UC Berkeley 2017 Summer Reading List What Can We Change in a Single Generation?

What Can We Change in a Single Generation?

Hello, new students of Berkeley! We have a welcoming gift for you from faculty, staff, and your fellow students here at Cal: the annual UC Berkeley Summer Reading List for New Students.

"Oh no!" you may be thinking, "Not homework already!" Not at all. As in every year, the books on the list are simply offered for you to peruse and read at your leisure--this summer, next year, whenever.

The theme for this year's list is "What Can We Change in a Single Generation?", which we chose to pair with Cal's #InThisGen pages, which feature some of the amazing, forward-thinking work going on at Cal that you'll soon be a part of. On this year's list of books you'll find both fiction and nonfiction (and one musical!) treating a wide variety of subjects that remind us of challenges we've faced in our past, those we face now, and those that await us in the near future.

Click through this year's list, check out the Archive of lists dating back to 1985, and bookmark your favorites. Then get a jump on that reading this summer (again, not homework) or find one of these great reads in one of Berkeley's many libraries when you arrive.

We look forward to working together with you to shape a better future for your generation, and for those generations to come!

In the meantime, happy reading,

First Year Coordinator
UC Berkeley Library

College Writing Programs


Cover art for Hamilton

Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording

Lin-Manuel Miranda
New York: Atlantic Recording Corporation, 2015

[We begin the Reading List with some reading for your ears--this year's On the Same Page selection: the cast recording for the Broadway musical, Hamilton.]


Hamilton is an interesting case study for "What Can We Change in a Single Generation?" Alexander Hamilton was himself part of a generation that changed the world. His contributions still echo today in government, business, and even in how news is reported. Our On the Same Page selection this year is the cast album to Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical version of the story. It's told through the eyes of people experiencing the American Revolution as they try to shape it to their own desires from their own perspectives. More than just history, the musical brings forward questions of vital interest even today: The role of individuals and their relations to government, equality and opportunity in a land shaped by immigrants, the importance of family versus accomplishment, and basic questions about American democracy. Even the musical itself has been changing things, from political discussions to what musical theatre looks like in the 21st Century. Who'd have predicted rap as show tunes? Please join us in listening to the cast album, and perhaps watch and read some of the additional materials that'll appear on the On the Same Page web site, as we explore this deep work and its context.

Dean, Undergraduate Studies
College of Letters and Science

Cover art for March


John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Marietta: Top Shelf Productions, 2016

Before he became a respected Congressman, John Lewis was clubbed, gassed, arrested over 40 times, and nearly killed by angry mobs and state police, all while nonviolently protesting racial discrimination. He marched side-by-side with Martin Luther King as the youngest leader of the Civil Rights Movement that would change a nation forever.

March, a compelling trilogy of graphic memoirs about Lewis's experiences participating in nonviolent civil rights protests (the third book of the trilogy recently won a National Book Award), speaks directly to the theme "What Can We Change in a Single Generation?" and to the current era of social justice activism many Berkeley students are engaged in.

Director of Case Management
Division of Student Affairs

Cover art A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution

Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

A Crack in Creation discusses the origin and impact of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology co-invented by UC Berkeley biologist Jennifer Doudna. Hailed as the scientific breakthrough of the century, CRISPR-Cas9 is a technology that can change the very way we live in a single generation and reshape our world in unimaginable ways--offering potential cures for diseases and solutions to world hunger while also raising a series of ethical questions about the consequences of being able to change our DNA.

In their book, Doudna and fellow researcher Samuel Sternberg tell the compelling story of this discovery and wrestle with those questions about what we will do with this new technology that gives us the power to reshape our evolution.

There are many compelling reasons for why this is a worthy contribution for any booklist, but for Berkeley the justification is even richer. UC Berkeley has been ground zero for this entire technology, with contributions from others around the world. Secondly, the ramifications of this technology are so widespread that only a campus with broad excellence in all areas is adequate to engage the range of implications that this technology offers.

(Visit UC Berkeley's #InThisGen pages for much more about Professor Doudna's work on CRISPR.)

