» Recommended Reading

Every year President Jim Doti compiles a summer list of books and films he recommends for students and graduates. Below are some of his suggestions throughout the years.

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+ - 2014

The Frackers by Gregory Zuckerman

  • You've probably been hearing a lot about oil and gas fracking and the revolution that new process is having on our lives and times. While that topic may not sound like grist for enjoyable summer reading, I found The Frackers, by Gregory Zuckerman, a great character study of wildcatting entrepreneurs.

Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding

  • Another wonderful character study is presented in Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz. Thomas Harding's story of Hanns and Rudolf is a powerful argument about the banality of evil or how a seemingly normal person is capable o f the most heinous of crimes.

The Friedkin Connection by William Friedkin

  • You don't have to be a film student to enjoy and learn from The Friedkin Connection. This candid and powerful autobiography by the great film director and former Marion Knott Filmmaker in Residence at Chapman, William Friedkin, is much more than a story about how films are made. It's also an inspiring and, at times, harrowing account of creating art.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

  • I really loved The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The long title of Daniel James Brown's book gives away the plot, but not the captivating character study of college student-athletes. This book might even inspire you to try out for our Chapman crew teams.

The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud

  • In reading a review of a new anthology of the works of one of my favorite authors, Bernard Malamud, I came across a reference to a book of short stories he published in 1957 that I'd never read-The Magic Barrel. If you read it, I'd love to learn which of his stories in this magical book is your favorite. Mine was "The First Seven Years." I loved this little story big time.

As for movie recommendations, my kind of film focuses on characters and how they grow when confronted with challenging situations.

Nicholas Winton- The Power of Good

  • One of those characters who I believe is one of the truly great unsung heroes of the 20th century is profiled in Nicholas Winton- The Power of Good. See this documentary, which won the 2002 International Emmy Award, if you're examining how you might want to pattern your life.


  • A South Korean film that beautifully captures the power of poetry is appropriately titled Poetry. This film delves into the subject of personal courage. I love the poignant way it captures the passion of a life-long learner. Yoon Jeong-hee's performance is resplendent.

Exporting Raymond

  • On a lighter side, I recommend two movies I found to be laugh-out-loud funny. Phil Rosenthal's Exporting Raymond is a documentary that chronicles his misadventures in Moscow, where he is helping to adapt his successful sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond for Russian television.

The Trip

  • The Trip starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, is a mocumentary road trip through Northern England. If you like this odd couple, you'll like their sequel, The Trip to Italy, which should be released soon. I saw it at the Sundance Film Festival and can't recall when I've heard an audience laugh harder.

+ - 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

  • A book that I believe will become a classic is Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.  Pico Iyer, one of the great authors and writers in the world who recently visited campus as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow, told me it was his favorite book of the year.  His kudos are well deserved. I found this National Book Award winner extraordinary.

The Passage of Power by Robert Caro 

  • If you like works of history, I highly recommend the fourth installment of Robert Caro’s ambitious, award-winning planned five-volume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson.  The latest, The Passage of Power, covers the years LBJ served as vice president under JFK and his first few months as president after President Kennedy’s assassination.  This book amply demonstrates how LBJ’s moral and ethical deficiencies thwarted his skills as a political genius.

Steve Jobs by Walter Jacobsen

  • Another biography of a genius, this time on the creative side, is Walter Jacobsen’s Steve Jobs. This thought-provoking work forces us to examine how Jobs’ inability to treat people around him with respect and dignity limited his effectiveness as an organizational leader.

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

  • I ordinarily don’t like autobiographies, because they are oftentimes lacking in candor.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World, however, is definitely an exception.  How Justice Sotomayor was able to overcome so many obstacles in life is a testament to the power of character and courage over adversity.

Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin by Hampton Sides

  • A nonfiction work that reads like a great novel and thriller is Hampton Sides’ Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin. In one of my previous summer reading lists, I recommended Sides’ Blood and Thunder.  This author knows how to write compelling prose.

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

  • If you’re into audio books, a great “listen” is E. B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan.” This charming children’s book, written by the author of Charlotte’s Web, is also narrated by him.  This audio book is a delight, particularly if you listen to it on your iPod while running/walking on the Newport Beach boardwalk on a beautiful, lazy summer day.

Made in China

  • On the film front, I recommend Made in China, a very funny movie about a novelty inventor who goes to China to manufacture his dream product.  On his quest, he gets involved in a tender and touching relationship that shows love transcends cultural and language barriers.  Another film I really enjoyed is The Intouchables, a strange but funny and moving “buddy” film of sorts.

