In the fall, nominations for First Pages are solicited. The Reading Committee is comprised of faculty, staff, and current students. The Committee meets several times over the spring semester to discuss the nominated books and makes their final recommendation.
If you enjoy reading and are interested in nominating a selection for next year, please contact Justin Silvestri, Associate Director of the University Honors Program (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The following books have been included in Northeastern’s reading initiatives.
2020 | Jose Anotonio Vargas, Dear America
About the Book
When Jose was 12 years old, his mother brought him to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport to travel to California in order to live with his maternal grandparents. Yet his mother never fulfilled her promise to join him and Jose’s adolescence in the United States would later be turned upside down by the shocking discovery that he was an undocumented immigrant.
Thus Jose began the harrowing journey of navigating his undocumented status in daily life, supported by a network of mentors and allies throughout his college and early career. His decision to publish his experiences as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine profoundly changed his life, making him a national voice and advocate for immigration reform. Dear America is a compelling memoir, poignantly revealing the complex human realities about identity, belonging, and security.
About the Author
Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and Tony-nominated producer. A leading voice for the human rights of immigrants, he founded the non-profit media and culture organization Define American, named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company. His best-selling memoir, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, was published by HarperCollins in 2018. Most recently, he co-produced Heidi Schreck’s acclaimed Broadway play What the Constitution Means to Me, which was nominated for two 2019 Tony awards, including “Best Play.”
In 2011, The New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay Jose wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. A year later, Jose appeared on the cover of TIME magazine worldwide with fellow undocumented immigrants as part of a follow-up cover story he wrote. He then produced and directed Documented, an autobiographical documentary feature film that aired on CNN and received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. Also in 2015, MTV aired White People, an Emmy-nominated television special Jose produced and directed on what it means to be young and white in a demographically-changing America.
Among accolades he has received are the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA and honorary degrees from Colby College and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In 2008, Jose received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize Passionate about the role of arts in society and promoting equity in education, he serves on the advisory board of TheDream.US, a scholarship fund for undocumented immigrant students. A product of the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a proud graduate of San Francisco State University (’04), where he was named Alumnus of the Year in 2012, and Mountain View High School (’00). An elementary school named after Vargas will open in his hometown of Mountain View, California in fall 2019.
2019 | Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don’t See
About the Book
In 2014, the state of Michigan changed the city of Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Resident complaints about the water’s quality was met with repeated reassurances from local government. However, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and her research team later determined that the residents’ concerns had been justified, as they had been exposed to lead – a neurotoxin that can cause irreparable developmental harm to children. What the Eyes Don’t See is a compelling story about the intersection between public health, democratic governance, and power of advocacy for our fellow citizens.
About the Author
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is the crusading pediatrician who first researched and revealed the lead in the blood of Flint, Michigan’s children. Named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World,” she continues to work to mitigate the impact of the water crisis on Flint’s children. She has testified twice before the United States Congress about the Flint Water Crisis. In 2016, Dr. Hanna-Attisha received the PEN Freedom of Expression Award for her work and advocacy. In her powerful book, What the Eyes Don’t See, and her personal and inspiring speeches, she motivates audiences to speak out against injustice.
A passionate activist, Dr. Hanna-Attisha created the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, a model program to mitigate the impact of the Flint Water Crisis. As founder and director of this organization, she combines community and clinical programs, childhood health policy and advocacy, and robust evaluation to give Flint children a better chance at future success.
2018 | Matthew Desmond, Evicted
About the Book
About the Author
2017 | Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
About the Book
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machinations, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.
