About the Author: Thomas Dumm, Professor of Political Science; Chair of the Political Science Department

Tom Dumm

Thomas Dumm
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Current Home
Amherst, and when I can get there, in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.

Place of birth
I was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania many years ago

I went to the local branch of Penn. State for my first years of higher education, transferred to the main campus where I completed a B.A. and M.A. in Political Science. HI received my Ph.D. in Government from Cornell University in 1983. After teaching in rural Iowa and urban Texas (Wartburg College in Waverly, IO, and the University of Houston-Downtown), I came to Amherst in 1985, because Amherst offered me a job when no one else would.

Favorite Amherst Class
I currently love teaching a course called The Politics of Moral Reasoning, which uses figures in the history of political thought juxtaposed with films, primarily from the "Golden Era" of American filmmaking, to illuminate the philosophy of moral perfectionism developed most recently by Harvard philopsher Stanley Cavell. I also enjoy teaching contemporary political theory and American political thought.

Awards and Prizes
I have been awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2001) which helped in getting Loneliness as a Way of Life started.

Favorite Book
I read too much to have a favorite book, but would name several that I would take with me to a deserted island. First, maybe obviously, Melville's, Moby-Dick, but also The Confidence Man. Emerson's Selected Writing (Library of America edition). Thoreau's Selected writings  (Library of America). Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude. I also have recently begun reading the great Chilean writer, Roberto Bolano, so The Savage Detectives, and (anticipating) 2666. Of course, all of Emily Dickinson, and the Riverside Shakespeare.

Tips for writers
I follow the advise Billy Crystal gave to Danny Devito in "Throw Mama from the Train": "A writer writes." If you don't get words on a page, then you aren't writing. I supplement that advice with the following: "All writing is rewriting." That makes it all the more important to get those words on a page, and also to not worry about getting it right the first time. Especially in the age of word processing (only those my age and older may remember typewriters, correction whiteout, and cutting and pasting for real), it is much easier to rewrite. Maybe too easy, which is why I also write at least very rough drafts and outlines on paper, in a journal. But everyone has his or her own way.

Your path to becoming a writer
Hmm. I think of the old New Yorker cartoon, two old professors standing by a coffin, one saying to the other, "Poor Fodsworth. Published and published, perished just the same." Ever since I decided I wanted to study political theory, I have had to wrtie every day. There is no other way to think about these ideas without writing. (Indeed, the epilogue to Loneliness is precisely about that subject!)

I have always held that if one is in a privileged place like Amherst College, one is obliged to take advantage of that position by being a productive and engaged scholar. In my field of political theory, that means engaging with some amazing minds, and the only way I feel I am adequately engaging them is to write about them, to them, against them. But I also grew to maturity as a writer at a time when the idea of the personal being political was taken seriously, and in the books that I have writeen that have mattered the most to me -- united states (Cornell, 1994), A Politics of the Ordinary (NYU, 1999) and especially Loneliness, I have felt obliged to explain myself to my readers. Not to be (too) pompous, but I think that is part of the obligation of a democratic thinker.