Remember Romney’s Dog?

Of course you do. You could probably refresh your memory of the story in a few clicks. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is the author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, which argues that the all-too-perfect memory of the digital realm has serious implications for all of us. Case in point: Just last week, Mitt Romney suffered a setback at the hands of a certain widely released fundraiser video. It’s a familiar story. Politicians and public figures have suffered countless humiliations courtesy of cyberspace’s refusal to let bygones be bygones, a comeuppance that can seem unfair when the result can mean an entire career of public service cancelled out by one all-too-visible error in judgment (or tweet). Perhaps with so much of life digitally preserved,  mankind can learn to adjust and filter accordingly?  Read Schönberger’s Election 101 post here.


Remembering Romney’s Dog

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger


Mitt Romney’s dog, tied to the roof of the family car during a long vacation drive, is one picture (even if only imagined, based on the light-hearted story told by Romney’s son) that fails to fade. A year ago, aspiring young Democratic Congressmen Anthony Weiner, married to Hilary Clinton’s long-time personal aide abruptly resigned; he had sent partially nude digital pictures of himself together with explicit messages to at least six women he barely knew.

This election cycle is no different from the last. Stories and pictures from a politician’s past appear and shape our perceptions of who he (or she) is. And these images don’t go away, they stay in our collective mind, and no matter how hard politicians try, these images continue to define them in the public eye. At best they go away when the politician does. Rep. Weiner’s images have faded from the public eye, because so has he.

With so much of our daily lives captured digitally, so many digital photos taken, so many billions of emails exchanged, Tweets sent, Facebook Status messages posted, many of the digerati, the self-proclaimed Internet experts, predicted that humans would swiftly adjust to comprehensive digital memory, and develop robust cognitive filters. We would, the argument went, simply disregard the meme of Romney’s dog or Weiner’s explicit messages as an irrelevant little piece of digital trivia that is not representative of Governor Romney or Representative Weiner. If everyone has such skeletons in the closet, why should we bother? Wouldn’t we be better advised to scrutinize politicians’ agendas than their digital memories?

It’s an admirable viewpoint – and always struck me as terribly naïve. For one, not all of us strap our dogs to car roofs for long rides, or send sexually explicit messages to people we barely know. And the ubiquity of digital cameras (and the ease of sharing photos) does not turn us into Exhibitionists or Peeping Toms. But even more importantly, human cognition is primed to remember the exceptional, and to forget the ordinary. That is how we think. For thousands of years it helped us to quickly recognize changed conditions; it made us aware of dangers and saved our ancestor’s (and perhaps our) lives. We have this particular ability to see the red rose in a field full of yellow tulips – and that rose is what we later remember in detail, not the thousands of tulips around it. Because we recognize and remember exceptions, we can’t quickly forget Romney’s dog and Weiner’s explicit messages, even if we wanted to.

Thus, if more of our lives is captured digitally, preserved, and kept accessible, neither politicians nor we ourselves can hope for a cognitive adjustment that lets us put aside extraordinary bits of the past.

In politics this means that we may continue to remember Romney’s dog as much (or more) as his political agenda, even though that’s not how most of us like to see ourselves: rational and objective. It does not only complicate a politician’s life (she has to assume to be constantly watched), it also makes politics an unattractive career. That is troubling for a democracy.

But retaining an ability to forget in the digital age is important not just for democracy, but for all of us. We all have trespassed in the past, and unlike in the analog age these misdeeds are more frequently captured digitally now, and preserved long-term. It may be time to think how we best can rid ourselves of some of these digital memories that are no longer relevant to who we are today.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger is professor of internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and a member of the academic advisory board of Microsoft. His other books include Governance and Information Technology. A former software developer and lawyer, he spent ten years on the faculty of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein captures his journey to the Far East while dealing with the consequences of celebrity in turbulent political times — PUBLICATION DAY

Volume 13: The Berlin Years: Writings
& Correspondence, January 1922—March 1923, Documentary Edition

