What makes summer truly great? Carving out time for leisurely reading, whether it’s by the pool, at the beach, on a plane – or even just in your own living room.
The Phi Beta Kappa Society’s 2016 Summer Reading List offers a selection of books that will deepen your love of learning and let you explore a wide range of topics from coming of age during the Islamic Revolution to the science behind Napoleon's defeat in Russia. The list is a mix of new and classic books chosen by fellow Phi Beta Kappa members via Facebook, titles from prominent Phi Beta Kappa authors, and recommendations from the Phi Beta Kappa national office staff.
Please comment on our Facebook page 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!
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, (ΦΒΚ, Oregon State University)
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current racial crisis.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
An incredibly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question: What makes a life worth living?
Longbourn by Jo Baker
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs.
NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman
A groundbreaking book that upends conventional thinking about autism and suggests a broader model for acceptance, understanding, and full participation in society for people who think differently.
Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, translated by Barbara Harshav
A major hit in Germany that went on to become one of Europe’s biggest literary blockbusters in the last five years, Night Train to Lisbon is an astonishing novel, a compelling exploration of consciousness, the possibility of truly understanding another person, and the ability of language to define our very selves.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it.
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief
Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That's when the first ace arrives in the mail.
Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson
Though many factors have been proposed to explain the failure of Napoleon's 1812 Russian campaign, it has also been linked to something as small as a button - a tin button, the kind that fastened everything from the greatcoats of Napoleon's officers to the trousers of his foot soldiers.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, translated by Mattias Ripa, Blake Ferris, and Anjali Singh
Best-selling, internationally acclaimed memoir-in-comic-strips, Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.
Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data by Charles Wheelan
For those who slept through Stats 101, this book is a lifesaver, and in Wheelan’s trademark style, there’s not a dull page in sight. Once considered tedious, the field of statistics is rapidly evolving into a discipline Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, has actually called “sexy.” From batting averages and political polls to game shows and medical research, the real-world application of statistics continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
Phi Beta Kappa Authors
Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan (ΦBK, University of Virginia)
Since its inception, the Internet has morphed from merely an extension of traditional media into its own full-fledged civilization. It is among mankind’s great masterpieces—a massive work of art. In this deep and thoughtful book, Virginia Heffernan presents an original and far-reaching analysis of what the Internet is and does.
When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning (ΦBK, University of Albany)
Entering World War II, the United States faced an enemy that had banned and burned over 100 million books. In 1943, outraged librarians, the War Department and the publishing industry sent 120 million small, lightweight paperbacks for troops to bring to war as an act of defiance. When Books Went to War is an inspiring story for history buffs and book lovers alike.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (ΦBK, Yale University)
In this thrilling book, the two courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly are examined like never before. The master historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers’ story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine.
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (ΦBK, Johns Hopkins University)
Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other in Baltimore, both growing up in similar neighborhoods and having had difficult childhoods. In this book, the author explores how he became a Rhodes Scholar and business leader, while his counterpart ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence. Told in alternating dramatic narratives, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.
Barkskins by Annie Proulx (ΦBK, University of Vermont)
This spectacular epic novel explores the clearing of the world’s forest over three hundred years, beginning with two French immigrants to New France in the seventeenth century. Barkskins is a magnificent marriage of history and imagination, exploring the consequences of deforestation and globalization through the lives of Proulx’s vivid characters.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (ΦBK, University of Missouri)
This novel tells the story of Hank Morgan, the quintessential self-reliant New Englander who travels in time to King Arthur’s Court, bringing with him knowledge of nineteenth-century engineering and American ingenuity. A central document in American intellectual history, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is at once a hilarious comedy of anachronisms and incongruities, a romantic fantasy, a utopian vision, and a savage, anarchic social satire that only one of America’s greatest writers could pen.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, it is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is under way--a contest between two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in a "game" to which they have been irrevocably bound by their mercurial masters.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
For readers of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit and Unbroken, the dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics. An irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
A hilarious, thoughtful, and in-depth exploration of the pleasures and perils of modern relationships from one of this generation’s sharpest comedic voices. Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.
The Incarnations by Susan Barker
Wang suddenly begins to receive letters from a mysterious “soulmate,” detailing their past lives, and spanning one thousand years of betrayal and intrigue. Seamlessly weaving Chinese folklore, history, and literary classics, The Incarnations is a taut and gripping novel that sheds light on the cyclical nature of history as it hints that the past is never truly settled.
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
A richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation, this biography takes us on a page-turning journey thru the formative events of America's founding. With a dramatic sweep worthy of its subject, this is a magisterial work from an elegant storyteller.
(And don't forget to check out former-Secretary John Churchill's "Eleven books to read in retirement (or whenever)" via The American Scholar.)