Quick Questions for Katherine Freese, author of The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter

Katherine FreeseKatherine Freese is the George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan, and the Associate Director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics. Her work has a strong focus on topics within theoretical cosmology and astroparticle physics, particularly in identifying the dark matter and dark energy that permeate the universe.

Her latest book, The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter, details the quest to solve one of the greatest scientific enigmas of all time – what is the universe made of? Dr. Freese, one of the leading experts on dark matter, recounts the earliest speculation about this murky subject stretching from the 1930s to present day in clear, accessible prose. Dr. Freese received her B.A. in Physics from Princeton University; her M.A. in Physics from Columbia University; and her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago, where she was a recipient of the William Rainey Harper Dissertation Fellowship – the highest honor that the university offers to any graduate student.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Katherine Freese: I was lucky to have role models and mentors who encouraged me to go into science. My parents, who were biologists, were among the founders of the field of molecular biology. Since my mother was a scientist, the notion of becoming a woman scientist wasn’t foreign to me. I dedicated my book The Cosmic Cocktail to them, as well at to my Ph.D. advisor, who was also very important.

I started graduate school as an experimentalist, working as a particle accelerator outside of Chicago to study elementary particles. Twice a week I drove into the city to take a class from David Schramm on cosmology. He was a giant of a man, both physically and intellectually. He was an Olympic hopeful wrestling champ, with the nickname “Schrammbo.” His course was so inspiring that I switched fields to work with him as my Ph.D. advisor. The field of particle astrophysics, applying the ideas of the smallest particles to the largest astronomical objects like galaxies, was in its infancy, and I learned from the master.

What would you have been if not a scientist?

I found it very hard to choose only career; in high school and college I loved everything. I always wanted to be a writer and an actress. But in the end I felt compelled to do something using mathematics, because it is ultimately so beautiful and satisfying.


“…We are creating our own questions, always driven by new technology.”


What is the biggest misunderstanding about what you do?

Now this is very funny. When I tell people I’m a cosmologist, they think I must be very good at make-up and they say, “Well that’s a good career for a woman!” No, I’m not a cosmetologist. If I say I’m an astronomer, they want me to read their palms. No, I’m not an astrologer.

If I say I’m a physicist, they think I must live in the world of the nerds because only really geeky people to physics. Well that is just plain wrong! We are not calculating balls rolling down hills (a problem that was solved centuries ago). Instead we are creating our own questions, always driven by new technology. We get to be very creative, and very collaborative, and we have a lot of fun. It is this myth that physicists are boring people that I would like to dispel in this book.

In the end I have learned to say I’m an astrophysicist because people seem to understand that best.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote the book for two reasons. I wanted to communicate the science I work on and I wanted to communicate the experience of being a scientist. It is both a popular-level book about science and a memoir.

The science side is the hunt for dark matter. Most of the matter in galaxies consists of as yet unidentified dark matter, probably some new kind of fundamental particle. This mystery was first identified in the 1930s, and I wrote the book now because scientists feel they are on the verge of discovery. I wanted to communicate the excitement that we are all feeling about resolving the bulk of the mass in the Universe. It is a great story and I thought people should know about it. Everyone should be aware of this momentous breakthrough that changes the way we look at our world.


“Science is collaborative; it’s fun. I wanted to share that experience.”


AND also, very importantly – I wanted to communicate the experience of being a scientist. How much fun it is, how exciting and creative, because I think people don’t realize that. The book tells my personal journey as a scientist, and recounts tales of the personalities of the remarkable people I met along the way. Doing science is in some ways a form of art. In the visual arts, the eyes see the colors and forms; it stimulates the brain and it gives you a high. In physics, it’s a different language, not of color or sound, but of mathematics. I get a high from doing science, and it can be better than drinking a cocktail! We are at the forefront of technology and we get to be very creative, every day. Science is collaborative; it’s fun. I wanted to share that experience.

A third secret reason for writing the book is to reach out to young women, to let them know that they too can pursue their dreams. If math or science is their passion, they should pursue it. Many of the top people in dark matter studies are women and I highlight their successes so that young women can have role models in the sciences.

My book, The Cosmic Cocktail, is the story of this search for dark matter. Like all discoveries and searches and adventures, the hunt for an answer to one of the mysteries of physics has been full of drama and excitement and surprise. And some pretty amazing characters!

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

It took me about a year and a half to write the book. I’m not a morning person, so I would wake up at around 10 AM, and get to work an hour later. I worked best on my laptop at the kitchen table in my house. Since I am a professor at the University of Michigan, of course I also had to balance my writing with research, teaching, and administrative work at the University. Sometimes for several months I would get nothing done on my book, and other times, I focused on it exclusively. I was working 7 days a week, every waking hour (other than when I was at the gym) to get all this done for about a year, and that was not easy!

In March 2013 I had a concussion in the swimming pool, when another swimmer jumped in without telling me. I came off of the wall after my flip-turn and my head crashed directly into his. It’s a little unfair that he was completely uninjured whereas I was in agony for about a month. Concussion headaches are severe: I remember thinking that the Greek god Hephaestus (the blacksmith to the gods) was hammering a pick into my brain. I thought, just get it over with and split my head open! Since I couldn’t leave the house for a month I was incredibly productive on my book, working on it for up to ten hours a day. I couldn’t handle sound or light of any kind so sat there with my sunglasses on and did nothing but write. Not a modus operandi that I would recommend to anyone else! But I did get a lot done.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

I first tried to write a book about cosmology ten years ago, but I didn’t know how to do it. I wrote down a bunch of facts about the Universe, and it all sounded very dry. But over the past ten years, I’ve been teaching students, and I gradually realized that they were much more interested if I told stories. I would describe the personalities of the scientists, or talk about some of the adventures we have in the process of doing the science. Then the students became much more excited about the course I was teaching and they ended up learning a lot more as a consequence. So gradually I came to merge my writing about the subject matter of cosmology with a memoir of my own history as a scientist. I guess you could say I found my “voice” as a writer.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

I hope that I have succeeded in conveying the fun and passion of doing science. I badly would like to dispel the myth that scientists are nerdy people working on boring subjects, calculating formulas to solve problems laid out for us by other people. We are pretty interesting! We create our own problems, driven by new advances in technology that allow us to be creative and fun. I hope I can convince young women that they can participate in this amazingly enjoyable and collaborative world of science. And of course I do believe that people who read this book will learn about the nature of the Universe, one of the deepest mysteries of modern science.

