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LAWN OBSESSED: History Professor Ted Steinberg, A83.
photograph by Mike Sands

5 minutes with Ted Steinberg, A83

Americans spend more than $40 billion a year to maintain their lawns. Ted Steinberg,
a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, explores this particularly American fascination with turf in
American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn (Norton).

Lawns have been a part of my life since my parents moved out to Long Island when I was two years old. But I never thought much about them until I moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, and looked around my neighborhood and found, to my horror, lawns that looked like the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club.

My definition of a perfect lawn is a weed-free, super-green, ultra-trim expanse that makes something of a social statement.

Lawns go way back in American history, to the time of Washington and Jefferson. But the perfect lawn is a post–World War II creation that has to do with certain corporate imperatives and trends in American consumer culture. For example, in the 1950s, brightly colored consumer goods were thought to suggest a modern, forward-looking America, and a perfectly green lawn fit into this idea.

Perfect lawns are an ecological boondoggle because they’re predicated on two resources that our culture is rapidly running short of—oil and water. It’s estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency that Americans spill about 17 million gallons of oil every summer in the process of refilling their lawnmowers and other garden equipment—more oil than was spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster. And a single golf course I investigated in Florida uses 178,800 gallons of water per day, enough to meet the daily needs of about 2,200 Americans. That’s a lot of water.

I make an argument in my book for a low-maintenance lawn, one that would require less fertilizer treatment, chemical inputs, water, and oil. There also are those who advocate replacing lawns with native plantings. And organic lawn care is becoming a major market.

My lawn is very serviceable. I have bluegrass and rye in addition to species like clover and moss. But I don’t mow my lawn—I have a landscape company that takes care of it. —Michele Gouveia

The First Inhabitants of Arcadia
Christopher Bursk, A65
The University of Arkansas Press
Herman Melville, Matthew Arnold, Sarah Orne Jewett, Dusty Rhodes, and Hoyt Wilhelm skinny-dip, pick up gondoliers, and cut figure eights into the ice in Bursk’s new collection of poetry. Yet the main cast of characters for these poems is the alphabet itself, with titles such as "An Ode to j," "M-m-m Good!" and "O in Trouble." And over the whole collection looms the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson, the man who "held himself responsible for the entire English language."

Symptoms of Withdrawal
A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption
Christopher Kennedy Lawford, A73
William Morrow
Lawford, an actor, offers a glimpse into the private worlds of the Washington and Hollywood elite. As the first child of Rat Pack member Peter Lawford, and Patricia Kennedy, sister to John and Robert Kennedy, Lawford grew up during the glory days of Camelot. Marilyn Monroe taught him the twist. He watched Frank Sinatra shoot craps in Las Vegas. Yet his life was marred by the assassinations of his beloved uncles and the drug scene of the 1970s, to which he fell prey as a teenager. Lawford chronicles his long descent into near-fatal drug and alcohol addiction, and the sobriety he has preserved for the past 20 years.

One White Wishing Stone
A Beach Day Counting Book
Doris K. Gayzagian, Eliot-Pearson 46;
Kristina Swarner, illustrator
National Geographic
In 32 pages of simple verse, Gayzagian and Swarner capture the simple joys of the seashore. A young girl and her mother make their first footprints in the sand early on a summer morning, and the child’s mind is soon swept up in exploration as she counts thistly cockleburs, strands of seaweed, and other natural wonders.

The Violin Lover
Susan Glickman, J74
Goose Lane
The noted Canadian poet sets her first novel in 1930s England. Clara Weiss and Ned Abraham are an unlikely couple—he a self-possessed doctor and an accomplished violinist and she a struggling widow. As the Blackshirts terrorize London’s Jewish community, Clara and Ned begin an affair, and Ned, "the violin lover," gains the confidence of Clara’s 11-year-old son, Jacob, a gifted pianist. When Clara recognizes that she and her lover have become rivals for her son’s affection, the consequences are harrowing.

Theodore Roosevelt and World Order
Police Power in International Relations
James R. Holmes, F98, F03
Potomac Books
Theodore Roosevelt served as New York City’s police commissioner during the 1890s, waging war on crime while sponsoring reforms that reflected his good-government convictions. Later, he became an accomplished diplomat. Holmes, a senior research associate at the University of Georgia Center for International Trade and Security, presents a new understanding of Roosevelt’s political philosophy, showing how the legal concept of "police power" underlay both his domestic and his foreign policy, and how this philosophy can be applied today.

The Archaeology of Liberty in an American Capital
Excavations in Annapolis
Mark P. Leone, A63
The University of California Press
Recent archaeological excavations in Annapolis, Maryland, have revealed an amazing amount of information about daily life in the city’s history. Leone, professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, interprets artifacts such as ceramics, printer’s type, and landscapes, and in the process, illuminates the 300-year struggle for liberty among African Americans and the poor in one of America’s oldest cities.

Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad
Matthew Levitt, F95, F05
Yale University Press
How does a group that operates terror cells and espouses violence become a ruling political party? How is the world to understand and respond to Hamas, the militant Islamist organization that Palestinian voters brought to power in the stunning election of January 2006? Levitt, a counterterrorism expert with extensive field experience in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, presents detailed evidence from international intelligence materials, including recently declassified CIA, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security reports, to demolish what he terms the myth of disparate wings in Hamas.

Also of note . . .

In Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred (Duke University Press), M. Jacqui Alexander, G79, G86, presents essays uniting feminist, queer, and critical race theories.

Earl Ganz, A55, tells the story of writer Myron Brinig in his novel The Taos Truth Game (University of New Mexico Press).

In Who the Hell Are We Fighting: The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars (Steerforth Press), C. Michael Hiam, A85, examines one of the biggest intelligence controversies of the Vietnam War.

Grace Myhill, G89, and Colleen Ballerino Cohen give students a "heads-up" on what they might encounter in Junior Year Abroad and Back Home Again (AuthorHouse).

In The Well-Timed Strategy: Managing the Business Cycle for Competitive Advantage (Wharton School Publishing), Peter Navarro, A72, demonstrates how well-informed executives are "master cyclists" who can ride recessions and recoveries skillfully.

Forty Years in the Wilderness: Moses Leads the Bible’s Lost Generation (Xlibris), by Sue Sandidge, G72, looks at how Moses’ exodus out of Egypt resulted in the foundation of a system of ethics that changed the world.

In Staging Race: Black Performers in Turn of the Century America (Harvard University Press), Karen Sotiropoulos, J85, shows how black performers used new forms of popular entertainment to spur racial advancement.

Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother (Candlewick Press), by Sarah Sullivan, J75, and illustrator Paul Meisel, is a picture book designed as a scrapbook, with photos, illustrations, and a birthday card.

Wrongful Reconciliation (The Permanent Press), by novelist Peter Svenson, A65, revisits the divorced, middle-aged writer Budge Moss.

Maine Folks & Maine Ways (Lincoln County Publishing) by Robert Van Waes, A50, offers some homespun philosophy on everything from remembering "wintahs" to declaring war on the IRS.

Awestruck: A Skeptic’s Pilgrimage (Dog Ear Publishing), by Joan Weimer, J57, is a memoir about a Jewish woman’s obsession with the Black Madonna. —M.G.

We welcome the submission of new books by alumni authors and faculty, although we do reserve the right to select for publication. Please send a review copy of your book to: Karen Bailey, Tufts Magazine, 200 Boston Ave., Suite 4600, Medford, MA 02155.