About the Author
Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and recently won an historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Mr. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief or release for over 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. Mr. Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge the legacy of racial inequality in America, including major projects to educate communities about slavery, lynching and racial segregation. Mr. Stevenson is also a Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
Mr. Stevenson’s work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has won him numerous awards including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union after he was nominated by United States Supreme Court Justice John Stevens, the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers, and the Olaf Palme Prize in Stockholm, Sweden for international human rights. The American Bar Association has honored Mr. Stevenson with its John Minor Public Service and Professionalism Award. In 2002, he received the Alabama State Bar Commissioners Award. In 2003, the SALT Human Rights Award was presented to Mr. Stevenson by the Society of American Law Teachers. In 2004, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and also the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006 New York University presented Mr. Stevenson with its Distinguished Teaching Award. Mr. Stevenson won the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize and has been awarded the NAACP William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award and the Roosevelt Institute Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award. In 2012, Mr. Stevenson received the American Psychiatric Association Human Rights Award, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Fred L. Shuttlesworth Award, and the Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award in Social Progress. Mr. Stevenson was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2014 and most recently won the Lannan Foundation Prize for Human and Civil Rights.
Mr. Stevenson has received 26 honorary degrees including degrees from Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University and Washington University. He is the recent author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which was named by Time Magazine as one of the 10 Best Books of Nonfiction for 2014 and has been awarded several honors, including a 2015 NAACP Image Award.
2016 | Tracy Kidder, Strength in What Remains
We are pleased to announce the Fall 2016 First Pages Book, Strength in What Remains,by Tracy Kidder.
About the Book
Strength in What Remains is the story of Deogratias, a young medical student from the central African nation of Burundi. Through no fault of his own, he was forced onto a terrifying journey, a journey that split his life in two. First, there was a six-months-long escape on foot from ethnic violence in Burundi and from genocide in Rwanda. Almost by accident, he ended up in New York City, where he lived for a time in Central Park.
About the Author
Born in New York City in 1945, Kidder spent his childhood in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where his father was a lawyer and his mother a teacher. He attended Harvard, where he earned a BA in 1967. From June 1968 until June 1969, he served as a lieutenant in Vietnam, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star, an experience chronicled in his memoir My Detachment. Following the war, Kidder obtained his MA from the University of Iowa, where he attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It was there that Kidder met Atlantic Monthly contributing editor Dan Wakefield, who helped him get his first assignment for the magazine as a freelance writer.
Over the years, Kidder’s articles have covered a broad array of topics, ranging from railroads to energy, architecture, and the environment. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The New York Times Book Review and The New York Times OpEd page. Kidder lives with his wife in western Massachusetts and Maine. His next book of narrative nonfiction will be published in fall 2016.
Deogratias “Deo” Niyizonkiza is the co-founder and executive director of Village Health Works, a grassroots non-profit organization providing compassionate, quality health care to vulnerable community members in rural Burundi. Deo is the protagonist of The New York Times bestseller Strength In What Remains, which depicts Deo’s journey from being a medical student in Burundi, to a struggling immigrant in New York City, to an Ivy League-educated global health practitioner and doctor-in-training. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2013 honorary degree from Williams College, the 2011 International Medal Award of St John’s University and the 2010 Women Refugee Commission’s Voices of Courage Award.
He founded Village Health Works (VHW) to build a more just, peaceful, and prosperous society in Burundi and beyond. Today, VHW serves an attachment area of over 100,000 people in the southern half of Burundi, including thousands of recently repatriated refugees from Tanzania. VHW operates the nation’s premier health center, agricultural development programs, educational services, women’s income-generating activities, and a other community development programs.
Deo divides his time between the Village Health Works’ offices in New York and Burundi. In 2013, he was awarded the prestigious Eisenhower Medallion Award, in recognition of his “exceptional contribution to world peace and understanding.” He was honored by the Dalai Lama in 2014 as an Unsung Hero of Compassion.
2015 | Alex Gilverry, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant
We are pleased to announce the Fall 2015 First Pages Book, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatent by Alex Gilvarry.
About the Book
Unveiling two of America’s most illusory realms—high fashion and Homeland Security—Gilvarry’s widely acclaimed first novel is the story of designer Boy Hernandez: Filipino immigrant, New York glamour junkie, Guantánamo detainee. Locked away indefinitely and accused of being linked to a terrorist plot, Boy prepares for the tribunal of his life with this intimate confession, a dazzling swirl of soirees, runways, and hipster romance that charts one small man’s pursuit of the big American dream—even as the present nightmare of detainment chisels away at his vital wit and chutzpah. From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant is funny, wise, and beguiling, a Kafkaesque tale for our strange times.
About the Author
Alex Gilvarry was born in Staten Island, New York, in 1981. He has been a Norman Mailer Fellow and a visiting scholar at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin. His first novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, won the Hornblower Award at the 2012 New York City Book Awards. He has been selected as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 honorees. Gilvarry teaches fiction at Wesleyan University and is the Artist-in-Residence at Monmouth University. He lives in New York City.
2014 | Sheri Fink, Five Days at Memorial
We are pleased to announce the Fall 2014 First Pages Book, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink.
About the Book
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction
We are pleased to announce the Fall 2014 First Pages book Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink.
Five Days at Memorial is Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina – and her suspenseful portrayal of the quest for truth and justice.
After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.
Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.
About the Author
Sheri Fink is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown, 2013), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction, the Ridenhour Book Prize, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Fink’s news reporting has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the National Magazine Award, and the Overseas Press Club Lowell Thomas Award, among other journalism prizes. A former relief worker in disaster and conflict zones, Fink received her M.D. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. Her first book, War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival (PublicAffairs), is about medical professionals under siege during the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina. She is a correspondent at the New York Times.
2013 | Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers
We are pleased to announce the Fall 2013 First Pages book Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.
About the Book
Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”
But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.
With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget.
About the Author
Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. She learned to report at the alternative weekly, Washington City Paper, after which she worked as a writer and co-editor of The Washington Monthly magazine. Over the years, her reporting from disadvantaged communities has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India, the birthplace of her husband, Sunil Khilnani. This is her first book.
2012 | Ann Patchett, State of Wonder
We are pleased to announce the Fall 2011 First Pages book State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.
About the Book
In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe where women can conceive well into their middle ages and beyond.
Eccentric and notoriously tough, Swenson is paid to find the key to this longstanding childbearing ability by the same company for which Dr. Singh works. Yet that isn’t their only connection: both have an overlapping professional past that Dr. Singh has long tried to forget. In finding her former mentor, Dr. Singh must face her own disappointments and regrets, along with the jungle’s unforgiving humidity and insects, making State of Wonder a multi-layered atmospheric novel that is hard to put down.
Indeed, Patchett solidifies her well-deserved place as one of today’s master storytellers. Emotional, vivid, and a work of literature that will surely resonate with readers in the weeks and months to come, State of Wonder truly is a thing of beauty and mystery, much like the Amazon jungle itself.
About the Author
The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett’s first novel, shows such imagination. It tells the story of a young pregnant woman who flees from a dull marriage, driving across the country to find a new, different, and unexpected sense of family at St. Elizabeth’s, a Roman Catholic home for unwed mothers in Kentucky. Critics pointed out that the novel may strain belief at times, in particular because it provides no contextual sense of hotly debated social issues surrounding marriage and reproduction in the Catholic Church. However, as Alice McDermott, reviewing the novel in the New York Times Book Review, pointed out, Patchett’s project is to write “a made up story of an enchanted place.” Comparing The Patron Saint of Liars to a fairy tale, McDermott explained that “the world of St. Elizabeth’s, and of the novel itself, … retains some sense of the miraculous, of a genuine, if unanticipated, power to heal.”
Patchett’s next novel, Taft, also received critical praise, though reviewers’ opinions differed as to whether or not this work exceeded Patchett’s achievement in The Patron Saint of Liars. Action centers around a Memphis blues bar called Muddy’s. The black, middle-aged bartender, Nickel, who narrates the story, becomes imaginatively and practically entangled in the life of a white working-class teenager, Fay Taft, and that of her family. Focusing on their relationship, Patchett weaves a multilayered narrative about unconventional kinds of love and improvisational familial ties.
2011 | Atul Gawande, Better
The Reading Committee chose Better, by Dr. Atul Gawande for the First Pages Program.
About the Book
In his book Better, The New York Times bestselling author of Complications examines, in riveting accounts of medical failure and triumph, how success is achieved in a complex and risk-filled profession. The struggle to perform well is universal: each one of us faces fatigue, limited resources, and imperfect abilities in whatever we do. But nowhere is this drive to do better more important than in medicine, where lives are on the line with every decision. In his new book, Atul Gawande explores how doctors strive to close the gap between best intentions and best performance in the face of obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable.
Gawande’s gripping stories of diligence, ingenuity, and what it means to do right by people take us to battlefield surgical tents in Iraq, to labor and delivery rooms in Boston, to a polio outbreak in India, and to malpractice courtrooms around the country. He discusses the ethical dilemmas of doctors’ participation in lethal injections, examines the influence of money on modern medicine, and recounts the astoundingly contentious history of hand washing. And as in all his writing, Gawande gives us an inside look at his own life as a practicing surgeon, offering a searingly honest firsthand account of work in a field where mistakes are both unavoidable and unthinkable.
At once unflinching and compassionate, Better is an exhilarating journey narrated by “arguably the best nonfiction doctor-writer around” (Salon). Gawande’s investigation into medical professionals and how they progress from merely good to great provides rare insight into the elements of success, illuminating every area of human endeavor.
About the Author
A surgeon and a writer, Atul Gawande is a staff member of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and the New Yorker magazine. He received his B.A.S. from Stanford University, M.A. (in politics, philosophy, and economics) from Oxford University, M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and M.P.H. from the Harvard School of Public Health. He served as a senior health policy advisor in the Clinton presidential campaign and White House from 1992 to 1993. Since 1998, he has been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. In 2003, he completed his surgical residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, and joined the faculty as a general and endocrine surgeon.
He is also Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and Associate Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health. He has published research studies in areas ranging from surgical technique, to US military care for the wounded, to error and performance in medicine. He is the director of the World Health Organization’s Global Challenge for Safer Surgical Care.
In 2006, he received the MacArthur Award for his research and writing. His book Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002 and is published in more than a hundred countries. He was editor of The Best American Science Writing 2006. His book, Better: a Surgeon’s Notes on Performance was one of Amazon.com’s ten best books of 2007. His newest book, The Checklist Manifesto, is a New York Times bestseller. He also won the 2010 National Magazine Award for Public Interest writing for his New Yorker article, ‘The Cost Conundrum.’ He and his wife and three children live outside Boston.
2010 | Dave Eggers, Zeitoun
The Reading Committee chose Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers for the First Pages Program.
About the Book
Through the story of one man’s experience after Hurricane Katrina, Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament.
Eggers, compiling his account from interviews, sensibly resists rhetorical grandstanding, letting injustices speak for themselves. His skill is most evident in how closely he involves the reader in Zeitoun’s thoughts. Thrown into one of a series of wire cages, Zeitoun speculates, with a contractor’s practicality, that construction of his prison must have begun within a day or so of the hurricane.
About the Author
Eggers was born in Boston, Massachusetts, one of four siblings. When Eggers was still a child, the family moved to the upscale suburb of Lake Forest, near Chicago. He attended high school there. Eggers later attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, intending to get a degree in journalism, but his studies were interrupted by the deaths of both of his parents. Both were in their 50s.
These events were chronicled in his first book, the lightly fictionalized A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. At the time, Eggers was 21, and his younger brother, Christopher, was 8 years old. The two eldest siblings, Bill and Beth, were unable to commit to care for Christopher. As a result, Dave Eggers took the responsibility.
He left the University of Illinois and moved to Berkeley, California, with his girlfriend and his brother. They initially moved in with Eggers’s sister, Beth, and her roommate, but eventually found a place in another part of town, which they paid for with money left to them by their parents. Christopher attended a small private school, and Eggers did temp work and freelance graphic design for a local newspaper. Eventually, with his friend David Moodie, he took over a local free newspaper called Cups. This gradually evolved into the satirical magazine Might.
2009 | David Sheff, Beautiful Boy
The Reading Committee chose Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff for the First Pages Program.
About the Book
Those are the wrenching questions that haunted every moment of David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic Sheff became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets.
David Sheff traces the first subtle warning signs: the denial, the 3 A.M. phone calls (is it Nic? the police? the hospital?), the rehabs. His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself, and the obsessive worry and stress took a tremendous toll. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every avenue of treatment that might save his son and refused to give up on Nic
Beautiful Boy is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond help.
About the Author
Renowned journalist David Sheff is the author of Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through His Son’s Addiction, the story of his harrowing struggle to help his son Nic overcome his methamphetamine addiction. There have been many books about addiction, but few from the father’s and family’s point of view until Beautiful Boy which brings immediacy to the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond your help.
The book is based on Sheff’s article “My Addicted Son,” which appeared in the New York Times Magazine. It won a special award for Outstanding Contribution to Advancing the Understanding of Addictions from the American Psychological Association and inspired (and continues to inspire) hundreds of letters from readers, many of whom are suffering from addiction or the addiction of a loved one. His continues to research and writing about this subject and most recently contributed to the HBO book Addiction: Why Can’t They Just Stop.
Along with The New York Times Magazine, Sheff, a contributing editor to Playboy, has also written for The New York Times, Wired, Fortune, Rolling Stone, Outside, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Esquire and Observer Magazine in England, Foreign Literature in Russia, and Playboy (Shueisha) in Japan. He has conducted seminal interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, nuclear physicist Ted Taylor, Congressman Barney Frank, Steve Jobs, Ansel Adams, Thomas Friedman, the founders of Google, Tom Hanks, Betty Friedan, Keith Haring, Jack Nicholson, Carl Sagan, Larry Ellison, Salman Rushdie, and others. He also wrote an award-winning documentary about John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and a radio special about Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, both for National Public Radio, and wrote and edited Heart Play: Unfinished Dialogue, which won a Grammy Award nomination for Best Spoken Word Recording of 1984.
Sheff is the author of Game Over, called “the bible of the videogame industry,” by The Wall Street Journal that also earned great praise from Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, and The New York Review of Books. He is also the author of the book China Dawn about the internet revolution in China that has been described in the Wall Street Journal as “the story of an insurgency, and a momentous one.” All We Are Saying, based on Sheff’s interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1980, was a Literary Guild Selection book. The Times called it, ”A fascinating, detailed glimpse into the workings of a musical genius” and People said it was “the most revealing portrait of John Lennon’s career.”
Sheff has been an editor of New West and California magazines and was a founding editor of Men’s Life and Yahoo Internet Life.
2008 | Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
The Reading Committee chose Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace. . . One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin for the First Pages Program.
About the Book
In Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time, Greg Mortenson and journalist David Oliver Relin, recount the journey that led Mortenson from a failed 1993 attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, to successfully establish schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
By replacing guns with pencils, rhetoric with reading, Mortenson combines his unique background with his intimate knowledge of the third-world to promote peace with books, not bombs, and successfully bring education and hope to remote communities in central Asia.
Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the world-one school at a time.
About the Authors
Greg Mortenson is the co-founder of the nonprofit Central Asia Institute www.ikat.org, founder of Pennies For Peace www.penniesforpeace.org, and co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea which has been a New York Times bestseller since its January 2007 release, and was Time Magazine’s Asia Book of the Year.
Mortenson was born in Minnesota in 1957. He grew up on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (1958 to 1973). His father Dempsey, co-founded Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC) a teaching hospital, and his mother, Jerene, founded the International School Moshi.
