Archives for August 2010

Can On Fact and Fraud provide insight into Marc Hauser’s story?

Over at Big Questions, Heather Wax makes the connection between David Goodstein’s book On Fact and Fraud and the recent controversy surrounding Marc Hauser in a post titled “When Scientists Lie… and why they do it.”

She draws on Michael Shermer’s review of the book in Scientific American to argue that Goodstein’s book “helps explain the Marc Hauser story.”

Goodstein’s experience as vice-Provost at Caltech and head of their fraud squad gives him an inside track on what fraud is, who is likely to commit it, and why. In fact, as Shermer notes in his article, Goodstein identifies three risk factors for fraudsters:

The perpetrators, he writes, “1. Were under career pressure; 2. Knew, or thought they knew, what the answer to the problem they were considering would turn out to be if they went to all the trouble of doing the work properly; and 3. Were working in a field where individual experiments are not expected to be precisely reproducible.”

Lessons from The Poetry Lesson — Mark Spitzer interviews Andrei Codrescu about his new book

The conversation took place in the bat cave deep beneath Andrei’s secret castle
in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. As usual, he was kicking back in his vintage
velvet Prussian throne and I was sitting on a pile of petrified guano. Around us,
our ghost companions were watching the discussion in various states of
indifference. On Andrei’s side, Ted Berrigan and Francois Villon were chilling
out with Tzara and Pasternak. On my side, Rimbaud was pretending to ignore
Edward Abbey and Bukowski, who were becoming increasingly intoxicated.
Meanwhile, the walls oozed with the literary perspiration of the Earth.



Spitzer: I’ve read pretty much all your works, but I was stuck by The Poetry Lesson in particular. I think it’s the funniest, most intriguing, organically satisfying Codrescu-concoction out there. In a way it reminds me of Céline’s Conversations with Professor Y in that it’s a novella-sized conversation that plunges in and out of various discussions on literature and aesthetics while incorporating regular tangents in which you contemplate the lives and deaths of poets. These threads then take the reader other places, a lot like the “chautauquas”—or contemplations or meditations—which Robert M. Pirsig used in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as philosophical detours from the main narrative. In a way, the construction is similar to the first half of Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, where you’ve got all these sexy stories inside sexy stories, but you always shoot back to the plot—which is basically this: it’s the first day of your last Intro to Poetry class of your teaching career and you are assigning students ghost companions to study and “enter into psychic communication with.” Anyway, what I’m trying to do right now with this run-on question is to set the stage for future readers of The Poetry Lesson as to what the book is about and how it goes about doing a very unusual thing in contemporary lit: you’ve either invented a new form of storytelling or you’ve innovated on an old one—I’m not sure—but at one point you write “This is not a novel, but then neither is it poetry . . . and it’s no essay or memoir either.” So what is it?

At this precise spot, The Poetry Lesson began.

Andrei: This is a wonderful review/question that places me most flatteringly in the vicinity of your own heroes, Mark, so I’ll say this: you’re great. As for what this book is, I’m convinced that I invented a new form. I wrote it at Highlands Coffee in Baton Rouge, after my three-hour undergraduate poetry seminar. In the morning, before class, at the same coffee house, I wrote The Posthuman Dada Guide. After class, I had fun using the class to expand into a kind of synthetic expression of all my classes and teaching poetry for a quarter of a century. I shouldn’t even call it “teaching poetry,” because it was mostly playing and instructing students in the poetic mode, in thinking poetically, and even living that way if they had strong livers. I used some composite of youths of the 21st century and wrote without fear of digression because I would inevitably return to class the next week and come back to my characters. So, it’s a lived piece of reportage, in one sense, an autobiographical invention on the other, and a meditation on poetry scenes that had a bearing on the “lesson.” Writing this it occurred to me just how boring “teaching creative writing” is these days, and how many unimaginative drones who were themselves “taught” by unimaginative drones are fouling the air in our institutions of so-called “higher” learning. Most teacher-poets of the last four decades in America were dull bastards who nearly destroyed the art. Maybe they did.

Spitzer: I’m wondering about the students you based this narrative on . . . did they know you were writing about them and sculpting a story around them? Did you let them in on this project or was it a voyeuristic type of thing? I won’t ask if the characters were embellished because the very act of typing on a keyboard is inherently apocryphal, but I wonder how the students you made characters of inspired the nature of your final product in the sense of reality vs. imagination.

Andrei: They should have known. If they didn’t it was their own fault, because I told them several times that I was using them for my book. Maybe some of them thought that I was kidding. Some of them, the better-read ones, probably knew how feral writers are. Others got it: writing is a game for keeps and you can’t afford to waste anything, not even the touching confidence of the inarticulate, while you’re a living writer.

Spitzer: As a former student of yours, a lot of the interactions in this piece are familiar. One thing I noticed that was different, though, was that there’s an optimism in Poetry School for this current generation of young poets. Now when I was a graduate student in your classes back in the late-90s and the setting was the bar, we had mucho conversations about what you termed “the Rimbaud faucet”—which, if I remember correctly, you described as this virtually impossible thing that one can turn on and then suddenly the Poetry of the Future comes spilling out. I’m sure I’m paraphrasing this all wrong, but you seemed a bit bummed out back then that there were all these students who expected you to turn that faucet on for them, when it’s something they have to turn on themselves, and if they’re serious about poetry, they should’ve turned it on years before coming to you. So what I’m asking is . . . are you more optimistic now for the punk poets of 2010, or is it easier to be optimistic about undergrads than it is about grad students, or what’s the deal?

Andrei: To start with the last part of your question, yes, undergrads are better than grads, because they don’t know a thing about poetry, so you can make them do anything, even read the Mahabharata in Sanskrit. The grads usually come through some dull meat-grinder writing program that’s turned them into sausage before they get to me. It’s no easy job, as you know, making a Calder mobile out of sausage. You’ve got to at least polyurethane the thing so it won’t stink. I’m more optimistic about poetry because of the new media: it’s easy to tweet your flashes of bright language to people who might appreciate them. In the old days, you had to wait a year before your instant coffee got to be coffee. Now you just pick up your YouTube and shoot yourself down the brain of anybody willing to listen. You can broadcast your poems, thoughts, whatever, and you have to make sure that they are interesting, worthy of a reader/listener/viewer. The problem with the old slow communication is two-fold: 1: it’s slow, it represents an older, no-longer-extant “you;” and 2, it’s boring, because the conventions of print oblige you to join the community of an agreed-upon “reader” (who never existed, of course) and you have to observe the decorum of print and slowness. With the new delivery devices you have to be brilliant because the thing burns as soon as it reaches its destination. “Posterity” was never a real concern to me. I take it like “a pain in the ass,” a “posterior.” The only drawback to my optimism about thinking now, is that the motherfuckers no longer pay you. Everything is for free. Everybody’s willing to cough up their best substance into the reproductive air without asking for cash. This makes it even harder to survive as an artist than before the new media, and it was hell then.

