Summer reading

As the summer workshops wind down and summer vacations begin in the education department, we have found ourselves each year sharing our summer reading plans. Last summer, we discussed the topic in our online community group for history educators, and received many wonderful ideas for history teachers and history enthusiasts. This year, we thought we’d share our reading plans or recent favorites here on the blog. Leave us a comment and let us know what’s on your list!

From Jenny Wei:
I recently read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I was interested in it because I consider myself an introvert and wanted to learn a bit more about some of the research into personalities like mine. I’d recommend it for teachers because it has a great chapter on supporting introverted kids. For a preview of the author and her central points, take a look at Cain’s talk for TED.

From Matt Hoffman:
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
In Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand enthrallingly tells the true story of Louis Zamperini. The story starts in 1917 and weaves through historical events (i.e., 1936 Berlin Olympics and WWII) in interesting ways, taking the reader on an emotional rollercoaster ride—from glory to the brink of death…several times. It makes for a great and quick summer read. To learn more about this book and hear from Laura Hillenbrand, see this NPR interview.

From Erin Anderson:
I just read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a work of fiction, interwoven with biology and nature, in this case moths and the American Chestnut tree. A major plot point of the book is that the American Chestnut went nearly extinct due to an invasive fungi in the early part of the 20th century, so now all the fully grown chestnuts in the United States are Asiatic varieties. (American Chestnuts can still grow to about chest high on a man before the blight gets them.)

However, there are a very few stands of American Chestnuts scattered around the U.S. I specifically made a trip to the Accokeek Foundation (the viewshed from Mount Vernon) because I saw on a map that they have a stand of chestnuts and I thought they might be old growth ones that survived the blight. Sadly, the trees were not old growth, but were just saplings that hadn’t yet been decimated. I did learn that there is a stand of 2,500 in western Wisconsin, so I’m on a quest to see those by the end of the summer. A lot of early America was built on those chestnut trees.

From Naomi Coquillon:
At the moment, my pleasure reading is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island —a classic I had yet to read and am enjoying fully. Given the recent bicentennial of the beginning of the War of 1812 and the 2014 anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore, my next read may be Alan Taylor’s The Civil War of 1812 (though at over 600 pages, I doubt this will be my beach reading!). I look forward to hearing his reexamination of the War of 1812 as a civil war among similar peoples (not as the second war for independence, as it is often described), but also to his style, which is more descriptive and character-based than most academic works. I am also planning to read Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets . In this piece from the PBS NewsHour, Sandel introduces his basic premise, about how we have moved from “having a market economy to becoming a market society,” which I think would be a useful one for teachers of economics and government.

From Carrie Kotcho:
Currently I’m doing a bit of escapist reading and thoroughly enjoying, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Knights and armor and magic make for great beach reading as far as I’m concerned. Right before that I read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, a must-read for folks interested in social justice issues. NPR did an interesting author interview with Ms. Alexander back in January. I’ve just ordered The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death by Harvard professor Jill Lepore. I like reading Lepore’s work because she is not afraid to ask big questions.

What are you looking forward to reading this summer? What do you recommend to fellow educators and history enthusiasts? Share your thoughts in the comments section!