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Dear Colleague

Common and Uncommon Observations

2002
Author:

Yi-Fu Tuan

Dear Colleague

A long-awaited collection of highlights from a scholar’s renowned letters

"Maybe the most influential scholar you’ve never heard of" was how a feature article in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently described Yi-Fu Tuan, a widely traveled Chinese-American geographer whose letters to his friends and colleagues, distilling observations, ideas, and experiences, have carried his insights, and his reputation, far beyond his chosen field. Culling the most characteristic thoughts and compelling moments from these prized letters, Dear Colleague at long last gives readers near and far the opportunity to share what Tuan’s correspondents have already enjoyed.

Yi-Fu Tuan has written an exciting book based on observations of small events in daily life as well as grand ideas. It is a book that leads the reader effortlessly on, bit by intriguing bit, page by intriguing page, until, unexpectedly, it is finished. Tuan’s scholarly books already intimate things about the person behind the intellect, but here the reader gets to know Tuan the human being: self-aware, delicate, playful, serious, and humorous, able to laugh at himself and others. The book exposes the moral philosophy of a geographer and how he sees and interprets the world in terms of the true, the good, and the beautiful. It is written in the finest humanist tradition.

Annals of the AAG

"Maybe the most influential scholar you’ve never heard of" was how a feature article in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently described Yi-Fu Tuan, a widely traveled Chinese-American geographer whose letters to his friends and colleagues, distilling observations, ideas, and experiences, have carried his insights, and his reputation, far beyond his chosen field. Culling the most characteristic thoughts and compelling moments from these prized letters, Dear Colleague at long last gives readers near and far the opportunity to share what Tuan’s correspondents have already enjoyed—and to discover the pleasures of the underlined passages in a book of life at once edifying, entertaining, and exemplary.

Reflecting on personal encounters and impersonal forces, Tuan conducts us along a path that leads from nature to human nature, through society and culture, geography and history, morality and religion, life and death. By turns playful and aphoristic, these essays hold revelations both humorous and harrowing. Whether browsed for their considerable incidental pleasures or perused in depth from beginning to end, they afford their reader the rare interior knowledge of another human being and his world, and an even rarer glimpse of the connections between sensation and intellect that lie at the very heart of the humanistic enterprise.

Imparting the insights of a revered scholar, revealing the tensions—and contradictions—that exist between life and thought, remarking on ideas from other thinkers, and expanding on perennial matters of morality and meaning, religion and ritual, pleasure and pain, Dear Colleague maps Tuan’s own humanity in a lucid, elegant, and memorable way.

Dear Colleague

Yi-Fu Tuan is professor emeritus in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin. He is widely considered the founder of human geography, and is the author of many books, including Cosmos and Hearth (1996) and Space and Place (new edition, 2001), published by the University of Minnesota Press. He is also the author of books on desert landforms, China, the history of ideas, and an autobiography, Who Am I? (1999).

Dear Colleague

Yi-Fu Tuan has written an exciting book based on observations of small events in daily life as well as grand ideas. It is a book that leads the reader effortlessly on, bit by intriguing bit, page by intriguing page, until, unexpectedly, it is finished. Tuan’s scholarly books already intimate things about the person behind the intellect, but here the reader gets to know Tuan the human being: self-aware, delicate, playful, serious, and humorous, able to laugh at himself and others. The book exposes the moral philosophy of a geographer and how he sees and interprets the world in terms of the true, the good, and the beautiful. It is written in the finest humanist tradition.

Annals of the AAG

A renowned humanist-geographer, Yi-Fu Tuan has written a book to be shelved with such comforts as Montaigne and Bacon, Brenan’s Thoughts in a Dry Season, and Auden and Kronenberger’s commonplace books.

Foreword Magazine

What shines through is a generous and welcoming mind, and this distillation of thought and experience is a fine addition to a distinguished body of work.

Foreword Magazine

To those of us who think the human mind more a gymnasium than a massage parlor, Tuan’s book has the appeal of prompting us to nudge some ideas out onto the tumbling mats and set them going. It’s excellent exercise, and it comes with clever wit, grace, and charm.

Southern Humanities Review

"In a good society, most things actually work: drop a postcard into a mailbox and it will eventually wend its way to the other side of the globe. But it must not work too well if it is to remain good. There must be room for a little chaos . . . no chaos, no creativity, no life. A perfectly ordered society would be a dead society."

Dear Colleague

Contents

Introduction
Nature
Civilization and City
Politics and Ideology
Culture, Society, Work
Home, Rootedness, Place
Human Ties and Isolation
Ancestors
Sex
Male and Female
Power
Education, Teaching, Knowledge
Geography
History
Aesthetics
Intellect
Language
Morality
Religion
Stages of Life
A Sense of Ending