Physics Today Q&A with Chris Quigg, Author of Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak, and Electromagnetic Interactions

quigg2In the July 2014 edition of Physics Today, Princeton University Press author Chris Quigg sits down with Stephen Blau and Jermey Matthews to talk particle physics and gauge theories.

A member of the Theoretical Physics Department of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Mr. Quigg also received the American Physical Society’s 2011 J. J. Sakurai Prize for outstanding achievement in particle theory. His books include Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak, and Electromagnetic Interactions (2013) and the 1993 edition of the Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science.

The following questions have been excerpted from Physics Today:

PT: What is your assessment of the current state of particle physics, including the quality and enthusiasm of current students? With the excitement over the Higgs and other advances, are you concerned that the field might be overhyped?

Quigg: It is an immensely exciting time. In common with many areas of physics and astronomy, particle physics has many challenging questions and the means to address them. Our students and postdocs are highly motivated, talented, and intensely curious. It’s a test for our institutions, including funding agencies, to create rewarding career paths for the young people drawn to science by the excitement of our work.

When I was hiking in Europe in the weeks before the Higgs discovery was announced, it seemed that everyone I met wanted to know what was happening [at the LHC] in Geneva. Sharing our explorations with the public is good for science and good for society.


“Sharing our explorations with the public is good for science and good for society.”


PT: What are the most exciting questions you see the particle-physics community answering in the short term, say within 10 years?

Quigg: I close the new edition of Gauge Theories with a list of 20 outstanding questions—many with multiple parts—and 1 great meta-question: How are we prisoners of conventional thinking?

Within 10 years we will certainly have a much more complete understanding of electroweak symmetry breaking and the character of the Higgs boson. The initial LHC results have shaken theorists out of a certain complacency; specifically, a lot of received wisdom about naturalness and supersymmetry is being reexamined. Searches for dark matter are reaching a decisive stage. Studies of processes that are highly suppressed in the standard model, such as lepton-flavor violation, flavor-changing neutral currents, and permanent electric dipole moments, will reach ever more interesting levels of sensitivity. A world with massive neutrinos poses questions about the nature of neutrino mixing, the existence of sterile neutrinos, and the character of the neutrino—is it a Dirac particle, a Majorana particle, or both? I suspect that we will find new phenomena in the strong interactions that teach us about the great richness of QCD.

Read the rest of this fascinating interview here

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Chris Quigg is the author of:

gauge Gauge Theories of the Strong, Weak, and Electromagnetic Interactions by Chris Quigg
Hardcover | 2013 | $75.00 / £52.00 | ISBN: 9780691135489
496 pp. | 7 x 10 | 150 line illus. 17 tables. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400848225 | Reviews   Table of Contents   Chapter 1[PDF]   Illustration Package 

And the REAL World Cup Winner is…

IPHWell, surely everybody knows by now – the 2014 World Cup is over, and Germany went home with the trophy.

But there’s another “winner” worth mentioning: Princeton University Press author and London School of Economics professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, whose latest book, Beautiful Game Theory: How Soccer Can Help Economics, garnered some wonderful press over the course of the tournament. Mr. Palacios-Heurta not only received a mention in the Science section of the New York Times and was the subject of a full-length article in strategy+business; he also penned an op-ed for the New York Times’s Sunday Review and was featured in stories in both the Financial Times and Worldcrunch.

Sure, he can’t rally like Ronaldo or kick it like Klose; but this fùtbol fanatic’s research presents advantages that extend far beyond the pitch.

Palacios-Huerta is unique in that he utilizes soccer data to test economic theories. In his op-ed in the Times, Palacios-Huerta lays out the basics of this experiment by explaining its origins in the Nash Equilibrium, which analyzes how people should behave in “strategic situations” and stresses that, in order to “win,” they shouldn’t repeat their choices. He says that, “according to Mr. Nash’s theory, in a zero-sum game (i.e., where a win for one player entails a corresponding loss for the other) the best approach is to vary your moves unpredictably and in such proportions that your probability of winning is the same for each move.”

