Four books UT professors recommend

Cameron Osmond

Students don’t think twice about asking professors for academic advice, but they rarely approach professors when they’re looking for book, movie or music recommendations. This week, The Daily Texan asked professors to share their favorite literary work. 


Chris Kirk, anthropology professor

A finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for biography and autobiography, “Grant” tells the turbulent life story of President Ulysses S. Grant from his days as one of America’s greatest and most revolutionary generals to later receiving heavy criticism during his presidency.

“One of my favorite reads in recent years is ‘Grant,’” Kirk said. “It’s not just for Civil War buffs and presidential historians — it’s a well-written account of an extraordinary life. It’s also a great reminder that hard times don’t necessarily last forever. A few years before the Civil War, [President] Grant sold firewood on a street corner in order to make ends meet. Less than a decade later, he was commanding general of the
U.S. Army.”


Greg Knapp, geography professor

The “Autobiographical Novel” by Kenneth Rexroth is exactly what it claims to be. Rexroth’s memories come alive with rich characters and a thought-provoking depiction of the “California literary renaissance,” a literary movement that Rexroth fronted himself. 

“Rexroth was a highly influential poet and essayist who helped found the California counterculture,” Knapp said. “He knew many artists and writers and was also an early environmentalist who pursued backpacking in the mountains as a lifestyle. I had the good fortune to meet him. He remains an inspiration for those who wish to combine the goals of poverty reduction, environmental conservation and respect for global cultures. The book is a lightly fictionalized look at a gallery of entertaining characters.”


Robert Jensen, journalism professor

“How to Be a Poet” is layered within award-winning writer Wendell Berry’s collection, “Given: New Poems,” an assembly of works that explore various themes, including political musings and reflections on love.

“Berry’s poem has stuck with me the most,” Jensen said. “It’s a reminder that life can be lived outside of screens. Screens bring information and entertain us, but every year, every generation, we are more tethered to screens. Wendell Berry’s poem is a reminder that life can be lived outside of a screen. The poem has three lines that I can’t shake: ‘There are no unsacred places. There are only sacred places and desecrated places.’”


Rachel Wellhausen, government professor

Written in the years following one of America’s greatest financial collapses, “13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown” describes why the dire economic crisis occurred and explores what can be done to prevent a subsequent disaster. 

“There are a lot of great — and infuriating — books about the causes and consequences of the Great Recession,” Wellhausen said. “One superb option is ‘13 Bankers.’ Johnson and Kwak pinpoint people in industry and government who shaped the inadequate response to the crisis. Their work inspired me to think more about the individuals behind what we sometimes assume are faceless, nameless forces in the global political economy.”