“Governor Christie, Fidel Castro, and Hurricane Sandy,” a guest post by Stuart Schwartz

Hurricane Sandy on October 25, 2012 (Source: NASA, MODIS, LANCE, HDF File Data processed by Supportstorm: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sandy_Oct_25_2012_1530Z.jpg)

In late October, 2012 superstorm Sandy swept up from the Caribbean and pounded the Northeast. The damage was horrendous: 268 dead, $68 billion in property loss, the most expensive disaster in the United States after Hurricane Katrina. The images of President Obama and Republican Governor Christie walking the beaches of New Jersey became an icon of collaboration at a time when the country was frustrated by Washington’s seeming deadlock. Obama was swept into office the following month, and Christie’s popularity soared in the aftermath. Sandy was not the only reason for these political results, but exit polls confirmed that it was certainly a factor. It was a demonstration that government can effectively provide help in a time of crisis when those in authority do not hold government in contempt, to paraphrase Paul Krugman. It was a message that resonated with large segments of the public.

Governor Christie gives a no-nonsense update on the state of things, post Hurricane Sandy. Credit:  Alec Perkins. Source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/alecperkins/8155687190/

Governor Christie gives a no-nonsense update on the state of things, post Hurricane Sandy.
Credit: Alec Perkins. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alecperkins/8155687190/

But Hurricane Sandy had come in the midst of a scientific and political controversies about the effects of climate change on the intensity and frequency of cyclonic storms, and about the nature or role of government in protecting citizens from calamities. The response to Hurricane Sandy revealed the complex and sometimes contradictory responses to these debates. Governor Christie’s post-Sandy pleading for Federal aid moved some fellow Republicans to criticize him for “big government” solutions and excessive dependence on Washington, but before Sandy and thereafter on the question of global warming like many of his Republican colleagues he had voiced his own doubts on climate change, and emphasized that he had more immediate problems to solve than to debate such arcane issues. That seemingly “practical” approach contributed to his reelection, and in October of last year in his victory speech, the governor spoke of “the spirit of Sandy,” the sense of community and cooperation in problem solving that could become the way he would meet many kinds of political and social challenges.

Unknowingly, Governor Christie was repeating the arguments of Fidel Castro in a similar situation following the disastrous Hurricane Flora of 1963. Flora, the second deadliest storm in the history of the Atlantic had killed about 8,000 people in Haiti and Cuba. Castro at the time, embarrassed by the Missile crisis mobilized all of the institutions of Cuba in the relief effort. Cuba suffered over 1,200 death which was bad enough, but given the dimension of the storm, the government effort was a tremendous success. The successful cooperation and mobilization of society convinced him that this spirit of Flora could become the attitude in which all the country’s problems were met. Castro’s actions after Flora were used to justify the effectiveness of the Revolution and, in fact, Cuba subsequently became a model for disaster mitigation and preparation, but whatever the immediate political benefits, overtime Castro’s speeches also became “greener,”and like many leaders in the Caribbean, he began to emphasize the need to take global warming and the rise of the oceans seriously.

For the most part, that has not been the case in New Jersey. The problem is that separation of practical issues from long-term issues like global warming is short-sighted. In Sandy, for example, the New Jersey Transit Corporation, basing its decision on past experience failed to move its rolling stock to high ground and as a result suffered a loss of a quarter of its trains and $150 million in damages. New York’s MTA under Governor Cuomo suffered far less because he had taken climate change as a reality and had taken necessary precautions. Both governors had been handicapped, however, by the fact that FEMA funding had been so reduced prior to Sandy that the shoreline maps of areas of possible flooding of New York and New Jersey were decades out of date.

Castro’s experience following hurricane Flora made him an advocate of strong government action in response to natural disasters, but it had also made him responsive to the challenges of environmental change. It remains unclear if Governor Christie who is looking forward to 2016 has learned a similar lesson, and more importantly, if he could make that message appealing to his political party, the leadership of which continues to deny scientific evidence of human caused climate change, or suggests that even if it does exist, there is little that can be done about it. That position combined with a neo-liberal argument for weakening financial support for the public sector, lowering investments in infrastructure, and the dismantling of central authority that has gained much support since the 1980s, and it raises the question for Governor Christie and the rest of us if the “spirit of Sandy” that he so passionately invoked will be enough to confront the challenges of climate change.

Stuart B. Schwartz is the George Burton Adams Professor of History and chair of the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies at Yale University. His many books include All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World and Sea of Storms. A History of Caribbean Hurricanes from Columbus to Katrina (forthcoming January 2015).

Tim Chartier and the Mega Menger

math bytesHow many business cards are needed to complete a level 3 Menger Sponge? What is a level 3 Menger Sponge? Tim Chartier, author of Math Bytes: Google Bombs, Chocolate Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing, explains.

