Athwart's Summer Reading List
Maybe you have an ever-growing stack of books on your desk that has waited for the start of the summer, but if you are in need of suggestions or inspiration we present you with Athwart's summer reading list. We will be reading and reviewing these books all summer, so you are welcome to join in and read along with us. We would love to hear any more recommendations. But, for now, here is what we will be reading:
And Yet... by Christopher Hitchens There’s no better way to start off your summer reading than with Christopher Hitchens’ posthumous collection And Yet…. Though our previous review was on the fence about it, this would make a great beach-side introduction to the wittiest journalist of his generation. Or, it will be a more portable option than Arguably when it comes to airplane reading. Plus, reading The Limits of Self-Improvement Parts I, II, and III will provide inspiration for anyone needing summertime goals—before encouraging the worst of our yearlong habits.
Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War by P.W. Singer and August Cole This novel by Peter Singer and August Cole brings to mind the very best of Tom Clancy while integrating a level of research more native to policy analysis than fiction writing. Don’t let this deter you though, as the suspense will keep you at the edge of your beach towel. Presenting a future conflict between China and the United States, the book focuses on a hodgepodge crew has to bring a retired USS Zumwalt up to fighting speed after the main Naval fleet is destroyed in an attack reminiscent of Pearl Harbor. Exploring concepts like cyber-warfare, Ghost Fleet is summer reading for many at the Pentagon and Hollywood.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace David Foster Wallace very well may be the greatest American writer of the past 50 years. His excellent nonfiction (collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again) covers modern political campaigns, state fairs and food festivals, and the agony of cruise lines—all applicable to this summer. However, Wallace is best known for his fiction, or more specifically, the giant tome that is Infinite Jest. It is impossible to provide an adequate and concise summary of the book, but if you want a summer-long project that test your reading skills, this is it. At the very least, you can buy and pretend you made it past the first hundred pages.
The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom In this, the infamous University of Chicago Professor Allan Bloom argues that higher education, and the American public by extension, has lost its soul by turning away from the search for great truths. Bloom’s criticism of cultural relativism would spawn a line of arguing for almost all conservatives during the “Culture Wars”, and perhaps the fighting itself. While some of the book’s defenders have sullied Bloom’s name, his prose is enthralling and his mind incredible. Bloom’s grasp on literature and philosophy can only be described as awesome, and his observations of university life seem to ring ever more true as debates on intellectualism and political correctness grow. For anyone doubtful of the importance of philosophy, tempted to spend the summer buried in Netflix, or curious about how to sharpen their intellect, The Closing of the American Mind is a must.
The Republic by Plato In the past, we have encouraged reading the Great Books, and The Republic might just be the greatest of them all. Using a city as allegory, Plato’s Socrates discusses the importance of living a good life and tries to help readers determine what that is for them. Within, well-known stories like the Allegory of the Cave and Tolkien-inspiring Ring of Gyges are both interesting and enlightening. Translated by Allan Bloom, this famous text is the cornerstone of Western Philosophy and has inspired everything from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile(also translated by Bloom) to The Matrix.
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie While generally renowned for The Satanic Verses, which drew a fatwa and threat of death from the Ayatollah Khomeini—and forever ruined Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam for me—Midnight’s Children is an excellent book. At its core, the novel is a coming-of-age story for a young boy in post-colonial India. By the end, sibling rivalry has grown to that between the nations of India and Pakistan who have just come to age. With a unique writing style, and a touch of magical realism, Salman Rushdie wrote a great novel about family, war, culture, and faith.
Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present by Max Boot Perhaps the greatest living military historian, Invisible Armies is just one of Max Boot’s excellent books describing the development of modern warfare. Following the first instances of guerrilla warfare, which Boot argues is just as old as fighting itself, the book continues throughout history up until modern-day Iraq. Despite being fully comprehensive, this book is accessible to lay readers and armchair historians and is far more entertaining than summertime History Channel specials. If you are interested in military affairs, modern terrorism, or global history in general, this definitely needs a spot in your book bag.
What Went Wrong by Bernard Lewis Published right before 9/11, What Went Wrong develops a history of Islamic theology and politics pointing towards the development of militant organizations like al-Qaeda or ISIS and regimes like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps belittling my claims about Mr. Boot, Bernard Lewis is the greatest living historian and the most knowledgeable expert on the Middle East and Islam the West has ever produced. At 99, the Princeton professor continues to shape policy discussions and advise presidential policy. This is by far his shortest book, but serves as a great introduction for anyone interested in the modern Middle East.
The Midas Paradox by Scott B. Sumner Why The Midas Paradox? Because when else but the Summer will you have time to read 500 pages on monetary policy? Scott Sumner of Bentley University has been blogging on The Money Illusion since 2008, when he saw mainstream economists failing to interpret the Great Recession correctly. The blog quickly became one of the hottest Econ blogs, and his school of thought, Market Monetarism, has quickly grown into the mainstream. Look here for a brief explanation of Sumner's ideas, but for a full explanation of monetary policy from one of its brightest minds, the full book is a must. The Fed has extraordinary power and is systematically under-appreciated in public discourse, so reading up on it is essential.
Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer This long-time columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winner collected his best and favorite works from over three decades of writing for Things That Matter. Starting as a memoir of sorts, discussing Krauthammer’s paralysis, decision to attend Harvard Medical School, and then decision to pursue politics and writing instead, this collection has several points of emotional reflection and growth. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Krauthammer is able to produce compelling and hilarious essays on everything from baseball and dogs, to embryonic research and economics. This delightful collection is filled with short, punchy essays that will fit in quite well between fits of rage-quitting Infinite Jest.
Photo Credit: jurek d. via Flickr