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Voltaire's Coffees for the Class of 2012 (08 First-Years)

Sun, June 1, 2008

Plan II freshmen are initiated into their first semesters with small, informal, professor-guided book talks called Voltaire's Coffees. The professors we ask to sponsor these discussions select an eclectic and broad combination of texts, from history to philosophy, the classics to pop culture-books. You will choose one or two (or more) to read over the summer and discuss in the fall with the professor and a group of other incoming Plan II freshmen who were interested in the same book.

These discussions provide a wonderful opportunity for both a compelling discussion as well as a chance to meet other Plan II first-years and some of the University's best professors. Registration for the VCs will begin on July 20 and end one week before the first scheduled Coffee. Popular Coffees will fill up quickly so don't delay with your registration. Remember, you don't have to have completed the reading to register, as long as you've read the book before the Coffee.

Please email your first and second choice Coffees, your name, and UT EID to Plan II Students Association Academic Chairs Leigh Patterson and Mia Avramescu at

Coffee dates and locations TBA.

1. Any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, led by Dr. Michael Starbird, Professor of Mathematics. August 27 at Professor Starbird's home.

There is no greater delight than enjoying the subtle reasoning skills that only literary figures can effectively master. When in 'Silver Blaze' Holmes draws attention to the curious incident of the dog in the night, to which the less gifted reasoner responds: "The dog did nothing in the night-time." Sherlock Holmes' reply, "That was the curious incident." is one of the great moments of detective inference.

Sponsoring professor Michael Starbird is a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at UT. He received his B.A from Pomona College and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin. During his tenure at UT, he has accepted visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the University of California at San Diego, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Starbird served as Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences. He is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers. His recent book, The Heart of Mathematics: An Invitation to Effective Thinking, was acclaimed by the American Mathematical Monthly as possibly the best math book--textbook or not--for non-mathematicians it had ever reviewed. Professor Starbird has won several teaching awards, most recently the 2007 Mathematical Association of America (MAA) Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo National Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics, which is limited to three recipients annually from the 27,000 members of the MAA. Dr. Starbird has also won Plan II's Chad Oliver teaching award for his Plan II mathematics course, which introduces students to intriguing ideas including infinity, the fourth dimension, rubber sheet geometry, chaos, fractals, and coincidence. And if all goes well, you may one day hear him perform "Jabberwocky" in German.

2. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, led by Dr. Charles Rossman, Professor of English. September 9 in the Joynes Suite.

The God of Small Things is a semi-autobiographical, politically charged novel by Indian author Arundhati Roy. It is a story about the childhood experiences of a pair of fraternal twins who become victims of circumstance. Winner of the 1997 Booker Prize, Roy's novel is a description of how the small things in life build up, translate into people's behavior and affect their lives.

Sponsoring professor Charles Rossman teaches English at the University of Texas, where he has taught since 1968, and has been teaching in Plan II from 1969-2008 (all but a few years). He previously taught at the University of Southern California (1964-6) and at the University of California at Los Angeles (1967-8). In addition, he taught in the University of Texas Summer Program at Brasenose College, Oxford University, England, in 1984, 1995, 1996, and 1997 (he directed the program 1995-97, 2006 and 2007. He has also been a visiting professor at Université Paul Valery (Montpellier, France, 1982) and a Fulbright Professor at the National University of Mexico (Mexico City, 1972-73). In the early 1960s--before entering academia--he was a Peace Corps Volunteer in South America, where he taught in the Ecuadorian school system. He later taught in the Peruvian/North American bi-cultural centers of Lima, Peru in the early 1960s. It was during his Peace Corps service that he met his Peruvian wife, Marcela. They have been married 45 years. Rossman has received NEH, Fulbright, and URI grants for research, research travel, and teaching abroad. He has also received seven teaching awards from UT: the Jean Holloway Award for Teaching Excellence, Texas Exes Teaching Excellence Award, President's Associates Teaching Excellence Award, AGSE Teaching Award, Outstanding Faculty Member in the College of Humanities Award, the Chad Oliver Award for Teaching Excellence in Plan II, and the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

3. The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World by Paul Roberts, led by Dr. David Laude, Professor of Natural Sciences. August 28 in the Joynes Suite.

In The End of Oil, Roberts presents a non-technical introduction to the factors that will determine where we go next in responding to the peak oil crisis, and surveys various alternative energy strategies in the process. For the most part the book reads as investigative journalism (which it is) and provides an educational framework as free from an agenda as one could hope. This should allow the reader to develop an informed, yet personal opinion on how to respond to an energy crisis certain to profoundly change how we live.

Sponsoring professor David Laude is a Professor of Chemistry and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor, Associate Dean of Students, and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education in College of Natural Sciences. He spends his days developing and running programs to make undergraduate education in the sciences all that it can be, and his nights doing whatever his five kids make him do. Perhaps his proudest moment as a faculty member was recently being selected funniest professor on campus by the students, an honor made all the more astonishing because he did it while teaching freshman chemistry and exploring the underlying hilarity of ice melting.

4. Miami and the Siege of Chicago by Norman Mailer, led by Dr. Steven Isenberg, Professor of Humanities and English. September 3 in the Joynes Suite.

In Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Mailer writes about the 1968 presidential conventions--when the Republicans nominated Richard Nixon in Miami, and the Democrats Herbert Humphrey in Chicago. As the Democratic convention turned into a riot, police against protestors, Mailer documents history in his classic and eloquent style. Readers will find it interesting that sponsoring professor Steven Isenberg was at the 1968 democratic convention as Chief of Staff for New York Mayor John V. Lindsay.

Sponsoring professor Steven Isenberg is a visiting Professor of Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching courses on George Orwell, literature of the Great War, World War II, 20th century British and American literature, and Watergate. He has degrees from University of California - Berkeley, Yale, and Oxford. His career includes newspapers, government, academia and the law. He was publisher of New York Newsday, The Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Times, deputy publisher of Newsday and the Executive Vice President of The Los Angeles Times. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Committee to Protect the Journalists. He served as Chief of Staff to New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay and was a litigator at Breed, Abbott and Morgan. Isenberg is now Chairman of the Board Emeritus of Adelphi University where he was President ad interim. He has taught at Berkeley, Yale, Davidson, and The New School and Polytechnic in New York. He is currently an Honorary Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford.

5. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, led by Dr. Lawrence Speck from the School of Architecture. September 2 at Professor Speck's home.

The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in countless books. Do we need another Lincoln biography? In Team of Rivals, esteemed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin proves that we do. Though she can't help but cover some familiar territory, her perspective is focused enough to offer fresh insights into Lincoln's leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with the men in his cabinet, and demonstrates Lincoln's amazing capability to forgive those who treated him badly and continue to work well with them for the good of the country and enterprises he thought were bigger than petty personality conflicts and differences.

Sponsoring professor Lawrence W. Speck, FAIA, is the W. L. Moody Centennial Professor of Architecture at University of Texas at Austin where he has served on the faculty since 1975. He was founding director of the Center for American Architecture and Design there 1982-90 and Dean of the School of Architecture 1992-2001. He has won numerous academic awards including the Chancellor's Council Teaching Award, the Amoco Award and the Blunk Professorship for outstanding undergraduate teaching as well as the Romeiniec Award from the Texas Society of Architects as outstanding architectural educator in Texas. He has been a Fulbright Senior Scholar and has been published widely in professional journals and other works on art, architecture, engineering and design. Speck also has a distinguished career as a practicing architect. His buildings have garnered over 70 design awards over the last 20 years and have been published widely both in the U. S. and internationally.

6. Machiavelli's The Prince, led by Dr. John Daly from the School of Communications. September 2 in thee Texas Union 2.404 Pearce Hall.

Machiavelli's classic The Prince, on the surface, expresses theories that are often venerated as shrewd methods for an aspiring prince to use in order to acquire the throne, or that an existing prince can use to establish his reign. However, it's interesting to look at the novel in another way in ultimately considering why it has been so influential: it has been continuously published around the world for close to 500 years. The word "Machiavellian" has become it's own descriptive term….what does it tell us about power, influence, and people?

