Quick Questions for Günter P. Wagner, author of Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation

Wagner_Homology_au photo jpgGünter P. Wagner is the Alison Richard Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University and a pioneer of the field of evolutionary developmental biology. He is the editor of The Character Concept in Evolutionary Biology. Dr. Wagner received training in biochemical engineering, zoology, and mathematics from the University of Vienna, Austria, where he completed his Ph.D. in zoology.

He then spent six postdoctoral years at the Max Planck Institutes for Biophysical Chemistry (Goettingen, Germany) and for Developmental Biology (Tübingen, Germany) before assuming a full professorship in the Biology department at Yale University. His research focuses predominantly on the study of homology, or character identity, one of the most difficult concepts in evolutionary biology. His latest book, Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation (Princeton) provides a fresh and compelling definition of homology and how it arises in evolution.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?
Günter P. Wagner: I received my initial scientific training in chemistry, and I still love chemistry. It is a beautiful system of ideas and practices with wide applicability and utility. Part of its beauty lies in the fact that chemistry can explain a vast array of facts from the combinatorial richness of a quite limited set of basic elements. In contrast, in biology we are confronted with a vast diversity of life forms that defy a simple combinatorial explanation. Biology has to deal with radically different kinds of things, from viruses to blue whales, where one cannot escape the conclusion that radically new things have originated in evolution: humans with culture and language from non-human primates, animals from single-celled organisms, and ultimately life from non-life. Understanding how these novel forms of existence can originate became my obsession in my professional life. This book is my answer – though a partial and limited one – to this question.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
Homology, the notion that different organisms can be composed of corresponding building blocks, is one of the fundamental scientific concepts that also induce a lot of frustration among those who truly want to understand them. Homology shares this dubious distinction with concepts like species, gene, time, and space, to name a few. The frustration has one main source: the fact that it is hard to pin down how two homologous parts can be the same in spite of differences in shape, function, and underlying developmental genetic mechanisms. In particular linking character identity with our mechanistic understanding of development proved difficult. I think the main contribution of this book is to show that it is possible to forge such a link. I say possible, since it is likely that much of what I say in the book might be wrong, but it never the less shows that such a mechanistic understanding of homology is possible if we ask the right questions and give answers that are constrained by large amounts of empirical knowledge already available.

What is your next project?
I am thinking of writing a textbook on “Comparative Developmental Anatomy of Vertebrates” together with three colleagues. The idea is to recast the vast knowledge of the structure, variation, and development of the vertebrate body in light of the recent progress in comparative developmental biology and also in light of the ideas developed in this book.


“Dealing with the intellectual challenges was the reward, not the obstacle, in this project.”


What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be myself! In the sciences there is an enormous pressure to conform, which is in part necessary to make science the coherent communal effort that it is. But it also has the potential to kill creativity and thus the search for answers where there have not even been good questions before.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
Certainly the biggest challenge was to find a way to have the focus and the continuity of effort for writing the book, while at the same time running a lab, teaching courses, and responding to the needs of the University. It is not so much time, per se, that is hard to come by – but a predictable continuity of quality time for thinking and writing. Dealing with the intellectual challenges was the reward, not the obstacle, in this project.

Why did you write this book?
The topic of homology and innovation has fascinated me for many decades, but at one point I had to accept that the subject matter was way too complex to adequately be dealt with even in a very long article. The complexity of the subject results from the large amount of factual, relevant information and from the many facets it has from genetics, developmental biology, anatomy, and evolutionary biology, and even philosophical issues. There was no way I could deal with this in any other format than in a book.

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Günter P. Wagner is the author of:

5-29 Wagner Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation by Günter P. Wagner
Hardcover | 2014 | $60.00 / £41.95 | ISBN: 9780691156460
496 pp. | 6 x 9 | 25 halftones. 105 line illus. 4 tables. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400851461 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

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 Peter and Rosemary Grant

Grant and Grant_ In Search ofPeter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant are both emeritus professors in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. They are the co-authors of How and Why Species Multiply: The Radiation of Darwin’s Finches and co-editors of In Search of the Causes of Evolution: From Field Observations to Mechanisms (both Princeton).

