IONA Summer Reading List

A window into the preferences of some of UBC's bookworms. From faculty members to staff writers and editors, the reading list represents what's on the book shelf this summer for the EXCHANGE. Follow along, pick one up for yourself, and keep an eye out for forums, reviews, and discussion groups further down the line. 


Faculty Bookshelf

Mauricio Drelichman, BIE

The Tartar Steppe

By Dino Buzzati

Much like Waiting for Godot, Steppe explores themes like a longing for meaning, isolation, patience, and general absurdity through a young officer by the name of Giovanni Dorgo, who persistently awaits an attack by the Tartars in an abandoned base in the middle of the desert. Whereas Professor Drelichman will be reading this 1940 Italian novel in its original language, you can find the postmodern classic online in its english translation by clicking on the image.


By Henry Marsh

After 40 years of working as one of London's top neurosurgeons, Oxford Philosophy graduate Henry Marsh reflects on the imponderables of his craft. From being responsible for death and life, to building both literal and metaphorical log cabins, follow a carefully attuned thinker through this not so often walked trail.

Direct Red

By Gabriel Weston

A memoir written in the profession most familiar with holding life in their own hands, Gabriel Weston illuminates the more humane characteristics of her colleagues. Discussing the body's fragility, uncertainty, and her works' humor alongside its heartbreak, Weston tackles what it's like to be female in a male-dominated career, to speak with patients knowing their likely to die, and to confront one's own doubts about a job centered around risking someone else's life.

Everything I Never Told You

By Celeste Ng

Amazon's 2014 Best Book of the Year and Celeste Ng's debut novel portrays the turmoil of a mixed-race Chinese-American family suffering from the loss of one of their daughters. Everyone finds different ways to cope with tragedy, and the members of this family are no exception. Ng went through four drafts of this novel over the course of six years before publishing.


The Handmaiden's Tale

By Margaret Atwood

Originally published in 1985, Margaret Atwood has become an icon for feminism and her book has percolated discussions concerned with the rights of women in controlling their own bodies. The Handmaid's Tale has sold millions of copies in dozens of languages, been adapted for the big screen, small screen, and the opera, and is sure to please.


Eagle Glassheim, History

Empire of Cotton

by Sven Beckert

Cotton was (and still is) a quintessential global commodity, intimately woven into the history of modern capitalism. But as Beckert points out, we tend to ignore the moral economy of a material like cotton that has become detached from its origins. The cotton economy of the nineteenth century reinvigorated American slavery, transformed agriculture in the colonial world, and recast global industry and finance, not to mention fashion and consumption. We eat, drink, dress, and drive on top of hidden chains of commodities like cotton. This book teaches us where to look and what to look for.


Stanley Park

by Timothy Taylor

Fiction, funny, food, Vancouver. Get outside, read this entertaining send-up of Vancouver foodie culture on a park bench by English Bay, sipping your latte, lulled by the lapping waves and hum of in-line skates. It’s not all fun and games, though. There’s a murder, homelessness, and expensive real estate too. Beyond its compelling narrative, Taylor’s novel is a thoughtful exploration of the intersection of local and global culture and capital in Vancouver.

On Tyranny

by Timothy Snyder

In the Age of Trump, history matters more than ever. Snyder draws on his extensive research on Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism to advise fellow citizens on how to recognize and counter authoritarian politics. This is a quick read, but sobering. Our democracies are more fragile than we like to think.


Margaret Schabas, Philosophy

Science Outside the Laboratory

By Marcel Boumans

To what extent does numerical analysis line up with empirical events in the social sciences? How much of the conclusions we draw from quantitive experiments are because of human judgement and not simply mathematics? These, and more, are the questions Boumas addresses in this seminal book that highlights major problems for any serious scientist.

Preference, Value, Choice, and Welfare

by Daniel M. Hausman

Hausman argues for a stronger critique of welfare theory reliant on preference calculus which is, in turn, reliant terms like "choice" and "self-interest." By placing rational choice theory within a larger backdrop of philosophical accounts on human action, Hausman explores preferences by deconstructing the models and theories Economists have long been using in order to clarify the discussion's talking points.

Ashok Kotwal, Economics


By Yuval Noah Harari

If biology sets the limits for human activity, culture: the activity itself, and history recounts the development of such activity, how do you explain how culture today was influeced by yesterday's history? Using a timeline stretching before 70,000 BCE, Harari makes an intersting case for the role of human imagination in delgating human activity around cooperation instead of compeition. In addition, what the consequences of imagining might be for our near future.

