Bookshelf Archive 2019

Faculty books and productions from 2019.

The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty
by Daron Acemoglu (MIT) and James A. Robinson (Boston University)
Penguin Random House, 2019

In Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson argued that countries rise and fall based not on culture, geography, or chance, but on the power of their institutions. In their new book, they build a new theory about liberty and how to achieve it, drawing a wealth of evidence from both current affairs and disparate threads of world history.

Acemoglu's MIT webpage

MIT News coverage

MIT Economics


Good Economics for Hard Times
By Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
Hachette, 2019

The winners of the Nobel Prize show how economics, when done right, can help us solve the thorniest social and political problems of our day. In this revolutionary book, renowned MIT economists Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo build on cutting-edge research in economics explained with lucidity and grace. Original, provocative, and urgent, Good Economics for Hard Times makes a persuasive case for an intelligent interventionism and a society built on compassion and respect.

MIT Economics

Nobel Prize coverage

MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab

Manual For Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future
By Kate Brown
W.W. Norton & Co., 2019

Drawing on a decade of archival research and on-the-ground interviews in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, Kate Brown unveils the full breadth of the devastation and the whitewash that followed. Her findings make clear the irreversible impact of man-made radioactivity on every living thing; and hauntingly, they force us to confront the untold legacy of decades of weapons-testing and other nuclear incidents, and the fact that we are emerging into a future for which the survival manual has yet to be written.

MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society

Kate Brown's MIT webpage

International Relations in the Cyber Age
by Nazli Choucri and David D. Clark
MIT Press, 2019

In our increasingly digital world, data flows define the international landscape as much as the flow of materials and people. How is cyberspace shaping international relations, and how are international relations shaping cyberspace? In this book, Nazli Choucri and David D. Clark offer a foundational analysis of the co-evolution of cyberspace (with the internet as its core) and international relations, examining resultant challenges for individuals, organizations, and states.

Nazli Choucri's MIT webpage

David D. Clark's MIT webpage

MIT Political Science

Empire of Letters
By Stephanie Frampton
Oxford University Press, 2019

Shedding new light on the history of the book in antiquity, Empire of Letters tells the story of writing at Rome at the pivotal moment of transition from Republic to Empire (c. 55 BCE-15 CE). By uniting close readings of the period's major authors with detailed analysis of material texts, it argues that the physical embodiments of writing were essential to the worldviews and self-fashioning of authors whose works took shape in them. Whether in wooden tablets, papyrus bookrolls, monumental writing in stone and bronze, or through the alphabet itself, Roman authors both idealized and competed with writing's textual forms.

MIT Literature section

Stephanie Frampton's MIT webpage

Active Defense: China's Military Strategy since 1949
By M. Taylor Fravel
Princeton University Press, 2019

Active Defense offers the first systematic look at China’s military strategy from the mid-twentieth century to today. Exploring the range and intensity of threats that China has faced, M. Taylor Fravel illuminates the nation’s past and present military goals and how China sought to achieve them, and offers a rich set of cases for deepening the study of change in military organizations. Drawing from diverse Chinese-language sources, including memoirs of leading generals, military histories, and document collections that have become available only in the last two decades, Fravel shows why transformations in military strategy were pursued at certain times and not others.

M. Taylor Fravel's MIT webpage

MIT Political Science

Coverage at Asian Review of Books

Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream
By Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson
Public Affairs, 2019

Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson tell the story of this first American growth engine and provide the blueprint for a second. It’s a visionary, pragmatic, sure-to-be controversial plan that will lead to job growth and a new American economy in places now left behind. The American economy glitters on the outside, but the reality is quite different. Job opportunities and economic growth are increasingly concentrated in a few crowded coastal enclaves. Corporations and investors are disproportionately developing technologies that benefit the wealthiest Americans in the most prosperous areas–and destroying middle class jobs elsewhere.

MIT Economics

Jonathan Gruber's MIT webpage

Simon Johnson's MIT webpage

Managing Multiculturalism: Indigeneity and the Struggle for Rights in Colombia
by Jean Jackson
Stanford University Press, 2019

In Managing Multiculturalism, Jean E. Jackson examines the evolution of the Colombian indigenous movement over the course of her forty-plus years of research and fieldwork, offering unusually developed and nuanced insight into how indigenous communities and activists changed over time, as well as how she the ethnographer and scholar evolved in turn.

