Ken Reed on the Princeton Legacy Library

The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since our founding in 1905. Using the latest print-on-demand technology, we have been making this important scholarly heritage available for a new generation of readers. The effort has been particularly relevant in developing nations, where access was not previously available. Over 2,300 titles are currently back in print and over 27,000 have been sold, with the top selling titles hailing from a wide range of disciplines. And now, all the existing Princeton Legacy Library titles have been released in hardcover format as well.

Today PUP sat down for a Q&A with our Digital Production Manager, Ken Reed, who has been overseeing the monumental effort to reconnect readers to this treasure trove of scholarship.

What is the Princeton Legacy Library (PLL) project? How was it conceived?

For years, the press had been interested in bringing out-of-print titles back into print. After much discussion among our senior management, the project received approval and the Press moved ahead with a massive digitization project. The project had two primary goals: bringing as many out-of-print titles back into print as possible, and a much more ambitious goal to create digital assets for all our publications, no matter the status.

To that end, nearly 3,000 titles will end up in the Princeton Legacy Library project. So far we have brought nearly 2,400 titles back into print, both as paper and now as hard case. We are also creating web PDFs for each title for library aggregators.

The titles in the project range from 1915–1999—nearly 100 years of the Press’s scholarship is represented in this series.

Can you explain some of the production details for the PLL titles? How did PUP go about digitizing the books and bringing them back into print?

All of the titles were scanned at a high quality, but our goal was to preserve the text as is. So, we haven’t made any revisions to the original content. Every title has been reviewed for quality prior to publication—a very time consuming process, indeed.

Since in most cases we did not have access to the original covers in print-ready format, we decided early on to have a series design cover created. This was done by the distinguished graphic design firm, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

Our partnership with Ingram was crucial in bringing these titles back into print. We have set up these titles at Ingram through their print-on-demand (POD) technology. Additionally, the covers were auto-generated from our metadata by Ingram, except in some cases where we had to manually adjust them.

Of course, the book interiors and covers were only part of the process. Reviewing and updating the metadata was a key task that had to be undertaken.

Can you explain the metadata process in more detail?

Since we have titles going back to 1915, we had to ensure that we had all the necessary metadata. This includes confirming the bibliographic information—title, subtitle, author—as well as subject codes for the book industry and our web site.

Perhaps more importantly, we had to ensure that we had book descriptions for all of these titles. We digitized seasonal catalogs going back to the 1960s from our own records, and the archives at the Princeton University Library had seasonal catalogs going back to 1914. The Library digitized these catalogs for us, and have been very supportive of the project overall. In fact, from time to time we need to re-scan pages from book interiors, and we often use Library books for this purpose.

Finally, we reviewed all the titles for rights information before publication. Since we were dealing with titles that have been out-of-print for years, in many cases rights have reverted to the authors.

Browse the Princeton Legacy Library here.

2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellows include PUP authors

Andrew Carnegie Fellows are selected for their significant work in social sciences and humanities. This year, we congratulate five of our authors on being chosen for this prestigious honor.

John Bowen, author of On British Islam

Bowen

Lawrence Douglas, author of The Right Wrong Man

Douglas

Taylor Fravel, author of Strong Borders, Secure Nation

Fravel

Anna Grzymala-Busse, author of Nations under God

Busse

Vesla Weaver, co-author of Creating a New Racial Order

Weaver

Who Am I?

LevineIn Stranger in the Mirror, Robert Levine argues that the self is unfixed, constantly changing, and, ultimately, a fiction. The way we see ourselves and the version of ourselves we present to others can vary widely from moment to moment.

To see his theory in action, there is an easy psychological test you can try, described in Chapter 14 of the book. On a blank sheet of paper, write “Who am I?” at the top and then answer that question 20 times. Next, have two others answer “Who is (your name)?” 20 times. Where do the answers align? Where are they different? What accounts for those differences? The results will be an interesting insight into what makes you, you.

