Are people getting better? An interview with Webb Keane on ETHICAL LIFE

From inner city America to the Inuit Arctic, from evangelical Christians to ardent feminists, our increasingly diverse and global society means, as Webb Keane puts it, that “everyone’s aware that their values aren’t the only ones in town.” How then, does one exercise the distinctly human tendency to take an ethical stance toward oneself and everyone else? Which values can be said to be universal? Is it innately human to apply ethics, or is it strictly a product of one’s cultural and historical context? Keane, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, took some time to answer questions about his new book, Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories.

Keane jacketWhat’s new about Ethical Life?

WK: This book brings together research findings across a wide range of fields that rarely communicate with one another. So one thing that’s new is the wide net it casts. It takes in developmental psychology, the microsociology of conversation, ethnographies carried out with everyone from inner city crack dealers and to hunters in the rain forest, and histories of feminism, evangelical religion, and communist revolution. Along the way, it brings philosophers into the conversation, and takes occasional sideglances to cognitive science and neuroscience. Usually when a book covers so much territory, it tries to do one of two things. One approach is to give us a kind of encyclopedia: there’s this, and this, and this. Another is to claim there’s one big explanation, like for example, it all boils down to your DNA. Well this book takes a different tack. It says that each of these different angles on human ethics tells us something that can’t be reduced to, or explained by, the others. But none of them are complete in themselves. So the book explores the borderlands where they meet each other. For instance, psychology shows us that the impulse to seek out other people’s intentions is shared by all humans, and is very deep; philosophy tells us why intention-reading is essential to ethical judgments; ethnography explains why some communities will emphasize intention-reading while others suppress it; and history traces out how it comes to be that one society, at one point in time, ends up finding intentionality fascinating, while another takes it to be a source of anxiety—and what happens when people actively try to change their own ethical system.

Can you explain the title?

WK: I use the term ethical “life” because I think it’s important that ethics isn’t just a set of rules or ideas that you consult from time to time. It’s built into the very flow of everyday life. It’s part of your emotional equipment, your sense of self, and of your ability to have relations to other people, as well as to the words and habits and institutions you get from living in a particular society at a particular time. Notice that this list ranges across all the fields I’ve mentioned: psychology, social interaction, history. “Ethical life” means that an ethics saturates even quite ordinary activities.

Some people say that the foundation for ethics and morality is religion. Isn’t this so?

WK: It follows from the proposition that ethics is built into ordinary life that it’s not based on religion as such. Anthropologist will tell you that even very traditional religious communities always have their village atheists, yet the village atheist also participates in ethical life. And of course many philosophical systems have tried to base ethics on non-religious principles like reason. Still, it’s also true that religions have played a huge role in the development of ethical systems. One chapter of the book looks at examples from Christianity and Islam to show how they construct and inculcate a very distinctive style of morality. But they do so by drawing on raw materials that are already part of everyday life, and then transforming them in certain characteristic ways.

But at least we can say ethics is the specialty of philosophers and theologians, so why would an anthropologist be talking about this?

WK: Anthropologists have two mandates. One is to understand people as they actually are—warts and all–and not as we think they should be, which can sometimes put us in the company of some pretty nasty characters. The second mandate is to begin by trying to see people from their own points of view. Our job doesn’t stop there, but making that our starting point means we have to grapple with ethical intuitions that we may find foreign or even repugnant. As I see it, the traditional role of the philosopher or theologian is not to carry out empirical research to discover what ethical life actually is, but rather to say something about what it should be, and to justify that view. Now certainly there are many philosophers and theologians who are in deep conversation with social scientists, and vice versa—I hope you can see this dialogue going on in my book–but most of us end up observing that division of labor, and work at different sides of the questions. And one of the things this book says, with which many philosophers and theologians may disagree, is that there’s no guarantee that we can find a single set of unifying principles that everyone will agree to, or that history is leading us to converge on a shared ethics.

Is it human nature to be ethical?

WK: Yes and no. One the one hand, ethical life is a dimension of ordinary human existence across the board. It draws on certain capacities and propensities that all children develop early in life, and that all societies respond to and develop in one way or another. The book stresses the very basic elements of ethics, like seeing yourself from your interlocutor’s perspective or having a sense of reciprocity and fairness, which are features of life everywhere. On the other hand, this book also argues that these basics do not amount to a full-fledged ethics until people have some way of recognizing that that’s what they are: that there’s something ethical at stake. And this depends on all sorts of social dynamics which necessarily vary from time to time and place to place. They have a history. Moreover, every community has some values which are likely to conflict with one another, such as freedom and equality, or justice and charity. The balance between them is likely to shift from one context to another. Which is one reason why we’re not likely to end up with a single set of shared ethical principles.

