The Booklover’s Guide to Bliss


Could there be anything better than books wholeheartedly recommended by Drew faculty, thebest-read people on the planet? Actually, there is: knowing full well they can’t test you on them.

Edited by Amy Vames

Patrick Phillips
The Omnivore’s Dilemma
by Michael Pollan, Penguin, 2007

I was so engrossed while reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma that the book and the questions it raises were all I could talk about for weeks. Friends rolled their eyes every time we sat down to eat as I ruminated on the path each item on the menu had taken to reach our plates. The book is not a zealot’s manifesto, but a model of the best kind of creative nonfiction: factual, personal, funny, dramatic and deeply engaged with our moment. This book changed my life.

Molly W. Crowther
by Marjane Satrapi, Pantheon, 2004

This black-and-white graphic novel, now also a film, taught me much about the history of Iran, from emperor to shah to Islamic regime.

Perry Leavell
Amusing the Million
by John F. Kasson, Hill & Wang, 1978

Amusing the Million tells the story of the founding, expansion and collapse of Coney Island as an amusement park, while offering insights into the nature of popular entertainment and culture in America. I’ve assigned this book in my first-year seminar on the history of New York City for more than 20 years, and it never fails to excite and provoke student discussion.

Marc Tomljanovich
by Michael Lewis, W.W. Norton & Company, 2003

Moneyball is largely about Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s, and how his belief in sabermetrics has helped make the A’s an outstanding team. Typically, team managers and scouts hire players based on gut feelings; sabermetrics—the use of statistics to analyze baseball and its players—strips that away and uses players’ statistics to predict how well they will play. I now look at the game in a whole new light, and I’ve assigned this book for my econometrics class this fall.

John Lenz
Why I Am Not a Christian
by Bertrand Russell, Simon & Schuster, 1957

In this book, Bertrand Russell sets out the case for atheism and for freedom of thought generally. He refutes attempts to “prove” the existence of God using reason. More provocatively, he argues that Christianity is an “enemy of moral progress in the world.” Today, we know that religious dogmatism is a factor in wars and violence, but we refrain (even in universities) from criticizing or openly debating religion itself.

Required Reading

Each summer, incoming first-year students read an assigned book and share deep thoughts on it during Orientation Week.

  • Class of 2012
    by Michael Crichton, HarperCollins, 2006
  • Class of 2011
    Mountains Beyond Mountains
    by Tracy Kidder, Random House, 2003
  • Class of 2010
    The Periodic Table
    by Primo Levi, Schocken Books, 1984
  • Class of 2009
    The Kite Runner
    by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead, 2003
  • Class of 2008
    Interpreter of Maladies
    by Jhumpa Lahiri, Houghton Mifflin, 1999


Bruce Reynolds
All Over but the Shoutin’
by Rick Bragg, Pantheon, 1997

All Over but the Shoutin’ is about how the author, who grew up in abject poverty in southern Alabama, called on his storytelling abilities to eventually become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times. Bragg is among today’s best storytellers, not to mention observers. I give extra credit to any student who reads it.

Chris Apelian
Man’s Search for Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl, Beacon Press, 2006

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, recounts his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp and remarks on the difference in attitude between those individuals who were able to survive the horrors forced upon them and those who succumbed to despair or, worse, to indecency. One comes away with a great respect for Frankl, a survivor of horrible atrocities, who was able to shape from his own experience a meaning from which we all can benefit.

Jennifer Heise
Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation
by Olivia Judson, Holt, 2002

This is a book I show everyone I know. Olivia Judson’s alter ego, Dr. Tatiana (a Dr. Ruth for the animal kingdom), addresses the sex concerns of perfectly normal, though unusual, creatures. From the stick insects that copulate for 10 weeks to the pseudophallic female hyena, Dr. Tatiana’s subjects fascinate and educate us about the evolutionary “battle of the sexes,” in which females aren’t always chaste, nor males always promiscuous. Who wouldn’t be interested in the spoon worm who takes up residence inside his mate, or the wanking iguanas? Though anthropomorphic, Judson’s writing is firmly rooted in science. It’s a fascinating introduction to modern evolutionary biology.

