Suggested Reading: Books by U-M faculty and graduates,
Poems by Tung-Hui Hu, '03 MFA, University of Georgia Press (The Contemporary
Poetry Series), 2003, $16.95 paperback.
Though they are brief, these are not intimate, lyrical poems; rather they are expansive, all-encompassing. The world Hu creates is seen from the vantage of birds or planes or, it is easy to imagine, gods. His landscapes are parched and desolate, but occasionally, just often enough, splashed with mysterious, illogical happenings that delight and beguile. As he writes in one poem, "Even the most / vigilant of museum guards deface paintings / from time to time."--Valerie Laken '97 MA, Russian Literature; '01 MFA, Creative Writing.
An untitled prose poem by Tung-Hui Hu
That year the city ground to a halt and the stars rarely came out at night. Wild dogs roamed the dockyards and alleyways, growing bony with idleness, no longer hunting anything. One prisoner escaped because the guards were too tired to catch him. I watched him run down the valley, arms stretched outward, his silhouette against the horizon: he was the first constellation we had seen in years.
By Ashutosh Varshney, Yale University Press, 2002, $45 hardcover.
Varshney, who is Director of the University of Michigan's Center for South Asian Studies, analyzes the political, cultural, and demographic composition of these six cities, but determines that the cause of tension or peace lies instead in local civic networks. He argues that where local networks encourage regular engagement between the two communities, peace between ethnic groups is the general rule. Intercommunal ties, he explains, can be built through associational networks such as professional organizations, sports clubs, or trade unions, or through everyday networks such as friendships, social visits, or simple children's play.
Varshney's study effectively shifts the focus of ethnic strife away from national political or economic action and toward local initiatives. This argument should have far-reaching implications for the fields of public policy, social science, and South Asia studies.--Valerie Laken '97 MA, '01 MFA.
Food brings families and friends, coworkers, even strangers, together for the holiday season. And no food does it any better than a Giving Christmas Cookie—that is, a cookie good enough to serve as a satisfying and deeply appreciated present.
Kristin Johnson ’94 tells how her grandmother came up with the concept of the Giving Christmas Cookie in the story that opens this useful and enjoyable book available through book stores and also at Amazon.com.
In addition to the recipe for the original “Giving Cookie,” an Austrian vanilla cookie, the Vanillekipferl, you’ll also learn how to bake 49 other exquisite confections, such as Pistachio Christmas Ribbon Bars, Festive Eggnog Peppermint Twists, Hazelnut Cappuccino Cookies, Grandma Helen’s Chocolate Chip Cookies and plenty more (including more chocolate varieties, a critical necessity for the reviewer!).
The authors add tips on presentation, shipping, storage and other handy things to know. And many readers of the first edition have added their own cookie-oriented holiday stories as additional spice. But you don’t have to be Christian to value the book, the recipes are aimed at celebrators of Hanukkah, Ramadan fast-breakers, Buddhist holidays as well as at cookie fans of no religion whatsoever.
The authors’ objective is to help make the holiday season more family-oriented in spirit and activity and to make sure a focal point of family and social energies is “not the mall of the Internet but the kitchen and the pantry.” They accomplish their goal with a book that can make hearts not only warm up but perhaps even salivate.—JW.
Geography of Thought: How Culture Colors the Way the Mind Works
Cultural differences in the way the mind works may be greater than most people suspect, according to U-M psychology Prof. Richard Nisbett. “When you have a diverse group of people from different cultures, you get not just different beliefs about the world, but different ways of perceiving it and reasoning about it, each with its own strengths and weaknesses,” says Nisbett, a senior research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research.
Nisbett, who also heads the U-M Culture and Cognition Program, discusses the substantial differences in East Asian and Western thought processes, citing experimental, historical and social evidence. His findings call into question the long-standing psychological assumption that the way the human mind works is universal. In the process, he addresses such questions as: Why did the ancient Chinese excel at algebra and arithmetic, but not geometry? Why do Western infants learn nouns more rapidly than verbs, when it is the other way around in East Asia? Why do East Asians find it so difficult to disentangle an object from its surroundings?
“East Asian thought tends to be more holistic,” says Nisbett. “Holistic approaches attend to the entire field, and make relatively little use of categories and formal logic. They also emphasize change, and they recognize contradiction and the need for multiple perspectives, searching for the ‘Middle Way’ between opposing propositions.”