B. Rosemary Grant received her B.Sc. (with Honors) from Edinburgh University in Scotland, and completed her Ph.D. at Uppsala University, in Sweden. Peter Grant received his B.A. (with Honors) from Cambridge University, England, completed his Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, Canada, and completed his Post-doctoral Fellowship at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Their combined research efforts continue to offer “unparalleled insights into ecological and evolutionary changes in natural environments,” and in 2013, the couple was awarded the Margaret Morse Nice Prize by the Wilson Ornithological Society.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?
Peter and Rosemary Grant: Early experience followed by stimulating teachers. Before the age of five, we had each enjoyed the English countryside: the lake district of the north in Rosemary’s case and south of London in mine. Some of our earliest memories are similar, such as the thrill of finding a fossil, catching a butterfly, and smelling a flower. Much later as undergraduates we had inspiring teachers, and many of them. Foremost among them were the Edinburgh geneticists C.H. Waddington and D.G. Facloner (for Rosemary) and Yale ecologist G.E. Hutchinson (for me).


There is widespread misunderstanding about evolution; that it occurs extremely slowly….The idea that animals as large as birds might evolve before our eyes is not so well known.


What was the most influential book you’ve read?
Each of us read Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species at an important stage in our lives. This magisterial book opened our eyes to an understanding of the natural world that is within reach with careful observation, experiment, and logical reasoning, It is extraordinarily rich in insights, and repays re-reading, even with people like us who are older than Darwin when he died!

Why did you write this book?
Having written numerous papers in the specialized scientific literature, as well as three books on our research, we believed the time had come to synthesize all we had done and learned by following the fates of finches on Daphne for 40 years. We also wanted to explain and illustrate the excitement of scientific discovery to a broader audience than the professional biologists who might have read our more technical papers. Finally, we wanted to inspire and encourage students who might wish to study the workings of nature in remote places unaffected by humans, but who are not sure if and whether this can be done.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book?
Perhaps many scientists make the last observation and then start writing a book without returning to their scientific material. This is not what happened in our case. As we developed the main argument in the book about how new species are formed we were stimulated to improve the way we expressed the main ideas, to think along new lines, and to ask new questions. In a few instances those questions led us back to the files of data, to new analyses, and to a greater appreciation of the role of hybridization in evolution.


We are collaborating with no less than five different groups in pursuing evolutionary questions with the data we have collected.


What do you think is book’s most important contribution?
There is widespread misunderstanding about evolution; that it occurs extremely slowly and therefore cannot be studied in a person’s lifetime. This was the view of Charles Darwin. Many biologists and others now know that this is not correct. For example, evolution occurs in the bacteria that cause illness in us, such as streptococcus bacteria in hospitals, and in insects and weedy plants that are agricultural pests. We do our best to control our biological enemies and persecutors, and they evolve in ways that repeatedly thwart us. The idea that animals as large as birds might evolve before our eyes is not so well known, yet our study in the entirely natural world of Daphne Major island has revealed this does in fact happen when there is a change in the environment, and it takes place over a period as short as a year, and repeatedly.

PUP: How did you come up with the title or jacket?
The title is the essence of the book. That was an easy choice. The jacket was the brain-child of a designer employed by Princeton University Press. We already had a strong image for the cover with a picture of Daphne taken at sea level. However, the designer improved on this by picking one of our photographs taken from the land and cropped it creatively to present of visualization of what it is like to actually be on the island.

What is your next project?
Not sure. Our involvement in finch research has not ended with the publication of the book. We are collaborating with no less than five different groups in pursuing evolutionary questions with the data we have collected. We are also thinking about returning to the island to check on the birds, to see who has survived and who has not, and to find out what has happened to the new lineage of finches whose ups and downs we followed for thirty years.

