Summer 2024 recommended reading from MIT

MIT News rounds up recent titles from Institute faculty and staff.

MIT News

July 3, 2024

MIT faculty and staff authors have published a plethora of books, chapters, and other literary contributions in the past year. The following titles represent some of their works published in the past 12 months. 

Looking for more literary works from the MIT community? Enjoy our book lists from 2023, 2022, and 2021.

Happy reading!

Novel, memoir, and poetry

Seizing Control: Managing Epilepsy and Others’ Reactions to It — A Memoir” (Haley’s, 2023)
By Laura Beretsky, grant writer in the MIT Introduction to Technology, Engineering, and Science (MITES) program

Beretsky’s memoir, “Seizing Control,” details her journey with epilepsy, discrimination, and a major surgical procedure to reduce her seizures. After two surgical interventions, she has been seizure-free for eight years, though she notes she will always live with epilepsy.

Sky. Pond. Mouth. (Yas Press, 2024)
By Kevin McLellan, staff member in MIT’s Program in Art, Culture, and Technology

In this book of poetry, physical and emotional qualities free-range between the animate and inanimate as though the world is written with dotted lines. With chiseled line breaks, intriguing meta-poetic levels, and punctuation like seed pods, McLellan’s poems, if we look twice, might flourish outside the book’s margin, past the grow light of the screen, even (especially) other borderlines we haven’t begun to imagine.

Science and engineering

The Visual Elements: Handbooks for Communicating Science and Engineering” (University of Chicago Press, 2023 and 2024)
By Felice Frankel, research scientist in chemical engineering

Each of the two books in the “Visual Elements” series focuses on a different aspect of scientific visual communication: photography on one hand and design on the other. Their unifying goal is to provide guidance for scientists and engineers who must communicate their work with the public, for grant applications, journal submissions, conference or poster presentations, and funding agencies. The books show researchers the importance of presenting their work in clear, concise, and appealing ways that also maintain scientific integrity.

A Book of Waves” (Duke University Press, 2023)
By Stefan Helmreich, professor of anthropology

In this book, Helmreich examines ocean waves as forms of media that carry ecological, geopolitical, and climatological news about our planet. Drawing on ethnographic work with oceanographers and coastal engineers in the Netherlands, the United States, Australia, Japan, and Bangladesh, he details how scientists at sea and in the lab apprehend waves’ materiality through abstractions, seeking to capture in technical language these avatars of nature at once periodic and irreversible, wild and pacific, ephemeral and eternal.

An Introduction to System Safety Engineering” (MIT Press, 2023)
By Nancy G. Leveson, professor of aeronautics and astronautics

Preventing accidents and losses in complex systems requires a holistic perspective that can accommodate unprecedented types of technology and design. Leveson’s book covers the history of safety engineering; explores risk, ethics, legal frameworks, and policy implications; and explains why accidents happen and how to mitigate risks in modern, software-intensive systems. It includes accounts of well-known accidents like the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents, examining their causes and how to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Solvable: How We Healed the Earth, and How We Can Do It Again” (University of Chicago Press, 2024)
By Susan Solomon, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies and Chemistry

We solved planet-threatening problems before, Solomon argues, and we can do it again. She knows firsthand what those solutions entail, as she gained international fame as the leader of a 1986 expedition to Antarctica, making discoveries that were key to healing the damaged ozone layer. She saw a path from scientific and public awareness to political engagement, international agreement, industry involvement, and effective action. Solomon connects this triumph to the stories of other past environmental victories — against ozone depletion, smog, pesticides, and lead — to extract the essential elements of what makes change possible.

Culture, humanities, and social sciences

Political Rumors: Why We Accept Misinformation and How to Fight It” (Princeton University Press, 2023)
By Adam Berinsky, professor of political science

Political rumors pollute the political landscape. But if misinformation crowds out the truth, how can democracy survive? Berinsky examines why political rumors exist and persist despite their unsubstantiated and refuted claims, who is most likely to believe them, and how to combat them. He shows that a tendency toward conspiratorial thinking and vehement partisan attachment fuel belief in rumors. Moreover, in fighting misinformation, it is as important to target the undecided and the uncertain as it is the true believers.

Laws of the Land: Fengshui and the State in Qing Dynasty China,” (Princeton University Press, 2023)
By Tristan Brown, assistant professor of history

In “Laws of the Land,” Brown tells the story of the important roles — especially legal ones — played by fengshui in Chinese society during China’s last imperial dynasty, the Manchu Qing (1644–1912). Employing archives from Mainland China and Taiwan that have only recently become available, this is the first book to document fengshui’s invocations in Chinese law during the Qing dynasty.

