​​ ​​​​About the Alumni and Parent Book Discussions and the Common Reading Program​

​Originally named the First Year Reading Program, this initiative began in the fall of 2003 to provide first-year students a shared intellectual experience to start their academic career at WashU. The program was renamed the Washington University Common Reading Program in 2017 as the program now supports discussions among first-year students, parents, families, and alumni groups around the country. 

Chosen by a selection committee of students, faculty, and staff, the Common Reading Program book is an interesting and stimulating read around which incoming students’ initial academic exercise at Washington University will be based. By reading Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy and participating in small group discussions, first-year students will receive an introduction to the in​tellectual college experience that highlights the essence of their education. 

 Around the country, participants in the alumni and parents program will get a taste of the academic experience by reading Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy and gathering virtually to discuss the same questions raised on campus. In the spirit of civic engagement, these discussions will foster dialogue, learning, and listening, which are the foundation of  strong communities.



Upcoming virtual book discussions and events

Click on a book discussion below to learn more or register.​ You do not have to live in a specific city
to register for a discussion. Participants will receive one complimentary book per household
after registering for a book discussion.​ 


Watch a Recording of “The Power and Responsibility of Data”
On October 7, WashU faculty and staff members from Data Services and University Libraries discussed big data as it relates to the Common Reading Program book this year—Weapons of Math Destruction. ​


About the book

A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life and threaten to rip apart our social fabric.

 We live in the age of t​he algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: everyone is judged according to the same rules and bias is eliminated. But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong.

Tracing the arc of a person’s life, O’Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. These 'weaponsof math destruction' score teachers and students, sort résumés, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health. O’Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for their algorithms and on policy makers to regulate their use. But in the end, it’s up to us to become more savvy about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change. 

Watch a TED Talk with author Cathy O'Neil



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