Summer Reading List

What are you reading this summer? Here are eight books by College faculty — plus the latest by distinguished scientist and UA alumnus Dr. Edward O. Wilson.


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These books by faculty members in the College’s humanities and social sciences departments represent a tiny sampling of the hundreds of publications produced by A&S faculty each academic year.

Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town, Ellen Spears

In the mid-1990s, residents of Anniston, Ala., began a legal fight against the agrochemical company Monsanto over the dumping of toxic chemicals — PCBs — in the city’s historically African-American and white working-class west side. Simultaneously, Anniston environmentalists sought to safely eliminate chemical weaponry that had been secretly stockpiled near the city during the Cold War.

Dr. Ellen Spears, who teaches environmental history at The University of Alabama, explores the causes and implications of environmental inequalities, showing how civil rights activism undergirded Anniston’s campaigns for redemption and justice. Baptized in PCBs situates the personal struggles and triumphs of Anniston residents within a larger national story of regulatory inaction and legal strategies that have affected toxic towns across America.

Cold War Dixie: Militarization and Modernization in the American South, Kari Frederickson

In Cold War Dixie, Dr. Kari Frederickson, associate professor and chair of the Department of History, examines how the arrival of a nuclear fuel plant in the 1950s quickly and dramatically changed communities in South Carolina.

Before the plant’s arrival, the Savannah River region was predominantly rural and poor, with one of the lowest rates of high school graduation in the state. It was staunchly Democratic and the birthplace of some of the state’s most infamous white supremacists. The Savannah River Plant, which produced materials for the hydrogen bomb, brought thousands of highly educated physicists, engineers, and chemists to the region, sparking rapid social, cultural, economic, and political change and providing a blueprint for how local communities would accommodate the Cold War and the military-industrial complex.

God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War, George Rable

“Soldiers and civilians on both sides saw the hand of God in the terrible events” of the Civil War era, says Dr. George Rable, professor of history at The University of Alabama. In his recent book, God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War, Rable examines how Americans interpreted the causes, course and consequences of the American Civil War through a distinctly religious lens.

In Americans’ interpretations of the war, “There is particular emphasis on the themes of providence, sin and judgment,” Rable says. “Despite all the suffering and hardship, religious faith proved remarkably resilient.”

The Island Called Paradise, Philip Beidler

When Dr. Philip D. Beidler, professor of American literature in the Department of English, traveled to the U.S.’s island neighbor, he found a Cuba unlike the nation depicted in political rhetoric or popular culture. Instead, he found a people and landscape with deep historical connections to the United States and a dazzling culture that overwhelmed his creative spirit.

In The Island Called Paradise, Beidler shares his personal discovery of Cuba and the interrelatedness of Cuba and the United States.

In 12 original essays, Beidler reintroduces English-speaking readers to many of the central figures, both real and literary, of Cuban and Cuban-American history — from Cecilia Valdés, the young mixed-race heroine of a 1839 novel that takes readers to the impoverished streets and sumptuous salons of Spanish colonial Cuba, to Narciso López, a real-life Venezuelan adventurer and filibustero who attempted to foment a Cuban uprising against Spain. Beidler also visits the 20th century lives of “the two Ernestos” — Ernest Hemingway and Che Guevara — and pop-culture icon Ricky Ricardo.

The Red Hills of Essex: Studying Salt in England, Ian W. Brown

Dr. Ian W. Brown, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, has studied the effects that salt has had in history and prehistory. The Red Hills of Essex: Studying Salt in England follows Brown’s personal education on the mysterious Red Hills of Essex, located in the districts south of Colchester in southeast England.

The volume would be of considerable value to any who are interested in salt and the role that it played in the Late Iron Age and Early Roman society in this portion of England, but it should also be great fun for anyone who would just like a good romp over the countryside with an archaeologist as companion. The book includes Brown’s journal entries for two weeks of study as he explored the mystery of the Essex Red Hills.

The Scary Mason-Dixon Line: African American Writers and the South, Trudier Harris

In The Scary Mason-Dixon Line: African American Writers and the South, Dr. Trudier Harris posits that African-American writers, no matter where they are born in the United States, cannot resist writing about the South.

“Southern geography shapes their creative imaginations,” explains Harris, an English professor. “Writers engage with history, especially slavery, racism, and violence, in creating characters who deal with the hell of the South or who bend that hell to their own healthy development.”

Writers as diverse as Californians Octavia E. Butler and Sherley Anne Williams and New Yorker James Baldwin join with Southerners Ernest J. Gaines, Tayari Jones, Randall Kenan, and Raymond Andrews in illustrating that the South is a complex, at times contradictory, but nonetheless defining feature of African American literary creativity.

Shakespeare in Québec, Jennifer Drouin

Shakespeare is Shakespeare, right? Not always — the playwright’s works have been adapted in myriad ways that often reflect the culture of the director and performers’ time, rather than 17th-century England.

Through close readings of 10 plays, Dr. Jennifer Drouin, assistant professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance drama in the Department of English, reveals not only how Shakespeare has been adapted in Québec but also how Québécois adaptations have contributed to the hot debates of the Quiet Revolution, the 1970 October Crisis, the 1980 and 1995 referenda, the rise of feminism, and the emergence of AIDS.

Tuscaloosa Writes This, Patti White & Brian Oliu

Tuscaloosa Writes This, edited by creative writing faculty members Dr. Patti White and Brian Oliu, is a thick anthology of writing by authors associated with The University of Alabama, including faculty, former MFA students, and former undergraduates. Each author’s piece is accompanied by a short essay about writing the piece, plus a writing prompt, making the anthology a fascinating read for writers who are curious about others’ processes or seeking a source of inspiration for their own work.

Originally designed for use in EN 200 Introduction to Creative Writing, Tuscaloosa Writes This includes several pieces about Tuscaloosa or the South, subjects familiar to students and friends of The University of Alabama.

A Window on Eternity: Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Edward O. Wilson

In the mid-1970s, Gorongosa National Park was among the world’s great unspoiled wild places, home to one of the densest wildlife populations on the continent. But by the early 1990s, following more than a decade of civil war, the park was nearly destroyed, its animal population reduced by at least 90 percent, its ecosystems devastated. In A Window on Eternity, his 29th book, Dr. Edward O. Wilson tells the story of the remarkable conservation effort that saved the park. In engaging, accessible prose and dozens of stunning photographs, Wilson — one of the world’s leading scientists, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, and a UA alumnus — also illustrates why biodiversity is vital to our planet’s future.

Editor’s Note: A Window on Eternity was released on April 22, 2014, the first day of the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Symposium at The University of Alabama.