At the start of each semester, James Fuehrmeyer, accountancy associate teaching professor and new faculty director for the Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA), asks his students to name the last good book they read. Not only does this help him connect better with students and their lives, but it also gives Fuehrmeyer, a voracious reader, new titles to add to his wide-ranging list of favorites.
In this Q&A, Fuehrmeyer shares the array of books he’s read through the years from childhood and college to Army infantry captain, Deloitte executive and, for the past seven years, accountancy educator at Mendoza.
What are you reading now or what have you read recently?
I am currently reading A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin, the fifth volume of the series A Song of Ice and Fire, also known as the Game of Thrones series. When I asked my students to name the last good book they read, this series came up quite a bit last year. This past year I reread The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; the seven Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling; James Michener’s Space and Mexico; and I’m slowly working my way through the textbook Ornithology by Frank Gill in support of my hobby as a backyard birder. Additionally, each summer I join a number of Mendoza faculty members in a book discussion group sponsored by the Kaneb Center. This summer we read and discussed Learner Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer. I have learned a great deal from my Mendoza colleagues these past seven summers and think I have improved a little each year.
What do you read regularly?
I like to get my world and U.S. national news through the BBC app. I like reading the “outside” perspective on the U.S., its politics, business and culture. After that, I hit The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal for political and business news. “Regularly” also includes books, however. I reread The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia every couple of years—and have done so for the past 40 years. Those who have not read them likely assume they are fantasies for children. In fact, they deal with adult topics: the importance of faith, the problem of good and evil, overcoming fear of death, racial prejudice and even our impact on the environment.
If Chicago columnist Mike Royko were still alive, I would read his column as I did each day starting my first year of high school growing up on the South Side of Chicago. I have three volumes of his old columns and they are still relevant. Royko was a master at holding a mirror up to Chicago politicians and he did not allow his readers to ignore the very real problems faced by real people; Americans have not changed much in the past 50 years. He also taught everyone the correct way to eat a Chicago hotdog.
What do you like to read in general?
I enjoy history. My favorite historian is probably Joseph Ellis who specializes in early American history, most notably Founding Brothers and biographies of Washington (His Excellency: George Washington) and Jefferson (American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson). I had Ellis as an instructor at West Point. I also enjoyed works by David McCullough, especially John Adams, and Ron Chernow, especially Alexander Hamilton.
Beyond that, I have very eclectic taste, and in addition to Tolkien and Lewis, I enjoy Thomas Merton, Kathleen Norris, Charles Dickens, James Michener, William Faulkner, J.K. Rowling, Tim O’Brien, Murray Sperber and Michael Crichton.
For work, I actually enjoy reading academic research on accounting and auditing. I like to see the questions the academic community is asking and its efforts to come up with answers that affect financial reporting and the accounting profession. Prior to leaving public accounting at Deloitte to come here and teach, I did not realize how many years of effort go into one published research paper; and many faculty members have several in the works at one time.
Are there books you think everyone should read?
I think people should just read—period. I especially believe we should read in a wide variety of areas. Our business experiences stretch our minds in certain directions; reading helps stretch our minds in other directions. Good literature is especially relevant for discussing the major ethical issues of today; 19th century author Charles Dickens dealt with child labor, the legal profession, corporate governance, pollution, corporate power and even parenting. James Michener often tackles the development of U.S. business in his historical novels; there is a Scottish chartered accountant in his book Centennial, who depicts the British roots of the U.S. accounting profession in the 1800s.
What is your favorite book and why do you find it appealing?
My favorite is actually a trilogy—CS Lewis’s Space Trilogy. Lewis wrote it as science fiction, but it is actually theology. The volumes comprising the trilogy are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. I first read it in high school some 45 years ago and have reread it every two or three years since. The trilogy is the sort of work that grows and changes as you grow and change. Characters and actions that struck me in my 20s are different from those that spoke to me in my 40s. Others are important to me now. The trilogy contains life lessons and wisdom in areas ranging from personal relationships to government policy. I think it helps you become a better person.