../1198/space%20holder
Previous issue's reviews | Reviews in Brief | March/April Contents | Gazette Home

../1198/Off%20the%20Shelf%20overline

Through the Lens
A photographer’s family portrait of America. By Wendy Steiner

AMERICAN ODYSSEY
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark FA’62 ASC’64 Hon’94
New York: Aperture, 1999.
152 pp., $50.00.
Order this book

With a scholarship to the Annenberg School for Communication in the early 1960s, Mary Ellen Mark, a Philadelphian, began her career in photography. Many books and photo credits later, she returned to Penn in 1994 to receive an honorary doctor of fine arts degree. Voted by the readers of American Photo “the most influential woman photographer of all time”—a somewhat wince-inducing accolade—Mark has received a host of major fellowships and awards and earned the admiration of the likes of Maya Angelou and Louis Malle. Her work might be described as close observation from a slant: a tense conflict in vantage between sympathetic attention and critical distance.
    In this first collection of her images of the United States, American Odyssey, however, Mark presents her work quite differently. Indeed, she sounds like a latter-day Edward Steichen glorifying “the family of man.” Mark pictures herself journeying forth to marvel at the “rituals, customs, and lives” of isolated groups, only to find them just like the folks back home. “In minor ways we differ,/ in major we’re the same,” writes Maja Angelou in a poetic dedication to the volume called “Human Family.” Or in Mark’s own words, “I always try to find the quirkiness in my subjects, to go beyond clich╚s and discover the common human element that connects people all over the world.” Mark shows people through their foibles, assuming for some reason that an experience with “quirkiness” will provoke in us feelings of solidarity.
    This stance gives Mark’s work an ethnographic quality as old as photography itself. To “capture” the image, the pre-digital photographer first had to leave home to find it, and so the history of photography is in part the history of encountering the unfamiliar, the exotic and the marvelous. In this way it is linked to travel literature and anthropology and the uneasy politics of exploration and colonialism. Mark is caught in this unease. A cross between Walker Evans and Diane Arbus, she presents an array of types by now all too familiar in serious photography: the aged, ill, obese, poor, rural, vulgar, insane, self-deceived, deviant, abject. Her titles locate her subjects in time and place, but many of the images look as if they could have been shot in sepia, idealized and universalized in all their grotesquery.
    In this American ethnography, the artist is always a crucial factor. We cannot ignore the meaning of the artist’s “being there”—historically, ethically, emotionally—when we deal with photography, for the viewer is put in the same relation to the scene: standing, as it were, in the photographer’s shoes. Words like “voyeuristic” and “exploitative” and “sentimental” describe not only the photographer’s stance but the viewer’s, and sometimes in American Odyssey Mark’s stances are difficult to inhabit.
    It is not that we doubt her sincerity when she insists on her respect for her subjects, and since many of them posed for her repeatedly over the years, we can assume they trusted her, too. Indeed, we can often see why. The portrait of Agnes Martin shows this venerable painter fused with nature: her shoulders aligned with the horizon, her body tonally “of the land,” her weathered head staring at us straight on, at one with the sky. An early image of the unfortunate Tiny shows the delicate and grimly stylish beauty of this impoverished rural teenager. Only the rigidity of her mouth undermines this beauty, and the mouth turns into a deformity as the years proceed. If Tiny feels half the bitterness her face expresses, these images must serve as a welcome release.
    However Mark may feel about her subjects, it is not always clear why we should respect them—the Aryan Nations ladies posing under their coarse hoods, the senior citizen dancing with her skirt unbuttoned to the waist, or the “water babies” of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, who resemble nothing so much as the hippo-ballerinas of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. These images are mildly shocking, not because the subjects are distasteful but because their apparent view of themselves differs so drastically from the way we see them. Mark is surely not so naive as to accept these self-presentations at face value nor so tolerant as to find them all touchingly “human.” The dust jacket copy does not help either, with its come-and-get-it hucksterism: “In this book, for the first time, witness Tiny at thirty. Revisit the Damm family, who no longer live in their car, but still survive in comparably difficult circumstances.” This sounds not like a celebration of the human family but an invitation to a freak show.
    But many of the images escape this problem into an exploration of contrast itself. Mark is clearly fascinated with pairings—of twins, siblings, prom queens, fat boys, old ladies smoking, people and pets, Edgar Bergen and his dummy. Alice Martin is all the more striking for appearing starkly on her own; an aged Henry Miller is paired with his bathing-suited Twinka on the facing page. In “Breann Benedict, Government flood housing, Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1997,” we see two rows of identical prefabricated houses receding to the horizon behind a little girl, clean and well cared-for, clutching her doll, their four eyes all neatly aligned, looking up or down. The doll is missing one of her immaculate shoes—the only failed pairing in this state of emergency.
    In contrast to all the subjects who present themselves to the camera, Mark includes some who cannot see themselves being seen. Lindsay, a deaf and blind child, is placed in an extraordinary sun-dappled composition with his apparently sighted sister, he reaching out to feel the world, she content to look at the ground. In perhaps the most formal shot in the collection, a black nurse in white uniform holds the white, masklike head of a leprosy patient between her dark arms in a portrait of life and death.
    Pairings may raise a host of issues about human difference and sameness, but they also refer to black-and-white photography itself—a two-dimensional echo of reality, a system of positives and negatives, an artist’s slant on reality repeated in our act of viewing. It is through these correspondences and contrasts that Mark works her photographic art. The “American Odyssey” is worthwhile not because it brings us home to “the common human element” but because it keeps us well occupied at sea.