Well, if ethics isn’t just a universal set of rules, is the end result ethical relativism?

WK: The short answer is “no.” This is the other side of the coin in the answer to the previous question: there are limits to how far any ethical system can ignore or go beyond the raw materials with which it’s working. Simply in order to make sense of one another, people have to act in ways that others can interpret, and there are cognitive, linguistic, and sociological constraints on this. Moreover, just recognizing that other people have very different moral intuitions doesn’t exempt me from having certain commitments. If I’m going to play soccer, I have to care about the outcome even if I’m aware that there are people out there who don’t know or care about soccer (but, say, who do care about basketball). But no amount of knowledge about the different games is going to give me an objective basis for declaring that the game I’m playing is the one that should really matter. We can’t expect our scientific knowledge about ethics to provide us with a superior position from which to we can prove to everyone else that our ethical intuitions are the correct ones.

The last section of your book is about historical change. Many of us would like to know, are people getting better?

WK: That really depends on what yardstick you want to use to measure progress. On the one hand, it’s clear that people around the world are more and more likely to have dealings with others from different backgrounds, and to see some connection to people who aren’t right next door. So two things follow. First, everyone’s aware that their values aren’t the only ones in town. And second, the potential scope of their ethical concern is expanding. Alongside this is the rise of universalizing ideals, like the concept of human rights. On the other hand, this doesn’t necessarily mean people are becoming more cosmopolitan—sometimes they just circle the wagons and double down on racial, national, or religious exclusiveness, insisting that some people are not due objects of my ethical concern. So, again, I don’t think we’re going to find any guarantees out there. But it does look like the friction generated when different ethical worlds rub up against one another can charge up new ethical ideas and provoke us to make new discoveries about ourselves.

Webb Keane is the George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter and Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

New Anthropology Catalog 2016

We invite you to scroll through our latest Anthropology catalog.

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MushroomCheck out The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, an investigation of Matsutake, the most valuable mushroom in the world and its amazing ability to survive and, indeed, thrive in human-disrupted landscapes. Using the mushroom as an example, she sheds light on the relationship between the darker side of capitalism and collaborative survival.






RighteousIn Righteous Transgressions, Lihi Ben Shitrit examines how women in conservative religious societies find ways to circumvent strict ideas about their role to engage in the political arena using four groups as examples: the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, the ultra-Orthodox Shas, the Islamic Movement in Israel, and the Palestinian Hamas.






YoungFinally, Avi Max Spiegel examines the competition among established Arab Muslim groups to gain the support of the growing population of youths among their ranks in Young Islam. He focuses not only on the work of established Muslim thinkers, but also the growing body of writing from the younger generation to make the case that the nature of Islamist movements is changing.




If you’d like updates on new titles, you can subscribe to our newsletter.

PUP will be at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting from November 18 to November 22 in Denver—visit us at booth #310!

Finally, for a limited time we are offering 30% off on select print titles.


Hamburgers in Paradise: 12 Facts

FrescoDepictions of paradise can be found throughout the centuries, portrayed as an impossible, unchanging ecosystem in perpetual motion that provides an abundance of food, water, and shade to sustain humans and animals in perfect harmony with no effort required. In Hamburgers in Paradise, Louise O. Fresco argues that the idea of paradise as an impossibly stable, diverse, and productive ecosystem has had a profound effect on our thinking about nature, farming, and food, and remains a powerful influence even today. Despite secularization, paradise is a frame of reference for what we think and do in relation to food.

Today at 2:30, Fresco will be presenting her book to Kenneth Quinn, the World Food Prize ambassador, at the 2015 Borlaug Dialogue, hosted by The World Food Prize. You can view the live stream online, and you can join the conversation online using #WorldFoodPrize.


