| Reviews in Brief | Mar/Apr
Contents | Gazette Home
everything. By Beth Kephart
MATTER OF DEGREES: What Temperature Reveals
About the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe
Gino SegrĖ, Faculty.
York: Viking Press, 2002.
single word kept filtering through my mind as I curled up
with Gino SegrĖs A Matter of Degrees, and that recurring word
was companionable. Now Ill be the first to admit that companionable
is not a word typically associated with scientific histories penned
by theoretical physicists, but A Matter of Degrees is no ordinary
history of science. It is a personable, entertaining, even chatty booka
book that ponders all aspects of life through the prism of temperature,
a novel and clever conceit. Fevers, thermodynamics, the greenhouse effect,
underwater Smokers, neutrinos, the Big Bang, black holes, superconductivity,
even Einsteins patent for a refrigeratorits all right here in these
pages, strung along on a thread of inquiry that can always be traced
back to temperature.
Through it all SegrĖ is never less than a cheerful, mostly plainspoken
guide. From the very outset he wants his readers to know who he is and
why science as a discipline delights him. Im a physicist, he writes.
When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them Im in the family
business. My brother is a physicist, my nephew is one, lots of cousins
are, my uncle received the Nobel Prize in physics, my wifes father
was a well-known German physicist, and her sister is married to an even
more famous Viennese physicist.
Throughout the book, SegrĖ makes his presence knownmarveling at the
mysteries of our planet, our bodies, and the greater universe; expressing
genuine appreciation for the unanswerable questions that still confront
us; taking small detours into the lives of such scientists as Galileo,
Carnot, Cavendish, Bohr, and Gamow, whose personal histories unabashedly
enchant him. He confides a sentimental fondness for how heat emanates
from the Sun. He conveys the thrill of scientific method, dwelling,
in many instances, on how the tools of the discovery process were intuited
and fashioned, helping us see the marvelous contraptions that have
been sent to the bottom of the sea or out beyond our stratosphere.
SegrĖ, in other words, wants us to look upon the world the way he has
learned to look upon it, to catch his contagious enthusiasm. He is a
grand synthesizer, weaving together early John Updike poems, passages
from E.O. Wilson, his own work in astronomy, textbook principles, personal
biography, and humor. He can go pages without making real reference
to temperature, but he always managesat times heroicallyto return
to his narrative thread.
SegrĖ does a particularly good job at explaining phenomena that have
implications for the way we live now and the future of our planet. His
pages on the greenhouse effect are especially illuminating. Weve all
read about global warming, but I dont remember ever reading a passage
that made so abundantly clear just how complicated the whole cause-and-effect
Everybody agrees worldwide carbon dioxide levels are going up. The
question is how far will they go? The rise depends on how fast the
world population grows and, more importantly, on how the population
lives. Higher temperatures increase evaporation from the oceans, which
means more heat-absorbing water vapor in the atmosphere and also greater
cloud cover. Clouds reflect sunlight, cooling the Earth. Carbon dioxide-induced
global warming melts snowfield, but forests that absorb carbon dioxide
might replace those snowfields. On the other hand, forests reflect
less sunlight than snowfields. To further complicate the matter, very
recent estimates indicate that global warming reduces the beneficial
carbon uptake by vegetation. We do know that carbon in the atmosphere
leads to carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, we dont know the location
of all the carbon.
Matter of Degrees is a book in which one discovers that birds get
fevers, that 300 tons of extraterrestrial rock (mostly minimized to
dust particles) fall upon the Earth each day, and that the hydrothermal
vents called Smokers convey ore from deep inside the Earth to the ocean
floor, among other things. It is a book that explains El NiŅo and the
disappearance of dinosaurs, a book that paints a portrait of the beginning
of life and suggests how this struggling but still oceanic planet might
someday be returned to ashes. It is a book that is more conversational
than poignant, more straight-shooting than poetic, more akin to settling
in with Discover magazine than hunkering down with a ream of
And always, always, theres that no small issue of temperature, always
SegrĖ returns to argue his point that temperature is not simply as important,
in the pantheon of measures, as time and lengthit might indeed be the
most defining player:
A temperature gradient shaped our solar systems eight planets: the
four inner ones are small, dense, and rocky and the outer four are large
and gaseous, he writes at one point. Temperature determined each planets
size and composition at birth and continues to influence their evolution.