Spitzer: Were there observations that you made in this book that you couldn’t have made in a non-retiring year, and if so, can you provide some examples?

Andrei: School administrations take a dim view of honesty. It’s the one thing, besides integrity, that isn’t allowed by this august institution. Telling children the truth is tantamount to treason: they would send you to Guantanamo if they could. As it is, they just deny you tenure. If you don’t want to fake it, you just keep your mouth shut, you don’t publish it. I’ve had tenure for a long time, but I wasn’t ready to write about my students because I was too busy, and I didn’t really care about having to explain to some square in a golf jersey that his wife was fucking one of my grad students. I once broadcast a mild commentary on NPR about just how ignorant my students were of real-world issues, and you think that I’d blown up the ROTC building. They went ballistic. Two decades ago you could still get away with a radical rant, for instance, but these days they’ll turn you in to Homeland Security. In the 90s I used to give a poetry assignment: “Write a poem you can be arrested for!,” but in 2010, they’d take me out in handcuffs if I did that. There are a jillion other things that could not be said publicly, but I’d have to write another book to list them all.

Spitzer: At one point you write about your attitude toward your profession, which has embraced you, even though you sometimes reject its pretensions. Meaning that, in a way, you became a professor by reacting against the status quo, because that’s what revolutionaries and visionary poets do. On page 21 you write, “They paid me to teach and I assuaged my guilty conscience by publishing literary assaults on institutions. I was the typical fin-de-siècle salaried beatnik.” So it’s ironic—and not just for you, but for other idealists of your generation, and a few from mine—that such anti-establishment stances have found a place within the establishment. This is especially apparent when you write, “I pissed smugly on academia, which is a way of saying that I pissed on myself, which I do, regularly, to extinguish my pretensions.” Can you call upon a ghost companion to comment on this dynamic a bit more?

Andrei: Yes: Baudelaire. Translation, Robert Lowell.

Mais parmi les chacals, les panthères, les lices,
Les singes, les scorpions, les vautours, les serpents,
Les monstres glapissants, hurlants, grognants, rampants,
Dans la ménagerie infâme de nos vices,
II en est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde!
Quoiqu’il ne pousse ni grands gestes ni grands cris,
Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris
Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde;
C’est l’Ennui! L’oeil chargé d’un pleur involontaire,
II rêve d’échafauds en fumant son houka.
Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
— Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

Plus the fact that I had to make a living to support my family.

Spitzer: I like what you said on page 61, that “It’s not easy living in the future.” So was it easier living in the past, which you noted “smelled like cigarettes, urine, and sperm”? And what makes it so difficult living in the future? What’s a gal to do?

Andrei: It was easier living in the past because I was young. When the youth of now will be old, they’ll think it was easier living in the past, too. Everything is easier when you have lots of energy. But . . . there is less funk, less vividness, and less surprises now; we’ve gotten better, as a society, at hiding poverty, unhappiness, sickness and death. I’d say that we were less hypocritical in the past because the hard facts stared us in the face. Now everything smells like eau-de-cologne, like they sprayed the world with deodorant. The smoke from the death-plants in the Louisiana chemical corridor used to be black and sooty, just the way it came out, then one day they put something in it to make it white, to look like steam, to make you think that you’re in heaven instead of hell, where you really are. Like what’s Dow Chemical doing? Electing the Pope? No, it’s poisoning us, but in a much nicer way.

Spitzer: One thing this book does really well is make fun of you. In my head I see you rubbing your palms with a devious smirk and laughing at yourself while creating yourself into a semi-cartoon character. At these times, I feel you almost jumping up and down and I see you typing one-fingeredly, guffawing at your own genius—which is one of the best things a writer can experience. You’ve always talked about the idea of “generative writing,” which is the type of writing that makes a writer want to write, because, in a sense, it’s ecstasy—to be so engrossed in your work, to see it magically coming together, to glance over and see your ghost companions rolling hysterically on the floor. So are there any certain passages in the book that you remember having one hell of a time fleshing out? Also, were you reading any writers while you were writing this book that inspired your inner-generative-writer to hoot and holler and/or write like a man possessed?

Andrei: Well, you’ve said it: the loose flight is the writer’s joy. I wasn’t reading anything except the assignments I gave my students, and their own tries at rising to the occasion, but that was plenty.

Spitzer: I’m sure that The Poetry Lesson can be a valuable tool for those who teach poetry, in that some of the approaches you take could snap some teachers out of stagnant comfort zones and encourage creative ways to communicate and handle assignments, but do you see this book as having a practical application as a text in the poetry classroom?

Andrei: Totally. The teachers who’ll assign it will be the real educator-spirit-creative types. The students who’ll put up with it will learn ineffable skills applicable everywhere. The whole thing is about life, finally, not writing. It’s about a way to live free or die, and not just in New Hampshire.

Spitzer: What the cryptic moral of the story?

Andrei: Dig it.



At that point, the ghost companions joined together to form a mysterious
paisley fog, which rose like smoke from the mouth of the cave. Perhaps they
were looking for new authors to infiltrate, or maybe they were just going
for a walk. But whatever the case, we knew they wouldn’t wander far―because
ghost companions are forever.

Kathleen Graber reads from her new book The Eternal City

Following her readings of two poems from The Eternal City, Graber is interviewed by Anthony Carelli who will author a subsequent book of poems, Carnations, in The Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets.

Princeton Global Science — meet the editors

Tomorrow we will launch Princeton Global Science — a new initiative to bring the best our science list has to offer to our readers. But, today, I want to introduce you to the science publishing group here at the press.

One of our main goals here at PUP is to acquire and publish the most innovative and meaningful titles from today’s leading scholars and most importantly, to make it accessible to you.  That all starts with our acquiring editors, and we are extremely fortunate to have a top-notch team of editors here at PUP who are not only great at what they do but are deeply invested in their authors, their books, and you.

