Joshua Holden: The secrets behind secret messages

“Cryptography is all about secrets, and throughout most of its history the whole field has been shrouded in secrecy.  The result has been that just knowing about cryptography seems dangerous and even mystical.”

In The Mathematics of Secrets: Cryptography from Caesar Ciphers to Digital EncryptionJoshua Holden provides the mathematical principles behind ancient and modern cryptic codes and ciphers. Using famous ciphers such as the Caesar Cipher, Holden reveals the key mathematical idea behind each, revealing how such ciphers are made, and how they are broken.  Holden recently took the time to answer questions about his book and cryptography.


There are lots of interesting things related to secret messages to talk abouthistory, sociology, politics, military studies, technology. Why should people be interested in the mathematics of cryptography? 
 
JH: Modern cryptography is a science, and like all modern science it relies on mathematics.  If you want to really understand what modern cryptography can and can’t do you need to know something about that mathematical foundation. Otherwise you’re just taking someone’s word for whether messages are secure, and because of all those sociological and political factors that might not be a wise thing to do. Besides that, I think the particular kinds of mathematics used in cryptography are really pretty. 
 
What kinds of mathematics are used in modern cryptography? Do you have to have a Ph.D. in mathematics to understand it? 
 
JH: I once taught a class on cryptography in which I said that the prerequisite was high school algebra.  Probably I should have said that the prerequisite was high school algebra and a willingness to think hard about it.  Most (but not all) of the mathematics is of the sort often called “discrete.”  That means it deals with things you can count, like whole numbers and squares in a grid, and not with things like irrational numbers and curves in a plane.  There’s also a fair amount of statistics, especially in the codebreaking aspects of cryptography.  All of the mathematics in this book is accessible to college undergraduates and most of it is understandable by moderately advanced high school students who are willing to put in some time with it. 
 
What is one myth about cryptography that you would like to address? 
 
JH: Cryptography is all about secrets, and throughout most of its history the whole field has been shrouded in secrecy.  The result has been that just knowing about cryptography seems dangerous and even mystical. In the Renaissance it was associated with black magic and a famous book on cryptography was banned by the Catholic Church. At the same time, the Church was using cryptography to keep its own messages secret while revealing as little about its techniques as possible. Through most of history, in fact, cryptography was used largely by militaries and governments who felt that their methods should be hidden from the world at large. That began to be challenged in the 19th century when Auguste Kerckhoffs declared that a good cryptographic system should be secure with only the bare minimum of information kept secret. 
 
Nowadays we can relate this idea to the open-source software movement. When more people are allowed to hunt for “bugs” (that is, security failures) the quality of the overall system is likely to go up. Even governments are beginning to get on board with some of the systems they use, although most still keep their highest-level systems tightly classified. Some professional cryptographers still claim that the public can’t possibly understand enough modern cryptography to be useful. Instead of keeping their writings secret they deliberately make it hard for anyone outside the field to understand them. It’s true that a deep understanding of the field takes years of study, but I don’t believe that people should be discouraged from trying to understand the basics. 
 
I invented a secret code once that none of my friends could break. Is it worth any money? 
 
JH: Like many sorts of inventing, coming up with a cryptographic system looks easy at first.  Unlike most inventions, however, it’s not always obvious if a secret code doesn’t “work.” It’s easy to get into the mindset that there’s only one way to break a system so all you have to do is test that way.  Professional codebreakers know that on the contrary, there are no rules for what’s allowed in breaking codes. Often the methods for codebreaking with are totally unsuspected by the codemakers. My favorite involves putting a chip card, such as a credit card with a microchip, into a microwave oven and turning it on. Looking at the output of the card when bombarded 
by radiation could reveal information about the encrypted information on the card! 
 
That being said, many cryptographic systems throughout history have indeed been invented by amateurs, and many systems invented by professionals turned out to be insecure, sometimes laughably so. The moral is, don’t rely on your own judgment, anymore than you should in medical or legal matters. Get a second opinion from a professional you trustyour local university is a good place to start.   
 
A lot of news reports lately are saying that new kinds of computers are about to break all of the cryptography used on the Internet. Other reports say that criminals and terrorists using unbreakable cryptography are about to take over the Internet. Are we in big trouble? 
 
JH: Probably not. As you might expect, both of these claims have an element of truth to them, and both of them are frequently blown way out of proportion. A lot of experts do expect that a new type of computer that uses quantum mechanics will “soon” become a reality, although there is some disagreement about what “soon” means. In August 2015 the U.S. National Security Agency announced that it was planning to introduce a new list of cryptography methods that would resist quantum computers but it has not announced a timetable for the introduction. Government agencies are concerned about protecting data that might have to remain secure for decades into the future, so the NSA is trying to prepare now for computers that could still be 10 or 20 years into the future. 
 
