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From Emily Drabinski
1. How Does it Feel to be a Problem by Moustafa Bayoumi
Bayoumi’s text tells the stories of young Arab Americans struggling to stay part of an America that sees them as “a problem” post-September 11th. His informants personalize and humanize what have become normal parts of the American landscape: government surveillance, racial profiling, punitive immigration enforcement, and ‘extraordinary rendition.’ The book succeeds most in showing the ways that our singular personal lives are always determined in part by larger historical, cultural, and political events.
2. Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
Shirky takes on the social implications of social networking: What will happen to the ways we exist with each other when we can connect so easily online? How will new technologies like Facebook and Twitter change everything from how we fall in love to how we foment revolution to how we produce knowledge to how we form kite-flying clubs? Published in 2008, the book is already somewhat dated–Shirky writes a lot about MySpace–but that’s part of its power, I think. You can really see how the Internet speeds up change in social organizing.
From Jose R. Sanchez
1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherin Boo
2. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Our students come to us with educational and vocational goals. They also come with memories and profound experiences with power, often from a life at the bottom of society. Our job is to expose them to dimensions of life that they may have not seen before as well as to provide them with the tools that can help them to better negotiate through the thickets of their past and future experience. Their lives provide lessons for all of us, and it’s important that they know that. But at bottom, we have to connect the lives they lead to the moral and intellectual wisdom the university can provide.
All three books raise questions about where our world comes from, both the good and the bad. They also place humans right at the center of it all. These books deal with poverty, inequality, race, nature, dictatorship, and faith. These are powerful forces in our world. They are also closely connected to and spring from our hopes, desires, and interests. Even mathematics is not just, according to Livio, a mere academic subject, external to our daily experience. It is intimately tied to how we think and to the way the universe is constructed. Each of these books provides insight into our complex interdependent existence. They also remind us that all learning is about finding our place in the world. It is about the role of human agency, of human wonder, of human sorrow, and of human interest. It is our world. We create it and it creates us. Often, we have to grapple with the dire consequences of the mighty forces we unleash and that frequently overwhelm us. That’s where an education can be helpful. It’s where we learn how we produce our social world, how that world produces us, and how we can intervene in that process.
From Deborah Mutnick
McKibben explains climate change in accessible, often riveting, scientific and social terms. The most powerful, sobering aspect of the book to me is his pronouncement that the planet we knew and loved is irrecoverable. Melting polar caps, droughts, floods, fires have fundamentally and swiftly altered the planet we call home. In addition to providing straightforward, compelling facts about the meaning of “350” to the science of climate change–350 parts per million is the allowable upper limit of CO2 in the atmosphere–McKibben also makes clear the “unnatural” character of the corporate and government policies and decisions that produced these conditions. Although he believes the earth as we knew it just 25-50 years ago is forever gone, he argues that we can still salvage the planet and ourselves, and gives explicit, attainable recommendations for doing so. If we agree that climate change is among the most–if not the most–critical issue of our times, then we should make a point of giving students whose lives will inevitably be affected by environmental policies and decisions being made now the knowledge they need to intervene in civic dialogue and debate.
The Communist Manifesto is a short, eloquent history of “existing society” as “the history of class struggles.” Marx and Engels lay out an analysis of the stages of history explaining the emergence of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the transition from a feudal to capitalist society. Both a critique of capitalism and a vision of communism, the Manifesto is a key document for understanding 20th and 21st century history and politics. It is also remarkably cogent and beautifully written. In the aftermath of the crash of 2008, when even the WSJ was reporting the possibility that capitalism would destroy itself, Marxist theory made it to the front pages. The Communist Manifesto gives the reader a foundation for understanding both the crucial political debates of the last century and a half and the relevance of Marxism today.
In this beautiful family memoir, Danticat focuses on the story of her father who leaves Haiti to make a new life for himself in New York and her Uncle Joseph who remains in Haiti to support his increasingly ravaged homeland. Weaving political and personal, private and public history together, Danticat situates her family’s story in the larger historical context of Haiti’s past and present, including vivid firsthand accounts of life under the Duvaliers and the Tonton Macoutes. Forced by a violent gang—incensed by a “so-called” UN Peacekeeping Force—to flee Haiti in 2004, Danticat’s 81-year-old Uncle Joseph is taken into custody by U.S. Customs and retained at the Krome Detention Center in Florida, where he is ill-treated, unfed, and dies. It is the post 9/11 climate and the aftermath of Aristide’s ouster that seals Joseph’s fate; but in undogmatic, very personal terms, Danticat sets that personal tragedy in the context of Haitian history and the role of U.S. economic and military interventions in setting the country on its current course. This book is engrossing and readable. I especially like Danticat’s interweaving of personal and political/historical content and the focus on Haiti—which I think is a lynchpin for understanding the history of the Americas.
