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Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity



Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
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John Curtis has commented on (4) products.

Do Babies Matter? (Families in Focus) by Mary Ann Mason
Do Babies Matter? (Families in Focus)

John Curtis, November 17, 2013

The work by Mary Ann Mason and colleagues collected in this book has been groundbreaking in helping us to understand the dynamics of gender, family formation, and careers in academia. The present volume pulls together analyses that have previously been published in various forums and formats, making them much more accessible and constructing a comprehensive picture of the best available evidence on the various aspects of academic careers. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in gender equity or work and family balance.

I’ll note two minor negative aspects of the book, only as “disappointments” and not as substantive criticism. First, as best I can tell the analyses here all date from at least two years ago, and in many cases the original data sources are several years old. Ideally I would have liked to see some of the analyses updated for this volume. Second, surprisingly for a book from a major university press, this volume really could have benefited from another round of proofreading, and the many very illuminating figures are small and poorly produced.
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The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change by Roger Thurow
The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change

John Curtis, June 23, 2013

Thurow has crafted a book that is at once captivating--I read it in long spurts over little more than 24 hours--and challenging. It’s a story that is likely almost entirely foreign to American readers, of the myriad obstacles faced by small-scale farmers in western Kenya. It’s a story full of hope, as the families featured all experience the promise--if not yet the assurance--of a life free from hunger, the specter that has paradoxically haunted these farmers, their families, and their neighbors for many years. Thurow’s storytelling draws the reader in to experience these lives in a way that is simultaneously intimate and thoroughly contextualized.

However, readers should be cautioned that this book is not social science. (I was stunned when I realized I was reading a 260-page work of non-fiction without a single footnote or citation.) I would not even call it journalism, as there is hardly a shred of skepticism detectable in Thurow’s narrative. This is essentially a third-person memoir, and at times reads like an advertisement for the nonprofit organization at its center. There is also a heavy dose of Christian evangelizing, which I would argue crosses the line from accurately portraying the faith of the narrative’s central characters to proselytizing the unsuspecting reader. As a sociologist with some knowledge of the region and communities on which the book focuses, I’m concerned that Thurow has glossed over potential complications for his hopeful account. On balance I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about a region and livelihood far removed from the typical American experience, with the caveat that there may well be more to the story than Thurow presents.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)



Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

John Curtis, September 17, 2012

This is an important, if sobering, book. Hedges and Sacco paint a portrait, in words and unique line drawings, of the "sacrifice zones" that have emerged with the rise of unbridled corporate capitalism. Sacco's illustrations make this book beautiful, poignant, and unique. Hedges' descriptions are powerful, and his analysis is unflinching. Together they put a human face on the gross inequality that is the fundamental problem in our nation today. The book's conclusion is a frank indictment of the political system that has nurtured this extreme level of capitalist exploitation. It should be required reading for anyone seeking a path out of our current economic and political crisis.
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(3 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)



The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
The Book of Illusions

John Curtis, August 27, 2012

I'll be brief: This is an amazing book, the kind I might have read in one ten-hour sitting, if life hadn't intervened. (As it was, I read it in a long weekend.) This was my first Auster book, recommended by a friend, but I will most certainly be back. There are layers upon layers within this book for academic analysis, but please, choose this book if you are looking for a completely absorbing story, thrilling for the mind as well as the heart.
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