Summer Reading Recommendations from Four Notre Dame Professors

Author: Shannon Rooney

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Want to read like a professor this summer? 

Whether you're looking for a gripping novel or want to build on your scientific knowledge, we've got you covered. Check out these summer reading recommendations by Notre Dame faculty and broaden your summer reading list. 


A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters by Andrew H. Knoll

Recommended by: Ani Aprahamian, Frank M. Freimann Professor of Physics

I loved it. The author is a geologist. He talks about the origin of water on planet Earth, the origin of life on Earth, and the evolution/aging/weathering of Earth throughout its 4.5-billion-year lifetime of the planet. The language of the book is engaging, compelling, and easily accessible to the non-scientist as well as the scientist. I am tempted to recommend it as a complement to my course "Earth Focus" that I will teach in the spring of 2022.


Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Recommended by: Don Howard, Professor of Philosophy

Barbara Kingsolver's novel, Flight Behavior, tells a story about monarch butterflies, driven by climate change, surprising scientists by suddenly moving their winter home from northern Mexico to the southern Appalachians.

It's a compelling story about science, the social impact of climate change on marginalized communities, media distortion and manipulation, and responsible science communication.

It's also a difficult tale about a poor family struggling to make its way in a rapidly changing world. Kingsolver's prose is beautiful, wryly comic at times, and always engaging. I use this book every year in my Summer Leadership Seminar on "The Environment: Science, Policy, and Ethics." It's always a big hit.


Milkman by Anna Burns

Recommended by: Sarah McKibben, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Irish Language and Literature, Fellow of Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies, Concurrent, Gender Studies

I am re-reading Anna Burn's Booker Prize winning novel, Milkman, in preparation for teaching "Sex and Power in Irish Literature: From Warrior Queens to Punk Poets" in the fall. This book is about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which are the topic of no less than TWO upcoming classes offered in Irish Studies.

Yet the book focuses more on the psychological effect that "hair-trigger" society has on the tart, skeptical female narrator, how she comes to understand gendered power dynamics, and how she defends herself from encroachments that cannot even properly be named.

Because the novel is written in beautiful, idiomatic English of Belfast, I usually offer students the option of listening to the exceptionally fine audiobook either instead of, or alongside, the paperback, which brings out the humor and musicality of the words.


5 Books 

Recommended by: Joseph Powers, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering; Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics

1. The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science by Andrew Wulf

This wonderful biography taught me much about a man who strongly influenced the world, both then and now. Humboldt was an explorer, author, and scholar who was a product and producer of the enlightenment.

2. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronin

This is history without individual people but with ideas: big ones. The author has a concept of nature and how human populations are part of it. He views cities as much a part of nature as forests and shows through the example of Chicago’s development how man and nature interact.

3. The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner

This is a wonderful history of a laboratory that shaped much of our modern world. The author argues that innovation may be a product of individuals, small groups, or large teams, and that there is no single way to nurture innovation.

4. The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life by Flann O'Brien

This novella is filled with satirical humor, but more so with sadness. O’Brien understands rural Ireland of the 1930s, skewers its sacred cows, all the while dealing tenderly with the sadness of poverty.

5. Shape: The Hidden Geometry of Information, Biology, Strategy, Democracy, and Everything by Jordan Ellenberg

This is a tour de force of how mathematics can be used to describe a surprising set of features of our modern world and in fact is driving our world. The author uses many of his methods honed in teaching to make a strong case for bringing mathematics into our world.