The summer is the perfect time to get lost in a great book or two, and this year’s Quantrell and Graduate Teaching award winners have suggestions to keep you reading long past Labor Day.
Stuart Gazes, Senior Lecturer in Physics
“I once read Einstein’s Dreams by Allan Lightman. He’s a physicist and a writer at MIT, and in Einstein’s Dreams, in a few pages, little vignettes, he describes a world in which some law of physics behaves very differently than it does in our universe. What was impressive was the conceit was based on physics, but the writing was beautiful. There was an elegance and beauty with how he was thinking about physics in a way that I had never read before.”
Kimberly Kay Hoang, Assistant Professor in Sociology
“The first is Gabriel Zucman’s book The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens (UChicago Press, 2015). It’s a very short book and an easy read. It’s written by an economist, and it’s really about the practices of offshoring and what tax havens do. The other book is by Ching Kwan Lee, The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa (UChicago Press, 2018). We’re living in a moment now with the rise of China, and everyone wants to think about what role China is playing in the new global economy. What’s unique about the book is that, rather than thinking about the varieties of capitalism, it’s about the variety of capital, thinking about Chinese state capital versus private capital in Africa, and what those two do differently.”
Boaz Keysar, Professor in Psychology
I recommend Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. It has changed the way I think about the usefulness of what we learned from social psychology and judgment and decision-making research. It has huge potential to improve life for individuals and society.
Peggy Mason, Professor in Neurobiology
"The most influential book is typically the last one I read, and it just keeps on going. I'm a complete addict. I've always got a book on tape going and I've always got a physical book going. There's just so many that have been incredibly influential. Right now I am pausing my streak of John Wyndham books to read Normality: A Cultural Genealogy by Peter Cryle and Elizabeth Stephens (UChicago Press, 2017). This book had me at ‘the concept of normality entered the vernacular in the mid-twentieth century.’ As I become more and more interested in variance, mutations, ‘birth defects,’ and disability, I am eager to see what these humanists have to say.”
Nadine Moeller, Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology
I recently read Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. I enjoyed learning about life in the Midwest and getting the perspective on the challenges people face as described by the author who moved to North Dakota from a formerly urban life. The book is a bit unusual as it paints an interesting picture of people, small local communities and the way of coping with being in a remote location while at the same time being an accomplished writer. It is about the simple things in life.
Niall Atkinson, Associate Professor of Art History and the College
“I think all students should read Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. It’s a 14th century collection of tales told by Florentine youths in the context of the Black Death of 1348. I say, not completely facetiously, that everything they need to know about urban life is in those stories. In all seriousness, I think these fantastic tales - of love, desire, sex, and violence - are an extremely rich meditation on what it means to be a citizen, at a time when the world seemed to be falling apart.”
Rina Foygel Barber, Associate Professor in Statistics and the College
I really enjoyed The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis, which tells the story of a decades-long collaboration between psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, whose joint work was groundbreaking in the fields of decision theory and behavioral economics. I found the book fascinating, both as a way to learn about these fields, which I was not familiar with, and to see such a deep narrative of how this lifelong collaboration developed and faced challenges over the years.
John Brehm, Professor in Political Studies
“Justin Grimmer has written a remarkable book called The Impression of Influence: Legislator Communications, Representation, and Democratic Accountability, analyzing the ways in which members of Congress try to communicate back with their constituents. To analyze this in the past was just tediously going through mountains of records. What Justin has been able to do is to use the power of computational methods and just plow through hundreds of thousands of different kinds of messages. I think it has just opened up brand new doors for people to be thinking about the accessibility and usefulness of texts for a method of analysis.”
David Freedman, Professor in Neurobiology
“I’d say Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titans. That was one of his really early books, when he really found his voice, and he’s one of the more influential authors for me and I’d recommend any scientist read that.”
Susan Schreiner, Professor of the History of Christianity and Theology and in the College
“I think one of the most interesting and creative scholars of the day is Robert Pogue Harrison at Stanford. He has written a number of books, but three of them are a trilogy: Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (UChicago Press, 1993), The Dominion of the Dead (UChicago Press, 2005), and Gardens (UChicago Press, 2009). This man knows history. He can go from the ancient world to Frank Lloyd Wright without missing a beat and without misrepresenting anybody. He is brilliant, and he is the most creative thinker. He’s basically interested in how human beings make a home on Earth.”