Barbara Coe
The Weather Makers
by Tim Flannery, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005

Flannery, a paleontologist as well as a geologist and climatologist, focuses on how the rising level of carbon dioxide is changing the earth’s climate, and advocates eliminating as much of it from the planet as possible. I found it a highly readable book about an issue that affects us all.

Fred Curtis
The Shock Doctrine
by Naomi Klein, Holt, 2007

This book thoroughly documents the rise of free-market capitalism in nations where the majority of the population rejects it. It is a particularly effective consideration of the legacy of Milton Friedman and the extension of neoliberalism in such nations as Chile, Argentina, South Africa and Russia. It helped me understand the politics of capitalism in a way I never have before.

Pamela Gunter-Smith
A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini, Riverhead, 2007

Reading this book, which is set in Afghanistan, is almost like looking out from a burqa at life, especially during Taliban rule. I loved the richness and complexity of the female characters who had to live in this environment—the most rewarding part of the book is the interaction between them. There are some brutal passages, but if you focus on those, you’ve lost the best part of the book.

Mercedes Solana Aspinall
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne, David Fickling Books, 2006

Though it’s cataloged as juvenile fiction, I believe anyone with a child’s heart can read this book and love it as I did. It deals with Nazi Germany in a completely different way—through the eyes of a nine-year-old who is unaware that his father runs one of the most horrific concentration camps in Germany. The story is innocent, yet so tragic.

Tiphanie Yanique
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
by Claudia Rankine, Graywolf Press, 2004

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely crosses genre, sometimes feeling like memoir, sometimes like poetry, fiction or political commentary. The writing is stunning. It’s about a woman who is worried about her health, which leads her to question the health-care industry in America. I think Rankine is just brilliant in how she asks the reader to examine humanity.

Debra Liebowitz
In the Time of the Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez, Plume, 1995

This novel is a powerful account of the resistance of the Mirabal sisters to the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961. The Mirabal sisters were instrumental in Trujillo’s eventual overthrow, and this book beautifully examines the interactions of gender, power and politics. While set largely in the 1950s, this account of the Mirabal sisters’ actions is a very contemporary story about the misuse of political power and the complexities and importance of challenging such abuses.

List of Faculty

Chris Apelian
Associate professor of mathematics and computer scienceMercedes Solana Aspinall
Adjunct lecturer of Spanish Barbara Coe
Coordinator, Department of Psychology

Molly W. Crowther
Assistant professor of chemistry

Fred Curtis
Professor of economics 

Pamela Gunter-Smith

Provost and academic vice presidentJennifer Heise
Web manager and reference librarianPerry Leavell
William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History
John Lenz
Associate professor of classicsDebra Liebowitz
Associate professor of political science and women’s studies  Patrick Phillips
Assistant professor of English

Bruce Reynolds
Adjunct lecturer of English 

Marc Tomljanovich
Associate professor of economicsTiphanie Yanique
Assistant professor of English

Book Recommendations

Now it’s your turn to tell the Drew community about books none of us should miss.

The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak

The story is set in Nazi Germany, and is narrated by Death, who doesn’t really like his job, but knows it has to be done. He is following the life of Liesel Meininger, who starts the story riding a train with her brother to a foster family, because their mother can no longer care for them. Despite the identity of the narrator, it is not a morbid book–it is a book about struggle, compassion, the many ways love can manifest itself, and the power of words. The writing is superb and the descriptive imagery is often surprising, but quite evocative. Do not be put off by the fact that you may have to look in the “Young Adult” section to find this book–the title character may start out young, but the book’s writing and themes will be appreciated as much or more by its adult readers.

–Christina McKittrick

In Defense of Food

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”This is the framework upon which Michael Pollan (“Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “The Botany of Desire”, etc.) develops and builds the narrative of his newest release. Pollan’s proposal sounds simple, but it may be surprisingly complicated, if only in that it requires a complete revolution in American food industry policies and in some of our (read: the majority of American consumers’) priorities. Pollan reminds us that we need to learn that it may be worth it to spend a seemingly exorbitant amount of money in order to better (more healthily, satisfyingly) nourish our bodies. In addition, he touches on the achingly contemporary issues of environmental sustainability and human health in a way that is certainly reminiscent, and even repetitive at times, of “Omnivore’s Dilemma”. However, “In Defense of Food” remains a refreshing account of many contemporary American eating habits and Pollan’s interpretation of the reasoning behind them.

