When asked what you would do if you had a free day with no commitments or long to-do lists, for many the likely answer would be sitting outside and reading.
There is something appealing about spending a few hours in the sunshine immersing yourself in a good book, whether it is a piece of fiction, an autobiography or a collection of essays.
If you’re looking for something new to read this summer, take a look at the recommendations from university students below.
Shubham Gupta, MBA, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is an autobiographical memoir about the author’s battle with stage IV lung cancer. In this poignant book, the author chronicles the journey of how his quest towards understanding the meaning of life led him from studying literature to becoming a neurosurgeon.
When Paul is diagnosed with cancer at the age of 36, he is devastated to see his future disappear before him. The epilogue to the book, written by the author’s wife Lucy, is an extremely moving take on Paul’s life.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin is the second book I picked up over the summer. This is a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the life of Abraham Lincoln focusing on the Civil War and his actions while he was president of the United States.
Goodwin provides a riveting account of the Civil War, however, the focus is on the personality of Abraham Lincoln and his ability to manage a cabinet of three other men with conflicting personalities for the interests of the nation. Lincoln’s mastery in negotiations and his ability to build good relationships is highlighted through his role in abolishing slavery in the United States. By the time you finish the book, you’ll be sure to understand why Lincoln is considered one of the most influential American presidents of all time.
Raphaëlle Soffe, social sciences, Harvard University
I have been in Hong Kong for a Harvard Summer School run by Harvard faculty, taking two classes. For these classes, I have had to read a number of books, including one called The Wilsonian Moment written by Harvard professor Erez Manela. Other books include a unique insight into Hong Kong life through Uneasy Reunions by Nicole DeJong Newendorp, and a collection of primary sources by Chinese writers in Land Without Ghosts by R. David Arkush and Leo O. Lee.
I’ve also tried to keep up reading for pleasure on the long MTR (the underground in Hong Kong) rides or on a bench in front of Victoria Harbour. Sometimes I just walk into the university library and wander the aisles for that one book that catches my eye. Other times, I read for a deep personal reason.
For example, I have thoroughly enjoyed Max Weber and Islam by Toby E Huff and Wolfgang Schluchter, paired with Islam and Revolution by Henry Munson. These readings are inspired by a close friend I have at Harvard, who is Muslim, and through our conversations, I have come to realise how incompetent my knowledge is surrounding Islam.
Occasionally I find books with graphs and theories integrated into the text; these books are thought-provoking and engaging. The Shadow Economy by F. Schneider has proven a light but impactful and dynamic read.
Wilfred Elegba, plant science, ETH Zurich
How NOT to DIE by Michael Gregor examines the top causes of premature death, cancers, diabetes and heart diseases and how nutrition (especially plant-based diets) and lifestyle interventions can be key in the fight against diseases. This book is loaded with examples of food that have been scientifically proven to prevent, arrest or reverse diseases.
In Finding My Virginity by Richard Branson, he shares his experiences as an entrepreneur, father and CEO of Virgin. He shares several pictures capturing intimate and exciting moments in his career and family life, which adds a personal touch. Sir Richard’s perspective on challenging situations, how he pushed boundaries and broke a few professional rules makes for an interesting read.
The Art of Leadership is by Dag Heward-Mills who is the founder and leader of the United Denomination Light House Group of churches. He has an easy-going style of writing and this book is loaded with many practical insights for those who aspire to be leaders. It is based on principles in the Bible.
Stephen Atolagbe, human physiology, Bowen University
I’m excited about this summer because I have many books I’m planning to read.
The first is The Power of Character in Leadership written by the late Bahamian evangelist Myles Munroe. I started reading it after I finished reading Realising your Potential, a book by the same author. In The Power of Character in Leadership, Dr Munroe writes on how values, morals, ethics and principles affect leaders.
Another book I’m planning to read is Conversations with Myself by former South African president Nelson Mandela, which was given to me by a friend. and wrote the forward. With a foreword by Barack Obama, the book aims to give readers access to the Mandela behind the public figure, through his private archive.
I'd also love to finish One Nation by retired Johns Hopkins Hospital paediatric neurosurgeon and American politician Ben Carson. The book talks about what we can all do to save America's future.
A John Maxwell book I’m planning to read is Leadershift. Dr Maxwell wrote about the 11 essential changes every leader must embrace. I have previously read Ultimate Leadership, another of Maxwell’s books, so am excited to try this one.
Saga Jonsson, engineering, energy and environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
My reading list for this summer contains a lot of popular science. During term time I often feel drained and usually read more novels so the summer is my chance to catch up on subjects close to my heart.
Factfulness by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund is a book of great importance in Sweden. Hans Rosling and his team became famous for their innovative way of showing statistics and showing how the world is becoming better and better. This book is his “manifesto”.
The next book I plan to read is Doughnut Economics by the economist Kate Raworth. She came up with a model that could be the foundation of a sustainable new kind of economy. This book exemplifies why we have issues in our economy and how to fix it, while taking gender, culture and sustainability into account.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking is a book so famous that I think it speaks for itself. My inner space nerd is already jumping with excitement.
The final book I plan to read is Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows. She was an early systems thinker who also co-wrote the more famous report Limits to Growth. Thinking in Systems is an introduction to systems thinking and concepts and explains how it is possible to describe a complex event with a simple system.
Huixi Yao, University of Auckland
Reading is a pleasure for me, but I tend to put it off because I don’t think I have enough time for it. So summer is when I have plenty of time, and am unable to find an excuse not to read.
The first book I plan to read is by the American author Charles Van Doren and is titled, How to Read a Book. This explains the four reading processes, and how to use these techniques to maximise learning through reading.
Van Doren said there are three purposes of reading: entertainment, information, and understanding. Only the last purpose can help the readers to develop mentally and gain long-term benefits. I believe that this book will help me with my studies and throughout my lifetime.
The second book I would like to read is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. This book has been recommended by so many people that I feel I have to pick it up. It is more than a historical book – it covers economics, biology, physics, philosophy, politics, sociology and so on.
Steph Coulter, University of St Andrews
I like to use my summer to read stuff that I don’t have the time to read during term time. I usually read around my subject when at university, with summer providing an opportunity to escape this.
I have just finished the autobiography of Phil Knight, founder of Nike, called Shoe Dog. This was a feel-good affair about how a small business garnered global success in the face of significant adversity.
Over the rest of the summer, I plan to read two books recommended by my old English teacher – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe.
I imagine before I return to university I will try to get ahead on some of the recommended reading for my classes (wishful thinking perhaps) that includes readings on US foreign policy and international terrorism.
There is no greater pleasure than sitting in the sun reading a book but if you’re stuck for what to read, take some inspiration from these students’ literary choices