A few facts from the book that may surprise you:

  • In most Western European countries, life expectancy tripled in the period 1750-2000, when food began to be available in large quantities.
  • The history of tens of thousands of years of food scarcity explains our preference for foods high in calories, proteins, and other essential nutrients.
  • All religions attribute moral and psychological properties to food. For example, the kingfisher has been seen as a symbol of abundance and prosperity, and so it was not to be eaten. In many religions fasting, or the resistance of temptation for food, is seen as the highest virtue.
  • In the U.S., the tasteless bun of a hamburger is not the norm because Americans don’t know how to bake bread, but because a certain consistency is needed to bring out the juiciness of the meat. The bun is wrapping, plate, and napkin first and a source of carbohydrates to balance out the protein of the meat second.
  • The earliest archaeological evidence of farming comes from 9,500 years ago.
  • Dependence on food introduced from elsewhere is an ancient phenomenon, reflected in the names used and the confusion surrounding them. For example, in Italian corn is called “grano turco” or “Turkish grain,” the word “Turkey” signifying oriental or exotic and not its actual origin since corn comes from Central America.
  • Without the influence of humans, neither wheat, corn, apples, nor lettuce would ever have evolved from their wild ancestors.
  • 30% of the surface of the earth is used as farmland or pasture.
  • Bread can be a symbol of plenty, but it can also be a symbol of want. There are countless examples in literature of the proverbial poor thief who steals a loaf for his family. Victor Hugo used this trope to great effect in Les Misérables.
  • Bread was so important in Ancient Rome that the killing of a baker was punished three times as severely as the killing of an ordinary citizen.
  • Archaeological remains of sieves suggest that cheese may have been made in the Alps more than 5,000 years ago.
  • In the Netherlands no more than 4.5% of people are vegetarians, in Germany perhaps 9%, and in Italy 10%.

Lara Deeb and Mona Harb win 2014 British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize in Middle Eastern Studies

islamLara Deeb and Mona Harb, authors of Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Mortality in Shi’ite South Beriut, are this year’s winners of the British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize in Middle Eastern Studies! The British-Kuwait Friendship Society awards a prize each year to the best scholarly work in English on the Middle East. Of Leisurely Islam, one reviewer wrote,

Leisurely Islam is a superb book, one that surpasses most studies of contemporary Middle Eastern cities with its sensitivity, its aliveness to theoretical exposition, with the coherence and fluidity of its writing, and with its extraordinary contribution not only to scholarship but to our general understanding – both political and social – of what leisure might mean in the context of a given neighbourhood, what the politics of a neighbourhood are, and how youth participate in both quotidian and high-level politics of their time.

The book is instructive for understanding the particular politics of Lebanon (Who are the people who support Hizbullah? What complex social relations and human lives does the term “Hizbullah stronghold” efface? What are the relationships between the youth in the Dahiya and the youth elsewhere in the city? How are sectarian lines drawn and maintained?), about youth politics today (How does the generational categories intersect with class and sect and gender?), and about what piety might mean in practice. In this latter instance, the book is perhaps most important. What it does is to show us the lived versions of piety rather than the one represented most often not only in mainstream media but also in scholarship. The piety and moral adherence in this book is supple, flexible, and bends to neoliberal and modern versions of economic and social life. That Deeb and Harb know their subject so well and provide such deep, rich, and detailed ethnographies and urban maps show us how impoverished a great deal of writing about faith and piety has become when it does not take account of the lived experiences of the pious subjects.

I really do think this book is one of the best books that has come out in Middle East Studies this year and more deserving of the Kuwait prize than any other book I have reviewed for the Prize over the last few years.”

For more information about the award, the ceremony, or the runners-up, click here. Congratulations to Lara Deeb and Mona Harb on the tremendous and well-deserved accomplishment!

Princeton University Press’s #NewBooks for this week

Books released during the week of October 6, 2014
The <i>Bhagavad Gita</i>: A Biography<br>Richard H. Davis The Bhagavad Gita:
A Biography
Richard H. Davis

“This is an exciting book about an exciting book, namely, the Bhagavad Gita, a text in which Hinduism comes closest to possessing a universal scripture. Davis traces the varying course of its semantic trajectory through history with erudite clarity. A must-read for anyone interested in the Gita.”–Arvind Sharma, author of Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography
Biomolecular Feedback Systems<br>Domitilla Del Vecchio & Richard M. Murray Biomolecular Feedback Systems
Domitilla Del Vecchio & Richard M. Murray

