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"A REASONED DEBATE. WHAT A CONCEPT!"
See Intelligence Squared in left column
August 19, 2014
Is this the way reincarnation works?
Two of the new books of which you get tastes in this issue are by classmates writing about historical figures remarkably like themselves. A third is by someone updating interests that started with his dad.
Benjamin Zucker, an internationally-known authority on gems, gives us a new biographical facet of the fabulously successful diamond dealer and investment banker whose gifts named an internationally-known university, Elihu Yale. Fred Starr, a learned, frequent traveler throughout Central Asia, lets us in on another widely-traveled scholar from that region, Biruni, who "discovered" America 400 years before Columbus. Rud Platt, influenced by his naturalist father, writes about an anti-patrician movement in urban planning.
We also bring you glimpses of feisty George Akerlof at work in Washington, and judicious Jim Litvak pooh-poohing new gimmicks in golf.
NEXT ISSUE: Travels, including "What We Did on Our Summer Vacations." (Additional thoughts, whether you traveled or not, will be welcome for another few weeks. Send to email@example.com.)
Boola Moola: Glittering Details of an Investment Banker's Wealth
Benjamin Zucker has looked through the loupe of his expertise as an internationally-known gem dealer to scrutinize catalogues of the staggering possessions that Elihu Yale accumulated.
State of the art security. Elihu Yale's "brass-mounted, kingwood parquetry" strongbox, made c.1680 when Yale was still in India. The book says its interior, "lined with rosewood, is ingeniously fitted out with trays and drawers so that the diamonds, colored stones and pearls were easily accessible."
How wealthy was Elihu Yale? After all, though he promised to give more later, in 1718 he only gave 449 books from his library, plus two shipments of Indian textiles to be sold for cash, to a little institution in New Haven that was then named the Connecticut Collegiate School.
But would you believe Yale owned 7,000 paintings, including a Rembrandt? Or 2,000 books on religion, law, history and medicine, 800 of them in Latin? Or 100 bejeweled canes? Or 54 elegant tobacco boxes? Not to mention musical instruments, the latest scientific equipment, and six houses, including country estates?
In collaboration with Diana Scarisbrick, a noted British historian of jewelry and gems, Benjamin Zucker now has used his deep professional knowledge of jewelry and gem trading - the chief source of Elihu Yale's wealth - to plumb the catalogues of the seven auction sales it took for Yale's heirs to dispose of most of his staggering collection after his death in 1721. Apparently, Ben says, "his daughters wanted the money."
All the catalogues but one are in the Yale University Library; the other is in the British Library in London. Until recently they have not gotten much scholarly attention. Zucker and Scarisbrick published their research this spring in Elihu Yale: Merchant, Collector and Philanthropist, a handsomely printed, richly illustrated, affordably priced ($39.95), 288-page volume from Thames & Hudson, one of the world's largest producers of art books.
Click here for excerpts of the chapter demonstrating Yale's extraordinary dazzle at jewelry.
You can go and hear Ben talk about all this. At the Yale Club of New York he will speak and sign books on September 9 at 6:30 pm; in New Haven, he will do the same on October 22 at 6 pm at the University bookstore (77 Broadway @ York Square, New Haven). He may tour other Yale clubs; check your local listings. Benjamin's next book will be about Tsarist jewels.
One of hundreds. White enameled hands offer a crowned heart in this silver ring of c. 1700, set with rose-cut diamonds. Yale owned diamond 'rings of sentiment' such as this, of a type used at weddings.
The Muslim Who Discovered America
Fred Starr's profile of the amazing Biruni may change
your thinking about more than just Columbus.
Fred Starr's latest book enlarges on decades of recent scholarship and his own extensive Asian travel and research to show that during the Middle Ages, in Afghanistan and the other present-day countries of Central Asia the lamps of knowledge and business were burning very brightly. Indeed, he declares Central Asia the intellectual and trading center of its time.
