Quick Questions for Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World

Adrienne Mayor is a research scholar in classics and the history of science at Stanford University. Her work searches for precursors to modern science in mythologies and folk traditions of peoples around the world. Mayor’s previous books include The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (2000) and Fossil Legends of the First Americans (2007), which examine pre-Darwinian cultural awareness of prehistoric life in antiquity and Native America, linking legends of monsters to the discovery of fossils. Her biography The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy was a finalist for 2009 National Book Award in Nonfiction and won the 2010 Gold Medal in Biography at the Independent Publisher Book Awards.amayor

Mayor’s upcoming book, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, explores the familiar Greek myth of warrior women from a global perspective. Citing stories from China, India, Egypt, Persia, and Central Asia, as well as new archaeological discoveries, Mayor unearths the roots of Amazon legends and reveals some surprising insights on gender in the ancient world.

Now, on to the questions!

What would you have been if not an historian?

If I had not become so obsessed with uncovering germs of historical and scientific realities in ancient mythology and legends, I would still be a full-time freelance copyeditor for about a dozen trade publishers and university presses (including Princeton University Press). That was my career until I published my first book (The First Fossil Hunters for PUP, 2000). Before I began concentrating on writing, in my free time I was an artist, making and selling etchings illustrating stories based on my readings in classical literature.


“I find writing a book a slow, intricate process, a kind of obstacle course punctuated with great rewards.”


What was the most influential book you’ve read?

Two influential books: The Histories of Herodotus, the world’s first “anthropologist,” an insatiably curious Greek historian who reported on barbarian cultures based on his research, travels, and interviews in the fifth century BC. I was also influenced by Mott T. Greene’s Natural Knowledge in Preclassical Antiquity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write? 

I had been gathering material about ancient women warriors for decades. But I began the serious research for The Amazons in 2009 and started the actual writing in 2012. I find writing a book a slow, intricate process, a kind of obstacle course punctuated with great rewards. But research is always thrilling and I tend to incorporate newfound material up to the very last minute. I write in two very different places: my desk in Palo Alto, California is piled high with myriad jumbled books and papers whose stratigraphy is a challenge. Summers in Bozeman, Montana, I write in a spare space, surrounded by interesting rocks and fossils instead of books, on an old oak table with nothing but my laptop.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book? 

Thanks to modern DNA testing, we now know that a significant number of battle-scarred skeletons buried with weapons in ancient steppe nomad graves belonged to women, the real-life models for Greek myths about Amazons. So Amazons were not just a figment of the Greek imagination, brought to life in exciting myths only to be killed off by Greek heroes. But even more surprising, it turns out that the Greeks were not the only people of antiquity to spin tales about heroic warrior women. And the non-Greek stories of warlike women differ radically from the dark mythic script demanding death for all Amazons. Instead, legendary heroes of Persia, Egypt, and Asia were so impressed with the valor of their female foes that they desired the women as companions in love and war. We are used to thinking of Amazon myths in terms of violence against uppity women, but the ancient evidence also reveals a vision of gender equality.

How did you come up with the title and jacket?

7-18 AmazonsMy working title was “Amazons in Love and War” because there are as many romances as battle stories about warrior women. The final title embraces both mythology and history and conveys the geographic scope of the book far beyond the ancient Mediterranean world. I wanted to find a unique picture for the cover, something arresting and unexpected, a departure from the standard classical Greek vase or Roman statue. I was struck by the strong image and narrative quality of a postage stamp issued by the Kyrgyz Republic. It shows the horsewoman-archer Saikal, heroine of the most famous Central Asian epic poem Manas. The black and white illustration is by Teodor Gercen, a German artist who worked in Kyrgyzstan.

What are you reading right now?

I am enjoying a well-researched adventure novel translated from Danish, The Lost Sisterhood (Random House, 2014) by Anne Fortier (Ph.D. Aarhus University, History of Ideas). The story follows an Oxford professor on a quest in North Africa and Troy to discover a legendary “Amazon treasure,” following clues left by her eccentric grandmother who claimed an Amazon queen as her ancestor.


Adrienne Mayor is the author of:

7-18 Amazons The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor
Hardcover | September 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691147208
536 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 maps | Reviews

Princeton University Press will be at #ASA14…

sociology

Photo credit Eric Schwartz

And these are just a few of the awesome books you might see at our booth. Stop by and say hi to our sociology editor Eric Schwartz!

Also, during the meeting, there will be a bookstore signing at Green Arcade Books for Amin Ghaziani’s book There Goes the Gayborhood? We hope yo will make some time to support a local bookstore and support one of your colleagues in one fell swoop. The event starts August 17th at 6 PM. Details here: http://www.thegreenarcade.com/assets/index/GayborhoodPoster.pdf

The Imitation Game — Official Trailer (Release date: November 21, 2014)

The Imitation Game is based on Alan Turing: The Enigma. We will release a movie tie-in paperback later this year so look for details of this soon.

