It is time once again for my annual list of books I’m planning to read this summer. Fortunately, there are only five books on my list, so that makes it fit nicely with this regular Friday Five feature.
1. One to make me smarter: Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari
I got an early start on this book, the follow-up to Harari’s Sapiens, which I read last year. (I’m about one-third of the way through.) While Sapiens examined the evolution of our species and told the story of how we came to dominate the planet, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is Harari’s speculation on the future of humankind, the planet, artificial intelligence and the possible next steps of our evolution — perhaps into godlike superhumans (hence the title of the book). Harari is a historian who writes with a sharp, acerbic style and weaves lessons of the past to present a possible, and disturbing, vision for our future evolution. Read this — or read Sapiens if you haven’t yet — and you’ll feel smarter, albeit perhaps less optimistic about our species and the future.
2. The obligatory book about music and/or musicians: Shock and Awe, by Simon Reynolds
Every year, it seems, the rock stars of my youth crank out more memoirs than I have time to read. And they’re always so dang thick. (The books, that is. Not the rock stars.) Most of these memoirs contain a lot of filler and aren’t really worth the time (exceptions to this rule: Keith Richards’ Life and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, which were both well-written and relatively unfiltered accounts). So this year, I’m bypassing the usual rock’n’roll memoir to read Simon Reynolds’ history of glam rock, Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century. Like most of those rock star memoirs, this book, too, is thick, but the author is a credible rock’n’roll journalist whom I’ve read before (Rip It Up and Start Again is his excellent history of post-punk music), so I’ll know what to expect with this one. I’ll probably be reading this while listening to a lot of David Bowie, T. Rex and Queen through headphones.
3. This summer’s pop culture read: Chuck Klosterman X, by Chuck Klosterman
Chuck Klosterman seems to crank out a book a year, and I think I’ve ready every one of his non-fiction books since first picking up Killing Yourself to Live many years ago. (He dabbled in fiction for a time; I picked up one of those books in a Barnes & Noble once, skimmed it, and decided he was better off sticking with non-fiction.) As a chronicler of pop culture, Klosterman is without parallel in my opinion. Whether he’s writing about Beyonce, Britney Spears, Ralph Sampson, laugh tracks, the theory of gravity, or the nature of good and evil, he brings a keen and very distinctive perspective that always makes me think. But his writing doesn’t always hit the mark. Some of his collections have been more like candy — sweet to the taste but with no nutritional value — than real food. I’m hoping this year’s model, Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century, will be something I can sink my teeth into.
4. This summer’s history book: Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior, by Arthur Herman
I purchased Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior on a whim. (Yes, I’m one of those weirdo nerds who buys dense history tomes “on a whim.”) I did so for two reasons: 1.) I’m an American history buff who also likes to read about leaders and leadership, and MacArthur, a U.S. military leader during World War II, meets all those subject matter criteria, and 2.) I’m especially interested in World War II, but most of my prior reading about the war has focused on the European Theatre, where the U.S. fought against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. I’ve decided it’s time to branch out to read about the U.S. role in the war against imperialist Japan. I know nothing about the author, other than that he’s a historian and academic who has written about the Scots, World War II and western civilization in the past. I hope I’ve chosen wisely.
5. The obligatory #highered read: A Perfect Mess, by David F. Labaree
A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education is another somewhat blind purchase. I hadn’t heard about the book or the author until I read Scott Jaschik’s InsideHigherEd interview with the author, a Stanford professor of education, earlier this month. The book’s premise is that higher education in the U.S. has always been “a perfect mess,” and that it owes much of its success to that messiness. From the InsideHigherEd interview: “The typical university is in constant tension between autonomous academic departments, which control curriculum and faculty hiring and promotion, and a strong president, who controls funding and is responsible only to the lay board of directors who own the place. Also thrown into the mix are a jumble of independent institutes, research centers and academic programs that have emerged in response to a variety of funding opportunities and faculty initiatives. The resulting institution is a hustler’s paradise, driven by a wide array of entrepreneurial actors: faculty trying to pursue intellectual interests and forge a career; administrators trying to protect and enrich the larger enterprise; and donors and students who want to draw on the university’s rich resources and capitalize on association with its stellar brand. These actors are feverishly pursuing their own interests within the framework of the university, which lures them with incentives, draws strength from their complex interactions and then passes these benefits on to society.” He had me at “hustler’s paradise.”
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Those are my picks. What about yours? What’s on your summer reading list? (You’ll see that no books about marketing or branding made my list. If you have recommendations, please leave them in the comments below.)
Related content: Last year’s summer reading list
P.S. – If I did the linking correctly, all of the links to books should direct you to an Amazon Smile account set up to provide a little kickback to the Miner Alumni Association, which is the alumni association for the university where I work. These are not affiliate links. So if you do decide to purchase any of the recommended books, why not share a little love with our alumni association? Or set up an Amazon Smile account for your own favorite non-profit.
Top photo via MaxPixel.com