It wouldn’t be possible to publish The Nation without the critical help of our peerless interns. Their energy, passion, ideas and engagement are reflected in print each week and literally around-the-clock at thenation.com. We also rely on our interns to tell us what’s hip, what music we should be listening to and what new (or old) authors we should be considering. Now we’re sharing the knowledge by asking our summer group to tell us what they’re reading this summer and why.
Max Rivlin-Nadler, Queens, NY
Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscape for Politics, by Rebecca Solnit.
I’ve only spent a few days exploring the American West, Solnit’s topic for most of these essays. Even for that short time, it was tough to ignore the attention to ecology that open space demands. Solnit’s essays fill that apparent “openness” with a history of murder, environmental degradation, nuclear pollution and protest. The idea of the West is that it’s a blank slate, but Solnit just has to scratch that surface a little bit to reveal something beautiful, terrifying, archaic and not quite yet lost. But close.
Zoë Schlanger, Bethel, CT
The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
I was handed The Power of Habit by my neighbor Amy after I expressed frustration over a recent procrastination marathon (it was the week of final exams). While not a self-help book, it certainly eliminated the feeling that reorganizing my bookshelf instead of studying phases of eutrophication was somehow irreparable behavior. Each chapter is a precisely written piece of journalism on the latest scientific research on why we form habits, with stories about medical marvels, political solidarity and how corporations like Target, for example, use habit data to predict what individual customers will want to buy before they even know it themselves. A recent episode of This American Life highlights an excellent chapter from the book about the mechanics of one woman’s descent into gambling addiction, and is well worth a listen.
A chronic book-starter, I’m also digging into Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina, sporadically poking around a collection of Gabriel García Márquez’s short stories, and am halfway through Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, which has been an absolute adventure.
Lucy McKeon, Princeton, NJ
Tar Baby, by Toni Morrison
I’m currently reading Tar Baby as part of a larger project to read her complete works. I admire the masterful way her narratives are also vehicles for political argument. So far, we are in the Caribbean with Jadine and Son—two black Americans from different worlds—but will follow the main characters to Manhattan and then to the Deep South, exploring questions of gender, race, nationalism and diaspora along the way. I’ll also soon be starting Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark—a defense of hope in a pessimistic political climate—just handed to me by Tom Engelhardt.
Michael Youhana, Newport Beach, CA
Blackwater, by Jeremy Scahill
Nation reporter Scahill manages to move beyond providing a detailed history of the various scandals Blackwater—now Academi—found itself mired in during the Bush era. He highlights obstacles to accountability posed by the privatization of combat. The pecuniary incentive to support violent policies and politicians that results from the government’s patronage of groups like Blackwater is certainly not lost on him either. Additionally, Scahill manages to provide compelling, cursory accounts of the brutality of the Iraq War, the Bush administration’s shameful attempts to stifle the independent journalism of Al-Jazeera, and a discussion on the oil politics of the Caspian. All this and I still have a third of the book to go!
Gizelle Lugo, Queens, NY
Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson
Among my parting gifts from my internship at Simon & Schuster is a host of books that I hope to get to before the year is out. The one I’m tackling at the moment is Winner-Take-All Politics. Now, more than ever, it’s an ideal read given the disparity of wealth in this country, the current climate post–Citizen’s United, the student debt crisis and the increased activity among social movements who have had it with the status quo. People are frustrated, and while the majority have some semblance of an idea as to how we got to this point, Hacker & Pierson offer concrete theories and examples as a result of their meticulous research on the issue. What’s great about their delivery is the fact that it’s accessible; they ease the reader into each theory and argument without getting too technical. And while they do get heavy-handed with the oversimplifications at times, I personally prefer skipping three “setting the scene” sentences over suffering from a conniption trying to grasp dense economic terminology. Like I said, a good layperson’s read for those of us who are just getting our feet wet with regard to the inner workings of the economy and how its relationship with politics has defined the class system we have today.
Marisa Carroll, Chicago, IL
Big Sex Little Death: A Memoir, by Susie Bright
Writer, feminist sex educator and performer Susie Bright’s memoir opens with a challenge: “How does a woman, an American woman born in mid-century, write a memoir? The chutzpah and the femmechismo needed to undertake the project go against the apron.” In Big Sex Little Death, Bright’s chutzpah arises from some combination of womanhood, sex, socialism, death and a wild band of Teamsters. Thrillingly fast-paced and clever, Bright’s memoir also breathes, granting the author and reader space to absorb her prose.
Soumya Karlamangla, Thousand Oaks, CA
A House for Mr. Biswas, by V. S. Naipaul
I was supposed to read this book for one of my classes last year but never got around to it, so I’m reading it now. I remember my professor saying that it’s frequently considered to be some of the best prose of the twentieth century and, so far, I’m really enjoying the writing. Admittedly, the story itself is depressing, but in the most delightful way.
Andrea Jones, Seattle, WA
Open City, by Teju Cole
I just finished Open City, a meandering journey through the narrator’s mind and the streets of New York that calls attention to the solitude of being surrounded by people. I’m looking forward to beginning Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which promises a compelling critique of our criminal justice system as redesigning racial oppression in the contemporary United States.
Buster Brown, Charleston, SC
A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls
A Theory of Justice helped revive political philosophy and provided a new liberal paradigm for social justice. For me, Rawls’s book galvanized my interest in political science and inspired my undergraduate years. If laws were set to keep markets competitive, resources fully employed, property and wealth distributed through taxation and people above a reasonable level of poverty, then Rawls believed government was doing its job. After careful review, it seemed like he had indeed figured out the best way to govern. So I continue to look to him when trying to figure out my own view of a “just” society.
Brett Warnke, Michigan City, IN
Romola, by George Eliot
George Eliot’s writing is unmatched and the summer is a great time to roll and revel in her prose, especially with a historical novel set in Florence. I picked Romola because of its turbulent layers. First, for its unsettled landscape in Renaissance Italy and second because it was written during the equally stormy Victorian period. I’m eager to see the parallels. Having never finished during my first half-hearted effort, I feel I’ve got my second wind!
Daniel LoPreto, New York, NY
Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong: Anthropologists Talk Back edited by Catherine Besteman and Hugh Gusterson
This is my favorite book I’ve read this summer so far. These academics attempt to problematize, challenge and occasionally condemn the main ideas of some of the most popular writers in contemporary American discourse, including Samuel Huntington, Thomas Friedman, Robert Kaplan and Dinesh D’Souza. These scholars conclude that many of the arguments made by these trendy pundits are directly challenged by decades of serious anthropological research. This book is indispensable for those who wish to seek an empirically grounded and nuanced interpretation of the world in rejection of an oversimplified and buzzword-oriented analysis.
Matthew Cunningham-Cook, Brattleboro, VT
Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C to 2000 A.D., by Chancellor Williams
I am currently reading is The Destruction of Black Civilization, by Chancellor Williams. Williams’s magnum opus shook the black studies world by presenting a radically different account of African civilization than that previously propagated by white supremacist historians. Williams forcefully crafts his narrative in such a way that breaks with the stereotypes of Africa as permanently war-stricken and primitive prior to the arrival of colonizers. With this, Williams also seeks to envision a form of black American intellectual inquiry that emphasizes the importance of Afrocentric historical training.