Edited by Diana Kormos Buchwald, József Illy, Ze’ev Rosenkranz, & Tilman Sauer

Princeton University Press, the Einstein Papers Project at California Institute of Technology, and the Albert
Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
, are pleased to be publishing the latest volume in the massively authoritative Einstein Papers Project THE COLLECTED PAPERS OF ALBERT EINSTEIN: Volume 13: The Berlin Years: Writings & Correspondence, January 1922—March 23, Documentary Edition on September 25, 2012.  When in the fall of 1922 it was announced that Albert Einstein had won the Nobel Prize in Physics, after more than a decade of nominations, Einstein was on a steamer headed for Japan. Although he was unofficially made aware of the upcoming award, he decided to leave Berlin, and makes no mention of the award in his detailed and poetic Travel Diary of his trip to the Far East, Palestine, and Spain, published here in its entirety for the first time. Together with a correspondence of 1,000 letters—most of which were never published before—with numerous colleagues, friends, and family members, the volume presents a rich trove of documents, central to understanding this period in Einstein’s life and work, heavily marked by the assassination of Germany’s foreign minister, his friend Walther Rathenau. As Einstein himself professed, the trip was an escape from the tense atmosphere in Berlin and rumored threats against his own life, as well as the fulfillment of his long-held desire to visit Japan.

Aside from his personal and political activities documented here, among which are his visit to Paris and his involvement in the League of Nations, Einstein was still heavily engaged in major current issues in theoretical physics. Thus, from among the thirty-six writings covering these fifteen months, a paper on the Stern-Gerlach experiment, written with Paul Ehrenfest, shows with uncompromising clarity that the experiment posed a problem that could not be solved by contemporary quantum theory and anticipates, in a sense, what later would become known as the quantum measurement problem.  In relativity theory, Einstein continued to be concerned with its cosmological implications, and with the extent to which Mach’s principle would be vindicated in special solutions.  He also began to investigate the possibilities and restrictions that relativity implied for a unified field theory of the gravitational and electromagnetic fields.  During periods of leisure on board the steamer on his return trip from Japan, he completed a paper which further developed Arthur S. Eddington’s recent reinterpretation of relativity as being based solely on the concept of the so-called affine connection.


Diana Kormos Buchwald, General Editor

THE COLLECTED PAPERS OF ALBERT EINSTEIN is one of the most ambitious publishing ventures ever undertaken in the documentation of the history of science.  Selected from among more than 40,000 documents contained in the personal collection of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), and 20,000 Einstein and Einstein-related documents discovered by the editors since the beginning of the Einstein Papers Project,  The Collected Papers will provide the first complete picture of a massive written legacy that ranges from Einstein’s first work on the special and general theories of relativity and the origins of quantum theory, to expressions of his profound concern with international cooperation and reconciliation, civil liberties, education, Zionism, pacifism, and disarmament.  The series will contain over 14,000 documents and will fill close to thirty volumes.  Sponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Princeton University Press, the project is located at and supported by the California Institute of Technology, and will make available a monumental collection of primary material. The Albert Einstein Archives is located at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Thirteen volumes covering Einstein’s life and work up to his forty-fourth birthday have so far been published. They present more than 300 writings and 5,000 letters written by and to Einstein. Every document in The Collected Papers appears in the language in which it was written, while the introduction, headnotes, footnotes, and other scholarly apparatus is in English.  Upon release of each volume, Princeton University Press also publishes an English translation of previously untranslated non-English documents.

About the Editors:
At the California Institute of Technology, Diana Kormos Buchwald is professor of history; József Illy, Ze’ev Rosenkranz, and Tilman Sauer are senior researchers in history

Dana Mackenzie gets the school year started…


It’s back to school time, and today is triple maths. Dana Mackenzie, author of The Universe in Zero Words: The Story of Mathematics as Told through Equations shares his knowledge of maths and the history of maths in three little podcasts by RTE Lyric FM Culture File.



FACT: “When water boils, the liquid is converted into gas. This requires a great deal of energy—the energy of vaporization. While to heat one gram of water by one degree takes one calorie, to convert that gram of water to gas takes 539 calories.”

How to Build a Habitable Planet:
The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind
(Revised and Expanded Edition)

by Charles H. Langmuir & Wally Broecker

Since its first publication more than twenty-five years ago, How to Build a Habitable Planet has established a legendary reputation as an accessible yet scientifically impeccable introduction to the origin and evolution of Earth, from the Big Bang through the rise of human civilization. This classic account of how our habitable planet was assembled from the stuff of stars introduced readers to planetary, Earth, and climate science by way of a fascinating narrative. Now this great book has been made even better. Harvard geochemist Charles Langmuir has worked closely with the original author, Wally Broecker, one of the world’s leading Earth scientists, to revise and expand the book for a new generation of readers for whom active planetary stewardship is becoming imperative.