Professor of Genetics, Genomics and Development
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Cover art for Forked

Forked: A New Standard for American Dining

Saru Jayaraman
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016

Written by one of today’s most vibrant social justice leaders, this book makes the case that economic justice is not just a moral imperative but also a viable business strategy. Saru has spent almost two decades organizing restaurant workers, and what she has learned about their low wages and exploitative working conditions are a must-read for all of us as consumers. But more important is her vision for what a sustainable, living-wage restaurant industry can look like, supported by profiles of companies who are already doing the right thing today.

(For more information about Saru Jayaraman's work, including her Mario Savio Memorial Lecture in 2014, we invite you to visit UC Berkeley's #InThisGen pages.)

Director, Low-Wage Work Program
Center for Labor Research and Education

Cover art for Borderwall as Architecture

Borderwall as Architecture

Ronald Rael
Oakland: University of California Press, 2017

In timely fashion, Ronald Rael, a professor in the Department of Architecture, takes on the subject of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico in his accessible new book that Architect magazine has described as “intrepid” and multi-dimensional: “[p]art historical account, part theoretical appraisal, and part design manifesto.” Through a series of essays by Rael and other contributors that are sometimes practical, sometimes polemical, and sometimes satirical, the wall is examined for its multiple meanings not only from a design perspective, but also from an environmental, economic, and social one, reflecting on the way the wall not only stands as a symbol of security that divides people, but also as an object that has the potential to bring people together.

(For more about Professor Rael's work here at UC Berkeley, see Cal's #InThisGen pages.)

Cover art for Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Ernest Cline
New York: Crown Publishers, 2011

The fantastic novel Ready Player One presents a world in which virtual reality technology becomes fully integrated with and inseparable from humankind’s lives. With the advancement of technology in our own world, there is a growing amount of hype and optimism around the diverse applicability of virtual reality but also a lack of thorough study of its implications. In about a generation’s time, virtual-reality technology should mature and if it indeed stays true to its current hype, it is our generation’s responsibility to conceive of some of its potential implications to better prepare ourselves for what’s about to dawn on us. Ready Player One serves as a cautionary tale as it explores those implications through the characters’ relationships, their sense of identity, and the greed for power.

Class of 2020
Intended double major in Computer Science and Economics

Cover art for The Study Qu'ran : A New Translation and Commentary

The Study Qu'ran: A New Translation and Commentary

Seyyed Hossein Nasr
New York: HarperOne, 2015

Six years in the making, The Study Quran is described by its editor-in-chief, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, as “a small contribution to unity in the Islamic world.” More importantly, it is also an opportunity for non-Muslims to understand the Quran in historical context. Translated by a team of both Sunni and Shiite scholars of Islam, this edition of the Quran also offers in-depth commentaries to help place the book’s more controversial passages into historical context, and to examine the Quran from multiple Islamic spiritual, theological, and legal perspectives. Upon its publication in late 2015, the book sold out its first print run immediately — a rare feat for any book about religion.

At a moment when Islam is one of the world’s few religions that is growing instead of shrinking, the Quran and what it means to Muslims still remains a puzzle to many non-Muslims in the west. This book is an opportunity to reverse some of the Islamophobia that has been encroaching on many Americans by introducing us to the basics of what Muslims believe. As the current generation of Americans becomes less religious, and as religious literacy declines in the media while religious studies is also on the decline in academia, books like The Study Quran offer us an opportunity to change our perspectives about one of the world’s most misunderstood religions.

College Writing Programs

Cover art for Benjamin Franklin : An American Life

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Walter Isaacson
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003

Among his many accomplishments, Franklin founded libraries, volunteer firefighting companies, and served as the United States' first Postmaster General. According to Isaacson, Franklin was "the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become." During Franklin's adulthood, the American ideals of civic life were crafted, along with many of the institutions which foster those ideals.