In the meantime, should we worry about bad guys with unbreakable cryptography? It’s true that pretty much anyone in the world can now get a hold of software that, when used properly, is secure against any publicly known attacks. The key here is “when used properly. In addition to the things I mentioned above, professional codebreakers know that hardly any system is always used properly. And when a system is used improperly even once, that can give an experienced codebreaker the information they need to read all the messages sent with that system.  Law enforcement and national security personnel can put that together with information gathered in other waysurveillance, confidential informants, analysis of metadata and transmission characteristics, etc.and still have a potent tool against wrongdoers. 
 
There are a lot of difficult political questions about whether we should try to restrict the availability of strong encryption. On the flip side, there are questions about how much information law enforcement and security agencies should be able to gather. My book doesn’t directly address those questions, but I hope that it gives readers the tools to understand the capabilities of codemakers and codebreakers. Without that you really do the best job of answering those political questions.

Joshua Holden is professor of mathematics at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN. His most recent book is The Mathematics of Secrets: Cryptography from Caesar Ciphers to Digital Encryption.

Exclusive interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott on their NYT bestseller, Welcome to the Universe

UniverseWe’re thrilled to announce that Welcome to the Universe, a guided tour of the cosmos by three of today’s leading astrophysicists, recently made the New York Times extended bestseller list in science. Inspired by the enormously popular introductory astronomy course that Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott taught together at Princeton, this book covers it all—from planets, stars, and galaxies to black holes, wormholes, and time travel. The authors introduce some of the hot topics in astrophysics in today’s Q&A:


What is the Cosmic Perspective?

NDT: A view bigger than your own that offers a humbling, yet enlightening, and occasionally empowering outlook on our place as humans in time, space, on Earth and in the Universe. We devote many pages of Welcome to the Universe to establishing our place in the cosmos – not only declarations of that place, but also the reasons and the foundations for how we have come to learn how we fit in that place. When armed with a cosmic perspective, many earthly problems seem small, yet you cultivate a new sense of belonging to the universe. You are, in fact, a participant in the great unfolding of cosmic events.

What are some of the takeaways from the book?

NDT: If you read the entire book, and if we have succeeded as authors, then you should walk away with a deep sense of the operations of nature, and an appreciation for the size and scale of the universe; how and why planets form; how and why we search for planets orbiting around other stars, and alien life that may thrive upon them; how and why stars are born, live out their lives and die; what galaxies are and why they are the largest organizations of stars in the universe; the large scale structure of galaxies and space-time; the origins and future of the universe, Einstein’s relativity, black holes, and gravitational waves; and time travel. If that’s not enough, you will also learn about some of the continued unsolved mysteries in our field, such as dark matter, dark energy, and multiverses.

This book has more equations than do most popular books about astrophysics.  Was that a deliberate decision?

MAS: Yes.  The book’s subtitle is “An Astrophysical Tour,” and one of our goals in writing it was to show how observations, the laws of physics, and some high school mathematics can combine to yield the amazing discoveries of modern astrophysics: A Big Bang that happened 13.8 billion years ago (we show you how that number is determined), the dominant role dark matter has in the properties of galaxies (we tell you how we came to that conclusion), even the fact that some planets orbiting other stars have conditions conducive for liquid water to exist on their surface, thought to be a necessary prerequisite for life. Our goal is not just to present the wonders of the universe to the reader, but to have the reader understand how we have determined what we know, and where the remaining uncertainties (and there are plenty of them!) lie.

So your emphasis is on astrophysics as a quantitative science, a branch of physics?

MAS:  Yes.  We introduce the necessary physics concepts as we go: we do not expect the reader to know this physics before they read the book.  But astrophysicists are famous (perhaps notorious!) for rough calculations, “to astrophysical accuracy.”  We also lead the reader through some examples of such rough calculations, where we aim to get an answer to “an order of magnitude.”  That is, we’re delighted if we get an estimate that’s correct to within a factor of 2, or so.  Such calculations are useful in everyday life, helping us discriminate the nonsensical from the factual in the numerical world in which we live.

Can you give an example?

MAS: Most people in everyday discourse don’t think much about the distinction between “million,” “billion,” “trillion,” and so on, hearing them all as “a really big number,” with not much difference between them.  It is actually a real problem, and the difference between Federal budget items causing millions vs. billions of dollars is of course huge.  Our politicians and the media are confusing these all the time.  We hope that the readers of this book will come away with a renewed sense of how to think about numbers, big and small, and see whether the numbers they read about in the media make sense.

Is time travel possible?

