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What Are We Reading?

We are scholars and teachers and readers!  Reading introduces us to the new ideas that refresh our worlds. Our humanities faculty read widely and deeply into perspectives ranging from the ancients to the moderns, from work in ancient archeology to contemporary poetry to new economic theory to new media studies.

Do you want to read along with us? Here are some of the books that we are reading and recommend! 

Robert Zaretsky, Catherine & Diderot: The Empress, the Philosopher, and the Fate of the Enlightenment

Recommended by Mary McAlpin, 2018-2019 Faculty Fellow

Zaretsky has written a riveting, accessible account of a four month visit by Denis Diderot, a major figure in the French Enlightenment, to the court of the Russian empress Catherine the Great. Known for his scintillating conversation, but prone to getting into trouble due to his provocative ideas, Diderot understood both the possibilities and the challenges of making the lengthy trip from Paris to Saint Petersburg. Catherine was celebrated as an “enlightened despot,” which meant that this visit offered Diderot a chance to influence world affairs; but she ruled as the result of a coup that included the murder of her husband, a death officially ascribed to “an acute attack of hemorrhoids.” The result is an often hilarious clash of philosophical ideals and the practicalities of ruling a vast empire.
Catherine & Diderot: The Empress, the Philosopher, and the Fate of the Enlightenment

Deborah Lipstadt, Antisemitism: Here and Now

Recommended by Helene Sinnreich, 2018-2019 Faculty Fellow

[This book] is an extremely timely exploration of contemporary and historic antisemitism.  Although written before the massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, it examines the recent rise in antisemitism and gives it context. The book is extremely accessible to the general reader as it is written as a series of letters between the author and fictional characters who are composites of students and colleagues she has known over the years.   The book grapples with and elucidates the ways in which antisemitism can appear in both blatant and covert ways, and the difficulty of combating antisemitism in the contemporary world.
Antisemitism: Here and Now

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

Recommended by Amy Elias, Director of the UT Humanities Center

The Remains of the Day is a stunningly beautiful interior-monologue novel about the need to be honest with oneself and to connect with others, and the life costs of not doing so. The novel poses difficult ethical questions about the balance between personal and public life, and raises uncomfortable questions about how we can shut out the growth of political violence through our own myopic focus on daily routine. Important for our times, I think, as well as a beautifully written, heart-wrenching, wise work of fiction. The movie version with Anthony Hopkins was lovely, but read the novel for a real life-changing experience.
The Remains of the Day

Adam Ashforth, Madumo: A Man Bewitched

Recommended by Nicole Eggers (History), UTHC Fellow, 2018-2019

Madumo is an unusual book that does not fit neatly into any genre. It deals with a topic Americans generally know little about: witchcraft in Africa. You might call it personal-ethnography (it is based on years of field work in South Africa by the author), but it reads like a novel. It follows the story of its titular character—Madumo—as he searches for relief from a variety of ills and misfortunes plaguing him. It is a highlu nuanced treatment of witchcraft, which takes seriously the physical and spiritual insecurities faced by people in post-Apartheid South Africa. But it is also just a great story.

Kate Moore, "The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women” 

Recommended by Jacqueline Kerr (English), UTHC Fellow, 2017-2018

In this painstakingly researched and superbly written work of historical nonfiction, Moore chronicles the stories of women who worked as dial painters in New Jersey and Illinois radium dial factories during Roaring Twenties America. I found Moore’s prose both captivating and devastating as she relates the deadly consequences the women’s work would have on their bodies and minds as they were systematically poisoned by radium and silenced by their employers. Her book serves as both an indictment of corporate greed and as a testament to the strength, tenacity, and grace of some of America’s overlooked women who refused to go quietly into the night. As a fan of American and women’s history and someone interested in topics of health, law, and industrial safety, I enjoyed reading Moore’s work, and I would highly recommend it to those who share in these interests.

Brandy R. Fogg and Raymond Pierotti, "The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved”

Recommended by Jon Garthoff (Philosophy), UTHC Fellow, 2017-2018

This book brings together work from biology and anthropology to encourage a re-understanding of how humans relate to both dogs and wolves. It emphasizes that dogs and wolves are best understood as members of the same species, that wolves are far less dangerous than their reputation suggests, that the line between wild and domesticated animals is often blurry, and that human societies were transformed when they integrated wolves (now dogs).

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