He chooses penalty kicks to demonstrate this theory because they’re zero-sum games, wherein it’s ill-advised to use a strategy repeatedly. The explanation for this is relatively simple: a player’s shots become predictable if he always kicks to the same side of the net, making them easier to block. A lot of legwork (pun somewhat-intended) has gone into proving this idea: Palacios-Huerta analyzed 9,017 penalty kicks between 1995 and 2012, to find that successful players typically distributed their shots unpredictably and in just the right proportions. We won’t get into the numbers here, but they’re abundant in both the book and the op-ed.


Other research by me and others has shown that data from soccer can shed light on the economics of discrimination, fear, corruption and the dark side of incentives in organizations. In other words, aspects of the beautiful game that are less than beautiful from a fan’s perspective can still be illuminating for economists.”


And penalty kicks are just one handy example. Data from soccer can also illuminate one of the most prominent theories of the stock market: the efficient-market hypothesis, which essentially posits that the market processes economic data so quickly that any news relating to a stock is incorporated into its price before anyone can even act on it, diminishing the risk of insider trading.

We’re excited to see more of what these soccer stats can do to advance economic theory, and more importantly, how Palacios-Huerta can translate something so complicated, using something so, well…beautiful.

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Ignacio Palacios-Huerta is the author of:

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] 

PUP News of the World — July 11, 2014

NewsOfTheWorld_Banner

Each week we post a round-up of some of our most exciting national and international PUP book coverage. Reviews, interviews, events, articles–this is the spot for coverage of all things “PUP books” that took place in the last week. Enjoy!


now 7.11

BEAUTIFUL GAME THEORY

It’s finally here. After weeks of World Cup action, all eyes will be on Germany and Argentina on Sunday when the teams face off during the World Cup final. In a piece in the New York Times, John Tierney discusses the role of luck in the past weeks’ soccer match-ups. He writes:

I’ve been watching the World Cup with some frustrated American social scientists. When they see an underdog team triumph with a miraculous rebound or an undeserved penalty kick, they don’t jump up and scream “Goooaaalll!” They just shake their heads and mutter, “Measurement error.”

If you regard a soccer match as an experiment to determine which team is better, then it’s not much of an experiment. It involves hundreds of skillful moves and stratagems, yet each team averages only a dozen shots, and the outcome is decided by several quick and often random events. In most games, no more than three goals are scored, and the typical margin of victory is a single goal.

To a scientist, the measurements are too few to draw a statistically reliable conclusion about which team is more skilled. The score may instead be the result of measurement error, a.k.a. luck.

So what’s luck got to do with it? And what kind of measurements can social scientists apply to the “beautiful game”? Tierney quotes PUP author Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, who discusses why the second team to shoot in penalty shootouts is less likely to win the game by scoring more “GOOOOOAAAAAALS.” Looking to prep for Sunday? Read the full article for more on how much of an impact the pressure of going second can have. Luckily for us fans, the pressure is off. Regardless, we’ll be glued to our TV screens on Sunday.

For more from Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, take a look at his new book, BEAUTIFUL GAME THEORY: How Soccer Can Help Economics. This brilliant and entertaining book illuminates economics through the world’s most popular sport. He offers unique and often startling insights into game theory and microeconomics, covering topics such as mixed strategies, discrimination, incentives, and human preferences. He also looks at finance, experimental economics, behavioral economics, and neuroeconomics. Soccer provides rich data sets and environments that shed light on universal economic principles in interesting and useful ways. Preview the introduction to Beautiful Game Theory here.

MIRROR, MIRROR

From Tour de France near-misses to a viral EDM hit, the art of the selfie has people talking. But behind the Instagram filters and hashtags, is there a lesson about narcissism? PUP author Simon Blackburn discusses narcissism in a recent interview with the Irish Times:

When does self-esteem cross over into narcissism?

Simon Blackburn: “A modest degree of self-esteem is what Milton called a ‘pious and just honouring of ourselves’. It is no more than a decent self-respect. It can actually stand in the way of vanity, which is an undue concern for the admiration of others.