According to Levine, Americans tend to come up with 20 answers about themselves fairly quickly, usually in the form of sweeping psychological traits (kind, outgoing). Stephen Cousins, a social psychologist who worked for a time in Japan, found that people there had a harder time with the test. They did not come up with answers as quickly, and the answers they did come up with were general and not very informative. They listed physical traits, their professions etc. They rarely listed psychological traits. However, when Cousins changed the test and asked “Who am I at home” or “Who am I at school,” the Japanese test subjects responded with more detail than the Americans did. In Japan, the self is all about context. Robert Levine goes into much more detail on the different ideas of “self” across cultures in Chapter 15 of Stranger in the Mirror.

For another snippet from the book, check out our poll on the PUP Facebook.

If you’ve ever wondered about the possibilities and limits of the self, then Robert Levine’s intriguing book is for you.

Taxing the Rich

Taxing the RichIf you didn’t file your taxes on April 15th, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Thanks to the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia, the tax deadline was switched to April 18 this year. Already ahead of the game? While the final hours tick down, we have just the history of fiscal fairness for you.

In Taxing the Rich, Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage analyze the history of taxes and take a look at when and why countries tax their wealthiest citizens. The authors argue that governments don’t tax the rich simply because of striking inequality—they do it when its citizens believe that such taxes compensate for the state unfairly privileging the wealthy. What matters most is society’s views on how the inequality is being generated in the first place.

The Atlantic recently wrote about the book, including quotes from Scheve and Stasavage:

Relative to the past 200 years of U.S. history, how heavily are the rich being taxed today? Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage, professors of political science at Stanford University and New York University respectively, looked into when countries have taxed their wealthiest citizens most heavily, and what societal conditions might have produced those tax rates. In a project that took five years, the two constructed databases of tax rates and policies in 20 countries over the last two centuries in order to answer those questions. They recently published this research in a book, Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe.

One of their motivations for starting the project was a disconnect they noticed between rising inequality and static tax rates. “With inequality rising over the last three or four decades, why have there not been public policies that seem to address that in an important and substantive way?” says Scheve. But while it would seem intuitive that taxes would increase at the times when inequality is highest, Scheve and Stasavage found that this relationship hasn’t held true over the course of history.

You can read the full piece in The Atlantic here, and an exclusive interview with Scheve and Stasavage here.

Paula S. Fass: Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Get the Youth Vote

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by Paula S. Fass

Paula FassWith her long history of engagement in matters relating to children and families, Hillary Clinton’s failure to inspire young people is notable and, at least initially, puzzling. Compared to Bernie Sanders, who is a youth magnet, she has failed to speak to the Millennial Generation or even the Generation Xers. A little probing, however, may suggest why this is the case.

Hillary Clinton – successful career woman, wife of a young governor and a young president and mother of a dynamic daughter —doesn’t feel their pain. She seems incapable of understanding and sympathizing with the problems of several generations of post 1980s young adults for whom success in careers and in family formation has become extremely challenging. For these people, the global competition for talent and a sexual revolution that Hillary’s generation initiated have complicated career choices and confounded expectations about childbearing and childrearing.

Careers first. Hillary’s generation of women (those who graduated from college in the 1960s and 1970s) which is also my own generation, were challenged to break down barriers in law, medicine, the academy, the police, government, business, etc. We feel very strongly that our careers have been hard fought for and that we won. Young women today do not face the same challenges of breaking through barriers and ceilings, nor do they experience the same sense of victory. Instead, both young women and young men face intense competitive pressures in careers that have been changed profoundly by technology and the fact that their competitors do not always sit alongside them at colleges and professional schools. Doctors fear losing the benefit of their skills to new computer programs and apps, professors to MOOCs, young lawyers and accountants to Indian workshops where poorly paid apprentices can do their work at a much lower price. Women’s growing equality in the acquisition of professional degrees had already intensified competition for highly sought-after positions (in schools and at the work place) in the United States even before the consequences of new technologies kicked in. In a newly globalized economy, the sense of competition has become brutal as has the vision of looming threat to expensively acquired competence.

