Three Books

This page will be updated summer 2016 with the new Three Books selections. See below for the Three Books selections for 2015. The Three Books program is a special Stanford New Student Orientation tradition. In this program, a faculty moderator chooses three books for incoming Stanford students to read over the summer. The program culminates in a panel with the authors during NSO, followed by discussions with faculty, residential staff, and peers. This year, the faculty moderator was President John Hennessy. President Hennessy chose books about people: Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators, a collection of short biographies; This Boy’s Life, a memoir by Stanford professor Tobias Wolff; and Lalita Tademy’s Cane River, which could be called a book of biographical fiction. These are stories about people, the challenges they face, and how they deal with adversity.

The Three Books program is made possible by the generosity of The Lamsam-Sagan Family Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Education.

The Books

The Innovators

Cover of InnovatorsFollowing his blockbuster biography of Steve Jobs, The Innovators is Walter Isaacson’s revealing story of the people who created the computer and the Internet. What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail? Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page. This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative. 

Cane River

Cover of Cane RiverOn a Creole plantation on the banks of Louisiana’s Cane River, four generations of astonishing women battle injustice to unite their family and forge success on their own terms. They are women whose lives begin in slavery, who weather the Civil War, and who struggle with emancipation throughout the turbulent early years of the twentieth century. There is Elisabeth, bearing both a proud legacy and the yoke of bondage…her youngest daughter, Suzette, the first to discover the promise—and heartbreak—of freedom…Suzette’s strong-willed daughter Philomene, determined to reunite her family and gain unheard-of economic independence…and Emily, Philomene’s spirited daughter, fighting to secure her children’s just due and preserve their dignity and their future.


This Boy's Life

This unforgettable memoir of boyhood in the 1950s introduces us to the young Toby Wolff, by turns tough and vulnerable, crafty and bumbling, and ultimately winning. Separated by divorce from his father and brother, Toby and his mother are constantly on the move, yet they develop an extraordinarily close, almost telepathic relationship. As Toby fights for identity and self-respect against the unrelenting hostility of a new stepfather, his experiences are at once poignant and comical, and Wolff does a masterful job of re-creating the frustrations and cruelties of adolescence. His various schemes - running away to Alaska, forging checks, and stealing cars - lead eventually to an act of outrageous self-invention that releases him into a new world of possibility.



The Authors

Walter Isaacson

Walter IsaacsonWalter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @WalterIsaacson.

Lalita Tademy

Lalita Tademy

Lalita Tademy is the New York Times Bestselling author of three historical novels: Cane River, Red River, and Citizens Creek. Before writing full-time, Lalita was Vice President and General Manager of several high technology companies in Silicon Valley, spending over a decade running business units within large corporations. Featured in Fortune’s “People on the Rise” list, as well as Black Enterprise and Ebony, in 1998 she was named an African-American Innovator in the New Millennium at the Silicon Valley Tech Museum of Innovation. But her own interest in her family’s roots, and the ongoing issues of racism and women’s empowerment, led her to focus all of her energies on her second career – writing.

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff is the author of the novels The Barracks Thief and Old School, the memoirs This Boy's Life and In Pharaoh's Army, and the short story collections In the Garden of the North American MartyrsBack in the World, and The Night in Question. His most recent collection of short stories, Our Story Begins, won The Story Prize for 2008. Other honors include the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award – both for excellence in the short story – the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the PEN/Faulkner Award.  He has also been the editor of Best American Short StoriesThe Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, and A Doctor's Visit: The Short Stories of Anton Chekhov. His work appears regularly in The New YorkerThe AtlanticHarper's, and other magazines and literary journals. He is currently the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor of English at Stanford University.

Three Books at New Student Orientation

New Student Orientation includes the Three Books panel, a roundtable discussion about the three summer books with the authors and a faculty moderator. This year’s event took place on Friday, September 18, 2015. We heard from Walter Isaacson (The Innovators), Tobias Wolff (This Boy’s Life), and Lalita Tademy (Cane River), and the session was moderated by President John Hennessy. This was a special opportunity to ask the authors questions and to hear their perspective on their work and on the themes of overcoming adversity and life’s challenges. Following the panel, students had a lunch discussion about the three books with faculty and staff from across the university, as well as with their residence staff and peers.

Three Books Chats

This year we held online Three Books Chats on Stanford InYourClass using #ThreeBooks! These chats gave students the opportunity to discuss the three books with Stanford faculty, administrators, and each other and share thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. Here was the schedule for last summer's chats:

 Stanford InYourClass