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

I have written The Cosmic Cocktail for the interested public as my audience. The book is both science and memoir. I am often asked, “Will I understand this book?” And my answer is yes. I think people are smart and interested in understanding their world. It is human nature to explore, and to ask questions about our Universe. I have not dumbed it down but I did definitely work to make it clear to the general public for whom this is not the field of study, not their area of expertise.

The book is lighthearted and fun and tells about the science of Dark Matter and also the personalities and personal stories of people involved. My goal is to share with people the excitement of doing science!

How did you come up with the title or jacket?

The Cosmic Cocktail is the perfect name for the book, as it is a recipe for the Universe —for what the Universe is made of. People find the answer very surprising. If we add up all the material of our daily experience — our bodies, the air, the walls, the vodka and gin, the stars and planets — all of that adds up to only 5% of the content of the Universe. The rest is the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that constitute the bulk of the Universe. The nature of the dark matter has been a major focus of my research and is the subject of this book.

What are you reading right now?

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. This book is a wonderful award-winning science fiction novel published in 2009. Set in the 23rd century, the book explores a dystopian future: most food has been genetically engineered to be sterile (with production controlled by a few powerful companies); carbon based energy has been used up and manually wound up springs are used instead; and a new humanoid life-form has been created, a “windup-girl.” The book is a great story and is very thought provoking.

What is your next project?

Dark stars. In 2007, my collaborators and I proposed the existence of a new kind of star, powered by dark matter annihilation rather than by fusion. We were inspired to call these objects “dark stars” after a song of the same name by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The first stars that form in the history of the Universe, 200 million years after the Big Bang, reside in very dark matter-rich environments. Though the stars are made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, a smattering of dark matter is enough to heat them and allow them to become very big and bright. They can grow to become a million times as massive as the Sun and a billion times as bright. The upcoming sequel to Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, will launch in 2018 and should be able to see them. We are now working on making predictions for what dark stars should look like in data taken by this space mission.

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Katherine Freese is the author of:

The Cosmic Cocktail The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter by Katherine Freese
Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691153353
264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 15 color illus. 42 halftones. 31 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400850075 | Reviews Table of Contents Chapter 1[PDF]

Quick Questions for Richard Karban, author of How to Do Ecology: A Concise Handbook (Second Edition)

Richard KarbanDr. Richard Karban is a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. He is a recipient of the George Mercer Award, presented by the Ecological Society of America for outstanding research (1990) and was a 2010 Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Karban received a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Haverford College (1977) and completed his Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania (1982). He is the recipient of nearly a dozen research grants, whose focuses range from population regulation to plant resistance of insects and pathogens. He is the author of How to Do Ecology: A Concise Handbook (Second Edition).

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Richard Karban: I grew up in an ugly and dangerous neighborhood in New York City. Natural history and natural areas were highly romanticized in my mind. Being an ecologist seemed like an exciting way to escape this life.

What is the book’s most important contribution?

Doing ecological research successfully requires a considerable amount of insider knowledge. We don’t teach these tips in academic classes. This book attempts to provide a simple set of guidelines for navigating the process of generating hypotheses, testing them, analyzing your results, and communicating with an interested audience. In my opinion, this is what we should be teaching ecology students, but aren’t.


“Indeed, confidence and persistence are the most important attributes that separate successful projects from failures.”


What was the biggest challenge with bringing this book to life?

The biggest challenge getting this book to happen was not allowing myself to get discouraged. I teach a graduate-level course in which each student develops an independent field project. The book started as a series of handouts that I gave my students. Each year, I revised my pile of materials. After a decade or so of revisions, I submitted a manuscript but was told that it was too short and lacked interesting visuals and other tools that would make the material accessible. Okay, so much for that, although I continued to add and tweak the content for my class. My wife, Mikaela Huntzinger, read what I had and convinced me that it would be useful to students; she also volunteered to add figures and boxes. Most of all, she encouraged me not to give up on the thing. Indeed, confidence and persistence are the most important attributes that separate successful projects from failures.

Why did you write this book?

I had a terrible time in grad school. I didn’t attend a large research university as an undergrad and I arrived with little sense of how to do research or thrive in an environment that valued research, publications, and grants above all else. Figuring out the culture was a painful process of trial and error. My experiences made me acutely aware of the “game” and made me want to share what I had learned to spare others the same pain.

Who is the main audience?

This book is intended primarily for young ecologists who can use some help posing interesting questions, answering them, and communicating what they find. Undergrads who want to do research and grad students doing a thesis are the two populations who will find the book most useful, although we hope that our colleagues will also get something from it.

How did you come up with the title and cover?

The title is a little presumptuous, but also conveys what we hope to provide in a few clear words – perfect.

The cover reflects my long-standing interest in streams that cut gently through landscapes. The first edition had a photo taken by my collaborator, Kaori Shiojiri, at our field site along Sagehen Creek. This edition features an abstraction of that image that I painted. If we write future editions, they will have further abstractions of that same theme done as a mosaic (Mikaela’s favorite medium) or as a stained glass (one of Ian’s).

Check out Chapter 1 of the book, here.

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Richard Karban is the author of:

6-6 Ecology How to Do Ecology: A Concise Handbook (Second Edition) by Richard Karban, Mikaela Huntzinger, & Ian S. Pearse
Paperback | May 2014 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691161761
200 pp. | 5 x 8 | 8 line illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851263 |   Reviews Table of Contents Chapter 1[PDF]

Quick Questions for Charles D. Bailyn, author of What Does a Black Hole Look Like?

Charles BailynCharles D. Bailyn is the A. Bartlett Giamatti professor Astronomy and Physics at Yale University. He is currently serving as Dean of Faculty at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. He was awarded the 2009 Bruno Rossi Prize from the American Astronomical Society for his work on measuring the masses of black holes, and the recipient of several other, equally prestigious awards.

