What I’m Reading: History, Identity, and Fresh Perspectives

January 30, 2017


Learn more about what SSM faculty and staff members are currently reading.

We recently caught up with several Shattuck-St. Mary’s faculty and staff members who shared their thoughts on the books they are currently reading.


1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created – Charles C. Mann

After high school I finally found my interest in history and much of what I’ve read over my adult life combines history intertwined with the natural world. This book, which shares many stories of the role that natural resources played in societal development around the globe in the post-Columbian era, is a sequel of sorts to the author’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which I also enjoyed. It is impossible to read these books and not be astonished at the many revelations they offer. One gains a greater understanding of the challenges and inequities in today’s world through these works. If you’re a fan of Jared Diamond’s work, you’ll love these as well.

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

Every now and then I like to dabble in a topic outside my normal reading zone, and when I heard this author on NPR, I decided to give this book a try. It discusses the meta of our patterns of reasoning and thinking, a better understanding of which should lead to better information processing and decision-making. It helps the reader to avoid the logic traps and navigate the reasoning minefields we encounter every day. His anecdotes and discussions make the book more interesting than it may sound.

- Director of Community Life John Blackmer

I like to read—that’s why I became an English major in the first place. I also like people and their stories—particularly stories about people who come from different backgrounds than I do. For that reason African-American and transnational literature has always interested me the most. Teju Cole was in a transnational literature masters class two years ago. We read his novel, Open City, which centers around a man of Nigerian-Belgian descent who lives in New York City. The bulk of the novel is spent following Julius, our protagonist, as he walks the city. Sounds boring right? Not even close. Over the course of the novel, we begin to see the way Julius struggles with his identity—is he African, European, American—and the way that this internal (and often unconscious) struggle affects who he is and what he does. Open City is one of my favorite novels of the past five years—maybe ever—and I highly encourage people to read it.

That led me to his collection of essays, Known and Strange Things. This collection focuses on several of Cole’s interests: literature, classical music, and photography. The essays are not highly academic at all, which is what makes them so great to read. What he does is share his thoughts and responses to the artists, writers, and sometimes specific works that influence him—both positively and negatively. He also writes whole essays on experiences such as going to dinner with fellow writers and having to give a toast despite his misgivings about the feted author’s views on critical issues. While I find his essays compelling and though-provoking, I would encourage anyone interested in trying Cole to start with Open City.

- Upper School Director Matt Cavellier

I had not heard of Jason Reynolds until I had read a review of As Brave As You in The New York Times. I asked SSM Librarian Dick Kettering to order the book. The fact that Mr. Reynolds had written his books primarily for young people who hated to read fascinated me.  Before I would read As Brave As You, I decided to read his previous books. I started with The Boy in the Black Suit, which interested me greatly since I had had a fascination with funerals since my childhood. One of the games I played as a child was funeral. I really like that Jason Reynolds writes about real people in families and neighborhoods unlike my own in many ways. 

- Father Henry Doyle, Alumni Relations and Outreach

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