Temperatures ups and downs have shaped and reshaped Earths surface,
often destroying life and just as often stimulating its rebirth.
Kepharts work appears
The New York Times, Washington Post Book World, Chicago
Tribune, Book magazine, and elsewhere.
legend Muddy Waters portrayed in mutable, human colors.
By Nate Chinen
The Life and Times of Muddy Waters
Robert Gordon C82.
York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
408 pages; $25.95. Order
Robert Gordons Muddy Waters biography borrows its title,
pointedly, from a song the bluesman performed in the earliest phase
of his career. I Bes Troubled was a staple of Waters house-party
repertoire when he recorded it in late summer of 1941, during an informal
session with the field musicologists Alan Lomax and John Work. The song
was marked in Works journal that day as Ive Never Been Satisfied;
Waters would record it in the studio, a life-changing seven years later,
as I Cant Be Satisfied. That rendition, released on the small Aristocrat
label, would win Waters his first popular success and his first Billboard
review. Years later, it would inspire an even bigger hit called I Cant
Get No Satisfaction, performed in outright homage by the Rolling Stones
(who derived their name from yet another Waters tune).
This was the blues, this was rock n roll. Stylistic mutations werent
passed on in genealogical succession, but flowed into and against each
other, folded upon themselves, like the delta tributaries after which
Waters himself was named. Gordon is acutely aware of this process, and
Cant Be Satisfied churns along with buoyancy and swiftness;
prow to stern, its a very tight ship. But aquatic metaphors seem, appropriately,
less solid than those of the earth. Watersborn into cotton, with the
name McKinley Morganfieldwas rooted in it, even when rambling like
the rolling stone of his song. His was a youth at the plow. In a letter
to Lomax after their homegrown recording session, Waters inquired about
his cuts: Want to know did they take. He was, as Gordon observes,
using the language he knewhis songs were like a seed taking to the
Its no indulgence to say that without Waters, what we know of Chicago
bluesand much of rockwould never have come to pass. Gordon refers
to him early on as a perfect crux, an embodiment of the sharecroppers
rural past and the migrants urban future, and with all the pliancy
of a man in deep transition. In the seven years between recordings of
I Cant Be Satisfied, Waters had left the Stovall Plantation in Coahoma
County and moved to fathomless Chicagowhere he had quickly found a
home, formed a band, and brought a country touch to the newfangled electric
But as Gordon gracefully reminds us, Waters never divested himself of
the sharecroppers slouch. He left the Stovalls only to indenture himself
to the Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil, who ran a record label on the
South Side. Their business relationship was by no means purely exploitative,
but neither was it fair. What it was, was familiar. Gordon explains:
Muddy had made a life in the plantation South. He played guitar, ran
a bar, drove a car. His pockets jingle-jangled with silver and scrip.
Muddy not only sought a relationship with the boss man, but was sheltered
by it. It was how he lived. In short, Waters had found not only a label
but a family. Ill be with Chess as long as theres a Chess in the
company, he said, when the organization changed hands in the late-1960s.
His good faith would ultimately lead to financial abuse and, once Waters
finally acquired a manager, legal recourse. Gordon outlines these developments
with a sharp stylus, combining an eye for detail with an ear for compelling
language. The former gives this book its heft; the latter, its heart.
Both qualities are evident as Gordon examines the grainy particulars
of Waters life that have, for many years, deferred to the powers of
myth. A prominent example occurs on the books first page. Throughout
his life, Waters maintained that his story began in Rolling Fork, Mississippi,
on April 4, 1915; here we learn that he actually came into the world
in the next county, at the more obscure Jugs Corner, two years prior.
