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2019 Honors Book Labs

Register below for our Spring and Summer Honors Book Labs. All Book Labs consist of four meetings, beginning in the second week of classes each semester. Honors buys all books and keeps enrollment lists and waitlists for each Book Lab. Students may enroll in only one Book Lab per semester, and students who fail to complete a reflection in one semester may not register the following term. Please call (797-2715) or email ( immediately if you can no longer participate in a Book Lab for which you have signed up. Demand is high, and Honors wants to accommodate as many students as possible. Enrolled students must attend or return the book to remain in good standing with the University Honors Program and to continue to be allowed to take part in the Book Lab program and other honors privileges like early registration. 


Please click here for detailed descriptions of past Book Labs.

All Summer 2019 Book Labs are currently full. Pleas contact the Honors office with any questions. 

 Fall 2019

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Dr. Thomas Fronk
3:00-4:00 p.m. Thursdays (9/5-9/26) in TBD

The sinking of the British luxury liner Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 1, 1915, is difficult for us to understand 100 years after the event. Although WWI was only in its tenth month at the time, many expected that the war would have already ended. The advances in technology in the preceding months and throughout the war redefined how we view the rules of war today. The role of government and politics in technology and how policies affect the general populace are in full view in WWI and the sinking of the Lusitania.  

This book is well-researched and written. From the editor’s description, “It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour and suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope to President Woodrow Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster whose intimate details and true meaning have long been obscured by history.”

This Book Lab is FULL. 

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth
Dr. Robert Davies
3:00-4:00 p.m. Tuesdays (9/3-24) in TBD

The landscape USU graduates step into, and will inhabit for the rest of their lives, is filled with immense challenge ― of a nature and scale no previous generation has ever faced.  As such, it is challenge also filled with unprecedented, transformational opportunity.

Human beings are radically transforming the planet ― fundamentally disrupting our very life support system ― fundamentally altering atmospheric chemistry, ocean chemistry and soil chemistry in ways that are threaten to collapse the whole of Earth’s living systems.  The good news is, the human systems inflicting this damage are themselves fundamentally unsustainable.  Our civilization as it is requires 1.7 planets’ worth of resources to survive. This key point of interest of this number… is that it is greater than one.  The unsustainability of our path is not inevitable.  It emerges from an underlying philosophy of economic growth, rather than human well-being.  It is a global economic system that is deeply divisive ― riven with extreme inequalities - degenerative rather than re-generative.  We know how to do it better. The mindset that can give us a chance of turning this situation around is at the heart of this book.  But don’t be fooled Doughnut Economics is about far more than economics; it is about a fundamentally different path that holds enormous promise.  We can create a sustainable, just, and vibrant human presence on this planet, respecting planetary boundaries and erasing critical human deprivation.

This Book Lab is FULL. Join the waitlist here.

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson
Dr. Kim Sullivan
3:00-4:00 p.m. Mondays (9/9-9/30) in LLC A 102

Feathers are the defining characteristic of birds. They are lightweight, strong, waterproof, full of color, and molded by selection into fantastic shapes. Feathers existed long before birds, as dinosaurs used them for both insulation and sexual displays. Join me in reading Thor Hanson’s Feathers: The Evolution of Natural Miracle. Hansen is an excellent natural history writer, and honors students in a 2018 book lab greatly enjoyed his book Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees. After we read the book, we will explore feathers with the USU ornithology collection. 

This Book Lab is FULL. Sign up for the waitlist here.

Gay Life and Culture: A World History by Robert Aldrich
Professor Raymond Veon
3:00-4:00 p.m. Mondays (9/9-9/30) in TBD

The world has witnessed an outpouring of research, critical inquiry, and re-interpretation of gay life and culture that sheds new light on the vast amounts of prejudice and misinformation about LGBTQ+ people. In this Book Lab, we will discuss groundbreaking new material that provides a comprehensive fact-based survey of all things LQBTQ+, ranging from ancient societies to the present day. Critically acclaimed historian Robert Aldrich and ten leading scholars juxtapose thought-provoking essays with an extensive selection of images, many never before seen. This masterful combination reveals the story behind gay culture from the industrialized world to the remotest corners of tribal New Guinea. The book covers such topics as the Old Testament relationship between Jonathan and David, the Age of Confucius, Native American berdaches, Polynesian mahus, Berlin in the '20s, Stonewall and the 1970s, AIDS, Act Up, and Angels in America. This book is an important contribution to understanding what makes gay life and culture universal throughout human culture and across time, and this Book Lab is for anyone interested in understanding the real stories and histories of the LGBTQ+ community.