JRG: In 1905 Einstein proved that time travel to the future is possible. Get on a rocket and travel out to the star Betelgeuse 500 light-years away and return at a speed of 99.995 % the speed of light and you will age only 10 years, but when you get back it will be the year 3016 on Earth. Even though we have not gone that fast or far, we still have time travelers among us today. Our greatest time traveler to date is the Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who by virtue of traveling at high speed in low Earth orbit for 879 days aged 1/44 of a second less than if he had stayed home. Thus, when he returned, he found Earth to be 1/44 of a second to the future of where he expected it to be. He has time traveled 1/44 of a second to the future. An astronaut traveling to the planet Mercury, living there for 30 years, and returning to Earth, would time travel into the future by 22 seconds. Einstein’s equations of general relativity, his theory of curved spacetime to explain gravity, have solutions that are sufficiently twisted to allow time travel to the past. Wormholes and moving cosmic strings are two examples. The time traveler can loop back to visit an event in his own past. Such a time machine cannot be used to journey back in time before it was created. Thus, if some supercivilization were to create one by twisting spacetime in the year 3000, they might use it to go from 3002 back to 3001, but they couldn’t use it go back to 2016, because that is before the time loop was created. To understand whether such time machines can be realized, we may need to understand how gravity works on microscopic scales, which will require us to develop a theory of quantum gravity. Places to look for naturally occurring time machines would be in the interiors of rotating black holes and at the very beginning of the universe, where spacetime is strongly curved.

Do we live in a multiverse?

JRG: A multiverse seems to be a natural consequence of the theory of inflation. Inflation explains beautifully the pattern of slightly hotter and colder spots we see in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. It explains why the universe is so large and why it is as smooth as it is and still has enough variations in density to allow gravity to grow these into galaxies and clusters of galaxies by the present epoch. It also explains why the geometry of the universe at the present epoch is approximately Euclidean. Inflation is a period of hyperactive accelerated expansion occurring at the beginning of our universe. It is powered by a large vacuum energy density and negative pressure permeating empty space that is gravitationally repulsive. The universe doubles in size about every 3 10-38 seconds. With this rate of doubling, it very quickly grows to enormous size: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024… That explains why the universe is so large. When the high density vacuum state decays, it doesn’t do so all at once. Like water boiling in a pot, it does not turn into steam all at once, but should form bubbles. Each expanding bubble makes a universe. The inflationary sea should expand forever, creating an infinite number of bubble universes, ours being one of them. Other distant bubble universes are so far away, and the space between us and them is expanding so fast, that light from them may never reach us. Nevertheless, multiple universes seem a nearly inevitable consequence of inflation.

What discovery about the universe surprises or inspires you the most?

JRG: Perhaps the most amazing thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible to intelligent, carbon-based life forms like ourselves. We have been able to discover how old the universe is (13.8 billion years) and figure out many of the laws by which it operates. The object of this book is to make the universe comprehensible to our readers.

Don’t miss this C-Span video on the book, in which the authors answer questions about the universe, including how it began and the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. He is the author of many books, including Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, and the host of the Emmy Award–winning documentary Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Michael A. Strauss is professor of astrophysics at Princeton University. J. Richard Gott is professor of astrophysics at Princeton University. His books include The Cosmic Web: Mysterious Architecture of the Universe (Princeton).

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Maria Lindenfeldar

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In honor of University Press Week, we’ve been featuring interviews and posts with members of the Princeton University Press community. Today, Maria Lindenfeldar, Creative Director, shares some thoughts on the tension between the personal element of creative work and the practical requirements of a job in design:

Maria LindenfeldarHow long have you worked in design and how did you enter publishing?

I have worked in some form of art and design since college. My explorations have included: painting, architecture, art history, and interior design. I finally honed in on graphic design in my late twenties while working as a writer in the marketing department of a benefits consulting firm—our proposals were great to read but needed help with how they looked! From there, I discovered the subfield of book design and have been in love with it ever since.

How is working in design for a publishing company unique from other industries?

In my experience, publishing attracts smart, engaged, and idealistic people in a proportion greater than other industries.

Your title is creative director. Can you describe what your work encompasses?

A joke among designers is that the higher you rise on the creative ladder, the narrower your toolkit becomes, ultimately requiring just one tool: email. There’s some truth to that. I no longer design books on a regular basis and most of my day is spent keeping multiple balls in the air. On its most basic level, I see my job as that of a facilitator. I am lucky to work with incredibly talented artists who are able to bring physical form to an idea. My role is to make sure that they have the information they need to do that to the best of their abilities. This requires an open forum for discussing ideas and a firm commitment to the value of multiple opinions. Everyone involved in the creative process—editors, authors, designers, sales, marketing, publicity—has something to contribute, and my job is to sustain an environment where that can happen. I am proud of the award-winning results our collective efforts produce.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love looking at the finished catalog each season, admiring the beautiful book jackets, and thinking about how we can be even better next time.

What’s the most difficult aspect?

By far, the most difficult aspect is the inherent tension between the personal element of creative work and the practical requirements of the job. To make beautiful and original things, a designer has to invest herself or himself, drawing from a deep well of visual references and experience. In its best form, the alchemy of the design process is magical and surprising even to the maker. The hard reality (and the most difficult thing to explain to less-experienced designers) is that even great and innovative designs get rejected, sometimes for very good reasons. The design approval process is a real-life extension of the art school critique system; it requires sharing ideas and depersonalizing feedback. On the job, the never-ending challenge is to digest commentary, determine what is useful, and incorporate that into the final product. I think everyone should go to art school—it forces you to develop a thick skin!

