graphic of books on shelves with some spelling MIT
Image: MIT News, with images from iStockphoto
Image: MIT News, with images from iStockphoto

Summer 2022 recommended reading from MIT

Enjoy these recent titles from Institute faculty and staff.

It is summertime once again, which means that many of us will find ourselves with new opportunities to dive into books. The following titles represent a selection of offerings published in the past year from MIT faculty and staff. Links are provided to each book from its publisher, and the MIT Libraries has compiled a helpful list of the titles held in its collections. Happy reading!

Novel, biography, memoir, and poetry

Naiad Blood” (Finishing Line Press, 2021)
By Sarah C. Beckmann, communications coordinator at the MIT Media Lab

Beckmann’s first collection of poetry, “Naiad Blood,” describes a young woman who discovers herself in the sport of rowing. Although she grew up near the sea, she falls in love with boats and the water all over again, in a whole new way; crew not only provides her with an avenue for personal growth, but also alters her outlook on life. Taking creative inspiration from Greek myths and other cultural ideas around womanhood, “Naiad Blood” acknowledges social norms and issues that women face, and also directly challenges them.

Une Fille Indocile: L’émancipation d’une femme nourrie par les mouvements féministes des années 60-70 aux États-Unis” (Iconoclaste, 2022)

By Isabelle de Courtivron, the Ann F. Friedlaender Professor Emerita in the Humanities and emerita head of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

De Courtivron was born after World War II in Paris, into a family with conservative values. When her family moved to the United States, she discovered another culture: its dress codes, its language, and especially its protest movements. In this memoir, written in French, de Courtivron evokes the feminist struggles in which she took part in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and the impact they had on her life.

Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel” (Wizards of the Coast, 2022)
Chapter by D. Fox Harrell, professor of digital media and artificial intelligence and director of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality

“Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel” is an anthology of 13 stand-alone adventures set in wondrous lands for the roleplaying game “Dungeons & Dragons.” Harrell’s chapter, “The Nightsea’s Succor,” is inspired by the diverse historical continuities, innovations, and kindred futures shared across African American people, roots, and ancestors.

Shapley’s Round Table: A Memoir by the Astronomer’s Daughter” (BookBaby, 2021)
Edited by June L. Matthews, professor emerita of physics, and Thomas J. Bogdan

This is a memoir by astronomer Mildred Shapley Matthews, daughter of the well-known astronomer Harlow Shapley and mother of June Matthews. Based on recollections, correspondence, and conversations with her father and mother, Martha Betz Shapley, Shapley Matthews explores what it was like growing up with a science impresario and the longtime director of the Harvard Observatory. Matthews and Bogdan worked for several years after Shapley Matthews’ death in 2016 to create this readable version of her manuscript.

Carbon Queen: The Remarkable Life of Nanoscience Pioneer Mildred Dresselhaus” (MIT Press, 2022)
By Maia Weinstock, deputy editorial director in the MIT News Office

In “Carbon Queen,” Weinstock describes how, with curiosity and drive, the late MIT Institute Professor Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus (1930-2017) defied expectations and forged a career as a leading scientist and engineer. Dresselhaus, who made highly influential discoveries about the properties of carbon and other materials, helped reshape our world in countless ways — from electronics to aviation to medicine to energy. She was also a trailblazer for women in STEM and a beloved educator, mentor, and colleague.

Science and medicine

A Tactical Guide to Science Journalism: Lessons From the Front Lines” (Oxford University Press, 2022)
Edited by Deborah Blum, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT (KSJ); Ashley Smart, associate director of KSJ; and Tom Zeller Jr., editor of Undark, the digital science magazine published by KSJ

Drawing on insights from writers based at publications including The New York Times, the BBC, The Washington Post, Science, The New Yorker, National Geographic and more, this book serves as an essential survey of the best in science reporting today — and a testament to the importance of independent journalistic inquiry in understanding research and building trust with audiences.

Chasing Black Holes: An Insider’s View of a Space Astronomy Mission” (Van Dorn Books, 2021)
By Hale Bradt, professor emeritus of physics

This is the story of the Rossi X ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), an Earth-orbiting NASA observatory built to study X-ray-emitting celestial objects. Bradt provides a personal account of the 20-year effort of his team at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research to bring about the RXTE mission. Technical and bureaucratic hurdles facing the mission are described with humor and wry personal anecdotes. The payoff: 16 years of successful observations resulting in critical new insights into black holes and neutron stars.

