As the semester kicks off, students are scrambling to get their books for class. In your Colgate experience, what was the most influential book you read or discovered, and how did it influence you?Back to Your Stories
M. Holmes (Steve) Hartshorne's THE FAITH TO DOUBT was absolutely the most influential book that I read at Colgate....and have re-read and taught from over the ensuring five decades. The power of Hartshorne's message was in the intractable ability to have strong Christian faith and convictions while as the same time asking the probing questions that come with the vicissitudes of life and experiencing the doubts and uncertainty of the human condition, just as Christ himself experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane. Hartshorne's weaving Protestant Christian faith with a rich understanding of psychodynamic psychology a la Freud and Jung was, and continues to be, transformative in my intellectual, academic development as well as my walk in faith.
I was a political science and international relations major at Colgate, graduating in 1962, but the most amazing book I read at Colgate was a book on modern art in a class taught by the legendary Eric Ryan, for whom a building is named on campus. Although totally outside my field, this book and Ryan’s teaching have remained with me throughout my life. And I got an “A” in the class...
Off the field, I majored in History, a department full of outstanding professors. And none of us will forget the Core Curriculum educational experience where we were taught how to think.
The book that impacted me the most in college was "The Great War and Modern Memory," by Paul Fussell, assigned in a poli sci course taught by Prof. Gaulton. The scope of the book, the research, and Fussell's knowledge and command of the subject matter - the literature of and about WW1, the writers, the cultures / societies / politics of the war and soldiers reflected in the literature and affected by the War, the meaning of what was written, and how Fussell ties it all together, impressed upon me what true expertise, knowledge, and understand in a subject matter is, as well as what great writing is. And I've remembered that lesson for 35 or so years and have had a copy of that book in my home for all these years as well.
The piece of writing that stands out to me the most from my experience was not a book, but actually a short article, probably only 3–5 pages in length, from an environmental studies course I took with William Meyer. The article was a brief summary of the theory of civilization collapse that took place on Easter Island, and how that collapse may be seen as a metaphor for what is possibly taking place on the much larger planetary scale as the human population and resource usage expands. It's a subject explored in greater depth in Jared Diamond's book, "Collapse."
The power of the metaphor really jumped off the page for me — it was easy to imagine the small, incredibly secluded island as a stand-in of our planet, which is even smaller, and even more isolated when considering the scale of the universe. My interest in the subject of sustainability was reinvigorated, and a curiosity about Easter Island itself was born. How could we know so little about a place so iconic for its incredible statues? Because of the collapse of the civilization, very little is solidly understood about this island — when the people arrived, why they made the statues, how they moved the statues (sometimes over the distance of miles), why they eventually toppled all the statues, etc. As a student in the Alumni Memorial Scholars program, I could feel the inspiration for my AMS project click into place. I needed to see this place for myself.
With help from Professors Karen Harpp and Bruce Selleck, I put together the concept for a research project, and with funding from AMS, I was able to spend about two weeks exploring the island in person, retracing the steps of early 20th-century amateur archaeologist and anthropologist Katherine Routledge, whose work "The Mystery of Easter Island," as flawed as it may be, is one of the first stabs at an academic understanding of the place. For me, it was the adventure of a lifetime.