Professors’ 2015 Summer Reading List Entertains and Enlightens

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Lehigh University faculty members offer their reading recommendations for those looking to feed their minds this summer

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I highly enjoyed Andy Weir’s The Martian as the ultimate story of the challenges of being a stranger in a strange land. Suspense, humor, and science make this a great summer read and a page-turner that engages the mind and the imagination.

To usher in the first official days of summer, thirteen Lehigh University faculty members offer the following summer reading recommendations designed to entertain, as well as enlighten. Representing genres from science fiction to business, the recommendations come from a diverse group of academics working in a variety of departments including Religion Studies, Teacher Education and Mathematics. The list is especially geared toward readers looking to feed their minds this summer. After all, according to author Oscar Wilde: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

Summer 2015 reading list:

Steven Cutcliffe, Professor, Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences:
“If you like the American southwest and national parks—and who doesn’t, especially in the summertime—then you should read Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, a rip-roaring plot-driven novel of ecotage—think chopping down billboards, bull-dozer sabotage, and plots to blow up dams, most specifically the Glen Canyon Dam. Some have suggested Abbey’s cranky, yet funny, image-evoking writing served to inspire the creation of the radical, direct action, environmental group, Earth First, whose logo is a raised fist holding a pipe (monkey) wrench. Whether you find yourself approving the actions of Vietnam War vet George Hayduke’s gang of four, or not, it is a wonderful romp.”

Dena Davis, Professor, Bioethics, Department of Religion Studies, College of Arts and Sciences:
“I nominate an oldie but goody: Publish and Perish: Three Tales of Tenure and Terror, by James Hynes, a very funny send-up of the pretensions of academia and especially of post-structuralism, and post-everything else. Like so many graduates of the Iowa Writers Workshop, Hynes sets his first novella in Iowa City, as a sort of homage. I especially enjoyed the book because I also did my doctorate there.”

Nandini Deo, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, College of Arts and Sciences:
“One of the books I am looking forward to reading this summer is the final installment of the Ibis trilogy by Amitav Ghosh Flood of Fire: A Novel. The book tells the story of how colonialism and commerce bound together the British, Indians, Chinese, and Africans as people moved across places and identities. It combines historical research, political intrigue, humor, and absorbing characters. It is a great summer read because it pulls you into another world and you can't put it down until the last page is read.”

Arman Grigoryan, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, College of Arts and Sciences:
“My recommendation is Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared M. Diamond. I can't recall any other book I have read which explains so much with so little. It takes a special kind of brilliance to explain the difference in the developmental trajectories of Eurasia and every other place on earth by the availability of certain crops and certain animals in Mesopotamia.”

Thomas Hammond, Assistant Professor, Instructional Technology and Teacher Education, College of Education
“I recommend Kindred, by Octavia Butler. As a social studies educator and nerd (and no, that is not necessarily redundant), I have a love/hate relationship with historical science fiction. Yes, the genre allows two great flavors to come together, but it almost never works. Typically, there's too little sci-fi, or the history is ill-founded, or the imaginative leaps required by both genres are just too much for me to swallow. Butler, however, does something fresh: she breaks the time travel trope of white-males-only, and transports her 20th century heroine back to antebellum Maryland, where she struggles to navigate (and survive!) both enslavement and freedom. This set up allows us to grapple with empathy, historical imagination, and presentism through the narrator as she lives out the roles of both the primary source and the student of history.”

David Hinrichs, Lecturer, Department of Accounting, College of Business and Economics:
“I would recommend, Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance, by Jane Gleeson-White. In addition to providing some extremely interesting insights on the foundational background of our financial reporting systems, the author introduces the many colorful characters who played key roles in the systems’ evolution since its inception in the 1400's.”

Ziad Munson, Associate Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences:
“Wool, by Hugh Howey is a dystopian/science fiction novel about humanity reduced to a single underground silo in a barren world. The small society that has evolved in the silo is evocatively described by the author. Perhaps more importantly for a good summer read, the relationships between the characters and the action of the book are both fast-paced and engaging. The book also has something to say about state power, resistance, the control of knowledge, and historical narrative. Wool is the first in a three book ‘Silo’ trilogy set in the same world. Check it out!”