It is not clear that Hillary, with all her smarts and her experience as a professional woman, understands this. Neither does Bernie Sanders, except that he, at least, offers two possible responses: stop the hemorrhaging of jobs that has resulted from free trade agreements and control Wall Street and the banks which underwrite global competition. While neither of these are likely to solve all the problems they face, young Americans respond to Sander’s firm confidence that something is very wrong with late stage global capitalism and that we need to get a grip on the process which has moved from industrial production initially to highly compensated, well-schooled cognitive-based professional areas today. If high-powered computers can successfully compete with the world’s best chess and “go” players, merely graduating from college is not going to solve the problems faced by most young Americans who can’t get an effective perch in the new economy– and all those young people supporting Sanders know it.

Home life and children. The enormous increase in out-of-wedlock birth over the past two generations in the United States (almost 40% of all children in the U. S. today are born outside of marriage) is not simply a product of the sexual revolution that Hillary Clinton’s generation initiated. Although greater sexual freedom removed the terrible shame once attached to unwed pregnancy, other things also helped to create this phenomenon. For those with less than a college education and minimally marketable skills, an important factor is the loss of regular decent wages. For blue collar families in the past, family life was supported by wages earned by male breadwinners, often supplemented by their wives’ earnings. Those wages have disappeared, at least in part because of the off-shoring of factory work that was given a huge boost during the Bill Clinton presidency. Men who do not have regular jobs often do not marry and their girlfriends do not consider them good marriage prospects. The erosion of once stable family lives has left millions of working women, whose clerical jobs have not as fully evaporated (yet), with children to take care of by themselves, either because they never married or because they are divorced. Their lives are defined by struggling to make-do as they try to find safe and inexpensive childcare, and negotiate more than one job at random hours, while precariously trying to fit together being a good mother and making a living.

Professional women, who have husbands or ex’s, also have it tough but their access to money (and credit) eases some of the worst aspects of this situation. They hire nannies and send their children to excellent daycare and preschools. They can more readily pay for services to make sure that their children receive the preparation they need to succeed in school. College women today and those who have recently graduated from college have observed this process with trepidation. Trained to succeed, accustomed to being evaluated, they are anxious to do it all well, both in their careers and in their childrearing. They have seen the difficulties and costs of this balancing in the working women around them, and in the lives of their mothers and their teachers. They are fully aware that delaying having children can be costly in declining fertility after age 35. They know that new reproductive technologies can be both helpful and disappointing. Young women are puzzled by how to combine fulfilling careers with satisfying home lives; they would like to do both well. But the sense of a noble undertaking, that Hillary’s generation experienced and kept women struggling to succeed, is now faded. The hard work and the frustration remain. Today’s hovering, anxiety-driven mothers are one result of the striving for a completely successful life. Another is the fact that there is a growing tendency for professional women to drop out of their careers in order to devote themselves to raising successful children.

Does successful Hillary, whose daughter was raised in the White House and moved smoothly into Stanford and then on to McKinsey, understand this generation of women’s anxiety about their own careers, their desires to succeed as mothers, and their worries about their children’s futures? I think that she simply does not get it. She does not feel their pain and has no solution for their dilemmas, either in her own experience or in her policies, except for parental leave. And even here she does not see how our society can afford to have this leave paid for. Hillary is very practical and pushes her realism, but in this area she is neither practical nor realistic.

Bernie Sanders may not have solutions either, but he gets the squeeze that young Americans are feeling. His answers may be too pat and repetitive, but at least he makes young people believe that he wants to respond to their very real problems.

FassPaula S. Fass is professor of the Graduate School and the Margaret Byrne Professor of History Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley. The author of Kidnapped and Children of a New World, she recently edited The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World. Fass lives in Berkeley, California. Her latest book is The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child.