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to break into the field?

Be honest with yourself. Don’t go into graphic design because you think it’s a “practical” career with more guarantees than say, life as an artist. It’s not—it’s competitive and difficult. On the flip side, if you are passionate about art and ideas and are willing to work hard, there will be a place for you. To find out more about the field, take a really good typography course at an art school. Many of the designers I admire have broad educations in disciplines as varied as philosophy, music, and film. What they all have in common is that they are good conceptual thinkers who love type.

Any career paths you’d have pursued in an alternate universe?

I was a government major who planned to be a lawyer. Go figure!

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Stephanie Rojas

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In honor of University Press Week, we’re featuring interviews and posts with members of the Princeton University Press community all week. Next, Stephanie Rojas, Marketing & Social Media Associate, talks about her role at PUP:

Stephanie RojasAs the Marketing & Social Media Associate at Princeton University Press, I work in two departments: copywriting and social media. My duties for copywriting include requesting copy approval from authors, soliciting Author Promotion Forms, writing copy for our paperback titles, and aggregating our marketing plans for each book into a letter format to be sent to our authors. As a member of the social media department, I write blog posts and edit original content from our authors, contribute to our social media accounts, and help brainstorm social media campaigns.

For me, one of the most rewarding things so far has been building our new Instagram account from the ground up. Before we launched the account on September 1, I took hundreds of photographs of our books, the office, and Princeton University in preparation. I made lists of popular hashtags, ideas for how we could get the most out of the application, and accounts we could follow with the help of colleagues in publicity, design, editorial, and sales. Coming up with new ideas, executing them, and seeing how our followers respond has been a really fun part of my job. I can’t wait for everyone to see what we have planned later in the season!

I came to this position very deliberately. After studying history at Boston University and interning at Candlewick Press, I made the decision to earn an MA in Publishing & Writing from Emerson College. I took courses in all the departments in publishing and added two more internships to my résumé—one at Beacon Press and another at the New England Quarterly. I also spent some time working as an assistant at Kneerim, Williams & Bloom, a Boston-based literary agency. Graduate degree in hand, I knew that I wanted to work in marketing or publicity at an academic publisher. I started at PUP in April 2015, and when I had been working here for a few weeks I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I look forward to continuing to work in academic publishing and getting the word out about the great books we publish here!

University Press Week: Behind the Scenes with Eric Henney

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In honor of University Press Week, we’re featuring interviews and posts from members of the Princeton University Press community all week. Today, Eric Henney, a new editor of physical, earth, and computer science, shares insight on succeeding in the publishing industry:

Eric HenneyPublishing is cool. Obviously it’s appealing to be able to work on the ideas that shape the future, and it also carries some caché. The competition for entry-level jobs in a cool industry is tough enough, but in publishing it’s tougher still, because publishing is a generally shrinking industry.

So getting your first job in publishing is really hard. Intensified competition has made all varieties of publishing houses pickier about their job requirements. (Most editorial assistants I know are overqualified in reality, but barely so on paper.) This has created an entry-level bootstrapping problem: entry-level jobs now require experience that applicants likely won’t have.

If you want a good chance at landing a job (this is certainly not a given), you can travel a prescribed path: intern at the best publishing companies you can while you’re in college, likely for free and preferably a few times. Network aggressively. Be willing to take dozens of people out for coffee. Travel to them if you can; talk by phone if you must. But make sure you’re doing it once or twice a week. Move to New York. Pretend you live there already, if you have to. Enroll in a publishing program that has ties to good publishing companies. Loans can help finance you. Your network takes time to cultivate, so begin this process by sophomore year of college.

If you fail to accomplish any of this, you might feel that you’ve boxed yourself out of publishing. There’s some truth to that. When you send your applications into the vortex of a Big Five job portal, you shouldn’t expect a response if you don’t have a couple years of experience already.

This trend in entry-level hiring isn’t at all surprising, but it is suspect. Yes, networking is important. But there are good reasons that publishing doesn’t have an actual professional schooling system, like medicine. Being a good doctor is a matter of knowing enough to not kill a person once you’ve cut them open. Publishing is thankfully a little looser than that, and belonging in this world involves less obviously measurable qualifications, like creativity and curiosity.

I’ve been at PUP for four years. It’s the first formal publishing experience I have. I landed here after more than a year of office temping, substitute teaching, freelance writing for entertainment and parenting blogs (note: I am not a parent), and unsuccessful job hunting. My degree is in philosophy, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it after I graduated. All I really knew was that I needed to work with smart and interesting people and that I didn’t want to be an academic. I started as an assistant, working for then-political science editor Chuck Myers (now at Chicago) and then-physics editor Ingrid Gnerlich (now PUP’s publisher for the sciences in Europe). I think I landed the interview because I stayed in touch with the permissions coordinator, who had interviewed me a few months earlier, when I applied to be his assistant. I do not know why I got the job, and I do not think it wise to ask. But I know it came down to something other than years of experience in publishing, because I had none.

