What We Are Reading Today: Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

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Updated 29 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic gets under the hood of the everyday activity of driving to uncover the surprisingly complex web of physical, psychological, and technical factors that explain how traffic works, why we drive the way we do, and what our driving says about us. 

He examines the perceptual limits and cognitive underpinnings that make us worse drivers than we think we are. He demonstrates why plans to protect pedestrians from cars often lead to more accidents. He shows how roundabouts, which can feel dangerous and chaotic, actually make roads safer and reduce traffic in the bargain. He uncovers who is more likely to honk at whom, and why. He explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our quest for safety, and even identifies the most common mistake drivers make in parking lots.

Ultimately, Traffic is about more than driving: it’s about human nature. This book will change the way we see ourselves and the world around us. And who knows? It may even make us better drivers.”


What We Are Reading Today: Spiders of the World by Norman I. Platnick

Updated 20 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Spiders of the World by Norman I. Platnick

Spiders are among the most versatile creatures on the planet, inhabiting six of the seven continents and thriving in environments ranging from deserts and rain forests to Arctic tundra and cities.

Spiders of the World is a captivating look at these wondrously adaptable and endlessly intriguing arachnids, written by six of the world’s leading experts on spiders, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

This stunningly illustrated natural history features a wealth of spectacular color photos and covers a breathtaking array of spider species from around the globe, describing their behaviors, characteristics, and remarkable evolutionary adaptations.

An incisive and engaging introduction provides an invaluable overview of the world’s spiders, and is followed by in-depth profiles spanning more than 100 spider families and presented taxonomically.

Each profile is organized phylogenetically and includes beautiful photography to illustrate various species within the family. There are also distribution maps, tables of essential facts, and commentaries highlighting diverse aspects of spider biology.


What We Are Reading Today: Seeing Serena by Gerald Marzorati

Updated 18 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Seeing Serena by Gerald Marzorati

Seeing Serena is an in-depth chronicle of the return to tennis of Serena Williams after giving birth to her daughter, and an insightful cultural analysis of the most consequential female athlete of her time.
It is a riveting chronicle of her turbulent 2019 tour season and a revealing portrait of who she is, both on and off the court.
Author Gerald Marzorati shadows her through her 2019 season, from Melbourne and the Australian Open, to Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, and on to the US Open as she seeks her 24th Grand Slam singles title.
He writes about her tennis and her forays into fashion, investing, and developing her personal brand on social media.
Seeing Serena illuminates Williams’s singular status as the greatest women’s tennis player of all time and — in a moment when race and gender are the most talked-about topics in America and beyond— a pop icon like no other.
Marzorati observes her, listens to her, studies her, explores her roles in society and history— sees Serena fully, in all the ways she has come to matter.


What We Are Reading Today: The Philosophical Stage; Drama and Dialectic in Classical Athens

Updated 17 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Philosophical Stage; Drama and Dialectic in Classical Athens

Edited by Joshua Billings

The Philosophical Stage offers an innovative approach to ancient Greek literature and thought that places drama at the heart of intellectual history. Drawing on evidence from tragedy and comedy, Joshua Billings shines new light on the development of early Greek philosophy, arguing that drama is our best source for understanding the intellectual culture of classical Athens.

In this incisive book, Billings recasts classical Greek intellectual history as a conversation across discourses and demonstrates the significance of dramatic reflections on widely shared theoretical questions. He argues that neither “literature” nor “philosophy” was a defined category in the fifth century BCE, and develops a method of reading dramatic form as a structured investigation of issues at the heart of the emerging discipline of philosophy.

A breathtaking work of intellectual history by one of today’s most original classical scholars, The Philosophical Stage presents a novel approach to ancient drama and sets a path for a renewed understanding of early Greek thought.


What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States

Updated 16 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Founded in Fiction; The Uses of Fiction in the Early United States

Author: Thomas Koenigs

What is the use of fiction? This question preoccupied writers in the early United States, where many cultural authorities insisted that fiction reading would mislead readers about reality. Founded in Fiction argues that this suspicion made early American writers especially attuned to one of fiction’s defining but often overlooked features—its fictionality. Thomas Koenigs shows how these writers explored the unique types of speculative knowledge that fiction could create as they sought to harness different varieties of fiction for a range of social and political projects.

Spanning the years 1789–1861, Founded in Fiction challenges the “rise of novel” narrative that has long dominated the study of American fiction by highlighting how many of the texts that have often been considered the earliest American novels actually defined themselves in contrast to the novel. 

Their writers developed self-consciously extranovelistic varieties of fiction, as they attempted to reform political discourse, shape women’s behavior, reconstruct a national past, and advance social criticism. Ambitious in scope, Founded in Fiction features original discussions of a wide range of canonical and lesser-known writers, including Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown, Leonora Sansay, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Montgomery Bird, George Lippard, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs.


What We Are Reading Today: Ethnography through Thick and Thin by George E. Marcus

Updated 15 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Ethnography through Thick and Thin by George E. Marcus

In the 1980s, George Marcus spearheaded a major critique of cultural anthropology, expressed most clearly in the landmark book Writing Culture, which he coedited with James Clifford. Ethnography through Thick and Thin updates and advances that critique for the late 1990s. Marcus presents a series of penetrating and provocative essays on the changes that continue to sweep across anthropology. He examines, in particular, how the discipline’s central practice of ethnography has been changed by “multi-sited” approaches to anthropology and how new research patterns are transforming anthropologists’ careers. Marcus rejects the view, often expressed, that these changes are undermining anthropology. The combination of traditional ethnography with scholarly experimentation, he argues, will only make the discipline more lively and diverse.

The book is divided into three main parts. 

In the first, Marcus shows how ethnographers’ tradition of defining fieldwork in terms of peoples and places is now being challenged by the need to study culture by exploring connections, parallels, and contrasts among a variety of often seemingly incommensurate sites. The second part illustrates this emergent multi-sited condition of research by reflecting it in some of Marcus’s own past research on Tongan elites and dynastic American fortunes. In the final section, which includes the previously unpublished essay “Sticking with Ethnography through Thick and Thin,” Marcus examines the evolving professional culture of anthropology and the predicaments of its new scholars.