Tag Archive for alumni books

Season’s Readings!

alu_books_2015-1210214425+Every year we review dozens of books and publish several author essays, and a book excerpt or two, by Wesleyan alumni in the pages of Wesleyan magazine. With the holidays upon us, ’tis the season to take another look at just a handful of the many selections made by Wesleyan magazine Arts and Culture Editor David Low this year. Happy reading!

Fins ’82 Discusses the Treatment of Brain Injury Patients and His New Book

Former Wesleyan Trustee Dr. Joseph Fins, M.D. ’82 returned to campus Nov. 5 to speak on “Giving Voice to Consciousness: Neuroscience, Neuroethics and the Law" as part of the Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry. Several students and faculty attended the talk.

Wesleyan Trustee Emeritus Dr. Joseph Fins, M.D. ’82 returned to campus Nov. 5 to speak on “Giving Voice to Consciousness: Neuroscience, Neuroethics and the Law” as part of the Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry. The talk was open to members of the Wesleyan community.

eve_Joe fins_hcf_2015-1105213525

Fins, the Kim-Frank Visiting Writer at Wesleyan, discussed his most recent book, Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics, and the Struggle for Consciousness, published by Cambridge University Press in August 2015. The book traces the evolution of the medical classification of severe brain injury and recognizes what he calls “a deeply marginalized class” of society. Prior to writing the book, Fins interviewed more than 50 families of people with brain injuries who are identified as in a minimally conscious state and reveals that patients are often incorrectly categorized as in a vegetative state, or having an absence of responsiveness or awareness.

Read more about the discussion in this Wesleyan Argus article and more about his book in this Q&A, below:

Fins also is currently the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of ethics at Weill Cornell Medical Center, as well as an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of more than 250 books and articles.

Fins also is currently the chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of ethics at Weill Cornell Medical Center, as well as an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of more than 250 books and articles.

Q: What motivated you to write the book?

A: I wrote it to give voice to patients and families touched by severe brain injury and chose this genre because it was a complex interdisciplinary problem that needed a broader frame than that afforded by the typical truncated article in a medical journal. Rights Come to Mind is a story that straddles the sciences and the humanities and fundamentally is a question of how scientific advance compels us to change our views about ethics and moral obligation. I have been working with these patients and families for more than 15 years and have seen how new knowledge about the brain and consciousness made the status quo of neglect increasingly untenable and wrong. We now know that patients we thought were permanently unconscious are sometimes, in fact, conscious, albeit minimally conscious. They are often misdiagnosed and undertreated, leaving conscious individuals in the lurch. How this scientific progress informed our ethics and what it means for these patients and families is the subject of this book.

Q: How have a large number of patients with severe brain injuries been misdiagnosed?

A: That is a complex question which I explain at length in the book, but there are three key reasons for the diagnostic challenge.

Whedon ’87 Is Subject of New Biography

Joss Whedon '87 delivered Wesleyan's Commencement address in 2013.

Joss Whedon ’87 delivered Wesleyan’s Commencement address in 2013.

Award-winning film and television director, producer and writer Joss Whedon ’87 is the subject of the informative and entertaining Joss Whedon: The Biography (Chicago Review Press) by Amy Pascale, a director at MTV.

The book begins by tracing Whedon’s growth from a creative child and teenager who spent years away from his family at an elite English boarding school (Winchester College in Hampshire), through his early successes—which often turned into frustration in television (Roseanne) and film (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The biography then covers his breakout career turn as the creator, writer, and director of the highly successful Buffy television series, which garnered a passionate fan base.

Book about Josh Whedon '87.

Book about Josh Whedon ’87.

Following Buffy, Whedon directed, produced or wrote more television series (Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and the current ABC hit Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), several movies, Marvel comic books, and an innovative web series, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which gave him his first Emmy win. He went on to direct and write The Avengers film in 2012, which earned a worldwide box office of $1.5 billion. He followed this blockbuster with his film of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a critically acclaimed personal project shot in black-and-white at his home with a cast of friends.

One of the chapters of the biography deals with Whedon’s time at Wesleyan, where he majored in film. As an undergraduate, he further developed his keen interest in gender studies and feminism. He also wrote a paper on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which focused on four themes: the Watcher, the Watched, Isolation, and the Role of the Viewer, themes that would appear in his own creative work. Whedon became a TA for film classes and made a student film. He studied with Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of English Emeritus, and with Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, who says: “His lectures were absolutely brilliant. They had … a kind of poetry that showed how his heart and soul really understood the medium, as well as his brain … He wasn’t just intellectually sharp about film, he was also emotionally, creatively sharp about it.”