He served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Cold War (1977-1979), where he received the Army Commendation Medal, and later graduated from the University of South Dakota (1983), and pursued graduate studies in neurophysiology.
On July 24th, 1992, Mortenson’s younger sister, Christa, died from a massive seizure after a lifelong struggle with epilepsy on the eve of a trip to visit Dysersville, Iowa, where the baseball movie, Field of Dreams, was filmed in a cornfield. In 1993, to honor his sister’s memory, Mortenson climbed Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain in the Karakoram range. After K2, while recovering in a local village called Korphe, Mortenson met a group of children sitting in the dirt writing with sticks in the sand, and made a promise to help them build a school.
From that rash promise, grew a remarkable humanitarian campaign, in which Mortenson has dedicated his life to promote education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As of 2008, Mortenson has established over 78 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 28,000 children, including 18,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before.
His work has not been without difficulty. In 1996, he survived an eight day armed kidnapping in the Northwest Frontier Province NWFP tribal areas of Pakistan, escaped a 2003 firefight with feuding Afghan warlords by hiding for eight hours under putrid animal hides in a truck going to a leather-tanning factory. He has overcome two fatwehs from enraged Islamic mullahs, endured CIA investigations, and also received hate mail and death threats from fellow Americans after 9/11, for helping Muslim children with education.
Mortenson is a living hero to rural communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he has gained the trust of Islamic leaders, military commanders, government officials and tribal chiefs from his tireless effort to champion education, especially for girls.
He is one of few foreigners who has worked extensively for fifteen years (spending over 67 months) in the region now considered the front lines of the war on terror.
David Oliver Relin is lucky enough to live in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, which was named nonfiction winner of the 2007 Kiriyama Prize, 2007 Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Book Of The Year, Time Magazine’s Asia Book Of the Year, People Magazine’s Critic’s Choice, and a BookSense Notable Title.
Relin is a graduate of Vassar and was awarded the prestigious Teaching/Writing Fellowship at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. After Iowa, he received a Michener Fellowship to support his groundbreaking 1992 bicycle trip the length of Vietnam. He spent two additional years reporting about Vietnam opening to the world, while he was based in Hue, Vietnam’s former imperial capital. In addition to Vietnam and Pakistan, he has traveled to, and/or reported from, much of East Asia.
For two decades, Relin has focused on reporting about social issues and their effect on children, both in the U.S., and around the world. He is currently a Contributing Editor for Parade. For his work as both an editor and investigative reporter, he has won dozens of national awards. His interviews with child soldiers (including a profile of teenager Ishmael Beah, who would later write the bestseller A Long Way Gone) have been included in Amnesty International reports. And his investigation into the way the Immigration and Nationalization Service abused children in its custody contributed to the reorganization of that agency.
Relin is currently working on a documentary film about Sherpa mountain climbers. He is also at work on a book about food, a children’s book with the artist Amy Ruppel, and a novel about Vietnam.
2007 | Michael Patrick MacDonald, Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under
The Honors First Year Reading Committee chose Michael Patrick MacDonald’s book Easter Rising, a memoir of roots and rebellion, for the 2007 First Year Reading Project.
About the Book
In All Souls, MacDonald told the heartbreaking story of the tragic deaths of four of his siblings and his family’s suffering amidst a culture of silence in Southie, Boston’s tough Irish ghetto. He also introduced the enduring character of his accordian-playing, fist-fighting “Ma,” who raised her massive family on her own. MacDonald’s second memoir, Easter Rising continues the saga with the author turning his gaze upon himself in hope of explaining how he escaped where his brethren succumbed. It quickly becomes apparent that his survival has much to do with his perpetual status as the exile. He’s the “quiet one” in his big Irish-Catholic family, the poor kid at Boston Latin High School. When his friends branch into drugs and alcohol, MacDonald remains sober, seeking refuge and a renewed sense of self in Boston’s burgeoning early ’80s punk rock scene, where he encounters such seminal figures as the Clash and Johnny Rotten.
