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Columbia Spectator Staff

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Introduction to Comparative Politics

WHO: Mona El-Ghobashy
WHY: Professor El-Ghobashy taught us to find reason behind the world's biggest mysteries; we learned how to analyze documents to answer complex questions. She's an amazing professor. ... Now I can impress my parents with my extensive knowledge, and wow future employers at cocktail parties!

—Shamsa Mangalji, BC '12, editorial board member

Weapons of Mass Destruction

WHO: Paul G. Richards
WHY: As you can imagine, we learned everything there was to know about nuclear weapons, from nuclear physics to international relations. Professor Richards was a tremendous resource—he has worked at Los Alamos and at Livermore, and he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He was tremendously insightful. The midterm and final were VERY long, but completely fair. If you are willing to show up and take good notes, this class is worth it!

—Ted Nigro, GS, editorial board member

The Enchanted Imagination

WHO: John Pagano
WHY: It doesn't matter if you're a fantasy buff or if you've never read Lord of the Rings—this will still be one of the best classes you'll ever take. The reading list includes the LOTR trilogy, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein, and works by Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Tennyson, Coleridge, and others. And Pagano is one of the gems of the Barnard English department—you can't lose. You get to write academic papers on Tolkien and fairy tales, and Pagano is a brilliant discussion leader who brings out more themes and nuances than you ever would have imagined. You will never again dismiss fantasy as "childish."

—Maggie Astor, BC '11, deputy news editor

Shakespeare I

WHO: Peter Platt
WHY: Peter Platt is worth the early wakeup. Though he teaches during the 9:10 a.m. slot, his infectious enthusiasm for his material is almost as effective as caffeine. As he introduces the Bard to those new to the material, he illuminates tricky plot points and verses with wonder—a concept he found important enough to write an entire book about. His lectures are interactive, and make a large class feel small. Under his guidance, you read one play a week, write two papers, and take two fair exams. You will leave with a strong knowledge of Shakespeare, better writing skills, and the desire to learn more—or take Shakespeare II.

—Joy Resmovits, BC '10, news editor

American Maritime History

WHO: Robert McCaughey
WHY: This slightly obscure course provides a detailed introduction to a grossly understudied subject: the role of the sea in American nation-building. Students also learn about navigation, oceanography, life on the high seas, and even piracy.

—Jacob Levenfeld, GS/JTS '11, sports editor

Major Debates in the Study of Africa

WHO: Mahmood Mamdani
WHY: A reality check at its finest. Never mind the fact that Professor Mamdani is an absolute warrior. His background as an interdisciplinary instructor informs an approach to Africa that takes on political science, history, and anthropology in one fell swoop.

—Sarah Camiscoli, CC '12, editorial board member

General Chemistry I

WHO: James Valentini
WHY: Though Gen Chem I is not typically considered an enjoyable class, Professor Valentini presents the material clearly and charismatically and his homemade demonstrations are bound to entertain.

—Matt Sherman, GS/JTS '12, associate photo editor

Intro to Poetry and Poetics

WHO: Molly Murray and Michael Golston
WHY: This course is the reason I became an English major. The usually tedious team-taught class becomes a forum for lively debate in the hands of Murray and Golston. The pair manage to navigate the entire history of English and American poetry, from Old English poets to Shakespeare to Lowell, while teaching close reading skills I've continued to use in every class I've taken since.

—Julia Halperin, CC '11, arts & entertainment editor

Intro to American Studies

WHO: Casey Blake and Maura Spiegel
WHY: Two amazing professors, historian Casey Blake and English professor and self-proclaimed film geek Maura Spiegel, give a tour through American culture and identity through a series of undiscovered classic novels and classic Hollywood and independent movies.

-Peter Labuza, CC '11, film editor

History of Philosophy Part II

WHO: Christia Mercer
WHY: Christia Mercer is one of those rare gems of academia who is as brilliant a teacher as she is a thinker. This class is the second of the philosophy department's 3-part History of Philosophy course arc, but you don't necessarily have to take all three classes or take them in order. If you just want to take one philosophy course at Columbia, take this one, and take it with her. The syllabus spans from Aquinas to Kant, but as you will quickly learn from Mercer, there is no clear offspring of thought from one philosopher to the next. An expert in Descartes who will debunk all the misinformation you learn in CC, Mercer untangles complex philosophical systems so you can actually wrap your mind around them. Plus she'll make you laugh.

—Betsy Morais, CC '11, news editor

Introduction to Statistics

WHO: Martin Lindquist
WHY: Martin Lindquist was awesome—he always presented PowerPoints of the lecture notes, was really receptive to questions in office hours, and graded really fairly. It was definitely really useful for a science major but I also think anyone who needed a math class would find it interesting.

—Marissa Grossman, BC '10, deputy copy editor