Pascale conducted extensive interviews with Whedon and his family, friends, collaborators and stars, resulting in candid, behind-the-scenes accounts of the making of his groundbreaking TV series and films, and new stories about his work with Pixar writers and animators during the creation of Toy Story.

Book by Williams ’60 Studies History and Forensic Analysis

Robert C. Williams '60

Robert C. Williams ’60

In his new book, The Forensic Historian: Using Science to Reexamine the Past (M. E. Sharpe), Robert Williams ’60 demonstrates how seemingly cold cases from history have been solved or had new light shed on them by scientists and historians using new forensic evidence. He provides examples ranging in time from Oetzi the Iceman—who died 5,300 years ago in the Swiss Alps from an arrow wound, yet is known to have had brown eyes Lyme disease, type-O blood, an intolerance to lactose, cavities, and tattoos—to the process of identifying Osama Bin Laden’s body in 2011.

Book by Robert C. Williams '60

Book by Robert C. Williams ’60

“Since World War II, forensic pathology and anthropology have slowly given way to genetics and DNA ‘fingerprinting,’ along with computer hardware and software, as scientific evidence that can stand up in court,” Williams comments in his introduction. “This book highlights that transition through specific case studies showing how modern forensic historians and scientists do their work and what kinds of evidence they must obtain.”

Samples of Beethoven’s hair and bones were found to have abnormally high levels of lead, suggesting he may have died from lead poisoning. The Shroud of Turin was carbon-dated back to the 14th century, not the 1st. The Titanic was found to have been assembled using low-quality rivets that almost certainly played a part in its sinking in 1912. These high-profile cases continue to hold the public’s fascination, and Williams provides a concise synopsis of the methods used to reach conclusions for each. Be forewarned, however, that what you hear in the news relating to cases like these will not always convey the hard science correctly.

“The media cannot wait patiently until forensic historians and scientists finish their plodding work,” writes Williams. “Thus the media often rush to create a virtual reality that encourages forensic historians to publicize their findings prematurely, often without peer review.”

Williams retired in the spring of 2003 as Vail Professor of History at Davidson College, where he served for 13 years as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty. He is the author of the best-selling Historian’s Toolbox and of numerous articles and books on Russian history, including Ruling Russian Eurasia: Khans, Clans, and Tsars; Russian Art and American Money, 1900–1940 (nominated by Harvard University Press for the Pulitzer Prize); Klaus Fuchs: Atom Spy; and Russia Imagined: Art, Culture, and National Identity, 1840–1995.


Frank ’70 Receives New England Book Prize

Stuart Frank '70

Stuart Frank ’70 (Photo by Mary Malloy)

Stuart Frank ’70, has been awarded the Historic New England Book Prize for 2013, for Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved: Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, published in Boston by David R. Godine. The award was formally presented on Nov. 3 at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The book is also the recipient of the Boston Bookmakers Prize for the year’s best work in the pictorial category.

Book by Stuart Frank '70

Book by Stuart Frank ’70

Frank’s book brings his expert’s eye to the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s intriguing collection. By the middle of the 19th century, the New England port of New Bedford was among the five richest cities in America, and it derived its wealth from whale oil, the “fossil fuel” of the early Industrial Revolution. The New Bedford whaling fleet was the most numerous, adventurous, and far-ranging in the world, taking long voyages as far as the Antarctic and Siberia.

In their spare time, some whalemen carved materials harvested from the whales themselves: the teeth and bones of sperm whales, baleen from right and bowhead whales, and walrus tusks acquired by barter from Native people in the Arctic. These resulting practical and decorative objects made from ivory and bone were often intricately carved and carefully crafted and served as mementos and treasured souvenirs to take back home. The objects included not only decorated sperm whale teeth that the word “scrimshaw” ordinarily brings to mind, but also crimpers and canes, umbrellas, and swifts.

Stuart Frank '70 and photographer Richard Donnelly examine a whale bone banjo which was displayed earlier this year at the New Bedford Whaling Musuem.