Dr. Bailyn received his B.Sc. in Astronomy and Physics from Yale (1981) and completed his Ph.D. in Astronomy at Harvard (1987). His research interests are concentrated in High Energy Astrophysics and Galactic Astronomy, with a focus on observations of binary star systems containing black holes. His latest book, What Does a Black Hole Look Like? addresses lingering questions about the nature of Dark Matter and black holes, and is accessible to a variety of audiences.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Charles D. Bailyn: Like a lot of little kids in the late 1960s, I was fascinated by space travel, and I wanted to be an astronaut. But then someone told me about space sickness – I’m prone to motion sickness, and that sounded pretty awful to me. So “astronaut” morphed into “astrophysicist” – I liked the idea of exploring the universe through math and physics. In college I thought I would work on relativity theory, but I didn’t quite have the mathematical prowess for that, and around that time I found out that the X-ray astronomers were actually observing black holes and related objects. So as a graduate student and post-doc I gradually moved from being a theorist to being an observer. I’ve analyzed data from many of NASA’s orbiting observatories, so I ended up being involved with the space program after all.

What would you have been if not an astronomer?

I’ve always loved music, particularly vocal music, and I’ve spent a lot of time in and around various kinds of amateur singing groups. I could easily see myself as a choral conductor.

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about astronomy?

Well, I’m always a bit amused and dismayed when I tell someone that I’m an astronomer, and they ask “what’s your sign?” – as if astronomy and astrology are the same thing. I used to tell people very seriously that I’m an Orion – this is puzzling, since most people know it’s a constellation but not part of the zodiac. At one point I had an elaborate fake explanation worked out about how this could be.

Why did you write this book? Who do you see as its audience?

There seem to be two kinds of books on black holes and relativity – books addressing a popular audience that use no math at all, and textbooks that focus on developing the relevant physical theory. This book was designed to sit in the middle. It assumes a basic knowledge of college physics, but instead of deriving the theory, its primary concerns are the observations and their interpretation. I’m basically talking to myself as a sophomore or junior in college.


“The unseen parts of the Universe are the most intriguing, at least to me.”


How did you come up with the title?

The Frontiers in Physics (Princeton) series like to have questions in the title, and this one is particularly provocative. Black holes by definition cannot be seen directly, so asking what they “look like” is a bit of an oxymoron. But a lot of modern astrophysics is like that – we have powerful empirical evidence for all sorts of things we can’t see, from planets around distant stars to the Dark Matter and Dark Energy that make up most of the stuff in the Universe. The unseen parts of the Universe are the most intriguing, at least to me.

What are you working on now?

I’m turning the online version of my introductory astronomy course into a book – kind of a retro move, turning online content into book format! It will be for a non-scientific rather than a scientific audience. But mostly I’m doing administrative work these days – I’m currently in Singapore serving as the inaugural Dean of Faculty for Yale-NUS College, the region’s first fully residential liberal arts college. The importance of science in a liberal arts curriculum is a passion of mine – after all, astronomy was one of the original liberal arts – and I’m glad to have a chance to bring this kind of education to a new audience, even though it takes me away from my scientific work for a while.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve been following the reading list for our second semester literature core class, starting from Don Quixote and Journey to the West, the first early modern novels in the European and Chinese traditions respectively, ending with Salman Rushdie, who is all about the interaction of East and West. It’s fun being a student again!

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Charles D. Bailyn is the author of:

Buy the Book image What Does a Black Hole Look Like? by Charles D. Bailyn
Hardcover | August 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691148823
224 pp. | 5 x 8 | 21 line illus.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400850563 | Reviews

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.

Quick Questions for Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, author of Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics

5-28 Palacios-HuertaIgnacio Palacios-Huerta is professor of management, economics, and strategy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He received a B.Sc. in Economics from the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, and an M.A. in Economics from the University of Chicago, where he also completed his Ph.D. in Economics. Palacios-Huerta is also the Head of Talent Identification at the Athletic Club de Bilbao and is a Senior Fellow at the Ikerbasque-Basque Foundation for Science at UPV/EVU.

Dr. Palacios-Huerta is a contributing editor of In 100 Years (MIT), an engaging text that draws on the expertise and imagination of ten prominent economists to “present their ideas about the world of the twenty-second century,” considering topics like “the transformation of work and wages, the continuing increase in inequality, and the economic rise of China and India,” among others. He continues to produce scholarship on economic theory and has several articles, like “Consumer Inertia, Choice Dependence and Learning from Experience in a Repeated Decision Problem” (Review of Economics and Statistics), up for publication in 2014.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
Ignacio Palacios-Huerta: In recent decades, economics has extended across many fields and areas previously considered to belong to sociology, political science, psychology, and several other sciences. What distinguishes this book is that its basic idea is just the opposite: it is not what economics can do for area or field X, but what X can do for economics. And so it takes exactly the opposite route. In the book X is, of course, soccer. And the idea is to attempt to obtain and present novel insights into human behavior using data and settings from soccer. This is what distinguishes this book from other economics books and from other books on the study of sports, and I think it is its most important contribution. After all, if the economic approach is applicable to all human behavior, then any type of data about human activity is useful to evaluate economic theories.

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about what you do? (I.e., is it anthropology? Economics? etc.)
I think this picture (taken from N. Gregory Mankiw’s blog) captures quite well a number of misunderstandings:

What+Economits+Do[1]

What are you reading right now?
A novel by Ramiro Pinilla, Aquella Edad Inolvidable, a biography of British graffiti artist Banksy by Will Ellsworth-Jones, and Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh.

What was the most influential book you’ve read?
I would say, for different reasons, these three books are tied in first place:

Economic Theory by Gary S. Becker; A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume; and The Passions and the Interests by Albert Hirschman (Princeton).

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?
The actual writing took me around 4-5 months, but I was thinking about it for a long time, probably around 3-4 years, collecting data, developing experiments, running the different empirical tests, and reading and keeping relevant stories and anecdotes in my mind to make the book as engaging as possible.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
Lack of time: time to think, and time to work and write.


“The idea is to attempt to obtain and present novel insights into human behavior and data settings from soccer. [...] I am interested in pushing the economic approach to human behavior.”


Why did you write this book?
Two reasons. First, as indicated in the first question, there is a clear aspect that distinguishes this book from other economics books and from other books on the study of sports. To the best of my knowledge this is the first book that takes this novel approach, and so I felt that, from this perspective, there was a genuine chance to present a unique contribution. Second, I am interested in pushing the economic approach to human behavior. And so, if any type of data about human activity is useful to evaluate economic theories, what could possibly be most appealing to a wide audience than data from sports, and in particular data from the world’s most popular sport?

Who do you see as the audience for this book?
Anyone interested in economics, anyone interested in sports, and anyone who thinks that he or she might perhaps become interested in economics and/or in sports, especially if he or she has a curious or scientific mind.

