Stanford students have the reputation of inhabiting a “bubble,” removed from the outside world. While Stanford’s “Three Books'' program presents an opportunity to introduce new concepts to incoming Stanford freshmen, these books often fail to challenge students’ perspectives. Rather, they rather repeat views and themes common at Stanford. As such, Stanford’s Three Books program entrenches rather than challenges the so-called “Stanford Bubble.”
This break, the Review will be reading our own ‘three books’ that we feel represent principled, contrarian attitudes towards contemporary issues of science, politics, and culture. Our theme is “blindspots,” viewpoints which we, as attendees of an elite university, might not otherwise encounter. Every Stanford student will benefit from reading these books and reflecting on their perspectives.
Each of our choices (one memoir, one collection of essays, and one novel), have been recommended by Review members as books which shaped their worldviews. They are all relatively quick reads that pack a powerful punch. The Review will be hosting reading groups for each book. We hope you’ll join us - and invite a friend, too!
Please RSVP here if you’d like to attend. Participation is open to Stanford affiliates only, though we encourage everyone to pick up these book recommendations.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance—Discussion December 30
J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy provides insight into the lives of one group left behind by the global economy and often excluded from Stanford’s discourse. Vance powerfully portrays his Appalachian upbringing, expressing his affection while also speaking frankly of its cultural failings. Not only is Vance’s personal story powerful, but his astute observations raise political questions rarely discussed in elite circles.
As Vance stresses in his introduction, he didn’t write Hillbilly Elegy “because [he] accomplished something extraordinary.” Vance’s memoir is a story of a kid who “achieved something quite ordinary, which doesn't happen to most kids who grow up like me.” Americans devastated by the decline of American industry face challenges in a global economy that favors highly educated, highly networked individuals. There are few books that are able to burst the Stanford Bubble with as much poignancy as Hillbilly Elegy.
The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy by Christopher Lasch—Discussion January 6
[Focus on Introduction through Chapter 4. Chapters 5, 9, and 10 are highly encouraged]
To compliment Hillbilly Elegy’s dissection of Appalachian culture, Christopher Lasch writes a powerful critique of America’s elties. Lasch, though a member of the Left himself, nonetheless emerged over the course of the twentieth century as one of its most astute critics.
A cultural historian, Lasch claims that the greatest threat to America is not a mass, populist movement, but rather America’s liberal elite and its disproportionate influence over society. For Stanford students, who are often warned of the dangers of populism, Lasch provides a nuanced argument that elite culture is in fact the greater destabilizing force. An extraordinarily well-written and perceptive book, Revolt of the Elites will change how you view American politics.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro -- Discussion January 13
We will end our three books with a novel, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. The plot’s beauty lies in the gradual, devastating revelation of its premise, so we can’t give away too much. The book focuses on several characters reflecting upon their unique childhoods in the English countryside. Stanford students in particular will gain much from Ishiguro’s subtle critique of unchecked scientific innovation.
Less-politically oriented, this novel is a favorite of several Review members, one of whom said, “this is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. You will not be the same person after reading it.”
We hope you’ll consider joining us for a discussion on these books, and that students of disparate political leanings will feel welcome at this conversation: a wide variety of perspectives can only enrich our conversation. We look forward to seeing you there!