Summer 2021 recommended reading from MIT | MIT News

As we enter the heart of summer, many of us will find ourselves with added time for relaxation and deep reading. The following titles represent a selection of recent offerings from MIT faculty and staff. Happy reading!

Novel, Biography, and Memoir

The Planet After Geoengineering” (Actar, 2021)
By Rania Ghosn, associate professor of architecture

This graphic novel makes climate engineering and its controversies visible in five stories assembled from the deep underground to outer space. Each “geo-story” — Petrified Carbon, Arctic Albedo, Sky River, Sulfur Storm, and Dust Cloud — depicts possible future Earths that we come to inhabit on the heels of a geoengineering intervention.

Camino Road” (Artbook, 2021)
By Renée Green, professor of architecture

Green’s debut novel is an homage to (and parody of) the historically male-dominated genre of the road novel. Set between the late 1970s and early 1980s, and combining the genres of road novel, countercultural memoir, travel journal, epistolary novel, and screenplay, it is the record of the mind of a young woman coming of age as an artist, traveling in Mexico, and exploring the bohemian milieu of 1980s New York.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir” (Crown, 2020)
By Sara Seager, the Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Sciences and professor of Earth, atmospheric and planetary Sciences; physics; and aeronautics and astronautics

A pioneering planetary scientist, Seager searches for exoplanets — especially that distant, elusive world that sustains life. But with the unexpected death of her husband, the purpose of her own life becomes hard for her to see. As she struggles to navigate life after loss, Seager takes solace in the alien beauty of exoplanets and the technical challenges of exploration.

The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir” (Penguin, 2021)
By Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society

In this vivid narrative, Turkle ties together her coming of age and her pathbreaking research on technology, empathy, and ethics. Growing up in postwar Brooklyn, Turkle searched for clues to her identity in a house filled with mysteries. Before empathy became a way to find connection, it was her strategy for survival.

Science and Medicine

Viruses, Pandemics, and Immunity” (MIT Press, 2021)
By Arup Chakraborty, Institute Professor and professor of chemical engineering, chemistry, and physics; and Andrey Shaw

This book provides an accessible explanation of how viruses emerge to cause pandemics, how our immune system combats them, and how diagnostic tests, vaccines, and antiviral therapies work — concepts that provide the foundation for our public health policies.

Quantum Legacies: Dispatches from an Uncertain World” (University of Chicago Press, 2020)
By David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science in the MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society; professor of physics, and associate dean of social and ethical responsibilities of computing in the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing

Kaiser introduces readers to iconic episodes in physicists’ still-unfolding quest to understand space, time, and matter. He explores moments of discovery and debate among the minds of Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Stephen Hawking, and many more who have indelibly shaped our understanding of nature as they’ve tried to make sense of a messy world.

Probable Impossibilities: Musings on Beginnings and Endings” (Pantheon, 2021)
By Alan Lightman, professor of the practice of the humanities in MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing

From the acclaimed author of “Einstein’s Dreams” comes a collection of meditative essays on the possibilities — and impossibilities — of nothingness and infinity, and how our place in the cosmos falls somewhere in between.

Mercury Stories: Understanding Sustainability through a Volatile Element” (MIT Press, 2020)
By Noelle E. Selin, associate professor in the MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; and Henrik Selin

This book explores how people have made beneficial use of mercury for thousands of years, how they’ve been harmed by its toxic properties, and how they’ve tried to protect themselves and the environment from its damaging effects. The authors develop and apply an analytical framework that can inform other efforts to evaluate and promote sustainability.

Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality” (Penguin, 2021)
By Frank Wilczek, the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics

Wilczek offers a simple yet profound exploration of reality based on the deep revelations of modern science. With clarity and joy, he guides readers through the essential concepts that form our understanding of what the world is and how it works. Through these pages, we come to see our reality in a new way — bigger, fuller, and stranger than it looked before.

Culture, Humanities, and Social Sciences

Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance” (NYU Press, 2021)
By Moya Bailey, MLK Visiting Professor in the MIT Program in Women’s and Gender Studies

When Bailey first coined the term “misogynoir,” she defined it as the ways anti-Black and misogynistic representation shape broader ideas about Black women, particularly in visual culture and digital spaces. In this book, Bailey shows how Black women actively reimagine the world by engaging in powerful forms of digital resistance at a time when anti-Black misogyny is thriving.

Combating Inequality: Rethinking Government’s Role” (MIT Press, 2021)
Edited by Olivier Blanchard, professor emeritus of economics, and Dani Rodrik

Economic inequality is the defining issue of our time. In this book, leading economists, many of them current or former policymakers, bring good news: We have the tools to reverse the rise in inequality. In their discussions, they consider which of these tools are the most effective at doing so.

Insurance Era: Risk, Governance, and the Privatization of Security in Postwar America” (University of Chicago Press, 2021)
By Caley Horan, associate professor of history

Horan shows that “the rise and dissemination of neoliberal values … were the result of a project to unsocialize risk, shrinking the state’s commitment to providing support.” This has had the effect of laying burdens on people who are often the least capable of bearing them.

Just Money: Mission-Driven Banks and the Future of Finance” (MIT Press, 2021)
By Katrin Kaufer, director of Just Money at the MIT Community Innovators Lab (CoLab) in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and Lillian Steponaitis, CoLab research affiliate

In this book, Kaufer and Steponaitis take readers on a global tour of financial institutions that use finance as a force for good. In so doing, they remind us that money, if used intentionally and equitably, can be just money — a tool that serves nature, human development, and social justice.

The Mental Life of Modernism: Why Poetry, Painting, and Music Changed at the Turn of the Twentieth Century” (MIT Press, 2020)
By Samuel Jay Keyser, professor emeritus of linguistics

Keyser argues that the stylistic innovations of Western modernism reflect not a cultural shift but a cognitive one. Behind modernism is the same cognitive phenomenon that led to the scientific revolution of the 17th century: the brain coming up against its natural limitations.

Beyond 9/11: Homeland Security for the Twenty-First Century” (MIT Press, 2020)
Edited by Chappell Lawson, associate professor of political science; Alan Bersin; and Juliette N. Kayyem

What does it mean to “secure the homeland” in the 21st century? What lessons can be drawn from the first two decades of U.S. government efforts to do so? In this book, leading academic experts and former senior government officials address the most salient challenges of homeland security today.

Money for Nothing: The Scientists, Fraudsters, and Corrupt Politicians Who Reinvented Money, Panicked a Nation, and Made The World Rich” (Random House, 2020)
By Thomas Levenson, professor of the practice in MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing and director of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing

Advances of the Scientific Revolution created newly abstract ideas about money, transforming it from something material — discs of precious metal — to a mathematical notion of money, shares, or bonds, or insurance that could evolve over time. Levenson shows how we are still vulnerable to the same risks that brought down Britain’s first experiments with financial invention.

States of Childhood: From the Junior Republic to the American Republic, 1895-1945” (MIT Press, 2020)
By Jennifer S. Light, the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology…

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