Trouble with Gender: Sex Facts, Gender Fictions” (Polity, 2024)
By Alex Byrne, professor of philosophy

MIT philosopher Alex Byrne knows that within his field, he’s very much in the minority when it comes to his views on sex and gender. In “Trouble with Gender,” Byrne suggests that some ideas regarding sex and gender have not been properly examined by philosophers, and he argues for a reasoned and civil conversation on the topic.

Life at the Center: Haitians and Corporate Catholicism in Boston (University of California Press, 2024)
By Erica Caple James, professor of medical anthropology and urban studies

In “Life at the Center,” James traces how faith-based and secular institutions in Boston have helped Haitian refugees and immigrants attain economic independence, health, security, and citizenship in the United States. The culmination of more than a decade of advocacy and research on behalf of the Haitians in Boston, this groundbreaking work exposes how Catholic corporations have strengthened — but also eroded — Haitians’ civic power.

Portable Postsocialisms: New Cuban Mediascapes after the End of History” (University of Texas Press, 2024)
By Paloma Duong, associate professor of media studies/writing

Why does Cuban socialism endure as an object of international political desire, while images of capitalist markets consume Cuba’s national imagination? “Portable Postsocialisms” calls on a vast multimedia archive to offer a groundbreaking cultural interpretation of Cuban postsocialism. Duong examines songs, artworks, advertisements, memes, literature, jokes, and networks that refuse exceptionalist and exoticizing visions of Cuba.

They All Made Peace — What Is Peace?” (University of Chicago Press, 2023)
Chapter by Lerna Ekmekcioglu, professor of history and director of the Program in Women’s and Gender Studies

In her chapter, Ekmekcioglu contends that the Treaty of Lausanne, which followed the first world war, is an often-overlooked event of great historical significance for Armenians. The treaty became the “birth certificate” of modern Turkey, but there was no redress for Armenians. The chapter uses new research to reconstruct the dynamics of the treaty negotiations, illuminating both Armenians’ struggles as well as the international community’s struggles to deliver consistent support for multiethnic, multireligious states.

We’ve Got You Covered: Rebooting American Health Care” (Portfolio, 2023)
By Amy Finkelstein, professor of economics, and Liran Einav

Few of us need convincing that the American health insurance system needs reform. But many existing proposals miss the point, focusing on expanding one relatively successful piece of the system or building in piecemeal additions. As Finkelstein and Einav point out, our health care system was never deliberately designed, but rather pieced together to deal with issues as they became politically relevant. The result is a sprawling, arbitrary, and inadequate mess that has left 30 million Americans without formal insurance. It’s time, the authors argue, to tear it all down and rebuild, sensibly and deliberately.

At the Pivot of East and West: Ethnographic, Literary and Filmic Arts” (Duke University Press, 2023)
By Michael M.J. Fischer, professor of anthropology and of science and technology studies

In his latest book, Fischer examines documentary filmmaking and literature from Southeast Asia and Singapore for their para-ethnographic insights into politics, culture, and aesthetics. Continuing his project of applying anthropological thinking to the creative arts, Fischer exemplifies how art and fiction trace the ways in which taken-for-granted common sense changes over time speak to the transnational present and track signals of the future before they surface in public awareness.

Lines Drawn across the Globe” (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2023)
By Mary Fuller, professor of literature and chair of the faculty

Around 1600, English geographer and cleric Richard Hakluyt published a 2,000-page collection of travel narratives, royal letters, ships’ logs, maps, and more from over 200 voyages. In “Lines Drawn across the Globe,” Fuller traces the history of the book’s compilation and gives order and meaning to its diverse contents. From Sierra Leone to Iceland, from Spanish narratives of New Mexico to French accounts of the Saint Lawrence and Portuguese accounts of China, Hakluyt’s shaping of the book provides a conceptual map of the world’s regions and of England’s real and imagined relations to them.

The Rise and Fall of the EAST: How Exams, Autocracy, Stability, and Technology Brought China Success, and Why They Might Lead to Its Decline” (Yale University Press, 2023)
By Yasheng Huang, the Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management and professor of global economics and management

According to Huang, the world is seeing a repeat of Chinese history during which restrictions on economic and political freedom created economic stagnation. The bottom line: “Without academic collaboration, without business collaboration, without technological collaborations, the pace of Chinese technological progress is going to slow down dramatically.”

The Long First Millennium: Affluence, Architecture, and Its Dark Matter Economy (Routledge, 2023)
By Mark Jarzombek, professor of the history and theory of architecture

Jarzombek’s book argues that long-distance trade in luxury items — such as diamonds, gold, cinnamon, scented woods, ivory, and pearls, all of which require little overhead in their acquisition and were relatively easy to transport — played a foundational role in the creation of what we would call “global trade” in the first millennium CE. The book coins the term “dark matter economy” to better describe this complex — though mostly invisible — relationship to normative realities. “The Long Millennium” will appeal to students, scholars, and anyone interested in the effect of trade on medieval society.

World Literature in the Soviet Union” (Academic Studies Press, 2023)
Chapter by Maria Khotimsky, senior lecturer in Russian

Khotimsky’s chapter, “The Treasure Trove of World Literature: Shaping the Concept of World Literature in Post-Revolutionary Russia,” examines Vsemirnaia Literatura (World Literature), an early Soviet publishing house founded in 1919 in Petersburg that advanced an innovative canon of world literature beyond the European tradition. It analyzes the publishing house’s views on translation, focusing on book prefaces that reveal a search for a new evaluative system, adaptation to changing socio-cultural norms and reassessing the roles of readers, critics, and the very endeavor of translation.

Dare to Invent the Future: Knowledge in the Service of and Through Problem-Solving” (MIT Press, 2023)
By Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, professor of science, technology, and society

In this provocative book — the first in a trilogy — Chakanetsa Mavhunga argues that our critical thinkers must become actual thinker-doers. Taking its title from one of Thomas Sankara’s most inspirational speeches, “Dare to Invent the Future” looks for moments in Africa’s story where precedents of critical thought and knowledge in service of problem-solving are evident to inspire readers to dare to invent such a knowledge system.

Death, Dominance, and State-Building: The US in Iraq and the Future of American Military Intervention” (Oxford University Press, 2024)
By Roger Petersen, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science

“Death, Dominance, and State-Building” provides the first comprehensive analytic history of post-invasion Iraq. Although the war is almost universally derided as one of the biggest foreign policy blunders of the post-Cold War era, Petersen argues that the course and conduct of the conflict is poorly understood. The book applies an accessible framework to a variety of case studies across time and region. It concludes by drawing lessons relevant to future American military interventions.

Technology, systems, and society

Code Work: Hacking Across the U.S./México Techno-Borderlands” (Princeton University Press, 2023)
By Héctor Beltrán, assistant professor of anthropology

In this book, Beltrán examines Mexican and Latinx coders’ personal strategies of self-making as they navigate a transnational economy of tech work. Beltrán shows how these hackers apply concepts from the coding world to their lived experiences, deploying batches, loose coupling, iterative processing (looping), hacking, prototyping, and full-stack development in their daily social interactions — at home, in the workplace, on the dating scene, and in their understanding of the economy, culture, and geopolitics.

Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What is Human in a World of Machines” (Penguin Random House, 2023)
By Joy Buolamwini SM ’17, PhD ’22, member of the Media Lab Director’s Circle

To many it may seem like recent developments in artificial intelligence emerged out of nowhere to pose unprecedented threats to humankind. But to Buolamwini, this moment has been a long time in the making. “Unmasking AI” is the remarkable story of how Buolamwini uncovered what she calls “the coded gaze” — evidence of encoded discrimination and exclusion in tech products. She shows how racism, sexism, colorism, and ableism can overlap and render broad swaths of humanity “excoded” and therefore vulnerable in a world rapidly adopting AI tools.

Counting Feminicide: Data Feminism in Action” (MIT Press, 2024)
By Catherine D’Ignazio, associate professor of urban science and planning

“Counting Feminicide” brings to the fore the work of data activists across the Americas who are documenting feminicide, and challenging the reigning logic of data science by centering care, memory, and justice in their work. D’Ignazio describes the creative, intellectual, and emotional labor of feminicide data activists who are at the forefront of a data ethics that rigorously and consistently takes power and people into account.

Rethinking Cyber Warfare: The International Relations of Digital Disruption” (Oxford University Press, 2024)
By R. David Edelman, research fellow at the MIT Center for International Studies

Fifteen years into the era of “cyber warfare,” are we any closer to understanding the role a major cyberattack would play in international relations — or to preventing one? Uniquely spanning disciplines and enriched by the insights of a leading practitioner, Edelman provides a fresh understanding of the role that digital disruption plays in contemporary international security.

