Greetings, Class of 2017!

As part of your welcome to UC Berkeley, we have a gift for you from the graduating Class of 2013: this year’s Summer Reading List for Freshmen.

For the better part of 30 years, incoming freshmen have received a list of readings that have been recommended by Cal faculty and staff. This year we decided to try something different and asked seniors to share their wisdom in keeping with the theme for this summer’s list: “What Would Seniors Read?”

And what a fantastic list they’ve compiled for you! Here you’ll find both classic works and contemporary classics: novels, nonfiction, and poetry. These readings aren’t homework; these are books that your departing peers have chosen because they have enjoyed and been strongly affected by them, and they think you would enjoy them too. There’s almost certainly something here to catch your interest.

You can see previous years’ lists as well at Find a book that appeals to you and then you can check it out at one of Cal’s many libraries. And maybe one day you can recommend your own selections to the class of…2021.

Welcome to Cal, and Go Bears!

Jennifer Dorner
Head, Instruction and User Services
Doe/Moffitt Libraries

Michael Larkin
Lecturer, College Writing Programs

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Stumbling on Happiness
Daniel Gilbert
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

If you like This American Life, RadioLab, or PopSci/CogSci, PLEASE read this fantastic book. What makes human beings happy and why? Brandishing a humorous tone that sends readers into fits of giggles, Gilbert dives head first into the exceedingly rich world of human behavior and emotion. This book’s thesis will stay with you for years to come, and it is the only book that does the “Happiness Conundrum” justice without becoming too popcorn science in the process. This book’s fascinating content, its hilarious style, and its strong narrative structure will result in a supremely interesting read for incoming students.

Media Studies

I’m currently working at Pixar and interned at DreamWorks, Warner Brothers, and animation production studios during my time at UC Berkeley. 

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Silent Spring
Rachel Carson
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.

Last Child in the Woods
Richard Louv
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008.

I would recommend these books for those students entering the College of Natural Resources, or for anyone interested in environmental issues generally. Silent Spring offers a touching, first-person perspective on what later became a major environmental movement.  Last Child in the Woods introduces the concept of childhood nature deficit and the ways in which urbanization has shaped youthful minds in an inhibitory fashion.

Conservation and Resource Studies

I work in the realm of development in the environmental nonprofit arena and plan to eventually become a community college biology instructor.

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The Finkler Question
Howard Jacobson
New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2010.

This is a hilarious novel written in a satiric tone that looks at Jewish life in today’s Western society. It follows the life of Julian Treslove, a man who has a strange obsession with Jewish culture. The book is very well written with a very light tone that makes you unaware of how deeply it delves into the contemporary issue of Zionism. Thematically it touches on the idea of friendship and loss, human maturity and wisdom, as well the idea of belonging and exclusion. I highly recommend it.

Ian McEwan
New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2005.

Really, I’d recommend any book by Ian McEwan. He has written some of my favorite novels and is, in my opinion, one of the three best authors of the 21st century. Anyways, think of Saturday as a readable version of James Joyce’s Ulysses. It follows one day (a Saturday, of course) in the life of Henry Perowne. You see the ups and downs of his day and how all the events, both big and small, come together to affect his life forever. You will be taken aback by the series of events that occur in a period of 24 hours. The language is beautiful, the tone is exquisite, and the book in itself is just a masterpiece of the English language. I warn you that the book does start out slowly, but that’s good because once you hit that stride you’ll never want to put the book down. Read it.

Minor in Creative Writing

I love just about any kind of animal, and my biggest ambition is to work for National Geographic at some point in my life. 

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Eating Animals
Jonathan Safran Foer
New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2009.

Jonathan Safran Foer has become increasingly popular in the last few years, particularly for the recent Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close [also included on this year’s list]. I would highly recommend all of his other works but especially Eating Animals, his only nonfiction book. This book documents Foer’s personal experience with our current industrialized food systems and his reasons for adopting a vegan diet. The book is not meant to convert, but to inform, challenging and furthering [UC Berkeley Professor] Michael Pollan’s views on the food system. All food lovers would benefit greatly from this exploration of where our food comes from as well as the unique storytelling style that characterizes Foer’s works. 

Classical Languages and Molecular Environmental Biology 

I plan to attend graduate school for Classics in the fall and have taught and tutored with the Student Learning Center, the People’s Test Preparation Service, and Teach in Prison at Berkeley.

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Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Jared Diamond 
New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Paul Hawken 
Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1999.

As an engineer, I didn’t have the opportunity to take nearly as many social science and humanities classes as other students here at Cal. However, among the handful of books and articles that I did get to read, these two books stand out as being hugely influential on me.

