Author Archives: Katharine Boyer

A Debut Novel by Professor Idra Novey Tackles Translation

Professor Idra Novey

Professor Idra Novey

The protagonist of Idra Novey’s debut novel Ways to Disappear is a translator of Brazilian literature named Emma, who lives in Pittsburgh with her rather boring boyfriend. When Beatriz Yagoda, the author Emma has spent her career translating, disappears, Emma takes the next flight to Brazil to contend with loan sharks, washed-up literary agents, and the unfinished draft of Beatriz’ latest book to search for the missing novelist.

Novey, a lecturer in creative writing, is the author of two books of poetry, including Exit, Civilian, which was a National Poetry Series winner, and a translator of Spanish and Portuguese authors. She teaches translation at Princeton. Novey spoke with PAW about the art of translation, loan sharks, and surviving a monsoon.

The novel deals with the art of translating and Emma’s complicated relationship to her author. How much do these relationships draw on your own experience?

I translated a novel by a Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, who died long before I translated her, which meant I couldn’t ask her any of the questions I had about her work. As a result, she became a kind of phantom voice in my head. Continue reading

Laqueur *73 Unearths the History of Mortal Remains

Thomas Laqueur *73

Thomas Laqueur *73

From the monumental pyramids of Egypt to the modern cemeteries of Arlington, humans always have cared deeply about the dead and the work of attending to their remains. When Diogenes told his students to treat his corpse as an empty husk and toss it to the wild animals, he violated one of humankind’s only universal taboos. In The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains, Thomas Laqueur *73 argues that human society is profoundly shaped by the activity of caring for the dead. The process promises meaning and remembrance, and helps us to live with the knowledge of our own mortality, Laqueur points out, writing, “The living need the dead far more than the dead need the living.” Continue reading

Orr ’96 Transforms the Reading of America’s Most Beloved Poem

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

David Orr ’96

David Orr ’96

These are among the most famous lines of American poetry ever penned. People all over the English-speaking world can conjure them up, quoting the conclusion of Robert Frost’s most famous poem, The Road Not Taken. The poem’s clean language, simple cadence, and easy rhymes have become a part of America’s cultural fabric, appearing in television commercials, song lyrics, and video games. Yet, as poetry critic David Orr ’96 explains in The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong, Frost’s beloved poem is anything but easy to understand.

It is a familiar story: The lonely traveler stands paralyzed at the fork in the road, forced to make a decision. Eventually he takes one road, and years later he imagines himself reflecting on how this decision made all the difference in his life. Is this a poem about rugged individualism and self-assertion? Or is it about indecision and our indulgent justification of decisions that at the time were mostly arbitrary? Has the poem tricked its audience for all these years? After all, Frost is careful to tell us that the road “less traveled” is “worn … really about the same” as the unpicked route. The difference lies only in the narrator’s imagination. Continue reading

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

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

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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Singer ’97 Conjures World War III in the Novel Ghost Fleet

P.W. Singer ’97

P.W. Singer ’97

As a consultant for both the Pentagon and the best-selling video game Call of Duty, P.W. Singer ’97 runs simulations that imagine some of the most threatening situations that could face the American military. Now, he has written about an especially harrowing scenario in Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.

Written with journalist August Cole, the novel imagines World War III as a battle in which Russia and China are fighting against the United States. When China launches a devastating round of cyber-attacks against the U.S. military, the Americans are forced to fall back on a low-tech option known as the “ghost fleet:” older Navy ships that are less susceptible to hacking. Jamie Simmons, who takes command of one such ship, must work to defend the United States while encountering technological challenges that present strategic and ethical dilemmas. World War III involves Silicon Valley billionaires mobilizing for a cyberwar while fighter pilots duel with stealth drones. Continue reading

Scull *74 Delves into the History of Madness

Andrew Scull *74

Andrew Scull *74

Society’s understanding of what constitutes madness has shifted and morphed throughout history, but the concept itself has been a constant in civilization. Humans often look for the abnormal and inexplicable in one another’s psychology, but our ability to diagnose, treat, and empathize with those suffering from madness has been far less consistent. In Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine, Andrew Scull *74, a historian of psychiatry, examines madness’ various manifestations and treatments by drawing on medical records, scientific advances, and cultural expressions of madness.

