Angus Deaton @ Princeton Public Library Community Room
Feb 17 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

DeatonThe world is a better place than it used to be. People are healthier, wealthier, and live longer. Yet the escapes from destitution by so many has left gaping inequalities between people and nations. In The Great Escape, Angus Deaton–one of the foremost experts on economic development and on poverty–tells the remarkable story of how, beginning 250 years ago, some parts of the world experienced sustained progress, opening up gaps and setting the stage for today’s disproportionately unequal world. Deaton takes an in-depth look at the historical and ongoing patterns behind the health and wealth of nations, and addresses what needs to be done to help those left behind.

Deaton describes vast innovations and wrenching setbacks: the successes of antibiotics, pest control, vaccinations, and clean water on the one hand, and disastrous famines and the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the other. He examines the United States, a nation that has prospered but is today experiencing slower growth and increasing inequality. He also considers how economic growth in India and China has improved the lives of more than a billion people. Deaton argues that international aid has been ineffective and even harmful. He suggests alternative efforts–including reforming incentives to drug companies and lifting trade restrictions–that will allow the developing world to bring about its own Great Escape.

Demonstrating how changes in health and living standards have transformed our lives, The Great Escape is a powerful guide to addressing the well-being of all nations.

Thomas Laqueur @ Tulane University
Feb 18 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

The Work of the DeadThe Greek philosopher Diogenes said that when he died his body should be tossed over the city walls for beasts to scavenge. Why should he or anyone else care what became of his corpse? In The Work of the Dead, acclaimed cultural historian Thomas Laqueur examines why humanity has universally rejected Diogenes’s argument. No culture has been indifferent to mortal remains. Even in our supposedly disenchanted scientific age, the dead body still matters—for individuals, communities, and nations. A remarkably ambitious history, The Work of the Dead offers a compelling and richly detailed account of how and why the living have cared for the dead, from antiquity to the twentieth century.

The book draws on a vast range of sources—from mortuary archaeology, medical tracts, letters, songs, poems, and novels to painting and landscapes in order to recover the work that the dead do for the living: making human communities that connect the past and the future. Laqueur shows how the churchyard became the dominant resting place of the dead during the Middle Ages and why the cemetery largely supplanted it during the modern period. He traces how and why since the nineteenth century we have come to gather the names of the dead on great lists and memorials and why being buried without a name has become so disturbing. And finally, he tells how modern cremation, begun as a fantasy of stripping death of its history, ultimately failed—and how even the ashes of the victims of the Holocaust have been preserved in culture.

A fascinating chronicle of how we shape the dead and are in turn shaped by them, this is a landmark work of cultural history.

Jorgensen @ Politics and Prose
Mar 5 @ 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Strange GlowMore than ever before, radiation is a part of our modern daily lives. We own radiation-emitting phones, regularly get diagnostic x-rays, such as mammograms, and submit to full-body security scans at airports. We worry and debate about the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the safety of nuclear power plants. But how much do we really know about radiation? And what are its actual dangers? An accessible blend of narrative history and science, Strange Glow describes mankind’s extraordinary, thorny relationship with radiation, including the hard-won lessons of how radiation helps and harms our health. Timothy Jorgensen explores how our knowledge of and experiences with radiation in the last century can lead us to smarter personal decisions about radiation exposures today.

Jorgensen introduces key figures in the story of radiation—from Wilhelm Roentgen, the discoverer of x-rays, and pioneering radioactivity researchers Marie and Pierre Curie, to Thomas Edison and the victims of the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. Tracing the most important events in the evolution of radiation, Jorgensen explains exactly what radiation is, how it produces certain health consequences, and how we can protect ourselves from harm. He also considers a range of practical scenarios such as the risks of radon in our basements, radiation levels in the fish we eat, questions about cell-phone use, and radiation’s link to cancer. Jorgensen empowers us to make informed choices while offering a clearer understanding of broader societal issues.

Investigating radiation’s benefits and risks, Strange Glow takes a remarkable look at how, for better or worse, radiation has transformed our society.

Timothy J. Jorgensen is associate professor of radiation medicine and director of the Health Physics and Radiation Protection Graduate Program at Georgetown University. He lives with his family in Rockville, Maryland.

Gott @ Hayden Planeterium
Mar 14 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm

GottJ. Richard Gott was among the first cosmologists to propose that the structure of our universe is like a sponge made up of clusters of galaxies intricately connected by filaments of galaxies—a magnificent structure now called the “cosmic web” and mapped extensively by teams of astronomers. Here is his gripping insider’s account of how a generation of undaunted theorists and observers solved the mystery of the architecture of our cosmos.

The Cosmic Web begins with modern pioneers of extragalactic astronomy, such as Edwin Hubble and Fritz Zwicky. It goes on to describe how, during the Cold War, the American school of cosmology favored a model of the universe where galaxies resided in isolated clusters, whereas the Soviet school favored a honeycomb pattern of galaxies punctuated by giant, isolated voids. Gott tells the stories of how his own path to a solution began with a high-school science project when he was eighteen, and how he and astronomer Mario Jurič measured the Sloan Great Wall of Galaxies, a filament of galaxies that, at 1.37 billion light-years in length, is one of the largest structures in the universe.

Drawing on Gott’s own experiences working at the frontiers of science with many of today’s leading cosmologists, The Cosmic Web shows how ambitious telescope surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey are transforming our understanding of the cosmos, and how the cosmic web holds vital clues to the origins of the universe and the next trillion years that lie ahead.

Sean B. Carroll @ Town Hall Seattle
Mar 21 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

CarrollHow does life work? How does nature produce the right numbers of zebras and lions on the African savanna, or fish in the ocean? How do our bodies produce the right numbers of cells in our organs and bloodstream? In The Serengeti Rules, award-winning biologist and author Sean Carroll tells the stories of the pioneering scientists who sought the answers to such simple yet profoundly important questions, and shows how their discoveries matter for our health and the health of the planet we depend upon.

One of the most important revelations about the natural world is that everything is regulated—there are rules that regulate the amount of every molecule in our bodies and rules that govern the numbers of every animal and plant in the wild. And the most surprising revelation about the rules that regulate life at such different scales is that they are remarkably similar—there is a common underlying logic of life. Carroll recounts how our deep knowledge of the rules and logic of the human body has spurred the advent of revolutionary life-saving medicines, and makes the compelling case that it is now time to use the Serengeti Rules to heal our ailing planet.

A bold and inspiring synthesis by one of our most accomplished biologists and gifted storytellers, The Serengeti Rules is the first book to illuminate how life works at vastly different scales. Read it and you will never look at the world the same way again.