Faculty Book Recommendations

Books to read before age 25.


Do you have some extra time to read while you’re at home? Are you a senior who wants book recommendations from your teachers before you graduate? Here’s a list of top 5 books to read before age 25 from 20 different teachers.

For all faculty members not yet featured on this list, feel free to send your top 5 recommendations to rampage@ramaz.org. We will be updating the list as we get more recommendations!


College Guidance

Mr. Blumenthal:

  1. The Source by James Michener
    1. It’s set in Israel, and my mother gave it to me to read during my gap year in Israel. Set in Israel at an archaeological dig, it’s about the history of Judaism, but really the history of monotheism and religion in general.
  2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
    1. Yeah, I’m that guy who loves that book. And if you can get through that, try The Silmarillion, which could serve as a creation myth for Britain.
  3. I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
    1. A quick read along the lines of the Rick Riordan series, but much better written (PG-13; he swears a bunch).
  4. ANYTHING by John Steinbeck
    1. Grab a huge tome or a short novella. He’s my favorite American writer.
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    1. Just pick it up and read it again. And then read it again. It gets better as you age.


Ms. Davis:

  1. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
    1. Using Mormonism as a lens to explore what religion and myth-making mean to America as a whole.
  2. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
    1. Questions of citizenship, populism, collective memory, and again, mythologizing political figures.
  3. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    1. Need I say more?
  4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    1. The original true crime tale that also deals with questions of citizenship and the “American Dream.”
  5. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
    1. Everyone should read more work by women and more work by Wharton especially. She probes tensions inherent in class and gender that exist today, as well as the myth-making American society felt they had to create about themselves, and, as a bonus, she perfectly captures Gilded Age New York


Dr. Honig (English/College Guidance):

  1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    1. What happens to a scarlet woman?
  2. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
    1. The American sophisticates abroad.
  3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    1. Frustrated love and frustrated expectations all around.
  4. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    1. What happens to you after you do the unthinkable?
  5. A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen
    1. The door slam that preceded the women’s movement by quite a bit.
  6. King Lear by William Shakespeare
    1. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

If I could have more picks, I would add:

  1. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  3. The Age of Innocence or The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte


Computer Science

Mr. Vovsha:

  1. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
    1. It will give you a perspective of the world you may not have been exposed to.
  2. One Dostoevsky novel (The Idiot/Crime and Punishment/Brothers Karamazov).
    1. Because once you read one Dostoevsky novel, you’ll read them all. 
  3. Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach by Russell & Norvig. 
    1. The “bible” of AI, and a favorite first book of many AI researchers.



Dr. Gaylord:

  1. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  4. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  5. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf


Ms. Grossman:

  1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  4. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  5. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  6. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich


Ms. Litwack:

I don’t know if this is my “definitive” list, but these are books that had a strong impact on me. I’ve not included The Bible—selections from the King James version, The Odyssey and Hamlet, because those are expected choices.

  1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  3. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
  4. The Fall by Albert Camus
  5. Ceremony by Maxine Hong Kingston



Dr. Bernstein:

  1. Zakhor by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi
    1. A meditation on the study of Jewish history from perhaps the greatest Jewish historian of the 20th century. [Jewish history]
  2. Hiroshima by John Hersey
    1. Remarkable reportage on the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, highlighting the sheer horror of nuclear weapons. [Non-fiction]
  3. The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
    1. Reflections from one of the greatest political theorists of the modern era on one of the hallmarks of the modern era, the expansion of the state to the detriment of the individual. [Political theory]
  4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
    1. An eye-opening novel about the depredations of slavery and the human quest for liberation. [Fictional novel]
  5. 1984 by George Orwell
    1. More on the zealous expansion of the state, in fictional form. “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” [Fictional novel]


Dr. Jucovy:

  1. Dr. Faustus by Thomas Mann
    1. The Faust legend transposed to Nazi Germany. One of the most intellectually stimulating reading experiences imaginable. Mann’s novel explores the temptation of pride and fame, the duality of passion and reason, through the figure of a composer modeled on Nietzsche, who represents the German nation.
  2. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
    1. Hardy’s Wessex novels paint the harsh beauty of Dorset England and the even harsher social mores that lead to inevitable suffering. All of these novels are exceptional. The tragedy of Tess is probably the most widely known (and filmed). Seduced, abandoned, outcast Tess is one the greatest of fictional heroines.
  3. Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
    1. Under-appreciated because he wrote self-proclaimed “entertainments,” Graham Greene’s grappling with faith and duty in Power and the Glory depicts a priest on the run from Mexican revolutionaries. Greene could write hilarious novels, but this one is unrelentingly dark.
  4. Lord of the Rings by J. Tolkien
    1. I felt as if I had nothing left to look forward to when I finished the last page. So I started it again.
  5. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
    1. The funniest novel ever written. But also gruesome and rage-inducing.


