What to read over break

Jane Levin, Directed Studies Director of Undergraduate Studies

“Hands down, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It is the perfect book for undergraduates. One way to see it is to think it is about characters more or less your age taking up the fundamental question, Socrates’ question, ‘How should I live?’ “


Frank Turner, Acting University Librarian

Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty

“A remarkable synthesis of the early American republic by a master historian”

Joseph Conrad’s Victory

“An engaging novel of displaced Europeans in the morass of the colonial world before World War I — a great read for the airplane or the beach”


Anne Fadiman, Francis Writer-in-Residence

“I’ve chosen two books with Yale connections.”

Fred Strebeigh’s Equal: Women Reshape America Law

“It will take you more than a vacation to read this sweeping account of women’s rights cases, but start now if you are a feminist, a future lawyer, or an admirer of fine reportorial nonfiction.”

Donald Antrim’s The Afterlife

“The author of this haunting memoir about his mother’s death has written an equally haunting letter to Yale writers that will appear in the inaugural issue of The Critic, a new undergraduate review of books scheduled to debut after spring break.”


Mary Miller, Dean of Yale College

“For a full-bore escape, I recommend W. M. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair with the delightful Becky Sharp. She could have benefited from coursework fulfilling the QR requirement. And if your budget doesn’t make it possible to seek the sun over this break, read Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard . The hot, long, languid days in 19th century Sicily warm you through to your bones.


Peter Salovey, Provost

“So, perhaps spring break would be a good time for Yale students to read inspiring memoirs written by members of the Yale College faculty. In this spirit I might recommend Alice Kaplan’s French Lessons, Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana and Edward Stankiewicz’s My War: Memoir of a Young Jewish Poet, to name just a few. This is a nice way to get to know the faculty better!”


Cynthia Russett, Larned Professor of History

Amy Bloom’s Where the God of Love Hangs Out

“Critically acclaimed short stories that explore just about every facet of romance and love — too late for Valentine’s Day but not too late for life.”

Gail Collins’ When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American women from 1960 to the Present

“A very readable account of dramatic social change that your mothers and grandmothers probably know but you don’t — and should.”


Ray Fair, John M. Musser Professor of Economics

Charles Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics, and Crashes

Classic book and quite relevant for our times. Perhaps you can get it on your Kindle?”


Michael Frame, Professor of Mathematics

José Saramago’s The Cave

“Mysterious, surprising, subtle, a clear example of Saramago’s affection for his characters, and for dogs. Kafka with a gentle side, Plato with pottery.”

José Saramago’s Death with Interruptions

“Death stops working for a while, then starts again, sending letters to her intended victims so they can prepare. Sounds like a Twilight Zone episode, but Saramago’s language and imagination lift the story light years above that. Taken together, the last page and the first form the most perfect passage I’ve read, and I’m an old guy who reads a lot.”


Thomas Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry

Matt McCarthy’s Odd Man Out

“Matt McCarthy was an MB&B major who was drafted in 2002. He describes his summer in the minor leagues. I found the book provided interesting insights into what is was like to be a pitcher in the minor leagues and had some truly hilarious stories”


John Gaddis, Robert A. Lovett Professor of History

“Any of Patrick O’Brian’s magnificent novels on the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Be forewarned, though: There are 21 volumes in the Aubrey-Maturin series beginning with Master and Commander, and they are addictive.


Steven Girvin, Deputy Provost for Science and Technology

Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers

“The Internet boom is nothing new. This entertaining little book tells the story of what happened when the telegraph was invented and the first transatlantic undersea cable was laid in the 19th century. Online romances, fancy business dealings, the sudden rush to higher speed communication … It’s all here.”


Meg Urry, Israel Munson Professor of Physics and Astronomy

Christine Cole Catley’s Bright Star: Beatrice Tinsley, Astronomer

“Tinsley was a professor of Astronomy at Yale in the 1970s, until her tragic early death from cancer in 1981, when she was only 40. In those short years, she created a field of study, attracted all the luminaries of astronomy to New Haven for workshops and consultations, mentored countless students and left a rich legacy of discoveries and ideas. Her loss was huge, for Yale and also for women in science, but Chris Catley’s book brings to life Tinsley’s enthusiasm and liveliness, as well as the very human considerations that were part of her career path. I read the book when it came out a couple of years ago — actually, I couldn’t put it down, so I stayed up all night until I finished it.”


Horace Ballard, Lecturer, “Theologies of the Beat Generation”

“When I think of the perfect spring break book, it is pocket-sized and manageable; good for the beach, backpacking through Paris, or laying beside you on the pillow as you pass out from exhaustion.”

Glen Duncan’s I, Lucifer

“A delightfully British little novel that explores what might happen if Satan is given a second chance to rejoin the heavenly hosts. Very sexy and provocative.”

Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans

“The most overlooked for Kerouac’s work from the 1950s but his favorite, and mine as well. It details the year Kerouac broke from the Beat Generation, tried to become a hipster and dated an African American woman.”

J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey

“The incredible Glass family. An incredible novel. One will never look at taking a bath the same way again.”


Craig Wright, Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music

Alfred Crosby’s The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600

“This is for spring break and the beach, right? Explains why those people most susceptible to sunburn (northern Europeans) suddenly turned to quantification (and technology) and came to rule the world (at least for a while), and how we Westerns moved from an oral-aural to a visual-cerebral culture.”

Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

“A light, breezy (again, think beach) romp through your brain and all the weird things that can go right and wrong as it listens to music.”


Kyle Farley, Dean of Jonathan Edwards College

“I recommend Love Park by Jim Zervanos, a beautifully written novel about a son grappling with his family, his heart, and his dreams, all set in my home town of Philadelphia.”


Alexander Nemerov, Chair of the History of Art department

Harold Frederic’s The Damnation of Theron Ware

“The best American novel that almost no one has read.”


Ian Shapiro, Sterling Professor of Political Science

Peter Godwin’s Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa

“It’s one of the best coming-of-age novels set in Africa ever written, perhaps equaled only by the classic Martha Quest.


Hillary Fink, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita

“This Russian work (how could I not recommend something Russian?) is one of the masterpieces of 20th-century world literature. The novel deals concurrently with the Devil’s visit to Moscow in the Stalinist 1930s and the drama between Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notsri in Biblical Yershalaim. Throw in some talking cats, living chess pieces, nocturnal flights, and the mysterious ‘fifth dimension’ and you’ve got a real page-turner for spring break!”


Lauren Willig and Andrea DaRiff, Lecturers, “The Historical Romance Novel”

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

“What evil stalks the halls of Northanger? Austen’s satire of Gothic novels is as clever today as it was 200 years ago. Check out her rousing defense of the novel (and the charming Mr. Henry Tilney).”

Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible

“Blazing desert sands, a bookworm heroine, a hero who likes to bash heads, and an affectionate mongoose. Think The Mummy meets Jane Austen. Does it get any better than that?”

Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me

“Yes, the author may have gone to that Evil Crimson Place, but she did redeem herself by going to Yale for grad school. And her prose is just laugh-out-loud funny. Three words: Bridgerton Pall Mall.”

Jessica Benson’s The Accidental Duchess

“Gentle reader, she married… the wrong brother. Take a spunky heroine, a few Napoleonic spies, identical bridegrooms and stir.”


Brian Scholl, Professor of Psychology

Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle

“This trilogy would be an excellent Spring Break challenge, since it’s a few thousand pages long. What other novels could so seamlessly combine a history of the scientific revolution, Newton and Leibniz, heavy doses of philosophy of mind and precursors to cognitive science, the origins of the modern banking system, the strongest lead female character I’ve read in years and a rollicking pirate adventure?”


Alfred Guy, R.W.B. Lewis Director, Yale College Writing Center

Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper

“Hilarious and smart. A hitman goes to medical school, enhancing both skill sets. Imagine Scrubs meets the Sopranos. You need some taste for violence.”

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

“Before he could get literally anything published, a deep and fast-moving contemporary fantasy that traces the power of religious belief.”

Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red

“My favorite literary novel of the decade, by the recent Nobel Prize winner; achingly beautiful prose and a complex but satisfying plot.”


Dolores Hayden, Professor of Architecture and Professor of American Studies

Sharon Zukin’s Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

“A critical look at New York’s changing neighborhoods and the problems of gentrification.”

J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country

“A beautifully written short novel about a painter.”


J.D. McClatchy, Editor, The Yale Review

Chip Kidd’s The Learners

“This exuberant novel is about a young graphic designer landing his first job–in the New Haven of 1961. The plot turns on the famous experiments on the nature of obedience done at Yale by Stanley Milgram in that era. Wit, suspense, and suicide combine in all the right graphic measure.”

Lorrie Moore’s The Gate at the Stairs

“Moore is the best young writer of fiction in this country, and her new novel is a superbly written and wrenchingly told story of desire and loss. A college student hires out as a babysitter, and the most extraordinary things happen.”

James Merrill’s Selected Poems

“The essential collection of this dazzling poet’s best work. His complex narratives and exquisite lyrics are, in his phrase, “chronicles of love and loss.” If you want to see how a life is made of language, and how world unfolds within world, this is the book you must read.”


Aaron Ritzenberg, Lecturer in English

“If you want to read a book full of generosity and wisdom, read Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. If you have lots of reading time and want to immerse yourself in a fully-rendered world (that is, umm, kind of like our own world), read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. If you are giving a private ball and want to know what to provide for your guests’ passage from street to front door (answer: “an awning and a red carpet”), read Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin.


