12 Books Universities Want You to Read this Summer | Top Universities

12 Books Universities Want You to Read this Summer

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated August 1, 2017 Updated August 1, 2017

Whether you’re sat on a long-haul flight about to go on holiday, by the beach in your favorite swimsuit or back at your parents’ house on the sofa, a good book is a must-have summer item. From bloody airport thrillers to riveting non-fiction, salacious romances to extraordinary sci-fi, there’s a book out there for everyone to explore and the endless hours of down-time until term starts again are the perfect opportunity to sink your teeth into something special.

Of course, some books are more useful to read than others, particularly ahead of another year at university. Not everyone receives a summer reading list from their tutors though, which is why it can be useful to know what other universities are recommending to their students. Here are some recommendations, based upon research from the New York Times, and a survey of universities conducted by Penguin Random House.


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

This memoir by the former lawyer Bryan Stevenson is one of the most popular summer reading picks for US universities, with at least 70 colleges over the past three years assigning it to incoming students. Tackling injustices in the legal system that Stevenson experienced first-hand, and focusing on the need for criminal justice reform, Just Mercy is compulsory reading for all of the incoming students at Ohio State this year.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, Evicted follows Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, as he embeds himself among eight struggling families in Milwaukee to learn more about their struggle to keep a roof over their heads. No one book can solve the housing problem in the US, but Desmond provides some fresh ideas which will transform your understanding of poverty.

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Transgender rights will continue to be a campus talking point in the years ahead, and the story reported by Nutt here is likely to inspire and raise awareness of how society’s long-held views on gender and identity are being challenged. Nutt spent four years researching the story of Wyatt Maines, an adopted twin boy who transitioned into the titular Nicole, and her family and the resulting story is incredible.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

While many of the selections so far have been books with a liberal viewpoint, Vance’s portrayal of the working-class white communities that elected Donald Trump as their president is essential reading no matter your political beliefs. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the universities to have this on their summer reading list, and Sheila Stoeckel, the director for teaching and learning programs at the university libraries, told the New York Times: “We’re picking books there aren’t easy answers for. If we picked a book that there was an easy answer for, it wouldn’t be as lively of a discussion or exploration.”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

A bestselling look at race in America, Between the World and Me is on the reading list at Tulane and at least nine other colleges. Written as a series of letters to his teenaged son, Coates’ memoir follows the evolution of his thinking on race, touching upon the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the tragic examples of Ferguson and Trayvon Martin.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson spent three years meeting with victims of high-profile public shamings, from those who were viciously trolled online to others who made a mistake and were demonized for it. Providing a rare and vital insight into the damage online trolls and the court of public opinion can do, Ronson’s book is bound to have you thinking twice before sending your next snarky tweet.


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

If you haven’t read this classic horror novel yet, now’s your chance. Forget all your preconceptions about the tale of Frankenstein’s monster as the real thing is a far cry from the lumbering green monster with two bolts in its neck and a big forehead. Shelley’s book remains as relevant as ever thanks to its views on technology and bioengineering, and is bound to provoke a wide range of talking points.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

If sci-fi is more your thing, Cline’s cult classic is a must-read. Set in 2044, in a world where most people spend all day in a virtual reality world rather than confront the ugliness of reality, the novel follows teenager Wade Watts as he searches for clues left behind by the virtual world’s creator. The only problem? He’s not the only one looking for them, and the others are willing to kill to get their prize.

Silence by Shusaku Endo

A popular book at religious colleges and universities, Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests who travel to 17th century Japan, a country hostile to their religion. It was recently adapted into a film by Martin Scorsese, who supposedly loved the book so much he had wanted to make it into a film for years.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle may have recently been adapted into a Hollywood film, but you’re better off reading the novel for a more complete version of Eggers’ story. Mae Holland is initially delighted to have secured a job working for The Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, but as time goes on she realizes all is not at it seems. With internet privacy and global surveillance more relevant as topics than ever, The Circle provides an ominous warning of where we may be heading.

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet

After going against her parents’ wishes and attending the ultra-elite Rawlings College, Lizet’s life changes when a young Cuban boy arrives in Miami, having fled his country on a raft. This novel is on the reading list at Elon University in North Carolina, among others.


Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Maybe poetry is more your thing? This meditation on race stacks incidents of racial aggression on top of each other, from slips of the tongue to the treatment of Serena Williams to shine a harsh light on the impact racism continues to have on society today.

This article was originally published in August 2017 .

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

+ 3 others
saved this article

+ 4 others saved this article

Explore Events

Get assisted by higher education experts

Our expert teams can help start your academic journey by guiding you through the application process.