5 great books for the summer

As I compiled my list of recommended summer reading, I realized that the topics they cover sound pretty heavy for holiday reading. There are books about gender equality, political polarization, climate change and the hard truth that life is never what young people imagine it to be. It doesn’t exactly sound like beach reading.

But none of the following five books feels heavy (although at nearly 600 pages The Lincoln Highway is literally weighty). Each of the authors – three novelists, a journalist and a scientist – was able to take a substantial subject and make it compelling without sacrificing complexity.

I loved all five books and I hope you find something here that you will enjoy as well. And don’t hesitate to share some of your favorite readings in the comments below.

The power, by Naomi Alderman. I’m glad I followed my older daughter’s recommendation and read this novel. It cleverly uses a single idea – what if all women in the world were suddenly given the power to deliver deadly electric shocks from their bodies? – to study gender roles and gender equality. reading The power, I got a stronger and more instinctive sense of the abuse and injustice that many women experience today. And I’ve expanded my appreciation for the people working on these issues in the United States and around the world.

Why we are polarized, by Ezra Klein. I’m generally optimistic about the future, but what clouds my outlook a bit is the increasing polarization in America, especially when it comes to politics. In this insightful book, Klein convincingly argues that at the root of this divide is identity—the human instinct to let our group identity guide our decision-making. The book is essentially about American politics, but also offers a fascinating look at human psychology.

The Lincoln Highway, by Cupid Towles. I have Towles’s A gentleman in Moscow On my summer book list for 2019, but I enjoyed this follow-up novel even more. It takes place in 1954 and is about two brothers trying to drive from Nebraska to California to find their mother. Their journey is derailed by an unpredictable teenager from older brother’s past. Drawing inspiration from the journeys of famous heroes, Towles seems to be saying that our personal journeys are never as linear or as predictable as we hope.

The Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson. When I was promoting my book on climate change last year, some people told me to read this novel because it dramatized many of the issues I had written about. I’m glad I got it because it’s great. It’s so complex it’s hard to summarize, but Robinson presents a stimulating and compelling story that spans decades and continents and is full of fascinating ideas and people.

How the world really works, by Vaclav Smil. Another masterpiece from one of my favorite authors. Unlike most of Vaclav’s books, which read like textbooks and delve very deeply into a subject, this book is written for a general audience and provides an overview of the main areas of his expertise. If you want a brief but thorough training in numerical reasoning about many of the fundamental forces that shape human life, this is the book to read. It’s a tour de force. Bonus: You can download a free chapter from How the world really works on the full review page.

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