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Five author and speaker headshots for Three Books 2021 program.

Three Books

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Three Books is Stanford's signature common reading program for undergraduate first-year and new transfer students. Each year, the faculty moderator carefully selects a​n overall theme and ​will work with a committee of faculty, staff, and students over several months to select the books/media for incoming new students to read and discuss with each other over the summer. The program culminates in discussions with the authors and guests during New Student Orientation and Autumn Quarter.

The 2021 Three Books theme is Empathy, Perspective, and Hope.

Read the 2021 Faculty Moderator Letter introducing this year's theme.

Faculty Moderator

Shashank V. Joshi

Headshot of Professor Shashank Joshi wearing black turtleneck sweater.

Shashank V. Joshi, MD, FAAP, DFAACAP, is a Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Education at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Graduate School of Education (by courtesy), and the Director of School Mental Health at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Professor Joshi is a Faculty Advisor at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE), the John Gardner Center for Youth & their Communities in the Graduate School of Education, and the Stanford Center for Asian Health Research and Education. Professor Joshi’s scholarly work focuses on school mental health, suicide prevention in school settings, cultural aspects of pediatric health, doctor-parent-teacher collaboration in medical care, and well-being promotion in youth and young adults. He is the lead author of the K12 Toolkit for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention used by the California Department of Education, and co-editor of the recent book Partnerships for Mental Health: A Guide to Community and Academic Collaboration [Philadelphia, Springer (2015)].

Three Books Program

The Three Books are provided by Stanford to every incoming undergraduate student. Student instructions for accessing the following books and media can be found on the Approaching Stanford Canvas Course (SUNet ID login required).

Notes From the Field by Anna Deavere Smith 

Cover of "Notes from the Field", authored by Anna Deavere Smith

One of the most hailed and provocative theatre artists of our time, Anna Deavere Smith, leads a new installation of powerful first person storytelling in Notes From the Field. Urgent and inspiring, it depicts the personal accounts of students, parents, teachers and administrators caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline. Investigating a justice system that pushes minors from poor communities out of the classroom and into incarceration, Notes From the Field shines a light on a lost generation of American youth. Drawn from interviews with more than 250 people living and working within a challenged system, Anna Deavere Smith continues her mastery of the documentary solo performance by stimulating awareness and, ultimately, change for the better. The New York Times named the stage version among The Best Theater of 2016 and TIME Magazine called it one of the Top 10 Plays of the Year. HBO premiered the film version in February 2018. It was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Book cover of "Know My Name" by Chanel Miller

Universally acclaimed, rapturously reviewed, and an instant New York Times bestseller, Chanel Miller’s breathtaking memoir “gives readers the privilege of knowing her not just as Emily Doe, but as Chanel Miller the writer, the artist, the survivor, the fighter.” (The Wrap). Her story of trauma and transcendence shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life. Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.

Empathy Gym with Jamil Zaki

Logo of podcast with blue background and white text reading "Hidden Brain"

Some people are good at putting themselves in another person's shoes. Others may struggle to relate. But Stanford associate professor and psychologist Jamil Zaki argues that empathy isn't a fixed trait. On this episode of Hidden Brain, they talk about calibrating our empathy so we can interact with others more mindfully. This podcast focuses on how to exercise our empathetic muscles and cultivate one of our most precious human abilities. Empathy, at a deep level, is the understanding that someone else's world is just as real as yours. Empathy is like a muscle — it can be strengthened with exercise and it can atrophy when idle. The pros and cons of empathy in the medical profession are discussed.

Danger of a Single Story with Chimamanda Adichie

Logo of TED Talk, red text reading "TED" on white background, black text reading "Ideas worth spreading"

"Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In her viral TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reflects on coming to college in the US and meeting a roommate who only knew a single story about Africans. That they were poor and desperate. The roommate could not fathom an African who was middle class, fluent in English, able to use a stove, and so on.  Adichie argues that when there’s only a single story about a group of people, it robs them of their dignity. The single story reduces people, rendering them incomplete, flat, one-dimensional. As a result, it becomes difficult to recognize equal humanity in the characters of a single story.

Educated by Tara Westover

Book cover of "Educated" by Tara Westover

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.


About the Authors

Anna Deavere Smith

Headshot of Anna Deavere Smith wearing, image in black and white

An actress, playwright, teacher, and author, Anna Deavere Smith is credited with creating a new form of theater. Her most recent original work, Notes from the Field, looks at the vulnerability of youth, the criminal justice system, and contemporary activism. Ms. Smith is a Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she founded the former Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue. From 1990 to 2000, she was the Ann O’Day Maples Professor of the Arts at Stanford. She has won numerous awards for her work including two Tony nominations and the MacArthur Fellowship. The National Endowment named her the 2015 Jefferson Lecturer for the Humanities, the nation’s highest honor in the humanities.

Chanel Miller

Headshot of Chanel Miller in front of muraled wall, wearing white shirt.

A writer and artist who received her BA in Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Chanel Miller's critically acclaimed memoir, Know My Name, was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, as well as a best book of 2019 in Time, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, and People, among others. She is a 2019 Time Next 100 honoree and a 2016 Glamour Woman of the Year honoree under her pseudonym, "Emily Doe."

Jamil Zaki

Headshot of Jamil Zaki sitting on stairs, wearing blue jacket over green shirt.

Associate Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and Director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab, Jamil Zaki uses tools from psychology and neuroscience to examine how empathy works and how people can learn to empathize more effectively. His writing on these topics has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Headshot of Chimamanda Adichie with black background and wearing red shirt.

Born in Nigeria, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's work has been translated into over thirty languages. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), won the Orange Prize. Her 2013 novel Americanah won the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013. She has delivered two landmark TED talks: her 2009 TED Talk The Danger of A Single Story and her 2012 TEDx Euston talk We Should All Be Feminists, which started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014.

Tara Westover

Headshot of Tara Westover wearing black shirt

Having received her BA from Brigham Young University in 2008, Tara Westover was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014. Educated is her first book.


Three Books Archive

Curious to know what books we've hosted in previous years? Check out our Three Books Archive for a list of all past books and their authors!


Three Books is made possible by the generosity of The Lamsam-Sagan Family Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Education.