HP & PUP: Slytherin’s PUP Reading List

This week we have a couple of PUP books for any prospective Hogwarts student seeking placement in the Slytherin house. These students certainly get a bad rap for being evil with alum like Draco Malfoy and Lord Voldemort- oops, I said his name! However, I think the more redeeming quality of these students is that they are fierce in their quest for power. What would a Slytherin read?

1. How to Run a Country: An Ancient Guide for Modern Leaders ed. Philip Freeman- Cicero’s ancient advice could help them climb to the top.

Marcus Cicero, Rome’s greatest statesman and orator, was elected to the Roman Republic’s highest office at a time when his beloved country was threatened by power-hungry politicians, dire economic troubles, foreign turmoil, and political parties that refused to work together. Sound familiar? Cicero’s letters, speeches, and other writings are filled with timeless wisdom and practical insight about how to solve these and other problems of leadership and politics. How to Run a Country collects the best of these writings to provide an entertaining, common sense guide for modern leaders and citizens. This brief book, a sequel to How to Win an Election, gathers Cicero’s most perceptive thoughts on topics such as leadership, corruption, the balance of power, taxes, war, immigration, and the importance of compromise. These writings have influenced great leaders–including America’s Founding Fathers–for two thousand years, and they are just as instructive today as when they were first written.

Organized by topic and featuring lively new translations, the book also includes an introduction, headnotes, a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and an appendix containing the original Latin texts. The result is an enlightening introduction to some of the most enduring political wisdom of all time.

2. Human Capitalism: How Economic Growth Has Made Us Smarter–and More Unequal by Brink Lindsey- Lindsey explains the growing class divide and how the rich get richer and the poor are trapped in a life of poorness… though the more evil Slytherins may want to keep it this way.

What explains the growing class divide between the well educated and everybody else? Noted author Brink Lindsey, a senior scholar at the Kauffman Foundation, argues that it’s because economic expansion is creating an increasingly complex world in which only a minority with the right knowledge and skills–the right “human capital”–reap the majority of the economic rewards. The complexity of today’s economy is not only making these lucky elites richer–it is also making them smarter. As the economy makes ever-greater demands on their minds, the successful are making ever-greater investments in education and other ways of increasing their human capital, expanding their cognitive skills and leading them to still higher levels of success. But unfortunately, even as the rich are securely riding this virtuous cycle, the poor are trapped in a vicious one, as a lack of human capital leads to family breakdown, unemployment, dysfunction, and further erosion of knowledge and skills. In this brief, clear, and forthright eBook original, Lindsey shows how economic growth is creating unprecedented levels of human capital–and suggests how the huge benefits of this development can be spread beyond those who are already enjoying its rewards.

3. Niccolò Machiavelli: An Intellectual Biography by Corrado Vivanti, Trans. by Simon MacMichael- This is the biography of the man behind The Prince which was about how a prince’s aims such as glory and survival can justify the immoral means to get those ends. (Okay, so maybe I think Slytherins are a bit corrupt…)

This is a colorful, comprehensive, and authoritative introduction to the life and work of the author of The Prince–Florentine statesman, writer, and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). Corrado Vivanti, who was one of the world’s leading Machiavelli scholars, provides an unparalleled intellectual biography that demonstrates the close connections between Machiavelli’s thought and his changing fortunes during the tumultuous Florentine republic and his subsequent exile. Vivanti’s concise account covers not only Machiavelli’s most famous works–The Prince, The Discourses, The Florentine Histories, and The Art of War–but also his letters, poetry, and comic dramas. While setting Machiavelli’s life against a dramatic backdrop of war, crisis, and diplomatic intrigue, the book also paints a vivid human portrait of the man.

Vivanti’s narrative breaks Machiavelli’s life into three parts: his career in a variety of government and diplomatic posts in the Florentine republic between 1494 and 1512, when the Medici returned from exile, seized power, and removed Machiavelli from office; the pivotal first part of his subsequent exile, when he formulated his most influential ideas and wrote The Prince; and the final decade of his life, when, having returned to Florence, he wrote The Art of War, The Florentine Histories, the satirical play The Mandrake, and other works. Along the way, the biography presents unmatched accounts of many intensely debated topics, including the precise nature of Machiavelli’s cultural and intellectual background, his republicanism, his political and personal relationship to the Medici, and his ideas about religion.

Keep coming back to get your reading list for your Hogwarts house!

Throwback Thursday with Isaiah Berlin: The Crooked Timber of Humanity

The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas was first published by Princeton in 1998. The new edition will be available May 2013! The title of this collection of essays comes from a quote by the philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

4-1 crooked BOTH

In these philosophical essays, Berlin discusses the links between the ideas of the past and the social and political cataclysms of our present century.

