Books Features

Top of the heap: Emily Martin

This article is part of the following series:

Detail, Alicia Martin, "Cascade of Books."

For this latest installment of “Top of the heap” we asked Emily Martin what she’s been reading recently. Here’s the list she sent us:


Ernest Shackleton, South: The Endurance Expedition. (Penguin 2004).

This is the first person account of Shackleton’s expedition into the Antarctic in 1914. It is filled with unbelievable hardships and physical privation that literally never let up. Reading about the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Straits in 1898 led me here. This is a real page-turner available free on Kindle books.


Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. (Random House: 2012).

I was curious about what led to this book’s major awards. It is easy to be gripped by the story and the gracious writing, but I am still puzzled over the differences between this journalistic account and an ethnography. The book has an appealing seamlessness. I wanted to know much more about her (and her team’s) role in the individual scenes of the book and in the research over all. Specific, cultural understandings of time, space, substances, gifts, kinship, conflict, domesticity, and more are strangely absent.


Sigmund Freud and Jeffrey Masson, The Interpretation of Dreams, The Illustrated Edition.  (Sterling: 2010).

This book is evidence that we we will always want and need print books. It has gorgeous illustrations, many of them quartos, gathered by means of free association with the text. The book was given to me by a friend a year ago, and I am still lifting and turning the heavy, tactilely satisfying pages.


Ken MacLeish, Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainly in a Military Community. (Princeton UP: 2013).

This is a rich and insightful ethnography of the daily lives of soldiers on and around a major army base. McLeish gives us an immediate view of today’s soldiers as we have never seen them before. It is theoretically provocative and methodologically inspiring.


Michael Pettit, The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America. (University of Chicago Press: 2013).

A historian’s story of the role of deception in the history of psychological research as well as in humbug, fraud and fakery in popular culture. The book has rich detail and a historian’s sure hand, refracted through a thorough appreciation of the history of science and science studies. My beginning ethnography of experimental psychology is going to benefit from this!


Kirin Narayan, Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov. (University of Chicago Press: 2012).

I read everything Kirin writes, and here she has produced another beautifully written and energizing book that pushes wonderfully at the boundaries of academic writing.


Anton Chekhov, Sakhalin Island. (1893-1894).

See Alive in the Writing.


Simon Mawer, The Glass Room. (Other Press: 2009).

I am devouring this riveting novel of modern architecture and elite family life in Europe on the cusp of WW 2. Terrible events just below the horizon bubble up through the smallest details of everyday life.


Camilla Lackberg, The Stonecutter. (Free Press: 2013).

I am reading this because I am addicted to Scandinavian novels, thrillers, TV series and movies. My greatest fear is that I will run out of novels like this.


Emily Martin teaches anthropology at New York University. She is the author of The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction (Beacon Press 1987), Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in American Culture From the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS(Beacon Press, 1994) and Bipolar Expeditions: Mania and Depression in American Culture (Princeton University Press, 2007). Her current work is on the history and ethnography of experimental psychology.


Top of the heap” is compiled by Maria Cecilia Dedios and Ekaterina Anderson. Maria Cecilia Dedios is currently a graduate student at the University of Chicago where she is doing a master’s program in the Social Sciences with concentration in Comparative Human Development. Her current research is focused on culture and psychosocial development under conditions of political violence among young adults in Colombia. Ekaterina Anderson is a first year PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at Boston University.  She plans to conduct research on how the cultural competence movement and mental health care reform in Israel jointly affect everyday experiences, practices, and decisions in clinical settings.