Three Books

Three Books is Stanford's signature common reading program for undergraduate first-year and new transfer students. Each year, Stanford carefully selects a theme and books for incoming new students to read and discuss with each other over the summer. The program culminates in discussions with the authors during New Student Orientation and during the first year, where students are given the opportunity to ask the authors questions and hear their perspectives. Three Books is made possible by the generosity of The Lamsam-Sagan Family Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Education.

The 2020 Three Books theme will be on Education and Character.

  • Grit | Angela Duckworth
  • Selected Readings on Race, Class, and Education |  Multiple authors
  • Between the World and Me | Ta-Nehisi Coates

Read Stanford's Three Books letter introducing this year's theme and the selected books.

The 2020 Books: Education and Character

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Grit by Angela DuckworthWhy do some people succeed and others fail? Sharing new insights from her landmark research on grit, Angela Duckworth explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Rather, other factors can be even more crucial such as identifying our passions and following through on our commitments.  Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently bemoaned her lack of smarts, Duckworth describes her winding path through teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not genius, but a special blend of passion and long-term perseverance. As a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth created her own character lab and set out to test her theory.  Here, she takes readers into the field to visit teachers working in some of the toughest schools, cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance. Finally, she shares what she's learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers; from JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon to the cartoon editor of The New Yorker to Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll.   

You can access this reading by logging on to Approaching Stanford via Stanford Canvas


Selected Readings on Race, Class, and Education by Multiple Authors

You will be able to access these readings by logging on to Approaching Stanford via Stanford Canvas


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me is written as a letter from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son addressing the feelings, realities, and symbolism associated with being Black in America.  Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.


You will receive this reading when you begin New Student Orientation in September, and there will be a virtual visit on Friday, October 2nd. You may wish to enroll in UAR 20: Third Book Seminar, a 1-unit class that will discuss the book and readings on related topics (Canvas Syllabus link).


The 2020 Authors

Angela Duckworth

Angela is an American academic, psychologist and popular science author.  She is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania where she studies grit and self-control.  She is also the Founder and CEO of Character Lab, a not-for-profit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development.  Duckworth was born in 1970 to Chinese immigrants and grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  She earned a B.A. in Neurobiology from Harvard College, a M.Sc in Neuroscience from the University of Oxford, and a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.  She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013.  Her first book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, was released in May 2016, and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 21 weeks.


Bettina Love

Bettina is an award-winning author and Associate Professor of Educational Theory and Practice at the University of Georgia.  Dr. Love is one of the field's most esteemed educational researchers in the area of Hip Hop education.  Her research focuses on the ways in which urban youth negotiate Hip Hop music and culture to form social, cultural, and political identities to create new and sustaining ways of thinking about urban education and intersectional social justice.  Her work is also concerned with how teachers and schools working with parents and communities can build communal, civically engaged schools rooted in intersectional social justice for the goal of equitable classrooms.  Her work has appeared in numerous books and journals, including the English Journal, Urban Education, The Urban Review, Journal of Lesbian Studies, and the Journal of LGBT Youth. She is the author of We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom and Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Hip Hop Identities and Politics in the New South


Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi is an American author and journalist. Coates gained a wide readership during his time as national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he wrote about cultural, social, and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans and white supremacy.  Coates has worked for The Village Voice, Washington City Paper, and Time.  He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Washington Monthly, O, and other publications.  He has published four books: The Beautiful Struggle, Between the World and Me, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, and The Water Dancer.  He has also written a Black Panther and Captain America series for Marvel Comics.  He was awarded a Macarthur Fellowship in 2015.  Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.  


Three Books Chats

Let's talk about the books! More information is coming soon on how to join an optional Stanford Canvas discussion group facilitated by one of your Orientation Coordinators.  There will also be opportunities later in the summer to speak with Stanford Faculty to share your thoughts and insights about the books, the theme, favorite quotes and images, and anything else you'd like to talk about. You'll also be able to help frame the discussion with the authors at the Three Books program during NSO by submitting specific topics and questions for the authors.

 Stanford Canvas

On Our Bookshelf

For addititional reading related to our Education and Character theme, check out these books:

  Mindset - Carol Dweck
  The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students - Anthony Abraham Jack
  Educated - Tara Westover
  How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character - Paul Tough
  We Want To Do More Than Just Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom - Bettina Love
  Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
  Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? - Beverly Daniel Tatum
  Whistlng Vivaldi - Claude Steele

Common Reading Archive

Curious to know what books we've hosted in previous years? Check out our Common Reading Archive for a list of all past books and their authors!