WELCOME TO BERKELEY. We’re sending you something that you don’t need to figure out, fill out, or even respond to. Every summer, we send new Cal freshmen a list of books suggested by various people on campus. This is not an “official” list, or even a list of required reading. It’s just for you to enjoy as you wish.

When we asked campus faculty and staff for recommendations for this year’s topic, “Bio-graphy/Writing a Life,” we had no idea that our campus community would recommend books that are all more than simple retelling of people’s lives. These biographies and autobiographies are about the human spirit. To paraphrase the opening of Hermann Hesse’s great novel Demian, we are all more than just ourselves; we each also represent the unique, the very special, and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again. That is why everyone’s story is important.

There is surely a title on this list that you’ll enjoy reading and that will truly inspire you. You may find them in bookstores, and all are available in the Berkeley campus libraries. The list itself is also available, along with past lists, at http://reading.berkeley.edu.

We hope you’ll choose one of these books to read this summer, as a reminder that Berkeley is a vital intellectual community that generates and debates fascinating and important ideas.

Elizabeth Dupuis
Associate University Librarian for Educational Initiatives
Director, Doe/Moffitt Libraries

Steve Tollefson
Lecturer, College Writing Programs
Director, Office of Educational Development

Before Night Falls
Reinaldo Arenas
New York: Viking, 1993

A shocking memoir by Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas who recounts his journey from a poverty-stricken childhood in rural Cuba to his death in New York City. He tells about his fighting for the Revolution as an adolescent, his suppression as a writer, his disillusionment with Castro, his imprisonment and torture, and his escape from Cuba. One of the best books of 1993, according to the New York Times Book Review, which said, “This is a book above all about being free — politically, artistically, sexually.” Sad, powerful, inspiring.

Pablo Neruda
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977

I was mesmerized by Neruda’s tales of his life: passionate, vivid, and profoundly enlightening — the best memoirs I’ve read in years. Lorca, Picasso, Gandhi, Mao Tse-tung, Castro, and Allende all appear in the book, making Neruda’s life story of truly universal reach and significance. In his editor’s words, “the richest account we have of Latin American history, politics, and literature.”

This is how the great Chilean poet begins his story: “In these memoirs or recollections there are gaps here and there, and sometimes they are also forgetful, because life is like that…What the memoir writer remembers is not the same thing the poet remembers. He may have lived less, but he photographed much more, and he re-creates for us with special attention to detail…Perhaps I didn’t live just in my self, perhaps I lived the lives of others…”

Annamaria Bellezza
Lecturer, Italian Studies

Annamaria Bellezza is co-author of Prego! An Invitation to Italian and Il Reale e il Possibile, An Intermediate to Advanced Reader. She teaches a variety of courses in the Italian Language Program.

Eastern Approaches
Fitzroy MacLean
New York: Time Incorporated, 1964

In the mid-thirties Fitzroy MacLean was posted to the British embassy in Paris. Bored with the pleasant but undemanding routine, he requested a posting to Moscow. He was in Moscow until late 1939, and so was present during the great Stalinist purges, observing the dramatic end of Bukharin and other Russian revolutionaries. While in Moscow, MacLean ventured by train and by foot into often remote regions of the Soviet Union, which were off limits to foreigners, and was pursued by the NKVD as he did so. Later in the book, he becomes the personal liaison officer between Churchill and Tito and starts commuting between the UK and Yugoslavia to help with the war. In the meantime, he also takes part in the campaign against the Italians in Northern Africa. This book is unbelievable in the way it describes an absolutely unknown aspect of this period (McLean was one of the only witnesses of the purges of Stalin). This is a true James Bond story, except the story is true.

Alexandre Bayen
Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Professor Bayen studies control and optimization of distributed parameter systems, optimal control, hybrid systems, viability theory, and embedded systems. In addition to courses in these subjects, Professor Bayen also teaches “Selected Topics in Air Transportation.”

Her Husband: Hughes & Plath — A Marriage
Diane Wood Middlebrook
New York: Viking, 2003

This dramatic biography about two iconic poets documents not only their volatile romance, marriage, and divorce but also analyzes their letters, poetry, and other writings. Here is an opportunity to see Plath in full — student, poet, wife, mother — and to learn more about Hughes, British Poet Laureate as well as the author of the children’s book that inspired the popular animated film, The Iron Giant (Bird, 1999). The book draws us in as if it were a novel, and by the conclusion we better understand how the reality of their lives lent itself to the mythology that continues to surround them as individuals and as a couple.

Jane Hammons
Lecturer, College Writing Programs

Jane Hammons, recipient of Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award, has published her fiction and non-fiction most recently in River Walk Journal, Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, Alaska Quarterly Review, Kitchen Sink, The San Francisco Chronicle, and taintmagazine.com. In fall 2008 she will be teaching College Writing 110 “Advanced Composition: Challenging Writing.”