This Book Lab is FULL. Join the waitlist here.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
Associate Dean Jeanne Davidson and Reference Librarian Dory Rosenberg
3:00-4:00 p.m. Thursdays (9/5-9/26) in TBD

Are you a perfectionist who feels you’re never doing enough? Or do you often find yourself making decisions based on what you think you should do or what others think you should do? In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown grapples with these feelings and explores what it means to live a wholehearted life. Brown combines lessons learned from her studies as a research professor in social work with her gift of storytelling to examine the behaviors that contribute to meaningful relationships and work. She outlines ten guideposts, each of which examines a particular way of thinking to help foster acceptance and love of self and others. Not only does Brown’s book offer food for thought, but it suggests with each guidepost strategies for engaging with our vulnerabilities and feelings of self-doubt. We chose this book as a way to open up a discussion about the struggles we all face in deciding where we want our lives to take us and how courage, compassion, and connection can help us be who we are, even in times of uncertainty.

This Book Lab is FULL. Join the waitlist here.

How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching by Joshua Eyler
Dr. Karin DeJonge-Kannan
4:00-5:00 p.m. Wednesdays (9/4-9/25) in OM 202

You’re an honors student, so of course you're a good learner, right? But do you understand how learning happens and under what conditions humans learn best? Synthesizing the latest research from developmental psychology, anthropology, and cognitive neuroscience, author Joshua Eyler focuses on teaching and learning in post-secondary education. With chapters on curiosity, sociality, emotion, authenticity, and failure, this book helps students and instructors re-think conventional wisdom. While one might think this book is intended for college faculty, it is equally important for college students to examine how learning happens and under what conditions it flourishes. Students who reflect on their educational experiences gain understanding of not only what works, but why some practices work and others don’t. Knowledge developed from reading and discussing this book will empower students to direct their own learning better. All honors students—not just those planning a career in education—are likely to find themselves in positions in which they help others learn, now or in the future. It will be beneficial to take a closer look at how humans learn.

This Book Lab is FULL. Sign up for the waitlist here.

Ill Met By Moonlight: The Abduction of General Kreipe by W. Stanley Moss
Dr. Frances Titchener
3:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesdays (9/4-9/25) in TBD

While a Visiting Professor at the University of Crete, I learned a lot about ancient Crete, but I also became greatly interested in modern Crete, particularly the island’s tradition of armed resistance in the WWII battle of Crete and later. One of the annual awards events at the University of Crete features the William Stanley Moss Prize for excellence, awarded to a graduate student in philology  in commemoration of the valor and dedication the Cretan resistors in WWII. This prize was established by Gabrielle Bullock, the daughter of Billy Moss, the British officer who, as part of the resistance movement, helped kidnap Nazi General Kreipe in Crete and deliver him to allied headquarters in Alexandria, Egypt.

 The story is gripping in many ways, but I was most impressed with the description of life under foreign domination and the costs—and corresponding rewards—of resistance. My life and outlook were changed forever as I learned more about these people, some of whom are still alive today.

 I look forward to frank, sometimes painful, but rewarding discussion with students about the nature of patriotism and its costs.

This Book Lab is FULL. Join the waitlist here.

Metamorphoses by Ovid, translated by Rolfe Humphries
Dr. Erica Holberg, Dr. Felipe Valencia, and Dr. Daniel Wack
3:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesdays (9/4-9/25) in TBD

Ovid’s Metamorphoses is one of the great classical epics and the most valuable source on Greek and Roman mythology. The poem focuses on key myths that still have great influence in our cultural imagination and that inform, illuminate, and complicate current debates about power, gender, art, religious, and violence. In this Book Lab, we will discuss Apollo and Daphne on the relation between art and rape; Diana and Actaeon on the ethics of intention and responsibility; Narcissus and Echo on self-knowledge and the construction of individual and subject; the Minyades on the formation and destruction of female communities; Salmacis and Hermaphroditus on the meaning of sex and gender; Orpheus and Eurydice on the capacity of art to confront death and transform the world ; Pygmalion on the power of the male gaze; and Ajax and Ulysses on courage and the dangers of eloquence. We will pay special attention to ideas about the body and power, to concepts of narrative cohesion and logic when studying a seemingly chaotic succession of stories, and to responses to the Metamorphoses in recent literature and film.

