Faculty Reading Recommendations
Nicholas Horton Sc.D., Associate Professor of Mathematics and Statistics
Nicholas Horton is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he works to develop new statistical methods to be applied towards psychiatric epidemiology and substance abuse research. Recent projects have included collaborators in Sweden, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Tanzania, Indonesia and the United Kingdom. For more information, please see Professor Horton's webpage.
Here are Professor Horton's responses to our questions:
Q. What are three books in your field that you feel are most helpful/interesting for lay readers who want to learn more?
Statistics is a series of methods and approaches to help make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Peter L. Bernstein's Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk lays out some of the history behind the science of probability and statistics, with many interesting applications.
Edward Tufte has devoted his career to improving the presentation of data in comprehensible and compelling ways. If I were forced to pick just one of his stunningly beautiful books to recommend, it would be the second edition of the Visual Display of Quantitative Data (though all of the other books are worth perusing). It's not surprising that Smith’s Hillyer Art Library has many of these, along with copies at the Young Science Library.
My last suggestions are more playful. Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy is an epic saga based around the field of psychohistory (a fictional science involving history, sociology and mathematical statistics) that is somewhat dated and rather sexist, but nonetheless compelling. I'm curious how the movie adaption will work. Scarlett Thomas's playful PopCo features a quirky intellectual with a penchant for codes and mathematics and making the world a better place.
Q. What books have influenced your life?
Tracy Kidder's ability to make sense of the complex worlds that he's delved into over the decades continue to amaze me. But if I had to pick the one that's been most influential it would have to be Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure The World, which provides an accessible glimpse into the continuing tragedy in Haiti along with hope for the future.
My work with the American Friends Service Committee over the years has been grounded in the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. Lady Borton's Sensing the Enemy: An American Woman among the Boat People of Vietnam describes these beliefs along with her motivations and work to alleviate suffering in Vietnam at two key points in her life.
I've recently been devoting time to help improve the built environment in Northampton and surrounding communities by supporting the development of rail trails and other safe linear paths. Christopher Alexander and colleagues' A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction enumerates design characteristics ("patterns") that make cities, neighborhoods, streets and buildings accessible.
Robert A. Caro's Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York is a sobering story of the development of a car-focused New York City in the 20th century. This complements Robert D. Putnam's Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community as a quantitative review of negative changes in our social interactions.
On a lighter note, M.F.K. Fisher always delights me with her spare, elegant, precise writing on food and living. The Art of Eating is a great introduction to her work.
Q. What are you reading now?
Three books on my shelf are:
- Natural Experiments of History, Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) and James Robinson.
- Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson.
- The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It, Scott Patterson.