The Work of the Dead: 15 facts on graves, ghosts, and other mortal concerns

The Work of the DeadAs the air becomes crisp and we indulge our appetite for pumpkin-spiced everything, the falling leaves serve as a memento mori, a reminder of death and dying. Fittingly, this fall PUP is publishing Thomas Laqueur’s The Work of the Dead, a cultural history examining how and why the living have engaged with the dead from antiquity to the twentieth century. Here are some interesting facts and images from the book to get you in the spirit of the season!

1. Autolysis is the process by which enzymes that once turned food into nutrients begin to break down the body. Bacteria freed from the gut then starts to devour the flesh; in later stages microbes from the soil and air join in.

2. It used to be the case that all graves in Christendom were oriented toward Jerusalem. Around the turn of the 20th century, they began to be oriented toward walkways or bodies of water.

3. Tollund Man was killed in the 4th century BCE and found by peat cutters in 1950. Because of the preservative powers of the bog that was his final resting place, today we can discern the clothes he wore when he died, a cap of wool and sheepskin, and how he died, via strangulation. Scholars say that he was most likely a human sacrifice.


The Work of the Dead, p. 125. 4.1 Southeast view of a church, described as St. John’s of Southwark, showing the churchyard. J.W. Edy after a painting by John Buckler, F.S.A., 1799. © British Library.

4. Certain traditions of modern Judaism insist on rapid burial, even at the risk of burying someone who is not yet dead, because of the dangers of spirits lurking around the body.

5. Christianity has had an ambivalent relationship with ghosts throughout the centuries. Augustine related a story of a dead father returning to his son to deliver vital information, for example, but by the time of the Reformation, Protestant thinkers explained continued widespread belief in ghosts as a holdover from Roman superstition.

6. In early nineteenth-century England, the potentially unquiet souls of those who had committed suicide were silenced by burying the bodies at a crossroads with a stake through the heart.

7. A Harris poll in 2003 determined that 51% of Americans believed that ghosts exist. Only 35% of those aged twenty five to twenty nine were skeptical, but 73% of those older than sixty five did not believe at all.


The Work of the Dead, p. 210. 4.13 Tomb of David Hume, Old Calton Cemetary, Edinburgh. Carlos Delgado.

8. In Chinese antiquity, thousands of men, women, and children were beaten into the ramparts of the tombs of the Shang emperors so they could serve their lords in death as they had in life.

9. In the seventeenth century, the founder of modern international law, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), compiled a library of opinions and practices from ancient authors in support of his view that the denial of burial was so fundamentally at odds with any conceivable norm—with being human—that it was a just cause for war.

10. In the Jewish tradition, it was God who taught man how to handle the dead. Adam and Eve were mourning the death of their son Abel when a raven fell dead near them. Another raven came, made a hole, and buried his dead fellow. Adam said, “I will do as this raven did,” and buried his son’s body.


The Work of the Dead p. 38. 1.2. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Philipp Galle (1537-1612), from the series The Eight Wonders of the World. After Maarten van Heemskerck, 1572. Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum. Gift of Robert Bradford Wheaton and Barbara Ketcham Wheaton in Honor of Mrs Arthur K. Solomon, M25955. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

11. Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) thought that burial of the dead was one of the three “universal institutions of humanity.” The other two are matrimony and religion.

12. Other than elephants and (it is argued) some insects, humans are the only animals that care for their dead.

13. During the 1790s in France, the Pantheon was built to house the new “gods” of the nation after they died. Mirabeau was the first to be admitted in 1791. Voltaire was interred there later that year.


The Work of the Dead, p. 20. 1.5. The grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery, London.

14. Max Weber wrote in his study of the Protestant ethic, “the genuine Puritan even rejected all signs of religious ceremony at the grave and buried his nearest and dearest without song or ritual in order that no superstition, no trust in the effects of magical and sacramental forces of salvation, should creep in.”

15. Vladomir Nabokov said, “Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.”

For those in the Princeton area, Thomas Laqueur will be at Labyrinth Books on Friday, October 30 at 5:30pm to talk about his book. Mark your calendars!

Washington Post highlights summer reading for students

Soon, school will be out for summer, but here at PUP, our “to read” lists keep growing. The Washington Post recently highlighted a unique summer reading list — one compiled by college admissions officers and counselors.

Every year, Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at The Derryfield School in Manchester, New Hampshire, asks college admissions deans and high school counselors for book recommendations. These selections include books for students, parents, and general book lovers. This year, Frank Cioffi’s One Day in the Life of the English Language makes the list.