Ms. Newman:

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
    1. A classic. It tells the story of a poor girl’s childhood in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. Really beautiful.
  2. Shogun by James Clavell
    1. An amazing novel about a shipwrecked English sea captain in 16th-century Japan. How he adapts and comes to love Japanese culture—with all his misgivings—is incredible. 
  3. Imperium by Robert Harris
    1. Really superb (and incredibly fun) historical fiction, about Cicero in ancient Rome. With two sequels if you really love it, which you will!
  4. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
    1. Memoir by a country veterinarian in Depression-era Yorkshire in northern England. Truly wonderful.
  5. We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey
    1. A middle-great space adventure about a near-future group of humans trying to find a new home on the planet Choom. Will make you laugh and cry. 
  6. The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
    1. It’s like Faulkner with zombies, plus a really great heroine at its center. It’s gorgeous.



Mr. Letourneau:

I was always a big fan of fantasy and adventure books, not the typical books on classic high school lists (I was not a fan of being told what to read!). I loved imaginative, creative books where the author created entire worlds of characters and creatures (I found it extremely impressive and cool). I was able to get so lost in the stories of those worlds and escape reality!

  1. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R Tolkein
  2. Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
  3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  4. Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale
  5. Tomorrow series by John Marsden
    1. For a book series that was not fantasy, but still had a lot of adventure, I really enjoyed the Tomorrow series (starts with Tomorrow When the War Began). I loved that series because it was so suspenseful and intense as the group of teenagers came home from a camping trip finding their country invaded by an enemy force. I love war books and movies, so how the group of teenagers worked together to survive and fight back kept me extremely intrigued throughout all the books.



Rabbi Blaustein:

  1. As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg
    1. An easy-reading historical novel that gives us a real sense of daily Jewish life in the times that modern Judaism was developing.
  2. Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives by Jim Sheeler
    1. Emotionally-draining but riveting peek into parts of America that we don’t often encounter. I think every American is duty-bound to read this.
  3. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass
    1. Fascinating and accessible first-person account of life as a slave.
  4. The Nineteen Letters by Samson Rafael Hirsch
    1. Fresh and inspiring letters between Rav Hirsch and a young man seeking to reconcile Jewish tradition with modernity.
  5. The Tales of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, Retold with Commentary by Adin Steinslatz
    1. Rabbi Nachman’s colorful parables make esoteric and mystical traditions accessible, but for the uninitiated modern, scientific, literary reader, Rabbi Steinsaltz’s masterful explanations provide essential background and context.


Mr. Klotz

  1. Auto da Fé by Elias Canetti
  2. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  3. Independent People by Halldór Laxness
  4. Ulysses by James Joyce
  5. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  6. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  7. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf



Dr. Rotenberg:

  1. Tanakh (in its entirety, preferably in Hebrew) by ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu and assorted Prophets
  2. Either Mishnah by R. Yehudah ha-Nassi, ed. or Mishneh Torah by Rambam
  3. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 by Alfred Crosby
    1. I should re-read this. I read it in college, and I remember it being eye-opening, but I can no longer tell you why.
  4. A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
    1. At this point, our student body has mostly grown up without a substantive US human spaceflight program. The last space shuttle mission was in July 2011. This book chronicles the Apollo program that landed twelve men on the moon between 1969 and 1972. It was an incredible feat of engineering and exploration. 
  5. What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry (Unabridged Edition, 1968. It must be the Unabridged Edition, which is a little hard to find).
    1. In case you are not familiar with this book, it’s a children’s book illustrating various scenes in the fictional Busytown. Also, all the people in Busytown are animals. While a little out of date, as it was published in 1968, this book gives an excellent sense of how stuff works. Do you want to know how plumbing works? There’s a page on that. Do you want to know how food gets from the farm to your table? It’s in there. How about lumber? Or a coal mine? Yes, it’s all in there. More important than “do you want to know?” is that you should know. This is how the world works, and most of us are very insulated from the processes that bring our products to the stores where we buy them. In an essay in the New York Times in 2012, Tim Kreider wrote: “More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.” That’s probably an exaggeration, but there is something to be said about having a basic understanding of how our economy works at the production level, even if it’s a first-grade understanding.



Ms. Gedwiser:

I don’t know that these books are more essential than any others, but they are ones that I enjoyed and found thought-provoking in my early 20s (mostly).