In a Huffington Post article, A Million Business Cards Presents a Math Challenge, Chartier asks readers to go in their wallet and check for  business cards. If there aren’t any, “they may be part of a worldwide math challenge. Over the past month, people around the world have been building a mathematical structure out of more than a million business cards.” That mathematical structure is a Mega Menger, but before we get there, let’s discuss what a level 1 Menger Sponge is.

A level 1 Menger Sponge is a fractal consisting of twenty cubes. Each cube is made up of 6 business cards, so a level 1 Menger needs 120 business cards. A level 2 Menger is created using 20 level 1 Mengers, a level 3 Menger is made with 20 level 2 Mengers, so on and so on.

Here at the Press, we don’t have a million business cards to complete a Mega Menger, but we do have a lot of books. Using Chartier’s code (which you can play with here: http://lifeislinear.davidson.edu/sierpinski.html), we were able to create 2-D versions of a Menger Sponge called a Sierpinski Carpet using our jacket images. Below, see if you can figure out which books are featured in the fractal images below! Click the images to see the related title.






Princeton University Press’s best-selling books for the last week

These are the best-selling books for the past week.

Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game by Andrew Hodges
The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis by Ben S. Bernanke
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure by Omri Ben-Shahar & Carl E. Schneider
The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor
The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup by Noam Wasserman
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
The Age of the Vikings Anders Winroth
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P. Feynman

Enter to win a copy of Alan Turing: The Enigma, the Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game

Hodges_AlanTuring movie tie inOn November 28, The Imitation Game will open in limited release. In the film, Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the genius British mathematician, logician, cryptologist and computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that helped the Allies win WWII. Turing went on to assist with the development of computers at the University of Manchester after the war, but was prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for homosexual acts which the country deemed illegal. The film is inspired by the award-winning biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

To celebrate the release of the film, Princeton University Press is pleased to announce the publication of a new edition of the book with a movie still cover and new material from the author that brings the story current through Turing’s pardon by the Queen. Enter our giveaway below to win a copy of the new edition of the book AND a $25.00 Fandango gift certificate.

This giveaway will run from November 11 through November 24 and is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada, aged 18 and older. No purchase is necessary. If you prefer to enter via email, please send a note to blog@press.princeton.edu. Please see complete terms and conditions below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban on 2014 elections

weedenElections are almost always a polarizing event in this country, but Jason Weeden and Robert Kurzban, authors of The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind: How Self-Interest Shapes Our Opinions and Why We Won’t Admit It, explain why it’s more complex than just liberals and conservatives going twelve rounds in the ring. Two days ago, The New York Times published Weeden and Kurzban’s opinion piece, Election 2014: Your Very Predictable Vote, and it has generated some internet buzz; over 500 comments have already been submitted.

The gist? Americans vote out of self-interest. The proof? “Unemployed people are more than twice as likely as people working full time to want unemployment benefits increased. African-Americans are by far the most likely proponents of affirmative action and government help for African-Americans. Rich white men are especially likely to oppose income redistribution.” Furthermore, but  unrelated to economic motivations, Weeden and Kurzban note, “People who want to have sex but don’t at the moment want babies are especially likely to support policies that ensure access to birth control and abortion. Immigrants favor generous immigration policies. Lesbians and gay men are far more likely to oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those who aren’t Christian are far more likely to oppose discrimination based on religion.”

This all sounds like common sense, yet, there are many political scientists focused on the influence “parents and peers, schools and universities, political parties and leaders, and…’values’” have on American voters, and self-interest is overlooked. Weeden and Kurzban argue, “the most straightforward explanation, demographics, is also the most persuasive.” The authors go on to theorize as to what the United States might look like if policy was determined by polling residents:

“There would be greater spending on the poor, health care, Social Security and education. Immigration would be reduced. School prayer would be allowed. Anti-American speech by Muslims would be restricted. Abortion would be legal in cases of rape and fetal deformity, but illegal if the abortion was motivated by not wanting more children, by being poor, or by being single.”

So why doesn’t the United States look like this? Weeden and Kurzban have an answer for that too!

“Negotiations at the federal level result in more conservative economic policies, and more liberal social policies. That’s because they involve one set of highly educated, wealthy representatives negotiating with another, and the policies that result reflect their own core interests.”

You can read the article in its entirety, here and don’t forget to  pick up a copy of The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind in time for the 2016 presidential election!

Using the filter feature on The Warbler Guide App

Scott Whittle and Tom Stephenson revolutionized how birders study, find, hear, and see warblers with their acclaimed book The Warbler Guide. Now they have their sights set on bringing all the breakthrough features from the book, plus a host of app-only features, to your iPhone® and iPad® in the Warbler Guide App.

