COMMON GROUND

What top college students in the US are reading this summer

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Summer is in full swing in the US, which means it’s time for incoming college freshmen to start thinking about their required reading. Many of America’s top colleges assign a book to new students to ensure they’ll have a common topic to discuss when orientation rolls around. The selections for the class of 2021 range from J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of growing up in Appalachia that climbed to the top of reading lists during the contentious 2016 election, to Frankenstein, the Mary Shelley classic.

Duke University

Incoming freshmen are reading The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, a memoir by Richard Blanco growing up in a family of Cuban exiles in Miami during the 1970s. Duke also considered as finalists for the reading assignment:

  • Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me
  • J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy
  • Paul Beatty’s The Sellout
  • Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem
  • Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad

Georgetown University

Northwestern University

Incoming freshmen are assigned Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. Allen will deliver a keynote and sign books (all freshmen get a free copy) at Northwestern in October.

Pomona College

Stanford University

First-year and transfer students are asked to read three books on the theme of sustainability:

  • Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing
  • Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
  • Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley emphasizes that its summer reading list for new students is “not at all” homework, but rather “offered for you to peruse and read at your leisure.” The theme is “what can we change in a single generation?” and the full list contains 30 titles, including:

  • The soundtrack to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”
  • Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
  • Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies
  • George Orwell’s Why I Write
  • Saru Jayaraman’s Forked: A New Standard for American Dining

University of Michigan

The College of Engineering launched a “common reading experience” program for first-year students in 2013. This year the selection is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel To Be A Problem?

University of Pennsylvania

The class of 2021 is reading Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators for this year’s “Penn Reading Project.” Freshmen will attend a presentation and then meet in small groups to discuss the book.

Vanderbilt University

Washington University in St. Louis

Williams College

The class of 2021 is reading Just Mercy, a memoir by Bryan Stevenson about fighting for justice on death row. Ohio State and Loyola University also selected Just Mercy as their summer reading book, and Duke chose it in 2016.

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