Can you lead a perfectly successful and happy life even if you’ve never read about Leopold Bloom masturbating on a Dublin beach? Everyone has that book (or those books) that they probably should have read by now, but have not.
Professors, we hypothesized, are no different. So we asked them to name the book they are most embarassed about never having read…
Philip Kitcher, Philosophy:
There are gaps in everyone’s reading. I am embarrassed that I’ve never read anything by Heidegger. But that’s nothing to an embarrassment of my (dark) past. Before coming to Columbia in 1999, after having taught philosophy for 25 years, I had never read Plato’s Republic. Of course, the great thing for faculty about CC and Lit Hum is that we fill in some of the really glaring gaps in our past reading.
Victoria de Grazia, History:
I have to confess I haven’t read the Bible. But that didn’t used to bother me. Quite the contrary.
Wm. Theodore de Bary, EALAC
Ask not what I have failed to read—too many of them unremembered. Ask what I have read and forgotten—that’s the real embarrassment.
And upon being asked if we could print it…
Okay to print it. Provocation or disputation—that’s the Columbia College style of public engagement.
Alan Brinkley, Provost
I have never read Ulysses, and given its standing as one of the foundational novels of the twentieth century—the period that I study and teach—I suppose that is pretty embarrassing.
Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Journalism School:
One of the most embarrassing is Ulysses, because I have started it several times, with a guide to all the allusions at hand, and I always get sidetracked a couple of hundred pages in and put it aside. Also, having attended a competing undergraduate institution, I have not read somewhere between a third and half of the Contemporary Civilization syllabus.
Sunil Gulati, Economics:
Slight deviation to your request….the book that I am (was) most embarrassed to not have read–on time….called Groupthink (written in 1982 by Irving Janis)….was an assigned reading for a political science course I took as an undergraduate with Stuart Rothenberg (who is often in the news as a political commentator…and writes the Rothenberg Report)….in a meeting with Professor Rothenberg to discuss paper ideas he brought up an idea that was covered in the book….to which I responded, I hadn’t gotten to that section of the book yet….only problem was it was in Chapter 1–and I had read only the introduction…he didn’t call me on it….but since he had been my favorite Professor as an undergrad, I always felt embarrassed by it. I did finish the book!