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Reviews in Brief
Illuminating the Universe
An elegant study of light and how we see it.
By Emily Thompson
EMPIRE OF LIGHT:
A History of
Discovery in Science and Art
By Sidney Perkowitz, Gr'67.
New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1996. 227 pp., $27.50.
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Sidney Perkowitz's Empire of Light is an effectively structured and elegantly written scientific essay on a topic that ranges from the atomic to the universal. The "Empire of Light" extends, quite simply, over all there is, for "no other single phenomenon crosses so many human and physical categories." From the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux to Galileo's telescope, to the particular shade of yellow with which Vincent Van Gogh rendered his sunflowers, to the latest generation of fiber-optic computers, mankind has explored light and its effects in order to make sense of the world. Perkowitz, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Condensed Matter Physics at Emory University, has crafted a book that captures concisely this richness and range, and the end result is not simply a history of light, but an essay on how we strive to understand our world and to assign meaning to our place in it.
Empire of Light opens by presenting theories of vision and perception, from the geometric optics of 17th-century mathematician Rene Descartes to the elucidation of the mechanism of the retina by 1906 Nobel Laureate Santiago Ramon y Cajal. As we understand it today, visual perception is not characterized by the instantaneous reception of some objective image of reality, but by a discrete and rapid scanning of the world. A perceptual image that is located diffusely throughout the brain is then gradually built up, like a photographic image developing in a chemical bath. The process is both subjective and selective, and thus vision exists at a "strange crossroad," where "impersonal quanta of light trigger neurons that elicit individual reactions." What we see and how we see makes each of us who we are, and for this reason, the study of light illuminates fundamental questions about human nature.
Perkowitz next focuses upon the scientific study of the physical properties of light, tracking the shifting paradigms of thought from early modern corpuscular theories to the rise of a wave theory of light in the 19th century, to the fruitless search for the elusive ether (the thing that must be "waving" according to the wave theory), to Albert Einstein's brave willingness to conclude that, if we can't find the ether, it must not exist and a new conceptual framework must be developed. The search for this new framework would lead to Einstein's theories of relativity and Max Planck's quantum mechanics, and a return to the idea of a discrete particle of light, the photon. But now, this particle theory is required to coexist with the wave theory, and our understanding of the nature of light is rooted in a fundamental paradox: light is, and must be, simultaneously a particle and a wave.
The focus of Perkowitz's account then shifts from the scientific to the technological, as he explores the ways that light has been artificially created and manipulated for illumination, aesthetic evocation, and communication. From the age of candles and oil lamps to the modern era of incandescent, flourescent, and laser-generated light sources, human history has been characterized by continuous efforts to illuminate and thus conquer darkness. By manipulating the reflective and transmissive properties of different kinds of materials, artists ranging from medieval glass-makers to the Impressionist painters have created pigments that have assigned new meanings to color. And today's technology of fiber optics promises to revolutionize the information revolution by replacing big, sluggish electrons with massless photons moving at the speed of light.
Perkowitz closes by considering the role of light in the science of astronomy, moving from the almost undetectably minute light of an individual photon to the immeasurable immensity of the universe. Virtually all knowledge of what lies beyond our world has come to us by examining the arrival of cosmic light. The structure of distant stars and planets is derived from analysis of the light that they emit or reflect, and the time it takes for this light to reach us is our key for understanding the age and the very creation of the universe. Almost every religion has its own version of a creation myth that is all about the creation of light, and the religion of modern science is no exception. Perkowitz may or may not wish to see his book characterized as a kind of religious text, but the analogy may be apt when one considers both the comprehensiveness of his account and the passion with which he tells it.
The range of topics alluded to in this brief precis only samples the wealth of material that is explored within Empire of Light, and it is a credit to the author's abilities as a writer that such a comprehensive account is contained so effectively within a concise package. Perkowitz is equally adept at describing complex scientific ideas and principles in simple, non-technical language. Well-chosen analogies make clear concepts as imposing as Maxwell's equations and Einstein's special theory of relativity. Additionally, Perkowitz doesn't hesitate to admit when and where science still falls short; it is simply impossible to make sense of the inherent paradox of light's duality as particle and wave. He accepts, indeed relishes, the still-mysterious fundamental nature of light, and he is willing to consider non-scientific ways of seeing and knowing, such as art, as he engages the reader in the ongoing search for clues to solve this mystery.
