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Light in Dark Times is an exquisite work of art and anthropology that confronts critical issues facing the world today.

Now available to buy.




In a time when many yearn for a new future, Light in Dark Times calls on us to envision and create an alternative world from the one in which we now live.


It is a powerful story of encounters with writers, philosophers, activists, and anthropologists whose words are as meaningful today as they were during the times in which they were written. 


It invites readers to explore the political catastrophes and moral disasters of the past and present, revealing issues that beg to be studied, understood and confronted.


 It is a lament over the darkness of our times… 


…and offers ideas about the plights and possibilities for humankind.


An astonishing work of art and anthropology: beautiful, moving, and profound.

—Anand Pandian, Professor and Chair of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

author of A Possible Anthropology: Methods for Uneasy Times


In the tradition of ground-breaking graphic narratives like Logicomix and Unflattening, Light in Dark Times informs, educates, and inspires all at once. Beautifully illustrated in a mixed media style, the book is an epic ‘walk-and-talk.’ It effectively uses the comics form to take the reader on a flowing journey through the key question of our time: how to understand and resist an overwhelming world. Spritely avatars of Waterston and Corden, often accompanied by notable thinkers like Virginia Woolf, Hannah Arendt, and Bertolt Brecht, provide illumination and hope in the darkness. They make a powerful case for the field of anthropology as a tool in the struggle.

—Josh Neufeld, University of Waterloo

author of the New York Times bestseller A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge and illustrator of

The Influencing Machine


How do we want to be human? Light in Dark Times takes readers on an expansive journey to find ways to answer that question for themselves. Alisse Waterston’s thoughtful investigation accompanied by Charlotte Corden’s lively illustrations, together weave a primer on how anthropology can serve as a critical tool to reveal great understanding – particularly necessary in this dark moment when truth is obscured on all sides.” 

—Nick Sousanis, San Francisco State University

award-winning author of Unflattening 


Waterston and Corden create a beautiful, meaningful, and powerful experience in Light in Dark Times. Simultaneously a lament and a beacon of hope, this visually stunning and intellectually vibrant narrative invites the reader to immerse in ideas, imaginings, realities, and possibilities. Through flowing imagery and concise lyrical text, the book offers a fundamental anthropological and philosophical toolkit against despair. Weaving deep but accessible content with dreamlike illustrations and imaginings, Waterston and Corden have created a book for, and about, all of us.

—Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University

author of The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional



How do we want to be human? How can we create a more just, humane world for all? These questions shine forth from Light in Dark Times, a book gorgeous in both ideas and images from anthropologist Alisse Waterston and artist Charlotte Corden. Together with guiding spirit Hannah Arendt, they invite us to think in politically relevant ways. Drawing on anthropology’s unique way of knowing, Light in Dark Times illuminates the dark corners of human experience so that we may imagine and build a better world. A potent, hopeful, and inspiring call-to-action for these times.

—Carole McGranahan, Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder

author of Writing Anthropology: Essays on Craft and Commitment


With Light in Dark Times, Alisse Waterston reasserts her status as one of anthropology’s most brilliant writers, able to draw us into the lives of scholars and activists from different ways of life, with compelling and empathetic prose. Addressing some of the most vexing philosophical questions of our time, she and artist Charlotte Corden weave ethics, social science, and art together, all the while encouraging their audience to experience the world anew, through child-like eyes. Emotionally staggering in its ability to compel us to forge an alliance around fairness and human dignity, this is an essential book for anyone committed to imagining new ways of creating a more just society.

—Laurence Ralph, Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University

author of The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence


Light in Dark Times injects hopefulness and possibility into a world that seems to be hopelessly possessed by madness, evil, and suffering. It brings intellectual illumination and anthropological insight to bear in a world beset by anti-intellectualism, political obfuscation, and abject human suffering. And it ignites genuine possibility of transformation. It is marvelous, beautiful, inspiring.

—Tricia Redeker Hepner, Director, Social Justice & Human Rights, Arizona State University

author of Soldiers, Martyrs, Traitors, and Exiles


Through foresight or synchronicity, a number of pandemic-applicable titles appear in the new catalogs. Information and preparation have their limits -- beyond which the mind looks for something else: consolation. Light in Dark Times: The Human Search for Meaning (University of Toronto Press, October) written by Alisse Waterston and illustrated by Charlotte Hollands…reveals “issues that beg to be studied, understood, confronted, and resisted.” For while [the pandemic] too will pass, something else will come along to keep the book relevant.

—Scott McLemee

Intellectual Affairs columnist for Inside Higher Ed in “Roundup of fall 2020 books pertinent to Covid-19”

(June 26, 2020)

Light in Dark Times is one of the few books, anthropological or otherwise, I would call transcendent. Rarely has a volume been timelier, more engaging, or more accessible. Their connection began when Corden sat in the audience during Waterston’s 2017 powerful AAA presidential address, “Four Stories, a Lament, and an Affirmation” (Waterston 2018). Corden was so stirred by Waterston’s message that she spent the night trans-forming her notes into inspired sketches about an anthropological journey of hope through difficult times, which she then shared with Waterston. The result is their brilliant volume.


This is in some ways an intellectual’s “how to” book because of clearly presented advice on moving toward human understanding most effectively. Waterston and Corden have created a tour de force in taking readers on a very personal search for a more hopeful future.


This book is intellectually and visually stimulating. Light in Dark Times pulls you in. Waterston’s frame-worthy quotations appear on nearly every page, unified by the lens of anthropology. Content and image combine to lead readers bravely forward.

