MAKE IT BETTER
Anyone who suffers from diabetes knows that the disease can seem to overwhelm every moment of their lives. Managing it becomes a full-time job with little room for error. But in The Book of Better: Life With Diabetes Can’t Be Perfect, Make it Better (Random House, 2011), author Chuck Eichten ’84 makes the case that diabetics should let go of an unachievable goal. Rather, he wants diabetics to reframe their challenge in a light that focuses on the things they can achieve and improvements they can make.
Eichten is not a doctor or researcher. His chief qualification for writing this book is that he has had diabetes for decades— including his years as a student at Santa Clara. His day job is as design director at Nike DNA, where Nike collects and tells its stories from the archive (e.g., the first shoe born of a waffle iron). And the book’s message is delivered in a highly visual style that mixes text and graphics more like carefully crafted posters than a painstaking educational tome about the disease.
Still, it would be a mistake to dismiss The Book of Better as lightweight. Indeed, it makes a worthy read for both diabetics as well as friends and family seeking to better understand what it means to live with the disease. Among his advice, Eichten offers strong advocacy for insulin pumps, devoting a large portion of the middle of the book to the technology. He cites his own use of an insulin pump as having brought him the “better” elements in life, such as not having to worry as much about when he eats. But Eichten also notes that because such pumps remain expensive and out of reach of many around the globe, he calls on manu- facturers to create lower-cost versions—and for diabetics to request them. Not a cure, certainly, but a step forward that would deliver the better lives that Eichten argues are within reach. Chris O’Brien
DOUGLASS THE AGITATOR
Both progressive Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and conservative Justice Clarence Thomas have seen themselves as heirs to the political thought of the great abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass. How that can be—and what are the true dimensions of Douglass’s political philosophy—are the tantalizing questions Nicholas Buccola ’01, assistant professor of political science at Linfield College, tackles in The Political Thought of Frederick Douglass (New York University Press, 2012).
Douglass was born into slavery in 1818, escaped when he was 20, and went on to become not only one of most persuasive opponents of slavery but also an ardent champion of women’s suffrage, equal rights for immigrants, and universal public education. But a systematic political thinker he was not. So Buccola’s project is to uncover “the core commitments of Douglass’s political philosophy,” which, Buccola contends, were “remarkably consistent over time.”
In Buccola’s opinion neither Justice Thomas nor Justice Marshall gets Douglass quite right. Yes, Douglass promoted an idea of “self ownership” that can be read as a sort of up-by-your-bootstraps notion of personal responsibility. But from his experiences of slavery, Douglass also knew that such self-reliance can only work when there is fair play—which “meant that government had to play an important role in order to ensure that the social and eco- nomic rules were not rigged in favor of or against any particular group.”
Douglass seems to have been a much more thoughtful, nuanced political thinker and “agitator,” as he sometimes called himself, than we are used to today. He offered vibrant political and moral arguments, not sound bites. Buccola helps us understand how and why those arguments proved to be so powerful. Alden Mudg