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Knowledge Enterprise taps ASU leaders for ultimate summer reading guide


Hands holding a book above a pool in which a person's legs are dipped.
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August 07, 2023

For many, summer is the perfect time to catch up on reading. Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun with your next poolside read or you want to beat the heat and cool off indoors with a book, Arizona State University's Knowledge Enterprise rounded up a list of summer reads that are sure to intrigue and inspire.

Here, a variety of ASU institute and initiative leaders share some of their favorite books, delivering on topics like murder mysteries, short stories, science fiction and more.

'A Swim in a Pond in the Rain' by George Saunders

Recommended by Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of the Interplanetary Initiative.

A compilation of seven short pieces from Russian authors Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev and Nikolai Gogol, "A Swim in the Pond in the Rain" weaves in commentary from writer George Saunders to break down the mechanics behind fiction from the perspective of both the author and the reader.

“Saunders is so personal and deft and conversational that in the end I feel like we've become friends and mental allies,” Elkins-Tanton said.

'Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind' by Yuval Noah Harari 

Recommended by Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute.

Historian Yuval Noah Harari takes readers on a journey of human history — starting with the emergence of modern cognition — and explores how the forces of time and nature have shaped us into the species we are today. 

“It’s a fascinating book about how Homo sapiens became not only the only remaining human species on the planet, but the dominant animal species — it all boils down to gossip. Amazing read,” LaBaer said.

'The Candy House' by Jennifer Egan 

Recommended by Jamie Winterton, senior director of research strategy for the Global Security Initiative.

"The Candy House" is a New York Times’ bestselling science fiction book told across decades, through multiple perspectives, in varying-but-connected narrative structures. Following the aftermath of a tech billionaire’s new technology to commodify memories, the book explores “counters,” whose goal is to exploit this technology, and “eluders,” whose goal is to avoid it at all costs.

“Egan’s book is packed with colorful characters and wildly creative yet plausible futures, with equal measures of techno-optimism and foreboding. "The Candy House" uses masterful storytelling to ask questions about our relationships with technology, social media and the malleability of our own memories. I tore through this book for the plot, then immediately started it again to reflect on the book’s main question: What does it mean to be authentic, especially in an online world?” Winterton said.

'Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln' by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Recommended by Jim Bell, director of the NewSpace Initiative.

In "Team of Rivals," Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin examines the circumstances that allowed Abraham Lincoln to overcome obstacles and unite the country amidst the Civil War. 

“It’s a thick and detailed look into the genius of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style, which combined intellect, common wisdom, perseverance and humility in exactly the right combination to help him navigate the country — and his Cabinet full of diverse opinions — through a real existential crisis. It’s an older book, but in my opinion stands the test of time as a great reminder of the keys to successful leadership,” Bell said.

'Exhalation: Stories' by Ted Chiang

Recommended by Ron Broglio, director of the Institute for Humanities Research.

A collection of nine short stories released in 2019, "Exhalation: Stories" explores everything from robotics and time travel to free will and virtual reality. Notably, Chiang will be the Institute for Humanities Research Distinguished Lecturer in February 2024. 

Broglio cites Ezra Klein’s description of the author in a recent podcast as a strong endorsement of Chiang’s work.

“I’ve always wondered about what kind of mind would create Chiang’s stories. They have this crazy economy in them, like not a word out of place, perfect precision. They’re built around really complicated scientific ideas, really heavy religious ideas. I actually think in a way that is not often recognized, Chiang is one of the great living writers of religious fiction, even though he’s an atheist and a sci-fi legend. But somehow, the stories, at least in my opinion, they’re never difficult. They’re very humane and propulsive. They keep moving. They’re cerebral, they’re gentle,” Klein said. 

'Smilla's Sense of Snow' by Peter Høeg

Recommended by Evelyn Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute at Arizona State University.

This Danish crime thriller follows protagonist Smilla Jaspersen as she investigates the death of her 6-year-old neighbor. The police have ruled his death as an accident, but Smilla is convinced it’s murder. 

“It's incredibly well written and perceptive about humans, and gives you a real feel for relations between Danes and Greenlanders. Culturally and psychologically rich, it will transport much overheated Sun Devils to a cool habitat in the middle of this crazy heat wave,” Farkas said.

'The Art of the Start' by Guy Kawasaki

Recommended by Tracey Dodenhoff of ASU's Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute.

Described by the author as “the guide for anyone starting anything,” "The Art of the Start" is the startup bible providing business advice that’s transferable to any company, venture or idea — big or small. 

“It is a fast read, perfect for writing notes in the margins, and a terrific reference to keep on hand. Kawasaki’s irreverent style makes the journey through 'The Art of the Start' relatable,” Dodenhoff said.

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