Built in the far western slums of Kabul by the persecuted Hazara minority, the coed Marefat School is an improbable success story. For years American soldiers helped keep the dangers of war at bay, as the students—some 4,000 boys and girls— studied the arts, humanities, and civic engagement. But all was thrown into peril when the U.S. announced plans to withdraw forces. In The Last Thousand: One School’s Promise in a Nation at War (St. Martin’s Press), Jeffrey E. Stern ’07, a journalist and former aid worker, discusses the challenges of writing about people he had grown close to, at a time when they were most vulnerable:
This was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done. Not because I was trying so hard to maintain journalistic objectivity— I went into this already having worked and lived with these people, and in many ways I was dependent on them for my safety—but because I had two conflicting impulses. The book is a story, and I wanted it to read like a novel. In novels, it’s good for things to happen, you want drama. But in this case, the only kind of drama, the only things that could happen, were really bad things happening to people I cared a lot about. It felt like what was good for the book was bad for my friends. I was oversimplifying things, of course. You can get into a lonely place reporting and writing, spending most of your time with your own thoughts, and you can fall into these loops, where it feels like any direction you go the project is doomed. By the end of the writing, and the long process of paring down well over a thousand pages, I was trying to step out of the way and just let these people and their amazing stories unfold with as little interference as possible.
Secrecy necessarily surrounds the president’s daily briefing report, but David Priess M.A. ’96, Ph.D. ’00 pulls back the curtain in The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings from America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama (PublicAffairs).
Anne-Maria Makhulu, assistant professor of cultural anthropology and African-American studies, chronicles the ongoing influence of the 1970s tent cities and illegal settlements that spread along Cape Town’s perimeter in Making Freedom: Apartheid, Squatter Politics, and the Struggle for Home (Duke University Press).
Professor emeritus Frank Lentricchia’s (M.A. ’63, Ph.D. ’66) new noir novel The Morelli Thing (Guernica Editions) finds his private investigator the chief suspect in a murder mystery involving a hacker and a cold case.
Professor emeritus of religion Wesley A. Kort turns his attentions to a favorite subject in Reading C.S. Lewis: A Commentary (Oxford University Press). An in-depth look at the literary, religious, and philosophical aspects of more than a dozen works by Lewis.
Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson calls The Constitutional Foundations of Intellectual Property: A Natural Rights Perspective (Carolina Academic Press) by Randolph J. May ’68, J.D. ’71 and Seth L. Cooper “essential for students, teachers, and practitioners in the field.”
For forty years, James B. Duke Professor of biology Steven Vogel explored the quirks of nature as both engineering problems and the source of ingenious solutions. A leader in the field of biomechanics, he sprinkled his lively books and lectures with eclectic references—from cocktail parties to cannibalism and poetry. He died in November, but his boundless curiosity lives on in his ten books of popular science, among them:
Cats’ Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People (Norton) “Loving nature is not at all the same as finding her perfect,” he writes in this primer on the basics of engineering science. Learn why man-made design is reliant on right angles, while nature prefers a curve.
The Life of a Leaf (University of Chicago Press) The leaf becomes a vehicle for exploring the evolutionary limits and possibilities exposed by nature’s design. A handy digression in a chapter on convection advises: For an evenly crispy pizza crust, cut a hole in the frozen pie before baking it on the oven rack.
Prime Mover: A Natural History of Muscle (Norton) Muscle is analyzed from every possible angle, including the mechanics of a rattlesnake’s rattle and why we humans can tighten jar lids more forcibly than than we can loosen them.