Summer Reads 2023: Gene Jarrett

Written by
Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications
June 30, 2023

Six Princeton professors talk about how the books on their shelves relate to their work and share what’s on their summer reading lists. Some book choices reflect their scholarly research and teaching. Others illuminate personal interests and current issues in the headlines. 

Jarrett is dean of the faculty and the William S. Tod Professor of English.

Tell us about a particular book on your shelf. 

Few works of African American literature have stood the test of time as well as W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903). The book is a literary bridge from the late 19th century, when Du Bois led nationwide debates over African American educational and political progress, to the early 20th century, when he persisted as a racial leader during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Du Bois’ eloquent arguments for the humanity, spirituality, intelligence and citizenship of “black folk” gain rhetorical power through his talented uses of music, poetry, fiction and the essay. 

What’s on your summer reading list? 

The Library: A Fragile History (2021), co-written by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen, is a comprehensive study of the origin, purpose and implications of libraries, from the ancient collections of bibliophiles to their modern, and quite complicated, evolution in colleges, universities and the broader public.  

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder (2023) by David Grann focuses on the contrasting tales surrounding a British vessel that had left England in 1740 amid an imperial conflict with Spain, only to wreck two years later on a deserted island near Patagonia.  

Who’s Black and Why?: A Hidden Chapter from the Eighteenth-Century Invention of Race (2022), edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Andrew S. Curran, reprints 16 original essays submitted to a 1739 contest held by Bourdeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences on the best scientific explanations of “blackness.” Translated into English from French and Latin, these essays reveal how physiological, cultural, climatological and religious myths of Africans and their descendants underwrote hypotheses of racial difference and inequality in the Western world. 

The four Library of America volumes on Henry James’ short stories (published between 1874 and 1910) inform my comparative biography of him and James Baldwin, whose respective literary lives serve as bookends to the next book I am writing on race and cosmopolitanism in the early 20th century.   

Finally, Maria Ressa’s How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future (2022) is a portal to the mind of a brilliant, Nobel Prize-winning international journalist and Princeton alumna. As Princeton’s Pre-Read for the incoming Class of 2027, the book is also the ticket to joining the momentum of collective reading that will inspire our campus community this upcoming fall.