At Home in the World: Women Writers and Public Life, from Austen to the Present

Authors: Maria DiBattista, Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English, professor of English and comparative literature; and Deborah Epstein Nord, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and professor of English

Publisher: Princeton University Press, February 2017

In a bold and sweeping reevaluation of the past two centuries of women’s writing, At Home in the World argues that this body of work has been defined less by domestic concerns than by an active engagement with the most pressing issues of public life: from class and religious divisions, slavery, warfare and labor unrest to democracy, tyranny, globalism and the clash of cultures. In this new literary history, Maria DiBattista and Deborah Epstein Nord contend that even the most seemingly traditional works by English-language women writers redefine the domestic sphere in ways that incorporate the concerns of public life.

The book explores works by a wide range of writers, including canonical figures such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot; neglected or marginalized writers like Mary Antin and Martha Gellhorn; and recent and contemporary figures, including Nadine Gordimer and Jhumpa Lahiri. DiBattista and Nord show how these writers dramatize tensions between home and the wider world through recurrent themes of sailing forth, escape, exploration, dissent and emigration. The result is an enlightening reinterpretation of women’s writing from the early 19th century to the present day.

Text and book cover courtesy of the publisher

Designing San Francisco: Art, Land and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay

Author: Alison Isenberg, professor of history

Publisher: Princeton University Press, September 2017

Designing San Francisco is the previously untold story of the formative postwar decades when U.S. cities took their modern shape amid clashing visions of the future. In this pathbreaking and richly illustrated book, Alison Isenberg shifts the focus from architects and city planners — those most often hailed in histories of urban development and design — to the unsung artists, activists and others who played pivotal roles in rebuilding San Francisco between the 1940s and the 1970s.

Previous accounts of midcentury urban renewal have focused on the opposing terms set down by Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs — put simply, development versus preservation — and have followed New York City models. Now Isenberg turns our attention west to colorful, pioneer-ing and contentious San Francisco, where unexpectedly fierce battles were waged over iconic private and public projects like Ghirardelli Square, Golden Gateway and the Transamerica Pyramid.

Isenberg explores how centrally engaged arts professionals brought new ideas to city, regional and national planning and shaped novel projects across urban, suburban and rural borders. An evocative portrait of one of the world’s great cities, Designing San Francisco provides a new paradigm for understanding past and present struggles to define the urban future.

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New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity During the Great Migration

Author: Judith Weisenfeld, the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion

Publisher: New York University Press, February 2017

When Joseph Nathaniel Beckles registered for the draft in the 1942, he rejected the racial categories presented to him and persuaded the registrar to cross out the check mark she had placed next to Negro and substitute “Ethiopian Hebrew.” “God did not make us Negroes,” declared religious leaders in black communities of the early-20th-century urban North. They insisted that so-called Negroes are, in reality, Ethiopian Hebrews, Asiatic Muslims or raceless children of God. Rejecting conventional American racial classification, many black Southern migrants and immigrants from the Caribbean embraced these alternative visions of black history, racial identity and collective future, thereby reshaping the black religious and racial landscape.

Focusing on the Moorish Science Temple, the Nation of Islam, Father Divine’s Peace Mission Movement and a number of congregations of Ethiopian Hebrews, Judith Weisenfeld draws on extensive archival research and incorporates a rich array of sources to highlight the experiences of average members. New World A-Coming demonstrates that the efforts by members of these movements to contest conventional racial categorization contributed to broader discussions in black America about the nature of racial identity and the collective future of black people that still resonate today.

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Understanding the Digital World: What You Need to Know about Computers, the Internet, Privacy and Security

Author: Brian Kernighan, professor of computer science

Publisher: Princeton University Press, January 2017

Computers are everywhere. Some of them are highly visible, in laptops, tablets, cellphones and smart watches. But most are invisible, like those in appliances, cars, medical equipment, transportation systems, power grids and weapons. We never see the myriad computers that quietly collect, share and sometimes leak vast amounts of personal data about us. Through computers, governments and companies increasingly monitor what we do. Social networks and advertisers know far more about us than we should be comfortable with, using information we freely give them. Criminals have all-too-easy access to our data.

Understanding the Digital World explains how computer hardware, software, networks and systems work. Topics include how computers are built and how they compute; what programming is and why it is difficult; how the internet and the web operate; and how all of these affect our security, privacy, property and other important social, political and economic issues. Understanding the Digital World is a must-read for all who want to know more about computers and communications. It explains, precisely and carefully, not only how they operate but also how they influence our daily lives, in terms anyone can understand, no matter what their experience and knowledge of technology.

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Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation

Author: Sarah Rivett, associate professor of English and American studies

Publisher: Oxford University Press, October 2017

In 1664, French Jesuit Louis Nicolas arrived in Quebec. Upon first hearing Ojibwe, Nicolas observed that he had encountered the most barbaric language in the world — but after listening to and studying approximately 15 Algonquian languages over a 10-year period, he wrote that he had “discovered all of the secrets of the most beautiful languages in the universe.”

Unscripted America is a study of how colonists in North America struggled to understand, translate and interpret Native American languages, and the significance of these languages for theological and cosmological issues such as the origins of Amerindian populations, their relationship to Eurasian and Biblical peoples, and the origins of language itself. Through a close analysis of previously overlooked texts, Unscripted America places American Indian languages within transatlantic intellectual history, while also demonstrating how American letters emerged in the 1810s through 1830s via a complex and hitherto unexplored engagement with the legacies and aesthetic possibilities of indigenous words.

By examining the foundation of the literary nation through language, writing and literacy, Unscripted America revisits common conceptions regarding “early America” and its origins to demonstrate how the understanding of America developed out of a steadfast connection to American Indians, both past and present.

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The Little Book of Black Holes

Authors: Steven Gubser and Frans Pretorius, professors of physics

Publisher: Princeton University Press, October 2017

Black holes, predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity more than a century ago, have long intrigued scientists and the public with their bizarre and fantastical properties. Although Einstein understood that black holes were mathematical solutions to his equations, he never accepted their physical reality — a viewpoint many shared. This all changed in the 1960s and 1970s, when a deeper conceptual understanding of black holes developed. Black holes have since been the subject of intense research — and the physics governing how they behave and affect their surroundings is stranger and more mind-bending than any fiction.

This book describes black holes both as astrophysical objects and theoretical “laboratories” in which physicists can test their understanding of gravitational, quantum and thermal physics. The authors describe the decades-long quest to observe the universe in gravitational waves, which recently resulted in the LIGO observatories’ detection of the distinctive gravitational wave “chirp” of two colliding black holes — the first direct observation of black holes’ existence. The work was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. The Little Book of Black Holes takes readers deep into the mysterious heart of the subject, offering rare clarity of insight into the physics that makes black holes simple yet destructive manifestations of geometric destiny.

Text and book cover courtesy of the publisher