Associate Teaching Professor
Vice Chair for Undergraduate Programs, Bioengineering

Cover art for Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Matthew Desmond
New York: Crown Publishers, 2016

The day-to-day experiences of landlords, tenants, movers, sheriffs, and others wrapped up in the economy of eviction. A great companion to last year's On the Same Page pick, Just Mercy; at one point, Desmond writes, "If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out." Desmond makes the compelling case that stable housing is a precondition for civic engagement and democracy, because civic life begins at home, and is rooted in a community. After telling the unforgettable stories of a few to illustrate the plight of millions of Americans, he devotes the epilogue to making broader policy recommendations that aim to break the cycle of eviction.

PhD Candidate, Department of English
Designated Emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies

Cover art Nonsens : The Power of Not Knowing

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing

Jamie Holmes
New York: Crown Publishers, 2015

The very real perils and consequences of jumping to conclusions, of feeling total certainty and confidence, and the power of being able to handle ambiguity. (John Keats called this "Negative capability," and he saw it most vividly in Shakespeare's writing.) Told through a series of case studies ranging from the workplace to personal life. If our modern condition is one of unpredictability and increasing complexity, Holmes' lessons for "how to deal with what we don't understand" are particularly urgent.

PhD Candidate, Department of English
Designated Emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies

Cover art for Hag-Seed


Margaret Atwood
New York: Hogarth, 2016

A modern update to Shakespeare's The Tempest, told from the perspective of a theater director who has been ousted from his post, and is plotting his revenge on his enemies while/through teaching Shakespeare-in-performance to prisoners, written by one of the best authors of our time. (And a good opportunity to revisit The Handmaid's Tale.)

PhD Candidate, Department of English
Designated Emphasis in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies

Cover art for Printing Things : Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing

Associate Professor
Department of Architecture

Cover art for Native Speaker

Native Speaker

Chang-rae Lee
New York: Riverhead Books, 1995

Chang-rae Lee’s beautifully written first novel, Native Speaker, follows the life of Henry Park—born on an airplane ride en route from Korea to the United States. Set in New York City, this unconventional spy novel chronicles Henry’s astute, methodical observations of the people in his life and the languages they speak. Henry’s assignment to spy on a Korean-American candidate for mayor pushes Henry to ask difficult questions about his own identity and immigrant politics. Lee explores race and relationships, alienation and assimilation, morality and personal gain, the personal and public—revealing the complexities of what it means to be first-generation American.

College Writing Programs

Cover art for Tomatoland : How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit

Barry Estabrook
Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011

Estabrook’s book brings to light the costs of growing tomatoes in Florida, in terms of both environmental and labor practices. As an example of the new “politics of food” movement, it is an especially accessible account of the deep and troubling backstory behind the mainstream American diet.

Associate Professor of Classics

Cover art for Disposable People : New Slavery in the Global Economy

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy

Kevin Bales
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004

If you knew nothing about modern day slavery, you might think that a writer investigating the subject would need to go to extraordinary lengths to find any human beings still living as chattel slaves in the Twenty-First Century. Maybe put on a disguise and infiltrate a remote compound, far from the reach of any civil authority. That's what I thought before I read Kevin Bales' book, Disposable People. What I learned, though, is that modern day slave economies operate openly, all over the world, and that as many as 25 million people in the world--right now, today--live in slavery.

Modern day slaves might be farmers, miners, brick makers, or textile workers. They might live in India, Pakistan, Thailand, Mauritania, or Brazil. They are part of the global economy, and the products of their labor can be found all over the world, maybe even in your own home.

Bales, though, doesn't just set out to horrify the reader with the scope and reach of modern day slavery. He also provides, in the book's last two chapters, suggestions for actions that concerned citizens--and consumers--can take to help eradicate slavery from our world.

Library Systems Office

Cover art for Our Kids : The American Dream in Crisis

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

Robert D. Putnam
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015

Can we reduce inequality and improve the lives of America’s youth in a generation? This book, an exploration of inequality in the lives of American children, may be a cautionary tale in its sobering portrait of what happened in the author’s own lifetime. Robert Putnam grew up in the Midwest in the 1950s and most of the kids in his hometown took advantage of all that the American dream had to offer and went on to live better than their parents. As he and his researchers studied working families all across the country, what they observed was increased separation between those with a college education and those without. Educated families have more stable jobs, parent differently, and live in vastly different neighborhoods, all of which adds up to greater advantages and more opportunities for their children. Of course, health problems, divorce, and other life traumas do not discriminate by class but upper middle class families have more resources and more social capital to draw on and a bigger cushion to protect them when they hit a rough patch.

