Woman wearing hat in pool reading a book

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What to Read This Summer — 2021

June 18, 2021

New and old, here are books to transform you.

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 book cover


by 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.”
Gretchen Daily, ’86, MS ’87, PhD ’92, Bing Professor of Environmental Science and director of the Center for Conservation Biology

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Educated book cover


by 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.”
Yvonne Maldonado, MD ’81, Taube Professor of Global Health and Infectious Diseases

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Tram 83 book cover

Tram 83

by 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.”
Ato Quayson, Doyle Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies and professor of English

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Invisible Man book cover

Invisible Man

by 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.”
Young Jean Lee, associate professor of theater and performance studies

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Beach reads

The Yellow Bird Sings book cover

Tiny Imperfections

by 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.

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Go like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans book cover

Go like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans

by 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.”
J. Christian Gerdes, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford

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Books for a new perspective

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer book cover

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer

by 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.”

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The Joy of Movement book cover

The Joy of Movement

by 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.

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Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants book cover

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

by 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.”
Rodolfo Dirzo, Bing Professor of Environmental Science

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Stories from marginalized voices

While I Was Away book cover

While I Was Away

by 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.

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Beyond the Sand and Sea: One Family's Quest for a Country to Call Home book cover

Beyond the Sand and Sea: One Family's Quest for a Country to Call Home

by 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.”
Deni Ellis Béchard in STANFORD

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The House of the Spirits book cover

The House of the Spirits

by Isabel Allende
Dial Press Trade Paperback, 2005 (originally published in 1982)

“Latin American writing at its best, showcasing the plight of women.”

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