An interview with Robert Wuthnow on his forthcoming book, IN THE BLOOD

Is your closest contact with the farming community your latest Instagram of a picturesque barn, or an occasional haul from the local CSA? If so, you’re not alone. Our day to day existence relies heavily on farming, but from Americans’ increasingly urban vantage point, the lives of farmers themselves can seem remote. In his forthcoming book, In the Blood, Princeton University sociologist of culture Robert Wuthnow offers a moving portrait of the changing lives of farm families. Recently Robert took the time to talk with us about what prompted him to write the book, the misconceptions he discovered, and how his new research spoke to his extensive body of work in the sociology of religion.

Robert Wuthnow, author of IN THE BLOOD

Robert Wuthnow, Princeton sociologist and author of IN THE BLOOD

You teach at Princeton University and live in a largely urban state. What prompted you to write a book about farming?

RW: I grew up on a farm in Kansas, spent most of my spare time until I graduated from college farming, and figured I would follow in the footsteps of many generations in my family who farmed. Things didn’t turn out that way. But I still have friends and family who farm and I’m intrigued, shall we say, by the path I didn’t take. I wrote about the changing history of agriculture in the Midwest in Remaking the Heartland and about rural communities in Small-Town America. After working on those projects I began reading the literature on farming. I discovered that most of it is written by agricultural economists and historians. As I sociologist, I wanted to hear from farmers themselves. I wanted to know what farming day-to-day is like, what it means to them, how it influences their values, and why they stay with it from generation to generation.

Why do you think people who don’t know much about farming might find this book interesting?

RW: Everybody – whether we live in a city, suburb, or small town – depends on farms for the food we eat. We know about problems with fast food, slaughterhouses, pollution, and the like. We also hear discussions every few years about farm policies. But for the most part, farming is out of sight and out of mind. In part, I wanted to give farmers a voice. I wanted people who know very little about farming to at least have something to read if they did happen to be interested.

In the Blood jacketApart from questions about food and farm policies, the reason to be interested in farmers is that our nation’s culture is still the product of our agrarian past. Correctly or incorrectly, we imagine that today’s farmers represent that heritage. In one view, they represent conservative family traditions, hard work, living simply, and preserving the land. In that view, it is easy to romanticize farming. A different view holds that farmers are country bumpkins who couldn’t do anything better than continue to farm. In both these views, farmers are actually serving as a mirror for us. I wanted to hold that mirror up to see what it showed – about the rest of us as much as about farmers.

You say farmers think the public doesn’t understand them. What misperceptions need to be corrected?

RW: One of the most serious misperceptions is that farmers are out there mindlessly ruining the land. That certainly was not how they saw it. Of the two hundred farmers that form the basis of the book, nearly all of them described the reasons why they do everything they can to preserve the land. I was especially impressed with the extent to which science is helping them do this. Farmers today have a much better understanding of soil chemistry, microbes, and ways to minimize water use and pollution than farmers did a generation ago.

Another misperception is that farmers are the problem when it comes to questions about tax dollars spent on farm subsidies. My research included farmers with large holdings as well as small farmers and it dealt with wheat belt, corn belt, and cotton belt farming as well as truck and dairy farming. Farmers spoke candidly and many of them were candidly critical of farm subsidies. They did benefit from crop insurance and appreciated the fact that it was subsidized. But they were doubtful that government bureaucrats understood farming and they were pretty sure farm policies were being driven by corporate agribusiness rather than farm families.

Much of your work has been about religion. What did you learn about religion from farmers?

RW: I wondered if farmers whose livelihoods are so dependent on forces of nature over which they have no control would somehow attribute those influences to God or be superstitious about them. Would they consider it helpful to pray for rain, for example? What I found is that hardly any of them thought that way. Some were devout; others were not religious at all. The most common understanding was that God somehow existed, was ultimately in control, but was also beyond human comprehension. Those who were the most devout prayed, figuring that whether it rained or not, God was real.

Churches are still the mainstay of farming communities, but vast changes are taking place in these churches, just as in cities and suburbs. Small churches in declining communities are dying. The ones that remain struggle to attract members and employ pastors. Increasingly, farm families drive twenty or thirty miles to attend churches in large towns and cities. That is also where they go to shop and where their children go to school.

You argue that farmers are deeply loyal to their families but are also ruggedly independent. How so?

RW: What I found about family loyalty and rugged independence is that both are changing. The basic values are unchanged but their meanings are being redefined. For instance, farmers say that farms are good places to raise children. But they rarely mean that children drive tractors and milk cows. They mean that children gain an appreciation of living in the country. Farm families continue to be examples of family-operated businesses. But gender roles are changing and informal relationships are being replaced by formal contracts. Being independent means making your own decisions, not having someone looking over your shoulder, and not having your daily schedule dictated to you. But all of that is constrained by government regulations and by having to depend on markets over which one has no control.

What did you identify as the main challenges facing farmers today?

RW: Farmers face a challenge that has always been part of their lives and is becoming less predictable. That challenge is the weather. Climate change is bringing extremes in temperature, storms, and rainfall unlike anything farmers have known. In addition, farmers with small to medium acreage are being forced to expand or quit. Whether large-scale farming adds efficiency is still debated, but farmers worry that if they do not expand they will be left behind. And competition to expand necessarily influences relations among farmers. As many of the farmers we spoke to explained, they enjoy seeing their neighbors but they also view their neighbors as sharks in the water.

