Undergraduate Academic Affairs

UW Common Book

From 2006 through 2012, the UW Common Book program introduced and engaged University of Washington freshmen in the University’s academic community, beginning at summer orientation. Books were selected for their readability and ability to be welcoming and also to represent the diversity and multiplicity of thought and excitement of discovery found at the core of our work at the UW.

UW freshmen received the Common Book at summer orientation. Once school began, they found many opportunities to discuss the book’s themes and topics with other students, faculty and staff. The book was often incorporated into 100-level English composition classes, Freshman Interest Groups, and classes with a connection to the topic. Often, the book’s author or subject would visit campus for a public talk.

Through this shared intellectual experience, students examined important subjects and built community around significant issues of the times. During its run, the Common Book gave students a first taste of the undergraduate academic experience and provided a platform for students to begin to explore questions, perspectives, or forms of writing. Instead of the Common Book, we launched the Collegium Seminars, are supporting writing centers, will bring occasional speakers (U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited in 2014, for example) and are supporting student leadership development.

Below are the books that were selected as UW Common Books, with links to the videos featuring the speakers from that year and articles about each year’s text.


Image of book cover for "Respect"Respect

Sara Lawrence Lightfoot


Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot: Exploring Respect “Respect: An Exploration,” by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, is a compelling investigation into the meaning and role of respect in our personal, professional, and civic lives.


Author of UW Common Book speaks to students
The Daily | 11/6/12

Common Book Program tweaked for incoming freshmen
The Daily | 7/17/12

Seventh UW Common Book explores meaning and power of respect
UW Today | 6/28/12


Image of book cover The Meaning of It AllThe Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist

Richard Feynman


The Search for Randomness with Persi Diaconis In an exploration of this year’s University of Washington’s Common Book, “The Meaning of it All” by Richard Feynman, guest lecturer Persi Diaconis, mathematician and magician, discusses the connections between his work and Feynman’s physics.


Much more than physics: Remembering Common Book author Richard Feynman
UW Today | 10/5/11


Image of book cover for You Are Never Where You AreYou Are Never Where You Are: A Collection of Poems

Edited by the Common Book selection committee


Poetry: From Pulitzer to Performance

Nationally-acclaimed poets Philip Levine and Ken Arkind share their work and answer questions at “Poetry: From Pulitzer to Performance” as part of the UW Common Book’s celebration of National Poetry Month.


Turning up the volume
The Daily | 11/18/10

UW Common Book
The Daily | 9/6/10

Poets to visit as part of UW Common Books celebration of National Poetry Month
UW Today | 4/13/11

Poetry out loud: Bringing the Common Book to life
UW Today | 11/17/10

Speaking volumes
The Daily | 6/30/10

Next Common Book is UW-created book of 15 poems, ‘You Are Never Where You Are’
UW Today | 6/3/10


Image for book cover for Dreams from My FatherDreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Barack Obama


Celebrating an uncommon Common Book, written by a president-to-be
UW Today | 11/19/09

President Obama’s memoir chosen as 2009 UW Common Book
The Daily | 1/28/09

President Obama’s Dreams from My Father named Common Book for 2009
UW Today | 1/22/09


Image for book cover for Devil's HighwayThe Devil’s Highway: A True Story

Luis Alberto Urrea


Devil’s Highway: An Evening with Author Luis Urrea Luis Alberto Urrea, member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph.


Common Book event and photo exhibit bring border to life
UW Today | 10/30/08

Crossing Borders: Common Book author talks to students about his life and book
The Daily | 10/24/08

Freshmen will find their way on The Devil’s Highway
The Daily | 5/23/08

Immigration issue is central to new Common Book
UW Today | 5/22/08


Image for Field Notes From A Catastrophe book coverField Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Elizabeth Kolbert


Field Notes from a Catastrophe – LIVE! With Elizabeth Kolbert

Known for her insightful and thought-provoking journalism, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tackles the controversial subject of global warming in this year’s University of Washington “Common Book” selection.


Common Book author encourages discussion
The Daily | 10/18/07

‘Common Book’ author Kolbert warns of coming catastrophe brought by global warming
UW Today | 10/11/07

Common Book chosen for 2007-08
The Daily | 4/4/07

Global warming essays chosen as next Common Book
UW Today | 3/29/07


Image for cover of Mountains Beyond MountainsMountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World

Tracy Kidder


Building a Community-based Health Care Movement

The subject of Tracy Kidder’s book “Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World,” Farmer is a renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, and co-founder of Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization bringing healthcare to impoverished parts of the world.


‘I happened across a good story,’ Kidder says of his book about Farmer
UW Today | 3/1/07

Common book author shares his perspective of the project
The Daily | 2/28/07

Author’s visit caps new UW program
Seattle Times | 2/26/07

‘Common book’ author Kidder on campus Feb. 27
UW Today | 2/22/07

The world’s unhappiness is ours, Farmer tells students
UW Today | 11/16/06

Common book subject tells his story
The Daily | 11/14/06

Common book activities abound as UW prepares for Farmer visit
UW Today | 11/9/06

‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’ chosen as UW’s common book
The Daily | 12/2/05

One book for all incoming freshmen: Mountains Beyond Mountains
UW Today | 11/17/05

UW’s Common Book program puts freshmen on same page
Seattle Times | 11/16/05