Seth Fein, Professor of History

Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas

“Chris Andrews’s brilliant 2008 translation of the late-Chilean-born writer’s 1996 masterpiece captures the Borgesian magician’s genius and wit. This collection of hilarious obituaries of imagined right-wing (and often would-be) writers creates a fictive history of the Americas that straddles the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and transcends both fiction and history. Anyone who has ever had any interest in my Idea of the Western Hemisphere seminar should just read this.”

J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories

“After his recent demise, I decided to honor the talented recluse by re-reading my yellow-edged Bantom paperback that I bought used for $1.00, longer ago than I care to report. The best dollar I ever spent. If some of these stories (most of which the New Yorker published first, during the decade after World War II) ring dated in their first paragraphs, by the end of each I remembered why their author is so great; each concisely (and deceptively) expresses the subtlest of emotions in the absolute specificity of particular moments that chillingly convey the profundity of the terror that can ambush us on the seemingly sunniest of days.”


Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey Professor, Yale School of Architecture

Clancy Martin’s How to Sell

“A contemporary noir, bleak unrelenting commentary on our ‘America.’ A character portrayal of unequaled sadness.”


Jim Sleeper, Lecturer in Political Science

“I’m not sure that many Yalies on spring break would want to read a beautiful novel or memoir drawn from depths of political disaster in the last century, but Victor Serge’s Unforgiving Years, worthy of Arthur Koestler or Vladimir Nabokov, should nourish anyone with even a hint of winter in his or her political soul. The novel is about dedicated but disillusioned Communist revolutionists trying to escape the Comintern while fighting fascism during World War II. It takes us to Paris, Berlin, Leningrad, a remote part of Mexico, and to depths of political reckoning worthy of Darkness at Noon and The God That Failed. Richard Greeman’s introduction to the paperback is a revelation in its own right.

Comments

  • Root

    Aaah, YDN, I already have to move all of my books across a continent at the end of the year…and now I’m going to have to buy some more! Damn it!!

    Seriously, thank you for this. Also, The Baroque Cycle is indeed completely awesome (Barbary corsairs, sex, cryptography, natural philosophy, and so much more!). To be followed by Cryptonomicon if enjoyed.

  • PC’13 Mom

    I suspect my freshman daughter, after burning the candle at both ends since winter break, will fall instantly to sleep each time she picks up a book in the next two weeks. But it’s a terrific list of recommendations I plan to save for myself, thanks!

  • YaleS&P09

    What a fabulous idea to ask Yale professors what they would read! Most interesting. I’m with Prof. Gaddis on the Patrick O’Brian series. They are truly addictive down to the last unfinished novel. I also love the idea of trying to read W&P in two weeks, altho my daughter says it’s possible! Oh, happy reading to all!

  • Anonymous

    THIS is why I chose Yale.

  • @anonymous

    So true.

  • TD’04

    I bought the first Aubrey-Maturin book on a whim, about eighteen months ago, and just finished the twelfth. I’m trying not to burn through them too quickly, as I’ll only once have the chance to read them for the first time, and I want the experience to last. They are truly wonderful.

  • love all these

    I want to buy a lot of these and read them! But I’d like to second the recommendation for The Master and Margarita…it’s so wonderful.

  • Jill P.

    The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memoir by George Salton. My life has just changed after this compelling emotional devastatingly powerful book.

  • anonymous

    It’s interesting that you couldn’t find a single Yale professor who would recommend reading a classic work in science or mathematics. Maybe even the scientists here are humanities at heart, just as the humanities people tend to be technically illiterate.

  • scialum

    Oooor maybe because science tends to be about its great ideas (and empirical proof) rather than its great works of written literature? I’m entering my last year of grad school, and I’ve never sat down and read Newton’s Principia, for instance.

    Also, there are at least two solid looking history of science books on this list.

    –A scientist who loves literature

  • alum

    True Confections, by Katherine Weber, set in New Haven, with a number of Yale references, including an unflattering appropriation of a certain GW Bush.

  • Recent Alum

    The Ship of State by Norma Thompson, probably the best book written by a Yale faculty member over the last decade.

  • another sci alum

    Leonhard Euler’s Letters to a German Princess. I wish Yale had science courses along these lines, cutting edge (for its time), integrated with literature, and pursued because it’s deep and wonderful and eternal rather than because it might be useful for solving some transient problem of the present day.

  • Andrew

    One of the books recommended by J.D. McClatchy–James Merrill’s “Selected Poems”–is also a book edited by J.D. McClatchy.

    Another piece of hard-hitting reporting from the YDN.

  • uughhh

    For the science students… James Watson’s “The Double Helix” or Natalie Angier’s “Natural Obsessions”.