The best higher education books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about higher education and why they recommend each book.

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At the Intersection

By Robert Longwell-Grice (editor), Hope Longwell-Grice (editor),

Book cover of At the Intersection: Understanding and Supporting First-Generation Students

The editors and contributing authors present research and theory interspersed with unique personal experiences of the journey taken by first-generation students as they move through college. The volume provides the reader with up-to-date data on two- and four-year colleges, and discusses the intersection of first-generation status with varied student identities including LGBT, low-income, African-American, Latinx, Native American, and undocumented. The last section of the book offers an introduction to practices, policies, and programs across the U.S., and directs educators, policymakers, and administrators to make campuses inclusive for diverse first-generation college students. At the Intersection is a resource for understanding and effectively responding to first-generation students’ divergent, shared, and intersectional identities in order to understand and alter their access, retention, learning, and well-being on the college campus.

Who am I?

Having worked on college campuses for 25 years as a professor, administrator, and first-year experience program designer, I’ve seen first-hand how freshmen are increasingly failing at “adulting” because they are unprepared for the realities of campus life. I take on this needed preparation as co-author of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) and as the creator of the Talking College™ Card Deck, discussion prompts for college-bound students and their parents/guardians. I share my insider knowledge with college-bound students and their parents at talks and workshops throughout the U.S. My goal is to help both groups thrive as they prepare for the upcoming transition.

I wrote...

How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

By Andrea Malkin Brenner, Lara Hope Schwartz,

Book cover of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

What is my book about?

The only book of its kind that guides first-year students to thrive in the transition after high school graduation and throughout their first year on campus, emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance. It draws on the authors’ experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades. The book is filled with important resources needed to set the foundation of success at the collegiate level including lessons and activities on money; time and self-management; co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences; navigating relationships with family and friends back at home and roommates and peers on campus; exploring new college identities; finding one's voice inside and outside of the classroom; health, wellness and safety; and the importance of finding mentors for support in this life transition.

The Breakdown of Higher Education

By John M. Ellis,

Book cover of The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It Happened, the Damage It Does, and What Can Be Done

Ellis chronicles the history of how the university turned from an institution of open inquiry into a political monoculture that requires those in it to adhere to a particular ideology. Ellis is particularly good at showing how the strengths of the traditional university were turned into weaknesses and allowed it to be captured by the adherents of identity politics. Old-style independent scholars are hard to organize, Ellis points out, because they are just that—independent. But these truly independent scholars were no match for the politically organized groups that wanted to use the university to advance a political agenda.


Who am I?

I’m an emeritus professor living in Portland, Oregon, officially retired, but still writing articles and books. Although I am a lifelong US citizen, I spent the heart of my career as the Canada Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Toronto. Most of my books are about aspects of rationality, especially cognitive biases. I have also worked on tools for measuring individual differences in rationality. Lately, I have focused on ways to reduce political polarization by taming the myside bias that plagues all human thought, and by reforming institutions (especially universities) that are currently failing in their role as knowledge adjudicators. 


I wrote...

The Bias That Divides Us: The Science and Politics of Myside Thinking

By Keith E. Stanovich,

Book cover of The Bias That Divides Us: The Science and Politics of Myside Thinking

What is my book about?

Myside bias is the tendency to evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward our own beliefs. When studying the cognitive biases that indicate poor thinking, my research group discovered that myside bias was the strangest of all the cognitive biases. Unlike virtually all the other biases, the avoidance of myside bias is not correlated with high intelligence, education, or knowledge. It is just as prevalent among the cognitive elites of society as it is among nonelites.

Faculty in universities don’t recognize their own biases, and this has contributed to declining public trust in university research. It is also a factor in fueling our current ideologically polarized politics. 

Cracking the Wall 20 Years Later

By Patricia Turner Mitchell (editor),

Book cover of Cracking the Wall 20 Years Later: Women in Higher Education Leadership

Cracking the Wall 20 Years Later is a special title for me, not only because of the significance of its content. I used the original edition in 1993 as a student at the University of San Francisco and then later as a professor at the College of Notre Dame. This book showcases the history of 14 women in academia and highlights the importance of the array of significant changes that need to be made today. What I love most about this book is that the same authors have updated their original chapters and their personal perspective of their experiences and career paths as leaders.  They speak from the heart as they share their transformational stories. They do not sugarcoat anything.  Even though there have been considerable changes in two decades, a great deal has remained the same for women. This is another essential title of empowerment, which lets women know…


Who am I?

