Faculty Summer Reading Recommendations

Some of our Divinity School professors weigh in on summer reading choices. (2017)


"I recently finished reading Cixin Liu's "Three Body" trilogy (The Three-Body ProblemThe Dark Forest, and Death's End). It is magnificent conceptual or "hard" science fiction and requires some patience to get through in parts. But the series gets better as it moves along (the third volume is the best). I recommend it for the beautiful ways in which Liu evokes temporal and spatial scales, not to mention the many wonder-inspiring scientific and technological ideas. A taste: the third volume begins with the siege of Constantinople by Mehmet II and a desperate Constantine XI's recourse to a female magician to save his doomed empire. But what does Byzantine magic have to do with sci-fi? Read to find out.
Two books I have started and hope to finish over the summer: First, Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.'s Black against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. I recommend it particularly for its account of the internationalism of the Panthers, which helps us further understand the global scope of the Civil Rights movement (in some ways a precursor of today's intersectional and international politics of #BlackLivesMatter). Second, Peter Godfrey-Smith's Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. Godfrey-Smith is a philosopher of science and a scuba diver and his book gives a wonderful account of "alien" consciousness and how it emerged in a very different environment than the forms of intelligence with which we are conventionally familiar." 

– Alireza Doostdar, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and the Anthropology of Religion
Lucy Pick, Senior Lecturer in the History of Christianity and Director of Undergraduate Studies and author, most recently of Pilgrimage (a novel set on the road to Compostela): "I suggest, Nancy Frey, Pilgrim Stories: On and off the Road to Santiago (Berkeley and LA, University of California Press, 1998). The Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the far western corner of Spain is a massive affair now, with hundreds of thousands of making at least part of the journey every year. Frey's book caught the phenomenon just as it was beginning to explode. She is an anthropologist who spent time doing fieldwork while walking and working on the camino. It is a very personal study that attempts to gets to the heart of the pilgrim experience."
Jeffrey Stackert, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and the interim Director of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies: "I recommend In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson (of Devil in the White City fame). In the Garden of Beasts tells the story of University of Chicago history professor William Dodd, who was appointed American ambassador to Germany in the lead-up to the second World War. Larson chronicles the experiences of Dodd and his family in Germany in the 1930s and the difficulties the ambassador encountered as an amateur diplomat, including in his attempts to warn the US government of the growing Nazi threat. In the Garden of Beasts is something in between a beach read and more serious history; I suppose that’s part of what makes it ideal summer reading! It is certainly a compelling story that treats themes that remain timely."
Birth of Purgatory coverJames T. Robinson, Professor of the History of Judaism, Islamic Studies, and the History of Religions, wrote in with suggestions for books "that had a profound impact on my research: Werner Jaeger’s three-volume Paedaia, Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, Jacques Le Goff’s book The Birth of Purgatory and his edited volume Medieval Callings, and pretty much anything written by Anthony Grafton. These really shaped my understanding of what cultural history can be and inspired me to search quixotically for the ‘total history’ the Annales school dreamed of.”


Sarah Fredericks, Assistant Professor of Environmental Ethics, writes that "As an environmental ethicist I spend a lot of time thinking about climate change which can be a rather depressing subject. Thus, Kevin O'Brien's The Violence of Climate Change: Lessons from Nonviolent Resistance Activists was a welcome change.  It looks to historical social justice activists for models of action and temperment that could be useful in mitigating and adapting to climate change.  I also recommend Blind Descent by James M. Tabor, a book about the search for the world's deepest cave, if you, like me, enjoy books that mix adventurous exploration and scientific discovery." 

Parting the Waters book coverRichard B. Miller, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Religious Ethics and the author, most recently, of Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture, writes: "I recommend Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, the first of a three-volume series by Branch on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. The book paints a broad and detailed portrait of the formative years of the movement and identifies a number of persons, organizations, and leaders—beyond King and his immediate circle—who played vital roles in the struggle for racial justice from the Montgomery bus boycott to the March on Washington.  Branch’s social history does a magisterial job of capturing the difficult political, religious, and ethical decisions that confronted King and others committed to nonviolent resistance as they deliberated about how to confront racial discrimination and respond to savage violence across the American south.  The scholar of American culture and history, Professor Casey Blake, once remarked to me that the chapter, “The Summer of Freedom Rides,” should be required reading for all students of American religion, politics, and history.   I agree.   Informative and stirring, the book will reward anyone interested in 20th century American history, democracy, social justice, and religion in public life. As to other summer reading: A steady diet of The New York Review of Books."