The study of science transcends boundaries established by language and culture, and no one better understands this than our Science and Reference editors. Robert Kirk acts as group publisher for the science and reference programs. He is joined by mathematics executive editor Vickie Kearn, astronomy and physics senior editor Ingrid Gnerlich, biology and earth sciences editor Alison Kalett, and cognitive sciences editor Eric Schwartz. A key member of the team, though she doesn’t wear acquire exclusively in science is Anne Savarese, reference executive editor.

Though they all acquire titles from different science subject areas, their collective work converges to create a strong and important science list that is distinctively – and irrevocably – Princeton.

I hope you will take time to read their Q&As below and look forward to sharing more original content from this team and their authors tomorrow.

PGS Behind The Scenes: Meet Group Publisher and Executive Editor Robert Kirk

We spoke to all of our science editors to find out why and how they became the integral part of PUP that they are today – Why science? Why publishing? First is Executive Editor and Group Publisher for Science and Reference Robert Kirk.  Along with heading up the department, Robert acquires titles in ornithology, natural history, and biology.  Having worked in the publishing industry for nearly thirty years and having spent much of that time focusing on bird and natural history books, Robert is an authority on science publishing and gave us many insights into the world of science publishing at PUP.

What is your background in the sciences and particularly ornithology, natural history, and biology?

I studied history at Oxford University, though I enjoyed sciences at high school and would have loved to have been able to minor in one or more of science subjects (but you simply couldn’t blend humanities and sciences when I went to university!). I’ve had a life-long interest in birds and all natural history, and grew up in the English countryside where I could get plenty of first-hand experience of the natural world. As a child, I once nursed a broken-winged Barn Swallow back to health, and still remember vividly the moment of release – and my joy – when the bird zoomed into the sky and disappeared into the clouds. (It probably died in a terrible plunge to earth soon thereafter.)

What got you interested in publishing, and when did you become a science editor?

Well, the old cliché of loving books and wanting to know more about how they were put together. I joined a small academic publisher as a publicity and marketing assistant in 1983. The company (Helm) had an excellent new birds and natural history list. I managed to wangle my way to promoting and working on the books in this list and, eventually, I became its editor in the mid-late 1980’s. The company was subsequently bought by A & C Black, which, in turn, was swallowed up by Bloomsbury (Harry Potter, etc).

How long have you been in publishing, and when did you come to PUP?

Since 1983. I sold co-editions to Princeton and other North American presses when at Helm and A & C Black in the UK. In 1997 I came over to present books at a PUP sales conference, met my wife, who was working for the Press at the time, married in 1998, and then moved to PUP in 2000.

What steps do you take to acquire ornithology, biology, and natural history books?

Identify a gap that needs filling, i.e. is there a guide – if there is, how good is it? If there isn’t, would it make sense to try to produce one. I then use my contacts, knowledge of the field, and undertake research to find the best person or people to make it happen. I then go to them with the idea and a basic framework. If the idea resonates we get down to planning and fine tuning before I sign them up. Many of these books take many years to write and illustrate, and are very expensive to produce, so it’s important to be confident about each project.

Many of PUP’s great field guides have been co-published with UK publishers, but lately it seems like more books are being wholly published by PUP (e.g. The Crossley ID Guide). Why is this? Is this a trend you see continuing in the future?

Absolutely. I was hired to expand the program as a whole, but for me, the most important part of this endeavor is to boost our home-grown guides alongside shrewd co-publishing with leading natural history and field guide publishers in Europe and beyond. I have many projects signed up and in the early stages of production and the proportion of books generated solely by PUP is increasing year on year. I am also selling co-editions of home-grown titles back to my regular co-publication partners, so it’s a win-win.

One of the books you acquired recently is Eugene H. Kaplan’s What’s Eating You?. Do you plan to continue acquiring books outside of field guides?

As and when it makes sense. Gene Kaplan’s book follows his wonderful Sensuous Seas, and the new book has the same brio, humor, and rich biological detail as the first. There is still room for more general natural history titles, and we have a number in the list already, so I would anticipate there always being books of this nature.

Are there any backlist Princeton books that you feel are the archetype for what Princeton science books should be? Please explain.

I’m delighted to say there are legion, and it’s almost invidious to single out just a few, from the established classics (Einstein is of course sui generis) such as Feynman’s QED to more recent titles such as Andy Knoll’s Life on a Young Planet and David Archer’s The Long Thaw.  All these are characterized by breadth, learning, and longevity.

What subject areas have yet to have their quintessential and iconic masterpieces written?

Microbial biology still needs a synthesizing book, and there are many other areas, cognitive science being an obvious choice, where the field is advancing so fast that it will require an overarching book to solidify, for the outsider, exactly what we have learned and are learning.

You oversee the entire science publishing program here at PUP – how does the press manage to publish in so many different subject areas while still maintaining a consistent quality and molding a singular and unparalleled science publishing program.  Are there challenges? How do we overcome them?

It’s down to the quality and vision of the individual editors. My role, I feel, is simply to help them publish the best books in their field and provide the back-up and support they need to do so. Right now, I think we have a superb team of editors – all at the top of their game. There are general and specific challenges: in many areas of the sciences, fields are journal driven and books don’t play a significant role in tenure decisions or peer to peer communication; and, depending on the discipline, there are other publishers competing for the best people and books. However, few have the breadth and range that Princeton does – from cutting-edge monographs to wonderful trade science titles. We stay ahead of the curve through the skill and tenacity of our editors and the proven success and renown of the lists as a whole.

PGS Behind The Scenes: Executive Editor Vickie Kearn and the Science of Loving Math

You and math – one of the greatest love/hate relationships of all time. What is it about the subject that excites us yet sends a chilling tingle down our spine at the same time? How can it be so precise, yet so fickle? We may never know the answers to these questions, but we do know that math is ubiquitous, though some of us may try to hide from it.

We also know that there are those who thrive off the subject, who can’t get enough of it. PUP Executive Editor Vickie Kearn is one of those people.  After all, since 2001, her job here at the Press has been acquiring the best titles in mathematics – and even before she came to PUP, she spent her whole life surrounded by numbers and equations.  While math may sometimes cause us to cry tears of despair, it has caused Vickie to cry tears of joy.  Her love of math started as a natural childhood talent, became a pleasantly surprising college benefit, and eventually grew into a career – one that she has dedicated to making the pursuit of mathematical knowledge easier and more enjoyable.

As part of our continuing series of Q&As with our Science and Reference Editors for Princeton Global Science, we found out more about Vickie’s publishing and math background.  Read her truly illuminating answers below:

What is your background in the sciences and particularly mathematics?

