Small-town American: Finding community, shaping the future by Robert Wuthnow

Small-town America by Robert Wuthnow

Professor Robert Wuthnow draws on in-depth interviews and census data to draw a portrait of life in small-town America.

More than 30 million Americans live in small, out-of-the-way places. Many of them could have chosen to join the vast majority of Americans who live in cities and suburbs. They could live closer to better paying jobs, more convenient shopping, a wider range of educational opportunities and more robust health care. But they have opted to live differently.

In Small-Town America, we meet factory workers, shop owners, retirees, teachers, clergy and mayors. Drawing on more than 700 in-depth interviews in hundreds of towns across America and three decades of census data, Robert Wuthnow, the Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Social Sciences, shows the fragility of community in small towns. He covers a host of topics, including the symbols and rituals of small-town life, the roles of formal and informal leaders, the social role of religious congregations, the perception of moral and economic decline, and the myriad ways residents in small towns make sense of their own lives. Wuthnow also tackles difficult issues such as class and race, abortion, homosexuality and substance abuse.

Small-Town America paints a rich panorama of the lives and livelihoods of people who reside in small communities, finding that, for many people, living in a small town is an important part of self-identity.

Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2013 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher.)

Afterlives of Confinement: Spatial transition in post-dictatorship Latin America by Susana Draper

Afterlives of Confinement

Professor Susana Draper examines the repurposing of prisons as cultural centers and shopping malls in her study of the manipulation of culture and consumerism under the guise of democracy.

During the age of dictatorships, Latin American prisons became a symbol for the vanquishing of political opponents, many of whom were never seen again. In the post dictatorship era of the 1990s, a number of these prisons were repurposed into shopping malls, museums and memorials. Associate Professor of Comparative Literature Susana Draper uses the phenomenon of the “opening” of prisons and detention centers to begin a dialogue on conceptualizations of democracy and freedom in post-dictatorship Latin America. Focusing on the nations of Uruguay, Chile and Argentina, Draper examines key works in architecture, film and literature to peel away the veiled continuity of dictatorial power structures in ensuing consumer cultures.

The afterlife of prisons became an important tool in the “forgetting” of past politics, while also serving as a reminder to citizens of the liberties they now enjoyed. In Draper’s analysis, these symbols led the populace to believe they had attained freedom, although they had only witnessed the veneer of democracy — in the ability to vote and consume.

Draper’s study of the manipulation of culture and consumerism under the guise of democracy will have powerful implications not only for Latin Americanists but also for those studying neoliberal transformations globally.

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher.)

360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story by Sean Wilentz

360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story

Professor Sean Wilentz tells the story of Columbia Records’ rich history and the creation of some of the greatest albums ever made.

For 125 years, Columbia Records has remained one of the most vibrant and storied names in prerecorded sound, nurturing the careers of legends such as Bessie Smith, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé and many more.

Written by Sean Wilentz, Princeton’s George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History, 360 Sound tells the story of the label’s rich history as it interweaves threads of technical and social change with the creation of some of the greatest albums ever made. The lavishly illustrated book contains over 300 rare and revealing images from the Columbia archives. Wilentz is a preeminent historian whose work spans music, politics and the arts.


Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2012 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher.)

After the Music Stopped: The financial crisis, the response, and the work ahead by Alan Blinder

After the Music Stopped

Professor Alan Blinder details the events that led up to the financial crisis, analyses the government’s response, and offers answers to the questions still before us.

Many fine books on the financial crisis were first drafts of history — books written to fill the need for immediate understanding. Alan Blinder, the Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and a Wall Street Journal columnist, and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, took the time to understand the crisis and produce a truly comprehensive and coherent narrative of how the worst economic crisis in postwar American history happened, what the government did to fight it, and what can be done from here.

With bracing clarity, Blinder shows how the U.S. financial system, which had grown far too complex for its own good — and too unregulated for the public good — experienced a perfect storm beginning in 2007. Some observers argue that large global forces were the major culprits of the crisis. Blinder disagrees, arguing that the problem started in the U.S. and was pushed abroad, as complex, opaque and overrated investment products were exported to a hungry world.

The second part of the story explains how American and international government intervention prevented a total meltdown. Blinder offers clear eyed answers to the questions still before us, even if some of the choices ahead are as divisive as they are unavoidable.

Publisher: The Penguin Press HC, 2013 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher)

Meme by Susan Wheeler

Meme by Susan Wheeler

Poet Susan Wheeler explores the absence or loss of love.

Acclaimed poet Susan Wheeler, professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts, whose last individual collection predicted the spiritual losses of the economic collapse, turns her attention to the most intimate of subjects: the absence or loss of love.

A meme is a unit of thought replicated by imitation; examples of memes, Richard Dawkins wrote, “are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” Occupy Wall Street is a meme, as are Internet ideas and images that go viral. What could be more potent memes than those passed down by parents to their children?

Wheeler reconstructs her mother’s voice— down to its cynicism and its mid-20th-century Midwestern vernacular — in “The Maud Poems,” a voice that takes a more aggressive, vituperative turn in “The Devil — or — The Introjects.” In the book’s third long sequence, a generational inheritance feeds cultural transmission in “The Split.” A set of variations on losses and breakups — wildly, darkly funny throughout and, in places, devastatingly sad — “The Split” brings Wheeler’s lauded inventiveness, wit and insight to the profound loss of love. One read, and the meme “Should I stay or should I go?” will be altered in your head forever.

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher.)

Kripke by John Burgess

Kripke by John Burgess

Princeton Professor of Philosophy John Burgess offers a thorough and self-contained guide to all of Kripke’s published books and his most important philosophical papers, old and new.

Saul Kripke has been a major influence on analytic philosophy and allied fields for a half-century and more. His early masterpiece, Naming and Necessity, reversed the pattern of two centuries of philosophizing about the necessary and the contingent. Although much of his work remains unpublished, several major essays have now appeared in print, most recently in his long-awaited collection Philosophical Troubles.

The logician and philosopher John Burgess, the John N. Woodhull Professor of Philosophy, offers a thorough and self-contained guide to all of Kripke’s published books and his most important philosophical papers, old and new. Burgess also provides an authoritative but nontechnical account of Kripke’s influential contributions to the study of modal logic and logical paradoxes. Although Kripke has been anything but a system builder, Burgess expertly uncovers the connections between different parts of his oeuvre. Kripke is shown grappling, often in opposition to existing traditions, with mysteries surrounding the nature of necessity, rule-following, and the conscious mind, as well as with intricate and intriguing puzzles about identity, belief and self-reference. Clearly contextualizing the full range of Kripke’s work, Burgess outlines, summarizes and surveys the issues raised by each of the philosopher’s major publications.

Publisher: Polity, 2012 (Cover image and text courtesy of the publisher.)