“The road to narcissism, or a fixated self-love, goes via conceit: if the vain person is too concerned with how he stands in the eyes of others, the conceited person has learned to ignore the others and just thrive on his own good opinion of himself. Narcissism is the fatal extreme of this.”

For more on the subject, check out the introduction of Blackburn’s book, MIRROR, MIRROR: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love. A sparkling mixture of learning, humor, and style, Mirror, Mirror examines what great thinkers have said about self-love–from Aristotle, Cicero, and Erasmus to Rousseau, Adam Smith, Kant, and Iris Murdoch. It considers today’s “me”-related obsessions, such as the “selfie,” plastic surgery, and cosmetic enhancements, and reflects on connected phenomena such as the fatal commodification of social life and the tragic overconfidence of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Ultimately, Mirror, Mirror shows why self-regard is a necessary and healthy part of life. But it also suggests that we have lost the ability to distinguish–let alone strike a balance–between good and bad forms of self-concern.

PHILOLOGY

Calling all liberal arts graduates! Can you describe what “philology is”? For those who can’t quite recall the definition (don’t worry), we bring you PUP author James Turner, whose new book, PHILOLOGY: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, has your answer. Many today do not recognize the word, but “philology” was for centuries nearly synonymous with humanistic intellectual life, encompassing not only the study of Greek and Roman literature and the Bible but also all other studies of language and literature, as well as religion, history, culture, art, archaeology, and more. In short, philology was the queen of the human sciences. But around 1800, Turner explains, these interlinked philological and antiquarian studies began to fragment into distinct academic fields. These fissures resulted, within a century or so, in the new, independent “disciplines” that we now call the humanities. Yet the separation of these disciplines only obscured, rather than erased, their common features.

Philology is reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, and Tom Shippey says that the book “must be the most wide-ranging work of intellectual history for many years.” More from Shippey on philology below:

Its original meaning, “love of words,” is unhelpful. “Tough love” would be a better description: a critical attitude toward words, their roots and their meanings—one that admits no exceptions. It could well be said that a readiness to scrutinize anything, treating even the Bible “like any other book,” is still one of the distinctive marks of Western civilization, seen in every discipline, from literary criticism to theology, history to anthropology.

The first philologists, back in the pre-Christian era, took that attitude with Homer’s epics, which were already deeply venerated and formed the basis of young men’s education. But “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” were centuries old by the time of the great librarians of Alexandria Eratosthenes and Zenodotus. The poems’ texts had been passed on first by word of mouth and then by scribes prone to error or deliberate meddling. The early philologists, then, compared different versions of texts, noted repetitions and struck out dubious lines, such as those added to cover up the non-participation of Athens in the Trojan War.

Well-meaning Americans cleaned up George Washington’s spelling and vulgar idioms; philological historians put them back again. Noah Webster’s 1828 “American Dictionary” piously traced etymologies back to the biblical language Aramaic: After Webster’s death a German philologist removed them. J.M. Kemble swallowed Suhm hook, line and sinker in his first 1833 edition of “Beowulf” but repudiated his mistake in a panic only four years later.

Check out the full review in the Wall Street Journal. The book was also reviewed in Books & Culture, where Timothy Laren writes:

“Sell all the books you have which purport to explain the nature of the academic disciplines and buy James Turner’s Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities. If you want to understand higher education in its current configuration of departments, divisions, and professional associations, I can commend no better book….Mind-invigoratingly entertaining.”

Birding in the Unknown: Tips and Tales from Birds of Peru Author Tom Schulenberg

[Note: Those of you who regularly read Princeton University Press's blog will have noticed that we have only featured posts by our colleagues and/or authors, however, when someone has the opportunity to travel to Peru, to meet with Tom Schulenberg (the lead author of Birds of Peru), and to see and talk about the birds of Peru at great length--you take them up on the offer of a guest post. We are pleased to present this guest article from Hugh Powell, a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We welcome your feedback on this type of article -- should we do more of this?]


