Guilty (and not-so-guilty) reads of the Yale faculty

What your professors read when nobody’s watching.

The first thing we learned when we asked faculty across the campus to share their guilty reads: not all Yale professors know how to relax. Their summer reading lists included the likes of Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin—a groundbreaking work by Yale historian Timothy Snyder, but not exactly escapist. Other books sounded suspiciously like fodder for future papers.

Early in the process, we worried that heavyweight tomes would be the rule—that being on the faculty of Yale University means never, ever taking a break. But gradually, lighter titles started coming in. Yes, you’ll find a few ringers. We included some choices that are decidedly non-guilty, and we’re not sure how many of you will decide to emulate, say, David Gelernter’s two-fisted approach to Russian literature. But we decided that, for our broad-minded and highly educated readers, it is much better to be inclusive than restrictive. The result is an eclectic summer reading list. Enjoy.

Mark Ostow

Mark Ostow

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Ian Ayres ’81, ’86JD
William K. Townsend Professor, Law School; Professor, School of Management

In a moment in which a prodigious number of truly funny women are cranking out memoirs/reflections, Nick Hornby has produced Funny Girl, a highly readable work of fiction imagining the trajectory of a young comedian with irrepressible talent who takes London by storm in 1964. If you’ve liked Tina Fey’s, Mindy Kaling’s, or Lena Dunham’s offerings, you’re bound to enjoy Hornby’s historical (post–I Love Lucy, pre–Mary Tyler Moore) confection.


Peter Salovey ’86PhD
President; Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology

Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love is a social history of the city of San Francisco. David Talbot takes a fascinating, news-driven approach to his subject. His story held special interest for me because it covers, in part, the time period when I lived there. I loved the book—every word—and was sorry when I finished it.


Barry Nalebuff
Milton Steinbach Professor of Management, School of Management

At the risk of ultracrepidating—a fancy word meaning to go beyond one’s area of expertise, which I just learned from Mary Norris’s Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen—let me recommend this delightful book about grammar writ small and writing writ large. If you doubt this subject can sink to the level of summer reading, try a test run with her New Yorker piece; you’ll be sold. There are plenty of Yalies to meet inside, starting with Noah Webster ’78 (as in 1778). If only I had read it years ago and understood the diaeresis (which, unlike an umlaut, goes over the second of a double vowel), I would have titled one of my own books differently, namely Coöpetition rather than the unsightly Co-opetition.

My latest self-improve-ment kick is learning comedy improv. The skills here aren’t just about being funny. They help you become a better listener, collaborator, parent, or partner. I started with the Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual.


Tamar Szabó Gendler ’87
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Vincent J. Scully Professor of Philosophy; Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science

I indulged myself by reading Marilynne Robinson’s Lila: A Novel over the March break. The book is exquisitely lyrical and achingly compassionate. It demanded slow reading, and I was uncharacteristically drawn from my own frantic pacing into its unhurried rhythm.


Gary Haller
Henry Prentiss Becton Professor of Engineering and Applied Science

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery, but not like one you have read before. First, the victim was a dog. The writer, Mark Haddon, is definitely more connected to dogs than humans, making this mystery more interesting to him. He writes in simple sentences: the first sentence of the book reads “It was 7 minutes after midnight”—but watch out for those numbers, because he knows “every prime number up to 7,057.” That is the numbering system he used for chapters: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11...7,057. But don’t put it down when he starts throwing numbers around. He is going to explain the math, if not in short sentences then in a diagram. This young boy suffers from autistic savantism, and seeing the world from his point of view is what makes this a joyful read.


David Gelernter ’76, ’77MA
Professor of Computer Science

Two wonderful new translations of Anna Karenina, one (Oxford’s) silken and sensuous, melted ice-cream, the other (Yale’s) like the long-ago sound of typewriters: precise, transparent, comfortable. Philip Roth’s Nemesis (2010) is still king of summer novels, a 300-page tidal wave. All about summer. His latest novel, perhaps (God forbid) his last; his tightest and best. Now that Roth is Lear, the heavens do his bidding.


Teresa Berger
Professor of Liturgical Studies and Thomas E. Golden Jr. Professor of Catholic Theology, Institute for Sacred Music and Divinity School

Hild, by Nicola Griffith, is set in seventh-century Britain. The main character is Hild, a girl from a royal line who would become one of the most important abbesses of the Christian West, St. Hilda of Whitby. I love immersing myself in historical contexts far away from my own. Hild holds added appeal because the protagonist—appreciated in childhood as a seer—will become a powerful abbess of the early medieval church...which means a second volume!


Paul Bloom
Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science

I just finished The Professor in the Cage by Jonathan Gottschall, subtitled Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch, and I think it’s the perfect summer read. It is a thoughtful and scholarly exploration of male violence. But it’s also the story of how an out-of-shape English professor takes up mixed martial arts and becomes a cage fighter. And isn’t that what every academic dreams about?


Mark Ostow

Mark Ostow

Robert A. M. Stern ’65MArch View full image

Robert A. M. Stern ’65MArch
Dean and J. M. Hoppin Professor, School of Architecture

Who of us doesn’t have a secret reading vice? Mine, detective stories, is probably not very unusual. Currently I’m enamored of Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May series, documenting the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an idiosyncratic group of detectives operating under Home Office Authority. The unit operates in London, and Fowler’s eye for architecture and public space is very discerning. Besides, he is a master at inventing characters that are at once wacky in delightfully British ways and sharp as tacks. There have been 11 titles published in the United States so far, over an 11-year period beginning in 2004. I only learned about them last year. The books are relatively short and I’m flying through them. I hope Fowler will keep the series up—but if not I’ll content myself with the new translations of Georges Simenon’s Maigret thrillers.


Sheila Levrant de Bretteville
Caroline M. Street Professor, School of Art

I just read the splendid H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. It is exquisitely written and layered. I recognize the ache of the sudden loss of my own father, but little else reflects my own thoughts and experience.

No guilt. A simply riveting treat.


Sidney Altman
Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology; Professor of Chemistry

Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh, a senior neurosurgeon in London (UK), is an account of many of Marsh’s cases, with his ruminations of his feelings about how he got into neurosurgery, and his own reactions and those of his patients regarding his role and their prognoses. He is unconstrained in his thoughts about the National Health Service and its dangerous management practices. His reactions are paralleled perfectly with my thoughts about Yale’s current management practices, whereby students and scholars are “customers” and management dictates make education seem a profit-making enterprise.

For real guilty pleasures, I like mysteries by Philip Kerr and Andrea Camilleri. Kerr is a master of the nuances and settings inside Nazi Germany. His books centered around an ex-cop are riveting. I suggest his latest one, The Lady from Zagreb, as a good example. Camilleri’s series of books involving a police inspector, Montalbano, in Sicily, are entertaining in his description of the characters in his police station and his dialogues with them and the local citizenry. No pomp and circumstance, just fun for me. Try Game of Mirrors.


Naomi R. Lamoreaux
Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics and History; Chair, Department of History

My favorite novelist is Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer whose books capture the disillusionment and hopes of the generation that came of age during the 1960s. I’m now rereading Kafka on the Shore. Murakami’s other truly great novels are The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase, and 1Q84.



Mark Ostow

Mark Ostow

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Laurie Santos
Associate Professor of Psychology

My guilty pleasure summer reading always includes cheesy celebrity memoirs. This summer I’m looking forward to reading the new book by the actress and Internet star Felicia Day, called You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Day is kind of a celebrity idol for geeky girls, so I’m looking forward to learning more about her take on pretty much everything. Some others I liked were Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, Joey Kramer’s (the drummer for Aerosmith) Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top, and Tommy Lee’s Tommyland.


Erika Christakis
Lecturer, Child Study Center

In all fairness, I would describe Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity as the exact opposite of a fun or “guilty” summer read; it is, however, a life-changing one, and anyone who has ever felt baffled by the chasm that can spring up between parents and children who love one another will find much that is moving, edifying, and elevating in this extraordinarily humane work. With an almost preternatural compassion coupled with clinical and reportorial nuance, Andrew Solomon ’85 brings to life the painful, challenging, yet fundamentally hopeful stories of families who struggle in different ways to accept their children whose lives fall “far from the tree.”