Summer reading list

Faculty members share their recommendations for titles educational and entertaining

When summer rolls around, so does the time-honored tradition of settling down on a favorite patio or porch swing to lose yourself in a good book — preferably with a cool glass of lemonade or iced tea at the ready.

And while there’s nothing wrong with some warm-weather escapist reading, some prefer a little more weight to their summer book list. To help those folks out, we asked faculty members around the University to share their summer-reading recommendations: one book from their field, and another just for fun.

Below, our experts explain why their favorite books should make your list.

Let the page-turning begin!

Deborah Avant, professor and chair of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Of Privacy and Power: The Transatlantic Struggle over Freedom and Security
(Princeton University Press, 2019), by Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman
One of a growing number of books that broaden the conversation around international relations to include global politics. The authors chart how transatlantic coalitions vie with one another over how to think about rights and security. Their examination is of critical topical importance, given the Mueller Report’s findings, but it also offers a useful way to begin thinking about how transnational coalitions might shape our future.

“Exit West” (Riverhead Books, 2017), by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West
(Riverhead Books, 2017), by Mohsin Hamid
A magical (literally and figuratively) story of migration and its effects, told with great style and contemporary relevance. It is one of the best works of fiction I have read in a long time.

Sara Bardill, vocal arts department chair and associate teaching professor of voice at the Lamont School of Music

Dvorak in Love
(Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1986), by Josef Skvorecky
Dvorak is one of my favorite composers, and this book deals with a little-known time during his stay in America. In 1892, Dvorak was invited to New York City to become director of the National Conservatory of Music. While at the conservatory, Dvorak encouraged a brilliant African-American student, Will Marion Cook. Cook is only one of many vividly drawn characters in this book about the turn-of-the-century music scene in America. 

Let The Great World Spin
(Random House, 2009), by Colum McCann
A beautifully written and truly engaging book and a wonderful piece of fiction. In addition to being a literary “tour de force,” it is deeply humorous and simultaneously humane. It shows our deep connection through our universal longing for love and beauty.

Elizabeth Campbell, associate professor of history and director of the Center for Art Collection Ethics

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
(Scribner, 2016), by Simon Goodman
A powerful and highly readable account of art restitution by a retired music executive who has recovered hundreds of objects from the Dutch government and museums around the world.

Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture
(University of Chicago Press, 2017), by Chip Colwell
Written by the senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, this important book examines the process of repatriation via four case studies, tracing the history of objects as they were created, collected and ultimately repatriated to tribes. Colwell proposes a curatorial approach that helps heal wounds from the past, while fostering trust and mutual respect between museums and tribes. 

Alan Chen, professor, Sturm College of Law

Draft No. 4: On The Writing Process
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), by John McPhee
Although this book is not technically in my field, I love reading about the writing process. And there is no one I’d rather learn from than McPhee, a longtime New Yorker writer and Princeton professor, as well as one of the most accomplished nonfiction writers of his generation. This book is part memoir, part reflection on the most challenging elements of writing, covering topics including structure and organization, editing (including what to leave out), tone and dealing with writer’s block. Not only is this an entertaining journey into McPhee’s thinking about these issues; it is, not surprisingly, elegantly written. 

Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game
(Harper, 2018), by Rob Neyer
Outside of the law, I am most drawn to great writing about baseball, particularly books about the increasing engagement with advanced statistics to think about and appreciate the game. One of the major figures in baseball analytics, Neyer also is an eloquent expositor of the beauty of understanding baseball at a deeper level. In this volume, he examines the events that take place during a single baseball game in 2017 between the Oakland A’s and the Houston Astros, two of the teams that have most embraced analytics. Neyer uses the narrative as a vehicle to discuss some of the biggest changes in the modern era, including the increase in at bats that end in one of the three “true outcomes” (home runs, strikeouts, walks) and the defensive “shift.” Throughout the book, Neyer illustrates that the analytics movement has not detracted from the romance of the game, but rather has enhanced it in important ways.

Daniel McIntosh, psychology professor and dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences 

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), by Peter Godfrey-Smith
A philosopher uses biology and psychology to explore the nature and evolution of intelligence, thereby providing insight into our own minds and our ability to understand others’ minds. It is filled with ah-ha passages and led to more interesting questions than I had before. And it made me want to spend the summer snorkeling. A wonderful book for the curious.

There There
(Knopf, 2018), by Tommy Orange
Engrossing enough to keep you inside on a sunny day; powerful and compelling enough to stay with you for years. Through the stories of multiple characters on their way, over years and events, toward a dramatic convergence at the Big Oakland Powwow, Orange illustrates how identity, community and history are deeply interwoven. He pulls you in to look at what you’d rather not see and helps you understand what you need to. Disturbing and hopeful, because it should be.

