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What do Purdue Agriculture faculty recommend for your summer reading list?

With COVID-19 keeping people at home as summer plans have been canceled, many are turning to reading more than ever. Regardless of genre, books have a way of transporting us even when home-bound. Find out what faculty and staff members in the College of Agriculture recommend as possible inspiration for your reading pile.

Catherine Aime

Professor of botany and plant pathology 

“I read Sand a couple of months ago and immediately ordered and shipped copies to several friends and family members.  This is one that will probably never leave me. I read non-fiction and fiction, anything with ideas written well. I’m especially drawn to some magic realism, sprawling Victorian novels and Dicken’s disciples (e.g., The Magus, Fowles), tales about wandering and modern updates of the Odyssey story (e.g. Circe, Miller), stories where place is a character.”

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass

Sand, Wolfgang Herrndorf

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Jan Potocki

Levon Esters

Professor of agricultural sciences education and communication

"I choose the Gavazzi and Gee book because I believe in the mission and purpose of the land-grant institution and believe their role in American higher education is often under-appreciated. My second choice is because of the impact I have seen resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic on the work lives of Americans, especially minority populations."

Land-Grant Universities for the Future: Higher Education for the Public Good, Stephen M. Gavazzi & E. Gordon Gee

The Importance of Work in an Age of Uncertainty: The Eroding Work Experience in America, David L. Blustein

Andrea Liceaga

Associate professor of food science and director of the Sensory Evaluation Lab

“I thought The Decameron, written in the 14th century during the bubonic plague in Italy, fit well with our current pandemic situation. For Academia Obscura, well, every faculty member should have a copy of this silly book.”

The Decameron, Giovanni Boccacio

Edible Insects and Human Evolution, Julie J. Lesnik

Academia Obscura, Glen Wright.


Jayson Lusk

Department head and professor of agricultural economics

“These books are a good representation of the types of books I enjoy, which are non-fiction and tend to fall into several categories: 1) books about food and agriculture, 2) books that popularize an area of science about which I’m only somewhat familiar, and 3) books about American and European history, particularly those focused on innovation, leadership, and/or societal change.”

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, Derek Thompson

The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, Howard Markel

Grant, Ron Chernow


Stacey Mickelbart,

Envision Magazine editor, agricultural communication

“I’m reading the long-awaited finale to Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of novels on Thomas Cromwell and the English Reformation. Cromwell could give the masterclass on political strategy — and Mantel writes with classic British wit. Everyone, especially those who work with students, should read Chanel Miller’s book, as she beautifully reclaims her story following the infamous Stanford rape case. Colson Whitehead spoke at the Purdue Literary Awards last year and has won the Pulitzer Prize twice since 2017, so he’s a writer to get to know if you don’t already.”

The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel

Know My Name, Chanel Miller

The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead


Haley Oliver

Associate professor of food science and director of USAID Feed the Future Food Safety Innovation Lab

“Reading- that’s one of the fine outcomes of this COVID debacle is the bandwidth to get back to some non-mandatory reading. I think White Fragility is one of the most influential and relevant books to read right now. Basically, my list is a combo of self-help, self-improvement, do-better, be better and think reading.”

White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, Chris Voss.

Fearless Leadership: How to Overcome Behavioral Blindspots and Transform Your Organization, Loretta Malandro 


Linda Prokopy

Professor of forestry and natural resources

“Talking about books is one of my favorite things to do. I selected White Fragility because I need to constantly improve my own awareness of my privilege and how to be an antiracist. I’m not a huge fan of fantasy novels, but I read Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and found myself really pulled in so I’m looking forward to reading this book. My favorite genre is post-apocalyptic fiction with strong female leads - The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler are great examples.”

White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo

The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris


Gerald Shively

Associate dean and director of International Programs in Agriculture and professor of agricultural economics  

“I am currently reading a collection of George Orwell’s essays.  Although Orwell is best known today for his novels Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm, his work as a journalist, political essayist, and observer of (and commentator on) current events is unsurpassed. His essays covering World War II and his observations concerning propaganda, the press, and unaddressed social wrongs seem particularly relevant for us at the moment. Reading his work is also a great lesson in writing”

The Collected Essays of George Orwell, George Orwell

The Wizard and the Prophet, Charles Mann


Nicole Widmar

Associate head and professor of agricultural economics

“My most recent works integrate the use of large datasets (including those developed from online and social media spaces) into producer decision making. I have an affinity for taking lessons learned from other industries and applying them to agriculture. These books feed my desire to be able to use high-level data analytics to answer questions that people actually care about. I spend a lot of my academic time deep in economic theory and math.  But those are not areas that translate well or speak to people in terms of the actual applied problems we are trying to tackle.”

The Ride of a Lifetime*, Bob Iger

Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Cathy O'Neil

*Widmar has already read this book and written a review that can be found here:

If you’re looking to pick up these books or others, there are many places, including independent bookstores, to order from. Use to find an independent bookstore near you and visit to locate a list of black-owned bookstores in the U.S.


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