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Long Texts for Winter 2014

Descriptions of long texts provided by Amazon.com, except where noted otherwise. All books are available for purchase from the Transylvania University Bookstore, 132 West Third Street.

Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America  by Michael Pollan

Professor Martha Gehringer, Writing, Rhetoric, and Communication

Americans are a "positive" people -- cheerful, optimistic, and upbeat: This is our reputation as well as our self-image. But more than a temperament, being positive is the key to getting success and prosperity. Or so we are told.

In this utterly original debunking, Barbara Ehrenreich confronts the false promises of positive thinking and shows its reach into every corner of American life, from Evangelical megachurches to the medical establishment, and, worst of all, to the business community, where the refusal to consider negative outcomes--like mortgage defaults--contributed directly to the current economic disaster. With the myth-busting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of positive thinking: personal self-blame and national denial. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best--poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science and ending with a call for existential clarity and courage.

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Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Instructor Lee Fortner, First-Year Seminar

Our sharpest and most original social critic goes "undercover" as an unskilled worker to reveal the dark side of American prosperity.

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job—any job—can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour?

To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you want to live indoors.

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity—a land of big boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival.

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David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants 

Professor James Wright, First-Year Seminar

*Starred Review* Gladwell’s best-sellers, such as The Tipping Point (2000) and Outliers (2008), have changed the way we think about sociological changes and the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Here he examines and challenges our concepts of “advantage” and “disadvantage” in a way that may seem intuitive to some and surprising to others. Beginning with the classic tale of David and Goliath and moving through history with figures such as Lawrence of Arabia and Martin Luther King Jr., Gladwell shows how, time and again, players labeled “underdog” use that status to their advantage and prevail through the elements of cunning and surprise. He also shows how certain academic “advantages,” such as getting into an Ivy League school, have downsides, in that being a “big fish in a small pond” at a less prestigious school can lead to greater confidence and a better chance of success in later life. Gladwell even promotes the idea of a “desirable difficulty,” such as dyslexia, a learning disability that causes much frustration for reading students but, at the same time, may force them to develop better listening and creative problem-solving skills. As usual, Gladwell presents his research in a fresh and easy-to-understand context, and he may have coined the catchphrase of the decade, “Use what you got.” --David Siegfried 

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