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.
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
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
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
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
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.
As 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.”