Gordon coyly notes: He thus became a man born in a year he wasnt born
in, from a town where he wasnt born, carrying a name he wasnt born
with. Given the fact that Muddy was a name bestowed by his grandmother,
theres no compelling reason to believe that any of these inventions
was Waters idea. (Waters was also imparted rather than chosen, by
friends and bandmates.) Still, the urge to peg McKinley Morganfield
as a shadow image, one degree away from himself, is irresistible. Gordon
does resist this urge, in most instances, by filling in the blanks.
The portrait that emerges is complex and flesh-toned. And when Gordon
occasionally drives too far afieldimagining an undocumented conversation,
or resorting to excessively colorful language to describe a songthe
results are less harmful than distracting, and his narrative rolls on
with just the slightest of bumps.
Waters, as Gordon describes him, was no saint. And it turns out that
nobody would argue this point. The bluesman left behind a trail of outside
women, illegitimate children, and bruised and broken hearts; one of
his offspring, the blues guitarist Big Bill Morganfield, comes across
in these pages as still emotionally raw. Waters true granddaughter
Cookie, who raised several of his other grandchildren from an extramarital
affair, sounds hardened when she says: I always think about Muddys
song, Im a Man. When hed sing that song, he really meant it. (She
goes on to opine that he was not a nice person.) More forgivingly,
Waters cousin Elve Morganfield remarks: Muddy was a good guy, but
he was a man. He said that in his song. Muddy loved women. Just like
any other man, you supposed to love a woman. But you aint supposed
to try to have all of em.
The objective nature of Gordons reportage collides happily with his
enthusiasm for the music, and devotees of the blues will be happy to
see that his appendices and end notes comprise a dense but breezy 120
pages. Within the main body of the text, he provides just the right
amount of information about Waters influences (Robert Johnson, Son
House), family members (and mistresses), bandmates (some of whom, like
Otis Spann, were closer than family), and stylistic descendants (like
Keith Richards, who contributes a brief foreword). Gordon is unflinching
about Waters aesthetic as well as personal shortcomingshis work ethic,
it seems, pales in comparison to chief rival Howlin Wolf. The biographer
puts much stock in the notion of a personality forged in the Delta;
theres a reason the book is prefaced by a Cormac McCarthy inscription
which suggests, in part, that weathers and seasons that form a land
form also the inner fortunes of men. But against this pretense of predestination,
Gordon argues that through Muddy, the blues became a music of hopenot
just escape. What had been the music of oppression became the music
Chinen C97 lives in New York. His writing appears regularly in Philadelphia
City Paper, JazzTimes, and Downbeat. He profiled avant-garde
pianist-composer Uri Caine C81 in the January/February 2001 Gazette.
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
DAUGHTERS: Novels and the Politics of Family Romance, Frances Burney
to Jane Austen
C. Greenfield Gr91.
Wayne State University Press, 2002.
232 pp., $34.95. Order
of the novel and the nuclear family was no mere coincidence, argues
Susan Greenfield in this examination of modern maternity. She charts
how the newly emerging novels of the 18th century responded to and helped
shape the idealization of the caring, loving mother. Works about missing
mothers and their suffering daughters abounded, and eventually became
part of a literary tradition with politically complex and psychologically
enduring effects. Greenfield is an associate professor of English at
INDEPENDENCE HALL IN AMERICAN MEMORY
Charlene Mires GGS92.
of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
350 pp., $34.95. Order
of Independence Hall, contends Charlene Mires, cannot be fully appreciated
without assessing the full range of political, cultural, and social
history that has swirled about it for nearly three centuries. It has
functioned as a civic and cultural center, a political arena and courtroom,
and a magnet for public celebrations and demonstrations. In the 1850s
hearings for accused fugitive slaves were held, ironically, in this
famous birthplace of American independence. Later on it was the site
for civil-rights protests. This book reveals Independence Hall as a
place of contradictions, where the nations ideals have been defined
and contested, expanded and limited. Mires, a co-recipient of the Pulitzer
Prize in journalism, teaches history at Villanova University.
