Spirits of Adventure

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The four alumni featured in this issue are wildly different in almost every way, but united by a willingness to go against the grain and take risks—and by the persistence to see them through.

First, in our cover story, “Explorer in a Hurry,” frequent contributor Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69 rescues from obscurity one of the most extraordinary figures in the University’s rich history: the wonderfully named Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane M1842—a striking example of the enormous energy and self-confidence of 19th-century America, somehow admirable even at its most reckless (as Kane often was).

He had many exploits before his untimely death at age 37, but his fame—unmatched in his day—rested primarily on his leadership of an ill-fated expedition to the Arctic in 1853-55. Its ostensible purpose (to search for an earlier expedition that by then had been missing for years) seems from this distance doomed on its face, and it failed even in its basic goal of getting from point A to point B, since the ship that Kane captained became stuck fast in the ice within months of leaving port. But the narrative of heroic survival Kane penned on his return sold like crazy—so much so, Dennis writes, “that the typical 19th-century parlor was said to display at least two books: a Bible and Kane’s Arctic Explorations.”

The stakes were not exactly life and death for Ellen Yin W’87 WG’93, but few professional decisions are as adventurous as deciding to start your own restaurant—especially one located next door to a dollar-store in an area that mostly shut down after five p.m. Yin beat the long odds against success with Fork, though, and its Old City neighborhood has become the epicenter of the city’s latest and ongoing restaurant renaissance.

To celebrate her upscale bistro’s 10th anniversary, Yin has published Forklore, which mixes her own autobiography with the vicissitudes of the restaurant over the past decade, along with many signature recipes. We offer an excerpt from the book, plus a couple of those recipes, along with an interview with Yin by associate editor Trey Popp. Trey also sought out a couple of other pioneering Philadelphia restaurateurs, only on the University City side of the Schuylkill.

Food also figures in “My Dinner with Thor,” in which freelancer Julia Klein frames her profile of Thor Halvorssen C’96 G’96 around a meal she shared with the always-in-motion foundation executive/movie producer/free-speech advocate, who is surely among the University’s most cosmopolitan alumni.

Like Kane, the 32-year-old Halvorssen seems to be in a rush to make his mark and also has a flair for the dramatic.  After running the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for several years, in 2006 he established the Human Rights Foundation, which agitates for greater freedom in his native Venezuela and other nations. He also devotes his considerable energies to producing documentary films—including a history of humor under Communism, Hammer & Tickle, and Indoctrinate U, a Michael Moore-style riff, only conservative—through another organization he founded, the Moving Picture Institute.

Finally, there is David Teece G’73 Gr’75. As senior editor Samuel Hughes notes in his profile “All Business,” Teece departed early in his career from the orthodoxy of mainstream economics to set his own, then little-traveled course, substituting research on real-world firms for static analysis. Besides being the lead author of the most-cited paper in economics and business worldwide between 1995-2005, Teece also founded a firm that provides expert testimony and was instrumental in starting Russia’s top business school.

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