While ethics involves everyone in its concern for how we all live life together, Duke staff do not always have the same formal opportunities as faculty and students to stop and reflect on such issues with one another. The Ethics Book Clubs for Staff provide such an avenue. The first one launched was in the Department of Political Science and has been instrumental in helping shape the model for the clubs that have followed in the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Sanford School of Public Policy (jointly with the Department of Sociology), the Program in Education, and Counseling and Psychological Services. During the semester, each club chooses book selections (fiction or non-fiction) with ethics-related themes for its department staff and then meets a couple of times during the semester to process together what they have read.

As this has provided our staff with a unique way to be part of the university’s educational mission and to foster richer relationships with each other, we are encouraging other departments to start their own Ethics Book Clubs–or interdepartmental ones–as well. The Kenan Institute for Ethics is able to provide up to $500 in seed money to help any university department or unit start their own Ethics Book Club for Staff.

Ideally, new book clubs would:

  • Be comprised of staff members from Duke units, departments, and schools (departments, units, etc. can also choose to do combined or joint books clubs with each other);
  • Meet a couple of times during the semester;
  • Seek to engage issues surrounding ethics through their book selections and group conversations (see the sample book list below);
  • Send an informal update to Deirdre White at the end of the academic year to let us know how your club has been going.

There will be opportunities for newly formed clubs to convene with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Department of Political Science, and Sanford School of Public Policy groups for occasional large-group discussions. 

If you are interested in starting an ethics book club in your department or have any questions about doing so, feel free to contact Deirdre White.  She can be a resource to help you get your club set up and organized as well as find ideas for books your group may want to read.


Books Previously Read by Staff Clubs

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Novel)
This is a story of two Nigerians that part as teenagers, both on different immigration paths, one to the U.S. and the other to Britain.  The story covers themes of race, education, status, cultural inclusion, and alienation as it shows the two reconnecting again as adults.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (Nonfiction)
This National Book Award winner is nonfiction narrative that chronicles the lives of residents in the Annawadi slum in India.  It shows the extremes of wealth and poverty that exist in an emerging economy as it follows the lives of several families living in squalor while within the shadow of a luxury hotel.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (Nonfiction)
Written by a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, this book argues that medicine should focus more on living and dying well than simply on combatting and curing illnesses.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison (Nonfiction)
A collection of essays clustered around stories of illness and wellness that considers how human beings understand and care for each other in brokenness.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Fiction)
This book considers themes of life, love, death, and remembrance as it tells the story of a clinically depressed, terminally ill 16-year-old girl who falls in love with a boy in a support group she attends.

Home by Toni Morrison (Fiction)
A story about a young African-American man that returns home from the Korean War to his sister and the small town Southern world he had left behind.  Issues of race, family, painful hidden secrets, responsibility, and healing arise in his return home.

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss (Nonfiction)
This nonfiction book investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body.

Open City: A Novel by Teju Cole (Fiction)
Cole’s first novel is a story about a Nigerian psychiatry student and follows him as he walks, talks, and reflects about race, politics, identity, etc. through Manhattan, Brussels, Nigeria, and back to the U.S.

The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein (Nonfiction)
Goldstein looks at the last 200 years of teaching children in America to help understand why certain contemporary difficulties in education now exist and offer possibilities for improvement.