TO THE DIGITAL AGE:
Research Labs, Start-Up Companies, and the Rise of MOS Technology
Ross Knox Bassett EE81.
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
421 pp., $44.95. Order
American home probably has tens of millions of them. The metal-oxide
semiconductor (MOS) transistor is a fundamental element of digital electronics,
making possible household appliances, personal computers, automobile
ignition systems, and smart toys. This book explores the history of
the MOS transistor, examining the breakthroughs of individual innovators
and companies. Bassett is assistant professor of history at North Carolina
Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto
Wendell Pritchett Gr97, Faculty.
The University of Chicago Press, 2002.
333 pp., $35.00. Order
founding in the late 1800s through the 1950s, Brownsville, a section
of eastern Brooklyn, was a white, predominantly Jewish, working-class
neighborhood. The famous New York district nurtured the aspirations
of thousands while infamous gangsters of Murder, Incorporated, controlled
its streets. But during the 1960s, Brownsville was stigmatized as a
crime-ridden black and Latino ghetto. Focusing on the interaction of
Brownsville residents with New Yorks political and institutional elite,
Pritchett tells the story of these two different, but in many ways similar,
Brownsvilles. Pritchett is visiting assistant professor of law at Penn
and assistant professor of history at Baruch College of the City University
of New York.
GUIDE TO THE ETRUSCAN AND ROMAN WORLDS:
At the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Donald White, Faculty, Ann Blair Brownlee, Faculty, Irene Bald Romano
Gr80, Staff, and Jean MacIntosh Turfa, Staff.
Museum Publications, 2002.
112 pp., $29.95 (cloth); $14.95 (paper).
to the University Museums classical collections illuminates ancient
societies by explaining and providing context for the way objects were
created and used. Brief essays touch on everyday life, language, commerce,
religion, and burial among the Etruscans and Romans, as well as the
legacy of the classical world in Western culture. White is curator-in-charge
of the Mediterranean section, head curator of the Etruscan and Roman
galleries, and professor of classical archaeology. Brownlee is senior
research scientist in the Mediterranean section, co-curator of the Etruscan
and Roman galleries, and adjunct assistant professor in the history
of art department. Romano is research associate in the Mediterranean
section and co-curator and coordinator of the Etruscan and Roman galleries.
Jean Turfa is curatorial consultant for the Etruscan Collections and
READING THE LINES:
A Fresh Look at the Hebrew Bible
Pamela Tamarkin Reis G57.
Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.
227 pp., $24.95. Order
conventional thinking with witty insight, Reis contends that you dont
have to be a scholar to have intelligent, original opinions about the
Bible. With no background in biblical studies, she taught herself Hebrew,
read up on current scholarship, and set out to prove provocative new
theories on 11 controversial biblical passages. Despite her lack of
traditional credentials, all of her essays have been published in academic
THE HYDRANGEA PEOPLE
Charles Gershon C70.
N.C.: Mose Cade Books.
220 pp., $22.95. Order
Lanskys journey from the small town of Cordele, Georgia, where
he had been raised by his Jewish immigrant parents after World War II,
to the lucrative business venture he enters into with his doctor friends
and some big city high-rollers makes him a complex individual. But he
has no idea how complicated his life can get until he meets the mysterious
German beauty, Rosvita. This is Gershons first novel.
WRITING FOR REAL:
Strategies for Engaging Adolescent Writers
Ross M. Burkhardt GEd66.
Maine: Stenhouse Publishers, 2003.
293 pp., $21.00. Order
adolescents to love writing is one of the most difficult tasks a teacher
faces. Burkhardt offers strategies collected over his 32-year career
as a classroom teacher that give kids real reasons to write. He was
inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 1998.
