UC Berkley’s list of books for future Presidents

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
Thomas L. Friedman
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005

Although the message can be boiled down into fewer pages, a future President should understand that technology has created the opportunity for anyone in the world to perform tasks that used to be limited by geography. It sounds good for the world; is it good for the U.S.? We are the leader in offshoring. Despite information technology being one of the popular targets, IT jobs and salaries have actually increased. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we have more jobs in IT than in the height of the dot.com boom and IT salaries have grown 8% annually as compared to an annual increase of 2% in the consumer price index. The continued creation of new industries and new jobs depends on innovation. Given the greater competition, a future President should know that benefits to society of investing in research for science and engineering generally—and IT specifically—are at least as important for the 21st century as they have proven to be in the 20th century.

Dave Patterson
Pardee Professor of Computer Science


 

The Year of Magical Thinking
Joan Didion
New York: Knopf, 2005

This is a wonderful meditation on loss and grief, but also on a forty-year-long relationship between a man and a woman who spent hardly a day outside of each other’s company. It is also a superb illustration of a gifted writer’s way with words, style that is so limpid that it seems effortless, no style at all. Clarity of thought and expression are hallmarks of good prose. A president needs to express himself—or herself—well and, more importantly, needs to recognize and reward clarity of thought and expression in the words of others.

Charles Faulhaber
Professor, Spanish and Portuguese
James D. Hart Director, The Bancroft Library


 

Life and Fate
Vasilii Semenovich Grossman
New York: Harper & Row, 1986, ©1985

This is the greatest Russian novel of the 20th century and one of the six or seven greatest works of fiction of the century in the Western canon. In my humble opinion, this work is the single best exposition of the problem of totalitarianism and I think that the most important idea of the century is man as an individual and the role of the state.

Gifford Combs
Council of The Friends of the Bancroft Library


 

Rose
Li-Young Lee
Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1986

Rose, the debut book of poetry by Li-Young Lee, reveals the beauty in everyday life and the importance of coming to terms with our past. In each beautifully crafted poem, Lee uses concrete images—a rose, a peach, an apple—to evoke a wide range of emotions linked to heritage, culture, family, love, and loss. Many of Lee’s poems express the narrator’s complex and intimate relationship with his parents—especially his father. Keenly observant, the narrator learns about and from his parents and in the process comes to understand himself better. With simple and lyrical language, Lee invites us to take time to devour peaches, “from laden boughs, from hands,/from sweet fellowship in the bins” and “take what we love inside/…as if death were nowhere in the background.” Future leaders should heed Lee’s advice and stop to observe and enjoy that which in haste we often bypass. If only leaders read more poetry and fewer executive memos, the world would be a different—and I suspect better—place.

Luisa Giulianetti
Assistant Director, Student Learning Center


 

The Moral Sense
James Q. Wilson
New York: Free Press, 1993

This provocative book is a must read for anyone concerned about ethical conduct in both the public and private sectors.

Jim Spitze
Council of The Friends of the Bancroft Library


 

A Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson
New York: Broadway Books, 2003

Bill Bryson’s books exemplify summer reading; they are pure, unadulterated pleasure. One has to stop frequently to read aloud sections to whomever is around, not just to share the fun, but also to explain one’s uncontrollable laughing. However, this book goes far further. Without compromising his inimitable style, Bryson presents an unbelievably well-researched account of science and its discovery. He conveys pure wonder about the universe and its working, and introduces the reader to many of the idiosyncrasies and quirks of some of the giants of the technical world. Every well-educated person (including future presidents) should have some big-picture idea of this material, and I cannot imagine it being presented in a more enjoyable form.

Fiona M. Doyle
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Engineering
Professor, Materials Science and Engineering


 

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
New York: Pantheon Books, 2002, ©1988

An indispensable book on the media complicity in keeping the nation docile at a time of war—written during Vietnam, and just as timely today. Polemic, but thought provoking.

Robert Schechtman
Vice President of Academic Affairs, Graduate Assembly
Graduate student, German
Library Advisory Board


 

Antigone
Sophocles
New York: Oxford University Press, 2003
Online: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/31
(originally written in 442 BC).

Why? First, it lays out—in timeless fashion—the tensions and tradeoffs leaders (and their followers) face around the exercise of authority vs. obedience to higher moral principles. Second, it does so in the context of a struggle between maintaining order and security in civil society, while preserving fundamental notions of justice and honor. Third, it probes the perils of pride and arrogance by leaders who easily confuse their will and power with what’s best for their state. (King Lear would be an alternate choice.) And fourth, it’s short.

John Danner
Lecturer, Haas School of Business


 

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Doris Kearns Goodwin
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005

A wonderful analysis of why Lincoln was our greatest president, and a striking illustration of the old adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Midge Zischke
Council of The Friends of the Bancroft Library



How to Lie with Statistics
Darrell Huff
New York: Norton, 1993, © 1954

This readable little book is a diamond: sparkling compressed wisdom, with perfect clarity and entertaining color. It will change how you read the newspaper forever. It has no formulae, but equips you to see through misleading ways of collecting and presenting quantitative evidence. And, Madame President-to-be, it is a how-to manual for spin doctors.

Philip Stark
Professor, Statistics


 

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
Laurie Garrett
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994

Despite the optimism of the sixties it is clear now that infectious diseases will continue to cause widespread death and suffering both in the developing and the developed world. As this book explains we hold in our hands the ability to change this. Written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Laurie Garrett, this book is also a great example of how science and journalism can be successfully combined. The story is not oversimplified but presented clearly in a thoroughly well researched and documented way with over one hundred pages of notes and references. Despite the length this book is always readable and more gripping than many novels. Although it predates SARS, West Nile virus, and the recent avian flu events it is still the definitive work describing how diseases are affected by our actions and what we can do to change this.

John Latto
Lecturer, Environmental Sciences and Integrative Biology

 


 

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer
New York: Doubleday, 2003

Given the importance of faith and religion in contemporary politics, both domestically and internationally, Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven couldn’t be more appropriate for the theme of “Future Presidents.” Krakauer provides a well-researched historical overview of the fastest growing religion in the Western Hemisphere, Mormonism, while simultaneously telling a riveting story of a religiously inspired double murder. Not only do readers gain insight into how and why fundamentalist sects develop from a given religion, but they also come to understand that religious fundamentalism is not merely limited to specific religions (e.g., Islamic fundamentalism) or underdeveloped regions of the world, but exists today in the American heartland.

Geoffrey Barker
Lecturer, German

 


 

American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia
Edmund Sears Morgan
New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003, © 1975

A beautifully written study of the relationship of slavery to democracy. Although it is about the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in America, it has a relevance to our own concerns today.

Robert Middlekauff
Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History, Emeritus

 


 

Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How To Do Business in Sixty Countries
Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden
Holbrook, MA: B. Adams, 1994

This book has a few pages on most countries in the world that one would visit, for business or pleasure, and tells you about the social rules so that you know how to behave. Great for a traveling business person, a student on summer vacation or a year abroad, and of course, a president.

G. Stuart Spence, Jr.
Library Advisory Board

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