Model Thinking for Everyday Life: How to Make Smarter Decisions” (INFORMS, 2023)
By Richard Larson, professor post-tenure in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society

Decisions are a part of everyday life, whether simple or complex. It’s all too easy to jump to Google for the answers, but where does that take us? We’re losing the ability to think critically and decide for ourselves. In this book, Larson asks readers to undertake a major mind shift in our everyday thought processes. Model thinking develops our critical thinking skills, using a framework of conceptual and mathematical tools to help guide us to full comprehension, and better decisions.

Future[tectonics]: Exploring the intersection between technology, architecture and urbanism” (Parametric Architecture, 2024)
Chapter by Jacob Lehrer, project coordinator in the Department of Mathematics

In his chapter, “Garbage In, Garbage Out: How Language Models Can Reinforce Biases,” Lehrer discusses how inherent bias is baked into large data sets, like those used to train massive AI algorithms, and how society will need to reconcile with the inherent biases built into systems of power. He also attempts to reconcile with it himself, delving into the mathematics behind these systems.

Music and Mind: Harnessing the Arts for Health and Wellness” (Penguin Random House, 2024)
Chapter by Tod Machover, the Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media; Rébecca Kleinberger SM ’14, PhD ’20; and Alexandra Rieger SM ’18, doctoral candidate in media arts and sciences

In their chapter, “Composing the Future of Health,” the co-authors discuss their approach to combining scientific research, technology innovation, and new composing strategies to create evidence-based, emotionally potent music that can delight and heal.

The Heart and the Chip: Our Bright Future with Robots” (W. W. Norton and Company, 2024)
By Daniela Rus, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; and Gregory Mone

In “The Heart and the Chip,” Rus and Mone provide an overview of the interconnected fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, and reframe the way we think about intelligent machines while weighing the moral and ethical consequences of their role in society. Robots aren’t going to steal our jobs, they argue; they’re going to make us more capable, productive, and precise.

Education, business, finance, and social impact

Disciplined Entrepreneurship Startup Tactics: 15 Tactics to Turn Your Business Plan Into a Business” (Wiley, 2024)
By Paul Cheek, executive director and entrepreneur in residence at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and senior lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management, with foreword by Bill Aulet, professor of the practice of entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan and managing director of the Martin Trust Center

Cheek provides a hands-on, practical roadmap to get from great idea to successful company with his actionable field guide to transforming your one great idea into a functional, funded, and staffed startup. Readers will find ground-level, down-and-dirty entrepreneurial tactics — like how to conduct advanced primary market research, market and sell to your first customers, and take a scrappy approach to building your first products — that keep young firms growing. These tactics maximize impact with limited resources.

From Intention to Impact: A Practical Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (MIT Press, 2024)
By Malia Lazu, lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management

In her new book, Lazu draws on her background as a community organizer, her corporate career as a bank president, and now her experience as a leading consultant to explain what has been holding organizations back and what they can do to become more inclusive and equitable. “From Intention to Impact” goes beyond “feel good” PR-centric actions to showcase the real work that must be done to create true and lasting change.

The AFIRE Guide to U.S. Real Estate Investing” (Afire and McGraw Hill, 2024)
Chapter by Jacques Gordon, lecturer in the MIT Center for Real Estate

In his chapter, “The Broker and the Investment Advisor: A wide range of options,” Gordon discusses important financial topics including information for lenders and borrowers, joint ventures, loans and debt, comingled funds, bankruptcy, and Islamic finance.

The Geek Way: The Radical Mindset That Drives Extraordinary Results” (Hachette Book Group, 2023)
By Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist and co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

The geek way of management delivers excellent performance while offering employees a work environment that features high levels of autonomy and empowerment. In what Eric Schmidt calls a “handbook for disruptors,” “The Geek Way” reveals a new way to get big things done. It will change the way readers think about work, teams, projects, and culture, and give them the insight and tools to harness our human superpowers of learning and cooperation.

Iterate: The Secret to Innovation in Schools” (Teaching Systems Lab, 2023)
By Justin Reich, associate professor in comparative media studies/writing

In “Iterate,” Reich delivers an insightful bridge between contemporary educational research and classroom teaching, showing readers how to leverage the cycle of experiment and experience to create a compelling and engaging learning environment. Readers learn how to employ a process of continuous improvement and tinkering to develop exciting new programs, activities, processes, and designs.

red helicopter — a parable for our times: lead change with kindness (plus a little math)” (HarperCollins, 2024)
By James Rhee, senior lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management

Is it possible to be successful and kind? To lead a company or organization with precision and compassion? To honor who we are in all areas of our lives? While eloquently sharing a story of personal and professional success, Rhee presents a comforting yet bold solution to the dissatisfaction and worry we all feel in a chaotic and sometimes terrifying world.

