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W&L Faculty Offer Must-Reads for Entering Students

What should every new college student spend the summer reading? It depends entirely on who you ask.

An informal survey of Washington and Lee University faculty on the subject resulted in an array of titles that ranged from history to poetry and from novels to biographies.

W&L does not employ a common reading for entering students, although one group, the women’s soccer team, does require its first-year players to read John C. Maxwell’s The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork.

Suzanne Keen, Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English, does not believe in “one-book” recommendations because, as she writes, “I’d need to meet the person and talk about her reading habits before making a specific, personalized recommendation.” Keen teaches a course titled The Novel and posts lists of recommended readings by category on the course’s Web site (see http://home.wlu.edu/~keens/207.htm).

These W&L faculty members suggest these works:

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Theodore DeLaney, Professor of History

“Politics and the English Language,” a 1946 essay by George Orwell
Simon Levy, Associate Professor of Computer Science

The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
Scott Johnson, Assistant Professor of Classics
“I have re-read The Moviegoer several times since college and get more out of it every time. It has become a kind of life companion for me. As something like (though not only) a Kierkegaardian-Catholic-Existentialist, Walker Percy in The Moviegoer offers a modern take on the Southern American mind, suffused with ancient religion and the expectations of a psychologically dissonant set of characters. It’s the perfect book to shake up the blissful naivete of incoming first-year students.”

“Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787,” by James Madison
Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville
The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay
Bill Connelly, Professor of Politics

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
James Mahon, Professor of Philosophy
“The early chapters of this novel contain a magical account of student life at Oxford University.”

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Deborah Miranda, Assistant Professor of English
“Little Brother is a young adult novel — nothing better for rousing discussions of our current post-9/11 culture, paranoia and fear about terrorism, loss of privacy and civil rights, and the responsibilities of young people for making sure the rights so hard-won by previous generations don’t fall prey to hysteria.”

“Good News from the Afterlife,” a novella in Rites of Assent, by Abd al-Hakim Qasim
Richard Marks, Professor of Religion
“For ideas about real education and real life.”

April 1865: The Month that Saved America, by Jay Winik
Ron Reese, Professor of Physics
“Winik explains how a single month (with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln) affected the course of American history for the next 150 or so years.”

A Good Man is Hard to Find
, by Flannery O’Connor
R.T. Smith, W&L Writer-in-Residence and Editor, Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review
“Flannery O’Connor said that ‘In fiction, two plus two is always more than four,’ and the darkly comic, sometimes alarming stories in this book add up to plenty, as they shiver with the electricity of inference and show us how humankind, stripped to its essentials, always finds its worldly ambitions shadowed by something mysterious, jolting and inescapable.”

The Fountainhead
, by Ayn Rand
Al Fralin, Emeritus Professor of Romance Languages
“For its metaphorical imagery, its contrasting character types and its philosophic underpinnings. It continues to have a positive, life-altering impact on young readers.”

The Periodic Table and The Monkey’s Wrench, by Primo Levi
Timothy Lubin, Associate Professor of Religion
“Primo Levin writes with a wry, humane sensibility about ordinary life and his work as a chemist (not to mention his searing accounts of his time in a Nazi concentration camp). For arts-and-humanities types, he evokes our curiosity and wonder at the world and the scientist’s view of it.”

The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 and In Xanadu: A Quest, by William Dalrymple
Timothy Lubin, Associate Professor of Religion
“Dalrymple is so graceful and diverting a witness to Mughal and Victorian India that you forget that you are reading history. And In Xanadu, the travelogue he wrote as a 22-year-old following in Marco Polo’s steps, is delightful. He is today’s Somerset Maugham or J.R. Ackerley.”

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
, by Barack Obama
Doug Cumming, Assistant Professor of Journalism
“This book may be somewhat artificial, in that the publisher recognized the power of Obama’s narrative—of a brilliant, successful, mixed-race outsider in search of his identity, and Obama is simply too good as a writer. But this is clearly not your typical politician’s autobiography. It was written too early and is too human, and is too literary, to have any connection with the remarkable career Obama pursued over the next decade.”

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
, by Barack Obama
Sandra Reiter, Assistant Professor of Business Administration
“Regardless of one’s political leanings, one should know his or her president.”

Robert E. Lee: A Life
, by Roy Blount Jr.
Doug Cumming, Assistant Professor of Journalism
“Incoming W&L students will get a lot of Lee hagiography over the next four years. This is a good intro, one of the least idolatrous accounts of Lee, by a fine storyteller with Southern roots and a sense of history as well as humor.”

Painting Rain, by Paula Meehan
Lesley Wheeler, Professor of English
“We are hoping to bring Irish poet Paula Meehan to campus in the fall, so her recent collection would be a good one for W&L’s incoming students to read.”

The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism, by Mark Edmundson
Ken Lambert, Professor of Computer Science
“Mark Edmundson presents a lucid study of Freud’s views on the attractions of fundamentalism and authoritarian figures and the labor required to free ourselves from them.”

The Bridge of Sighs: A Novel, by Richard Russo
Ken Lambert, Professor of Computer Science
“Richard Russo writes an enthralling story of families and the American psyche and how they shape who we are.”

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
Brendan Weickert, Associate Professor of Mathematics
“Catch-22 captures the signature of the 20th century as no other novel does that I have read. To me, it was stylistically new, and that style was bound up perfectly with the theme: system-wide madness manifesting itself in hilarity on the one hand and horror on the other.”

The Explorer King: Adventure, Science, and the Great Diamond Hoax—Clarence King in the Old West, by Robert Wilson
Harry Pemberton, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
“It is a true story, an account of the adventures of Clarence King, a brilliant geologist, who around 1865 explored the mountains of the West, mostly California, and made significant discoveries. The amazing thing about the book is that it is a real page-turner, so well written it is hard to put down. So, science and adventure at once.” The author, Robert Wilson, is a 1973 graduate of Washington and Lee and is editor of The American Scholar, the Phi Beta Kappa publication

Mountains Beyond Mountains: Healing the World: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, by Tracy Kidder
Sandra Reiter, Assistant Professor of Business Administration
“This biography of Paul Farmer, a physician who works with poverty and infectious diseases, is an excellent read.”

The Lord of the Rings
trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
David Bello, Associate Professor of History
“Tolkien created a history in literary form that provides profound insight into how both history and literature are related and produced.”

The German Ideology
, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
David Bello, Associate Professor of History
“Marx critiqued the professional practice of history in his time as indistinguishable from literary fantasy or self-serving myth.”

The Brothers Karamazo
v, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
Jim Warren, Professor of English
“For an incoming student, I’d suggest a big novel such as one of these three.”

Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto by Mark R. Levin
Richard Kuettner, Director, Tucker Multimedia Center
Advisements and reflections on documented truths.