How did you come up with the title or jacket?
The title was a suggestion by the initial editor of the book at Princeton University Press, Richard Baggaley, and by my colleague at the London School of Economics, David De Meza. They both, independently of each other, had the same suggestion. And as soon as they suggested this title, I thought it was great. I really liked it and instinctively knew that it would be the title of the book.

With respect to the jacket, it was a suggestion by an excellent designer at Princeton University Press. I suggested some ideas, and one of them was distantly related to the one in the final jacket since it contained a “bicycle kick.” But the jacket is more striking and spectacular than anything I could have come up with. I really like it.

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Ignacio is the author of:

5-28 Palacios-Huerta BGT Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics by Ignacio Palacios-Huerta
Hardcover | 2014 | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691144023
224 pp. | 6 x 9 | 30 line illus.| eBook | ISBN: 9781400850310 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

Quick Questions for Eric Cline, author of 1177 B.C.

Eric Cline at Megiddo high resEric H. Cline is Professor of Classics and Anthropology, Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at The George Washington University, in Washington DC. An active field archaeologist, he has excavated and surveyed in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Crete, and the United States for 29 seasons since 1980. He is currently Co-Director of two excavations in Israel: Megiddo (biblical Armageddon) and Tel Kabri. Dr. Cline has published fifteen books including The Battles of Armageddon: Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age; Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel; From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible; Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction and The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction.

His most recent book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, has topped the Amazon.com best-seller list for Kindle, Audio, and Print Archaeology books for several weeks. Writing for The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik described 1177 B.C. as “new and exciting….adding an archaic flavor to the current stew of apprehension and awe about where the world is going, and what we might find when it gets there.”

Now, on to the questions!

What inspired you to get into your field?

My mother gave me a book when I was seven years old. It was called The Walls of Windy Troy and was a biography of Heinrich Schlieman. After reading it, I announced that I was going to become an archaeologist. When I graduated from college with a degree in Classical Archaeology, my mother gave me the same book again…

What would you have been if not an archaeologist?

Unemployed.

What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about what archaeologists do?

They think that I look for dinosaurs.


Civilizations have survived droughts, famines, earthquakes, invaders; but they only had to handle those disasters one at a time.


What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Do what you love and love what you do.

Why did you write 1177 BC?

I wanted to write about WHAT collapsed as well as explore how and why it collapsed…

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

There were numerous interesting things that I learned from writing the book. Among these I would highlight the fact that the Sea Peoples seem to have been given a raw deal in previous scholarly literature and have been used as convenient scapegoats, blamed for ending the Late Bronze Age. In fact, they were just one of the numerous factors that contributed to the demise of multiple civilizations at that time and may have been as much victims as oppressors.  Also, I was intrigued to see that there were so many factors, or stressors/drivers, that contributed to the collapse; I had initially thought that I’d be able to explain away and dismiss one or two, but all of them make some sort of sense. On the other hand, when one thinks about it, that in itself makes sense — civilizations have survived droughts; they have survived famines; they have survived earthquakes; they have survived invaders; but in almost every case, they only had to handle those disasters one at a time. So, when there are multiple disasters all at once, that’s when civilizations might not be able to outlast and survive them. And that seems to have been the case at the end of the Late Bronze Age.


I knew that the book’s theme of Collapse would resonate with many in today’s world, but I wasn’t quite prepared for its timeliness.


What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

I think that the book’s most important contribution is going to depend upon the individual reader, for it will be different for each one.  Some readers, like Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, appreciate learning the history and stories of the 300 years during which the various Late Bronze Age civilizations were flourishing…and realizing the parallels to today’s globalized world. Others are more interested in the fact that the Collapse occurred and see parallels to today’s world. Perhaps most surprising to me is the extent to which some readers have latched on to the fact that there was climate change back then, even in the days before the burning of fossil fuels and emissions from cars, etc, etc, and are now applying it to their own arguments, for instance in the NY Post and the National Review Online. Also, I knew that the book’s theme of Collapse would resonate with many in today’s world, but I wasn’t quite prepared for its timeliness, with “disaster” and “collapse” scenarios for our own civilization seeming to appear on a weekly basis at the moment!

What is your next project?

Continue to dig at Megiddo and Kabri during the summers. Writing a book about Megiddo – an archaeological history of Armageddon

 


Eric is the author of:

bookjacket 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
Eric H. Cline
Hardcover | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691140896
264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 halftones. 2 maps.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400849987
Also available as an audiobook
Reviews
Table of Contents
Free Excerpt, read the Prologue[PDF]

Quick Questions for Rahul Sagar, author of Secrets and Leaks

rahul sagarRahul Sagar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His primary research interests are in the field of political theory. He has written about a range of topics in ancient and modern political theory including executive power, moderation, tyranny, and political realism. We published his first book Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy last year. Reviewing the book in the New York Review of Books, David Cole said “Rahul Sagar’s Secrets and Leaks sheds important light on the question. In carefully argued and lucid prose, Sagar, a professor of politics at Princeton, argues that secrets are inevitable, as are leaks–and that leaks have an important if precarious part in checking secrecy abuse.”

Now, on to the questions!

Why did you write Secrets and Leaks?

I had an epiphany when I was writing my undergraduate dissertation at Oxford. The question I was examining at the time was whether India’s decision to test nuclear weapons was justified. As part of my field work I went to the Ministry of External Affairs to interview a senior bureaucrat. The bureaucrat held up a file—bound by a red band—and said to me, “everything you need to know is in here, but I can’t share it with you.” I came away from the meeting thinking to myself, if I can’t see what’s in that file, then no one else can, so how then does one conduct oversight? I ended up writing the dissertation on the conundrum that secrecy posed for democracy; I concluded that there was, in effect, no way for outsiders to know if India was justified in developing nuclear weapons. Shortly afterwards, I arrived at Harvard to do my PhD. I started three days before 9/11. Within weeks the Bush Administration’s ‘War on Terror’ was underway, and I realized there would be continuing interest in the topic, and that, curiously, very little had been written on it. And off I went, spurred on in particular by the fact that leaks played such an important role is revealing the contours of this secretive war.


If I can’t see what’s in that file then no one else can, so how then does one conduct oversight?


What is the book’s most important contribution?

