Popular Nonfiction Authors Pick Summer Reads

Posted by Cybil on May 22, 2017

Summer Reading is sponsored by Audible.

The work of a great nonfiction author can expand your world, make you smarter, and maybe even make you think about yourself a bit differently (not to mention strengthen your cocktail party conversations). So, we asked three of our favorite nonfiction authors to recommend some summer reading, and to explain their picks.

You'll hear from Mary Roach (whose fascinating, funny, and addictive science books should surely be added to your Want to Read list), one of today's most popular historians Nathaniel Philbrick (who makes American history as riveting as a thriller), as well as a guy who will make you 'better and faster,' New York Times columnist Charles Duhigg. Did we also mention that all three were 2016 Goodreads Choice Award nominees as well? Yeah, these writers know what they're talking about!


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Mary Roach

Author Mary Roach loves to ask the questions we're dying to know the answers to…sometimes literally (she wrote an entire book on what happens to our postmortem selves in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers). She's also explored what our lives would look like off of Earth in Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

Her other highly entertaining books include close looks at sex (Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex), war (Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War), and the afterlife (Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife).

The science writer selected three works of fiction for her perfect summer reading, including tales of a a cramped road trip, a crackling read about a boozy lawyer, and a struggling poet who bumbles into a series of mishaps.

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers
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"Should you find yourself crammed in a crappy rented RV with your family this summer, here is fitting, delicious escape. Endearingly verblunget protagonist Josie grabs her kids, ditches her husband, and heads to Alaska on a fraught, hilarious, random, ultimately redemptive road trip. Unlike Josie's children, I did not want it to end. Eggers' genius for fully fleshed, emotionally 3-D characters is much in evidence here. Does your RV have a heater under the sewage tank to keep the contents liquid in cold climes? Do not let your children play with the switch."


I Take You by Eliza Kennedy
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"An unapologetically promiscuous, joyously well-boozed lawyer named Lily finds herself on the brink of marriage with the shit hitting the summer breezes off the Key West resort where her nuptials may or may not transpire. Kennedy also gets hired for screenplays and you will understand why after two pages. I want to quote you a dozen cracking lines of dialog but they won't make sense out of context. Trust me. Funny, funny novel, masterfully executed."


The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
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"Matt quits his day job for the ludicrous prospect of a website that delivers financial news in verse. Bills pile up. Foreclosure looms. Marriage is imploding. Late one night, still in his slippers, he drives to the 7-Eleven for milk and more or less doesn't comes back. "Slippers"—as the drug dealers he meets and drives to a party that night call him—blunders into a series of crimes as creatively misguided as his poetry scheme. As with all Walter's books (or anyway, the ones I've read: Beautiful Ruins, Citizen Vince), the writing is witty, well-paced, and just generally amazing."



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Charles Duhigg

Do you ever wish you could change your bad habits or create healthy routines? Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Charles Duhigg has done the research into why you do the things you do, and how you can start changing your patterns. His The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. And his followup to that bestseller, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business researches the latest science of productivity, and how managing your thoughts can change your life.

Duhigg is currently writing the Adventures in Capitalism column for The New York Times. His perfect summer books include a dark western, a sci-fi beach read, and a book he loves to read with his boys.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
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"This is a great, dark western that is funny and strange and exciting and, mostly, just kind of weird. It's a western, but totally unlike what you expect a western to be. And, I hear it's getting made into a movie. So if you read it now, you'll seem really smart when you eventually tell your friends that the book is much better."


The Hike: A Novel by Drew Magary
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"This is really fun escapism, and it's pretty inventive and well written, to boot. If you are on a beach, and want a book that is kind of sci-fi but also kind of not-into-robots-or-aliens-or-spaceships, and you like books that make you think (but not too hard), this is a great choice."


Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
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"I have 2 sons, both under 10 years old, and—literally—there will never be enough Diary of a Wimpy Kid books for us to read together. This is like family magic between two covers."



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Nathaniel Philbrick

Nathaniel Philbrick has written extensively on United States history in books that make historical figures leap from the page. His In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, that explored the real-life events that inspired Moby Dick, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Mayflower: A Story of Community, Courage, and War was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History. And last year, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution was a Goodreads Choice Award nominee for history & biography.

So what does the historian consider great summer reading? How about out an explorer's biography, a YA trilogy on the American Revolution, and a Dickens classic?

A Man for All Oceans: Joshua Slocum and the First Solo Voyage Around the World by Stan Grayson
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"Part character study, part adventure story—as close to the definitive word on the enigmatic Joshua Slocum as we'll probably ever have."


Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
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"The first in an amazing trilogy about the American Revolution for young adults. I don't care what age you are, this is a terrific read."


Little Dorritt by Charles Dickens
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"I'm reading this for the first time and can't put it down—gritty, sad, uplifting, and so very real."


What books are you adding to your summer reading list? Want more inspiration? Check out more of our summer reading coverage here.