Berlin believed that mankind should be cautious of any system of thinking that pursues the ideal. Rather than utopianism, Berlin argued for pluralism. In terms of pluralism, Berlin believed that there was not necessarily one set of ideal values. Instead there could be multiple good values that could conflict with each other while still maintaining a level of equity between the values. He defined pluralism in his lecture “On the Pursuit of the Ideal” as “the conception that there are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational, fully men, capable of understanding each other and sympathizing and deriving light from each other”.

In 1988, Berlin gave an address at the award ceremony in Turin for the first Senator Giovanni Agnelli International Prize. The lecture was titled “On the Pursuit of the Ideal” and is regarded as the most clear and articulate summary of pluralism. You can read the 1988 lecture here.

Presidential Leadership and the Rise of American Power Forum in Cambridge

Today at Harvard, four of the university’s best experts on leadership will discuss presidential leadership and the rise of American power during the JFK Jr. Forum at 6 pm. The event is open to the public. Among them is Joseph Nye, author of the forthcoming book Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era. Don’t miss out on this exciting event!

The lineup for the forum:

Joseph S. Nye, Jr.: University Distinguished Service Professor; Nye, who coined the term “soft power,” is one of the nation’s most influential analysts of the nature and applications of power. A former HKS dean, Nye also has held senior roles in the Pentagon, and was chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

Graham Allison: director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government; founding dean of the modern Kennedy School; assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton Administration, and a Pentagon advisor in the Reagan Administration.  Allison has studied presidential decision-making from Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis to Obama’s decision to launch the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Nancy F. Koehn: The James E. Robison Professor of Business Administrationat Harvard Business School; Koehn  studies effective leadership, with a special focus on entrepreneurial leadership, and how leaders craft lives of purpose, worth and impact. She has written several books on leadership; her next book explores the lessons from six leaders’ journeys, including that of Abraham Lincoln.

Moderator David Gergen: Co-Director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership and HKS Professor of Public Service, has served at the right hand of four presidents from both parties; he knows how presidents exercise power. He is also a leading journalist and senior political analyst for CNN. He is the author of Eyewitness to Power: the Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton.

For more information on the event: http://forum.iop.harvard.edu/content/presidential-leadership-and-rise-american-power

Jackie Robinson Day

April 15, 1947: a great day for baseball, a better day to break down barriers. Jackie Robinson made his professional baseball debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on this day in 1947. The impact was not only prolific in terms of civil rights, but within the realm of the sports world, professional baseball gained a huge contender.

Today, Robinson’s courageous step into the national spotlight in becoming the first African American professional baseball player is celebrated through Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day. This year marks the fifth annual celebration that is recognized annually on April 15th- the day of Robinson’s major league debut. During every ball game today, all the uniformed personnel will be sporting Robinson’s iconic jersey number, 42.

Spring is in the air so naturally baseball season is in its prime. Head out to the ballpark and learn some more about what Robinson added to America’s favorite pastime!

1. Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War by George B. Kirsch

During the Civil War, Americans from homefront to battlefront played baseball as never before. While soldiers slaughtered each other over the country’s fate, players and fans struggled over the form of the national pastime. George Kirsch gives us a color commentary of the growth and transformation of baseball during the Civil War. He shows that the game was a vital part of the lives of many a soldier and civilian–and that baseball’s popularity had everything to do with surging American nationalism.

By 1860, baseball was poised to emerge as the American sport. Clubs in northeastern and a few southern cities played various forms of the game. Newspapers published statistics, and governing bodies set rules. But the Civil War years proved crucial in securing the game’s place in the American heart. Soldiers with bats in their rucksacks spread baseball to training camps, war prisons, and even front lines. As nationalist fervor heightened, baseball became patriotic. Fans honored it with the title of national pastime. War metaphors were commonplace in sports reporting, and charity games were scheduled. Decades later, Union general Abner Doubleday would be credited (wrongly) with baseball’s invention. The Civil War period also saw key developments in the sport itself, including the spread of the New York-style of play, the advent of revised pitching rules, and the growth of commercialism.

Kirsch recounts vivid stories of great players and describes soldiers playing ball to relieve boredom. He introduces entrepreneurs who preached the gospel of baseball, boosted female attendance, and found new ways to make money. We witness bitterly contested championships that enthralled whole cities. We watch African Americans embracing baseball despite official exclusion. And we see legends spring from the pens of early sportswriters.

