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Golden Age of Aerospace

In the 1950s, Howard Hughes, the eccentric aviation magnate, left the company he had founded in 1932. Under new management, Hughes Aircraft Company went on to become the world’s premier military electronics business. From lasers to geosynchronous satellites to signal processors, the company’s innovations became part of the fabric of modern life. In his exhaustively researched book, Kenneth Richardson, E52, Hughes’ past president, recounts those accomplishments.

Howard Hughes was internally driven to break boundaries, and he was a zealot for excellence. His biggest flaw was allowing that drive to inhibit his decision making. In 1953, his lack of decisiveness caused the Secretary of the Air Force to issue an ultimatum: either Hughes would appoint a successor or the Air Force, which depended on the company for radar and guided missiles, would pull its contracts. But even after Hughes left, his aura of breaking boundaries and doing it with excellence continued to inspire employees.

We operated a large company as if it were a laboratory. When you manage a laboratory, you say to folks, ‘Here’s our mission: We want to [for example] beat the Soviets. You come up with the idea, and we’ll allow you the individual independence and give you the team to bring it to fruition.’ We also had a superb gathering of talent. Of eighty-five thousand employees, we had twenty-two thousand engineers and scientists, four thousand of whom had Ph.D.s.

One of the devices we developed is called Firefinder, and it was first used in the Gulf War in 1991. It’s a radar system that detects incoming artillery and rocket fire and instantly determines where it came from and its trajectory. It then launches a countershot within seconds. What happened was that the Iraqis quickly learned when one of these was within their shot range, and they refused to fire. They knew they’d be dead before their shot even reached its target. We had at least eighty-eight devices in that war, four of which were similar to Firefinder. If you have a weapon that’s so good it will cause the other side to stop before they’ve started, that’s the way to have a war.

For a hundred years, this country was number one in technology advancement, and now we’re [losing ground]. Looking back at American history, most innovation came from a unifying mission that got the whole country rowing in the same direction. Building a transcontinental railroad or a telegraph system, winning World War II, the space race, or the Cold War, which inspired the golden age of aerospace—these galvanized people. If we could agree on that kind of common priority, we could motivate kids into math and science and motivate businesses to nurture creativity and long-term thinking.


Mr. and Mrs. Madison’s War: America’s First Couple and the Second War of Independence (Bloomsbury)

Before Barack and Michelle or Jack and Jackie, there was another first couple defined by their aplomb amid trying times. Dolley and James Madison presided over the War of 1812, he as commander in chief and she as the socially adept hostess who created the role of First Lady as we know it. Hugh Howard, A74, delivers an engaging narrative history that places the Madisons at the center of our nation’s least understood war just in time for its bicentennial. Drawing on a rich assortment of primary sources, Howard’s account also excels in its vivid depictions of naval battles, as well as the British burning of Washington, which provoked Dolley Madison’s celebrated salvaging of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington. The war’s gains were psychological rather than territorial, granting our fledgling nation a measure of military authority just as the Madisons and the Virginia elite they represented were displaced by the war’s biggest hero, frontier-raised Andrew Jackson.

Time Travel and Warp Drives: A Scientific Guide to Shortcuts Through Time and Space (University of Chicago)

Fans of Star Trek and Dr. Who understand the appeal of time travel. The good news is that nothing in the laws of physics actually prevents it. Unfortunately, today’s technology hasn’t quite caught up with the Enterprise and the TARDIS. Allen Everett, a professor emeritus of physics, and Thomas Roman, a professor of mathematical sciences at Central Connecticut State University, school readers in Time Travel 101, providing a highly accessible primer on the current understanding of time and space. They also survey a variety of possible time machines and warp drives, including wormholes and warp bubbles. For now, the ability to go back and rewrite history remains a fantasy, but who knows? Maybe their great-great-grandchildren will pay a visit to let the authors know they’re on the right track.

The Lost Daughter (Berkley Books)

Beautiful, placid, and kind, Brooke O’Connor lives a cozy life with her husband, Sean, an affable print shop manager and aspiring Irish tenor, and their daughter, Meaghan. When Sean’s large Irish clan pressures them to have a second child, Brooke’s unyielding refusal starts to raise suspicions, especially when her newly divorced high school sweetheart, Alex, resurfaces. Lucy Ferriss, G95, shows us what binds Brooke and Alex in her sixth novel’s searing prologue, which finds them as panicked teenagers in a motel room while an accidental pregnancy comes to an end. What they convince themselves is a miscarriage haunts them for fifteen years, propelling the story with secret-fueled dramatic tension—and a tormented contemplation of jealousy and guilt—to a fairy-tale ending.