I worked really hard to get up to speed. But I knew it was not at all a given that I could do it. All I could really promise was that I really did like ideas and I really did like sharing them with other people. As it turns out, that, in combination with the modest administrative experience I actually did have, was enough. Over the last four years I’ve taken on the increasingly large responsibilities offered by the Press, and this year I was made a full editor in the sciences.
University presses maintain a unique publishing ethos, one which acknowledges that the typical path into publishing is anything but. I suspect that will endure regardless of what the rest of publishing looks like. And that’s one of the things that makes them special.

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Theresa Liu

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In honor of University Press Week, we’re featuring interviews with members of the Princeton University Press community all week. Next, Theresa Liu, Senior Copywriter and Seasonal Catalog Editor, talks about the copywriting process.

Theresa LiuHow long have you worked as a copywriter, and what did you do before this both educationally and professionally?

I just reached my ninth anniversary as a copywriter here at PUP. Educationally, I concentrated on English lit at Rutgers and Stanford and was a Javits fellow in creative writing at Hunter College, CUNY. In publishing, I got my start at the Ecco Press and served as the program coordinator for the National Poetry Series. I then worked as the assistant to the editor in chief at Rutgers University Press. So I’ve worked in trade publishing and nonprofit arts administration, as well as academic publishing. I also had a stint as a sales clerk at Micawber Books in Princeton before it closed its doors, so I have some experience peddling books to customers.

What led you to your current position?

It was a matter of timing, I think. PUP had an opening after my last round of school was done, and with my lit and writing background and my publishing experiences, copywriting was a good fit.

What kinds of books do you most enjoy writing copy for? (Loaded question, I know).

Perhaps a more diplomatic way of answering that question is to say that the books I have the easiest time writing about are the ones that come with all the materials ready (complete editorial dossier, reader reports, detailed author promotion form and capsule, publishing plan, etc). It makes my job less difficult and I can get to the writing immediately.

Can you describe your process as a writer? Do you read all the books? Work in silence? Listen to music?

I liken writing copy to running a marathon. I have to pace myself and make sure I’m hitting my personal quotas week by week, in order to avoid a logjam at the end of the season. I enjoy listening to music when I work, but have discovered that for the writing I either need to work in silence or listen to music with no lyrics, so it’s a lot of classical and some bits of jazz and movie soundtracks. Sometimes, when I find one piece of music that gets me into the right frame of mind quickly, I’ll just set that on a repeating loop to play in the background while I’m pecking away at the computer.

I average about 45 books a season now and how much I dip into each book varies based on the density of the subject matter and what I need. If I have enough good materials to refer to outside of the book, looking at its table of contents and introduction may be enough to get me started. In other instances, I will read or skim portions of the manuscript in order to get a sense of the book’s tone and overall argument or to find some hidden nuggets of information that I can use for the copy.

Is there a formula for writing good catalog copy?

Every book is different, so I’d say that the answer is no. But in general, I try to hone in on the book’s argument as quickly as I can in the first paragraph, and then delve into specific content. We try to sum up the book with a general conclusion that is wide reaching and still sounds fresh and original. The best copy is clean and succinct and stays under the word limit!

What do you like to do to decompress from putting together a new season of catalog copy?

I enjoy activities that exercise an entirely different side of my brain and body. Weather permitting, I try to spend a bit of time outside every day. In the evenings, I play music (mostly classical, some experimental) with friends. It’s socially interactive and doesn’t allow for ruminating, which is healthy. It’s also emotionally and physically demanding (rehearsals can run in three-hour blocks), and allows me to think more clearly afterwards.

What would you have been if not a copywriter?

That’s a difficult question to answer! It’s been my great fortune to have had many different experiences in my schooling, travels, and work (I’ve probably broken many a child labor law, as I’ve been working and earning since I was in early middle school). I could have gone down paths as varied as teaching English abroad to attending law school and becoming an attorney. My choices and where I’ve ended up remind me of the famous John Lennon quote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Caroline Priday

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In honor of University Press Week, we’ll be featuring interviews with members of the Princeton University Press community all week. First up, Caroline Priday, Head of the European Office and European Director of Publicity, talks about how publishing has changed over the years, publicity practices in Europe, and PUP’s path to becoming a global university press. 

Caroline PridayHow did you get your start in publishing?

I started back in 1979 working as a secretary for two Academic Marketing Managers at Oxford University Press. In those days, before email and computers, that was quite a common route into publishing. One of my bosses was Susan Boyd, wife of the now well-known author William Boyd. I remember how excited we all were when he had his first short story broadcast on the BBC. In those days, OUP still had its own printing press and one of the highlights of the induction day was getting a tour of the printing works! We used to have a tea lady too who wheeled her trolley down the corridor every afternoon. The Academic Department was down a long corridor with linoleum flooring and offices opening off the corridor – no open plan in those days. It was known to the occupants as Death Row!

You direct the European office’s publicity department as well as the European office. This sounds like vast responsibility! What is a typical day like for you?

