Social Science Staff Selections for Summer–Sweet!

Summer is for relaxation and reading–and, if you are an incoming Berkeley student, there is a wonderful summer reading list, complete with links to previous lists (going back 30 years!) It made us in the Social Sciences Division wonder, what are our colleagues reading this summer?  The answers are quite wonderful….

Short reads guaranteed to wake you up if you’re not already woke.

A Billion Black Anthropocenes or NoneKathryn Yusoff – a concise, theoretical volume at the intersection of Black feminist theory and earth sciences that makes the point that geology, as currently defined in discussions of the Anthropocene, is a White construction that erases black and brown slavery, exploitation and objectification that created conditions now being referred to as the “anthropocene.”

Extinction: A Radical HistoryAshley Dawson – a materialist analysis of of extinction theory that places capitalism at the heart of environmental degradation and the attack on the global commons.  A response to those who, in the words of Andrew Ross, “have drunk the Kool-Aid of green capitalism.”

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyTimothy Snyder – A Yale historian synthesizes lessons learned by deep exploration of capitalist and communist dictatorships into this very concise volume of “lessons” in preparation for the atacks against democracy heralded by the arrival of Trump to office.

Zen in the Art of Permaculture DesignStefan Geyer – brief Zen meditations and thoughts related to the practice of permaculture — design agricultural thinking in the service of the planet and humanity.

ANN G:  

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?Roz Chast

It’s always amazing to me how New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast gets to the heart of an issue with her dark, dry and hysterically funny perspective. In this graphic memoir she treats us to her wry, poignant, and totally on-the-mark observations about the aging of her parents. While this book can sometimes be tough to read, it also is endlessly thought-provoking and an unforgettable laugh-out-loud page-turner.


To the End of the LandDavid Grossman

A brilliant, immersive journey with an Israeli mother hiking cross-country with one heartfelt goal– to not be home when the “notifiers” come to deliver the news of her beloved son, serving in the Israeli Army. As Colm Toibin’s review in the NYTimes states, “To say this is an antiwar book is to put it too mildly, and in any case such labels do an injustice to its great sweep, the levels of its sympathy.” It’s an incredibly moving exploration of the depth of parental love and the true cost of war.


Trail of Lightning Rebecca Roanhorse

Here’s a great fiction suggestion, which I read last year.  The author is an up and coming super star, she is Native American, and her post-apocalyptic fiction takes place with an all Native American cast, which gives a bit of a different flair to your standard post-apocalyptic piece. It’s a page turner!!  Her sequel, Swarm of Locusts, was published a few weeks ago and I already devoured it.


Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won’t Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About ItSarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, and Sinikka Elliott

Social scientists wanted to understand what it takes for working families to get food on the table—but 150 interviews weren’t enough. So they followed 12 North Carolina families around as they fought, played, shopped, and barbecued together. The result is a lively picture of what it takes to get food on the table while working, among all the pressures on women to cook “right” for their families. Stories from nine families are woven together in a critique of the easy advice we all get: shop smarter, make time, know what’s on your plate. This very readable book concludes with practical tips to make home cooking work better in your real American life.


Coming-of-age memoirs by stand-up comedians are a guilty pleasure. Bonus points if the words “gritty,” “harrowing” or “deeply affecting” can be used to describe them. Among the recent standouts in this genre: The Last Black Unicorn in which Tiffany Haddish covers everything from mental illness (her mother’s) and foster care to intimate partner violence and homelessness. Yes, this memoir is classified under “humor.”  In Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Daily Show host Trevor Noah describes growing up mixed race in the township of Soweto during the early post-apartheid era. The real hero of the story? Noah’s remarkable and willful mother Patricia.  How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents by Jimmy O. Yang. What immigrant story doesn’t involve learning English by watching BET RapCity, DJing at a strip club and driving Uber before hitting it big in Hollywood? (Okay, this memoir is not exactly harrowing but it’s definitely laugh-out-loud funny.)


In the Distance Hernan Diaz 

This is the story of a Swedish immigrant wandering through the 19th century American West, trying to reach New York from California in search of his brother. He doesn’t know the language to easily communicate with those he meets along the way nor does he know what to expect as he travels across the country. The book fully portrays this isolation and the descriptions of the landscape are beautifully written. Nominated for Pulitzer Prize in 2018


Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary is a fascinating sweep of the rise and heyday of Islam-based empires and cultures. The title says it all, I cannot add more to that description.

For summer armchair travel through a land and culture that was, not so very long ago, full of great hope and promise, check out Eric Newby’s delightful  A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.


The Terror Dan Simmons

In 1845, Captain Sir John Franklin led an expedition to find the North-West Passage. With 134 men aboard the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, he set sail for the Arctic. No one heard from them again. This historical fiction focuses on what could have happened to the crew as they faced the environment, starvation, and an unknown creature hunting them down. It’s horror exploring the consequences of hubris, class tensions, and just general bad ideas. It’s also the basis of a great mini-series, also called The Terror, that came out last year.

The Dark Forest Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen

I will not stop until more people read the Remembrance of Earth trilogy. But if you can only pick one 500+ page entry, make it The Dark Forest. The follow-up to The Three Body Problem, Earth faces an upcoming alien invasion that plans to wipe out humanity. How can the planet protect itself when the the aliens can monitor all information exchanged? And why does the  best hope for survival lie in a … cosmic anthropologist? Read not just for the sci-fi action, which there is plenty, but for deep conversations on who has the right to be saved, who can be trusted, and why you probably shouldn’t get up close to shiny metal space objects.

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories Carmen Maria Machado

Sure, I can talk about the retelling of the story of the girl with green ribbon, told from the perspective of the girl. Or the story of the woman who takes extremes to lose weight. But let me ask you this: have you not wanted capsule summaries of 272 episodes of Law and Order: SVU? Will the unit solve this murder? Will Benson and Stabler act on all that sexual tension? Why are all these ghost girls with bells for eyes hanging out in Benson’s apartment?? It’s called “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU”, and it’s in Her Body and Other Parties. You should read it.