You’ve got a lot on your mind. We asked Stanford experts what books to read about mental health, work, the environment and more of today’s big issues.
Mental health and neurodiversity
Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Graphix, 2018.
“Hey, Kiddo is a memoir in the form of a graphic novel about growing up in a loving family struggling with the disease of addiction. For children and adults alike, Hey, Kiddo paints a realistic portrait of how children experience a parent with addiction and how, despite all, they are able to rise above it and learn empathy and resilience.”
—Anna Lembke, MD ’95, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and author of Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence (Dutton, 2021)
Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You, Jenara Nerenberg, HarperOne, 2020.
“Neurodiversity is a new concept that will be useful for everyone in modern society. In Divergent Mind, Jenara shares her story as a neurodivergent woman and her synthesis of her understanding about neurodiversity. It is a great book for all to understand more about the minds of neurodivergent people.”
—Lawrence Fung, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, director of the Stanford Neurodiversity Project, and author of Neurodiversity: From Phenomenology to Neurobiology and Enhancing Technologies (American Psychiatric Association Publishing, 2021)
The Winter Soldier, Daniel Mason, Back Bay Books, 2019 (originally published by Little, Brown and Company, 2018).
“Daniel is a member of our psychiatry faculty and also an accomplished author. The book is a compelling story about a soldier/doctor in World War I, understanding post-traumatic stress disorder before we knew what that was, and attempting to find love in the middle of a brutal war (which reverberates even more now with the tragedy in Ukraine—another land war in Europe). It is beautifully written and sophisticated in its description of the psychological effects of trauma.”
—David Spiegel, professor and an associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, director of the Center on Stress and Health, and co-developer of the interactive hypnosis app Reveri
Democracy and world affairs
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine, Serhii Plokhy, Basic Books, 2021 (originally published in 2015).
“An excellent and very readable history of Ukraine from the Kyivan Rus’—which both Ukraine and Russia now claim as their ancestral founding state—through 2015. Plokhy’s account covers the tensions between Moscow and Kyiv that led to Russia’s seizure of Crimea and role in the Donbas conflict, antecedents to the full-scale war that Vladimir Putin launched against Ukraine in 2022.”
—Steven Pifer, ’76, research scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and author of The Eagle and the Trident: U.S.–Ukraine Relations in Turbulent Times (Brookings Institution Press, 2017)
The Icon and Axe: An Interpretative History of Russian Culture, James H. Billington, Vintage, 1970.
“It is this book, with its rich description of Russian cultural history spanning 600 years, that sparked my interest in Russian and Soviet studies, ultimately changing the trajectory of my life and career. As the world watches the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, those interested in acquiring a deeper understanding of Russian culture, its people and history should consider this as a foundational text worth reading.”
—Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, director of the Hoover Institution, and professor of political science at Stanford and of political economy at the Graduate School of Business
Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception, Cass R. Sunstein, Oxford University Press, 2021.
“A meditation on free speech and the dilemmas of trying to police falsehoods in the digital age. Lucid and compelling—but also unsettling.”
—James Fishkin, professor of communication and author of Democracy When the People Are Thinking: Revitalizing Our Politics Through Public Deliberation (Oxford University Press, 2018)
The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, Jonathan Rauch, Brookings Institution Press, 2021.
“Democracy today is in crisis worldwide, and the biggest threat to it is the flight from reason, truth, and any agreement on what constitutes truth. This book explains why we must step out of our political tribes and filter bubbles and recommit to free speech, critical inquiry and open debate as foundations of a sustainable democracy.”
—Larry Diamond, ’73, MA ’78, PhD ’80, senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and at the Hoover Institution
Teamwork and communication
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing, Basic Books, 2015.
“I picked a book for each player on our team. This is a favorite.”
—Tara VanDerveer, director of women’s basketball
Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (And how anyone can harness it. Even you.), Jennifer Aaker, PhD ’95, and Naomi Bagdonas, MBA ’15, Currency, 2021.
“When it comes to communication—both professionally and personally—engaging your audience is critical to success. All of us have suffered through meetings that droned on and on. Humor serves as a great way to get your audience involved and engaged! Humor, Seriously illuminates the science behind humor and practical tactics for using humor effectively. And it is funny! I have never laughed and learned so much while reading a business book.”
—Matt Abrahams, ’91, lecturer at the Graduate School of Business, host of Think Fast Talk Smart: The Podcast and author of Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident and Compelling Presenting (Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2016)
Out There, Kate Folk, Random House, 2022.
“One could fancy Kate Folk as the literary love child of Kafka and Camus and Bradbury, if those writers were penning episodes of Black Mirror, but that still wouldn’t capture the blazing originality and exhilarating weirdness of her writing. From the moment you read these tales, you’ll know you’re in the presence of a singularly brilliant vision.”
—Chang-rae Lee, professor of English, and author of My Year Abroad (Riverhead Books, 2021)
Race and society
The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, Mehrsa Baradaran, Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2019 (originally published in 2017).
“A highly engaging historical account of the role of state and federal law in perpetuating economic inequality between African Americans and whites. I particularly learned a lot about how financial regulation contributed to the demise of an institution that was widely touted as an engine of community self-reliance: Black-owned banks.”
—Michelle Mello, ’93, professor of law and of health policy
Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration, Reuben Jonathan Miller, Back Bay Books, 2022 (originally published by Little, Brown and Company in 2021).
“Important scholarship has examined how race and racism have played a central role in the staggering growth of our prison population over the past 50 years. Miller’s beautifully written book takes us into people’s lives after prison, showing how a criminal record casts a long shadow even after they’ve paid their debt to society. His book raises necessary questions about race and citizenship, asking us to reckon with our society’s less visible ways of surveilling and excluding those on the margins.”
—Matthew Clair, assistant professor of sociology, and author of Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court (Princeton Press, 2020)
Work and the economy
Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation, Edward Glaeser and David Cutler, Penguin Press, 2021.
“Ed Glaeser discusses the history, present and future of cities. Having worked in urban economics and policy for 30 years, he’s both an expert and a realist. It is also well written and easy to digest—one of those books that is pleasure rather than a slog. And if you care about climate change, you should be a fan of cities—energy use by city-center dwellers is less than half of those in the suburbs. So while at first it seems counter-intuitive, saving cities is an important step in fighting global warming.”
—Nicholas Bloom (@I_Am_NickBloom), professor of economics and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research
The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets, Thomas Philippon, Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2019.
“Economics emphasizes the important role that free competition plays among firms. Competition is good for innovation, eliminates inefficiencies in production, and brings products to consumers at low prices. The thought-provoking book argues that the market power of many firms in America has been rising, leading to anti-competitive trends. Interestingly, the creation of a single market in Europe has increased competition among firms. The book has many interesting examples of products (such as cell phone service or internet providers) that are now much more expensive in the U.S. than in Europe. This is a big-picture book on an important topic.”
—Monika Piazzesi, PhD ’00, professor of economics and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research
How to Build a Habitable Planet, Charles H. Langmuir and Wally Broecker, Princeton University Press, revised edition 2012.
“A great history of the Earth and how its climate sustains life.”
—Aditi Sheshadri, assistant professor of earth system science
Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice, and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming, Liz Carlisle, Island Press, 2022.
“Regenerative agriculture has become such a hot topic for people interested in climate solutions. Liz has written a deeply inspiring and hopeful book by creating space for the stories of Indigenous, Black, Latinx and Asian American farmers who are reviving their ancestors’ methods of growing food to restore damaged ecosystems and repair the natural carbon cycle. By centering their captivating stories, she contributes to a much-needed reckoning with our racist systems and a powerful pathway forward for healing that benefits us all. A must-read!”
—Emily Polk, advanced lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric and author of Communicating Global to Local Resiliency: A Case Study of the Transition Movement (Lexington Books, 2015)