One of the good things about the job is that there isn’t very often a typical day. However, that can have its downsides when you come in with a list of things you want to achieve, and are lucky if you’ve crossed just one thing off the list before the end of the day! I usually try to have a couple of hours of quiet time first thing in the morning so that I can focus on the preparation of a galley or review list. The rest of the day my door is open to any of my colleagues who have questions or concerns. If we have just released an important book the day is geared around handling media requests for interviews, review copies etc. At other times I can be focused on human resource issues for the office, such as making sure pension or health care provision meets latest government regulations.

Can you say a bit about PUP’s path to becoming a truly global university press?

I guess you could say that the path started back in 1999 when the European office was opened with the aim of better promoting our existing authors in the European market, and also broadening the European authorship of our list. In the nearly 12 years I have been with the press we have made huge strides in broadening the appeal of the list. However, I think it is probably fair to say that we are still international rather than truly global, in that our authors are still predominantly based in the USA. The opening of our office in China, and the work on pursuing publication of scholarship outside of the US and Europe, will go a long way to making us truly global.

Does book publicity in the UK differ from the US, and if so, in what way?

The fundamentals are the same, but I think there is a difference between being an American University Press in Europe and in the USA. Inevitably there are some American interest titles that don’t travel well outside of the US. There are probably fewer media outlets who will meet with us on a regular basis, though I am pleased to say we are expanding these all the time as we increase our name recognition. The changes in the nature of the list, with a greater proportion of accessible titles, have made a big difference here. Outside of the UK we are also seeking review coverage in non-English speaking markets, though it has to be said that there are many publications in Northern Europe that will write about books that we struggle to get reviewed in the UK. I think in Continental Europe they still think book review coverage is important in broadsheets in a way that is declining in US and UK. Coverage outside of the UK has been an area we have focussed on this year as I have undertaken trips into The Netherlands and Germany to meet with print media, something that has proved to be a positive experiment.

Tell me a bit about a particularly interesting campaign you worked on.

I guess promoting Bob Shiller’s books are some of the most fun, partly because Bob is such a delightful author to work with. His name also opens doors that we can otherwise struggle to access. The big highlight of my work with Bob was having breakfast at No 11 Downing Street with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling. This was just after the financial crash in 2008. As we were leaving the breakfast we also shook hands with the Prime Minister. Bob is still waiting for me to arrange a meeting with The Queen! Another highlight of that trip was getting a behind the scenes tour of the Houses of Parliament, as Bob addressed a meeting within the building. Something that was completely different was working on Neil Downie’s The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science. We set up a launch event at Isaac Newton’s former home for a whole group of school children who had great fun playing with some of Neil’s inventions, carrot cannons, exploding balloons, and other such inventions.

In a parallel world, what career would you have chosen instead?

I think being paid to be around books is my idea of a perfect career! I never knew what I wanted to do, and was very lucky to have drifted into publishing as my first job. It has allowed me to travel the world, meet interesting people and spend time with my nose in a book. Who could want anything more!

Peter Dougherty & Al Bertrand: On Being Einstein’s Publisher

by Peter Dougherty and Al Bertrand

So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. (Albert Einstein to Robert A Thornton, 7 December 1944, EA 61-574)

For all of the scholarly influences that have defined Princeton University Press over its 111-year history, no single personality has shaped the Press’s identity as powerfully, both directly and indirectly, as Albert Einstein. The 2015 centenary of the publication of Einstein’s “Theory of General Relativity” as well as the affirmation this past February and again in June of the discovery of gravitational waves has encouraged us to reflect on this legacy and how it has informed our identity as a publisher.

The bright light cast by Einstein the scientist and by Einstein the humanist has shaped Princeton University Press in profound and far-reaching ways. It expresses itself in the Press’s standard of scholarly excellence, its emphasis on the breadth and connectedness of liberal learning across all fields, and in our mission of framing scholarly arguments to shape contemporary knowledge. All the while, Einstein’s role as a citizen of the world inspires our vision to be a truly global university press.

PUBLISHING EINSTEIN: A BRIEF HISTORY

Albert Einstein is not only Princeton University Press’s most illustrious author; he was our first best-selling author. Following his public lectures in Princeton in 1921, the Press—itself less than 20 years old at the time—published the text of those lectures, titled “The Meaning of Relativity”, in 1922. Publication followed the agitated exhortation of the Press’s then-manager, Frank Tomlinson, urging Professor Einstein to get his manuscript finished. Tomlinson wrote:

My dear Professor Einstein—

On July 6 I wrote you inquiring when we might expect to receive the manuscript of your lectures. I have had no reply to this letter. A number of people have been inquiring when the book will be ready, and we are considerably alarmed at the long delay in the receipt of your manuscript, which we were led to believe would be in our hands within a month after the lectures were delivered. The importance of the book will undoubtedly be seriously affected unless we are able to publish it within a reasonable time and I strongly urge upon you the necessity of sending us the copy at your earliest convenience. I should appreciate also the favor of a reply from you stating when we may expect to receive it.

the meaning of relativity jacketMr. Tomlinson’s letter marks something of a high point in the history of publishers’ anxiety, but far from failing, The Meaning of Relativity was a hit. It would go on to numerous successive editions, and remains very much alive today as both a print and digital book, as well as in numerous translated editions.