As with many people, my life has been full of twists and turns. I know what it means to be an outsider and to be cast aside as though my voice and presence doesn’t matter. But, with grit and determination, I battled systemic racism head-on, and with my good L.U.C.K (labor under correct knowledge), encouragement, and faith, I am thriving in an environment that was designed to be non-inclusive for People of Color. Currently, I am the only Black female professor in the 94-year history in the college where I am employed.


I wrote...

Resilience: Bravery in the Face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the halls of Academia

By Marilyn K. Easter,

Book cover of Resilience: Bravery in the Face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the halls of Academia

What is my book about?

Emma shines a light on the discriminatory practices deeply embedded in this country’s education system. She is bright, eager to learn and willing to work hard. But racial rebuffs from teachers and colleagues present her with a tidal wave of deterrents. This book takes readers through Emma’s past in a way that clearly lays out the obstacles young African American girls confront in a highly encoded education system—and it reveals the successful strategies Emma develops to surmount them. It also points out that these hurdles shouldn’t exist and brings hope that those who follow in Emma’s footsteps and learn from her can build on her experiences and change that system. 

The Undercommons

By Stefano Harney, Fred Moten,

Book cover of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study

I first read The Undercommons in a virtual reading group during the early months of the COVID pandemic and was quite taken by its poetics and unfolding conceptual terrain. Beginning with an analysis of academia as a significant ideological state apparatus, Moten and Harney also discuss multiple forms of state violence and capture in racial capitalist formations. From the notion of the settler-capitalist garrison responding to “the surround” of the colonized and marginalized, to the connection between policy and policing, to the logic of reified colonial conquest, to logistics and professionalization, The Undercommons is a meditation on methods of state repression and forms of resistance. Arguing that recognition of the “general antagonism” that underlies the state is necessary for revolutionary politics, Moten and Harney end up echoing Lenin’s insights about class antagonism and false reconciliation in The State and Revolution.


Who am I?

One of my long-standing interests, as a political philosopher, has been to examine the deployment of state power and the state forms (what I call states of affairs) the capitalist mode of production takes in order to preserve its economic order. Since I completed my doctorate, which was on the articulation of settler-colonial power in relationship to remaining settler states, I have largely been invested in thinking politics: how dominant politics maintain the current order, how counter-hegemonic politics disrupt this order. 


I wrote...

Austerity Apparatus

By J. Moufawad-Paul,

Book cover of Austerity Apparatus

What is my book about?

An excavation of the ideology of austerity and its relationship to the mechanisms of capitalism, Austerity Apparatus is a philosophical excursus on a variety of concepts surrounding capitalist crisis, class struggle, and the capitalist state machine. Written as a series of interconnected meditations on the problem of austerity, Austerity Apparatus is a creative intervention designed to force reflectin on the ways in which contemporary capitalism conditions its subjects to accept its limits.

Leadership Reckoning

By Thomas Kolditz, Libby Gill, Ryan P. Brown

Book cover of Leadership Reckoning: Can Higher Education Develop the Leaders We Need?

The message of Leadership Reckoning is that we need do a better job of developing human-centered business leaders who can meet the challenges of a disrupted world. I believe the approach in this book will also achieve the goal of building more inclusive organizational cultures in which all employees can thrive, regardless of their variations.


Who am I?

I have been an organizational psychologist and executive coach for more than two decades, advising high-level executives, including Fortune 500 leaders, to build workplace cultures in which all employees can flourish. Yet, for many employees of color, the workplace is so challenging that many feel professionally stifled. I realized many years ago that to accomplish my own goals; I needed to take control of my career and not depend upon the vagaries of individual leaders. I needed to set goals, take a long game view, be honest with myself and my leaders, and help leaders understand how changing some habits could help them and me succeed in a disrupted world. 


I wrote...

Leading Inclusion: Drive Change Your Employees Can See and Feel

By Gena Cox,

Book cover of Leading Inclusion: Drive Change Your Employees Can See and Feel

What is my book about?

In this well-researched book, organizational psychologist and executive coach Gena Cox delivers the message that although human variation is normal, true inclusion that embraces these variations remains elusive in the workplace. She argues that this state of affairs will continue until executives lead inclusion from the top of their organizations. Drawing on psychological science, interviews with corporate leaders, the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts, and her own experience in corporate America, Gena goes beyond the “business case” and answers the clarion call for human-centered organizational leadership.