 

 

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Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant are the authors of:

5-23 Grant 40 Years of Evolution: Darwin’s Finches on Daphne Major Island by Peter. R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant
Hardcover | 2014 | $49.50 / £34.95 | ISBN: 9780691160467
432 pp. | 6 x 9 | 44 color illus. 129 line illus. 21 tables. |
eBook | ISBN: 9781400851300 | Reviews  Table of Contents[PDF]  Chapter 1[PDF]

Quick Questions for Michael Cook

05-21 CookMichael Cook is a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He studied history and Oriental Studies at King’s College, in Cambridge, England, and completed his postgraduate studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, where he taught and researched Islamic history until 1986.

Cook’s research interests are largely concerned with “the formation of Islamic civilization, and the role played by religious values in that process,” particularly the strict value systems of Islam and the subsequent adherence to “al-amr bi`l-ma`ruf roughly, the duty of each and every Muslim to tell people off for violating God’s law.”

His latest book, Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective (Princeton) was published in April 2014. Cook is also the recipient of the 2014 Holberg Prize. He continues to supervise graduate dissertations and contributes regularly to corresponding publications in his field of study.

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

Michael Cook: A dim awareness – I must have been only 18 at the time – that the study of Islamic history was vastly underdeveloped compared to the study of Western history. I figured that I’d get a higher yield on my limited abilities if I went into Islamic history – and I did.
What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

It asks a big, obvious question about Islamic and politics that academics tend to avoid, and it makes a good-faith effort to come up with an answer.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Mr. Unwin, my high school math teacher, once told me that as a mathematician, I was “OK – but nothing special.” The next day I became a historian.

What are you reading right now?

A book about the archaeological record of early Christianity. I’m curious how much we would know about the religion if Christianity had perished in the early fourth century.


Experiment till you’ve found what works for you.


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

I have an idea at the back of my mind, so I start mulling it over and making random notes on scraps of paper. Then I sit down at home and write out a draft in one sitting. After that, I check the scraps of paper for anything I’ve forgotten. Finally, having set the draft aside for at least a few days, I come back to it and spend a lot of time tinkering with it. But you ask about a whole book – well, this one took me ten years.

PUP: Do you have advice for other authors?

Experiment till you’ve found what works for you. And if nothing works for you, find something else to do with your life – brick walls are not the best place to beat heads. If you’re interested in technique, pay attention to what other writers get up to, and not just writers in your chosen genre. I once learned a lot from reading an analysis of the craft of writers of crime fiction of the “hard-boiled dick” variety.

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Michael is the author of:

05-21 Cook1 Ancient Religions, Modern Politics: The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective by Michael Cook
Hardcover | 2014 | $39.50 / £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691144900
568 pp. | 6 x 9 |eBook | ISBN: 9781400850273 |Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

Quick Questions for Karen Alter

K_AlterKaren Alter is a Professor of Political Science and Law at Northwestern University, and continues her research in international courts as co-director of the institutionalization research cluster at the iCourts Center of Excellence, Copenhagen University Faculty of Law, and through ongoing collaborative research on international courts in Latin America and Africa. Her work focuses largely on “the interaction between international organizations and domestic policies” and “how different domains of domestic and international politics are transformed through the creation of international courts.”

She is the author of The European Court’s Political Power, Establishing the Supremacy of European Law, and the co-editor of the Oxford Handbook on International Adjudication as well as the co-author of International Legal Transplants: the Law and Politics of the Andean Tribunal of Justice. Her most recent book is The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights which Robert O. Keohane hails as “the most sophisticated account of how ‘new style’ international courts alter politics by reducing the monopoly power of governments to determine what the law requires.” He also says, “If you can read only one book on how international courts affect the politics of international law, this is the one to read.” High praise indeed!

Now, on to the questions!

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

Karen Alter: The most straightforward contribution of The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights is to make the alphabet soup of international courts more intelligible. There are so many questions about international courts we could not really ask because every international court was seen as sui generes. If my book helps scholars pose important questions based on the larger landscape of international courts, they are more likely to study international courts and investigate important questions. Then they can write about how Alter got x, y and z completely wrong.