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution
David Quammen
New York: Atlas Books/Norton, 2006

If you’re going to read only one book about Darwin, this should be it. David Quammen is one of the finest science writers in the world, and he really gets Darwin. It’s not an exhaustive chronological book but an historical reflection on Darwin’s intellect — how he came to his ideas, what he was like as a person, how it all fit in. Quammen fits Darwin very well into his time, not just into ours. The result is a delight for those who like history, science, great ideas, and just plain great writing.

Kevin Padian
Professor, Integrative Biology
Curator of Paleontology, Museum of Paleontology

One of our foremost paleontologists, Professor Padian has wide ranging interests united by a curiosity about how large-scale changes get started in evolution. He and his colleagues work to address questions such as “how did flight evolve?” and “how did dinosaurs walk?” His most recent article, “Darwin’s Enduring Legacy,” is in the February 2008 issue of Nature. In the fall, he is teaching a freshman seminar on “Dinosaur Biology: An Introduction to Research,” as well as Integrative Biology 160: “Evolution.”

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
Brenda Ueland
St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 1987 (©1938)

This book from 1938 is by a remarkable woman (1891–1985, of Norwegian descent!) who writes about the necessity of writing while weaving her life into these essays elegantly and wisely. She also wrote Strength to Your Sword Arm also about writing as a life passion. Yes, some of the delicateness with what she writes might seem a bit dated; it is still high octane in terms of insight and advice. She is from Minnesota but was a vibrant member of the Greenwich Village bohemian crowd in NYC.

Karen Moller
Lecturer, Scandinavian Languages

Karen Moller teaches Danish and is the coordinator of the Scandinavian Language Program. Her current research is an ethnographic project mapping out language choice and language use among Danish-Turkish immigrants.

Locked in the Cabinet
Robert B. Reich
New York: Knopf, 1997

Robert Reich (now a member of the Berkeley faculty) shares the ins and outs of his time as President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, detailing both the struggles to influence major social and economic policy, and the day-to-day of an academic-turned-politico. In a presidential campaign year, it’s easy to be dazzled by campaign rhetoric and forget that the federal government impacts so many aspects of our lives. The book is funny, thought- provoking, and the most honest account of the Washington experience I’ve ever read — and will speak to both budding political scientists and passive campaign watchers alike.

Devin Kinyon
Program Director, New Student Services

Devin Kinyon is a Cal alumnus, class of 2000, and has worked on campus since then helping students to engage in their communities, develop as leaders, and make a smooth transition to the University. He oversees orientation programs for new students and their parents.

Isaac Newton
James Gleick
New York: Pantheon Books, 2003

We learn how an eccentric young man who, by all accounts, should have become a street vagrant, went on to become one of the most influential scientists of all time. Newton “discovered” many secrets of our universe while never leaving a 200-mile stretch of landlocked terrain in England (he never even saw the ocean). And no one is better qualified to tell the tale than James Gleick, whose masterful writing skills are trumped only by his meticulous research.

Babak Ayazifar
Lecturer, Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

Before he came to Berkeley, Babak Ayazifar was involved in the development of DIRECTV and contributed to work on HDTV. Among the courses he teaches are “Structure and Interpretation of Systems and Signals” and “Teaching Techniques for Electrical Engineering.” One of his special interests is Engineering Education. He was a Presidential Chair Fellow at Berkeley.

Our Lady of the Flowers
Jean Genet
New York: Grove Press, 1963 (©1948)

Saint Genet, Actor and Martyr
Jean-Paul Sartre
New York: G. Braziller, 1963 (©1952)

Genet: A Biography
Edmund White
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993

How truthful is any biography? one could ask. This question of the truth is particularly thorny when considering the writer Jean Genet. His legend begins, perhaps, when, imprisoned, he began writing Our Lady of the Flowers on the brown paper the prisoners used to make paper bags. The pages were discovered, destroyed, and then the work was begun again. His reformatory childhood is brought out in the character of Louis Culafroy. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “No other book, not even Ulysses, brings us into such close physical contact with another.” Then Sartre was among those who, recognizing Genet’s genius, petitioned to have him pardoned rather than face life imprisonment. Shortly thereafter, Sartre wrote Saint Genet Comédien et Martyr, a huge attempt to explain Genet’s life, genius, and even the religiosity of his works. Recently, when it seemed nothing more could be said, Edmund White wrote an 800 page biography of Genet. To know Genet, explore these works, and form your own sense of this remarkable writer.