Barndard explains the inspiration behind this take on summer reading recommendations:

At The Derryfield School, summer reading has an interesting twist that would have been much more palatable for me as a high school student. Every faculty member chooses a favorite book and students can pick a title from this diverse list. Some students choose books based on their most adored teacher and some based on the brief summary provided. Then there are likely students (like I would have done) who choose the shortest book on the list regardless of topic. During the first week of school, faculty members gather with students who read their recommendation for an engaging discussion.

Inspired by this practice, I solicited summer reading recommendations from colleagues in college counseling and admission from high schools and colleges across the nation.

You can view the entire summer reading list here, courtesy of the Washington Post.

One Day in the Life of the English Language was recommended for students by Jeffrey Durso-Finley, director of college counseling at the Lawrenceville School (NJ). Read more about this anti-handbook below, and check out the introduction for yourself.

Cioffi jacket
Generations of student writers have been subjected to usage handbooks that proclaim, “This is the correct form. Learn it”—books that lay out a grammar, but don’t inspire students to use it. By contrast, this antihandbook handbook, presenting some three hundred sentences drawn from the printed works of a single, typical day in the life of the language—December 29, 2008—tries to persuade readers that good grammar and usage matter.

Using real-world sentences rather than invented ones, One Day in the Life of the English Language gives students the motivation to apply grammatical principles correctly and efficiently. Frank Cioffi argues that proper form undergirds effective communication and ultimately even makes society work more smoothly, while nonstandard English often marginalizes or stigmatizes a writer. He emphasizes the evolving nature of English usage and debunks some cherished but flawed grammar precepts. Is it acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition? It is. Can you start a sentence with a conjunction? You can. OK to split an infinitive? No problem.





Mark Zuckerberg Selects “The Muqaddimah” as his Latest Book Club Read!

MuqaddimahAs part of a 2015 initiative entitled A Year of Books, Mark Zuckerberg has selected a new book every two weeks to share and discuss with the Facebook community. For the second time, A Princeton University Press book has been selected:  The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun is his latest pick!

The Muqaddimah, often translated as “Introduction” or “Prolegomenon,” is the most important Islamic history of the premodern world. Written by the great fourteenth-century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldûn (d. 1406), this monumental work established the foundations of several fields of knowledge, including the philosophy of history, sociology, ethnography, and economics

Mark Zuckerberg shared his personal account of the book and some reasoning behind his selection on his Facebook page:

My next book for A Year of Books is Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun.

It’s a history of the world written by an intellectual who lived in the 1300s. It focuses on how society and culture flow, including the creation of cities, politics, commerce and science.

While much of what was believed then is now disproven after 700 more years of progress, it’s still very interesting to see what was understood at this time and the overall worldview when it’s all considered together.

Check out The Muqaddimah and join the conversation through Zuckerberg’s A Year of Books Facebook page!

You can read the introduction here.



Best-Selling books at PUP 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
On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Tóibín
The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century by Jürgen Osterhammel
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
“They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else”: A History of the Armenian Genocide by Ronald Grigor Suny
Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull
Efficiently Inefficient: How Smart Money Invests and Market Prices Are Determined by Lasse Heje Pedersen
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
Irrational Exuberance by Robert J. Shiller

College Decision Day Book List

Happy May Day! Or, if you’re a high school senior, good luck with one of the biggest decisions of your academic career. Many high school seniors across the country are likely deciding what college they will attend today, and a number of books Princeton has published in higher education happen to be perfect reading to accompany their journey. College, by Andrew Delbanco looks at how college has evolved and where it’s heading. Higher Education in the Digital Age by William Bowen describes higher education’s transformation with technology, while Privilege by Shamus Khan and Pedigree by Lauren Rivera analyze elite culture in higher education and how it translates to the job market respectively. Happy reading & congratulations to high school seniors!

The History of American Higher Education Privilege
Higher Education in the Digital Age Pedigree
College Higher Education in America

Best Sellers

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 Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes
Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson
Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull
On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Tóibín
Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge by Michael Suk-Young Chwe
One Day in the Life of the English Language: A Microcosmic Usage Handbook by Frank L. Cioffi
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro

Earth Day 2015

This year we will be celebrating the 45th anniversary of the environmental movement, Earth Day. Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, founded Earth Day to inform the public on the importance of a healthy Earth. Earth Day has since evolved to focus on global warming and clean energy. Learn more about the history of Earth Day, here. To celebrate the day, we have compiled a book list.