 

tom_dennis-powell

Tom Schulenberg, center, and Dennis Osorio, left, search for an elusive subspecies of Rufous Antpitta in the Cajamarca highlands, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

It’s not often a bird watcher gets the chance to tour a new country accompanied not just by a good field guide but by the field guide’s author. That’s what happened to me in May 2014, when I joined Tom Schulenberg on the World Birding Rally in northern Peru. Schulenberg, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is the lead author of Birds of Peru.

Schulenberg_BirdsPeruSchulenberg describes his role in the book as almost accidental—he began visiting Peru in the late 1970s as a graduate student, and his original role with the book was just to help with maps. The true architects of the book, Schulenberg says, were John O’Neill (“the person who more than anyone else in the modern era put Peru on the ornithological map,” according to Schulenberg), and Ted Parker, the now-legendary field ornithologist whose career was cut tragically short in a plane crash in Ecuador in 1993. In the mid-1990s, Schulenberg took up the mantle of the book, recruiting ornithologists Doug Stotz (Field Museum of Natural History) and Dan Lane (Louisiana State University) as additional coauthors.

The field guide was a major undertaking—Peru is home to 1,800 species of birds, more than any country in the world except Colombia. The book was eventually published in 2007, nearly 35 years after O’Neill and Parker first envisioned it.

In late May, at the close of the 8-day rally (during which our group found nearly 800 bird species), I sat down with Schulenberg to learn more about the genesis of the book and the joys of birding in Peru—or, as he put it, “the fun of being completely overwhelmed by what you see.”

Why Peru? Was it just happenstance that you went there instead of somewhere else in the world?

tom_playback_ruiz
Tom Schulenberg plays the song of a unique subspecies of Rufous Antpitta using his phone. Photo by Flor Ruiz.

It wasn’t happenstance. I joined the AOU when I was in my early teens, and one of the first issues [of the Auk] I received was the issue in which John O’Neill and George Lowery described the Elusive Antpitta from this indigenous village called Balta near the Brazilian border. There was this color frontispiece of an antpitta, and the introduction of the paper talks about how even after years of work, within a few square miles you can still be encountering species you didn’t know were in the area, and sometimes they might even be new to science. I was just totally blown away. I had no idea that people were still discovering new species of birds, and I was completely entranced by this idea of an avifauna so complex that you could be there for years and still be learning new things about it.

So you went to graduate school at Louisiana State University with O’Neill as your mentor. And pretty soon his prediction about finding new birds actually came true for you?

peru_powell-2
Cloud forest beneath a blanket of cloud at Alto Mayo, San Martin, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

It’s not like I went to Peru really expecting to find new species—I was just trying to work on my life list. But the possibility always was there. And on my [second] trip to Peru we found several species that were undescribed or recently described. We found Cinnamon Screech-Owl, Megascops petersoni [like many tropical ornithologists, Schulenberg reflexively refers to birds by their scientific names in conversation]; Hemitriccus cinnamomeipectus, the Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant; Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher, Poecilotriccus luluae; which actually had been collected in the 1960s by Ned Johnson from Berkeley, but at that time Ned had not yet gotten around to describing it. Grallaricula ochraceifrons, Ochre-fronted Antpitta, we caught two in a single night in adjacent nets. [But all those were in the process of being described by other scientists, and] “all” we got out of it was the Pale-billed Antpitta. It was a fantastic trip though—I’m not complaining.

What field guide did you use before Birds of Peru?

Now remember that when some of the greats first started going down, people like John Terborgh and John O’Neill, there was literally nothing except the primary literature. But in 1970 an ornithologist [named] Meyer de Schauensee published a one-volume guide to the birds of South America, and it had some illustrations, but the illustrations were not great, and there was basically no attempt to illustrate every species. Instead what you had was about a paragraph on each species.

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Chestnut-eared Aracari at Lago Lindo, Peru. Photo by Niall Perrins.

It definitely was difficult to use, and we disparagingly and no doubt unfairly started referring to it as “Meyer de Schloppensee.” But you know, that was our bible from ‘77 until 1986 when Hilty and Brown published the really revolutionary Colombia field guide.

