Frosh Reading Assignment

June 1, 2007
The Best of Enemies

In the early 1970s, Ann Atwater, a black civil-rights activist, and C.P. Ellis, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, were asked to work together toward the desegregation of the Durham public-school system. Bitter adversaries initially, they became friends, drawn together by a shared desire to make Durham a better community. The story of their friendship is told in Osha Gray Davidson's 1996 book, The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South, which has been selected as the summer reading assignment for incoming Duke freshmen. All members of the Class of 2011 will receive a copy of the book and are expected to read it before August orientation, when they will participate in small-group discussions.

Ryan Lombardi, associate dean of students and chair of the summer reading selection committee, says the book was a unanimous choice because of its historical account of Durham and the important issues it raises.

"The Best of Enemies does a great job in exploring the history of the city of Durham," he says. "It will be a great opportunity for our students to learn about their new community before they arrive in August."

The story of the two characters is also engaging, he says. "To have a local and very real demonstration of how two people of divergent beliefs and opinions can come together toward a common goal is a very powerful message."

Now in its sixth year, Duke's summer reading assignment is designed to provide a taste of the university's intellectual climate and foster a sense of community among incoming students. Last year, first-year students read Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, a fictional story of a teenager who was genetically engineered to be a bone-marrow donor for her leukemia-stricken older sister. To select this year's book, a fourteen-member committee comprising students and faculty and staff members considered more than seventy nominations.

The other finalists were: The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan; Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin; and What is the What, by Dave Eggers.