Reading Recs: Ages 13 to 18

The comments below are from ATDP members and other readers, or excerpted from an online source. Please check your local and/or and school library before you run out (or go online) to purchase tons of books.

~ Nina


Ender’s Game
by Orson Scott Card
More than decade or so ago, Professor Frank Worrell, current Associate Dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School, and then a house parent for ATDP’s (Secondary Division) only residential group, read Ender’s Game in installments to the students as a way of transitioning from homework to sleep time. Those students, many in graduate school now, still recount these “bedtime stories” as the most memorable experiences. And why not? Picture Frank’s resonant baritone-and-maybe-bass voice telling of how the Earth is under attack and the survival of the human species depends on a military genius who can defeat the alien “buggers.” Recruited for military training, Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin’s childhood ends the moment he enters his new home: Battle School. [Wow! If I had stayed up as late as these students did, I would have just loved hearing the stories.]
I, Robot
by Isaac Asimov
“A millennium into the future, two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. Isaac Asimov’s Robot novels chronicle the unlikely partnership between a New York City detective and a humanoid robot who must learn to work together.”
Citizen of the Galaxy
by Robert A. Heinlein
In a distant galaxy, the atrocity of slavery was alive and well, and young Thorby was just another orphaned boy sold at auction. But his new owner, Baslim, is not the disabled beggar he appears to be: adopting Thorby as his son, he fights relentlessly as an abolitionist spy. Also be sure to read Farmer in the Sky.
A Wizard of Earthsea
by Ursula K. Leguin
Leguin is one of ATDP’s A.P. Art instructor Laura Shefler’s favorite authors, so we’ll quote directly from the publisher: “When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away—home, family, possessions, even her name. For she is now Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the ominous Tombs of Atuan. While she is learning her way through the dark labyrinth, a young wizard, Ged, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic, and together, he and Tenar escape from the darkness that has become her domain.”
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
by J. R. R. Tolkien
“At fifty-five the trilogy is more wonderful than ever—a beautiful 50th anniversary edition was released—and over 1,000,000 readers in the U.S. alone. “t seems an unlikely formula for success: an Oxford professor of Anglo-Saxon, and a book that begins with a little man who lives in a hole in the ground. But The Hobbit, followed by The Lord of the Rings, created the modern genre of heroic fantasy and made J.R.R. Tolkien one of the most widely-read authors in the world.”
Life of Pi
by Yann Martel
A complex fantasy involving religion, a shipwreck, a zoo, and a long ocean journey to contemplate them all. Life of Pi tells the story of Piscine Patel, a Hindu-Buddhist-Christian who is cast adrift when the ship carrying his family along with their zoo’s animals from India to their new homes in Canada sinks. Young Pi should be happy when Richard Parker clambers aboard his lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—except that Richard Parker is a 450-pound tiger. Pi’s two versions of his harrowing journey, one fantastical and one conventional, lead readers to contemplate the concept of truth. (K. Mogilefsky)
Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven
by Sherman Alexie
Alexie provides an honest look at the treatment of Native Americans in the past, and the reality of their lives today. (K. Mogilefsky)
The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
A frightening apocalyptic tale, journey tale, father-son tale which explores what makes us human and why that may one day lead to our survival—or our end.
The Princess Bride
by William Goldman
A hilarious tale of good versus evil, complete with sword fights, revenge, adventure, and true love. The 1987 movie should be watched as well. (S. M. Estrada)
Twelfth Night
by William Shakesepeare
A comedy of mistaken identity and other hijinks. It’s a great read when you want a good laugh! (S. M. Estrada)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Foer
The main character, Oskar, is a young boy in search of the lock for a key that belonged to his father, who died on 9/11. He will meet many people on his journey, and will unlock many mysteries of life in this timely coming-of-age story. (K. Mogilefsky and NG)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
by Mark Haddon
This story is a unique tale of an autistic boy determined to solve a local murder mystery. Along the way he learns about himself, his family, and his place in the world, and we learn what it is like to navigate a world that is not made for you. (K. Mogilefsky)
Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Just about everyone who submitted recommendations included all of the Holmes stories, and I’m in that group. I’d also recommend The Seven-Percent Solution, by Nicholas Meyer (the actual memoirist of the fictional John Watson, M.D., of course) but check with your parents because of the reason for the title. It was shocking to me when I read it back when the book first came out, and I’m shocked just as easily now. The book is back in print and ties in with The West End Horror (1994) and The Canary Trainer (1995); this “rediscovered” Sherlock Holmes adventure recounts the unique collaboration of Holmes and Sigmund Freud in the solution of a mystery on which the lives of millions may depend. (NG)
Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
Set in a future where reading is against the law and firemen burn books. Makes you think twice before spending an entire day in front of the television. (Sarah-Mei)I agree and must add that I have feared big-screen TVs ever since I read the book in the ’60s. FYI, Bradbury wrote the book on a pay-to-use it typewriter in the basement of a UCLA library. Do you think that Berkeley would have let him use one for free? Please also read Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles (1950, short stories), The Illustrated Man (1951, short stories, AG’s favorite). He was still writing in 2002, and had been president of the Palms Jr. High School P.T.A. around the time that my son and daughter were there!! (Nina)
The Loved One
by Evelyn Waugh
Lloyd, Anatoly Gabelko, and I all recommend this book, but keep in mind that each of us has an offbeat sense of humor. Waugh’s tale takes an acerbic look at the Hollywood way of life (in 1947, but AG and I read it in the 1960s–yes, it’s in print!) and the American way of death. The book’s hero, a British expatriate, is an aspiring poet by day and works by night at the Happier Hunting Ground, a local pet cemetery by night.Of course, while you’re in a Waugh frame of mind, why not shift gears entirely to take a look at Brideshead Revisited—his most famous work, which was the basis for the PBS television production of this the epic story of a great Catholic family in a doomed aristocratic, decadent age in England between the World Wars.
by various authors
