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Three Books is Stanford's signature common reading program for undergraduate first-year and new transfer students. Each year, the faculty moderator carefully selects a​n overall theme and ​will work with a committee of faculty, staff, and students over several months to select the books/media for incoming students to read and discuss with each other over the summer. The program culminates in discussions with the authors and guests during New Student Orientation and Autumn Quarter.

The 2022 Three Books theme is Biodiversity.

Read the 2022 Faculty Moderator Letter introducing this year's theme.

Faculty Moderator

Dr. Elizabeth Hadly

Elizabeth Hadly

Elizabeth Hadly is a global change scientist who has studied the impacts of environmental change for the past four decades.  Addressing the biology of species from both evolutionary and ecological perspectives, she studies primarily extant species to understand the past, present, and future of biodiversity. Uniquely, her research spans the decadal to millennial time scale, and integrates lab and field research, increasingly important in understanding the Anthropocene and tipping points for Planet Earth. She currently serves as faculty director of Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

Three Books Program

The Three Books are provided by Stanford to every incoming undergraduate student. Student instructions for accessing the following books and media can be found on the Approaching Stanford Canvas Course (SUNet ID login required).

Animal, Directed by Cyril Dion 

Animal Book Cover

Year: 2021 | Duration: 105 minutes | Type: Documentary Film
The place of mankind among the living is the main topic. At the instigation of Cyril Dion, who already gave us his vision with TOMORROW, and the primatologist Jane Goodall, two teenagers will embark in an extraordinary quest: to find another way of living alongside other species, more as roommates than predators. To do so, they will travel and meet with scientists and activists all over the globe.

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong

An Immense World book cover

Year: 2022 | Duration: 464 pages | Type: Book
Every kind of animal, including humans, is enclosed within its own unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of our immense world. Pulitzer Prize–winning science journalist Ed Yong takes us on “a thrilling tour of nonhuman perception” (The New York Times), allowing us to experience the skeins of scent, waves of electromagnetism, and pulses of pressure that other animals perceive.

Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, by Lulu Miller

Why Fish Don't Exist book cover

Year: 2021 | Duration: 256 pages | Type: Book
David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist, a man possessed with bringing order to the natural world. In time, he would be credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. But the more of the hidden blueprint of life he uncovered, the harder the universe seemed to try to thwart him. His specimen collections were demolished by lightning, by fire, and eventually by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake—which sent more than a thousand discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor. In an instant, his life’s work was shattered. Many might have given up, given in to despair. But Jordan? He surveyed the wreckage at his feet, found the first fish that he recognized, and confidently began to rebuild his collection. And this time, he introduced one clever innovation that he believed would at last protect his work against the chaos of the world.

When NPR reporter Lulu Miller first heard this anecdote in passing, she took Jordan for a fool—a cautionary tale in hubris, or denial. But as her own life slowly unraveled, she began to wonder about him. Perhaps instead he was a model for how to go on when all seemed lost. What she would unearth about his life would transform her understanding of history, morality, and the world beneath her feet. Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a wondrous fable about how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.

About the Authors & Director

Cyril Dion

Cyril Dion by Fanny Dion

Cyril Dion is a filmmaker, writer, poet and environmental activist. He is one of the figures of the ecological commitment in France where he was one of the initiators of the Affair of the Century and the Citizen's Convention for the Climate of which he was also a guarantor. His second film, Animal, selected at the Cannes Film Festival and nominated for a César award. In May 2022, he and Marion Cotillard launched the production company Newtopia, to produce films and series that propose a new imagination of the future. He is currently preparing a fiction series and a film adapted from Pierre Ducrozet's novel, Le Grand Vertige.

Ed Yong

Ed Yong

Ed Yong is a science journalist who reports for The Atlantic. Ed cares deeply about accurate and nuanced reporting, clear and vivid storytelling, and social equality. He writes about everything that is or was once alive, from the quirky world of animal behavior to the equally quirky lives of scientists, from the microbes that secretly rule the world to the species that are blinking out of it, from the people who are working to make science more reliable to those who are using it to craft policies. His stories span 3.7 billion years, from the origin of life itself to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lulu Miller

Lulu Miller

Lulu Miller is the cohost of Radiolab, cofounder of NPR’s Invisibilia, and a Peabody Award–winning science journalist. Her writing has been published in The New YorkerVQROrionElectric LiteratureCatapult, and beyond. Her favorite spot on earth is Humpback Rocks.

Three Books Archive

Curious to know what books we've hosted in previous years? Check out our Three Books Archive for a list of all past books and their authors!

Three Books is made possible by the generosity of The Lamsam-Sagan Family Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Education.