2018 Berkeley Law Library
Holiday Reading List

Cookie Counter - Grace Baking - Market Hall Rockridge

I don’t know about you but frankly we need a break. Here’s to a holiday season filled with joy, time with those who mean the most, and plenty of rest and relaxation. And cookies, lots of cookies.

With thanks to our many wonderful contributors from the Berkeley Law Community.

Wishing you all the best in 2019.

Berkeley Law Library

Click on book cover to read review.

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The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean nuclear attacks against the United States : a speculative novel by Jeffrey Lewis

Michael Levy, Associate Director, Law Library; Lecturer in Residence

The 2020 Commission Report is a curious and terrifying novel. Written by a scholar of nonproliferation and arms control, the book is in the form of a government report commissioned three years after a catastrophic nuclear conflict with North Korea. Lewis methodically documents the events that lead South Korea, North Korea and the United States into a nuclear conflict that nobody wanted to happen. What starts as an accidental shooting down of a South Korean plane near the DMZ, leads to South Korean retaliation and a set of events that quickly spiral out of control. The book isn't about the unimaginable horrors of a nuclear conflict but the terrible decisions that each of the actors make at critical junctures based mostly on incomplete and incorrect information as well as in built biases and misconceptions.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

Seema Patel, Clinical Director, East Bay Community Law Center

If you’re not already a sucker for historical fiction, this book (and author) will make you one. Crafted using almost death-defying—not to mention oftentimes frighteningly true—detail, The Alienist is a scintillating and grotesque thriller that will keep you at once guessing and awake into the night until the bitter end. I suppose that such a riveting reading experience is quite often the result of carefully combined fact and fiction, but add to it the stunning crime and punishment tale, the lovingly dedicated NYT-journalist character, and that healthy dose of good old fashioned fear that screams through the pages and, you have yourself a masterpiece. If you enjoyed Devil in the White City, I highly recommend The Alienist! (Then tell me you read it and, let’s compare notes!).

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu

Michael Lindsey, Director of Library Web Development

Tim Wu recently dropped by Berkeley Law to give a talk on his current topic, antitrust, but he’s been pretty active these past few years on a number of topics. He teaches at Columbia Law and was the guy who coined the term “net neutrality”. He had a big book with The Master Switch in 2010 that even I had heard of.

After slowly and painfully losing my teenage children to the click-scroll inanity of their “smart” phones (even after being raised without a television, and with always-on-tap incisive and compelling on-the-spot guidance from me, their Father), I was super ready to immerse myself into some righteous preaching-to-the-choir with Wu’s then-new book, The Attention Merchants. It’s a careful and patient history of harvesting eyeballs via propaganda and advertising, moving from junk mail to television to click bait and Facebook. My family loved hearing me relay key points from the other room. “These app designers have studied neurochemical reward pathways and are getting rich off of making us more alienated and depressed! Hello?” Here was Mr. Tim Wu proving me right, again. As technology writer and academic Zeynep Tufekci has said, “we're building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.” She’s so right!

It’s a bleak book. I loved it!

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyou

Charles McClain, Lecturer in Residence

John Carreyou's riveting account of the spectacular (and in retrospect implausible) rise and more spectacular fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her "blood sampling" firm, Theranos. A superb and very readable piece of investigative journalism.

Beyond These Walls: Rethinking Crime and Punishment in the United States by Tony Platt

We’re all about supporting the folks at Berkeley Law so when Tony Platt, who is with the Center for the Study of Law & Society, told us about his upcoming book we knew we had to include it in the booklist.

As the publisher’s website notes:

“Beyond These Walls is an ambitious and far-ranging exploration that tracks the legacy of crime and imprisonment in the United States, from the historical roots of the American criminal justice system to our modern state of over-incarceration, and offers a bold vision for a new future. Author Tony Platt, a recognized authority in the field of criminal justice, challenges the way we think about how and why millions of people are tracked, arrested, incarcerated, catalogued, and regulated in the United States.”

