon Sense: The Strangest Ideas from the Smartest Philosophers
By Andrew Pessin
2012, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, $32
Available at Amazon.com

Time is an illusion, your conception of morality is totally backwards and the physical world only exists in your head. These ideas might sound crazy, but according to Pessin, they are also the products of the greatest minds in history.

“These aren't just the random spoutings of madmen,” says Pessin, a professor of philosophy at the College. “Their conclusions might be very counterintuitive, but they were reached by means of careful reasoning, and there's a lot to be learned not just from these philosophers' strange ideas but also from the arguments they used to defend them.”

“Uncommon Sense” guides the reader through the history of philosophy by looking at ideas that seem to contradict everyday logic. From Aristotle to Augustine and Nietzsche to N.Y.U.'s Thomas Nagel, Pessin outlines a diverse group of thinkers and theories, with entertaining and easy-to-follow explanations.

Many introductions to philosophy are available for a general audience (including two of Pessin's previous books, “The 60-Second Philosopher” and “The God Question”), but by focusing on extraordinary theories, “Uncommon Sense” takes a unique approach to the subject.

“These ideas seem strange because they're opposed to common sense,” Pessin says. “But the secondary, deeper theme of the book is to explore the questions of what we even mean by common sense and whether we should think of it as reliable — particularly when it may turn out that the world is much more complex than we realize.”


My Address Book: A Way of Remembering
By Susan Woodall '66
2012, CreateSpace, $9.95

Woodall, a former real estate broker, examines her life through the lens of the 17 addresses at which she's lived, from birth to present.




The Missile Next Door
By Gretchen Heefner
2012, Harvard University Press, $35

In the 1960s, the U.S. Defense Department “drafted” rural Americans into the Cold War by burying ballistic missiles in their backyards. Heefner, a visiting instructor of history, explains the enduring political consequences of this strategy, from defense spending to the red state/blue state divide.



A Field Guide to Now
By Christina Rosalie (Christina Langbecker '01)
2012, Globe Pequot Press, $18.95

With essays and illustrations, Rosalie, an artist and blogger, inspires readers to find inspiration in everyday life and to make the most of every moment.




Collateral Damage
By Alice K. Boatwright '69
2012, Standing Stone Books, $16.95

In three linked novellas, Boatwright explores the long shadow of the Vietnam War on a drafted sailor, a family struggling to return to normalcy and the sister of a soldier killed in action.




For Love and Money
By Candace Howes, et al.
2012, Russell Sage Foundation, $35

An interdisciplinary team of experts considers the dilemmas related to child care, elder care and other forms of care work, which is largely performed by women earning little or no pay. Howes, the Ferrin Professor of Economics, co-wrote four chapters that explore policies affecting care work in the U.S.




Classic Sail
Photographs by Kathy Wilson Mansfield '71
2012, Tidemark Press, $14.95

This handsome 2013 calendar showcases Mansfield's work, which also has been featured in magazines such as Wooden Boat and Cruising World.





Life Guards in the Hamptons
By Celia Jerome (Barbara Metzger '66)
2012, DAW Books, $7.99

Graphic novelist Willow Tate accidentally conjures more troublemakers — and a sea god — into being in the latest installment of this young-adult mystery series.




The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction
By Rebecca E. Williams and Julie S. Kraft '03
2012, New Harbinger Publications, $24.95

Worksheets, exercises and lifestyle tips help the reader identify the root cause of addictive behavior and begin healing. Kraft is a therapist who treats clients struggling with addiction.




Game of Sails
By Carol Newman Cronin '86
2012, Live Wire Press, $11.95

Cronin, a former Camel sailor and 2004 Olympian, captures the drama of racing, the Olympics and new love in her third novel.





As It Is On Earth
By Peter M. Wheelwright
2012, Fomite Press, $15.95

Wheelwright, a New York City architect with no formal connection to the College, has set his debut novel about a young professor's quest to escape his tangled family history in locations throughout eastern Connecticut, including Mamacoke Island (a 40-acre natural area that is part of the Connecticut College Arboretum), and a weekend symposium at Connecticut College. Mark Braunstein, the College's visual resources librarian, took the book's cover photo of Mamacoke Island.

Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front
By Karen Hartigan Whiting '73 and Jocelyn Green
2012, God and Country Press, $16.99

In this daily devotional, Whiting tells 365 true stories of families and other citizens from the home front of American wars, from the French and Indian War through the present.




The Second Daughter
By J. Jeffrey
2012, Top Press, $9.99

J. Jeffrey is the pseudonym of professor Andrew Pessin, who took a break from pondering the history of philosophy (see p. 40) to write his first novel. This book is a love story about “a tired and lonely woman just north of her fiftieth birthday,” who reconnects with a man from her past after her life falls apart around her.



Reason and Revelation Before Historicism: Strauss and Fackenheim
By Sharon Portnoff
2011, University of Toronto Press, $70







The Companionship of Books: Essays in Honor of Laurence Berns
Edited by Alan Udoff, Sharon Portnoff and Martin D. Yaffe
2012 Lexington Books, $80

In “Reason and Revelation,” Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Sharon Portnoff has written the first full-length comparison of two German-born Jewish philosophers: the theologian Emil Fackenheim and the political philosopher Leo Strauss, both of whom sought to define standards of morality in a post-Holocaust world.

Portnoff traces the tension between the concept of natural law, which can be discovered through thought and reason, and revelatory theology, which holds that truth is revealed to humanity by God.

According to Portnoff, Fackenheim was strongly influenced by Strauss and “devoted his intellectual life to the question — raised by Strauss — of whether it was possible for belief in revelation to survive within the context of modern thought.”

While reaching different conclusions, both men, writes Portnoff, “made it their main goal to discover a means by which reason and revelation might coexist, each in its own terms — a means that might serve both as an alternative to modern secularism … and also for Fackenheim a mending of the rupture in Judaism caused by the Holocaust.”

Portnoff has co-edited and contributed an essay to “The Companionship of Books,” a volume of essays in honor of Laurence Berns, a distinguished tutor at St. Johns College in Annapolis, where Portnoff earned her bachelor's degree. Portnoff's essay is titled “For Love of One's Teachers: Dante, Virgil and Paganism.”

Portnoff specializes in modern Jewish thought, Holocaust studies, Dante and the Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi.


The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking
By Edward B. Burger '85 and Michael Starbird
2012, Princeton University Press, $19.95

Burger, a mathematics professor at Williams College, offers strategies on how to think more effectively with anecdotes, exercises and explicit instructions.




Shadow and Light: A Literary Anthology on Memory
Edited by Ann Frankel Robinson'59
2011, Monadnock Writers' Group, $15

The poems, essays, short stories and photos included here are a tribute to three late members of the Monadnock Writers' Group who suffered from Alzheimer's or dementia. Robinson is a charter member of the group.



The Poetic Character of Human Activity
By Wendell John Coats Jr. and Chor-Yung Cheung
2012, Lexington Books, $59.99

Coats, professor of government, explores the meaning of the phrase by political philosopher Michael Oakeshott that gives this book its title. The concept is “arguably the animating center of Oakeshott's
entire thought.”



Snowzilla
By Janet Lawler '74
2012, Amazon Children's Publishing, $16.99

Two siblings find that building a giant snowman is easier than keeping the neighbors happy in Lawler's latest rhyming tale.


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