What Is Life?” (HKW, 2022)
Edited by Stefan Helmreich, professor and Elting E. Morison Chair in MIT Anthropology; Natasha Myers PhD ’07; Sophia Roosth PhD ’10; and Michael Rossi PhD ’11, in association with Katrin Klingan and Nick Houde; includes a chapter by Evelyn Fox Keller, professor emerita of the history and philosophy of science in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society

“What is life?” is a question that has haunted the life sciences since Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Gottfried Treviranus independently coined the word “biology” in 1802. The query has titled scores of texts, with Erwin Schrödinger’s 1944 book and Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan’s 1995 volume only the most prominent. In this inventive art-and-science book, the editors curate and comment upon a collection of first pages of publications from 1829–2021 entitled “What Is Life?”

A Shot in the Arm: How Science, Engineering, and Supply Chains Converged to Vaccinate the World” (MIT CTL Media, 2021)
By Yossi Sheffi, the Elisha Gray II Professor of Engineering Systems, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics

In “A Shot in the Arm,” Sheffi recounts the Covid-19 vaccines’ extraordinary journey from scientific breakthroughs to coronavirus antidote and mass vaccination. He also explores how the mission could transform the fight against deadly diseases and other global-scale challenges.

Culture, humanities, and social sciences

Life-Destroying Diagrams” (Duke University Press, 2022)
By Eugenie Brinkema, associate professor of literature

In “Life-Destroying Diagrams,” Brinkema brings the insights of her radical formalism to bear on supremely risky terrain: the ethical extremes of horror and love. Through close readings of works of film, literature, and philosophy, she explores how diagrams, grids, charts, lists, abecedaria, toroids, tempos, patterns, colors, negative space, lengths, increments, and thresholds attest to formal logics of torture and cruelty, violence and finitude, friendship and eros, debt, and care.

When the News Broke: Chicago 1968 and the Polarizing of America” (University of Chicago Press, 2022)
By Heather Hendershot, professor of film and media in MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Hendershot revisits TV coverage of the 1968 Democratic convention — the street violence and the tumultuous convention itself, where Black citizens challenged southern delegations that had excluded them, anti-Vietnam delegates sought to change the party’s war policy, and journalists and delegates were bullied by Daley’s security forces and party leaders. Hendershot reveals the convention as a pivotal moment in American political history when a mistaken notion of “liberal media bias” became mainstreamed and nationalized.

Until We Have Won Our Liberty: South Africa after Apartheid” (Princeton University Press, 2022)
By Evan Lieberman, the Total Professor of Political Science and Contemporary Africa and director of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives

At a time when many democracies are under strain, Lieberman shines new light on the signal achievements of one of the most closely watched transitions away from minority rule. South Africa’s democratic development has been messy, fiercely contested, and sometimes violent. But as Lieberman argues, it has also offered a voice to the voiceless, unprecedented levels of government accountability, and tangible improvements in quality of life.

Syntax in the Treetops” (MIT Press, 2022)
By Shigeru Miyagawa, professor of linguistics and the Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture (post-tenure)

“Syntax in the Treetops” proposes that syntax extends into the domain of discourse by making linkages between core syntax and the conversational participants. Miyagawa draws on evidence for this extended syntactic structure from a variety of languages, as well as the language of autistic children. His proposal for what happens at the highest level of the tree structure used by linguists offers a unique contribution to the new discipline sometimes known as “syntacticization of discourse.”

Seeking the Bomb: Strategies of Nuclear Proliferation” (Princeton University Press, 2022)
By Vipin Narang, the Frank Stanton Professor of Nuclear Security and Political Science

Much of the work on nuclear proliferation has focused on why states pursue nuclear weapons. The question of how they do so has received little attention — until now. In “Seeking the Bomb,” Narang develops a new typology of proliferation strategies: hedging, sprinting, sheltered pursuit, and hiding. Narang delves into the implications these strategies have for nuclear proliferation and international security.

Unintended Lessons of Revolution: Student Teachers and Political Radicalism in Twentieth-Century Mexico” (Duke University Press, 2022)
By Tanalís Padilla, professor of history

In “Unintended Lessons of Revolution,” Padilla traces the history of the rural normales, boarding schools that trained teachers in a new nation-building project, showing how they became sites of radical politics. Crafting a story of struggle and state repression, Padilla illuminates education’s radical possibilities and the nature of political consciousness for youths whose changing identity speaks to Mexico’s 20th-century transformations.

