Archives for September 2010

PGS History: Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces

Our current authors and books stand on the shoulders of giants and continue the important work begun in the early twentieth century. We hope you enjoy this excerpt from A Century of Books.


As a newly minted Ph.D., Paul Halmos came to the Institute for Advanced Study in 1938—even though he did not have a fellowship—to study among the many giants of mathematics who had recently joined the faculty. He eventually became John von Neumann’s research assistant, and it was one of von Neumann’s inspiring lectures that spurred Halmos to write Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces. The book brought him instant fame as an expositor of mathematics.

Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces combines algebra and geometry to discuss the three-dimensional area where vectors can be plotted. The book broke ground as the first formal introduction to linear algebra, a branch of modern mathematics that studies vectors and vector spaces. The book continues to exert its influence sixty years after publication, as linear algebra is now widely used, not only in mathematics but also in the natural and social sciences, for studying such subjects as weather problems, traffic flow, electronic circuits, and population genetics.

In 1983 Halmos received the coveted Steele Prize for exposition from the American Mathematical Society for “his many graduate texts in mathematics dealing with finite dimensional vector spaces, measure theory, ergodic theory, and Hilbert space.”


As you can tell from the distinctive orange cover, Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces is a volume from our Annals of Mathematics Studies.

PGS Dialogue: Paul Thagard, author of The Brain and the Meaning of Life

Paul Thagard is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo and author of The Brain and the Meaning of Life. In this installment of PGS Dialogue, PUP Cognitive Science Editor Eric Schwartz speaks with Thagard about how a book that was initially conceived as an assessment of current research in neuroscience shifted to tackle one of the largest philosophical questions — what is the meaning of life?


How did you arrive at your field of research?
I did my PhD in philosophy of science, focusing on the reasoning processes used by scientists in discovering and evaluating theories. Shortly after, I encountered cognitive science and realized that its ideas and methods could be used to study reasoning in science and many other domains of human thinking including law and medicine. Later, because of a student’s interest in empathy, I started to work on emotion as a cognitive process, which led me to increasing concern with the neural mechanisms that underlie human thinking. In 2006, I decided to write an accessible book that discussed the philosophical and psychological implications of current research in neuroscience, which became The Brain and the Meaning of Life.

What is the most surprising finding in your research?
Originally, I planned the book to concentrate on issues about the nature of mind and knowledge, but quickly decided that I also needed to address the fundamental question of what makes life worth living. Perhaps the most surprising finding based on psychological and neurological evidence is rejection of the popular view that pursuing happiness is the fundamental purpose of life. I argue instead that the meaning of life is love, work, and play, which serve to satisfy vital human needsfor relatedness, competence, and autonomy. Happiness can result from such pursuits, but a meaningful life does not depend on it.

Where do you see your work leading you in the future?
My next book will be called something like: Mind, Brain, and Social Change: Building Cognitive Social Science. The basic idea is to revitalize the social sciences by showing how psychological and neural processes are relevant both to explaining social change and to bringing it about.


Paul Thagard has written two other books for Princeton University Press: Conceptual Revolutions and How Scientists Explain Disease.

Thagard is a regular blogger at Psychology Today. His blog is called Hot Thought.

Did The Brain and the Meaning of Life pass the Page 99 Test? Click through to find out.

PGS Series: Princeton Field Guides

In a previous installment of this Princeton Global Science feature, Ingrid Gnerlich, Senior Editor in Physical Sciences described the series Princeton Frontiers in Physics. Here, Natural History Editor and Science Group Publisher Robert Kirk recounts the history of one of the Press’s most prolific and popular series — The Princeton Field Guides. While many think of birds when they think of this distinctive series, Robert demonstrates that we are continuing to push the envelope with books on plants, mammals, and even the occasional dinosaur.


Let’s start with a first principle. A field guide has one clear objective: to help its users successfully identify whatever is treated in the guide. Easy enough. The modern field guide has been around since the 1930s, when Roger Tory Peterson broke the mold with his North American bird books. By any measure, Peterson’s achievement is impressive. Since then, there has been a veritable explosion in the number and diversity of field guides, and it’s possible to find a book for almost any situation.

The Princeton Field Guide series comprises books across the spectrum of natural history and the natural sciences. When John Gwynne and Robert Ridgely put together A Guide to the Birds of Panama, and took it to the Press in the late 1970s, a new era in international bird guides was ushered in. For the first time, a non-First World destination received the kind of treatment formerly reserved for Europe and North America. For aspiring neotropical birders there was a guide that would really help them in the forests of Central America and beyond. The Princeton guides had arrived.

Then followed Hilty and Brown’s extraordinary A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, which some would argue is one of the greatest achievements in modern field guide publishing. A massive avifauna was, at one stroke, made accessible by this masterful work. Princeton’s reputation as a publisher of groundbreaking field guides to international destinations grew as each book hit the market. Building on this success, the Press looked to acquire excellent guides from mainly European co-publishers and titles such as Lars Jonsson’s Birds of Europe (available now in a new edition here) and Sinclair et al.’s Birds of Southern Africa came into the fold. And this was pretty much the formula until 2000.

Today, the Press still publishes the very best books to far-flung destinations. Indeed, the Princeton Field Guide series is rich in such books –The Birds of East Africa, Birds of East Asia, Birds of Borneo, to name but a few. But the Press is now producing and publishing far more home-grown guides, still with a complete and unwavering commitment to quality but with a more concentrated focus on the Americas. Birds of Peru maintains the Press’s reputation for seminal South American guides, but we have pushed well beyond solely bird guides. David Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America was a big hit (a one-and-a-half-page feature in the New York Times’ Science Times) and is one of my favorite titles in this series. Sharks of the World and Whales, Dolphins, and Other Marine Mammals of the World are perennial favorites. Of late, we have added specialist botanical titles – Seeds of Amazonian Plants and the forthcoming Trees of Panama and Costa Rica alongside more regular fare that includes family field guides such as Joe Forshaw’s Parrots of the World. And of course we have just published The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs.

And to complement books in the PFG series, we have many other guides and two discrete series – Princeton Pocket Guides and Princeton Illustrated Checklists. The three series are growing year on year and the field guide program is moving into digital with a number of Apps planned for the coming years. Watch this space!

[correction made 10/4/10 to the years Peterson’s guide became available]

John Quiggin reflects on his new book Zombie Economics

Over at Crooked Timber Zombie Economics author John Quiggin writes:

I’ve been living with the text of Zombie Economics for a long time and the cover art came out a while back. But now I finally have my hands on a physical copy of the book, and it’s surprising what a difference the real object makes. My immediate reaction was to open it with dread, sure that some terrible error would jump out at me, but that didn’t happen (no doubt the reviewers will find them, but that’s their job).

With that out of the road, I’ve been filled with irrational confidence. “Surely”, I think, “even the most jaded traveller, passing this book on the airport bookstall, will feel impelled to buy it”. No doubt, this optimistic glow won’t survive the arrival of actual sales figures, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

While some of his commentators aren’t sure his book would be stocked in an airport bookstore because he’s not “Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter,” here’s hoping Quiggin’s right!

PGS Daily Dinosaur – Datousaurus bashenesis

Today’s Daily Dinosaur, brought to you by Gregory S. Paul’s The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, gives us a look under the skin of Datousaurus bashenesis. Datousaurus means either “chieftain lizard” or “big-head lizard” (from the Malay datou, or “chieftain”; or the Chinese, da tou, “big head”; and Greek sauros/σαυρος “lizard”). Read more about this dinosaur below, or check out the other Daily Dinosaurs here.

This image is taken from The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Gregory S. Paul. It may not be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
Datousaurus bashenesis
10 m (34 ft) TL, 4.5 tonnes
FOSSIL REMAINS Partial skull and skeletons.
ANATOMICAL CHARACTERISTICS Neck moderately long. A little shoulder high.
AGE Late Jurassic, Bathonian and/or Callovian.
DISTRIBUTION AND FORMATION Central China; Xiashaximiao.
HABITAT Heavily forested.
HABITS High-level browser.
NOTES Shared its habitat with Shunosaurus and Omeisaurus.

Sneak peak at Parrots of the World by Joseph Forshaw, illustrations by Frank Knight

I am so excited to share this with you all. Our latest field guide is Parrots of the World by Joseph Forshaw, featuring illustrations by Frank Knight. About 3 years ago, we published an oversized volume, beautifully printed and presented, titled Parrots of the World: An Identification Guide. Now with this field guide, those same illustrations are once again available and in a more affordable and easy-to-use book. Here is a glimpse of what a page spread looks like (if you click on it, it should open up a larger version of the image):


The illustrations are simply amazing throughout and you couldn’t ask for a better guide than Joseph Forshaw — the text is impeccable.

I will post another sneak peak later this week. I have two page spreads in mind — African lovebirds and Pionites Parrots. More to come on this.

PGS Daily Dinosaur – Struthiomimus edmontonicus

It’s easier to believe that dinosaurs are birds’ ancestors when you see the ostrich-like Struthiomimus edmontonicus. This guy is bigger than any bird you’ve seen, though; he stands 12 feet tall and weighs almost 400 pounds! Scroll down to read more about Struthiomimus, and be sure to check out the other Daily Dinosaurs.

This image is taken from The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Gregory S. Paul. It may not be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
Struthiomimus edmontonicus
3.8 m (12 ft) TL, 170 kg (370 lb)
FOSSIL REMAINS Several complete skulls and skeletons.
ANATOMICAL CHARACTERISTICS Skull gracile. Fingers nearly equal in length, claws long, nearly straight, and delicate. Legs very long.
AGE Late Cretaceous, Early Maastrichtian.
DISTRIBUTION AND FORMATION Alberta; lower Horseshoe Canyon.
HABITAT Well-watered, forested floodplain with coastal swamps and marshes, cool winters.
NOTES Probably includes Dromicieomimus brevitertius. May be the descendent of S. altus. Main enemy juvenile Albertosaurus sarcophagus.

Ben Wildavsky’s presentation at The Ideas Economy Human Potential

This presentation was made at The Economist’s conference, The Ideas Economy, Human Potential, in New York on September 15th. As the moderator notes, Ben has literally written the book on the globalization of higher education–AKA The Great Brain Race.

Here is the discussion with Ben’s co-panelists:

For more ideas from The Economist and elsewhere — check out the great site for The Ideas Economy where you can view additional videos, plan to attend a future conference, or leave your own Big Idea on their forum.

Harvard and Princeton sitting in a tree…r.e.a.d.i.n.g

Harvard Book Store shows some love to Princeton University Press titles The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History by Jill Lepore and Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among Us by John Quiggin. Check out this display from their front window.

PGS Authors: Paul Nahin on publishing with Princeton University Press

In this video log, Paul describes his writing process and three of his eight Princeton University Press books: An Imaginary Tale: The Story of i [the square root of minus one], Dr. Euler’s Fabulous Formula: Cures Many Mathematical Ills, and Mrs. Perkins’s Electric Quilt: And Other Intriguing Stories of Mathematical Physics. He gives us the behind the scenes story of how Dr. Euler’s Fabulous Formula’s jacket was designed and the we meet then quilter of the titular Electric Quilt.

Two bits of good news about Edwidge Danticat’s appearance at the New Yorker Festival

1.) You can win tickets to see Edwidge Danticat’s panel from Time Out New York: http://www3.timeoutny.com/newyork/tonyblog/2010/09/win-tix-to-the-new-yorker-festival/

2.) And if you aren’t lucky enough to win the tickets, you’ll be pleased to know that Fora.tv will be broadcasting her panel, too: http://fora.tv/conference/new_yorker_festival_2010

For more information about the event see this earlier post.

photo credit: C 2010 Nancy Crampton

PGS Daily Dinosaur – Tyrannosaurids

Today, Daily Dinosaur presents the tyrannosaurids, the most advanced and sophisticated of the large theropods. Also probably the most memorable – one well-known member of this group is the Tyrannosaurus, who made his unforgettable (and frightening!) appearance in the Jurassic Park films. Read on about tyrannosaurids below, and check out the other Daily Dinosaurs here.

Tyrannosaurus shaded skull
This image is taken from The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Gregory S. Paul. It may not be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
Tyrannosaurids
Large to gigantic tyrannosauroids, limited to the later Late Cretaceous of North America and Asia.
ANATOMICAL CHARACTERISTICS Highly uniform… Eyes face partly forward, and some degree of stereo vision possible… Reduction of tail and arms in favor of enlarged and elongated leg indicates greater speed potential than in other giant theropods… Brains larger than usual in large theropods, olfactory bulbs especially large.
ONTOGENY Growth rates moderately rapid, adult size reached in about two decades, life span normally does not exceed three decades.
HABITS Long snouts of juveniles suggest they were independent hunters… Giant adults [used] their massive heads and strong teeth to dispatch victims with powerful, deep punch-like rather than slashing wounding bites aimed with forward vision, powered by very strong jaw and neck muscles, and intended to cripple prey before it could be safely consumed. Function of arms poorly understood: they appear too short and small to be useful handling prey; may have provided grip for males while mating. Head bosses presumably for head butting during intraspecific contests.
NOTES Overall the most advanced and sophisticated of large theropods. Large numbers of hunting juveniles may have swamped their habitats, suppressing the populations of smaller theropods such as dromaeosaurids and troodontids.