Jae McQueen, clinical associate professor in the Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW)

The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts
(Oxford University Press, 2016), by Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind
The Graduate School of Social Work hosted futurist and GSSW alumna Laura Nissen, now dean of social work at Portland State University, in March. Nissen shared many reading recommendations, including “The Future of the Professions.” As educators, it is interesting to think that many of our jobs won’t exist in the future. Therefore, we must change or advance our current skillset to remain relevant. I hope to recruit some of my GSSW colleagues for a summer group read of this fascinating book.

Where the Crawdads Sing
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018), by Delia Owens
Owens’ New York Times bestseller is at the top of all of my friends’ reading lists. I am excited to immerse myself in the novel’s depiction of Kya Clark, a resilient young woman who grew up alone in the North Carolina marsh. As she begins to connect with other people, a prominent community member is found dead — and Kya is immediately under suspicion.

Ellen Miller-Brown, professor of practice, Morgridge College of Education

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City 
(Broadway Books, 2016), by Matthew Desmond
For the last four years, faculty and staff members at the Morgridge College of Education have read a common book over the summer and then discussed it at our fall retreat. Two years ago, we read “Evicted.” It heightened our revulsion at the extreme poverty and insurmountable barriers experienced by the chronically home-seeking. As a college, we now volunteer annually at the Food Bank of the Rockies to help address the dramatic food scarcity in our community.  

(Vintage, 2016), by Yaa Gyasi
A personal book to dig into this summer is Yaa Gyasi’s powerful first novel, “Homegoing.” It traces the families of two half-sisters from Ghana who through their stories reveal the ravages of slavery, both in Africa and in the United States, in an intimate and emotionally commanding way.

Anne Penner, associate professor, Department of Theatre

Respect for Acting
(Wiley Publishing, 1973), by Uta Hagen
I love this book and use it as one of the textbooks in all my acting classes at DU. Uta Hagen was a beloved and profoundly respected actor and acting teacher. In her book, she lays out a practical set of tools for an actor to successfully personalize their relationship to their role. Hagen relies on her own experiences as a successful actor to help the reader make sense of the acting tools, and she spends almost as much time on getting an actor to make sense of how they themselves behave as a human before guiding that actor to connect authentically with how their character behaves. It’s a masterful, sympathetic, human approach to acting.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
(Grand Central Publishing, 2016), by Cal Newport
Newport describes “deep work” as the opportunity to focus on one cognitively challenging activity without distraction for a prolonged length of time. I often feel distracted at work, putting too much thought into determining what to work on when and how much time to give each task. After Newport adeptly describes the pros and cons of our “culture of connectivity,” he then moves on to advocate for its opposite: the opportunity to work for a few hours a day on one uninterrupted task. It’s a good read for anyone trying to streamline their day to create more productivity and fewer distractions.

Ana Babic Rosario, assistant professor, Department of Marketing, Daniels College of Business

The Meme Machine
(Oxford University Press, 2000), by Susan Blackmore
I will be reading this book as I do research on memes and technology. It is touted as an excellent take on our current, highly participatory culture — and one that sheds light on our tendencies to recycle and re-interpret digital content to spread an idea or stance on a topic. These evolving technologies are increasingly mediating a variety of consumption and, more broadly, life practices, and I am excited to find out more about the specific roles of such technologies.

(Crown, 2018), by Michelle Obama
For pleasure and inspiration, one of the books that is on my list for the summer is “Becoming.” I am fascinated by Obama’s perspective on social mobility and want to learn more about aspects of the Obama presidency that might have been less discussed and observed by the general public. For me, as a first-generation college graduate and U.S. immigrant, it is interesting to learn how childhood aspirations have evolved over time in the American culture — in the context of personal identity, close relationships and professional life — as well as how we can sustain such evolutions in the future.

Jere Surber, professor and chair, Department of Philosophy

Experience Machines: The Philosophy of Virtual Worlds
(Rowman and Littlefield, 2017), edited by Mark Silcox
This anthology ranges over a number of topics, including virtual reality, video games, artificial intelligence and, more generally, the philosophy of mind. I’m especially interested in how traditional philosophical ideas are challenged and sometimes transformed by various types of digitally altered experiences. I teach a course called Philosophy and Video Games and am also writing a book on the topic.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2018), by John Carreyrou
I found “Bad Blood” to be an engaging, well-written and well-researched account of Elizabeth Holmes and her biotech company, Theranos. It interested me because it was a case study of how commitment to an otherwise noble, ambitious and innovative idea gradually devolved — in the process of trying to realize and capitalize upon it — into a nest of deception, unethical behavior and ultimately criminal activity. It also was intriguing as a study of how scientific research can be corrupted by motives of personal ambition, financial greed and political influence. In the end, it made me wonder how atypical this case was when such forces are continually at play.



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