Summer Reads 2024

Need something new on your nightstand? Looking for a summer escape? Or need your next book club selection? We've got you covered. It's all the pleasures of a reading list, without the book report.

We asked some of Duke's most admired faculty members to contribute to our popular Lifelong Learning summer reading list. Each book includes five questions to consider while reading, direct purchase links, and an introduction video from the author.

A Life of Adventure and Delight delivers eight masterful stories from dazzlingly original and critically acclaimed author Akhil Sharma.

Hailed as a storyteller whose fiction is “a glowing work of art” (Wall Street Journal), Akhil Sharma is possessed of a narrative voice “as hypnotic as those found in the pages of Dostoyevsky” (The Nation). In A Life of Adventure and Delight, Sharma delivers eight masterful stories that focus on Indian protagonists at home and abroad and that plunge the reader into the unpredictable workings of the human heart. A young woman in an arranged marriage awakens one day surprised to find herself in love with her husband. A retired divorcé tries to become the perfect partner by reading women’s magazines. A man’s longstanding contempt for his cousin suddenly shifts inward when he witnesses his cousin caring for a sick woman. Tender and darkly comic, the protagonists in A Life of Adventure and Delight deceive themselves and engage in odd behaviors as they navigate how to be good, how to make meaningful relationships, and the strengths and pitfalls of self-interest. Elegantly written and emotionally immediate, the stories provide an intimate, honest assessment of human relationships between mothers and sons, sons and lovers, and husband and wives from a dazzlingly original, critically acclaimed writer.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. Akhil Sharma’s stories appear concerned with the transformative power of love. But is that a fair interpretation, or would it be more accurate that they are concerned with a desire for transformation?
  2. The stories almost always involve characters striving for something and when achieving it realizing that reality is more complicated than fantasy. To what extent is the complicated nature of reality hopeful instead of merely challenging?
  3. A Life of Adventure and Delight involves a character who grew up in a traumatic background. If we paid more attention to the mention of widow burning does his desire to avoid relationships make more sense?
  4. Mr. Sharma has said that he is primarily interested in keeping the subject of each sentence in the first third of the sentence, that he likes to combine sentences when he wants the visuals to become smudged. What are some of the techniques that you spot him repeatedly using?
  5. Writing about a minority community involves trying to explain that community to readers who belong to the majority community. An author who is interested in maintaining suspension of disbelief needs to hide this explaining. What are the different ways Mr. Sharma explains or doesn’t explain the Indian community?


Akhil Sharma is a novelist and short story writer. He came to America when he was eight and grew up primarily in New Jersey and New York. He says that for him, human being are not thinking creatures, but creatures who feel and who also happen to think. The short stories in his collection A Life of Adventure and Delight contain stories from the full length of his career. Cosmopolitan and If You Sing Like That For Me were written when he was nineteen and twenty. A Life of Adventure and Delight was written when he was forty-six.

Facing the Unseen: The Struggle To Center Mental Health in Medicine

From the New York Times bestselling author of Black Man in a White Coat comes a powerful and urgent call to center psychiatry and mental health care into the mainstream of medicine.

As much as we all might wish that mental health problems, with their elusive causes and unsettling behaviors, simply did not exist, millions of people suffer from them, sometimes to an extreme extent. Many others face addiction to alcohol and other drugs, as overdose and suicide deaths abound. Yet the vast majority of doctors receive minimal instruction in treating these conditions during their lengthy medical training. This mismatch ignores the clear overlap between physical and mental distress, and too-often puts psychiatrists on the outside looking in as the medical system continues to fail many patients.