I think its most important contribution is to draw attention to the limits of democracy. It is widely believed that the “problem” that secrecy poses—that secrecy may be used to cover up wrongdoing—can be “solved” through careful institutional design. Appoint a suitable committee or court to oversee the President, the argument goes, and you will lessen the risk of abuse. But this way of thinking does not make much sense—for what is to stop the members of this committee or court from disclosing information or keeping it secret as and when suits their interests?

The same conundrum appears when we rely on the press to oversee the President. The defenders of the First Amendment assume that the press will always act in the public interest. But reporters, editors, and publishers have interests of their own. Since they are able to keep their dealings with their sources confidential, how do we know that they are publishing classified information for the right reasons, i.e. not to bolster their sales?

What these conundrums reveal, I think, is that discretion is inevitable. Here we have reached the limits of what law and institutions can do. This in turn means that state secrets will be kept or disclosed for the right reasons only if ‘the Establishment’ is populated by men and women who are decent.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing Secrets and Leaks?

I learned about the value of time. In particular I learned how important it is to reflect on a question for a very long time. I rewrote the manuscript not once or twice, but three times. All said and done I spent nearly five years on the book. In part this was because I spent a lot of energy trying to make the text accessible. The more important reason for the prolonged writing period is that my views evolved—I became increasingly skeptical of those who depict state secrecy as evil and the press as the ‘champions’ of American democracy. In retrospect I am very glad I allowed my views to evolve. There was a great deal of hysteria about an ‘imperial Presidency’ in the wake of 9/11 and time gave me the chance to see this reaction as short sighted and self serving. It allowed me to write a book that I am truly satisfied with, and that I feel no need to revisit or revise for the foreseeable future.

Who do you see as the audience for this book?


I hope the book is read by government officials, both those who wish to keep secrets and those who wish to disclose them.


I wrote the book with a broad audience in mind. Obviously I wanted to make a theoretical contribution. I hope political theorists and students of American politics see the book as an exemplar of realist political theory—that is, theorizing that is attentive to the constraints that politics poses on democratic theory. But I never wanted to write a book solely for my discipline or indeed for scholars alone. I hope the book is read by government officials, both those who wish to keep secrets and those who wish to disclose them. I hope it tempers the actions of both sides. Above all I hope it is read by lawyers and journalists—the most powerful people in America! If a judge or two or a retired Vice-President happens to read it, I certainly won’t complain.

What are some of the books that have greatly influenced you?

Machiavelli’s Prince and Discourses, followed closely by Aristotle’s Politics, Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, Publius’ Federalist Papers, and Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. What these books have in common is that they are concerned with what I consider the most important question in political life, namely, what is the best possible regime that we can have.

What are you reading right now?

This week I’m reading Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape. I’ve assigned it for a class on politics and public policy where we are examining what can be done to help peoples that trapped in failed or failing states. The Great Escape provides a valuable counterpoint to scholars that call for military intervention and/or international aid. It identifies the smaller, concrete steps that can be taken to help peoples escape the impoverished circumstances that foster oppressive regimes.

What is your next project?

Thus far I have been interested in executive power in modern democracies. In particular I have studied what makes democratic leaders act responsibly even when their actions cannot be overseen by others. My next book project examines executive power in regimes that are not fully liberal or democratic. The great bulk of political regimes in the world fall into this category, yet contemporary scholars hardly study these regimes. My book project, tentatively titled Have You Been to Kazanistan?: The Case for Decent Regimes, evaluates what I term ‘decent regimes’—i.e. regimes that may not be fully liberal or democratic but do much to enhance the living standards of their citizens. What should we make of such regimes, I ask? Given that the Arab Spring has shown—once again—that it is difficult to “export” liberal democracy, I ask whether it would be more reasonable to coax regimes to be ‘decent’ than to goad their populaces to rebel—a policy that has led to the spread of ‘illiberal democracies’.

 


Quick Questions for Diane Coyle, author of GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History

Coyle_GDP_author photoDiane Coyle is an economist specializing in the economics of new technologies and in competition policy. She has missions to improve both the public understanding of economics and the teaching of economics to new generations. A Visiting Research Fellow at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, her previous books include The Economics of Enough and The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters.

We have just published GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History (“[A] little charmer of a book…” according to the Wall Street Journal). 

She writes an awesome blog called The Enlightened Economist that should be on your daily must-read list.

Now, on to the questions!

 

What inspired you to get into your field?

A brilliant tutor. I went to university with the aim of becoming a philosopher, planning for a career sitting in Parisian cafes thinking deep thoughts. But Peter Sinclair, now Professor of Economics at the University of Birmingham, inspired me with his enthusiasm for economics and its power to explain and perhaps even improve the world.


The way people think of ‘the economy’ has changed so much over time.


What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about what economists do?

Most people think that economics is mainly macroeconomic forecasting, and they think most economics is based on the assumption that we are all selfish and ultra-rational, and only care about money. A generation ago, a narrow approach to economics did dominate the subject, and there are still some economists who don’t see anything wrong with the reductionist version, but most of the economics practiced today is far, far more in touch with the ‘real world’. Unfortunately, the update hasn’t yet reached economics textbooks and courses – hence the importance of the INET CORE curriculum project.

What would you have been if not an economist?

A dancer – not that I’d have been good enough!

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing GDP?

It was that the way people think of ‘the economy’ has changed so much over time. We have Angus Maddison’s figures based on calculations of GDP going back through time, but up until the mid-20th century this was not how people thought about the aggregate economy. GDP and Keynesian macroeconomics co-evolved.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

To demystify GDP, which most people hear as gobbledygook on the news; and to remind or tell them that how we measure economic activity is the result of many conventions and judgments. There is no natural object called GDP out there – it is a human construction, and what it measures is not well-being or social welfare, but simply a specific definition of economic activity.

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

I fit the research around day to day life but need to find chunks of time for writing. This means my patient family are used to me spending a couple of hours every day tapping away at my laptop when we’re on holiday. I managed one (short) book once on maternity leave, typing one handed with the baby on the other arm.


There is no natural object called GDP out there – it is a human construction.


Do you have advice for other authors?

Just start. Write a lot and read a lot, as writing is a craft skill. Read George Orwell on the English language if that’s the language you’re writing in. And for non-fiction, you have to find a system for organizing the ideas and material – I always find this the hardest part and there’s always a stage when I have pieces of paper with headings laid out over the floor of my study.

