We’re now in August, and no matter how hard we try to fight it the fall semester and another year of school is fast approaching. For the upcoming academic year, Penguin Random House has compiled a comprehensive list of 440 reading programs and their title sections. For example, Stanford has its unique Three Books program and Brown has its First Readings program. Among the plethora of recommendations from various programs, we’ve selected the best picks of the bunch for you to get your hands on.
Even if you are not a college student, there’s no reason for you to ditch this list. The issues discussed in these books are thought-provoking and illuminating to say the least; be it the environment, war and peace, or race or religion, any of the topics introduced will bring new perspectives while enhancing old ones. Plus, there’s no harm in adding a few to your reading list, right?
Captions provided by Amazon Editorial Reviews.
Recommended by 60+ schools, including Pace University
This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.
Recommended by 20+ schools including Amherst College, UCLA, NYU and University of Oregon
Is it possible to live with dignity in a country that does not respect you? Is true equality a realistic goal for black people in America? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
Recommended by Brown University’s First Readings Program
A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts.
Recommended by Stanford’s Three Books Program, Connecticut College and Rutgers SAS Honors Program
Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
Recommended by 8 schools including College of William and Mary, University of Houston and West Virginia University
This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.
Recommended by the Washington State University Common Reading program and University of California, Berkeley’s On the Same Page program
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade has devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
Recommended by Fashion Institute of Technology
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is Ronson’s tour through a not-necessarily-brave new world where faceless commenters wield the power to destroy lives and careers, where the punishments often outweigh the crimes, and where there is no self-control and (ironically) no consequences. On one hand, part of what makes this book (again, ironically) so fun to read is a certain schadenfreude; it’s fun to read about others’ misfortunes, especially if we think they “had it coming.” Jonah Lehrer, whose admitted plagiarism and falsifications probably earned him his fall, stalks these pages. But so does Justine Sacco, whose ill-conceived tweet probably didn’t merit hers; as it turns out, the internet doesn’t always differentiate the misdemeanors from the felonies. But the best reason to read this is Ronson’s style, which is funny and brisk, yet informative and never condescending.
Via Penguin Random House
Recommended by Dartmouth College’s Shared Academic Experience/ First Year Students Summer Reading
As Minister for Culture, former school teacher M. A. Nanga is a man of the people, as cynical as he is charming, and a roguish opportunist. When Odili, an idealistic young teacher, visits his former instructor at the ministry, the division between them is vast. But in the eat-and-let-eat atmosphere, Odili’s idealism soon collides with his lusts—and the two men’s personal and political tauntings threaten to send their country into chaos. When Odili launches a vicious campaign against his former mentor for the same seat in an election, their mutual animosity drives the country to revolution.
Recommended by Georgetown University’s Marino Family International Writers’ Academic Workshop
Keita Ali is an elite runner living in Zantoroland, a poor, fictional island that is erupting in political violence. When his father, a journalist, is murdered, Keita escapes to the wealthy nation of Freedom State―an imagined country much like our own. A stateless refugee without documentation, Keita must hide from the authorities even as he races marathons to support himself and pay ransom to his sister’s kidnappers.
Recommended by MIT Reads and New York University’s Freshman Dialogue
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
Recommended by Miami University (Summer Reading Program), University of Denver (One Book, One DU), University of Wisconsin – Madison (Go Big Read), Wake Forest University (Project Wake)
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
Via Penguin Random House
Recommended by 50+ schools, including Duke, Northeastern, Ohio State, and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Recommended by Boston College’s Conversations in the First Year
Lev Golinkin’s memoir is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of a young boy in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union. It’s also the story of Lev Golinkin, the American man who finally confronts his buried past by returning to Austria and Eastern Europe to track down the strangers who made his escape possible. This is a thrilling tale of escape and survival, a deeply personal look at the life of a Jewish child caught in the last gasp of the Soviet Union, and a provocative investigation into the power of hatred and the search for belonging.
Recommended by Johns Hopkins University’s Common Read Program
In 2004, four Latino teenagers arrived at the Marine Advanced Technology Education Robotics Competition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were born in Mexico but raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where they attended an underfunded public high school. No one had ever suggested to Oscar, Cristian, Luis, or Lorenzo that they might amount to much―but two inspiring science teachers had convinced these impoverished, undocumented kids from the desert who had never even seen the ocean that they should try to build an underwater robot.