Summer Reading

On this page, you will find information about Summer Reading for new and returning Commonwealth students. Each student is asked to select one book from our list of "Summer Reading Discussion Groups" to read over the summer and to discuss with faculty and classmates when school reconvenes. These books, chosen by the faculty member leading the conversation, represent a range of topics and genres, so there should be something for everyone! Some courses may also require additional summer reading, so be sure to pay close attention to the "Required Summer Reading for Courses" list. I have provided links to online ordering options for required summer reading titles below; most will also be available at your local bookshop or library. PDFs of these lists are available for download at the bottom of the page.

Summer break can also be a wonderful time to catch up on your non-required reading—to discover new genres or authors, to re-read old favorites, or to finally tackle a literary classic. We encourage you to explore the titles on the attached recommended reading lists, which include recommendations from the librarian, your teachers, and your classmates. If you liked a book in one of your courses last year, you might want to try another by the same author this summer. When you return to school in the fall, your advisor will be interested to hear what you have read and your responses.

Recommended Reading



Required Summer Reading

Course Reading for 9s & 10s

CITY OF BOSTON: Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families by J. Anthony Lukas (ISBN: 9780394746166) is a fantastic but depressing book that looks at the effect of attempts to desegregate Boston's schools in the 1970s. It was not written for high school freshmen, so I recommend starting early and not worrying if you find it difficult: give it a try and get what you can out of it. The recommended sections are chapters 1-4; 8-9; pp. 167-174; chapters 12; 14-17; chapter 18 up to p. 338; chapters 21-23; 25-27; 29. Feel free to read a copy from the library; you'll get a photocopy of any sections we'll ask you to discuss more fully.

ANCIENT HISTORY: The summer reading for students entering Ancient History is Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven: A Novel of Alexander the Great (ISBN: 0375726829). This is a highly readable and thoroughly researched work of historical fiction. We hope that it will whet your appetite for learning more about the ancient world! As you read, please mark some points that interest, puzzle, or surprise you. Please purchase a physical book rather than Kindle.

MEDIEVAL WORLD HISTORY: Students taking Medieval World History next year are asked to read one of the following:

1. The Arabian Nights (ISBN: 9780393331660) (Volume 1 only of the Husain Haddawy translation) The classic medieval Islamic work, constructed as a labyrinth of story within story, The Arabian Nights draws on tales from many eastern lands, and provides material in turn for the literature of medieval Europe.

2. Dante, The Inferno (ISBN: 0374524521) (Robert Pinsky translation). A poetic journey through the many levels of Hell, The Inferno (first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy) presents an encyclopedic vision of medieval European culture. The poet Robert Pinsky chose to translate this work because he believes it to be “the best book ever written about the sadness of evil.”

3. Lao-Tse, Tao Te Ching (ISBN: 9780872202320) (Stephen Addiss & Stanley Lombardo translation). The central text of Taoist philosophy, attributed to the possibly mythical Lao Tzu, this collection of terse poems exemplifies the deceptively simple ideas that lead to Taoist enlightenment.

4. D.T. Niane, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali (ISBN: 0582264758). An oral history, told by the griot Mamadou Kouyate, of the life of a thirteenth-century African king who united the twelve kingdoms of Mali into one of the most powerful empires of Medieval Africa.

Course Reading for 11s & 12s

READINGS IN ETHICS: All seniors are encouraged to read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (ISBN: 0679732764). Seniors will re-read parts and discuss the book through the first quarter.

UNITED STATES HISTORY: Please read William Cronon's “ethno-ecological” history of New England: Changes of the Land (ISBN: 978-0809016341), but taking paper notes on copy from the library is just fine). This profound and revolutionary book explores how Native Americans transformed the environment before contact with Europeans—and how the changing economy of the 17th century led to an ecological transformation. Your teachers will email you a series of extra-credit reading questions to help you read actively, looking for the author’s argument amidst the detail (a skill we’ll try to practice in the coming year!) This book looks drier than it actually is—and reading actively may help you uncover the quite radical claims hidden within.

MODERN EUROPEAN HISTORY: Students enrolled in Modern European History must read James R. Gaines, For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette, and Their Revolutions (ISBN: 9780393061383). I hope that this absorbing joint biography will serve as a bridge between US History and MEH.

AMERICAN CULTURE AND POLITICS, 1968-: Please read Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz (ISBN: 9780679758334).Before reading, make sure to look at the Summer Reading assignment here.