Homo Deus

By Yuval Noah Harari

"Homo Deus" literally translates to "Human God." This is the central of topic of Harari's sequel bestselling book. Humans have long survived on this planet by forming common identities such as communities, countries, or even along political divides we look to these groupings to find strength in number. Harari concludes that the consequences of these groupings could be search for immortality and greater power. The crux of the plot is driven by humanity's tendency to place humans at the center (or pinnacle) of existence writ large.

Nice Guys Finish First

A BBC Documentary on Richard Dawkins

Nice Guys Finish First is Richard Dawkins' 1986 rebuttal to misinterpretations of his best-selling book The Selfish Gene. Being consistent with Professor Kotwal's general theme, Dawkins makes the argument that evolution tends to favor acts of cooperation over competition. That this was the ultimate takeaway from having a selfish gene. To make it clear, Dawkins illustrates the importance of "reciprocal altruism," whereby organisms sacrifce parts of their "fitness" today, to increase the fitness of an other, with the expectation that their act will be rewarded somehere down the line.

Editor Picks

The Undercover Economist

By Tim Harford

An introductory economics book that seeks to showcase how economics influences everyday life, using relatable examples to convey economic theory from the sunk cost fallacy to moral hazard.

Ainsley MacDougall


By Richard H. Thaler

One of The Economist's best books of the year for 2015, Misbehaving tells the story of the maturation and acceptance of behavioral economic theory, that reminds economists of the reality of our marketplace: we humans aren't always rational actors.

Ainsley MacDougall

The Meat Racket

By Christopher Leonard

Journalist Christopher Leonard explores the consolidation of America's meat industry and the influence of its major corporations, specifically Tyson Foods, that shut out all competition to monopolize the meat industry.

Ainsley MacDougall

Maestro: Greenspan's Fed and the American Boom

By Bob Woodward

I'm ashamed to say I know fairly little about Alan Greenspan. His name is dropped—knowledgeably or otherwise—in practically every macroeconomics discussion. I think it's about time that I discovered what made him such a remarkable Fed chairman and what exactly he accomplished during his reign as "maestro" of the economy.

Kit Schwarz


Development as Freedom

By Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen is one of the foremost theorists in the field of development economics. His idea of development as the acquisition of freedom for all people (freedom from poverty, freedom from oppression, freedom from illiteracy) is a great framework for thinking through effective intervention in poorly-performing countries. What exactly are we aiming to accomplish? What means are reasonable and empowering? Sen's ideas will hopefully give us the tools necessary to answer such questions.

Kit Schwarz


Why Nations Fail

By Daron Acemoglu and
James A. Robinson

One of the classic "textbooks" of development economics, Why Nations Fail explores some of the key variables that determine a nation's development, through historical evidence and a variety of case studies. It's required reading for anyone wanting to think about the underlying causes of poverty and wealth, and what we can do about them.

Kit Schwarz

The Drunkard's Walk

By Leonard Mlodinow

From Bernoulli to Laplace, and even Pascal, bestseller Mlodinow discusses the importance of randomness by linking theoretical mathematics with practical experiences like political polling. In light of historical understandings, this book provides a sought after interpretation of why things look like they go wrong.

—Muhtadi Faiaz


Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman

In this iconic bestseller, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman expounds his "prospect theory," which pits his work against Bernouli's Utility Theory. In order to do so, he takes his readers on a sweeping tour of the hidden processes and biases of human judgement. He concludes with a striking dichotomy in the mind that is sure to keep you interested.

—Muhtadi Faiaz

Political Order and Political Decay

Francis Fukuyama

Fukuyama embarks on a historical narrative from the era of the Prussian monarchy to the development of the Arab Spring in 2011. Taking examples from the three centuries, he explains how democracies are developed, and why some governments are successful in eliminating corruption while some are not.

Sean Wu




American War

Omar El Akkad

Originally a reporter for the Globe and Mail who covered multiple conflicts in the Middle East, El Akkad's debut novel is his imagination of a second American Civil War that broke out due to the country's irreconcilable ideologies. His story focuses on a young girl who becomes radicalized during the war after the death of her family. El Akkad's story is a harrowing vision on the long-term effects of political polarization.

Sean Wu