Category Archives: Books and Arts

Bieber ’04 Depicts Life with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Matt Bieber ’04

Matt Bieber ’04

Getting an acceptance letter from Princeton is an occasion for celebration, but when Matt Bieber ’04 received his, he felt concerned. “My brain was wired to worry,” he writes in his new book, Life in the Loop: Essays on OCD, which chronicles how it feels to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People with OCD repeatedly perform certain routines and have certain thoughts, impinging on day-to-day life. In Bieber’s case, he felt a preoccupation with how his teeth looked and whether they were moving. He describes OCD as an “overly active alarm system [that] gets tripped,” the effects of which can be debilitating. He suffered “an often constant assault of painful, intrusive thoughts.” Continue reading

Through his Father’s Letters, Bradt ’52 Reveals the Struggles of Wartime Families

Hale Bradt ’52

Hale Bradt ’52

In 1980, Hale Bradt ’52 began a decades-long project to learn about his family’s past after discovering the very personal letters his father, Wilber Bradt, wrote during World War II as a soldier in the Army’s 43rd Infantry Division.

The result is a trilogy titled Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey Through World War II that chronicles Bradt’s father’s experiences in the Pacific theater and the effects of the war on his family. Illustrated with news clips, family photos, maps, and letters, the self-published trilogy is being released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the war’s end on Aug. 14.

During his research, Bradt found some 700 letters by his father, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and was a professor at the University of Maine before the war. Bradt, a professor of physics emeritus at MIT and the author of two textbooks on astrophysics, studied documents in archives and talked to veterans and family members who had been mentioned in the letters. Much of the research was done in the early 1980s, when contemporaries of his father were still alive. Bradt also traveled to the Pacific battlefields — the Solomon Islands and the Philippines — and interviewed a Japanese colonel. Continue reading

Human Connections are at the Heart of Gornick ’77’s Latest Novel

Lisa Gornick ’77 (© Sigrid Estrada)

Lisa Gornick ’77 (© Sigrid Estrada)

Lisa Gornick ’77 has woven the events of everyday lives — some tragic, some moving, and some mundane — into the vignettes that comprise her third novel, Louisa Meets Bear.

In the title story, the sexually adventurous student Louisa and the mercurial plumber’s son Bear have a passionate affair after meeting at Princeton in 1975. Their relationship is a defining event in their lives, and it comes full circle in the book’s final chapter, which describes the characters’ trajectory over three decades. Other stories deal with Louisa’s and Bear’s friends and family.

After earning a doctorate in clinical psychology from Yale and completing the psychoanalytic training program at Columbia, Gornick worked as a therapist before shifting her focus to writing, using her psychological insights to shape her characters. In the novel A Private Sorcery, Gornick explores the family dynamics that lead a psychiatrist to a prescription drug addiction. Tinderbox, her second book, is the story of a Manhattan psychologist in a destructive relationship. Continue reading

Understanding the Rising Power of China

Professor Thomas J. Christensen

Professor Thomas J. Christensen

In a world where “Made in China” is more familiar than the Pledge of Allegiance, it seems that China is gaining a stronger foothold in American culture. To many, this rise in power poses a dangerous threat to American influence in Asia and beyond.

Professor Thomas J. Christensen takes issue with the view of China as a rival to the United States. In his new book, The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power, he argues that Chinese leadership faces countless internal issues — especially the threat of domestic instability — which prevent the country from being considered a global “peer competitor.” Christensen is the William P. Boswell Professor of World Politics and director of the China and the World Program at Princeton. Continue reading

Princeton Books Quiz: Opening Lines

In July, we asked PAW readers to test their literary knowledge by identifying the Princetonians who wrote the four opening lines below. Six entrants scored a perfect four-for-four, and three prize-winners were selected at random. Congratulations to our winners, Sandy Kramer ’67, Ilana Lucas ’07, and Julie Melby.