Of all the topics you explored in your interviews with farmers, what surprised you the most?

RW: Technology. Spending my days, as I do, tethered to a computer and the Internet, I suppose I should not have been surprised to learn the extent to which farming has also changed as part of the digital revolution. But I was. My research assistants and I conducted interviews by cell phone with farmers on their tractors while a GPS guidance system drove the tractor through the field within a margin of three inches, an on-board computer monitored the soil and adjusted seed-to-fertilizer ratios accordingly, and the farmer in turn kept track of fluctuations in commodities markets. Technology of that sort is hugely expensive. Farmers acknowledge that it is not only labor saving but also enjoyable. But the digital revolution is influencing everything about farming – from who operates the machinery to how often farmers see their children and from what they depend on for information to what they have to do to qualify for financing.

The farmers we spoke to were deeply committed to family farming as a lifestyle. They hoped it would continue and that some of their children would be farmers. But many of them expressed doubts. They worried about the corporate takeover of farming. And they were preparing their children to pursue careers other than farming.

Read the introduction here.

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Social Sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including Rough Country, Small-Town America, Red State Religion, and Remaking the Heartland (all Princeton).

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.

 

 

 

 

Book Fact Friday – #8 Single Digits

From chapter eight of Marc Chamberland’s Single Digits:

How many times should you shuffle a deck of cards so that they’re well-mixed? Gamblers know that three or four times is not sufficient and take advantage of this fact. In 1992, researchers did computer simulations and estimated that seven rough riffle shuffles is a good amount. They took their research further and figured out that further shuffling does not significantly improve the mixing. If the shuffler does a perfect riffle shuffle (a Faro shuffle), in which s/he perfectly cuts the deck and shuffles so that each card from one side alternates with each card from the other side, then a standard 52-card deck will end in the same order that it started in after it is done 8 times.

Single Digits: In Praise of Small Numbers by Marc Chamberland
Read chapter one or peruse the table of contents.

The numbers one through nine have remarkable mathematical properties and characteristics. For instance, why do eight perfect card shuffles leave a standard deck of cards unchanged? Are there really “six degrees of separation” between all pairs of people? And how can any map need only four colors to ensure that no regions of the same color touch? In Single Digits, Marc Chamberland takes readers on a fascinating exploration of small numbers, from one to nine, looking at their history, applications, and connections to various areas of mathematics, including number theory, geometry, chaos theory, numerical analysis, and mathematical physics.
Each chapter focuses on a single digit, beginning with easy concepts that become more advanced as the chapter progresses. Chamberland covers vast numerical territory, such as illustrating the ways that the number three connects to chaos theory, an unsolved problem involving Egyptian fractions, the number of guards needed to protect an art gallery, and problematic election results. He considers the role of the number seven in matrix multiplication, the Transylvania lottery, synchronizing signals, and hearing the shape of a drum. Throughout, he introduces readers to an array of puzzles, such as perfect squares, the four hats problem, Strassen multiplication, Catalan’s conjecture, and so much more. The book’s short sections can be read independently and digested in bite-sized chunks—especially good for learning about the Ham Sandwich Theorem and the Pizza Theorem.
Appealing to high school and college students, professional mathematicians, and those mesmerized by patterns, this book shows that single digits offer a plethora of possibilities that readers can count on.

Calculus predicts more snow for Boston

Are we there yet? And by “there,” we mean spring and all the lovely weather that comes with it. This winter has been a tough one, and as the New York Times says, “this winter has gotten old.”

snow big[Photo Credit: John Talbot]

Our friends in Boston are feeling the winter blues after seven feet of precipitation over three weeks. But how much is still to come? You may not be the betting kind, but for those with shoveling duty, the probability of more winter weather may give you chills.

For this, we turn to mathematician Oscar Fernandez, professor at Wellesley College. Professor Fernandez uses calculus to predict the probability of Boston getting more snow, and the results may surprise you. In an article for the Huffington Post, he writes:

There are still 12 days left in February, and since we’ve already logged the snowiest month since record-keeping began in 1872 (45.5 inches of snow… so far), every Bostonian is thinking the same thing: how much more snow will we get?

We can answer that question with math, but we need to rephrase it just a bit. Here’s the version we’ll work with: what’s the probability that Boston will get at least s more inches of snow this month?

Check out the full article — including the prediction — over at the Huffington Post.

Math has some pretty cool applications, doesn’t it? Try this one: what is the most effective number of hours of sleep? Or — for those who need to work on the good night’s rest routine — how does hot coffee cool? These and other answers can be found through calculus, and Professor Fernandez shows us how in his book, Everyday Calculus: Discovering the Hidden Math All around Us.

This book was named one of American Association for the Advancement of Science’s “Books for General Audiences and Young Adults” in 2014. See Chapter One for yourself.

For more from Professor Fernandez, head over to his website, Surrounded by Math.

 

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/laserstars/.

