by Daniel Jackson MIT Press, 2017 Review by Christian Perring on Apr 3rd 2018
Daniel Jackson is a professor of computer science at MIT. Following a number of suicides at MIT he engaged in a project to document the struggle of people dealing with the pressures of life, especially when added to the strain of meeting the standards of a demanding university. The resulting book, Portraits of Resilience, features the stories of about 23 people accompanied by photos of them and the MIT campus. There are undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty, from a variety of backgrounds. The photographs are monochrome. They are conventional in style, with subjects looking at the camera against a black screen. They are nice portraits that people would like to have hanging in their homes. The combination of the images and the narratives gives a more complete picture of the people, and reading through the book gives a layered understanding of how people cope with difficulties in their lives. It is evocative and moving to learn about people's struggles and their strengths. This is equally true for students who are new to these problems or people later in life who have been coping for many years. What's more odd about the book is the inclusion of the architectural photographs and other campus pictures. They are artistic and pretty and they give some indication of the context that people live, but they are also aestheticized in ways that seem divorced from the emotional turmoil that the subjects describe, and they could be featured in an MIT catalog. The fact that the book is published by MIT Press is natural, but it makes the book appear like an in-house production than an independent work. It's a nicely done work and people who are going through similar experiences may find it helpful.