Welcome to Berkeley.

We here at Cal have a little gift for you.

Each year, we ask UC Berkeley faculty and staff to recommend the best books they’ve read about a particular subject, and then we send those recommendations along to incoming freshmen. Included here are this year’s picks. It’s not required reading—you may read all of the books here, one of them, or none of them; there will be no test. Instead, this is a list of books that have inspired, provoked, moved, or entertained us in some way, books that we’ve felt compelled to press into the hands of others. And now, as one way of welcoming you to the intellectual life of the university, these faculty and staff members are pressing some of their favorites into your hands.

This year’s theme is “Education Matters.” In this uneasy period for public education, rife with budget cuts, fee increases, and struggling schools, both in California and across the country, it seemed to us a good time to examine stories about and issues in education. After all, we here at Berkeley have chosen to work in higher education, and those of you about to join us have decided to pursue your bachelor’s degrees, so while all of us will spend much of our time concerning ourselves with what we’re doing and how we’re going to do it, it also seems worth thinking about why we’re doing it. The following series of recommended books—memoirs, biographies, arguments, poetry, fiction, and one blog—form a compelling collection that can help us get at this question. We suspect that more than one of them will appeal to you.

You’ll be able to find these books in one of Berkeley’s many on-campus libraries.

So again, welcome to Cal, enjoy the reading, and Go Bears!

Jennifer Dorner
Head, Instructional Services
Doe/Moffitt Libraries

Michael Larkin
Lecturer, College Writing Programs


The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Alex Haley
New York: Ballantine Books, 1965
A complete education on three fronts: the streets, the slammer, and politics. This book really opened my eyes to hidden facts about the U.S. and how we treat people of color. But beyond that I learned about how a man can evolve from ignorance to sophistication without ever stepping inside a classroom. Thanks to Haley’s book I took it upon myself to master the dictionary as much as possible, starting with “that little Aardvark” as Malcolm so eloquently put it. Highly recommended for incoming or outgoing students.

Alvaro Lopez-Piedra
Library Assistant, Monographic Receiving Unit
Spanish/Italian/Portuguese Collections

Alvaro Lopez-Piedra works in the Technical Services Unit at Moffitt Library. His responsibilities include processing Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan book shipments, communicating with vendors and book selectors, and occasionally helping in the mail room. In his spare time his face is buried in a book or in his music collection.

Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year
Esmé Raji Codell
Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2001
This is an inspiring book following Codell’s first year of teaching as a 24-year-old in a new public school in Chicago. She includes funny and heart-rending stories of her struggles to teach troubled students with sometimes wacky approaches, while simultaneously contending with an undermining school principal, gang members, and abusive parents as well. All of it is told in her distinctive voice. Hard to put down. Hard to forget.

Martha Olney
Adjunct Professor
Department of Economics

A recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award, Martha Olney has taught Economics at Cal since 1992.

Three Cups of Tea
Greg Mortensen
New York: Viking, 2006
This is a fascinating account of a Berkeley RN/mountain climber in the Himalayas who became close to the villagers who saved his life, and decided to build a school for their children. The project faced many obstacles, but he and they prevailed, and he went on to build many schools in rural Pakistan. The Taliban and conservative forces tried to limit the schools to boys only, but the author and his Pakistani allies insisted that girls be allowed to attend on an equal basis with boys. These schools help Pakistanis see another side of Americans, and win hearts and minds away from terrorism.

Nancy K. D. Lemon
UC Berkeley School of Law

Nancy K.D. Lemon teaches courses in Domestic Violence Law, both at Boalt Law School and in the Legal Studies Program (for undergraduates). Her graduate students come from public policy, sociology, social welfare, and ethnic studies, as well as law.

No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech
Lucinda Roy
New York: Harmony Books, 2009
As Chair of the English Department, Roy provided Seung-Hui Cho with a tutorial in poetry after he was removed from a class for his threatening behavior. Cho later killed 32 people and wounded many others in an on-campus attack, and then killed himself. This book provides a close look at Cho from Roy’s perspective, but more important, she examines how Virginia Tech handled—and in some instances mishandled—information about Cho’s disabilities, its release of information to the public, and its response to the killings. Roy looks closely at issues of free speech, administrative red tape, and the relationship between “town and gown.” Many of the security measures now in place at UCB and other universities resulted from this tragic event in 2007. Not intended to scare, this book is a close examination of university culture.

Jane Hammons
College Writing Programs

Jane Hammons is a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award and teaches upper and lower division courses in writing for CWP. Her writing can be found in The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Columbia Journalism Review and literary magazines such as Alaska Quarterly Review, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, and Southwestern American Literature.

Winning the Dust Bowl
Carter Revard
Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001
EVERYONE should read this memoir. Coming from the American heartland, Revard tells a classic story of his success rising from humble beginnings as a mixed-race kid growing up during trying economic times. He recounts his story with a mix of pictures and stories of his family, as well as with exemplary poems and prose. Yet it goes beyond that—it’s a subtle text on how to write poetry; it’s also the story of how we become who we are, what shapes us and speaks to us as human beings, and what we all share. This is a true gem of a book. If you read it, you will never forget it.