“This is an excellent compendium of the most important techniques and results in the application of feedback and control to biomolecular systems. Biomolecular Feedback Systems is very timely, and a must-read for students and researchers.”–Ernesto Estrada, University of Strathclyde
Birds of New Guinea: Second Edition<br>Thane K. Pratt & Bruce M. Beehler<br>Illustrated by John C. Anderton & Szabolcs Kókay Birds of New Guinea:
Second Edition
Thane K. Pratt & Bruce M. Beehler
Illustrated by John C. Anderton & Szabolcs Kókay

Praise for the first edition:”This book is not only indispensable to any bird-watcher visiting New Guinea and the adjacent islands, but, owing to the wealth of its information, it will be of great interest to anyone who is seriously interested in birds.”–American Scientist
Birds of Western Africa: Second Edition<br>Nik Borrow & Ron Demey Birds of Western Africa:
Second Edition
Nik Borrow & Ron Demey

Praise for the first edition:”Invaluable for serious birders and scientists working in or visiting the area. It would also make an excellent addition to a collection of field guides for home or office use.”–Condor
The Birth of Hedonism: The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life<br>Kurt Lampe The Birth of Hedonism:
The Cyrenaic Philosophers and Pleasure as a Way of Life
Kurt Lampe

“The Cyrenaics were the earliest philosophical hedonists. Evidence for their views is limited, but Kurt Lampe combines expert historical scholarship and imaginative sympathy to offer a compelling account of what they believed, what it might have been like to inhabit their worldview, and why it matters today. His itinerary takes him in the end to Walter Pater, who offered late Victorians the profound experience and attractions of a ‘new Cyrenaicism.’ This is a learned and important book, in which Lampe, like Pater, brings aspects of a lost Greek philosophical past to life.”–Charles Martindale, University of Bristol and University of York
Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America<br>Christopher S. Parker & Matt A. Barreto<br>With a new afterword by the authors Change They Can’t Believe In:
The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America
Christopher S. Parker & Matt A. Barreto
With a new afterword by the authors

“A scathing analysis of the Tea Party movement, linking it in spirit to the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. Taking today’s conservative populists to be dangerous and their ideas self-incriminating, the authors speculate that Tea Party supporters may perceive of social change as subversion. Based on research and interviews, they suggest racism, desire for social dominance . . . drives the Tea Party.”–Publishers Weekly
The Fourth Pig<br>Naomi Mitchison<br>With a new introduction by Marina Warner The Fourth Pig
Naomi Mitchison
With a new introduction by Marina Warner

“At her best, Naomi Mitchison is forthright and witty, writes with brio and passion and lucidity, and conveys a huge appetite for life, for people, for new adventures, and for breaking through barriers.”–From the introduction by Marina Warner
Genealogy of the Tragic: Greek Tragedy and German Philosophy<br>Joshua Billings Genealogy of the Tragic:
Greek Tragedy and German Philosophy
Joshua Billings

“There is no body of work as important for understanding the idea of the tragic as German Idealism, which fundamentally changed modernity’s notions of tragedy. I can think of no better guide to these formidable writings than Joshua Billings, who takes the reader through them with clarity, deep knowledge, and revelatory exposition. A great achievement, this is a book that scholars and students of tragedy have needed for years.”–Simon Goldhill, University of Cambridge
The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy<br>Michael Pettis<br>With a new preface by the author The Great Rebalancing:
Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy
Michael Pettis
With a new preface by the author

“[Michael Pettis is] a brilliant economic thinker.”–Edward Chancellor, Wall Street Journal
How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method<br>G. Polya<br>With a foreword by John Conway How to Solve It:
A New Aspect of Mathematical Method
G. Polya
With a foreword by John Conway

“Every prospective teacher should read it. In particular, graduate students will find it invaluable. The traditional mathematics professor who reads a paper before one of the Mathematical Societies might also learn something from the book: ‘He writes a, he says b, he means c; but it should be d.'”–E. T. Bell, Mathematical Monthly
Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam<br>Jon D. Levenson Inheriting Abraham:
The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Jon D. Levenson

“[T]he figure of Abraham has more often been a battleground than a meeting place. This is the brilliantly elaborated theme of Levenson’s book, which retells the Abraham story while examining the use made of Abraham in later Jewish, Christian, and (to a lesser extent) Muslim thought.”–Adam Kirsch, New York Review of Books
Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America's Largest Church<br>Timothy Matovina Latino Catholicism:
Transformation in America’s Largest Church
Timothy Matovina