Leading Inclusion is not a “how-to” book; it is a “how-to-be” book that educates, challenges, and empowers you and your c-suite and board colleagues to change your organization—and America—one employee at a time. 

Writing Tools

By Roy Peter Clark,

Book cover of Writing Tools

I bought this when I saw it recommended online by a famous writer—and I’m very glad I did. 

The title is apposite, since this is less of an all-encompassing writing guide, more of a toolbox of 55 practical ideas to help you write better. Some are about the basics, while others are ways to give your text a compelling structure or a touch of extra polish. Away from the actual hands-on craft, Clark also recommends 11 useful habits to help you become a better writer. 

Buy it, keep it on your shelf, and dip in whenever you need a new direction or a dose of inspiration.


Who am I?

I’ve been working with words for over 25 years, as a writer and editor in publishing houses, design studios, and now as a freelance. I help everyone from big brands and small businesses through to academics and consultants get their ideas out of their heads and on to the page. I was an original co-founder of ProCopywriters, the UK alliance for commercial writers. I’ve written and self-published four books, the most recent of which is How to Write Clearly. The books I’ve chosen all helped me to write as clearly as I can—not least when writing about writing itself. I hope they help you too! 


I wrote...

How to Write Clearly: Write with purpose, reach your reader and make your meaning crystal clear

By Tom Albrighton,

Book cover of How to Write Clearly: Write with purpose, reach your reader and make your meaning crystal clear

What is my book about?

Aliens have abducted all the freelance writers in the world! OK, that’s not true. But How to Write Clearly is the book I wrote when I imagined it was.

If my clients suddenly had to write for themselves, what would I tell them? I’d deal with titles, sentences, and structure. I’d talk about plain language. I’d cover key steps like planning, research, editing, and feedback. I’d share ways to make your message real, like metaphors and stories, and ways to explain new ideas and make them stick. Finally, I’d bring my guidance bang up to date with the latest ideas in education, psychology, and digital user experience. Basically, if you need to express yourself clearly on the page, How to Write Clearly is for you.

Beyond Retention

By Brenda L. H. Marina (editor), Sabrina N. Ross (editor),

Book cover of Beyond Retention: Cultivating Spaces of Equity, Justice, and Fairness for Women of Color in U.S. Higher Education

Beyond Retention is a non-fiction title that has the same narrative as my novel Resilience. Through various stories of lived experience, this title brings to light all the issues of race and gender inequality in higher institutions. What makes this book special is that it doesn't focus only on faculty but deals with administrators as well. Every woman who is interested in a career in academia should have and read Beyond Retention, as it offers ways through which one can thrive and not just survive in higher education.

Who am I?

As with many people, my life has been full of twists and turns. I know what it means to be an outsider and to be cast aside as though my voice and presence doesn’t matter. But, with grit and determination, I battled systemic racism head-on, and with my good L.U.C.K (labor under correct knowledge), encouragement, and faith, I am thriving in an environment that was designed to be non-inclusive for People of Color. Currently, I am the only Black female professor in the 94-year history in the college where I am employed.


I wrote...

Resilience: Bravery in the Face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the halls of Academia

By Marilyn K. Easter,

Book cover of Resilience: Bravery in the Face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the halls of Academia

What is my book about?

Emma shines a light on the discriminatory practices deeply embedded in this country’s education system. She is bright, eager to learn and willing to work hard. But racial rebuffs from teachers and colleagues present her with a tidal wave of deterrents. This book takes readers through Emma’s past in a way that clearly lays out the obstacles young African American girls confront in a highly encoded education system—and it reveals the successful strategies Emma develops to surmount them. It also points out that these hurdles shouldn’t exist and brings hope that those who follow in Emma’s footsteps and learn from her can build on her experiences and change that system. 

Triumph of Emptiness

By Mats Alvesson,

Book cover of Triumph of Emptiness: Consumption, Higher Education, and Work Organization

This magisterial book punctures the grandiosity and narcissism of our times when we succumb to the illusions that image, hype, and empty talk create value, when everyone must claim to be cutting edge and a world leader. Alvesson demonstrates that behind such grandiosity lurks an emptiness of meaning, of value, and of imagination. His powerful critical discussions of modern consumption, higher education, professionalism, and leadership insinuate that our current malaise goes far deeper than the economic crisis in which we find ourselves. This is a book that shows how we can recover meaning in the work we do as social scientists.

Who am I?

