It’s going to be a free-range summer for me. After kicking it off here in Southport, I’ll be heading to the West Coast in mid-July for about six weeks, with stops in San Francisco, Napa, Del Mar and a few locales TBD. But even in motion, there’s always time to read! Here’s my summer reading list, some of which have already been devoured, some in process, and others in the queue. A good book is one of life’s enduring pleasures, so let’s get on with it!
The God Equation: The Quest For a Theory of Everything (Michio Kaku)
This is my kind of physics book: comprehensive but short, it comes in at 198 pages written in a breezy, accessible style. The subject is anything but breezy, though. It’s a succinct overview of the mad quest by scientists to develop a single, grand theory to explain the physical universe. Kaku takes us on a stroll through theories about quarks, quanta, strings, dark matter, the multiverse and more. For a layman like me, the insights are breathtaking (gravity doesn’t pull; space pushes). And there are lots of crowd-pleasing anecdotes, like the public debate in 1930 between Einstein and Neils Bohr about quantum physics, during which Bohr yells at Einstein, “Would you please stop telling God what to do!”
Three Californias (Kim Stanley Robinson)
This is a triptych — three short, conceptually connected novels in one book (“The Wild Shore,” “The Gold Coast,” and “Pacific Edge”). Each is an alternative version of the future, all centered in Southern California. The first vision is a dystopia — a ravaged America after Russians have detonated more than 2,000 small neutron bombs spread across the country; the second vision is an America as we have today, only more so: more technology, more media, more alienation, more of everything; the third vision is utopian. Humanity has cracked the code and living a life led by our better angels. I’m only one-third of the way through, so am withholding judgment at the moment.
Golden State (Ben Winters)/The End of the Golden Gate (Various Authors)
Two more books about the Far West (hey, you can take the boy out of California, but . . . ). “Golden State” is an alternative future about a society that has been broken by a pandemic of fake news. In response, a new society has emerged that prizes truth above all else; so much so that telling a lie becomes one of the greatest crimes that can be committed. Hmmm . . . what could go wrong here? The second book is a collection of essays curated by Gary Kamiya (“Cool Gray City of Love”) about the enduring lure of San Francisco in spite of its foibles, warts and head-scratching politics. For someone who left San Francisco six years ago after living there for 45 years, it’s a way to reconnect with the idea of San Francisco, if not the actual city (which is slightly less charming than the idea these days).
Project Hail Mary (Andy Weir)
The follow-up novel by the man who wrote “The Martian.” Like the previous novel, this one is primarily driven by a single protagonist, a high-school science teacher who wakes up to find himself on a spaceship in another solar system with the mission of finding a way to prevent the extinction of all life on earth. The way he tries to solve the problem is thoroughly entertaining — a deft mixture of hard sci-fi, character development, and lots of tongue-in-cheek humor. Plus, the best sidekick since R2D2.
One Last Strike Before Dark (Ron Rhody)
One of my professional mentors, Ron has produced a steady stream of excellent books over the years, both fiction and nonfiction. His latest is a short novel about one of the fundamental challenges of a well-lived life: finding the courage to face the truth about ourselves, casting aside the rationalizations and fictions we spin to feel better about ourselves. Can’t wait to get into this one.
Fair Warning (Michael Connelly)
Connelly is the James Patterson of reporters-turned-novelists — he keeps producing a steady stream of very good page-turners, notably the Harry Bosch series. “Fair Warning” is about a former LA Times reporter who has gone on to work for a hard-scrabble online newspaper focused on consumer reporting. Then he stumbles onto a serial killer who has tapped into a genetic database similar to 23andMe to find his victims. It’s heavy on procedure, like most of Connelly’s books, but I loved his portrayal of a late-in-life reporter who falls into the greatest story of his career.
The Free World (Louis Menand)
The mid-20th century in America was an intellectual and artistic renaissance, driven by public intellectuals like Norman Mailer and Susan Sontag, artists like Allen Ginsberg and the Beatles, and pioneers like Betty Friedan and Marcel Duchamp. Menand, a Harvard professor who won a Pulitzer for his earlier book “The Metaphysical Club,” takes a deep dive into the mind of mid-century America and how it shaped the broader culture. Books like this are an excellent way to skim across the surface of great ideas and thinkers so you can seem smarter than you really are at cocktail parties.
Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future (Elizabeth Kolbert)
New Yorker staff writer Kolbert has won numerous National Magazine Awards and a Pulitzer for her reporting on environmental issues. She is the Rachel Carson of our time. Hew newest book accepts the premise of the proposed Anthropocene, a geologic period marked by humanity’s intervention in the natural world. Those interventions have created much havoc in the natural world, particularly climate change, but Kolbert looks on the other side to understand how human intervention might actually help save the environment. For example, why not infuse the atmosphere with tiny diamonds to help the earth cool down? Kolbert explores this and lots of other ideas.
The Searcher (Tana French)
Retired, burned-out, tragic Chicago cop moves to the countryside in West Ireland to lead a quiet life. What could go wrong? Somebody once said that French could fill a trip to Target with foreboding and apprehension. She sets that mood in the first chapter of this book and I don’t think it’s going to let up soon.