It’s summer again! If you’re reading The Allure of Battle (War on the Rocks’ first Distinguished Book Award winner by Cathal J. Nolan) by the pool, at least supplement with some vinho verde, some sparkling fiction, and adventurous non-fiction. The Bombshell Podcast hosts queried our guests on their favorite summer reads once more and you may notice a theme of World War II, Ireland, and spies. Last year’s list was an utter delight, so we recommend picking these up for another summer of escapism.
America America by Ethan Canin
Toggling between the early 1970s and 2006, this novel chronicles the story of a teenager on the staff of a fictional senator seeking the 1972 Democratic nomination. Initially seen to be a formidable challenger to Nixon, the senator’s political career is torpedoed by a mysterious incident that resembles Chappaquiddick.
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
An entertaining and compelling fictionalization of Laura Bush’s biography. Her life is forever altered by a tragic accident when she is a teenager — and then again when she marries the George W Bush character, whom she loves dearly and disagrees with politically. Plus, comedy-of-manners featuring the quasi-Bush clan in their Kennebunkport-esque summer retreat.
The Cuckoo’s Egg, by Cliff Stoll
It’s a non-fiction book but reads like a caper about one of the first attempts to trace a spy through the internets. Many of the things wrestled with then are still issues today.
The Global War on Morris, by Steve Israel
Who knew that a Member of Congress could write a funny, enjoyable novel. Former Rep. Steve Israel takes aim at the absurdity of GWOT in a Trillin-esque novel about a schlub on Long Island.
Lindsay P. Cohn
Shirley, by Charlotte Bronte
When it comes to fiction I’m a classics girl, and this much-lesser-known Charlotte Bronte story is fabulous for anyone interested in the politics of industrialization in early 19th century England. Which is everyone, right?
Again, non-fiction, but you want intrigue? Betrayal? Execution? Extremely weirdly petty arguments? It’s all in here! This book was fascinating, funny, and a great story.
When Elephants Weep: the emotional lives of animals, by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy
Not fiction, but still thrilling and heart-wrenching by turns! This book is already 25 years old, but for many people will be full of new insight into what we think we know about animal consciousness … and why it matters.
To School Through the Fields, by Alice Taylor
Alice Taylor is considered one of Ireland’s premier storytellers for her books about her youth in the countryside. This one is quirky, sad, funny, and leaves you with a sort of ache in your heart.
Conspiracy (2001). Best film around on bureaucratic politics. Turns out one can use the tools of statecraft for serious evil. (Thanks to Dan Drezner for telling me about it).
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
A delicious novel in two parts, which explores power imbalances in matters both personal and geopolitical.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
A story about a young woman’s complex web of relationships — but, above all, female friendship — told with a distinctively (without being annoying) millennial voice.
Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick
A murder mystery about a Russian teen who attempts to exonerate his imprisoned brother while living abroad in the United States.
Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney is mesmerizing. She’s a young, new writer from Ireland and while the story (of an affair) is not terribly new her ability to delve into the characters with simple, plain prose is incredible and somehow very rich. No one is all good, no one is all bad. The grey and complicated nature of life, love, and relationships plays out among the four main characters in so many different ways I found myself thinking about the storyline — and the characters constantly. I tried not to finish it because I didn’t want it to end and now can’t wait to read her next one — Normal People. If you’ve watched and loved Fleabag you will see echoes of some of the issues that series dealt with in this book.
Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie.
Ok it’s not fiction and it was originally written in 1969 but it’s still a riveting read of the downfall of the Romanov empire. Massie has pieced together the story and the individual relationships from letters, interviews, and other documentation in such excruciating detail. He paints a rich and wonderfully interwoven story of a nation on the brink of change and the heartbreak of one (key) family. It’s hard to put down and so worthwhile, especially if you think at all about Russia’s role in the world, the Russian people, and where it’s all headed. It’s a great Russian novel that isn’t fiction, written by an American.
Radha Iyenghar Plumb
This is *technically* non-fiction but it doesn’t feel like it! the characters are great and the story is exciting. Come for the old school targeting ops, stay for the descriptions of French society (and fashion!)
Code Girls, by Liza Munty
Circe, by Madeline Miller.
Finally, someone makes this interesting bit player from Homer the Odysseus of her own Odyssey! It’s a wonderful book weaving together several different stories from the ancient world into a beautifully satisfying whole that gave me fresh perspectives on so many of the familiar characters and events.
Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
Time and time again I find myself drawn to Emily Giffin’s novels — she writes fiction that (to me, at least) is uniquely empathetic and incisive. I tend to read and re-read, and each time find myself lost in her characters for hours. Heart of the Matter is a few years old, but deals with the complexity of betrayal and forgiveness in a way I deeply appreciate.
Loren DeJonge Schulman
Blackout, by Connie Willis
I am a sucker for timeline-shifting World War II novels in the summer, it’s a compulsion I am unable to control
These Truths, Jill Lepore
Has this country lived up to these truths? I’d read Lepore’s account of the history of a paper bag, but can’t wait to pick up this book in August.
Warlight, by Michael Ondaate
Gorgeous prose + a lingering mystery and a wonderful sense of place. Perfect for devouring in one sitting.
Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe
Rich, narrative non-fiction centered on a decades old murder in Northern Ireland. A fresh take on the Troubles — and the role of memory and (in)justice.
Milkman, by Anna Burns
This novel explores the sectarian violence that consumed Northern Ireland for decades, narrated by a nameless young woman who is coming of age in a complicated time and place. Given current debates on both sides of the Atlantic, the book is a poignant reminder of the human cost of conflict, the destructive power of false rumors and sexual harassment, and the insidiousness of borders.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
An intense and thought-provoking story of the wrongful imprisonment of young African American man and the impact it has on his marriage. The story alters between the letters the two send to each other while the husband (Roy) is imprisoned and firsthand accounts from all the key characters. Prepare for lots of plot twists.