What Are Your Summer Reading Recommendations?

 

shutterstock_107696423One way to talk about reading recommendations might be to say that “the other day, after finishing Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind and with ontological triads floating through my thoughts — there goes one now! — an image of Bernie Sanders flashed before my eyes.” Which of course covers the ground from the sublime to the incomprehensible. Or, from the incomprehensible to the … incomprehensible. Whatever.

Another way to start a conversation about reading recommendations is to imbibe the National Association of Scholars’ recent report on summer reading suggestions made by our illustrious colleges and universities for incoming freshmen. NAS scholars have their own views on these matters, of course, and let’s just say that for the most part they’re not terribly impressed with the list.

Here’s the summary provided by the email message (which also can be found here):

Hundreds of American colleges and universities now assign a summer reading to entering freshmen. NAS’s comprehensive study, Beach Books 2014-2016: What Do Colleges Want Students to Read Outside Class?, lists and analyzes 377 assignments at 366 colleges and universities for 2014-15, and 361 assignments at 350 colleges. Most assignments were contemporary memoirs and popular nonfiction that affirmed progressive sentiments about illegal immigration, racial identity, global warming, unjust incarcerations, gay, lesbian, and transgender life, exaggerated fears of terrorism, anti-corporate paranoia, affirmative action, recycling, sexism, or wealth inequality.

Findings from the study revealed patterns across colleges:

  • Recent: Of the assigned books, 97% were published in 1990 or later, 89% were published in 2000 or later, and 59% were published in 2010 or later.
  • Politically correct: Racial oppression, environmental catastrophism, and social activism are the most common subject matters of common reading
  • A lot missing: Almost no colleges assigned classic fiction or nonfiction, good modern literature, or history.

Before despair prompts you to pour yourself a stiff drink, pop a Xanax, or roam for the highest building in your area, be comforted by the thought that NAS also provided a list of its own reading suggestions. Then again be ready for that drink, Xanax, or tall building thing, because NAS’s list is enough to humble and/or embarrass many of us. Okay, just me, then. Actually, some of the entries on the college and university list looked interesting to pursue also, particularly the dystopian stuff, but the NAS roster is still hugely more impressive.

Which brings up the interesting question for Ricochet readers especially: What books would you recommend? What enduring works have truly made a difference in your lives? Please do enlighten us all with your best thoughts.

So, with a drink in one hand and a Xanax in the other, I gaze from my fourth-story roof, and eagerly await your gushing wisdom…

There are 19 comments.

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  1. Dave_L Inactive
    Dave_L
    @Dave-L

    I just started reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  At five pages a day I figure I’ll be finished by Labor Day.

    It’s much more readable than I expected.

    • #1
  2. Moneyman Inactive
    Moneyman
    @Moneyman

    Two Recommendations

    The Master Switch  by Tim Wu

    Why We Lost  by Daniel P. Bolger

    Both books are incredibly relevant to understanding how things work today.

    • #2
  3. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order by Charles Hill

    • #3
  4. RktSci Member
    RktSci
    @RktSci

    A few books that I’d suggest. First, non-fiction.

    Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. A classic, readable history of the destruction of Germany.

    A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. A good, non-technical overview of cosmology.

    Cicero by Anthony Everett and Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy Excellent biography of the great orator/politician and the man who’s death finished the Republic of Rome.

    Fiction, (some) not as enduring:

    The Laundry Files series by Charles Stross. Deighton meets Lovecraft meets Dilbert. Yes, the author’s an atheist socialist Scotsman, but the politics don’t intrude much. Great fun. Start with The Atrocity Archives.

    To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. A time travel comedy of manners set in Oxford in 2061 and the 1880s. Very funny and well constructed.

    Any Shakespeare. He’s the freakin’ Bard.

    • #4
  5. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Strictly Fiction for the summer.  Start the “House of Niccolo” series of historical fiction by Dorothy Dunnett, set in Renaissance Europe and involving real historical characters.  Start with Niccolo Rising.  Once you finish that, you’re hooked and have to finish all seven novels.

    • #5
  6. Johnnie Alum 13 Inactive
    Johnnie Alum 13
    @JohnnieAlum13

    Anything by Kurt Vonnegut, especially: “Slaughterhouse 5,” “Cat’s Cradle,” and “Breakfast of Champions.”

    • #6
  7. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    There are lots of great books, and I enjoy reading them for their artistry.  But other than the New Testament, the only book that I can think of that has had a profound impact on my life personally is Dante’s Divine Comedy.

    You also can’t go wrong with the 19th century Russian authors.

    • #7
  8. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    RktSci:Cicero by Anthony Everett and Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy Excellent biography of the great orator/politician and the man who’s death finished the Republic of Rome.

    Yes I’ve read Cicero and two thirds into Caesar, and I agree, both excellent.

    Any Shakespeare. He’s the freakin’ Bard.

    Oh absolutely.  Read them all, but I have said King Lear is the greatest play ever written.

    • #8
  9. wearts Member
    wearts
    @wearts

    The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I am such a nerd. I read it frequently for enjoyment.