Fearless: A Dissection of Jamaican Spirituality: A Path to Unity and Triumph for the African and Non-African Diaspora” (Self-published, 2021)
By Bianca Rose, administrative assistant in MIT Open Learning

“Fearless” explores variations of the Jamaican culture, from its people (i.e. Maroons, Rastafarians, and Jamaicans), to the militant language of Jamaican Patois, to the sound of Reggae music and impact of dance, and through the lessons from legendary freedom fights. Rose observes how Rastafarianism, music, sports, and other cultural aspects have influenced people across the African and non-African diaspora.

Republics of Myth: National Narratives and the U.S.-Iran Conflict” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022)
By John Tirman, executive director of and principal research scientist at the Center for International Studies (CIS); Hussein Banai, CIS research affiliate; and Malcolm Byrne, CIS research affiliate

Iran and the United States have been at odds for 40 years. In “Republics of Myth,” Tirman, Banai, and Byrne argue that a major contributing factor to the enmity between the two nations is how each views itself. They have differing interests and grievances about each other, but their often-deadly confrontation derives from the very different national narratives that shape their politics, actions, and vision of their own destiny in the world.

When People Want Punishment: Retributive Justice and the Puzzle of Authoritarian Popularity” (Cambridge University Press, 2021)
By Lily Tsai, the Ford Professor of Political Science and chair of the MIT faculty

Why are some authoritarian regimes popular with their citizens, while many democratic regimes are mistrusted or held in contempt? In this book, Tsai provides a theory for understanding when ordinary people are more likely to favor illiberal and authoritarian leaders and provides a unified framework for understanding authoritarian resilience and democratic fragility.

The Transgender Exigency: Defining Sex and Gender in the 21st Century” (Routledge, 2021)
By Edward Schiappa, the John E. Burchard Professor of the Humanities

At no other point in human history have the definitions of “woman” and “man,” “male” and “female,” “masculine” and “feminine,” been more contentious. This book advances a pragmatic approach to the act of defining and acknowledging the important ethical dimensions of our definitional practices. Schiappa’s timely intervention examines sites of debate including schools, bathrooms, the military, sports, prisons, and feminism, drawing attention to the political, practical, and ethical dimensions of the act of defining itself.

Hidden Games: The Surprising Power of Game Theory to Explain Irrational Human Behavior (Basic Books, 2022)
By Erez Yoeli, research scientist in the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Moshe Hoffman

We like to think of ourselves as rational. But as behavioral economics shows, most behavior doesn’t seem rational at all — which, unfortunately, casts doubt on game theory’s real-world credibility. In “Hidden Games,” Yoeli and Hoffman find a surprising middle ground between the hyperrationality of classical economics and the hyper-irrationality of behavioral economics. They call it “hidden games.”

Technology and society

Into the Anthropocosmos: A Whole Space Catalog from the MIT Space Exploration Initiative” (MIT Press, 2021)
By Ariel Ekblaw, director of the Space Exploration Initiative at the MIT Media Lab; designed by Sands Fish, researcher at the Media Lab

In the Anthropocosmos — an era of space exploration in which we will expand humanity’s horizons beyond our planet’s bounds — humans have twin responsibilities, to Earth and to space, and we should neither abandon our own planet to environmental degradation nor litter the galaxy with space junk. This generously illustrated volume presents space technology for this new age: prototypes, artifacts, experiments, and habitats for an era of participatory space exploration.

The Age of AI: And Our Human Future” (Little, Brown & Co., 2021)
By Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing; Henry A. Kissinger; and Eric Schmidt

Artificial intelligence is coming online in searching, streaming, medicine, education, and many other fields and, in so doing, transforming how humans are experiencing reality. In “The Age of AI,” three leading thinkers have come together to consider how AI will change our relationships with knowledge, politics, and the societies in which we live.

The Essence of Software: Why Concepts Matter for Great Design” (Princeton University Press, 2021)
By Daniel Jackson, professor of electrical engineering and computer science

Software matters more than ever before. Why, then, is so much software flawed? Why isn’t there a straightforward way to create software that is easy to use, robust, and secure? This book gives new answers to old questions, offering a fresh perspective on software design, with examples from over 100 familiar apps. It’s accessible to anyone — strategist, marketer, manager, designer, or programmer — who wants software that is more empowering, dependable, and delightful to use.

97 Things Every Data Engineer Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts” (O’Reilly, 2021)
Edited by Tobias Macey, associate director of platform and devops at MIT Open Learning

In this book, contributors from notable companies including Twitter, Google, Stitch Fix, Microsoft, Capital One, and LinkedIn provide 97 concise and useful tips for cleaning, prepping, wrangling, storing, processing, and ingesting data. Current and aspiring engineers will learn powerful real-world best practices for managing data big and small.

