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 2017 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 an illustrated history of controversial philosophers to a Shakespearean troupe clinging to scraps of civilization in a post-apocalyptic world. The list (including links and summaries from Goodreads) is a mix of new and classic books chosen by fellow Phi Beta Kappa members via Facebook, and recommendations from our alumni book clubs around the country.

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!

Member Recommendations


The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, (ΦBK, University of California, Berkeley)
The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine 
In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named "post-race" society.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, (ΦBK, DePauw University)
A suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

Heretics!: The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy by Steven Nadler and Ben Nadler 
An illustrated history of the most contentious and controversial philosophers who fundamentally changed the way we look at the world, society, and ourselves.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren tells a story about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 
Following a Shakespearean troupe clinging to scraps of civilization in a post-apocalyptic world, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss 
A high-action story written with a poet's hand, The Name of the Wind is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
A leading philosopher of science and a scuba diver, Godfrey-Smith brings his parallel careers together in this books to tell a bold new story of how nature became aware of itself.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
In war-torn Chechnya, an intricate pattern of connections weaves together the pasts of three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken 
The 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming, based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world.

Book Club Picks


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 
A thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, the novel follows Abraham Lincoln after the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War.

The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja 
A cultural history of Chicago at midcentury, with its incredible mix of architects, politicians, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs, and actors who helped shape modern America.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond 
Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison 
Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance 
From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.

Phi Beta Kappa Authors


Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith, (ΦBK, Princeton University)
From new U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith, a deeply moving memoir that explores coming-of-age and the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, (ΦBK, Harvard University)
A cautionary tale about genetic engineering, the novel tells the story of the collapse of an amusement park showcasing genetically recreated dinosaurs.

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough, (ΦBK, Yale University)
A timely collection of speeches by David McCullough, the most honored historian in the United States—winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many others—that reminds us of fundamental American principles.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, (ΦBK, University of Tulsa)
The story of two competing youth gangs in Oklahoma whose rivalry turns deadly, The Outsiders is a dramatic and enduring work of fiction.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg, (ΦBK, Harvard University) 
A powerful, inspiring, and practical book about building resilience and moving forward after life’s inevitable setbacks.

Looking for more recommendations? Why not visit The American Scholar or Key Reporter, or check out last year's list!