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

Montie Magree, Helpdesk Analyst

It’s a dark and stormy night; a cat and a dog (our narrator) are waiting for their humans to get home from a movie. Lightening BOOMs! Thunder FLASHES! Their humans arrive with a small bundle - a rabbit they found at the movie with strange markings on its fur that looks like a cape. And now the households vegetables are looking peaked.

Oh, and the movie? Dracula.

My favorite children’s book; probably my favorite book if I’m being honest; and the book that convinced me reading didn’t suck. It’s very funny (there is a pun that plays a massive role in the climax), gently humanistic, a little scary, and in a very kid friendly way lays out the power of and ultimate massive stupidity of paranoid conspiracy thinking.

By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from the New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela Paul with a foreword by Scott Turow

Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian

I am a huge fan of this feature in the Sunday New York Time Book Review. In this collection of interviews from past columns, sixty-five of the world’s leading authors (from Ian McEwan to Jhumpa Lahiri to David Sedaris) note their literary loves/hates, what’s on their nightstand right now, and if they could make the president read one book what would it be. I love the collected sidebars (e.g. everyone hates Moby Dick and no one can finish Ulysses). You can dip into it whenever you have a few minutes and be well rewarded. For the Holiday Book List I like to think of what would make a great gift and this is it. I know because my friend Becky gave it to me for my birthday, and I love it.

The City & the City by China Mievelle

Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian

My favorite review of this book is by an Amazon reader who writes, “This book is BONKERS!” A woman is found murdered in the city-state of Bezsel, a drab rundown city somewhere in Eastern Europe. Inspector Tyador Borlu of Bezsel’s Extreme Crime Squad finds his investigation taking him into Ul Qoma, Bezsel’s flashier, wealthier twin city. It turns out, however, that both cities occupy the same physical space and coexist because each city’s citizens willingly unsee the other’s. I know - BONKERS! At heart though it’s a gritty police procedural with an intriguing concept which you can deconstruct at will. This was my book group’s pick this month and falls into the “I would never have picked it but an interesting read” category - it did win a bunch of fantasy and sci fi awards. The BBC adapted the book into a 2018 miniseries which is currently streaming on Amazon’s BritBox service.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, English translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Kathy Hashimoto, Copyright Research Fellow, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology

This short and quirky novel, a 2016 bestseller in its original Japanese edition, is a fun and quick read. But underneath her seemingly simple story and tone the author also manages to subversively question what designates someone either as “ordinary” or “oddball.” The main character, Keiko, works in Tokyo at a convenience store similar to a 7-Eleven, where she has been for eighteen years, into her mid-thirties. Unlike other temporary part-time employees, Keiko finds great satisfaction and comfort in her job, using the specific rules of convenience-store employment as her primary source for learning how to be and to behave in the world. Not a lot happens in this story, but it leaves one thinking about the odd joys found in mundane routines and quotidian details and what it means to be unique and quietly rebellious in one’s own way.

Cook Like a Pro: Recipes & Tips for Home Cooks by Ina Garten

Marci Hoffman, Associate Director & International and Foreign Law Collections

I learned about this new cookbook from a recent Washington Post article about Ina Garten. She’s a very successful food personality who was never professionally trained, never worked in a restaurant, and started out in the food industry by buying a specialty food store in the Hamptons (nice, if you can do that). She has several other cookbooks as well as a cooking show. Read the Post article to learn a bit about Jeffrey, her husband, and a funny bit from the TV show “30 Rock.” There’s even a book called Cooking for Jeffrey.

Although I don’t really cook (I’ve got a husband for that), I like Ina Garten’s cookbooks. The recipes are clear and use easy to find ingredients (unlike some other famous chefs) and the books include lots of practical information. My husband also likes her books and says her recipes usually work well (this cannot be said of all recipes, according to him).

There are lots of nice photos in the book and a section called “pro basics” which contains information on making stocks, homemade ricotta and homemade vanilla extract (using vodka). Lots of other pro tips, like “measure like a pro,” are sprinkled throughout the book.

