June 2011


Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.

Dr. Andre McKenzie, Vice President of the Division of Academic Support Services, writes:

Nicholas Lemann’s The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America chronicles a major population shift in the United State that occurred between the early 1940s and the late 1960s, and the effect it had on Chicago’s South Side.  During this era more than five million African –Americans sought refuge from the oppressive and segregationist practices of the deep south by moving north in search of both economic and social equality.

My parents, as well as many other relatives, were a part of that migration during that period. As a native Chicagoan born in the 1950s on the South Side, I had often heard stories about their experiences in the South. Their journey north provided them with a sense of hope and optimism they believed could never be realized by staying in the rural regions of Alabama and Georgia that they called home.

This detailed narrative, which follows the lives of selected men, women, and children over a fifty-year period, has had a profound impact upon me. It has given me greater insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by my own family in their transition to the urban landscape of Chicago, while also affording me deep reflection on the obstacles that continue to hinder the economic progress of African-Americans in contemporary Chicago.

The story Lemann shares in The Promised Land is one that intersects race, class, and political discourse imposed upon an urban backdrop. In turn, it is a story connected to my own life in terms of my origins and who I am today.

Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.

Glenn Statile, an associate professor in the Philosophy Department and director of the Long Island Philosophical Society, writes:

Alan Paton’s inaugural novel entitled Cry, The Beloved Country (1948) is often said to have opened up a literary window on life in South Africa during the long scourge of apartheid to the entire world.  It is that and so much more , its author’s claiming his goal to have been no less than to stab his homeland in the conscience.  While dramatizing the agony of a country in an elegant and almost paradoxically lyrical fashion that bears much in common with the emotional crescendo of a Greek tragedy, the excellence of the novel is only partially dependent on its plot.  Characterization is also a strong suit.  Cry, The Beloved Country, while not a tale of two cities, presents the narrative of two parallel journeys. 

 First there is that of the Zulu Anglican minister Stephen Kumalo‘s physical journey from the tribal city of Ndotsheni to the big city of Johannesburg in search of his murderous son.  Simultaneously, the reader also learns of the psychological journey of the bigoted white farmer James Jarvis, who seeks to empathize with the moral essence of his own son Arthur, an advocate of racial justice whose life has been cut short by Absalom, the son of Stephen Kumalo who is thus to be executed for his crime . The paths of the two bereft fathers, who initially inhabit different sectors of the moral landscape, eventually meet on the shared plane of paternal grief.  Only then does the drought which plagues the region finally come to an end, allowing the healing rain of forgiveness and mutual respect to soak the South African soil with tears of renewed hope.

 Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  

Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.

Dr. Dolores Augustine, a professor in the History Department, writes:

I read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm at the age of 19 or 20, and it has had a tremendous impact on me down through the years.  Written in a lucid, compelling way, the book argues that what is most important in life is a sense of meaning, and that meaning does not derive from consumerism, fame, or even admiration.  Rather, we make our own meaning through our creative activity—our work, our love for others.  Fromm says that love comes in many forms, and (unlike many philosophers) he does not look down on romantic love.  However, it is our act of loving that makes us the happiest.  I found this book subversive when I read it because it rejected many of the values of the suburban America I grew up in.  And in an era of narcissism and loneliness, it is as relevant and as important as ever. 



Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.

Dr. Christopher Bazinet, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, writes:

Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature is a book I sometimes recommend as a very readable and entertaining example of how biological factors—more specifically, evolutionary forces, may have influenced the development of our “most human” characteristic—our minds.  The complexity of our mental lives, including our experience of consciousness, introspection, and our ability to think about and anticipate the future, are often used as evidence for placing man in a special status above all other living things.  Ironically, Miller’s book makes a very interesting case for how the forces of evolution may themselves account for the exceptional capacities of the human brain—and the mind lurking within it.  He credits it to an evolutionary principle that most of us haven’t considered carefully, the theory of evolution by sexual selection.  Whereas we are all familiar with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection—the survival of the fittest leading to the propagation of their genes to the next generation—we sometimes forget that we also need to succeed at courtship in order for our genes to make the jump to another generation.  This leads to a second, perhaps more subtle but extremely powerful principle—evolution by sexual selection.  Assuming that our genes can influence our choice of mates (maybe there can be accounting for taste after all..), Miller presents an interesting argument explaining how the judicious choice of mates by early human females led to the rapid development of our mental capacities in a “runaway” process driven by positive reinforcement….that is responsible for the human brain/mind as we now know it.

Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally.

Dr. Charles Clark, a professor in the Economics and Finance Department of the Peter J. Tobin College of Business and a senior fellow in the Vincentian Center for Church and Society, writes:

The book that changed my life the most is John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society.  In 1980 I was a student at Fordham University, majoring in economics because it was a good major for those who wanted to go to law school.  I disliked economics as a subject, but liked two of my professors, one of whom told me to go to a guest lecture by Galbraith.  I brought a friend and ten minutes into his lecture I told Carl “this is what I have to do,” giving up all thoughts of law school.  On the way home I stopped at Penn Books and looked for books by Galbraith and The Affluent Society was the one they had.  I read it cover to cover in one night, which was a first for me (besides Go Dog Go).  It was funny, humane, insightful, and it showed that economics can be about people and not just prices and equations.  Its main point is as valid today as it was in 1959:  our main economic problem is that we have a great surplus in private production, especially for goods and services that go to the rich, and a great shortage in public goods that benefit all (like clean environment, parks, etc.) and goods that help the poor.  As we embark on the economic suicide of fiscal austerity (cutting government spending so that we can lower taxes on the rich) we should heed Galbraith’s analysis.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.