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Ups and Downs
How temperature affects … everything. By Beth Kephart

A MATTER OF DEGREES: What Temperature Reveals
About the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe

By Gino SegrĖ, Faculty.
New York: Viking Press, 2002.
320 pages; $24.95. Order this book

A single word kept filtering through my mind as I curled up with Gino SegrĖ’s A Matter of Degrees, and that recurring word was companionable. Now I’ll 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 book—a 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 Einstein’s patent for a refrigerator—it’s 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. “I’m a physicist,” he writes. “When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them I’m 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 wife’s 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 known—marveling 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 manages—at times heroically—to 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. We’ve all read about global warming, but I don’t remember ever reading a passage that made so abundantly clear just how complicated the whole cause-and-effect equation is:

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 don’t know the location of all the carbon.

A 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 scientific data.

And always, always, there’s 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 length—it might indeed be the most defining player:

“A temperature gradient shaped our solar system’s 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 planet’s size and composition at birth and continues to influence their evolution. Temperature’s ups and downs have shaped and reshaped Earth’s surface, often destroying life and just as often stimulating its rebirth.”


Beth Kephart’s work appears in The New York Times, Washington Post Book World, Chicago Tribune, Book magazine, and elsewhere.

Flowing Earth
Blues legend Muddy Waters portrayed in mutable, human colors.
By Nate Chinen

CAN’T BE SATISFIED:
The Life and Times of Muddy Waters

By Robert Gordon C’82.
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
408 pages; $25.95.
Order this book


Robert Gordon’s Muddy Waters biography
borrows its title, pointedly, from a song the bluesman performed in the earliest phase of his career. “I Be’s 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 Work’s journal that day as “I’ve Never Been Satisfied”; Waters would record it in the studio, a life-changing seven years later, as “I Can’t 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 Can’t 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 weren’t 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 Can’t Be Satisfied churns along with buoyancy and swiftness; prow to stern, it’s a very tight ship. But aquatic metaphors seem, appropriately, less solid than those of the earth. Waters—born into cotton, with the name McKinley Morganfield—was 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 knew—his songs were like a seed taking to the ground.”

It’s no indulgence to say that without Waters, what we know of Chicago blues—and much of rock—would never have come to pass. Gordon refers to him early on as a “perfect crux,” an embodiment of the sharecropper’s rural past and the migrant’s urban future, and with all the pliancy of a man in deep transition. In the seven years between recordings of “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” Waters had left the Stovall Plantation in Coahoma County and moved to fathomless Chicago—where he had quickly found a home, formed a band, and brought a country touch to the newfangled electric guitar.

But as Gordon gracefully reminds us, Waters never divested himself of the sharecropper’s 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. “I’ll be with Chess as long as there’s 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 book’s 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 Jug’s Corner, two years prior. Gordon coyly notes: “He thus became a man born in a year he wasn’t born in, from a town where he wasn’t born, carrying a name he wasn’t born with.” Given the fact that “Muddy” was a name bestowed by his grandmother, there’s 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 afield—imagining an undocumented conversation, or resorting to excessively colorful language to describe a song—the 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 Muddy’s song, ‘I’m a Man.’ When he’d 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 ain’t supposed to try to have all of ’em.”

The objective nature of Gordon’s 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 shortcomings—his 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; there’s 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 hope—not just escape. What had been the music of oppression became the music of liberation.”


Nate Chinen C’97 lives in New York. His writing appears regularly in Philadelphia City Paper, JazzTimes, and Downbeat. He profiled avant-garde pianist-composer Uri Caine C’81 in the January/February 2001 Gazette.


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.

MOTHERING DAUGHTERS: Novels and the Politics of Family Romance, Frances Burney to Jane Austen
By Susan C. Greenfield Gr’91.

Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002.
232 pp., $34.95.
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The rise 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 Fordham University.

INDEPENDENCE HALL IN AMERICAN MEMORY
By Charlene Mires GGS’92.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

350 pp., $34.95.
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The significance 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 nation’s 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

By Ross Knox Bassett EE’81.
Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
421 pp., $44.95.
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The typical 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 State University.

BROWNSVILLE, BROOKLYN:
Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto

By Wendell Pritchett Gr’97, Faculty.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002.
333 pp., $35.00.
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From its 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 York’s 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

By Donald White, Faculty, Ann Blair Brownlee, Faculty, Irene Bald Romano Gr’80, Staff, and Jean MacIntosh Turfa, Staff.
University Museum Publications, 2002.

112 pp., $29.95 (cloth); $14.95 (paper).
Order this book
This guide to the University Museum’s 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 Exhibition.

READING THE LINES:
A Fresh Look at the Hebrew Bible

By Pamela Tamarkin Reis G’57.
Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.
227 pp., $24.95.
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Defying conventional thinking with witty insight, Reis contends that you don’t 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 journals.

THE HYDRANGEA PEOPLE
By Charles Gershon C’70.
Asheville, N.C.: Mose Cade Books.
220 pp., $22.95.
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Sammy Lansky’s 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 Gershon’s first novel.

WRITING FOR REAL:
Strategies for Engaging Adolescent Writers

By Ross M. Burkhardt GEd’66.
Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers, 2003.
293 pp., $21.00.
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Getting 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
By A. James Reichley C’50.
Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2002.
429 pp., $52.95 (cloth); $20.95 (paper).
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Last year 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 IDIOT’S GUIDE TO DANGEROUS DISEASES AND EPIDEMICS
By David Perlin and Ann Cohen C’84.
Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002.
315pp., $18.95.
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The threat 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 Research Institute.

STOWE: Classic New England
By Peter Oliver C’75.
Boulder, Col.: Mountain Sports Press, 2002.
216 pp., $49.95.
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From the 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 people—including early ski enthusiasts—who 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
By Zachary B. Friedenberg, Faculty
Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2002.
208 pp., $28.95.
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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 Penn’s School of Medicine.

HUMAN ECOLOGY: Following Nature’s Lead
By Frederick Steiner GRP’77 Gr’86.
Washington: Island Press, 2002.

237 pp., $25.00.
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This book 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.

RAGE
By Michael Eigen C’57.
Lebanon, N.H..: Wesleyan University Press, 2002.
202 pp., $45.00 (cloth); $17.95 (paper).
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Rage permeates 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.



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CD RELEASE
 


LIVINGSTON & EVANS SONGBOOK: MICHAEL FEINSTEIN

Beverly Hills, Calif: Feinery/Concord Records, 2002, $17.98. Order this CD

In this CD Michael Feinstein celebrates the songwriting team of Jay Livingston C’37 and Ray Evans W’36, 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 of L&E.