For as long as I can remember, I have loved math, whether it was counting things, looking at patterns, or solving logic problems. I grew up in Venezuela and the American school was very small. There were only three of us in my grade so we got a lot of attention and our teacher really loved math. Because the school only went through the 9th grade, I went to boarding school in the states for the rest of high school. Salem Academy only had 100 girls at the time I went. I had no idea that girls weren’t supposed to like math. Elsie Nunn taught the upper level math classes so I had her for three years. She was amazing. She did not have any fancy equipment but she taught a ton of math. We had math club every day after school and she always came up with something amazing. She knew all about the lives of the mathematicians so I had the benefit of knowing who the people were behind the math. I went to the University of Richmond where I studied math. At the time I went there, the campus was split and men and women were on separate sides of a lake. Since math was taught on the men’s side, I got to take all of my classes with them. Men and women were only allowed to talk on Wednesday afternoon and Saturday and Sunday. But since I was a math major and there was only one other woman math major, I was allowed to talk to the men all the time. Who would have thought math would have such great benefits?

When I graduated, I taught school for 8 years. I initially taught elementary school and then moved to the junior high to teach math. I taught in a rural open space school (no internal walls) near Richmond and later in an inner city school in Norfolk, VA. My kids taught me that not everyone learns in the same way and that if math is difficult for some students, you just need to find a different way to teach it.

What got you interested in publishing, and when did you become a science editor?

During the time I taught, I served on a lot of textbook adoption committees and found that the textbooks got worse and worse. I had the opportunity to move to New York with a friend and decided it was time to leave teaching and try to improve math teaching and learning in a bigger way. I thought I would try publishing. My first job was at Academic Press. I was a developmental editor. For three years I edited all the undergraduate textbooks. I made sure all the problems could be worked and wrote the solution’s manuals. After three years and about six different calculus textbooks, I decided that acquiring books would give me more of an opportunity to have an impact on the content so I moved to Marcel Dekker. I initially was the math/statistics editor but as editors came and went, I also did engineering and food science. Although I really liked acquiring, I was required to sign 60 books a year. I no longer had the time to do any development work so after 8 years I went to the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. There I helped to establish the book program and also got to work with journals, membership, and marketing. The staff was a small hard working group of people dedicated to supporting the members of the society. After 13 years, (and a four hour roundtrip commute) I moved to PUP.

How long have you been in publishing, and when did you come to PUP?

I have been in publishing for 33 years. I came to PUP in March 2001.

Tell us about the books and authors that you’ve worked with. Are there any authors or titles that stand out from the rest? Why?

I have been lucky enough to meet many of the greatest mathematicians. There are so many that stand out but I will pick one from each place I have worked. The first book I edited at Academic Press was Gil Strang’s Introduction to Linear Algebra (now in its 4th edition). I thought it was the best book I had ever read. That was in 1977. My son is a student at Virginia Tech and I gave him that book when he took linear algebra his freshman year. I still see Gil at math meetings. I had the amazing opportunity to work with David and Gregory Chudnovsky at Marcel Dekker on A. D. Sakharov: Collected Scientific Works (1982). During the time we were working on the book, Sakharov was kept tight under Soviet police surveillance and all correspondence had to be smuggled in and out. All of his notes were handwritten. This was probably the most exciting of my projects. One more that I have to mention from this era is The Shape of Space by Jeffrey Weeks. I signed this book when he was a PhD student at Princeton University. This in itself was pretty unusual but this was also the first popular math title that I signed. I recently met up with Jeff again when he was attending a seminar at Princeton. One project that really stands out from SIAM is Matrix Analysis and Applied Linear Algebra by Carl Meyer (2000). This was the first undergraduate textbook that SIAM published and we added all the whistles and bells we could think of. We also included a really neat CD with all kinds of fun math facts and history about the folks mentioned in the book. I have since published another book with Carl and we are working on a third. The book at PUP that is extra special for me is Steve Strogatz’s The Calculus of Friendship: What a Teacher and a Student Learned about Life while Corresponding about Math. This is a wonderful heartwarming story (which also teaches a lot of math) and Steve’s teacher reminds me so much of my high school teacher, Elsie Nunn. This is the only math book that has ever made me cry. Although I have mentioned a few books that stand out I must say that each time I get a message that one of my books has come in, I race to my mailbox to see it. Taking an idea to a pile of papers and then a bound book is an amazing process. It takes the cooperation of so many people. Being an editor is a bit like a bartender or therapist. You need to be a good listener at times, a cheerleader at others, and always a compassionate friend. So many things can happen over the course of writing and publishing a book. I look back over the past three decades and am so happy to say that I have hundreds of friends–most of them mathematicians.

What makes mathematics publishing different from other subject areas?

In short–equations. When determining how big a book will be, compositors want to know how many words there are. I still don’t know how to count equations as words. We now work with final book pages which is much easier to calculate. In many disciplines, academics need to publish books to get tenure. In math (and many of the other sciences) academics need to publish papers; books do not add to their vita. My colleagues in the humanities and social sciences get numerous manuscripts submitted to them each year. I learn of new book projects through networking with mathematicians in academia and industry.

A surprising fact is that some of PUP’s best-selling books are math books. What is your take on popular math? Is this a trend that will continue to grow?

I believe that the attitude toward math is changing. Many people still “hate” it or find it “really hard.” I agree that much of the math in the books we publish at PUP is way beyond my understanding but everyone can learn math and appreciate it at some level. That is what our popular math books are all about. They are about finding out really neat facts and how things work. We want people to see the connections to other areas such as biology and economics. We want them to understand the history of math and how it was developed. And, we want them to understand how mathematicians work and what they do when they are not doing math. I have known mathematicians who are wonderful painters and singers. I know one who used to drop the starting flag at the Indianapolis 500. Another I know is an accomplished break dancer. One used to play for the Boston Red Sox until he was injured. Math was his backup plan. We get terrific reviews of the popular math books. Two quotes that stand out for me are the following. One reviewer stated that if he had to be stranded on a deserted island, he would want to have a book by Paul Nahin with him. One reader of Fearless Symmetry by Avner Ash and Robert Gross said it was like climbing a mountain. You might not get all the way to the top but the view was just as good. We get lots of fan mail about the popular math books, from kids as young as middle school. My hope is that everyone who is a math hater will pick up a popular math book and give it a try.

The Calculus Lifesaver by Adrian Banner is a monumental mathematics course book. What is the story behind it?

