The 2017–2018 cohort of Radcliffe fellows includes scholars, scientists, artists, and writers. Below, a selection of Radcliffe fellows share books that inspired their research, activated their imaginations, and sparked their enjoyment. These fellows provided reading recommendations as a way to thank Radcliffe’s donors, whose support is critical to the Institute’s people, programs, and research collections.
Independent Scholar (Saudi Arabia)
Biology and Medical Sciences
Hala, this year’s Robert G. James Scholar Fellow, is currently reading two books that investigate the roots of health: The Social Determinants of Health: Looking Upstream (Polity, 2017), by Kathryn Strother Ratcliff, and Gender and Health: The Effects of Constrained Choices and Social Policies (Cambridge University Press, 2008), by Chloe E. Bird and Patricia P. Rieker. Hala was also inspired to pick up Malcom Gladwell’s bestseller The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown, 2000) “because of my personal pursuit of meaningful change.”
University of Lugano (Switzerland)/Tel Aviv University (Israel)
Michael recommends The Keepers of Light: A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes (Morgan & Morgan, Inc., 1979), by William Crawford. Michael explains, “I am interested in old technology and photography in particular, and this book combines both a historic overview and practical recipes.” Michael’s second recommendation is The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (W. W. Norton, 2003), by the author-physicist Brian Greene ’84, who recently gave a Davis Lecture at the Radcliffe Institute.
Hashemite University (Jordan)
Biology and Medical Sciences
Rana, this year’s Rita E. Hauser Fellow, suggests a quintet of books whose themes range from family ties and memory to the joy of reading and the central role ambiguity plays in our world: Teta, Mother, and Me: Three Generations of Arab Women (W. W. Norton, 2007), by Jean Said Makdisi; Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Continuum, 1970), by Paulo Freire; The Rights of the Reader (Candlewick, 2008), by Daniel Pennac and illustrated by Quentin Blake; Ishmael: A Novel (Turtleback Books, 1995), by Daniel Quinn; and Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing (Crown, 2015), by Jamie Holmes.
Robert, this year’s Joy Foundation Fellow, recently finished Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (Knopf, 1988) as part of his personal resolution to read his way through recent Latin American literature. Robert recommends the novel “as a way to get some sense of a fascinating and remote world—Colombia at the turn of the last century.”
Erica recommends Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (Basic Books, 2016), by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Pang’s book reveals the startling benefits that prioritizing rest can yield for creativity and innovation. Erica reports, “As it turns out, long walks, vacations, hobbies, and naps give us what we need to perform at our best (whatever our fields of work may be). A beautifully stimulating (and soul-enriching) book.”
University of California, Santa Cruz
Julie, this year’s Frances B. Cashin Fellow, recommends The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (University of California Press, 2015), by the anthropologist Jason De León. De León’s book combines gripping storytelling with ethnographic, archaeological, and forensic research to illuminate United States immigration policy with regard to Mexico and the impacts of this policy on undocumented migrants.
Françoise, this year’s ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Fellow, recommends Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press, 2010), by the former United States poet laureate Natasha Trethewey BI ’00. Trethewey’s book is a personal account of the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that, says Françoise, “wrenches at the heart.” She adds that the writer “pulls you into her past, through the ravages and politics of Hurricane Katrina, and poses questions about the nation's future when morality seems to be at its all-time low.”
Lisa, a Radcliffe Institute Graduate Student Fellow, was hooked (and surprised) by James Rebanks’s The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District (Penguin, 2016). She notes, “It’s a story about deep-rootedness in a place and a life shaped by hundreds of years of tradition. I had no idea that the ins and outs of sheep farming could be such a riveting read.”
Biology and Medical Sciences
David, this year’s Grass Fellow, enjoyed reading Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World (Knopf, 2015), about the 19th-century naturalist, explorer, and geographer who influenced thinkers ranging from Thoreau to Darwin. According to David, “the text is scholarly yet accessible and richly contextualized.”
Alexandra, this year’s Katherine Hampson Bessell Fellow, recommends Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Broadway Books, 2013). This journalistic account of a medical center in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina offers a searing view into the many challenges hospitals face in the wake of natural disasters. Alexandra also recommends Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World (Simon & Schuster, 2014), which she calls “the novel for every woman who's wondered if her ideas would be taken more seriously if she were a man and for the men who wonder what that would feel like.”
Sharon, this year’s Elizabeth S. and Richard M. Cashin Fellow, recommends Foal’s Bread (Allen & Unwin, 2011), by the late Australian novelist and short-story writer Gillian Mears. Sharon calls Foal’s Bread “one of the most beautiful and moving novels I’ve read in recent years” and reports that “Mears writes stunningly, bringing to life the intricate sport of horse jumping and the idiosyncratic beauties of the New South Wales landscape.”
Independent Composer (United Kingdom)
Camilo, this year’s Rieman and Baketel Fellow for Music, recommends The Melancholy of Resistance (Tuskar Rock Press, 2016), a novel by the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, which follows a mysterious circus in a small town and features unforgettable characters. Camilo also recommends The Literary Conference (Hamish Hamilton, 2013), a surreal, self-reflexive novella by the Argentine author César Aira, whom Camilo calls “one my favorite South American writers.”
Harvard Law School
Martha recommends The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap (Knopf, 2017), by the former Radcliffe fellow Gish Jen ’77, BI ’87, RI ’02. Martha calls Jen’s study “such an engaging and gorgeously written exploration of psychological and cultural differences.” She also recommends All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt (Simon & Schuster, 2013), by John Taliaferro. This biography charts the life of an American statesman whose career spanned more than four decades.
Nicola, this year’s Edward, Frances, and Shirley B. Daniels Fellow, named the following books as the highlights of her recent reading: In the Light of What We Know (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014), a novel by Zia Haider Rahman, the 2017–2018 Walter Jackson Bate Fellow at Radcliffe; Mass: The Quest to Understand Matter from Greek Atoms to Quantum Fields (Oxford University Press, 2017), by Jim Baggott; and The Bostonians (Macmillan and Co., 1886), by Henry James. Of this last book, Nicola says, “Every time I am impatient with the pace of change, I remind myself of history and the complexities of my fellow humans.”
New York Review of Books
Jana’s current bedtime reading is Henry Green’s novel Caught (Viking Press, 1952), which follows a well-off Londoner serving in the Auxiliary Fire Service during World War II. Jana praises Green’s language, which she describes as “spare as twigs.” She adds, “It's a novel so dry and fastidious in representing people living through difficult times that it manages to communicate this with startling emotional force.”
Kingston University London (United Kingdom)
Film and Video
Phillip, this year’s Radcliffe-Harvard Film Study Center Fellow, loved Jean-Christophe Bailly’s The Animal Side (Fordham University Press, 2011), a philosophical argument for the importance of other species in shaping human thought. Phillip describes Bailly’s book as “a beautifully written, poetic exposition of animality.”
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg (Germany)
Coming from Germany to Cambridge, Janina, this year’s Maury Green Fellow, brought with her Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence (D. Appleton & Company, 1920). Janina enjoyed the “subtle language and irony” running through Wharton’s classic portrait of Gilded Age New York City.