Dr. Wendy Steiner is the Richard L. Fisher Professor of English and director of the Penn Humanities Forum.


BRIEFLY NOTED

A selection of recent books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University community. Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the authors and publishers.

NATURE’S MUSEUMS: Victorian Science and the Architecture of Display
By Carla Yanni Gr’94.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. 224 pp., $49.95.
Order this book
Focusing on the Oxford University Museum, the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art and the Natural Museum of History of London, this book reveals how such institutions reflected varying, often contradictory, concepts of nature—from the handiwork of God to a resource to be exploited. Yanni, an assistant professor of art history at Rutgers University, explains how the rise of museums accompanied and influenced the transformation of science from a “gentleman’s hobby” to a paying profession. And she shows how the buildings themselves remain invaluable guides to the Victorians’ ambiguous perception of the natural world.

SPARKS OF GENIUS: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People
By Robert and Mich╦le Root-Bernstein CW’75.
New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. 400 pp., $24.00.
Order this book
This book on creative thinking demonstrates how the creative impulse actually occurs in the mind before logic or linguistics come into play and manifests itself via emotions, intuitions, images and physical feelings. The resulting ideas then translate into formal systems of communication: words, equations, pictures, music or dance—but only after they are developed in pre-logical forms. Regardless of how these many abstract details eventually take form—into paintings, poems, theories, formulas and so on—the process by which ideas originate is universal to all persons with a potential for genius, according to the authors, who have spent 10 years researching the thought processes of dozens of accomplished men and women, from Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman to e. e. cummings and Isabelle Allende. Using their examples, the book goes on to explain how each of us can use the same imaginative tools to be more creative in our daily lives. Robert is a professor of physiology at Michigan State University and has won a MacArthur Fellowship. Mich╦le has taught history and writing.

VOICES OF THE MATRIARCHS: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women
By Chava Weissler Gr’82.
Boston: Beacon Press, 1999. 269 pp., $18.00 (paperback).
Order this book
Most studies of Judaism focus on sources produced by and for learned men: the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the Midrash, legal codes and works of medieval philosophy, mysticism and Hasidism. All these texts were written in Hebrew, a language which 17th- through 19th-century Jewish women were not given the opportunity to learn. Voices of the Matriarchs, first published
in 1998 and now available in paperback, provides the first look at non-Hebrew
Jewish source materials: the vernacular women’s devotional prayers called thkhines. Weissler’s book is the first to provide context for these prayers, and to examine the religious lives of the women who spoke them. Weissler is a professor of religious studies at Lehigh University, where she holds the Philip and Muriel Berman Chair of Jewish Civilization.