Rich with anecdotes and surprising facts, this narrative of baseball’s coming-of-age reveals the remarkable extent to which America’s national pastime is bound up with the country’s defining event.

2. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903-1953 by G. Edward White

At a time when many baseball fans wish for the game to return to a purer past, G. Edward White shows how seemingly irrational business decisions, inspired in part by the self-interest of the owners but also by their nostalgia for the game, transformed baseball into the national pastime. Not simply a professional sport, baseball has been treated as a focus of childhood rituals and an emblem of American individuality and fair play throughout much of the twentieth century. It started out, however, as a marginal urban sport associated with drinking and gambling. White describes its progression to an almost mythic status as an idyllic game, popular among people of all ages and classes. He then recounts the owner’s efforts, often supported by the legal system, to preserve this image.

Baseball grew up in the midst of urban industrialization during the Progressive Era, and the emerging steel and concrete baseball parks encapsulated feelings of neighborliness and associations with the rural leisure of bygone times. According to White, these nostalgic themes, together with personal financial concerns, guided owners toward practices that in retrospect appear unfair to players and detrimental to the progress of the game. Reserve clauses, blacklisting, and limiting franchise territories, for example, were meant to keep a consistent roster of players on a team, build fan loyalty, and maintain the game’s local flavor. These practices also violated anti-trust laws and significantly restricted the economic power of the players. Owners vigorously fought against innovations, ranging from the night games and radio broadcasts to the inclusion of African-American players. Nonetheless, the image of baseball as a spirited civic endeavor persisted, even in the face of outright corruption, as witnessed in the courts’ leniency toward the participants in the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

White’s story of baseball is intertwined with changes in technology and business in America and with changing attitudes toward race and ethnicity. The time is fast approaching, he concludes, when we must consider whether baseball is still regarded as the national pastime and whether protecting its image is worth the effort.

Happy Tax Day!

Today, paying taxes is just something we do. For the most part, we are compliant with taxes and rush to the post office to send them in so we can go enjoy our tax day freebies thanks to companies trying to put some joy into (and get some profit out of) this non-holiday.

Our colonial forefathers would probably use any expletive rather than the word ‘happy’ in front of the word ‘tax’. Read up on what the sentiment around taxes used to be like and how it helped start a revolution.

Taxation in Colonial America by Alvin Rabushka

Taxation in Colonial America examines life in the thirteen original American colonies through the revealing lens of the taxes levied on and by the colonists. Spanning the turbulent years from the founding of the Jamestown settlement to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Alvin Rabushka provides the definitive history of taxation in the colonial era, and sets it against the backdrop of enormous economic, political, and social upheaval in the colonies and Europe.

Rabushka shows how the colonists strove to minimize, avoid, and evade British and local taxation, and how they used tax incentives to foster settlement. He describes the systems of public finance they created to reduce taxation, and reveals how they gained control over taxes through elected representatives in colonial legislatures. Rabushka takes a comprehensive look at the external taxes imposed on the colonists by Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden, as well as internal direct taxes like poll and income taxes. He examines indirect taxes like duties and tonnage fees, as well as county and town taxes, church and education taxes, bounties, and other charges. He links the types and amounts of taxes with the means of payment–be it gold coins, agricultural commodities, wampum, or furs–and he compares tax systems and burdens among the colonies and with Britain.

This book brings the colonial period to life in all its rich complexity, and shows how colonial attitudes toward taxation offer a unique window into the causes of the revolution.

Leonhard Euler’s 306th Birthday Present is a Google Doodle

Today’s Google homepage is a doodle dedicated to the celebrated mathematician Leonhard Euler whose 306th birthday is today. While you may not know a lot about Euler, if you have ever taken a math class you have been exposed to his mathematical contributions. Among his many contributions, he has two numbers named after him- Euler’s Number (in calculus e) and Euler’s Constant (gamma). He is also the man behind ‘ f(x)’ and the use of the Greek letter π. Euler’s contributions do not end here and they have paved the way for today’s leading mathematicians and physicists.

Celebrate Euler’s birthday with some readings from PUP!

1. Dr. Euler’s Fabulous Formula: Cures Many Mathematical Ills by Paul J. Nahin

In the mid-eighteenth century, Swiss-born mathematician Leonhard Euler developed a formula so innovative and complex that it continues to inspire research, discussion, and even the occasional limerick. Dr. Euler’s Fabulous Formula shares the fascinating story of this groundbreaking formula–long regarded as the gold standard for mathematical beauty–and shows why it still lies at the heart of complex number theory.