From April Glassey
1. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, Wes Moore
The Other Wes Moore follows the stories of two people with the same name who grew up in the same neighborhood. Wes Moore explores the roads that each young man traveled to land one of them with a life sentence in prison, and the other as a successful businessperson. This selection will engage students to explore the realities of what factors contribute to their successes’ and consequently to their failures. In addition, this book explores issues of diversity and will engage students in critical discussions about how to overcome obstacles to achieve success.
2. Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
This book uses real life examples to study how success is due to a variety of factors that have to work together. Gladwell outlines the circumstances that lead to the success stories of major public figures such as Bill Gates, Bill Joy and The Beatles. The stories are entertaining, and provide real world evidence that will engage students and create a dialogue about the place of hard work and opportunity in success. This selection will push students towards creating their own definition of success and defining their own goals and means to achieve them.
From Frances Iacobellis
1. Crucial Conversations:
This “how to” book discusses skills that can be learned for mastering crucial conversations. It offers suggestions for how to talk openly and honestly with people no matter how delicate the topic or how powerful the individual. It also discusses different approaches to be used such as assertive versus aggressive. The book also strives to improve teamwork and relationships among groups.
New nurses found this to be helpful since they often have to have crucial conversations that impact patient lives with powerful, intimidating ( at times) physicians.
2. From Silence to Voice:
This book attempts to explain the critical role that nurse’s have in today’s health care system. The authors are not nurses, but journalists that are keenly aware of this issue. These authors claim that nurses have been silent for too long about their major role in impacting patient’s outcomes. The author’s remedy for this “silence” is “voice”. Discussion includes the importance of nurses’ educating not only their families and friends, but the patients and the general public. Numerous issues affecting the nursing profession are highlighted and the importance of the media portrayal of nurses is emphasized. In addition, the necessity of teaching effective communication skills to nurses is discussed.
3. The Help: (there is also a movie)
This story is told from the perspective of black maids who work for the “country club” white families in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. After graduating from college, a young white woman who wants to be a journalist returns to her home town of Jackson, Mississippi, conducts interviews with these black maids and writes a book about their plight. This book exposes the overt racism that existed in this town while depicting the struggles and frustrations of these maids as they try to create a better life for themselves and their families. This book would be excellent for a discussion of racism and oppression of that era while opening up a dialogue about racism in our country today.
All three books deal with the importance of effective communication and the power that it has in creating change. The second and third book focuses on giving voice to a group that has been silent for too long about important issues. The third book exposes the poverty and inequality of a specific group and fosters an understanding of the etiology of racism in our country today.
Five Quarts by Bill Hayes (the nurse in me had to choose this one)
This book incorporates science, history and current topics such as, blood transfusions and HIV-AIDS. Since blood is an important element of our existence, this book will foster discussion about science, culture, religious beliefs and advanced technology. At some point, every person has had a blood test and watched this red fluid flow from their veins into a clear tube. After reading this book, students may realize that despite the various differences among us, blood is the human component that bonds us together and sustains our very existence. Blood is drawn from some and administered to others, often under emergent life –saving circumstances, without regard to ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers – since it discusses poverty, inequality, politics and policy strategies. This book portrays the story of families trying to create a better life for themselves. Although the geographical location is in India, many of the struggles and hopes may transcend to some within our own community.
Is God a Mathematician? –
Math is used to describe and explain numerous facets of our daily existence from complex scientific calculations to every day activities such as shopping, yet it is disliked by many students who often don’t see the relevance of this subject. This book may be an innovative way of changing their perspective.
From William Burgos
My main point at the meeting was that, in choosing a book (or books) that all undergraduates should read, regardless of their majors, it should be a book that will expose them to an idea or set of ideas that will provide a paradigm for their thinking in the future.Though The Tragedy of the Commons is an essay and not a book, it introduces the reader to concepts that are as relevant today, if not more so, than when the essay was published in 1968.This text is in the Core Seminar reader, and I have often taught it. It’s a difficult text for students. But when they understand the main ideas of the “commons” and that the resources of the commons are limited and that therefore “rights” or “freedom” to use the commons may need to be controlled, these ideas enable them to think about numerous contemporary problems and issues.
When I teach a text like The Tragedy of the Commons, I have given my students a set of concepts that enables them to frame discussions about vital issues and to analyze them.I haven’t re-read Animal Farm in a while, but it does introduce readers to the complexities of revolution and to the verity that “Some animals are more equal than others.” Another Orwell text that provides life-long tools for thinking is Politics and the English Language, which to this day helps me to read the newspaper with critical distance.Five Minds for the Future provides a vocabulary for thinking about our current relationship to the massive influx of information we now live with. It’s the kind of book, like the other texts I’ve mentioned, that raises a set of issues that will be with us for a long time, and offers a set of ideas for thinking about them.If students are asked to read three texts in common then they should be books that provide them with concepts they can apply and debate for a life-time. It doesn’t have to be any of the texts mentioned above, but we should keep this criterion in mind. (As I conclude, Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience is another candidate I would propose: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Occupy Wall Street, among countless others, were/are influenced by it.)