MIT Anthropology

About Jean Jackson

Photo of Jay Keyser

Turning Turtle
A Memoir by Samuel Jay Keyser

Hardcopy print version, 2020
Download at PubPub, 2019

"A world expert in linguistics, a professor emeritus, former Associate Provost of MIT, engaged traveler, and accomplished musician, Samuel Jay Keyser is no ordinary man. But in the blink of instant, he suffered a medical catastrophe and became Everyman in the American health care system. His story of recovery is also a reflection on the distressing discrepencies in levels of care that Americans receive from our current health care system." — Steven Pinker

Hardcopy print version

Download at PubPub

MIT Linguistics

Keyser's MIT webpage

Three Flames: A Novel
By Alan Lightman
Counterpoint Press, 2019

Three Flames portrays the struggles of a Cambodian farming family against the extreme patriarchal attitudes of their society and a cruel and dictatorial father, set in a rural community that is slowly being exposed to the modern world and its values. A vivid story of revenge and forgiveness, of a culture smothering the dreams of freedom, and of courage against tradition, Three Flames grows directly from Lightman’s work as the founder of the Harpswell Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance a new generation of female leaders in Cambodia and all of Southeast Asia.

MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Lightman's MIT webpage

Dream Lightly
Recording of works by MIT composer Keeril Makan
Released by BMOP Music; Performed by Either/Or, 2019

The new album by acclaimed MIT composer Keeril Makan includes four works that combine lyric and harmonic qualities with the most advanced techniques of electronic music. 



Makan's website

Traveling with Sugar: Chronicles of a Global Epidemic
By Amy Moran-Thomas
University of California Press, 2019

Traveling with Sugar reframes the rising diabetes epidemic as part of a five-hundred-year-old global history of sweetness and power. Amid eerie injuries, changing bodies, amputated limbs, and untimely deaths, many people across the Caribbean and Central America simply call the affliction “sugar”—or, as some say in Belize, “traveling with sugar.” A decade in the making, this book unfolds as a series of crónicas—a word meaning both slow-moving story and slow-moving disease. It profiles the careful work of those “still fighting it” as they grapple with unequal material infrastructures and unsettling dilemmas. 

Amy Moran-Thomas's MIT webpage

MIT Anthropology

On the Brink of Paradox
By Agustín Rayo
MIT Press, 2019

This book introduces the reader to awe-inspiring issues at the intersection of philosophy and mathematics. It explores ideas at the brink of paradox: infinities of different sizes, time travel, probability and measure theory, computability theory, the Grandfather Paradox, Newcomb's Problem, the Principle of Countable Additivity. The goal is to present some exceptionally beautiful ideas in enough detail to enable readers to understand the ideas themselves (rather than watered-down approximations), but without supplying so much detail that they abandon the effort. The philosophical content requires a mind attuned to subtlety; the most demanding of the mathematical ideas require familiarity with college-level mathematics or mathematical proof. The book is based on a popular course (and MOOC) taught by the author at MIT.

MIT Philosophy

About Agustín Rayo

"Teaching Our Way to Digital Equity," from Educational Leadership
by Justin Reich
in Educational Leadership, 2019

Most educators are familiar with the "digital divide"—the gap in access to new technology found between more and less affluent students, families, or school communities. But even when that gap is closed, a second digital divide—the usage divide—can derail schools' work toward digital equity. Research shows that students in minority, low-income schools are more likely to experience tech through isolated, low-rigor activities. Even within schools, tech-infused learning opportunities are often relegated to more affluent, high-achieving students. So what steps can teachers and school leaders take to break that pattern?

MIT Comparative Media Studies

Justin Reich's MIT webpage

Opera after the Zero Hour
by Emily Richmond Pollock
Oxford University Press, 2019

Opera after the Zero Hour: The Problem of Tradition and the Possibility of Renewal in Postwar West Germany presents opera as a site for the renegotiation of tradition in a politically fraught era of rebuilding. Author Emily Richmond Pollock explores how composers developed different strategies to make new opera "new" while still deferring to historical conventions, all of which carried cultural resonances of their own.

MIT Music and Theater Arts

Emily Richmond Pollock's MIT webpage

Special Duty: A History of the Japanese Intelligence Community
By Richard J. Samuels
Cornell University Press, 2019

The prewar history of the Japanese intelligence community demonstrates how having power over much, but insight into little can have devastating consequences. Its postwar history—one of limited Japanese power despite growing insight—has also been problematic for national security. In Special Duty Richard J. Samuels dissects the fascinating history of the intelligence community in Japan. Looking at the impact of shifts in the strategic environment, technological change, and past failures, he probes the reasons why Japan has endured such a roller-coaster ride when it comes to intelligence gathering and analysis, and concludes that the ups and downs of the past century—combined with growing uncertainties in the regional security environment—have convinced Japanese leaders of the critical importance of striking balance between power and insight.

MIT Political Science

Richard J. Samuels' MIT webpage

A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine
By Robin Scheffler
University of Chicago Press, 2019

A Contagious Cause is the first book to trace the century-long hunt for a human cancer virus in America, an effort whose scale exceeded that of the Human Genome Project. The government’s campaign merged the worlds of molecular biology, public health, and military planning in the name of translating laboratory discoveries into useful medical therapies. However, its expansion into biomedical research sparked fierce conflict. A Contagious Cause links laboratory and legislature as has rarely been done before, creating a new chapter in the histories of science and American politics.

MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society

Robin Scheffler's MIT webpage