Readers also shared their favorite opening lines, including the selection below:

“Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great arm-chair by the bedside, and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket bedstead, carefully disposed on a low settee immediately in front of the fire and close to it, as if his constitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown while he was very new.”
— Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son, submitted by Maria Riasanovsky *01.

“Joe Gould was an odd and penniless and unemployable little man who came to the city in 1916 and ducked and dodged and held on as hard as he could for over thirty-five years.”
— Joseph Mitchell, Joe Gould’s Secret, submitted by Julie Melby.

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
— Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford, submitted by Sandy Kramer ’67.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
— George Orwell, 1984, submitted by Brooks Schleifer-McGill.


Take the quiz: Test your literary knowledge by identifying the Princetonians who wrote these opening lines.

1. “The first thing they always did was run you.”

A. Paradise, by professor emerita Toni Morrison

B. Moneyball, by Michael Lewis ’82

C. Uncommon Carriers, by journalism professor John McPhee ’53

2. “I’m told that even decorated soldiers’ last words are often calling for ‘Mommy.’ ”

A. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult ’87

B. Up in the Air, by Walter Kirn ’83

C. There Was a Little Girl, by Brooke Shields ’87

3. “The day my wife left she gave me a list of who I was.”

A. Native Speaker, by creative writing professor Chang-rae Lee

B. The Mind-Body Problem, by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein *77

C. The Marriage Plot, by creative writing professor Jeffrey Eugenides

4. “Cheyenne Mountain sits on the eastern slope of Colorado’s Front Range, rising steeply from the prairie and overlooking the city of Colorado Springs.”

A. Seizing Destiny, by Richard Kluger ’56

B. Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser ’81

C. Told You So, by Ralph Nader ’55

Continue reading

Kruse Examines How America Became ‘One Nation Under God’

Kruse, Kevin (Etta Recke)

History professor Kevin Kruse

It is a widely held notion that the United States is and always has been a Christian country. Most Americans assume we have been a deeply religious nation since the days of the Founding Fathers. But in his new book, Princeton history professor Kevin Kruse argues that is not the case.

In One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Kruse says that the notion of a Christian America is mainly an invention of the modern era. Kruse traces the birth of this idea to the 1930s, when corporate businessmen enlisted conservative clergymen to help fight President Roosevelt’s New Deal. They encouraged Christians of all denominations to view FDR’s expansive policies as a desecration of the holiness and salvation of the individual, Kruse writes. Their campaign for “freedom under God” ultimately resulted in the election of their ally Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Continue reading

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

Paris, Mon Amour: Kate Betts ’86 Remembers Her Years in the City of Lights

Kate Betts ’86

Kate Betts ’86

As her senior year at Princeton came to a close, Kate Betts ’86 found herself without a plan for her future. “So many people around me seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do, and I had no idea,” she recalls. An aspiring journalist, she decided she would move to Paris.

In My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine, Betts — a former editor at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar — recalls her five years in Paris absorbing everything she could about how the French cook, dance, and dress. When she first arrives, she hunts fruitlessly for work, eventually landing a short-term newspaper internship and then freelancing until she gets a job at industry bible Women’s Wear Daily, which was run by John Fairchild ’49. She becomes a top fashion reporter, visiting Yves Saint Laurent’s studio, befriending Christian Louboutin when he is an unknown shoe designer, and learning to follow fashion’s commercial calendar, which means orchestrating photo shoots for winter clothes in the summer heat. Along the way she tries mightily to fit in with her French friends and colleagues, though she often felt “self-consciously American,” and hones her reporting skills and industry knowledge until she is recruited to work at American Vogue by Anna Wintour. 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.
Continue reading

Helping Readers Understand the Labyrinth of Social Security Benefits

Philip Moeller ’68

Philip Moeller ’68

A guide to navigating your Social Security benefits may not sound like scintillating reading, but Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller ’68, and Paul Solman rocketed to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list a few weeks after its publication.

