Freewheeling Summer Reading

The Tufts community shares their favorite books for your enjoyment and edification

Each summer, we ask faculty, staff, students and alumni to tell us about books they like, and why they would recommend them to others. The offerings are as extensive and diverse as ever: from mysteries and the invention of news to a fictional account of the horrors of North Korea and a true account of the mass extinction of species going on under our noses.

Dig in and enjoy. And for faculty, staff and students, don’t forget that many of these books are available at the Tufts Libraries.


The Arsonist, by Sue Miller. This is the perfect summer read. There’s mystery (who is setting all the fires in the little town of Pomeroy, New Hampshire?). There’s family drama (what will older daughter Frankie, who’s come home from a number of stints working for NGOs in Africa, do with her life, and how will she relate to younger sister Liz, who’s married with three kids, and how will mother Sylvia learn to be retired?). There’s family trauma (how will they deal with father Alfie’s apparent onset of Alzheimer’s?). And, of course, there’s romance (will Frankie fall for small-town newspaperman Bud, and will it get her to stay stateside?). Miller is a masterful storyteller who depicts her characters with grace and depth. She has built this book with the tensions inherent in a good mystery, and with the realistic and compelling dialogue of an artful drama. I read the book in two nights, because it was so good that I just wanted to keep going, and so good that I was a little sad that I did and finished it.—Julie Dobrow, director, Communications & Media Studies Program

California Time, by Ernest J. Finney. Sometimes you pick up a book because it’s been recommended, or maybe the cover speaks to you. Sometimes it’s more of an intuitive connection. The latter occurred when I found this title for a dime at my local public library, in preparation for a three-week vacation in California. The book, which takes place between the 1920s and the 1940s, brings to life three immigrant farming families who work the fertile land of the San Joaquin Valley. Originally from Japan, the Azores and Italy, this United Nations of families now live on the same road and selflessly help each other any time extra hands are needed. The book reads like a social history of the era, from large businesses buying out family farms and the movement of Dust Bowl migrants to California during the Depression to the devastating internment of the Japanese in World War II. Told in alternating first-person narratives, the book was a pleasure to read in the sweet light of the California sun. —Laurie Sabol, social sciences reference librarian, Tisch Library

The Call, by Yannick Murphy. This enigmatic tale explores the complex mysteries of life and death, obsession and forgiveness, through the simple prose of a rural veterinarian’s diary. The emotionless, grueling routine of doctoring sheep, cows and horses on poor, rustic farms is contrasted with strange lights in the night sky that Dr. David Appleton believes are aliens trying to send him a message. Maybe they know who shot the rifle that left his son in a coma—and if he will survive. Maybe they can tell him why his past is now infringing on his present. He is always waiting for a call—the call. A most unusual and thought-provoking read. —Gail Bambrick, senior writer, Office of Publications