Jackie Robinson: Militant Black Republican

The Loneliness of the Black RepublicanToday is Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of the day in 1947 on which Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black player in eighty years to play major league baseball.

Not only was Robinson an outstanding athlete, playing in six world series and named Most Valuable Player in the National League in 1949, he became a powerful voice in the burgeoning civil rights movement. But Robinson raised his voice from within the Republican party.

Leah Wright Rigueur (The Loneliness of the Black Republican) tells the story:

On a Saturday evening in February of 1966, over a thousand mostly white Republican men and women crowded into a Cleveland hotel banquet hall, eager to hear Jackie Robinson’s opening keynote for the annual Ohio Republican Conference. The baseball icon-turned-political activist did not disappoint.

“I am not what is known as a good Republican,” Robinson declared upon taking the stage. “I am certainly not a safe Republican. I am weary of the black man going hat in hand, shoulders hunched and knee pads worn, to ‘Uncle Tom’ to the enemies of our progress.”

Read the rest of the story at The Root.

Bird Fact Friday – Southern Africa: A Birder’s Paradise

From page 10 of Birds of Southern Africa:

Southern Africa encompasses Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and southern and central Mozambique, as well as oceanic waters within 200 nautical miles of the coast. In total it covers a land area of approximately 3.5 million square kilometers and has incredible diversity in its bird life. More birds breed in Southern Africa than in the United States and Canada combined. Currently, there are 951 known species, 144 of which are endemic or near-endemic. One of the reasons for this high bird diversity is the region’s climatic and topographical diversity. The climate ranges from cool-temperate in the southwest to hot and tropical in the north.

Birds of Southern Africa Fourth Edition 
Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton & Peter Ryan
Africa

 

Birds of Southern Africa continues to be the best and most authoritative guide to the bird species of this remarkable region. This fully revised edition covers all birds found in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and southern Mozambique. The 213 dazzling color plates depict more than 950 species and are accompanied by more than 950 color maps and detailed facing text.

This edition includes new identification information on behavior and habitat, updated taxonomy, additional artwork, improved raptor and wader plates with flight images for each species, up-to-date distribution maps reflecting resident and migrant species, and calendar bars indicating occurrence throughout the year and breeding months.

National Poetry Month: Featured reading by Gary Whitehead

j9947Throughout this April, Princeton University Press is honoring National Poetry Month with a variety of special and exclusive audio readings. Today we’re proud to feature poet, high school teacher, and crossword constructor Gary Whitehead. Whitehead’s subjects are diverse, ranging from morality to illness, incorporating imagery from the Civil War to Noah as an old man. His work has a striking musical quality. Whitehead’s most recent collection is A Glossary of Chickens: Poems.

Listen to the poet read “A Glossary of Chickens” below.

Gary J. Whitehead is a poet, teacher, and crossword constructor. His third collection of poems, A Glossary of Chickens, was published by Princeton University Press in 2013. His previous books include Measuring Cubits while the Thunder Claps and The Velocity of Dust. He has also authored three chapbooks of poetry, two of which were winners of national competitions. His writing awards include, among others, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship at Iowa State University, and the PEN Northwest Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency Award. He has also been awarded the Princeton University Distinguished Secondary School Teaching Award. His poems have appeared widely, most notably in The New Yorker. He lives in the Hudson Valley of New York and teaches English and creative writing at Tenafly High School in New Jersey.

Amy Binder: The Provocative Politics of the Republican Party

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by Amy Binder

Not so long ago, you might have been surprised to learn that conservative college students held events specifically designed to provoke, not illuminate, their liberal and moderate peers, faculty, and administrators. During Catch an Illegal Alien Day, students who pose as undocumented immigrants are imprisoned when caught by other students posing as border guards. At the Global Warming Beach Party, students mock the science of climate change with suntan oil and beer. At Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative student organizers charge white customers more for their cookies and cupcakes than they do black or Latino students—a fitting analogy, according to event organizers, of the harms visited upon white students by affirmative action policies.