This book is the sequel to Paul Nahin’s An Imaginary Tale: The Story of I [the square root of -1], which chronicled the events leading up to the discovery of one of mathematics’ most elusive numbers, the square root of minus one. Unlike the earlier book, which devoted a significant amount of space to the historical development of complex numbers, Dr. Euler begins with discussions of many sophisticated applications of complex numbers in pure and applied mathematics, and to electronic technology. The topics covered span a huge range, from a never-before-told tale of an encounter between the famous mathematician G. H. Hardy and the physicist Arthur Schuster, to a discussion of the theoretical basis for single-sideband AM radio, to the design of chase-and-escape problems.

The book is accessible to any reader with the equivalent of the first two years of college mathematics (calculus and differential equations), and it promises to inspire new applications for years to come. Or as Nahin writes in the book’s preface: To mathematicians ten thousand years hence, “Euler’s formula will still be beautiful and stunning and untarnished by time.”

Paul J. Nahin is the author of many best-selling popular math books, including An Imaginary Tale, Digital Dice, Chases and Escapes, When Least Is Best, Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers, and Mrs. Perkins’s Electric Quilt (all Princeton). He is professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of New Hampshire.

2. Gamma: Exploring Euler’s Constant by Julian Havil

Among the myriad of constants that appear in mathematics, p, e, and i are the most familiar. Following closely behind is g, or gamma, a constant that arises in many mathematical areas yet maintains a profound sense of mystery.

In a tantalizing blend of history and mathematics, Julian Havil takes the reader on a journey through logarithms and the harmonic series, the two defining elements of gamma, toward the first account of gamma’s place in mathematics.

Introduced by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783), who figures prominently in this book, gamma is defined as the limit of the sum of 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + . . . up to 1/n, minus the natural logarithm of n–the numerical value being 0.5772156. . .. But unlike its more celebrated colleagues p and e, the exact nature of gamma remains a mystery–we don’t even know if gamma can be expressed as a fraction.

Among the numerous topics that arise during this historical odyssey into fundamental mathematical ideas are the Prime Number Theorem and the most important open problem in mathematics today–the Riemann Hypothesis (though no proof of either is offered!).

Sure to be popular with not only students and instructors but all math aficionados, Gamma takes us through countries, centuries, lives, and works, unfolding along the way the stories of some remarkable mathematics from some remarkable mathematicians.

3. Euler’s Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology by David S. Richeson

Leonhard Euler’s polyhedron formula describes the structure of many objects–from soccer balls and gemstones to Buckminster Fuller’s buildings and giant all-carbon molecules. Yet Euler’s formula is so simple it can be explained to a child. Euler’s Gem tells the illuminating story of this indispensable mathematical idea.

From ancient Greek geometry to today’s cutting-edge research, Euler’s Gem celebrates the discovery of Euler’s beloved polyhedron formula and its far-reaching impact on topology, the study of shapes. In 1750, Euler observed that any polyhedron composed of V vertices, E edges, and F faces satisfies the equation VE+F=2. David Richeson tells how the Greeks missed the formula entirely; how Descartes almost discovered it but fell short; how nineteenth-century mathematicians widened the formula’s scope in ways that Euler never envisioned by adapting it for use with doughnut shapes, smooth surfaces, and higher dimensional shapes; and how twentieth-century mathematicians discovered that every shape has its own Euler’s formula. Using wonderful examples and numerous illustrations, Richeson presents the formula’s many elegant and unexpected applications, such as showing why there is always some windless spot on earth, how to measure the acreage of a tree farm by counting trees, and how many crayons are needed to color any map.

Filled with a who’s who of brilliant mathematicians who questioned, refined, and contributed to a remarkable theorem’s development, Euler’s Gem will fascinate every mathematics enthusiast.

David S. Richeson is associate professor of mathematics at Dickinson College.

PUP Authors Awarded Guggenheim Fellowships

PUP is proud to congratulate six of our authors for receiving fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The Guggenheim Foundation awards fellowships to individuals from different background and fields of study who have shown previous achievements in their work and who continue to work towards more success.

Of the 175 scholars, artists, and scientists awarded Fellowships this year, PUP congratulates these six scholars for their accomplishments in their fields of study:

Graham Burnett for history of science, technology, and economics. Author of Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature.

Susannah Heschel for intellectual & cultural history. Author of The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi German.

Troy Jollimore for poetry. Author of At Lake Scugog: Poems and Love’s Vision.

Leah Price for intellectual & cultural history. Author of How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain.

Leigh Schmidt for religion. Author of Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays Public.

Ann Taves for religion. Author of Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James and Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building-Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things

Congratulations!

