Summer 2020 Reading Suggestions

[July 7] Today we kick off this year’s selection of summer reading recommendations by our faculty, graduate students & staff. We begin with two works of fiction suggested by Prof. Margaret Newell “for readers interested in exploring race, racism and the experiences of people of color in America in the present and at the heart of BLM”.

Prof. Newell shares that, “One is Jesmyn Ward’s extraordinary ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing!’ History and magical realism intersect in Ward’s multigenerational story about the effects of institutional racialized violence on one Mississippi Black family. I could not put this book down. Ward grew up watching Black men die needlessly and had nightmares about family members being taken to Parchman Farm. Parchman, the notorious plantation-like prison that appears in Sing, Unburied, Sing!, was in the news in February-March 2020 for horrible conditions, showing that the past isn’t really past at all.”

“Another is ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a romance, a coming of age novel, and a story of immigration. It offers an affectionate and clear-eyed portrait of middle-class life and aspiration in Nigeria. It’s also a devastating critique of how race and Blackness function in America (and the UK) from the perspective of its Nigerian immigrant heroine.”


[July 8] Fiscal Assoc. Chris Adams shares today’s summer reading recommendation. She says, “One of my favorite books is the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt. This book made me laugh out loud, cry out loud and lose myself entirely in another world, Ireland in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The author is a master storyteller and the book is rich and moving as well as entertaining.”

[July 9] PhD Candidate Marc Arenberg provides today’s summer reading suggestions. “The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States,” by Walter Johnson and “How to be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi. He says, “Both of these are super relevant to our current moment of grappling with racism and its legacy.”

“‘Jonny Appleseed,’ by Joshua Whitehead is a great read for anyone interested in queer and/or indigenous stories. [It is the] winner of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction.”

[July 10] Prof. Elizabeth Bond shares today’s summer reading suggestion:
“I’m reading Sarah Knott’s ‘Mother, An Unconventional History’ (Penguin Books, 2020). Drawing from extensive archival research and her own experience of motherhood, Knott examines the experiences of becoming a parent, from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first century. In addition to presenting a fascinating history, Knott raises important questions about how historians approach fragmentary records and archival absences. Sarah Knott is Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington.”

[July 13] Summer reading suggestions this morning come from Prof. David Steigerwald. His selections are:
“Willing Slaves of Capital,” by Frédéric Lordon.
From “Why do people work for other people? This seemingly naïve question is at the heart of Lordon’s argument. To complement Marx’s partial answers, especially in the face of the disconcerting spectacle of the engaged, enthusiastic employee, Lordon brings to bear a “Spinozist anthropology” that reveals the fundamental role of affects and passions in the employment relationship, reconceptualizing capitalist exploitation as the capture and remolding of desire.”

“Capital in the 21st Century,” by Thomas Piketty.
“In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, “Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.”–from

“Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism,” by Angus Deaton & Anne Case. “Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row–a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the past two decades, deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism have risen dramatically, and now claim hundreds of thousands of American lives each year–and they’re still rising. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, known for first sounding the alarm about deaths of despair, explain the overwhelming surge in these deaths and shed light on the social and economic forces that are making life harder for the working class. They demonstrate why, for those who used to prosper in America, capitalism is no longer delivering,”–

[July 14] Prof. David Stebenne provides today’s summer reading suggestion. He recommends, “Sarah Igo, ‘The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America’ (2018); it provides helpful perspective on the challenges facing privacy today.”

[July 15] Today’s reading suggestion comes from Laura Seeger, Digital Media & eLearning Mgr. She says, “‘The Last Jew of Treblinka’ [Rajchman] is a book I literally just couldn’t put down. It is a stark memoir from a survivor of Treblinka. It’s riveting, terrifying & defines that moment in history.”

[July 16]  Prof. Theodora Dragostinova provides today’s summer book suggestions.

The Poisonwood BibleShe says, “I just finished two wonderful books! ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ by Barbara Kingsolver is truly captivating, even magical. It tells the story of a Southern Baptist missionary family in the Congo/Zaire from the late 1950s through independence, civil war, and beyond. While the historical context is a critical background, the author masterfully tells the story of four sisters and their parents whose lives are radically transformed by their encounter with Africa, its nature, and its people. At the same time, the mindset of a white missionary family and their complicated – and varying – attitudes to difference and race is extremely insightful. But for me most moving were the personal choices people make when they are challenged to the extreme – and how four sisters could follow different paths.

“‘Abigail’ by Hungarian author Magda Szabó is the story of a young woman, Georgina, in Hungary in the midst of World War II who ends up in a protestant boarding school because her father, a widower and a general in the Hungarian army, decides this is the best way to protect her during the war. An aspiring Budapest socialite, she detests the strict rules of the boarding school and the parochial, in her view, classmates and teachers. But as the story develops, and as Georgina becomes more isolated and unhappy, she discovers a series of mysteries associated with the patron saint of the school, Abigail, that give her hope and fuel her determination. In the end, the book touches on important issues of wartime complicity, resignation, desperation, and resistance, while following the coming-to-age odyssey of a young Hungarian woman.”

Book Cover of The Ratline[July 17] Professor Emeritus Carole Fink submitted today’s summer reading suggestions. She recommends “The Ratline, Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive” by Philippe Sands, “The Seventh Cross” by Anne Seghers, “Eyrie” by Tim Winton, “The Woman Next Door” by Yewande Omotosa, “The Folded Earth” and “All the Lives We Never Lived” by Anurahda Roy, and “Marrow and Bone” by Walter Kempowski.

Book Descriptions from

The Ratline: In The Ratline Philippe Sands offers a unique account of the daily life of a senior Nazi and fugitive, and of his wife. Drawing on a remarkable archive of family letters and diaries, he unveils a fascinating insight into life before and during the war, on the run, in Rome, and into the Cold War. Eventually the door is unlocked to a mystery that haunts Wächter’s youngest son, who continues to believe his father was a good man – what happened to Otto Wächter, and how did he die?

The Seventh Cross: Written in 1939, first published in 1942, a national bestseller and a 1943 BOMC Main Selection, The Seventh Cross presented a still doubtful, naive America a first-hand account of life in Hitler’s Germany and of the horrors of the concentration camps. Seven men attempt an escape from Westhofen; the camp commander erects seven crosses, one for each. Only one, the young communist, Heisler, survives, not by cunning or superior skill, but through the complicity of a web of common citizens unwilling to bow to the Gestapo and forced to make decisions that will determine the character of their future lives.

Eyrie: In Eyrie, Winton crafts the story of Tom Keely, a man struggling to accomplish good in an utterly fallen world. Once an ambitious, altruistic environmentalist, Keely now finds himself broke, embroiled in scandal, and struggling to piece together some semblance of a life. From the heights of his urban high-rise apartment, he surveys the wreckage of his life and the world he’s tumbled out of love with. Just before he descends completely into pills and sorrow, a woman from his past and her preternatural child appear, perched on the edge of disaster, desperate for help.

The Woman Next Door: Hortensia James and Marion Agostino are neighbours. One is black, one white. Both are successful women with impressive careers. Both have recently been widowed. And both are sworn enemies, sharing hedge and hostility which they prune with a zeal that belies the fact that they are both over eighty. But one day an unforeseen event forces the women together. And gradually the bickering and sniping softens into lively debate, and from there into memories shared. But could these sparks of connection ever transform into friendship? Or is it too late to expect these two to change?

The Folded Earth: Anuradha Roy weaves an evocative and deeply moving tale of a young woman making a new life for herself amid the foothills of the Himalaya. Desperate to leave a private tragedy behind, Maya abandons herself to the rhythms of the little village, where people coexist peacefully with nature. But all is not as it seems, and she soon learns that no refuge is remote enough to keep out the modern world. When power-hungry politicians threaten her beloved mountain community, Maya finds herself caught between the life she left behind and the new home she is determined to protect.

All The Lives We Never Lived: “In my childhood, I was known as the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman.” So begins the story of Myshkin and his mother Gayatri, who is driven to rebel against tradition and follow her artist’s instinct for freedom. Freedom of a different kind is in the air across India. The fight against British rule is reaching a critical turn. The Nazis have come to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, two strangers arrive in Gayatri’s town, opening up to her the vision of other possible lives. What took Myshkin’s mother from India to Dutch-held Bali in the 1930s, ripping a knife through his comfortingly familiar universe? Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, Myshkin comes to understand the connections between the anguish at home and a war-torn universe overtaken by patriotism. This enthralling novel tells a tragic story of men and women trapped in a dangerous era uncannily similar to the present. Its scale is matched by its power as a parable for our times.

Marrow and Bone: West Germany, 1988, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall: Jonathan Fabrizius, a middle-aged erstwhile journalist, has a comfortable existence in Hamburg, bank- rolled by his furniture-manufacturing uncle. He lives with his girlfriend Ulla in a grand, decrepit prewar house that just by chance escaped annihilation by the Allied bombers. One day Jonathan receives a package in the mail from the Santubara Company, a luxury car company, commissioning him to travel in their newest V8 model through the People’s Republic of Poland and to write about the route for a car rally. Little does the company know that their choice location is Jonathan’s birthplace, for Jonathan is a war orphan from former East Prussia, whose mother breathed her last fleeing the Russians and whose father, a Nazi soldier, was killed on the Baltic coast. At first Jonathan has no interest in the job, or in dredging up ancient family history, but as his relationship with Ulla starts to wane, the idea of a return to his birthplace, and the money to be made from the gig, becomes more appealing. What follows is a darkly comic road trip, a queasy misadventure of West German tourists in Communist Poland, and a reckoning that is by turns subtle, satiric, and genuine. Marrow and Bone is an uncomfortably funny and revelatory odyssey by one of the most talented and nuanced writers of postwar Germany.

Book Cover of The Old Drift[July 20]  Today’s summer reading suggestion comes from Prof. Thomas McDow. His selection is “The Old Drift” by Namwali Serpell. He says, “It is a new novel that tells the stories of three families over several generations. It is set mostly in Zambia and interweaves the history of the country in the twentieth and early twenty-first century into the plot. The author jokingly referred to it as ‘the great Zambia novel that you didn’t know you were waiting for,’ and while it may be that, it is also much more. The author combines epic, magical realism, and science fiction in wonderful ways. She draws on Zambian political and social history and makes a story that highlights the country’s cosmopolitan past. And the novel finishes in a near future, with speculative fiction that incorporates HIV, climate change, and the proliferation of drones. The characters—black, brown, and white—are wonderfully drawn and complex, and the writing pops with humor and insight. This is not an easy novel to pin down. I have seen it tagged as postcolonial, feminist, and Afropolitan, but it also has a sweeping breadth of geography and genre that will appeal to many readers.”

Book Cover Artwork and Author Photo[July 21]  Prof. Robin Judd provides today’s summer reading suggestion.

She says she has been “reading the advance copy of Linda Kass’ ‘The Ritchie Boys,’ which I’ll be discussing with her at her book launch at Gramercy Books in September, and which has been a really fascinating book to read (in part because Columbus plays a big role).”

1938. Eli Stoff and his parents, Austrian Jews, escape to America just after the Nazis take over their homeland. Within five years, Eli enlists in the US Army and, thanks to his understanding of the German language and culture, joins thousands of others like him like him who become known as Ritchie boys, young men who work undercover in Intelligence on the European front to help the Allies win World War II. In “A Ritchie Boy,” different characters tell interrelated stories that, together, form a cohesive narrative about the circumstances and people Eli encounters from Vienna to New York, from Ohio to Maryland to war-torn Europe, before he returns to the heartland of his new country to set down his roots.

Our department is partnering with Gramercy Books for the event which will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

book cover of Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism[July 22] Our summer reading suggestion for the day comes from Prof. Sarah Van Beurden. She says, “I have been reading ‘Potential History. Unlearning Imperialism’ by Arielle Aïsha Azouley (Verso, 2019) which is a wide-ranging reflection on the imperial foundations of knowledge, and on how to unlearn those. The book doesn’t hide its activist stance and argues that it is ‘by caring collectively for our shared world that we can make the potential for freedom visible.’ It is a challenging and unconventional but inspiring book.”


[July 23] Our summer reading suggestion today comes from Neil Humphrey who recommends “… one of this year’s finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, ‘Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life’ by Louise Aronson. Although explicitly targeted at medical professionals and caregivers working with elderly populations, Aronson’s book is applicable to all of us since we are all aging beings. By redefining what growing old can mean, she deftly pushes back against a youth-obsessed culture that fears old age as a scourge and attempts to cure it as if it were some sort of disease.”