Here are a few recipes we have tried and really like: tomato & eggplant soup (we blended it although the recipes doesn’t call for that), farro tabbouleh with feta, red wine-braised short ribs, and triple chocolate loaf cakes (it makes two loaves and they freeze well).

Don’t be put off by the “Barefoot Contessa” moniker and her less than ordinary life. This would make a good holiday gift for lots of folks.

The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook by David Rosengarten, with Joel Dean & Giorgio DeLuca

Dean Rowan, Director, Reference and Research Services

Most food writing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Like writing about wine, beer, and high-end stereo equipment, food writing can be snooty and pretentious, cheesy, fulsome, labored, hyper-opinionated, too cute and clever, i.e., bad. When I cook I really only need the steps from start to finish, without editorializing, free association, auto-psychoanalysis, or poetastery. I’ve always imagined that food writing and its cousin, restaurant reviewing, are among the worst jobs in the world. Where do restaurant reviewers go out for a pleasant evening? (Come to think of it, what do professional book reviewers do to escape? Curl up with a good owner’s manual?) There are exceptions. For example, Elizabeth David produced five-star writing that happens to be about food, cooking, and restaurants. David Rosengarten is no Elizabeth David, but his commentary in this 1996 cookbook is apt, helpful, even amusing, and the recipes work well. One of my favorites is absurdly simple: the baked potato. No aluminum foil, no oil, no punctures with a fork. Just fire up the oven to 500F and bake a cleaned ¾ lb. russet for an hour and a half. It works every time, producing baked potatoes that can be a wonder to behold, all soft, fluffy, and snowy-white. (That last part I cribbed from Serious Eats. Blech. Sounds like a kitten topped with a dollop of sour cream.) Not once has a potato exploded. And here’s something funny, if unrelated to cooking: as I write, a search for the Rosengarten book in Google Books in fact produces excerpts from Henry Petroski, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design.

Evolution of Love by Lucy Jane Bledsoe

Gar Russell, Director of Operations

The Hayward Fault finally erupt into a giant 7.4 magnitude earthquake and the East Bay is decimated. Lily flies out from Nebraska in search of her sister Vicky, whom she has not heard from since the quake hit. In her travels, Lily learns the meaning of community as she bands together with refugees, a couple of feral kids, a social activist, and a bonobo researcher she had been corresponding with since childhood. It's a gripping story about love and sacrifice as well as how humanity, faced with crises after crises, can ultimately survive. While the thought of giant earthquakes freak me out, I nonetheless found this story very satisfying and hopeful.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian

Honestly, no pun intended, but this is the perfect airplane book. A flight attendant with a history of alcohol blackouts wakes up next to a dead man she had picked up the night before during an airplane layover in Dubai. Did she kill him? A taut, fast-paced thriller ensues that roams the globe with numerous twists and turns. Buckle your seat belt, sit back and enjoy the ride.

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah, a Macmillan Audio Book narrated by Julia Whelan

Marlene Harmon, Reference Librarian

The most compelling character in this sometimes violent family drama and coming of age story, is Alaska, where the author spent part if her childhood. Alaska in 1974, before at least some parts of it were overrun by cruise ships and tourists from the lower 48. Ernt Allbright, a Vietnam vet and former POW, suffering from what would now be diagnosed as PTSD decides that a run-down log cabin in remote Alaska, without running water or electricity is just what will cure him. He, his acquiescent wife, Cora and 13 year old daughter Leni pile into a VW bus and head north. Incredibly Alaska doesn't kill them, though we learn all about the many ways it could have. They have a handful of great neighbors, who never fail to answer the call to save them. Cora and Leni learn to do more than just cope with their circumstances, they come to thrive in them. Ernt does not. The inevitable isolation of Alaska, where the sun apparently disappears entirely for two to three months in winter, and his illness turn him ever more violent. Surviving Ernt is ultimately more difficult and heartbreaking for Cora and Leni then surviving Alaska. An absorbing listen.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

Marci Hoffman, Associate Director & International and Foreign Law Collections

This book was published ten years ago, but it has received renewed interest since Netflix recently made it into a movie. The novel is set on the island of Guernsey post-World War II. It’s told mostly through letters between some Guernsey islanders and a young writer in London named Juliet Ashton. Her name is found in a book that made its way to the island and the new owner of the book, Dawsey Adams, writes to her to see if she can help him find more books by the same author (Charles Lamb). The letters tell the story of island life under German occupation. The characters are very quirky with great names and wonderfully distinctive voices (yes, even in a book). The letters weave together tales of the lives of the islanders during the war – hardships, food (and book) shortages, heartache, heroism, death as well as cruelty imposed by the occupiers.