Climate Shock Climate Shock: The Consequences of a Hotter Planet

Gernot Wagner & Martin L. Weitzman

Climate Shock analyzes the repercussions of a hotter planet. The authors take a stance that climate change can and should be dealt with. Climate Shock depicts what could happen if we don’t deal with the environment. “This informative, convincing, and easily read book offers general audiences the basic case for global climate mitigation.” –Ian Perry, Finance & Development

Read Chapter 1.

How to Clone a Mammoth How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction

Beth Shapiro

Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. Beth Shapiro explains the process of De-extinction, what species should be restored, and anticipating how revived populations might be seen in the wild. Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. “[A] fascinating book…A great popular science title, and one that makes it clear that a future you may have imagined is already underway.” —Library Journal, starred review

Check out our behind-the-scenes, #MammothMonday blog posts.

Read Chapter 1.

OffShore Sea ID Guide Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: West Coast

Steve N.G. Howell & Brian L. Sullivan

Released in May, this Offshore Sea Life ID Guide, is designed for quick use on day trips off the West Coast. Color plates show species as they typically appear at sea, and expert text highlights identification features. “Filled with concise information and accurate illustrations, this terrific field guide will be a handy, quick reference for the layperson and serious naturalist on boat trips off the West Coast of the United States. No other useful guides for this region deal with both marine mammals and seabirds in the same book.” –Sophie Webb, coauthor of Field Guide to Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast

Wilson-Rich_theBee The Bee: A Natural History

Noah Wilson-Rich

With contributions from Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck & Andrea Quigley

Bees pollinate more than 130 fruit, vegetable, and seed crops that we rely on to survive. They are crucial to the reproduction and diversity of flowering plants, and the economic contributions of these irreplaceable insects measure in the tens of billions of dollars each year. Noah Wilson-Rich and his team of bee experts provide a window into the vitally important role that bees play in the life of our planet. “A well-illustrated introduction to the biology of bees.” –Ian Paulsen, Birdbooker Report

Check out 10 Bee Facts from the book, here.

Read the Introduction.


Books released during the week of April 13, 2015

Among this week’s new releases is a big one for classics buffs, Josiah Ober’s The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, one of Flavorwire’s 10 must-read academic books for 2015. You can read Chapter 1 here. Also out is Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs by Lauren A. Rivera, which goes behind the closed doors of top-tier investment banks, consulting firms, and law firms to reveal the truth about who really has a chance at scoring the nation’s highest-paying entry level jobs. If you think, like many Americans, that working hard is the path to upward mobility, guess again. As Mitchell Stevens, author of Creating a Class writes, “Rivera shows how educational stratification in the United States is particularly pronounced and caste-like at the gateway to elite professions, and how the boundary between elite colleges and the elite firms that recruit from them is so fuzzy as to be only ceremonial.” Read Chapter 1 here.

New in Hardcover

Modern Observational Physical Oceanography Pedigree
The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece Teaching Plato in Palestine

New in Paperback

The Great Mother

Math Drives Careers: Author Oscar Fernandez

We know that mathematics can solve problems in the classroom, but what can it do for your business? Oscar Fernandez, author of Everyday Calculus, takes a look at how knowledge of numbers can help your bottom line.

Why You Should Be Learning Math Even If You Don’t Need It for Your Job

I want to tell you a short story about epic triumph in the midst of adversity. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but hear me out.

A couple of years ago, I approached Boston Scientific—an S&P 500 component—with a crazy idea: let me and a team of students from Wellesley College (a liberal arts college for women) and Babson College (a business school) do consulting work for you. It was a crazy idea because what could I—a mathematician who knew nothing about their business—and some students—who hadn’t even graduated yet—possibly offer the company? Plenty, it turns out, all thanks to our common expertise: mathematics.

Mathematics, often depicted in movies as something pocket-protector-carrying people with less than stellar social skills do, is actually quite ubiquitous. I’d even say that mathematicians are the unsung heroes of the world. Alright, that’s a bit of hyperbole. But think about it. Deep in the catacombs of just about every company, there are mathematicians. They work in low light conditions, hunched over pages of calculations stained with days-old coffee, and think up ways to save the company money, optimize their revenue streams, and make their products more desired. You may never notice their efforts, but you’ll surely notice their effects. That recent change in the cost of your flight? Yep, it was one of us trying to maximize revenue. The reason that UPS truck is now waking you up at 6 a.m.? One of us figured out that the minimum cost route passes through your street.