Gregory Clark, Author of The Son Also Rises, on PBS: “Birth is Fate”

7-18 Gregory ClarkGregory Clark, professor of Economics at UC Davis and author of The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility can see into your future.

Well, maybe not in the conventional sense – but, based on the research featured in his latest book, Clark thinks it’s much easier to predict the trajectory of one’s life based on the social status of his or her parents. Social mobility is a far more stalwart characteristic than we thought, an issue that Clark discusses at great length in this recent op-ed for PBS Newshour. In a country that’s founded on the ideal of the “American Dream” and the possibility of rising in society, these revelations take on enormous importance and are subject to influence future public policy decisions.


“We can predict the majority of status variation among people at birth just from their lineage,” Clark writes. In other words, our society’s divergence of fortunes — which as Clark points out, isn’t just about income, but also social status – is relatively fixed. That’s something no one ever wants to talk about.”


Clark says that, “underlying social status is inherited from parents as strongly and mechanically as height,” and explains that rates of social mobility are reflected by the degree of similarity between children’s social outcomes and those of their parents – a melange of earnings, education, wealth, and health.  A family whose generations possess a weaker correlation between these factors thus places less emphasis on lineage, race, and ethnicity for the next generation, when children become free to produce a fresh set of social outcomes. Alternately, a family in which children and their parents possess greater similarities is more capable of predicting the social status of its progeny. 

Clark’s essential point lingers on the incredibly slow nature of social mobility. Fortunately, though, he’s able to leave off with some encouraging news: there is “considerable evidence that the biological inheritance of talent and drive is what underlies most of the correlation between the social status of parents and children,” and that “whatever the social system — Communist China or Republican Texas — families of greater social competence will navigate themselves to the better social positions.” Change is uniquely possible for those with the tools and motivation to enact it. 

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Gregory Clark is the author of:

7-18 SonAlsoRises The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility by Gregory Clark
Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691162546
384 pp. | 6 x 9 | 15 halftones. 111 line illus. 50 tables. 7 maps. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851096 | Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

Why Government Fails So Often: Or, the Skeptics Are Winning

7-17 SchuckAccording to The New York Times‘s David Leonhardt, the United States federal government gets an honorable mention when it comes to reform, innovation, and protection – but it’s not quite enough. In a recent op-ed for “The Upshot,” the paper’s politics and policy blog, Leonhardt pays due diligence to the large-scale achievements of the United States: dismantling totalitarian governments, putting men on the moon, and the invention of the Internet among them. And yet, despite our big picture success stories, we continue to stumble in the day-to-day.

Leonhardt references Yale Law professor and Princeton University Press author Peter Schuck’s latest book, Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better in evaluating the current role of the federal government and the extent to which its activity is productive and beneficial, particularly when it comes to the siphoning of federal funds.


“When the federal government is good, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad (or at least deeply inefficient), it’s the norm.”


Soon, however, we might start to see some returns on our investments. The growing popularity of programs that are funded based on their initial success suggests a growing demand for tangible results, to see where our money is going and to ensure that we’re not wasting it.  These programs “span child care, job training and juvenile recidivism,” and are sometimes known as “pay for success,” wherein controlled trials are set up to determine the effect of such projects. And really, that’s the only way to know if something works. Professor Schuck is right to re-evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these initiatives, and with any luck, the government will start to fail just a little less.

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Peter H. Schuck is the author of:

7-17 Government Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better by Peter H. Schuck
Hardcover | 2014 | $27.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691161624
488 pp. | 6 x 9 | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850044 | Reviews  Table of Contents   Chapter 1[PDF]

Cue up The Bangles and join us as we Count Like an Egyptian with Fox News


Interested in learning more about how to do math like an ancient Egyptian, check out David Reimer’s book Count Like an Egyptian.

Maland and the Tramp: Celebrating 100 Years of Chaplin

Chuck MalandPrinceton University Press author and Charlie Chaplin aficionado (mustache included) Chuck Maland, along with hundreds of other black-and-white buffs, will flock to Bologna, Italy in late June to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic “Tramp” character.

Participants include British director Mike Leigh, Chaplin biographer David Robinson, David Totheroh (grandson of Chaplin’s long-time cameraman), Chaplin’s son Michael, and many Chaplin enthusiasts and scholars. It is, then, a perfect moment to revisit Maland’s book, Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image; in it, Maland recounts the rise and fall of Chaplin’s public reputation in America, including his rapid ascent to fame in the 1910s and 1920s, as well the rocky time Chaplin endured in the Red Scare of the early 1950s, which led to his decision to leave the U.S. and settle in Switzerland for the rest of his life.

