Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Matthew Green

Matthew Green is an assistant professor of Politics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Originally from northern California, he worked as a congressional aide for five years before getting his Ph.D in political science at Yale University. He teaches a variety of courses on American politics, but he has a particular passion for Congress. Green's new book is The Speaker of the House: A Study of Leadership (Yale University Press).

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I tend to read a lot of American history in my spare time, interspersed with the occasional work of fiction. I'm currently reading three books: the first falls in the former category, the other two in the latter.

The first is Zachary Schrag's The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. A graduate student in my department recommended it to me, and I'm glad he did. I've always assumed that the D.C. subway system, popular among the thousands of tourists who visit the nation's capital, was equally popular when it was first proposed, developed, and constructed. But in fact, it had to compete with highways for attention and funding, was nearly killed by a stubborn and petulant congressional committee chairman, and faced strong resistance from many local communities who did not want stations nearby. Schrag describes how the subway was affected by the profound political and social changes that took place in the 1960's and 1970's, and how the leadership of individuals, ranging from ordinary citizens to the President of the United States, made its construction possible.

The second is Jeff Smith's graphic novel series Bone. It's routinely on the "top ten" lists of comics and graphic novels, but I was always a little put off by the peculiar-looking hero (a white blob-like figure) and the fact that it's often stocked in the children's section of bookstores. But I finally decided to take the plunge and start the series. I just finished volume 6, so it's safe to say that I'm enjoying it a lot. The artwork alone is beautiful: Smith has a wonderful eye for color (which you'll miss if you get the black and white edition) and an elegant style clearly influenced by the great comic artist Walt Kelly. The story is basically a fantasy: it involves dragons and monsters as well as humans, and it's set in a middle-ages sort of world. But unlike many works in the fantasy genre, Bone doesn't take itself too seriously: the dialogue is witty and sometimes downright hilarious, and the author isn't afraid to make the occasional odd anachronistic reference (Moby Dick pops up a lot). Sometimes the plot gets bogged down in long stretches of dialogue, but there's nonetheless enough action to keep a reader's interest.

The third is Steig Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I don't really want to say much about this book because (a) it's more fun to read it without any prior knowledge of the plot, and (b) it's so popular that many people have already commented on it elsewhere. But I do recommend it highly -- especially if you've ever visited Sweden (and especially Stockholm), in which case you'll appreciate many of the details and references Larsson includes in the story.
Learn more about Matthew N. Green at his faculty webpage and Amazon author page.

--Marshal Zeringue