The Phi Beta Kappa Society’s 2019 Summer Reading List is a mix of new and classic books chosen by fellow Phi Beta Kappa members via Facebook, recommendations from our alumni book clubs around the country, and works by Phi Beta Kappa authors listed on the Key Reporter's Goodreads page. Comment on our Facebook to tell us how many of these titles you have read as well as other titles you think we should keep in mind for future selections. Thanks to our members for their many thoughtful suggestions, and here’s to a summer of great reading! 


Member Suggestions


Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.


The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

In this moving and compelling book, Gates shares lessons she's learned from the inspiring people she's met during her work and travels around the world. As she writes in the introduction, "That is why I had to write this book - to share the stories of people who have given focus and urgency to my life. I want all of us to see ways we can lift women up where we live."


The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him.


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime New York Time's bestseller about one man's coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.


Songs of America by Jon Meacham (ΦBK, The University of the South) and Tim McGraw

A celebration of America and the music that inspired people and illuminated eras, from the Revolutionary War to the present.


The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

A moving novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.


Becoming by Michelle Obama

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States as she invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her.


There There by Tommy Orange

There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. Tommy Orange writes of the urban Native American in a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power... and our future.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck

First published in 1952, East of Eden is the work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love's absence. A masterpiece of Steinbeck's later years, East of Eden is a powerful and vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis.

Book Club Picks


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count's endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose. The Chicago Phi Beta Kappa Association hosts a discussion of this book on July 7 at 1:00 p.m.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter's world is shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. In her award-winning YA novel, Angie Thomas addresses current issues around racism, police brutality, and activism in America. The D.C. Area Association will host a viewing of the film on July 15 at 6:30 p.m. as a tie-in to their June discussion of the book, and the Chicago Association will discuss this book on September 8 at 1:00 p.m.


The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami

Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America: Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. As he journeys across America with his Spanish companions, the Old World roles of slave and master fall away, and Estebanico remakes himself as an equal, a healer, and a remarkable storyteller. His tale illuminates the ways in which our narratives can transmigrate into history - and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival.The Chicago Phi Beta Kappa Association hosts a discussion of this book on November 3 at 1:00 p.m.


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate. Join The American Scholar's digital book club [Spoiler Alert] as they read The Goldfinch and discuss the novel at the end of July.


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Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma (ΦBK, Lewis and Clark College)

Haben takes readers through a thrilling game of blind hide-and-seek in Louisiana, a treacherous climb up an iceberg in Alaska, and a magical moment with President Obama at The White House. Warm, funny, thoughtful, and uplifting, this captivating memoir is a testament to one woman's determination to find the keys to connection.


The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (ΦBK, Oregon State University)

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (ΦBK, University of Missouri)

Set by the Mississippi River in the 1840’s, this tale is a follow-up to his original book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry takes off on a raft down the Mississippi with Jim, a slave seeking his freedom. The novel's preeminence derives from its wonderfully imaginative re-creation of boyhood adventures along the Mississippi River, its inspired characterization, the author's remarkable ear for dialogue, and the book's understated development of serious underlying themes: "natural" man versus "civilized" society, the evils of slavery, the innate value and dignity of human beings, and other topics. Most of all, Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful story, filled with high adventure and unforgettable characters.