President Swygert's Book List Released

List of books is recommended reading for people of the African Diaspora

By: Ayesha Rascoe

The Hilltop, Issue date: 1/24/06 [Source Page]

Stressing the significance of reading to the development of critical thinking skills, Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert recently distributed a list of books he deemed important to the African Diaspora to deans and administrators at Howard.

Swygert said he compiled the list because he thought it would be interesting to see people's reactions to the list and also to produce discussions about what books are essential reading.

"I used to put lists together in the past and folks would always ask me from time to time what I was reading," Swygert said.

Jannette Dates, dean of the School of Communications, said she, like Swygert, would be pleased if his list generates conversation.

"This is the type of intellectual stimulation that our campus can use," Dates said. "It (I hope) will have students and faculty members discussing their views about the cited works--and other works that they would have included."

The list contains mostly non-fiction works pertaining to the history of the African diaspora and a number of books about prominent African-Americans such as Vernon Jordan, Colin Powell, and John H. Johnson.

"Recently more autobiographies and biographies have been published about modern black figures," Swygert said. "I thought it would be interesting to look at that body of work."

An undergraduate history major, Swygert said he chose historical books and memoirs because those are the works that most interest him. He also said he intentionally left popular classics such as The Souls of Black Folk and The Autobiography of Malcolm X off of his list, assuming most people on campus would have read them already.

One book of fiction that did make the president's list was Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo. Swygert said he is particularly fond of Reed's writing, which he describes as sympathetic to the human condition and also very celebratory.

"['Mumbo Jumbo'] is a book written by one of the nation's leading authors. I've read a lot of what he has written," Swygert said. "[Mumbo Jumbo] has everything in it from mysticism to history."

Another book Swygert is particularly fond of from his list is Succeeding Against the Odds, an autobiography of the late founder of Jet and Ebony Magazine John H. Johnson co-written by Lerone Bennett, Jr. To Swygert, Johnson's tale of persevering in the world of publishing and defying racial obstacles is one to be both applauded and learned from.

"It's a wonderful story," Swygert said. "If I were to retitle it, I would call it 'Succeeding Against Everything.'"

Franklin Chambers, vice provost of student affairs, said he was very pleased that the president compiled this book list.

"I think it is a wonderful idea, and was excited that President Swygert was thoughtful enough to share his list with us," Chambers said. "It's important that we continue to promote reading at all stages of our lives. Although we are all extremely busy, it's important to know that our president continues to read regularly and promotes the practice to others."

In addition to Chambers, Kurt Schmoke, dean of the law school, also applauded the Swygert.

"This book list reminds us of the need to broaden our intellectual horizons beyond the confines of our professional concerns or college majors," Schmoke said. "Hopefully, there will be an opportunity for the community to engage in discussion about these important works."

Although Swygert said he hopes students will be interested in his book list, he said he views his list as merely a foundation that others can build off to create their own personal lists.

"It's one person's view of [what's important to read]," Swygert said. "The important thing is we are reading."

Books on the president's list include:

The Afrocentric Idea
Molefi Kete Asante'
Temple Press, 1998

A Howard Reader, An Intellectual Quilt of the African-American Experience

Paul E. Logan, Editor
Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997

Mumbo Jumbo
Ishmael Reed
Doubleday, 1972

The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson
Sandra G. Shannon
Howard University Press, 1995

Among the Believers, An Islamic Journey
V.S. Naipaul
Afred A. Knopf, Inc., 1981

W.E.B. DuBois, The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963
David Levering Lewis
Henry Holt and Company, 2000

Succeeding Against the Odds
John H. Johnson with Lerone Bennett, Jr.
Warner Books, 1989

Vernon Can Read! A Memoir
Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.
Public Affairs, 2001

How To Succeed in Business Without Being White

Earl G. Graves
Harper Collins, 1997

No Boundaries, A Cancer Surgeon's Odyssey
LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr.
Howard University Press, 2005

Howard administrators tell The Hilltop what books they would include on their own must-read book lists...

James Donaldson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences:

Euclid's Elements
Sir Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity
Dante's Divine Comedy
W.E.B. Dubois's Souls of Black Folks
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Why? "These works, since their publication, while addressing many of the themes [intellectual openness and cultural diversity, historical awareness, empirical analysis, and social and human relations,] have had a profound effect upon humankind."

Richard English, Provost:
Andrew Billingsley's Black Families in White America

Why? "Throughout most of my scholarly career, my interest has been the study of African American families. While Professor E. Franklin Frazier's studies of Black families were pioneering, Andrew Billingsley's book Black Families in White American, which was published in 1968, significantly influenced research and scholarship on African American families."

Kurt Schmoke, Dean of the School of Law:

Michael Barone's The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again
Juan Williams's Thurgood Marshall: An American Revolutionary
Frank H. Wu's Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White
Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty First Century

Franklin Chambers, Vice Provost of Student Affairs:
Oren Harari's The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell

Why? "The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell in my opinion is a must read. I think Colin Powell is one of the greatest minds of this generation, and his transition from military to civilian life is worth reading about. I'm a firm believer that leadership skills are transferable, and Colin Powell is a true example."