LATIN 4: Please read books 1, 6, and 7 of The Gallic War: Seven Commentaries on the Gallic War with an Eighth by Aulus Hirtius by Julius Caesar, translated by Carolyn Hammond (ISBN: 978-0199540266). For a summary of the other books in this work, consult p. 232 of Caesar: Selections from his Commentarii De Bello Gallico, edited by Hans-Friedrich Mueller, which is also listed among the required course books.

STATISTICS: Students taking the full credit option of Statistics are required to read The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, Politics and in Life by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot (ISBN: 9781592404230).

ECONOMICS: Students are required to read Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan (ISBN: 9780393337648). Naked Economics is an informal introduction to the principles of economics.

Summer Reading Discussion Groups

Michael Bloomberg & Carl Pope, Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet: From the publisher’s description: “Bloomberg, an entrepreneur and former mayor of New York City, and Pope, a lifelong environmental leader, approach climate change from different perspectives, yet they arrive at similar conclusions. Without agreeing on every point, they share a belief that cities, businesses, and citizens can lead―and win―the battle against climate change, no matter which way the political winds in Washington may shift.” (Ms. Budding)

Albert Camus, The Plague: What better setting to explore essential (or existential) questions of how we should live our lives in the face of death, evil, and other realities of the human condition than a small city quarantined on account of plague? (Ms. Haber)

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: A rollicking adventure set in the Golden Age of comics—a time that spawned characters like Wonder Woman, Captain America, and Superman. Chabon paints a vivid picture of 20th century New York City through the story of cousins Josef Kavalier (an amateur escape artist and refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe) and Sammy Clay (a fast-talking Brooklynite), who make it big in this “great, mad new American art form.” (Ms. Johnson)

Jason Farman, Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World: If you find delays or waiting endlessly exasperating, read this book without delay! Farman explores how the ideas of delay and waiting have shaped human experience throughout time, and argues that waiting plays an unanticipated role in human creativity and invention. (Ms. Grant)

Martin Hägglund, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom: From the publisher's description: “A profound, original, and accessible book that offers a new secular vision of how we can lead our lives. Ranging from fundamental existential questions to the most pressing social issues of our time, This Life shows why our commitment to freedom and democracy should lead us beyond both religion and capitalism.” (Mr. Holub-Moorman)

George Orwell, 1984: From the publisher's description: “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command... Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching...” (Mr. Barsi)

John Ratey, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain: From the publisher’s description: “Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat? The evidence is incontrovertible: aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance.” (Ms. Tarnoff)

Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea: In this short, intense, and beautifully written novel, Jean Rhys gives an account of the experience of “the madwoman in the attic” from Jane Eyre from the “madwoman” point of view, calling into question the colonial images and stereotypes that infuse the Brontë classic. However, the novel is a lot more than just that. No previous knowledge of Jane Eyre is necessary, but it wouldn't hurt either. (Mr. Pérez)

Mark Strand, Hopper: “Of the many pieces of writing stimulated by Hopper, none is more coolly and eerily attentive (more Hopperesque, we could say) than Mark Strand’s brilliant small book Hopper, showing how we are moved and disquieted by formal elements in the paintings….” (John Updike, New York Review of Books). In September, we'll meet to discuss Strand's lyrical and attentive takes on Edward Hopper's paintings—and look at images of the paintings, as well. Strand’s writing is beautiful in itself, and he captures in words what many of us feel but cannot quite articulate when we look at Hopper’s paintings. (Ms. Dale)

Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir: A gripping memoir of a young girl's upbringing in a family headed by her survivalist/fundamentalist father in Idaho, of her determination to pursue an education despite her father's opposition (she never set foot in a classroom until age 17), and of her eventual journey to college and graduate school. (Mr. Wharton)

Michael Wolff, Siege: Trump Under Fire: Pitched as the follow up to Michael Wolff's first chronicle of President Trump's ascension to the White House, this book promises to offer more revelations of what is currently going on behind the scenes in our nation's capital. The goal for this discussion is two-fold: 1) To better understand what makes Donald Trump tick (from a psychological perspective) and how his form of leadership works/does not work for those around him. 2) To discuss and consider the ethics/journalistic integrity issues that will likely arise around the book's sourcing (as this was a prominent concern of several critics of Wolff's last book) and just how important it is or isn't for authors of non-fiction to be completely honest about their work. Or, in other words, should a work of non-fiction need to be 100% accurate to be worth reading? Please note that this book's release date is June 4th, so there may be a delay in receiving copies. (Mr. Eagle)