Based in part on Maland’s research into 1700 pages of FBI files and other government documents, the book clarifies how and why Chaplin left the country in 1952, but it also traces Chaplin’s amazing popularity from 1915 to World War Two, as well as the ways that Chaplin’s star image lived on even after the filmmaker’s death in 1977 through the re-release of his films in home video formats and the use of the Tramp character’s image in ads for the early IBM PC’s.

The centenary celebrations, sponsored by the Cineteca di Bologna and the Association Chaplin, will begin on the evening of Wednesday, June 25th, with an agenda set to include film screenings, performances, and an art show, in addition to presentations. Paper topics for the latter will range from Chaplin’s imitators and his critical reception in the industry, to the Tramp’s global influence on art and philosophy.

See what it’s all about, with this trailer from the official Chaplin website:

Sexuality and the City–presenting the book trailer for There Goes the Gayborhood? by Amin Ghaziani

In There Goes the Gayborhood?, sociologist Amin Ghaziani shows why the rumors of the demise of gay neighborhoods like Boystown, Chelsea, the Castro District, and Dupont Circle are premature. Publishers Weekly says his “findings are not to be missed,” while Library Journal says the book represents, “a fascinating, rich view that is supported by up-to-date statistics.” This video gives a quick overview of what the book covers.

You can sample a free chapter here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i10211.pdf

Is a “starvation diet” the cure for the crisis of the humanities?

Turner_PhilologyIt may seem strange, but as James Turner argues on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Conversations blog, the modern humanities may not be at “death’s door,” as so many commentators imply. He says that a longer view–one that extends back to ancient times–tells us that what we are seeing is a reemergence of a generalist, philological approach to the humanities. Back to Philology indeed!

Turner details the “forgotten origins of the modern humanities,” in much greater detail in his new intellectual history, Philology. You can read a free chapter here [PDF].

Listen to the dire talk around colleges and universities, read op-eds and magazines, and you might think the humanities were in greater danger than the earth’s climate. In fact, despite the overheated rhetoric, the humanities are not at death’s door. Contemporary pressures will more likely push them into a new shape, even ultimately a healthier one.

That claim might seem bizarre. The proportion of college students majoring in the humanities has sunk to an all-time low. Students have turned their backs on art history and literature in favor of studies, like accounting and nursing, that lead directly to jobs. Governors like Florida’s Rick Scott have worked to undercut fields of study not tuned closely to employment. President Obama wants education to stress science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Funds for research in disciplines like history and linguistics are drying up. Congress has already slashed the budget of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and now Rep. Paul Ryan wants to kill it.

Analysts of higher education paint a more ambiguous picture. How many years ago you start counting—either majors or research dollars—determines how gloomy the humanities numbers look. And with more and more Americans going to college only to qualify themselves for work, most time-honored fields of study have taken a hit, not just the humanities. But even at a traditional, elite institution like Stanford, majors in humanities disciplines have fallen so low as to alarm faculty members into unprecedented missionary efforts.

To see how, paradoxically, a starvation diet may rejuvenate the humanities, it helps to take a long view. First of all, the humanities disciplines familiar in American higher education today did not even exist 200 years ago. Sure, in 1814 students learned the Greek and Latin languages, but no discipline called “classics” devoted itself to ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Yes, a college president in that era was likely to lecture on moral philosophy, but the broad range of topics covered by a modern philosophy department had no place in his institution.

Continue reading at The Chronicle of Higher Education web site: http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2014/06/09/yes-the-humanities-are-struggling-but-they-will-endure/

Princeton at Hay Festival


Hay on Monday evening
Blackburn at Hay
Simon Blackburn talks to Rosie Boycott
Mitton at Hay
Jacqueline Mitton broadens our knowledge of the solar system
Bethencourt at Hay
Francisco Bethencourt discusses “Racisms”

Last week was an important week in the British literary calendar–the week of Hay Festival! Set in beautiful Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh Borders, and running since 1988, the festival attracts thousands of book and culture enthusiasts from around the world every year. This year’s line-up was as strong as ever: with names such as Toni Morrison, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry, Mervin King, Jeremy Paxman, Simon Schama, Sebastian Faulks, William Dalrymple, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bear Grylls, Max Hastings, Rob Brydon, Bill Bailey and Dame Judi Dench (to name but a few to catch my eye in the jam-packed programme), 2014′s Festival could not fail to enthrall and delight anyone who walked its muddy paths.

