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Vantage Point

Book clubs and beach reads are part of American culture. The question for faculty members in this installment of Vantage Point:

What mainstream book would you put on a summer reading list for the students most interested in your field?

Jan Wachter, Safety Sciences

Would You Eat Your Cat?

One of my research areas is safety and health ethics. With all due respect to my beloved cat (unimaginatively named Pretty Cat), I would recommend to anyone interested in the field of ethics Jeremy Stangroom’s Would You Eat Your Cat? Key Ethical Conundrums and What They Tell You about Yourself. This witty and easy-to-read book examines classic thought experiments and conundrums invented to challenge our preconceptions that philosophers have posited throughout the ages. The author succinctly educates us on the basic principles of ethics, metaphysics, and philosophy. He then enlightens us on the various schools of thought used to tackle moral dilemmas—and claims that our chosen approaches reflect our deeply held beliefs, influence our worldview, and tell us something important about how we see ourselves. Also, this book makes it clear that situational context and the priorities we set among our values (which often conflict) are essential considerations in ethical decision making, no matter what field of study or work we are engaged in. Would I eat Pretty Cat? Yuck! Definitely not in most circumstances. But, if my family were starving to death, I would probably serve Pretty Cat on a platter with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Sorry, Pretty Cat.

Gail Wilson, Communications Media

Grit

As part of a group working on IUP’s new minor in teamwork, we discussed using Grit as a common reader for students in that program. The concept is simple. Having “grit” is a personal ethic of being persistent and never giving up. The book emphasizes the understanding that hard work, passion, and perseverance can be more important than talent. In this book, I saw myself—someone who has no particular talent. I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I am not artistic and have no athletic ability, but I work hard, and it has paid off for me. Written by Angela Duckworth, Grit has some key takeaways for students to develop an attitude of perseverance and passion, recognizing that highly successful people are resilient and hardworking.

Ben Ford, Anthropology

In Small Things Forgotten

By James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten does what archaeology does best: use the leavings of past peoples to answer big questions about our modern selves. Deetz’s big question is nothing less than “How did we become American?” and he answers it by drawing on the houses, tableware, and gravestones of our ancestors. Using these tangible, archaeological sources, Deetz shows that on the eve of the American Revolution, Anglo-Americans were more like their British cousins than at any time since they began coming to North America. This debunks the idea that the revolution was about cultural independence and points the reader to explore how the trajectory of that history continues into the modern day. Deetz covers all of this ground in a pithy 260 pages, while also providing a primer on how archaeologists explore the past. In Small Things Forgotten is the academic beach book that should be on every educated American’s summer reading list.

Mary Lou Zanich, Psychology (retired) and president, Indiana Free Library Board of Trustees

The Grapes of Wrath

As an experimental psychologist, I often look to the lab for answers about human behavior and thought. Many fine books address this research, but valuable insights about the human condition can also be found in literature. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, set in the aftermath of the Depression-era Dust Bowl, nominally addresses the lives of people displaced from traditional family farms who must move across the country to find work in large-scale agribusinesses. On a deeper level, the book depicts prejudice and discrimination, the inequities between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the relative importance of the individual vs. the group. We are confronted by considerations of the nature of family, of changing gender roles, and of the central notion of human dignity. The journey of the Joads teaches us about community and, more than anything, about human resilience in the face of adversity: We survive because of the internal resources we each have and because of the resources we draw from others. I first read this book in high school, and the power of that message has stayed with me for 50 years.

Kevin Eisensmith, Music

The World of Jazz Trumpet

Referred to as “America’s classical music,” jazz is one of North America’s oldest and most celebrated musical genres. Jazz’s history can be traced back to the early part of the 20th century. It began as the fusion of Negro spirituals and work songs with the European music tradition and instrumentation. Ken Burns called jazz “the purest expression of American democracy; a music built on individual and compromise, independence, and cooperation.” Sadly, while jazz is embraced and celebrated in most European and Asian countries in the 21st century, Americans seem less interested. The author of The World of Jazz Trumpet, Scotty Barnhart, is the Count Basie Orchestra’s music director, an accomplished trumpet player, and a lifelong student of jazz. His book is a great read for anyone who wants to learn about the history of jazz. Scotty is also a former student of mine. My photo (taken in 1983, when Scotty studied with me) can be found in the book, but I won’t say on which page!