SLAVES AND SLAVEHOLDERS IN BERMUDA, 1616-1782
By Virginia Bernhard G’61.
Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1999.
304 pp., $37.50.
Order this book
This book offers a new perspective on the complex relationship between racism and slavery in the often overlooked, second-oldest English colony in the New World. As the first blacks were brought onto the islands not specifically for slave labor, but for their expertise as pearl divers and cultivators of West
Indies plants, Bermuda’s racial history began to
unfold much differently from that of the Caribbean islands or of the North American mainland. Slavery dictated and strained the relationships between whites and blacks, but it differed from slavery elsewhere because of the uniquely close master-slave relations created by Bermuda’s size and maritime economy. Bernhard is professor of history at the University of
St. Thomas in Houston and the author or editor of several books, including Hidden Histories of Women in the New South.

STATES OF DESIRE: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and the Irish Experiment
By Vicki Mahaffey, Faculty.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 276 pp., $45.00.
Order this book
This book is an intimate study of the three giants in Irish literary history: Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and James Joyce. In addition to constructing a narrative of Ireland’s political and literary past, Mahaffey interweaves the lives and writing of the authors into a portrait of national imagination, shaped not only by a vast cultural and mythic heritage, but also by the hard fact of English political domination. Mahaffey, professor of English, has written numerous articles on British and Irish modernism, and is the author of Reauthorizing Joyce.

THE MYSTICAL MIND: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience
By Eugene d’Aquili M’66 G’81, Faculty, and Andrew B. Newberg M’93, Faculty.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999. 240 pp., $20.00.
Order this book
How does the mind experience the sacred? What biological mechanisms are involved in mystical states and trances? Is there a neurological basis for patterns in comparative religions? Does religion have an evolutionary function? A pair of Penn researchers explore the neurophysiology of religious experience in this book, plotting just how the brain is involved in mystical processes. Successive chapters investigate myth-making, ritual and liturgy, meditation, near-death experiences and theology itself. D’Aquili was, until his death in 1998, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine. Newberg is a clinical assistant professor of radiology.

A BETTER WAY TO THINK ABOUT BUSINESS: How Personal Integrity Leads to Corporate Success
By Robert C. Solomon C’63.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 176 pp., $22.00.
Order this book
Is business ethics a contradiction in terms? Absolutely not, argues Solomon, the Quincy Lee Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas. In fact, he maintains that sound ethics is a necessary precondition of any long-term business enterprise and that excellence in business must exist on the foundation of values that most of us hold dear. Drawing on 20 years of experience consulting with major corporations on ethics, Solomon clarifies the difficult ethical choices all people in business face from time to time. He reminds readers that a corporation—like an individual—is embedded in a community. In keeping with his conviction that virtue and profit must thrive together, Solomon examines the ways in which deficient values actually destroy businesses, and debunks the myths that encourage unethical business practices.

PAVILION KEY: Isle of Buried Treasure
By Greg Lewbart V’88.
Melbourne, Fla.: Krieger Publishing, 1999. 212 pp., $18.50.
Order this book
This author’s second eco-mystery continues the saga of Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Officer Hal Noble, who once again finds himself pitted against corrupt individuals. This time, their greedy plans could seriously affect one of the most endangered reptiles on earth, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. This story takes Hal to Pavilion Key, which lies at the leading edge of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands. It was a favorite stop for Caribbean pirates in the 16th and 17th centuries, but gold doubloons and precious stones aren’t the only treasures buried in its sands. Like Lewbart’s first novel, Ivory Hunters, this weaves together a classic mystery plot with issues of natural history, ecology and conservation. Lewbart is a
veterinary medical doctor and an associate professor of aquatic-animal medicine at North Carolina State University.

