Thumbnail Shortly after the World Trade Center complex was completed, acrobat Philippe Petit tight-roped across the gap between the two buildings, a quarter mile above the New York City streets.

In the novel “Let the Great World Spin,” this year’s summer reading selection for Duke University’s Class of 2017, author Colum McCann imagines how this single, daring event turned from ordinary to extraordinary the lives of many people watching on the street below.

“The summer reading book should be relatable to the Duke experience, and I think ‘Let the Great World Spin’ is the perfect choice with this consideration in mind,” said Valentine Esposito, a junior and member of the Duke Summer Reading committee. “The book stitches together the experiences of a diverse group of people living in New York by depicting a single event they all witnessed or interacted with.

“At Duke, you will meet many people that are different from yourself in every sense,” Esposito added. “In my opinion, the beauty of the Duke experience is coming to appreciate these differences while recognizing the events and moments that stitch everyone's Duke experience together.”

Duke’s Summer Reading Program is designed to give incoming students a shared intellectual experience with other members of their class. During orientation welcome week activities, students will discuss the book in small groups and the committee will attempt to arrange an author visit for a larger campus discussion.

The selection committee is comprised of faculty, staff and students.

“Every year we compile a list of books recommended by faculty, students and staff, and discuss the merits of each selection. After a few rounds of readings and conversations, our committee reduces the list to five or six books,” said Clay Adams, director of New Student Programs and co-chair of the selection committee. “We then reach out to the Duke community for their feedback.”

In addition to “Let the Great World Spin,” this year’s finalists included:

  • “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” by Katherine Boo
  • “Little Princes,” by Conor Grennan
  • “Crashing Through,” by Robert Kurson, and
  • “Purge,” by Sofi Oksanen

“I think the incoming freshmen will have the opportunity to engage in discussion surrounding the substantive themes in this book, and will be reminded that risk-taking, selflessness, and the courage to step outside of a comfort zone are important things to remember in the first semester on Duke's campus,” said Trinity student and committee member Madison Moyle. Currently, the committee is working to arrange a visit by the author to discuss his book. “I hope to meet McCann if he comes to speak in the fall, and I am confident that the incoming freshmen will enjoy their summer reading.”

A special printing of the book for first-year Duke students is underway. The book will be mailed to members of the Duke Class of 2017 in July.

Past summer reading selections include “A State of Wonder,” by Ann Patchett; “Eating Animals,” by Jonathan Safran Foer; “Everything Matters,” by Ron Currie, Jr.; “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” by Junot Diaz; “What is the What,” by David Eggers; and “The Best of Enemies,” by Osha Gray Davidson.


The NY Times Magazine: Colum McCann's Radical Empathy