I get just as much inspiration from reading books as I do from reading papers. These have all broadened my horizons and given me things to keep in mind as I work in the economics of education. If you've read any of these and have thoughts to share, I'd love to hear them; likewise, if you have another book that you think I need to read, I'm always interested in recommendations! Drop me a line at danieldh[at]umich[dot]edu or on Twitter at @dandhubb.

Even children who have made horrible mistakes deserve an education, to help them improve their circumstances once they are released and make new lives for themselves. Teaching in a school within a prison comes with some unique challenges, but the author manages to connect with the students, showing them that they have value as people and that they are not hopeless. This book has valuable lessons about teaching successfully under horrific circumstances.

(My aunt worked at the school at Rikers Island for several years; she does not appear to make a cameo in the book.)

Similarly to Peterson's book, this book sheds light on children attending school while dealing with numerous challenges in and out of the classroom. Schwartz reminds us to see students as people, not as gradebook entries and data points, and to take into account the things that might be going on in their lives that don't show up in their files. As an education researcher and as an educator, reading this book can help me with my teaching style and my research process alike.

Almost all of the foundational thinkers whose work is taught in economics classes today were male, and even after some small strides in making the profession more inclusive, it remains male-dominated to this day. We often don't think about the assumptions and conclusions that result from this, and how it shapes the field. Early economic models, still used today, assigned no value to things that were thought of as "women's work", and this circular argument was then used to justify claims that women were less important or valuable. This book is worth constant re-reading for economists, to ensure that we think beyond the narrow definition of "economic man".

(And for the record, the answer to the question in the title is "his mother".)

In our rush to get more students to attend college and to achieve certain credentials, we don't always think about how those credentials, or even "college", are defined. Some students are being encouraged to make college-going decisions that could leave them with a lot of debt but no meaningful help in gaining employment, and we need to rethink the assumptions behind that encouragement. Tressie McMillan Cottom combines the unique perspective she gained from working in the for-profit college sector with the rigor of a professional sociologist, weaving together stories from all angles of the industry to explain why people choose for-profit colleges, what happens to them once they finish, and how the colleges attract, enroll, and retain students. Such a disruptive industry, in all meanings of the word, requires an analysis as deep and as well-told as this one.

This is a novel, and it's not really about education and it's certainly not about economics, but it brilliantly captures the thought processes of a Ph.D. student. The impostor syndrome, the pressure to work long hours (whether from advisors or from peers), the concerns about the future...they're all in there. Plus the author went to my high school, which is pretty awesome.

Chemistry by Weike Wang

This is also a novel, and it's also not really about education and certainly not about economics. Even so, I've never seen a better satire of academic politics and the petty dramas that consume our institutions of higher learning, combined with Zadie Smith's excellent storytelling and vivid characters. (An honorable mention would go to Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members.)

On Beauty by Zadie Smith