HP & PUP: Ravenclaw’s PUP Reading List

This week we have a couple of PUP books for any prospective Hogwarts student seeking placement in the Ravenclaw house. What would a Ravenclaw read? Chances are, a Ravenclaw would want to read everything due to their devotion to intelligence, knowledge, and wit. Here we have some books on philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and mathematics that would interest any Ravenclaw.

1. Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman- Ravenclaw students would sink their teeth into a biography about one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century.

3-27 worldly philosopherWorldly Philosopher chronicles the times and writings of Albert O. Hirschman, one of the twentieth century’s most original and provocative thinkers. In this gripping biography, Jeremy Adelman tells the story of a man shaped by modern horrors and hopes, a worldly intellectual who fought for and wrote in defense of the values of tolerance and change.

Born in Berlin in 1915, Hirschman grew up amid the promise and turmoil of the Weimar era, but fled Germany when the Nazis seized power in 1933. Amid hardship and personal tragedy, he volunteered to fight against the fascists in Spain and helped many of Europe’s leading artists and intellectuals escape to America after France fell to Hitler. His intellectual career led him to Paris, London, and Trieste, and to academic appointments at Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He was an influential adviser to governments in the United States, Latin America, and Europe, as well as major foundations and the World Bank. Along the way, he wrote some of the most innovative and important books in economics, the social sciences, and the history of ideas.

Throughout, he remained committed to his belief that reform is possible, even in the darkest of times.

This is the first major account of Hirschman’s remarkable life, and a tale of the twentieth century as seen through the story of an astute and passionate observer. Adelman’s riveting narrative traces how Hirschman’s personal experiences shaped his unique intellectual perspective, and how his enduring legacy is one of hope, open-mindedness, and practical idealism.

2. The Golden Ticket: P, NP and the Search for the Impossible by Lance Fortnow- The Ravenclaw house would be most likely to produce the P-NP problem without magic.

3-25 Fortnow_GoldenTicketThe P-NP problem is the most important open problem in computer science, if not all of mathematics. Simply stated, it asks whether every problem whose solution can be quickly checked by computer can also be quickly solved by computer. The Golden Ticket provides a nontechnical introduction to P-NP, its rich history, and its algorithmic implications for everything we do with computers and beyond. In this informative and entertaining book, Lance Fortnow traces how the problem arose during the Cold War on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and gives examples of the problem from a variety of disciplines, including economics, physics, and biology. He explores problems that capture the full difficulty of the P-NP dilemma, from discovering the shortest route through all the rides at Disney World to finding large groups of friends on Facebook. But difficulty also has its advantages. Hard problems allow us to safely conduct electronic commerce and maintain privacy in our online lives.

The Golden Ticket explores what we truly can and cannot achieve computationally, describing the benefits and unexpected challenges of this compelling problem.

3. Invisible in the Storm: The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather by Ian Roulstone & John Norbury- Their aptitude for mathematics would draw Ravenclaws to this book.

3-27 invisible in the stormInvisible in the Storm is the first book to recount the history, personalities, and ideas behind one of the greatest scientific successes of modern times–the use of mathematics in weather prediction. Although humans have tried to forecast weather for millennia, mathematical principles were used in meteorology only after the turn of the twentieth century. From the first proposal for using mathematics to predict weather, to the supercomputers that now process meteorological information gathered from satellites and weather stations, Ian Roulstone and John Norbury narrate the groundbreaking evolution of modern forecasting.

The authors begin with Vilhelm Bjerknes, a Norwegian physicist and meteorologist who in 1904 came up with a method now known as numerical weather prediction. Although his proposed calculations could not be implemented without computers, his early attempts, along with those of Lewis Fry Richardson, marked a turning point in atmospheric science. Roulstone and Norbury describe the discovery of chaos theory’s butterfly effect, in which tiny variations in initial conditions produce large variations in the long-term behavior of a system–dashing the hopes of perfect predictability for weather patterns. They explore how weather forecasters today formulate their ideas through state-of-the-art mathematics, taking into account limitations to predictability. Millions of variables–known, unknown, and approximate–as well as billions of calculations, are involved in every forecast, producing informative and fascinating modern computer simulations of the Earth system.

4. The Milky Way: An Insider’s Guide by William H. Waller- Ravenclaws would want to know everything about the wizarding world, the muggle world, and beyond.

This book offers an intimate guide to the Milky Way, taking readers on a grand tour of our home Galaxy’s structure, genesis, and evolution, based on the latest astronomical findings. In engaging language, it tells how the Milky Way congealed from blobs of gas and dark matter into a spinning starry abode brimming with diverse planetary systems–some of which may be hosting myriad life forms and perhaps even other technologically communicative species.