The Chance You Won’t Return, by Annie Cardi. This affecting young adult novel doesn’t go easier on readers than on its protagonist, Alex, a high school junior who confronts the specter of mental illness at home as her mom sinks into delusions of being Amelia Earhart. There is heart and humor aplenty—Alex is a terrible driver who begins lessons with a cute boy who once plowed a car into his parents’ bedroom—but Cardi never softens the pain of losing someone still physically with you. Alex watches her mother settle ever further into her fictional reality, planning for a flight that historically ended in the aviator’s disappearance. It’s an unusual premise, and memorable scenes—like Alex’s mom, fully dressed as the famous pilot, sitting in a bathtub—make for a fresh debut that will encourage readers to eagerly await Cardi’s next work. —David Valdes Greenwood, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Death at La Fenice, by Donna Leon. Commissario Guido Brunetti is the protagonist in this mystery, the first of more than 20 in a series set in Venice. A German maestro is found dead, poisoned at the opera house, and Brunetti realizes that to solve the crime, he must learn more about the man, his history and those around him. Leon makes her characters real and the setting vivid, even for those who have never set foot in the fabled city. A friend told me about the series and urged me to start with this debut; I would do the same. In succeeding volumes, we learn more about Brunetti’s family, the utterly corrupt politics he and all Italians have to deal with, the city in which he lives and much more. Leon is a graceful writer, a perceptive observer of people and place and skilled in the art of mystery plotting. —Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. The novel opens this way: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” Finding out the answers to the two questions these lines bring up—Why is Lydia dead? and Who are “they?”—is compelling enough to carry a book, especially one so thoughtfully and beautifully written. But this novel also explores how policies and attitudes resulting from racism and sexism directly impact the lives of one Chinese-American family living in the Midwest in the 1970s. The family lives with the daily noise of microaggressions—negative interactions arising from racism and sexism—and as someone who also grew up in one of the only “Oriental” families in a small town, I recognized my own experiences in the moments Ng accurately and movingly portrays. Although Lydia’s father James was born in the U.S. and teaches American studies, focusing his scholarly work on cowboys, as an Asian American at Harvard he feels “as if at any moment someone might notice him and ask him to leave.” Until I read that line, I wasn’t conscious of how often I felt that. There are many more stunning moments in this novel, especially around sudden loss and the aftermath of grief. This is the kind of novel that once you start reading, you will want to drop everything to finish. —Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Fear, by Gabriel Chevallier. Long considered a masterpiece in France, this is a new English translation of a novel based on the author’s experiences in the French trenches of World War I. It has the unforgettable impact of All Quiet on the Western Front. —Robert Chideckel, D80, dental director, Indian Health Services, Zia Pueblo, New Mexico

The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride. Who would have thought a novel about John Brown and his raid at Harpers Ferry could be funny? McBride, best known as the author of The Color of Water, has managed to take a serious topic and show us John Brown’s stern and focused purpose as well as his over-the-top fanaticism through the eyes of a freed slave, a young boy named Henry, whom Brown mistakes for a girl. Henry learns there are some advantages to being female—such as not being expected to fight in battle—so he willingly becomes Henrietta and wears a dress. He travels along with Brown and his men, starting with the events known as Bleeding Kansas, the violent confrontation between anti-slavery free-staters and pro-slavery adherents. Along the way, Henry meets Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and witnesses the raid at Harpers Ferry. McBride teaches us history, shows us how difficult it was for Brown to fight against slavery and creates in young Henry/Henrietta a hilarious observer of life and of people. —Marjorie Howard, senior writer, Tufts Now

Joyland, by Stephen King. A college student’s life-changing summer job experience at a waterside amusement park, and so much more! —Ann Marks, J72

The Leftovers, by Tom Perotta. What would happen to a community if 2 percent of the world’s population disappeared? Now the basis for a relentlessly downbeat HBO show of the same name, Tom Perotta’s novel takes a darkly comic look at how American suburbanites deal with unexplained grief and loss. “The Sudden Departure” is never explained because that is not the point. Similar to Perotta's more grounded Little Children, The Leftovers is more interested in holding a funhouse mirror up to life in a proud, affluent small town and its clueless, awkward residents. Skip the show; read the book instead. —Robin Smyton, A09, administrative assistant, Office of Public Relations

My Struggle: Book Two, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. The rich details of life’s moment-by-moment dramas, amusements, joys and sorrows—each following the other, soon lost to memory—are the grist of Knausgaard’s autobiographical novel. Picking up the story several years after his father’s death, the main subject of My Struggle: Book One, Knausgaard details his flight from his marriage in Norway to anonymity in Stockholm, his growing friendship with Geir, another self-exiled Norwegian writer, and the blissful period of romance with Linda, a Swedish poet and actress he first fell for years earlier at a writers’ workshop, and their eventual marriage. As in Book One, this volume’s source material appears to be pretty thin stuff: it’s just daily life, after all. But Knausgaard captures the utter reality of it so well and has so many astute philosophical asides that it’s a joy to read. Some of his set pieces are so absolutely spot on that you feel like he’s taken circumstances from your own life and penned only a slightly different version. Knausgaard is brutally honest about the people he’s closest to—not to mention himself. His wife’s battles with depression and his own anger and frustration are presented without sentimentality. This is not a nonfiction memoir; it’s an attempt to tell the story of one man’s life as he sees it, with the quotidian detail made compelling because it marks the story as real in a way that a standard novel wouldn’t be able to, filled as it is with artifice. —Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

