Books you should read this summer, according to UChicago faculty

Faculty teaching award winners share works that brought them comfort and joy this year

Whether you’re lounging out in the sun or staying in to beat the heat, a good book can be the perfect companion. If you’re looking to pick up a new one, try these suggestions from University of Chicago faculty.

Below, the latest winners of UChicago’s annual Quantrell and Graduate Teaching awards share which books brought them comfort, joy, or insight in the past year. For those who want to sit down with their families, the multi-genre list includes selections suitable for all ages—plus a bonus music pick.

And the People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara

Recommended by Assoc. Prof. Persis Berlekamp

“I bought this book for my six-year-old daughter, but I love it too. It’s really beautiful, and was originally written as a poem for adults.”

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

Recommended by Assoc. Prof. Monika Nalepa

“[Ibsen’s play] is the ultimate work about blackmail and its consequences.”

The Three-Body Problem (part of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy) by Cixin Liu 

Recommended independently by Assoc. Prof. Daniel Arnold and Prof. Patrick Jagoda

“This book is just stupefyingly imaginative. And somehow, even as the cosmic and temporal scale becomes ever vaster as the series goes on, it also becomes ever more humane, too. That’s a profound trick he pulled off.” —Daniel Arnold

“The truly transdisciplinary creativity and ambitious temporal scale [of this work] felt genuinely joyful amidst pandemic lockdown.” —Patrick Jagoda

Showa: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki and Ôoku by Fumi Yoshinaga

Recommended by Assoc. Prof. Ada Palmer

“Both series expect a reader with some familiarity with manga, but not too much, and both are very mature, intelligent works, nothing like the kids' action series which most people who are less familiar with manga think of first.”

The Thrifty Guides to History by Jonathan W. Stokes

Recommended by Assoc. Prof. Jonathan Lyon

“My family and I have been enjoying the "Thrifty Guide" series by Jonathan W. Stokes. The books are funny and educational for kids and adults interested in history.”

The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale

Recommended by Prof. Daniel Morgan

“My daughter is deeply obsessed with this series at the moment—she’s four. It’s about the perfect Princess Magnolia, who always wears pink and glass shoes, but is secretly the monster-fighting Princess in Black. It’s very funny and witty, and she has a great recurrent catch-phrase as she fights monsters: “Twinkle, twinkle, little smash!”

The Pursuit of Harmony: Kepler on Cosmos, Confession, and Community by Aviva Rothman

Recommended by Assoc. Prof. Daniel Fabrycky

“This book is a biography of Johannes Kepler, the 17th century astronomer known for his laws of planetary motion, but it brings out parts of his life that aren’t so well appreciated. He had some really weird ideas about how platonic solids delimited the motion of planets of the solar system, and that drove his obsession to describe orbits accurately. In so doing, the weird idea didn’t survive, but did give us Kepler’s three laws, which Newton explained and helped kick off the scientific revolution. I’ve also been interested in how these different figures interacted with their local church authorities. 

I’ve been working with data from the modern-day Kepler Space Telescope, but this book gave him a profound respect for him more broadly. It gave me the perspective that even though some of his ideas were weird, he had some that were profound, and I’m glad he stuck to his guns.” 

Music pick: Little Oblivions, by Julien Baker

Recommended by Asst. Prof. Blase Ur

“Part of the reason I enjoy teaching UChicago undergrads so much is that I was basically one of them not that long ago. When you start as an undergrad at UChicago, it can be super overwhelming. You've gone from being someone who is learning about the world to someone who is contributing to the world while also still learning about the world. You may not realize at the time that that's how it's going to be for the rest of your life. It's easy to be overwhelmed. It's easy to be self-critical. You have to learn to work on hard problems and navigate challenging times while having grace toward yourself. Julien Baker's records generally, and this one in particular, really capture that feeling.”