Q&A with Michael Harris, author of Mathematics without Apologies

What do pure mathematicians do, and why do they do it? Looking beyond the conventional answers—for the sake of truth, beauty, and practical applications—Michael Harris offers an eclectic panorama of the lives and values and hopes and fears of mathematicians in the twenty-first century, assembling material from a startlingly diverse assortment of scholarly, journalistic, and pop culture sources.

Princeton University Press catches up with Michael Harris, author of Mathematics without Apologies, to talk about the culture of math and what writing has to do with the pace of innovation.

k10317[1]

PUP: What is the book about? 

MH: The preface claims the book is “about how hard it is to write a book about mathematics.” This becomes less self-referential and paradoxical if the sentence is completed: “… without introducing distortions that transform the book into one about certain conventional images of mathematics.” One thing I had to learn when I started trying to explain what it means to be a mathematician was that the point of an  activity like mathematics doesn’t speak for itself through the products of the activity. If you try to find a simple definition of mathematics you’ll see it’s not so easy. As a first approximation we might say that “mathematics is what mathematicians do, plus the stories that are told about that.” The book is then about mathematics in that sense, with an emphasis on the stories, and not only the conventional ones, nor only the stories told by mathematicians.

Why did you write this book?

MH: For a long time I have been hoping to see a book about mathematics, for the non-specialist public, that broke with stereotypes and clichés and a predictable stock of references, and instead reflected the values to which mathematicians refer when we talk to one another. At the same time, I hoped the book, while not being a historical study, would at least acknowledge that these values have a history, and would take seriously the idea that mathematics also belongs to cultural history, by exploring the roots of some of the notions and habits of thought that mathematicians take for granted, using the tools of cultural analysis—but without adopting the elevated tone that is too common in this kind of exercise.

I have written a few book reviews and articles with these hopes in mind, waiting for someone to take the hint. In recent years several mathematicians have made a valiant effort to challenge stereotypes by writing about mathematics as a living activity, and a few writers have examined mathematics through the lens of cultural criticism; but it’s still sadly the case that when mathematicians write the word “culture” the reader can nearly always expect a dose of uplift. Soon enough I realized I would have to write the book myself.

There’s a more selfish reason as well:  I thought it would be prudent to develop a second skill, to prepare for the dire moment when the pace of  new developments in my mathematical specialty began to outstrip my ability to keep up with them, and I would need to find a different way to keep my brain occupied. Writing was the only plausible option. Strangely enough, when I reached the end of the book I found I could still function reasonably well as a mathematician, even though the pace of innovation in my field has suddenly accelerated—but that’s another story.

The text refers to any number of controversies and polemics, historical or contemporary. But you don’t come down clearly in favor of a solid position on anything. Is this a “postmodern” book?

MH: I am certainly opinionated about a great many things, and it is my considered opinion that most of the sharpest controversies—like platonism vs. nominalism, or positions on what Wigner called “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”—miss the features that make it really interesting to be a mathematician. To avoid distracting the reader with pointless polemics, I consciously chose to present those features with a minimum of ideological adornment, and to allude to controversies only obliquely. I’m told there’s a risk that some will find it disorienting to read a book about mathematics that doesn’t tell them what to think; but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

What’s with all the endnotes?

MH: Two of the blurbs describe the author as “erudite,” which is a kind thing to write but is unfortunately far from the truth.  It’s amazing how easy the internet has made it to look well-read; it helps to think of asking questions different from the ones that are usually asked. The endnotes and the extensive bibliography are there, in the first place, to convince the reader, that mathematics really does deal intimately with an extraordinarily varied range of experience. I hope in particular that genuine scholars can use this material to expand their sense of what’s relevant in writing about mathematics.

In the second place, the notes are there to convince the reader that I didn’t make things up. But please don’t get the impression that I actually read more than a few pages of most of the references quoted.

The notes are also a convenient hiding place for the author’s true opinions. But what do they matter?

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

MH: Each chapter started with a clear-cut theme, though some of them led me in unexpected directions. Chapter 8, for example, was supposed to be an exploration of why it’s so important for mathematics to appear to be serious, and specifically why so much is written about the supposed affinity between mathematics and classical music. The “trickster” theme was supposed to serve as an indirect way of introducing the question of mathematical seriousness. But mathematical “tricks” turned out to have such a rich and unfamiliar history that they tricked themselves into the chapter’s main theme.

Each chapter’s theme evolved as I collected relevant material. Some of the material organized itself into a plausible narrative outline. Then the actual writing began.   The individual paragraphs were easy enough to complete, but assembling them in a coherent order often enough presented an impossible mathematical problem: I need to talk about B before I can explain C, and B is incomprehensible until I talk about A; but it makes no sense to bring up A without having already mentioned C. Resolving this kind of problem is what took up most of the time between when I started writing in early 2011 and when I submitted a completed manuscript three years later. Usually it was only possible in a state of total isolation, which I could only maintain for a few days at most.

At the end I found myself discarding enough material for at least two books the same length. But there’s no reason to write them, because they would say the same thing!

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

MH: Anyone who is willing to take seriously the idea that mathematics deserves respect, not only because it can be used to provide efficient solutions to practical problems (though that is eminently worthy of respect), but also as a living community, a cultural form, an autonomous domain of experience.

