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Book Digest EDITORS: This is an occasional digest of new, general interest books by Stanford authors. For review copies, please contact the publishers listed.
Man from the past. In 1989, Stanford communication Professor Dale Maharidge met Blackie, a hobo who had started riding the rails as a boy before the Depression, living by the hobo code - "a mix of the Golden Rule and being a proper gentleman." But when the ranks of the homeless swelled in the 1980s, "Blackie was suddenly caught in a marching army of the dispossessed," Maharidge writes. "He went from living an anonymous life to running a gantlet."
In The Last Great American Hobo (Prima Publishing, 1993), Maharidge and Washington Post staff photographer Michael Williamson document Blackie's last known stand, in a camp by the shore of the Sacramento River. The hobo's shack was "a veritable palace by tramp standards, complete with a water cooler, outhouse, oven," Maharidge writes. "We thought it odd that he made such a grand house, when he could quickly lose it."
Eventually, Blackie did lose his home - chased out by police "he found far meaner than those he had encountered in the 1930s." He has not been heard from since. "To publish anything about the camp [while it existed] would have been to destroy it," Maharidge writes. "Now that the round table is gone [Blackie's kitchen table was a giant wooden utility-wire spool turned on its side], its story can be told."
Coping with stress. For a zebra sprinting away from a lion, the stressor is an immediate physical emergency, and the stress-response - the hormonal changes that occur in the body at such times - is perfect for dealing with that sort of crisis. But to a surprising extent, humans use the same sort of response when feeling stressed over mortgages, relationships or their own mortality - and at those times the stress-response is anything but helpful.
In Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: A Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Disease and Coping (W.H. Freeman and Co., 1993), Robert M. Sapolsky, associate professor of biological sciences and neuroscience at Stanford, looks at the physical effects of emotional turmoil, from digestive and sleeping problems to cardiovascular diseases and sexual and reproductive disorders.
Sapolsky also examines effective ways to moderate the body's responses to stress, and addresses current controversies in the field, such as the role of stress in cancer and immune responses.
Armenian exile. Stanford human biology Professor Herant Katchadourian's mother, Efronia, was born in 1894 to a Christian Armenian family living in the Ottoman Empire. From earliest infancy, her life was stung by tragedy - the brutal murder of her father, World War I and the deportation and massacre of Armenians living within the Ottoman Empire, and finally the civil war in Lebanon, which drove her to the United States in 1976.
Of all her losses, though, perhaps the most poignant was unknown to her immediate family - until she wrote a memoir while living in California in her late 80s. That handwritten manuscript, translated by her only son, is the basis for Efronia: An Armenian Love Story (Northeastern University Press, 1993), by daughter-in- law Stina Katchadourian.
In her memoir, Efronia tells the story of Ramzi, a Persian Moslem with whom she fell passionately in love before she met Herant's father. "Ramzi was indeed on the other side of a chasm," Stina Katchadourian writes. "He shared his religion with the man who had murdered Efronia's father. If she married him, she was certain to be cast out not only from her family but from the whole community that had been her life until this time."
In the end, such strictures and war itself crushed any hope that they would be united, but Efronia never forgot Ramzi - she headed her chapter on him "The First and Last Time I Was in Love."
Her story gives a very human face to the strength and suffering of her people.
The book also contains a foreword by Marilyn Yalom of Stanford's Institute for Research on Women and Gender.
Coup in context. In August 1991, the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev led to the collapse of the communist order that had governed Russia for more than 73 years. Hoover Institution Senior Fellow John Dunlop sets this "bloodless revolution" in historical context in The Rise of Russia and the Fall of the Soviet Empire (Princeton University Press, 1993).
Dunlop traces the coup back to the Russian Republic's gradual assertion of political autonomy, the liberalizing reforms instituted by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin's emergence as Gorbachev's chief rival for influence. Dunlop recounts the drama of the failed coup and Gorbachev's subsequent replacement by Yeltsin as leader of the largest remnant of the dismembered empire, and then chronicles the instrumental role the Russian Republic played in the break-up of the Soviet Union.
He also draws attention to the opposition of conservative Russian nationalists and other "statists" who are now mounting a powerful challenge to democratic westernizers struggling to establish themselves in Russia today.
Korean trade war. In December 1991, the Hoover Institution hosted a conference on U.S.-Korea Economic Relations as part of its Korean studies initiative. The resulting papers are collected in Shaping a New Economic Relationship: The Republic of Korea and the United States (Hoover Institution Press, 1993).
Edited by Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Ramon Myers, curator-scholar of its East Asian Collection, and Hoover Research Fellow Jongryn Mo, the essays examine the causes of Korea's huge trade surplus with the United States in the 1980s.
They also look at the three-pronged approach the United States applied to reduce the imbalance: restricting some Korean imports, pressuring Korea to dismantle its tariff system and compelling Korea to appreciate its currency. By 1991, the trade balance had shifted in favor of the United States, but at the expense of deteriorating political relations between the two countries.
Christian compassion. What should be the Christian response to the terminally ill? Should the nature of the illness or the manner in which it was contracted make a difference? Floyd Thompkins, associate dean of Stanford Memorial Church, examines these questions in By the Pool of Bethesda (Genesis 1:26 Printing, 1992).
Evoking the black preaching rhythm and style, and drawing upon his own pastoral experiences, Thompkins addresses the emotional issues that accompany a terminal diagnosis - the struggle to continue believing in God, coming to grips with regrets and remorse, and dealing with isolation - as well as the drama of friends looking for the right things to say and do.
His last two chapters are testimonies of hope and a tribute to those who have suffered from AIDS. "No sexual orientation, lifestyle, addiction or circumstance should sentence one to death or deny one the right to experience and give love," Thompkins writes. "For this reason, that no one is deemed worthy of death and suffering, Jesus died."
Arabian fable. George Orwell's Animal Farm tells the allegorical tale of farm animals who oust their drunken owner and establish a model community in which all animals are equal. Now, a Stanford Medical Center staffer, writing under the pseudonym Adel Murad, has written a new version for the 1990s, set in the Middle East.
In Animal Farm: The Next Generation (Children of War Trust, 1993), Orwell's ruler pig, Napoleon, is a king, and the Manor Farm is renamed the kingdom of Napoleonia. Napoleon and his sons hire expatriates to build windmills and export the energy to neighboring countries; in the process they become very wealthy and flout the seven laws of Animalism.
"Even though this book uses fictional animal characters, most of the incidents described here are based on events that took place during the past five decades in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Murad writes. Proceeds from the sale of the book are being donated to relief organizations "to help children who were affected by the atrocities of war; war started by adults."
Facing reality. As Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Thomas Sowell sees it, "Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good. In area after area - crime, education, housing, race relations - the situation has gotten worse after the bright new theories were put into operation."
Sowell collects his thoughts in Is Reality Optional? (Hoover Institution Press, 1993), a group of essays that he has written over the years for Forbes magazine and his syndicated newspaper column. The title of the book - and his first essay - derives from his observation of two types of people: "those who see compassion, commitment and consciousness-raising as the key to solving problems" and those "who see reality itself as a severe constraint on what is possible."
It is the disregard of reality, Sowell says, that makes many problems worse. Among the issues addressed in the book: child abuse, sexual harassment, homelessness, Social Security fraud, media bias, drug abuse and AIDS, as well as issues in higher education, law and race relations.
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