John D. Berry
Comparative Ethnic Studies and Native American Studies Collections specialist
Ethnic Studies Library

John Berry is of Choctaw/Cherokee/Scots-Irish/German heritage, an Oklahoma native, and a traditional stomp dancer. He is listed on the Native American Authors pages of the Internet Public Library, and has published poems both in print and on the web.

Our Schools Suck: Students Talk Back to a Segregated Nation on the Failures of Urban Education
Gaston Alonso, Noel Anderson, Celina Su, Jeanne Theoharis
New York: New York University Press, 2009
The authors of this book examine the reality in which many students find themselves: confined to over-crowded, under-funded, segregated public schools. With fine-grained analysis and unflinching honesty, the authors challenge the prevailing idea that students and their “bad values” are to blame for the state of public education and, instead, hold responsible those who sustain structural inequalities and who perpetuate assumptions that criminalize and stereotype urban youth. Seamlessly woven throughout the text are the voices of students who “talk back” to those in power, critique their learning environments, and demonstrate their power as critical social actors. A terrific, compelling read.

Luisa Giulianetti
Assistant Director
Student Learning Center

Luisa Giulianetti loves working with students as they develop as writers. She is interested in composition studies and 20th century American literature, especially African American literature. She has taught seminars for writing tutors and composition courses, most recently in African American Studies.

Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us
Mike Rose
New York: New Press, 2009
This short, compelling text takes the readers inside schools to see how the current, narrow focus on standardized assessment has “shrunk” the definition of education. (See also Rose's entry “Why I Wrote ‘Why School?’” posted on the author’s blog.) Rose brings us inside classrooms to offer illustrations of a broader definition that includes “curiosity, reflectiveness, imagination, or a willingness to take a chance, to blunder.” In a highly competitive environment like UC Berkeley, it is easy to let numbers drive teaching and learning and admissions. Rose’s little book asks us to reconsider the meaning of education in a democratic society: it’s about developing skills and being prepared for work, yes, but it’s about much more than that. And he asks us to put the question of “Why School?” at the center of the public debate.

Margi Wald
College Writing Programs

Margi Wald teaches courses in the College Writing Programs and is Director of the Summer English Language Institute. In addition to her ten years at UC Berkeley, she has taught in ESL and writing programs in Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, and abroad. Her research focuses on instruction in grammar and vocabulary and on academic literacy development among immigrant ESL students.

Mike Rose’s Blog
Mike Rose, Professor of Social Research Methodology at UCLA, has written about education for years. As a nice complement to and extension of his recent book (see above), his relatively new blog offers timely entries with postings related to topics such as “the purpose of schooling in a democracy,” “education policy,” “race to the top,” “University of California Budget Cuts,” and “Obama and Education.”

Melinda Erickson
College Writing Programs

Melinda Erickson teaches undergraduate writing courses and graduate pedagogy seminars at Berkeley and works with teachers of English internationally.

Five Stages of Greek Religion
Gilbert Murray
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1955
As an undergrad at UC San Diego, I was introduced to this book during discussions with members of the Philosophy Department there. The book is based on a series of lectures Murray gave at Columbia University in 1912 in which he traces the development of Greek religion through its early worship of Olympian gods, to Homeric epics, to the development of different schools of philosophy that pre-dated Christianity. Passages from this wonderful book have accompanied me through all the twists and turns of a lifelong devotion to learning and education.

Paul Hamburg
Librarian for the Judaica Collection

As librarian for the Judaica Collection, Paul Hamburg has developed a keen facility with Hebrew and Yiddish language databases, which he shares with interested faculty and students. His research interests include the History of the Hebrew Book and the Music composed in the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust.

The Education of Henry Adams
Henry Adams
New York: Oxford University Press, 2008

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Philadelphia: PENN/University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005

Coming of Age in Mississippi
Anne Moody
New York: Dell, 1976

Down These Mean Streets
Piri Thomas
New York: Vintage Books, 1997

A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, based on her diary, 1785-1813
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
New York: Vintage Books, 1991

Up From Slavery
Booker T. Washington
New York: Modern Library, 1999

Bread Givers
Anzia Yezierska
New York: Persea Books, 2003

When many people think of education they think of schools. I do as well. But I also think of learning, and I know that learning in its most profound forms often takes place far beyond schoolhouse walls: within families, homes, communities, and nature; at work and play; and in struggle. I recommend students read several of the books listed above and consider what learning is, where it takes place and under what conditions. I hope they will come away from their readings, as I have, with more expansive understandings of education, learning, and life.

Ingrid Seyer-Ochi
Assistant Professor
Graduate School of Education

A former public high school teacher, Ingrid Seyer-Ochi is an anthropologist and historian of education whose research and teaching interests focus on urban education, the history of education, and diversity and inequality in schooling. Her most recent project is an ethnographic study of learning opportunities in three of Oakland’s most diverse and integrated neighborhoods. Her book, Smart on the Under: Excavating Opportunity in Urban America, is forthcoming.

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