Scull uses more than a hundred paintings, engravings, and sculptures to illustrate the manifestations of insanity. His narrative ranges from explaining Shakespeare’s use of madness for dramatic purposes — “Love is merely a madness and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do” (As You Like It) — to introducing readers to psychiatrists such as Walter Freeman, who “made no secret of his willingness to lobotomize patients who resisted psychosurgery — because they were mad, their preferences could be disregarded,” Scull writes. He also explores the work of Silas Weir Mitchell, a wealthy psychiatrist whose famous “resting cure” was forced upon the likes of Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, inspiring Gilman’s famous short story The Yellow Wallpaper.
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Bioethicist Peter Singer Explains Why You Should Make Donations That Save Lives — And Forgo Supporting Arts Groups

Professor Peter Singer

Professor Peter Singer

To some, an ethical life and a career on Wall Street may seem paradoxical. But in his new book, The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, Professor Peter Singer tells the story of Matt Wage ’12, a philosophy major who abandoned his plans to study at Oxford to take a job at a Wall Street firm.

After taking a class taught by Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton’s Center for Human Values and a prominent philosopher, Wage — whose senior thesis won a prize from the philosophy department — considered which career would help him do the most good. He chose a job at an arbitrage-trading firm because, he reasoned, he would have more money to give away than if he earned a professor’s salary, Singer says. In 2013, Wage says he donated more than $100,000 from his earnings. Singer also writes about a professor who decided to donate two-thirds of his salary, calculating that over his lifetime, his donations could cure 80,000 people of blindness.

These are illustrations of the effective altruism movement, inspired by Singer, which asks individuals, primarily young people, to make career and lifestyle decisions designed to maximize their contribution to worldwide wellbeing. Continue reading

Toni Morrison’s New Novel Explores the Aftereffects of Childhood

Professor emeritus Toni Morrison

Professor emeritus Toni Morrison

When professor emeritus Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, the award committee described her writing as “characterized by visionary force and poetic import” and said that her novels give “life to an essential aspect of American reality.” In her latest book, God Help the Child, she explores the complex effect that racism has on the psyche, echoing the themes of her first novel, The Bluest Eye, about an African American girl who desperately wants blue eyes. God Help the Child tells the story of a woman called Sweetness and her daughter, Lula Ann, whose “midnight-black” skin horrifies her mother from the moment of her birth.

It didn’t take more than an hour after they pulled her out from between my legs for me to realize something was wrong. Really wrong. She was so black she scared me. Midnight black, Sudanese black. I’m light-skinned, with good hair, what we call high yellow, and so is Lula Ann’s father. Ain’t nobody in my family anywhere near that color.

MorrisonAs a child, Lula Ann tells a lie to gain her mother’s approval and ends up sending an innocent woman to jail. Years later, plagued by the guilt and half-veiled insecurities of her past, Lula Ann abandons everything that reminds her of her childhood and remakes herself — changing her name to Bride and wearing only white — but her childhood cannot be escaped so easily. Sweetness says in the novel, “I should have known all along. What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

Publisher’s Weekly writes, “This haunting novel displays a profound understanding of American culture and an unwavering sense of justice and forgiveness.”

Hirshfield ’73 Explores How Great Poetry Is Made

Jane Hirshfield ’73

Jane Hirshfield ’73

“A mysterious quickening inhabits the depths of any good poem — protean, elusive, alive in its own right,” Jane Hirshfield ’73 writes in the opening of her essay collection Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. But what factors make a poem move its readers? In her essays, Hirshfield answers these questions by walking readers through a series of classic poems. Of Seamus Heaney’s Oysters, for example, Hirschfield writes, “We stand in this poem with a master of shaking things together — the personal with the historical, the local with the large .… Part of this poem’s specific gravity is its confident leaving out of the inessential.”

A member of the first undergraduate class to admit women as freshmen, Hirschfield is herself a poet, renowned for her spare language and spiritually infused verse. As a companion to Ten Windows, she released a collection of poetry, The Beauty, which explores the physical body interacting with the sensory world. In the poem Like Two Negative Numbers Multiplied by Rain, she begins:

Lie down, you are horizontal.
Stand up, you are not.

