Summer Reads 2020: What Are Princeton Professors Reading This Summer?

July 16, 2020

Keith Wailoo; Photo by Elliot Wailoo

Photo by Elliot Wailoo

Six Princeton professors, including Keith Wailoo, talk about how the books on their shelves relate to their work and share what's on their summer reading lists. Many of their book choices reflect their scholarly research and personal perspectives on current crises related to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice.

Read more at News at Princeton.

Keith Wailoo

Tell us about a particular book on your shelf.

I teach history and public policy, with a focus on health and society, and am drawn to books that show how the past can inform and guide the present.

In the current health crisis, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866 by Charles Rosenberg is an old classic in the history of medicine that reads like a story for the present moment — that is, it sheds light on recurring patterns in how Americans respond to pandemic threats. Then as now, there was “shock” about the revealed inequalities and the devastation among the urban populations; there was plenty of blame and xenophobia; there was puzzlement about why cherished institutions seemed powerless to mitigate the damage; and there were vocal calls for reform and renewal.

The story is as applicable to understanding social responses to HIV/AIDS in the early years as it is to comprehending today’s responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. This is the book that prompted me to study history of medicine more than three decades ago, and to chart my own course to study health and society. Charles was my Ph.D. adviser. Pandemic, Creating a Usable Past: Epidemic History, COVID-19, and the Future of Health, the conference I recently organized (May 8-9, 2020) at Princeton began with a conversation with him — focusing on echoes of the past in the present crisis.

What’s on your summer reading list?

This summer I won’t have as much time for reading as I would like because I’m finishing a book, titled “Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette,” to be published in 2021. This new work turns to the consumer marketplace and the so-called “inner city” as a place where inequalities are created.

In the next few months, whenever I’m not checking footnotes and checking page proofs, I’ll be looking for inspiration and insight from a vast literature on the complexities of the U.S. Black experience — covering questions of labor to consumerism, and from social life to the cultural imagination. Among them are: Elizabeth Alexander’s essays, The Black Interior; Esi Edugyan’s novel, Washington Black; Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, The History of an Idea by Mitchell Duneier, professor of sociology at Princeton; and an excellent study by historian Nan Enstad, Cigarettes, Inc: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism.