“Common Readings” at Colleges Uncommonly Political, Scholars Find


New York, NY (August 19, 2013)—The National Association of Scholars (NAS) released its third annual study of common reading programs at American colleges and universities.

This year’s report, Beach Books 2012-2013: What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class?, covers 309 colleges and universities and 190 reading assignments.

 Its major findings:

  1. Ninety-seven percent of colleges and universities chose books published in 1990 or later.
  2. Politically-themed books abounded.
  3. The most popular book by far was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for the second year in a row.
  4. Very few of the colleges with common reading programs chose classics.

NAS president Peter Wood said, “Many colleges begin to prep freshmen for political correctness months before they arrive on campus. So-called ‘common reading’ programs have become a tool for orienting students to progressive causes. The dominant themes in these books are race, gender, class, the evils of capitalism, and the ubiquity of oppression.”

Dr. Wood continued, “Summer reading programs are good in principle, but colleges have misused them. The popularity of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for example, is based on its depiction of the American medical establishment as racist. That, in turn, helps sell the students on the need for heavy-handed government control of medical care.”

The Beach Books report includes twelve suggestions for selecting better books. It also includes the NAS’s updated list of 50 recommended books for common reading programs.

The NAS works to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities. To learn more about NAS, visit www.nas.org.

Download the PDF: www.nas.org/images/documents/BeachBooks-2013.pdf



Ashley Thorne, Director, NAS Center for the Study of the Curriculum

917-551-6770; thorne@nas.org

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