Andres Alonso


December 23, 2007

Andres Alonso and his family left Cuba when he was 12. He arrived in Union City, N.J., speaking no English but found mentors in the public schools who saw his potential and encouraged him to apply to Columbia University. He graduated from Columbia magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, then earned a law degree from Harvard University. "With me, there were people who saw beyond a language problem, people who saw beyond the poverty," he said. Alonso, who is 50, was deputy chancellor of the New York City public school system before taking charge of the Baltimore system this year.

"La Edad de Oro" (The Golden Age in English translation) / by Jose Marti / Catedra / 298 pages / $17.95

This is a book every Cuban-born child knows by heart, full of wonderful poems and fables. It was written by a great writer who also happened to be the first apostle of Cuban independence.

"War and Peace" / by Leo Tolstoy / Modern Library / 1,424 pages / $14;

"Anna Karenina" / by Leo Tolstoy / Signet Classics / 960 pages / $6.95;

"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" / by Mark Twain / Bantam Classics / 320 pages / $6

I read them all as an adolescent, as a gift from my father, as my first big books and kept coming back to them as an adult. I still love them today.

"Deceit, Desire and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure" / by Rene Girard / Johns Hopkins University Press / 328 pages / $25

A work of literary criticism nearly 50 years old, it encapsulates a theory of human behavior that I believe to hold a lot of truth.

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