The book helps people figure out if they are taking advantage of all the benefits to which they are entitled. “You have been forking over payroll taxes your entire working life; you deserve to get what you paid for; and it’s the law,” the authors write. Continue reading

Einstein and the Nazi Scientist Who Hated Him

Bruce Hillman ’69

Bruce Hillman ’69

Germany in the first half of the 20th century often is associated with the Nazi movement that ultimately ravaged the country. In the world of physics, however, it had become a battleground for opposing schools of thought: One side embraced experimental physics, which was based on the work of Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton and driven by the scientific method; the other believed in theoretical physics, which revolved around theories that sometimes were untested experimentally and was grounded in the work of Albert Einstein.

For Philipp Lenard, the recipient of the 1905 Nobel Prize for physics and an adviser to Adolf Hitler, the conflict between experimental and theoretical physics was personified in his hatred for Einstein. In The Man Who Stalked Einstein: How Nazi Scientist Philipp Lenard Changed the Course of History, Bruce Hillman ’69 and co-authors Birgit Ertl-Wagner and Bernd C. Wagner recount the events that led to Einstein’s rise, his rivalry with Lenard, and his eventual self-exile from his homeland, bringing to life the “smoldering, personal cold war” between the two men. The book’s publication coincides with the 60th anniversary of Einstein’s death. Continue reading

Ask The Author: Jodi Picoult ’87

Jodi Picoult ’87 (Adam Bouska)

Jodi Picoult ’87 (Adam Bouska)

Bestselling author Jodi Picoult ’87 answers questions from alumni this month. Her young-adult novel Off the Page, written with her daughter, Samantha van Leer, came out in May.

Where do you find inspiration for your writing? Are any of your characters based on real people?

Submitted by Joyce Lee ’17

My inspiration comes from “What if?” questions I can’t answer. I wonder, “What would I do in that situation? What if this parameter changed?” Often I write about controversial issues because I wish I had the answers to them, and the act of writing is my way of thrashing through an issue. Often, we form our beliefs at the knees of our parents, or because of our faith — but we don’t really challenge ourselves to hear what the other side might have to say. Ultimately, the writing of a book for me is a way to ask myself why my beliefs are what they are about a given situation. I may not change my mind about an issue, but I will likely have a better sense of why I believe what I do.

Can you talk about how your Princeton thesis adviser shaped your own writing and career trajectory? I listened to an interview where you discussed the move from literary to commercial writing. Do you think your writing has changed since your undergraduate years in this regard, or did you just decide to call it “commercial” and keep the literary style?

Submitted by Carter Greenbaum ’12 Continue reading

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.

A Young Doctor Writes a Novel About Love and Medicine

Kathleen Coggshall ’05

Kathleen Coggshall ’05

At the end of medical school, Kathleen Coggshall ’05 often found herself in the sky, flying across the country for interviews for residency programs. During several trips, as her mind drifted to thoughts of airlines disasters, she was struck with an idea for a novel about a plane crash and a young woman whose medical expertise keeps the survivors alive.

In Girl Underwater, Coggshall’s debut novel, competitive college swimmer Avery and two of her teammates are on a red-eye flight from California to Boston when the plane crashes in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains. Only Avery, fellow swimmer Colin Shea, and three little boys survive, and the medical knowledge imparted to Avery by her physician father helps her care for them for five days until they are rescued. The book follows Avery’s fraught recovery at home and the crash’s aftermath. The novel was published under the pen name Claire Kells. Continue reading

Peter Slevin ’78’s Biography Examines the Life of Michelle Obama ’85

Peter Slevin (Andrew Johnston)

Peter Slevin ’78 (Andrew Johnston)

In 2014, first lady Michelle Obama ’85 told a group of students “to never, ever listen to the doubters,” and cited a moment from her undergraduate years to illustrate her message. She recalled a Princeton professor whose class she had aced telling her, “You’re not the hottest thing I’ve seen coming out of the gate.” Wounded, she decided “that I was going to do everything in my power to make that man regret those words,” she said. Obama worked doubly hard for him as a research assistant and eventually won his praise, concluding that she had shown “not just my professor, but myself, what I was capable of achieving.”