Check out the introduction to Mathematics without Apologies here. The book was recently reviewed at Library Journal and Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong.

Q&A with the authors of The Fascinating World of Graph Theory

The fascinating world of graph theory goes back several centuries and revolves around the study of graphs—mathematical structures showing relations between objects. With applications in biology, computer science, transportation science, and other areas, graph theory encompasses some of the most beautiful formulas in mathematics—and some of its most famous problems. For example, what is the shortest route for a traveling salesman seeking to visit a number of cities in one trip? What is the least number of colors needed to fill in any map so that neighboring regions are always colored differently?

Princeton University Press catches up with Arthur Benjamin, Gary Chartrand, and Ping Zhang, authors of The Fascinating World of Graph Theory, to discuss just what it is that makes graph theory so fascinating.

Benjamin_TheFascinating_F14

PUP: What is graph theory?

AB, GC & PZ: Graph theory is the study of objects, some pairs of which are related in some manner. Since there are no restrictions on what the objects might be and no restrictions on how two objects might be related, applications of graph theory are only limited by one’s imagination.

PUP: Why is graph theory important?

AB, GC & PZ: There are problems and questions that occur in a wide variety of settings that can be visualized with the aid of graphs and which can often be understood more clearly. Understanding the theoretical nature of graph theory can, in many instances, lead us to solutions of these problems and answers to these questions.

PUP: Where do you see graph theory in action in the real world?

AB, GC & PZ: Because graph theory has been shown to be so useful with problems in transportation, communication, chemistry, computer science, decision-making, games and puzzles, among other things, there are few aspects of life where graphs do not enter in.

PUP: Who needs to understand graph theory? And why does understanding the theoretical underpinnings help us?

AB, GC & PZ: Whether it’s mathematics or some other scholarly endeavor, a key element to understanding is not only becoming aware of what others have accomplished but developing a knack of being curious and asking relevant questions. Because graph theory has applications in so many areas, it is an ideal area within mathematics to become familiar with.

PUP: Why did you write this book?

AB, GC & PZ: There have been numerous reports of American students doing poorly in mathematics in recent years. Furthermore, we believe that mathematics has acquired an under-served reputation of being boring and difficult. While gaining a good understanding of any subject requires effort, we know that many aspects of mathematics are interesting. Since we felt it was likely that many people are not familiar with graph theory, we decided to illustrate how interesting and useful mathematics can be by writing a book on graph theory with this goal in mind. While we wanted to include some real mathematics, showing how certain facts can be verified, we primarily wanted to show where mathematics comes from, discussing some of the people responsible for this, and how mathematics can assist us, often in many unexpected and fascinating ways.

Read the preface of The Fascinating World of Graph Theory here!

Andrew Hodges honored with Scripter Award

 

Andrew Hodges, author of ALAN TURING: THE ENIGMA

Andrew Hodges, author of Alan Turing: The Enigma

Congratulations to PUP author Andrew Hodges, who along with The Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore, has been awarded the USC Libraries Scripter Award. Hodges’s book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, was used as the basis for the screenplay of the Oscar-nominated film.

Calling bookworms and movie-goers alike — this award has something for all of you. Established in 1988, the USC Libraries Scripter Award is an honor that recognizes the best adaptation of word to film. The award is given to both the author and the screenwriter.

Alan Turing: The Enigma — a New York Times–bestselling biography of the founder of computer science — is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. Capturing both the inner and outer drama of Turing’s life, Andrew Hodges tells how Turing’s revolutionary idea of 1936 — the concept of a universal machine — laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design.

The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing’s leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. Turing’s work on this is depicted in The Imitation Game, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME © 2014 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME © 2014 The Weinstein Company

At the same time, Alan Turing: The Enigma is the tragic account of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program — all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime. Alan Turing: The Enigma is a gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution.

Check out Chapter 1 of Alan Turing: The Enigma for yourself here.

The other four finalists for the Scripter award included:

  • Gillian Flynn, author and screenwriter of Gone Girl
  • Novelist Thomas Pynchon and screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice
  • Jane Hawking, author of Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen, and screenwriter Anthony McCarten for The Theory of Everything
  • Screenwriter Nick Hornby for Wild, adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

 

PUP News of the World — November 19, 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!


The Original Folk and Fairy Tales

of the Brothers Grimm

These are not the bedtime stories that you remember.

When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Children’s and Household Tales in 1812, followed by a second volume in 1815, they had no idea that such stories as “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Cinderella” would become the most celebrated in the world. Yet few people today are familiar with the majority of tales from the two early volumes, since in the next four decades the Grimms would publish six other editions, each extensively revised in content and style.

For the very first time, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm makes available in English all 156 stories from the 1812 and 1815 editions. These narrative gems, newly translated and brought together in one beautiful book, are accompanied by sumptuous new illustrations from award-winning artist Andrea Dezsö.

The 156 stories in the Complete First Edition are raw, authentic, and unusual. Familiar tales are spare and subversive: “Rapunzel” ends abruptly when the title character gets pregnant, and in “Little Snow White” and “Hansel and Gretel,” the wicked stepmother is actually a biological mother. Unfamiliar tales such as “How Some Children Played at Slaughtering” were deleted, rewritten, or hidden in scholarly notes, but are restored to the collection here.