Building the New Economy: Data as Capital” (MIT Press, 2021)
By Alex “Sandy” Pentland, the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and director of MIT Connection Science; Alexander Lipton; and Thomas Hardjono, technology director of MIT Connection Science and of the MIT Trust::Data Consortium

Data are now central to the economy, government, and health systems — so why are data and the artificial intelligence systems that interpret data in the hands of so few? “Building the New Economy” argues that we need to think about data as a new type of capital, and that data trusts and distributed ledgers can empower people with user-centric data ownership, transparent and accountable algorithms, machine-learning fairness principles and methodologies, and secure digital transaction systems.

Biofabrication” (MIT Press, 2021)
By Ritu Raman, the d’Arbeloff Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

You are a biological machine whose movement is powered by skeletal muscle, just as a car is a machine whose movement is powered by an engine. If you can be built from the bottom up with biological materials, other machines can be as well. This is the idea driving biofabrication: building with living cells. Part of the MIT Press’ Essential Knowledge series, “Biofabrication” offers an introduction to how materials and machines powered by cells can tackle challenges in medicine, agriculture, and global security.

The Immersive Enclosure: Virtual Reality in Japan” (Columbia University Press, 2022)
By Paul Roquet, associate professor of media studies and Japan studies and the Mitsui Career Development Professor in Contemporary Technology

Roquet’s analysis of virtual reality uncovers how it is reshaping the politics of labor, gender, home, and nation. He examines how VR in Japan diverged from American militarism and techno-utopian visions, becoming a tool for renegotiating personal space. When digital platforms continue encroaching on everyday life, “The Immersive Enclosure” takes a critical look at attempts to jettison existing social realities and offers a bold new approach for understanding the media environments to come.

Education, work, finance, and social impact

Computational Thinking Education in K-12: Artificial Intelligence Literacy and Physical Computing” (MIT Press, 2022)
Edited by Harold Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT, and Siu-Cheung Kong; includes one chapter by Cynthia Breazeal, professor of media arts and sciences and dean for digital learning; Blakeley H. Payne, research assistant in the MIT Media Lab; and Daniella DiPaola, research assistant in the Media Lab

This book offers an overview of computational thinking and its importance in K–12 education. Topics include the rationale for teaching computational thinking, programming as a general problem-solving skill, the “phenomenon-based learning” approach, and the educational implications of the explosion in artificial intelligence research, discussing, among other things, the importance of teaching children to be conscientious designers and consumers of AI. 

The Answer Is You: A Guidebook to Creating a Life Full of Impact” (Mango, 2022)
By Alex Amouyel, executive director of MIT Solve

In “The Answer is You,” Amouyel describes how being a change agent starts with doing good deeds and being a community helper. Everyone can do something with the skills and resources they already have — they just need ideas for how, she argues. “The Answer is You” attempts to inspire every person to think critically about the problems we face and the solutions they might be able to offer to enact change.

The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines” (MIT Press, 2022)
By David Autor, Ford Professor of Economics; David A. Mindell, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing; and Elisabeth B. Reynolds, executive director of and principal research scientist at the MIT Industrial Performance Center, and lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning

“The Work of the Future” describes why the U.S. trails other industrialized countries in sharing the benefits of innovation with workers, and explores how we can remedy the problem. Building on the multiyear MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, the authors argue that to create better jobs, we must foster institutional innovations that complement technological change.

Shakespeare and Digital Pedagogy: Case Studies and Strategies” (Bloomsbury, 2021)
Edited by Diana E. Henderson, the Arthur J. Conner Professor in Literature, and Kyle Sebastian Vitale

This international collection of fresh digital approaches for teaching Shakespeare describes 15 methodologies, resources, and tools recently developed, updated, and used by a diverse range of contributors in Great Britain, Australia, Asia, and the United States. Contributors explore how these digital resources meet classroom needs and help facilitate conversations about academic literacy, race and identity, local and global cultures, performance, and interdisciplinary thought.