“Matovina gives a detailed examination of the different pastoral approaches that have been adopted to deal with the influx of Latino immigrants, with some advocating the need to assimilate quickly to American ways and others preferring to focus on preserving the religious and cultural heritage that the immigrants have brought with them. . . . Matovina’s book should be mandatory reading for all bishops, clergy, and lay leaders, and for anyone else who wants to understand the future of American Catholicism.”–Michael Sean Winters, New Republic
The Life of Roman Republicanism<br>Joy Connolly The Life of Roman Republicanism
Joy Connolly

“As a demonstration of how reading Roman literature becomes absorbing political argument, this book succeeds brilliantly. Joy Connolly possesses a keen mind and her approach is informed by an astonishing stock of contemporary intellectual perspectives. She is also a deeply imaginative reader with a gift for explaining complex ideas lucidly and compellingly. I learned a great deal from this book: about Hannah Arendt and Philip Pettit as well as about Cicero, Sallust, and Horace.”—Andrew Feldherr, Princeton University
The Meaning of Relativity: Including the Relativistic Theory of the Non-Symmetric Field (Fifth Edition)<br>Albert Einstein<br>With a new introduction by Brian Greene The Meaning of Relativity:
Including the Relativistic Theory of the Non-Symmetric Field (Fifth Edition)
Albert Einstein
With a new introduction by Brian Greene

“A condensed unified presentation intended for one who has already gone through a standard text and digested the mechanics of tensor theory and the physical basis of relativity. Einstein’s little book then serves as an excellent tying-together of loose ends and as a broad survey of the subject.”–Physics Today
Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine<br>Lital Levy Poetic Trespass:
Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine
Lital Levy

“This is a work of immense accomplishment dedicated to understanding what it means to write in two languages about a condition of life that is, at once, both shared and separate. Lital Levy’s critical speculations are careful and courageous as her beautiful prose moves back and forth across the borderline of Israel/Palestine, forging a way of moving toward a solidarity built of sorrow and survival, failure and hope. Read Poetic Trespass and reflect anew on the ethical and poetic possibilities of a translational dialogue in a star-crossed region.”–Homi Bhabha, Harvard University
Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest<br>Andrew Needham Power Lines:
Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest
Andrew Needham

“Rarely does a work of history unite so many seemingly disconnected fields of inquiry in such new and exciting ways. Masterfully interweaving urban, Native American, and environmental history, Power Lines is a sobering assessment of Phoenix’s expansive postwar development. The legacies of the region’s coal-powered history continue to shape contemporary politics, spaces, and our shared environmental future, making Power Lines as timely as it is insightful.”–Ned Blackhawk, Yale University
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter<br>Richard P. Feynman<br>With a new introduction by A. Zee QED:
The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
Richard P. Feynman
With a new introduction by A. Zee

“Physics Nobelist Feynman simply cannot help being original. In this quirky, fascinating book, he explains to laymen the quantum theory of light, a theory to which he made decisive contributions.”–The New Yorker
The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction<br>James M. McPherson<br>With a new preface by the author The Struggle for Equality:
Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction
James M. McPherson
With a new preface by the author

“Must surely be assigned an important place in the literature of the history of ideas and of race relations in the United States.”–The Times Literary Supplement
Theories of International Politics and Zombies: Revived Edition<br>Daniel W. Drezner Theories of International Politics and Zombies:
Revived Edition
Daniel W. Drezner

“Drezner . . . comes up with an intriguing intellectual conceit to explain various schools of international political theory. He imagines a world overrun with zombies and considers the likely responses of national governments, the U.N and other international organizations, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs). . . . This slim book is an imaginative and very helpful way to introduce its subject–who knew international relations could be this much fun?”–Publishers Weekly
Theory of Stellar Atmospheres: An Introduction to Astrophysical Non-equilibrium Quantitative Spectroscopic Analysis<br>Ivan Hubeny & Dimitri Mihalas Theory of Stellar Atmospheres:
An Introduction to Astrophysical Non-equilibrium Quantitative Spectroscopic Analysis
Ivan Hubeny & Dimitri Mihalas

