Scholars offer recommendations for your summer reading list

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By Katie Stannard

As the school year wraps up, we asked scholars in residence and staff at the Peter Wall Institute to recommend books to read this summer. From a trilogy of thrillers, to Catalan literature, to thought-provoking non-fiction, the scholars offer a wide range of books to add to your summer reading list.

Anna Casas Aguilar

La plaça del diamant de Mercè Rodoreda

Dealing with the Second Spanish Republic and the Spanish Civil War, the novel is set in Barcelona before, during and after the war and pictures a young woman's struggles in life as well as her conflictive relationships with two men, and her progression from nearly complete submission until she develops a full-fledged outlook in life, personal maturity and independence. It is also a faithful chronicle of life in the city at the time, in a balanced mixture of psychologism and naturalism.

Arguably the author's most accomplished work, the novel has been translated into more than thirty languages and is regarded as one of the most important pieces of fiction in contemporary Catalan literature. 

 

Jessica Dempsey

Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

In his travelogue of our near future, David Wallace-Wells brings into stark relief the climate troubles that await—food shortages, refugee emergencies, and other crises that will reshape the globe. But the world will be remade by warming in more profound ways as well, transforming our politics, our culture, our relationship to technology, and our sense of history. It will be all-encompassing, shaping and distorting nearly every aspect of human life as it is lived today.

 

Guy Dumont

Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr

Berlin Noir tells the tale of an ex-cop turned private investigator uncovering the corruption, lies, brutality and murder that lie at the heart of Nazi Germany in the Thirties and Forties. It includes March Violets, The Pale Criminal and A German Requiem.

Ex-policeman Bernie Günther thought he'd seen everything on the streets of 1930s Berlin. But then he went freelance, and each case he tackled sucked him further into the grisly excesses of the Nazi regime. From a vicious double murder and the search for a stolen necklace to the hunt for a serial murderer before the war and then the investigation of the death of an American soldier after it, Bernie Günther hunts for the truth even as the fearful and guilty alike do everything to hide it.

 

Brett Finlay

Brief answers to big questions by Stephen Hawkins

Stephen Hawking was the most renowned scientist since Einstein, known both for his groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology and for his mischievous sense of humor. Hawking not only unraveled some of the universe’s greatest mysteries but also believed science plays a critical role in fixing problems here on Earth. Now, as we face immense challenges on our planet—including climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and the development of artificial intelligence—he turns his attention to the most urgent issues facing us.

Will humanity survive? Should we colonize space? Does God exist? ​​These are just a few of the questions Hawking addresses in this wide-ranging, passionately argued final book from one of the greatest minds in history.

 

Leila Harris

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh

Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.

 

Sara Milstein

White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty's hilarious and scathing debut novel is about Gunnar Kaufman, an awkward, black surfer bum who is moved by his mother from Santa Monica to urban West Los Angeles. There, he begins to undergo a startling transformation from neighborhood outcast to basketball superstar, and eventually to reluctant messiah of a "divided, downtrodden people."

 

Evan Thompson

The Workshop and the World: What Ten Thinkers Can Teach Us About Science and Authority by Robert P. Crease

When does a scientific discovery become accepted fact? Why have scientific facts become easy to deny? And what can we do about it? In The Workshop and the World, philosopher and science historian Robert P. Crease answers these questions by describing the origins of our scientific infrastructure—the “workshop”—and the role of ten of the world’s greatest thinkers in shaping it.

As today’s politicians and government officials increasingly accuse scientists of dishonesty, conspiracy, and even hoaxes, engaged citizens can’t help but wonder how we got to this level of distrust and how we can emerge from it. This book tells dramatic stories of individuals who confronted fierce opposition—and sometimes risked their lives—in describing the proper authority of science, and it examines how ignorance and misuse of science constitute the preeminent threat to human life and culture. An essential, timely exploration of what it means to practice science for the common good as well as the danger of political action divorced from science, The Workshop and the World helps us understand both the origins of our current moment of great anti-science rhetoric and what we can do to help keep the modern world from falling apart.

 

Staff Picks

High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society by Carl Hart

In this provocative and eye-opening memoir, Dr. Carl Hart recalls his journey of self-discovery, how he escaped a life of crime and drugs and avoided becoming one of the crack addicts he now studies. Interweaving past and present, Hart goes beyond the hype as he examines the relationship between drugs and pleasure, choice, and motivation, both in the brain and in society. His findings shed new light on common ideas about race, poverty, and drugs, and explain why current policies are failing.

 

Memory Edited by Philippe TortellMark Turin and Margot Young

Memory navigates a broad terrain, with essays drawn from a diverse group of contributors who capture different perspectives on the idea of memory in fields ranging from molecular genetics, astrophysics and engineering, to law, Indigenous oral histories, and the natural world. This book challenges readers to think critically about memory, offering an engaging and interdisciplinary roadmap for exploring how, why, and when we remember.

Read Memory online for free through JSTOR via their open access book portal here.

 

Reproduction by Ian Williams

A hilarious, surprising and poignant love story about the way families are invented, told with the savvy of a Zadie Smith and with an inventiveness all Ian Williams' own, Reproduction bangs lives together in a polyglot suburb of Toronto. Reproduction is a profoundly insightful exploration of the bizarre ways people become bonded that insists that family isn't a matter of blood.

 

The Whole-Body Micobiome by B. Brett Finlay and Jessica M. Finlay

In The Whole-Body Microbiome, the father-daughter team of Dr. Brett Finlay (a microbiologist) and Dr. Jessica Finlay (a specialist on aging) offers a different—and truly revolutionary—solution to the quest for the fountain of youth. In this eye-opening new take on the significance of the microbiome, the Finlays offer empowering knowledge, surprising myth-busters, and simple yet effective daily tips that prove “dirty” is the new clean. Whether it’s by changing your diet, enjoying a glass of wine, getting more exercise, trading your antibacterial gel for good old soap and water, or spending more time outdoors, you can change your life today; so that you and your microbes live long—and prosper.