Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies

Cover of the book Uncertainty

SHEILA JASANOFF—a leading scholar in the field of science, technology, and society—makes a case for humility in the face of crises like the coronavirus pandemic. A recent essay of hers on the subject supplies the anchoring conversation in Uncertainty, published by MIT Press. The essay originally appeared in Boston Review. Jasanoff launches a discussion of uncertainty and crisis to which other experts respond, examining the scientific, philosophical, and emotional facets of how democratic societies handle them. Arguing that when it comes to COVID-19, we have overestimated the reliability of our predictions, she advocates a humbler approach. “Humility,” Jasanoff writes, “asks a moral question: not what we can achieve with what we have, but how we should act given that we cannot know the full consequences of our actions.” She recommends that when faced with challenging decisions and uncertain conditions, experts implement “technologies of humility: institutional mechanisms—including greater citizen participation—for incorporating memory, experience, and concerns for justice into our schemes of governance and public policy.” It is an approach, she writes, that is “proactive, historically informed, and analytically robust”—and that may help protect the most vulnerable in future crises.


Growing Fairly: How to Build Opportunity and Equity in Workforce Development

Stephen Goldsmith, Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy; Kate Markin Coleman

Cover of the book Growing Fairly

AS A FORMER MAYOR OF INDIANAPOLIS and a former deputy mayor of New York, Stephen Goldsmith has deep knowledge of what is working in American cities and what is not. He and Kate Markin Coleman are concerned with a trend over the past few decades: inequities in economic growth across society. In Growing Fairly, Goldsmith and Coleman, a former executive vice president and chief strategy and advancement officer for the YMCA, provide 10 principles for fair workforce-development reforms, drawing on examples from practitioners in cities around the country. Their approach is a bipartisan one: “As a joint project of a Republican and a Democrat, this book rejects choosing between conservative views that assume that anyone who works hard will succeed and more progressive views that simply demand more government support. We argue, instead, for a broader shared narrative about potential, one that demonstrates how greater cross-sector collaboration can enhance upward economic mobility for those whose prospects have dimmed.” Ultimately, “this book is about people and potential,” Goldsmith and Coleman write. “It highlights initiatives that have successfully lowered barriers to urban workers’ aspirations and their economic mobility.” Growing Fairly is intended as an aid to leaders who want to make practical workforce reforms, but it also serves a broader civic-minded audience as a call “to come together around a more inclusive narrative that will bridge political divides and produce support for comprehensive solutions.”


The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters

Juliette Kayyem, Belfer Senior Lecturer in Public Policy

Cover of the book The Devil Never Sleeps

JULIETTE KAYYEM DRAWS ON her experience as an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security and her 20-plus years of working through major crises, domestic and foreign, to offer The Devil Never Sleeps, a guidebook for living with disasters. Looking beyond crisis management, she examines historical and current events and offers eight lessons on how to live in this new state of perpetual catastrophe. As she says, “Disasters are the standard now.” Kayyem constructs her discussion around what she calls “the boom.” The first section is all about preparation, advising that we “assume the boom.” Using her own work as a crisis consultant during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, she stresses how important it is to have mechanisms in place for listening and communicating as a disaster unfolds. The middle section offers best practices to keep harms on “the left side of the boom,” using the BP oil spill and the wildfires in California to illustrate that once a disaster hits, strategies exist to minimize its effects. The final chapters detail the lessons learned from disasters and how to prepare for future ones, as Kayyem demonstrates with the freak snowstorm that hit Texas in 2021: Although a plan existed for managing electrical outages in the event of an ice storm, there was none in case the entire state was affected, simply because that had never happened before. Using actual events to highlight her strategies, Kayyem keeps the focus on what can be done rather than sounding alarmist. Well, she is a bit alarmist—but rightly so, as she says in the final chapter, which is a call to action: “We must think in terms of what makes us safer as we wait for the devil’s return.”


Hearts Touched with Fire: How Great Leaders Are Made

David Gergen, Public Service Professor of Public Leadership

Cover of the book Hearts Touched with Fire

DAVID GERGEN has famously advised presidents across four administrations and both parties, from Nixon to Clinton; he has been a leading commentator, in print and on television, for close to four decades; and he founded and led the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School. Now 80, Gergen uses Hearts Touched with Fire, his latest book, to launch an appeal to future generations to aspire to, as he says in his dedication, “future lives of service and leadership.” He also reaches back into his own vast experience, as both a practitioner and a scholar, and into that of other leaders, past and present, to provide a manual. “Let’s be clear,” Gergen writes, “much of our future now rests upon an infusion of fresh blood into our civic life. We need talented, new leaders who are looking for paths forward, not obsessing over past differences.” That doesn’t mean he urges that the past, its leaders and lessons, be swept aside. The book’s title is taken from a speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Through our great good fortune, in our youth, our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.” Nevertheless, Gergen’s focus is forward, toward a leadership unmoored from traditional ideas of position and hierarchy. He looks at individuals who have revolutionized leadership in recent years, from the MeToo founder Tarana Burke to the climate activist Greta Thunberg to the Parkland High School students who started a gun-control movement. And he urges a new generation to take up that torch.


In Praise of Skepticism: Trust but Verify

Pippa Norris, Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics

Cover of the book In Praise of Skepticism

THE COMPARATIVE POLITICAL SCIENTIST and Kennedy School faculty member Pippa Norris has for many years examined the role of trust in politics. Her newest book, from Oxford University Press, reexamines the concepts and evidence of trust and trustworthiness. Norris argues that although trust is conventionally seen as a healthy and positive quality in societies, blind trust can have terrible consequences. Just think of the effects of the anti-vax movement during the COVID-19 pandemic or the influence of the QAnon conspiracy theory on the Big Lie about electoral fraud. Drawing on data from the European Values Survey and the World Values Survey—pooling interviews with more than 650,000 respondents in more than 100 societies over four decades—Norris examines whether people view political authorities as trustworthy or untrustworthy, whether those beliefs are backed up by government performance (reflected by evidence of competence, integrity, and impartiality), and what the consequences are. She investigates the risks of both cynical beliefs (underestimating performance) and credulous faith (overestimating performance). Ultimately, Norris finds that open societies, legacy cultural values, and cognitive skills affect how accurately people assess the trustworthiness of political authorities. “We should cautiously trust but verify,” she observes. “Unfortunately, our assessments of risks are commonly flawed.”