“This eagerly anticipated book is an excellent guide for anyone interested in radiation transport in astrophysics, as well as for those wanting to make detailed analyses of astrophysical spectra. Comprehensive, lucid, and stimulating, Theory of Stellar Atmospheres is ideal for students and scientists alike.”–Bengt Gustafsson, Uppsala University
Told Again: Old Tales Told Again<br>Walter de la Mare<br>With a new introduction by Philip Pullman<br>Illustrated by A. H. Watson Told Again:
Old Tales Told Again
Walter de la Mare
With a new introduction by Philip Pullman
Illustrated by A. H. Watson

Praise for previous editions: “Walter de la Mare has given the familiar old tales so much sparkle and humor and romance that they are like new stories.”–Horn Book Magazine
The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future<br>Richard B. Alley<br>With a new preface by the author The Two-Mile Time Machine:
Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future
Richard B. Alley
With a new preface by the author

“Although not all scientists will agree with Alley’s conclusions, [this] engaging book–a brilliant combination of scientific thriller, memoir and environmental science–provides instructive glimpses into our climatic past and global future . . . “–Publisher’s Weekly
Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman<br>Jeremy Adelman Worldly Philosopher:
The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman
Jeremy Adelman

“[A] biography worthy of the man. Adelman brilliantly and beautifully brings Hirschman to life, giving us an unforgettable portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most extraordinary intellectuals. . . . [M]agnificent.”–Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker

Throwback Thursday #TBT: Gladys Reichard’s Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism (1963)

Throwback Thursday: Week 1

Reichard, Navaho Religion
Welcome, one and all, to our first-ever installment of Throwback Thursday – or #TBT, as the kids say. This week’s #TBT goes to Gladys Reichard’s Mythos Series classic, Navaho Religion: A Study of Symbolism (1963).

In this in-depth exploration of the symbols found in Navaho legend and ritual, Gladys Reichard discusses the attitude of the tribe members toward their place in the universe, their obligation toward humankind and their gods, and their conception of the supernatural, as well as how the Navaho achieve a harmony within their world through symbolic ceremonial practice. We’re happy to see this popular text revived through the Princeton Legacy Library, and we hope you are, too. And now, for a little shameless self-promotion:

“This book has been a classic in its field since it was first issued in 1950, and it still stands as uniquely authoritative and intriguingly instructive. . . . [It is] a monument of revelation and insight bridging anthropology, religion, sociology, and history.”–Publishers Weekly

Until next Thursday!

Congratulations to Joseph Masco, author of The Nuclear Borderlands and Winner of the 2014 J.I. Staley Prize

MascoCongratulations to Dr. Joseph Masco, who has been awarded the 2014  J.I. Staley Prize from the School of Advanced Research for his book, The Nuclear Project: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico

The J.I. Staley Prize is presented to a living author for a book that “exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. The award recognizes innovative works that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology and add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species. It honors books that cross subdisciplinary boundaries within anthropology and reach out in new and expanded interdisciplinary directions.”

The prize, which carries a cash award of $10,000, is presented at an award ceremony hosted by the School for Advanced Research during the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

Dr. Masco is a Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, teaching courses on a wide range of subjects, from national security and culture to political ecology and technology. He received a B.A. in the Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington (1986), and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego (1991, 1999).

It’s Getting Hot in Here: Eric H. Cline’s New York Times Op-Ed on the Perils of Climate Change

5-28 Bronze Age CollapseIn the eye of the storm – that is to say, in the unrelenting public discussion that is climate change – author Eric H. Cline’s latest Op-Ed for The New York Times packs quite a gale force.

Holding both ancient and contemporary society up to the proverbial light, Cline asks if we’re really all that different from our forebears and whether or not we’re capable of avoiding a similarly abrupt end.

Eric H. Cline, a Professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University and the Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute,  doesn’t hesitate to present these very early, and very scary repercussions of environmental catastrophe. He reminds readers that these events have acted as catalysts of warfare and harbingers of destruction since the days of old, or, more specifically, since the tail-end of the Late Bronze Age.

In his new book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed, Cline reveals that the thriving cultures within Egypt, Greece, and Mesopotamia didn’t necessarily succumb to the military prowess of the ‘Sea Peoples’ alone, but rather, fell victim to Mother Nature herself: earthquakes, changes in water temperature, drought, and famine hearkened in a period of rebellion, followed by complete ruin.

