Hundreds of colleges now pick a single book each year for new students to read in the summer before their first semester. Even if some students skip them, these “beach books” tell us a lot. They announce what the college thinks is important and exhibit the college’s best judgment about how well its students can read. They also capture the eagerness with which colleges now try to shape students’ social and political views. Judging from the beach books colleges pick, welcoming students to the adventure of open-minded inquiry is last on the agenda.
For the last six years, the National Association of Scholars has been tracking beach books. My colleague Ashley Thorne began this out of simple curiosity. But the list she drew up drew a lot of attention, and each year after we went deeper into finding out who picked the books and why. This year 350 colleges picked 236 books. Many picked the same book. Sixteen colleges picked “The Other Wes Moore.” The next six top choices were: “Just Mercy”—14 colleges; “The Circle” —6 colleges; “March: Book One”—6 colleges; “Enrique’s Journey”—5 colleges; “Garbology”—5 colleges; and “Outcasts United”—5 colleges.
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