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Recent books by Dartmouth authors

Posted 10/08/03

Lives and Landscapes:
A Photographic Memoir of Outport Newfoundland and Labrador, 1949-1963

By Elmer Harp Jr., Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus

McGill-Queens University Press

2003

Reviewed by Matt Lewis '05

At mid-century, the Canadian province of Newfoundland was a place that time had left nearly untouched. Its inhabitants fished for cod on home-built boats, cultivated fruits and vegetables in gardens beside their homes, hunted for wild game, and lived with their families in close-knit villages along the coast. As a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, Elmer Harp traveled to the outports of Newfoundland in 1949 and 1950, and returned as a Dartmouth professor in 1961, 1962 and 1963. Although his purpose was to search for evidence of prehistoric humans, Harp became as fascinated with the inhabitants as he did with his research. He recalls the enduring friendships he made with locals and his assistants, and how life in the fishing villages and paper mill towns changed in the 10 years that elapsed between his trips. Photos of the people and places of Newfoundland and Labrador accompany the memoirs, from which emerges a document of a society on the cusp of modernity, and a portrait of Harp as a dedicated anthropologist. The following is Harp's reaction when he returned in 1961 to Port au Choix, Newfoundland, after a 10-year absence:

Most of Mr. Darby's old establishment on the shore had been torn down and replaced with a larger government wharf, new storage buildings, and a wide approach ramp for freight vehicles. Even the Northern Ranger, when it arrived several days later, was under the aegis of new management and sported the blue, white, and red-striped funnel of Canadian Railways. Walter Billiard had built a boxlike movie theatre just across the road from his house, and Theo Farwell had put up a new soft drinks parlour to the east of his parents' home. Both of these new social centers had altered the dynamics of Port Au Choix; but, in all frankness, neither of the buildings had enhanced the peaceful charm of the old settlement in the Back Arm. However, they did mark the coming of modern economic advantage for the people.


The Prophet and the Astronomer: Apocalyptic Science and the End of the World

By Marcelo Gleiser, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy

W. W. Norton

2003

Reviewed by Noah Tsika '05

In his book on apocalyptic science, Marcelo Gleiser contends that the disciplines of science and religion developed from humankind's longstanding fear of all things finite. In Gleiser's view, this very anxiety over mortality characterizes human life and even breathes import into the existence of each individual on earth. The Prophet and the Astronomer asserts that both scientists and clerics have struggled to negotiate the idea of finiteness with that of an ostensibly infinite universe. Gleiser blurs the distinction between narratives from the realms of both science ("Celestial Messages") and religion ("The Bridge to Eternity"). In the chapter titled "The Masque of the Red Death," Gleiser highlights a moment when European theologians looked upon a forecasted planetary union in Libra as a disastrous portent. Later, the author explains the ways in which both Eastern and Western religion have helped to allay the fear of death (specifically, by allowing individuals to view the subject in transcendentalist terms). Gleiser spotlights those scientists who were likewise "prophets of doom": Newton, Halley, Laplace - each of whom has helped to "confirm the real possibility of a collision with a celestial object." The Prophet and the Astronomer offers a comprehensive argument regarding the parallels between ancient apocalyptic visions and modern scientific inquiry, as seen in the following passage:

The pursuit of an all-encompassing theory, rational and technical as it is, is also the passionate pursuit of something much larger than ourselves, something timeless, universal, all-determining. From it, we will obtain the "initial conditions" that set our classical universe in motion; from it, we will understand the behavior of matter and the fundamental forces at the smallest of scales, which we can then use to interpret the conditions inside a black hole or close to the big bang singularity; from it, we will uncover the fields that inflate the universe to flatness and that fill it up with ethereal energy; and, from it, we will determine the fate of the cosmos and, in doing so, our own. Even if we never achieve this lofty goal, we will live more fully for having tried. Our search is our redemption.


One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West Before Lewis and Clark

By Colin G. Calloway, Professor of History, Samson Occom Professor of Native American Studies and Chair of the Native American Studies program

University of Nebraska Press

2003

Reviewed by Jeremy Presser '04

In a Native American history dating up to the early 19th century, Colin Calloway creates a vast historical review of this often unreported chapter in North American history. For example, when describing how Native Americans began domesticating corn, Calloway approaches this issue from several angles: why Native Americans made the transformation from hunter-gatherers to farmers, how their societies were able to cope with the increased labor needed to cultivate crops and how population pressure affected the shift away from nomadic life. As the author notes, the development of corn allowed Native Americans to support more children, adopt more efficient means of storing food, and maintain a non-farming class that could cultivate community leaders. Calloway's comprehensive and accessible prose is apparent in this passage from the section of the book describing Native American contact with Westerners. Recounting one of the first meetings between Indians and Europeans in western North America, Calloway writes:

In the late fall of 1528, Indians in east Texas came upon a group of bearded and bedraggled men who had washed up on the Gulf Coast. The Indians, probably Karankawas, were astonished and brought their women and children to look at the strangers, who were so thin they looked "like the figure of death itself." The Indians took pity on them (wept for them, the chronicle said), fed them roots and fish and gave them shelter in their village. Then "half the natives died from the disease of the bowels." The strange men were Spanish soldiers, would-be conquistadors and survivors of an ill-fated expedition that had landed first in Florida. It was the first of many encounters between Indians and Spaniards in the American West.

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