Category Archives: Books and Arts

Professor Michael Wood Fends off Conspiracy Theories to Award a Highly Regarded Literary Prize

Professor Michael Wood

Professor Michael Wood

Every year a panel of five judges spends the better part of a year reading, analyzing, and debating the best literature that the English-writing world has produced in the last 12 months. At the end of that year, the judges award the Man Booker Prize for the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom. For years, this process has been the center of intense scrutiny.

This year, the chair of judges was literary critic and Princeton professor of comparative literature emeritus Michael Wood. On Oct. 21, a week after the winner was announced, Wood hosted a public conversation at Princeton about the judging process, telling his audience that it involved a lot more reading — and a lot less excitement — than people like to believe. “The more interesting aspect of the prize is not what actually happens, but what people think happens — the conspiracy theories, who bribed who, theories about passing on drugs. Actually, we had this fairly boring meeting by those criteria. No promises of future employment, no twisting of people’s arms,” Wood said. “It’s less like a conspiracy theory than game theory.” Continue reading

Killer Care: Can the Medical Profession Learn From Its Mistakes?

James B. Lieber ’71

James B. Lieber ’71

In Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America’s Third Largest Cause of Death, and What Can be Done About It, James B. Lieber ’71 recounts enough medical tragedies — a college freshman’s death from a drug interaction, a young girl’s death due to a mismatched blood type — to make the most willing patient worry.

Lieber, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer, spent more than a decade researching medical errors after his mentor, a prominent attorney, died from a prescription overdose following a lung transplant. A victim of misdiagnosis himself — he almost had his toes amputated in a “never event,” a surgery the medical profession admits never should have happened — Lieber wants to give consumers a wake-up call.

“My goal is to bring this atrocious social problem that kills upwards of a quarter of a million people per year to the attention of the public,” Lieber says in an email. “Like Ralph Nader [’55], I think people have a right to be free from physical mayhem caused by businesses, including health care.” Continue reading

Sociologist Czerniawski ’03 Goes Undercover as a Plus-Sized Model

Amanda Czerniawski ’03

Amanda Czerniawski ’03

Amanda Czerniawski ’03 was a trained sociologist, a former child actor, and a graduate from two of America’s best universities when she decided to spend more than two years working as a model in New York City. At a size 10, Czerniawski had always thought of her body as average-sized, but in the fashion industry, she — like all women who wear more than a size eight — is considered plus-sized.

Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Sized Modeling is part memoir, part academic study. Czerniawski, who has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and is on the faculty of the sociology department at Temple University, punctuates her experiences as a model with interviews, sociological theory, and research on the modeling industry. Going from casting calls and agency meetings to hours-long hair and make-up sessions, Czerniawski discovered that plus-sized modeling both validated and challenged her self-esteem. “Here I was, a Princeton grad, the product of these super institutions, and it didn’t matter,” she says. “In fact, it hindered me because I wanted to speak up, and I wasn’t allowed to. I was judged before I even opened my mouth.” Continue reading

Masello ’74’s Novel Combines World War II, Einstein, and the Supernatural

Robert Masello ’74

Robert Masello ’74

It is 1944, and World War II is still roiling Europe. Lucas Athan, the hero of Robert Masello ’74’s novel The Einstein Prophecy, has just returned to his post as an art history professor at Princeton after a stint as an army lieutenant. Sometimes it almost feels as if he never left — and then he remembers the black patch that now covers the spot where his left eye used to be, before he lost it in an accident on his last army mission.

The Egyptian sarcophagus he was sent to recover is at Princeton for study, and Lucas starts to suspect that there might be more to it than initially appears. Archaeologist Simone Rashid arrives with cryptic warnings about the sarcophagus, which she claims to have discovered with her father. Then strange events involving Albert Einstein, who is Lucas’ neighbor, begin to occur. As Lucas and Simone work together to untangle the mystery, it becomes clear that their work has landed them in a struggle between good and unmitigated evil. Continue reading

Williams ’87 Writes of Shipwreck and Ruin on the High Seas

Naomi Williams ’87

Naomi Williams ’87

In 1785, two frigates with 200 men aboard left Europe intending to circumnavigate the globe. For the glory of France and the chance to put their names on the ever-expanding map, these men and their leader, La Pérouse, took their microscopes, telescopes, and Enlightenment ideals to the high seas. Less than four years later, both ships had mysteriously disappeared, wrecked on a coral atoll in the South Pacific. Every man on board was lost, his final story destined to be forgotten. But what happened in those intervening years as they sailed from the southern tip of South America to the eastern coast of Russia and on to the newly mapped continent of Australia?

landfallsIn Landfalls: A Novel, Naomi Williams ’87 follows the historic journey of the La Pérouse expedition. Drawing on extensive research, she narrates each chapter from a different perspective and place. In one chapter, a native Alaskan Tlingit child tries to make sense of the Europeans’ arrival in her bay. In another, a lieutenant mourns the massacre of his shipmates in the Navigator Islands. The story ends in tragedy, but the shipwreck is by no means the most interesting thing that happens in this novel — cultures, storm systems, and individuals clash in fascinating ways.

The New York Times says Williams’ debut novel is “ambitious and meticulous” while Kirkus calls the book “literary art of the first order, intelligent and evocative in the way of the best of historical fiction.”

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A Peek at the Art that Artists Live With

Amanda Benchley ’91 and Stacey Georgen ’90

Amanda Benchley ’91 and Stacey Goergen ’90

Artists Living With Art provides a peek into the homes of 30 New York-based painters, sculptors, and photographers — and a window into how they think about their art. The book, by Stacey Goergen ’90 and Amanda Benchley ’91, features more than 200 color photographs of the lofts, apartments, houses, and a former Harlem church where the artists live, along with interviews with each artist.

“It’s very delicate to ask somebody to go into their home and photograph their personal things,” says Goergen, who is an independent curator and journalist. But seeing the images and objects they surrounded themselves with provided “great insight into the artists’ practices.” Those who had their homes photographed “were very interested in seeing what the other artists featured in the book lived with,” says Benchley, a freelance filmmaker and journalist. Continue reading