Summer reading recommendations from around ASU

Salim Moslehi at Hayden Library

Freshman Salim Moslehi gets into his book on the sustainability of energy infrastructures at the Hayden Library on June 1. Hayden and the other campus libraries are filled with books that can be enlightening summer reading.
Photo by: Charlie Leight/ASU News


Escaping into a good book is one of the great rites of summer – so why settle for a ho-hum tome?

Faculty and staff from around ASU share their recommendations for summer reads, from a humorous tale of a caveman that sheds light on modern-day business-thinking to a story of hubris and the deadliest hurricane in history.

‘The Idea Factory,’ by Jon Gertner

For several decades of the 20th century, Bell Labs – a part of AT&T – was the premier research and development institution in the world. Merging engineering, applied sciences and fundamental science, Bell Lab’s leaders were responsible for many of the technologies that form the basis of the world today – transistors, satellites, lasers, digital and cellular communications, photovoltaics and more. The lab operated in a unique way at a unique time in American history. In his book, Gertner chronicles the origins of the ideas that led to these important modern inventions and tells an inspiring story that shows how research impacts our society. – Owen Hildreth, assistant professor, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

‘Shadows of the Neanderthal: Illuminating the Beliefs That Limit Our Organizations,’ by David Hutchens

No matter what industry a student targets, he or she will end up in some sort of organization. Reading the quick and easy – but still meaningful – “Shadows of the Neanderthal: Illuminating the Beliefs That Limit Our Organizations” by David Hutchens will help anchor success both in school and in business. Don’t be fooled by the fun approach of this animated fable; there is much there to learn about how one’s ways of thinking, or “mental models,” have an impact when dealing with change, growth and people with different “truths” or mental models. This book offers serious wisdom and tools to bridge the gap. – Stephanie de Lusé, Honors Faculty Fellow at Barrett, The Honors College

‘Salt: A World History,’ by Mark Kurlansky

This is a fascinating book that every engineer should read. If you look back in human history, you will find salt is one of the rare materials that changed our world in many ways. Like oil and sand, salt is one of Earth’s abundant substances that in some times and places was seen as largely undesirable (because it caused rust) and at other times and places became extremely valuable (as food). It makes you wonder: Are there other materials we think of today as “undesirable” that will someday make some people rich and powerful? – Oswald Chong, associate professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

'David and Goliath,' by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell deftly interweaves inspiring stories about underdogs who have excelled and then dissects the successes of these unlikely giant-killers in sports, business, education, social activism and other arenas. We see time and again how digging in psychologically to overcome adversity and face down fear builds a confidence and resilience that is transferable to many life challenges. The stories in “David and Goliath” remind us that effort and independent thinking often trump ability and material advantage. Malcolm Gladwell, a brilliant prose stylist, is also a great read for any writers wanting to hone their rhetorical tools. – Duane Roen, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, and University College

‘Alice, Let’s Eat: Further Adventures of a Happy Eater,’ by Calvin Trillin

When you have had enough of homework and are ready for something both fun and funny, pick up this Calvin Trillin book. I challenge you not to enjoy yourself (and drool a bit) as you follow Calvin on his adventures in search of something decent to eat. Have you heard of anyone else boarding a short flight with a “picnic” of caviar, smoked salmon, crudités with pesto sauce, tomato-curry soup, butterfish, spiced clams, lime and dill shrimp, tomatoes stuffed with guacamole, mussels, pâté, veal, a bottle of wine from Burgundy, chocolate cake and praline cheesecake? (Don’t worry – he loves barbecue, too.) – Zachary Holman, assistant professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

‘The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,’ by Elizabeth Kolbert

“The Sixth Extinction,” by New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert, tells us what we don’t want to hear: Species throughout the world are declining at a rapid clip thanks to us. Kolbert meticulously reports the necessary fact-checked science critical to understanding the alarming consequences of human actions. Although the facts are disturbing, the book reads like a travel narrative. It’s a heartbreaking but vivid and necessary journey to fragile biomes. “The Sixth Extinction” tells the truth, and we need to know it. Once we understand that species are rapidly vanishing, we can choose whether we want to do anything about it. – Terry Greene Sterling, writer in residence, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

‘Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History,’ by Erik Larson

Hurricanes as a rule do not strike Texas and those that do are weak storms, stated Isaac Cline in an 1891 article in the Galveston Daily News. Cline was the director of the Texas section of the Weather Bureau and his office was in Galveston. Educated, dedicated to his job and having proved himself a sufficiently accurate forecaster, Cline was what the newly formed Weather Bureau needed as it struggled to achieve legitimacy.

Strangely, Cline’s confident statement on the matter of hurricanes glossed over what had happened when two strong hurricanes had hit the Texas coast just a few years prior, one in September 1875 and another in August 1886. Cline considered these weak aberrations unlikely to happen again. Cline knew that hurricanes always moved up the Atlantic coast; they did not cross the Gulf of Mexico.