The Guardian interviewed author Jack Zipes for a piece on the Grimms and their tales. Here is a sneak peak of the article:

Wilhelm Grimm, said Zipes, “deleted all tales that might offend a middle-class religious sensitivity”, such as How Some Children Played at Slaughtering. He also “added many Christian expressions and proverbs”, continued Zipes, stylistically embellished the tales, and eliminated fairies from the stories because of their association with French fairy tales. “Remember, this is the period when the French occupied Germany during the Napoleonic wars,” said Zipes. “So, in Briar Rose, better known as Sleeping Beauty, the fairies are changed into wise women. Also, a crab announces to the queen that she will become pregnant, not a frog.”

Check out the full article on the Guardian‘s website.

On the other side of the pond, USA Today takes a look at the book in a piece entitled “These Grimm fairy tales are not for the kiddies,”  and cheezburger.com warns that “your kids may never sleep again.” Take a look for yourself — view Chapter One, The Frog King, or Iron Henry.

Our friends at the Times in South Africa and at NRC Handelsblad in Germany also discuss the book this week. Zipes discusses the book on Monocle radio.

now 11.19

 Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film The Imitation Game

 

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades–all before his suicide at age forty-one. This year, his story comes to a theater near you — The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley is due out before the end of the year. And the inspiration for the script sits on a shelf here in Princeton: Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

This acclaimed biography of the founder of computer science, with a new preface by the author that addresses Turing’s royal pardon in 2013, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. Capturing both the inner and outer drama of Turing’s life, Andrew Hodges tells how Turing’s revolutionary idea of 1936–the concept of a universal machine–laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design.

The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing’s leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic account of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program–all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.

As it is released in the UK, the Guardian takes a look at the film. Hodges provides comments for the piece:

Andrew Hodges, who published the first substantial biography of Turing, Alan Turing: The Enigma, in 1983, suggests that “the production and presentation of the new film [reflects] underlying cultural and political changes” of the last decade and a half – leading to Gordon Brown’s posthumous apology to Turing in 2009, and subsequent royal pardon in 2013.

Hodges said: “Obviously the changes that happened in the UK under the Labour government of 1997-2010, when a robust principle of equality was established in civil society, have made a big difference. Gordon Brown’s 2009 apology was a good example of those changes, and his words seemed to encourage a lot of other people to take the historical question as a serious human rights issue.”

Express reviews The Imitation Game, noting that:

Turing should be a national treasure, honoured for his extraordinary achievement in solving the fiendish mysteries of the greatest encryption device in history. He helped turn the tide against the Nazis. Without Turing the age of the computer might never have come to pass as quickly as it did.

Engineering and Technology magazine interviews Andrew Hodges — check out one of the questions below:

Q: The blue plaque at Alan Turing’s birthplace that you unveiled in 1998 describes Turing as ‘code-breaker and pioneer of computer science’. Are these six words a good crystallisation of the man, or do we need to expand upon them?

A: Turing would have described himself as a mathematician. I think it’s fair to unpack that and describe some of the things he did. The two things he did which are most distinctive are that he founded the whole concept of computer science, upon which everything in computer science theory is now based. And the other thing was his work during the Second World War, which was extremely important cryptanalysis.

Although what he did often seems abstruse, he was unusual in that he was very alive to engineering and the concrete application of difficult ideas. The best example of that is in his code-breaking work. But you can see it in everything he did. Computer science is all about linking logical possibilities with the physical reality. There are lots of paradoxes in Turing’s life, but this is the central theme.

Begin cracking the code by reading Chapter One of Alan Turing: The Enigma.

 

 

Q&A with Andrew Needham, author of POWER LINES: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest

In only four decades, Phoenix, Arizona, grew from a town of sixty-five thousand to the sixth largest city in America. But the air-conditioned subdivision homes that drew new residents from the East Coast and Midwest came at a price. As Phoenix grew, so did its reliance on electricity and resources from the neighboring territory of the Navajo Nation. Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest explores the often untold story of Phoenix’s growth—a federally subsidized postwar boom that exploited the Navajo Nation and spurred the roots of the contemporary coal-fueled climate change crisis.

Princeton University Press catches up with Andrew Needham, author of Power Lines, to discuss his inspiration and the challenges of organizing this multifaceted story of Southwest growth.

Needham

PUP: Why did you write this book?

AN: I started thinking about the ideas in this book long before I started graduate school. We were driving from Albuquerque to the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, crossing what I’ve come to know as the eastern portion of the Colorado Plateau, which is a really beautiful mesa country, lots of the stark buttes and redrock sandstone characteristic of the Southwest.

Somewhere in northwest New Mexico, I saw a giant smoke plume on the horizon, which I initially assumed was a forest fire, because the West was in the midst of fire season. When we came over a rise and I saw Four Corners Power Plant, which is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the US, I was outraged, primarily because it seemed to represent a violation of everything we were on vacation to do, go see Big Nature, get away from “civilization.” Of course, I probably used that electricity, unthinkingly, that night.