Williams College professor and long-time ATDP instructor Edan Dekel wishes that all students, before completing high school would have read: Genesis; Homer, The Odyssey; Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Henry David Thoreau, Walden; W. Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style
The Arrival
by Shaun Tan
In this wordless graphic novel, a man leaves his homeland and sets off for a new country, where he must build a new life for himself and his family. (Lisa Griffin)
The Chosen
by Chaim Potok
Thirty-some years ago, I was teaching in at a non-academic secondary school in Australia, which went to grade 11, and good students left school at 14.5 years to work in a factory or take an apprenticeship in the trades. One day out of the blue, Henk Admiral, a student in my 10th grade Humanities class took me over to the fiction section in the school’s outstanding library (I can’t explain that) and said, “Miss, you’re a Yank so I know you love baseball. I just read a beaut book about baseball that I want you to read,” and he handed me a copy of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. I quickly gave up trying to convince Henk that the book wasn’t about baseball, and maybe his copy was, but he and his friends were willing to spend several afternoons with me at the “tuck shop” talking about Mr. Malter’s remarks about how we choose to fill our time. Henk found the book because the librarian gave it to him and told him that he’d like it. It was not for a class, he didn’t need to do any outside reading. That experience with literature transformed Henk into a pipe fitter who reads and discusses ideas with pals and taught me the transformative power of literature.As an aside: If you think that baseball is a metaphor for life, or vice versa, take a look at: Shoeless Joe (this book was the inspiration for the movie Field of Dreams), W. P. Kinsella; Scoring from Second: Writers on Baseball, Philip F. Deaver (ed.); Wait Till Next Year: Summer Afternoons with My Father and Baseball, Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Light Thickens
by Ngaio Marsh
“Light thickens, and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.” Just like the ambitious Macbeth, someone is planning an evil deed in this classic whodunit set during a run of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I’m recommending Marsh so can keep you supplied with lots of good mysteries after you’ve read through Agatha Christie.
by H.G. Wells
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe,” H. G. Wells once said, so don’t forget the great granddad of the genre. Considered (and loved) by many as the father of science fiction, the English novelist, journalist, sociologist, and historian penned ominous—and educated—glimpses at humanity’s possible future (, including The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898).
A Raisin in the Sun
by Lorraine Hansberry
The drama of an African-American family which is united in love and pride as they struggle to overcome poverty.
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
by T. S. Eliot
Before they made it to Broadway, the Jellicle cats delighted readers in these very witty poems about very human cats. Q: Does anyone know whether cats are the only animals who have three names?
My Name is Aram and Human Comedy
by William Saroyan
Lloyd recommended the first and I the second, so read both! Aram’s visions, told in short stories, show a wonderful version of the American dream as shaped, colored and lived by him and his Armenian immigrant family turn-of-the-century clan around Fresno, CA. My recommendation introduces us to the Macauleys, second-generation immigrants, in Ithaca (CA) during WWII. Here we meet 14 y/o Homer, who is determined to become one of the fastest telegraph messengers ever. Homer “finds himself caught between reality and illusion as delivering his messages of wartime death, love, and money brings him face-to-face with human emotion at its most naked and raw. Gentle, poignant and richly autobiographical, this delightful novel shows us the boy becoming the man in a world that even in the midst of war, appears sweeter, safer and more livable than out own.” (
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers
A sensitive teenage girl discovers the meaning of loneliness through her relationship with a deaf-mute in a Georgia mill-town in the 1930s. (Carrie Brown)
The Name of the Rose
by Umberto Eco
An intriguing tale of a 14th-century Italian monk who is sent to investigate a death at a Benedictine monastery.
by Fae Myenne Ng
LN recommended this book that comes out of our Bay Area culture that already celebrates the work of Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan. “In this profoundly moving novel, Fae Myenne Ng takes readers into the hidden heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, to a world of family secrets, hidden shames, and the lost bones of a ‘paper father.'” ( The book is not only compelling, it also provides important insight into contemporary American life.
by Leslie Marmon Silko
An anonymous reviewer said this of Ceremony: “This can be difficult to read as it is written in stream of consciousness format, but it parallels the quest of a young man, Tayo, and the history of the Laguna people. (They are Pueblo Indians located in New Mexico). The story takes place just after WWII when Tayo returns from Japan, he’s lost the two people he’s closest to: Rocky, his best friend, and Josiah, his father. Tayo has problems remembering things and is on a quest to remember his past, just as the Laguna people must also remember their past, and each must do this through traditional ceremonies that they must learn to adapt to the new ways of the world because of the presence of wickedness which threatens their traditional ways. For anyone who can appreciate stream of consciousness writing, and also has an appreciation for the Native American culture and history, this is an incredible, beautiful book.” ( [A friend of mine has read the book seven times, so I’ve borrowed her copy for myself.]
Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon is perhaps the most lyrical of Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s novels. The magical realist story of 3 generations of the African-American Dead family, and the upheavals caused by their move to the American North from the South. The book follows “Milkman Dead as he struggles to understand his family history and the ways in which that history has both been damaged by and transcended the horror of slavery.” All of Morrison’s fiction explores both the need for and the impossibility of real community and the bonds that both unite and divide African-American women. (
Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison
A young, nameless African-American man travels through a nightmarish vision of mid-20th-century America. I have been re-reading this book since I was in high school! (NG)
To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own
by Virginia Woolf
Examines the history of women in writing and Woolf’s own life as a woman-writer. (Carrie Brown)
East of Eden
by John Steinbeck
A novel following the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.
The Gold Cell
by Sharon Olds
Poetry of a modern American female that brings exquisite imagery to everyday feelings and objects.
The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas
19th-century French tale of vengeance wrought by a man who is falsely accused of reason on his wedding day. (Maria Ashot’s favorite book, just about…)