The larger contribution is to create more realistic expectations for international courts.  We all know that the power of judges is limited. “International judges have the power issue binding rulings in the cases that are adjudicated.” (p.32) That is it! Elaborating further, I explain that judges name violations of the law, and perhaps specify remedies.  The real question is: How and when does the power to speak the law become politically meaningful?


The main contribution then is to generate an adaptable framework.


My more realistic approach to international law helps us get beyond utopian expectations and straw men. I understand that given what is going on in Ukraine, Syria, and in of US foreign policy, it is hard not to conclude that international law is irrelevant. But we don’t look at the many unresolved murders, the frequency of speeding, and use of illegal drugs and conclude that the American legal system must be irrelevant. Salient failures do not mean that legal systems never succeed or that law is irrelevant.

What is my non-utopian perspective? My answer is in the book’s preface: “If it seems like I find much success in international legal institutions, it is probably because my expectations are so low. International law is primarily words on paper imbued with legal authority. In the Bible, David always wins. In the real world, the odds remain in Goliath’s favor. But increasingly international law–words on paper imbued with legal authority–provides a legal and political resource that makes a difference.  The ability of international courts to speak law to power and thereby influence governments to alter their behavior is in my mind somewhat akin to David’s miracle victory over Goliath.”

The main contribution then is to generate an adaptable framework–­ the altered politics framework–to investigate when international law and international courts are relevant and influential. The book applies this framework across a range of institutions and cases, providing many examples of international judges throwing stones yet nonetheless influencing Goliaths to revisit decisions, change tax policies, compensate plaintiffs, revise constitutions, and create new institutional checks and balances.

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?
My husband says that I have been working on this book for 14 years. His quip is misleading, but also somewhat true.


My husband says that I have been working on this book for 14 years…misleading, but also somewhat true.


My writing process is to have many projects ongoing and at different stages. When I get really frustrated fumbling with new ideas and projects in the very early stages, I can spend a day putting the finishing touches on something that actually reads well.

For this project, my approach was to write articles exploring pieces of the puzzle. Some articles pushed an idea to its limit, to see, for example, how far I could sustain the notion that international courts are trustees and independent of powerful governments. Other articles looked in historical and empirical depth at a single institution, going into far more detail than I do in the book. You can see this approach on my webpage where I divide my research agenda into the study of comparative international courts, examining the Andean Tribunal of Justice as a supranational legal transplant, investigating the European Court’s Political Power, researching Africa’s international courts, and studying international regime complexity.

I also seek help by co-authoring. Larry Helfer was my partner in figuring out where the Andean Tribunal is influential, and why it remains irrelevant for many legal issues that should, in theory, fall under its legal purview. Sophie Meunier and I brought scholars together to collectively investigate how it matters that international institutions have overlapping membership and jurisdiction.

The many articles on comparative international courts read at times like whirling dervishes. The articles threw so many ideas and acronyms at the reader, they really asked too much of the reader. Writing the book was then a relief.  I had the space to work out the pieces at play, to develop and layer on empirics and ideas.

For this book I also had two book workshops—one in the US and another in Europe. These workshops, and Princeton’s peer review, really helped me to hone the book.

So yes, it took 14 years of stumbling around to write this book. But they were also very productive years.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?
This was the most difficult and complex project I have ever done. I often give the analogy of Greg Louganis, an amazing American Olympic diver who won medals at two Olympics, on both the springboard and platform. In high school I was an extremely middling diver. The experience taught me that there are hundreds of skills and nuances one must master. Yet Greg Louganis makes diving look easy. He lands a dive with almost no splash.

Writing like Greg Louganis dives is my goal, and it takes a huge amount of practice and experimentation.

If I did my job well, my readers will not even realize how many ideas, terms and presentational devices I invented to simplify a bewildering complexity.

I invented the categories of ‘old style’ and ‘new style’ courts to explain why today’s international courts are so different than their predecessors. I created tables and organizing heuristics to convey the idea of proliferation, replication, similarity and divergence with relatively few details. I worked with categories lawyers use, differentiating each of the four judicial roles in the simplest possible way.

I then found 18 case studies to investigate each role in greater depth. The case studies involve different issues, different courts and different countries.

Finally I had to make the many pieces fit together in a way that the reader could follower.


I knew I was succeeding when the noise went away, and when my terminology became infectious.


Along the way, there was much distracting noise. I had to simplify without setting off lawyers’ alarms. I had to create concepts, categories, images and terms that captured the many variables political scientists care about. It took much iteration to rebuff early rejections of the notion that one can meaningfully differentiate constitutional review, dispute settlement, administrative review and enforcement roles. I was pushed into giving my name to my central argument- international courts altering politics.  This name came because my helpful critics rejected everything else I suggested!

24 courts + 4 judicial roles + 18 case studies across three vastly different issue areas: economic disputes, human rights and mass atrocities.

I knew I was succeeding when the noise went away, and when my terminology became infectious, shaping the conversation to focus on the important issues at stake.

What was the most influential book you’ve read?
I don’t know if this is the most influential book I’ve read, but I was inspired by Morton Horowitz’s book The Transformation of American Law (1870-1960). I read his book in graduate school, and it wowed me. I can still remember the core of his argument, which is remarkable considering how bad my memory is.

This feels really grandiose to say, but The Transformation of American Law inspired me to write a book that I hope will stand the test of time, inspire others, and be remembered.  Whether I achieve these objective is for others to decide. I sometimes wonder whether contemporary political science is conducive to memorable books. But the question I’m answering is what influenced me, and how I was influenced.

A funny thing about Horowitz’s book is that some of my colleagues at Northwestern Law School think of it as a Marxist book. It never occurred to me to see Horowitz’s book as Marxist. The Transformation of American Law fit into a tradition of political economy. It is much like two other books I still remember: Alexander Gerschenkron’s  Economic Backwardness in Comparative Perspective and Theda Skocpol’s States and Social Revolutions. These books, in my mind, use similar approaches to studying history and institutional development.  Perhaps this list, however, makes me a Marxist. Or, perhaps anyone who studies power in history, and political economy, is Marxist.  Or perhaps constructivism is the new Marxism.

Do you have advice for other authors?
Ask important questions.

Dream big.

Get in over your head and find your way out.


Don’t spend too much time alone in your head. Go out and talk to people!


Give yourself time to let ideas ripen.

But don’t spend too much time alone in your head. Go out and talk to people!

‘Data’ often is not what it seems.  Test your ideas and inferences by presenting your work, and by learning how the stakeholders understand their world.

PUP: What is your next project?
I have a lot of discrete projects that will keep me busy for the next five to seven years. This suits me fine because I have a daughter in high school, and a son in middle school.  I can’t undertake a huge consuming project until they are through high school. In the short term, expect more articles, symposia, and a book or two on international courts.

But I am starting to read for what will be my next big project.  I want to study capitalism and the rule of law in China.

I see China as trying to develop a rule of law absent human rights and constitutional checks on political authority. Is this even possible? If China can pull it off, I expect that authoritarian leaders around the world will emulate China’s approach to the rule of law. China’s rule of law model will then rival with the Euro-American model.

Maybe my interest in this topic goes back to Morton Horowitz.  Horowitz argued that the task of building the railroads in America fundamentally shaped the development of American law.  I want to understand how China’s embrace of capitalism in combination with the Communist Party’s disdain for constitutional democracy is shaping China’s development of the rule of law.

This project follows my own advice to ‘get in over your head and find your way out.’  I don’t speak Chinese, and I don’t yet know much about China. But I have started reading about capitalism and the rule of law, and about China. In five years time, I can start traveling to China to meet with law school deans, law faculty, government officials, judges and law firms. I can also begin to co-author with China specialists.

Alongside this new interest, my investment in researching and writing about Africa’s international courts is long term. I really enjoy working with Larry Helfer.  If I have my way, there will always be a project we are working on together.

But also, in both China and Africa I can study the rule of law as it develops from dysfunction to whatever it becomes. Triangulating the contrast between a developing rule of law and the established American and European rule of law systems keeps me thinking and learning.  I want to always be challenged to think in new ways.