No Great Mischief, by Alistair Macleod. This is a novel about the impact of Scottish culture on three generations of immigrants in Nova Scotia. Besides the gripping prose, there is the bonus for my dental profession of the most amazing tooth-extraction scene ever described. —Robert Chideckel, D80, dental director, Indian Health Services, Zia Pueblo, New Mexico

The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. What is the most dangerous country in the world? Iran? Iraq? Pakistan? Not even close. It is North Korea. The combination of nuclear weapons, a young and emotional dictator and a long-standing propensity to violence make for a lethal mix. And sometimes the best way to learn about a distant and bizarre land is to read a novel about it. In this brilliant 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Adam Johnson takes us into the belly of a very strange beast indeed—the security forces and upper society of North Korea. It is a superb page-turner as well: think Charles Dickens goes to Pyongyang, with a vibrant and indeed unforgettable cast of characters. The book follows the life and times of Jun Do, a young North Korean, the son of a rural bureaucrat who runs an orphanage, as he progresses up the North Korean food chain. This is a meticulously researched tour de force that has real narrative power, a wry sense of humor and a finely tuned appreciation for the very thin line between humor and tragedy. Jun Do by turns serves in the North Korean military, goes to sea as a fisherman, finds himself thrown into a concentration camp, falls in love and becomes intertwined with a visiting American delegation. Above all, this is a book that should focus the reader on the dangerous state of North Korea, a country that could figuratively and literally blow up Northeast Asia in a moment. It is a good beach read that combines a looming sense of danger with events in the real world—an irresistible combination.—James Stavridis, F83, F84, dean, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

A Place of Greater Safety: A Novel, by Hilary Mantel. Mantel is quite famous because of the success of her Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012), both of which won the Booker Prize along with other awards. They are certainly excellent. But less well known and perhaps greater than either is her novel about the French Revolution, A Place of Greater Safety (1993). Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies take us into the mind of a ruthless and enigmatic lawyer, Thomas Cromwell, who executes first a saint and then a beloved heroine. Likewise, A Place of Greater Safety retells how the humorless lawyer Robespierre first sends Marie Antoinette and then Danton to the guillotine. In the afterword, Mantel writes, “I am not trying to persuade my reader to view events in a particular way, or to draw any particular lessons from them. I have tried to write a novel that gives the reader scope to change opinions: a book that one can think and live inside.” Until I finished the novel, I was so deeply inside it that now I mourn the characters, including Robespierre. To imagine their experience is a great achievement of sympathy. But the book is not devoid of judgment, on the false theory that tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner. Like Cromwell at the end of Bring up the Bodies, Robespierre in the last chapter of A Place of Greater Safety is a chilling figure, all the more frightening because Mantel has made him so human until then. In its form, its topic and its quality, A Place of Greater Safety bears comparison to War and Peace.—Peter Levine, the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Tisch College, and director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE)

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. Marina Singh, a medical researcher working for a major pharmaceutical company, isn’t the adventurous type. Anti-malarial drugs cause screaming nightmares, a fact she learned during childhood trips to India with her father—journeys that are the source of deep-seated anxieties. So when a coworker dies in the Amazon, she thinks herself the exact wrong person to go find his body and to report back on the enigmatic chief researcher whose work may be at the heart of her company’s future. Yet she is pressed into duty and sets off a trip that will change her life. The reader is drawn into an otherworld, where nature is deadly and enchanting, and the laws of human biology as we know them may not apply. With an intriguing foil in Dr. Anne Swenson, who is studying a jungle culture that may provide “the Lost Horizon for ovaries,” the book provides two characters whose tensions and bonds are rich and gripping. —David Valdes Greenwood, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Unterzakhn, by Leela Corman. A phenomenal quick read. A graphic novel, Unterzakhn chronicles the lives of twin girls from an Eastern European Jewish immigrant family in New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century. One apprentices for a madam, while the other works for the neighborhood “lady doctor”—the resulting paths they take in adolescence and adulthood are almost ironic in their differences. This is a story of love, loss and desire. However, it most importantly offers a realistic view of pregnancy, poverty, abortion and motherhood in poor immigrant neighborhoods at the time. I would highly recommend the book to teenage girls learning about their bodies and what it means to be a woman; then again, I would also recommend it to anyone. —Sabrina McMillin, A16

Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple. This laugh-out-loud book, a story told through emails, letters, bills, doctors’ reports and other documents, goes down like a soft-serve cone on a summer’s day. Bernadette is an eccentric genius, an architect who has become a recluse and moved with her family to Seattle, along with her husband, Elgin, a computer wizard, and their precocious teenage daughter, Bee. Among Semple’s targets are private schools, Seattle, self-help groups (Victims Against Victimhood) and the culture at Microsoft. Semple has written a light, readable book that is also moving, because of the tender relationship between an unusual mother and a somewhat nerdy daughter. The last third of the book doesn’t quite hold up to the rest, but it is entertaining nonetheless. Yes, Bernadette does disappear. Read the book to find out where she went. —Marjorie Howard, senior writer, Tufts Now

Wounded, by Percival Everett. This contemporary novel set on a ranch in Wyoming owned by a middle-aged black rancher and horse trainer is funny and serious, with important things to say about the relationship between humans and animals, the earth and gay rights. —Elizabeth Ammons, the Harriet H. Fay Professor of Literature, School of Arts and Sciences


The Age of Insight, by Eric Kandel. Almost 30 years after reading Kandel’s lucid textbook, Principles of Neural Science (written with James Schwartz), I had the pleasure of reading this wonderful book, which addresses how the unconscious informs art and how our brains interpret art, seen through the lens of painting and psychological studies during turn-of-the-century Vienna. Kandel makes the point that the salons of Vienna brought artists such as Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele (school of Viennese modernism) in contact with Freud as well as the author Arthur Schnitzler, among others, and that this may have catalyzed their addressing of the psyche in their visual art. Kandel uses his deep knowledge of both the historical and current research in brain science to understand how the works of artists such as these tap into our neural mechanisms to great psychological impact. He brings to bear an impressive command of neuroscience to show that the portraits by Vienna modernist artists take advantage of our visual system’s astonishing ability for facial and body gesture recognition. Kandel won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to the molecular understanding of learning and memory, but it is his early years in Vienna and its cultural influence on him, as well as his early training in psychiatry, that are the true roots of this labor of love. As one reviewer put it, there is no one else who could have written this book. My own interests in art and science, coupled with academic training in neurobiology, made this book especially enjoyable; it is a cross-disciplinary work of extraordinary insight. —Daniel G. Jay, professor of developmental, molecular and chemical biology, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences

The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The original muckrakers of U.S. journalism cultivated carefully collected facts about issues of power in the early 20th century—no shoveling of celebrity tips for Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens and Ray Stannard Baker. In the golden age of journalism, these three dogged researchers provided the reportorial underpinnings for the Progressive movement promoted by—gasp!—two Republican presidents. Pulitzer Prize–winner Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the saga of the Roosevelt-Taft era with evenhanded grace. Grounded in substantial historical documentation, the narrative flows briskly through its 750 pages, punctuated by lively profiles of the path-breaking writers and their manic-depressive leader S.S. McClure. The extended portraits of Teddy and Taft turn heart-breaking when the longtime friends split apart over politics—and essential differences in character. The Bully Pulpit is an adept recounting of how two larger-than-life presidents tried to control the excesses of capitalism, themes that still resonate today. —Bob Sprague, contributing editor, Office of Publications

Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights, by Kenji Yoshino. In this powerful memoir and cutting analysis of civil rights law, Yoshino uses his personal story as a gay Asian American to illustrate the ways in which we are all forced to hide our true selves. Even in this age in which civil rights has come so far, social pressure—reinforced by legal rulings—pushes conformity to a norm that isn’t authentic to anyone. Yoshino demonstrates how real psychological damage can result from “covering” your true self. While everyone suffers from covering to some degree, Yoshino focuses on communities most broadly and deeply affected: racial minorities, women and LGBT people. A poet-turned-constitutional scholar, Yoshino provides examples of case law that have reinforced covering—such as the upholding of company dress codes prohibiting corn rows or requiring makeup for female employees. These rulings run contrary to a true embracing of civil rights, of accepting people for who they are. A quick, engaging and thought-provoking read. —Sarah Shugars, communications manager, Tisch College

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben. Eaarth is a powerful and very readable account of where we are in terms of climate change. It lays out the alarming realities and offers helpful suggestions about the future from activist/author McKibben, who is a passionate and very wise advocate for environmental change. —Elizabeth Ammons, the Harriet H. Fay Professor of Literature, School of Arts and Sciences

The Invention of News, by Andrew Pettegree. Growing up reading the Washington Post in the wake of Watergate, it was easy to imagine that the daily newspaper had always been there and always would be a defining institution for public life and individual education. We don’t think that anymore, so it is timely to be reminded of earlier mutations in the creation and circulation of news. The paper delivered to my suburban home every morning in the early 1970s was the product of a long and by no means straightforward evolution—a story whose starting points Andrew Pettegree finds not only in the advent of printing and Reformation pamphleteering but also in the manuscript newsletters circulated among Renaissance merchants trading in markets far from home. Pettegree examines critical events, such as the battle of Lepanto, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, as case studies in the diffusion of information. And he deftly evokes not only the varied milieus in which the news circulated, such as the coffeehouse, but also the pivotal role that war and rebellion played in stimulating new developments in the circulation of news (and rumor) in early modern Europe. Pettegree ends his story in the era of the French Revolution, “arguably the first European event to which a periodical press was truly indispensable.” Future historians will doubtless seek to determine the first international event to which our era’s new media were similarly indispensable. —Michael Baenen, chief of staff, Office of the President

Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy, by Eri Hotta. The war between Japan and the U.S. that roared to life in 1941 is sometimes portrayed as inevitable. Eri Hotta’s lively exploration of Japan’s moves in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor challenges this view. She examines the decisions made by the key figures in Japanese officialdom and sees willful errors, wishful thinking, political cowardice and insularity blotting out the clear-headed and sometimes stark advice that war with America would be a disaster. It is a particular historical story that nevertheless is relevant in other places and times (like our own) regarding how life-and-death policy decisions are made. Poor leadership does not make war inevitable, but it can make it unavoidable. —David Ekbladh, assistant professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences

The Gathering Wind: Hurricane Sandy, the Sailing Ship Bounty, and a Courageous Rescue at Sea, by Gregory A. Freeman. This is a true story about the sinking of the Bounty—a replica tall ship that was built for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty. Through the book, you get to know many of the people on the ship, as well as those involved in the heroic Coast Guard rescue efforts. The book gives insight into the controversial decisions that ultimately led to the tragic loss of lives and the loss of the ship. It also details the unimaginable difficulties and dangers the rescuers faced. Their bravery, will and fortitude saved 14 lives. It’s a fascinating story for boaty and non-boaty readers. —Nancy Meyer, library assistant, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick. In this harrowing tale, Philbrick tells the real-life story that inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick. The Essex, an American whaleship from Nantucket, was stalked and attacked by a sperm whale in 1820, leaving the crew adrift for 90 days and suffering from starvation and dehydration. Philbrick provides a glimpse into Nantucket society in the 19th century, the gritty life aboard a whaleship and some of the grim techniques used to stay alive on the open seas. —Katie Cinnamond Benoit, associate director of public relations

Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart. For fans of Shteyngart’s novels (Absurdistan, Super Sad True Love Story) and other writing—and even for those who are not—this is a perfect summer book: a really funny, fabulously written memoir of immigration and building a new life in America. The narrative weaves together the author’s idiosyncratic (and yet perfectly ordinary) family, European and Russian history and a keen observation of the life of a Russian Jewish family trying to make it in New York. Particularly during this time of crisis in Ukraine, I found Shteyngart’s memories of summer vacations in Crimea as revealing of the Russian psyche as any number of op-eds. Shteyngart’s passage through a highly competitive high school and a less-than-competitive college (not Ivy League, to his parent’s dismay), his battles with asthma and his eternal search for a girl who would give him the time of day are equally revealing and regaling. It is hard to put the book down. Some people I have talked to end up disliking Shteyngart by the end of the book. I was left wanting to read more by him. A true inheritor of the mantle of Nabokov.—Bhaskar Chakravorti, senior associate dean for international business and finance, Fletcher School, and executive director of Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context and Council on Emerging Market Enterprises

The Lords of Finance, by Liaquat Ahamed. This book provides insight into the economics of war and the pre- and post-World War I economies of Europe and the United States, as well as the background of the men who shaped financial policies, many of which we are still living with. The gold standard, inflation and the shift from gold and silver coin to paper currency are all examined. Most importantly, the book details how a small group of bankers can impact the world in such a way that wars are waged, economies stagnate and people lose everything they have worked for. —Scott Sahagian, executive associate dean, School of Engineering, and executive administrative dean ad interim, School of Arts and Sciences

One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson. Terrorist bombs going off in American cities, killing scores of innocent people; a madman in Michigan blowing up an elementary school and killing 37 children; horrific flooding through large swaths of the country, displacing millions from their homes; a stock market bubble brought on by loose monetary policies; a president who spent more time staring at cars passing on Pennsylvania Avenue than minding the nation’s business. It all sounds like it could have happened in the last 10 years or so, but it didn’t: this was the middle of 1927 in America, as recounted in Bill Bryson’s engaging book. He covers the big stories of America in those 12 months: Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic and subsequent massive worldwide celebrity (and his later veer into pro-Nazi sentiments in the 1930s); Babe Ruth’s big season, whopping 60 home runs, as he and Lou Gehrig led the Yankees to the World Series title; Calvin Coolidge’s decision not to run for re-election (and his own private sorrow, losing his son to an infection picked up playing tennis on the White House lawn a year before); Sacco and Vanzetti being put to death. In between, Bryson tells many stories, amusingly and engagingly, linking one person to another, one event to its antecedents and its consequences. The lessons are there, too: the high and mighty often end up low and unloved; power is fleeting, as is fame; and many a powerful person has hidden sorrows. At the end of this charming book, Bryson provides, in an epilogue, the final word on many of these characters—for they are indeed characters. This is popular history at its best. —Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

One Summer: America 1927, by Bill Bryson. Bryson recounts innumerable interesting events from the summer that Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. Easy reading that keeps you turning pages; plus a chance to brush up on the history of the U.S.—and baseball—while sitting poolside. —Vicki Arbitrio, E83

Open Access, by Peter Suber. Have you ever tried to read an article online, but been asked to pay $29.99 to download it? Then open access is for you. To paraphrase Peter Suber, a faculty fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, open access is scholarly literature that is free to read online, and free of many copyright/reuse restrictions. This straightforward book tells you everything you need to know about open access and the open-access movement. Suber distills this very complex landscape impacting scholars, publishers and libraries in a remarkably readable way, especially given how jargon-heavy discussions of open access typically are. The book doesn’t gloss over the jargon (green vs. gold, libre vs. gratis), but defines it and moves on, making it a good read for both open-access novices and die-hard advocates. Appropriately, this book is free to download. —Martha Kelehan, head of collections, social sciences bibliographer, Tisch Library

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert. Drink in the summer air, the seaside, the birds and butterflies and abundant flora and fauna, because Kolbert has found the signs that all this will not be here forever. Instead of frightening images of melting ice caps or cities’ air dimmed by pollution, Kolbert zeros in on the small disappearances happening all around us. This is science as a series of memorable stories, told by a veteran writer for the New Yorker. She takes us into the field with researchers studying the effects of acidification on ocean life, global warming on trees in the Andes and a mutated fungus that is wiping out amphibian populations across the world. How these relate to the five mass extinctions of the past and how we might stem this sixth extinction before it is too late becomes a rallying cry to not take our ecosystem for granted—and there’s no better time to increase our awareness of nature’s fragility than when surrounded by its summertime beauty and bounty. —Gail Bambrick, senior writer, Office of Publications

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, by David Quammen. No one took particular notice when a pregnant mare died on a horse farm in Brisbane, Australia, in 1994. When seven more horses died, people began to look for answers. But when the horses’ trainer died, too, scientists knew they had a new zoonotic disease on their hands, an infectious disease that had just jumped species, from horses to humans. In Spillover, prolific science writer David Quammen takes us on a tour of the zoonotic diseases—frequently some of the most insidious and deadly—that have rocked humanity: the bubonic plague, HIV/AIDS, influenza, SARS and the dreaded Ebola virus that is making headlines today in western Africa even as I write this. One part mystery, one part horror, all with a solid foundation in science, Spillover looks at how biology, history and sociology must intersect for zoonotic diseases to get a foothold in our species. Quammen also takes us into the bowels of the earth, where investigators risk their own health to find the animal source of Ebola outbreaks. He argues for a more scientifically informed global citizenry, one that will be ready to recognize and react appropriately when the next big outbreak hits. —Jacqueline Mitchell, senior health sciences writer, Office of Publications

Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, by Dan Fagin. In the 1980s, I worked at a small daily newspaper in the New Jersey shore town of Toms River. During the four years I was there, the paper ran hundreds of photographs, but only a few have stuck in my mind. One that I do remember was of a small boy perched on a fire truck, his face beset by tumors. That boy, Michael Gillick, and his mother, Linda, form the heart of Dan Fagin’s engrossing book, which tells the story of how the residents of an unassuming suburb were poisoned by industrial pollution and details the illegal dumping of toxic waste, and their subsequent quest for justice. Fagin manages to knit together the stories of families like the Gillicks, whose lives were scarred by the outbreak of childhood cancers that followed the tainting of the town’s water supply, and the scientists, activists, journalists and others who worked to uncover the truth. All this is set against a comprehensive and exceptionally readable history of the synthetic dye industry (you may not think you’re interested in the production of dyes, but you will be), the field of epidemiology and the thorny relationship between economic progress and human well-being in the 20th century. —Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine magazine

War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897–1945, by Edward S. Miller. As the U.S. military “rebalances” to Asia and talk of a great power competition with China intensifies, there’s never been a more important time to examine how the United States planned for and executed a major war against an East Asian adversary. From dealing with the challenges posed by the vast distances of the Pacific, to weathering a crushing first strike and rolling back a fortified defensive perimeter across the region, Miller’s masterful history offers important lessons for the United States in planning for, deterring and, if necessary, winning a future Pacific war. —Charles Morrison, A11

The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, by Margaret Macmillan. As we look back from 2014, it’s reasonable to describe this past century as “The Second Hundred Years War.” All anyone might remember from the first Hundred Years War was that it took place in the 14th and 15th centuries. Perhaps it may call to mind some vague familiarity with Henry V, Agincourt and Joan of Arc. Not many people actually died in that on-and-off century of war. This second Hundred Years War is different. Modern technology has killed hundreds of millions, mostly civilians, and it all began innocently enough, at a time when Europe thought it had found the secret of peace. Alas, what the world discovered with the guns of August 1914 was the horror of continuous war. Macmillan’s book starts us on that journey: no one knows when it will end. —Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of German

Zoobiquity, by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers. A fascinating compilation of the vast medical similarities between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, this book is an entertaining and enlightening read for doctors, veterinarians or anyone else curious about cross-species clinical connections. Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers stress the importance of doctor-veterinarian communication and collaboration through stories about T. rexs with cancer, fainting Rottweilers and gorillas stricken by clinical depression. A light but thought-provoking read, Zoobiquity is an essential book for the next generation of health-care professionals. —Clara Williamson, A18
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