VOLUMETRICS: Feel Full on Fewer Calories
By Barbara Rolls CW’66 and Robert A. Barnett.
New York: Cliff Street Books (Harper Collins), 2000. 256 pp., $24.00.
Order this book
Rolls, a nutrition expert, and Barnett, a food and nutrition writer, offer a long-term approach to dieting that allows you to eat more while consuming the same number of calories. Their plan is based on the concept that if you maintain the usual amount of food that you eat, yet reduce the calories in each portion (by consuming items lower in energy density), you’ll consume fewer calories overall and feel just as full—and you’ll lose weight in the process. Volumetrics provides a food guide, a menu plan adaptable for all calorie-intake levels and healthful recipes. Rolls holds the Guthrie Chair in Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University and has served on an advisory council of the National Institutes of Health. She has also served on the editorial boards of several academic journals in the fields of nutrition and obesity.

CHILD ABUSE, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND ANIMAL ABUSE: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention
Edited by Frank R. Ascione and Phil Arkow C’69.
West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1999. 479 pp., $54.95 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).
Order this book
Research has shown that the cycle of violence often begins with violence toward animals. This book examines the relations between animal maltreatment and human interpersonal violence, expands the scope of research in this growing area and provides practical assessment and documentation strategies. Ascione is a professor of psychology at Utah State University. Arkow chairs the Latham Foundation’s Child and Animal Abuse Prevention Project.

SPIRITUAL MANIFESTOS: Visions for Renewed Religious Life in America from Young Spiritual Leaders of Many Faiths
Edited by Niles Elliot Goldstein C’88.
Woodstock, Vt.: Skylight Paths Publishing, 1999. 226 pp., $21.95.
Order this book
Organized religion in America is changing. In this book, young spiritual leaders spanning the spectrum of religious traditions describe their visions for transforming faith communities and people’s lives. Goldstein, a rabbi in Greenwich Village, is chaplain for federal law-enforcement agencies and serves an online congregation for Microsoft as the voice behind “Ask the Rabbi.” He also serves as program officer and educator for the Jewish Life Network.

MILLIONS FOR THE DEFENSE: The Subscription Warships of 1798
By Frederick C. Leiner C’80.
Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1999. 288 pp., $36.95.
Order this book
The title for this book comes from a toast popular with Americans in the late 1790s: “Millions for the defense, not a cent for tribute.” Americans were incensed by demands for bribes from French diplomats and by France’s seizures of U.S. merchant ships, and as they teetered toward open war, were disturbed by their country’s lack of warships. Provoked to action, private U.S. citizens decided to help build a navy. Merchants from Newburyport, Mass., took the lead by opening a subscription to fund a 20-gun warship to be built in 90 days, and they persuaded Congress to pass a statute that gave the government “stock” bearing six-percent interest. Their example set off a chain reaction down the coast. More than a thousand subscribers in 10 port towns pledged money and began to build nine warships with little government oversight. Leiner, a partner in a Baltimore law firm who has written articles about maritime and legal history, explains how the idea of subscribing for warships started, how the ships were built and what contributions they made. He was awarded the 1993-94 Vice Admiral Edwin P. Hooper Prize by the Naval Historical Center to support his research.

WORCESTER IS AMERICA: The Story of the Worcester Armenians. The Early Years
By Hagop Martin Deranian D’47.
Worcester, Mass.: Bennate Publishing, 1998.
222 pp., $29.95.

Like a powerful magnet, the city of Worcester attracted Armenian immigrants to work in its factories, establish small businesses and pursue higher education and the professions. This account explains why Worcester became the site of the first major Armenian settlement in America and traces the hopes and aspirations of the early Armenian settlers, their bewilderment over the customs of the new world and the painful process of building a community. Deranian, a native of Worcester and a first-generation Armenian-American, lectures and writes about the history of dentistry and the development of the Armenian-American community. He has a private dental practice and serves on the faculty of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.