That anecdote is one of many in Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter Slevin ’78. The book is a comprehensive account of her life, from her childhood in a working-class, largely segregated Chicago neighborhood to her role as “the unlikeliest first lady in modern history,” according to Slevin. A former Chicago bureau chief for The Washington Post who began reporting on Obama during her husband’s run for the presidency in 2007, Slevin is a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

The book takes a detailed look at Obama’s parents and extended family, and devotes a chapter to her years at Princeton, of which she once said, “As a black girl from the south side of Chicago, I wasn’t supposed to go to Princeton, because [my high school counselors] said my test scores were too low.” Slevin interviewed Obama twice during her husband’s 2008 campaign but did not speak to her for the book. He interviewed her friends, relatives, colleagues, professors, and mentors. Continue reading

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

Mourning — and Celebrating — Abraham Lincoln’s Death

Martha Hodes *91

Martha Hodes *91

The president literally stopped the show when he walked into Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, had arrived late to that night’s performance; the comedy Our American Cousin already had begun. As they took their seats in the dress circle, the actors onstage paused and the audience cheered. Lincoln bowed. Around 10:15 p.m., as Lincoln laughed at a line in the play, John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head. The next morning, Lincoln was dead.

The nation’s seemingly universal reaction to the first presidential assassination is well documented in contemporary newspapers, in the formal expressions of condolences that followed, and in memoirs published in later decades. In Mourning Lincoln, Martha Hodes *91 asks: What were the “raw reactions” of people on the street, with their families, and by themselves when they heard the news? Some felt that “North and South are weeping together” but others thought the news was “glorious,” Hodes writes. She also explores how the aftermath of the assassination ultimately shaped the legacy of the Civil War. Continue reading

Two Princetonians and a Motorcycle, Along the White Nile

John Hopkins ’60

John Hopkins ’60

It is 1961, and John Hopkins ’60 and Joe McPhillips ’58 have just returned from Peru. After responding to the letter of a fellow Ivy Club alumnus who has invited those traveling to Kenya to stay with him, Hopkins and McPhillips decide to board a ship to Naples and from there travel through Europe to Africa. In Munich, they buy a white BMW motorcycle they christen “The White Nile” for the African river they will follow during their journey. Hopkins’ The White Nile Diaries retraces the two friends’ long ago adventures and offers a glimpse into a time when Africa was a tantalizing adventure for some young men.

The book intersperses accounts of the pair’s sojourns in each country with letters from their host in Kenya. Along the way, Hopkins and McPhillips are set upon by a group of armed men seeking revenge for violence in Tunisia and are shot at by Libyan soldiers as they try to slip unnoticed across the border with their undocumented motorcycle. They experience the 120-degree dry heat of the Sahara, the inside of a jail cell in Libya, and the wonders of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Like a North American Che Guevara and Alberto Granado, Hopkins and McPhillips travel 6,000 miles and arrive at Impala Farm, which turns out to be very different from what they expected. 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

For Busy Adults, a Hands-on Approach to Becoming More Creative

Danny Gregory ’82

Danny Gregory ’82

Who has time for art these days? “You don’t have a second to catch your breath. To smell the roses or the coffee. Your life is getting more and more full and crazy,” Danny Gregory ’82 writes in Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are. Gregory believes that art can make people “saner and happier,” and help them be present and really see the beautiful things they already have. He offers pages filled with striking illustrations, accompanied by instructions for drawing activities that readers can do in a few minutes every day.

