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Required (re)reading

Northeastern leaders reflect on books that have influenced their thinking — and are newly relevant today.

Patricia J. Williams
University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities

Ethical Loneliness: The Injustice of Not Being Heard
Jill Stauffer
Columbia University Press, 2015, 240p

Why it’s relevant now: Stauffer aspires to find the path to reconciliation, repair, and civic health — providing insight and sustenance at a moment when the world feels visited by every last one of the biblical plagues.

Why it’s worth reading anytime: It links the experiences of persecution, extreme loneliness, and public abandonment. It’s a careful reminder of our ethical responsibility to respond to each other’s humanity.


Ted Landsmark
Distinguished Professor of Public Policy; Director, Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy

Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age 
Lizbeth Cohen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019, 560p

Why it’s relevant now: This biography of an urban policymaker who revived New Haven, Boston, and New York — by destroying parts of their souls — provides insights into approaches to avoid while planning for post-pandemic recovery and renaissance.

Why it’s worth reading anytime: It addresses the need for thoughtful racial, class, and cultural inclusivity in rebuilding communities.


Uta Poiger
Dean, College of Social Sciences and Humanities; Professor of History

The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison
1970 (Vintage reprint edition 2007, 206p)

Why it’s relevant now: The Nobel Prize winner’s first novel is a powerful meditation on the destructive power of notions of physical beauty, gender, sexuality, and race.

Why it’s worth reading anytime: Drawing singular characters with compelling language, imagery, and narrative, Morrison makes us think about injustice and possibility. 


Aziza Ahmed
Professor of Law

Gay Priori: A Queer Critical Legal Studies Approach to Law Reform
Libby Adler
Duke University Press, 2018, 288p

Why it’s relevant now: As we grapple with reform of policing, elections, housing, and public health, we need to understand how the law can help distribute and redistribute goods and services. This book helps us think about progressive, realistic law reform.

Why it’s worth reading anytime: It’s theoretical and accessible, a critical but practical take on law.


Bill Coen
Head Coach, Men’s Basketball

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
Ryan Holiday
Portfolio, 2014, 224p

Why it’s relevant now: The world is exploding with obstacles: social and economic injustices, a pandemic, and political unrest. This book, based on the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism, shows how to turn these obstacles into successes and empowerment by seeing them as opportunities to grow, learn, and evolve.

Why it’s worth reading anytime: With life comes struggle, and this book shows how to turn adversity into advantage.


Ralph C. Martin, II
Senior Vice President and General Counsel

The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians
David M. Rubinstein
Simon and Schuster, 2019, 416p

Why it’s relevant now: The author interviewed celebrated biographers of American history-makers who were crucial to our democracy. Our challenges now are the most difficult I’ve ever witnessed. How we make decisions now will also be the subject of a great deal of future review and criticism.

Why it’s worth reading anytime: Rubenstein’s conversations with each biographer reveal the subjects’ motivations, flaws, failures, and successes.


Dan Cohen
Vice Provost for Information Collaboration; Dean, University Library; Professor of History

Loving Day
Mat Johnson
Spiegel & Grau, 2015, 304p

Why it’s relevant now: This novel, named for a celebration of the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that decriminalized interracial marriage, explores what it’s like to be multiracial in modern America and how race and racism shape culture and society.

Why it’s worth reading anytime: It’s frequently hilarious, as the characters awkwardly come to grips with their identities and relationships.

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