This novel immediately made me think of Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road (also made into a movie in 1987 with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins). This is another lovely story told through letters between an American writer (Hanff) in New York and an antiquarian bookseller in London over a twenty-year period.

I won’t give away how they came up with the name of the book club or any of the other bits. I certainly cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of the information, but it’s a delightful book and a fast read. If you are in the mood for some schmaltz, see the movie.

By the way, Mary Ann Shaffer was a librarian (yay!) and a bookseller. The book was written with her niece, Annie Barrows, and was published after Shaffer’s death. Annie Barrows is a local and has published many children’s books, such as the Ivy + Bean series.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Ramona Collins, Head of Access Services

I was halfway through reading this fascinating book before I realized many of the characters were real historical figures. The story is set in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 19th century. We get to know the whole Grimke family, but the focus is on Sarah (a real person) and her personal maid, a slave named Hetty (a composite character.) On Sarah’s 11th birthday she is given Hetty as a “gift.” Sarah is against slavery so she writes a formal manumission setting Hetty free and leaves it on her father’s desk. She quickly learns it’s not quite that simple.

The chapters shift focus back and forth from Sarah to Hetty as we watch them grow up. Sarah shares her love of books with Hetty by teaching her to read – an illegal act in those days. The consequences of that small rebellion highlighted for me the realities of life as a woman and as a slave in that time and place. Sarah’s and Hetty’s lives are connected and they have a close relationship that evolves over time. Hetty’s story intersects with that of Denmark Vesey, a free black man who plotted a slave rebellion. The narrative brought to life for me just what it would take to plot a rebellion in secret. Sarah becomes an important figure in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. Monk Kidd’s characters demonstrate the lack of intersectionality between those interests at the time.

I much prefer to learn about history through good historical fiction than by reading dry accounts in textbooks or encyclopedias. The Invention of Wings was the perfect vehicle for me to get to know Sarah Grimke, and I still find myself thinking about her story.

I recently watched the RBG documentary that starts with Justice Ginsburg quoting Sarah Grimke, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” I’m eternally grateful to Sarah Grimke and other early feminists who laid the groundwork for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and others to advance the cause of women’s rights in the 1970’s.

Island War by Patricia Reilly Giff

Jacob Klein, Ninth Grade, El Cerrito High School

The book, Island War, by Patricia Reilly Giff, is about an eleven-year-old girl named Izzy and a fourteen-year-old boy named Matt who go to a remote Aleutian Island in 1941. Izzy came to the island with her mother to study birds, while Matt came to the island with his dad for his dad’s secret U.S. government job. Prior to going to the island, Matt was on a rowing team near Long Island Sound. Izzy and her mom loved bird watching and her dad wrote adventure books. Her dad, who was killed by a car, had the idea for Izzy and her mom to travel to the remote island, eleven hundred miles away from the mainland of Alaska, so she could write about birds.

At first, Izzy and Matt do not get along because of their differences. On the island, Izzy immediately becomes friends with Maria, a girl who lives there. Maria shows Izzy a dog who everyone cares for and Thor Hill, where they take eggs from nests for food. Meanwhile, Matt learns how to row a kayak, which he soon finds out is very different from the kind of boat he is used to rowing. When word gets out that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, everything changes. People who once thought that the Aleutian island would be safe realized that they were no longer safe from war. Before long, Japanese troops began to invade the island, trapping everyone in the village except for the fishermen with barbed wire from leaving the village. Soon, there is a dreadful turn of events which force Izzy and Matt to work together to get by.

