UC Berkeley News
Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Freshmen summer reading list released

– Robinson Crusoe has something to say to incoming freshman at the University of California, Berkeley. So does Sir Ernest Shackleton and Charles Darwin.

Their tales of adventure and wonder are among the dozen books selected this year for the unofficial UC Berkeley Summer Reading List for incoming freshmen. This year's list, on the theme of "Great Discoveries, Voyages and Adventures," isn't required reading, but simply provides recommendations for a good read.

"The books are really something (those recommending them) enjoyed and think other people should read," said Steve Tollefson, a lecturer in the College Writing Programs and faculty development coordinator in the Office of the Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Tollefson helps assemble the annual reading list.

Each year, he selects members of the campus community to recommend titles. Each person provides short commentary on why a particular book is good. This year, for example, incoming freshman are pointedly urged by Louise Fortmann, chairwoman of the Department of Environmental Science Policy & Management's Division of Society and Environment, to get the unexpurgated version of "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe.

That version, she explains in her commentary, is an "unexpected adventure across time and space," that goes into detail about Crusoe's experience as a slave in the Middle East and "especially shocking, about how Crusoe sold the fellow slave who helped him escape back into slavery" and other details that don't necessarily make it into the children's version.

"What Defoe took for granted was frequently surprising," Fortmann wrote. "It will give you plenty to think about."

This year's list also includes:

  • "Pompeii: A Novel," by Robert Harris (2003)
  • "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," by Jared Diamond (2005)
  • "Gertrude Bell: The Arabian Diaries, 1913-1914," edited by Rosemary O'Brien, with photographs by Gertrude Bell (2000)
  • "The Armada," by Garrett Mattingly (1959)
  • "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex," by Nathaniel Philbrick (2000)
  • "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," by Mary Roach (2003)
  • "Voyage of the Beagle," by Charles Darwin (1909)
  • "The Informant: A True Story," by Kurt Eichenwald (2000)
  • "River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze," by Peter Hessler (2002)
  • "The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition," by Caroline Alexander (1998)
  • "The Gene Hunters: Biotechnology and the Scramble for Seeds," by Calestous Juma (1989)

Since the summer reading list started in 1985, the recommendations have run the gamut from "Winnie the Pooh" to "Crime and Punishment," and are organized around a central theme, such as 2002's list of "Banned Books," or last year's "Now That's Funny." Past lists are available online at reading.berkeley.edu.

"This year, we have something completely different. This seemed like a cool topic," Tollefson said. "I'm really pleased with the recommendations."

The reading list project is co-sponsored by The Teaching Library, the Office of the Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and the College Writing Programs.

Tollefson said he likes the idea that UC Berkeley has a list that's unofficial, unlike some other colleges and universities that require incoming freshman to read certain books before they arrive.

"It's meant to be a lighter touch," he said. "We like the fact that UC Berkeley tells people that we read - and we read for pleasure. I think that's important for people to know."