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.