Celebrating 60 years of the MIT Press: Our all-time favorites

We’ve been publishing books for 60 years. But what titles do Press staff count among their favorites?

This month we close the chapter on our 60th anniversary celebrations. Throughout 2022 we have marked our anniversary with retrospectives on our shared history, parties and events, and great conversation; and to tie up the festivities, we asked our staff members to share their all-time favorite Press books. Anything was fair game, from 1962 to present day.

With over 100 individuals on the Press’s staff, our personal favorites were bound to be eclectic—and the selections below run the gamut from tomes on language by Noam Chomsky to Game of Thrones lore. Whittling down our favorite Press books highlighted not only the diverse subject matter of our publishing program, but also the vast areas of interest and expertise of our colleagues. What better way could there be to celebrate 60 years of publishing illuminating scholarship together?

Read on to discover some of our staff-beloved books from our first 60 years, or explore our 60th anniversary website to read well-wishes from friends and supporters of the Press.

Cover of Why Only Us, featuring a black-and-white abstract charcoal sketch surrounded by a border of dark grey.

Why Only Us: Language and Evolution by Robert C. Berwick and Noam Chomsky

Suggested by Jim Mitchell, production manager

We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. This remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire any human language—“the language faculty”—raises important biological questions about language, including how it has evolved. This book by two distinguished scholars—a computer scientist and a linguist—addresses the enduring question of the evolution of language.

Cover of The Arts at Black Mountain College, featuring a black-and-white photograph with a large oak tree shrouded in shadow. A group stands to the right of the tree looking at the photographer. A woman sits on the ground at the base of the tree, ad two men and two women stand to the right of her, mostly wearing white collared shirts and starched white pants.

The Arts at Black Mountain College by Mary Emma Harris

Suggested by Jay Martsi, production designer

It was at Black Mountain College that Merce Cunningham formed his dance company, John Cage staged his first “happening,” and Buckminster Fuller built his first dome. Although it lasted only twenty-four years (1933-1957) and enrolled fewer than 1,200 students, Black Mountain College launched a remarkable number of the artists who spearheaded the avant-garde in America of the 1960s. In this definitive account of the arts at Black Mountain College, Mary Emma Harris describes a unique educational experiment and the artists and writers who conducted it. She replaces the myth of the college as a haphazardly conceived venture with a portrait of a consciously directed liberal arts school that grew out of the progressive education movement.

The cover of Fire, Ice, and Physics, with the title, subtitle, and author name set in a serif font against a worn yellowing background. At the center of the cover is a drawing of a planet-based globe with a sun-like star at the center.

Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones by Rebecca C. Thompson

Suggested by Elizabeth Agresta, editor

Game of Thrones is a fantasy that features a lot of made-up science—fabricated climatology (when is winter coming?), astronomy, metallurgy, chemistry, and biology. Most fans of George R. R. Martin’s fantastical world accept it all as part of the magic. A trained scientist, watching the fake science in Game of Thrones, might think, “But how would it work?” In Fire, Ice, and Physics, Rebecca Thompson turns a scientist’s eye on Game of Thrones, exploring, among other things, the science of an ice wall, the genetics of the Targaryen and Lannister families, and the biology of beheading. Thompson, a PhD in physics and an enthusiastic Game of Thrones fan, uses the fantasy science of the show as a gateway to some interesting real science, introducing GOT fandom to a new dimension of appreciation.

Author Hermann Zapf in a black suit, white button up, and dark tie standing against an evergreen tree.

Manuale Typographicum by Hermann Zapf

Suggested by Terry Ehling, director for strategic initiatives

One hundred typographic pages are exhibited in this book, consisting of alphabets and quotations printed in various type styles. The quotations selected by the author concern types and printing, are from the past and the present, and are in sixteen languages (translations are provided). Hermann Zapf is a noted type designer, and he himself originally devised many of the typefaces used here. Other faces were taken from the fonts of the Stempel foundry in Frankfurt am Main, and historic faces came from that foundry’s archives. The author has also designed the page layouts, choosing for this manual a horizontal format.

Cover of Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist, featuring the title and author name in a serif font against a light teal blue background with a thin white border line.

The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist by Ben Barres

Suggested by Bob Prior, executive editor

Ben Barres was known for his groundbreaking scientific work and for his groundbreaking advocacy for gender equality in science. In this book, completed shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer in December 2017, Barres (born in 1954) describes a life full of remarkable accomplishments—from his childhood as a precocious math and science whiz to his experiences as a female student at MIT in the 1970s to his female-to-male transition in his forties, to his scientific work and role as teacher and mentor at Stanford.

Cover of Mapping Boston, with an old drawn birds-eye map of the city, depicting streets and buildings in brick red and the surrounding forest in light green.

Mapping Boston edited by Alex Krieger and David Cobb

Suggested by Charles Hale, controller

To the attentive user even the simplest map can reveal not only where things are but how people perceive and imagine the spaces they occupy. Mapping Boston is an exemplar of such creative attentiveness—bringing the history of one of America’s oldest and most beautiful cities alive through the maps that have depicted it over the centuries.The book includes both historical maps of the city and maps showing the gradual emergence of the New England region from the imaginations of explorers to a form that we would recognize today. Each map is accompanied by a full description and by a short essay offering an insight into its context. The topics of these essays by Anne Mackin include people both familiar and unknown, landmarks, and events that were significant in shaping the landscape or life of the city. A highlight of the book is a series of new maps detailing Boston’s growth.

Cover of When Blood BReaks Down, featuring the title, subtitle, and author name in sans-serif fonts against a white background.

When Blood Breaks Down: Life Lessons from Leukemia by Mikkael A. Sekeres

Suggested by Nicholas DiSabatino, global publicity manager

When you are told that you have leukemia, your world stops. Your brain can’t function. You are asked to make decisions about treatment almost immediately, when you are not in your right mind. And yet you pull yourself together and start asking questions. Beside you is your doctor, whose job it is to solve the awful puzzle of bone marrow gone wrong. The two of you are in it together. In When Blood Breaks Down, Mikkael Sekeres, a leading cancer specialist, takes readers on the journey that patient and doctor travel together.

Cover of Mismatch, featuring a black drawing of a circle against a white background. The circle is comprised of a variety of patterns, including dots, triangles, circles, lines, paint swipes, stripes, and alternating squares, all in black.

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes

Suggested by Jessica Pellien, director of marketing and communications

Sometimes designed objects reject their users: a computer mouse that doesn’t work for left-handed people, for example, or a touchscreen payment system that only works for people who read English phrases, have 20/20 vision, and use a credit card. Something as simple as color choices can render a product unusable for millions. These mismatches are the building blocks of exclusion. In Mismatch, Kat Holmes describes how design can lead to exclusion, and how design can also remedy exclusion. Inclusive design methods—designing objects with rather than for excluded users—can create elegant solutions that work well and benefit all.

Cover of Effective Cycling, with a photo of a woman on a bicycle. The woman has a look of concentration and wears a white helmet, black athletic outfit, GPS watch, and orange cross-shoulder bag. She bikes down a city street with tall buildings looming overhead and navigates between lanes of cars.

Effective Cycling by John Forrester

Suggested by Larry Stone, software developer

Effective Cycling is an essential handbook for cyclists from beginner to expert, whether daily commuters or weekend pleasure trippers. This thoroughly updated seventh edition offers cyclists the information they need for riding a bicycle under all conditions: on congested city streets or winding mountain roads, day or night, rain or shine. It describes the sheer physical joy of cycling and provides the nuts-and-bolts details of how to choose a bicycle, maintain it, and use it in the most efficient manner.

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