Readers learn how to make “art with a small ‘a’,” starting on the first day by drawing the contours of their breakfast. Next, Gregory encourages them to draw their medicine cabinets, their reflections in the coffee pot, their napping children, passing strangers, and animals in a zoo. There are activities to do during traffic jams, at the doctor’s office, and with groups of friends. Ultimately, Gregory writes, “Creativity can become a habit that fits into your life, like Pilates or flossing, only a lot more fulfilling.” Continue reading

Heather Butts ’94 Chronicles the Lives of African American Health Care Workers During the Civil War

Heather Butts ’94

Heather Butts ’94

In African American Medicine in Washington, D.C: Healing the Capital During the Civil War Era, Heather Butts ’94 chronicles the largely unsung service of African American health care workers during the Civil War.

Obtaining health care training was a difficult task for African Americans. Alexander Augusta learned to read in secret and had to leave the United States to study at a medical school in Canada, Butts writes. Augusta wrote to President Abraham Lincoln and the secretary of war, seeking an appointment as a physician in an African American regiment, and eventually was appointed surgeon of the United States Colored Troops. But even as he provided care for soldiers, Augusta faced racism. While traveling from the D.C. area to Philadelphia, he was surrounded by an angry mob that threatened his life. Continue reading

Q & A: Maya Rock ’02 on Her Novel Scripted

Maya Rock ’02

Maya Rock ’02

Q: What is your novel about?

A: The book is set on an island whose inhabitants are on a reality show that’s filmed 24 hours a day. They’re all aware of it. If characters get poor ratings, they’re cut, and no one knows what happens to them.

Scripted explores identity using the lens of reality television.  The people on the show — the characters — have to figure out how much of their identity is self-generated and how much comes from performing for an audience.

Q: You worked as a literary agent. How did that background help you?

A: Having been a literary agent kept me from romanticizing publishing. It was easier for me to believe that rejection and criticism weren’t personal because I had rejected and criticized so many manuscripts.

9780399257339_large_Scripted (1)Q: Your book is for young adults, a category that has soared in popularity recently and has lots of adult readers. Why did you want to write a YA book?

A: When I was growing up just outside New York, I had access to the New Rochelle Public Library, which has a great children’s and young adult collection. I started writing as a hobby, and I experimented with writing in a lot of different genres, but this was the only one I’d managed to write a novel in. On a gut level, YA always felt fun to me.

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

From Ballet to B-Boying: Margaret Fuhrer ’06 Writes a History of American Dance

Margaret Fuhrer ’06

Margaret Fuhrer ’06

Famed choreographer Jerome Robbins originally conceived the plot of the musical West Side Story as a tale between rival Italian and Irish gangs on the Lower East Side, so the show would have been called East Side Story. Breakdancing, the 1980s street dance phenomenon, actually was called “b-boying” by its practitioners. These are a few of the nuggets unearthed by Margaret Fuhrer ’06 for her book American Dance: The Complete Illustrated History.

Fuhrer explores the history and evolution of dance, from Native American rituals that are hundreds of years old to the hip-hop move known as the Dougie. Fuhrer, who is editor-in-chief of Dance Spirit magazine, trained as a classical ballerina until a knee injury in high school derailed her dreams of a career as a dancer. After graduating from Princeton, she earned a master’s degree at New York University in cultural reporting and criticism so she could combine her passions for writing and dance. “Having been inside dance, having felt the way it feels, really does inform the way you write about it,” she says.

Continue reading

David Treuer ’92’s Novel Explores Secrets and Desire in World War II-era America

David Treuer ’92

David Treuer ’92

It is August 1942. Frankie Washburn has left his life as a Princeton student to return to the Pines, his family’s rustic Minnesota home on an Indian reservation, one last time before he joins the Air Force. Waiting for him are his parents; the Indian caretaker he spent childhood summers quietly shadowing; Billy, a longtime friend who has become something much more intimate; and the news that a German prisoner-of-war has escaped from the camp across the river.

