2012 Summer Reading Assignment: checklist manifesto by Atul Gawande
A committee of faculty, staff, and students has recommended Atul Gawande's The Checklist Manifesto as the Common Summer Reading for the students entering Catawba College in fall, 2012. The Checklist Manifesto focuses on how humans can avoid making costly and dangerous errors in an increasingly-complex technological society. The book relates several real-world examples from medicine, construction, and aviation, and includes an account of USAirways flight 1549 that shows how checklists and teamwork contributed to the plane's miracle landing on the Hudson River.
The Checklist Manifesto meets several goals of the First-Year Experience. Not only is the book loaded with fascinating stories, but it will appeal to incoming first-year students because it is optimistic, fast-paced and relevant to their daily lives. More importantly, the committee found that The Checklist Manifesto affords discussion of deeper questions about human nature and our essential fallibility, particularly in situations where making errors by failing to use available information has serious consequences. Checklist also highlights some invaluable lessons: that some difficult problems can be solved with inexpensive, non-technological solutions; that teamwork more often than not is the best approach to solving complicated problems; and that heroism is often a function of being prepared. Such discussions — especially those focused on teamwork — fit well in conversations about our role as citizens and ties to our communities.
Moreover, Checklist can easily connect to the themes of many first-year seminars that will be offered, in addition to the argument that checklists are excellent devices for any and all people engaging in complex tasks. We hope our first-year students will find checklist-making to be a good skill to develop as they begin their college career. Finally, The Checklist Manifesto as the summer reading affords potential co-curricular fall activities for our students, as they could potentially hear from people in disparate fields who offer their observations on uses of checklists.
About the author: Atul Gawande is a surgeon, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and a staff writer with the New Yorker. He is also the author of Better and Complications.