I recommend this book for grades six through nine because it has a very suspenseful plot. Even if you’re not really a fan of historical fiction, you are sure to enjoy this book.

John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy edited by Frank Abe, Greg Robinson & Floyd Cheung

Kathy Hashimoto, Copyright Research Fellow, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology

This important collection expands on the life and work of a major Asian-American author, John Okada (1934–1971), who published just one novel, No-No Boy (first published in 1957), before his untimely death at age forty-seven. The first section is a lengthy biographical essay with notable dates, events, and first-person accounts chronicling Okada’s life as a second-generation Japanese-American Nisei during the turbulent WWII era and afterwards. The second section presents recovered early works written by Okada, including short stories, essays, a one-act play, and a poem published anonymously, signaling promise of more mature writing to come and work that was lamentably lost or unrealized. The third section provides scholarly assessments of Okada’s achievement and impact. This book, alongside No-No Boy, is an engrossing look at a chapter of American life that many have not been exposed to in such detail and complexity, if at all.

The King and the Catholics: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829 by Antonia Fraser

William E. Benemann, Library Archivist (ret.)

“Why Are All the Conservative Loudmouths Irish-American?” asked an article in Newsweek. And while it has become commonplace to remind Buchanan, O’Reilly, Hannity, Bannon and their ilk (Kellyanne Conway, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Pence, Mike Flynn, John Kelly), that their immigrant ancestors were met with signs saying “No Irish Need Apply,” they might also be reminded of another piece of fairly recent history. In an age of Muslim bans and synagogue massacres, they should not forget that not long ago Catholics too faced severe restrictions because of their religious beliefs.

Antonia Fraser’s latest book looks at late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain, and notes that under the Protestant Ascendancy citizens who were openly Catholic were “inferior at law,” and could not serve in Parliament, engage in any governmental activity, serve on a jury, attend university or be awarded an academic degree, receive a commission in the army or navy (or, officially, become a soldier or sailor – though that restriction was, out of necessity, rarely enforced). To perform any priestly function or even operate a Catholic school was punishable by life imprisonment. The wedding of a Catholic bride and groom married only by a priest was considered invalid, and their children illegitimate for purposes of inheritance.

Fraser focuses on the period from 1780 to 1829, and delves into the public and private debates that led eventually to a lifting of most of the Catholic sanctions. The rhetoric on both sides was often toxic. In 1821 William Plunket, arguing in Parliament in favor of the reforms, said of the average Catholic, “He might be an infidel, he might believe in Jupiter, in Osiris, the ape, the crocodile, in all the host of heaven, and all the creeping things of the earth, and [still] be admitted to all the privileges of the state.” Those Irish Americans now arguing for restrictions based on religious affiliation, or attempting to impose evangelical Christianity on this country, might be reminded that nineteenth century British reformers held up the US as a paragon of religious tolerance. There was a time when American Catholics proudly supplied money – and promised guns – to the struggle against a state that repressed its citizens merely because of the way they worshipped.

Lethal White by Robert Gailbraith

Chris Tarr, Head of Cataloging

I have resisted Robert Gailbraith's [aka J.K. Rowling's] Cormoran Strike series. I was worried they would not be as good as the Harry Potter series. But I picked up Lethal White, the fourth in the series, and it's surprisingly good! Now I plan to go back and read all of them -- a pleasing holiday activity. Of course, Lethal White is not like Harry Potter at all -- it takes place in London and features non-magical grown-ups. But in some ways it is similar -- the characters are good, the descriptions of place are good, and it has that same thing of characters keeping secrets from each other that the reader knows about. Just tell him already! This one, at least, is very good!

