Archives for April 2012

This Week’s Book Giveaway

This week’s book giveaway is for our loyal fans on our Princeton Birds and Natural History Facebook page. One lucky winner will receive a copy of Parrots of the World by Joseph M. Forshaw.

From the macaws of South America to the cockatoos of Australia, parrots are among the most beautiful and exotic birds in the world—and also among the most endangered. This stunningly illustrated, easy-to-use field guide covers all 356 species and well-differentiated subspecies of parrots, and is the only guide organized by geographical distribution—Australasian, Afro-Asian, and neotropical. It features 146 superb color plates depicting every kind of parrot, as well as detailed, facing-page species accounts that describe key identification features, distribution, subspeciation, habitat, and status. Color distribution maps show ranges of all subspecies, and field identification is further aided by relevant upperside and underside flight images. This premier field guide also shows where to observe each species in the wild, helping make this the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to the parrots of the world.

-The only parrot guide to focus on geographical distribution

-Covers all 356 species

-Features 146 color plates depicting all species and well-differentiated subspecies

-Provides detailed facing-page species accounts that describe key identification features, distribution, subspeciation, habitat, and status

-Includes color distribution maps

-Shows where to observe each species in the wild

“Provides an interesting look into the diversity of one of the most well-known families of birds and also some of the most rare and beautiful species on the planet.”—

“This guide is a must-have for any parrot lover or bird enthusiast.”—Eva Matthews, Flying Mullet

The random draw for this book with be Friday 4/27 at 3 pm EST. Be sure to like our Princeton Birds and Natural History Facebook page if you haven’t already to be entered to win!

Paul Seabright, author of The War of the Sexes, will be in the UK in May

Paul Seabright, whose book ‘The War of the Sexes’ is published on 10 May, will be in the UK on 14th and 15th May.  He will be talking at the Bristol Festival of Ideas on 14 May and at the RSA on 15 May.  Please follow links to sign up for either of these events or contact Caroline Priday
for further information regarding his trip.

Michael Ross interviews

Michael Ross, author of the recently published ‘The Oil Curse’ visited the UK in March and recorded a Guardian video and a podcast with VoxEU. Please follow the links to listen to either of these.

Check your References — Democracy as a National Value

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

Alexander Keyssar examines how the right to vote became a reality for every American in this fascinating article. He demonstrates that what we take for granted was hard-earned and fought for and may still need protection.

The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was a major milestone in the history of the right to vote. Yet significant barriers to universal suffrage remained in place, and they were not shaken by either the prosperity of the 1920s or the Great Depression of the 1930s. African Americans in the South remained disfranchised, many immigrants still had to pass literacy tests, and some recipients of relief in the 1930s were threatened with exclusion because they were “paupers.” Pressures for change, however, began to build during World War II, and they intensified in the 1950s and 1960s. The result was the most sweeping transformation in voting rights in the nation’s history: almost all remaining limitations on the franchise were eliminated as the federal government overrode the long tradition of states’ rights and became the guarantor of universal suffrage. Although focused initially on African Americans in the South, the movement for change spread rapidly, touching all regions of the nation.

Not surprisingly, such a major set of changes had multiple sources.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century:

Conflict over the exercise of the right to vote could still be found in the United States more than 200 years after the nation’s founding. Indeed, the disputed presidential election of 2000, between Al Gore and George W. Bush, revolved in part around yet another dimension of the right to vote— the right to have one’s vote counted, and counted accurately. Perhaps inescapably, the breadth of the franchise, as well as the ease with which it could be exercised, remained embedded in partisan politics, in the pursuit of power in the world’s most powerful nation. The outcomes of elections mattered, and those outcomes often were determined not just by how people voted but also by who voted. The long historical record suggested that— however much progress had been achieved between 1787 and 2008— there would be no final settlement of this issue. The voting rights of at least some Americans could always be potentially threatened and consequently would always be in need of protection.

Read the complete article here:


The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

How Mathematical Models Make Sense of Big Data

Tim Chartier, co-author with Anne Greenbaum of Numerical Methods: Design, Analysis, and Computer Implementation of Algorithms, explains how to make sense of big data with numerical analysis.


You submit a query to Google or watch football bowl games as we enter a new year. In either case, you benefit from mathematical methods that can garner meaningful information from large amounts of data. Such techniques fall in the field of data mining.

Massive datasets are available with every passing minute in our world. For example, during the Oscars in February, the Cirque du Soleil performance resulted in 18,718 tweets in one minute according to TweetReachBlog. While tweets cannot exceed 140 characters in length, their average length is 81.9 characters according to MediaFuturist. So, in one minute, approximately 1.5 million characters zoomed through Twitter. From Wikipedia, we’ll take the average length of a word (in English) to be 5.1 characters. Assuming these Oscar tweets are written in English and conform to the standard length of words, 300,000 words were tweeted in one minute. This is approximately the number of words contained in the entire Hunger Games Trilogy!

