Arts & Culture

Output: May/June 2022

This Way to the Universe: A Theoretical Physicist’s Journey to the Edge of Reality
Michael Dine ’78PhD
(Dutton/Penguin Random House, $28) 
 
Understanding how the universe began, behaves, and ends is a mind-bending project that scales from the “unimaginably large” to the “extremely tiny,” writes Dine, a researcher at the University of California–Santa Cruz who helped develop our current concepts about the cosmos. His refreshingly understandable guidebook delivers pitch-perfect explanations of current theories, opening windows on supersymmetry and string theory to the uninitiated.

American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York
Nomi M. Stolzenberg ’84 and David N. Myers ’82
(Princeton University Press, $35)

In the mid-1970s, a firebrand rabbi named Joel Teitelbaum encouraged his ultraorthodox followers to start buying land. Together, they established a separatist Jewish community in Monroe, a small town in the suburbs of New York City. The authors of this provocative history see the village, which was named Kiryas Joel, as the embodiment of a “quintessentially American” amalgam of race, religion, real estate, and modern politics.

Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War
Samuel Moyn, Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30)
Recently, the US and much of the rest of the world (leaving out Putin, as a despicable exception) have tried to make armed conflict more humane. That effort could result in “a near complete immunity from harm for one side and unprecedented care when it comes to killing people on the other,” says Moyn, a legal scholar and historian. But instead, “swords have not been beaten into plowshares. They have been melted down for drones.” Moyn shows that “the humanization of war is about how bad things can happen to people who want to be good.”

The Trayvon Generation
Elizabeth Alexander ’84
(Grand Central Publishing, $22)
“This one was shot in his grandmother’s yard. This one was carrying a bag of Skittles.” That was the start of an essay by Alexander that was published two years ago in the New Yorker, to viral acclaim. Now she has expanded upon it. The result is an angry, heart-breaking, eminently wise, and, at times, even hopeful book. Alexander cites police brutality, the pandemic, the dangers and depression Black youth face—but she also celebrates “the brilliance of our writers and artists” as a wellspring that provides “an infinite supply of stories of ingenious survival and making a way out of no way.” She wants her two sons, their peers, and, indeed, all of us to understand and use art as a kind of creative “North Star.”

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness
Meghan O’Rourke ’97
(Riverhead Books, $28)

“I got sick, I got worse, I got better—that’s how the standard illness narrative goes,” writes O’Rourke. But not long after graduation, she joined an unhappy congregation (now perhaps 50 million strong) of Americans who suffer from a “silent epidemic” of poorly understood, nonstandard conditions, from autoimmune disorders to long COVID. And they don’t go away. The book is a memoir, and also an indictment of the health care system. “Please listen,” she pleads, “so that one day you might be able to help.”

Between Memory and Invention: My Journey in Architecture
Robert A. M. Stern ’65MArch, with Leopoldo Villardi
(The Monacelli Press, $60)
Stern, former dean of the Yale School of Architecture and architect of Yale’s two new residential colleges, has produced a memoir packed with anecdotes involving luminaries of twentieth-century architecture. We hear from Paul Rudolph, Philip Johnson, Vincent Scully ’40, ’49PhD, and other bold-face names. Stern, a pioneer of postmodernism, dissects his own words of 1978, such as “buildings that refer to other buildings . . . are more meaningful.” He gives us front-row seats for his take on the evolution of architecture and its practitioners.

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