Skip to main content

Stanford’s 2022 Three Books program centers on biodiversity

The 2022 Three Books Program – a summer signature reading program for incoming undergraduates – features two books and a documentary film that addresses unique approaches to biodiversity and its loss.

While Stanford incoming undergraduates hail from across the world, they can become part of a shared university conversation on biodiversity before even arriving on campus through the Three Books program.

“The Three Books theme this year will connect you with a critical thread that we need to persist, to thrive on this planet, and to steward our home for the future,” wrote biology Professor Elizabeth Hadly in her letter introducing this year’s theme for Stanford’s signature common reading program for undergraduate first-year and new transfer students.

Hadly is the Paul S. and Billie Achilles Professor of Environmental Biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and also the faculty director of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. As the Three Books faculty moderator, she carefully selected the overall theme and worked with a committee of faculty, staff, and students over several months to select the books and media for incoming new students to read and discuss with each other over the summer.

The works selected for this year’s Three Books Program:

  • Animal, a documentary film directed by Cyril Dion, explores the place of mankind among the living. The film features teen environmentalists Bella Lack and Vipulan Puvaneswaran as they travel the world to witness firsthand the ecological crises confronting biodiversity.
  • Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, a book by Ed Yong, explores perception in ways that challenge readers to appreciate and cherish diversity in a new way.
  • Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, is part biography, part memoir, and part scientific adventure by NPR reporter Lulu Miller as she looks into the life of David Starr Jordan, a renowned fish taxonomist who was also Stanford’s first president. This book has been selected by Stanford Introductory Studies and the “Why College?” faculty, and there will be opportunities for discussion and reflection in first-year courses, including meeting Lulu Miller in person.

The theme of biodiversity isn’t just about life on the planet but also the “myriad of ways that organisms interact, consume, and channel energy into living and reproduction,” Hadly writes in her letter.

“Perhaps most importantly, biodiversity is not just about now, it is the sum of all living matter that has created, and in turn, responded to and in turn shaped our world over billions of years,” she continued. “Past and present diversity is indeed a compendium of histories, of adaptations to change in conditions on the planet. Yet as humanity is eroding biological diversity, we are destroying these histories, limiting our repertoire of choices and knowledge and resilience for the future and, in turn, we are threatening our own survival.”

The Three Books Program began in 2004 and has become one of the most cherished new student experiences. The program culminates in discussions with the authors and guests during New Student Orientation and autumn quarter – including an in-person author panel at Stanford in September.

All of the works are available online to students on a password-protected website. Three Books is made possible through The Lamsam-Sagan Family Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Education.