In Facing The Unseen, bestselling author, professor of psychiatry, and practicing physician Damon Tweedy guides us through his days working in outpatient clinics, emergency rooms, and hospitals as he meets people from all walks of life who are grappling with physical and psychological illnesses. In powerful, compassionate, and eloquent prose, Tweedy argues for a more comprehensive and integrated approach where people with mental illness have a health care system that places their full well-being front and center.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. What are some reasons that it is important for physicians across all disciplines to receive adequate training in identifying and addressing common mental health problems?
  2. How might our language and attitudes around addiction and suicide cause additional harm to patients in clinical practice and in society more broadly?
  3. In what ways are racial disparities in health care even more prominent within psychiatric care?
  4. Do you think patient psychiatric records and access to psychiatrists should be mostly separate from other medical disciplines or become more seamlessly integrated? Why or why not?
  5. How should psychiatry strike the balance between being a “medical” discipline and a “psychological” field? And what lessons might “medicine” learn from “psychiatry” to better serve its patients?


Dr. Damon Tweedy is a professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine and staff physician at the Durham Veteran Affairs Health System. His 2015 book, "Black Man in a White Coat," was a New York Times Bestseller, selected by TIME magazine as one of the Top 10 Non-fiction books of that year. Dr. Tweedy has also published articles about race, medicine and mental health in the New York Times, Washington Post, and various medical journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Additionally, he is a faculty member with Duke’s Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and the History of Medicine, where he is at work on a project that examines Duke Hospital’s history during the era of segregation.

Finding America in a Minor League Ballpark: A Season Hosting for the Durham Bulls

Over forty million people attend minor league baseball games each season. Who are they? Why do they come? Let’s find out!
Noted social scientist Harris Cooper took a job as a Seating Bowl Host for the most famous minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. As a host, he helped fans find seats and other stadium amenities, made sure everyone was safe, took pictures, and chased kids from the aisles. He got to talk with a wide-ranging assortment of people, from regular attendees to those at their very first baseball game, from retired judges to middle school students.
Minor league baseball games draw a broader array of Americans than any sport. The fleeting moments spent talking baseball with the fan sitting next to you or with a ballpark employee disguise the remarkable variety of people who call themselves “baseball fans.” Dr. Cooper brings these people to life.
In addition, the book presents a brief history of minor league baseball, the Bulls, and the city of Durham, so typical of small American cities. It profiles the ballplayers, focusing not on their on-field statistics but on who they are and where they come from. The book also profiles twelve baseball movies, all of which focus on baseball not played in the major leagues.
Throughout the book, Dr. Cooper draws on his knowledge of social science to extract from his experiences a description of the inhabitants and goings-on at a ballpark. It illuminates not just baseball writ large, but also provides a compelling portrait of Americans as a people and their shared love of our national pastime.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. Is baseball still America’s National Pastime? If not, what is? Answer this question before you read the book then consider whether your opinion changed when you were done reading.
  2. What are your most vivid memories of a trip to a baseball game? Did you read something in the book that sparked those memories?
  3. What do you think of the recent rule changes in baseball? The pitch clock? The ban on the infield shift? What about an automated ump and appeals for called balls and strikes (already being used in the minor leagues)?
  4. Minor league baseball attracts remarkedly diverse attendees. They represent all ethnic, racial, political, and age groups. What other venues do the same? What would you suggest are ways to spotlight the things that all, or most, Americans have in common?
  5. What’s the best baseball movie ever? Do you agree with the seedings I made in my non-major league film tournament and who won each contest? Disagreements welcome!


Harris Cooper is the Hugh L. Blomquist Distinguished Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience, Emeritus, At Duke, he served as the Director of the Program in Education, the Chair of the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, and the Dean of the Social Sciences for Trinity College. He is known nationally for his research examining the effects of homework on academic achievement and family dynamics. After retiring from Duke, he was appointed the Editor-in-Chief for the American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association circulated to over 80,000 psychologists worldwide. Also since retiring, he has written two popular nonfiction books. The first "American History Through a Whiskey Glass" is in its fifth printing. "Finding America in a Minor League Ballpark", published last February, relates his experiences working as a Seating Bowl Host for the Durham Bulls.