Adrian Banner developed a study course for non-math majors who were struggling with calculus. At first, only a few students showed up but it wasn’t long before the lecture hall was packed, especially right before tests. He developed notes as he taught the course. After I badgered him for a few years, he polished them and even did all the typesetting. The book is written for 18-year-old students and includes examples that are fun for them to work through. Adrian wrote it so that the students would understand the process and not learn just how to get the right answer. The book has its own MySpace and Facebook page. Adrian gets a lot of fan mail from students who profess that his book “Saved my life!”. We taped all of the lectures which are available for free. They have had more than 60 million downloads. The interesting thing is that although this book was written just as a study guide, and not a textbook, schools are starting to adopt it because students can really learn from it. It also costs only $25.00.

What are some of the most outstanding PUP mathematics series, and why? What plans do you have for these series?

The cornerstone of our mathematics program is the Annals of Mathematics Studies book series. It was started in 1940 and includes books by John Tukey, Hermann Weyl, Paul Halmos, Alonzo Church, John von Neumann, John Milnor and many other outstanding mathematicians. I sometimes look at my bookshelf and am amazed at all of those great books in one place. We publish about 4 books each year in this series. The books are rigorously refereed even though the authors are at the top of their careers. We plan to continue this series. In the past 10 years we have added an applied math monographs series and are also publishing undergraduate and graduate level textbooks.

Are there any authors or academics who haven’t worked with PUP before that you’re dying to work with?

This is an interesting question. Of course I would love to work with anyone who has won a Fields Medal or the Abel Prize. These are people who have amazing mathematical minds and who will take mathematics to the next highest level. Then there are those dedicated teachers who are able to bring out the best in their students, who may one day be Fields Medalists themselves. Most often it is these teachers who write our popular math books and our textbooks which are so important to exciting young people. I would love to work with more women authors. When I started as a math editor in 1977 I never had to describe myself before a meeting because there were so few women. That has really changed but we still need more women mathematicians and authors.

PGS Behind the Scenes: Ingrid Gnerlich, senior editor in physical sciences

Physics and Princeton University Press go together like PB&J. The Press has the distinct honor of being the publisher for Albert Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity and we co-sponsor and publish The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. We’ve also published The Nature of Space and Time by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos by Robert P. Kirshner, Our Cosmic Habitat by Martin Rees, Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell by A. Zee, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P. Feynman.

These books form the backbone of the Press’s early and continuing publishing program in the physical sciences. It must be a daunting task to discover and publish titles that can stand toe-to-toe with these giants, yet Ingrid Gnerlich, Senior Editor for physical sciences, does just this. Ingrid acquires books in physics, astronomy, climatology and oversees multiple book series.  Recently, she took time out to answer a few questions about the challenges she faces in science editing and to share her thoughts on a few recent and forthcoming titles.

What is your background? Have you been interested in the sciences since childhood? What brought you into science publishing?

I grew up a house in which science and art were discussed equally. My parents – a professor of electrical engineering and a professor of art – raised me and my brother to feel completely at home in an environment in which C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” intermingled easily. Though my primary interests in growing up happened to be more humanistic in slant, while my brother’s were more scientific, I never felt excluded from discussions about scientific topics at home. As a result, I always felt entitled to understanding, whether the discussion had to do with the promise of fusion energy or the interpretation of a piece of music.

As I grew older, I found that my home environment wasn’t exactly representative of the wider world. Even very smart people allow themselves to be herded (or relegate themselves to) one or another side of Snow’s cultural divide, and blind and deafen themselves to the wonders around them, because they have been led to believe that science is too hard for them to understand or that, incredibly, it’s boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the inimitable Feynman once put it, “It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?”

Frankly, I prefer to discover my own tastes and limits, rather than have them put upon me by others. I like to explore new ideas, regardless of disciplinary or “cultural” boundaries. I think that other people generally agree that intellectual curiosity should be fostered and creative freedom is a joy. But, given a healthy dose of curiosity and a sense of intellectual freedom, where does one turn? The written word, of course: books, journals, newspapers, and the like. That said, there are gatekeepers to the forms in which high-quality information is packaged. Those gatekeepers have traditionally been reputable publishers.

Publishers help authors bring information to curious people, providing them with sound and interesting answers to their questions. Subsequently, I’ve always thought that publishers do some real good in the world. And I liked the thought of being involved in that industry somehow – preferably by working with authors to help them communicate and bring to market their best new ideas and scholarship. Doing just that is essentially what being an acquisitions or commissioning editor is all about. Also, I understood that being an editor is a service, a contribution to a larger mission to foster curiosity and intellectual free-range. One book at a time, I thought, perhaps I could help to bridge Snow’s unnecessary divide and eventually see it eliminated altogether. This idea had, and still has, great appeal to me. So, I started on the path to become an acquisitions editor in science.

What got you interested in publishing – and acquisitions, in particular – in the first place? When and why did you become a science editor?

Regarding my interest in publishing, I suppose I’ve always been attracted to the publishing industry, because I’ve always been interested in new ideas, good writing, and in the books that contain them. The prospect of discussing brand new book ideas with prospective authors and helping to generate new books as a commissioning editor struck me as intriguing from the first, and I’ve found the reality of acquiring and encouraging new books into the bright light of day to be very satisfying. It is creative and self-effacing work by turns. I think of my work as a service that I do to facilitate scholarship and the dissemination of knowledge and to encourage education… Not a bad way to spend one’s day.

Concerning the appeal of science publishing in particular, I became a science editor, largely because I find science fascinating. The ongoing discovery of how our universe works is naturally a captivating subject – for anyone, whether you are someone without higher education or if you are a professor at an ivy-league institution. Starting from there (i.e., the natural appeal of science as a subject of curiosity), I also became a science editor, because I believe in the value of communicating the best science to anyone who is interested in learning. My job is to make the best scholarship and most exciting ideas in this discipline accessible to readers at every level – from professors to students to the general public – and that gives me a sense of satisfaction that is, I think, not so easy to find in one’s daily work. I feel that, by bringing big ideas and great scholarship to a wide readership, my day’s work has a purpose. And that is why I’ve worked in science publishing for over a decade.

How do you personally acquire books in the physical sciences?