I wanted my fate to be human.

Like a perfume
that does not choose the direction it travels,
that cannot be straight or crooked, kept out or kept.

9780385351058Of her poetry, The Washington Post wrote, “Very quietly, Jane Hirshfield has been producing work that is earning her a place in the pantheon of those modern masters of simplicity.” This is Hirshfield’s third essay collection and her eighth collection of poetry. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sahner ’07 Mingles Memoir and History in Book on Syria

Christian Sahner ’07 GS

Christian Sahner ’07 GS

When Christian Sahner ’07 GS visited Syria for the first time, he expected to find the country that he had seen on the news: a police state that would neatly fit its categorization as part of the axis of evil. What he found was far more complex. “There was this constant sense of being watched, of feeling that you were being monitored,” he says. “At the same time, there was this very rich, beautiful culture and wonderful people.” Sahner visited several times over three years, living with a Syrian family, learning to say Mass in Arabic, and experiencing life under an authoritarian regime that would crumble just months after he left for the final time in 2010.

In Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present, Sahner, who currently is earning his Ph.D. in history at Princeton, interlaces his experiences with a history of Syria extending back to ancient times. He wanted to “introduce a new aspect of Syria into public conversation,” he says. “There is much justified focus on militants and Islamic groups, but there’s another plotline — the cultural and religious diversity. A lot of people don’t realize that for many centuries Christians were the majority of the population.” Continue reading

Capturing the Struggles of Military Families In Blue Stars, a Novel

Emily Gray Tedrowe ’95

Emily Gray Tedrowe ’95

When Emily Gray Tedrowe ’95’s brother, a Marine, was serving in Iraq in 2006, she ignored news of the war and tried to stay focused on caring for her newborn baby: “I was just so focused on getting through the experience that for a long time I didn’t want to read or write about war at all,” she says.

But after her brother’s safe return, she found herself thinking about the lives of those who remain behind when their loved ones go to war. Drawing on her own experiences and extensive research about military families and veterans, Tedrowe wrote Blue Stars, a novel about the struggles of families coping with a wounded soldier returning from war.

Tedrowe introduces readers to two women: Ellen, a bookish literature professor who sends short stories to her adopted son during his deployment; and Lacey, a wayward young mother who marries a soldier for stability and struggles to play the dutiful Army wife. When both soldiers are injured, the women relocate to apartments near Walter Reed Army Medical Center, enduring months of unresponsive doctors and bureaucratic mismanagement as they fight for better care for the men, who have psychological wounds. Continue reading

Kardos ’92 Pens Psychological Thriller

Michael Kardos ’92

Michael Kardos ’92

In 2012, The New York Times Book Review wrote, “Michael Kardos’ first novel, The Three Day Affair, is so disturbing it makes you wonder what he might have in mind for his second book.” That novel, Before He Finds Her, takes readers to a small town on the Jersey Shore where, 15 years before, Ramsey Miller murdered his wife and three-year-old daughter. Everyone in the town of Silver Bay knows the story, but the story they know isn’t correct. Ramsey’s daughter, Melanie Denison, wasn’t murdered. She is living in a witness-protection program and, at 17, is pregnant.

Driven by the hope of providing a normal life for her child, Melanie returns to Silver Bay to find her father before he finds her. Kardos intertwines the story of Melanie’s search with an account of the days leading up to the murder. Probing the complex psychology of his characters, Kardos investigates a fundamental question: Can people really change? Filled with characters who have gone down dangerous paths, the novel explores relationships distorted by blind faith.  Continue reading

Brown ’72 Takes Readers to the Upper Reaches of the Amazon

Michael Brown '72

Michael Brown ’72

As a fledgling anthropologist just four years out of Princeton, Michael Brown ’72 spent 21 months living among the Awajún, an indigenous tribe located in the upper reaches of the rainforests of Peru. He was forced to leave when political turmoil erupted, but decades later he returned to his field notes and rediscovered a world whose complexity and significance he says he had failed to appreciate as a younger, less experienced man.

In Upriver: The Turbulent Life and Times of an Amazonian People, Brown recalls that during his initial fieldwork, he encountered what seemed an exuberant and resourceful culture. But as he dug deeper into the Awajún’s way of life, Brown discovered the prevalence of violent, often murderous, vendettas among the tribe members. Even more disturbing were the rates of suicide from wives who tried to exercise control over their husbands with the threat of their own death.