“We still do not know the specific details of the collapse at the end of the Late Bronze Age or how the cascade of events came to change society so drastically. But it is clear that climate change was one of the primary drivers or stressors, leading to the societal breakdown.”

The real question Cline seems to be getting at is: “Why not us?” We’re no more able to control the weather than they were – or are we? Recent debates about global warming suggest that we might just be able to put off our own demise, at least temporarily.

What happens if we don’t change our habits, however, is less certain; but Cline is fairly convinced, based on the evidence from his book, that it won’t be good. For him, the possibility of total collapse is far from the realm of the ridiculous, and his article is not so much a threat as it is a warning. Maybe if we know what brought our ancestors into the Dark Ages, we can stay in a light for just a little while longer.


Eric H. Cline is the author of:

5-28 Cline 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline Hardcover | 2014 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691140896
264 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 halftones. 2 maps. | eBook | ISBN: 9781400849987
Reviews Table of Contents Prologue[PDF]

Untranslatable Tuesdays – Gender

Cassin gender image

To mark the publication of Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon, we are delighted to share a series of playful graphics by our design team which illustrate some of the most interesting terms from the Dictionary. For week five in the “Untranslatable Tuesdays” series we present Gender:

FRENCH différence des sexes, identité sexuelle, genre

GERMAN Geschlecht

ITALIAN genere

SPANISH género

What’s in a name?: Gregory Clark examines how ancestry and names still determine social outcomes


By Hannah Lucas, Princeton University Press intern

son also risesEarlier this year, an Icelandic 15-year-old formally known on official documents as ‘Girl’ won the right to have her first name recognised by the authorities as Blaer. It was previously illegal for the name Blaer to be given to girls; it was restricted to use as a boy’s name. This case emphasises the ongoing regulations on first names in a number of countries, such as Germany, Sweden, China and Japan- in Germany, for instance, surnames are banned as first names. These constraints purportedly serve to protect children from distress, should their parents choose an inappropriate name. Yet how much does a name affect us as we go through life? We are assigned a first name, but our surname follows as a legacy of our family’s history. Indeed, names and the ancestral background that they evoke have ascribed social status for many years, whether this is restricting or elevating. The everyday significance of surnames and ancestry may have diminished from the historical rigid traditions of lineage, but it has not gone away, as Gregory Clark explores in The Son Also Rises. Clark uses modern Scandinavia as one of his areas of study, parallel to a diverse selection of cases, including fourteenth-century England and Qing Dynasty China.

The Son Also Rises deals with the potentialities of choice and predetermination in relation to ancestry and social mobility. As exemplified in the case of ‘Girl’, or Blaer as she is now known, modern-day Iceland – among many – impedes the choice of parents in the naming of their child, acting as a predetermining factor not dissimilar to that of a family history. Clark offers a fascinating insight into the significance of being out of control of the naming process, and how much these circumstances affect movement on the social ladder. He explores the influence of ancestors’ names and reputations on their descendants, and how long it takes to dislodge these connections, ultimately examining society’s response to whether ‘A rose / By any other name would smell as sweet’.

The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility by Gregory Clark was published last month.


Waiting for José wins the 2013 Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association

Shapira_Waiting for JoseHarel Shapira – Waiting for José: The Minutemen’s Pursuit of America

Winner of a 2013 Southwest Book Award, Border Regional Library Association

“Since 1971 the Southwest Book Awards have been presented in recognition of outstanding books about the Southwest published each year in any genre (e.g. fiction, nonfiction, reference) and directed toward any audience (scholarly, popular, children). Original video and audio materials are also considered.”  An awards banquet was held in El Paso on February 22, 2014.

Here is a complete list of the 2013 winners:

About the book: Harel Shapira lived with the Minutemen and patrolled the border with them, seeking neither to condemn nor praise them, but to understand who they are and what they do. Challenging simplistic depictions of these men as right-wing fanatics quick on the trigger, Shapira discovers a group of men who long for community and embrace the principles of civic engagement. Yet these desires and convictions have led them to a troubling place.

Shapira takes you to that place–a stretch of desert in southern Arizona, where he reveals that what draws these men to the border is not simply racism or anti-immigrant sentiments, but a chance to relive a sense of meaning and purpose rooted in an older life of soldiering. They come to the border not only in search of illegal immigrants, but of lost identities and experiences.

Sample the introduction of Waiting for José here: