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Professors Looking Back

Professors Looking Back

The Top Reads of 2021 

By Emmett Pennington-Guthrie 

Being a year in which many of us spent more time at home than we have in previous years, 2021 lent itself to reading. Some of the professors here at Walla Walla University graciously shared the books that they enjoyed the most over the year. 

Dr. Kraig Scott, choral director and organist extraordinaire, shared that his favorite read in 2021 came from Barack Obama’s Summer 2021 Reading List. The book in question was “When We Cease to Understand the World” by Benjamín Labatut, a book which used a “combination of fiction and nonfiction” to explain quantum mechanics, as Dr. Scott explained. [1] 

Dr. Scott described watching an interview with the author who stated that, because so few people have the tools to understand quantum mechanics, blending fiction with nonfiction made it possible to explain certain concepts. [2] 

A book about more than just math, “When We Cease to Understand the World,” holds the stories of scientists and mathematicians who have given us so much of what we know about the universe. The book details the lives and tales of the scientists themselves as they worked and lived, using fiction alongside fact to entertain and inform. [3] 

Dr. Paul Dybdahl, professor of mission and New Testament, also shared one of his favorite reads of 2021. His selection was the book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport, a book professor Dybdahl felt was especially relevant in our modern society. [4] 

Cal Newport’s website described deep work as the “ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task,” and this ability is what “Deep Work” centers around. [5] The book explored methods for training the mind to focus and gives advice that is especially important for individuals trying to be more productive. [6] 

In a world like ours in which individuals are so often hooked to their phones or barraged with distractions, it can be important to be able to focus in spite of it all. 

The library is a phenomenal resource for all sorts of sources, both for academic and pleasure reading. Photo by Emmett Pennington-Guthrie.

What made “Deep Work” such a compelling read for Dr. Dybdahl was that it managed to explore ideas such as promoting reflection in ways he found interesting. This topic was one that seemed very important in a world where distractions are ubiquitous. [7] 

The last book shared was from communications professor Schuan Carpenter, whose favorite read of 2021 was the book “Educated” by Tara Westover. [8] 

See Also

“Educated” is a memoir detailing Westover’s life growing up in a Mormon survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho, and ultimately escaping a bad situation through education. Westover grew up without a formal education but was able to get accepted into Brigham Young University and leave her life in the mountains where she was abused by her brother. [9] 

Professor Carpenter described this story as being simultaneously very compelling and difficult to read. While being a fascinating book and a real page-turner, Carpenter noted that because of the nature of the story and its content, it makes it hard at times to get through. 

Despite the emotional difficulty of the story, professor Carpenter promised that “Educated” is a highly worthy read. 

If any of these books seem interesting, 2022 is a great year to explore them and more. Hopefully these are a good starting point for this year, or perhaps they’re an inspiration for more books to be read. Either way, this year is full of promise for reading. 


  1. Meeting with Dr. Kraig Scott, 11/5/2022. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Labatut, B. (2021, October). When we cease to understand the world. New York Review Books  
  1. Meeting with Professor Paul Dybdahl, 11/5/2022. 
  1. Newport, C. (2016, January). Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Cal Newport 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Meeting with Professor Paul Dybdahl, 11/5/2022. 
  1. Meeting with Professor Schuan Carpenter, 11/5/2022. 
  1. Westover, T. (2021, December). Educated (book). Wikipedia
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