Stuart Frank ’70 (right) and photographer Richard Donnelly examine a whale bone banjo which was displayed earlier this year at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
(Photo by Arthur Motta)

The collection at the New Bedford Whaling Museum is the largest, most varied, and most representative in the world. Frank, who is senior curator at the museum, covers every possible permutation of these whalemen’s fancies. The comprehensive survey has 700 detailed and dramatic photographs by Richard Donnelly with compelling stories behind the objects themselves.

Frank, who earned master’s degrees at Yale and Brown and a Ph.D. in American civilization at Brown, is director emeritus of the Kendall Whaling Museum, and founder/director of the Scrimshaw Forensics Laboratory®. His previous books include Herman Melville’s Picture Gallery (awarded the John Lyman Book Award of the North American Society for Oceanic History), Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists (also received the John Lyman Book Award), More Scrimshaw Artists, The Book of Pirate Songs, Jolly Sailors Bold: Ballads and Songs of the American Sailor (expanded from his doctoral dissertation), The New Book of Pirate Songs, and Scrimshaw and Provenance (published this year by Mystic Seaport).

With his wife, Mary Malloy, he has performed concert tours on four continents, presenting traditional sailors’ songs and ballads excavated from shipboard manuscripts in the New Bedford Whaling Museum collection.

Rabban ’71 Analyzes Late 19th-Century Legal Scholarship

David M. Rabban '71

David M. Rabban ’71

David Rabban ’71 is the author of Law’s History: American Legal Thought and the Transatlantic Turn to History (Cambridge University Press), concentrating on the central role of history in late 19th-century American legal thought. In the decades following the Civil War, the founding generation of professional legal scholars in the United States drew from the evolutionary social thought that pervaded Western intellectual life on both sides of the Atlantic. Their historical analysis of law as an inductive science rejected deductive theories and supported moderate legal reform, conclusions that challenge conventional accounts of legal formalism.

Book by David M. Rabban '71

Book by David M. Rabban ’71

The book is unprecedented in its coverage and its illuminating conclusions about major American legal thinkers from the Civil War to the present. It considers transatlantic intellectual history, legal history, the history of legal thought, historiography, jurisprudence, constitutional theory, and the history of higher education. American scholars who are the primary focus of this book include Henry Adams, James Barr Ames, Melville M. Bigelow, James Coolidge Carter, Thomas McIntyre Cooley, William Gardiner Hammond, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., John Norton Pomeroy, Roscoe Pound, James Bradley Thayer, Christopher G. Tiderman and Francis Wharton.

Rabban is Dahr Jamail, Randall Hage Jamail, and the Robert Lee Jamail Regents Chair in Law and University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas School of Law. He also is the author of Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years (1997).

Whitmore ’62 Co-Edits Essential Anthology About Vietnamese History

Book co-edited by John Whitmore '62.

Book co-edited by John Whitmore ’62.

John Whitmore ’62 has co-edited Sources of Vietnamese Tradition (Columbia University Press), a fascinating guide to 2,000 years of Vietnamese history and a comprehensive overview of the society and state of Vietnam. Well-chosen selections deal with key figures, issues, and events, and they create a thematic portrait of the country’s developing territory, politics, culture and relations with neighbors. The volume explores Vietnam’s remarkable independence in the face of Chinese and other external pressures while it recognizes the complexity of the Vietnamese experience over the years.

The anthology begins with selections that cover more than a millennium of Chinese dominance over Vietnam (111 B.C.E.–939 C.E.) and follows with texts that illuminate four centuries of independence ensured by the Ly, Tran and Ho dynasties (1009–1407). The earlier cultivation of Buddhism and Southeast Asian political practices by the monarchy gave way to two centuries of Confucian influence and bureaucratic governance (1407–1600), based on Chinese models, and three centuries of political competition between the north and the south, resolving in the latter’s favor (1600–1885).

The book’s final sections cover the colonial era and the modern age, and selections recount the ravages of war and the creation of a united, independent Vietnam in 1975. Each chapter includes readings that relate to the views, customs, outside influences on, and religious and philosophical beliefs of a rapidly changing people and culture.

Whitmore is a research associate at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, and a specialist on premodern Vietnamese and Southeast Asian history. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Virginia and the University of California-Los Angeles.

Rahaim ’00 Examines Gesture and Voice in Indian Vocal Music

Matthew Rahaim ’00

In Musicking Bodies: Gesture and Voice in Hindistani Music (Wesleyan University Press), Matthew Rahaim ’00 studies the role of the body in Indian vocal music. Indian vocalists have long traced intricate shapes with their hands while improvising melody. Although every vocalist has an idiosyncratic gestural style, students inherit ways of shaping melodic space from their teachers, and the motion of the hand and voice are always intimately connected.

