10 inspiring books for the recent grad

Books to shape the minds and paths of the class of 2021

Each year as spring commences, so too does a fresh class of new graduates. With newly-minted degrees and certificates in hand, they set out upon the world in search of meaning, purpose, and… work. We may not be able to help with the latter—although we do have a couple of job openings—but what better gift than a book to inspire and motivate? The student diving right into grad school will appreciate Umberto Eco’s wise and witty guide to writing a thesis, which delivers not just practical advice for writing a thesis but meaningful lessons that equip writers for a lifetime outside the walls of the classroom; one considering a profession in science or technology will find much to like in Find Your Path, a compelling volume of career stories from a fascinating group of scientists and engineers; and for the grad who needs a pause, we suggest Shimon Edelman’s collection of illuminating takes on the complexity of the human condition. Browse all our recommendations below. 


Critical Thinking by Jonathan Haber

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is regularly cited as an essential twenty-first century skill, the key to success in school and work. Given our propensity to believe fake news, draw incorrect conclusions, and make decisions based on emotion rather than reason, it might even be said that critical thinking is vital to the survival of a democratic society. But what, exactly, is critical thinking? In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Jonathan Haber explains how the concept of critical thinking emerged, how it has been defined, and how critical thinking skills can be taught and assessed.


Life, Death, and Other Inconvenient Truths: A Realist's View of the Human Condition by Shimon Edelman

Life, Death, and other Inconvenient Truths

This book offers a guide to human nature and human experience—a reference book for making sense of life. In thirty-eight short, interconnected essays, Shimon Edelman considers the parameters of the human condition, addressing them in alphabetical order, from action (good except when it's not) to love (only makes sense to the lovers) to thinking (should not be so depressing) to youth (a treasure). In a style that is by turns personal and philosophical, at once informative and entertaining, Edelman offers a series of illuminating takes on the most important aspects of living in the world.


How to Write a Thesis by Umberto Eco

How to Write a Thesis

How to Write a Thesis is unlike any other writing manual. It reads like a novel. It is opinionated. It is frequently irreverent, sometimes polemical, and often hilarious. Eco's approach is anything but dry and academic. He not only offers practical advice but also considers larger questions about the value of the thesis-writing exercise. Eco advises students how to avoid “thesis neurosis” and he answers the important question “Must You Read Books?” He reminds students “You are not Proust” and “Write everything that comes into your head, but only in the first draft.” How to Write a Thesis belongs on the bookshelves of students, teachers, and writers everywhere.

“How to Write a Thesis has become a classic.” LSE Review of Books

Read an excerpt from the book.


The Future by Nick Montfort

The Future

The future is like an unwritten book. It is not something we see in a crystal ball, or can only hope to predict, like the weather. In this Essential Knowledge series book, MIT digital media professor Nick Montfort argues that the future is something to be made, not predicted. Montfort offers what he considers essential knowledge about the future, as seen in the work of writers, artists, inventors, and designers (mainly in Western culture) who developed and described the core components of the futures they envisioned.

Read an excerpt from the book.


Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut's Story of Invention by Kathryn D. Sullivan

Handprints on Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionized our understanding of the universe. It has, among many other achievements, revealed thousands of galaxies in what seemed to be empty patches of sky; transformed our knowledge of black holes; found dwarf planets with moons orbiting other stars; and measured precisely how fast the universe is expanding. In Handprints on Hubble, retired astronaut Kathryn Sullivan describes her work on the NASA team that made all of this possible. Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space, recounts how she and other astronauts, engineers, and scientists launched, rescued, repaired, and maintained Hubble, the most productive observatory ever built.

“To read [this book] is to marvel at what we have achieved in our nascent efforts to inhabit space, and to recognize that we have barely begun that quest.” Nature


A Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of Multiple Intelligences Theory by Howard Gardner

A Synthesizing Mind

Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind was that rare publishing phenomenon—a mind-changer. Widely read by the general public as well as by educators, this influential book laid out Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. It debunked the primacy of the IQ test and inspired new approaches to education; entire curricula, schools, museums, and parents' guides were dedicated to the nurturing of the several intelligences. In A Synthesizing Mind, Gardner reflects on his intellectual development and his groundbreaking work, tracing his evolution from bookish child to eager college student to disengaged graduate student to Harvard professor.

“An insightful memoir from an eminent psychologist.” Kirkus Reviews


The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez

The Alchemy of Us

Scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions—clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips—and reveals how they shaped the human experience. She describes, among other things, how our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep; how the railroad helped commercialize Christmas; how the necessary brevity of the telegram influenced Hemingway's writing style; and how a young chemist exposed the use of Polaroid's cameras to create passbooks to track Black citizens in apartheid South Africa. These fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies.

“More than just a series of stories about the benefits of inventions, The Alchemy of Us shows readers how the technologies that we shape, in turn, shape us.” Smithsonian Magazine

Watch our MIT Press Live! launch event with Ramirez.


Ideas That Created the Future: Classic Papers of Computer Science edited by Harry R. Lewis

Ideas that Created the Future

Ideas That Created the Future collects forty-six classic papers in computer science that map the evolution of the field. It covers all aspects of computer science: theory and practice, architectures and algorithms, and logic and software systems, with an emphasis on the period of 1936–1980 but also including important earlier work. Offering papers by thinkers ranging from Aristotle and Leibniz to Alan Turing and Nobert Wiener, the book documents the discoveries and inventions that created today's digital world. 


Find Your Path: Unconventional Lessons from 36 Leading Scientists and Engineers by Daniel Goodman

Find Your Path

This insightful book offers essential life and career lessons for newly minted STEM graduates and those seeking a career change. Thirty-six leading scientists and engineers (including two Nobel Prize winners) describe the challenges, struggles, successes, satisfactions, and U-turns encountered as they established their careers. One scientist moves from startup to startup, enjoying a career of serial challenges; another spends decades at one university; another has worked in academia, industry, and government. Some followed in the footsteps of parents; others were the first in their family to go to college. Many have changed fields, switched subjects, or left established organizations for something new. Taken together, these essays make it clear that there is not one path to a profession in science, but many.

“An absorbing volume.” Times Higher Education

Read an essay from the author, Daniel Goodman. 


The Conscious Mind by Zoltan Torey

The Conscious Mind

How did the human mind emerge from the collection of neurons that makes up the brain? How did the brain acquire self-awareness, functional autonomy, language, and the ability to think, to understand itself and the world? In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Zoltan Torey offers an accessible and concise description of the evolutionary breakthrough that created the human mind.