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Karen is the author of:

The New Terrain of International Law: Courts, Politics, Rights
Karen J. AlterHardcover | 2014 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691143774
296 pp. | 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 | 1 table.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400850051ReviewsTable of ContentsPreface[PDF]Chapter 1[PDF]Karen J. Alter’s Home Page

Quick Questions for David Gordon White

drishti-detailDavid Gordon White is the J. F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religion at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he focuses on “delineating the parameters of Tantra as the most perennial and pervasive ‘great tradition’ of South Asia.”

His books include Yoga in Practice (Princeton), Sinister Yogis, and, most recently, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography, which Library Journal calls “a fascinating presentation of the rise, fall, and rediscovery of the Yoga Sutra [that] will appeal to those looking to expand their knowledge.”

Now, on to the questions!

What inspired you to get into your field?

A high school history teacher who had been to India showed us slides of the country and spoke with great emotion about the people and culture there. At about the same time, the Beatles began sporting beads and Nehru collars, picked up during their stay with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh.


These non-fiction subjects have been as magical and wondrous as anything that surrealist or magical realist authors have ever produced.


What would you have been if not a professor of comparative religion?

I long fancied myself as a novelist, and do have a completed novel, written in the 1980s, sitting in a drawer. Graduate school stifled my creative writing mojo, although I do work very hard at making my academic writing readable and enjoyable for a non-specialist readership. I hope to get back to writing fiction at some point, although it must be said that the non-fiction subjects I have written on over the past decades (Hindu alchemy, the lives of yogis, the mythology of dog-headed men, tantric sex, etc.) have been as magical and wondrous as anything that surrealist or magical realist authors have ever produced.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing a biography of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali?

Apart from the period between about 700 and 1200 CE, no one in South Asia was interested in the Yoga Sutra until the twentieth century. Other works, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Yajnavalkya, and Yoga Vasistha, were the principal guides to yoga.

Who do you see as the audience for the book?

Any practitioner of yoga who is curious about the origins and history of their practice.

What is your next project?

A book on the spread of demonology along the Silk Road, in which one finds Buddhist demons in Manichean sources, Roman demons in Indian sources, and so forth. Demons and the spells and charms used against them were far more portable than gods or theological doctrines. Working title: Demons are Forever.

 


David is the author of:

bookjacket The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography
David Gordon WhiteHardcover | 2014 | $24.95 / £16.95 | ISBN: 9780691143774
296 pp. | 4 1/2 x 7 1/2 | 1 table.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400850051
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Quick Questions for Ian Goldin, author of The Butterfly Defect

Goldin_Butterfly_au photoIan Goldin is Professor of Globalisation and Development and Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford.  He has published 19 books, the most recent of which is The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It. Andy Haldane of the Bank of England describes globalization as, “the girl with the curl,” because “when it is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad it is awful.” He praises The Butterfly Defect as an explanation of “why this opportunity-cum-threat calls for a radical new approach to the setting of public policy–an approach which to be successful needs to be every bit as hyperconnected as the world it is operating in.”

Now, on to the questions!

Why did you write The Butterfly Defect?

I wrote The Butterfly Defect, together with Mike Mariathasan, as I believe that globalization, by which I mean the growing openness and integration of societies, is a force for immense good. But, it also causes great harm. Unless we are able to mitigate the negative factors and harvest the positive elements more effectively, it will lead to growing instability and disastrous outcomes.


The financial crisis was the first of a new type of systemic crisis which will characterise the 21st century.


This is the last of my series of four books on globalization. The previous three identified the factors that could lead to better management and policies (Globalization for Development: Meeting New Challenges; Exceptional People: How migration shaped our world and will define our future; and Divided Nations: Why global governance is failing, and what we can do about it). The Butterfly Defect focuses on the systemic risks being generated by globalization. These threaten to unravel the progress made to date and lead to the rejection of integration and globalization. Rising protectionism, zenophobia, nationalism and other symptoms of the desire to reduce interdependence are manifestations of the concerns that citizens and politicians have that globalization is not working and that the risks associated with integration outweigh the benefits. The book identifies ways to manage and mitigate the risks.

