Books for the 4th of July
To celebrate, honor and reflect | selections from the MIT SHASS Bookshelf

The research conducted in MIT's humanities, arts, and social science fields appears principally in the form of books and publications, along with music and theater works. This research generates new knowledge and analysis, innovation and insight, guidance for policy, and nourishment for lives. Here is a selection of books in honor of the 4th of July holiday. To see the entire MIT SHASS collection, visit Bookshelf.




Pauline Maier
American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence
Alfred A. Knopf


"Pauline Maier shows us the Declaration as both the defining statement of our national identity and the moral standard by which we live as a nation. It is truly 'American Scripture,' and Maier tells us how it came to be — from the Declaration's birth in the hard and tortuous struggle by which Americans arrived at Independence to the ways in which, in the nineteenth century, the document itself became sanctified."


An Expression of the American Mind | Review at NYT

Pauline Maier
Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788
Simon & Schuster, 2010


Maier's Ratification delivers new knowledge about the adoption
of the U.S. Constitution — the story of the most consequential political debate in American history.

"A magnificent, comprehensive account...Maier's book will stand as the definitive account of the story of the ratification of the Constitution for decades to come." 

MIT News story: A Hardy Constitution

About and Reviews

The late Pauline Maier was the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American History at MIT.


Arthur Kaledin
Tocqueville and His America: A Darker Horizon
Yale University Press, 2011

Kaledin's groundbreaking book on Alexis de Tocqueville offers an original combination of biography, character study, and wide-ranging analysis of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, bringing new light to that classic work.

Arthur Kaledin is Professor of History emeritus at MIT.


Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
Why Nations Fail  
Random House, 2012

It is among the most significant questions in history: Why do some nations, become wealthy and powerful, while others remain mired in poverty? In this acclaimed, highly readable book, economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson assert that above all else, political institutions — not culture, geography, or natural resources — determine the wealth of nations.

Info, videos, reviews

Daron Acemoglu is the Kindleberger Professor of Economics at MIT.


Heather Paxson
The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America
University of California, 2012 

Cheese is alive, and alive with meaning 
An anthropological study of American artisanal cheese and the people who make it. Cheese is alive, and alive with meaning. This study tells the story of how craftwork has become a new source of cultural and economic value for producers as well as consumers. By exploring the life of cheese, Paxson helps rethink the politics of food, land, and labor today.

Life of Cheese website | 1-minute video: Paxson on artisan cheese


Heather Paxson is the William Kenan Jr. Professor of Anthropology, and a MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT.


Suzanne Berger
wtih the Task Force on Production in the Innovation Society
Making in America
MIT Press, 2013

Achieving an innovation nation
America is the world leader in innovation, but many of the ideas that are hatched in American start-ups, labs, and companies now go abroad to reach commercial scale. When innovation does not find the capital, skills, and expertise it needs to come to market in the U.S., what does it mean for economic growth and job creation?

Story at MIT News | 3Q with Suzanne Berger |  Slice of MIT  

Suzanne Berger is the Dorman-Starbuck Professor of Political Science at MIT.


Craig Steven Wilder
Ebony and Ivy:
Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities

Bloomsbury Press, 2013

A study that is the first of its kind, Ebony and Ivy looks "beyond particular campuses to take a broader look at the role of slavery in the growth of America’s earliest universities." James Wright, a former president of Dartmouth College says Wilder shows that “Slavery was deeply embedded in all our institutions, which found ways to explain and rationalize slavery, even after the formation of the American republic.”  — from New York Times review

Story at MIT News  | NPR Interview with Craig Wilder

Craig Steven Wilder is Professor of American History at MIT.


Barry R. Posen
Restraint, A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy
Cornell University Press, 2014

The United States, Barry R. Posen argues in Restraint, has grown incapable of moderating its ambitions in international politics. Since the collapse of Soviet power, it has pursued a grand strategy that he calls “liberal hegemony,” one that Posen sees as unnecessary, counterproductive, costly, and wasteful. Restraint explains why this grand strategy works poorly and makes an argument for restraint in the future use of U.S. military strength.

Posen website

Barry Posen is the Ford International Professor of Political Science.

Charles Stewart III
The Measure of American Elections
Cambridge University Press, 2014
Policymaking in the realm of elections is often grounded in anecdotes and opinions, rather than in good data and scientific research. To remedy this, The Measure of American Elections brings together leading scholars to examine the performance of elections across the U.S., using a data-driven perspective.

Washington Post interview with Charles Stewart

Charles Stewart III is the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science.


Wendy J. Schiller & Charles Stewart III
Electing the Senate: Indirect Democracy before the Seventeenth Amendment
Princeton University Press, 2015

From 1789 to 1913, the Constitution mandated that United States senators be chosen by state legislators. But in 1913 the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving the public a direct vote. Electing the Senate investigates the electoral connections among constituents, state legislators, political parties, and U.S. senators during the age of indirect elections.

Charles Stewart III website | MIT Political Science


Charles Stewart III is the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science.


Christine J. Walley
Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago
University of Chicago Press, 2013

Understanding the growing inequality in the U.S.
In 1980, Christine Walley’s world was turned upside down when the steel mill in Southeast Chicago where her father worked closed abruptly. In the ensuing years, thousands of other area residents would also lose their jobs in the mills—one example of the vast deindustrialization occurring across the U.S. In Exit Zero, Walley examines the human cost of deindustrialization. 

Story+ Video at MIT News

Christine J. Walley is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at MIT.


Rosalind Williams
The Triumph of Human Empire
University of Chicago Press, 2013

What is the human empire?  
Rosalind Williams explores the overarching historical event of our time: the rise and triumph of human empire, the apotheosis of the modern ambition to increase knowledge and power in order to achieve world domination. Confronting an intensely humanized world was a singular event of consciousness; Williams shows how Verne, Morris, and Stevenson experimented expressed a growing awareness of the need for a new relationship between humans and Earth.

3 Questions: Interview with Rosalind Williams

The Economist names The Triumph of Human Empire one of the best books of 2013

Rosalind Williams is the Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology at MIT.




John Tirman

Dream Chasers: Immigration and the American Backlash
MIT Press, 2015

Illegal immigration continues to roil American politics. Yet polls show that a majority of Americans support some kind of path to citizenship for those here illegally. What is going on? In this book, John Tirman shows how the resistance to immigration in America is more cultural than political. Although cloaked in language about jobs and secure borders, the resistance to immigration expresses a fear that immigrants are changing the culture.

Story at MIT News | John Tirman's website | MIT Center for International Studies

The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars
Oxford University Press, 2011

Americans are greatly concerned about the number of our troops killed in battle — 100,000 dead in World War I; 300,000 in World War II; 33,000 in the Korean War; 58,000 in Vietnam; 4,500 in Iraq; more than 1,000 in Afghanistan — and rightly so. But why are we so indifferent, often oblivious, to the far greater number of casualties suffered by those we fight and those we fight for? This is the compelling, largely unasked question that John Tirman, a principal research scientist and executive director at the MIT Center for International Studies, answers.

Story at MIT News

John Tirman is Principal Research Scientist and Executive Director of the Center for International Studies.



Sherry Turkle

Alone Together
Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other


Reclaiming Conversation
The Power of Talk in a Digital Age


In her new book renowned MIT media scholar Sherry Turkle describes the power of human conversation to help us develop empathy, a capacity for self-reflection, and the ability to listen well to others.  She also has some ideas about how we can reclaim face-to-face conversation which, she says, “is the most human and humanizing thing that we do."

Story at MIT News

Sherry Turkle is Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology.