Your March 2024 Reads

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On a Glorious Fall Weekend, Cornellians Come Home 

‘Door’ Prize: A Big Red Visual Quiz

Remembering Chuck Feeney ’56, Cornell’s ‘Third Founder’

This month's featured titles include a 'crypto thriller,' poetry, a crime novel, and a deep dive into disaster preparedness

Did you know that Cornell has an online book club? Check it out!

For more titles by Big Red authors, peruse our previous round-ups.

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The cover of "Catastrophic Incentives"

Catastrophic Incentives

Ellen Carlin, DVM ’07

In this volume from Columbia University Press, Carlin and her co-author examine two decades’ worth of disasters—from 9/11 to the COVID pandemic. Their goal: to understand (in the words of the subtitle) “why our approaches to disasters keep falling short.”

As they observe, despite a constant drumbeat of disasters both natural and manmade—including earthquakes, severe weather, disease outbreaks, and terrorist attacks—preparedness efforts are chronically underfunded, and institutions fail to learn from experience.

“Even when action is taken, and trumpeted as progress, it is often anything but,” they write in the introduction. “Nonprofits herald response statistics, and governments hail the speed with which they made emergency dollars available, but these data points do not speak to the root causes of our vulnerability, and how focusing on them at the expense of those vulnerabilities may contribute to increasing hazards.”

A veterinarian, Carlin is also an expert on public policy relating to biological threats, particularly infectious pathogens that move between animals and people. She previously served on the faculty at Georgetown and holds an appointment in the Vet College’s MPS program in veterinary parasitology.

Here in Sanctuary—Whirling

D. Dina Friedman ’79, BA ’78

Friedman’s previous works include the short-story collection Immigrants and Escaping Into the Night, an award-winning YA novel.

(She also recently penned a personal essay for Cornellians on being chosen as a Chimesmaster during her student days.)

Her new book of poetry explores themes related to borders, both literal and metaphorical.

As she writes in an entry titled “I Do Not Know”:

The cover of "Here in Sanctuary—Whirling "

“Why the wind is so fierce today. Why some people die / and others recover. Does a tornado choose its targets? / Is there a blueprint somewhere with the secret path / of my life mapped out? Will this trail I’m on / connect with the ridgeline, or will it keep crossing / the same stream? How do I get to the bunker, / and what’s hidden there now that the army no longer has it?”

The cover of "Hard Girls"

Hard Girls

J. Robert Lennon

“These are damaged, resourceful women who make intriguingly flawed, flinty protagonists,” a Kirkus review says of the title characters.

Lennon, Cornell’s Ann S. Bowers Professor of English, is a prolific author in a variety of genres; Hard Girls is his first foray into thriller territory.

It follows a road trip by its protagonists, a pair of estranged twin sisters (one of whom works at an Upstate New York college). Acting on a tip, they’re seeking their long-lost mother—a mysterious figure who may or may not be a spy.

Jumping back to the past, the story also fills in the blanks about the tragic events that set the sisters on their divergent paths.

Lennon’s many previous books include the novels Mailman, Happyland, Familiar, and Broken River, and a collection of “short-shorts” titled Pieces for the Left Hand.

Hidden Hate

Mathew Creighton ’01

Creighton, a sociologist at University College Dublin, explores the phenomenon of xenophobia—the fear or hatred of foreigners—in this non-fiction book from Columbia University Press.

“Who is the xenophobe?” he writes in the intro. “A predictable starting point is the Greek origin of the word, which couples the concepts of the stranger (xénos) and fear (phóbos). This appears to be a straightforward definition, but it’s an illusion. For one, who is the fearful? Moreover, who is to be feared? The answers to both questions are core to the concept, but both have changed over time and place.”

The cover of "Hidden Hate"

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Creighton addresses such topics as the rise of populist movements in the U.S. and Europe; the politics of immigration and of admitting refugees; and how levels of overt prejudice can vary depending on how acceptable it is in society. The book is drawn in part from survey experiments conducted in the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Norway, and the Netherlands.

The cover of "The Oracle"

The Oracle

Ari Juels

In what the author—a computer scientist on the faculty at Cornell Tech—calls a “crypto thriller,” the blockchain becomes a weapon.

The plot, which melds antiquity with modern technology, involves an ancient cult that worships the god Apollo. Its members have launched a rogue program on the blockchain (a system of linked computers that records financial transactions), offering a bounty for assassinations.

The next intended victim: the novel’s protagonist, a NYC software developer who’s recruited by the FBI to battle the threat.

“Much of my research for the book didn’t involve what many novelists do—that is, reading scholarly publications—but instead I was writing those publications,” Juels observes in a Q&A in the Cornell Chronicle. “Part of the fun of The Oracle is that I was, and am, living the research in the novel.”

How the Earth Feels

Dana Luciano, PhD ’99

“Geology is not conventionally understood as one of the ‘human sciences,’” Luciano writes. “Yet it has long possessed the ability to organize humans in relation to the worlds it describes.”

The author earned a doctorate in English on the Hill. In this scholarly volume from Duke University Press, she explores how the then-novel science of geology impacted 19th-century U.S. culture.

As Luciano explains, understanding geological history, with its long timespan, meant challenging notions of human agency.

The cover of "How the Earth Feels"

And in the 19th century, Americans came to terms with this new knowledge by combining fact and fiction in what she terms “geological fantasy.”

That concept, says the publisher, “transformed the science into a sensory experience, sponsoring affective and even erotic connections to the matter of the earth.” But it had a darker side, as it “was often used to justify accounts of evolution that posited a modern, civilized, and Anglo-American whiteness as the pinnacle of human development.”

Luciano, who is on the faculty at Rutgers, previously published Arranging Grief: Sacred Time and the Body in Nineteenth-Century America.

Classic by a Cornellian: Women’s History Month

The cover of "The Zookeeper’s Wife"

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Diane Ackerman, MFA ’73, PhD ’79

Publishers Weekly calls Ackerman’s 2007 nonfiction book a “suspenseful, beautifully crafted story.”

A New York Times bestseller, it chronicles how the married couple who oversaw the Warsaw Zoo saved several hundred people from the Nazis during World War II by hiding them in their bombed-out facility’s empty cages.

Says the Washington Post: “Here is a true story—of human empathy and its opposite—that is simultaneously grave and exuberant, wise and playful. Ackerman has a wonderful tale to tell, and she tells it wonderfully.”

A film version, starring Jessica Chastain, was released in 2017.

Ackerman’s many other works of prose and poetry include A Natural History of the Senses and One Hundred Names for Love, a Pulitzer finalist.

Published March 20, 2024

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