I am a Greek social psychologist and have spent much of my academic career studying myths and stories in social life - stories, even when inaccurate or wrong, serve to create meaning, a fragile and valuable resource, especially in these post-truth times. At the same time, I believe that we must not lose sight of the distinctions between story and fact, fantasy and reality, truth and fiction. I am greatly concerned that the social sciences today, as shaped by the academic publishing game, are preoccupied with trivia and act as black holes into which meaning disappears. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility to restore the meaningfulness of academic research.

I wrote...

Return to Meaning: A Social Science with Something to Say

By Yiannis Gabriel, Mats Alvesson, Roland Paulsen

Book cover of Return to Meaning: A Social Science with Something to Say

What is my book about?

This book argues that we are currently witnessing a proliferation of meaningless research in the social sciences of no value to society. The explosion of published outputs creates a noisy, cluttered environment which makes meaningful research difficult, as different voices compete to capture the limelight even briefly. The result is a widespread cynicism among academics on the value of academic research, sometimes including their own. Publishing comes to be seen as a game of hits and misses, devoid of intrinsic meaning and value and of no wider social uses whatsoever. The book’s second part offers a range of proposals aimed at restoring meaning at the heart of social science research, and drawing social science back, addressing the major problems and issues that face our societies.

Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities

By Meg Grigal (editor), Joseph Madaus (editor), Lyman Dukes III (editor), Debra Hart (editor)

Book cover of Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities

High school graduates with disabilities are often unaware of today’s new and rapidly developing options and limitations to postsecondary educational resources. This comprehensive guidebook provides excellent strategies for students who will be requesting disability access in preparation for the transition from high school into two and four-year colleges. Navigating the Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities includes an array of this information for both college-bound students and disability support staff. These include user-friendly campus resources, lessons for understanding and requesting access to campus accommodations, support for applying for financial aid, and strategies for meeting professional expectations.

Who am I?

Having worked on college campuses for 25 years as a professor, administrator, and first-year experience program designer, I’ve seen first-hand how freshmen are increasingly failing at “adulting” because they are unprepared for the realities of campus life. I take on this needed preparation as co-author of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) and as the creator of the Talking College™ Card Deck, discussion prompts for college-bound students and their parents/guardians. I share my insider knowledge with college-bound students and their parents at talks and workshops throughout the U.S. My goal is to help both groups thrive as they prepare for the upcoming transition.

I wrote...

How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

By Andrea Malkin Brenner, Lara Hope Schwartz,

Book cover of How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You're There)

What is my book about?

The only book of its kind that guides first-year students to thrive in the transition after high school graduation and throughout their first year on campus, emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance. It draws on the authors’ experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades. The book is filled with important resources needed to set the foundation of success at the collegiate level including lessons and activities on money; time and self-management; co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences; navigating relationships with family and friends back at home and roommates and peers on campus; exploring new college identities; finding one's voice inside and outside of the classroom; health, wellness and safety; and the importance of finding mentors for support in this life transition.

For the Love of My Mother

By John Rodgers,

Book cover of For the Love of My Mother

John Rodgers tells the story of his mother’s experience in three Irish institutions, including an industrial school, a Mother Baby Home, and a Magdalene Laundry. Bridie Rodgers’ story reveals the psychological and emotional burdens of an inmate and how they are also felt by their future generations. It is a devastating reality to learn of the many innocent children and women who had been isolated from society and powerless over their own lives. 


Who am I?

I am first generation American - my mother is from Ireland and my father is from Germany. I’ve always had an interest in my heritage and developed a passion for genealogy. My curiosity led me to researching Industrial Schools and Mother Baby Homes in Ireland. I’ve read many books about these institutions and also wrote a book of my own based on stories of former residents of St. Joseph’s Industrial School in Ballinasloe, Galway.


I wrote...

The House Children

By Heidi Daniele,

Book cover of The House Children

What is my book about?

Based on actual events, The House Children is a compelling story of familial love, shameful secrets, and life inside Ireland’s infamous industrial schools.

In 1937, Mary Margaret Joyce is born in the Tuam Home for unwed mothers. After spending her early years in an uncaring foster home, she is sentenced by a judge to an industrial school, where she is given the name Peg, and assigned the number 27. Amid one hundred other unwanted girls, Peg quickly learns the rigid routine of prayer, work, and silence under the watchful eye of Sister Constance. When Peg accidentally learns the identity of her birth mother she struggles with feelings of anger and abandonment, while her mother grapples with the shame of having borne a child out of wedlock.

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