Book recommendations from Jewell professors

A few professors were asked the question: “What book would you recommend for Jewell students to read before they graduate?” Here are their responses.

Dr. Mark Walters, professor of English:

I could think of dozens of books I think students should read, all for different reasons, and all with different limitations. And I really believe that, rather than one book, it’s the accumulation of many books from a range of writers and beliefs and cultures and experiences that ultimately, bit by bit, shapes us significantly or expands who we are. That said, and knowing you probably want me to just lighten up and name something particularly worth reading, I’d choose Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” because it’s beautifully written, and it teaches us to attend closely, patiently, to the moment, and to the natural world, the smallest motions and details of it, and the astonishing revelations of it, which lead, ultimately, to the bigger questions of joy and suffering and meaning and God.

Dr. Milton Horne, professor of religion:

Here’s one recent great book every student should read: Martha Nussbaum’s, “The New Religious intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age” (2012). I think it’s especially important in election seasons as citizens are motivated by rhetoric that aims only to heighten fear, especially fear of other religions. Nussbaum takes such fear as evidence of a growing narcissism and then guides our thinking about how to overcome it.

I should recommend 20 others, but this one would be a good start.

Dr. Christopher Wilkins, professor of history:

[I recommend] David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman. The biography shows that, when Truman faced tremendous obstacles, he never gave up, he kept fighting, and through hard work and discipline he prevailed. He also genuinely cared about people and treated everyone he met with respect, no matter how high or low their social standing was. McCullough’s narrative of Truman’s life has valuable lessons to teach Jewell students (and everyone else) about how to live a good life.

Dr. Alan Holiman, professor of political science:

There are so many. It is hard to limit the answer to one. If I had to choose only one, it would be the Bible, especially the Gospels, the Psalms and Proverbs. Fewer young people today are scripturally literate than in the past. A solid understanding of the Bible is key to understanding Western, especially American, literature and many aspects of art, music and American culture.

Dr. Thomas Howell, professor of history:

There’s probably no book every Jewell student should read, but the one that came to mind is Walter Issacson’s brilliant biography, “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.” My choice doubtless reflects my belief that Franklin is the greatest American ever and certainly the one from whose life we can learn the most. Pragmatic in everything from business to religious belief to personal relationships, he nevertheless worked consistently to better the human condition and to pursue the ideal of a workable democracy. Issacson shows the warts but unerringly portrays an amazingly useful life.

Dr. Bradley Chance, professor of religion:

[I recommend] Ralph Mecklenburger’s “Our Religious Brains.” If students happen to take “God, Nature, and Science” “to get Sacred and Secular out of the way,” they will have the good fortune to read this. This is a very readable book that introduces readers to the insights that neuroscience and cognitive science offer as to why we are “religious beings.” Aside from addressing the matter of human beings’ inclination to be religious, the book addresses such intriguing questions as: “What does this religious inclination have to do with how our brains are wired?”;“What are the implications with respect to ethics?”;“What are the implications with respect to the matter of free will?”;“Is God a personal being or a metaphor for the whole of reality?”

Dr. Ruth Williams, professor of English:

I just finished reading Ta-Nahesi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” a meditation on America, race, education and art, written in the form of a letter to Coates’ son. Given the on-going conversation about race in the U.S., this is essential reading for a senior heading into the world, especially for those who identify as white. Coates not only explains what it means to live as a black man in the U.S., but also offers an implicit and compelling critique of the “Dream” of America.

Dr. Sara Morrison, professor of English:

“Just Kids,” Patti Smith. In this National Book Award winner in nonfiction, 2010, Smith chronicles her remarkable friendship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1960s and 1970s New York, set largely in the Chelsea Hotel. Smith punctuates her prose with photographs, drawings, poetry, song lyrics, all of which tell the story of a friendship that lasts a lifetime. Smith captures an age of cutting-edge art and music—a notorious cast of characters haunt the halls of her Chelsea—and she tenderly, lyrically writes her memoir of discovering herself as an artist and of her journey with Mapplethorpe.

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