But that experience started me thinking about how the production of electricity has become largely hidden from contemporary life, even as its use, particularly for the consumer goods in the “post-industrial age,” continues to increase. And it led me to start thinking about patterns of metropolitan development and underdevelopment, which at the time I was writing were largely told as a story of non-white inner cities surrounded by suburbs that people since the 1960s have characterized as a white noose.

As I began researching the electrical power networks that I saw on that car trip, I started to think that we needed to rethink that map of metropolitan inequality to account for all the ways that the land and resources of the metropolitan periphery, that space beyond the suburban frontier, are used as the location for institutions like power plants and landfills. Those institutions serve the needs of predominantly metropolitan consumers but displace most of their negative effects over great spatial distance. So in part, I wrote this book to figure out and explain how these two spaces – in this case Phoenix and the Navajo Reservation – that seem so far apart are actually intimately connected.

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

AN: The biggest challenge for me is that the book involves so many pieces that are so disparate. There’s municipal politics in Phoenix and federal oversight of public lands. It contains stories about home builders in Phoenix and stories about federal Indian policy. There’s environmental politics and Indian politics. Figuring out a narrative strategy to have all of these elements makes sense in the same story took a long time.

The first chapter was the hardest to write, because I basically had to narrate the story of a region that didn’t yet exist cohesively, I call it “a region of fragments.” It covers a huge swath of time, from the formation of coal 100 million years ago to the eve of World War II, just to put the story in motion. I think it was worthwhile doing, though, because the pre-history that’s contained in that chapter is really important to the broader story. Phoenix doesn’t grow just because of air conditioning or particularly savvy public officials, it also grows because it’s located near these rich coal supplies that are not developed for reasons having to do with the region’s fragmentation. But I probably went through 30 drafts of that chapter, with many parts that got thrown out because they were interesting but peripheral.


I did not set out to write a book that tells the underlying history of climate change, but I think I accidentally stumbled into writing that book. And I think that lesson, about how our daily actions of turning light switches has dramatic and far reaching consequences for the social and natural worlds we live in, are lessons that many Americans are ready to think hard about. They need to be.


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

AN: I think there are three contributions the book makes to the way we understand American life in the past 60 or so years. The first is just how dramatically electrical consumption grew over that time period. Between 1945 and 1970, Phoenix sees on the order of a 7500 percent increase in electrical consumption. Phoenix is somewhat anomalous, in that its population grows so much, but even if you break down the per capita consumption, the growth is really stark. The average home in Phoenix in 1945 uses about 1500 kilowatt hours annually. By 1970, that number is above 12,000. And it’s not just air conditioning. The Federal Housing Administration’s underwriting guidelines in the late 1930s ensure that even inexpensive houses will use much more electricity than they did previously, and a lot of local businessmen are deeply involved in promoting (and benefiting from) the growth of Arizona Public Service, the main private utility based in Phoenix.

The second contribution is the story of how the people who lived on these energy lands responded to these dramatic changes. And it surprised me, because it was a far more complicated story than I expected that disrupted many of the stories that told about Indians in modern America. I discovered deep divisions among Navajos responding to these rapid changes: from great hopes that the Navajo Tribe could harness this development to replicate the kinds of things Phoenix had done to attract high tech industry and to enjoy consumer modernity — a dream of “two light bulbs in every Hogan” in the words of one tribal official — to beliefs that the tribe could nationalize their energy holdings and become part of “an Indian OPEC,” to arguments that tribal leaders had misused their authority and had betrayed people at the grass roots by negotiating with energy companies.

I think I discovered two really important things in exploring those arguments. The first was that organized political action had surprising efficacy in contesting the ability of energy companies to claim resources as long as it happened before infrastructure was built. Once there was infrastructural investment made, in the form of coal mines, power plants, and transmission lines, however, political challenges proved much more difficult. The second, more simply, was that Navajos, and other people living near this new landscape of energy production, have grappled far longer with questions about where electricity comes from and what damages its production does than metropolitan Americans, who are just beginning to think about these questions in relation to the current crisis of climate change.

Finally, the book tells how coal became the fuel that powers modern America. Coal seems to symbolize the 19th century, railroads and steel production, not the 21st, but it’s coal-fired power, power whose production is “hidden” on the periphery of metropolitan America, that’s created “post-industrial” society. When people think of electricity in the Southwest, they think of the dams on the Colorado River. And these did allow a vision of modernity powered by, as Lewis Mumford wrote when the first of those dams were going up, “clean, flowing energy.” But the other side of that was ever-rising consumption. Water’s energy was limited, both by the capacity of the falling water in the Colorado River and by politics, which rendered new dams both overly costly and environmentally destructive by the early 1960s. Coal served as a convenient alternative, both for environmentalists who sought to save “the living river” and for private utility executives who sought to avoid the federal control involved with the dams. And this story was replicated, in different local forms, across the nation between 1970 and today, when 594 new coal burning power plants were built.

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

AN: Like all authors, I think everyone would benefit from reading my book. Particularly the editorial boards of the New York Times and NPR. But seriously, I think, beyond its core academic readerships of urban, western, American Indian and environmental historians, it has interesting lessons for people interested in how the built environment of the past half-century, the built environment of suburbia has reshaped both human society and the natural world. I did not set out to write a book that tells the underlying history of climate change, but I think I accidentally stumbled into writing that book. And I think that lesson, about how our daily actions of turning light switches has dramatic and far reaching consequences for the social and natural worlds we live in, are lessons that many Americans are ready to think hard about. They need to be.

