As a member of the Admissions staff, I freely offer my advice on putting together a strong application, but I leave it to others to provide suggestions to incoming students. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing the tips I’ve collected this spring. I’m going to start today with a summer reading list offered by Colin Steele, who just completed his first year in the MALD program. I had put out a call to the Social List for their suggestions and, nearly instantly, received a fully formed suggested library from Colin.
Lest you worry, there truly is no required pre-Fletcher reading, but we always hear from incoming students who simply want to get their brains thinking in a Fletcher-ish way. Colin’s list strikes the perfect balance between more and less scholarly material, and he starts by describing the principles that guided him as he made his selections.
Book Listing philosophy: These are all books that have shaped my worldview, my appreciation of language, and/or how I approach Fletcher. In general, I think about the summer before Fletcher as an on-ramp to the education itself: reading, experience, and reflection over the summer can really help get you up to speed and thus ease the transition into campus life. (That was certainly my experience, anyway.) As trite or generic as it might sound, I’d recommend reading at least one really fulfilling, edifying book. Maybe you always (or never) wanted to read Cicero, but you’re worried about the state of society. Maybe you haven’t read Steinbeck since 10th grade, or you’ve never been to the U.S. Maybe you just haven’t read a book for real in a while. In any of those cases, summer is a great opportunity to do so.
One final word: as Dean Stavridis writes in The Leader’s Bookshelf, it’s not about what you read — it’s how you read. That’s certainly true of grad school, and the summer before is an opportunity to practice reading intentionally. Whatever you choose, make it something that seems like it will frame the Fletcher education and experience you’re looking for, and approach the text that way. That’s a habit of mind that will pay off in spades at school.
A Passion for Leadership, Robert Gates
The latest from the former U.S. secretary of defense and author of Duty. A short, readable, and eminently usable guide to leading and transforming organizations large and small. Also includes a call to consider public service.
Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill
A very short, perhaps lesser-known work on achieving balance in life and work. Even at Fletcher, it’s important to have interests and recreational outlets outside of work and study.
All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
One of the great American novels; a thinly fictionalized account of the rise and reign of Huey P. Long of Louisiana.
In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
In 1933 — the same year Fletcher was founded — the U.S. ambassador to Germany has a ringside seat to Hitler’s rise. True history told with Larson’s characteristic page-turning zip.
The Leader’s Bookshelf, James Stavridis
Fifty more book recommendations (with reviews and synopses), plus useful articles on reading, writing, and leading. A good opportunity to get to know the dean virtually before arriving on campus.
The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Tom Clancy
My journey to Fletcher probably started with my first Tom Clancy book, and I went back and read a couple last summer to see how I’d find them en route to grad school. They’re still great yarns, and this is one of the best.
The classic or classics you’ve always wanted to read: Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Waltz, Kissinger, Lawrence Freedman, whomever. Tackling some giant in your field with purpose before arriving will pay big dividends when classes start, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while. The actual classics — Aristotle, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Laozi, etc. — are also worth it.
Finally, here’s link to a PDF version of an old article the dean wrote for the U.S. Naval Institute called “Read, Think, Write, and PUBLISH.” I printed myself a copy before I made my way to Fletcher, and it really helped shape my approach.
The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay
Recommended to me by the person who introduced me to Fletcher 10 years ago. A bildungsroman about a boy learning about boxing and life in apartheid-era South Africa. (One of the top three on this list, in my opinion.)
Mink River or The Plover, Brian Doyle
Just when you thought you’d outgrown talking-animal books, Doyle comes along and convinces you that untranslated Irish and the “dark, secret tongue of bears” might actually make sense.
Blood Meridian: Or, the Evening Redness in the West, Cormac McCarthy
This is a gut-punch of a book. McCarthy does things with the American language that you didn’t know were possible.
No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
The shortest and most accessible of his books (and infinitely better than the movie). Worth (re)reading now.
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
And/or other Steinbeck, e.g. Travels with Charley. One of the great storytellers of the American land and its people; worthwhile for both U.S. and non-U.S. students.
A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Norman Maclean
Very short, exceptionally well-turned prose. For my money, some of the best writing around.