What Are You Reading? Glen Harrison

Glen Harrison is a referee with US Rowing.  He is also a member of the Rock City Rowing Club that rows out of a boathouse at Two Rivers Park in west Little Rock.  In addition to rowing, he teaches courses at the LifeQuest of Arkansas Adult Education Program at Second Presbyterian Church and is the Vice President of the Arkansas Chapter of the Fulbright Association.

What are you reading at the moment?

My background and education are in Geography.  The German naturalist and explorer Alexander Von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) is known as one of the fathers of modern geography.  I am currently reading Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander Vol Humboldt’s New World.

Wulf’s biography of Humboldt provides a vivid picture of Humboldt’s explorations in Europe, Latin American, the United States, and Russia.  In his travel, Humboldt made extensive observations of nature and human activities and collected samples of plants, animals, and rocks.  He was the first scientist to propose the idea of climate zones based on elevation and developed the concept of isotherms (lines of equal temperature).  His ideas about human activities’ impact on climate and vegetation became the foundation for environmental studies.

Humboldt was the Carl Sagan of his time.  His lectures and publications, such as the Cosmos series, focused on the interconnection of nature and humans.  His audiences and readers included the scientific community and the general public. Humboldt’s ideas influenced and inspired scholars, scientists, and politicians during his life and for generations to come, including Thomas Jefferson, Simon Bolivar, Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and George Perkins Marsh.  I would recommend The Invention of Nature to anyone who is interested in climate change, environmentalism, and the natural sciences.  It is a great read.

What book or other media do you keep coming back to again and again?

My passion in life is rowing.  I love practicing, competing, helping others learn to row, and working as a US Rowing Referee at regattas.  Rowing is a sport that involves physical strength, coordination among the rowers, and a total trust in your teammates. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Ouachita Baptist University have recently formed rowing clubs.

The book I come back to time and time again is The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.  Most Americans remember Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics.  An American team also took the gold in the men’s eight rowing competition in the 1936 Olympics.   This book recounts the long road from the formation, practices, and regatta competitions of the University of Washington rowing team that led to the 1936 Olympics.

The thing I love about “Boys in the Boat” is that it focuses on the process of taking a group of individuals and gradually molding them into a team of young men who have total trust in each other.  The process of team building includes years of practice, working on the right combination of rowers at the right position, and building trust.  Al Ulbrickson, the University of Washington Crew Coach, was responsible for developing this winning team.  The other person who plays a key role in this story is George Pocock, a pioneer in the design and bulidng of rowing shells.  His creative designs helped advance the sport of rowing in the United States.  Pocock’s wisdom went beyond the creation of rowing shells.  He contributed greatly to helping develop the mental state for team building.  The company that Pocock founded continues to make rowing shells today.  On a recent trip to Seattle, Washington, I went to the University of Washington Crew Boathouse.  The rowing shell that was used in the 1936 Olympics is proudly displayed at the boathouse, along with a uniform and gold medal from the competition.

What role has reading played in your life?

Reading provides me with new knowledge, generates new ideas, and takes me on trips around the world and even to other galaxies.