Non-fiction that’s even better than fiction—okay, at least as good.

On the understanding that you may need to—and will certainly want to—come back to many of these books later on, please let your interests guide you toward these books from 9th grade on, and on.

Mathematics, A Human Endeavor
by Harold R. Jacobs
A wonderful way to learn mathematics! This is a great book for those who think they don’t like mathematics. This book includes: Mathematical Ways of Thinking; Number Sequences; Functions and Their Graphs; Large Numbers and Logarithms; Symmetry and Regular Figures; Mathematical Curves; Methods of Counting; The Mathematics of Chance; An Introduction to Statistics; and Topics in Topology.
Chases and Escapes: The Mathematics of Pursuit and Evasion
by Paul J. Nahin
This informative and entertaining book is the first comprehensive treatment of the subject, one that is sure to appeal to anyone interested in the mathematics that underlie the all-too-human endeavor of pursuit and evasion. Writing in an accessible style that has been enjoyed by popular-math enthusiasts everywhere, Nahin traces the development of modern pursuit theory from its classical analytical beginnings to the present day. Along the way, he informs his mathematical discussions with fun facts and captivating stories. Nahin invites readers to explore the different approaches to solving various chase-and-escape problems. He draws upon game theory, geometry, linear algebra, target-tracking algorithms–and much more. Nahin offers an array of challenging puzzles for beginners on up, providing historical background for each problem and explaining how each one can be applied more broadly. Chases and Escapes includes solutions to all problems and provides computer programs that readers can use for their own cutting-edge analysis.
Dueling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers
by Paul J. Nahin
Written in an informal way and containing a plethora of interesting historical material, Duelling Idiots… is ideal for those who are fascinated by mathematics and the role it plays in everyday life and in our imagination.
All Things Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful
by James Herriot
“The rich and rewarding life of a small-town veterinarian. Written with wit, warmth, and superb storytelling skill, this book includes the first two volumes of Herriot’s memoirs, chronicling his early years as a veterinarian in partnership with the infamous Farnon brothers and his many delightful encounters with the animals of Yorkshire—and their owners.” ( I thought that the PBS series from years ago was also ‘bright and beautiful’ and poignant.
Most of My Patients Are Animals
by Robert M. Miller
Stories of a California vet (of course, that’s what he’s licensed for!). I did not want you to think that we love American vets any less than we adore British ones (see next book, too).
All of My Patients Are Under the Bed
by Louis J. Camuti
Tales of a New York vet specializing in cats.
Dignifying Science
by Donna Barr
Dignifying Science is the newest book from G.T. Labs that tells true stories about scientists in comics form. This volume features famous women scientists including Marie Curie, Emmy Noether, Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, Barbara McClintock, Birute Galdikas, and (believe it or not) Hedy Lamarr [I for one don’t believe it!]. Scientists and non-scientists alike will appreciate the human context this award-winning anthology gives to some of the most famous names in the history of discovery. Notes and references at the end lead [readers] to discover even more on their own! (book jacket)
by Stephen Dubner & Steven Levitt
A wonderfully enlightening book about nothing other than… economics? Very accessible and very interesting. You’ll never believe why crime went down in the 1990’s, and you’ll even come to understand the economics of baby names. (K. Mogilefsky)
All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
by Michael Patrick Macdonald
A compelling and unexpected personal story of a family from South Boston during unsure times (violence, gangs, drugs).
The Illustrated A Brief History of Time
by Stephen Hawking
This edition (1996), in addition to heightening understanding of complex concepts that readers may have found difficult to grasp despite the clarity and wit of Professor Hawking’s writing, is enhanced throughout with more than 240 full-color illustrations, including satellite images, photographs made possible by spectacular technological advance such as the Hubble Space Telescope, and computer generated images of three and four-dimensional realities. Detailed captions clarify these illustrations, enable readers to experience the vastness of intergalactic space, the nature of black holes, and the microcosmic world of particle physics in which matters and antimatter collide. Also consider A Briefer History of Time, which Hawking made even more accessible and also included updates.(, just read it for the beauty of the writing and the charm of the wit! (AG)
