These Are the Best Books for Each College Major, According to Students (Part 1)

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We polled students on their favorite for-class reads.

Every once in a while you get a book assigned to you for a class that actually changes your life. Maybe it’s the book that makes you realize that this is what you’re meant to study, or the novel that alters your perspective on your field.

Through my political science classes, I’ve been fortunate to have several of books that have done just that, but I’m always on the lookout for new books to read in the subjects that I ordinarily don’t get to study.

For this article, I reached out to students from every major I could find, from Econ to Enviro, General Chem to Gender Studies, to find the best books that real college students are reading for their classes. (I’ve linked them below, but feel free to buy them from your local bookstore instead!)

This is part one of a two-part series, so if you don’t see your major here, don’t fret! Just keep checking back for future posts.

The Best Books, According to Political Science Majors:

1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander 

This book shows the ways legislative efforts have redesigned the racial caste system in the U.S through the criminal justice system. It examines how mass incarceration has become a system of racial control all while operating under “the principle of colorblindness.” 

(Too long, no time to read? Check out Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary 13th in which Alexander is interviewed!)

2. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder 

This is a quick read but it may just be the most important book you read this year. With the rise of nationalism around the world and an increasingly fractured political sphere, Snyder’s book examines the darkest political and historical moments of the past century so that we will not be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

Honorable Mentions: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson; The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein; White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg 

The Best Books, According to Education Majors:

1. For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin 

For anyone with ambitions to go into education reform, this should be required reading. Emdin draws on his own experiences from his childhood to discuss today’s educational system and how to combat the disconnect between students and teachers that sets up so many for failure. This book is about how to reimagine the classroom as a place of equals in which students play just as large a role in teaching as they do learning.

2. The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World by Nadia Lopez with Rebecca Paley 

This book may sound familiar to some and that is because the author is the Ms. Lopez from the Humans of New York post that went viral in 2015. That post led to several follow-ups as people around the world became invested in Ms. Lopez and the work she was doing for her students. This book, which details her pedagogy and approach to teaching students the rest of the society characterizes as unteachable, is dedicated to hundreds of other Ms. Lopezes around the country who are putting in the work to revolutionize our education system.

Honorable Mention: “Keep the Damned Women Out”: The Struggle for Coeducation by Nancy Weiss Malkiel

The Best Books, According to Religious or Cultural Studies Majors:

1. Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Khalil 

This is a graphic novel set in the aftermath of Iran’s 2009 elections. It is beautifully crafted with breathtaking illustrations as it retells the story of one mother’s search for her son when he goes missing after protesting the results of the fraudulent election. Zahra’s Paradise is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the global political climate and because of its graphic novel-style, you can easily read it in one sitting.

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

This book tells the story of the Vietnam War from an Asian perspective through the eyes of a communist spy. While it reads like a thriller and its spy-novel feel is enough to give James Bond a run for his money, The Sympathizer tackles issues of race and identity in a war-torn nation and explores one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history.

Honorable Mentions: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama by Kenneth L. Woodward

The Best Books, According to STEM Majors:

1. Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren 

This book tells the story of a woman’s journey through botany and how she found her personal sanctuary in the study. Jahren also utilizes her memoir to highlight the importance of scientists to fight for the protection of our environment, making it a perfect read for anyone studying Bio or Environmental Studies!

2. Gulp by Mary Roach 

This is a great read for anyone dredging through a particularly difficult semester because while it is non-fiction, it’s hilarious! Roach has been called “America’s funniest science writer” by the Washington Post, so be sure to pick this up if you’re in search of a light read about the alimentary canal.

Honorable Mentions: The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson; A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr; Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert; Intuition by Allegra Goodman 

What do you think?

How do you find time to read for fun during a busy semester? What’s the best book you’ve ever read for a class? Any majors and books I missed? Let us know in the comments below and be on the lookout for part two!

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