For all its glorious publishing history, The Meaning of Relativity can be thought of as a mere appetizer to the bounteous publishing banquet embodied in THE COLLECTED PAPERS OF ALBERT EINSTEIN, surely PUP’s most ambitious continuing publication and one of the most important editorial projects in all of scholarly publishing.

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein

Authorized by the Einstein Estate and the PUP Board of Trustees in 1970, and supported by a generous grant from the late Harold W. McGraw, Jr., chairman of the McGraw-Hill Book Company, THE EINSTEIN PAPERS, as it evolves, is providing the first complete and authoritative account of a written legacy that ranges from Einstein’s work on the special and general theories of relativity and the origins of quantum theory, to expressions of his profound concern with civil liberties, education, Zionism, pacifism, and disarmament.

einstein old letterAn old saying has it that “good things come to those to wait,” words that ring resoundingly true regarding the EINSTEIN PAPERS. Having survived multiple obstacles in the long journey from its inception through the publication of its first volume in 1987, the Einstein Papers Project hit its stride in 2000 when Princeton University Press engaged Professor Diana Buchwald as its sixth editor, and moved the Project to Pasadena with the generous support of its new host institution, the California Institute of Technology.

Since then, Professor Buchwald and her Caltech-based editorial team, along with their international network of scholarly editors, have produced successive documentary and English translation volumes at the rate of one every eighteen months. To give you an idea of just how impressive a pace this is, the Galileo papers are still a work in progress, nearly four centuries after his death.

The EINSTEIN PAPERS, having reached and documented Einstein’s writings up to 1925, has fundamentally altered our understanding of the history of physics and of the development of general relativity, for example by destroying the myth of Einstein as a lone genius and revealing the extent to which this man, with his great gift for friendship and collegiality, was embedded in a network of extraordinary scientists in Zurich, Prague, and Berlin.

Along with the EINSTEIN PAPERS, the Press has grown a lively publishing program of books drawn from his work and about Einstein. Satellite projects include The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, as well as volumes on Einstein’s politics, his love letters, and the “miraculous year” of 1905.

Last year the Press published two new books drawn from Einstein’s writings, The Road to Relativity, and the 100th anniversary edition of Relativity: The Special and General Theory, both volumes edited by Jürgen Renn of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, and Hanoch Gutfreund of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.   These volumes celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s publication of the theory of general relativity in November 1915.

In this same centenary year, PUP published several other Einstein titles, including:

— Volume 14 of the Collected Papers, The Berlin Years, 1923-1925.

An Einstein Encyclopedia, edited by Alice Calaprice, Daniel Kennefick, and Robert Schulman;

Einstein: A Hundred Years of Relativity, by Andrew Robinson

Especially notable, in January 2015 the Press released THE DIGITAL EDITION OF THE COLLECTED PAPERS OF ALBERT EINSTEIN, a publishing event that has attracted extraordinary worldwide attention, scientific as well as public. This online edition is freely available to readers and researchers around the world, and represents the historic collaboration between the Press and its partners, the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech and the Albert Einstein Archive in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Moreover, works by and about Einstein sit at the crossroads of two major components of the Princeton list: our science publishing program which comprises a host of fields from physics through mathematics, biology, earth science, computer science, and natural history, and our history of science program which connects PUP’s Einstein output to our humanities publishing, helping to bridge the intellectual gap between two major dimensions of our list.

Einstein’s dual legacy at Princeton University Press thus serves to bookend the conversation defined by the Press’s unusually wide-ranging array of works across and throughout the arts and sciences, from mathematics to poetry. C.P. Snow famously described the sciences and the humanities as “two cultures.” Einstein’s legacy informs our effort as a publisher to create an ongoing correspondence between those two cultures in the form of books, which uniquely serve to synthesize, connect, and nurture cross-disciplinary discourse.

EINSTEIN’S LARGER PUBLISHING INFLUENCE

Much as the living legacy of the EINSTEIN PAPERS and its related publications means to Princeton University Press as a publisher, it holds a broader meaning for us both as editors and as leaders of the institution with which we’ve long been affiliated.

Like most of our colleagues, we arrived at the Press as editors previously employed by other publishers, and having little professional interest in physics. Each of us specialized in different editorial fields, economics and classics, respectively.

Our initial disposition towards the field of physics, while full of awe, was perhaps best summed up by Woody Allen when he said: “I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.”  

