2006 Recommended Summer Reading List

This summer, in addition to reading the latest Harry Potter novel and the next installment of your favorite mystery or thriller series, consider reading widely in the fields that are basic to a liberal education.  One of the differences between high school and college is the degree to which you actively educate yourself, and your summer reading can be a part of your transition to greater engagement in your own education.  The reading list below is not a required reading list.  It is, in fact, not one list but a number of lists and resources brought together by the faculty of the First Year of Studies in cooperation with other Notre Dame colleges and institutes. The list below suggest some especially “good reads” that enhance a broad liberal education. It is designed to help you choose thoroughly enjoyable summer reading that will also enable you to build a strong foundation for future learning. 

World Literature

You should begin by looking at Fr. Monk Malloy’s wonderful booklist, “Books that Nourish One’s Soul and Broaden One’s Horizon.”  This essay and booklist by our previous University president and current professor of theology, is made up of novels Fr. Malloy has used in his first-year University Seminar on world literature.  They are gripping, entertaining novels that will significantly broaden your world.  You can find this essay and list in the Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business’ on-line magazine under nd.edu/~ndbizmag/winter2006/Books_web.shtml.  For another look at world literature, you will also find much to explore and enjoy in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature and in World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time.

Fine Arts

Your “reading” in the fine arts should include viewing and listening as well as reading. It’s summer, so you might begin by taking a look at the comedies on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Best Movies web page, afi.com/tvevents/100years/movies.aspx. The list is delightfully controversial and a good place to start exploring the joys of great film. 

This is also a good time to begin to broaden the kinds of music you enjoy.  You might explore some of the best in jazz and classical music by going to the A Quick Guide to Jazz website, bbc.co.uk/music/jazz/guides/jazz/, and A Quick Guide to Classical Music, bbc.co.uk/music/classical/guide.shtml.  You will be able to find the CDs suggested on these and other websites in your local library.  Borrow some to begin to discover the new worlds of enjoyment they offer you.

When you arrive on campus you will have an opportunity to see the Notre Dame Summer Shakespeare production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.  It should be great fun.  Take a look at the website, http://shakespeare.nd.edu for details.


In the area of literature, in addition to the wonderful works suggested by Fr Malloy, we would like to add William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  There’s a reason film makers keep attempting to capture these marvelous works on film. Literature and theater also combine in Voltaire’s satiric novel Candide.  The novel chronicles the journey of the hero through young adulthood and reflects the intense tension between optimism and skepticism typical of the time, and it has also been adapted into, of all things, a comic operetta and Broadway hit by Leonard Bernstein in 1956.

Philosophy and Theology

Philosophy is a new discipline for many students entering college.  David Edmonds’ Wittgensteins’ Poker is a best seller that helps non-philosophers enter the world of modern philosophy in an immensely entertaining and revealing fashion. For a fine introduction to the philosophy of religion read Thomas Morris’s Our Idea of God. Also recommended on more specialized topics in philosophy are Umberto Eco and Cardinal Martini’s Belief or Nonbelief, and John Polkinghorne’s Science and Theology.

To help build your theological literacy you might undertake to read the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  A firsthand knowledge of these books prepares you for their constant use by novelists, poets, and politicians as well as theologians.


No one can afford to be ignorant of the sciences.  So, whether or not you plan on majoring in the sciences, don’t neglect to read some of the best (and very entertaining) books written for the non-scientist, including James Gleick’s acclaimed biography, Isaac Newton, Stephen Jay Gould’s popular collection of essays, The Mismeasure of Man, and James Watson’s book on the discovery of the structure of DNA, The Double Helix.

History and Social Sciences

David McCullough’s John Adams and Louis Menard’s Metaphysical Club are both highly recommended “good reads” on American history. The first is a terrific biography and the second a biography and a fascinating exploration of the development of pragmatism in America. You might also be interested in more recent history and read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, one of the most powerful war memoirs of our time.

The social sciences include anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, and sociology, and the reading possibilities are endless. To begin, you might read Jane Goodall’s classic study of animal behavior, Through a Window, or Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand which concentrates on the complexities of daily communication between women and men.

The Notre Dame Forum

If you only read one book from these lists, you might want to make it Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains; The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World.  This book will help prepare you for the academic forum on the global health crisis that will take place on September 14th.  There will be dorm, classroom, and University-wide discussion of this topic both before and after the forum, and you’ll feel much more qualified to join in those discussions if you make certain you’ve read this book before coming to campus.

Liberal Education

We highly recommend Richard Light’s Making the Most of College: College Students Speak Their Minds for a truly insightful look at what students do to be successful and engaged in their college education, and, if you are interested in some of the most influential thinking on liberal education, you might read Cardinal John Newman’s The Idea of a University or John Dewey’s Democracy and Education.  Both are classic texts on  liberal education. Whatever you choose, read for pleasure and read with a purpose. Use this summer to reflect on what you want out of the intellectual adventure before you and read to prepare yourself for a lifetime of learning.  Push yourself outside of your intellectual comfort zone and try some new areas.  You cannot go wrong with any of the above.