While art, technology, and culture all play a role in his account, Empire of Light remains first and foremost a
history of scientific thought. If your primary interest is in the artistic use and examination of light, you may find yourself wanting more than is offered here. Additionally, the absence of any illustrations limits the impact of what is said about particular artists and paintings. And, if you are most interested in the popular culture associated with light, Empire of Light is overshadowed by Wolfgang Schivelbusch's masterfully illuminating account, Disenchanted Night. Still, if you recall with pleasure your college physics courses (even if you don't recall exactly what you learned there) and are interested in surveying the history of physics through the particularly illuminating and well-focused lens of the study of light, Perkowitz's book will clearly and brightly light your way.
Dr. Emily Thompson is an assistant professor in the department of the history and sociology of science..
Only a Game
"America's Team," when it was young.
By Buzz Bissinger
COTTON BOWL DAYS:
Growing Up with Dallas
and the Cowboys in the 1960s
By John Eisenberg, C'79.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. 300 pp., $24.00.
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It is difficult to think of the Dallas Cowboys pro football team in a way that bears the remotest resemblance to nostalgia. They have tried to promote themselves as "America's Team," but in recent years they have come to personify the very worst in professional sports behavior-thuggery, drug use, sexual misconduct, a recently-departed head coach who packed a pistol at the airport...
It is into this swirl of "Neon" Deon and Michael Irvin and Barry Switzer that John Eisenberg, a columnist at The Baltimore Sun, comes forth with Cotton Bowl Days. Playing on the familiar theme of remember-when-sports-used-to-be-just-a-game, Eisenberg presents a portrait of the Cowboys in their formative years, when they were the NFL's newest kids. Inept on the field and all the more endearing and innocent because of it, they played their games in the cavernous confines of the Cotton Bowl, where the closest thing to a luxury box was a box of Cracker Jack with two worthless prizes inside all that teeth-chattering popcorn instead of one.
Eisenberg is at his best when he confines himself to the games and the players who populated them. The book begins in 1960, when the Cowboys became the NFL's newest franchise, and goes through 1971, when the team left the Cotton Bowl for its current home of Texas Stadium. Interspersed
throughout the narrative are mini-portraits of various players who formed the backbone of the Cowboys during those early years, such as Don Perkins, Bob Lilly, and Don Meredith.
Eisenberg is a deft reporter, and his chronicling of the early years in the Cotton Bowl is hardly the tale of a team that later became known for its almost clinical precision. Average attendance that first year was a mighty 21,417 fans; one game against the San Francisco 49ers drew 10,000, prompting Meredith, the Cowboys' charismatic quarterback, to peer into the vacant stands and say, "Well, we finally did it. We scared everyone off."
Indicative of the fact that pro football was not a full-time pursuit, many players worked morning jobs before reporting for practice and meetings in the afternoon. To save a few bucks, the Cowboys supplied shoulder pads that as several players reported, "hurt like hell" because they were flat and not cantilevered. "You made about as much money as you'd make doing anything else," said former defensive great Lilly. But no one on the Cowboys during those early years seemed to mind much.
All they wanted to do was play regardless of the number of fans and the equipment. Based on Eisenberg's account, if anything else informed them, it wasn't avarice or greed or the general sports creed of narcissistic me-ism, but something far more shocking given the conduct of most pro athletes today-social conscience.
If there is a revelatory aspect to the book, it has to do with the way in which such players as Pettis Norman and Mel Renfro, repulsed by the racism of Dallas, fought back not simply for their own self-interest but for the interest of tens of thousands of other minorities. Norman routinely led demonstrations downtown, and Renfro, tired of being rebuffed every time he tried to rent a house in North Dallas, sued in federal court under the Fair Housing Act and won his case. "I got a lot of positive mail from people of color that said because of what I had done they could live where they wanted. It made a mark on that community," said Renfro, reflecting a time when some athletes actually saw themselves as principled and powerful participants in their communities.
Eisenberg shows a willingness to explore thorny issues of race in Dallas, but he is not heavy-handed about it. This is not a book that reaches for pretentious loft. Football, he clearly understands, is mostly about hitting and blocking and tackling. As a result, those looking for pigskin nitty-gritty should have nothing to complain about. There is plenty of recitation of first downs and touchdowns, and Eisenberg's depiction of the famous Ice Bowl game against the Packers in Green Bay in 1967 is dramatic and wonderful.