On Sept. 8, 1900, the hurricane that struck Galveston would shatter Cline’s statements the same way it would shatter the homes, businesses and, unfortunately, the lives of an estimated 6,000 residents and visitors. This cautionary tale presents the reader with many issues to consider: the mixing of politics with science, stifling bureaucracy, and mistakes made because of humanity’s foibles. Master storyteller Erik Larson effectively weaves the history of late 19th-century weather forecasting with Cline’s life and work.

The story races to an end you know is coming but compels you to finish.  At the end, you have to ask the question that most likely haunted Isaac Cline for the rest of his life: Could more lives have been saved? As a librarian I would be remiss if I did not also mention author Larson’s use of primary source material from both the National Archives as well as local Texas collections. The first-person accounts give life to the historical facts, as noted by many reviewers. More importantly, Larson found evidence challenging some of the commonly held beliefs of what happened that day and the events leading up to it. – Linda Shackle, librarian, Daniel E. Noble Science and Engineering Library, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ by Dale Carnegie

“Computer-connected” students who could benefit from better “real world” communication skills should read the much-loved classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. The book, synonymous with business, started a genre of business/self-help books.  Newer books won’t have the occasional outdated examples, true, but none will be better than this readable best-seller (more than 15 million copies sold) with its timeless, on-target and practical principles and specific tips to improve one’s likeability, influence and skill in better dealing with people. – Stephanie de Lusé, Honors Faculty Fellow at Barrett, the Honors College

‘Set Phasers on Stun: And Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error,’ by Steven Casey

This book recounts 20 true stories of disasters (in some cases very gruesome disasters) that result from the failure of technology to effectively connect to humans. Most of the disasters are not the result of a single point failure in the system or human interface, but multiple issues that often interact to result in unanticipated consequences. In one instance, an individual receives more than 125 times the prescribed dose of radiation therapy due to a poor interface for delivering the doses, coupled with the fact that the screaming patient was in a different location from the technician, the video monitor in the patient’s room was not plugged in and the voice intercom between rooms was not working. Needless to say, the patient died a slow, agonizing death. When you read these stories you can’t help but be bewildered by the poor design of technology and the lack of consideration of the human user. These true stories inspire me to help make systems that are useable, resilient and safe for humans. – Nancy Cooke, professor, The Polytechnic School, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

‘Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,’ by Barbara Ehrenreich; and ‘The Working Poor: Invisible in America,’ by David Shipler

I think it is important to have a deeper understanding of poverty (for those of us lucky enough not to have experienced it firsthand), and several books could contribute to that knowledge.  I was seriously moved by Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.”  She is a writer who attempted to adopt the lifestyle of the working poor and found she just couldn’t make it.  Another widely read book is “The Working Poor: Invisible in America” by David Shipler, who looks at a range of such situations. – Chuck Redman, Distinguished Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; and professor and founding director of the School of Sustainability

‘The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention,’ by David Orr

I require Sustainable Cities students to read David Orr's “The Nature of Design.”  Although a “classic” (13 years old) in the field of sustainability, the variety of topics runs the gamut from Slow Knowledge to Loving Children, very thought-provoking and relevant to current concerns. – Brigitte Bavousett, student recruitment/retention specialist, School of Sustainability

‘Making News in the Digital Age: Everybody's Talking But Nobody's Listening,’ by Steve Garagiola

Media careers can be both exciting and challenging. From the long hours to frequent moves, this book helps you balance your professional and personal life. It has helpful tools and advice to give you guidance in your career, whether you work in a newsroom, a marketing agency or a small business. “Making News in the Digital Age” is a great introduction for students entering the news and media business. – Ian MacSpadden, director of broadcast engineering and operations, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

‘The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,’ by Thom Hartmann

There are a variety of books on climate change that have reached the mass market and are quite readable.  Of course, if you have not seen the movie (and even if you have), Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” is worth the time to read (or watch) and I believe has helped move the world.  A bit more academic is Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers,” which tries to put the history, science and future options all into context.  A bit less academic and preachier is Thom Hartmann’s “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight.” – Chuck Redman, Distinguished Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; and professor and founding director of the School of Sustainability

'Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World,' by Peter H. Diamandis 

I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the future of business and the future of technology, anyone who maybe feels stuck and lacking creativity for the next step, and certainly aspiring entrepreneurs who want to make a dent in the universe. The authors introduce core concepts that guide the evolution of technology and adoption of technology, they introduce some bold players who offer major inspiration, and then they give you some thoughts and tips on how to "be bold" yourself. So far this read has sparked tons of ideas and inspirations large and small for me, and I think this could inspire all kinds of people to view your world, your business and your impact in a new light. – Sidnee Peck, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, W.P. Carey School of Business

What did we miss?

Are you a member of the ASU community with a great book recommendation? E-mail it to and we'll run another installment of our summer reading list in the coming weeks.

Joe Kullman, Sharon Keeler, Joseph Giordano, Maureen Roen, Nicole Greason, Michelle Schwartz and Elizabeth Farquhar contributed to this story.