Book by Matthew Rahaim ’00

Musicking Bodies is among the first extended studies of the relationship between gesture and melody. Rahaim draws on years of vocal training, ethnography, and close analysis to examine the ways in which hand gesture is used alongside vocalization to manifest melody as dynamic, three-dimensional shapes. The book builds on insights of phenomenology, Indian and Western music theory, and cultural studies to illuminate not only the performance of gesture, but its implications for the transmission of culture, the conception of melody, and the very nature of the musicking body. Several helpful illustrations and photographs have been included in the publication.

Rahaim is an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Minnesota. He was a music major at Wesleyan and received his MA and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.

Silverman MAT ’67 Takes Fresh Look at Johnny Appleseed Legend

(Story contributed by Laignee Johnson ’13)

Book by Ray Silverman MAT ’67

Was Johnny Appleseed a real person? Author and professor Ray Silverman MAT ’67 addresses this question and and many others about the American folk figure in his new book, The Core of Johnny Appleseed: The Unknown Story of a Spiritual Trailblazer (Swedenborg Foundation Press). Silverman’s spiritual biography of Johnny Chapman, the man who came to be known as Johnny Appleseed, seeks to separate reality from legend and find the real man behind all the tall-tale misconceptions. The book depicts Chapman as a businessman full of Christian conviction.

Silverman leaves behind portraits of Chapman as a wandering ascetic or wild hedonist and instead charts the course of a thoughtful and passionate Christian, deeply moved by and dedicated to sharing the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg. As a businessman, Chapman owned 19 nurseries and 20 other land plots in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.  As a Christian, Chapman was dissatisfied with the teachings of the Congregational Church and turned instead to spreading the doctrines of the New Church. In contrast to Calvinist-influenced manifest destiny, beliefs of predestination, and heaven and hell, Chapman believed instead that God means love and that all people were created in God’s image and are deserving of God’s love.

Well-researched and illustrated, the book provides a new perspective on the Johnny Appleseed of childhood legends.

Silverman is the associate professor of religion, English, and moral philosophy at Bryn Athyn College and is an adjunct instructor at Urbana University, home to the Johnny Appleseed Education Center and the Chapman School of Leadership in Sustainability. This is Silverman’s second book in addition to editing Helen Keller’s spiritual autobiography Light in My Darkness.

Forney ’89 Writes Graphic Novel on Bipolar Disorder

Ellen Forney ’89 (Photo by Jacob Peter Fennell)

(Story contributed by Laignee Barron ’13)

Ellen Forney ’89 is the author of a new graphic novel Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me (Gotham Books), which follows the artist’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder shortly before her 30th birthday. In this intimate confession, Forney delves into her struggles with being accepted into “Club van Gogh.” “This unflinchingly honest memoir” (Kirkus Reviews) details Forney’s fears that her disorder could curtail her creativity and livelihood.

Beginning with the manic state that led to her diagnosis, Forney explores what it means to be a “crazy artist.” At first disbelieves her psychiatrist, Forney is filled with the high of mania, planning parties and keeping busy with cartooning work in an unnervingly productive binge. (“I don’t want balance, I want brilliance,” she exclaims.) But the manic cycle eventually breaks, and Forney continues chronicling her experience as she descends into a violent episode of depression. She eventually becomes convinced of her diagnosis and decides to enter the endless experimentation to find the right dosage or cocktail of medication.

The novel alternates between Forney’s bold cartoonish comics, realist illustrations, and photo-like representations of her sketchpad. At once heartbreaking and unabashedly funny, Forney’s novel was written with the intention to share her journey with others facing similar circumstances. This new novel closely illuminates the struggles of a bipolar woman, while provoking questions of what mental disorders means to artists.

Graphic novel by Ellen Forney ’89

In her Entertainment Weekly review, Melissa Maerz writes that “the book is surprisingly fun to read, bursting with manic adventures (illicit hookups! costume parties! spontaneous tattoos!), cautionary tales (one emotional crash leaves her in a forest, hugging a tree), and wild drawings that perfectly illustrate her mood swings. By the time [Forney] finds the right treatment, Marbles isn’t just a great story; it’s proof that artists don’t have to be tortured to be brilliant.”