What are you reading right now?

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, and The Infatuations by Javier Marias.

What is your next project?

I’m helping out on that project. I’m writing a new public policy economics course to teach to undergraduates at the University of Manchester. In terms of research, I’m interested in two aspects of digital change: the continuing reshaping of supply chains, through both organizational and geographic change; and the implementation of public policy. There’s no point doing a wonderful economic analysis of a policy issue if you don’t also think about the political economy and practicality of implementation.

 


 

bookjacket GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History
Diane CoyleHardcover | $19.95 / £13.95 | ISBN: 9780691156798
168 pp. | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | 2 halftones. 2 line illus. 2 tables.eBook | ISBN: 9781400849970

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Sample the Introduction[PDF]

 
 
 
 
 

Princeton University Press Europe at the Oxford Literary Festival 2014

 

By Hannah Dummett, Princeton University Press Europe intern

McCall SmithLast Sunday marked the end of the 2014 Oxford Literary Festival: “bigger, better and more ambitious than ever”. A whirlwind nine days of authors, talks, photographers, book signings and  lunches, and amongst all of it the Princeton authors met with full auditoriums and avid audiences, often followed by a glass of Prosecco in the green room.

The Soul of the World author Roger Scruton had the audience in stitches of laughter (perhaps not what you’d expect from a talk by a philosopher) as he shed light on his idea of the sacred, at the same time as shamelessly, and hilariously, plugging his new books. Meanwhile, David Edmonds entered a lively discussion with Nigel Warburton. The audience were eager to join in and soon the topic of moral dilemma had led to a debate on the fate of flight MH370.

As one of the festival’s better-known authors, Alexander McCall Smith was hounded by the ‘literary paparazzi’, and one of our publicists was even coerced into being used as a photographer’s assistant (read: prop-holder). Over at Christ Church, Averil Cameron took us back more than 2500 years in time and explained why Byzantium is key to our understanding of other historical periods. Michael Scott argued his own case for the Greek city of Delphi – and gave us all a reason to visit this summer.

His book may be over 800 pages long, but Robert Bartlett kept things succinct and made sure that his audience were keen to discover what the other 700 pages hold in store. He was even awarded a printed apology from the Oxford Mail’s Jeremy Smith after he commented on Bartlett’s “modest attire” while introducing the talk. Husband and wife astronomer/authors Jacqueline and Simon Mitton, both struck down with a virus picked up on a recent cruise, put on a brave face despite their illness and managed to plunge their audience into the depths of the history of the universe, visiting far-away galaxies via new-born stars and black holes.

The increasingly relevant topic of narcissism and self-love was examined by Simon Blackburn, discussing his new book Mirror, Mirror, and political journalist Edmund Fawcett kept the audience listening with an absorbing talk on differing forms of liberalism. To top it off, the “charming, charismatic” Ian Goldin gave an excellent lecture on how the recent financial crash could have an extreme effect on a wide range of factors in our everyday lives. We’ve been out of the office again this week, this time for London Book Fair – the fun is non-stop this month!

 

Quick Questions for Ellen D. Wu, author of The Color of Success

7W8A1140Ellen D. Wu is assistant professor of history at Indiana University where she conducts research on issues of race, immigration, citizenship, and nation through the lens of Asian American history. She is also author of The Color of Success:Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority, a recent book that tells of the astonishing transformation of Asians in the United States from the “yellow peril” to “model minorities”–peoples distinct from the white majority but lauded as well-assimilated, upwardly mobile, and exemplars of traditional family values–in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

Now, on to the questions!

 

What inspired you to get into your field?

As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, I was originally drawn to Asian American history as a way to understand my own place in the world. (I always felt a little bit freakish, growing up in Indiana.) But I soon learned that it is much more than that. The founders of Asian American Studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s emphasized the importance of research and education relevant to Asian American communities. They also believed that it was possible not only to fight oppression, but to end it completely.

The original, radical vision of Asian American Studies continues to invigorate me. I strive to tell new stories in such a way that is meaningful to Asian Americans from all walks of life.  I aim to highlight the diversity of Asian America. And I am interested in the actions that ordinary people have taken in the face of racism and other dehumanizing challenges.

What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about what you do?


The reigning misconception of Asians in the United States is that we are “model minorities.”


People often think that history is just a string of dates and facts about “great” white men.  (Is it a coincidence that many of those who believe this also tell me that they think history is boring?)  I would also say that most non-historians have no idea how historians actually go about doing what they do (i.e. archival research)—probably because it’s pretty bizarre from an outsider’s perspective! A friend of mine explains it this way: we read other people’s mail. While that makes us sound like NSA employees, that description works for me.

What would you have been if not a historian?

I have fantasies about being/becoming a documentary filmmaker, a food writer, and an independently wealthy lady of leisure.

What are you reading right now?

This summer I plan to dig in to some of my favorite literary writers: Jhumpa Lahiri, Monique Troung, and Junot Diaz. I can’t wait to be inspired by their words, sentences, and storytelling. Meanwhile, I’m reading lots of things via my Twitter feed.

What was the most influential book you’ve read?

Ummmm… The Bible?

Why did you write The Color of Success?

It was a book that I wished had already existed.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?


[Book] titles are so hard! They’re akin to naming one’s child.


Conceptually it was quite difficult for me to figure out how to move from dissertation to book. It’s the kind of thing (at least in my experience) that one doesn’t really know how to do until one has done it, if that makes sense. But now I can say the process has been demystified and hopefully all the pieces will fall into place much faster with the next book.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

Today the reigning misconception of Asians in the United States is that we are “model minorities”—people of color who are naturally smart and hardworking, socio-economically mobile, etc. Observers often attribute the putative “success” of Asian Americans to “culture.”  By excavating the origins of the “model minority” image (it’s a relatively recent creation, dating back only to the 1940s-60s), The Color of Success shows that it is an invented fiction rather than timeless truth. Certain Asian American spokespersons, government officials, social scientists, journalists, and others conjured up the “model minority” for various political purposes. For those invested in delegitimizing the African American freedom movement, the “model minority” stereotype served as handy “evidence” that the United States was indeed a land of opportunity for all, including racial minorities. People are often surprised to hear that the “model minority” stereotype, while ostensibly positive, is actually highly problematic and pernicious.