In this video, Scott introduces the app’s innovative filter function that allows users to narrow their search results by color, facial marks, wing bands, and song. Intuitive, visual, and interactive, this system allows users to find the bird they are seeing in the field quickly and easily.

The Warbler Guide App will be available in December 2014.

bookjacket Warbler Guide App
Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle
APP | Spring 2015 | $12.99 | ISBN: 9781400849901

Princeton University Press announces selections for The Best Writing on Mathematics: 2014

The output of math writing has steadily increased in volume and quality with major articles appearing in math journals like Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Communications of the ACM, and Math Horizons; general-interest publications like Slate, American Scientist and Foreign Affairs; and still more in disciplinary journals like Physics Today, The American Statistician or Chance. Editor Mircea Pitici reads them all and selects the best of the best for this annual series. The Best Writing on Mathematics is an expertly curated annual celebration of important math writing (or speaking, as you will see below).

Among the many highlights of the 2014 edition are Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger explaining “The Rise of Big Data” and its impact on the world; Sarah-Marie Belcastro describing her “Adventures in Mathematical Knitting;” Tanya Khovanova solving “Conway’s Wizards;” Jordan Ellenberg on a recent breakthrough in the study of prime numbers; Brian Hayes on “Crinkly Curves;” and Keith Devlin describing what makes a video game good for learning mathematics and showing why many games fall short of that goal. John Conway presents examples of arithmetical statements that are almost certainly true but likely unprovable; Carlo Séquin explores, compares, and illustrates distinct types of one-sided surfaces known as Klein bottles; and Stephen Pollard argues that mathematical practice, thinking, and experience transcend the utilitarian value of mathematics. Also included here, for the first time in print, is the text of a talk given by Francis Edward Su on the occasion of receiving the 2013 Haimo Award for Distinguished Teaching.

We hope you will join us in celebrating these excellent articles and speeches from the previous year!

Complete list of selections for

The Best Writing on Mathematics: 2014

(presented in the order of the Table of Contents)

Mathematics and the Good Life, Stephen Pollard (originally appearing in Philosophia Mathematica)

The Rise of Big Data: How It’s Changing the Way We Think about the World, Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (originally appearing in Foreign Affairs)

Conway’s Wizards, Tanya Khovanova (originally appearing on The Mathematical Intelligencer)

On Unsettleable Arithmetical Problems, John H. Conway (originally appearing in The American Mathematical Monthly)

Crinkly Curves, Brian Hayes (originally appearing in American Scientist)

Why Do We Perceive Logarithmically? Lav R. Varshney and John Z. Sun (originally appearing in Significance)

The Music of Math Games, Keith Devlin (originally appearing in American Scientist)

The Fundamental Theorem of Algebra for Artists, Bahman Kalantari and Bruce Torrence (originally appearing in Math Horizons)

The Arts–Digitized, Quantified, and Analyzed, Nicole Lazar (originally appearing in Chance)

On the Number of Klein Bottle Types, Carlo H. Séquin (originally appearing in Journal of Mathematics and the Arts)

Adventures in Mathematical Knitting, Sarah-Marie Belcastro (originally appearing in American Scientist)

The Mathematics of Fountain Design: A Multiple-Centers Activity, Marshall Gordon (originally appearing in Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications)

Food for (Mathematical) Thought, Penelope Dunham (originally appearing in PRIMUS)

Wondering about Wonder in Mathematics, Dov Zazkis and Rina Zazkis (originally appearing in Wonder-full)

The Lesson of Grace in Teaching, Francis Edward Su (originally appearing on Mathematical Yawp)

Generic Proving: Reflections on Scope and Method, Uri Leron and Orit Zaslavsky (originally appearing in For the Learning of Mathematics)

Extreme Proofs I: The Irrationality of 2, John H. Conway and Joseph Shipman (originally appearing in Mathematical Intelligencer)

Stuck in the Middle: Cauchy’s Intermediate Value Theorem and the History of Analytic Rigor, Michael J. Barany (originally appearing in Notices of the AMS)

Plato, Poincaré, and the Enchanted Dodecahedron: Is the Universe Shaped Like the Poincaré Homology Sphere? Lawrence Brenton (originally appearing in Math Horizons)

Computing with Real Numbers, from Archimedes to Turing and Beyond, Mark Braverman (originally appearing in Communications of the ACM)

Chaos at Fifty, Adilson E. Motter and David K. Campbell (originally appearing in Physics Today)

Twenty-Five Analogies for Explaining Statistical Concepts, Roberto Behar, Pere Grima, and Lluís Marco-Almagro (originally appearing in The American Statistician)

College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage, David Gale and Lloyd S. Shapley (originally appearing in The American Mathematical Monthly)

The Beauty of Bounded Gaps, Jordan Ellenberg (originally appearing on Slate)

We welcome suggestions, comments, and materials for consideration for future volumes. To provide feedback, please contact editor Mircea Pitici.