Brown, who is the president of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe and a professor emeritus at Williams College, returned to Awajún in 2012 to write Upriver, which is part memoir, part ethnography. It chronicles Brown’s struggle to make sense of the tensions and conflicts in Awajún life and explores the nature of civilization and independence.

Isleib ’75 Serves Up a Tasty Holiday Mystery

Roberta Isleib ’75

Roberta Isleib ’75

Fifteen years ago, Roberta Isleib ’75 was a practicing clinical psychologist, an avid mystery reader, and a recent convert to the game of golf. Then a friend suggested that she combine her interests and try her hand at writing a golf novel. Two years later, Isleib produced the first draft of Six Strokes Under, a murder mystery starring a female golfer who must overcome psychological setbacks to achieve her dream of playing on the LPGA tour. Today, Isleib is full-time novelist publishing her 13th mystery, Death with All the Trimmings, under her pen name, Lucy Burdette.

The transition from psychologist to full-time writer was surprisingly easy, she says: “In my work as a therapist, I helped people understand themselves by looking for patterns in their family history, and tracing how these might lead to feeling stuck in the present. A detective story is similar: you start with a problem, and then look for clues so you can figure out the solution.” With a nine-month timeline for producing each book, Isleib is a disciplined writer. “I write a thousand words a day. I learned in my psychology training to set small goals and stick to them, rather than feel overwhelmed by the big picture,” she says. Continue reading

Sex, Jazz, and Murder: Krist ’79 Reconstructs New Orleans’ Empire of Sin

Gary Krist '79

Gary Krist ’79

“It is no easy matter to go to heaven by way of New Orleans,” reads the epigraph of Gary Krist ’79’s book Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. If readers aren’t convinced of this by page one, they certainly will be by the end of the book: Krist delivers a harrowing tale of a debauched, crime-ridden city as it struggles to raise itself from moral decay.

By the late 1890s, New Orleans’ elite had had enough of the city’s violence, prostitution, drinking, and rampant crime. In an effort to curb the influence of the city’s underworld, the government founded the red-light district of Storyville. There, Tom Anderson, once a scrappy kid from a bad neighborhood, reigned as the aristocratic and wildly popular “mayor.” The streets of Anderson’s domain were populated by cosmopolitan madams, eager customers, corrupt police, and a dangerous serial killer known as “the Axman,” as well as jazz musicians Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. It was on this battleground that New Orleans would wage a war against itself, as underworld and high society fought for dominance.

Empire of Sin hi-resLibrary Journal writes that Empire of Sin “proves that truth really is stranger than fiction” while Publishers Weekly applauds Krist for writing a “story more vivid and twist-filled than most crime fiction.” Krist, who also is the author of City of Scoundrels and The White Cascade, says he was drawn to this topic because of “how the social, racial, and moral issues of the times played out” in this unique setting.

The Poetry of Race: Dark~Sky Society by Ailish Hopper ’93

Ailish Hopper '93

Ailish Hopper ’93

For Ailish Hopper ’93, growing up white in Washington, D.C., meant living in a world where “the American drama of race” was played out on a daily basis, she says. She explored issues of race as a certificate student in African American studies at Princeton, and later through her poetry. “It was really only in African American studies that I could begin to understand my history, our history,” Hopper says.

In Hopper’s first book of poetry, Dark~Sky Society, the poem “Ways to be White in a Poem” is about a white female who obliviously reinforces racial stereotypes even as she struggles to be free of the social expectations for women. Other poems obliquely illuminate the effect of race on spaces and relationships. “As a topic, [race] is more than tired; it is exhausted,” Hopper says. “We know The Story. And many of us feel that we have been defeated by it.” The book was a runner-up for the New Issues prize from Western Michigan University. Hopper is an assistant professor at Goucher College.

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Heretics, Infidels, Founding Fathers: Matthew Stewart ’85 Examines the Secular Roots of American Independence

Matthew Stewart '85

Matthew Stewart ’85

The American Revolution led to the creation of the world’s first secular republic. According to Matthew Stewart ’85’s new book, Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, it was this secular break from the supernatural religion of the British that made America’s independence truly revolutionary. The book offers a reappraisal of the religious and philosophical origins of America’s revolution and shows that it was secularist ideals, not Christian values, that drove the establishment of America’s most cherished freedoms.