Check out the introduction of Power Lines here. For more on Andrew Needham’s work, hop over to KPCC, Southern California Public Radio — Andrew was interviewed earlier this fall. During the interview, he discusses the background behind this fall’s historic settlement between the US government and the Navajo Nation regarding misuse of land.

PUP News of the World — October 23, 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!


Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?

Just in time for your spooky Halloween week, the living dead has been spotted lurking in your local bookstore. But where? Check in the neuroscience section. Yes, you read that right.

With their endless wandering, lumbering gait, insatiable hunger, antisocial behavior, and apparently memory-less existence, zombies are the walking nightmares of our deepest fears. What do these characteristic behaviors reveal about the inner workings of the zombie mind? Could we diagnose zombism as a neurological condition by studying their behavior?

In Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain, neuroscientists and zombie enthusiasts Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek apply their neuro-know-how to dissect the puzzle of what has happened to the zombie brain to make the undead act differently than their human prey.

Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? is featured on Nerdist. Science editor Kyle Hill writes:

“Neuroscientists and zombie enthusiasts Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek have recently come out with a new book called Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?, in which they apply their neuroscience backgrounds to an investigation of the undead. It’s filled with pages of increasingly nerdy explorations of zombie behavior, and I highly recommend it, but what really caught my eye was the authors’ conclusion: All the walking dead have Consciousness Deficit Hypoactivity Disorder, or CDHD.”

Don’t be scared… check out this TED-Ed talk by Verstynen and Voytek (“Diagnosing a zombie: Brain and behavior”).

Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? was also featured on the blog of the NPR-affiliate in San Diego KPBS and featured in U-T San Diego.

It’s all fun until someone gets bitten. While you still can, take a look at the introduction.

now 10.23

Cowardice

“Are you afraid to finish your book?” So begins a recent piece in the Times Higher Education by PUP author Chris Walsh. He continues:

My colleague was in the habit of needling his fellow scholars with this question. It struck particularly deep with me, because my book was about being afraid – or rather, it was about being excessively afraid and therefore failing to do what you should do. It was about cowardice.

For twenty years, Walsh has studied the topic of cowardice. What exactly is cowardice? When terrorists are called cowards, does it mean the same as when the term is applied to soldiers? And what, if anything, does cowardice have to do with the rest of us? His new book, fittingly named Cowardice: A Brief History, brings together sources from court-martial cases to literary and film classics such as Dante’s Inferno, The Red Badge of Courage, and The Thin Red Line, to recount the great harm that both cowards and the fear of seeming cowardly have done.

Walsh traces the idea of cowardice’s power to its evolutionary roots. But he also shows that this power has faded, most dramatically on the battlefield. Misconduct that earlier might have been punished as cowardice has more recently often been treated medically, as an adverse reaction to trauma, and Walsh explores a parallel therapeutic shift that reaches beyond war, into the realms of politics, crime, philosophy, religion, and love.

Cowardice is also reviewed on a Psychology Today blog. Glenn Altschuler writes:

“… a fresh and fascinating examination of the use of the term on – and off – the primal theater of cowardice, the battlefield.  Drawing on research in evolutionary biology as well as an informed interpretation of American history and literature, Walsh analyzes the relationship between courage and cowardice, the tendency to characterize men and not women as cowards, and the distinction between physical and moral cowardice.  Most important, Walsh argues, provocatively and persuasively, that over the past century the idea of cowardice has faded in significance, especially in military settings, and reappeared with somewhat different connotations.”

Check out this coverage of Cowardice in Inside Higher Ed, and preview the introduction for yourself.

 

PUP News of the World — October 10, 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!


The Social Life of Money

Mobile money and Bitcoin — questions about the nature of money have gained a new urgency in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Even as many people have less of it, there are more forms and systems of money. In The Social Life of Money, Nigel Dodd, one of today’s leading sociologists of money, reformulates the theory of the subject for a postcrisis world in which new kinds of money are proliferating.

What counts as legitimate action by central banks that issue currency and set policy? What underpins the right of nongovernmental actors to create new currencies? And how might new forms of money surpass or subvert government-sanctioned currencies? To answer such questions, The Social Life of Money takes a fresh and wide-ranging look at modern theories of money.

The Social Life of Money is reviewed in the Financial Times. Pietra Rivoli writes:

“Dodd presents a wide-ranging and sophisticated review and integration of the academic work related to alternative conceptions of modern money….[T]his is a richly rewarding book. Those of us accustomed to thinking of money as something we exchange for beer and pizza will never again have such a simple story.”

We’re putting our money where our mouth is — preview the introduction of The Social Life of Money and see how Dodd’s argument adds up.

The Copyright Wars

Today’s copyright wars can seem unprecedented. Sparked by the digital revolution that has made copyright—and its violation—a part of everyday life, fights over intellectual property have pitted creators, Hollywood, and governments against consumers, pirates, Silicon Valley, and open-access advocates.

