Stanford’s Reading List for Incoming Freshman


Three Books is a signature Stanford New Student Orientation Program for incoming freshmen and transfer students. Every year, a faculty member selects three books based on a specific theme to inspire a shared learning experience for prospective undergrads. For this year, Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, Professor of Earth System Science from the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Science, has chosen these books based on the theme of sustainability and equity to invoke meaningful discussions that will advocate equality in access to the already-depleting resources available on earth.

1. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Set in Asante Village, West Africa, this story spans across eight generations to depict the lives of powerless individuals in the face of history and its cruelties. In this narrative about the long-lasting impacts of slavery, two half-sisters who are born into the same village share completely different fates. While one is to marry an Englishman and to lead a comfortable life within luxurious rooms at the Cape Coast Castle, the other is to live her life under subjugation after she gets sold as a slave within the same castle.

2. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert


During the last half a billion years, our world has undergone five mass extinctions that led to the sudden and dramatic loss of living organisms. In this book, Kolbert invites readers to consider a sixth extinction that will obliterate half of all the living species on Earth. Despite how morbid this subject sounds, the writer’s healthy dose of humor turns this disaster into something bearable for readers who remain unaware of the threats posed by human behavior.

3. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward


In this novel, Ward presents us with the Batiste household, a African American family in Mississippi consisting of a pregnant fourteen-year-old, her teenage brothers and their alcoholic father. The plot follows the family through a series of events through a ten-day period before Hurricane Katrina and finishes on the second day after it occurs. Each day has its own chapter and each chapter concerns the preceding, during or the immediate following of Hurricane Katrina.