Common Reading

Three Books is Stanford's signature common reading program for undergraduate first-year and new transfer students.

Each year, a faculty moderator carefully selects a theme and books for incoming new students to read and discuss with each other over the summer. The program culminates in a roundtable discussion with the authors during New Student Orientation, where students are given the special 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.

Faculty moderator Sarah Billington chose the 2019 Three Books on the theme of Cities:

There There | Tommy Orange

Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley | Cary McClelland

The Just City Essays: 26 Visions for Urban Equity, Inclusion and Opportunity | Multiple authors, edited by Toni L Griffin, Ariella Cohen, David Maddox

7/5/19 Stanford News Report: Stanford’s Three Books program invites students to think about the ways cities shape experiences and social relationships

The 2019 Faculty Moderator, Professor Sarah Billington

Photo of Sarah Billington

Sarah Billington is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Milligan Family Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment. 

Her research group conducts research on sustainable, durable construction materials, their application to structures and construction, and their impact on wellbeing when incorporated into building design. In the area of materials they explore damage-tolerant, high-performance fiber-reinforced cementitious composite materials, bio-based fiber-reinforced polymeric composites that have a closed loop life-cycle, and innovative cement- and bio-based materials for thermal and sound insulation. In the area of building design we study the long-term impact of architectural design, materials, and artifacts in buildings on human well-being (including stress, physical activity, creativity, sense of belonging and environmental behavior).

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

The 2019 Books: Cities

There There Book Cover

There There by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange’s shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to each other in ways they may not yet realize. There is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and working to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene, who is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death, has come to work at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil has come to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American—grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. Hailed as an instant classic, There There is at once poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, utterly contemporary and always unforgettable. 

This book is included in your Approaching Stanford package.


Silicon City Book Cover

Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley by Cary McClelland

An intimate, eye-opening portrait of San Francisco transformed by the tech boom. San Francisco is changing at warp speed. Famously home to artists and activists, and known as the birthplace of the Beats, the Black Panthers, and the LGBTQ movement, in recent decades the Bay Area has been reshaped by Silicon Valley, the engine of the new American economy. The richer the region gets, the more unequal and less diverse it becomes, and cracks in the city’s facade—rapid gentrification, an epidemic of evictions, rising crime, atrophied public institutions—have started to show.

Inspired by Studs Terkel’s classic works of oral history, writer and filmmaker Cary McClelland spent several years interviewing people at the epicenter of the recent change, from venture capitalists and coders to politicians and protesters, from native sons and daughters to the city’s newest arrivals. The crisp and vivid stories of Silicon City's diverse cast capture San Francisco as never before. Silicon City masterfully weaves together a candid conversation across a divided community to create a dynamic portrait of a beloved city—and a cautionary tale for the entire country.

This book is included in your Approaching Stanford package.


Just City Essays Cover

The Just City Essays: 26 Visions for Urban Equity, Inclusivity and Opportunity edited by Toni L Griffin, Ariella Cohen, David Maddox

The Just City Essays: 26 Visions for Urban Equity, Inclusivity and Opportunity is an international response to the persistence of injustice in the world’s cities. As troubling headlines from Ferguson, Missouri, to Johannesburg and myriad other cities make clear, dramatic inequalities in income, housing and safety demand a continued search for ideas and solutions. In this ebook, architects, artists, community activists, ecologists, mayors, philanthropists and social scientists from 22 cities offer 26 visions for change.

Read and/or download this free ebook online at (We did not send you a physical copy.)

For more, learn about the Just City Lab with Professor Toni Griffin.

The 2019 Authors

Tommy Orange photo (photo credit Elena Seibert)

Tommy Orange

A new writer at the start of a major career, Orange talks about his craft, the writing process, and Native American history and culture, often with meticulously researched visual presentations. In his 2017 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, “Thanksgiving is a tradition. It’s also a lie,” he confronted the violent past of the American holiday, asking readers to challenge their traditions. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow, as well as a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Tommy Orange is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, and was born and raised in Oakland, California. He now lives in Angels Camp, California, with his wife and son.


Cary McClelland photo (courtesy of Cary McClelland)

Cary McClelland

Cary McClelland is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, lawyer, and human rights advocate whose work has taken him around the world to document and bring to life stories of people persisting in turbulent times. He has trained former child soldiers to be journalists in the Democratic Republic of Congo, engaged in conflict transformation programs in liberated East Timor, worked alongside opposition activists in Zimbabwe, and collaborated on advocacy campaigns in Egypt, Syria and Myanmar. His award-winning film, Without Shepherds, documented the lives of six people fighting against extremism in Pakistan, and his innovative new media work with WITNESS and Google was nominated for a Webby award. In his newly released book, Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley published by W.W. Norton, Cary turns his lens back home to create a portrait of a city transformed by the tech industry, through the stories of its citizens, past and present. The book explores the challenges posed by the new american economy, serves as a clarion call for action on behalf of those underserved and displaced, and is perhaps a story of hope that so many are working to address their common challenges. A practicing attorney, Cary represents journalists and artists in defense of the First Amendment, and his pro bono work focuses on immigration policy, political engagement and representing congressional candidates. He is a frequently invited speaker on topics of media, technology, democracy, rule of law and story-telling. Cary holds a B.A. from Harvard University, a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

Three Books Chats

Let's talk about the books! Join Professor Sarah Billington later this summer on Stanford Canvas 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.

August 21, 3:00 - 4:00 p.m. (PDT) - There There with Faculty Moderator Professor Sarah Billington

August 28, 3:30 - 5:00 p.m. (PDT) - The Just City Essays with Dr. Michael Kahan, Co-Director of the Program on Urban Studies and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology

Date pending - Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley with Author Cary McClelland 

 Stanford Canvas

On Sarah Billington's Bookshelf

For addititional reading related to our Cities theme, check out these books recommended by Professor Sarah Billington:

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison

The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki

Clash!: How to Thrive in a Multicultural World by Hazel Markus and Alana Conner

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead

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!