  1. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
    1. A surreal and whimsical story in which the devil and a talking cat, among others, take on 1930s Moscow.
  2. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
    1. A novel about the beginnings of US intervention in Vietnam in the 1950s, mixing personal and political intrigue with a lot of moral ambiguity. It was adapted into a 2002 movie as well.
  3. Making PCR, by Paul Rabinow
    1. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) revolutionized biology and biotech. This book is an engagingly written historical/sociological account of how PCR came to be. (For those who don’t know, I studied History of Science in college…There are a lot of great books written examining specific historical moments like this, if you want more recommendations!)
  4. The Buffalo Creek Disaster, by Gerald M. Stern
    1. This was assigned reading before my first class of Civil Procedure in Law School, but it’s actually a gripping story of a corporation-caused flood and a lawyer’s fight to get compensation for the victims.
  5. In Potiphar’s House, by James Kugel
    1. I think this was one of the first books of academic Jewish scholarship I read, and the first time I really got any idea of how midrash works.


Rabbi Schiowitz:

  1. Fear No Evil by Natan Sharansky
    1. Aside from providing an understanding of the plight of Soviet Jewry and others who suffered before the fall of communism, this book offers an amazing insight into the mind of one of the most heroic personalities of our time. It can truly change the way that you think about many of the most important issues of life
  2. The Choice by Dr. Edith Eger 
    1. The first half of the book is a deeply reflective and insightful account of the author’s survival of the Holocaust and her perspective on the choices that we have in life. She challenges the reader to examine the choices that we make.
  3. Fate and Destiny by Rabbi Soloveitchik
    1. This offers a philosophical framework for thinking about important issues like suffering and the State of Israel.
  4. Pirkei Avot
    1. Seemingly a collection of simple and pithy ethical lessons, that when thought about deeply, offer significant insight into ethical thinking.



Ms. Benus:

  1. A Letter in the Scroll: Understanding Our Jewish Identity and Exploring the Legacy of the World’s Oldest Religion by Jonathan Sacks 
  2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak 
  3. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl 
  4. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray


Ms. Krupka (Administration/Tanach):

  1. Zakhor; Jewish History and Jewish Memory by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi
    1. Yerushalmi is a very renowned professor of Jewish History at Columbia who passed away in 2009. Zakhor is a FANTASTIC analysis of how the Jewish community thinks about memory and its interplay with history, a favorite topic of mine.
  2. Anything CS Lewis of course, but consider starting with Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
    1. The book did a lot for the way I think about tefillah, and ironically, I don’t think I could name a Jewish equivalent…(except maybe Worship of the Heart—a compendium of Rav Soloveitchik’s ideas on prayer—definitely worth reading both and thinking about them together).
  3. Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture by Yoram Hazony 
  4. At Home – A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
    1. Such a fun read and so many great tidbits and trivia of information about the way we live, how and why.
  5. Acadia by Tom Stoppard
    1. To make sure I have at least one play/literary suggestion (although I could give a lot more), this is one of my favorites—every line is so full of meaning that is relevant to the way we think about both religion and the world. I had to read it through four or five times before I could even begin to think about it. I still go back to it all the time to reexamine it.


Ms. Senders:

  1. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
    1. Probably one of my favorite books of all time. Sandberg’s content and writing style is incredibly emotionally intelligent and real, and the way she describes the challenges she faced after her husband’s tragic and untimely death makes you feel like she understands every challenge, big or small, that you are going through. Her empathy and real-life advice teaches you that it’s possible to get through any tough time and reminds you that you will become much stronger because of it. 
  2. Fear No Evil by Natan Sharansky
    1. Sharansky’s story is one of those books that feels like it’s from another lifetime, when in fact, it took place only a few years before I was born. Sharansky’s battle to gain freedom from the oppressive Soviet Union and his ensuing nine years in prison are a reminder that the precious religious freedom that we enjoy is not something to take for granted, nor is the Jewish unity and solidarity that his struggle inspired.
  3. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
    1. Professor Randy Pausch’s compilation of lectures about articulating a personal legacy and living a life of meaning based on what truly matters to you. Pausch delivered these lectures shortly after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 47. It is a witty and thoughtful journey through Pausch’s life and his hopes and dreams (both fulfilled and unfulfilled). Equally meaningful are the lessons about gratitude and appreciation that it imparts. 
  4. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
    1. The story of World War II pilot Louis Zamperini—his plane crashes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and he survives for 47 days before being captured by the Japanese and surviving as a POW for an additional two-and-a-half years. Besides being a gripping and suspenseful story (with excellent writing), the lessons it teaches about strength, courage, and resilience in the face of any obstacle are so inspiring.
  5. The Sages series by Rabbi Binyamin Lau (translated from the original Hebrew)
    1. A three-part series that brings the world of the Talmud (and Tannaim and Amoraim who wrote it) to life and gives insight and context to the teachings that form the corpus of our tradition. If you are interested in some fascinating Jewish history and/or trying to make sense of the seemingly “drier” parts of Judaism, these are the books for you! 


World Languages

Dr. Roldan:

  1. Collected Fictions: Jorge Luis Borges by Jorge L Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley
  2. Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar 
  3. Blindness by Jose Saramago
  4. Amador: In Which a Father Addresses His Son on Questions of Ethics by Fernando Savater
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Ilan Stavans