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Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* Loved the fiction recommendations. I agree that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is great fun, my son and I bonded over those for years.


message 2: by Joel (new)

Joel So the fiction list is all fiction, and the non-fiction is (virtually) all fiction. Fiction fiction everywhere. Where is the non-fiction?


message 3: by Radiantflux (new)

Radiantflux Yeah. I was hoping for some non-fiction recommendations too. :(


message 4: by Joel (new)

Joel This site sucks for non-fiction.


message 5: by Joel (new)

Joel The odd nonfiction titles they do feature (I'm talking about the blog section) are usually celebrity memoirs, self-help, true crime or adventure, pop science, and the like. Never anything serious like history or science.

Where are the titles like these (all on the Amazon.com best sellers):

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Longitude by Dava Sobel
Thomas Jefferson by Jon Meacham
The Code Book by Simon Singh
Making of the Atomic by Richard Rhodes
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard P. Feynman
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* To be fair, when people ask for "summer reads" a.k.a. 'beach reads', they usually mean fun or engrossing fiction, which is probably why the two lists were fiction.


message 8: by Rick (new)

Rick Radiantflux wrote: "Yeah. I was hoping for some non-fiction recommendations too. :("
For those of you wanting non-fiction, why not read the actual books those authors wrote? The title is "Popular Nonfiction Authors Pick Summer Reads." Perhaps there's a clue in there as to where to find a non-fiction book?


Glass Half Full Nonfiction authors pick summer reads. BOOKS IN GENERAL. What does a summer read even mean to anyone? Diving deep into memes with Richard Dawkins while bathing in the sun or cowering under an umbrella in a beach? Personally, I don't think so. I'd do that in a room with good air conditioning. Or on either a fair or rainy day in a park.


message 10: by J (new)

J Mason Autumn wrote: "Why is there fiction in this list? It should be called non-fiction authors pick fiction and non-fiction books."
Totally agree. A great non-fiction book to peruse is: Getting Smarter - It's not what you think.


message 11: by Erik (new)

Erik i came here for non-fiction books and left sorely disappointed.


message 12: by Erik (new)

Erik Joel wrote: "The odd nonfiction titles they do feature (I'm talking about the blog section) are usually celebrity memoirs, self-help, true crime or adventure, pop science, and the like. Never anything serious l..."

i like your list. IM reading the ascent of money right now :)


message 13: by J (new)

J Mason Joel wrote: "The odd nonfiction titles they do feature (I'm talking about the blog section) are usually celebrity memoirs, self-help, true crime or adventure, pop science, and the like. Never anything serious l..."
You might enjoy another book called "Getting Smarter - It's not what you think". Practical and on point with how society needs to catch up with science on brain function and how we learn.


message 14: by J (new)

J Mason Erik wrote: "i came here for non-fiction books and left sorely disappointed."
You might enjoy Getting Smarter - It's not what you think. Book about how science has evolved its understanding of brain function and a practical guide to help society (us) get congruent with tthe science.


message 15: by J (new)

J Mason Getting Smarter - It's Not What You Think Must read for the summer.


message 16: by Erik (new)

Erik J wrote: "Erik wrote: "i came here for non-fiction books and left sorely disappointed."
You might enjoy Getting Smarter - It's not what you think. Book about how science has evolved its understanding of brai..."


I generally avoid pseudo-science self-help books, especially those with only 1 review - and that review being the author themself.


message 17: by Amber (new)

Amber one of my favorite non-fiction reads is an art book. Femina and Fauna: The Art of Camilla d'Errico. I love looking at that one because Camilla d'Errico's work is awesome!

I hope in the future to check out Dear Mister Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood?: Letters to Mister Rogers and some other stuff. It's too bad the non-fiction authors didn't have a list of fiction and non-fiction reads.


message 18: by J (new)

J Mason Erik wrote: "J wrote: "Erik wrote: "i came here for non-fiction books and left sorely disappointed."
You might enjoy Getting Smarter - It's not what you think. Book about how science has evolved its understandi..."


Well that's a shame because it has reviews on amazon but I only just put it on goodreads. But hey, each to their own limitations.


message 19: by Erik (new)

Erik J wrote: "Erik wrote: "J wrote: "Erik wrote: "i came here for non-fiction books and left sorely disappointed."
You might enjoy Getting Smarter - It's not what you think. Book about how science has evolved it..."


Do you spam all threads with this ad? or just this particular thread


message 20: by Erik (new)

Erik J wrote: "Erik wrote: "J wrote: "Erik wrote: "i came here for non-fiction books and left sorely disappointed."
You might enjoy Getting Smarter - It's not what you think. Book about how science has evolved it..."


2 five star reviews that read like context-free generalized filler. Yea this only makes it worse....


message 21: by Jennifer (last edited May 31, 2017 11:40AM) (new)

Jennifer This list is not all non-fiction, why is that? I'm very disappointed by this paltry list. Not what I was expecting from Goodreads. Come on you can do better.


message 22: by Tony (new)

Tony Pedley Joel wrote: "The odd nonfiction titles they do feature (I'm talking about the blog section) are usually celebrity memoirs, self-help, true crime or adventure, pop science, and the like. Never anything serious l..."

Great list


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