To explain his argument, Stewart investigates the prevalence of deism: the belief that an impersonal God expects humans to reason out their own ethical codes. This belief system, which finds its roots in classical, pagan philosophy, was held not only by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, but also lesser-known figures like Thomas Young, instigator of the Boston Tea Party. It was these men and their largely secular, rational way of thinking that informed the ideas of personal liberty, religious freedom, and the proper role of governmental power — ideas that are now at the core of America’s most treasured documents.

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Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult ’87

Jodi Picoult ’87

Jodi Picoult ’87

To research her latest novel, Jodi Picoult ’87 travelled to the savannahs of Botswana, studied elephants at a sanctuary in Tennessee, and consulted a psychic. The result is Leaving Time, about a young girl’s search for her mother.

Jenna Metcalf is determined to solve the mysterious, decade-old disappearance of her mother, Alice, a young scientist who studied how elephants express grief in Botswana and at a New Hampshire elephant sanctuary. Jenna enlists the help of a disgraced psychic and a jaded private detective, and pores over Alice’s journals to assemble a portrait of her mother’s life.

Leaving TimeThe novel weaves together several voices to create a fast-paced narrative that is part crime story, part family drama, and it races to an unexpected finish. Alice’s journals take the reader into her research on elephant grief, as she lives among and observes her subjects. Alice carefully records, and finds herself responding to, the elephants’ behavior as they experience motherhood, loss, and crumbling family structures. Picoult (featured in PAW on Jan. 18, 2012) is the bestselling author of 23 novels, including My Sister’s Keeper, which was made into a film. She will be reading from Leaving Time at Rockleigh Country Club in Northvale, NJ, on Oct. 19.

Poet and Journalist Grabell ’03 to Read from Macho Man

Michael Grabell '03

Michael Grabell ’03

The Poet: Michael Grabell ’03 is an investigative reporter with ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to in-depth stories in the public interest, for which he writes about air safety and the economy, among other topics. But outside of his professional life, Grabell enjoys a different kind of writing: poetry. His first collection of poems, Macho Man, won the Finishing Line Press chapbook competition and was a finalist for the Pushcart Prize. His work also has appeared in the Best American Poetry anthology.

The Poetry: The title Macho Man might mislead the reader into thinking about a Hemingway-like machismo. But the title is ironic, says Pushcart Prize winner Bruce Bennett, who wrote that the poems are “effortlessly fluent” with a consciousness that “is exquisitely sensitive and attuned to the slightest nuance.” The poems cover a range of subjects, from musings on childhood to sexual longing. National Book Award finalist and Princeton professor James Richardson ’71 wrote, “Grabell arranges the head-on collision of his restless desire with its immovable objects, and somehow walks away from the wreck with poems of utter lucidity, sharp insight, and perfect pace.”

Macho Man_CovThe Readings: Sept. 6th at 1pm, Poets House, 10 River Terrace, NYC; Sept. 10th at 6:30pm, Caffe Reggio, 119 MacDougal Street, NYC; Sept. 12th at 6pm, Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street, NYC. Continue reading

O’Hanlon ’82 *91 Deciphers the U.S.-China Dilemma

steinberg-o'hanlon coverStrategic Reassurance and Resolve: U.S.-China Relations in the 21st Century by James Steinberg and Michael E. O’Hanlon ’82 *91 (Princeton University Press).

The Authors: O’Hanlon ’82 *91 is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in national security policy, and a visiting lecturer at Princeton. Steinberg is a former deputy secretary of state.

The Book: Strategic Reassurance and Resolve sets out to determine whether conflict with China is inevitable. As U.S.-Chinese tensions grow, many argue that the burgeoning rivalry between the two countries will result in a showdown, while others think that economic interdependence will bring about peaceful collaboration. In Strategic Reassurance, Steinberg and O’Hanlon chart a middle course, arguing that confrontation is possible, but avoidable. To prevent conflict, they suggest specific policies designed to help the two nations reassure one another of their cooperative intentions.