Eisenberg tells Cotton Bowl Days in a style that is casual, anecdotal, and at moments highly personal. The nostalgia is as thick as molasses, and those looking for riveting insight into the netherworld of sports, or for that matter beautiful and textured writing, will be disappointed. When Eisenberg writes of his growing-up years, the book reads like the indulgent memoir of someone who not only is far too young to be writing a memoir about anything, but clearly let too many meaningless Dallas Cowboys games go to his head. That's the bad news, but it's more cloying than fatal.
The good news is that Eisenberg's account of the Cowboys' Cotton Bowl years is for the most part fun, engaging, and a sweet and easy read. If this isn't a book that reverberates with drama, it is a book that makes one pine for that lost age in sports when the game truly was all that mattered.
Buzz Bissinger, C'76, is the author of Friday Night Lights and A Prayer for the City.
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.
HIS NAME IS STILL MUDD:
The Case Against
Dr. Samuel Alexander MuddA Norton Anthology.
By Edward Steers, Jr., C'59, Gr'63.
Gettysburg, Pa.: Thomas Publications, 1997. 160 pp., $12.00 (paper); $24.00 (cloth).
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On April 15, 1865, Dr. Samuel Mudd treated the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth just hours after Booth had murdered President Lincoln. Learning of the assassination, Mudd failed to turn Booth over to local authorities. Since that time, a controversy has simmered regarding Mudd's innocence or complicity in the conspiracy. Analyzing the evidence, Lincoln scholar Steers argues that modern efforts to exonerate Mudd are mistaken: Mudd knew Booth well; he had entertained him as an overnight guest just months prior to the assassination. Steers writes that Mudd even plotted with Booth to capture Lincoln, and introduced Booth to key conspirators. Steers, now retired, was deputy scientific director for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. He was a past president of the Lincoln Forum.
THE CONTEMPORARY MOSQUE:
Architects, Clients, and Designs Since the 1950s.
By Renata Holod, Faculty, and Hasan-Uddin Khan.
New York: Rizzoli International Publications Inc., 1997. 288 pp., $85.00.
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The Contemporary Mosque features more than 70 mosques designed and built since the 1950s throughout the Islamic world and for Muslim communities in other countries. Traditionally, the mosque is the first permanent structure to be built in any Muslim community, serving as its physical and spiritual center. Since the end of the colonial era and the creation of independent Muslim nations, a significant number of new mosques have been built throughout the Islamic world; the West has also witnessed an increase in order to serve the communities whose growing numbers now make Islam the second largest religion in North America. Lavish color photographs of the mosques and of their richly detailed interiors are complemented by architectural plans and drawings and a text outlining the individual design briefs and solutions, together with a background history for each project. Holod is a professor of art history and has served as convenor and as a member of the jury of the triennial Aga Khan Award for Architecture, established to encourage excellence in contemporary design within the developing nations of the Muslim world.
Controversy in the Age
of Medical Miracles.
By Arthur Caplan, Faculty.
New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998. 282 pp., $17.95.
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Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics and Trustee Professor of Bioethics, comments on the rapidly changing field of biomedicine and the consequences it will have on our lives. His book explores these issues and analyzes a number of moral questions, including: Will we retain our essential humanity if we modify our biological blueprint? Would it be irresponsible to procreate without a thorough genetic examination? Who will decide if physical traits like short stature and baldness are considered diseases? Can biomedicine make our lives better? Caplan's book covers such topics as cloning, abortion, and assisted suicide; genetically engineering a human to be immune from infectious diseases; the ability to "design" our children from head to toe; diagnosing and treating illnesses during fetal development; and programs to prevent HIV transmission.
HIKES AROUND PHILADELPHIA.
By Boyd Newman and Linda Newman, PT'78.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997.224 pp., $49.95 (cloth); $14.95 (paper).
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Whether you are a casual stroller or a hard-core hiker, this book has a trail to suggest for you. It maps and describes in detail 40 hiking trails within an hour and a half's drive of Philadelphia. Ranging from 1.0 to 12.6 miles in length, some of the trails are quite suitable for young children, older adults, or wheelchair hikers. Others are longer and more challenging. The book also gives some hints on hiking safety and appropriate clothing and equipment. Both authors are members of the Keystone Trails Association. Boyd Newman is a systems engineer and Linda Newman is a physical therapist.
BORSCHT BELT BUNGALOWS:
Memories of Catskill Summers.
By Irwin Richman, Gr'65.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. 256 pp., $29.95.
