5 Best Books to Read During Covid-19—Harvard and Yale Professors and Staff Share Recommendations

Twenty20 | Galina Zhigalova

The silver lining of being stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic is getting to cozy up with a good book, especially one that will encourage you to think about the world from new perspectives. 

Below are some recommendations, based on what university professors and staff at Harvard, Yale and Columbia have been reading while self-isolating or quarantining at home:

1. 'The Plague'

By Albert Camus

"The Plague" is one of the most well-known books on the topic of epidemic disease — and right now, it's on the reading lists of many professors.

Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Harvard Gazette that although he hasn't had time to start the 1947 novel yet, he's read it before. "[Albert] Camus has influenced my thinking ever since my best friend introduced me to his work," he said.

"This book is very vivid in conveying what it feels like to be in a city hit by an epidemic, and what it feels like to be in quarantine," Jenny Davidson, a professor at Columbia University said in an interview with book recommendations site "It conveys how important it is to retain our humanity and our sense of connection to others in times when so much is at stake."

2. 'The Stoic Challenge'

By William B. Irvine

Laurie Santos, a psychology professor at Yale University, puts "The Stoic Challenge" high up on her Covid-19 reading list. "It's the perfect call to arms for a tough time like we're experiencing, but it gives you hope that a stoic outlook on life can help," she told Yale News.

Author and philosopher William B. Irvine uses centuries-old wisdom to teach us how to turn unexpected setbacks into opportunities for a tougher, calmer and more resilient life.

"The main thesis is that we can view bad things in our life as a challenge to overcome, rather than a crisis to be endured," Santos said.

3. 'A Jewish Refugee in New York'

By Kadya Molodovsky (translated by Anita Norich)

Originally published in Yiddish in 1941 (but recently translated), "A Jewish Refuge in New York" is about a 20-year-old Jewish woman who arrives in New York shortly after the Nazi invasion of Poland, her home country — and must cope with a different way of life in the U.S.

"[The protagonist] is trying to survive and go on, but she's also frequently angry at how little those around her know or apparently care about the situation in Europe," Katie Trumpener, a professor of comparative literature at Yale, told Yale News.

"Somehow this was very comforting to read in the first strange days of the pandemic," she added, "[especially] as the danger moved closer, but was still largely invisible, as some people were loading up their grocery carts in anticipation, while others were still in denial that it could possibly ever affect or touch them."

4. 'Untamed'

By Glennon Doyle

"The braver we are, the luckier we get," activist and speaker Glennon Doyle writes in her memoir. 

"Untamed" is an exploration of the happiness, joy and peace we find when we stop bending over backwards to meet societal expectations. "I am going slowly because I don't want it to end, I love it so much," Kathy Delaney-Smith, head coach of Harvard's women's basketball team, told The Harvard Gazette.

She plans to make her whole team read "Untamed" once practice is back in session — and recommends it to all women.

"It looks at the whole set of characteristics that are attributed to men and the very different set attributed to women," said Delaney-Smith, "and makes the point that it's time for women to understand they are free to be whoever they are, to find their true selves."

5. 'The Decameron'

By Giovanni Boccacio

Priyamvada Natarajan, a professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics at Yale, recently finished reading "The Decameron." 

"It's essentially a collection of 100 stories from 14th-century Italy, told by a group of seven women and three men who are sheltering — staying home! — in a villa outside Florence to escape the Black Death (the epidemic of 1348)," Natarajan explained to Yale News.

The stories are all "wonderful ... some comic, some tragic, some absurd, and some magical," she said. "The original is in vernacular Florentine Italian. I read it in translation, of course."

Tom Popomaronis is a leadership researcher, commerce expert, cross-industry innovation leader and VP of Innovation at Massive Alliance. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Inc. and The Washington Post. In 2014, Tom was named one of the "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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