Commissioning new books is a job for determined optimists. At all times, I keep a running list in mind of the books I want to publish each year and the authors I want to write them. Then, with this list revolving through my mind, I go out and try to acquire those books. In essence, that means going straight to the author to pitch the idea and to discover whether the time is right for my author-of-choice to write the book I have in mind – or if a different idea may be a more natural or interesting choice. My efforts are interspersed with proposals that come to me directly from authors and from agents. I also sit down with many scholars and writers throughout the year to get to know their interests and personalities better, to hear where their research is going, and to find out which areas they think would make exciting topics for books in various genres. I often sign new books under “advance contracts,” and then work with the authors to encourage their books to completion (in a timely fashion, of course!). When the complete manuscripts come in-house, they are rigorously reviewed by expert readers in the field, and I coordinate that process. If the books are “trade” titles, I usually work closely with the authors to make sure that their manuscripts are as accessible as possible for the desired audience of lay readers. If the books are textbooks or professional books, they need a different sort of attention, having more to do with packaging and positioning concerns in context of existing competition on the market. I also then oversee the progress of the book through production and then out into the wide world as a beautifully designed and produced, finished book.

What are some of the biggest challenges of publishing books in the physical sciences?

Science is a journal-driven culture. Book writing is not necessarily encouraged, particularly if you are an nontenured academic, and many highly regarded scholars could easily go through their entire, illustrious careers without ever writing a book. Therefore, the decision to take time away from paper-writing to go through the process of writing a book is a very personal one. The motivation to write a book is usually either to do a service to one’s community (via a textbook or synthetic monograph) or to make a statement to a larger community (by way of a book for a general audience). If the motivation is there, I can provide feedback regarding a potential market niche and advice on how best to write, produce, and bring to market a book that will fill that niche. But, the biggest initial challenge is to match the right author with the right project at the right time. In that sense, publishing in the sciences is a lot like matchmaking… It can take time, persistence, and a lot of optimism. However, when you finally do make a good match, it’s a very happy day.

You are currently working on a few new book series. Can you briefly describe them?

The various book series on my list are generally organized by genre. For example, we have a series of core, advanced undergraduate- and graduate-level textbooks in physics, which are housed in the In a Nutshell series. We also have a series of sophisticated popular-level books, which we publish in consultation with an advisory board of National Academy of Sciences members, entitled the Science Essentials series. Also, for a broad audience of general and professional readers, we have the Princeton Science Library series, which includes the likes of Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity, Feynman’s QED, and Hawking & Penrose’s The Nature of Space and Time. Other series include the prestigious Princeton Series in Astrophysics and the new Princeton Series in Modern Observational Astronomy, which include textbooks and monographs in astrophysics and astronomy. I also publish many books independently of these series, of course.

Recently, I’ve been working to grow two new book series, in an effort to expand the genre mix in which we publish and to explore an intermediate, and (I believe) underserved readership – inquisitive undergraduate science majors and scientists who are interested in fields other than their own. The first series we’ve just started is called the Princeton Frontiers in Physics series. The books in this series identify the key questions that are moving the frontiers of the physical sciences forward and describe where we are in our search for the answers. The title questions range widely – from topics in astrophysics to condensed matter – but all are housed under the grand umbrella of physics research. The books are all short, are published in affordable paperback editions, and only require “conversational fluency” with college-level calculus – no disciplinary specialization.

Another similar series we’re working on here is called the Princeton Primers in Climate series. This series is meant to include short, authoritative books on fundamental topics in climate. Each primer, authored by an expert in the field, will focus on a particular facet of the climate system, explaining how the topic of focus fits into our overall understanding of the climate system, as well as contemporary and future climate change. Again, calculus is used, but the prose is conversational in tone, and all discipline-specific terms and concepts are clearly defined and explained. Suggestions for further reading and reference are also offered in every book.

Since we mean each series to include very short, affordable, fairly introductory-level books that can be read in a few sittings, the challenge for each author is to present the core ideas at the heart of his or her respective field both within a short space and in a forward-thinking manner. It’s our hope that these sorts of short books will work as ideal “jumping-off points” for physical sciences students, and that they will encourage wide-ranging intellectual curiosity and guide the pursuit of further reading, study, and research on topics that these students might not have investigated otherwise. We also hope that the books will give professional and academic readers coming from any scientific background the opportunity to quickly gain a more sophisticated knowledge of the core ideas and the state-of-the-art of frontier areas of research, directly from the top people actively moving those areas forward. We believe that this set of readers is hard-pressed to find this kind of information in one place for an affordable price in a format that is a pleasure to read.

As I’ve said above, I think that smart, curious people should be able to explore beyond disciplinary boundaries and to learn about the best new ideas and exciting research directly from active researchers, without having to turn first to specialized journal literature or textbooks. So, by seeking out and publishing these types of fun-to-read, but quantitatively sophisticated books, I seriously hope to foster students’ and even established scholars’ intellectual curiosity in productive and exciting ways.

Tell us about a few of your most interesting acquisitions.

I’m very excited about a recent hit, Steve Gubser’s The Little Book of String Theory, which is a great, pocket-sized introduction to the esoteric world of strings, branes, and extra dimensions. Written by a young and dynamic string theorist here at Princeton, it’s a fun book – accessible, but also rich with science, and mind-bending in the best possible way. I also really enjoyed working on James Kasting’s How to Find a Habitable Planet, which is a sophisticated and lucid account of the vibrant, ongoing search for extrasolar habitable worlds. Kasting’s broad, deep perspective shines out from every word of this book.

Of the new books that are due to come in-house soon and that I’m very keen to be publishing, a few spring to mind in particular. One is a popular-level book that will explore two mysterious components of our universe, dark matter and dark energy. This book is being written by Jeremiah Ostriker, the renowned Princeton astrophysicist and cosmologist, and his co-author, Simon Mitton. Another is a book on the controversial topic of geoengineering by Oliver Morton, The Economist‘s Energy and Environment Editor. Yet another is a book about how the internet and online tools are changing the art of scientific discovery, by Michael Nielsen, a writer, innovator, and one of the pioneers of quantum computation. I also am looking forward to publishing many other books, of course – too numerous to mention here – but this should give you a sense for just a few of the exciting titles that are coming along very soon. Stay tuned!

PGS Behind The Scenes: Alison Kalett, editor of biological and earth sciences

Princeton University Press has always published important biology and earth sciences titles, but it was only recently that we expanded the acquisitions department to include an editor devoted to these subject areas. Alison Kalett joined the Press about three years ago (though she was here once before as you’ll learn in this Q&A) and since then has done a stellar job of pursuing and publishing books for general readers (see Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy) and course use (Stan Braude and Bobbi Low’s An Introduction to Methods and Models in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology). Recently, we had a chance to ask Alison about her plans for these growing fields.