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Every year between 1920 and 1970, almost one million of New York's Jewish population summered in the Catskills. Hundreds of thousands still do. While much has been written about grand hotels like Grossinger's and the Concord, little has appeared about the more modest bungalow colonies and kuchaleins ("cook for yourself" places) where more than 80 percent of Catskill visitors stayed. These were not glamorous places, and middle-class Jews today remember the colonies with either aversion or fondness. Richman, professor of American studies and history at Pennsylvania State University, grew up in the bungalow colony business and has spent at least part of every summer of his life in the Catskills. His narrative, anecdotes, and photos recapture everything from the traffic jams leaving the city to the strategies for sneaking into the casinos of the big hotels. He also traces the change in the Catskills and talks about what it's like to go back and see the ghosts of resorts along the roads he once traveled.
Her Passions, Politics,
By Sydney Ladensohn Stern, CW'69.
Secaucus, N.J.: Birch Lane Press, 1997. 501 pp., $27.50.
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Gloria Steinem is America's most famous feminist. She is known throughout the world as a leader, celebrity, and writer. For this biography of her life, Stern spent 50 hours interviewing Steinem, in addition to conducting more than 200 interviews with friends, lovers, and associates from both her past and present. She portrays Steinem as an intriguing combination of contradictions-courageous yet vulnerable, beautiful but insecure, generous and ambitious, highly intelligent yet at times willfully blind. Stern writes about why Steinem-rather than any of the other feminist leaders and writers-became the icon of feminism; her past involvement with the CIA; why Steinem never married any of the lovers who were eager to marry her; and why Steinem disagreed with this book and tried to get it changed. Stern is also the author of Toyland: The High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry.
CHOOSING ASSISTED REPRODUCTION:
and Ethical Considerations.
By Susan Lewis Cooper, CW'69, and Ellen Sarasohn Glazer.
Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 1998. 400 pp., $24.95.
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New reproductive technologies and reproductive assistance from third parties offer infertile people an array of treatment options and alternative paths to parenthood. Although these options bring hope, promise, and possibility to vast numbers of people, they also bring with them a host of emotional, physical, ethical, and financial challenges. This book, written by experts in the field of infertility counseling, is about the ways that people understand and reconcile them. Cooper, a psychologist specializing in infertility, adoption, and third-party reproductive options, and Glazer, a clinical social worker focusing on pregnancy loss, adoption, and related issues, previously co-authored Without Child: Experiencing and Resolving Infertility and Beyond Infertility: The New Paths to Parenthood.
The Hidden Victims
By Deborah Spungen, CW'58.
Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications Inc., 1998. 272 pp., $48.00 (cloth); $22.95 (paper).
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Social scientist, victim advocate and the mother of a murder victim-Deborah Spungen is well acquainted with all facets of what she defines as "the blackest hell accompanied by a pain so intense that even breathing becomes an unendurable labor." In this guide for mental health and criminal-justice professionals, she illustrates just how and why family members become co-victims when a loved one is murdered, and she addresses the emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological effects of such traumatic events. Until now, the extant literature has focused primarily on the perpetrator, while impact on the "invisible victims" of crime has been overlooked. With limited services and/or advocacy available, co-victims have found their wounds compounded by confusion and a sense of aloneness. Spungen, founder of Families of Murder Victims, provides a wellspring of research, personal insight, and case examples that illuminate issues such as family notification, media influences, traumatic grief, and reconstruction and healing.
The Work of
Wilhelm Halbfass and Its Impact
on Indian and Cross-Cultural Studies
Edited by Eli Franco and Karin Preisendanz.
Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1997. 673 pp., $184.21.
Twenty-three scholars working in 11 countries spread over three continents contributed papers on the work of Wilhelm Halbfass, professor of Indian philosophy in the departments of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and South Asia Regional Studies at Penn. They are published together in this book with critical responses from Halbfass himself. The project was the idea of Leszek Nowak, the editor-in-chief of Pozna'n Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities and professor at the Universities of Pozna'n and Gda'nsk in Poland. In the spring of 1993, the editors, Franco and Preisendanz, began to solicit contributions from scholars working in a wide variety of fields, such as Indology, philosophy, religious studies, theology, comparative literature, classical ethnography, anthropology, and political studies. The contributors were requested to center their articles on or have them take as their starting point one or more of Halbfass's three major books: Indien und Europa and its English version, India and Europe, Tradition and Reflection, and On Being and What There Is. It was emphasized that this book was intended to contain critiques, questions, comments, supplementary observations, and different perspectives. Halbfass's critical response begins with a long introductory essay in which, among other things, he assesses the state of Indian studies almost 20 years after the publication of Edward Said's Orientalism.
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