Learning Engineering Toolkit: Evidence-Based Practices from the Learning Sciences, Instructional Design, and Beyond
Three chapters by Aaron Kessler, assistant director of learning sciences and teaching at MIT Open Learning; Scotty D. Craig; Jim Goodell; Dina Kurzweil; Scott W. Greenwald; and Janet Kolodner

As learning engineering becomes an increasingly formalized discipline and practice, new insights and tools are needed to help education, training, design, and data analytics professionals iteratively develop, test, and improve complex systems for engaging and effective learning. This book is a practical guide to the rich and varied applications of learning engineering. In his three chapters, Kessler discusses learning engineering as a process, how it applies the learning sciences, and other practical tools from the learning sciences.

In Pursuit of the Perfect Portfolio: The Stories, Voices, and Key Insights of the Pioneers Who Shaped the Way We Invest” (Princeton University Press, 2021)
By Andrew W. Lo, the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris Professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Stephen R. Foerster

Is there an ideal portfolio of investment assets, one that perfectly balances risk and reward? “In Pursuit of the Perfect Portfolio” examines this question by profiling and interviewing 10 of the most prominent figures in finance. In the process, readers come to understand how the science of modern investing came to be.

Arts, planning, and design

Design to Live: Everyday Inventions from a Refugee Camp” (MIT Press, 2021)
Edited by Azra Akšamija, associate professor of architecture, director of the MIT Future Heritage Lab, and director of the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology; Melina Philippou, program director of the MIT Future Heritage Lab; and Raafat Majzoub

“Design to Live” shows how refugees use art and design to transform their living environments, restoring humanity within circumstances that seem aimed at depriving them of it. Featuring more than 20 projects created by Syrian refugees at the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan, this bilingual book in English and Arabic offers a new way of understanding design as a subversive worldmaking practice and as a tool for reclaiming agency in conditions of forced displacement. 

New Industrial Urbanism: Designing Places for Production” (Taylor and Francis Group, 2022)
By Eran Ben-Joseph, professor of urban studies and planning, and Tali Hatuka

This open-access book explores the evolving and future relationships between cities and sites of production, focusing on the spatial implications and physical design of integrating contemporary manufacturing into the city. It provides lessons from cases around the world and calls to reconsider the ways in which industry creates places, sustains jobs, and supports environmental sustainability in our cities.

Equity, Evaluation, and International Cooperation: In Pursuit of Proximate Peers in an African City” (Oxford University Press, 2022)
By Gabriella Y. Carolini, associate professor of urban studies and planning

Based on a close examination of international cooperation projects in the water-and-sanitation sector in Maputo, Mozambique, this book describes the factors that shape equity in development practice. It also provides a framework for how project evaluations, as a key narrative instrument, can promote distributive, procedural, and epistemic justice.

Urban Play: Make-Believe, Technology, and Space” (MIT Press, 2021)
By Fábio Duarte, principal research scientist at the MIT Senseable City Lab, lecturer in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and professor at PUCPR in Brazil; and Ricardo Álvarez PhD ’20

In “Urban Play,” Duarte and Álvarez argue that technology is powerful not when it becomes optimally functional, but while it is still playful and open to experimentation. It is through play that we explore new territories, create new devices and languages, and transform ourselves. Only then can innovative spatial design create resonant spaces that go beyond functionalism to evoke an emotional response in those who use them.

Persuading with Data: A Guide to Designing, Delivering, and Defending Your Data” (MIT Press, 2022)
By Miro Kazakoff, senior lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management

“Persuading with Data” provides a guide to data visualization, strategic communication, and delivery best practices. This is the first book that combines explanatory visualization and communication strategy, showing how to use visuals to create effective communications that convince others to accept and act on data. It explains how our brains make sense of graphs, how to design effective graphs and slides that support ideas, how to create a compelling presentation, and how to deliver and defend data to an audience.

Leadership in Planning: How to Communicate Ideas and Effect Positive Change” (Routledge, 2021)
By Jeff Levine, lecturer in urban studies and planning

Community organizers like Jane Jacobs rightly blamed city planners for neighborhoods destroyed in the name of “progress,” and determined that the field was flawed. Yet in this book, Levine argues that critical societal challenges, such as affordable housing, climate change, and racial disparities, need planners to lead the way more than ever. He presents ideas for how to provide planning leadership inclusively.

For young readers

Ada and the Galaxies” (Candlewick Press/MIT Kids Press, 2021)
By Alan Lightman, professor of the practice of the humanities, and Olga Pastuchiv; illustrated by Susanna Chapman

Lightman and Pastuchiv, with help from the Hubble Space Telescope, light up the night sky for children, bringing galaxies close in a picture-book tribute to the interconnectedness of the natural world. Layering images taken by the Hubble telescope into charming and expressive art, Chapman zooms in on one child’s experiences.