From Gladys Schrynemakers
I chose my three books because I feel our students’ need to begin to view the world from an interdisciplinary perspective. In most of their classes they are taught to understand theories and texts based on a singular disciplinary lens and that is simply not how the world works. They need to begin to understand connections across and among disciplines and how those connections are go beyond artificial categories and move into deeper understanding. So, here are three books that I feel capture a bit of that essence…
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell poses a more provocative question in Outliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? Challenging our cherished belief of the “self-made man,” he makes the democratic assertion that superstars don’t arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent: “they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.” Examining the lives of outliers from Mozart to Bill Gates, he builds a convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, “some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky.” Amazon.com
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive–even thrive–in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta’s family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution–and her cells’ strange survival–left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories? Amazon.com
Five Quarts by Bill Haynes
From ancient Rome, where gladiators drank the blood of vanquished foes to gain strength and courage, to modern-day laboratories, where machines test blood for diseases and scientists search for elusive cures, Bill Hayes takes us on a whirlwind journey through history, literature, mythology, and science by way of the great red river that runs five quarts strong through our bodies. Hayes also recounts the impact of the vital fluid in his daily life, from growing up in a household of five sisters and their monthly cycles to his enduring partnership with an HIV-positive man. As much a biography of blood as it is a memoir of how this rich substance has shaped one man’s life, Five Quarts is by turns whimsical and provocative, informative and moving. Amazon.com
From Jeff Kane
The three books that I have chosen all address what I believe are fundamental but dangerously narrow assumptions engrained in our culture and in the minds of our students about the very nature of their own minds and the potential for human thinking.
1. Martin Buber’s I-Thou
Martin Buber’s I-Thou, more a work of poetry than of prose, draws students into a contemplation of who they are and how they might live their lives in this world. His notion is that there are two primary “words,” I-It and I-Thou. Note that these words are compound and that the “I” is never separate and distinct. The “I” always lives in relation to others, including nature and even the divine. We do not exist unto and apart by ourselves but are defined most fundamentally by the choices we make in the primary word we will speak, by the nature of relationships we will have with others. In the I-It relation, the other is an object, a means to an end. In the I-It relation, the method of interaction is manipulation, the goal is the maximum efficiency for our efforts. In contrast, the I-Thou relation is a form of loving embrace; it is a mode of being in which the “I” and the other remain distinct but form a union. There are no goals in the I-Thou relation; there is only the “calling of the moment” and our response. Buber, in both his language and style of writing, poses for students what I believe are the most basic human questions about our identity as human beings and how we may choose to live in the world.
2. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
The second book I suggest is Kuhn’s, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In an age where science and technology constitute the hegemonic center of contemporary culture, I believe it is essential that students understand the nature of science itself and the means by which it progresses. Despite common misconceptions and beliefs, science is by no means objective; it always involves deep-seated assumptions about the nature of the world and how it may be known. During my first year of college, behaviorism was the dominant force in Psychology. I was taught that human beings, like all other animals, seek positive reinforcers and avoid negative ones. It was the assumption undergirding the science that human beings are nothing but animals rather than a conclusion reached through “objective” scientific inquiry. By the time I left college, the cognitive revolution was in full swing and the model shifted from human beings being animals to human beings being biological computers. Again, the science that has followed was and is based upon an assumption that masquerades as an empirical finding. Given the critical role science and technology play in guiding us to form in the most basic ideas about ourselves in the world, it is essential that we explore with students the deep-seated assumptions embedded both in our concept of science and the findings we accept as fact.
3. Black Elk Speaks
The third book I chose was Black Elk Speaks. Black Elk, a Sioux wise man, offers students an imaginatively verdant cultural alternative for understanding themselves and the world around them. In colleges and universities, we seek to promote in our students critical thinking skills – the ability to identify a problem, reduce it to its component elements, and identify efficient means of reorganizing those elements into a more desirable configuration. Our goal is to teach students to manage problems efficiently and effectively. Martin Heidegger referred to this process as “calculative thinking” in which “all the world is a giant gasoline station.” Black Elk, on the other hand, offers a vision of life with an underlying sense of the unity of all things and the responsibility we have as human beings to live with a higher sense of human purpose. Joseph Campbell described Black Elk’s vision as one in which the motion of the world rotated around an eternal and transcendent axis. In Heidegger’s terms, Black Elk invites us to think “meditatively.” That is, to address the meaning and purpose that underlies and runs through all things. The focus here is not in solving problems but in recognizing the mystery of our own existence and the responsibilities we have to all that is around us – all that shares in that same mystery.