My partner in crime and podcasting, David Shaywitz, suggested that I offer up a summer reading list while the blog is on a two week hiatus while I go, Chevy Chase style, on a summer vacation.
I am an avid reader and am especially enamored of non-fiction that reads like a thriller and fiction classics that feel the same. I’ll read the occasional novel as well and have a particular place in my heart for humor when integrated into great writing. I am not much for business books or self-help books; rather I like to get lost in a story, real or imagined, and read to escape, not to find myself. I have long made lists of my favorite books and often get asked to recommend things to read, so I decided to take David’s advice, which is usually pretty good. Thus here, instead of my own efforts, which fall somewhere between ridiculous and sublime, read the brilliance of others and escape into a great book:
My all time top 4, each of which I have read more than once, offered in no particular order:
- Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson (non-fiction)–true story of some extreme scuba divers find of a WWII German UBoat off the cost of New Jersey and their quest to understand its historical significance–reads like a thriller.
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (fiction)–such beautiful evocative prose about a man writing his family history, but really the history of the American West; anything by Stegner is magical, even if he did teach at Stanford.
- The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (fiction)–a classic and what’s not to like about mystery, swordfighting, treasure hunting, intrigue, you name it, this story has got it. Probably have read this book at least 5 times.
- Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, another favorite author (non-fiction). For a baseball, lover, this is probably the best book ever written, although I also have a serious love of the book Faithful by Stephen King and Stephan O’Nan, the story of the Red Sox epic winning year in 2004 as told by two famous fans who expected the team to lose as usual. Moneyball in many ways lays out the foundation for one of the earliest, best uses of “big data” and how it can be used to improve business. It is also achingly funny. If I could write like anyone else, I’d pick Michael Lewis. Liar’s Poker (non-fiction) is his other best book, about his brief time working as an investment banker on Wall Street. Freaking hilarious. Incidentally, wrote a blog post about this one once upon a time and you can find that HERE.
Other books I have absolutely loved:
- Crashing Through, another by Robert Kurson (non-fiction)–about a man blinded as a child who builds a great life as an entrepreneur and sportsman and then finds he can have his vision restored; the story discusses how his decision to see changes everything in his life. Really fascinating both about science and about the meaning of seeing things in a new way.
- The Remedy, by Thomas Goetz (non-fiction) — Wow, so great and relevant to healthcare too but also includes Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. Such a great story about the pressure scientists face to produce miraculous research outcomes and how this plays out in a real life attempt to find a cure for tuberculosis in the 1800s. I wrote a whole post about this book and the perils of scientific discovery and the need for evidence, which is relevant to the current digital health craze. You can find that post HERE.
- Romance on Three Legs, by Katie Hafner (non-fiction)–about composer Glenn Gould’s search for the perfect piano and the importance of his piano tuner, a blind man, to that quest. Sounds so weirdly specific and niche-y but was an incredible journey of two unusual lives. Incidently, Hafner is married to Bob Wachter, featured in the Tech Tonics podcast on July 20, 2015, though I read the book long before I became acquainted with Bob.
- A Voyage for Madmen, by Peter Nichols (non-fiction)–yes, I have a slight obsession with books about the sea and this one was about the very first sailing race which challenged participants to circumnavigate the globe by boat without stopping, a trip which took nearly a year given the sailboat technology of the 1960s when the race took place. I read this right after reading another great one called Over the Edge of the World, about Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the globe back in the 1500’s, when the same trip took four years. A very cool contrast to read these back-to-back and quite a commentary on technology to read them together; today that same trip around the globe by sailboat takes about two months.
- Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers (non-fiction) — shocking story about a black man named Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his actual experience being mistaken for an Al Qaeda operative in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This one was a jaw-dropper and you can’t believe it happened here, but alas it did. Eggers has written many phenomenal books so hard to go wrong with his stuff.
- Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand (non-fiction) –same author as the equally excellent Seabiscuit, but in this case the story of a young athlete who goes to war, is captured by the Japanese and who lives to tell the tale. Riveting in every way.
- The Year of Living Biblically, by AJ Jacobs (non-fiction) –everything Jacobs writes is smart and sensationally funny and it’s hard to pick a favorite, but this one is about his quest to live one year precisely according to the tenets of the Bible, 6 months of Old Testament, 6 months of New Testament. An example of extreme journalism and so damn funny and also so damn smart as a commentary on religion. His other books equally great and there are some parts of his other book, My Life as an Experiment, that make me laugh out loud just recollecting them (e.g., his stint pretending to be a woman on a dating website and his efforts to outsource every function of his life to India, including talking to his boss). His most famous book is The Know-it-All, about reading the Encyclopedia Britannica front to back. Great, smart and exceedingly funny stuff.
- Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley (fiction but art weirdly imitating life), about what the country would be like if we passed a law paying Baby Boomers to voluntarily commit suicide before they became too sick and expensive to be a burden on the healthcare system. Sounds twisted and it kind of is, but funny as hell and given the whole “death panel” discussion, an oddly prescient homage to the workings of our political system when it comes into contact with the healthcare system.
- Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore (fiction) — a hilarious satire about the emergence of Christianity as told by Jesus’ best buddy. Best story about the evolution of Easter every told. A very silly but also terrific read.
- The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper (fiction) — another classic that is so for a reason. So much fun and even better now that I can picture Daniel Day Lewis in the title role. A book to get totally lost in on a summer afternoon.
Seriously, I could go on and on. But this seems like a great place to start. All the books are linked here to Amazon for easy access. If you find one you like, drop me a line in the comments section and let me know. And yes, I’ll take recommendations too!
Happy summer to all.