Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying
James W. Green ’62
304 pages, University of Pennsylvania Press, www.upenn.edu/pennpress
How does one die well? Not long ago in the United States, the very subject of death was a social taboo, downplayed and avoided whenever possible.
“Just like Victorian sex,” writes Green, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington, “mourning was hidden, little discussed, and kept from the children.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a physician and psychiatrist, first championed the idea of a “good death” in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, calling it “the last great opportunity for ‘growth,’ a time of personal transformation, even triumph.” More recently, the notion was popularized by the book Tuesdays with Morrie, about a terminally ill professor who lived his final days with tremendous grace.
Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, a former archbishop of the Catholic Church of Chicago, serves as another shining example. Stricken with terminal cancer, Bernardin, in his remaining time, visited with the sick, wrote a memoir, received the Medal of Freedom from President Clinton at the White House, gave a major speech at Georgetown University, and traveled to Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II.
Upon his death in 1996, Bernardin was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine with the headline “The Art of Dying Well.” His story, Green says, serves as “a lesson to the faithful and to nonbelievers alike.”
Of course, today people are living longer than ever before. And, with powerful medications and advanced medical technologies, the process of death itself is being prolonged—to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether or not a person is dead.
One of the more sensational instances of this, Green says, was that of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state before her life support was removed in 2005. Schiavo’s condition prompted a bitter court battle between her husband and parents and became a cause célèbre for the pro-life movement.
It also helped thrust phrases like “right to life” and “death with dignity” into the popular lexicon. “This is the newer linguistic palette of death management,” Green says, “the language of medicine, ethics, and law bumping (sometimes contentiously) against older rhetorics of religious faith and transcendent realities.”
Another recent development in the spirit of dying a good death (or at least a responsible one) is so-called do-it-yourself funerals and environmentally friendly eco-burials using biodegradable coffins.
Such practices are becoming more popular, the author says, because “they offer something many Americans appreciate—noncommercial choice at the end of life and emphasis on individuality.”
Among the other topics Green explores in Beyond the Good Death is the theory that society has evolved to mitigate our anxiety about dying. “Cultures,” he says, “do this by creating the illusion that each of us is a valuable member of society, and through the psychological mechanism of self-esteem, death is conveniently, if only temporarily, denied.”
“We have become practitioners of poiesis,” he continues. “The mystery is not that we live and die—bugs and trees do that too. It is that we know the difference and do not have to take it, as it were, lying down.”
— Andy Boynton
Don Edgers ‘67
128 pages, Arcadia Publishing
Once known to local Native Americans as Bu Teu (“sea person”), Fox Island has changed considerably since Josh Raines paid $118 for more than 56 acres of waterfront in 1881 and children had to trudge three miles through the woods to get to school. Edgers chronicles the island’s evolution with this robust collection of photos gleaned from the Fox Island Historical Society and local residents. Standouts include steamships, which for years delivered people and supplies to, from, and around the island; the Japanese Teahouse, built originally for Seattle’s Alaska-Pacific-Yukon Exposition in 1909; island resident Dixie Lee Ray, who served as Washington’s governor and raised pigs named after newspaper reporters; and the Fox Island Bridge, which opened in 1954, connecting the island to the mainland and replacing the ferry system. Also featured are loggers, dogfish hunters, and geoduck diggers. Edgers supplements the photos with ample historical narratives. — AB
Software Development for Embedded Multi-Core Systems: A Practical Guide for Using Embedded Intel Architecture
Max Domeika ‘93
440 pages, Newnes, www.newnespress.com
Written for advanced software developers, this guidebook examines the rise of “multi-core processors”—computers with multiple central processing units, or CPUs—and describes how programmers and companies can best leverage them for their embedded software applications. Such systems have been prompted by advances in silicon technology and the desire for lower costs and greater computer performance—trends, Domeika says, that will only increase. In fact, in 2006, for the first time, Intel sold more multi-core systems in some markets than single-core systems. “Using multi-core processors,” the author says, “can result in faster execution time, increased throughput, and lower power usage for the embedded applications.” Domeika is a software engineer at Intel and studied computer science at UPS and Clemson University.
A Dozen Invisible Pieces and Other Confessions of Motherhood
Kimmelin Parks Hull ‘95
256 pages, Cold Tree Press
“I am the world’s worst parent,” claims Hull, while admitting that many moms with young children have said this to themselves at one time or another. In this candid, poignant memoir, Hull chronicles the adventures in parenting she’s shared with her husband, Andrew Hull ’95.
A scant year after the birth of her daughter, Hull got pregnant a second time. (“I had only just gotten my period back, for crying out loud!”) While all seemed blissful, she had entered “the dangerous territory of Super Mommyhood—a land where you expect you can do and have it all, and that no one will be the worse for wear.” She suffered from postpartum depression and struggled transitioning from an independent working professional to, as she puts it, “a glorified janitor in the confines of my own home.”
The birth of their son Gabriel—their third child under four years old—only upped the ante. “It is the point at which parents convert from a man-to-man to a zone defense ... all the while choreographing an ultra-efficient errand-running routine.” Yet, in confronting these challenges, Hull eventually rediscovered an inner resolve. “I could choose to sink in the quicksand of life with young
children—becoming engulfed in the daily grind, unaware of my own loss of self—or I could rise to the occasion. And I am rising.”
Hull and her family live in Bozeman, Mont., where she teaches childbirth and parenting preparation classes.
Taming Leviathan: Waging the War of Ideas Around the World
Colleen Dyble ‘00
Institute of Economic Affairs
Founded in 1955, the Institute of Economic Affairs is known as Britain’s “original free-market think-tank,” espousing open markets, limited government, and other libertarian philosophies that helped prompt the Thatcher Revolution. Published by the IEA and edited by Dyble, this book boasts essays by leading libertarians from around the world—stories, Dyble argues, that “respect private property and the rule of law, encourage entrepreneurship and competition, support independent judiciaries … and promote liberty and freedom of choice.” Dyble, who was an international political economy major at Puget Sound, is the director of coalition relations at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.