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Sue Schechter, Lecturer in Residence; Director, Field Placement Program; Co-Director, Student Initiated Legal Services Program (SLPS)

I was at a family member's house and saw this book on the shelf and felt compelled given our current political moment to bring it home and dive in. Dr. Frankl writes about his experience in concentration camps and dealing with the Holocaust - and while our current political moment is nowhere near that dire (right?), I thought it might help my perspective and mood get some context for how does one keep going when reason seems to have gone by the wayside. He talks about what mattered in moments when he thought he was not going to make it and how he worked in community to help others in the camps. Dr. Frankl's language is very couched in psychological terms given his training and work. And for me, it helped to step aside from the political moment and spend some time delving into what keeps humans moving, caring, taking care of themselves and taking care of others.

The edition I read is 163 pages long - with a forward by Harold S. Kushner and an afterword by William J. Winslade. While not a light read, it definitely was a meaningful and insightful read - and I do recommend it if you are struggling with the world and the humans in it.

The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelicanos

Robert C. Berring Jr., Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law, Emeritus

There are times when I want to read a well-crafted work of detective fiction. One that is well written, contains a bit substance and that compels me to root for one of the characters. If it keeps the reader guessing, leading to one accelerating the reading process, all the better. The Man Who Came Uptown fills the bill. George Pelecanos is an established master of multiple media, he was a writer of the powerful television drama The Wire as well as a successful author of mystery books. This is not a book about criminal masterminds or a demented serial killer. Pelecanos’s books live in the streets of the District of Columbia, the characters could all be real. Perhaps someone who you might know. There is even a librarian in the midst of the plot and her work is treated with genuine respect. Best of all there is a satisfying ending. Pelecanos avoids making each bit of the book flow into the main story, a practice that cheapens the read. There is time to meet some fascinating individuals who do not end up crucial to the final outcome. The writing is crystal clear. These days I want a book to end on a good note and this one delivers. It is hard to put down, but that is one of its virtues.

Munich by Robert Harris, a Random House Audio Book narrated by David Rintoul

Marlene Harmon, Reference Librarian

If you think only an alternate history could make Neville Chamberlain’s brief and well documented 1938 visit with Hitler in Munich suspenseful, then Robert Harris’s Munich will be an engaging surprise. The novel follows two junior diplomats, Englishman, Hugh Legat, and German Paul von Hartmann. They attended Oxford together, both serve as translators and interpreters at the Munich conference, one is an anti-Hitler conspirator. Harris’s Chamberlain is a thoroughly decent man who, despite his intelligence and long government experience is incapable of recognizing Hitler for what he is. Harris doesn’t absolve Chamberlain for the decisions he made, but he puts him in the context of his time, and he reminds us that the outcome of the Munich conference met with widespread approval in Britain at the time. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed reading this book in print as much as I did listening to David Rintoul’s masterful narration of it. One of the best audiobooks I've listened to.

The Odyssey by Homer, English translation by Emily Wilson

Kathy Hashimoto, Copyright Research Fellow, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology

Even if you’ve read another edition of Homer’s ancient Greek classic before (there appear to be about 200 versions in English alone), you won’t feel like you are repeating history by spending some time with this latest translation by Penn classics scholar Emily Wilson. This edition, which has received considerable press for being the first English translation of the Odyssey by a woman, brings a fresh perspective and vitality to an ageless story, which some may describe as feminist but which also could be thought of as unencumbered by stale labels and assumptions. The text hums along at a lively pace, partly due to Wilson’s decision to maintain the same number of lines as the original and to employ iambic pentameter and a modern, conversational diction. The result is an arresting, enjoyable text accentuated with beautiful and moving passages full of heart and humanity. Follow this up with Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Iliad, which should be available in a few more years.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past: The Three Body Trilogy by Cixin Liu

Joint review by Kathy Hashimoto, Copyright Research Fellow, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology and Charles McClain, Lecturer in Residence

Those with staying power and with any appetite for science fiction will find Liu Cixin's trilogy a rewarding read. Starting with The Three-Body Problem, set during China's chaotic, devastating Cultural Revolution, and extending many millennia thereafter in The Dark Forest and Death’s End, the series chronicles the complex chain of events that follow from Earth's first contact with an alien civilization. The work—a huge bestseller in China and a multiple award winner internationally, including the Hugo Award for Best Novel—is solidly grounded in physics as well as such other disciplines as sociology, political science, history and game theory. This wildly imaginative work is so expertly translated (by Ken Liu [books 1 and 3] and Joel Martinsen [book 2]) that it reads as if it were written in English.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Robert C. Berring Jr., Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law, Emeritus

