2019 Common Read

The Common Read is something that connects us as Penguins, no matter where we happen to be in the world during the summer. We will return in the fall with new stories to share and more to learn about each other. 

The Committee is excited to announce their choice for the required 2019-2020 Common Read, Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms by Hannah Fry.

New and returning students may purchase their copy (print or electronic) of Hello World online or at their favorite bookstore. We strongly recommend that while reading, students reflect on Fry’s ideas by annotating their books or journaling. Students are required to bring their electronic or print copy to campus in September. If you have questions, please reach out to Raja Bala, Director of Academic Affairs, at 978-827-7011, or rbala@cushing.org.

Chaired by Library Director Janet Gross, this year’s Common Read Committee included two faculty members, one of whom is an alumnus; a staff member who is also a current parent; and three students: a rising senior, junior, and sophomore. During the final months of the academic year, the Committee read and discussed the merits and relevance of eight novels and four works of non-fiction, eventually narrowing the list to six semi-finalists.

In a review last fall, London’s Guardian posed questions to potential readers: “Are you a concerned citizen of the modern world? Do you ever worry that algorithms are stealing your data? Do you secretly have little idea what algorithms and data actually are? Then Hello World is for you.” (September 29, 2018) The Common Read Committee agrees and further, believes that the compelling examples, analysis, and questions in Fry’s book are essential reading for all members of the Cushing community, which strives to “develop curious, creative, and confident learners and leaders.”

New York Journal of Books reviewer, Christopher Doran succinctly captured Fry’s central thesis: “machines (i.e. computers) do not “think” as much as they follow sequential instructions. Humans must write these instructions and place them in the proper sequence. Human coders, with all their strengths and foibles therefore, still play a central role in writing these algorithms. Depending on skill and foresight, algorithms may have ‘bugs’ that cause the machine to malfunction. There also may be unintended consequences when instructions are erroneously repeated ad infinitum, or when instructions are applied to disparate groups of ideas, objects, or people for which they were not intended.” (Sept. 24, 2018) Fascinated by Fry’s examples in Hello World, the Common Read Committee were in unanimous agreement that all members of the Cushing community should be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of algorithms in their lives.

One may ask, “Can reading about data and algorithms, and their increasingly powerful, yet subtle, influences on our everyday lives be as engaging and entertaining as mystery or fantasy?” The answer is a resounding “yes”—especially when it’s British mathematician and celebrity Hannah Fry detailing the many ways that artificial intelligence intersects with human activity. Indeed, Hello World isn’t a gloomy cautionary tale; rather, it is a funny, colorful, and, ultimately, very human examination of our technology-saturated lives.

The Committee is certain that Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms will have us all talking face-to-face—in classes, advisory, dorms, and other activities—when we return in the fall.

Books Considered by the Common Read Committee

The Diary of an Oxygen Thief (anonymous 2006)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)*
Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (2018)*
Darius The Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (2018)
Frat Girl by Kiley Roache (2018)
Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (2018)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)*
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)

White Picket Fences: Turning toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege by Amy Julia Becker (2018)
I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (2018)*
Hello World by Hannah Fry (2018)**
Look Me in the Eye – My life with Aspergers by John Robison (2007)*

* Semi-finalists
** Finalist

All of the above books are available in the Fisher-Watkins Library.

Cushing Academy

39 School Street
Ashburnham, Massachusetts 01430

Cushing Academy

Cushing Academy exists for students and develops curious, creative, and confident learners and leaders. Founded in 1865, Cushing is a co-ed, college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12 and PG. Our students, who come from over 30 states and 30 countries, excel in our outstanding academic, art, and athletic offerings. We welcome you to visit our community and beautiful 162-acre campus in Ashburnham, Mass., just one hour from Boston, to experience all that Cushing has to offer.