Westerners are more analytic, paying attention primarily to the object and the categories to which it belongs and using rules, including formal logic, to explain and predict its behavior, Nisbett contends.
In study after study described in the book, Nisbett and colleagues from China, Korea and Japan found that East Asians and Americans responded in qualitatively different ways to the same stimulus situation. In one experiment, designed to test whether East Asians are more likely to attend to the whole while Westerners are more likely to focus on a particular object within the whole, Japanese and Americans viewed the same animated underwater scenes, then reported what they had seen.
“The first statement by Americans usually referred to a large fish in the foreground,” Nisbett says. “They would say something like, ‘There was what looked like a trout swimming to the right.’ The first statement by Japanese usually referred to background elements: ‘There was a lake or a pond.’ The Japanese made about 70 percent more statements than Americans about background aspects of the environment, and 100 percent more statements about relationships with inanimate aspects of the environment, for example, that a ‘big fish swam past some gray seaweed.’”
In another experiment described in the book, Nisbett and colleagues found that Americans respond to contradiction by polarizing their beliefs, whereas Chinese respond by moderating their beliefs. In still another study, the researchers found that when making predictions about how people in general could be expected to behave in a given situation, Koreans were much more likely than Americans to cite situational factors rather than personality characteristics as reasons for someone’s behavior.
Social practices and cognitive processes support or “prime” one another, Nisbett points out. For example, “The practice of feng shui for choosing building sites may encourage the idea that the factors affecting outcomes are extraordinarily complex,” he notes, “which in turn encourages the search for relationships in the field. This may be contrasted with the more atomistic and rule-based approaches to problem-solving characteristic of the West.”
According to Nisbett, Asians move radically in an American direction after a generation or less in the United States. “But it might be a mistake to assume that it’s an easy matter to teach one culture’s tools to individuals in another without total immersion in that culture,” he says.—Diane Swanbrow, U-M News Service.
Zelitch’s novel follows the mother- and daughter-in-law as they traverse the complex political and emotional landscapes of a post-World War II world, bound by a force incomprehensible to those around them: “I’d lost my parents and my husband and my son,” Nora, the mother-in-law, tells the reader in the first chapter. “I had only Louisa. I owe her my life.”
Drawing on her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Hungary and as a visitor to Israel, Zelitch crafts a tale that to its biblical inspiration and to the political and social mood of their setting. “This is a remarkable tale,” says Nicholas Delbanco, U-M English Professor. “It is deeply rooted in the landscape of the Bible and rendering it fertile yet again.”—JW.
Kin'lin for the Soul: For Those
Who Love, and Dare to Love Again
“There’s something about walking through
At U-M, Jenai’s responsibilities include developing, presenting, training and writing youth mentoring programs. She is also one of the founders of the African American Museum in Ann Arbor.—JW.
Black and White: An Interracial Family Portrait
In Barbara’s account, the difficulties of parenting are magnified by the fact of Barbara and Carlyle’s interracial marriage. Her story (she grew up in Ann Arbor and met her husband-to-be in 1942) highlights some of the ways in which the experience of people of mixed race—i.e. the children of interracial relationships—are well defined long before their lives are begun. For example, the discussions between Barbara and Carlyle about where to live to raise their family, Barbara’s relief at the birth of her first child that “she’d be able to ‘pass’” and Barbara’s own mother’s expression of fear for “those poor little mongrel babies” show the framework within which people of mixed race are defined first by our family environment.
Barbara’s story also underscores the naiveté with which race and the conflicts and tensions around race are often approached, especially by those not on the overtly “oppressed” end. Yet, her account permeates with hope despite the harsh realities and personal lessons she shares.
David’s story adds further complexity to the family portrait of race captured in the book. Through his anecdotes, we are able to see how Barbara and Carlyle’s individual qualities and their marital relationship combined to affect their children. We also get a more detailed glimpse of the tapestry of other individuals and events that influenced their lives as people of mixed race.
It would have added to the book if David had used more creative interplay between his account and his mother’s. An interspersing of their voices through the course of the story, as opposed to Barbara’s story first and then David’s, could have provided an even sharper view of where their perspectives were similar, where they were different and how they affected each other. However, that they presented their experiences to us at all is important in itself and more than enough reason for this book to be read by any interested in matters of race in the United States.—Sharon K. Smith. Smith, a resident library associate, is producing with two colleagues a documentary film, Anomaly, “about issues of race, ethnicity and identity beyond simplistic notions of ‘black’ and ‘white.’”