Why did you publish the book with Princeton?

In 1986 Princeton published the Colombia guide by Hilty and Brown, and it was just a total bombshell all across northern South America—it was very good. It was the size of a Manhattan telephone directory. Some birders would even buy copies and rip out the plates, which now that the book is out of print and copies sell for hundreds of dollars, you could cry over that. Anyway the Colombia book was one of the things that made us very comfortable with working with Princeton, because it was so good and set a very high bar.

The modern format of Birds of Peru—text facing illustrations on every page—left little room for text about each species. How did you handle that?

The shorter species accounts were a challenge in many ways. We had only 110 words per species, on average, so there’s no character development that’s for sure. We had to leave out a lot of words.

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Tom Schulenberg, right, and Thomas Valqui, are experts on Peruvian birds and served as judges during the 2014 World Birding Rally. Photo by Hugh Powell

Because the illustrations were opposite the text, we rarely describe what the bird looks like, and that saves a lot of space. Instead we focused on things like aspects of its behavior, or its habitat associations, its vocalizations. We tried to point out what you really need to focus on to ID the species. And we got that information from a lot of very knowledgeable people. If you look in the book, I think we have the longest acknowledgments section on record.

Where are the best places to go birding in Peru?

Well the nice thing about watching birds is you can never be bored, and that’s certainly true in Peru. Wherever you end up, you’ll be seeing interesting species about which not much is known. Certainly there are some places that get a lot of attention. The altiplano, though it might not have the most species, has very remarkable things like the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. And then down in the Amazonian lowlands, those are the most species-rich places, and it’s both challenging and very rewarding to bird there. There’s the dry deciduous forest in the northwest, where we were [during the World Birding Rally], it’s got lower diversity but incredibly high numbers of individuals. I’m always amazed to go into those forests and see the sheer number of birds that are in that habitat. And there are the foothills, the places where the Andean habitats mix with Amazonia, and there are lots of species occurring in these narrow elevational bands. Pretty much anywhere you are in Peru, there’s lots there.

What do you look forward to when you go birding in Peru?

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Rufous-crested Coquette near Moyobamba, Peru. Photo by Alfredo Fernandez.

Part of the fun of going down there is the experience of being overwhelmed by what you see. Especially in humid forest on the eastern slope, where you start to get the Amazonian influence. You’ll run into a tanager flock, and just the sight of all these birds running around in the treetops, it’s challenging and exciting at the same time.

But if you pay attention to that flock, and if you can get beyond the gaudiness of the Saffron-crowned Tanagers and the Golden Tanagers, there are all these other dull-colored birds. Don’t pass them over too quickly. There’s this whole other set of birds that, as you gain experience, you may find are more interesting. You know, What’s this foliage-gleaner? What’s this antwren? And you’ll start to get sucked into the whole depth of birds Peru has to offer.

People go gaga over Paradise Tanagers, but I’m more likely to get excited by something like a Gray-mantled Wren. That’s a bird that’s at relatively low density, it has a narrow elevational range, so you have to pay attention. But when you see it, it’s sort of a sign that I’m in a really nice spot here, and there are probably other things here that are worth looking for.

Do you have any practical tips for people traveling to Peru?

Well, first is, you should do it.

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Looking down the valley of the Utcubamba River near Chachapoyas, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

Then, let’s see: Study your field guide. Look at the range maps. There’s information in those maps, so don’t ignore it. Use eBird—it has become a great supplement to anyone traveling in Peru to find out what’s been seen where. Keep your binoculars clean, and have a great time.

Is there a best season?

Peru is so large and so variable, you can’t go wrong. It’s a little more rainy during our northern winter, especially in the southeast of the country, in Amazonia. You can get into more trouble there with roads that time of year. But it doesn’t really matter what season you go.

And how long a trip should a bird watcher plan to take?

I think something like three years is a good time frame to shoot for.

For the record, he was laughing. But at the same time, he also seemed perfectly serious.