 - Robert Myers reviews Light in Dark Times

 Myers, Robert. 2021. Review of Light in Dark Times. General Anthropology. Vol. 28, Issue 1 (Spring): 1-9.

In the midst of the terror of the Nazi regime, the poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote the poem “To Posterity” where he laments: “Truly, I live in dark times … he who laughs/has not yet received/the terrible news” (p. 84). In these lines, Brecht alludes to the divisions in our societies around the acceptance of basic truths, which leads to a lack of empathy towards the suffering of others. The German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, Brecht’s friend and sometimes critic, highlighted the poem in Men in Dark Times (1968), and Brecht’sand Arendt’s collective work—spanning poetry, philosophy, reportage, and biography—are at the center of cultural anthropologist Alisse Waterston’s graphic novel with artist Charlotte Corden.


Early in their book, Waterston makes her case that just like philosophy and the arts, anthropology can also bring “something to light out of darkness” (p. 8). She advocates that the discipline can expand conversations and practices in the arts and humanities “because it takes a holistic approach, offers critical inquiry, considers history, and studies humans cross-culturally” (p. 60).


Yet, to be relevant, anthropologists need to be in dialogue with a broader public—to be accountable outside of their own universities and take risks that may not directly translate into academic promotion. Leading up to Light in Dark Times, Waterston’s own career as an anthropologist foregrounded the need for critical engagement…. Waterston has frequently participated in meta-conversations in the discipline around “writing culture” and publishing, including founding the American Anthropological Association’s open-source journal, Open Anthropology, and publishing an intimate ethnography of her family, My Father’s Wars: Migration, Memory, and the Violence of a Century (2014).


Light in Dark Times, developed through a dialectic between Waterston’s writing and Corden’s art… Throughout the anthropologist and artist’s journey, they follow streaks of light that radiate from pages of books to visit libraries, board rooms, and community gatherings in search of knowledge about how to confront poverty, violence, and unchecked power…. Their journey could not have come at a more pressing time.

Rachel Breunlin reviews Light in Dark Times

Bruenlin, Rachel. 2021. Review of Light in Dark Times. Anthropology and Humanism. Vol. 45 (1).

This is what I have been looking for without even realizing! A graphic novel trying to distill anthropological and social theories for a wider audience! Breaking down barriers of academic seriousness that is consigned to dense papers! I love love love what the author Alisse Waterston and illustrator Charlotte Corden have done in this ethnoGRAPHIC novel.

Upon opening the first page, you get set upon a journey and accompany thinkers, starting off with Virginia Woolf flowing to Hannah Arendt to Sherry B. Ortner and more. I love that this novel fused people from various fields to help explain why inequality exists and how our own journeys of better understanding can help create a better world. One of the last sections focused on how easy it is to detach ourselves from large-scale problems, such as mass incarceration, extreme poverty, domestic violence. Waterston writes, “detachment is a form of complicity with the policies, practices, and ideologies that harm the most vulnerable in our midst. In contrast, engagement means working to understand those dynamics with an eye towards ameliorating the problems and the suffering.”

This past week the news has covered the kidnapping and murder of a woman who was walking home on London streets, followed by subsequent vigils for her memory that were met with police violence. The case has garnered wide spread attention to the issue of sexual harassment and violence that is experienced not only on the streets, but within intimate spaces of the home as well. We have seen people engage deeply in recognizing how unsafe women feel when walking back to their apartments on a regular day. The compassion that has been shown to grappling with this tough case needs to be extended to other inequities that can only be addressed if we become open to being engaged.

The easiest thing is always to detach yourself, shirk away all responsibilities and state that you have no significant role in the matter. But that is a lie that holds many people complicit in supporting inequities.

Christina Obolenskaya reviews Light in Dark Times

The moment I completed this book, I wanted to give a rooftop shoutout to family, friends, colleagues, and anyone I knew, to not only read this inspirational work, but also to stock up on it as a holiday gift for friends and family. Both the art and the writing speak to a wide public audience, including our children and grandchildren, as well as ourselves. All of our lives have been turned upside down by the dark times of contemporary politics and a world wide pandemic. This book helps shed the light that can help us navigate the scary, uncertain present and future.


The book… provides new perspectives for people in a wide range of professions, situations and backgrounds, both in the United States and internationally. 


The book is a work of art as well as a narrative, enlivened by the charming sketches of the [illustrator], Charlotte Corden, and is rooted in an interdisciplinary intellectual immersion in historical and modern literature, philosophy, poetry, and social science.

- Serena Nanda reviews Light in Dark Times. December 2020

…As it was getting darker and colder outside and the US election was approaching I got familiar with the work of Alisse Waterston, professor in Anthropology at the City University of New York, and her latest book Light in Dark Times: The Human Search for Meaning. The book is a beautiful graphic novel and while reading it I travelled along with Alisse Waterston and the artist Charlotte Corden on their journey through knowledge. 

From darkness to the light. 


[It was] just before the US election. There was worry and darkness... For a while I was a little down, I have to admit. But after some intense work … and regular contact with Alisse Waterston, I realized how much I appreciate that there are researchers who are willing to dive into the darknesses of this world, explore them and finally find the small cracks of light which we then, with united force, can force open. 


In the end it all comes back to the same thing, no matter if we think about treating physical diseases or the ills of this world: researchers devoting their time and energy to create a better world. That is my light in the darkness, what I cling on to when things get a little too heavy and gloomy.

Natalie von der Lehr reviews Light in Dark Times, December 3, 2020

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