Routes to Reform: Education Politics in Latin America” (Oxford University Press, 2024)
By Ben Ross Schneider, the Ford International Professor of Political Science and faculty director of the MIT-Chile Program and MISTI Chile

In “Routes to Reform,” Ben Ross Schneider examines education policy throughout Latin America to show that reforms to improve learning — especially making teacher careers more meritocratic and less political — are possible. He demonstrates that contrary to much established theory, reform outcomes in Latin America depended less on institutions and broad coalitions, and more on micro-level factors like civil society organizations, teacher unions, policy networks, and technocrats.

Wiring the Winning Organization: Liberating Our Collective Greatness through Slowification, Simplification, and Amplification” (IT Revolution, 2023)
By Steven J. Spear, senior lecturer in system dynamics at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Gene Kim

Organizations succeed when they design their processes, routines, and procedures to encourage employees to problem-solve and contribute to a common purpose. DevOps, Lean, and Agile got us part of the way. Now with “Wiring the Winning Organization,” Spear and Kim introduce a new theory of organizational management: Organizations win by using three mechanisms to slowify, simplify, and amplify, which systematically moves problem-solving from high-risk danger zones to low-risk winning zones.

Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance” (Oxford University Press, 2024)
Chapter by Annie Thompson, lecturer in the MIT Center for Real Estate; Walter Torous, senior lecturer at the MIT Center for Real Estate; and William Torous

In their chapter, “What Causes Residential Mortgage Defaults?” the authors assess the voluminous research investigating why households default on their residential mortgages. A particular focus is oriented towards critically evaluating the recent application of causal statistical inference to residential defaults on mortgages.

Data Is Everybody’s Business: The Fundamentals of Data Monetization” (MIT Press, 2023)
By Barbara H. Wixom, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (MIT CISR); Leslie Owens, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and former executive director of MIT CISR; and Cynthia M. Beath

In “Data Is Everybody’s Business,” the authors offer a clear and engaging way for people across the entire organization to understand data monetization and make it happen. The authors identify three viable ways to convert data into money — improving work with data, wrapping products with data, and selling information offerings — and explain when to pursue each and how to succeed.

Arts, architecture, planning, and design

The Routledge Handbook of Museums, Heritage, and Death” (Routledge, 2023)
Chapter by Laura Anderson Barbata, lecturer in MIT’s Program in Art, Culture, and Technology

This book provides an examination of death, dying, and human remains in museums and heritage sites around the world. In her chapter, “Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey Home,” Barbata describes the case of Julia Pastrana (1834-1860), an indigenous Mexican opera singer who suffered from hypertrichosis terminalis and hyperplasia gingival. Due to her appearance, Pastrana was exploited and exhibited for over 150 years, during her lifetime and after her early death in an embalmed state. Barbata sheds light on the ways in which the systems that justified Pastrana’s exploitation continue to operate today.

Emergency INDEX: An Annual Document of Performance Practice, vol. 10” (Ugly Duckling Press, 2023)
Chapter by Gearoid Dolan, staff member in MIT’s Program in Art, Culture, and Technology

This “bible of performance art activity” documents performance projects from around the world. Dolan’s chapter describes “Protest ReEmbodied,” a performance that took place online during Covid-19 lockdown. The performance was a live version of the ongoing “Protest ReEmbodied” project, an app that individuals can download and run on their computer to be able to perform on camera, inserted into protest footage.

Land Air Sea: Architecture and Environment in the Early Modern Era” (Brill, 2023)
Chapter by Caroline Murphy, the Clarence H. Blackall Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture

“Land Air Sea” positions the long Renaissance and 18th century as being vital for understanding how many of the concerns present in contemporary debates on climate change and sustainability originated in earlier centuries. Murphy’s chapter examines how Girolamo di Pace da Prato, a state engineer in the Duchy of Florence, understood and sought to mitigate the problems of alluvial flooding in the mid-sixteenth century, an era of exceptional aquatic and environmental volatility.


Made Here: Recipes and Reflections From NYC’s Asian Communities” (Send Chinatown Love, 2023)
Chapter by Robin Zhang, postdoc in mathematics, and Diana Le

In their chapter, “Flushing: The Melting Pot’s Melting Pot,” the authors explore how Flushing, New York — whose Chinatown is the largest and fastest growing in the world — earned the title of the “melting pot’s melting pot” through its cultural history. Readers will walk down its streets past its snack stalls, fabric stores, language schools, hair salons, churches, and shrines, and you will hear English interspersed with Korean, several dialects of Chinese, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, and hundreds of other fibers that make up Flushing’s complex ethnolinguistic fabric.

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