But we’re do-good people too. We help optimize bus routes to get children to school faster and safer. We’ve spent centuries modelling the spread of disease. More recently, we’ve even reduced crime by understanding how it spreads. That’s why I was confident that my team and I could do something useful for Boston Scientific. Simply put, we knew math.

We spent several weeks pouring over data the company gave us. We tried everything we could think of to raise their revenues from certain products. Collectively, we were trained in mathematics, economics, computer science, and psychology. But nothing worked. It seemed that we—and math—had failed.

Then, with about three weeks left, I chanced upon an article from the MIT Technology Review titled “Turning Math Into Cash.” It describes how IBM’s 200 mathematicians reconfigured their 40,000 salespeople over a period of two years and generated $1 billion in additional revenue. Wow. The mathematicians analyzed the company’s price-sales data using “high-quantile modeling” to predict the maximum amount each customer was willing to spend, and then compared that to the actual revenue generated by the sales teams. IBM then let these mathematicians shuffle around salespeople to help smaller teams reach the theoretical maximum budget of each customer. Genius, really.

I had never heard of quantile regression before, and neither had my students, but one thing math does well is to train you to make sense of things. So we did some digging. We ran across a common example of quantile modelling: food expenditure vs. household income. There’s clearly a relationship, and in 1857 researchers quantified the relationship for Belgian households. They produced this graph:

fernandez 1

That red line is the linear regression line—the “best fit to the data.” It’s useful because the slope of the line predicts a 50 cent increase in food expenditure for a $1 increase in household income. But what if you want information about the food expenditure of the top 5% of households, or the bottom 20%? Linear regression can’t give you that information, but quantile regression can. Here’s what you get with quantile regression:

fernandez 2

The red line is the linear regression line, but now we also have various quantile regression lines. To understand what they mean let’s focus on the top-most dashed line, which is the 95th percentile line. Households above this line are in the 95th percentile (or 0.95 quantile) of food expenditure. Similarly, households below the bottom-most line are in the 5th percentile (or 0.05 quantile) of food expenditure. Now, if we graph the slopes of the lines as a function of the percentile (also called “quantile”), we get:

fernandez 3

(The red line is the slope of the linear regression line; it doesn’t depend on the quantile, which is why it’s a straight line.) Notice that the 0.95 quantile (95th percentile) slope is about 0.7, whereas the 0.05 quantile (5th percentile) slope is about 0.35. This means that for every $1 increase in household income, this analysis predicts that households in the 95th percentile of food expenditure will spend 70 cents more, whereas households in the 5th percentile will spend only 35 cents more.

Clearly quantile regression is powerful stuff. So, my team and I went back and used quantile regression on the Boston Scientific data. We came up with theoretical maximum prices that customers could pay based on the region the product was sold in. As with IBM, we identified lots of potential areas for improvement. When my students presented their findings to Boston Scientific, the company took the work seriously and was very impressed with what a few students and one professor could do. I can’t say we generated $1 billion in new revenue for Boston Scientific, but what I can say is that we were able to make serious, credible recommendations, all because we understood mathematics. (And we were just a team of 5 working over a period of 12 weeks!)

April is Mathematics Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is “math drives careers.” After my Boston Scientific experience and after reading about IBM’s success, I now have a greater appreciation of this theme. Not only can mathematics be found in just about any career, but if you happen to be the one to find it (and use it), you could quickly be on the fast track to success. So in between celebrating March Madness, Easter, Earth Day, and April 15th (I guess you’d only celebrate if you’re due a tax refund), make some time for math. It just might change your career.

Photo by Richard Howard.

Photo by Richard Howard.

Oscar Fernandez is the author of Everyday Calculus. He is assistant professor of mathematics at Wellesley College.

Happy Birthday Thomas Jefferson

Today marks the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the third U.S. president. Princeton University Press has been publishing The Papers of Thomas Jefferson since 1950.  To celebrate the birthday of this talented writer and politician who once said, “I cannot live without books”, we have compiled a political science book list.