At U-M, Jenai’s responsibilities include developing, presenting, training and writing youth mentoring programs. She is also one of the founders of the African American Museum in Ann Arbor.—JW.
Smith, who recently retired from a journalism that included 20 years as managing editor of Parade Magazine, interviewed 24 Medal of Honor recipients for this book. The honorees include Sen. Daniel Inouye and former Sen. Bob Kerrey and other veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam. "Each speaks very much in his own voice," Smith says. "They're very salty and very candid. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf did the introduction."
The publisher's synopsis of the book reprots that Smith began the project by interviewing WW II Medal recipients like Walter D. Ehlers, who single-handedly wiped out numerous German machine gun positions at Normandy in 1944; John William Finn, who survived multiple bullet and shrapnel wounds as he fired on Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor; and Vernon Baker, who led 26 men behind enemy lines up to Castle Aghinolfi in Italy and fought for their survival while he single-handedly wiped out four machine gun nests, an observation post and two bunkers, killing 17 German soldiers.
Korean War heroes include Thomas Hudner Jr., who landed his plane on a treacherous and hostile mountain range to save a fellow pilot who had crashed. Rodolpho Hernandez had been shot, blown up and stabbed during a bayonet charge he led in 1951. Placed in a body bag, Hernandez would have died there had not someone eventually noticed a small movement inside. Hiroshi Miyamura fought a one-man battle against the Chinese and then, although badly wounded, helped inspire fellow prisoners to survive a torturous, 30-day trek to a POW camp where they spent the next two years. A full year went by before Miyamura's wife even knew he was alive. In the Vietnam War, Clarence Sasser, a medic stranded in a rice paddy with his platoon, surrounded on three sides by North Vietnamese who had them zeroed in, bravely crawled through devastating mortar and artillery fire from man to man for hours, giving aid and encouragement until he himself was too badly wounded to continue Smith, who lives in Norwalk, Connecticut, is also the author of a novel set in northern Michigan, The Original (1972, Bantam paperback).
The Dream Is the Eternal Love
Tom Foster, a professor of English at the U-M Flint campus, has written an informative guide to understanding good literature. His premise is that we already have much of the knowledge we need to grasp many literary devices such as allusions and imagery.
With a sense of humor and a style that's pleasant to read, Foster offers up some good advice that will enrich reading for both novices and old hands. Here are 10 tips gleaned from the book:
1.Every trip is a quest. When people in novels, stories, poems and plays go places and do things, they're unknowingly learning about themselves, which is the real purpose of any quest.
2. Notice the social dimension of your reading, to which writers give a great deal of thought. When people eat or drink together, it's communion.
3. Pay attention to the weather and season. It's never just rain or snow.
4. Remember your previous reading. If something sounds familiar, it probably is. When in doubt it's from (a) Shakespeare, (b) the Bible or (c) the classics.
5. If you find something in a book, chances are good the author put it there.When you wonder, did the author mean to do that, the answer is probably yes.
6. Disfigurement, disability or disease often figure in stories as signs and symbols.It's never just heart disease (or blindness or illness).
7. Irony trumps every-thing.When writers employ irony, they upend our expectations (the tricky devils).
8. Reading is an event of the imagination, and not just the writer's.As the reader, you bring your imagination into contact with that of the author in an active dialogue between two intelligent beings. Enjoy the conversation.
9. Don't read with your own eyes.Or at least, don't let your view excessively limit your understanding of a work.That is, try to understand the work through the mindset of the author and his audience, which may be different from ours. Besides, being Chaucer for a day might be fun.
10. You already know most of what you need. If you've gone to church,
read fairy tales, watched movies experienced other books, you're already
familiar with a great many of the codes by which authors create and audiences
understand literature. Everything that's ever been written is
Sheri Fink, who received her BS in psychology at U-M, became interested in war-zone medicine while earning her MD at Stanford, where she also got a PhD in neurology. At medical school she learned about a handful of doctors, none of them surgeons, who from 1992 to 1995 tended to 50,000 predominantly non-Serbian residents in the besieged town of Srebenica.
Fink decided to tell their story from the physicians’ point of view. The result is not only a stirring presentation of the high moral and physical courage of individuals, but also an exploration of the nature of medicine in wartime in general. Physicians must do more than treat war victims, she argues, they must also abandon neutrality and become partisans against those who commit military and police atrocities.
