Barry Mills: What I Read on My Summer Vacation

President Barry Mills describes the joys of summer reading and the books that have been on his list.

It has been a fantastic summer in Maine. While I am always eager to welcome our students back to campus, I do have to admit to wishing for a few more weeks of this more relaxed pace and the beautiful weather we’ve seen out at our house in Cundy’s Harbor. I know from experience that once I get back on campus in the midst of our new and returning students, and among our faculty, the buzz of our College and the new academic year will kick in for me.

In these waning days of summer, I wanted to share a brief report on some of what I have been reading. I love to read and often have many books going at the same time, and I admit to being addicted to my Kindle. While I sometimes miss the feel of a real book, the convenience of a Kindle is addictive. I find that I read much faster on the Kindle and it is easier and more efficient to have many titles on one machine rather than having to carry around the books. I can’t comment on the debate about the relative merits of the Kindle, the iPad or the Nook. My Kindle is the original version, so I am already behind the technology curve. My son, Will, has an iPad and the graphics and screen are impressive, but I haven’t made the move yet.

I tend to read books on my Kindle that I am less interested in owning for my library (and for fear of embarrassment, I will not describe the page turners I have downloaded). However, I do recommend a new book by Ayelet Waldman titled Red Hook Road. The book is a bit out of character for me, but I ordered it because I hired Ayelet when she was a second-year law student at Harvard Law School and I was at Debevoise in New York. Those days of legal work are long gone for Ayelet, as she has become an accomplished author. I haven’t seen her in more than 15 years, but her book is filled with local color about Maine where she clearly has spent some time.

I also enjoyed a book by Martha McPhee, a Bowdoin alumna who graduated in the 90s and who is now teaching creative writing at Hofstra. Her book, Dear Money, is also situated largely in Maine and in New York City, so the color of both locales struck a chord with me. Martha is also an accomplished author and her book has garnered strong reviews.

My serious summer reading included the hard cover copies of Michael Lewis’s most recent book The Big Short. Lewis is a very talented writer who makes accessible the brilliance and eccentricities of the minds that profited from the most recent economic crash. Another book I enjoyed was More Money Than God by Sebastian Mallaby, a work that chronicles the history of hedge funds and includes substantial detail on our very own Stan Druckenmiller that I am told is quite accurate in its historical analysis of important moves by Stan and a generation of hedge fund managers who have been quite successful.

I also recently re-read a very short, but provocative book by Louis Menand, a professor at Harvard, titled The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University. Professor Menand writes clearly about controversial subjects such as the problems of general education and why is it so difficult for a college to set a core curriculum that establishes a standard for education. He writes about the common perception (and maybe the reality) that professors think alike in their political and social views. And he deals with the humanities revolution and the fact that the humanities receive less support and are less confident of their relevance in these troubled economic times. The book is controversial but very well written and reasoned. I have invited Professor Menand to speak to us at Sarah and James Bowdoin Day this October on campus and I look forward to meeting him.

This week I received another very interesting book from our very loyal alumnus and trustee, Dennis Hutchinson. Dennis is a scholar and teacher at the University of Chicago where he has been on the law school and university faculty for many years. The book is Martha Nussbaum’s newest work, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. The topic discussed by Professor Nussbaum as a manifesto makes a compelling case for what we know at Bowdoin so well. That is, the central importance of the humanities and the arts in educating citizens of the world capable of living and leading successfully in a democratic world. Professor Nussbaum’s case supports in important respects the sciences and social sciences too, especially in the manner we study and teach these disciplines at Bowdoin. Her case for the humanities and the arts—which are under siege at many institutions and K-12 levels of education—is compelling.

So, while many around campus think that all I have been doing this summer is a little work, a lot of golf and some boating—I have, in fact, been continuing my education. Having the time to read is one of life’s greatest gifts—it keeps us young, engaged, and eager for new ideas.


Over the summer, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at

Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on here or on the Bowdoin website.


  1. Sharing your own will toward, & specifics of continuing self-education throughout life,
    what a grand heading-toward-end-of-summer reminder, President Mills! -rg

  2. I’ll just throw this out there: “Fooled by Randomness”, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The first book I’d recommend to anyone. Not only good and enthralling, but incredibly important.

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