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2017–2018 Honors Book Labs

Registration for Summer and Fall Book Labs will open on March 29th. All Book Labs will hold four meetings, begining in the second week of classes each semester. Honors will buy all books and will keep enrollment lists and waitlists for each Book Lab. Please call (797-2715) or email (honors@usu.edu) immediately if you can no longer take a Book Lab for which you enrolled. Demand is high, and Honors wants to accomodate as many students as possible. Enrolled students are expected to attend or return the book.

Please click here for detailed descriptions of past Book Labs.

Summer 2017

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, Charles Mann
Dr. Lawrence Culver - Wednesdays (5/17, 5/24, 5/31, 6/7) at 1:30 p.m.
We think of globalization as a modern phenomenon. Yet globalization began 525 years ago, when Cristobal Colon unwittingly connected Europe, Asia, and Africa with the Americas. The vast transfer of people, plants, animals, goods, and diseases initiated in 1492, which historians call the Colombian Exchange, began an epoch of globalization that has shaped almost every facet of the modern world, from the food we eat to the plants and animals that surround us, from human demography to the national and imperial power. Written for a general audience, 1493 give allow students in this Honors Book Lab the opportunity to learn about and discuss the history of globalization, including environmental history, agricultural and food history, the history of disease, economic history, and the historical forces that shaped the Americas and the future United States. We will see, for example, how the Andean potato became a global food staple, but caused collapse in China and a terrible famine in Ireland, and how the lowly mosquito arguably shaped history more than any human ever did. In short, we will talk about how the modern world came to be.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live
, Marlene Zuk

Dr. Carrie Durward - Tuesdays (6/13, 6/20, 6/27, 7/11) at 10:00 a.m.
Is it healthier to eat the same foods as your Paleolithic ancestors did? Should you be running barefoot because that is how your foot evolved to function? In Paleofantasy, biologist Marlene Zuk does an excellent job of making cutting-edge scientific research understandable and interesting. She breaks down the argument that our bodies and brains are at odds with modern life in the context of several modern trends: the Paleo Diet, barefoot running, attachment parenting, and more. Most importantly, she clarifies several common misconceptions about evolution, using fascinating research findings to illustrate her points. This Book Lab will explore a complex and often misunderstood topic by discussing a book that makes these complicated ideas easy to understand and interesting.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
Dr. Travis Dorsch - Tuesdays (5/16, 5/23, 5/30, 6/13) at 9:00 a.m.
Written by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow suggests that human thinking is flawed – not by the corrupting influence of emotion, but by the imperfect machinery of our minds themselves. According to Kahneman, humans have two main ways of reasoning about the world: a slow, deliberate, analytical, and effortful system and a fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious one. While the former allows us successfully to navigate a college exam or parallel park a large vehicle, the latter allows us to infer emotion in the voice of a conversational partner or root for our favorite sport team. Although the first system is more deliberate and rational than the second, it is also lazy and tires easily; humans thus often fail to slow down and analyze things because accepting the easy but unreliable story proposed by the second system is simply easier. This Book Lab will discuss Kahneman’s idea that this path of least resistance is the source of many of the biases that pervert our thinking: we jump to intuitive conclusions, he argues, based on easy but imperfect “heuristics,” often without bothering to consider whether our conclusions are logical.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.


Fall 2017

The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, Deirdre McClosky
Dr. Christopher Fawson - Wednesdays (9/6, 9/13, 9/20, 9/27) at 3:00 p.m.
Author Deirde McClosky is a prominent economic scholar and historian who started her career as Donald McClosky; many would consider her the most prominent transsexual economist in the world. Drawing upon her own life experience and meticulous scholarship, this book is, in her own words, “an apologia in the theological sense of giving reasons with room for doubt, directed to nonbelievers. It is directed toward you who are suspicious of the phrase ‘bourgeois virtues,’ pretty sure that it is a contraction in terms.” Students will find the book challenging, but upon completion of the reading and discussion experience, they will have acquired a much more nuanced appreciation for the notion of “virtuous capitalism.” I have used this book in previous book-club discussions with students (Buehler Leadership Scholars), and it has invariably been a transformational experience for students who are willing to explore serious historical and philosophical arguments surrounding the notion of “bourgeois virtue.”

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson
Dr. Ryan Seedall - Mondays (9/11, 9/18, 9/25, 10/2) at 3:00 p.m.
Just Mercy is a true story written by a man who spent years defending people on death row. Stevenson analyzes racial and economic injustice in a very thought-provoking way. Something that stands out to me about this book is that it has received 4.8/5 stars on Amazon from over 2,200 reviewers. I believe the book will really spark an interesting discussion that has relevance for today regarding diversity, privilege, marginalization, and how to evaluate not only individual, but also structural/organizational oppression.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
Professor Rebecca Charlton - Wednesdays (9/6, 9/13, 9/20, 9/27) at 3:00 p.m.