Madness and Enterprise: Psychiatry, Economic Reason, and the Emergence of Pathological Value

Uncovers a powerful relationship between pathology and money: beginning in the nineteenth century, the severity of mental illness was measured against a patient’s economic productivity.
Madness and Enterprise reveals the economic norms embedded within psychiatric thinking about mental illness in the North Atlantic world. Over the course of the nineteenth century, various forms of madness were subjected to a style of psychiatric reasoning that was preoccupied with money. Psychiatrists across Western Europe and the United States attributed financial and even moral value to an array of pathological conditions, such that some mental disorders were seen as financial assets and others as economic liabilities. By turning to economic conduct and asking whether potential patients appeared capable of managing their financial affairs or even generating wealth, psychiatrists could often bypass diagnostic uncertainties about a person’s mental state.

Through an exploration of the intertwined histories of psychiatry and economic thought, Nima Bassiri shows how this relationship transformed the very idea of value in the modern North Atlantic, as the most common forms of social valuation—moral value, medical value, and economic value—were rendered equivalent and interchangeable. If what was good and what was healthy were increasingly conflated with what was remunerative (and vice versa), then a conceptual space opened through which madness itself could be converted into an economic form and subsequently redeemed—and even revered.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. Why did psychiatrists use “economic reasoning” to make sense of people’s states of mind?
  2. What do the terms “economic reason” and “pathological value” actually mean?
  3. How do questions of race and gender play into the larger discussion of entrepreneurialism and madness in the book?
  4. What does it mean to think about psychiatrists as gatekeepers of moral conduct?
  5. How can we get “beyond” pathological value?


Nima Bassiri is a social theorist, historian & philosopher of the human sciences, and assistant professor at Duke University, where he teaches in the Program in Literature, Duke’s interdisciplinary humanities and cultural studies program. He is also the co-director of Duke’s Institute for Critical Theory. He is the author of 'Madness and Enterprise: Psychiatry, Economic Reason, and the Emergence of Pathological Value' (University of Chicago Press). Before arriving at Duke, he was an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities at Wesleyan University, an ACLS New Faculty Fellow at Duke, and Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the Society of Fellows at the University of Chicago, where he was affiliated faculty in History and the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science. He received his PhD in the Rhetoric program at the University of California, Berkeley.

Making the Latino South: A History of Racial Formation

In the 1940s South, it seemed that non-Black Latino people were on the road to whiteness. In fact, in many places throughout the region governed by Jim Crow, they were able to attend white schools, live in white neighborhoods, and marry white southerners. However, by the early 2000s, Latino people in the South were routinely cast as "illegal aliens" and targeted by some of the harshest anti-immigrant legislation in the country. This book helps explain how race evolved so dramatically for this population over the course of the second half of the twentieth century.
Cecilia Márquez guides readers through time and place from Washington, DC, to the deep South, tracing how non-Black Latino people moved through the region’s evolving racial landscape. In considering Latino presence in the South’s schools, its workplaces, its tourist destinations, and more, Márquez tells a challenging story of race-making that defies easy narratives of progressive change and promises to reshape the broader American histories of Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, immigration, work, and culture.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. What did you know about Latino history before reading the book? Where did that history take place?
  2. What role do you think region plays in shaping other parts of identity? How does where you are shape who you are?
  3. What role does history have in shaping a community? How does the history of that community shape who might feel included or excluded?
  4. Why do you think it is important to introduce Latinos into the history of the South?
  5. How does Making the Latino South make you think differently about what you might have known about Latino History? What about Southern History?