Interweaving physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and biology, this sweeping account tells Earth’s complete story, from the synthesis of chemical elements in stars, to the formation of the Solar System, to the evolution of a habitable climate on Earth, to the origin of life and humankind. The book also addresses the search for other habitable worlds in the Milky Way and contemplates whether Earth will remain habitable as our influence on global climate grows. It concludes by considering the ways in which humankind can sustain Earth’s habitability and perhaps even participate in further planetary evolution.

Like no other book, How to Build a Habitable Planet provides an understanding of Earth in its broadest context, as well as a greater appreciation of its possibly rare ability to sustain life over geologic time.

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here:

This Week’s Book Giveaway

Are you following PUP on Google+ yet? If not, today’s the day to add us to your circle—we’re hosting another giveaway this week! Follow us by Friday to win!

Alan Turing: The Enigma
The Centenary Edition

by Andrew Hodges
With a foreword by Douglas Hofstadter
and a new preface by the author

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades—all before his suicide at age forty-one. This classic biography of the founder of computer science, reissued on the centenary of his birth with a substantial new preface by the author, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. A gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges’s acclaimed book captures both the inner and outer drama of Turing’s life.

Hodges tells how Turing’s revolutionary idea of 1936—the concept of a universal machine—laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing’s leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic story of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program—all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.

“One of the finest scientific biographies ever written.”—Jim Holt, New Yorker

“A first-class contribution to history and an exemplary work of biography.”—I. J. Good, Nature

The random draw for this book with be Friday 6/29 at 11 am EST. Be sure to check out our Google+ page and add us to your circle to be entered to win!

W. Patrick McCray, author of our forthcoming book THE VISIONEERS, on Elon Musk and SpaceX for

Over the weekend, published a wonderful opinion piece by University of California-Santa Barbara science historian W. Patrick McCray on the fascinating “visioneer” Elon Musk and his successful launch and docking with the International Space Station last month.

We are publishing Professor McCray’s forthcoming book THE VISIONEERS: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future in January 2013 and one of the main characters of the book, Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, is compared to Musk in the piece.  Enjoy!

Recently, technology enthusiasts around the planet had the opportunity to get better acquainted with Elon Musk, the creator of SpaceX, the first privately owned company to send a spacecraft to the space station.

Launched in the same manner as a Silicon Valley startup, SpaceX designed and manufactured the Dragon capsule, which successfully completed a mission with the International Space Station before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean.

I see Musk, a 40-year-old entrepreneur who made his fortune by co-founding PayPal, as a “visioneer.” That is to say, he is someone who combines scientific and engineering prowess — in his case, a degree in physics — with an expansive view of how technology will upend traditional economic models, and has the ability to inspire others to support his work.

Musk has bold visions for the future. When he finished college, he identified three areas that could change the world. One was the Internet; another was new sources of energy; and the third was transforming our civilization in such a way so that it could expand out into the solar system….

To read the entire article on, please click on this link.

New YouTube video for popular science title, ‘Cells to Civilizations’

Cells to Civilizations

Award winning scientist Enrico Coen’s new book, ‘Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life‘ , is published this month. He talks here about the ideas behind the book:

Dana Mackenzie – Four Way Interview

Dana Mackenzie – Four Way Interview

Dana Mackenzie is the author of The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be (Wiley), among other books. He is a frequent contributor to Science, Discover, and New Scientist. He has a PhD in mathematics from Princeton and was a mathematics professor for thirteen years before becoming a full time writer. His latest book is The Universe in Zero Words.

Why maths?

To me, mathematics is the most universal language. It is a subject with a continuous unbroken tradition from the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, and Egyptians to the present day – a longer tradition than any other science and virtually any other human endeavor. It is an enabling subject, in the sense that every other science depends on it to some extent, and generally speaking the more modern a science becomes, the more explicitly it incorporates mathematical reasoning and ideas.

Most importantly and most personally for me, I love mathematics because there is no other field I know of where truth and beauty are so closely intertwined. They are related in the other sciences as well, but I still feel feel that scientific truths are to some extent contingent and occasionally a result of happenstance. Our knowledge is based upon imperfect data and our imperfect interpretations thereof. In
mathematics, by contrast, nothing is ever true by accident. A mathematical theorem, once proven correctly, can never be falsified. (It can only become irrelevant, and even then it often returns to relevance when you least expect it.) The best theorems, and the best proofs, are almost always the ones with the greatest beauty and economy of ideas.

Why this book?

My purpose in writing this book is to demystify mathematics, and in particular to demystify equations.