Steve Mendoza
Reference Specialist, Doe/Moffitt Reference Services, University Library

Steve Mendoza started at Cal as an undergraduate in sociology in 1979. He works at the reference desks in the Doe/Moffitt Libraries where he assists students, faculty, and other scholars in answering their research questions. He serves as co-chair of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the LGBT Community and studies Dutch and Italian.

The Life of Mahatma Gandhi
Louis Fischer
New York: Harper & Row, 1983 (©1950)

Before there was Martin Luther King Jr., before there was Nelson Mandela, there was Mahatma Gandhi. Sometimes it’s necessary to go back to the basics. Faith in the future, nonviolence, love of humanity — these ideals can be traced to a common source. You might even say that the Mahatma foreshadowed the whole idea of an audacity of hope. Fischer’s biography of Gandhi is my favorite. The author had the opportunity to interview the Mahatma, giving the account more authenticity. Should be required reading for every undergraduate.

William Drummond
Professor, Journalism
Chair, Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate

Professor Drummond has had an amazingly varied career, staff to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, associate press secretary to President Jimmy Carter, founding editor of NPR’s Morning Edition, and New Delhi and Jerusalem bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.

John Stuart Mill
New York: Columbia University Press, 1960 (©1873)

“It was in the autumn of 1826. I was in a dull state of nerves, such as everybody is occasionally liable to; unsusceptible to enjoyment or pleasurable excitement; one of those moods when what is pleasure at other times, becomes insipid or indifferent; the state, I should think, in which converts to Methodism usually are, when smitten by their first ‘conviction of sin.’ In this frame of mind it occurred to me to put the question directly to myself: ‘Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions which you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant: would this be a great joy and happiness to you?’ And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, ‘No!’ At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down. All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of this end. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.” (Autobiography, Chapter 4)

In my view, this passage is the nub of one of the most important passages in English letters, the moment in J.S. Mill’s Autobiography when he realizes that a life of pure Utilitarian rationality is leaving him spiritually bankrupt. It is a moment of depression. It is the moment Mill finds redemption in poetry, and contains the ferment for his concept of human freedom so beautifully developed in his famous work, On Liberty. I loved reading about how as a kid he was trained to read Greek at the age of three, took on the Utilitarian philosophy as a teenager and young adult, and then modified the philosophy to incorporate the human spirit. Read this first-person account of one of the most influential and fascinating figures in Western history — it is a short and humanizing window into one of the world’s greatest minds. You won’t regret it!

David Winickoff
Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Society,
Environmental Science, Policy, and Management

Professor Winickoff’s research centers on the interaction of science, norms, and political structure in the governance of human health and the environment, with a particular focus on biotechnology and the law. He is especially interested in regulatory domains involving the life sciences, e.g., intellectual property, environmental protection, food safety, human research subject protection, and public health. Among the courses he teaches are “Bioethics and Society” and “Science, Technology, and the Politics of Nature.”

Unbowed: A Memoir
Wangari Maathai
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006

Memories of a childhood spent in the lush highlands of her beloved Kenya, combined with a biologist’s understanding of the natural world, inspired Wangari Maathai to establish the Green Belt Movement. This grassroots movement which mobilized rural women to plant trees not only helped to restore a landscape ravaged by a cash crop economy but empowered the women who led the reforestation. For her efforts, Maathai was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai’s poignant memoir portrays a nation — indeed a continent — struggling to overcome poverty, corruption, and the legacy of colonialism.

Margaret Phillips
Electronic Resources Librarian, University Library

Margaret Phillips previously taught campus courses related to information searching and evaluation. Her work currently focuses on issues related to scholarly communication, open access movement, e-books, and licensing of electronic library resources for the Cal community to use anytime, anywhere.

Reading in the Dark
Seamus Deane
New York: Knopf, 1997

This autobiographical novel tells the story of a family in mid-twentieth century Northern Ireland. The unnamed narrator is one of the older sons who becomes increasingly committed to uncovering the secrets of the family, secrets which revolve around both political loyalties and questions of trust among family members. The novel itself reflects his search for truth through its multiple embedded stories in which each teller both reveals and hides important knowledge about the lives of the community and the experience of living in a landscape saturated with history, folklore, religion and politics. The language and visual imagination of the book make it even more compelling than this summary might imply — gorgeous and arresting without ever being anything other than straight-forward.

Kathleen McCarthy
Associate Professor, Classics and Comparative Literature

Professor McCarthy is a recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award (2007) and a specialist in Roman Literature and Culture. Her book Slaves, Masters, and the Art of Authority in Plautine Comedy was published by Princeton University Press in 2000. She regularly teaches courses such as “Roman Civilization;” “Religion and Literature in the Ancient Greco-Roman World;” “Classical Mythology;” “Literature of Slave Societies;” and courses in Latin.

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