Hugh Powell is a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


Read more about the World Birding Rally on the Cornell Lab blog, the ABA blog, Nature Travel Network, and 10,000 Birds.

van Grouw’s Anatomy: The Unfeathered Bird in Scientific American

Who knew anatomy could be ‘sexy?’7-2 van Grouw

So says paleozoologist and science writer Darren Naish in describing the natural science world’s renewed interest in the field. But it’s not because Katrina van Grouw gives a ‘stripped-down’ look at avian remains; rather, it comes courtesy of stream-lined CT scanning and sophisticated 3D visualizations. Yet, Naish’s praise of Katrina van Grouw’s artful spin on ornithology in this behind-the-scenes look at her life and work is much more nuanced than all that fancy stuff. His article in Scientific American explores the all-encompassing passion of this world-class ornithologist, meanwhile loudly complimenting her new book for its precision in rendering every minute muscle, bone, and tendon of the creatures that fill its pages.

Naish doesn’t just jot down his observations from the sitting-room chair; he is given the walking tour, complete with a perusal into the eccentric couple’s inner- and out-sanctums. For example: Katrina and Hein van Grouw are proud owners of a muntjac deer skull collection, a business of ferrets (live ones, it must be noted), and an unsurprisingly vast treasury of mounted bird skeletons, all of which Naish ogles with palpable envy. In many ways, the home epitomizes the research executed for and presented in The Unfeathered Bird: brimming with ornithological insight and too full of artifacts to dismiss as mere decorative ploy.


“It is simply imperative that you get hold of this book if you consider yourself interested in bird anatomy and diversity, or in anatomy or evolution in general.”


Despite van Grouw’s untimely release from her position at a natural history museum, which resulted from her desire to produce the book, Naish commends her for transforming the inconvenience into a wonderful opportunity and looks longingly into the future toward her forthcoming book on domesticates.

The ethically sourced remains of dogs, cats, chickens and pigeons make the cut for the tour, but together, they’re just a small fraction of the never-ending plethora of both bizarre and mundane critters that comprise van Grouw’s professional interests; and we, like Naish, hope to see them all expressed thus in due time.

Katrina van Grouw is the author of:

7-2 Unfeathered The Unfeathered Bird by Katrina van Grouw
Hardcover | 2013 | $49.95 / £34.95 | ISBN: 9780691151342
304 pp. | 10 x 12 | 385 duotones/color illus. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400844890 | Reviews Table of Contents Introduction[PDF]

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

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

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

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

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

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

What would you have been if not a scientist?

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


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


What is the biggest misunderstanding about what you do?

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

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

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

Why did you write this book?

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

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

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

How did you come up with the title or jacket?

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

What are you reading right now?

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

What is your next project?

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

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Katherine Freese is the author of:

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

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

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

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

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

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

What is the book’s most important contribution?

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


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


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

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

Why did you write this book?

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

Who is the main audience?

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

How did you come up with the title and cover?

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

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

Check out Chapter 1 of the book, here.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Richard Karban is the author of:

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

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

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

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

Now, on to the questions!

PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?

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

What would you have been if not an astronomer?

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

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about astronomy?

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

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

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


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


How did you come up with the title?

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

What are you working on now?

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

What are you reading right now?

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

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Charles D. Bailyn is the author of:

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

Princeton at Hay Festival


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on to the questions!

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

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

What+Economits+Do[1]

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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Ignacio is the author of:

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

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

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

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

Now, on to the questions!

What inspired you to get into your field?

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

What would you have been if not an archaeologist?

Unemployed.

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

They think that I look for dinosaurs.


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


What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

Do what you love and love what you do.

Why did you write 1177 BC?

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

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

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


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


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

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

What is your next project?

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

 


Eric is the author of:

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

Quick Questions for Rahul Sagar, author of Secrets and Leaks

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

Now, on to the questions!

Why did you write Secrets and Leaks?

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


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


What is the book’s most important contribution?

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you see as the audience for this book?


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


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

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

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

What are you reading right now?

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

What is your next project?

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