The list isn't solely targeted at presidential wannabes:
"As soon as freshmen come to Berkeley, they can be considered tomorrow's leaders. In this case, 'presidents' really is a placeholder for leaders," said UC Berkeley's Steve Tollefson, a College Writing Programs lecturer and director of the Office of Educational Development, who puts together the annual list with Elizabeth Dupuis, head of Instructional Services at Moffitt Library.
UC Berkeley's always highly anticipated annual summer reading list has been compiled for more than 20 years and is included in freshmen orientation packets. It is dubbed "unofficial" because it's not required reading, but for enjoyment.
This year, Tollefson and Dupuis had originally aimed for a counterpoint to the National Conservative Weekly's list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries," which had included "The Feminine Mystique," "Silent Spring" and Darwin's "Origin of the Species."
But the theme became too complicated - should it be "Best Books," "Beneficial Books" or "Importantly Good Books"? They couldn't decide. And so they drew their inspiration from UC Berkeley astrophysicist Richard Muller's "Physics for Future Presidents," which covers physical concepts that Muller considers necessary prerequisites for living in today's complex world.
As hoped, the "Books for Future Presidents" theme drew a wide range of response from faculty who subscribe to Teach-net, a Berkeley campus e-mail list whose members discuss teaching issues. It also drew recommendations from faculty who are longtime fans of the list, as well as from several library groups.
In recommending Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything," Fiona Doyle, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering said, "Every well-educated person, including future presidents, should have some big-picture idea of this material."
As for other books that made the list, "American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia" may well have been a page-turner for Thomas Jefferson, were he alive today. Abraham Lincoln would likely be thrilled to know he inspired "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" on the list. "How to Lie with Statistics" is provocatively described as "a how-to manual for spin doctors." And "The Moral Sense" is called a "must read for anyone concerned about ethical conduct in both the public and private sectors."
And, speaking of behavior, "Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How To Do Business in Sixty Countries," is "Great for a traveling business person, a student on summer vacation or a year abroad, and of course, a president," according to G. Stuart Spence Jr., a member of UC Berkeley's Library Advisory Board.
Richard Black, UC Berkeley associate vice chancellor of admissions and enrollment, makes it a point to read one book from the list each summer. He's read "Snow Crash, "The English Patient" and "Pompei."
"I've never been disappointed," Black said. "A Short History of Nearly Everything" jumps out at him from this year's list. "And who knows?" he said. "Since I'm retiring this July, I may make a double hit on this year's list."
This year's picks are:
- "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century," by Thomas L. Friedman (2005)
- "The Year of Magical Thinking," by Joan Didion (2005)
- "Rose," by Li-Young Lee (1986)
- "The Moral Sense," by James Q. Wilson (1993)
- "A Short History of Nearly Everything," by Bill Bryson (2003)
- "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media," by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988)
- "Antigone," by Sophocles (originally written in 442 BC).
- "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005)
- "How to Lie with Statistics," by Darrell Huff (1954)
- "The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance," by Laurie Garrett (1994)
- "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," by Jon Krakauer (2003)
- "American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia," by Edmund Sears Morgan (1975)
- "Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: How To Do Business in Sixty Countries," by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden (1994)