    • #9
  10. TGWShark Inactive
    TGWShark
    @TGWShark

    The New Testament made the most difference in my life, overall.  Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” shaped my political and economic beliefs.  David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is a good practical guide for productivity.

    For fun, I love the books in Rex Stout’s “Nero Wolfe” series.  His mysteries weren’t the best puzzles, but I’ve loved the characters for forty years, now, and really enjoy visiting the old brownstone.

    • #10
  11. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    You mean for the Summer of Bernie and Trump?

    (Fill in own joke here.)

    • #11
  12. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    The Constitution

    The Declaration of Independence

    Adrian Goldsworthy’s The Fall of Carthage

    Locke’s Second Treatise

    Rousseau’s Social Contract

    Smith’s Wealth of Nations (maybe two summers)

    Clarke’s Childhood’s End

    Blish’s Case of Conscience

    Heinlein’s Friday

    Bradbury’s Golden Apples of the Sun

    Yeats’ The Second Coming

    Eric Hines

    • #12
  13. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Manny:There are lots of great books, and I enjoy reading them for their artistry. But other than the New Testament, the only book that I can think of that has had a profound impact on my life personally is Dante’s Divine Comedy.

    I can’t quite imagine college-aged students tackling Dante over the summer without some assistance or grounding in Medieval literature and religion. I had a wonderful Dante course my freshman year but I simply wouldn’t have gotten half so much out of it without a classroom and good professor.

    • #13
  14. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Summer reading should, I think, be reasonably accessible but get the gears in their heads going. In addition to some of the other suggestions here, I’d say:

    Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist: Sort of a reworking of The Fatal Conceit with a lot of contemporary science and technology involved, this is fun, informative, and throws a lot of sacred cows off their pedestals.

    Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy or The Last of the Wine: Renault is one of my favorite writers and she pulls one into the era amazingly well.

    Iain Pears’s The Dream of Scipio: An amazingly deft work of narration, this gives also gives a really strong sense of continuity in history.

    Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning: Both brilliant in their own right, they also show what a brilliant minds can do with a little over 100 pages.

    Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene: I know, I know. Dawkins is a pill and his atheism is tired. Conceded. But this is a really incredible, very influential, very readable book that shows how looking at things from a different perspective can provide radical insight.

    Persuasion or Pride & Prejudice: Because they’re brilliant, romantic, funny, and hold up.

    • #14
  15. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Manny:There are lots of great books, and I enjoy reading them for their artistry. But other than the New Testament, the only book that I can think of that has had a profound impact on my life personally is Dante’s Divine Comedy.

    I can’t quite imagine college-aged students tackling Dante over the summer without some assistance or grounding in Medieval literature and religion. I had a wonderful Dante course my freshman year but I simply wouldn’t have gotten half so much out of it without a classroom and good professor.

    I don’t know.  We read, from a not too different era–just one generation away–Chaucer in high school.  And the Aeneid in high school.  Poetry, epic, short tales, they all were accessible, even to us.  ‘Course, Chaucer’s…rudeness…was an attraction.

    Eric Hines

    • #15
  16. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Eric Hines:I don’t know. We read, from a not too different era–just one generation away–Chaucer in high school. And the Aeneid in high school. Poetry, epic, short tales, they all were accessible, even to us. ‘Course, Chaucer’s…rudeness…was an attraction.

    Chaucer — depending on the poem — can be a lot more accessible. Dante is just so thick with allegory that I really think you need some hand-holding (most smart high schoolers I’ve taught Lit to don’t even know what allegory is, and Dante’s likes to use multiple layers of it at once). The Aeneid, unfortunately, suffers from being a boring work with a handful of genuinely amazing episodes. The Iliad is a much better story.

    • #16
  17. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: (most smart high schoolers I’ve taught Lit to don’t even know what allegory is…). The Aeneid, unfortunately, suffers from being a boring work with a handful of genuinely amazing episodes. The Iliad is a much better story.

    Doesn’t anybody teach allegory in high school anymore?

    I read the Iliad in Attic Greek in college (I needed a 5-hour course to stay a full-time student), and there’s nothing like hearing a native Greek speaker chant the poetry like it was done originally.  The music was beautiful.  And that made the Iliad much more interesting than the Aeneid, which I read only in English (and only read–it can’t be chanted effectively in English).  But the Aeneid was far from boring.

    Eric Hines

    • #17
  18. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Decameron.  I actually read it one summer.  Filthy, but no one knows that when you say you are reading something from 1348.

    I am in the early stages of Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia.  It’s not that I think it is something I think I agree with.  Even as a mixed bag, I think there is enough that is provocative to make it worth reading.  It is more about stimulating thinking than simply receiving truth.

    • #18
  19. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Manny:There are lots of great books, and I enjoy reading them for their artistry. But other than the New Testament, the only book that I can think of that has had a profound impact on my life personally is Dante’s Divine Comedy.

    I can’t quite imagine college-aged students tackling Dante over the summer without some assistance or grounding in Medieval literature and religion. I had a wonderful Dante course my freshman year but I simply wouldn’t have gotten half so much out of it without a classroom and good professor.

    You’re right.  I didn’t realize it was for college age folks.  I remember reading the Inferno in high school, but the teacher did guide us.

    • #19
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