THE MICROSOFT EDGE: Insider Strategies for Building Success
By Julie Bick W’90.
New York: Pocket Books, 1999. 172 pp., $20.00.
Order this book
How did the team at Microsoft pioneer, build and shepherd the company through exponential growth in a constantly changing market? And how can you apply their success to your own career? Bick, a Microsoft veteran, goes behind the scenes at one of the world’s most prosperous companies to learn what top managers there have found to be the keys to success. In her second book, Bick discusses launching new products and getting the most out of older ones; designing a Web site and doing business on the Internet; and hiring the best people and keeping them happy. She previously wrote All I Need to Know in Business I Learned at Microsoft.

NEW MEDIA IN THE MUSLIM WORLD: The Emerging Public Sphere
By Dale F. Eickelman and Jon W. Anderson G’69.
Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Press, 1999. 272 pp., $39.95 (cloth); $19.95 (paper).
Order this book
Today’s new media, from satellite television to the Internet, and new uses of older media, such as cinema, the telephone and the press, are dramatically reshaping politics and culture in Muslim societies. This book considers the social organization of communication and the changing social and political landscape in which different media operate throughout the Middle East and beyond. Drawing on a wide variety of topics, from Egyptian film to Bangladeshi bodice-rippers and Indonesian legal reasoning, the essays offer new perspectives on how Muslims have adapted local and international media to communicate independently of official governments and mainstream religion. Eickelman is an anthropology and human relations professor at Dartmouth College. Anderson is associate professor of anthropology at the Catholic University of America and co-director of the Arab Information Project at Georgetown University.

CONNECTING WITH THE NEW HEALTHCARE CONSUMER:
Defining Your Strategy

Edited by David B. Nash WG’86, Mary Pat Manfredi, Barbara Bozarth and Susan Howell.
Burr Ridge, Ill.: McGraw Hill Healthcare Education Group, 2000. 500 pp., $60.00.
Order this book
Consumers are positioned more than ever to assume proactive, decision-making roles in healthcare. They are taking more control, as evidenced by self-care, advances in the use of information technology and the changing dynamic of the patient-provider relationship. This book helps readers understand how the consumer evolution has affected various segments of the healthcare industry and assists them in developing their own consumer-focused strategies. Nash is founding director of the Office of Health Policy and Clinical Outcomes at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Jefferson Medical College.

THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM IN THE SOVIET UNION
By William E. Watson G’86 Gr’90.
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. 200 pp., $39.95.
Order this book
Combining narrative description, analytical essays, biographical profiles and the text of key primary documents, Watson examines the reasons for the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and its ruling Communist Party in 1991. The author is assistant professor of history at Immaculata College.

SMALL PARTICLES TECHNOLOGY
By Jan-Erik Otterstedt and Dale A. Brandreth ChE’53 GCh’58.
New York: Plenum Publishing Co., 1999. 524 pp., $110.00.
Order this book
Small particles are ubiquitous throughout modern technology in thousands of different products and processes where they function as adsorbents, catalysts, fillers, pigments, thickening agents, surface modifiers and coatings. This book covers the physical and chemical fundamentals of small particles as well as their manufacture and use. Brandreth is an adjunct professor of chemical engineering at Widener University.

CUTTING THE GORDIAN KNOT:
Understanding Investing in Stocks, Bonds, and Mutual Funds

By A. A. Neese WG’72
Baltimore: Noble House, 1999. 191 pp., $21.95.
Order this book
If you have ever considered investing money in stocks, bonds or mutual funds but felt overwhelmed and confused about where to start, Neese has written a guide to take you through a survey of current investment strategies and practices, drawing on his experience as a long-term investor and consultant. Neese serves on the board of directors and finance committee of The Bridge, a residential shelter for abused teens in Atlanta, and on the Board of Directors of the Beloit Foundation in Beloit, Wisc.


Previous issue's reviews | March/April Contents | Gazette Home

Copyright 1999 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 2/24/00
../1198/Amazon.com%20icon
Book sales are made in association with Amazon.com. By purchasing a book using a link above, a percentage of the profits go to the University of Pennsylvania.