Mr. Tompkins
by George Gamow
Quantum physics explained and more—e.g., the concept of “relative whiskers.” I love this series so much that Dr. Achilles Speliotopoulus talked at length about them in Every Child’s Right. You should also consider The World of Mr. Tompkins, edited by Russell Stannard, which brings Mr. T. into the 21st century. (2001)
Walden and Civil Disobedience
by Henry David Thoreau
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live,” Henry David Thoreau once observed. The American poet, essayist and philosopher certainly held himself to that standard—living out the tenets of Transcendentalism, recounting the experience in his masterpiece, Walden (1854), and passionately advocating human rights and civil liberties in the famous essay, “Civil Disobedience” (1849). I hope that you’ll read both. They are available in one volume from Also, please notice that while Thoreau honors nature and the self-sufficient life at Walden Pond, he does not turn his back on progress and greets the appearance of the telegraph. That is a huge lesson for us, today.While you are in a philosophical frame of mind, please also read a few of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays—how about five in one volume? Self-Reliance and Other Essays, Stanley Applebaum (ed.) is available as part of the same series.
Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson
An early exposé of ecological degradation in the U.S. that sparked the environmental movement of the 1960s.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
by Annie Dillard
A collection of essays that challenges readers to reconsider the natural world around them.
Little People and a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery
by Linda Goldenberg
Archaeologists discovered a small humanlike skull on Flores Island during a 2003 dig. Was this an ancestor to us all or just a very small human being?
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!
by Richard Feynman, Edward Hutchings (ed.)
Richard Feynman is one of Lloyd’s heroes, and if you begin an acquaintance with this Nobel Laureate, you’ll quickly see why. The L.A. Times Book Review said, “Anyone who can read it without laughing out loud is crazy,” which is an odd thing to hear about a book that was in part a tribute to the scientist. Odd, but correct, as “Feynman was interested in everything. He painted, traded ideas with Einstein and Bohr, calculated odds with Nick the Greek, accompanied ballet on the bongos. Here is Feynman’s astonishing life story—a combustible mixture of high intelligence, unlimited curiosity, eternal skepticism, and raging chutzpah.” To get to know Feynman better, also read What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character.
The Elements of Style
(50th anniversary ed.)
by William Strunk & E.B. White
This hardcover edition isn’t out yet, but it is most certainly in print. I had to list this one because the book was only a few of years old when I first used it. It is always by my side when I’m writing—I know I should have it memorized by now! It is a wonderful guide to better and better writing, so use it! (Oh, and Edan Dekel recommended it.)

Here are a few book recommendation lists you might want to consider: from our very own Cal campus—These are not some sort of “official reading lists” nor are the books necessarily required for courses you will be taking. Rather, these are the personal choices of Berkeley faculty and staff members recommended for you. Here is a list to be recommended, of course for recommendations provided, but equally because of the sheer pleasure of reading the text written by contributing professors across a range of disciplines and topics.

  1. UC Berkeley Summer Reading List (a list designed to introduce new Cal students to the intellectual life of the university)
  2. Berkeley Book List—”In this first annual edition of the list, distinguished faculty recommend a feast of books—some topical, some classics, others just favorites—across a range of subject areas. For those of you who are avid readers and who relish staying abreast of a particular field of knowledge, the Berkeley Book List is your ticket to indulge your curiosity.”

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