But organize these events conservative students did, with the financial assistance and play-by-play handbooks produced by the Young America’s Foundation, a well-funded conservative organization that supports right-leaning students. The “provocative style” of these events that I and my co-author Kate Wood wrote about in our PUP book Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives is not meant to reach out to liberals and moderates or to persuade them of conservative positions on immigration, environmental degradation, or race. Rather, the style is meant to enrage liberals on their campus, prod them into aggresively confronting event organizers, and then accuse the liberals who have been inflamed of being biased and intolerant toward them. We found that the provocative style is much less likely to take hold on campuses where there is a palpable sense of closeness and community (such as at a private elite university) and much more likely to be used at larger institutions where students are more anonymous to one another and their professors.

While you might have been surprised to learn about this campus style in years past, the only surprising thing about the provocative style today is that eight years ago it was students who were engaging in it, not the Republican party’s rank and file and torch bearers. In the time since we collected our data, this coarsening style has come to dominate the GOP. Shortly after the election of Barack Obama, members of the Tea Party ridiculed the president as a jungle bunny, witch doctor, and Muslim Marxist. In 2013, Congressional Republicans shut down the government trying to defund the president’s Affordable Care Act and, in 2016, most Senate Republicans refuse to even meet with Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court.

This year’s election cycle is the apotheosis of provocation. Donald Trump calls Mexican immigrants “rapists,” Syrian refugees “terrorists,” and has successfully drawn his opponents into slugfests about everything from penis size to the attractiveness of their wives. Even while Mitt Romney, the Koch brothers, and other establishment leaders and funders bemoan the fallen state of their party, voters turn out in droves to hear Trump rail on his opponents and their “stupid,” “loser” policies. Today, we are witnessing the ability of the provocative style—sometimes merely obstructionist, sometimes purely aggressive—to drown out deliberative policy discourse. This has been happening for years—not just this election season, as the Romneys of the world would have us believe—and it begs us to see what lessons we can learn from college campuses.

First, we can see that style, not substance, is mainly what is at issue here. In this primary season, unprecedented provocation is driving huge numbers of die-hard Trump supporters to back him no matter what he says, substantively. They love how he says what he says, not what he says which, after all, can change from speech to speech. Many observers have also noted that when you strip away variances in style, the stated policy differences between Trump and his Republican detractors are not so vast—such as on abortion, climate change, and immigration. But Trump’s voters prefer Trump’s style over Cruz’s and the other competitors who have since left the race. All of this is to say that we have under-estimated the power of style vs. substance in politics for far too long. We saw this on college campuses 8 years ago.

Second, it’s important to think about the links between college-age politics and the way people will participate in electoral and institutional politics later in life. I don’t have the longitudinal data to make causal claims about the students we interviewed in our book, but if campuses are incubators for political action, as our study shows, university leaders would do well to minimize provocation today to save politics tomorrow. Creating organizational structures that help students feel connected to the campus, and part of a community, would be a smart move, no matter how large the institution. If colleges and universities can create campus cultures that attempt to strengthen a sense of civic community among students, faculty, and administrators; and which foster a tolerance for ideological pluralism, then perhaps we have at least one means for crafting a more respectful national political discourse in the future.

becoming right jacket binderAmy J. Binder is professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools (Princeton). She is also the author of Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives.

Robert Levine: The self is an act of creation

levine jacket stranger in the mirrorAre we all multiple personalities? In Stranger in the Mirror: The Scientific Search for the Self, award-winning professor of psychology Robert Levine explores the malleability of the self, showing how transformation is the human condition at virtually every level. Recently he took the time to answer a few questions about Stranger in the Mirror.

You’ve been teaching and writing about social psychology for close to forty years. Your books have targeted one interesting topic after another, ranging from how different cultures keep time and which countries are most helpful toward strangers to the psychology of persuasion, cults and mind control. Yet you say this was the most interesting project you’ve ever worked on. Why?

