What to Read This Summer — 2021

New and old, here are books to transform you.

June 18, 2021

Reading time min

Woman reading in the pool

Photo: Cavan Images/Getty Images

Whether this summer finds you wading back into the pool of normal life or just sitting by a pool, you’ll want a good book by your side. We asked Stanford faculty and our own books editor to recommend meaningful reads.

Personal game changers

Caste, Isabel Wilkerson; University Press, 2020. “[Read this] to learn more about a still hidden, yet enormous part of the history and current society of the United States that I was never taught in school, and that my teenage kids have mostly not been taught. I expect to follow many new paths sparked by reading it.” Goodreads
Gretchen Daily, ’86, MS ’87, PhD ’92, Bing Professor of Environmental Science and director of the Center for Conservation Biology

Educated, Tara Westover; Random House, 2018. “A woman’s perspective on the isolation and bubble of the white lower socioeconomic class and the price paid for leaving that world.” Goodreads
Yvonne Maldonado, MD ’81, Taube Professor of Global Health and Infectious Diseases

Tram 83, Fiston Mwanza Mujila and Roland Glasser; Scribe Publications, 2014. From the publisher: A writer and an ambitious racketeer meet in a war-torn city’s most notorious nightclub—Tram 83—surrounded by profit seekers of all languages and nationalities. Tram 83 plunges the reader into the modern African gold rush, using jazz rhythms to tell the stories of human relationships. “I actually have a playlist that I use whenever I have taught the novel.” Goodreads
Ato Quayson, Doyle Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies and professor of English

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison; Vintage, 1995 (originally published in 1952). “It was a game changer for me in its exploration of race and its representation of life in America, and I still think about it all the time. I think it’s still very relevant today.” Goodreads
Young Jean Lee, associate professor of theater and performance studies

Beach reads

Tiny Imperfections, Alli Frank, MA ’99, and Asha Youmans; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. Make a great escape with this novel of ambition, family and the absurdities of private-school admissions in San Francisco. Goodreads

Go like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, A.J. Baime; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. “Essentially the true story behind Ford v Ferrari. The book is a page-turner and is just as much about the personalities and U.S. society in the ’60s as it is about cars. I gave out copies to my students a few years ago and don’t recall anyone not enjoying it.” Goodreads
J. Christian Gerdes, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford

Books for a new perspective

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, Steven Johnson; Riverhead Books, 2021. “I think everyone should understand how we have progressed with survival and quality of life as a species, as well as how disruptive but critical innovations may not gain initial widespread acceptance and then how their impact is quickly forgotten.” Goodreads

The Joy of Movement, Kelly McGonigal, PhD ’04; Avery Publishing Group, 2019. Shake your tail feather—it can give your blues a break and boost feelings of belonging. McGonigal provides a playlist of songs mentioned in the book. Goodreads

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer; Milkweed Editions, 2013. “Recommended to me by colleagues who, like me, are interested in the traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous peoples of the world. Also, it has a strong emphasis on the significance of plants for humanity. I believe it can open one’s eyes to the environmental crisis of the planet and the hope provided by the wisdom of the indigenous cultures.” Goodreads
Rodolfo Dirzo, Bing Professor of Environmental Science

Stories from marginalized voices

While I Was Away, Waka Takahashi Brown, ’94, MA ’95; Quill Tree Books, 2021. Pitch-perfect memoir for tweens, teens and anyone who has ever felt out of place. Goodreads

Beyond the Sand and Sea: One Family's Quest for a Country to Call Home, Ty McCormick, ’10; St. Martin's Press, 2021. “McCormick, an editor at Foreign Affairs, introduces the plight of Dadaab, Kenya, once the world’s largest refugee complex, housing hundreds of thousands of Somalis after civil war overwhelmed their country in 1991. The book is the result of not only three years of research when McCormick was Foreign Policy’s Africa editor but also his friendship with Asad Hussein, the book’s main character. Like others born in Dadaab, Asad is stateless, citizen of neither Somalia nor Kenya, unable to live safely in his familial homeland yet barred from Kenyan society.” Goodreads
Deni Ellis Béchard

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende; Dial Press Trade Paperback, 2005 (originally published in 1982). “Latin American writing at its best, showcasing the plight of women.” Goodreads

Other lists

Books for tween/teen readers

Our books collection

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.