Cecilia Márquez is the Hunt Family Assistant Professor in History at Duke University and the author of “Making the Latino South: A History of Racial Formation” published by UNC Press in Fall 2023. Her current research focuses on the history of grassroots conservative Latino activism from the 1970s to the present. Dr. Márquez writes and teaches about the formation of Latinx identity, Latinx social movements, and the importance of region in shaping Latinx identity. Her work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

On the Swamp: Fighting for Indigenous Environmental Justice

Despite centuries of colonialism, Indigenous peoples still occupy parts of their ancestral homelands in what is now Eastern North Carolina—a patchwork quilt of forested swamps, sandy plains, and blackwater streams that spreads across the Coastal Plain between the Fall Line and the Atlantic Ocean. In these backwaters, Lumbees and other American Indians have adapted to a radically transformed world while maintaining vibrant cultures and powerful connections to land and water. Like many Indigenous communities worldwide,they continue to assert their rights to self-determination by resisting legacies of colonialism and the continued transformation of their homelands through pollution, unsustainable development, and climate change.
Environmental scientist Ryan E. Emanuel, a member of the Lumbee tribe, shares stories from North Carolina about Indigenous survival and resilience in the face of radical environmental changes. Addressing issues from the loss of wetlands to the arrival of gas pipelines, these stories connect the dots between historic patterns of Indigenous oppression and present-day efforts to promote environmental justice and Indigenous rights on the swamp. Emanuel’s scientific insight and deeply personal connections to his home blend together in a book that is both a heartfelt and an analytical call to acknowledge and protect sacred places.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. What do you think time immemorial means to Indigenous peoples, and how did this book influence your own thinking about time and history?
  2. What do you think it means to apply an “Indigenous lens” to questions of environmental justice – including questions around the uneven impacts of pollution and climate change, questions around sustainable use of resources, or questions around barriers to the participation of marginalized groups in environmental decision making?
  3. In his 1969 book Custer Died for Your Sins, Vine Deloria Jr. declared, “Mythical generalities of what built this country and made it great must now give way to consideration of keeping contractual obligations due to the Indian people.” What are some of the myths that continue to affect environmental decision making (or environmental thinking more generally), and why do these myths persist in the 21st century?
  4. Not all Native American Tribes in the United States have formal recognition from the federal government. How can the lack of federal recognition limit the ability of Tribes to care for their homelands, and what are some steps that Tribes in North Carolina (or elsewhere) have taken to overcome these limitations?
  5. How does this book prepare you to take action in your own community (or in other spaces that you occupy)?


Ryan Emanuel is an associate professor of hydrology in the Nicholas School of the Environment and an enrolled citizen of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. He studies impacts of climate change, pollution, and unsustainable development on water, ecosystems, and people. He also partners with Indigenous communities on a variety of research, education, and outreach projects. Besides his book, On the Swamp, Emanuel has published more than fifty research articles in academic journals across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Before joining Duke in 2022, Emanuel was a professor at North Carolina State University where he was also recognized as a University Faculty Scholar and an Alumni Association Distinguished Graduate Professor. He was a 2020-2021 Fellow at the National Humanities Center and was a member of the 2020-2022 class of the William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations. Emanuel attended public schools in Charlotte, North Carolina is a proud Duke grad.

When sixteen-year-old Shae meets Cam, who is new to their small town in West Virginia, she thinks she has found someone who is everything she has ever wanted in a companion. The two become fast friends, and then more. And when Shae ends up pregnant, Cam begins a different transition—trying on clothes that Shae can no longer fit into and using female pronouns. Shae tries to be fully supportive as Cam becomes the person she wants and needs to be.After a traumatic C-section and the birth of their daughter, Eva, Shae is given opioids to manage the intense pain. During the first year of Eva’s life, Shae’s dependence shifts from pain management to addiction, and her days begin to revolve around getting more pills. In the heart of West Virginia, opioids are dispensed as freely as candy, and Shae is just one of many to fall victim to addiction. Meanwhile, as Cam continues to transition, she embraces new relationships and faces the reality of being a trans woman in rural America.Shae is as much about these two young women as it is about the home they both love despite its limitations. Following the acclaimed Sugar Run and Perpetual West, this is Mesha Maren’s most intense and intimate novel yet.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. Shae revolves around not one but two important issues in contemporary American life: the opioid crisis and its impact on small communities, particularly in Appalachia, and the battles surrounding transgender rights. Have either of these issues touched your life or the lives of people you know?
  2. Shae is described as being “as much about these two young women as it is about the home they both love despite its limitations.” Do you relate to loving a place despite its limitations? What roles do the geography and culture of the place where you were raised play in your life?
  3. Shae is a love story but it complicates the notions of both maternal and romantic love by empathetically portraying two young women dealing with the fallout of the opioid crisis. This novel prompts questions about how pain and addiction can ripple through multiple generations.
  4. Shae’s mother, Donna, is a loving and supportive character throughout the novel. She also attempts to ignore the fact that Cam is transitioning right under her nose. Can we truly love and support someone even if we do not entirely understand what they are going through?
  5. The novel opens with Shae trying to reconcile the fact that she and her partner Cam do not agree on their first memories of one another. What role do shared memories play in your relationships?