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

The financial crisis represents a watershed in history. It is the first of a new type of systemic crisis which will characterise the 21st century. The four key failures which gave rise to the crisis are present in many other areas. Unless we can manage the new forms of systemic risk more effectively it will lead to growing global instability. Although the rising threat posed by pandemics, cyber attacks, widening inequality and political fracturing, environmental collapse and climate change, infrastructure weaknesses and supply chain disruptions and other systemic risks appear unrelated, they have the same underlying causes and solutions. These are:  accelerating integration and interdependency as a result of economic and political opening and new technological platforms; growing complexity and an inability to discern cause and effect in the blizzard of big data; technological revolutions leaping ahead of evolutionary institutional reforms; and, the growing gap between local management by divided nations of global and regional processes and systems.

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


Globalization has been the most powerful force for improvements in living standards, but it has also unleashed dangerous and potentially destabilising forces.


The book is the first to identify systemic risks as being an endemic feature of globalization.  It stresses that globalization has been the most powerful force for improvements in living standards around the world, but the engine of progress has also unleashed dangerous and potentially destabilising forces which could not only arrest the progress made, but lead to instability and reversals.  The book provides perspectives on how we can manage growing integration and complexity. It is unique in the breadth and depth of its analysis. It builds a bridge between the cutting edge of academic knowledge and the worlds of business and policy.

Who is the audience?

The book has been written for the widest possible audience.  It is rooted in scholarly research and provides a great deal of evidence and analysis of the theory.  However, the language is accessible and I have worked hard to reduce jargon and avoid equations and writing that cannot be widely understood.  My aim has been to write a book that will be by students, business people, policy makers and anyone concerned with a sustainable future for our planet.

How did you come up with the title, The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It?

The title arose in a discussion with a student at Oxford who was engaged as a research assistant for the book. It is a play on the concept of the butterfly effect, which is well known in complexity theory and physics, with the replacement of ‘effect’ by ‘defect’ seeking to highlight the risks associated with a highly interconnected world.  The subtitle tells readers what the book is about and highlights the fact that The Butterfly Defect goes beyond identifying the issues to provide practical lessons and tools to manage the systemic risks which globalization creates.

 


 Ian is the author of:

bookjacket The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It
Ian Goldin & Mike Mariathasan

Hardcover | $35.00 / £24.95 | ISBN: 9780691154701
320 pp. | 6 x 9 | 45 line illus. 5 tables.

eBook | ISBN: 9781400850204

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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
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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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Physics Today interviews Princeton physicist William Bialek on his path-breaking new text book BIOPHYSICS: Searching for Principles

Princeton University professor William Bialek, renowned for his research on the interactions of physics and biology, was interviewed for the February 2014 issue of Physics Toady about his groundbreaking new textbook BIOPHYSICS: Searching for Principles.

A sneak peak:
Physics Today: How does your approach to biophysics compare with others, and how is that approach reflected in the layout of your text?

Bialek: I think most previous textbooks have presented biophysics as a biological science, or perhaps as a cross-disciplinary amalgam. I have taken the view that there is a physics of biological systems and that this is to be understood in the same way that we talk about the physics of solids or the physics of the early universe. So this book tries to present biophysics as a branch of physics.The physics of biological systems is a very broad subject, and I have tried to capture as much of this breadth as I could: from the dynamics of single molecules to the collective behavior of populations of organisms….(continued)

Edmund Fawcett discusses Liberalism: The Life of an Idea [VIDEO]

Love it or hate it, liberalism is here to stay–and it has a long and fascinating history. Edmund Fawcett explains more about his forthcoming book Liberalism: The Life of an Idea in this wonderful video interview with Natalia Nash. How do we define liberalism? Edmund Fawcett explores the underlying ideas that guide the liberal story here:

Learn more about Edmund Fawcett and Liberalism at the Princeton University Press site.