Can you feel it? Winter break is coming. Turn in your last final and pick up a copy of a book that will put you in a different kind of headspace.
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson
If talking about early 20th-century Russia gets your heart racing, this is your book. If it doesn’t, this could still be your book. Symphony for the City of the Dead gives an unpretentious, accessible history of the Russian Revolution, industrialization, and life under Stalin. Told through the lens of the era’s most prolific classical composer, it’s a shadowy biography wrapped in a national history wearing the cloak of a spy thriller, with a killer soundtrack.
Perfect for: Music lovers, history buffs, anyone who appreciates a well-told story
When you’re finished, read: City of Thieves by David Benioff
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
On its surface, Imagine is a catchy psychological peek at how masters of innovation, from Silicon Valley startups to enduring musicians, forge connections and mash up ideas, then spin them into gold. In its full context—namely the book’s widespread recall after it was discovered to be extensively fabricated and plagiarized—it’s a fascinating study in hubris and a look at the ever-blurring line between drawing inspiration from and ripping off someone else’s ideas.
Perfect for: Kickstarting your innovative (and critical thinking) brain
When you’re finished, read: Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Or just stop stalling and go create something.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
To underscore everything else you’ve read in the news lately, this unabashed autobiography is a forceful reminder of how much progress we have left to make when it comes to hearing women out. Lindy West’s voice is hilarious, relatable, and unapologetic as she stomps internet trolls so hard they apologize, takes aim at toxic masculinity, and goes to the mat to make the world a slightly nicer place.
Perfect for: People feeling feisty and woke, male allies
When you’re finished, read: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hunger and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
In 1960, John Steinbeck packed up his camper, grabbed his standard poodle Charley and took to the road. Writing in a style that’s highly readable and deceptively simple, he captures his wanderings through 40 states in a quiet quest to rediscover his country and the surprising culture shifts, tensions, and characters he encounters on his way.
Perfect for: Satisfying your wanderlust, taking with you on your travels
When you’re finished, read: Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
MBA students are not, on the whole, the most reticent group. We’ve chosen an environment that rewards candid opinions, self-promotion, and hustling to rise above the noise. But the more we ratchet up the volume, Susan Cain argues, the more meaningful insights we miss. Quiet makes a compelling scientific case for the unsung badassery of introverts and how much we can learn from others when we shut our mouths.
Perfect for: Discovering your inner chill, deepening your appreciation for your quieter classmates
When you’re finished, read: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
In one of Kurt Vonnegut’s more scathing satires, oddball millionaire Eliot Rosewater quits his New York job to devote his time and fortune to uplifting the underprivileged and spreading the gospel of kindness. In a world that likens wealth to morality, his associates grow embarrassed by his erratic behavior and declare him mentally unstable. Absurdist, dark, and secretly optimistic, this 50-year-old social commentary still feels relevant.
Perfect for: A good laugh, remembering not to take life so seriously
When you’re finished, read: Boomsday by Christopher Buckley
Have something else to recommend? Send Abby your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org