Mesha Maren is the author of the novels Sugar Run, Perpetual West, and Shae (May 2024, Algonquin Books). Her short stories and essays can be read in Tin House, The Oxford American, The Guardian, Crazyhorse, Triquarterly, The Southern Review, Ecotone, Sou’wester, Hobart, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, and elsewhere. She was the recipient of the 2015 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, a 2014 Elizabeth George Foundation grant, an Appalachian Writing Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Ucross Foundation. She was the 2018-2019 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is an Associate Professor of the Practice of English at Duke University.

The Accidental Equalizer: How Luck Determines Pay after College

A startling discovery—that job market success after college is largely random—forces a reappraisal of education, opportunity, and the American dream.

As a gateway to economic opportunity, a college degree is viewed by many as America’s great equalizer. And it’s true: wealthier, more connected, and seemingly better-qualified students earn exactly the same pay as their less privileged peers. Yet, the reasons why may have little to do with bootstraps or self-improvement—it might just be dumb luck. That’s what sociologist Jessi Streib proposes in The Accidental Equalizer, a conclusion she reaches after interviewing dozens of hiring agents and job-seeking graduates.

Streib finds that luck shapes the hiring process from start to finish in a way that limits class privilege in the job market. Employers hide information about how to get ahead and force students to guess which jobs pay the most and how best to obtain them. Without clear routes to success, graduates from all class backgrounds face the same odds at high pay. The Accidental Equalizer is a frank appraisal of how this “luckocracy” works and its implications for the future of higher education and the middle class. Although this system is far from eliminating American inequality, Streib shows that it may just be the best opportunity structure we have—for better and for worse.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. How did you find your first job after college? Do you think luck was involved in the pay you received?
  2. Thinking about times you have hired other people or been hired yourself, what do you think is the best process? Should candidates have more information about what hiring agents are looking for, how the interview process will go, the job, and the pay? Have you observed hiring processes that have been class-neutral?
  3. Do you think your class background has shaped how you applied for jobs or whether you’ve been hired? Why/why not? Do you think your class background shapes how you go about other parts of your life?
  4. There’s a trade-off: we can have a system that allows students from unequal class backgrounds to receive equal earnings, or we can have transparency in the hiring process and pay. Which do you prefer? Why?
  5. Are there other ways you think we can create more equal opportunities for people born into different social classes?


Jessi Streib is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University and the co-recipient of the 2023 Early Career Award from the Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility section of the American Sociological Association. Her work focuses on how people stay in or move out of their childhood class position and how class, gender, and racial inequalities are maintained and challenged. She is the author of The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages, Privilege Lost: Who Leaves the Upper Middle Class and How They Fall, and the #1 new release in sociology: The Accidental Equalizer: How Luck Determines Pay After College. She is also the co-author of the forthcoming book, Is it Racist? Is it Sexist? Why Red and Blue White People Disagree, and How to Decide in the Gray Areas.

