Gleason's Brilliance

May 13th, 2010

As one of Professor Tom Gleason's former students, I wish to express my profound sorrow and pain about the news that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease ("Twilight of a Historian," March/April). Professor Gleason is one of America's most brilliant minds in the field of Russian history and Russian studies, and his scholarly contributions over the past forty years have been immeasurable. His diagnosis is a sad development for his family, the Brown community, and the world of Russian scholarship.

Rebecca Witonsky '97
Boca Raton, Fla.



"Twilight of a Historian" seems hardly that, given the blaze of light generated by the way Professor Gleason writes. In his BAM article, this brilliant observer and interpreter of life's processes and of human endeavors casts a brave light on the vicissitudes inherent in enduring the challenges of Parkinson's disease, just as he once illuminated for a spellbound class the darker, hidden courses of Soviet history.

I recently had particular cause to remember the Russian history courses I took with Professor Gleason, as I spent the past year editing a new edition of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace for the Oxford University Press World Classics Series. I don't feel it is the slightest exaggeration to say that Professor Gleason's lectures in Russian history were every bit as compelling and brilliantly written as the famous historical passages in Tolstoy's epic novel. Certainly Professor Gleason's lectures were even more entertaining and always exceptionally witty. I can only imagine the dazzling results when, with the dissolution of his inner censor due to the medication, Professor Gleason pulled out the stops in the classroom. I can also attest to his abiding love of music, having once house-sat for the Gleasons while they were traveling and treated myself to the pleasure of surreptitiously listening to a prodigious collection of vinyl.

Professor Gleason's lecture style has always been my internal standard as an academic, and it is my faint hope that I occasionally manage to impart to my students even a fraction of the enthusiasm and passion that Professor Gleason handed out so liberally to those of us who were fortunate enough to sit at his feet.

Amy Mandelker '75 AM, '82 PhD
Princeton, N.J.



I found your piece by Professor Tom Gleason on his life and thought and on living with late-stage Parkinson's disease incisive and poignant—a meditation on the vicissitudes of life and on looking forward. Thank you.

As a physician I would like to bring to your attention something that might be of personal interest to the professor, his caretakers, and your readers. In April the New England Journal of Medicine published a short case report from the Netherlands with images and video that demonstrated a phenomenon termed the kinesia paradox. The New York Times summarized the article on March 31.

The paradox is that patients with advanced Parkinson's who have difficulty even walking were shown to ride bicycles with balance and control and without the rigidity, postural instability, or bradykinesia that plagues them when they walk. Why this happens is unknown, but the authors conjectured that pathways governing the act of peddling may be less affected than those of walking, or that perhaps the rhythmic motion of cycling sets up a powerful stimulus to override movement inhibition. This effect may be seen not only in outdoor cycling, but also potentially with indoor stationary trainers.

Given such a demonstrable effect cycling has on this small but striking sample in the Netherlands, Professor Gleason and other BAM readers affected by Parkinson's might possibly benefit from these recent observations.

Tzevan Poon '98
Stanford, Calif.


What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
May/June 2010