RL: Not only the most interesting but, quite unexpectedly, the longest. I began this book a good ten years ago and I’d been studying many of the issues for a three decades before that. I initially expected it to be a one or two year project. I was going to write a book about the malleability of the self from the perspective of my home discipline of social psychology. It would be a treatise in the spirit of our guiding mantra: the power of the situation to transform people in ways that often take them by surprise, sometimes for the better but all too often for the catastrophically worse. For background, however, I thought I’d dabble into a few key discoveries through the lenses of the hard sciences—anatomy, genetics, medicine, neuroscience and the like. Once I opened these doors, however, the notion of dabbling went out the window. I was absolutely blown away by what I discovered. Every step led to a new story or a research program or piece of writing or artwork that topped the one before. It’s been a remarkable journey–as you say, the most interesting project I’ve ever worked on.

Can you give me an example?

RL: Here’s one from early on. I was working on a chapter about identical twins. I was interested in what the presence of a genetic duplicate does to one’s sense of individuality and selfhood. What does it say about the boundary between self and other? This led me to a small group of identical twins who’d been raised apart but, for one reason or another, had met up in adulthood. I was fascinated by the stories they told about what it was like to set eyes on a person who was not only their physical mirror-image but oftentimes their behavioral clone.

This led me to dig deeper into the genetics of twin-hood, at which point I was introduced to a condition whereby an individual consists of a mosaic of two distinct genomes. One woman I write about, for example, endured accusations of fraud when a test (in preparation for a kidney donation) revealed that her DNA didn’t match that of her son. Fortunately, a curious physician decided to conduct more detailed tests where it was discovered that the woman was composed of a mosaic of distinctly different DNA. Some of her organs showed the originally-found DNA pattern but others revealed a second pattern and this second pattern matched that of her son. The woman was a human chimera. She was, literally, biological twins. Now what does that mean for one’s notion of a self?

That led to an even more astonishing finding. A geneticist I was interviewing steered me toward ongoing work on a condition known as microchimerism. It turns out that, as a result of blood exchange in utero, many of us—some researchers now believe almost all of us—contain a cadre of our mother’s genetically distinct cells and she contains a cadre of ours. Psychologists argue about conditions like so-called multiple personality disorder. But could it be that we are all, literally, multiple people?

Does this mean you became less interested in the psychology?

RL: Not at all. These perspectives reframed, redirected and pushed me beyond what I thought I knew about the self from the perspective of psychology. I was surprised, in fact, at how seamlessly the questions raised at the level of microbiology sparked new questions at the level of human experience. This led to other multidisciplinary journeys that carried me not only to academic social and behavioral science research but to the insights of writers and philosophers and, from there, to the revolutions created by current technology. To continue with the genetics example: The notion of biologically multiple people led me to the world of doppelgangers and, in particular, to the razor sharp insights of writers like Dostoevsky and Robert Louis Stevenson (as in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

But wait, I thought. Who needs fictional doppelgangers when almost anyone can now create their very own avatar? And once you begin looking into avatars it becomes clear that, before long, technology will allow our virtual creations to manifest as three dimensional holograms who walk among us. They won’t only appear to be real, they’ll be able to move and sound exactly like a real person—including like yourself if you so choose. As many of you as you want. How will this alter our sense of self and individuality? I then conducted my own research to answer questions like these.

A lot of your earlier writing, notably your book “A Geography of Time,” compares the mindsets of different countries and cultures. Does culture bear on the notion of a self?

RL: Absolutely and in the most fundamental ways. People raised in the United States, for example, tend to think of themselves as unique and independent. “A man’s got to be what a man’s got to be,” as the old John Wayne cowboy used to say. But in many parts of the world—most parts, in fact—there is a much fuzzier boundary between one’s self and other people. It’s what we refer to in social psychology as an interdependent view of the self. In one of our own studies, for example, we asked people from different countries to draw a circle representing themselves and a series of additional circles representing other people in their lives, and to then arrange the circles in a drawing that expressed how all of them fit together. Americans usually drew the biggest circle for themselves and placed it in the center of the picture, so that the other circles flared out like little satellites in their social universe. And, most telling, they almost always left spaces between the circles.