–Katie Overgaard

fragile things by Neil Gaiman

Now I may be biased, as I was a huge Gaiman fan before I got this book, but this must be one of my favorites. It’s a collection of short stories, some tying in with others later in the book, some just another random tangent, and all haunting, well written, and entertaining as anything. The book is great for being able to pick it up any time, read a story, (or two or three) and come back to it whenever. If you haven’t read any Niel Gaiman books, I reccomend you start.

–Justin Jackson

American Psycho

This is a chilling story of a psychotic man living a double life. By day, Patrick Bateman is a successful upper-class businessman. By night, however, he is a serial killer. Living through his eyes is one of the most amazingly frightening experiences, and the way his mind works is unbelievable!

–Melissa Levinsky

The Speed of Dark

Elizebeth Moon’s all too possible tale, is the story of an austic savant, suddenly coersed into a treatment to “make him normal”. Her passionate account of the struggle between independence and idenity, is one of the best dramas I have seen in a long time.
As a disabled person, I could relate on so many levels. How much of our lives are chosen? How much time do we spend trying to conform? What is the nature of Choice?
Is Independce a means or an end? These were just a few of the questions raised is this thought provoking drama.


James Gustave Speth’s The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability

James Gustave Speth’s The Bridge at the End of the World: Capitalism, the Environment and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (Yale, 2008) is a clear, concise and yet comprehensive treatment of our current environmental situation and its economic dimensions. With his discussion of consumption, corporations, globalization and their impact on the eco-system, Speth presents a very useful overview of where we are today. He also discusses solutions that go beyond the usual tinkering-with-the-system approach. An excellent book for people who want to understand the economy-environment connection, but are wary of books on economics. I also recommend David R. Loy’s Money Sex War Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution (Wisdom Publications, 2008). His presentation of basic tenets of Buddhism—particularly no-existence and the four noble truths—supports an interesting and provocative treatment of issues raised in the title. Of particular interest are chapters on war, consumerism, power, fame and money. Each chapter reads like a well-thought-out dharma talk. This book will be of interest to both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. The foundational chapter on the “lack” people feel in themselves is particularly important.

–Fred Curtis, professor of economics

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen Minutes (Atria, 2007) by Jodi Picoult is a novel about a school shooting that illustrates the impact of social interactions and behaviors on choices made and their consequences. Fairly disturbing and at times uncomfortable, but very relevant.

–Pamela Gunter-Smith, provost and academic vice president

The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery

In the Fall 2008 issue of Drew Magazine, I recommended The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery, but he also wrote another wonderful book, The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples (Grove, 2002) about the evolution of the flora and fauna of North America based on the fossil record.

–Barbara Coe, coordinator, Department of Psychology

Like Trees, Walking by Ravi Howard

Ravi Howard’s novel Like Trees, Walking (Amistad, 2008) Is based on real events of 1980s Alabama. Roy, the main character, is the youngest in a line of African-American morticians. A violent day in his idyllic community leads him to confront death in a personal and spiritual way. It’s a fast and relentless read. I also recommend Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (Harper Perennial, 2005), a novel about finding love amid fear and war. It’s also about the humanizing of the enemy. For these two reasons it seems important given our current global reality.

–Tiphanie Yanique, assistant professor of English

Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John Sarno, M.D.

Read it and you’ll never have back pain or any other muscle pain again.

–Jerome Travers, adjunct assistant professor of medical humanities, Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Penguin, 2006) by Jared Diamond is filled with detailed case studies of societies that pushed themselves to, if not over, the brink of ecological collapse. It illustrates how a series of decisions, seemingly logical and called for by certain criteria, can destroy a society. Sometimes it seems that a lesson like that is easier learned when looking at the past, but Diamond never lets the reader forget for long the contemporary overtones. It is not a topic that we want to think about, but one we can’t afford not to.

–Laurel Kearns, associate professor of sociology of religion and environmental studies, Theological School and Graduate Division of Religion

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