Career & Success

Nine Stanford Professors Make Suggestions for Your Holiday Reading

We’ve compiled an eclectic collection of books to share — or hoard — while sheltering in place this season.

December 09, 2020

| by Steve Hawk Jenny Luna


An illustration of book covers on a table. Credit: iStock/netrun78

The best thing about books is how they can bring us together. | iStock/netrun78

If you can’t get together with family this holiday season, we have just the thing for you: a rich list of books you can send to keep your loved ones company, all recommended by Stanford Graduate School of Business professors. Or maybe you’d prefer to simply bulk up your own library, given all the downtime you’re likely to have. It’s a list with impressive range: magical realism, slithering eels, the upside of pandemics, award-winning poetry, and more.

The Black Book

by Orhan Pamuk

“On the surface, The Black Book is a post-modern detective novel, but this story-after-story framework provides Pamuk with a way to dig into the issues of identity: The existential identity crisis of Galip — the main character — and that of Istanbul and Turkey as a whole. After reading this book, one wonders: Is writing and reading stories, as Galip concludes, ‘the only consolation’?” — Mohammad Akbarpour, associate professor of economics

The Shadow of the Wind

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

“For those who like literary intrigue, I recommend this escape to post-war Barcelona. The protagonist Daniel inhabits a strange plot within the parallel plot of a mysterious author, Julián Carax, whose books are being destroyed, copy by copy. I read it with the tinglings of John Fowles’ The Magus.” — Darrell Duffie, the Adams Distinguished Professor of Management and Professor of Finance

Tiny Beautiful Things

By Cheryl Strayed

“I recommend this book of advice columns published by the author (before she published Wild) under the pseudonym ‘Sugar’ for The Rumpus, an online literary magazine. Strayed is a gorgeous storyteller whose responses to readers’ fairly mundane questions take the reader deep into the dramas of her personal history. Although I read this collection a long time ago, some of the images she conjures have never left me.” — Deborah Gruenfeld, the Joseph McDonald Professor and Professor of Organizational Behavior

Series by Simon Winder

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History

The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey into the Disturbing World of James Bond

Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe

Lotharingia: A Personal History of Europe’s Lost Country

“Since we can’t travel, why not read? I recommend a series of books by Simon Winder, who is the social science/history editor at Penguin Books. Perhaps this explains why he writes really well and knows an incredible amount. On top of all that, he has a great sense of humor. These books are insightful histories fashioned partly as travelogues. I love all of them, but particularly Germania and Bond. The latter is a history of post-war Britain and its decline seen through the lens of James Bond — a useful counterpoint for fans of the Netflix series The Crown.” — Saumitra Jha, associate professor of political economy

Apollo’s Arrow

by Nicholas A. Christakis

“This is an extraordinarily insightful history of the role pandemics have played in both human evolution and cultural development. Although human memories tend to be short, there is (sadly) nothing new about pandemics in terms of their recurring and devastating impact on society. What this book does exceptionally well is to remind us that pandemics have always been with us and will continue to exert their catastrophic, if occasional, impact on global well-being. Equally important, however, this book reminds us that human resilience and creativity in response to such unwelcome disruptions have also been hallmarks of our history as an exceptionally adaptive species. In that regard, I found this book both informative and reassuring.” — Roderick M. Kramer, the William R. Kimball Professor of Organizational Behavior

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

by Mary Oliver

“In these stress-filled times, I would like to recommend a book of poetry. Mary Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet who (sadly) passed away last year. This is a self-curated collection, reflecting some of her best work over the years. As a foretaste, here is one of my favorite poems from this collection: “The Summer Day.” — Charles M.C. Lee, the Moghadam Family Professor and Professor of Accounting

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

by Christine Féret-Fleury

“This charming and uplifting novel illustrates how stories and books can change lives and how one small step out of the ordinary can lead to incredible transformation. A jewel box of language, images, characters, and psychological insights, the novel speaks to the connections people form with others through their love of books.” — Maureen McNichols, the Marriner S. Eccles Professor of Public and Private Management and Professor of Accounting

The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World

by Patrik Svensson

“Who would have thought that eels are such interesting creatures? The book is half memoir, half history of human understanding of eels, and both parts are equally fascinating!” — Daniela Saban, assistant professor of operations, information, and technology

The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World

by Ran Abramitzky

“Kibbutz is a community where everybody shares everything. An immediate concern for those who are familiar with economics is free-riding: If others share the fruits of their hard work with you even if you do not work, why would you contribute to the community? Abramitzky’s book illustrates how Kibbutz changed its social structure to get around this problem and more generally provides a great insight of how to be inclusive in a highly competitive environment. This is also a fun read since he brings a lot of stories from his own family.” — Takuo Sugaya, associate professor of economics

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