Fred has been invited to give the commencement address at the American University in Kabul sometime this fall after, he says, "all the drama of the election has passed." The invitation is in recognition of his help in lifting the bushel basket that has covered Central Asia's medieval luminescence. Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane (Princeton University Press) is being translated into Tajik, Farsi, Uzbek, Azeri, Turkish, and Turkmen; Russian and Chinese editions are under discussion; positive reviews in sober places have called it nothing less than "amazing," with "the potential to shape global public thinking for decades."
Consider, for example, Biruni (full name, Abu Rayhan al-Biruni), the Persian polymath who "discovered" America some 450 years before Columbus and whose calculation of the earth's diameter was only 10.44 miles less than the modern measurement.
Click here to see how he did it. And click here for Fred's recent op-ed in the New York Times urging "For Moderate Islam, Look to Central Asia," and here for a link to the Central Asia-Caucasus institute that he chairs at Johns Hopkins.
"Pomp vs. People"
In a new book, the geographer Rud Platt celebrates Millennium Park in Chicago as a reflection (indeed, see photo below) of a growing movement against the 20th century's "patrician" city parks and plans.
Should public parks be grand? You know, with those massive arches and the stately fountains you can't swim in? Or should they be funkier and more fun, like the one shown above?
Click here to read a concise "tale of two parks," adapted by Rud Platt from his new book that questions the grand urban plans and parks of the last century. However well-intentioned and impressive, he says, "patrician" plans and parks focus on "the downtown, mega-projects, and the automobile" - and in practice create "wealth generation for the white establishment." He then chronicles the roots and branches of the encouraging counter-movement, which he has helped advance and which has moved toward "humane metropolises" that are greener, healthier and fairer. (He sees the BeltLine string of parks and developments around Atlanta that Alex Garvin is helping develop (see the WINTER '14 of this website) as a promising mixture of both.) CLICK HERE to read Rud's article.
Akerlof: Outspoken in Hiking Boots
When George Akerlof was a rumpled, seemingly shy freshman, some of us buzzed about his blunt comment to the Yale Daily News that his philosophy professor was "mumbly and slothful." With today's hindsight, that looks like a foretaste of strong views on a good many complex subjects. He can, said Nicholas Lemann in the July 21 New Yorker, be "impolitic."
The New Yorker article mostly profiled George's wife, fellow economist, and frequent academic collaborator Janet Yellen, now head of the Federal Reserve Board, but it paid serious attention to George, who in 2001 won the Nobel Prize in economics. Sketching "his ancient sweater, his unruly hair and his battered hiking boots," the piece went on to his current research, his views on unemployment and Keynesian interventions in the economy - and a cautious streak. For full excerpts, and to comment, click here.
Easier, Quicker Golf?
"Naah," says Litvak
Prominent spring stories in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal described rule changes afoot to make golf easier and quicker by enlarging the hole and letting players write off bad shots. The sport, the Times said, "is in danger of following the baby boomer generation into the grave." We solicited the views of Jim Litvack, an economist, one-time 6-handicap golfer ("before shoulder injury") and frequent official referee at the national and regional levels for both the United States and Metropolitan Golf Associations. He teed off this way:
"I thought the most interesting aspect of the story was the NYT and the WSJ running essentially the same article on the same day.
New Notices and Postings
Sadly, we have received notice of the deaths of Chap Barnes (July 17th), George T. Basil (April 14th), Peter Bell (April 4th), Rev. Bill Blose (July 1st), Fred Hemphill (January 19th) and Thomas Saine (December 5, 2013). Their obituaries will appear on our site in due course. Full, newly-penned obituaries included on our website this month are for Peter Barnes and William Gieg.
NOTIFYING CLASSMATES ABOUT SERVICES
If you would like classmates to be notified about your funeral or memorial activities, the Class of 1962 will send information to our email list, providing we get the information in time. Please ask those who will be in charge to send the details to Bob Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 203-624-5111, and for backup to John Stewart, Co-Corresponding Secretary, at email@example.com, phone 845-789-1407. We will not send information unless someone makes this request. Even if services are not involved, please encourage those involved to send basic information to the above and to the Yale Office of Information Resources at firstname.lastname@example.org or PO Box 208262, New Haven, CT 06520-8616, telephone 203-432-1100.
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