For many people, an equation is a forbidding and scary thing. It looks like some kind of mystical incantation filled with secrets they are not privy to. And yet for scientists, and especially for mathematicians, it is exactly the opposite. Words are too imprecise and clumsy to express the fine details of a mathematical idea; an equation is often the only way to do it. This is why I called the book The Universe in Zero Words - because by opening yourself up to equations (which typically have zero words), you open yourself to seeing the universe more clearly.

To compare words to equations, imagine comparing a painting of Earth to a Google map. No matter how well executed, the painting is rough and inaccurate. When you zoom in on it, you don’t see any new geographic details. By contrast, the farther you zoom into a Google map, the more interesting details you see. It is the same way with an equation. This book is an attempt to help the reader through that process, to see the ”Google Maps” version of mathematics rather than the caricature version that popular culture presents us.

I also wrote this book because I wanted to write a mathematics book! My first book (The Big Splat, or How Our Moon Came to Be) was about a subject that I had no special training in when I began the project. It was a great way to exercise and develop my journalistic muscles. For my second book, I wanted to write about something that I already knew a lot about. This allowed me to write from a much more personal point of view, rather than the dispassionate view of the journalist or historian.

What’s next?

In the short term, I am continuing to write a series of booklets for the American Mathematical Society called What’s Happening in the Mathematical Sciences. The next one in the series, volume 9, should come out early next year, and I am very busy with that and hoping that I can meet my deadline.

In the long term, I expect that at some point I will get to work on another trade book. I love writing the “What’s Happening” series, but I have to admit that it reaches a rather narrow audience. At this point I can only describe the broadest features of what I am looking for in my next mass market book. Having written one book “far from home” (about planetary science) and one “close to home” (about mathematics) I will probably venture “farther from home” again. But I may change that plan if The Universe in Zero Words is a big success, and if there seems to be a big demand for another mathematical book from me. I would also be interested in writing a book that takes place over a shorter time frame, because both of my previous books covered nearly the whole period of recorded history. There is something to be said for the classical unities of time, space, and action (although I would not interpret themtoo literally).

What’s exciting you at the moment?

Mostly the things I have written about most recently and the things I am writing about right now. That would include an article I wrote for Science magazine about robotic flapping birds, and a chapter I wrote for What’s Happening in the Mathematical Sciences about mathematical algorithms to solve Rubik’s cube. An interesting thing that they had in common was that for the first time I found myself using YouTube as a research tool! There is an absolutely amazing video on YouTube of one of the new robotic birds, designed by a German company called Festo, flying over the audience at a TED conference in Edinburgh. You should look it up if you haven’t seen it. And there are many, many amazing videos on YouTube of “speedcubers” — people who solve Rubik’s cube as quickly as possible. Some use their hands, some use their feet, some do it blindfolded! The current world record for solving Rubik’s cube (by a human) is 5.66 seconds. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even unlock the door to my house in 5.66 seconds!

This interview was first published on 25th May 2012 on Popular Science. For more interviews like this as well as book reviews on popular science and maths titles, please visit


This Week’s Book Giveaway

Alan Turing’s Systems of Logic: The Princeton Thesis
Edited and introduced by Andrew W. Appel

Between inventing the concept of a universal computer in 1936 and breaking the German Enigma code during World War II, Alan Turing (1912-1954), the British founder of computer science and artificial intelligence, came to Princeton University to study mathematical logic. Some of the greatest logicians in the world—including Alonzo Church, Kurt Gödel, John von Neumann, and Stephen Kleene—were at Princeton in the 1930s, and they were working on ideas that would lay the groundwork for what would become known as computer science. Though less well known than his other work, Turing’s 1938 Princeton PhD thesis, “Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals,” which includes his notion of an oracle machine, has had a lasting influence on computer science and mathematics. This book presents a facsimile of the original typescript of the thesis along with essays by Andrew Appel and Solomon Feferman that explain its still-unfolding significance.

A work of philosophy as well as mathematics, Turing’s thesis envisions a practical goal—a logical system to formalize mathematical proofs so they can be checked mechanically. If every step of a theorem could be verified mechanically, the burden on intuition would be limited to the axioms. Turing’s point, as Appel writes, is that “mathematical reasoning can be done, and should be done, in mechanizable formal logic.” Turing’s vision of “constructive systems of logic for practical use” has become reality: in the twenty-first century, automated “formal methods” are now routine.

Presented here in its original form, this fascinating thesis is one of the key documents in the history of mathematics and computer science.

