Recently published books by alumni

And faculty, plus recommendations

Laura Huang

We asked Laura Huang B.S.E. ’00, M.S. ’01, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and author of Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage, about why she believes you can flip stereotypes and obstacles in your favor.

On how her research reconsiders hard work:

You can take two different people who work equally hard and one will be more successful than the other. I would never say that hard work’s not critical. It is critical. But hard work alone is not enough. A lot of times hard work leaves us frustrated, and that’s because [the obstacles are] signals, and perceptions, and stereotypes of others. That’s what I found in organizations and start-ups—that there are so many biases, and disadvantages, and constraints that people face.

And so, about three years ago, I got sort of frustrated because all I was seeing were these disadvantages that women and people of color and just everyone were facing because of these signals and perceptions and cues.

That’s when I started studying how people can empower themselves. People need to empower themselves, even when the systems are maybe not changing quickly enough, or not changing at all, or not changing in the way we think they should.

The book is really about how we can flip stereotypes and obstacles in our favor so that we can find and create our own edge, especially when some people seemingly always have the advantages and some people seem to have privilege. When we’re in a position where we don’t have privilege, we can make our own privilege.

On trusting your intuition:

The gut-feel piece of it is that a lot of times we have this connotation around gut feel as being something that’s emotional and quick and subconscious and biased in a lot of ways, that we then need to go and find data to back it up. When we recognize that, a lot of times, our gut instinct and our intuition [are] based on something that’s very cognitive, as well as emotional—it’s based on our experiences and our beliefs and pattern matching, and lots of things that go into it, in addition to our emotions.

When we trust and we understand how to hone our own gut feel, we become much better at going into a situation and being able to understand how others see us so that we can then flip those negative stereotypes in our favor and guide how they see us. There are some contexts in which we do want to be analytical. But there are other contexts when we want to be less analytical and rely much more on the soft kind of data out there. Knowing the difference is also a part of this process.

On her new research interests:

I am really, really trying to think through the fact that we’ve been talking about these issues for a long time, and in some ways, we’ve made progress. But in other ways, we’ve taken ten steps backwards. It can’t just be the structural things. And so, how else can we understand this? The other component is that, as we become much more aware of diversity and inclusion and advantage and disadvantage, what things are getting hidden?

Some of my research, for example, on accents—we know we can’t discriminate against people with accents. When we’re rating people, we take that into account, but then we have hidden things that are associated with people with accents. We all agree we’re not going to discriminate against somebody with this accent, but then we say, “Okay, can we all agree that we want to hire somebody who thinks outside the box, and someone who’s innovative, and interpersonally influential?” And everyone says, “Yeah, yeah, of course.” And then it just so happens that all of the people who are rated the lowest on thinking out of the box and innovative and interpersonally influential are people with an accent.

Those are the types of things that I want to continue trying to shed light on so that we can actually truly start to see progress.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Duff calls herself “Atlanta’s funniest lawyer,” and in If You Did What I Asked in the First Place (Deeds Publishing), she finds the humor in everything from motherhood, to planning her own funeral, to the lack of pockets in women’s clothing. Below, she shares the books that inspired her foray into humor writing.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is the perfect example of how you can be hilariously funny and have quite a lot to say all at the same time. Grand thoughts about the nature of good and evil can also make you giggle. The basic premise— What if the Anti-Christ were accidentally switched at birth and raised by a “normal” family?—is so clever and thought-provoking and scandalous.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh was the first book I loved enough to read the cover off of it. It taught me that the best stories are learned through eavesdropping and told from a distance, and the best friends are the ones that are slightly off-center. It creates a world populated by real, imperfect characters who each break your heart in their own ways.

Naked by David Sedaris showed me that making one’s self the butt of the jokes can move beyond simple jokes and selfish navelgazing. Looking in the mirror, you reflect not just yourself but also what’s in the world behind you. Structurally, the short-story-with-recurringreal- characters format is a clear influence.

Finally, I remember Erma Bombeck’s If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? at my grandmother’s house and reading it over and over while the adults droned on. Her writing is sneakily subversive and timeless. She showed that you don’t have to have plot twists or glamour to be meaningful: There is wonder and humor in the everyday, if you look properly.


Lithium: A Doctor, A Drug, and a Breakthrough (Liveright) Walter A. Brown M.D. ’67

Why the U.S. Men Will Never Win the World Cup (Rowman & Littlefield) Beau Dure ’00

The American Story (Simon & Schuster) David M. Rubenstein ’70

They Stole Him Out of Jail: Willie Earle, South Carolina’s Last Lynching Victim (The University of South Carolina Press) William B. Gravely Ph.D. ’69

I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) Chanequa Walker-Barnes M.Div. ’07

Social Media and the Public Interest: Media Regulation in the Disinformation Age (Columbia University Press) Philip M. Napoli, James R. Shepley Professor of public policy

How “Indians” Think: Colonial Indigenous Intellectuals and the Question of Critical Race Theory (The University of Arizona Press) Gonzalo Lamana A.M. ’04, Ph.D. ’05

Dune Tracks (poems) (Fithian Press) Francis Fike ’54

Sea Level Rise: A Slow Tsunami on America’s Shores (Duke University Press) Orrin H. Pilkey, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of geology, and Keith C. Pilkey

Passing Fancies in Jewish American Literature and Culture (Indiana University Press) Judith Ruderman Ph.D. ’76, retired vice provost and adjunct professor of English

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