Sponsoring professor Dr. John Daly is the Liddell Centennial Professor of Communication, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, TCB Professor of Management, and an Adjunct Professor of Pharmacy. He has published more than one hundred articles and chapters in scholarly publications, and completed seven books. Dr. Daly's interests focus on practical ways of enhancing the communication skills of individuals. Thus, he has examined topics such as shyness, personality difference in communication, communication difficulties people experience in their personal and professional relationships, and issues involved in making people more effective when they communicate as individuals, team members, and leaders. Daly has served as editor of Communication Education and co-editor of Written Communication, as well as a member of the editorial boards of ten different academic journals. He has also consulted with numerous organizations, both public and private, on communication and leadership issues. Dr. Daly has been in the winner of every major campus-wide teaching award. He has taught classes in interpersonal communication, persuasion and advocacy in the College of Communication. In the McCombs School of Business he teaches MBA courses in organizational behavior and advocacy. Professionally, he has served on the Board of Directors of International Communication Association, the International Customer Service Association, and the Administrative Council of the National Communication Association. He has served as President of the National Communication Association, Chair of the Council of Communication Societies. He was recently made a Fellow of the International Communication Association, one of fewer than sixty scholars in the history of the discipline to receive such recognition.

7. Happiness -- A History, Darrin M. McMahon, led by Dr. Tara Smith, Professor of Philosophy. August 25 at Professor Smith's home.

Written by an intellectual historian, Happiness -- A History is a study of different understandings of happiness through the centuries -- both of what happiness is, and of the proper place of the quest for happiness in human life. It's a thick tome with a vast sweep, considering religious, philosophical, psychological and political perspectives from ancient times through the present. Readers can skip chapters 2, 5, and 7 (or naturally, if they'd like to keep the general thread, simply lightly skim those chapters).

Sponsoring professor Dr. Tara Smith teaches courses on ethics and political philosophy (as well as the Plan II Sophomore Philosophy course). Her recent work has focused on the foundations of value and the content of virtues. She is currently investigating proper methodology in judicial interpretation. Smith is author of Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics -- The Virtuous Egoist (2006), Viable Values -- A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality (2000), and Moral Rights and Political Freedom (1995) as well as a number of articles in such venues as The Journal of Philosophy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Law and Philosophy, and Social Philosophy and Policy. She currently holds the Anthem Foundation Fellowship for the Study of Objectivism and serves on the Editorial Board of The Philosophers Index.

8. The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America by Louis Menand, led by Dr. James Galbraith from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Professor of Economics. September 11 in the Joynes Suite.

The Metaphysical Club was an informal intellectual gathering of philosophers and academics that met in Cambridge, Mass., for only nine months in 1872. Menand, known for his contributions to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, follows the evolution of pragmatism as it emerged from the minds of four of the club's "members": Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey. The Metaphysical Club describes how the lives of these great thinkers interconnect in an enjoyable, though sometimes complex, narrative. This book is stimulating for our nation today, as Menand stresses the important role of intellectuals in times of chaos (in this case, after the Civil War), when people's beliefs are put to the test.

Sponsoring professor Dr. James K. Galbraith teaches economics and a variety of other subjects at the LBJ School. He studied economics as a Marshall Scholar at King's College, Cambridge in 1974-1975, and then served in several positions on the staff of the U.S. Congress, including Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee. He was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in 1985. He directed the LBJ School's Ph.D. Program in Public Policy from 1995 to 1997. He directs the University of Texas Inequality Project, an informal research group based at the LBJ School. Galbraith maintains several outside connections, including serving as a Senior Scholar of the Levy Economics Institute and as Chair of the Board of Economists for Peace and Security. He writes a column called "Econoclast" for Mother Jones, and occasional commentary in many other publications, including The Texas Observer, The American Prospect, and The Nation. He is an occasional commentator for Public Radio International's Marketplace.

9. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi, led by Dr. Carol MacKay, Professor of English. September 10 at Professor MacKay's home.

In this memoir by Azar Nafisi, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, she recounts how she met weekly in the Islamic Republic of Iran with seven female students to read and discuss forbidden classics by Western authors. These secret meetings focussed on the works of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov (author of the still-controversial in the West Lolita). This account serves as a testimony of both resistance to repression and the liberating power of literature

With graduate degrees from Stanford University and UCLA, Professor Carol MacKay specializes in Victorian fiction, Women's Studies, and autobiography. She is the author of Soliloquy in Nineteenth-Century Fiction and Creative Negativity: Four Victorian Exemplars of the Female Quest, as well as editor of The Two Thackerays and Dramatic Dickens. The winner of numerous teaching awards, Professor MacKay has been a member of the Distinguished Teaching Academy since 2003. She loves to swim at Barton Springs Pool, and she confesses to being an ailurophile.

10. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, led by Dr. Aloysius Martinich, Professor of History, Government, and Religious Studies. August 27 in the Texas Union, 3.208 Lonestar Room.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is the story of three generations of women in China during the twentieth century. The first woman, the grandmother of the author, was the concubine of a warlord. The second woman, the mother, became a prominent member of the Communist party during the age of Mao Zedong. She suffered through the disaster of the Great Leap Forward, China's attempt to become an industrial nation, and then the Cultural Revolution, a period of social and political madness. The third woman, the author, a victim of the Cultural Revolution, was one of the first Chinese students to be allowed to study abroad, in London, where she is now director Chinese Studies at the University of London.

Al Martinich, Roy Allison Vaughan Centennial Professor in Philosophy, is also Professor of History, Government and Religious Studies and has taught at UT since 1973. He's the author or editor of many books, including The Philosophy of Language 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2008. His book, Hobbes: A Biography, Cambridge University Press, won the Robert W. Hamilton Book Award for 2000. He has held Woodrow Wilson and NEH Fellowships, and twice was named "Faculty Fellow of the Year." He won the Chad Oliver Plan II Honors Teaching Award for 2007-2008. He has lectured in China many times.

11. Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity written and led by Dr. Robert Jensen from the School of Communications. August 25 in the Texas Union 3.304 Quadrangle Room.

A few pages into this slim manifesto, it's clear that Jensen's latest offering is a heavy critique of the U.S.'s post 9/11 policy, the war on terror and George W. Bush. It would be remiss, however, to reduce this work to mere complaint. Jensen, a journalism professor at the Univ. of Texas, Austin, delivers a concise, telling, first-person account of what he argues is the "alienation and isolation that so many feel in the face of the triumphalism common in the country" since the attacks. He questions why America has developed such "an incredibly degraded political culture" and criticizes U.S. academic institutions for their "unwillingness to take seriously their role as centers of knowledge and their refusal to create space for debate and discussion." It is up to the citizens of the empire, Jensen says, to "build movements that can transform people's opposition into political power." That sounds like a tall order, but Jensen's use of personal anecdotes, analogies and in-your-face common sense makes the reading easy and his request sound doable, even logical. Jensen's premise gains momentum as he correlates the increase of American civil liberties to decreased public participation, reminding readers that the "degree to which a society is democratic also can be judged by how extensive and active are citizens' attempts to participate in the formation of public policy." He couples his opinions with a solution for those progressive thinkers who want to help, making the book a sort of handbook for people who are looking for new ways to engage fully in the democratic process of citizenship.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, director of the College of Communication Senior Fellows Honors Program, and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center ( His latest book is Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007). Jensen is also the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights Books); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang). His articles can be found online at

12. The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America by Ron Brownstein, led by Dr. Sean Theriault, Professor of Government. September 3 at Professor Theriault home at 8:00 pm.

In this book, Brownstein, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, tackles the growing war between Democrats snd Republicans. He first describes the acrimonious tone in Washington, DC, and then analyzes why the tone has changed so much. While the book is rich in history and data, it is extremely well-written as easily read (as it should be for someone who writes for a living!).

Sean Theriault is in his eighth year of teaching in the Government Department at UT. His primary research interests are in the U.S. Congress. This summer, his second book, Party Polarization in Congress, came out. This book deals with the same topic as Bronwstein's book, but from a social scientific perspective. This summer, Theriault taught "Popes and Presidents" in Rome. He has won numerous teaching awards.

13. "The Goat: or, Who Is Sylvia?" a play by Edward Albee, led by Dr. Paul Woodruff, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Undergraduate Studies. September 2 at Dean Woodruff's home.

One of Albee's best plays, and his most recent, this explores what would happen if a highly successful man fell passionately in love--well, in a way he cannot explain and no one else can discuss with a straight face. But it's true love, very funny, and true tragedy as well.