Like Water for Chocolate spent two years on bestseller lists in Mexico and the United States. The intricate weaving together of food and fiction beckons the reader to ponder the pleasures engaged and denied in a world of increasing individualism that at times in conflicts with the constructs of culture. This Book Lab will discuss the societal, community, and nutrition-related themes of the novel in a place where all the best conversations are had: the kitchen. Come prepared to sample foods inspired by the novel while we discuss the place of food and culture in our families, communities, and individual lives.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

March, Books 1, 2, and 3, John Lewis
Dr. Steve Shively - Wednesdays (9/6, 9/13, 9/20, 9/27) at 3:00 p.m.
The March trilogy, presented in graphic book format, is an autobiographical account of civil rights leader John Lewis’s remarkable life, with a focus on his political activism. Lewis is one of the few remaining giants of the Civil Rights era. He participated in lunch-counter protests, the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, and many other iconic moments in the struggle for equal rights; the youngest person on the program when Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, he is the last surviving speaker from that day, and he continues to be an active and newsworthy leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. March presents Lewis’s life story from his childhood in a family of sharecroppers to his presence at the inauguration of Barak Obama. Historic events come to life through his storytelling and the art of Eisner Award-winning artist Nate Powell. March has been a huge bestseller and has won numerous awards; the series brings new life to some of the most profound moments in American history through Lewis’s inspiring voice and Powell’s dramatic visual art. March will stimulate fascinating discussions for students interested in history, literature, art, education, sociology, politics, communication, and more.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

The North Water, Ian McGuire
Dr. Laura Gelfand and Dr. Paul Crumbley - Tuesdays (9/5, 9/12, 9/19, 9/26) at 3:00 p.m.
With astonishingly raw prose, McGuire spins a fast-paced tale of nautical adventure, mysticism, and survival that nods toward the seafaring works of Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad and incorporates the gritty realism of Cormac McCarthy—while still remaining entirely original itself. Set in 1857 on a British whaling ship bound for the Arctic, this work of historical suspense fiction introduces a cast of unforgettable characters whose behavior may not be to everyone’s taste (it includes vivid descriptions of violence involving people and animals), yet a leap into the book’s icy waters will take willing readers on a compelling journey. Thanks to quality of the writing, the intensity of the narrative, and the author’s nuanced play between the historical and the metaphysical, The North Water lends itself to a broad range of discussions on humanistic topics at the same time as it invites analysis of literary craft. Discussions might touch on topics as diverse as the foundations of human motivation, the importance of spiritual self-discovery, the impact of human culture on the natural environment, and the role of the novel in the modern world.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Dr. Sara Bakker - Tuesdays (9/5, 9/12, 9/19, 9/26) at 3:00 p.m.
Written by two Pulitzer-prize winning journalists, A Path Appears addresses poverty and social change in contemporary global society. Using an engaging style that interweaves thorough research with illustrative personal stories, the authors identify pressing, persistent problems at home and abroad – and proven, creative strategies for combatting them. Our discussions will focus on misperceptions of poverty and the role of journalists in covering ongoing, yet relatively unchanging situations, topics that are particularly timely, given the wealth of current American leadership and the maligned status of journalists in shaping or manipulating our understanding of the world. We will also identify who might actually benefit from maintaining the status quo and ask whether we—as a society or as individuals—have a moral responsibility to intervene. This Book Lab will help you understand how poverty shapes people’s lives and how you might work for social change.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume 1, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Dr. Brian McCuskey - Thursdays (9/7, 9/14, 9/21, 9/28) at 3:00 p.m.
This Book Lab will transport us to Baker Street: we will read and discuss the original Sherlock Holmes stories, from his introduction in A Study in Scarlet (1887), to his next investigation in The Sign of Four (1890), and then to his heavy caseload in the Adventures (1892) and the Memoirs (1894). Holmes claims to be the first “scientific detective,” and Watson calls him “the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen.” Does he deserve his reputation as a logical genius? To answer that question, we will interview both the author who created him, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the actors who have played him, from Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

The Sports Gene, David Epstein
Dr. Matthew Vierimaa - Tuesdays (9/5, 9/12, 9/19, 9/26) at 3:00 p.m.
Are elite athletes born or made? Is it possible for anyone to become an expert in a sport simply by putting in the so-called requisite 10,000 hours? Are certain athletes blessed with traits that predispose them to reach the highest levels of performance? In The Sports Gene, David Epstein provides an in-depth examination of elite athleticism through the lens of science. Deftly tackling the nature vs. nurture debate in the context of elite sport, The Sports Gene integrates cutting-edge research on topics such as genetics, race, physiology, and psychology. Epstein supplements this empirical evidence with fascinating anecdotes and interviews with athletes from around the world on both sides of the nature-nurture argument. Students with an interest in sport and/or human performance will enjoy this compelling, thought-provoking book on the differential impacts of genetics, practice, and psychosocial factors on athletic performance.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.

Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang
Dr. John McLaughlin - Thursdays (9/7, 9/14, 9/21, 9/28) at 3:00 p.m.
In a collection of essays that Junot Díaz has called “shining, haunting, mind-blowing,” Ted Chiang has crafted a set of well-conceived thought experiments that create alternate worlds only slightly different from our own. The recent feature film Arrival is based on the essay that gives the collection its title. As a linguist myself, I came to the book because the film is one of the rare moments when a linguist is the hero of the story. Chiang creates believable alternate realities to examine such questions as the relation of automation and human labor, the contradiction between a just God and the capriciousness of circumstance, the interaction of foreknowledge and human choice, the nature of obsession, and the relation between mandatory and voluntary action. During the four weeks of this Book Lab, we will discuss four of the essays that touch upon some of these different questions of our world.

Please click here to register for this Book Lab.