But we soon discovered, as newcomers to PUP inevitably do, that the Princeton publishing legacy of Albert Einstein carried with it a set of implications beyond his specific scientific bounty that would help to shape our publishing activity, as well as that of our colleagues. We see the Einstein legacy operating in three distinct ways on PUP’s culture:

First, it reinforces the centrality of excellence as a standard: simply put, we strive to publish the core scholarly books by leading authors, senior as well as first-time. Einstein’s legacy stands as a giant-sized symbol of excellence, an invisible but constant reminder that our challenge as publishers at Princeton is not merely to be good, but to be great. As we seek greatness by publishing those books that help to define and unite the frontiers of modern scholarship, and connect our authors’ ideas with minds everywhere, we are upholding a standard embodied in the work of Albert Einstein.

The second implication of the bounty Albert Einstein is a commitment to seeing liberal knowledge defined broadly, encompassing its scientific articulation as well as its expression in the humanities and social sciences. PUP purposefully publishes an unusually wide portfolio of subject areas, encompassing not only standard university press fields such as literary criticism, art history, politics, sociology, and philosophy, but a full complement of technical fields, including biology, physics, neuroscience, mathematics, economics, and computer science. A rival publisher once half-jokingly described PUP as “the empirical knowledge capital of the world.” She was referring to our capacious cultivation of scientific and humanistic publishing, an ambitious menu for a publisher producing only around 250 books a year, but one we think gives the Press its distinctive identity.

It is no coincidence that Albert Einstein, PUP’s most celebrated author, cast his influence across many of these fields both as a scientist and as a humanist, engaged fully in the life of the mind and of the world. His legacy thus inspires us to concentrate our editorial energies on building a list that focuses on knowledge in its broadest and deepest sense—that puts into play the sometimes contentious, and even seemingly incongruous, methodologies of science and the humanities and articulates a broad yet rigorous, intellectual vision, elevating knowledge for its own sake, even as the issues change from decade to decade.

A third implication appears in Einstein’s challenge to us to be a great global publisher. Einstein, a self-professed “citizen of the world” was in many ways the first global citizen, a scholar whose scientific achievement and fame played out on a truly global scale in an age of parochial and often violent nationalist thinking.

Einstein’s cosmopolitanism has inspired the Press to pursue a path of becoming a truly global university Press. To do this, PUP has built lists in fields that are cosmopolitan in their readership, opened offices in Europe and China, expanded its author and reviewer base all over the world, and has licensed its content for translation in many languages. As we go forward, we intend to continue to build a network that allows us to connect many local publishing and academic cultures with the global scholarly conversation. This vision of the Press’s future echoes Einstein’s call for a science that transcends national boundaries.

THE FUTURE

It has been nearly a century since publication of The Meaning of Relativity and half that since the original agreement for the EINSTEIN PAPERS was authorized. We can only imagine that the originators of the latter project would be proud of what our collective effort has produced, grateful to the principals for the job they have done in bringing the PAPERS to their current status, and maybe above all, awed by the global exposure the PAPERS have achieved in their print and now digital formats.

As we continue our work with our colleagues at Caltech and the Hebrew University to extend the EINSTEIN PAPERS into the future, we are reminded of the significance of the great scientist’s legacy, especially as it bears on our identity as a global publisher, framing the pursuit of knowledge imaginatively across the arts and sciences.

The eminent Italian publisher Roberto Calasso, in his recent book, The Art of the Publisher, encourages readers to imagine a publishing house as,

“a single text formed not just by the totality of books that have been published there, but also by its other constituent elements, such as the front covers, cover flaps, publicity, the quantity of copies printed and sold, or the different editions in which the same text has been presented. Imagine a publishing house in this way and you will find yourself immersed in a very strange landscape, something that you might regard as a literary work in itself, belonging to a genre all its own.”

Now, at a time when the very definition of publishing is being undermined by technological and economic forces, it is striking to see each publisher as a “literary work unto itself.” So it is with Princeton University Press. In so far as PUP can claim a list having a diversified but well-integrated publishing vision, one that constantly strives for excellence and that stresses the forest for the trees, it is inescapably about the spirit and substance reflected in the legacy of Albert Einstein, and it is inseparable from it.

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Peter J. Dougherty is Director of Princeton University Press. This essay is based in part on comments he delivered at the Space-Time Theories conference at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in January, 2015. Al Bertrand is Associate Publishing Director of Princeton University Press and Executive Editor of the Press’s history of science publishing program, including Einstein-related publications.

PUP Statement on Marra and Santella’s Cat Wars

Marra and SantellaPrinceton University Press takes pride in publishing a diverse, global mix of voices, ideas, and arguments. Cat Wars by Peter P. Marra & Chris Santella addresses a demonstrable threat that free-roaming cats bring to the long-term health of bird and small mammal populations and provides a science-based survey of the subject. It looks at a wide variety of issues and attempts to provide dispassionate, objective analyses. The authors and the Princeton University Press do not support the inhumane treatment of animals.

All books published by Princeton University Press benefit from a rigorous and thorough peer-review process to ensure the highest quality of scholarship and accuracy.  We embrace the highest standards in our publishing, embodied in the work of our authors since 1905.

To learn more about Cat Wars, please visit the book’s PUP catalog page.

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