Fink also delineates the responsibility of other nation states for the genocidal assault on Srebenica by Bosnian Serbs. “The United States abdicated primary responsibility for dealing with the war in Bosnia to Europe until after the fall of Srebrenica,” she writes, even though the US government had “vast knowledge of the atrocities taking place in Bosnia since 1992.”
Perhaps one of Fink’s most surprising and important points is that
medical and other aid workers are questioning whether the leaders of nation
states have begun to use them as a cover for “states’ unwillingness
to intervene decisively” in genocidal conflicts. It may better to
stay out of such conflicts if, by their presence, humanitarian volunteers
“lend populations a false sense of security” by deluding them
into thinking that governments care about their fate, she says. Holding
Steigmann-Gall, a history professor at Kent State, looks closely at how Nazi party members interpreted and exploited Christianity in party pamphlets and in the writings of key members. The author shows that even in 1920, the Nazis were molding anti-Jewish and reactionary political ideologies out of Christian materials. SS Obergruppenfuehrer Dietrich Klagges, the prime minister of Brunswick, who made Hitler a German citizen, was typical of Nazis who viewed themselves as good Christians. Steigman-Gall also quotes prominent pastors who praised the Nazi program, especially its anti-Semitism, but also its anti-Marxism and anti-liberalism.
Some responses to the book illustrate a general intellectual fallacy
common in critiques of Nazism. For example, Helmut Walser Smith, author
of The Butcher’s Tale: Murder and Anti-Semitism in a German Town,
writes that “The Holy Reich is a brilliant and provocative work
that will recast the whole debate on Christianity and Nazism. We have
come to realize that Christianity embraced Nazism more than we used to
believe. Now, in a work of deep revisionist import, Richard Steigmann-Gall
shows us that the embrace was more than reciprocated.” It should
be clear, however, that “Christianity” can embrace nothing,
or that it would be just as absurd to say that “paganism embraced
Nazism” on the ground that many Nazis were avowed paganists. Implicit
Indictments of religions misplace the blame: It was self-professed Christians
persons who did the embracing, rather than the abstract entity, “Christianity.”—JW.
Longfellow Reads Longfellow: Dreams
That Cannot Die
Longfellow, who served as program head at the Menninger Foundation after
earning his doctorate in experimental psychology at U-M, has produced
a CD featuring his soothing, New Age-y adaptations of 16 of his illustrious
relative’s poetic works so famed for their varnished sentiment.
Some listeners, including this reviewer, may have preferred Layne to have
stuck faithfully to Henry’s original text, but it must be admitted
that if you don’t read along, you’re highly unlikely to notice
the changes, except for Layne’s decision to muffle the distinctive
and pleasurable four-beat rhythm to the excerpt from his distant cousin’s
“The Song of Hiawatha.” The musical accompaniment by the Egyptian-born
English composer Michael Hoppé is mesmerizing; coupled with Longfellow’s
mellifluous reading style, the gentle melodies may send listeners into
that twilight zone memorialized by the poet:
Many children find yucky facts delightful. Landstrom, whose U-M degree is in biology, and her collaborators exploit this fascination by presenting unglamorous but unforgettable facts about 16 different animals. Readers aged 6 and up learn not only that honey is “delicious bee-barf” but also the physiological and evolutionary processes behind this “yucky” phenomenon. Six-year-old reviewer J.T. Swartz paid the book the ultimate compliment: "I loved it. The turkey vulture is my favorite because it poops on its feet. I liked the turtle [that "breathes through its butt"--Ed.]. I liked them all."
Learning about the advantages derived from the variety of “gross behaviors” reduces the reader’s revulsion (but not always a 100 percent reduction) and is sure to tickle the fancy of some young budding naturalists. In days past, children read about “how the elephant got his trunk.” Now they can read why the grizzly eats rotten meat, why the robin carries poop out of its nest, why the great gray owl throws up every day, why the moose coughs up and rechews its half-digested food and other seemingly nasty tricks of survival. The attractive watercolor illustrations of each beast provide a nice counterpoint to the theme of yuckiness.—JW.
