Books that Change the World Reading List

2016-2017 Book List for Books that Change the World

“Who Is My Neighbor?”


September: The Round House by Louise Erdrich  (2012)

            After his mother Geraldine, a tribal official, is beaten and assaulted in her office, teenager Joe Coutts and his friends decide to wreak some revenge on her assailants. The local priest, a wounded Marine veteran, becomes the boys’ sounding board and confidant. His father Basil, a lawyer and tribal judge, tries to protect the boy while supporting his wife’s healing. Because the attack happened on reservation land, the civil jurisdiction has no authority; because the attackers are not Indians, they cannot be prosecuted by the tribe. Erdrich raises questions of responsibility, ethics, and love.


October: Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle   (2011)

(NDC’s Abrahamic Lecture speaker on Thursday November 17)          

            Fr. Greg Boyle is a Jesuit who has worked for thirty years in a largely Latino section of Los Angeles, attending especially to men and women affected by gang culture. He has been a pastor and prison chaplain, and is perhaps best known as founder of Homeboy Industries, which offers life coaching, training, and jobs to people who want to leave gang culture behind. The book is a blend of vignettes about individuals and families he has known, baptisms and funerals he has held, and his own reflections on human potential and God’s grace.


November: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels  (1848)

            Undoubtedly, this political pamphlet stands as one of the most influential books ever written; there is no denying this book has changed the world. In less than one hundred pages, Marx and Engels outline their theory on the nature of society and politics. More specifically, they lay out their understanding of class struggle, income inequality and the problems of a capitalistic system. While written more than one hundred and fifty years ago, the essay remains relevant in the 21st century because its issues often underpin today’s political debates, both domestically and internationally. Although the book and its authors have been maligned in the West, Marx and Engels shared a deep concern and desire to improve the lives of their neighbors; especially the oppressed and impoverished.


December: An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen  (1892)

            Ibsen’s 1892 play challenges conventional morality by presenting itself as a comedy based on what Ibsen called “a very serious idea.” In brief, a rumor that the town’s water is contaminated is confirmed by Dr. Stockmann, but going public with this information presents a moral dilemma. Because the town’s economy depends on its famed public baths, some individuals in positions of power question Dr. Stockman’s claim and resist sharing any information with the public. The general welfare collides with corruption and economic interests, in this tale that could have been written yesterday given the ongoing global concerns over the availability of clean water for all of our neighbors.


January 17: Movie night—Matewan (1987 Dir. John Sayles)

            Based on an actual 1920 confrontation between West Virginia mine workers and owners, this visually stunning film attends to the coalition of the powerless (striking Appalachian miners, and African-American and Italian strike-breakers) struggling to work together against corporate exploitation and violence. Critics admired the depiction of the miners’ nobility and relentless sacrifices for the rightness of their cause. Written and directed by Sayles, the film features Chris Cooper, Mary McDonnell, David Strathairn and James Earl Jones.


February: The Plague by Albert Camus  (1947)

            Long regarded a literary classic, this is the existentialist story of the French Algerian city of Oran dealing with an outbreak of bubonic plague. Camus presents a townful of characters who confront their own human nature and that of their neighbors as the town is placed under quarantine and shut off from the outside world. We meet Dr. Castel who works tirelessly to develop an anti-plague serum for the townsfolk, but grows ever more stressed and worn down; while Dr. Richards refuses to even admit the plague exists. Gonzales is a smuggler whose business prospers. Father Paneloux’s sermons about God’s sending the plague draws increasing crowds to church. In Dr. Rieux, Camus presents faithful, ordinary heroism.


March: Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz  (1947)

            This novel by the Nobel Prize winning author is set in 1940’s Cairo, Egypt. The story depicts daily life in Midaq Alley, a weary neighborhood in the capital city. With her many characters and teeming activity, the alley represents a microcosm of a culture entering modernity, while struggling to preserve an Arab identity. As America continues to wage the longest war in her history in the Middle East, this novel by Mahfouz invites us to encounter a culture and a way of life with which most Americans are only somewhat familiar, and to experience an author "who, through works rich in nuance—now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous—has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind," according to the Nobel Committee in 1988.


April: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

            Framed as letters to his son, this collection of essays explores—and challenges—the construction of race in America and its effects on society as a whole and on the experience of black teenagers. Toni Morrison has observed that, for her, Coates is the one who could fill “the intellectual void” left by the death of James Baldwin. The book was widely honored: National Book Award, NAACP Image Award, New York Times bestseller, finalist for the Pulitzer and National Book Critics Circle Awards.

To register or for additional information, contact Tina Jurcisin at 216.373.6520 or

If the seminar for 2016-2017 has already started, contact Tina Jurcisin at 216.373.6520 or to discuss options, including joining our  mailing list for future offerings.


May 29
11:30 AM
Monday May 29, 11:30am
Christ the King Chapel, 3rd Floor Admin Bldg.
E.g., 06/29/17
E.g., 06/29/17