But while the digital generation can be forgiven for thinking the dispute between, for example, the publishing industry and Google is completely new, the copyright wars in fact stretch back three centuries—and their history is essential to understanding today’s battles. The Copyright Wars—the first major trans-Atlantic history of copyright from its origins to today—tells this important story.

Peter Baldwin explains why the copyright wars have always been driven by a fundamental tension. Should copyright assure authors and rights holders lasting claims, much like conventional property rights, as in Continental Europe? Or should copyright be primarily concerned with giving consumers cheap and easy access to a shared culture, as in Britain and America? The Copyright Wars describes how the Continental approach triumphed, dramatically increasing the claims of rights holders.

An interview with Peter Baldwin ran in Publishers Weekly’s Frankfurt Show Daily issue (check out pages 34-36!).

Here is a sneak peak:

Andrew Richard Albanese: Why the title Copyright Wars? Has copyright historically been a war zone?

Peter Baldwin: There are two wars, partly overlapping. The historical war, which the book, as a work of history deals with, examines opposing visions of authors’ rights. Should copyright be seen as a temporary monopoly granted authors in order to stimulate them to further creativity? Or should copyright be seen as a form of property, much like more conventional property, that belongs to its owner wholly and perpetually.

That war was largely won by the mid-20th century when the US adopted the European position of strong authorial rights, and the British, as founding members of the Berne Convention, were pulled along by their international obligations in the same direction. But as digital technologies became widespread ad, the whole battle erupted anew. Digital has made it possible to reproduce and distribute almost for free. How were authors and owners going to assert claims to their works, now that they were no longer protected by the sheer physical inconvenience of the old analogue techniques of reproduction and distribution?

Be sure to take a look at the full interview!

The Copyright Wars was also reviewed on the Huffington Post by Glenn C. Altschuler. He writes:

“Baldwin has provided an often fascinating account of debates over intellectual property, including the defense of the moral rights of authors in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Most important, Baldwin makes a compelling case that although claims to intellectual property have strengthened over the last three hundred years, they do not rest in nature. Intellectual property is, in fact, ‘a contingent, socially created right, in thrall to what the lawmakers of the day’ decide it is.”

Check out Chapter One for yourself.

now 10.10

PUP News of the World — September 29, 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!


Liberalism

Do you think you know what liberalism is? This vulnerable but critically important political creed dominates today’s politics just as it decisively shaped the past two hundred years of American and European history. Yet there is striking disagreement about what liberalism really means and how it arose.

In an engrossing history of liberalism—the first in English for many decades—veteran political observer Edmund Fawcett traces the ideals, successes, and failures of this central political tradition through the lives and ideas of a rich cast of European and American thinkers and politicians, from the early nineteenth century to today.

Liberalism: The Life of an Idea is reviewed in the New Republic. David Marquand writes:

Fawcett’s workmanlike history of the bundle of ideas and practices that liberals have espoused since the Spanish liberales coined the term after the Napoleonic wars is an excellent guide to liberalism’s rise and fall.

In Switzerland, Liberalism is reviewed in Neue Zuercher Zeitung. No matter what your political views, you will want to preview the introduction of Liberalism.

now 9.29

The Bee

“Are the Bees Back Up on Their Knees?” A New York Times piece by PUP author Noah Wilson-Rich addresses the issue of colony collapse disorder, C.C.D., and what comes next for the bee. Wilson-Rich writes:

I became a beekeeper in 2005. When C.C.D. started, I was studying how social animals like honeybees resisted disease. We still don’t really know why C.C.D. was happening, but it looks as if we are turning the corner: Scientists I’ve spoken to in both academia and government have strong reason to believe that C.C.D. is essentially over. This finding is based on data from the past three years — or perhaps, more accurately, the lack thereof. There have been no conclusively documented cases of C.C.D. in the strict sense. Perhaps C.C.D. will one day seem like yet another blip on the millennium-plus timeline of unexplained bee die-offs. Luckily, the dauntless efforts of beekeepers have brought bee populations back each time.

While this is undoubtedly good news, we cannot let it blind us to a hard truth. Bees are still dying; it’s just that we’re finding the dead bodies now, whereas with C.C.D., they were vanishing. Bees are still threatened by at least three major enemies: diseases, chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.) and habitat loss.

Check out the full op-ed for Wilson-Rich’s take on the importance of pollinators and what policy changes could help the future of the bee. You can also hear an interview with Wilson-Rich on Radio Boston:

Wilson-Rich is the author of The Bee: A Natural History.

This book takes an incomparable look at this astounding diversity, blending an engaging narrative with practical, hands-on discussions of such topics as beekeeping and bee health. It explores our relationship with the bee over evolutionary time, delving into how it came to be, where it stands today, and what the future holds for humanity and bees alike.

The Bee

  • Provides an accessible, illustrated look at the human–bee relationship over time
  • Features a section on beekeeping and handy go-to guides to the identification, prevention, and treatment of honey bee diseases Covers bee evolution, ecology, genetics, and physiology
  • Includes a directory of notable bee species
  • Presents a holistic approach to bee health, including organic and integrated pest management techniques
  • Shows what you can do to help bee populations

Readers are buzzing about it — join in and preview the introduction of The Bee for yourself.