cover image Professor at Large: The Cornell Years

Professor at Large: The Cornell Years

John Cleese. Cornell Univ., $25 (248p) ISBN 978-1-5017-1657-7

This collection of speeches and conversations with Monty Python alum Cleese (So, Anyway) is not unlike the man himself: hilarious, always clever, and a little off-kilter. The author, a Cornell professor-at-large between 1999 and 2007, shares speeches on business, screenwriting, religion, and other topics, and public conversations with friends like Princess Bride author William Goldman and scholars such as psychology professor Stephen Ceci. Cleese’s attention is prone to wandering, which is anything but a criticism. The best selection, “Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind,” nominally given as a speech on business in 1999, comes across instead as a potentially revelatory take on the creative process, in particular the need for “two modes of thinking,” one “suitable for solving problems where we know what kind of answer we want,” and the other for “problems where we may not know what kind of an answer we’re looking for.” Likewise, a sermon delivered in 2001 at Cornell’s Sage Chapel, drawing deeply from Aldous Huxley, speaks as much to the ability to overcome “negative emotions and habitual indulgence in them” as to anything spiritual. There is no unified theory of Cleese presented, rather something more akin to snapshots of a mind at work—but what a mind it is. (Oct.)