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
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
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?
In 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.”
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
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.
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