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>  News Releases >   2003 >   April

Recent books by Dartmouth authors

Posted 04/18/03

Mark Twain; The Fate of Humor

By James M. Cox, Professor Emeritus of English

University of Missouri Press, 2002

Reviewed by Jeremy Presser '04

Even though he died more than 90 years ago, Mark Twain's humor still rings true today. One example of the lasting nature of Twain's humor used in James Cox's book is a reference to Twain's views on exercise: "I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any. Exercise is loathsome. And it cannot be any benefit when you are tired; and I was always tired." In Mark Twain, Cox introduces the reader to a wide range of Twain's literature, providing background on his writings and discussing the evolution of Twain's humor throughout his life. Cox takes us through virtually all of Twain's writings: from his early letters to his mother while working as a gold miner to his Autobiography, published just before his death. Cox uses both academic and familiar prose to present the reader with a scholarly analysis of Twain's humor while at the same time allowing the reader to simply enjoy Twain's wit. Cox looks at the influences on Twain's humor, how Twain used humor to transform issues as contentious as slavery into hilarious satire, and why Twain's humor remains funny even to today's audiences. This excerpt describing how Samuel Clemens changed his name to Mark Twain shows the at-once lighthearted and reverential tone that pervades the book:

Mark Twain is hardly more than a name at first; he scarcely possesses a personality in any sense of the word. All that [his] first brief and somewhat crudely funny letter reveals is a minimal humorous perspective. Yet it was to the development and fulfillment of this perspective that the entire imaginative powers of Samuel Clemens were to address themselves. In the name Mark Twain, Clemens had discovered much more than a mere pseudonym. He had discovered his genius, his authentic signature; and his discovery, though he could not have known it at the time, became the event around which his life was to be reorganized.

Law and Ecology: The Rise of the Ecosystem Regime

By Richard O. Brooks, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies; Ross Jones, Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies; and Ross A. Virginia, Professor of Environmental Studies

Ashgate Publishing, 2002

Reviewed by Andrew Bailey '03

The first celebration of Earth Day on April 22, 1970, marked the growth of concern about the environment and humans' effects on it, and helped create the realization that the science of ecology has a great impact on environmental law. Since then, ecology has remained at the heart of environmental law and policy. This is the assertion made by Richard Brooks, Ross Jones, and Ross Virginia in Law and Ecology, one that they feel should be used to help further the ideals of Earth Day as they were designed more than three decades ago. The book studies the rapid growth and improvement of ecosystem science and charts the complex relationship between law and ecology as it has evolved. In well-documented and in-depth chapters, the authors use both ecological theory and real-life examples to examine the current "ecosystem regime" and offer suggestions for improvements. The following excerpt discusses the merging of the two very different fields of ecology and environmental law and the problems emanating from that merger:

A paradox emerges from our description of ecology and environmental law and our history of their relations. Our description of ecology and environmental law reveals them to be two very different, internally complex disciplines. Ecology is a synoptic scientific discipline seeking a comprehensive account of the systematic interdependencies of nature based upon scientific investigation and experimentation. This comprehensive science has been internally divided into several subdisciplines, the most important of which have been population ecology and ecosystem ecology. Environmental law is a historically conditioned pragmatic discipline which in seeking to resolve concrete environmental problems, assumes its shape and definition through the gradual incremental decisionmaking processes of the Anglo-American legal institutions: the legislatures, courts, and administrative agencies. In many ways, environmental law is a syncretic field joining several other preexisting fields of law: administrative tort, land use and municipal law. How can these two very different disciplines be joined within one ecosystem regime?

The Homevoter Hypothesis: How Home Values Influence Local Government Taxation, School Finance, and Land-Use Policies

By William A. Fischel, Professor of Economics

Harvard University Press, 2001

Reviewed by Jeremy Presser '04

Often lost among political debates that focus narrowly on the policy at hand is the fact that most government policies tend to affect the value of people's homes for better or for worse. William Fischel discusses this connection in his book The Homevoter Hypothesis. He argues that because citizens pay close attention to legislation and regulations that will affect the value of their largest and least-diversified asset, and because local governmental policies very often do affect home value, voters are extremely qualified to ensure the efficiency of and to curb excesses within local government. Fischel takes this argument to its logical conclusion, arguing for ultimate decentralization of the fiscal and regulatory functions of the national government. He argues that if we trust the public to make wise decisions about local policies, then we should place more of the responsibility for governing on those local politicians. Though the book is intended for an academic audience, Fischel infuses his writing with anecdotes and effectively simplifies a complex policy debate. In his preface, Fischel summarizes his hypothesis:

In the present book, I am going to show how mercenary concern with property values, especially that of homeowners, motivates citizens to organize and make personal sacrifices for such things as public schools and amenable environments."I don't mean to say that people who are concerned about these good things act solely because of how it affects their property values. Nor do I mean that if good schools and other public amenities did not map into higher home values that they would not be good things "What I am arguing as a normative matter is that the world will get more of these good things if the motive to do good is lined up with the motive to do well.

The Mourner's Song: War and Remembrance from the Iliad to Vietnam

By James Tatum, Professor of Classics

The University of Chicago Press, 2003

Reviewed by Andrew Bailey '03

War, in all its terror and ruin, has inspired some of humanity's greatest art. Using The Iliad as a guide, James Tatum examines in The Mourner's Song mankind's need to remember and to mourn for the dead through the use of monuments and memorials. Tatum argues that any of humanity's attempts to make sense of war must begin with the mourning of the dead. By connecting all wars through The Iliad to each other, Tatum universalizes many of the themes of loss and love that erupt from war. The book connects the poetics of war to modern culture, including discussion on modern memorials, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Later chapters in the book handle topics like Ulysses S. Grant and the Civil War, the arrival of technology and its culmination at Hiroshima, the work of writers like Stephen Crane and Tim O'Brien, and discussions of monuments around the world. Pictures of monuments are scattered throughout the text, which includes ample notes and an index. In the following quote, Tatum links the landscape of Troy to the poetry of war itself:

Since records of tourism began, ambitious men have gone to Troy to measure themselves by its heroic landscape. There is nothing like having the Iliad on your mind and brooding about your destiny while looking out over the landscapes of the Troad, to the South of the Dardanelles and the Hellespont. Alexander the Great is said to have taken Achilles as his personal model and made The Iliad his bible on the art of war. According to ancient legend, his only regret was that he didn't have a Homer to celebrate his deeds...Much of what we readers of Homer want to see on the shores at Troy, The Iliad warns us, has long since ceased to exist. Only the song endures. Reducing the landscape of war to the seashore, sand, sky, and ocean is to bring it to such an elemental level that one could as well be on any seashore anywhere. The poetry points us to that place, and then beyond it; it uses the obliterated landscape as a figurative comment on the evanescence of the warriors who fought long ago.

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