2024 DeMott Lecture & Summer Reading

Welcome, Class of 2028 and new transfer and exchange students! This year’s DeMott book is How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, which was mailed to most incoming students in June. (International students, we’ll have your books here for you when you arrive on campus in August.)

Author Jenny Odell with her book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

On the final day of Orientation, the book's author, Jenny Odell, will join us in Johnson Chapel to deliver the DeMott Lecture and answer your questions about How to Do Nothing. Read more in President Elliott’s letter...

Sign Up for a Dinner Discussion of How to Do Nothing with President Elliott

President Elliott invites members of the class of 2028 and new transfer and exchange students to join him for dinner and conversation about the reading on one of three dates in September.

For Faculty & Staff

Starting August 1, faculty and staff may request a free copy of How to Do Nothing.

About the DeMott Lecture & Summer Reading

Occurring annually before the start of the fall semester,  the DeMott Lecture was established in 2005 by Alan P. Levenstein ’56 and other Amherst College alumni, friends, and family members in honor of Benjamin DeMott, a cultural critic and much-loved member of the Amherst English faculty from 1951 until his retirement in 1990. Inspired by his example, the DeMott Lecture seeks to expose incoming students to an engagement with the world marked by intellectual originality of thought and concern for issues of social and economic equity. Each year, we select a shared summer reading for all incoming students that informs the topic of the DeMott Lecture.

Professor DeMott was a frequent essayist for popular publications, including The Atlantic and Harper’s, and the author of more than a dozen books, including The Imperial Middle: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight About Class; The Trouble with Friendship: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight About Race; and Killer Woman Blues: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight About Gender and Power.

Past DeMott Lectures

Alena Smith at Amherst College.

DeMott Lecture 2023

Alena Smith, playwright, TV writer, and creator, showrunner, and executive producer of the streaming series Dickinson, presented the 2023 DeMott lecture, claiming, “I believe the Emily Dickinsons of the 21st century are sitting in this room.”

Catherine Sanderson gestures as she speaks from behind a podium.

DeMott Lecture 2022

Psychology professor Catherine A. Sanderson offered advice, and the opportunity to make some noise, at the 2022 DeMott Lecture in Johnson Chapel. 

A photo of Professor Shelia Lawson speaking at a podium

DeMott Lecture 2021

Professor and author Shayla Lawson delivered the 2021 DeMott Lecture to new students with a talk focused on defining success, accepting failure and students learning to be their “complete, uninhibited selves.”

Ross Gay

DeMott Lecture 2020

The 2020 DeMott lecture was given by Ross Gay, the author of four books of poetry and winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Assistant Professor of English Shayla Lawson introduced the lecture.

DeMott Lecture Archive