+ - 2012

  • The New Confessions by William Boyd
    • Perhaps my favorite book this year is The New Confessions by William Boyd.  While Dodge College students, I think, will particularly like this book because of its homage to the passion for filmmaking, I believe Boyd’s epic story of the extraordinary life of John James Todd will resonate with all readers.  If you enjoy this one, another Boyd novel to consider is Any Human Heart.
  • A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
    • Maybe it’s because I lost my dog, Roxie, this year that I really identified with A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron.  I believe, though, that you’ll find the book’s theme about finding one’s purpose in life to be especially timely, since I suspect you are beginning to spend more time thinking about your future and what you want out of life.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
    • A truly compelling historical work is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns.  Wilkerson brilliantly personalizes the story of the great migration of African-American families who fled the south from 1915 to 1970 to seek a better life in northern and western cities.
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
    • National Book Award winner The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt is a thought-provoking history and adventure story that connects the ideas of Greek and Roman civilizations with the modern world.  It may even inspire you to read Lucretius’ amazingly prophetic philosophical epic On the Nature of Things.
  • Jan Troells’ “Everlasting Moments.”  (movie)
    • A 2008 flick I’m sure you missed is Jan Troells’ “Everlasting Moments.”  I can’t recommend enough this beautiful story of a woman’s life that poignantly illustrates how every life is special in its own unique way. Following the Holocaust Remembrance service, Dr. Wiesel told me how moved he was by the evocative performance of our orchestra and choir.  He said, “Your students played and sang brilliantly,” and he continued, “I should know, since I used to be a choir director.”  When I asked if he had seen one of my movie favorites “The Chorus,” he answered that it’s also one of his favorites.  So I guess Dr. Wiesel and I both highly recommend this wonderful film that captures so well the transformative impact that a great teacher can have on the hearts and minds of students.

+ - 2011

  • The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
    • Alan Bennett is one of my favorite authors and playwrights. David Sedaris, who gave our Distinguished Writer Lecture at Chapman last October, turned me on to Bennett. His recent novella The Uncommon Reader is a very funny, thought-provoking and imaginative story of what might happen if Queen Elizabeth suddenly developed a love of reading.
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
    • This story of the life of Louis Zamperini is so absolutely incredible, it’s hard to believe it’s true, but it is. If you enjoy a good adventure story, you’ll love this book. I guarantee it.
  • The Lady and the Monk by Pico Iyer
    • Since Japan has been on everyone’s mind lately, I thought I might recommend my all-time favorite book about Japan, one that uses that nation as more than just a backdrop. The ancient city of Kyoto in Japan becomes more like a character. Another reason to buy this book is that you can get it signed by Pico Iyer when he returns to campus next spring for the second year in a row as our Distinguished Writer in Residence.
  • The Pool by Chris Smith
    • I loved this beautiful little film set in the Goa region of India. It tells the story of an impoverished young man who becomes obsessed with a swimming pool that no one seems to use. This sad, sweet and ultimately uplifting movie shows so well that the real power of film is not based on explosions, sex and comic book characters but by real people yearning to find beauty in life.

+ - 2010

  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
    • A nonfiction work that explores the impact of the Katrina hurricane through the real-life experiences of one man. I found this to be a very sad book about man’s inhumanity to man.
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
    • I highly recommend the audio version of this book…McEwan’s narration is terrific, and a revealing interview with him is included as an extra. What Ifound particularly provocative is how well the plot conveys the idea that our lives are determined to a great extent by the small, sometimes emotionally charged, decisions we make early in life’s journey.
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
    • My favorite book of the year. If you read only one of my recommendations, I hope it’s this one. I loved this warm, funny and gripping coming-of-age story.
  • Every Little Step by James D. Stern, Adam Del Deo
    • A documentary that follows budding performers auditioning for a revival of A Chorus Line. You don’t need to be a performer to enjoy this movie. All of us who have high aspirations can identify and be emotionally moved by this film.

+ - 2009

  • Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyner
    • I found the wonderfully accessible “Why Evolution Is True” by the evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago, Jerry Coyne, an informative and fascinating read. It’s also timely given the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.
  • The Band’s Visit by Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, and Khalifa Natour
    • One of two foreign films on my list this year that definitely warrant a larger audience. “The Band’s Visit,” is about a police band from Egypt that takes the wrong bus and gets left off in a small backwater town in Israel. While I found both films on the list this year very funny, they are also moving and perceptive portrayals of our common humanity.
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
    • While David Sedaris may not be for everyone, one of the funniest books I read this year is his “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.” The essays are even better when you listen to Sedaris narrate them.
  • 12:08 East of Bucharest by Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, and Khalifa Natour
    • “12:08 East of Bucharest” is about how various hapless residents of a small town recall the Romanian Revolution and the overthrow of Nicolae Ceauþescu. While I found both films on the list this year very funny, they are also moving and perceptive portrayals of our common humanity.
  • What Is the What by Dave Eggers
    • A woman I met on a flight to Sacramento described “What Is the What” by Dave Eggers as one of the most moving books she ever read, and I have to agree. It’s a heartbreaking yet uplifting story of the civil war in Sudan as seen through the eyes of an American immigrant.
  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
    • I particularly enjoy the way she explains how this incredible yet true crime mystery served as the inspiration for some of the great literary works by the likes of Wilke Collins and Charles Dickens.

+ - 2008

  • Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides
  • Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler
  • Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
  • The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn
  • The Lives of Others (movie)

+ - 2007

  • Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
  • Colors of the Mountain by Da Chen
  • The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr
  • Swimming Lessons and Other Stories by Firozsha Baag
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • La Meglio Gioventù (The Best of Youth) (movie)

+ - 2006

+ - 2005

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • The Householder by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
  • Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer

+ - 2004

  • English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  • Hollywood Animal: A Memoir by Joe Eszterhas
  • How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson
  • Losing My Virginity: How I’ve Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson
  • Nowhere in Africa: An Autobiographical Novel by Stephanie Zweig
  • Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Michael Oren
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Looking for more good reads?

Check out President Doti's annual reading picks from 1993 - 2003!
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