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life - Book Cover


book cover The Long Southern Strategy[July 24] Today’s book suggestions are from Greyson Teague. He says, “Here are my summer reading suggestions, courtesy of the Political Science literature I’ve been reading as of late:”

“‘The Long Southern Strategy: How Chasing White Voters in the South Changed American Politics’ by Angie Maxwell & Todd Shields. In this work Angie Maxwell & Todd Shields argue that the Republican Party has engaged in a successful decades-long attempt at gaining the vote of Southern whites. The GOP they show successfully appealed to the racism, sexism, & religious fundamentalism of Southern whites & in turn made them into the base of the contemporary Republican Party.”

“‘Civil Rights & the Making of the Modern American State’ by Megan Ming Francis. Megan Ming Francis argues that the NAACP played a role in the creation of the modern American state. Instead of taking for granted the belief that the organization would pursue a litigation strategy Francis shows that this strategy developed out of a process of trial & error. After failing at legislative reform the organization turned to the court system, where it had more success. The end result would be the NAACP pushing the Supreme Court into enforcing basic rights for African Americans setting the stage for the famous court rulings that would follow.”

“‘Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics’ by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell & Maya Sen. In their work Deep Roots Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell & Maya Sen provide quantitative evidence for the lasting effects of slavery on Southern politics. They argue & show that regional variations in Southern politics & white behavior can be directly traced to whether or not an area’s local economy was rooted in slavery. After the collapse of slavery Southern whites passed down their attitudes & behaviors towards African Americans to their children & the presence of these attitudes is more predictive than other variables in explaining contemporary Southern politics in regards to race.”

book cover of Educated[July 27] Today’s summer reading picks are from Chris Adams, our Fiscal Associate. Her selections are: “Educated” by Tara Westover. Chris says, “This is a story about overcoming tremendous adversity and following one’s own path to personal fulfillment. It was an incredible read considering it was non-fiction. It seemed too unbelievable to be real. A page turner for sure!”

“‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ by Erich Maria Remarque. Although a book revealing the horrors of war it was masterfully written with exceptional insight and sensitivity to the human condition in such a setting.”


Passage to Ararat Book Cover[July 28] Our summer reading recommendation today comes from Pietro Shakarian. He says, “First published in 1975, ‘Passage to Ararat’ [by Michael J. Arlen] follows the son of prominent Anglo-Armenian author Michael Arlen on a journey to the mountainous landscape of Brezhnev-era Soviet Armenia. In this hospitable country in the shadow of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, he discovers much about his family, himself, and the history of a people. If you are looking for a good summer read on ethnicity, nationality, and self-discovery, then this is it!”


War Trash book cover[July 29] Today’s summer reading suggestion is from Zachary Matusheski. He states that, “The treatment and experience of prisoners of war was at the center of the Korean War, a war which started 70 years ago last month. Ha Jin’s novel ‘War Trash’ explores how Chinese prisoners of war dealt with conflicting demands for their loyalty and navigated a perilous prison captivity. Featured in my course on the Korean War, the novel links up well with big themes in that period of history.”


The Blood Telegram book cover[July 30] “The Blood Telegram” by Gary J Bass is today’s book selection by Archana Venkatesh. She says, “This is an excellent account of the breakdown of US diplomacy in Asia in the late 1960s/early 1970s. It is centered on the 1971 Bangladesh war, but moves beyond the machinations of South Asian leaders. It is a really compelling narrative of Nixon and Kissinger’s disastrous experiments in foreign policy.”


book cover of Last Boat Out of Shanghai[July 31] Today’s summer reading suggestion (and our last for the series) comes from Sara Halpern. She recommends, “Last Boat out of Shanghai” by Helena Zia.

Sara says, “This is a gripping, fast-moving book that weaves the biographies of four Chinese (including the author’s mother) from diverse backgrounds who lived in separate worlds in Shanghai during one of China’s most traumatic periods. From 1937 to the early 1950s, the characters and their families struggled to survive the economic, social, military, and political turmoil of the Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War, and the collapse of Republican China in Asia’s most valuable port city. Because so little has been written about and told by Chinese of living through these life-changing events, Zia interviewed well over 200 individuals in the United States, Taiwan, and China to ensure the authenticity of the characters’ stories and encourage more Chinese to share their story of getting on the “last boat out of Shanghai.” This is a great addition to your list if you’re also interested in Asian-American history, history of migration, and history of childhood and children.”

“I met the author in February 2019 at her book talk. Merely three weeks of the initial public release, the book was in its second printing.”