William Waller vividly describes the Milky Way as it appears in the night sky, acquainting readers with its key components and telling the history of our changing galactic perceptions. The ancients believed the Milky Way was a home for the gods. Today we know it is but one galaxy among billions of others in the observable universe. Within the Milky Way, ground-based and space-borne telescopes have revealed that our Solar System is not alone. Hundreds of other planetary systems share our tiny part of the vast Galaxy. We reside within a galactic ecosystem that is driven by the theatrics of the most massive stars as they blaze through their brilliant lives and dramatic deaths. Similarly effervescent ecosystems of hot young stars and fluorescing nebulae delineate the graceful spiral arms in our Galaxy’s swirling disk. Beyond the disk, the spheroidal halo hosts the ponderous–and still mysterious–dark matter that outweighs everything else. Another dark mystery lurks deep in the heart of the Milky Way, where a supermassive black hole has produced bizarre phenomena seen at multiple wavelengths.

5. Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences between the Sexes in the Animal Kingdom by Daphne J. Fairbairn- On their quest for knowledge, learning about all types of animals is pertinent- sadly, magical creatures are not covered in this book.

While we joke that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, our gender differences can’t compare to those of other animals. For instance, the male garden spider spontaneously dies after mating with a female more than fifty times his size. Female cichlids must guard their eggs and larvae–even from the hungry appetites of their own partners. And male blanket octopuses employ a copulatory arm longer than their own bodies to mate with females that outweigh them by four orders of magnitude. Why do these gender gulfs exist? Introducing readers to important discoveries in animal behavior and evolution, Odd Couples explores some of the most extraordinary sexual differences in the animal world. From the fields of Spain to the deep oceans, evolutionary biologist Daphne Fairbairn uncovers the unique and bizarre characteristics–in size, behavior, ecology, and life history–that exist in these remarkable species and the special strategies they use to maximize reproductive success. Fairbairn describes how male great bustards aggressively compete to display their gorgeous plumage and large physiques to watching, choosey females. She investigates why female elephant seals voluntarily live in harems where they are harassed constantly by eager males. And she reveals why dwarf male giant seadevils parasitically fuse to their giant female partners for life. Fairbairn also considers humans and explains that although we are keenly aware of our own sexual differences, they are unexceptional within the vast animal world.

Keep coming back to get your reading list for your Hogwarts house!

Kick off Spring with ‘Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast’ Event

If you are in the Boston area, why not kick off spring with this event?

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History

Carol Gracie, Naturalist, Photographer, and Author
1 Session: Sunday, April 28, 1:30–3:00pm
Location: New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods

Wildflowers that brighten our woodlands in spring are more than a delight for the eyes and a lift for winter-weary spirits. Each has a role in the environment, with often interesting interactions with pollinators and seed dispersers. Learn about the life histories of some of your favorite spring wildflowers. Carol Gracie will speak about adaptations for early blooming, medicinal and other uses, origin of wildflower names, and some of the latest scientific research on the ecology of these beautiful plants. Following the lecture and book signing, enjoy an optional docent-led walk through Garden in the Woods in its early spring glory.

Dinosaur Embryo Discovered

Stated simply, dinosaurs are cool. Jurassic Park may have given me nightmares once I was old enough to see it, but they are frighteningly majestic.

Paleontologists discovered fossilized dinosaur embryos in China recently making them the oldest preserved organic remains of a  budding dinosaur to date. The embryos are thought to be sauropodomorphs “because they are similar in many ways to intact embryonic skeletons of Massospondylus, a sauropodomorph that Reisz [paleontologist]  unearthed in South Africa in 2005″  according to Nature.com. The new discoveries will help scientists understand better how these dinosaurs grew to their full adult size.

4-11 dinos

Left: Sauropodomorph in egg. Image via the Huffington Post
Right: Adult sauropodomorph. Image via BBC

Unfortunately, it is confirmed that there is no probability that these embryos could result in dinosaur reincarnation.

To learn more about sauropodomorphs, The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Gregory S. Paul has an entire chapter devoted to them.

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs is a must-have for anyone who loves dinosaurs, from the amateur enthusiast to the professional paleontologist.

  • The first authoritative field guide to dinosaurs
  • Covers more than 735 species
  • Beautiful, large-format volume
  • Lavishly illustrated throughout, with more than 600 color and black-and-white drawings and figures, including:
  • More than 130 color life studies, including scenic views
  • Close to 450 skeletal, skull, head, and muscle drawings
  • 8 color paleo-distribution maps
  • Color timeline
  • Describes anatomy, physiology, locomotion, reproduction, and growth of dinosaurs, as well as the origin of birds and the extinction of nonavian dinosaurs

And, while mosquitoes in fossilized amber can’t bring back dinosaurs, The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World by George Poinar Jr., & Roberta Poinar brings to life the environment in which the dinosaurs lived.