Rob Rozehnal, Associate Professor, Department of Religion Studies, College of Arts and Sciences:
“I am reading G. Willow Wilson's masterpiece, Alif the Unseen. An American Muslim convert, Wilson is best known for her graphic comic books. I have used her spiritual autobiography, The Butterfly Mosque, in my Lehigh classes—and students found it really compelling. Her latest novel is something entirely different: a ground-breaking and genre-blurring metaphysical thriller about the exploits of an Arab-Indian computer hacker on the run from a fictionalized Middle Eastern security state. Combining Islamic theology and Qur’anic imagery with the geopolitics and cosmopolitanism of the Internet Age, this book shatters simple stereotypes. A fast-paced and mind-bending book from a great young storyteller.”

Steven Savino, Professor of Practice, Department of Marketing, College of Business and Economics:
“Social Media Explained: Untangling the World's Most Misunderstood Business Trend, by Mark W. Scahefer is an easy read and great for that marketing professional who needs to know enough about what is going on and what is trending in this space to be able to make forward-thinking decisions. The book does a great job of simplifying what's really important to understand and what to do in integrating the various social media tools - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc - as part of a firm's arsenal of non-traditional marketing tools in formulating a cohesive strategy. I especially like how the book uses case studies to demonstrate real business challenges and situations where solutions were found in utilizing social media marketing.”

Brook Sawyer, Assistant Professor, Instructional Technology and Teacher Education, College of Education:
“Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior is my recommended summer read. This novel is exquisitely written with spectacular character development. The story centers on a young wife and mother who lives in poverty in rural Appalachia and struggles to identify and pursue her ambitions for her life. The context of the story also brings to life the ramifications of climate change. My area of expertise is examining how to provide effective instruction for young vulnerable children, including children in poverty. This book beautifully portrays how poverty impacted the direction of the protagonist's life and the dramatic influences that can be needed to change that trajectory."

Lloyd Steffen, Professor, Department of Religion Studies, College of Arts and Sciences
“Emerson: The Mind on Fire, by Robert D. Richardson is a big book that reads very quickly. It is a superb intellectual biography of an American original--essayist, poet, world traveler and abolitionist, as well as a provocative religious thinker and an energizing prompt for the development of a distinctive American literature. This is a great book for the calm of summertime, although this year I'll be taking Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train to the beach just to mix it up.”

Charles E. Stevens, Assistant Professor, Department of Management, College of Business and Economics:
“I do research in the area of ‘liability of foreignness’ which deals with difficulties and challenges firms face abroad. To survive, firms must deal with a hostile environment, communications difficulties with headquarters and unanticipated contingencies. If survival in a different country is challenging, imagine trying to survive on a different planet! That’s why I highly enjoyed Andy Weir’s The Martian as the ultimate story of the challenges of being a stranger in a strange land. Suspense, humor, and science make this a great summer read and a page-turner that engages the mind and the imagination. I highly recommend it!”

Steven H. Weintraub, Professor, Department of Mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences
“I recommend A Mathematician's Apology, by G. H. Hardy with a foreword by C. P. Snow. This short but elegant book is a classic of the mathematical literature and one that is beloved among mathematicians but is easily read by—and indeed is addressed to—non-mathematicians. Hardy, who was one of the great mathematicians of the first half of the 20th century, writes about mathematics as an art and about the mathematician as a creative artist. The long foreword by Snow gives details about Hardy's life.”

Finally, Lehigh’s Office of the First-Year Experience has included the following books in its Summer Reading 2015 recommendations, which is specifically aimed at the incoming class freshman—the Class of 2019. The selections include one fiction book and one nonfiction choice both of which have a connection to this year’s theme Technology and the Digital World: The Most Human Human, by Brian Christian and Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline.

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Lori Friedman
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