The value of tracing the relatively recent emergence of a stereotype that is prevalent today is that it drives home the point that race is a social process rather than a fact of nature. That gives me hope that racial stereotypes and categories can be “unmade” as well as “made.”

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

My goal with The Color of Success was to generate something empirically-rich and stimulating for professional scholars, but also significant and accessible in a broader way. I wanted to write for “lay” Asian Americans and others interested in historical and present-day conditions and consequences of race in the United States. Additionally, I tried to produce something that my friends and relatives might actually read. (A shout out to my cousin Denise in Logan, Utah for being my first family member to finish it!) I’m crossing my fingers that the book will speak to this these disparate audiences.

k10134[1]How did you come up with the title or jacket?

Titles are so hard! They’re akin to naming one’s child: it’s a heavy decision because it seems that it will seal the fate of the book forever. I definitely wanted something that conveyed the main themes of the book, but I didn’t want it to sound too boring or “academic-y” (hopefully I succeeded?). I went through about a million titles before my husband came up with The Color of Success at the eleventh hour.

On the other hand, the cover image (a photograph of the 1956 San Francisco Chinese basketball team, clad in “USA” jackets and holding “USA”-stamped balls), was something that I had kept in mind for years.  I first spotted it in a 1956 issue of San Francisco’s bilingual Chinese World newspaper when I started my research.  It was one of those ah-ha! moments. Like other notable American artists and athletes at the time, the team had been tapped by the US State Department to tour Asia as “goodwill” ambassadors—essentially Cold War cultural diplomats. It’s a great double-take image that plays with the tenacious notion that Asians remain “forever foreigners” in the United States, that Asian Americans have never truly been seen by others as “real” Americans.  And like Linsanity, it also messes with assumptions that Asian Americans make good scientists or violinists or whatever, but not good basketball players.

Several years after I initially ran across the photo, I wrote to a senior Asian American historian to ask if she knew how I might get a hold of it for the book. She forwarded my message to her contacts in San Francisco Chinatown, and, voila!, I tracked down Percy Chu, the 80-something coach of the basketball team. Mr. Chu not only kindly sent me the photo, but now he’s also my penpal. Every Chinese holiday, he sends me little gifts in the mail—zongzi (Chinese tamales) for the Dragon Boat festival, mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival, red envelopes for Lunar New Year. (Maybe he feels sorry for me for living in Bloomington, so far removed from the epicenters of Chinese America?) So that’s been unexpected and fun!

 

Ellen is the author of:

bookjacket

The Color of Success:
Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority
Ellen D. Wu
Hardcover | $39.50 / £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691157825
376 pp. | 6 x 9 | 19 halftones.eBook | ISBN: 9781400848874
Endorsements | Table of Contents
Introduction pdf-iconThe Color of Success embodies exciting developments in Asian American history. Through the lens of racial liberalism and cultural diplomacy, Ellen Wu offers a historically grounded analysis of the Asian American model minority in the contexts of domestic race politics and geopolitics, and she unveils the complexities of wartime and postwar national inclusion.”–Eiichiro Azuma, University of Pennsylvania

Quick Questions for Michael Scott, author of Delphi

Michael Scott, credit, David WilsonMichael Scott is an assistant professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Warwick, though he is perhaps most recognized as a presenter for ancient history documentaries on National Geographic, the History channel, Nova, and the BBC. His new book on Delphi has been getting excellent reviews so far, including this from The Spectator: “Tells you everything there is to know about Delphi.” We couldn’t agree more and hope you will sample this complimentary chapter.

The book presents a thorough history of this historical site–expanding our understanding beyond the oracle to incorporate Delphi’s importance as a site of commerce, international politics, sporting competitions, culture, and on and on. It also includes a brief chapter for present-day visitors with insider’s tips on the sights to see making it the perfect companion for anyone planning a trip to see Delphi for themselves.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Michael Scott: A trip to Greece–indeed to Delphi–when I was 17 at school convinced me to study Classics at University. Whilst there, I was lucky enough to study at the British Schools at Rome and at Athens and to study in and amongst a wide range of fascinating archaeological sites. From that point on, I never looked back

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

For me, this book highlights what history, and particularly ancient history, really is. Not a list of undisputed facts about what happened, but a continuing dialogue–from then right up to now–of different, sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory arguments about how to understand the past, and the place of the past in our present and future. As the saying goes, ‘the future is certain, the past just keeps on changing.’


To properly understand any one moment and event, I argue that we need to connect histories from around the globe.


What was the most influential book you’ve read?

Tough one. In regard to the study of the ancient world, probably E R Dodds’s Greeks and the Irrational. I remember reading it just before starting my undergraduate degree and it entirely changing my perception of what studying the ancient world would be like.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote this book because while Delphi has been extensively studied, that study has often been piecemeal (in focusing on one particular activity at Delphi), or compartmentalized (in terms of focusing on what particular period of its 1000+ year history), or written from the standpoint of a particular kind of evidence (literary, inscriptional or archaeological). But that is not how the ancients saw, used or perceived Delphi. If we are to understand Delphi and its unique place and longevity within the ancient world, we have to get to grips with how the different sources portray Delphi’s portfolio of activities interacting across its lifespan to create a place that remained at the centre of the ancient world for so long.

PUP: What is your next project?

In my next book project, I want to break down some of the disciplinary boundaries between arenas of study in our ancient past. The book will focus on some of the most famous dates in our ancient story: 2000 BC and the completion of Stonehenge; 508 BC and the origins of democracy; 218 BC and Hannibal’s march across the Alps as well as 312 AD Constantine’s victory at the battle of Milvian Bridge. But exploring these critical moments is only the beginning. To properly understand any one moment and event, I argue that we need to connect histories from around the globe to examine what was happening elsewhere at these crucial times. So, yes, democracy may have been invented in ancient Greece in 508 BC, but what was happening politically at that time in Italy, or indeed in China? Constantine may have begun Rome’s march to Christianity in 312 AD, but what great shifts in religious observance were happening in India or North Africa? In asking that question, this book will connect up our different pasts and as a result enable us to understand the varying speeds, and kinds, of evolution that the regions of our world have been through. It will open up a window onto the similar and different challenges and issues we have faced, as well as the responses and ideas we have developed as a result.


