Arts & Culture


Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making from Ancient to Modern Bakers
Eric Pallant ’83MFS
(Agate, $29)
Not long after Pallant joined the Allegheny College environmental science faculty in the late 1980s, he received an interesting gift from a colleague’s wife: sourdough starter. Pallant was already a bread maker, but this particular combination of flour, water, bacteria, and wild yeasts had a tale to tell. It was said to have originated at Cripple Creek, site of the Colorado Gold Rush of the early 1890s, and stayed active ever since. But as Pallant explains, sourdough has a far more ancient history.

Letter to a Young Female Physician: Notes from a Medical Life
Suzanne Koven ’79
(W. W. Norton, $26.95)
In 2017, Koven, a primary care doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, joined a group of new interns who wrote letters that expressed “their hopes and anxieties”—missives the young doctors would open later to see “how far they’d come.” Koven’s effort, published to acclaim in the New England Journal of Medicine, zeroed in on the challenges of a life in medicine, along with something perhaps more common than many would expect: “I’ve been haunted at every step in my career by the fear that I am a fraud,” she writes. Her warm and wise memoir describes how she overcame the imposter syndrome.

The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain   
Annie Murphy Paul ’95
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28)
When confronted with a particularly intractable problem, we’re often told, “Use your head.” We humans “place a lot of faith” in what science writer Paul calls “that magnificent lump of tissue inside [our] skull.” But then she asks, “What if our faith is misplaced?” Increasingly, researchers are demonstrating that effective intelligence requires “skillfully engaging entities external to our heads”: our bodies, our natural and built environments, and our friends, families, and coworkers.

Three Days at Camp David: How a Secret Meeting in 1971 Transformed the Global Economy
Jeffrey E. Garten, Dean Emeritus, Yale School of Management
(HarperCollins, $29.99)
In August 1971, on Friday the 13th, President Richard Nixon gathered more than a dozen of his senior monetary policy advisers at Camp David. They hoped that luck would be on their side when they announced on the 15th that the country was ditching the gold standard—foundation of the post–World War II international economy. Management school professor Garten, a global finance expert with experience in Washington and on Wall Street, presents an engaging, nontechnical account of what led to that “watershed in modern American history” and how it has played out.

Chicago’s Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City
Carl Smith ’74PhD
(Grove/Atlantic Inc., $19) 

At about nine in the evening of October 8, 1871, Chicagoans Catherine and Patrick O’Leary were shouted out of bed by a neighbor. “Kate,” Patrick screamed, “the barn is afire!” Two days later, the conflagration (which was not, urban legend notwithstanding, caused by Catherine’s milk cow kicking over a kerosene lantern) had “devastated close to three square miles of cityscape,” writes Northwestern University historian Smith, in a deep dive into the catastrophe and aftermath. The fire left a third of Chicago’s estimated 334,000 residents homeless, and the tumultuous rebuilding effort remains “an open-ended work in progress.”

While Justice Sleeps: A Novel
Stacey Abrams ’99JD
(Doubleday, $28)
Georgia state representative, gubernatorial candidate, and skilled organizer Abrams is known as a standout politician. She’s also a captivating novelist. Her latest best-selling thriller opens with a punch—“His brain died at 11:47 p.m.”—and then, for the next 300-plus pages, pits a comatose Supreme Court justice and his law clerk Avery against a corrupt president. Naturally, said corrupt president has a murderous right-hand man who will stop at nothing, not even genocide, in the name of preventing real or imagined Muslim terrorism. “What exactly are they hiding?” wonders Avery.

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