Forney is an Eisner-nominated cartoonist living in Seattle, Washington. She has created two other comic books, I Love Led Zeppelin and Monkey Food. She also collaborated with Sherman Alexie on the National Book Award-winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. She teaches comics at the Cornish College of the Arts.

Visit the Ellen Forney website.

Are you a Wesleyan alumnus? For more alumni stories, photo albums, videos, features and more, visit Wesconnect, the website for Wesleyan alumni.

Stauffer ’91 Co-Edits Book on Reponses to John Brown Raid

John Stauffer ’91

(Story contributed by Gabe Rosenberg ’16)

Harvard University professor John Stauffer ’91 is the co-editor of The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry Raid (Belnap Press of Harvard University Press). Co-edited with Zoe Trodd (professor of American literature at the University of Nottingham), the book assembles a collection of responses to John Brown’s 1859 attack on a federal arsenal in Virginia.

The ill-fated raid of Brown and 21 other men–five free black and 16 white men–was intended to provoke an uprising of African Americans against the “scourge of slavery.” While three members formed a rearguard at a nearby farm in Maryland, the rest of the men seized the federal buildings of Harper’s Ferry and cut the surrounding telegraph wires, waiting to be joined by local slaves. Townspeople and U.S. Marines captured or killed most of Brown’s forces, whose reinforcements never arrived, and Brown was put on trial for murder, treason, and conspiracy to incite a slave insurrection.

In a letter written four days before his execution, Brown remarks that he leaves “it to an impartial tribunal to decide whether the world has been the worse or the better of my living and dying in it.” The Tribunal brings together John Brown’s own words with Northern, Southern, and international responses to the raid in the forms of speeches, letters, newspaper articles, journals, poems, and songs.

The Tribunal, co-edited by John Stauffer ’91

His actions cast him as a contentious symbol of American culture: a martyr and a madman, a freedom fighter, and a domestic terrorist. From their collected documents, Stauffer and Trodd theorize that Harper’s Ferry changed the landscape of American politics, set the course for the Civil War, and subsequently influenced emancipation on a global scale.

Stauffer is professor of English and African and African American studies at Harvard University. His recent works include best-sellers Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and The State of Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, co-written with author Sally Jenkins, that tells the true story of Jones County, MS, the only Southern county to secede from the Confederacy.

Are you a Wesleyan alumnus? For more alumni stories, photo albums, videos, features and more, visit Wesconnect, the website for Wesleyan alumni.

Angress ’49: Posthumous Memoir Revisits Holocaust Escape, Post-war Life

(Contributed by Gabe Rosenberg ’16)

Nadine Angress ’90, daughter of the late Werner "Tom" Angress ’49, holds a copy of her father's book.

Nadine Angress ’90, daughter of the late Werner “Tom” Angress ’49, holds a copy of her father’s book.

Two years after he passed away, Werner T. Angress ’49 is having his story told to the world – again.

While Angress found himself as a prominent subject of another Wesleyan alum’s book – The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer and a Rescue From Nazi Germany (The History Press, 2011), Robert Gillette ’59’s history of the successful rescue effort of 21 Jewish adolescents during World War II – he finished translating his own memoir from German to English.  Angress died before either account of his life could be released, however, so his children took it upon themselves to publish his story.

Angress’ family, including Nadine Angress ’90, independently released the translated, completed work under his name through Amazon.com as Witness to the Storm: A Jewish Journey from Nazi Berlin to the 82nd Airborne, 1920-1945.  The memoir tells of Angress’ life as “a patriotic German-Jewish boy who in his teens was rejected and betrayed by the Nazi regime.”  He fled to the United States, where he took refuge as a chicken farmer at Hyde Farms, a haven provided by Virginia department store owner William Thalhimer – and the focus of Gillette’s history.

Raphael Linden ’15 holds a copy of his grandfather's posthumous memoir.

Raphael Linden ’15 holds a copy of his grandfather’s posthumous memoir.

From there, Angress joined the United States Army, trained as an interrogator, jumped as a paratrooper on D-Day and helped liberate a concentration camp near his hometown.  Through the G.I. Bill, he returned home after the war and attended Wesleyan, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and becoming a history professor.

Angress chose to retire to Berlin, “where he spent his last years talking to German schoolchildren about what it was like to grow up Jewish under the Third Reich, and working to promote tolerance and peace.”

Witness to the Storm is available to purchase online at Amazon.com, in both paperback and Kindle editions.