FAITH IN POLITICS
A. James Reichley C50.
Brookings Institution Press, 2002.
429 pp., $52.95 (cloth); $20.95 (paper). Order
the Bush administration, through its Office of Faith-Based Initiatives,
awarded $25 million in grants to social service providers, including
organizations that have religious affiliations. This book examines the
history of religion in American public life and suggests answers to
practical and philosophic questions regarding future participation by
religious groups in the formation of public policy. Reichley is senior
fellow at the Public Policy Institute of Georgetown.
THE COMPLETE IDIOTS GUIDE TO DANGEROUS DISEASES AND EPIDEMICS
David Perlin and Ann Cohen C84.
Alpha Books, 2002.
315pp., $18.95. Order
of global epidemics, especially bioterrorism, may have you worried
and wondering whether to call your doctor, your pharmacist, or the Joint
Chiefs of Staff. Designed to help you put fear in its place and fight
off confusion, this book offers an in-depth look at the nature of infectious
organisms, a practical guide to disease prevention, and an idiot-proof
introduction to supermicrobes. David Perlin is acting science director
and Ann Cohen is past director of public affairs at the Public Health
Classic New England
Peter Oliver C75.
Col.: Mountain Sports Press, 2002.
216 pp., $49.95. Order
founding of the town to the building of the latest quad chair for skiers,
this book presents the rich history of Stowe, Vermont. It introduces
the mountain (Mt. Mansfield, 4,935 feet) and the peopleincluding early
ski enthusiastswho made it the Ski Capital of the East, while also
touching upon the environmental concerns with resort development. An
award-winning ski writer, Oliver is the author of six books.
MEDICINE UNDER SAIL
Zachary B. Friedenberg, Faculty
Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2002.
208 pp., $28.95. Order
In the Age
of Sail, life at sea was fraught with danger. Sailors struggled to survive
not only the hazards of battle but daunting health problems brought
on by faulty diets and long periods at sea in closely confined quarters.
This study by a surgeon traces the work of maritime doctors from the
15th to the 18th centuries and chronicles attempts by sea surgeons
to treat injuries and disease and to curtail epidemics. Friedenberg
is a professor of orthopedic surgery at Penns School of Medicine.
HUMAN ECOLOGY: Following Natures Lead
Frederick Steiner GRP77 Gr86.
Island Press, 2002.
237 pp., $25.00. Order
brings together scholarship from the social and natural sciences as
well as the environmental-design arts to offer an overview of an emerging
discipline: human ecology. Ecology needs to include humans, Steiner
advocates, because the natural and social worlds do not exist separately,
but within intricate, interacting ecosystems. Steiner is dean of the
School of Architecture at the University of Texas.
Michael Eigen C57.
N.H..: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.
202 pp., $45.00 (cloth); $17.95 (paper). Order
every aspect of our lives. In this series of case studies Eigen shows
the ways in which rage is integral to human existence. Along the way,
he explores the role of rage in art, religion, and contemporary culture;
his far-reaching examples range from the murderous art of Shakespeare
to road rage to a consideration of the events of September 11, 2001.
Eigen is an associate clinical professor of psychology at New York University.
| Reviews in Brief | Mar/Apr
Contents | Gazette Home
2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last
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LIVINGSTON & EVANS SONGBOOK: MICHAEL FEINSTEIN
Beverly Hills, Calif: Feinery/Concord Records, 2002, $17.98.
In this CD Michael Feinstein celebrates the songwriting team
of Jay Livingston C37 and Ray Evans W36, three-time Academy
Award winners. In addition to their many standard hits, such
as Mona Lisa and Que Sera Sera, it contains songs
from Broadway shows never produced and songs never before recorded.
Livingston, who is featured on piano and vocals, died in 2001.
Evans writes that, This is a farewell tribute to the career