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Manning, who attended U-M’s Honor College for two years before completing college at the New College in Florida, says her guide to studying for the College Entrance Examination Board’s SAT test ought to help students put at least 50 points on their first scores. But the advertising copy for her book quotes unnamed teenagers and parents as reporting gains of up to 300 points on their combined Verbal and Math scores. Many students take expensive multi-weeks courses to prepare for the exams critical to most undergraduate admissions officers. Some take more than once such course. For those who can’t afford such courses, Manning says, “having a book to use independently is vital—and it should be enjoyable and interesting.” The math section is a bit hurried for math-phobes like this reviewer (although it did refresh the memory), and the cartoon vocabulary-building exercises Manning has devised seem more bewildering than helpful. But the Latin section and other vocabulary-building exercises are thorough and may especially help diligent speakers of English as a second language.—JW.
U-M historian Gregory Evans Dowd's groundbreaking War Under Heaven proivdes a detailed reinterpretation of Pontiac's War (1763-1765), and European diplomacy tactics of the same period. He offers a fresh analysis of the Ottawa leader Pontiac and his motives and beliefs. This lays the groundwork for Great Britain's troubled campaign to conquer the interior of North America.
War in Heaven will remain a standard in the field of study concerning Pontiac's War, and will be often quoted for some time to come. Navigating the waters of misinformation, complexity of Pontiac's War and Pontiac himself has been made much more difficult by the passage of time. Dowd admits that no Ottowa source of information exists. Not even a portrait of Pontiac is to be found today.
Great Britain acquired much of North America east of the Mississippi River through the Treaty of Paris from France in 1763. Spain acquired what would become the Louisiana Purchase. Great Britain and her Indian Allies sought to occupy the Ohio River Valley and the upper Great Lakes, while previsouly French-allied Native Americans went on the Warpath, striking settlers and military outposts alike.
Later chapters of War In Heaven trace the fallout from Pontiac's War, including an impressive comparison between supporters and detractors of the Empire's Indian policy, while others, including the "Brave Fellows," exposed illegal trade and corruption in the highest levels of military and government, incriminating the King of England and other important leaders such as Croghan and Bouquet.
Another chapter presents the question of whether or not Indians qualify as "English Subjects," protected by law and the courts or considered simply "ignoble savages," not worthy of any type of consideration. The right of Indian Nations to engage in diplomacy as any other foreign government with the King of England as well as the Indian's longing for French return to the Interior of North America receives a thorough review by Dowd.
Dowd is also director of U-M's Native American Studies program and the author of A Spirited Resistance: The North American Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815—Richard Zieg.
Lefkovitz and his co-authors present an extensive but precise discussion of basic truths behind the “globalization hype.” The authors use kimchi—the pungent fermented cabbage leaves that are a staple of the Korean diet—as their chief metaphor because it is a local, particular and, to many Americans, peculiar item in a society that is of vital regional and international importance. To turn up one’s nose at the local, as in disdaining kimchi or failing to appreciate its significance to Koreans, the authors point out, can harm or even doom American business, political and cultural endeavors.
American readers interested in investing in, visiting or merely attempting to better understand and appreciate other nations and regions will find this book valuable. The seemingly inexplicable rise and fall of nations, their booms and busts, periods of stability and chaos, so poorly reported by our news media, become less puzzling when viewed through the focused lens of the authors.
“[N]o matter how excellent a country’s economic policies, how educated and skilled its people, how plentiful its natural resources, or how high its level of development aid,” the authors say, “that country will not grow prosperous in the absence of good institutions—stable property rights, strong enforcement of contracts, transparent and consistent regulation, and so on.”
This insight at the conclusion of the book loses its abstraction and acquires blood-and-guts reality thanks to the authors’ insiders-view of many foreign nations and how their fate affects America. The countries brought into better view include Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela, Italy, Singapore, Uzbekistan and numerous others. The discussion of each case study is more scientific than ideological, helping readers understand how to look for specific features that underlie the dynamics of stability, growth, and healthy change. On the flip side, readers will also gain insight over the counter forces that bring chaos, impoverishment and collapse.
Kimchi matters because poor nations or states, whether only poorly run or also poor economically, pose trouble to their global neighbors. Today and in the future, our global neighbors’ failures are likely to blight our success, just as our own political and economic failures can bring ruin upon our neighbors.—JW.
This book presents profoundly moving and important first-hand accounts, virtually unknown in the West, of the contributions of Vietnamese women to the struggle for the independence of their nation in the 1960s and ’70s. Those Americans who are willing to look at what we call the War in Vietnam with objective eyes, will read a stories of courage, patriotism, suffering and valor as heroic and moving as any they will read.