Sign Up for this Book Lab here.

Personal History by Katharine Graham
USU Chief of Staff Sydney Peterson
3:00-4:00 p.m. Tuesdays (9/3-9/24) in TBD

After her husband’s suicide, Katharine Graham stepped abruptly out of her role as wife and mother to take over as publisher of The Washington Post. She’d never planned for such a job. Originally describing herself as a shy, insecure woman, unprepared for the responsibilities she inherited, she led her business to financial success, becoming the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company and one of the most powerful women of the century. Graham’s decisions to publish the Pentagon Papers and to proceed with the Watergate investigation earned her a reputation as a courageous, fair, and thorough journalist. She was committed to giving readers full access to important information reflected even today in the current tagline for The Washington Post, "Democracy Dies in Darkness." Her story and actions stand as an example for all women that anything is possible. This is a story of a woman who was to find fulfillment as a working woman, but who would never have imagined nor thought it possible. It is an account of an extraordinary life and a great example of how people are formed by the way they grow.

This Book Lab is FULL. Join the waitlist here.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Dr. Shannon Peterson
3:00-4:00 p.m., Thursdays (9/5-9/26) in TBD

We are living in a time of unparalleled division in America—division that divides not only the country, but oftentimes friends and families. Haidt’s book offers some intriguing insights into why this division has occurred.  If we wish to bridge this divide, we need greater understanding. As described in the publisher’s synopsis, “Drawing on his twenty-five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts.”

This Book Lab is FULL. Sign up for the waitlist here.

Slow Looking: The Art and Practice of Learning Through Observation by Shari Tishman
Dr. Donna Brown
3:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesdays (9/4-9/25) in NEHMA

Slow Looking: The Art and Practice of Learning Through Observation argues for the importance of slow looking in both formal and informal learning environments, across general and specialized disciplines. The book describes “slow looking” as a “museum-originated practice” with “wide educational benefits,” involving “patient, immersive attention to content” that creates “active cognitive opportunities for meaning-making and critical thinking.” Participants in this lab will have the opportunity to discuss and experiment with the practice of slow learning at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art. We will explore how to incorporate this practice within our lives and academic discipline, and articulate potential benefits of slow learning. Author Shari Tishman is a Senior Research Associate at Harvard’s Project Zero, which conducts research in arts-based learning across disciplines. Ray Williams, Blanton Museum of Art, states that Tishman “argues for the value of slow looking through compelling examples that will make this book an inspiring and useful catalyst for those of us committed to living more slowly, seeing more deeply, and learning about our complex world.” Harvard Professor Emeritus David Perkins claims that Slow Looking “celebrates the importance of sensory lingering in art, science, and our everyday lives.”

Sign Up for this Book Lab here.

Tattoos on the Heart by Father Gregory Boyle
Dr. Ryan Seedall
3:00-4:00 p.m. Thursdays (9/5-9/26) in CCE 498

In Tattoos on the Heart, you will learn about the experiences of Gregory Boyle, who runs in Los Angeles a gang intervention program called Homeboy Industries. As part of this program, he has worked for 20 years with gang members and compiled examples of love and hope about individuals who have worked to overcome despair and difficult circumstances. One of the take-away messages of this book is that no life is less valuable than any other. This book has over 1200 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.8/5.0.

Sign Up for this Book Lab here.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
Dr. Brian McCuskey
3:00-4:00 p.m. Tuesdays (9/3-9/24) in TBD

Everyone knows that Victor Frankenstein created a monster, and that Mary Shelley created Victor, but who created Mary Shelley? Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), an English writer and political radical, whose most famous work is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Wollstonecraft argues that women are rational creatures, who deserve the same education as men; lack of education, not inborn intellectual weakness, is what makes women seem naturally subordinate. Her writing is not only rational—illustrating its own argument!—but also witty, impassioned, colorful, and wise. Wollstonecraft died just after giving birth, but in her daughter’s novel, when the monster demands to be recognized as a fellow individual creature, we can hear her continued influence. That influence continues to this day, as we approach the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States. This Honors Book Lab will thus travel back and forth in time, thinking about how Wollstonecraft’s arguments still resonate for us.