Social Sciences Division

Cover art for Paying the Price : College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

Sara Goldrick-Rab
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016

Goldrick-Rab conducted this study of thousands of young people to understand the obstacles they face in completing a degree whether at a two-year or four-year college. She discovered what you probably already know. Young people from middle class and low income families alike confront many challenges just to get an education: rising tuition and fees; the high cost of living (rent, food, gas, books, etc); a complicated and insufficient Federal aid program; difficulties finding flexible work that allows students to pay for and stay in school full time. Politicians will tell you that they worked their way through college and so should you. But, only a generation ago, theirs was a very different world in which hard work and determination got you a degree. Implementing policies that will make college affordable for all can happen. But first, we as a society must agree that a college education is a right for all and not just a privilege for those who can afford it.

Social Sciences Division

Cover art for Making Sense of Science : Separating Substance from Spin

Making Sense of Science: Separating Substance from Spin

Cornelia Dean
Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017

Cornelia Dean was a New York Times science writer for over thirty years and is currently a writer-in-residence at Brown University. Given her excellent previous work, I have every confidence that her new book, Making Sense of Science, will be well written and informative. The book is targeted for non-scientists who seek the background needed to evaluate scientific claims. Books like Dean’s are especially timely because of the anti-science climate that now reigns in Washington.

Department of Mathematics

Cover art for Where Song Began : Australia's Birds and How They Changed the World

Where Song Began: Australia's Birds and How They Changed the World

Tim Low
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016

Low’s book challenges expectations that all species originated from similar areas of the globe, instead arguing that most birds around the world today originated in Australia--and that they have influenced the world, including humans, to sing. He provides interesting insights into the size and aggressiveness of Australian birds, as well as odd and rare species, such as those with poisonous feathers.

Professor, Department of Architecture
Chair, Center for Japanese Studies

Cover art for Silent Spring

Silent Spring

Rachel Carson
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002

Originally published in 1962, Silent Spring is credited with advancing the concepts of environmentalism that led to the founding of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and existing laws that protect the air and water. Currently the agency, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Clean Water Act are threatened. Gaining knowledge of the basis for the creation of the Agency and these environmental regulations allows one to articulate a position for maintaining and strengthening them.

School of Public Health

Cover art for Flight Behavior

Flight Behavior

Barbara Kingsolver
New York: Harper, 2012

Dellarobia Turnbow, the young mother at the center of this novel, seems trapped in a cycle of rural poverty and missed opportunities until a mysterious phenomenon in the woods outside her Appalachian home sets in motion a series of disruptions. As reporters, environmentalists, and scientists descend on her small town, what begins as the story of a bored and restless wife contemplating an affair morphs into an expansive tale that considers not only the possibility of personal change but the impact of climate change. What kind of life can she make for herself and her children, and what kind of world will they grow up in?

Associate Director
Berkeley Connect

Cover art for The Man Who Planted Trees

The Man Who Planted Trees

Jean Giono
Chelsea: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1985

A short story, first published in 1953, about a man who spent his life planting one hundred acorns a day in a barren part of Provence in the south of France, ultimately leading to a complete transformation of the local landscape. Coinciding with the start of the First World War, the story unfolds over four decades. With its powerful environmental message and speculations about the real events that may have served as inspiration for it, Giono's fictional work remains relevant to twenty-first century readers.