Nuclear Engineering
U.C. Berkeley Thermal Hydraulics Lab

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Tuesdays with Morrie
Mitch Albom
New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Mitch Albom visited his old, dying professor, Morrie Schwartz, once a week every Tuesday for four months before Schwartz died from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease in which patients can hardly move or breathe yet their cognition remains intact. Schwartz, a retired sociology professor, shares his wisdom about life with his very last student during their conversations, and Albom shares it with us in this book. Even though most of us are a little young to worry about aging and dying, this book will make you think, and after finishing reading it you will probably be able to make better choices or be more willing to correct mistakes that you have made in your life.

Molecular and Cell Biology

I’m currently working at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and will be entering graduate school in the fall. 

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A.R. Ammons 
New York: Norton, 1993.

This 100+ page epic poem (I hear you all groaning already) is at once inspiring, thought-provoking, and written almost entirely about trash. Using a landfill as the locus for his investigation, Ammons masterfully dissects the weightier concerns of human experience, which he uses to expose and comment upon the rich complexity of human life. Often funny with its pointed criticisms of our contemporary, “sophisticated” lives and eloquent in its rendering of what humankind’s garbage could say about us, this abundantly appealing read suggests that inspiration and introspection can and often do come from the unlikeliest of places.

Minor: Creative Writing

I am combing the Bay Area for a job that will let me stay here, preparing to apply to MFA programs, and reading away my days without complaint.

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Outliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008 

By exploring a variety of interesting stories and examples, Gladwell challenges the myth that success is a matter of chance or luck. Instead, the successes of outliers are a product of hard work, experience, and being ready to take advantage of new opportunities. Reading this book made me rethink what it takes to be successful. Hopefully this book will inspire incoming freshmen to get started on their own ten thousand hours (a concept discussed in the book) or at least to figure out what they want to become an expert in. 

Forestry and Natural Resources

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer
New York:  Houghton Mifflin, 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the more unique contemporary novels that’s come out in the last decade. It highlights the growing intermedial qualities of fiction. Foer incorporates the normal literary techniques, but he also infuses his fiction with several visuals that add meaning to the novel. Some of these visuals include photographs, colored ink, and even blank pages to highlight certain emotions in the novel.  The characters are rich, the story refreshing, but the style in which this novel is written is truly unique.  

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Various editions; Original publication date: 1852

This novel was perhaps the most influential of the 19th century. It has been credited with helping spark the Civil War and flare tensions surrounding slavery. The novel explores the racial stereotypes that are prevalent during the period of slavery, and is infused with a tantalizing amount of emotion. Overall, an intriguing novel that had a significant historical impact.


I’m a writer of many things, including short stories, novels, poems, plays, and scripts. I’ve participated in organizations such as Berkeley Fiction Review, which reads and publishes short stories. And finally, I’ve participated in mentoring programs. I like giving back, whether that means teaching others or sharing unique works of art.

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Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life
Robert B. Reich
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

You now attend UC Berkeley, so why not read a fantastic book by one of our very own professors? I thought Supercapitalism does a great job of explaining the way consumerism works in today’s world and the growing conflict between democracy and capitalism. The book clearly lays out the needs we have as consumers compared with the ideals we have as citizens.

Society and Environment
Minor in City and Regional Planning 

In my free time, I play on Cal Women’s Club Soccer Team and participate as a Peer Advisor for the College of Natural Resources Peer Advising Leadership Program. I also love exploring the Bay Area and finding delicious restaurants.

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War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy
Various editions; Original publication date: 1869

This novel is renowned for a reason! The characters will stay with you for a long time, and the book as a whole will be the jumping-off point for many a reflective time, as well as for moments of hilarity, fun, and interest! Very engaging!

The Stranger
Albert Camus
New York: A. A. Knopf, 1946.
This short novel is an evocative one. A curious story and a thought-provoking series of events make this book really memorable.

The Plague
Albert Camus
New York: Modern Library [c1948].
This novel is really quite interesting, and very memorable. The course of the story and the fates of the characters can cause our throat to catch at moments of drama.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
Colin Woodard 
New York: Viking, 2011.

This book is a fascinating look into American culture and history. I highly recommend it! It fits in perfectly with the American Cultures courses. (That’s where it was assigned to me!)

Confessiones (The Confessions of St. Augustine)
Aurelius Augustinus of Hippo (“Saint Augustine”)
Various editions; Written c. 397-398

This is a very interesting book in a number of ways: as a sort of spiritual autobiography, as a view into fourth-century Mediterranean life and history, and as a philosophical text. For those who are interested in history, religion, and the “classics,” this is a great one!


I like solid books! 

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