As the odd man out looking for a place to fit in, MacDonald journeys further and further away from Southie – first to downtown Boston, then to New York’s Lower East Side – and the dangerous neighborhood rites that spelled doom for his family members. The book takes on a different tone as MacDonald heads to Europe after going to the Southie funeral of his father, a man he never knew. On different occasions – once with Ma – he finds his way to Ireland, his ancestral homeland, “to understand more about Southie, and Irish America in general.” Even though MacDonald is far from the first Irish-American to discover the auld sod, he continues to courageously break Southie’s silence in this tale of a journey that is as inspiring as it is haunting.
About the Author
Michael Patrick MacDonald is the author of national bestseller All Souls: A Family Story From Southie (Ballantine, October 2000). He is the recipient of the American Book Award, New England Literary Lights Award (2000), and The Myers Outstanding Book Award administered by the Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America.
MacDonald was awarded an Anne Cox Chambers Fellowship at the The MacDowell Colony, a Bellagio Center Fellowship through the Rockefeller Foundation, and residencies at Blue Mountain Center and the Djerassi Artist Residency Program. Currently he lives in Brooklyn.
Mr. MacDonald is currently serving as the Honors Program Writer in Residence where he teaches the Honors Seminar HNRU304, Social Justice: The Role of Reading, Writing and Understanding Non-Fiction.
2006 | Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
The Reading Committee chose Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, for the 2006 Honors Welcome Week First Year Reading Project.
About the Book
Tracy Kidder is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the author of the bestsellers The Soul of a New Machine, House, Among Schoolchildren, Home Town, and My Detachment. He has been described by the Baltimore Sun as the “master of the non-fiction narrative.” This powerful and inspiring new book shows how one person can make a difference, as Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who is in love with the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.
At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer – brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti – blasts through convention to get results.
Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity” – a philosophy that is embodied in the small public charity he founded, Partners In Health. He enlists the help of the Gates Foundation, George Soros, the U.N.’s World Health Organization, and others in his quest to cure the world. At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope, and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”: as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.
“Mountains Beyond Mountains unfolds with the force of a gathering revelation,” says Annie Dillard, and Jonathan Harr says, “[Farmer] wants to change the world. Certainly this luminous and powerful book will change the way you see it.”
About the Author
Tracy Kidder was born in New York City in 1945. Kidder attended Harvard College where he earned an AB in 1967. From 1967 until 1969, he served as first lieutenant in Vietnam and was awarded a bronze star.
After his tour of duty, Kidder obtained an MFA from the University of Iowa, where he participated in the Writers’ Workshop, a program known for the literary luster of both its staff and alumni. At the workshop, Kidder met Atlantic Monthlycontributing editor Dan Wakefield, who helped him get his first assignment for the magazine in 1973, beginning a long-term association with the publication. Kidder’s articles in The Atlantichave covered a broad range of topics, ranging from railroads, to energy, architecture, the environment, and more.
In 1994, Kidder met Dr. Paul Farmer — subject of his book,Mountains Beyond Mountains — when Kidder was in Haiti to report on American soldiers working to reinstate Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s democratically elected government. Kidder and Farmer didn’t see one another again until 1999 when Kidder asked to meet with Farmer to begin work on “The Good Doctor,” a profile of Farmer that was published in The New Yorker in July 2000. Kidder’s research for The New Yorker profile proved to be a starting point for Mountains Beyond Mountains, published in September 2003 by Random House.
Kidder’s writing has been prolific and outstanding. The Soul of a New Machine — a book celebrated for its insight into the world of corporate, high-technology America — earned him a Pulitzer and a National Book Award in 1982. Other bestselling works include House (1985), Among Schoolchildren (1989), Old Friends(1993), and Home Town (1999), and My Detachment (2005). Among Schoolchildren, a narrative of one year in the life of a fifth-grade class and its teacher, won Kidder the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1989.
Kidder lives with his wife and family in western Massachusetts and Maine.