The Best Writing on Mathematics 2014
Edited by Mircea Pitici

In the spirit of Halloween: 5 facts from Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep

j10305[1]Are you a Halloween costume enthusiast who gives the best costumed trick-or-treater the most candy? Do you plan on being a zombie this Halloween? Are you afraid you might not be able to distinguish between real zombies and fake ones? If you answered yes to any of those questions, read on! Below is a list of five facts from Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek’s book Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain.

  1. According to Verstynen and Voytek, all zombies suffer from CDHD, or Consciousness Deficit Hypoactivity Disorder. Subjects with CDHD suffer from “a lack of intentional movements, lethargic and fatigued movements (akinesthesia), loss of a sense of pleasure (anhedonia), general language dysfunction (aphasia),” and much more.
  2. Ever wonder why some zombies are easily outrun and others are surprisingly quick on their feet? Verstynen and Voytek believe this phenomenon has to do with the time it takes a dead body to resurrect itself as a zombie. They call this “time-to-resurrection,” and the longer the process takes, the slower the zombie will move.
  3. CDHD seems to affect the amygdala and hypothalamus regions of the brain while leaving the primary sensory areas, cortical motor areas and basal ganglia, thalamus, and brainstem regions intact.
  4. Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) has been used in patients with Parkinson’s to help alleviate them of their symptoms. Our authors wonder if similar kinds of therapy could be used on zombies.
  5. “Survival Tip #6: Mimic them. ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’…If confronted with a herd of undead with no clear avenue of escape…act like a zombie.” Zombies have difficulty recognizing facing, so as long as you’ve been practicing your zombie walk and growl, you should be fine!

Whatever your motives are, hopefully these five facts will help you better identify zombies this Halloween.


Halloween prize pack sweepstakes includes Zombies & Calculus and Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep!

zombies.jpgIn honor of all things spooky and scary, Tor.com is sponsoring a Halloween Prize Pack Sweepstakes. Five winners will be presented with six books to get you in that Halloween spirit.

To win, all you have to do is comment on this post, here! Good luck and happy Halloween!



Derek Sayer’s Prague, winner of 2014 George L. Mosse Prize, American Historical Association

pragueThe American Historical Association recently announced its 2014 prize winners, and congratulations are in order (again) for Derek Sayer and his book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History. 

Prague will be the recipient of the George L. Mosse Prize, an award given to “an outstanding major work of extraordinary scholarly distinction, creativity, and originality in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since 1500.” The award ceremony will be held at AHA’s Annual Meeting in New York on Friday, January 2nd.

For the full list of 2014 prize winners, click here. Again, congratulations to Derek Sayer on yet another noteworthy (and blog worthy) achievement!

Clear and Simple as the Truth has author Steven Pinker’s seal of approval

simple truthSteven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, was recently featured in The New York Times Sunday Book Review to, well, review books (among other things). Pinker covers everything from the current books sitting beside his bed on his nightstand to his dream literary dinner party, but one question and answer caught the Press’s attention in particular.

When asked if there were “any unexpected gems you came across” while researching his latest book “The Sense of Style,” Pinker names Mark Turner and Francis Noël Thomas’s Clear and Simple as the Truth. “Their model of ‘classic prose’ — the writer directs the reader’s gaze to something in the world — elegantly captures the differences between vigorous and turgid writing,” explains Pinker in the interview.

Not long after the Times interview (literally one day later) Pinker was published in The Chronicle Review of Higher Education for his explanation of why academics stink at writing. Here, Pinker turns to Turner and Thomas for help framing his argument. “In a brilliant little book called Clear and Simple as the Truth, the literary scholars Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner argue that every style of writing can be understood as a model of the communication scenario that an author simulates in lieu of the real-time give-and-take of a conversation.”

“They distinguish, in particular, romantic, oracular, prophetic, practical, and plain styles, each defined by how the writer imagines himself to be related to the reader, and what the writer is trying to accomplish…Among those styles is one they single out as an aspiration for writers of expository prose. They call it classic style, and they credit its invention to 17th-century French essayists such as Descartes and La Rochefoucauld.”

For the New York Times Sunday Book Review, click here, and to read the rest of Pinker’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, click here.



Noah Wilson-Rich author of The Bee to stop in at Labyrinth Books

Wilson-Rich_theBeeThe Press is very excited to announce that Noah Wilson-Rich, author of The Bee: A Natural History, will be making an appearance at a local book store down the street from our offices on October 21st at 6:00PM. The venue, Labyrinth Books, is an acclaimed independent book store conveniently located right on Nassau St (if you’re familiar with the area) and we hope you will join us in a discussion with Wilson-Rich about his book.

Stick around after for book signings as well!