Michael is the author of:

bookjacket Delphi
A History of the Center of the Ancient World

Michael Scott
Cloth | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691150819
448 pp. | 6 x 9 | 8 color illus. 41 halftones. 3 maps.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400851324″Like the two eagles released by Zeus from opposite ends of the world who then met in Delphi, Michael Scott gets to the heart of antiquity’s most celebrated and enigmatic oracle. A vivid and lucid study that reanimates the mentality of those who consulted Apollo more convincingly than any other I have read.”–Tom Holland, author of Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West

Quick Questions for Tim Chartier, author of Math Bytes

Tim Chartier, Photo  courtesy Davidson CollegeTim Chartier is author of Math Bytes: Google Bombs, Chocolate-Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing. He agreed to be our first victi… interview subject in what will become a regular series. We will ask our authors to answer a series of questions in hopes to uncover details about why they wrote their book, what they do in their day job, and what their writing process is. We hope you enjoy getting to know Tim!

PUP: Why did you write this book?

Tim Chartier: My hope is that readers simply delight in the book.  A friend told me the book is full of small mathematical treasures.  I have had folks who don’t like math say they want to read it.  For me, it is like extending my Davidson College classroom.  Come and let’s talk math together.  What might we discover and enjoy?  Don’t like math?  Maybe it is simply you haven’t taken a byte of a mathematical delight that fits your palate!

PUP: Who do you see as the audience for this book?

TC: I wanted this book, at least large segments of it, to read down to middle school.  I worked with public school teachers on many of the ideas in this book.  They adapted the ideas to their classrooms.  And yet, the other day, I was almost late taking my kids to school as I had to pull them from reading my book, a most satisfying reason.  In my mime training, Marcel Marceau often said, “Create your piece and let the genius of the audience teach you what you created.”  I see this book that way.  I wrote a book that I see my students and the many to whom I speak in broad public settings smiling at as they listen.  Who all will be in the audience of this book?  That’s for me to learn from the readers.  I look forward to it.


Don’t like math? Maybe it is simply you haven’t taken a byte of a mathematical delight that fits your palate!


PUP: What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

TC: When I describe the book to people, many respond with surprise or even better a comment like, “I wish I had a teacher like you.”  My current and former students often note that the book is very much like class.  Let’s create and play with ideas and discover how far they can go and, of great interest to me, how fun and whimsical they can be.

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

TC: My journey into math came via my endeavors in performing arts.  I was performing in mime and puppetry at international levels in college.  Math was my “back-up” plan.  Originally, I was taking math classes as required courses in my studies in computer science.  I enjoyed the courses but tended to be fonder of ideas in computer science.  I like the creative edge to writing programming.  We don’t all program in the same way and I enjoyed the elegance of solutions that could be found.  This same idea attracted me to math — when I took mathematical proofs.  I remember studying infinity – a topic far from being entirely encompassed by my finite mind.  Yet, through a mathematical lens, I could examine the topic and prove aspects of it.  Much like when I studied mime with Marcel Marceau, the artistry and creativity of mathematical study is what drew me to the field and kept me hooked through doctoral studies.

PUP: What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about what you do?

TC: Many think mathematics is about numbers.  Much of mathematics is about ideas and concepts.  My work lies at the boundary of computer science and mathematics.  So, my work often models the real world so often mathematics is more about thinking how to use it to glean interesting or new information about our dynamic world.  Numbers are interesting and wonderful but so is taking a handful of M&Ms and creating a math-based mosaic of my son or sitting with my daughter and using chocolate chips to estimate the value of Pi.  And, just for the record, the ideas would be interesting even without the use of chocolate but that doesn’t hurt!

PUP: What would you have been if not a mathematician?

TC: Many people think I would have been a full-time performer.  I actually intentionally walked away from that field.  I want to be home, have a home, walk through a neighborhood where I know my neighbors.  To me, I would have found a field, of some kind, where I could teach.  Then, again, I always wanted to be a creative member of the Muppet team – either creating ideas or performing!


I pick projects that I believe aren’t just exciting now, but will be exciting in retrospect.


PUP: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

TC: At one time, I was quite ill.  It was a scary time with many unknowns.  I remember resting in a dark room and wondering if I could improve and get better.  I reflected on my life and felt good about where I was, even if I was heading into my final stretch.  I remember promising myself that if I ever got better that I would live a life that later — whether it be a decade later or decades and decades later — that I would try to live a life that I could again feel good about whenever I might again be in such a state.  I did improve but I pick projects that I believe aren’t just exciting now, but will be exciting in retrospect.  This book is easily an example of such a decision.

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

TC: The early core of the book happened at 2 points.  First, I was on sabbatical from Davidson College working at the University of Washington where I taught Mathematical Modeling.  Some of the ideas of the book drew from my teaching at Davidson and were integrated into that course taught in Seattle.  At the end of the term, my wife Tanya said, “You can see your students and hear them responding.  Sit now and write a draft. Write quickly and let it flow.  Talk to them and get the class to smile.”  It was great advice to me.  The second stage came with my first reader, my sister Melody.  She is not a math lover and is a critical reader of any manuscript. She has a good eye.  I asked her to be my first reader.  She was stunned.  I wanted her to read it as I knew if she enjoyed it, even though there would be parts she wouldn’t understand fully, then I had a draft of the book I wanted to write.  She loved it and soon after I dove into the second draft.

PUP: Do you have advice for other authors?

TC: My main advice came from award-winning author Alan Michael Parker from Davidson College.  As I was finishing, what at the time I saw as close to my final draft, Alan said, “Tim, you are the one who will live with this book for a lifetime.  Many will read it only once.  You have it for the rest of your life.  Write your book. Make sure it is your voice.  Take your time and know it is you.”  His words echoed in me for months.  I put the book down for several months and then did a revision in which I saw my reflection in the book’s pages — I had seen my reflection before but never as clearly.


Tim is the author of:

bookjacket

Math Bytes
Google Bombs, Chocolate-Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing
Tim Chartier

“A magnificent and curious romp through a wonderful array of mathematical topics and applications: maze creation, Google’s PageRank algorithm, doodling, the traveling salesman problem, math on The Simpsons, Fermat’s Last Theorem, viral tweets, fractals, and so much more. Buy this book and feed your brain.”–Clifford A. Pickover, author of The Math Book

Math Bytes is a playful and inviting collection of interesting mathematical examples and applications, sometimes in surprising places. Many of these applications are unique or put a new spin on things. The link to computing helps make many of the topics tangible to a general audience.”–Matt Lane, creator of the Math Goes Pop! Blog