What got you interested in publishing, and in science publishing specifically?

I’ve been in publishing for seven years, almost all of it at PUP. I graduated from Davidson College, a liberal arts college in North Carolina, with a B.A. in history. I decided against pursuing a PhD, but was interested in staying in the world of ideas, so to speak. Ultimately, I realized that scholarly publishing was a great way to remain immersed in important and relevant scholarship. As for science, I started my career as assistant to Vickie Kearn, the PUP math editor. After that, I was a history editor for two years, but was increasingly drawn to science publishing, and specifically biology and earth science, because of the fascinating work happening on those fields, from evo-devo to climate science. It was also great that PUP already had a strong history of publishing important books in these fields.

What are the biggest areas of growth in both biology and earth sciences at PUP, and what are your plans for these lists?

I’m growing the biology and earth science list both in terms of subfields in which we publish, as well as the types of books we publish. For example, on the biology list we are publishing more textbooks. Recently we published Stan Braude and Bobbi Low’s An Introduction to Methods and Models in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology and next season we’re publishing John Kricher’s Tropical Ecology, a hugely needed textbook that also complements our strong list in ecology generally. In addition to broadening the type of books we publish, I’m also pushing into new subfields, ones that are exciting in their own right and also complement our core strengths in ecology and evolutionary biology as well as other PUP lists such as earth science, cognitive science, mathematics, and behavioral economics. For example, I’ll be publishing more books in behavioral biology, global change biology, and mathematical biology. The same can be said for the earth science list. In addition to our great popular science titles, we are publishing more textbooks and primers, most notably the Princeton Primers in Climate series discussed below.

How important is the acquisition of textbooks to your publishing program? What are the challenges you face in publishing useful textbooks—is there a lot of competition? Are these courses widespread in higher education?

Textbooks are a very important part of my publishing program, in both biology and earth science. Textbooks complement the more specialized monographs we publish and can play an important role in shaping a field intellectually and how it is taught for years to come. To give one example, in a year or so we’ll be publishing a groundbreaking textbook called Introduction to Mathematical Biology by Lou Gross, Suzanne Lenhardt, and Erin Bodine. There are some great textbook publishers out there and because writing a textbook can be a time consuming and challenging experience it’s often difficult to find authors who are interested in writing a textbook, and who are also good teachers and well known in their fields. The growth of e-publishing will also present some new challenges for textbook publishing. What makes the PUP textbook program unique, I think, is that I look for texts (mostly at the advanced undergraduate level) that fit the overall intellectual strengths of the lists and also help propel a field forward in addition to slotting into courses.

Are there any books in the works now that you’re especially excited about? Why?

Too many to mention here! For the sake of space, I’ll mention just a few and since I’ve mostly discussed textbooks and monographs up to now and I’ll speak to popular science books in the works. There’s Tom Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy, a book that not only tells a great story about honeybees but has something important to say about social behavior and how groups can work together effectively. Also coming shortly, there’s Louise Barrett’s , Not by Brains Alone: The Body, The Environment, and the Evolution of Cognition, which counters a lot of accepted wisdom on the role of the brain in cognition and behavior. I’m excited about these books because they make fascinating, cutting edge science accessible to a broad audience.

What series are you working on, and why are these important to science publishing?

Both the biology and earth science list have several key series, some well-established and others recently launched. We’re perhaps best known for our monographs in population biology series, which has published some landmark books in ecology and evolutionary biology. There’s also our new Primers in Complex Systems series which is a joint enterprise between the science and social science editors, as well as the Santa Fe Institute. The first book in that series, Deborah Gordon’s Ant Encounters, was recently published. One of our most important new series is the Princeton Primers in Climate series. The goal of this series is to publish short books on key topics in climate science written by the field’s leading scholars. I think this series will fill an important niche in science publishing because there’s a dearth of books for students and non-specialists who want to know something about this increasingly important field, but want a book more in depth than a popular book but not quite as detailed as the IPCC report or the primary literature.

What are some iconic PUP biology and earth science books?

Some of our most important books include Robert MacArthur and E.O Wilson’s The Theory of Island Biogeography, John Tyler Bonner’s Cellular Slime Molds, Peter Grant’s Ecology and Evolution of Darwin’s Finches, Stability and Complexity in Model Ecosystems by Robert May, and Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s The History and Geography of Human Genes. More recently, there’s Peter and Rosemary Grant’s How and Why Species Multiply: The Evolution of Darwin’s Finches, Andrew Knoll’s Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth, T- Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez, and Theoretical Global Seismology by F.A. Dahlen and Jeroen Tromp. It’s always wonderful to walk into a professor’s office and see some of these iconic books on their shelves.

PGS Behind the Scenes: Eric Schwartz cognitive science editor

Princeton Global Science endeavors to bring all of the various scientific fields of our publishing program together under a single umbrella. We couldn’t do this without including the new(ish) cognitive science list spearheaded by Eric Schwartz.

Eric performs double duty at the press as both cognitive science editor and sociology editor. Here he answers some questions about his plans for the cognitive science list.

What is your background?

I’m the sociology and cognitive science editor, so I’m really an honorary member of our science group, but it’s an honor I’m proud to have, and it speaks to the interdisciplinary way that we work here at Princeton. In 2007 I completed a PhD in political science at the New School for Social Research, having written a dissertation on the economist Albert Hirschman’s classic book The Passions and the Interests (Princeton, 1977) on the intellectual origins of capitalism and its relationship to Enlightenment beliefs about reason and emotion. Though our understanding of human nature has obviously developed since the eighteenth century, we are in many ways asking the very same questions. To that end, I wonder what Adam Smith would have done with an fMRI scanner?

What are you plans for the cognitive science program?

Our cognitive science publishing program at Princeton began with my arrival in mid-2008. We published our first discipline catalog in 2010 and beginning in 2012, we plan to exhibit the list yearly at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. We’ve made big strides in a short amount of time. As indicative of our 2010 catalog, cognitive science at Princeton University Press is a broad, well-rounded collection of psychology and neuroscience, philosophy, biology, and social science. There are fruitful connections to be made between fields that are perceived as divergent, such as organizational sociology and animal behavior or cognitive neuroscience and complexity theory or philosophy of mind and cultural anthropology. My hope is that our cognitive science program will be perceived as a catalyst in bringing researchers and readers together in our continued quest to understand mind, brain, and behavior.

What makes for an exemplary cognitive science book?

Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field that brings together researchers from the three academic cultures – humanities, social science, and science. The ideal cognitive science book draws on research from all three, providing us with a clearer understanding of the relationship between the brain, the mind, individual human behavior, social interaction, and social institutions. I find the most engaging books in cognitive science to be ones where an author self-consciously speaks beyond his or her specialized research to explain an aspect of behavior or answer a specific question or problem, and in the process, influencing research in adjacent fields. Here are a few recent examples:

• In Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite Robert Kurzban, an evolutionary psychologist, provides an insightful, humorous account of human behavioral inconsistencies.

Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel explain why ethical decisions are so difficult to make in their forthcoming book Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do About It.

Tom Tyler’s Why People Cooperate and Paul Thagard’s The Brain and the Meaning of Life address the subjects raised in their simple yet evocative titles.

PGS Behind the Scenes: Anne Savarese, Executive Editor reference

When we began planning for Princeton Global Science, the focus was very much on the output of our science and math editors — Alison Kalett, Ingrid Gnerlich, Robert Kirk, Eric Schwartz, and Vickie Kearn. Yet, one of our most successful mathematics books in recent memory, The Princeton Companion to Mathematics edited by Timothy Gowers, was actually published by our executive editor in reference, Anne Savarese. Anne also worked with Simon Levin on The Princeton Guide to Ecology and has numerous other science- and math-minded projects in the pipeline.

Reference publishing is, in and of itself, a challenging prospect. There is tremendous competition for books and sales, the books are often logistical nightmares that involve many moving parts, and don’t even get started on pricing and e-content issues! Yet, Anne has done an admirable job of guiding Princeton University Press through the early days of this program and has done something even more remarkable — created reference books that are quintessentially Princeton. I spoke with Anne recently about the reference program and what’s next.

What is your background in publishing?

After graduating from Smith College I completed the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course (now the Columbia Publishing Course), then moved to New York. I worked at St. Martin’s Press for eleven years, working on a broad range of trade books. I then moved into reference publishing, first at Facts On File, then at Oxford University Press, and now at PUP.

Many of your books are and will be included in Princeton Global Science, but do you consider yourself a science editor?

I’m not a science editor per se: I acquire reference projects in a range of disciplines. Our reference works are intended to complement the strengths of the Press, and science is a particularly strong area for us.

As reference editor, you have the unique responsibility of acquiring reference books for the press as a whole. How is acquiring for the science programs different from PUP’s other subject areas? Are these books hard to acquire since science is always changing and progressing?

I try to acquire reference works that we can publish in a single volume so that individuals as well as libraries can buy and use them. Unlike journal articles, which focus on presenting the latest research, good reference books synthesize scholarship for a broad audience of students and scholars; they tell us not only what is important to know but also why it is important. We expect to update and revise reference works periodically, but we also make sure that the content is designed and presented in a way that will not date too quickly.

What are some of PUP’s most influential science reference acquisitions? Why?

Reference is still a relatively new area for the Press, but The Princeton Companion to Mathematics has been a great success–in large part because the volume editor, Timothy Gowers, is a major presence in the field and also a dedicated, hands-on editor. He had a clear vision for this book from the beginning: he attracted an outstanding roster of contributors and worked closely with them to make the book unusually coherent and accessible. The book appeals to a core audience of math students and scholars, as we expected, but its reach has been much broader, attracting interest from social scientists and others who use math in their own fields or professions.

You also recently published Simon Levin’s Princeton Guide to Ecology. What distinguishes these books as distinctly Princeton, and what qualities do you look for in your potential acquisitions?

Our reference works are accessible, authoritative, and selective: they aim to provide a depth and quality of analysis that readers cannot easily find elsewhere, and also point readers toward further research. We look for our volume editors among scholars who are leaders in their fields. Simon Levin happens to be a professor at Princeton, but he deliberately chose a team of editors and contributors from universities and research institutions all over the world. I work closely with my colleagues who acquire in math, physics, biology, Earth science, and cognitive science to make sure the reference works I develop in those fields complement their plans for these programs. We all share ideas for reference works and potential authors and editors.

What Princeton science reference books do we have to look forward to in the coming seasons?

Work is just beginning on three major new reference works in the sciences: The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics, to be edited by Nicholas Higham; The Princeton Guide to Evolution, to be edited by Jonathan Losos; and The Princeton Companion to Cognitive Science, to be edited by Howard Nusbaum. These will be important additions to the list: they will take time to develop, but ultimately they will provide a wealth of useful information and analysis for our readers.

UCLA Today features Bill Roy, author of Reds, Whites, and Blues

Over at UCLA Today they are featuring the work of one of their own — Bill Roy, author of Reds, Whites, and Blues: Social Movements, Folk Music, and Race in the United States. If you click through, you will be able to listen to exclusive music from their archives and view some archival material.

Here a quick sampling from the interview that captures the early days and looks to the future:

UCLA Today: What was the first progressive cause in America to use what you’d consider to be folk music?

Roy: That was probably the American Revolution with “Yankee Doodle” and other songs spread by revolutionary soldiers. But the abolitionists were the first to use music that was embraced as authentic and moving because it came from common people. Abolitionists would bring slaves up from the South and have them sing spirituals at big meetings in the North. Many northerners had never met African Americans. Abolitionists were trying to vividly demonstrate the humanity of slaves, who had been compared to animals in the race-baiting imagery of the day.

These concerts featured such classics as “I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” But even though slaves had sung these songs in church, in the fields and in their homes, the abolitionists didn’t call them “folk music.” That recognition didn’t come until later.

UCLA Today: What is the prognosis today for folk music and social movements?

Roy: Folk music today is just a niche market that has a handful of followers — mostly singer- songwriters. The music contains a fairly mild critique of modern life and a certain amount of nostalgia about how life was before cities, big industry and big corporations, but it’s pretty tame. Music plays a different role now that’s much less powerful. I don’t see that there’s much potential to return to anything like the civil rights movement. One reason is we no longer grow up singing together. We grow up with Ipods.

Create Dangerously receives a starred review in Publishers Weekly

Here is the review from Publishers Weekly in which they call Create Dangerously a “lean collection of jaw-breaking horrors side by side with luminous insights.” They also note that “in Danticat’s many remarkable stories and pensées from the gut, one locates the inimitable power of truth. Authorship becomes an act of subversion when one’s words might be read and acted on by someone risking his or her life if only to read them.”

And as if this praise wasn’t high enough, Create Dangerously is also listed here as a sleeper hits for 2010.