A slight change this week—the random draw for this book with be Thursday 5/17 at 3 pm EST. Be sure to like us on Facebook if you haven’t already to be entered to win!

Alan Turing biographer Andrew Hodges discusses the enigmatic mathematician with IEEE Spectrum’s Techwise Conversations

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of renowned mathematician–and World War II hero–Alan Turing, his biographer Andrew Hodges conducted a podcast with IEEE Spectrum’s Steven Cherry for their Techwise Converstaions. To hear a lively and entertaining discussion on the man, click below. To learn more about the fascinating yet tragic life of Alan Turing, check out Andrew Hodges’s new Centenary Edition of his classic work ALAN TURING: The Enigma.

This Week’s Book Giveaway

On Wednesday, March 14 we’re celebrating Albert Einstein’s birthday and Pi Day—two very big events in Princeton! Einstein lived in Princeton for over 20 years, so to honor his big day we’re giving away a copy of a book of his quotations:

The Ultimate Quotable Einstein
Collected and edited by Alice Calaprice
With a foreword by Freeman Dyson

Here is the definitive new edition of the hugely popular collection of Einstein quotations that has sold tens of thousands of copies worldwide and been translated into twenty-five languages.

The Ultimate Quotable Einstein features 400 additional quotes, bringing the total to roughly 1,600 in all. This ultimate edition includes new sections—”On and to Children,” “On Race and Prejudice,” and “Einstein’s Verses: A Small Selection”—as well as a chronology of Einstein’s life and accomplishments, Freeman Dyson’s authoritative foreword, and new commentary by Alice Calaprice.

In The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, readers will also find quotes by others about Einstein along with quotes attributed to him. Every quotation in this informative and entertaining collection is fully documented, and Calaprice has carefully selected new photographs and cartoons to introduce each section.

-Features 400 additional quotations

-Contains roughly 1,600 quotations in all

-Includes new sections on children, race and prejudice, and Einstein’s poetry

-Provides new commentary

-Beautifully illustrated

-The most comprehensive collection of Einstein quotes ever published

Praise for previous editions: “All of us who lack Einstein’s intellectual and spiritual gifts owe a debt of gratitude to Princeton University Press for having humanized him in this innovative way.”—Timothy Ferris, New York Times Book Review

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here:

The random draw for this book with be Friday 3/16 at 3 pm EST. Be sure to like us on Facebook if you haven’t already to be entered to win!


FACT: “In 1975, the National Society for Autistic Children (NSAC, later the Autism Society of America,) lobbied to include autism as one of the developmental disabilities covered under the Education for All Handicapped Act. They succeeded. The bill, later revised and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, entitled children with autism and other developmental disabilities to a ‘free, appropriate, public education.’ The NSAC also demanded autism’s inclusion in the Developmental Disabilities Act, a bill authorizing services and support. . . .”

Understanding Autism: Parents, Doctors, and the History of a Disorder
by Chloe Silverman

Autism has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years, thanks to dramatically increasing rates of diagnosis, extensive organizational mobilization, journalistic coverage, biomedical research, and clinical innovation. Understanding Autism, a social history of the expanding diagnostic category of this contested illness, takes a close look at the role of emotion—specifically, of parental love—in the intense and passionate work of biomedical communities investigating autism.

Chloe Silverman tracks developments in autism theory and practice over the past half-century and shows how an understanding of autism has been constituted and stabilized through vital efforts of schools, gene banks, professional associations, government committees, parent networks, and treatment conferences. She examines the love and labor of parents, who play a role in developing—in conjunction with medical experts—new forms of treatment and therapy for their children. While biomedical knowledge is dispersed through an emotionally neutral, technical language that separates experts from laypeople, parental advocacy and activism call these distinctions into question. Silverman reveals how parental care has been a constant driver in the volatile field of autism research and treatment, and has served as an inspiration for scientific change.

Recognizing the importance of parental knowledge and observations in treating autism, this book reveals that effective responses to the disorder demonstrate the mutual interdependence of love and science.

“Autism remains a contested condition, and given the steep rise in research, diagnosis rates and media coverage, the debate is set to run and run. Science historian Chloe Silverman gives a balanced, sensitive social history of autism that unflinchingly covers many controversial byways. She explores the theory and biomedical advances, and how gene banks, schools and autism organizations have enriched understanding—augmented by parents of children with autism, whose experiences have informed and inspired much research.”—Nature

We invite you to read the Introduction here: