For most of us, the words “summer reading,” when not used in reference to homework, conjure up images of escapism and daydreaming. Summer is a time for guilt-free indulgence, so we gorge ourselves on romances and detective novels. Reading anything other than fiction feels like a chore.
It doesn’t have to, though, because while there are certainly many works of non-fiction that are as dry as textbooks, there are plenty of others written with style, insight, and even wit. The fact that they’re informative is just an added bonus. So next time you’re looking for something to read, check out one of the following.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
In telling the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American woman whose cells have been used to develop vaccines, map genes, and study diseases like cancer, Kloot’s book does not fail to live up to its attention-grabbing title. It is a surprisingly human read that raises alarming questions about experimentation, exploitation, and bioethics.
Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert
It may sound like a self-help book, but Gilbert’s fascinating examination of human psychology and behavior aims to explain why what we think will make us happy and what in fact does are so often two different things. One thing is certain, though: Gilbert’s hilarious romp through our flaws and fallacies will leave you both happy and enlightened.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
Greenblatt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book rests on a startling premise: that the entire course of Western civilization was changed by the discovery of one document—Lucretius’s On The Nature of Things, which hypothesizes a rational and scientific universe. It was the copying and translation of this work, Greenblatt ultimately argues, that paved the way for the Renaissance and everything that followed.
Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird, by Tim Birkhead
Humans may have reached the point where—with some mechanical help—they can soar through the air like birds, but surely there are some experiences unique to our feathered friends that technology will never be able to duplicate. In language the layperson can understand, ornithologist Tim Birkhead explores everything from the magnetic sixth sense that allows birds to navigate to the social functions of birdsongs.
If you’ve studied American history, you probably know that President Garfield was assassinated. What you may not know are the full circumstances surrounding his short presidency and untimely death, and it is this that Millard tackles in Destiny of the Republic. This surprisingly gripping read paints a vivid picture of the turmoil Garfield’s shooting caused within the recently reunified United States, and describes in sometimes gruesome detail the lengths to which his doctors went in their efforts to save his life.
Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell
You may already be familiar with Gladwell as the author of The Tipping Point an Blink, but even if you aren’t, rest assured that Outliers is well worth a look. In this truly thought-provoking read, Gladwell suggests that the origins of both genius and success are often found in the most (seemingly) inconsequential of differences.