The search for the German soldier culminates in a shocking act of violence with consequences that will shape the characters’ lives. In Prudence, David Treuer ’92 pushes the boundaries of gender, race, and sexual orientation to tell a story of loss and desire in World War II-era America. Nobel Prize-winning author and professor emeritus Toni Morrison calls the novel “a wondrous and mesmerizing narrative — intricate, seductive, and wholly gratifying.” Continue reading

100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go, by Marcia DeSanctis ’82

Marcia DeSanctis ’82

Marcia DeSanctis ’82

The book: From food and wine to art and fashion, the 100 vignettes in this guidebook seem to cover all that typifies France. Like any good Baedeker, the book explains not only where to go but why to go there. Essays describe tourist meccas — the châteaux of the Loire Valley, for example — as well as easily overlooked but fascinating sites such as Christian Dior’s childhood home on the coast of Normandy and the memorial museum to 44 Jewish children seized by the Nazis in Izieu. Woven throughout is practical advice for women travelers: When walking La Croisette, Cannes’ fabled avenue frequented by film stars, the author says, “leave the sweats and Dos Equis T-shirt at the bottom of your canvas tote.” Since its publication in November, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go has spent three months on The New York Times Best Sellers list in the travel category.

The author: Marcia DeSanctis ’82 is an award-winning travel writer who spent several years living and working in Paris. Her essays and articles have appeared in Vogue, Town & Country, and The New York Times, among many other publications. Before becoming a writer, she spent 18 years as a television news producer. Continue reading

Slavery in Jamaica and the Antebellum South Brought to Life in A Tale of Two Plantations

Richard S. Dunn *52 *55

Richard S. Dunn *52 *55

Historian Richard S. Dunn *52 *55 has spent the last 40 years constructing a portrait of the final decades of slavery. In A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia, Dunn draws a richly compelling history of the lives of three generations of slaves at the Mesopotamia sugar estate in Jamaica and the Mount Airy plantation in Virginia.

“Slavery caused terrible suffering to the black people in both regions,” Dunn writes, “but in strikingly dissimilar ways.” At Mesopotamia, Dunn found, life was marked by deadly work regimens, rampant disease, and dependence on the slave trade for new laborers. At Mount Airy, families often were broken up as “surplus” slaves were sold or moved to other work sites. More than 200 of the estate’s slaves were sent 800 miles away, Dunn found in his study of the papers left behind by the owners. Dunn provides a detailed account of the lives of two enslaved women: field hand Sarah Affir from Mesopotamia and Winney Grimshaw at Mount Airy. Continue reading

Zelizer Re-examines President Johnson and the “Great Society”

Professor Julian Zelizer

Professor Julian Zelizer

In the three years between November 1963, when he became president, and November 1966, when the Democratic Party was routed in the midterm elections, Lyndon Johnson pushed through Congress the legislative accomplishments of the “Great Society:” the Civil Rights Act, the War on Poverty program, Medicare and Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, and the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.

Previous assessments of Johnson’s presidency have attributed his success to a receptive Congress and his force of personality, buttressed by his 6-foot-4-inch stature and his use of “the Treatment,” which history and public affairs professor Julian Zelizer describes as “physically and verbally bullying, cajoling, lobbying, and threatening.”

9781594204340_large_The_Fierce_Urgency_of_NowIn The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society, Zelizer questions that view. He examines the crucial role Congress played in passing and eventually blocking initiatives driven by the president, as well as the larger political climate that was conducive to change-making legislation. He argues that “the work of grassroots activists and changes in the power structure of Congress enabled a liberal president to fulfill his grand legislative ambition — the creation of a second New Deal that would complete the work of Franklin Roosevelt.”

Kirkus Reviews calls The Fierce Urgency of Now “a smart, provocative study.” Alan Krueger, a Princeton professor of economics and public policy and former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, writes, “Zelizer’s book is a valuable antidote to all those who say we just need Barack Obama to be more like Lyndon Johnson to get things done in Washington.”