Turner, a historian at Holy Cross, got the idea for this book during a “kitchen talk” with Vietnamese women in 1993. She heard of women’s war stories and decided to collect them. The following episode is a key piece of the whole, because it is the story of a woman who was, Vietnamese told Turner, “the most beloved heroine of our generation,” Ngo Thi Tuyen.
Under aerial bombardment Tuyen, then 19, carried approximately 200 pounds of ammunition, more than twice her body weight, over Dragon’s Jaw Bridge, the most vital span in the Ho Chi Minh Trail, over which people and goods flowed between the north and south of the country. Tuyen also carried rice, water and wounded soldiers; she shot down fighter planes and tilled the field. Here is part of Tuyen’s story:
“In 1965, just a few hours after our marriage, my husband was sent to B [the southern battlefield]. As a militiawoman, I was in charge of transporting ammunition for the regular forces. That very night, the American planes poured bombs into the area and 22 of my comrades-in-arms were killed. But we had to defend the Dragon’s Jaw Bridge at all costs on that terrible night—and we had to keep the trucks going over it to the south. I don’t know why I was able to carry those two big boxes of ammunition at that time. More than once, my strength came from anger and the need to avenge my dead comrades.
“Later I was interviewed by many journalists. I had to pose for their photos. I was young then and proud of myself. I was even invited to Hanoi to make a speech. It was so nice to be there. But they made me wear the traditional Vietnamese long dress, the ao dai, and it was too complicated for me, and the high-heeled shoes tortured my feet. So I had to hold up my dress to keep it from flopping around and walk barefoot when I finally retreated back to my room in the guest house. And I didn’t know how to talk to people in Hanoi—I did not have a high level of education, you know.
“And when I went back to Thanh Hoa, I continued to work with the
local forces to defend the bridge. We shot down 70 US aircraft, but some
fell into the sea and were claimed in the counts of other provinces. We
didn’t care because we knew what we had done. Many foreign journalists
from the socialist countries wanted to interview me, and one East German
television team didn’t believe that I had carried ammunition twice
my weight. So to prove it I repeated the feat for them, right in front
of the provincial guest house. After that my back felt funny.
“Only recently I remarried a wounded veteran who had fought in Cambodia, a colonel. It was not that I had forgotten my first husband but that everyone felt sorry for me and persuaded me to marry him. And he is not well and needs a companion. He is a very kind man and we desperately want a child—girl or boy, it doesn’t matter. But the doctor tells me something is wrong with my spine because I have worked too hard.
“So, the upper levels decided to send me to Hanoi and then to
Germany for a cure. But I didn’t like the way the German doctors
treated me and one night someone tried to get into my room. I chased him
out and then went home, too shy to tell anyone why. I knew I could never
have a child. . . and didn’t want that kind of help. I don’t
even want to tell you that guy’s name.
“And I still have back pain. Maybe we will adopt a child, but we are poor. A blood child might have more compassion for us as we get older. But an adopted one might resent us for our poverty and need.
“Please, when your family takes its summer holidays, come to see me, let me meet your son, let me make him a meal and just look at him.”
Turner is the Rev. John E. Brooks, SJ, Professor in the Humanities at the College of Holy Cross, and the first woman faculty member to hold an endowed chair at her school.—JW.
Though hailed as a brilliant organizer and intellectual giant of the civil rights and movements, Ella Baker (1903-1986) usually has the adjective “unsung” attached to her appellation. But she is unsung no more, thanks to historian Barbara Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Baker’s 50 years of struggle for equal rights, opportunities and dignity for African Americans give this insightful and often gripping book the force of a novel. Baker masterminded the NAACP’s successful organizing in the South in the 1940s and early ’50s. But she was no armchair theorist. Time and again the fearless Baker risked arrest, beating or assassination by hidebound racist forces in the segregated South.
Baker went on to play the same vital role in both the SCLC, in which she guided or pushed Martin Luther King Jr. and other ministers to bold action, and the youth organization SNCC, whose members she imbued with values for tolerance, democratic procedure, grassroots organizing and peaceful tactics.
Baker especially mentored young women of all backgrounds to assume duties and offices fitting with their interests, ability and potential, rather than to accept second-fiddle roles. It is to Ransby’s credit that such a visionary personality and great mind, a person with bedrock faith in the power of ordinary people, should finally gain wider recognition and appreciation in the country she loved so much that she dedicated her life to its improvement.—JW.