Writing a history of homo sapiens, ie human beings, sounds outlandish but Harari is up to the task. In the opening chapters he appears to be heading toward an anthropologic study. Spinning the tale of the other forms of sapiens who competed with our ancestors is fascinating and the long span of time during which we coexisted with Neanderthals equally enlightening. The real fun begins when Harari identifies the Cognitive Revolution and how it allowed our brand of ape to assume lordship over the earth. Playing with evolutionary theory, Harari moves into a discussion of the fictions that sustain human culture. Some of the points are familiar but many of his ideas are fresh and stimulating. Human behavior is explained as the product a variety of forces and the passage of great stretches of time. Harari is chillingly objective and he draws on sources that range from obscure scientific studies to popular culture. The final sections peer into the future possibilities in an accessible if worrisome way. Turning the manuscript into a book was a challenge. Publishers judged it too technical for the average reader and too general for academics. Happily Harper Perennial picked it up and it has lived on the bestseller list for weeks. Harari writes well and though the book is long and thick, he carries off his mission of explaining just who we humans are. It is a book designed to alter your worldview. Harari, an Israeli philosopher and behavioral economist, currently is a darling of the titans of Silicon Valley though he paints a dim picture of what they do. This book will spark a thousand discussions!

Straight Man by Richard Russo

Catherine “KT” Albiston, Jackson H. Ralston Professor of Law; Professor of Sociology; Executive Committee, Henderson Center

There are many novels about academia or set in academia (Moo, Jane Smiley; The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach; the earlier works of Richard Powers), but my favorite is Straight Man by Richard Russo. Better known for his Pulitzer Prize winning Empire Falls, Russo captures both the flavor of the northeast (between Canada and New York) and small town academic life in “directional” colleges, e.g., those with Northeast, Southwest, West Central etc. in their names. But before you reject such experiences as irrelevant to academic life at a large elite university such as Berkeley, think again; Russo captures by metaphor and caricature the essence of the everyday challenges and interactions of academic life with tremendous humor.

Straight Man is an especially fun read for Berkeley folks right now because one major theme is the college’s budget crises and the war between departments and the central administration for the allocation of scarce funds. To gain an advantage in this battle, English professor narrator, William Henry "Hank" Devereaux Jr, picks up a goose by the neck and threatens to kill "a duck a day" until his department receives its funding. Be warned, the book leaves nothing sacred; the narrator winds up and infuriates everyone he finds pompous, from central campus bureaucrats to angry gender nonconformists. Nevertheless, his offhand writing advice delivered deadpan to his creative writing students (“always understate necrophilia”) and his assessment of central campus (“militant procedural incompetents”) are laugh out loud funny. The final crisis and resolution around a pivotal faculty meeting involves a set up and set of events worthy of a Cohen brothers’ movie, so if this kind of ironic farce is something you enjoy, this book is for you.

Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Énard, translated by Charlotte Mandell

William E. Benemann, Library Archivist (ret.)

In 1506 the Ottoman ruler Bayezid II invited Michelangelo to design a bridge to span the Golden Horn at Constantinople, a structure Leonardo da Vinci had proposed but which had proved too structurally challenging to attempt. A sketch of a bridge, tentatively attributed to Michelangelo, has recently been discovered in the Ottoman archives, but there is no proof that he ever traveled to Constantinople, ever responded to Bayezid’s invitation. The French writer Mathias Énard has spun a brief novel from a few tantalizing hints. It is a slender book, composed of short chapters, some of them no more than a few paragraphs long. The effect is of leafing through the notebook that Michelangelo might have kept had the journey ever taken place, a Renaissance Italian’s impressions of an Islamic metropolis. The conceit does not entirely work, but this is an interesting effort, worth the read.