The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind: How Self-Interest Shapes Our Opinions and Why We Won’t Admit It
Jason Weeden & Robert Kurzban

The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind digs into how self-interest divides the public on hot-button issues.Weeden and Robert Kurzban explain to readers how people form political positions.”The Hidden Agenda of the Political Mind is provocative and often persuasive…Weeden and Kurzban remind us that self-interest is a complicated concept.” –Glenn C. Altschuler, Huffington Post

Read Chapter 1

American Insecurity American Insecurity: Why Our Economic Fears Lead to Political Inaction
Adam Seth Levine

Adam Levine analyzes the reasoning behind how increasing threat to financial well-being leads to political inaction. He explains when people need money, those who care about the issues but are not personally affected get involved.”Levine provides evidence that financially anxious people respond to their stress not by grouping together for action but by becoming less generous with their checkbooks and personal time.” — Pacific Standard

Read Chapter 1

The Loneliness of the Black Republican The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power
Leah Wright Rigueur

The Loneliness of the Black Republican looks at the ideas of black Republicans from the era of the New Deal to Ronald Reagan’s presidential ascent in 1980. The book serves to provide an understanding of the interaction between African Americans and the Republican Party.”The Loneliness of the Black Republican is meticulous, well-crafted, and consistently astute about the fractious recent history of the Grand Old Party.” — Artur Davis, Weekly Standard

Read the Introduction

The Birth of Politics The Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter
Melissa Lane

Melissa Lane introduces the reader to the foundations of Western political thought, from the Greeks, who invented democracy, to the Romans, who created a republic and then transformed it into an empire. The book brings to light that the birth of politics was a story as much of individuals as ideas.”The political ideas of the ancients still endure-and still propel us into debate and even more vigorous conflict…[T]he author successfully illuminates the political ideas that still perplex and divide us.” —Kirkus Reviews

Read the Introduction

k10373[1] The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 41: 11 July to 15 November 1803
Thomas Jefferson
Edited by Barbara B. Oberg

This volume of Thomas Jefferson’s papers is about the Louisiana Purchase.

Browse Princeton’s series of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson

Read Chapter 1

The Shape of the New The Shape of the New: Four Big Ideas and How They Made the Modern World
Scott L. Montgomery & Daniel Chirot

The Shape of the New looks at Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Charles Darwin, and Karl Marx as heirs of the Enlightenment. Montgomery & Chirot note that it is impossible to understand the political conflicts of our own time without digging into the history of our country.”The Shape of the New is an ambitious book and a joy to read. The scholarship is brilliant. In contextualizing the great ideas of modern history, Montgomery and Chrot provide a holistic framework with which to understand the process of social change and ideological conflict.” — Paul Froese, coauthor of America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God-and What That Says about Us

Read the Introduction

 Thinking about the Presidency Thinking About the Presidency: The Primacy of Power
William G. Howell
With David Milton Brent
With a new preface by the author

William Howell examines the key aspects of executive power-political and constitutional origins, philosophical underpinnings, manifestations in contemporary political life, implications for political reform, and looming influences over the standards to which we hold those individuals elected to America’s highest office. In a new preface, Howell reflects on presidential power during the presidency of Barack Obama.”As one who served in the White House, I know something about the demands and dimensions of the modern presidency. In Thinking about the Presidency, William Howell contributes new and valuable insights into how the role has evolved, and what it means for our country.” –David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama

Read Chapter 1


Books released during the week of April 6, 2015

Among this week’s new releases is the highly anticipated Note Book, which arguably raises the Facebook post to the level of art form. A collection of short essays from the Notes section of Princeton English professor Jeff Nunokawa’s Facebook page, Note Book is, in the words of Publisher’s Weekly, “[A] winning look at how people connect, or attempt to connect, in person and online.” Check out this and other new releases, including The Proof in the Pudding by Jim Henle, which combines the pleasures of mathematics and cooking, and The Good Immigrants by Madeline Hsu, which offers a timely look at the shifts in immigration laws and perceptions of cultural traits that enabled Asians to remain in the United States.

New in Hardcover:

Note Book The Politics of Precaution
The Good Immigrants Human Nature & Jewish Thought
The Proof and the Pudding Life's Engines
Social Evolution and Inclusive Fitness Theory Strangers No More

New in Paperback:

A Century of Genocide The Essential Hirschman
The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals The Muqaddimah
Nations under God Telsa
War and Democratic Constraint

Weekly Bestsellers

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 Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes
Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet by Gernot Wagner & Martin L. Weitzman
Irrational Exuberance: Revised and Expanded Third edition by Robert J. Shiller
On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Tóibín
Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist’s Companion by Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method by G. Polya
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter by Richard P. Feynman