Opening Lines: “On March 7, 2012, in a speech to mark the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s historic trip to China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed that ‘the U.S.-China project of 2012…is unprecedented in the history of nations.’ ” Continue reading

Seife ’93 Exposes the Everyday Deceptions of the Internet

Virtual Unreality: Just Because The Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True? by Charles Seife ’93 (Viking)

Seife_Charles_photo credit Sigrid Estrada

Charles Seife ’93 (Photo by Sigrid Estrada)

The Author: Charles Seife ’93 is a professor of journalism at New York University and the author of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award.

The Book: The Internet, according to Seife, is making humans better at something they have been doing since the dawn of civilization: lying. The Internet allows people to spread false information more efficiently and less expensively than ever before, rapidly infecting every corner of society with digital fabrications masquerading as reality. Virtual Unreality provides tools to help separate fact from fantasy in the online world. Seife exposes the new methods of manipulation and deception made possible by the digital revolution. He tackles everything from news coverage to online dating, while offering practical tools for discerning the truth online.

Opening Lines: “On October 5, 2001, the world learned what evil can lurk in the heart of a Muppet. He was first spotted in Bangladesh, in Dhaka, at an anti-American rally. He was in the background, almost hidden from view, but there was no question: it was his unmistakable visage…”   Continue reading

Freese ’77 Demystifies the Quest for Dark Matter

freese author photo

Katherine Freese ’77

The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter, by Katherine Freese ’77 (Princeton University Press)

The Author: Freese is a professor of physics at the University of Michigan and associate director of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics. She researches dark matter and builds models of the early universe immediately following the Big Bang.

The Book: Cosmic Cocktail recounts the quest to solve one of the most compelling puzzles of modern science — what is the universe made of? Freese describes the predictions, visionary discoveries, and clashing personalities behind the race to identify the elusive particles called dark matter. Many cosmologists believe we now are on the verge of solving the mystery of these particles. Cosmic Cocktail mixes cutting-edge science, insider insights, and personal memoir to provide the foundation needed to understand this epochal moment in our developing understanding of the universe.

Opening Lines: “It was in a hospital bed in Tokyo that I realized I had to become a physicist. I was 22 years old. Although I had earned an undergraduate degree in physics from Princeton University two years before, I still felt unsure about what I wanted to do with my life.” Continue reading

Slaughter *83 Detangles the American Revolution


Thomas P. Slaughter *83

Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution, by Thomas P. Slaughter *83 (Hill and Wang)

The Author: Slaughter *83 is a professor of history at the University of Rochester and the editor of Reviews in American History. His books, which include Exploring Lewis and Clark and The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition, have won the National Historical Society Book Prize and the American Revolution Round Table Award.

The Book: Independence goes back to the founding of the colonies to tell the 150-year story of a transformation in American attitudes that culminated in the revolutionary events of the 1770s. Slaughter begins with an examination of the many conflicts and tensions that permeated colonial American life. In particular, he explores the contradiction between the mindset of the American colonists, who saw themselves as independent, self-sufficient subjects, and the British, who viewed the colonists as rebellious troublemakers. As it detangles a web of sectional tension, religious difference, and economic dispute, Independence shows how these two contrary characterizations grew to mean the same thing – in Slaughter’s words, “how independence became revolutionary.”
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Balmer *85 Explores the Political Impact of Jimmy Carter’s Faith

Balmer-RedeemerRedeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer *85 (Basic Books)

The Author: Balmer, a religious historian and Episcopal priest, is the chair of the religion department at Dartmouth and the author of more than a dozen books, including Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, which was adapted into an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary.

The Book: Today, evangelical Christianity and conservative politics seem inextricably aligned. But in 1976, the presidential campaign of Democrat Jimmy Carter succeeded in part by gaining the support of evangelical voters who had long avoided politics. In the ensuing years, these newly engaged evangelical voters were co-opted by conservative leaders from the extreme religious right. By the time of the 1980 presidential election, support for Carter from evangelicals had all but dried up. Redeemer examines the life and faith of Carter, exploring how the rise and fall of his political fortunes mirrored the transformation of American religious politics. Balmer casts Carter as the last great standard-bearer for an important strand of American Christianity. Continue reading