In Jurassic Park, amber fossils provided the key to bringing dinosaurs back to life. Scientists in the movie extracted dinosaur blood from mosquitoes preserved for millions of years in amber–hardened tree resin–and used the blood’s DNA to revive the creatures that terrified audiences around the globe. In this book, George and Roberta Poinar use amber for a similar act of revival–only they bring back an entire ecosystem. The Poinars are world leaders in the study of amber fossils and have spent years examining the uniquely rich supply that has survived from the ancient forests of the Dominican Republic. They draw on their research here to reconstruct in words, drawings, and spectacular color photographs the ecosystem that existed on the island of Hispaniola between fifteen and forty-five million years ago. The result is the most accurate picture scientists have yet produced of any tropical forest of the past.

The specimens examined by the Poinars reflect amber’s extraordinary qualities as a medium for preservation. Millions of years ago, countless plants, invertebrates, and small vertebrates were trapped in the sticky resin that flowed from the trees of ancient forests and, as that resin hardened into translucent, golden amber, they were preserved in almost perfect condition. Samples analyzed and illustrated here include a wide range of insects and plants–many now extinct–as well as such vertebrates as frogs, lizards, birds, and small mammals. There are even frozen scenes of combat: an assassin bug grappling with a stingless bee, for example, and a spider attacking a termite. By examining these plants and animals and comparing them to related forms that exist today, the authors shed new light on the behavior of these organisms as well as the environment and climate in which they lived and died.

The Poinars present richly detailed drawings of how the forests once appeared. They discuss how and when life colonized Hispaniola and what caused some forms to become extinct. Along the way, they describe how amber is formed, how and where it has been preserved, and how it is mined, sold, and occasionally forged for profit today. The book is a beautifully written and produced homage to a remarkable, vanished world.

Zombie Politics

 

Top 3 Nightmares of my life:

  1. Getting stuck upside down on a rollercoaster
  2. NEO induced Armageddon (though Yeomans reminds us that the chances of this are slim, I remain fearful)
  3. Being the lone survivor in a Zombiepocalypse

Princeton author Daniel Drezner penned an essay for the Wall Street Journal about our fascination with zombies. With all the recent movies and television shows about zombies, Drezner tries to pinpoint some possible reasons why we’re so enamored with these flesh-eating monsters.

And because a zombiepocalypse is (probably) possible, Drezner applies zombie-mania to international politics to show what the political world will look like on the eve of the end of the world in his book Theories of International Politics and Zombies. Thanks to Drezner, we can sleep soundly knowing that our political infrastructure will probably pass the war-on-zombies test. So at least I’m not afraid of that.

4-10 Drezner_TheoriesZombies_cvrTheories of International Politics and Zombies by Daniel W. Drezner

What would happen to international politics if the dead rose from the grave and started to eat the living? Daniel Drezner’s groundbreaking book answers the question that other international relations scholars have been too scared to ask. Addressing timely issues with analytical bite, Drezner looks at how well-known theories from international relations might be applied to a war with zombies. Exploring the plots of popular zombie films, songs, and books, Theories of International Politics and Zombies predicts realistic scenarios for the political stage in the face of a zombie threat and considers how valid–or how rotten–such scenarios might be.

Drezner boldly lurches into the breach and “stress tests” the ways that different approaches to world politics would explain policy responses to the living dead. He examines the most prominent international relations theories–including realism, liberalism, constructivism, neoconservatism, and bureaucratic politics–and decomposes their predictions. He digs into prominent zombie films and novels, such as Night of the Living Dead and World War Z, to see where essential theories hold up and where they would stumble and fall. Drezner argues that by thinking about outside-of-the-box threats we get a cognitive grip on what former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously referred to as the “unknown unknowns” in international security.

Correcting the zombie gap in international relations thinking and addressing the genuine but publicly unacknowledged fear of the dead rising from the grave, Theories of International Politics and Zombies presents political tactics and strategies accessible enough for any zombie to digest.

Country/Rap Song on Race Relations

Brad Paisley and LL Cool J on the same track? That’s equally as strange as the Tim McGraw and Nelly duet in 2004’s “Over and Over”. Unlike that smooth song about heartbreak, however, Paisley and LL’s song has a much different topic. The new song is titled “Accidental Racist” and is causing quite a stir.