The United States Constitution was established primarily because of the widely recognized failures of its predecessor, the Articles of Confederation, to adequately address "collective-action problems" facing the states. These problems included funding the national government, regulating foreign and interstate commerce, and defending the nation from attack. Meeting such challenges required the states to cooperate or coordinate their behavior, but they often struggled to do so both inside and outside the Confederation Congress. By empowering Congress to solve collective-action problems, and by creating a national executive and judiciary to enforce federal law, the Constitution promised a substantially more effective federal government.

An important read for scholars, lawyers, judges, and students alike, Neil Siegel's The Collective-Action Constitution addresses how the U.S. Constitution is, in a fundamental sense, the Collective-Action Constitution. Any faithful account of what the Constitution is for and how it should be interpreted must include the primary structural purpose of empowering the federal government to solve collective-action problems for the states and preventing them from causing such problems. This book offers a thorough examination of the collective-action principles animating the structure of the Constitution and how they should be applied to meet many of the most daunting challenges facing American society today.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. What is the main argument of the book?
  2. What are some counterarguments to the main argument?
  3. On balance, how persuasive do you find the main argument?
  4. What are you learning about American law, history, or government from reading this book that you didn't know before?
  5. If you could change only one provision of the Constitution, what would it be after reading this book?


Neil S. Siegel is the David W. Ichel Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at Duke Law School, where he also serves as Associate Dean for Intellectual Life and Director of the Summer Institute on Law & Policy. Professor Siegel’s research and teaching fall primarily in the areas of U.S. constitutional law, constitutional politics, constitutional theory, and the federal courts. Professor Siegel is a constitutional law generalist. His scholarship addresses a variety of areas of constitutional law and, in doing so, considers ways in which a methodologically pluralist approach can accommodate changes in American society and the needs of American governance while remaining disciplined and bound by the rule of law. His book and articles on collective-action federalism offer constitutional justification for robust, but not limitless, federal power. He also writes about the separation and interrelation of powers, the politics of constitutional law, and gender equality.

The Science of the Good Samaritan: Thinking Bigger about Loving Our Neighbors

What does it mean to love your neighbor in today's fraught, divided world?

Join Dr. Emily Smith, global health expert and creator of the popular Facebook page Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist, as she dives into what loving your neighbor--as illustrated in the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan--truly means. Combining Dr. Smith's expertise as a scientist with her deep Christian faith while drawing from her journey from small-town Texas to a prestigious university, The Science of the Good Samaritan shares fascinating stories from Dr. Smith's life and the lives of other inspiring people around the world to show us how to:

Find shared values with people from different backgrounds, faiths, and cultures than our own
Reach outside our immediate circles to bring in those on the margins
Redefine our concept of "neighbor" and love our neighbors in more practical and global ways
Bridge the gaps of society's disparities and inequities
You can help reimagine and create a better world--and it all starts with authentically loving your neighbor.

5 Questions to Consider While Reading

  1. How can we live as global neighbors today in a world that is set up to do quite the opposite?
  2. Why does understanding words like solidarity, structural violence, and systemic racism help us be better neighbors?
  3. What does it mean to love your neighbor in today's fraught, divided world with political tensions?
  4. How do we recognize our neighbors more, especially globally?
  5. How can we redefine our concept of "neighbor" and love our neighbors in more practical and global ways that might take some courage?


Dr. Emily Smith is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine/Surgery at Duke University and an Assistant Professor of Global Health at the Duke Global Health Institute. Her research interests include the intersection of children’s global health and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Dr. Smith received her PhD in epidemiology from the Gillings School of Public Health at UNC-CH and an MSPH from the University of South Carolina. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she started a Facebook page called Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist, which reached 10 million people during the pandemic. Her work was featured in TIME Magazine, the Washington Post, NPR, Christianity Today, as well as at national conferences. Dr. Smith’s upcoming book, The Science of the Good Samaritan: Thinking Bigger about Loving our Neighbors, was released in 2023 (Harper Collins).