Summer Reading List Part 2: Books You’ve Probably Heard Of!

By Rebekah Hunt
 
In my last blog, I recommended a bunch of books for your summer reading list that will keep your brain in tip-top shape while you enjoy the warm weather and work on your tan, or whatever normal people do (I happen to guard my pallor like a Victorian lady and have fainting spells whenever the temperature gets above 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but that is neither here nor there). It has come to my attention that to regular, nice, well-adjusted, sun-loving humans, the books I recommended may be a tad inaccessible and even, though I cannot comprehend the thought, boring. So, though I stand by my previous recommendations wholeheartedly, I have created an addendum to my recommended summer reading list, most of which you have probably heard of, and all of which were written (gasp!) in the 20th century.
 
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Reza Aslan (Random House July 16, 2013)
On July 24th of this year, Reza Aslan’s controversial book Zealot already sat comfortably at number three on the New York Times bestseller list. That day, however, he did an interview with Fox News about the book, which went viral and immediately pushed the book to number one. The interview, which most sources are calling “the most embarrassing interview Fox has ever done,” begins with the Fox News interviewer introducing Aslan as a Muslim, not as a historian and scholar, a fact which he is forced to remind her of many times. She then ignores his impressive credentials and the content of the book and reads him quotes from people criticizing it, then continues to attack his “right” to write a book about Jesus of Nazareth when he’s a Muslim. She even goes so far as to accuse him of hiding the fact that he’s Muslim, though he discusses his Muslim background on the first page of the book. As Aslan tries and tries to get her to understand, this book is not an attack on Christianity, but a hugely well-researched historical study of Jesus the actual man whose life and death changed the entire world. I’ve read the book since, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is engaging, dramatic, beautiful, horrifying, intelligent, vivid, funny, tragic, and one of the best books I have read in years. Read this book!
 
The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug
Thomas Hager (Broadway Books August 28, 2007)
The Demon Under the Microscope, to put it simply, is the story of how we stopped dying from simple infections. The book is an absolutely fascinating and revealing account of how simple infections killed with absolute impunity, from soldiers who suffered seemingly minor wounds, only to die in pain weeks later, to mothers who had normal pregnancies and then succumbed to torturous death by child-bed fever after giving birth in hospitals, to men who died of massive septic infection after a routine shaving cut. It follows the (often dramatic) stories of the people involved in the discovery, manufacture, and eventual widespread use of antibiotic  “miracle” drugs; which have saved millions and millions of lives, transforming simple infection from a death sentence to the easily treatable nonissue that is today. Read this book immediately (just don’t read it while you’re having lunch).
 
The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins (Oxford University Press, USA; 30th Anniversary edition May 25, 2006)
In brilliant, lucid, entertaining language, Richard Dawkins explains why we (humans) are the way we are. Less polemic than The God Delusion, and scientifically deeper than The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins’ (now 30-year-old) book is an accessible but extremely informative history of the driving force behind all living creatures: the genes. If you get the audio version (available at audible.com), Dawkins reads the book himself, accompanied by his wife (actress, author, and former Dr. Who companion) Lalla Ward, whose posh, British voice makes the book worth a listen all by itself. If you want to add an extra layer of summer fun to your reading, listen with a friend and a bottle of tequila, and take a drink every time Dawkins quotes himself. You’ll be facedown on the floor by chapter two. Whether you have a background in evolutionary biology, or you have never heard the word “Darwin,” you’ll get something useful and enlightening from this book. It should be required reading for every educated person on earth.

Four Amazing Books You Won’t Find On Any Other Summer Reading List

By Rebekah Hunt
As the middle of summer approaches, people are getting ready to go on vacation (or are already on vacation, if they don’t go to summer school like I do). Anticipating the free time we’ve suddenly got, many of us are thinking about leisure activities like camping and going to the beach, or if you’re a huge nerd like me, reading for fun! The internet is absolutely chock-full of summer reading lists. However, I am constantly disappointed by the lightweight, pop-lit content of these lists. If we don’t want our brains to atrophy while we soak in the sunshine, we should probably read something intellectually stimulating. I’ve compiled a list of amazing, novel, bizarre, and interesting books guaranteed to keep your brain as bright as your glowing beach tan!
The Consolation of Philosophy
Boethius  (A.D. 524)
Sixth-century Roman philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius’ The Consolation of Philosophy is the last great Western work of the Classical Period. He wrote it while in exile awaiting execution on a trumped-up treason charge, and it was the last effort in his lifelong struggle to preserve ancient classical knowledge, particularly philosophy. It is written as an imaginary dialogue between himself and philosophy, personified as a woman.
The book argues that despite the apparent inequality of the world, there is, in Platonic fashion, a higher power and that everything else is secondary to that divine providence. While not explicitly Christian, it is considered to be the single most important and influential work in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christian philosophy.
The Liber Monstrorum
Possibly Aldhelm, et al. (late-seventh or early-eighth century)
The Liber Monstrorum is an Anglo-Latin catalogue of marvellous and fantastic creatures, which may be connected with the incredibly important and influential Anglo-Saxon scholar Aldhelm. It is transmitted in several manuscripts from the ninth and tenth centuries, but is often studied in connection with the far more popular Beowulf, since the Liber makes reference to some of the same people, including King Hygelac of the Geats.
This old English text is short enough to read while waiting for a bus, but offers a brilliant, thrilling, and often hilarious glimpse into the terrors that people believed walked the earth, and their ideas about things that actually did: from elephants and leopards to Minotaurs and Titans. For example, “…next to the river Euphrates they write that there is an animal which is called antelope, because with its long horns which have the shape of a saw it cuts through mighty oaks and fells them to the ground.” Amazing!
Liber Chronicarum
Hartmann Schedel (1493)
Hartmann Schedel was a German physician, humanist, historian, and one of the first cartographers to use the printing press. His Chronicarum (popularly known as the Nuremburg Chronicle, for where it was written) is an illustrated world history, in which the contents are divided into seven ages (First age: from creation to the Deluge; Second age: up to the birth of Abraham; Third age: up to King David; Fourth age: up to the Babylonian captivity; Fifth age: up to the birth of Jesus Christ; Sixth age: up to the present time; Seventh age: outlook on the end of the world and the Last Judgement). The Chronicarum’s beautiful maps were the first ever illustrations of many cities and countries, and are definitely worth looking over as an important piece of history and art.
Micromégas
Voltaire (1752)
While admittedly a short story rather than a full book, French philosopher and satirist Voltaire’s Micromégas (available as a free ebook!) is more than deserving of a place in this list. It is a significant development in the history of literature because, along with his story Plato’s Dream, it is a seminal work in the genre of science fiction. It recounts the visit to Earth of Micromégas, a being from a planet circling the star Sirius, and of his companion from the planet Saturn.
The home world of Micromégas is 21.6 million times greater in circumference than the Earth, and he stands 20,000 feet tall. He is banished from his world for writing a scientific book about insects, and takes the opportunity to travel around the Universe in a quest to develop his intellect and spirit. Micromégas and his friend wind up encountering humans, who test the philosophies of Aristotle, Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz, and Locke against the travelers’ wisdom. I won’t spoil the ending because it’s pretty awesome, and if you’ve never laughed at jokes created before the electric light bulb, you’ve basically never lived.
Happy reading!
Image by Anne Adrian. Used with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.