The song is supposed to be interpreted as a song about overcoming racial tensions caused by past events in American history. However, as is everything that exists, its message is subject to interpretation. Race relations has never been an easy topic to discuss and many are calling the song an epic fail. The duo calls the song “a conversation starter.”

While the two may have had good intentions in writing this song, to get a better picture of race relations and how they are evolving, check out some of these PUP books.

Creating a New Racial Order: How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America by Jennifer L. Hochschild, Vesla M. Weaver & Traci R. Burch

The American racial order–the beliefs, institutions, and practices that organize relationships among the nation’s races and ethnicities–is undergoing its greatest transformation since the 1960s. Creating a New Racial Order takes a groundbreaking look at the reasons behind this dramatic change, and considers how different groups of Americans are being affected. Through revealing narrative and striking research, the authors show that the personal and political choices of Americans will be critical to how, and how much, racial hierarchy is redefined in decades to come.

The authors outline the components that make up a racial order and examine the specific mechanisms influencing group dynamics in the United States: immigration, multiracialism, genomic science, and generational change. Cumulatively, these mechanisms increase heterogeneity within each racial or ethnic group, and decrease the distance separating groups from each other. The authors show that individuals are moving across group boundaries, that genomic science is challenging the whole concept of race, and that economic variation within groups is increasing. Above all, young adults understand and practice race differently from their elders: their formative memories are 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Obama’s election–not civil rights marches, riots, or the early stages of immigration. Blockages could stymie or distort these changes, however, so the authors point to essential policy and political choices.

Portraying a vision, not of a postracial America, but of a different racial America, Creating a New Racial Order examines how the structures of race and ethnicity are altering a nation.

Jennifer L. Hochschild is the Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government, professor of African and African American studies, and Harvard College Professor at Harvard University. Vesla M. Weaver is an assistant professor in the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics at the University of Virginia. Traci R. Burch is assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University and research professor at the American Bar Foundation.

What Is Your Race? The Census and Our Flawed Efforts to Classify Americans by Kenneth Prewitt

America is preoccupied with race statistics–perhaps more than any other nation. Do these statistics illuminate social reality and produce coherent social policy, or cloud that reality and confuse social policy? Does America still have a color line? Who is on which side? Does it have a different “race” line–the nativity line–separating the native born from the foreign born? You might expect to answer these and similar questions with the government’s “statistical races.” Not likely, observes Kenneth Prewitt, who shows why the way we count by race is flawed.

Prewitt calls for radical change. The nation needs to move beyond a race classification whose origins are in discredited eighteenth-century race-is-biology science, a classification that once defined Japanese and Chinese as separate races, but now combines them as a statistical “Asian race.” One that once tried to divide the “white race” into “good whites” and “bad whites,” and that today cannot distinguish descendants of Africans brought in chains four hundred years ago from children of Ethiopian parents who eagerly immigrated twenty years ago. Contrary to common sense, the classification says there are only two ethnicities in America–Hispanics and non-Hispanics. But if the old classification is cast aside, is there something better?

What Is Your Race? clearly lays out the steps that can take the nation from where it is to where it needs to be. It’s not an overnight task–particularly the explosive step of dropping today’s race question from the census–but Prewitt argues persuasively that radical change is technically and politically achievable, and morally necessary.

Kenneth Prewitt is the Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University. His books include The Hard Count: The Political and Social Challenges of Census Mobilization. He served as director of the U.S. Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001.

Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race by Thomas J. Sugrue

Barack Obama, in his acclaimed campaign speech discussing the troubling complexities of race in America today, quoted William Faulkner’s famous remark “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” In Not Even Past, award-winning historian Thomas Sugrue examines the paradox of race in Obama’s America and how President Obama intends to deal with it.

Obama’s journey to the White House undoubtedly marks a watershed in the history of race in America. Yet even in what is being hailed as the post-civil rights era, racial divisions–particularly between blacks and whites–remain deeply entrenched in American life. Sugrue traces Obama’s evolving understanding of race and racial inequality throughout his career, from his early days as a community organizer in Chicago, to his time as an attorney and scholar, to his spectacular rise to power as a charismatic and savvy politician, to his dramatic presidential campaign. Sugrue looks at Obama’s place in the contested history of the civil rights struggle; his views about the root causes of black poverty in America; and the incredible challenges confronting his historic presidency.

Does Obama’s presidency signal the end of race in American life? In Not Even Past, a leading historian of civil rights, race, and urban America offers a revealing and unflinchingly honest assessment of the culture and politics of race in the age of Obama, and of our prospects for a postracial America.

Thomas J. Sugrue is the David Boies Professor of History and Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North and The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton).