Professor Usha Natarajan’s list of suggested books:

  1. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy. I read this when I was fourteen and as a result decided to study law. The book is about an aristocrat that takes advantage of a servant girl and does not see the harmful consequences of his actions until he meets her again many years later. He is then confronted with what he should do to help her. In learning more about her, he sees the exploitation and suffering of the masses that underpin the gilded lives of the privileged few. While not as famous as War and Peace or Anna Karenina, this was the novel through which I committed to working on justice issues.
  2. The Location of Culture by Homi Bhabha. I read this towards the end of my undergraduate degrees. This text is crucial for understanding migration and much more through its exploration of identity and postcoloniality. It helped me understand that part of human nature that wants to classify and control everything: Is this black or white, north or south, good or evil, inside or outside, man or woman, child or adult, self or other? I realized how dangerous yet liberating it is to place oneself in the hybrid/ neither/both/in-between place to disrupt these categories, to show that ultimately nothing and no one is encompassed by such descriptors, hence leading to their collapse.  
  3. The Four Loves by CS Lewis. I read this as a first-year undergraduate and still reread it. Lewis starts from the New Testament text that ‘God is love’ and extrapolates to identify different types of pleasures and loves, exploring how they relate to and depend on each other. He isolates and analyzes each type of love in its healthy and unhealthy mutations through a series of thought experiments and logical progressions. His spiritual and relational insights are life-altering, and his writing style is inspirational in its exceptional lucidity and humor. 
  4. The History of Developmentby Gilbert Rist. I first read this on a flight after completing my doctoral studies and could not put it down from cover to cover. Rist unpacks the urges that propel economic development today. He shows how dominant development myths are tied inescapably to reproducing economic inequality and environmental destruction. He traces notions of societal progress in western culture and explains how they became universalized and normalized over time, manifesting among other things the contemporary development industry. This text helped me understand the seductiveness of the development myth and the need to transcend it to imagine a healthier future.  
  5. The Logic of Environmentalism by Vassos Argyrou.This is a wonderful complement to the Rist text. Argyrou succinctly and compellingly provides insight into why western environmentalism cannot solve the problems of modernity such as environmental destruction. He reveals western environmentalism to be a thoroughly modern project because, like all modern projects, it aims at erasing difference and finding meaning in unity. In fact, environmentalism is in some ways the ultimate modern project, as it asserts knowledge and control over everything – over the ‘environment’. As with other modern projects, this type of environmentalism reconfirms the position of the west as the source of all legitimacy. As with Rist, this text pointed me towards looking for solutions to economic and ecological problems outside of western modernity.