Sponsoring professor Paul Woodruff is a philosopher and translator. He designs and builds furniture, rows a single scull on Town Lake, and hacks away at the cello from time to time. He has had a little military experience, serving in Vietnam as a junior officer in 1969-70. Woodruff served as Chair of the Philosophy Department and then Director of Plan II for fifteen years. In September 2006, President Powers appointed Woodruff to be the inaugural Dean of Undergraduate Studies.

14. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, led by Dr. Wendy Domjan, Professor of Psychology. September 8 at the Joynes Suite.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist involves the story of Pakistani man in America. In the midst of successfully living the best of the "American dream", 9-11 happens. Everything changes: within and for him. Hamid's beautifully evocative novel offers us a different perspective on 9-11 and the changes it wrought.

Sponsoring professor Wendy Domjan has a Ph.D. in psychology from The University of Wisconsin, with specialties in perception and cognition. She has been teaching for Plan II since 1999, offering the SS 301 in psychology and a junior seminar in psychology and religion. Currently, she serves as the thesis advisor for Plan II seniors. Dr. Domjan received the College of Liberal Arts Harry Ransom Teaching Award in 2003, and the Plan II Chad Oliver Teaching Award in 2004. She is a practicing Jew, a community activist, a passionate reader of nearly everything, and a devoted fan of all forms of science fiction (especially Star Trek!).

15. The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design by Richard Dawkins led by Dr. J. Craig Wheeler, Professor of Astronomy. August 28 at the Texas Union3.304 Quadrangle Room.

One of the most famous arguments of the creationist theory of the universe is the eighteenth-century theologian William Paley's: Just as a watch is too complicated and too functional to have sprung into existence by accident, so too must all living things, with their far greater complexity, be purposefully designed. But as famous atheist and Oxford professor Richard Dawkins demonstrates in this brilliant and eloquent riposte to the Argument from Design, the analogy is false. Natural selection, the unconscious, automatic, blind yet essentially non-random process that Darwin discovered, has no purpose in mind. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker. Patiently and lucidly, Dr. Dawkins - in this book which has been acclaimed as perhaps the most influential work on evolution written in this century - identifies those aspects of the theory which people find hard to believe and removes the barrier to credibility one by one.

J. Craig Wheeler is the Samuel T. and Fern Yanagisawa Regents Professor of Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. He served as Chair of the Department from 1986 to 1990. He is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at the University of Texas. He has published about 200 papers in refereed journals and numerous conference proceedings, edited five books, and published a novel that has been made into an independent film. His popular-level book, Cosmic Catastrophes: Supernovae, Gamma-Ray Bursts and Adventures in Hyperspace (Cambridge University Press 2000) won an award in a University of Texas faculty book competition. The second edition was named one of the top astronomy books of 2007 by CHOICE magazine. He served on the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council from 2002 - 2006 and was co-Chair of the NRC Committee on the Origin and Evolution of Life from 2002 - 2005. He served a two-year term as President of the American Astronomical Society from 2006 to 2008. His research interests are supernovae, black holes, gamma-ray bursts and astrobiology. Wheeler received a BS in physics from MIT in 1965 and a PhD in physics from the University of Colorado in 1969.

16. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust, led by Coleman Hutchison. September 10 at the Joynes Suite.

Coleman Hutchison is an assistant professor in the Department of English, where he teaches courses in nineteenth-century U.S. literature and culture, bibliography and textual studies, and poetry and poetics. Hutchison has written widely on the literature and culture of the American Civil War and is currently completing the first literary history of Confederate States of America. Born in Portland, Oregon, his interest in the south and the Civil War cannot be easily explained.

More than 620,000 men, women, and children died as a result of the American Civil War. This staggering figure--an equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million--can only begin to suggest the unprecedented carnage and vast social change brought on by this "war between brothers." This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War offers a moving history of mourning practices, commemoration activities, and "the business of death" during and immediately after the war. Written by Drew Gilpin Faust, an esteemed Civil War historian and the first female president of Harvard University, the book focuses on how people in both the north and the south dealt with such devastating loss. In so doing, Faust makes a compelling argument about the Civil War's costs and legacies. As one reviewer has noted, this "timely, poignant, and profound" book "does the real work of history, taking us beyond the statistics until we see the faces of the fallen and understand what it was to live amid such loss and pain" (Tony Horwitz).

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