Ask Me Why I Hurt: The Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor Who Heals Them (Broadway)

In the United States, two percent of children are homeless, and forty-one percent of that group are under the age of five. Randy Christensen, M95, meets these often abused, unloved children where they are—in the streets. As the medical director of the Crews’n Healthmobile, a thirty-eight-foot Winnebago turned free clinic, Christensen has treated close to seven thousand children in the Phoenix area. His heart-wrenching memoir chronicles the beginnings of the van affectionately known as Big Blue, the challenges of treating the homeless (no proof of residence = no identification = no health-care access), and the life-altering help he was able to provide patients like Mary, a seventeen-year-old runaway who was sexually abused by her father. The book refrains from diatribes against our broken health-care system, but the stories of these forgotten children make the case for change more forcefully than a lecture could.

Leaving Mundania: Inside the Transformative World of Live Action Role-Playing Games (Chicago Review Press)

Lizzie Stark, A03, spent a year as the Margaret Mead of the Geek tribe, donning medieval gear and battling with foam-padded weapons as she immersed herself in the subculture of LARP, or live action role playing. A combination of Dungeons & Dragons–type fantasy games, historical reenactment, and improv minus the audience, LARP attracts a diverse range of people eager to escape what they call Mundania—the tediousness of everyday life. Stark profiles a father who puts his sons to bed with morally infused D&D plots, a police detective terrified his buddies will discover his hobby, and other compelling characters. She also touches on Scandinavian avant-garde LARP—which, not surprisingly, places greater emphasis on exploring one’s own psyche—and LARP’s historical roots (Queen Elizabeth I was a fan) and current use in military training exercises.


Last Call at the Oasis

Jay Famiglietti, A82, appears as a featured expert in the documentary Last Call at the Oasis, produced by Participant Media, the company behind An Inconvenient Truth and Food, Inc., and directed by the Academy Award winner Jessica Yu. The film sounds the alarm on a growing global water crisis. Famiglietti is a professor of Earth system science and the director of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine. In Last Call, he discusses his work with the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, which has enabled him to monitor diminishing groundwater supplies in places like California’s Central Valley. Famiglietti is also imparting his message in a fifty-stop public speaking tour, the Geological Society of America’s Birdsall-Driess Distinguished Lectureship.

Art Kathy Kissik, MFA91, held her latest show, Qualia, in February at Boston’s Alpha Gallery. Her work, which she describes as “a kind of Cubism and Impressionism together,” layers contrasting textures and found objects over photographs taken from a variety of angles. This conveys a sense of passing time and shifting perspective. Kissik often takes as her subject the brooding skyscapes of declining American manufacturing complexes. She likens their outlines to the intricate silhouettes of castles and fortresses. Overlaying colorful digital images with mixed-media elements echoing a particular factory’s products, she integrates concepts of production and stagnation, vitality and decay.

Other Books of Note Comme D’Or, by MICHAEL BEHRENDT, A78, recounts the history of the Rochester, New Hampshire, Holy Rosary Credit Union, which began serving the community’s French-Canadian immigrants in 1962 and now boasts four branches and $170 million in assets. In Three and a Half Virgins, the humorous third novel by JOHN BLUMENTHAL, A71, the newly jilted Jimmy Hendricks (no relation) tries to atone for his betrayal of the three ex-girlfriends he deflowered twenty years ago. Gorgeous images and fascinating stories bring Boston’s historic theaters to life in Boston’s Downtown Movie Palaces, by Arthur Singer and RON GOODMAN, G62. Seven Steps for Success: High School to College Transition Strategies for Students with Disabilities, by ELIZABETH COHEN HAMBLET, J90, G91, prepares disabled students to navigate new academic settings with less structure and different disability support services. Eddie Shore and That Old Time Hockey, by C. MICHAEL HIAM, A85, is an action-pucked celebration of the scrappy dynamo considered the Babe Ruth of hockey. LISA C. KACZMARCZYK, J83, provides a fresh take on the social context of computing in Computers and Society: Computing for Good. In her latest Faith Fairchild mystery, The Body in the Boudoir, KATHERINE HALL PAGE, J74, flashes back to the wedding of her caterer-sleuth protagonist, cooking up a romantic affair filled with love, celebration, and attempted murder. JAY RUTTENBERG, A97, edited The Lowbrow Reader Reader, a sampling of the funniest bits from the surprisingly highbrow comedy journal he started in 2001 with the designer MATTHEW BERUBE, A96. The book features contributions by FRANCESCA GRANATA, J97; DAN SULMAN, A97; and LIZA WEISSTUCH, J99. The Upside Down House, by JENNIFER SLEEPER, A07, evokes the wacky wisdom of Shel Silverstein in its whimsical poems about a house that counts a pirate, a sword swallower, and a basketball-playing dinosaur among its occupants.

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