But when I showed the American drawings to my colleague Hong Ni, who grew up in China, she found it hard to believe Americans really think this way. “The self is too big,” she said. And, “Why are there spaces between the circles?,” she asked. Hong’s comments pretty well described the drawings we got from people in countries like Japan and China, where the self was rarely the biggest circle and it almost always overlapped with one or more of the others.

Other studies have found, in fact, that people in cultures like these find it hard to answer sweeping questions like “Who are you?” They need to be offered a specific context. They have little trouble, for example, answering questions like “Who are you when you’re with your mother?” or “Who are you when you’re with your best friend?” Americans, on the other hand, can rattle off answers to the question “Who are you?” with little trouble.

Think about this. If you were raised in the United States, you will probably spend your life feeling that you are an independent, ultimately separate human being at the center of your personal universe. If you’d happen to have been raised in Japan or China, however, you’d have little sense of personal identity except in your relationships to other people. Uniqueness and individuality wouldn’t matter much to you. It would be a fundamentally different sense of what it means to be you.

Your book obviously takes a wide-ranging view of the self. You tackle the issues from an extraordinarily broad range of disciplines at multiple levels. You also shift from academic research to case studies, anecdotes and personal experience. This can make for interesting reading but did you feel like any of it fit together?

RL: Perhaps the most remarkable discovery I made along this ten-plus-year journey was how effortlessly the findings from so many disparate disciplines led to the same overarching conclusions or, at least, the same questions. Let me list four: First, the boundaries that separate self from non-self are vague, quirky, and fickle. This seems to be true no matter where we look–from the microscopic biological level, where we are literally part us, part other, all the way up to the level of personal experience, where the boundaries of the self may be perceived as anywhere from the confines of one’s body to an entire village depending on who you are and how you were educated. Second, we are more like a republic than an individual, a collection of the many and diverse. We see this in everything from our genetic underpinnings, to the voices in our heads, to the persona we present to the world. And these various selves often seem to have minds of their own. They can be self-centered, pigheaded, and unconcerned with what happens to other facets of ourselves. Sometimes, in fact, the subselves go into battle with each other, our own personal civil wars. Third, we are malleable to the core. Everything about us, from our bodies to our neural circuitry to our personalities, from situation to situation and one time frame to another, is ever-changing.

Just who are we, then?

RL: You mean, is there such a thing as a real self? Not really, at least not as we imagine it to be. The self is story we tell ourselves, a narrative that gives our life meaning. It creates an identity that allows us to maneuver the world. But good storytelling shouldn’t be confused with factual reporting. The realities are vague, arbitrary, and utterly intangible.

This is starting to sound depressing. Is that what you’re suggesting?

RL: Am I saying we should all just pack up and go to the beach? Not in the least. Our changeability, in fact, is where the possibilities begin. This brings me to my fourth theme. Fluidity creates malleability and this malleability unleashes a wealth of potential. The very features of our self that can be so problematic—its arbitrary boundaries, multiplicity, and malleability—create possibilities for change. And this, too, emerges at multiple levels, from the micro to the macro. We discover new visions of our possible selves in epigenetics, bacterial implants, organ transplants, virtual reality and other artificial technology and, I’m proud to say, through new breakthroughs in my own discipline of psychology. The self is what we make of it. It is an act of creation. As we teach in one program I work with: Everyone is, literally, a hero-in-waiting.

Robert V. Levine is an award-winning professor of psychology at California State University, Fresno. He is former president of the Western Psychological Association and the author of A Geography of Time (Basic) and The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold (Wiley). His writing has appeared in the New York Times, American Scientist, Discover, and other publications. He divides his time between Gualala and Fresno, California. His most recent book is Stranger in the Mirror: The Scientific Search for the Self.