What College Presidents Are Reading

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Not all students see the summer as a time for intellectual enrichment. Many students hardly have enough time to kickback and relax, work to save money, and work at a summer internship to get career experience. However, summer is the perfect time to expand one’s intellectual prowess and explore other fields of study, learn about different cultures, or pick up practical skills. Who better to give you last call summer reading recommendations than college presidents—the gatekeepers of higher education institutions and perpetuators of all things intellectual?

Statistics show that reading helps expand the mind. In 2007 the National Endowment for the Arts published its study “To Read or Not To Read” that concluded not only that the fewer Americans, especially teenagers and young adults, are reading for pleasure, but also there is a strong correlation between better test scores and higher levels of reading. While the NEA’s 2009 report “Reading on the Rise” marked the end of the 26-year decline in reading, the benefits of reading are still clear. In other words, summer reading will probably help you.

That said, choosing what to read can be a hard quest, but many colleges and universities are more than willing to give students a good starting point by sharing what their presidents are reading.

College presidents’ summer reading selections span many genres such as biographies that provide new perspectives on history or fiction and nonfiction books set in cities abroad, which allow the reader to travel without ever leaving his/her house.

As summer winds down, there is still time to fit in a little more reading before going back to school. In these last few weeks try something new by taking a page from a university’s president’s book and check out one of these titles.

Eckerd College

The president of Eckerd College, Donald Eastman, planned to delve into a variety of subjects and genres, spanning from the celebration of manual labor in Mathew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (Penguin, 2009) to the examination of a peculiar phenomenon in Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, by Bianca Bosker (University of Hawaii Press, 2013).

Eastman also planned to read Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Large Print Press, 2013), which is the required reading for Eckerd’s incoming first-year class. Ms. Boo will speak to the Class of 2017 on September 13th as part of Eckerd’s Autumn Term Experience, which introduces students to college level work as well as each other. The three week experience includes classes ranging from “Breaking U.S. Oil Addiction” to “Unsp*k@ble Acts: Myth & Meaning in Greek Tragedy.”

Bard College at Simon’s Rock

Peter Laipson, provost at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, planned to focus on recent novels including Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (Riverhead, 2013), telling the story of 5 kids maturing together after meeting at an arts summer camp, and Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys (Random House, 2013), about two brothers who are caught in a cycle of love, competition and misunderstanding.

Laipson also planned to read the Pulitzer-winning novel The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House, 2012), about a government-sanctioned kidnapper in North Korea, and its nonfictional counterpart, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2009).

Albright College

President of Albright College, Lex McMillan, planned to fill his summer days with new reads and some old classics. McMillan planned to start of with two biographies: Alister McGrath’s recent biography of C.S. Lewis (Tyndale House, 2013) and David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, 1995). He then planned to explore two foreign cities: Istanbul, through Orhan Pamuk’s memoir-based book of the same name (Knopf, 2005) and Venice, through Roger Crowley’s City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas (Random House, 2012). Rounding out this impressive list is an old classic: Homer’s the Iliad, through Richard Lattimore’s translation (University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Saint Leo University

Dr. Arthur W. Kirk, Jr., president of Saint Leo University, also planned to delve into a biography this summer: Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Doubleday, 2009), which delves into the ideology of patriotism and heroism surrounding the War on Terror and the reality of the post 9/11 world.

Other planned summer reads included Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? (Harper Business, 2012) and What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation, by Gary Hamel (Jossey-Bass, 2012).

Stanford University

John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, has a slightly different approach to reading. He said in an interview with the Stanford Daily “I usually work on three books at once: normally one fiction, one non-fiction, and then one on my iPod – usually fiction.” His first three books of the summer were: The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House, 2012) for fiction, Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie (Random House, 1981) for non-fiction, and Adam Bede a classic by George Eliot as an audiobook. Hennessy was reading Massie’s Pulitzer-prize winning biography of Peter the Great to get a better understanding of the history of St. Petersburg before traveling there this summer.

Nova Southeastern University

George L. Hanbury II, president of Nova Southeastern University, was inspired by Nova’s commencement speaker this year, Bertice Berry, and picked up her book The Ties That Bind: A memoir of Race, Memory, and Redemption (Broadway, 2009). Berry’s memoir explores forgiveness and a different perspective on race relations through the lens of her own family history.

Hanbury also planned to explore other historical topics through Allen C. Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Knopf, 2013) and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Random House, 2010). To unwind Hanbury also planned to pick up Dan Brown’s latest thriller Inferno (Doubleday, 2013).