The best books for inspiring lifelong learning

Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis Author Of The New College Classroom
By Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis

Who are we?

We are two college-level educators, one has had a long career, one a recent PhD. We share a commitment to lifelong learning, not just in the classroom but beyond. And we love learning from one another. We wrote The New College Classroom together during the pandemic, meeting over Zoom twice a week, discussing books by other educators, writing and revising and rewriting every word together, finding ways to think about improving our students’ lives for a better future even as the world seemed grim. The books we cherish share those values: hope, belief in the next generation, and a deep commitment to learning even in—especially in—the grimmest of times.

We wrote...

The New College Classroom

By Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis,

Book cover of The New College Classroom

What is our book about?

College teaching is stuck in the past. If a time traveler from a century ago arrived on today’s campuses, they would recognize only too well the listlessness of the lecture hall and the awkward silence of the seminar room. Yet we know how to do better. Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis, two of the world’s foremost innovators in higher education, turn to the latest learning science to tell us about inspiring, effective, and inclusive teaching. Davidson and Katopodis explain how and why their approach works and provide detailed case studies of educators successfully applying active-learning techniques in their courses every day, ensuring that their students are better prepared for the world after college. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books we picked & why

Lessons from Plants

By Beronda L. Montgomery,

Book cover of Lessons from Plants

Why did I love this book?

This gorgeous book by microbiologist Dr. Beronda L. Montgomery is as beautiful to read as it is to hold—in your hands, in your heart. We can’t stop thinking about Montgomery’s key lesson: if you have a plant that is struggling, you figure out what environmental changes it needs to thrive—more or less water or sunlight, better soil. When people fail to flourish, we’re quick to blame the individual. As an African American woman, Montgomery makes us think about society and how we approach problems (do we compete or do we build a collaborative effort for a holistic solution?). Humans have much to discover from our photosynthesizing world: how plants learn—from their own kin, their friends, and their foes—and Montgomery helps us to understand the nature (literally) of teaching and learning.

By Beronda L. Montgomery,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lessons from Plants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An exploration of how plant behavior and adaptation offer valuable insights for human thriving.

We know that plants are important. They maintain the atmosphere by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. They nourish other living organisms and supply psychological benefits to humans as well, improving our moods and beautifying the landscape around us. But plants don't just passively provide. They also take action.

Beronda L. Montgomery explores the vigorous, creative lives of organisms often treated as static and predictable. In fact, plants are masters of adaptation. They "know" what and who they are, and they use this knowledge to make…

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Why did I love this book?

This is another poetic, lyrical, inspiring book. Kimmerer’s combined Indigenous and scientific ways of knowing—and how much truth she speaks as a mother and teacher—offers a warm embrace into thinking of the world as a most precious gift. When we receive gifts, we are humbled and feel compelled by joy to give back—what an astonishing, hopeful way to think about slowing down human-driven climate change. Kimmerer speaks from the heart. We can’t stop thinking about the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and pumpkins) and how they find room to grow around each other and help one another thrive in her garden. We use this book in our scholarly research, recommend it to colleagues, and talk about it with neighbors and fellow gardeners.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

39 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…

Book cover of Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

Why did I love this book?

Although her father died when she was only nine, the great scholar of African American life and literature, Farah Jasmine Griffin has never forgotten his admonition to her: “Read until you understand.” In this beautiful book, Professor Griffin guides us to an understanding of the U.S. Constitution, Malcolm X, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, the artist Romare Bearden, and writers as different as the enslaved 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. As educators, we have read and re-read and read again. Every read reveals a new level of understanding and we are grateful for the journey on which Professor Griffin leads us.

By Farah Jasmine Griffin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Read Until You Understand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Farah Jasmine Griffin has taken to her heart the phrase "read until you understand," a line her father, who died when she was nine, wrote in a note to her. She has made it central to this book about love of the majestic power of words and love of the magnificence of Black life. Griffin has spent years rooted in the culture of Black genius and the legacy of books that her father left her. A beloved professor, she has devoted herself to passing these works and their wisdom on to generations of students.

Here, she shares a lifetime of…

Book cover of Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Why did I love this book?

This 1994 classic by the late bell hooks never ceases to inspire us. “To educate is a practice of freedom,” hooks writes. She means that to be truly educated means to be liberated: to understand the forms of oppression, coercion, and limits imposed on learners because of class, gender, racial, sexual bias, and in every other way. hooks points to the barriers that keep us from being our very best selves. She inspires every reader to self-educate, self-reflect, find and build communities of support in order to live a better life. She inspires every educator to make, as their objective, not just the teaching of content but transmission of the tools that allow each student to achieve their own best aspirations for their lives and their community. 

By bell hooks,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Teaching to Transgress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"After reading Teaching to Transgress I am once again struck by bell hooks's never-ending, unquiet intellectual energy, an energy that makes her radical and loving." -- Paulo Freire

In Teaching to Transgress,bell hooks--writer, teacher, and insurgent black intellectual--writes about a new kind of education, education as the practice of freedom. Teaching students to "transgress" against racial, sexual, and class boundaries in order to achieve the gift of freedom is, for hooks, the teacher's most important goal.

bell hooks speaks to the heart of education today: how can we rethink teaching practices in the age of multiculturalism? What do we do…

Book cover of Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color

Why did I love this book?

Peña’s book began as a letter written to students and it remains a powerful offering of love as well as a call to rebel and resist oppression. The book’s “Course Requirements” include: an open heart and mind; “The desire to be part of the sum, rather than a single part”; and patience—to make room for humility, to unlearn and relearn, to make mistakes, to become resilient in order to do more than rebel once but to actually light the fire within to be rebellious as a practice. This book inspires us to continue fighting for justice and change, and to sustain our communities to keep the light of hope in a better future burning.

By Lorgia García Peña,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Community as Rebellion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A meditation on freedom making in the academy for women scholars of color.

Weaving personal narrative with political analysis, Community as Rebellion offers a meditation on creating liberatory spaces for students and faculty of color within academia. Much like other women scholars of color, Lorgia Garcia Pena has struggled against the colonizing, racializing, classist, and unequal structures that perpetuate systemic violence within universities. Through personal experiences and analytical reflections, the author invites readers-in particular Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian women-to engage in liberatory practices of boycott, abolition, and radical community-building to combat the academic world's tokenizing and exploitative structures.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in indigenous peoples, flora, and teaching methodss?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about indigenous peoples, flora, and teaching methodss.

Indigenous Peoples Explore 27 books about indigenous peoples
Flora Explore 24 books about flora
Teaching Methodss Explore 11 books about teaching methodss