French Department

Cover art for The Man Who Planted Trees : A Story of Lost Groves, the Science of Trees, and a Plan to Save the Planet

The Man Who Planted Trees: A Story of Lost Groves, the Science of Trees, and a Plan to Save the Planet

Jim Robbins
New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2012

Inspired by Giono’s tale from 1953, the book follows the endeavors of protagonist David Milarch, a Michigan nurseryman who engages in a study of the oldest trees in the U.S. and attempts to copy the genetic material of 826 species of trees. The story is easy to follow and is informed by both scientific knowledge and environmental efforts. It includes detailed descriptions of the role of trees in cleaning pollutants from the air as well as preserving our freshwater systems. The book emphasizes the interdependence of trees not only with their immediate ecosystems but with the planet as a whole.

French Department

Cover art for The Emperor of All Maladies : A Biography of Cancer

Marketing, Leadership, and Communications Lecturer
Haas School of Business

Cover art for Why I Write

Why I Write

George Orwell
New York: Penguin Books, 2005

Earlier this year the work of George Orwell experienced a resurgence of interest when 1984 soared to the top of Amazon's best seller list. A small book of his essays, published by Penguin Books as one of their "Great Ideas" series, is simply entitled Why I Write. In the title essay, originally published in 1946, Orwell chronicles his beginnings as a writer that will resonate with many: "When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, i.e. the sounds and associations of words." He goes on to consider the reasons for the underlying motivation of his desire to write that began around this time, e.g.: "1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after your death, to get your own back on grown ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc."

In another longer essay, Orwell writes with detailed knowledge about the nature of class struggles, the politics of the British colonial empire as well as the political strife going on in Europe during the time of the Great Depression and the eve of World War II. His writing is as relevant today as when it was originally written. Consider this from the last paragraph from the final essay in this collection, entitled "Politics and the English Language": "Political language-- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists-- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

George Orwell's writing is an example of eloquent truth telling that readers will refer to for generations.

College Writing Programs

Cover art for Dark Matters : On the Surveillance of Blackness

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

Simone Browne
Durham: Duke University Press, 2015

Dark Matters is a fascinating book that deals with the way modern surveillance practices--ranging from CCTVs to facial recognition programming to airport security--have been formed through racial biases and the policing of Black life. Rooted in historical methods of surveillance and connecting to modern manifestations, it deals with the consequences of racially-motivated surveillance. It’s a really interesting and interdisciplinary combination of social theory, history, technology, and even pop culture.

I found out about this book as part of a connector course, Data and Ethics, taken along with Data 8, Foundations of Data Science. As data collection and surveillance practices have become intensely enmeshed into our daily lives, this is an important text to consider. Dark Matters is really compelling in how it situates technology in the scope of current, and historical, social and racial issues in modern America.

Class of 2019
Double major in History and Political Science

Cover art for Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

J.D. Vance
New York: Harper, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of JD Vance growing up in Middletown, Ohio—a town that has been through its share of economic transformations. After World War II, Middletown was a booming factory town with a thriving downtown, attracting residents from Kentucky’s Hill Country seeking a better life from the coal mines of Appalachia. By the time Vance was born, the factory had closed along with many downtown stores, leaving its residents in a state of poverty and social isolation. Hillbilly Elegy is the story of one family’s journey through the boom and bust cycles of Middletown. Along the way, it provides some insights into the way residents of Rust Belt towns (or at least one family) think about politics, work, education, and community and why many of them bought into the promises of Donald Trump in 2016.

Department of Political Science

Cover art for How to Thrive in the Next Economy : Designing Tomorrow's World Today

How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow's World Today

John Thackara
London: Thames & Hudson, 2015

In each chapter, this book addresses a wicked problem like water scarcity and provides a case study of how one or more communities have addressed the issue and been successful. The case studies show how large complex problems can be approached and are not so intractable.

User Experience Lead
Student Information Systems (CalCentral)

Cover art for Dark Matters : On the Surveillance of Blackness

The World We Made: Alex McKay's Story from 2050

Jonathon Porritt
London: Phaidon Press, 2013

The book works from a visioning perspective to show a future state of the world in an upbeat, dynamic way, and that allows the reader to visualize a more sustainable planet and how we might get there.

User Experience Lead
Student Information Systems (CalCentral)

Cover art for Design, When Everybody Designs : An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation

User Experience Lead
Student Information Systems (CalCentral)