This Book Lab is FULL.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
Dr. Nicholas Morrison
3:00-4:00 p.m. Mondays (9/9-9/30) in The Caine Room (FL 212)

Wouldn't it be great to have more time? Just think of how much more we could get done if we had just a few more hours in each day. What would happen if we could reclaim some part of the 25-35% of our lives that we waste sleeping? We could have more time to study, spend with friends, learn to play the saxophone, go skiing, actually cook a meal, or work on those grad school applications, right?

What does the scientific literature tell us about sleep? Is it the biggest mistake of evolution, or is it a missed opportunity to increase our efficiency and capacity for learning? Join this honors Book Lab and read Dr. Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep to find out. 

Required materials: an open mind and an interest in hearing others’ insights and sharing your own.

Optional materials: A pillow?

This Book Lab is FULL. 


Summer 2019

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard
Dr. Travis Dorsch - Wednesdays (5/15-6/5) from 9:00-10:00 a.m. in FL 113 (Snow Conference Room)

This fascinating book investigates the concept of “American regionalism” and highlights the eleven distinct regions that shape our United States of America. Written by historian Colin Woodard, this text makes a case for eleven unique nations that possess their own unique historical roots, traditions, and political leanings. Woodard’s ideas will take honors students on a journey through the history of our fractured continent, offering a nuanced view on what it does (and doesn’t) mean to be American. Importantly, students will come to learn how individual, community, and regional conflicts have shaped our past and present—and how they continue to mold our future. From the Deep South to the Far West, each region described in this book continues to uphold its distinguishing ideals and identities of its population. More importantly, American Nations offers a lens through which to view American institutions that shape politics, race relations, economic inequity, and education. A must read!

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
Dr. Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez - TBD

 I teach Multicultural Psychology to undergraduate students and Diversity Issues in Treatment and Assessment to graduate students. Unlike traditional courses that may seek to increase specific knowledge in an area, these courses aim to raise student self-awareness about their own cultural and social identities, increase knowledge about important multicultural concepts, and improve skills in intercultural exchanges. Blindspot covers the decade-long program of research by Banaji and Greenwald on implicit attitudes, which are based on “hidden” biases that we carry as a result of socialization in particular cultural context. Students can improve their multicultural skills by learning about how implicit attitudes work, and engaging in exercises to make visible the invisible. Knowing how our brains might trick us into taking short-cuts with inaccurate judgments about those who differ from us (whether through race/ethnicity, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or other social identities) can help us to bypass our early socialization and thus to behave in ways that more closely align with our stated values.

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge
Dr. Breanna Studenka - TBD

This book takes a look at neuroplasticity from the perspective of both individuals with brain impairment and scientists aiming to help these individuals. The book is well researched and highlights many relevant topics, both globally and here on the USU campus. The book urges students to question previous assumptions about how the brain works, both in relation to cognitive and motor function, and to psychological concepts such as motivation, habits, and the power of thought. I believe students will leave the Book Lab with a better understanding of neuroscience, a more global perspective on how science informs practice, and a better appreciation of their own brains and how to maintain brain function as they grow older.

Willfull Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan
Dr. Vijay Kannan - TBD

They say that hindsight is “20:20,” but often, even when the facts are right in front of us as we make significant decisions, we choose not to see or use them and thus make poor decisions, in some cases with devastating results. In this book, Margaret Heffernan chronicles a number of cases from a variety of domains, including business, history, government, and science, discussing how individuals were blinded, for a variety of reasons, to facts that led to decisions with profound social consequences. While some of the storylines are part of our history, such as the rise of Nazism and the Vietnam War, others are more contemporary, such as the collapse of Enron and Hurricane Katrina. The book also explores poor choices in personal relationships and the tendency to ignore good, yet inconvenient, science. Drawing on neuroscience, psychology, and fundamental principles of human behavior, Heffernan explains what causes us to act in ways that often defy reason. While covering a lot of ground, the book remains highly readable and has implications for all of us, regardless of backgrounds, programs of study, or professional paths.