And of course, Princeton University Press authors have been gracing the Hay stages this year, with a variety of wonderful events. From Diane Coyle, explaining GDP to us in plain English (and lo0king very stylish in her Hay wellies) to Michael Wood (translator of Dictionary of Untranslatables) discussing words that defy easy–or any–translation from one language and culture to another, to Ian Goldin’s talk about globalization and risk (The Butterfly Defect), last weekend got off to a great start.

Then, earlier in the week, Jacqueline Mitton (author of From Dust to Life) took a gripped audience on a journey through the history of our solar system in her “John Maddox Lecture”.  On Tuesday, Rosie Boycott spoke to Simon Blackburn about his book Mirror, Mirror–a fascinating conversation which covered everything from psychopathic tendencies displayed in senior management to whether Facebook is really that damaging to the young. Francisco Bethencourt, meanwhile, managed to squeeze a history of racisms into an hour and gave us lots to ponder.

If all this leaves you wishing you’d been there, there is still more to envy! Later in the week, Roger Scruton, Will Gompertz and others discussed the value of a Fine Art degree – does contemporary art celebrate concept without skill? On a parallel stage, renowned historian Averil Cameron (author of Byzantine Matters) convinced us that an understanding of the Byzantine era is just as important as studying, say, Rome or Greece. Finally, Michael Scott (author of Delphi), whom it is almost impossible to miss on the BBC these days, delivered a talk about Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World on Friday.

Whether you swoon for science are potty for poetry, whether you want to dance the night away in a frenzy of jazz or are hoping to meet your favourite on-screen star, Hay Festival offers something new and exciting every year.

It’s Getting Hot in Here: Eric H. Cline’s New York Times Op-Ed on the Perils of Climate Change

5-28 Bronze Age CollapseIn the eye of the storm – that is to say, in the unrelenting public discussion that is climate change – author Eric H. Cline’s latest Op-Ed for The New York Times packs quite a gale force.

Holding both ancient and contemporary society up to the proverbial light, Cline asks if we’re really all that different from our forebears and whether or not we’re capable of avoiding a similarly abrupt end.

Eric H. Cline, a Professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University and the Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute,  doesn’t hesitate to present these very early, and very scary repercussions of environmental catastrophe. He reminds readers that these events have acted as catalysts of warfare and harbingers of destruction since the days of old, or, more specifically, since the tail-end of the Late Bronze Age.

In his new book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, Cline reveals that the thriving cultures within Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia didn’t necessarily succumb to the military prowess of the ‘Sea Peoples’ alone, but rather, fell victim to Mother Nature herself: earthquakes, changes in water temperature, drought, and famine hearkened in a period of rebellion, followed by complete ruin.


“We still do not know the specific details of the collapse at the end of the Late Bronze Age or how the cascade of events came to change society so drastically. But it is clear that climate change was one of the primary drivers or stressors, leading to the societal breakdown.”


The real question Cline seems to be getting at is: “Why not us?” We’re no more able to control the weather than they were – or are we? Recent debates about global warming suggest that we might just be able to put off our own demise, at least temporarily.

What happens if we don’t change our habits, however, is less certain; but Cline is fairly convinced, based on the evidence from his book, that it won’t be good. For him, the possibility of total collapse is far from the realm of the ridiculous, and his article is not so much a threat as it is a warning. Maybe if we know what brought our ancestors into the Dark Ages, we can stay in a light for just a little while longer.

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Eric H. Cline is the author of:

5-28 Cline 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691140896
264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 halftones. 2 maps. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400849987
Reviews Table of Contents Prologue[PDF]

Congratulations Michael Cook, Winner of the 2014 Holberg Prize

5-23 CookA hearty congratulations are in order for Michael Cook: he has been named the winner of the 2014 Holberg Prize, an award given annually to a scholar who has made outstanding contributions to research in the arts and humanities, social sciences, law, or theology.

The 2014 Holberg committee says of the laureate that, “Michael Cook is one of today’s leading experts on the history and religious thought of Islam. He has reshaped fields that span Ottoman studies, the genesis of early Islamic polity, the history of the Wahhabiya movement, and Islamic law, ethics, and theology. His contribution to the entire field, from Islam’s genesis to the present, displays a mastery of textual, economic, and social approaches.”

    Michael Cook is the Class of 1943 University Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, and is widely considered one of today’s leading experts on the history and religious thoughtof Islam. His work explicitly asserts the role of religion in the formation of Islamic civilization, stretching from the medieval period to the present. His newest book,  Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective (2014) carefully considers the connection between modern fundamentalism and the political role of religion in Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. He is also the author of Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought and A Brief History of the Human Race, among other books. He is also the general editor of The New Cambridge History of Islam.