Mathematical models and numerical analysis play important roles in data mining. For example, a foundational part of Google’s search engine algorithm is a method called PageRank. In Anne Greenbaum and my book, Numerical Methods: Design, Analysis, and Computer Implementation of Algorithms, published by Princeton University Press, we discuss the PageRank method– both its underlying mathematical model and how it is computed on a computer.

In an exercise in the text, you can develop a system of linear equations in a manner similar to that used by the Bowl Championship Series to rank college football teams (editor – or college basketball teams for March Madness). An important part of this problem is developing the linear system. Our text also discusses the computation challenges of such problems and what numerical methods result in the most accurate results.

Many techniques utilized to solve the large linear systems of data mining are also utilized in engineering and science. The book discusses how large linear systems (containing millions of rows) can derive from problems involving partial differential equations. Again, the book analyzes the efficiency and accuracy of the methods utilized to solve such systems. Such techniques led to the computed animated figures we enjoy in modern movies and aid in simulating the aerodynamics of a car created with computer-aided design.

As stated at the opening of Chapter 1 of the text, “Numerical methods play an important role in modern science. Scientific exploration is often conducted on computers rather than laboratory equipment. While it is rarely meant to completely replace work in the scientific laboratory, computer simulation often complements this work.” As such modern science demands the use and understanding of numerical methods.




Amy Gutmann on the necessity of compromise in government



Some links to explore this subject further:


In celebration of National Poetry Month, here’s a great fact from one of our latest poetry books, The Rise and Fall of Meter:

FACT: “A group of scholars under the name of the ‘Philological Society’ met in London in 1830 with the aim of combining the old classical philology with the new comparative philology. By 1842, Edwin Guest founded the English Philological Society, whose published intentions were to ‘investigate the Philological Illustration of the Classical Writers of Greece and Rome; and to investigate the ‘Structure, Affinities, and the History of Languages’ both in England and in other countries. This is, of course, the society that eventually created the New English Dictionary (NED) and its members included, at one time or another, NED editors James Henry Murray and Richard Chevenix Trench, as well as Alexander Ellis and Henry Sweet, both late-century pioneers in the study of English phonology.”

The Rise and Fall of Meter:
Poetry and English National Culture, 1860—1930

by Meredith Martin

Why do we often teach English poetic meter by the Greek terms iamb and trochee? How is our understanding of English meter influenced by the history of England’s sense of itself in the nineteenth century? Not an old-fashioned approach to poetry, but a dynamic, contested, and inherently nontraditional field, “English meter” concerned issues of personal and national identity, class, education, patriotism, militarism, and the development of English literature as a discipline. The Rise and Fall of Meter tells the unknown story of English meter from the late eighteenth century until just after World War I. Uncovering a vast and unexplored archive in the history of poetics, Meredith Martin shows that the history of prosody is tied to the ways Victorian England argued about its national identity. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Coventry Patmore, and Robert Bridges used meter to negotiate their relationship to England and the English language; George Saintsbury, Matthew Arnold, and Henry Newbolt worried about the rise of one metrical model among multiple competitors. The pressure to conform to a stable model, however, produced reactionary misunderstandings of English meter and the culture it stood for. This unstable relationship to poetic form influenced the prose and poems of Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and Alice Meynell. A significant intervention in literary history, this book argues that our contemporary understanding of the rise of modernist poetic form was crucially bound to narratives of English national culture.

“This innovative book changes the prosodic landscape of modernism and Victorianism—it shows that rather than constituting a dramatic break with outworn Victorian metrics, modernist experiment is continuous with Victorian experiment. From Hopkins to Owen, and Bridges to Pound, this book’s vital and many-sided topics stretch across World War I and come alive through meticulous writing.”—Isobel Armstrong, University of London

We invite you to read the Introduction here:

John Tomasi in the UK


John Tomasi, author of the recently published Free Market Fairness, will be in London for the week of 30 April. He will be talking at the Legatum Institute on 1 May, IPPR on 2 May, the Royal Society of Arts on 3 May, and the Adam Smith Institute on 3 May.

Please follow links for more information or to sign up for any of these events. If you have any queries about his visit please contact Julia Hall on

The Blame Game

The economy seems to be weakening, and Republicans are eager to blame Obama.  This is by-the-books political messaging: the party opposing the incumbent president should talk about the economy when its weak.  But the success of the attack, as Steve Kornacki notes, may depend on whether Obama really gets the blame for the weak economy.

To this point, more Americans have blamed George W. Bush, during whose tenure the recession and financial crisis began, than Barack Obama. This was true in a series of Gallup polls between July 2009 and September 2011.  For example, in September 2011 69% said Bush deserved “a great deal” or “a moderate amount” of blame.  Just over half (53%) said that of Obama. In a more recent poll, conducted by the Washington Post in January 2011, respondents were given the option of choosing whether Obama or Bush was “most responsible for the country’s economic problems.”  Many more chose Bush (54%) than Obama (29%).

New data from an April 14-17 YouGov poll confirms that Obama is still winning the blame game.

As the graph shows, 56% gave Bush a great deal or a lot of the blame, while only 41% gave Obama that much blame.  This 15-point gap is nearly identical to what Gallup found in September, albeit with a differently worded question and response categories.  Looked at a different way, 47% of voters blamed Bush more than Obama, 21% blamed them equally, and 32% blamed Obama more than Bush.

Naturally, Democrats and Republicans do not see eye-to-eye on the question of blame:

The vast majority of Democrats (80%) blame Bush, while large numbers of Republicans (83%) blame Obama.  The partisan bias isn’t quite symmetric, as there are more Republicans who blame Bush (24%) than Democrats who blame Obama (12%).  Pure independents, those with no leaning toward either party, tend to blame Bush more than Obama.

This tendency to blame the previous incumbent more than the current one is nothing new.  The same was true when Bush himself was president.  Early in Bush’s first term, from March through November 2001, the country also experienced a recession.  Because the recession came so early in Bush’s term, and because the economic slowdown had begun late in Clinton’s second term, there was debate about who to blame.

Two different polls — by the Washington Post in February 2002 and by Princeton Survey Research Associates in May 2003 — showed that, in fact, Clinton was blamed more than Bush.  In the Post poll, 78% of pure independents thought that the economy was “not so good” or “poor.”  Among this subset of independents with a negative view of the economy, 69% believed Clinton deserved “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of blame, but only 48% believed this of Bush.  Similarly, among the minority who thought the economy was doing well, more credited Bush than Clinton.  In the PSRA poll, 30% of independents thought Clinton deserved “most” or “a lot” of blame while 22% thought Bush did.  Even though Bush, like Obama now, was well into his first term, these voters still saw the prior president as more responsible for the country’s economic problems.

The ultimate question for Obama is: could some voters’ willingness to blame Bush more than Obama actually help him win reelection?  Here is one way to answer this question.  Take the difference between how much blame voters assign to Obama and Bush.  This serves as a measure of Obama’s blame advantage or disadvantage relative to Bush (where, as noted above, Obama has a net advantage).  Using that measure — as well as other relevant factors, including party identification, ideology, sex, race, and income — predict how much people approve of the job Obama is doing as president and whether they would vote for him and not Romney.

Then “erase” any blame advantage for either Bush or Obama, which assumes a world in each every person blamed Bush and Obama equally. What would happen in this world?  First, Obama’s job approval would decline by about 11 points.  Second, his poll standing relative to Romney’s would decline by 3 points.  Both of these declines are statistically significant and substantively important.

To be sure, this exercise is purely hypothetical. Life isn’t a laboratory, and we can’t replay Obama’s first 3 years and have voters blame him less or more than they do in reality.  Nevertheless, Obama’s lead in the blame game appears to be helping him in the horserace.

New Catalog – Fall 2012 Seasonal Announcement Catalog

The Princeton University Press sales conference wrapped up this week and you can see what the buzz is all about by checking out our new Fall 2012 seasonal announcement catalog:

PDF file:


We thank PUP authors Edward B. Burger and Peter Brown for their wonderful presentations during sales conference. You can be among the first to check out their new forthcoming books (available in September):

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking
By Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird

Through the Eye of a Needle:
Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD

By Peter Brown

The catalog is full of great books by great authors. Start browsing!

‘On Conan Doyle’ Wins Edgar Award

Princeton University Press would like to congratulate Michael Dirda on winning Best Critical Biography for On Conan Doyle  at the Edgar Awards last night.  Named for Edgar Allan Poe, the awards are presented each year by the Mystery Writers of America and honor to best mystery writers in fiction, non-fiction, youth, stage and screen.

Michael, may the bust of Poe smile upon you always.


Guesstimation #3

We have another Guesstimation special for you. As a reminder, we are posting these problems in support of Math Awareness Month which this year is celebrating Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge. One way anyone can deal with huge amounts of data is estimating — a skill that is examined and taught in much greater detail in Lawrence Weinstein and John Adam’s book, Guesstimation: Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin.

Question #3

On average, how many people are airborne over the US at any given moment?

Hint: Don’t choose 3:00 AM, choose sometime during the day.

If you like this, try your hand at the other Guesstimation problems: