It’s that time again, when summer vacations (hopefully) grant you the respite to pick up a good book.
It’s an American tradition: The idea that you can take a couple of weeks off in mid-summer to rest and recuperate from the stress of work. And what is more relaxing — if not reviving — than taking a good book (or two) with you to read during your idle on the beach or in that mountain cabin or wherever you go to get away.
With that in mind, we asked the most iconic local leader in the world of reading — Mitchell Kaplan, the proprietor of Books & Books — to give us a list of great fiction to read this summer. We also asked Dave Lawrence — the revered former publisher of the Miami Herald, the founder of the Children’s Trust, and one of the best-read people in South Florida — to give us a list of his favorite reading material: history. And we asked Mark Trowbridge, CEO and president of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, to give us his list of favorite books about business and leadership. Those titles, with brief summaries, fill the ensuing pages.
We also asked Kaplan for his take on what’s happening in the world of reading today, especially the reading of books and not electronic screens, and why anyone should bother with fiction.
“I think people are reading more,” Kaplan says. “Our past two years have been the busiest we have ever seen.” Part of what is behind the resurgence of his Books & Books outlet on Aragon Street (and at his other locations) is the post-pandemic appreciation of social contact and community.
“What has driven it more than anything is the sense that younger people are reconnecting with the notion of the great third place, where you come after work and [before] home,” he says. That is helped, of course, by the courtyard, bar, and café at Books & Books, where customers can converse over food and a glass of wine.
Kaplan says that sales are up across the board, but more for nonfiction than fiction, for the simple reason that there are more nonfiction titles in print. He remains, however, an unabashed fan of fiction.
“My take is that in our very, very fractured society today, the most important role a book can play is to generate empathy in readers. The novel introduces you to a world you are unfamiliar with and someone else’s existence. And you develop an empathy for that. People who don’t read and only listen to the white noise of the very rough discourse that goes on today are not able to tap into empathy in a way that a book does.”
Having said that, he is also an avid fan of nonfiction, especially history that is not familiar to the reader. “Being open to history and understanding history in a different way is another thing books can give you. One of the things we are concerned with today is the horrible manipulation of people’s fears, the book-banning in libraries, and we have to push back,” he says. “To see more people reading is a push back against all of that by their actions. Readers should read whatever they want to read.”
And need we add that reading, and the journey of imagination it takes you on, is not only fun, but just makes you smarter in a way that the passive experience of broadcast media cannot provide. So read on, summer book lovers.
Chain-Gang All-Stars: A Novel
by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE — Criminal Action Penal Entertainment — a popular, highly-controversial, profitable program in America’s private prison industry. It’s a return to gladiators as prisoners compete for the ultimate prize: their freedom. Chain-Gang All-Stars is a kaleidoscopic look at the American prison system’s unholy alliance of systemic racism, unchecked capitalism, and mass incarceration.
Code 6: A Novel
by James Grippando
Aspiring playwright Kate Gamble is struggling to launch a script she’s been secretly researching her entire life, mostly at the family dinner table. Her father is Christian Gamble, CEO of Buck Technologies, a private data company whose clients include the CIA and counter-terrorism organizations. Kate’s father adores her, and a play about the dark side of Big Data would be the ultimate betrayal in his eyes. But Kate is compelled. Harper Lee Prize winner.
by Ana Veciana-Suarez
The daughter of a wealthy merchant, young Dol a Llull Prat is besotted with the dashing Miguel Cervantes. Despite Miguel’s entreaties, however, the ever-practical Dol refuses to upend her life for him, although she always welcomes his attention. When Miguel renders her as the lowly Dulcinea in his great “Don Quixote,” he commits an unforgivable offense and their decades-long affinity is severed — until he reaches out to her one last time.
The Faraway World: Stories
by Patricia Engel
Two Colombian expats meet as strangers on the streets of New York City, both burdened with traumatic pasts. In Cuba, a woman discovers her deceased brother’s bones have been stolen, and the love of her life returns from Ecuador for one night. A cash-strapped couple hustles in Miami to life-altering ends. “The Faraway World” is a collection of arresting stories from the New York Times bestselling author of “Infinite Country.”
Go as a River
by Shelley Read
Seventeen-year-old Victoria Nash runs the household on her family’s peach farm in Iola, Colorado — the sole female in a family of troubled men. Wilson Moon is a young drifter with a mysterious past. Victoria encounters him by chance on a street corner, a meeting that profoundly alters both their young lives, igniting as much passion as danger. When tragedy strikes, Victoria flees into the surrounding mountains with no clear notion of what her future will bring.
Lessons in Chemistry: A Novel
by Bonnie Garmus
Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman, and she would be the first to point out that there is no such thing. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans, the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with her mind. True chemistry results. A Best Book of the Year.
My What If Year: A Memoir
by Alisha Fernandez Miranda
On the cusp of turning forty, Alisha Fernandez Miranda has reached the peak of professional success, but at a price — she’s overworked and exhausted. Bravely, she decides to give herself a break, pausing her stressful career as the CEO of a high-powered consulting firm. With the tentative blessing of her husband and eight-year-old twins, she leaves home in London to spend one year exploring the dream jobs of her youth, seeking to answer “What if?”
Swamp Story: A Novel
by Dave Barry
Pulitzer Prize–winning, New York Times bestselling author, and actual Florida Man Dave Barry returns with a Florida caper full of oddballs, twists, and turns. Jesse Braddock is trapped in a tiny cabin deep in the Everglades with her infant daughter and her ex-boyfriend, a wannabe reality TV star. Broke and desperate for a way out, Jesse stumbles across a long-lost treasure, which could solve all her problems — if she can keep it.
The Apartment: A Novel
by Ana Menéndez
From the acclaimed author of “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd” comes a new novel about the search for freedom and community. The Helena is an art deco apartment building that has witnessed the changing face of South Miami Beach for 70 years, observing the lives housed within. Among those who have called apartment 2B home: a Cuban concert pianist, the widow of an intelligence officer, and a man waiting on a green card marriage to end.
The Collector: A Novel
by Daniel Silva
#1 New York Times bestselling author Daniel Silva delivers another stunning thriller in this action-packed tale of international intrigue. Legendary art restorer and spy Gabriel Allon joins forces with a brilliant and beautiful master-thief to track down the world’s most valuable missing painting, but soon finds himself in a desperate race to prevent an unthinkable conflict between Russia and the West. Silva’s powerhouse novel showcases his out- standing skill and brilliant imagination.
The Covenant of Water
by Abraham Verghese
The Covenant of Water is the long-awaited novel by Abraham Verghese, author of the word-of-mouth bestseller “Cutting for Stone,” which has sold over 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. Spanning 1900 to 1977, “The Covenant of Water” is set in Kerala, on South India’s Malabar Coast, and follows three generations of a family that suffers a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning — and in Kerala, water is everywhere.
by Anne Berest
Winner of the Choix Goncourt Prize, “The Postcard” is a vivid portrait of 20th century Parisian intellectual and artistic life, an enthralling investigation into family secrets, and a poignant tale of a Jewish family devastated by the Holocaust and partly restored through the power of storytelling. It begins with an anonymous postcard delivered to the Berest home, with the names of Anne Berest’s maternal great-grandparents killed at Auschwitz on the back.
The Stolen Coast
by Dwyer Murphy
Jack might be a polished, Harvard-educated lawyer on paper, but everyone in the village of Onset, Massachusetts, knows his real job: moving people on the run from powerful enemies. The family business (co-managed with his father, a retired spy) is smooth sailing, as they help clients shed their identities in preparation for fresh starts. But when Elena, Jack’s former flame, makes an unexpected return to town, her arrival upends Jack’s routine existence.
The Wishing Pool and Other Stories
By Tananarive Due
In her first book in seven years, Tananarive Due further cements her status as a leading innovator in Black horror and Afrofuturism. The American Book Award-winning author’s second collection of stories includes offerings of horror, science fiction, and suspense. From the mysterious, magical town of Gracetown to the aftermath of a pandemic to the reaches of the far future, Due’s stories all share a sense of dread and fear balanced with heart and hope.
By Herman Diaz
Even through the roar and effervescence of the 1920s, everyone in New York has heard of Benjamin and Helen Rask. He is a legendary Wall Street tycoon; she is the daughter of eccentric aristocrats. Together, they have risen to the top of a world of endless wealth — all as a decade of excess and speculation draws to an end. But at what cost have they acquired their fortune? Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
When the Hibiscus Fall
By M. Evelina Galang
Seventeen stories traverse borderlines, mythic and real, in the lives of Filipino and Filipino American women and their ancestors. Moving from small Philippine villages to the coast of near-future Florida, “When the Hibiscus Falls” examines the triumphs and sorrows that connect generations of women. Daughters, sisters, mothers, aunties, cousins, and grandmothers commune with ancestors and descendants, mourning what is lost and what is gained when we safeguard the legacy of older generations.
King: A Life
by Jonathan Eig
Vividly written and exhaustively researched, Jonathan Eig’s “King: A Life” is the first major biography in decades of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. — and the first to include recently declassified FBI files. In this revelatory new portrait of the preacher and activist who shook the world, we see an intimate view of the courageous and often emotionally troubled man who demanded peaceful protest for his movement but was rarely at peace with himself.
Fatherland: A Memoir of War, Conscience and Family Secrets
by Burkhard Bilger
As a boy, Burkhard Bilger often heard his parents tell stories about the Ger- many of their youth. “Fatherland” is the story of Bilger’s nearly 10-year quest to uncover the truth about his grandfather Karl Gönner, who was an elementary school teacher and father of four when the war began. In 1940, he was posted to a village in Alsace, in occupied France, and ordered to reeducate its children. But did he help or hurt them? A study in human complexity.
An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life and Historic Presidency of Gerald R. Ford
by Richard Norton Smith
For many Americans, President Gerald Ford was the genial accident of history who controversially pardoned his Watergate-tarnished predecessor, presided over the fall of Saigon, and became a punching bag on “Saturday Night Live.” Yet as Richard Norton Smith reveals in a book full of surprises, Ford was an underrated leader whose tough decisions and personal decency look better with the passage of time.
Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy
by Henry Kissinger
In “Leadership,” Kissinger analyzes the lives of six leaders through the strategies of statecraft they embodied: Konrad Adenauer (Germany, post-WWII; Charles de Gaulle (France, post-WWII); Richard Nixon; Anwar Sadat (Egypt, Middle East peace); Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore); and Margaret Thatcher (Britain). Kissinger brings historical perception, public experience, and personal knowledge of each.
After the Miracle: The Political Crusades of Helen Keller
by Max Eastman
From books to movies to Barbie dolls, most mainstream portrayals of Keller focus heavily on her struggles as a deafblind child-character in her own story. Few people know that her greatest accomplishment was not learning to speak, but what she did with her voice when she found it, opposing racism, Nazism, apartheid, and McCarthyism.
A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America and the Woman Who Stopped Them
by Timothy Egan
The Roaring Twenties has been characterized as a time of Gatsby frivolity. But it was also the height of the uniquely American hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. This historical thriller by a Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning author tells the riveting story of the Klan’s rise to power in the 1920s (in the Mid-West!), the cunning con man who drove that rise, and the woman who stopped them.
Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad
by Matthew Delmont
Over one million Black men and women served in World War II. Black troops were at Normandy, Iwo Jima, and the Battle of the Bulge, serving in segregated units and performing unheralded but vital support jobs, only to be denied housing and educational opportunities at home. In a time when questions regarding race in America are troublingly relevant, this meticulously researched retelling makes for necessary reading.
The Hard Road Out: One Woman’s Escape from North Korea
by Jihyun Park, She-Lynn Chai
North Korea is an open-air prison from which there is no escape, a symbol of human injustice and collective brainwashing. Only a handful of men and women have succeeded. Jihyun Park is one of these rare survivors. This is the harrowing story of a woman who escaped famine and terror in North Korea, not once but twice. It will be the most insightful book you’ll ever read about how it is to live and suffocate in North Korea.
Business and Leadership
Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism and the Golden Age of Fraud
by Ben Mckenzie
In “Easy Money,”TV star Ben McKenzie (“The O.C.,” “Gotham”) enlists the help of journalist Jacob Silverman for an exposé of the final days of cryptocurrency now upon us. Weaving together stories of traders and victims, crypto “visionaries,” Hollywood’s true believers, anti-crypto whistleblowers, and government agents searching for solutions at the precipice of a major crash, “Easy Money” is a look at a perfect storm.
These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs — and Wrecks — America
by Gretchen Morgenson
Pulitzer Prize–winning and New York Times bestselling journalist Gretchen Morgenson and financial analyst Joshua Rosner investigate the world of private equity, revealing how it leeches profits from everyday Americans. The book lucidly traces the 30-year history of corporate takeovers in America, investigating the biggest names in private equity, exposing how they buy companies, load them with debt, and then bleed them.
The Creative Act: A Way of Being
by Rick Rubin
From a legendary music producer, a master at helping people connect with the wellsprings of their creativity, comes a beautifully crafted book many years in the making that offers that same deep wisdom to all of us. “The Creative Act” is a beautiful and generous course of study by a nine-time GRAMMY winning producer that illuminates the path of the artist as a road we all can follow. It distills the wisdom gleaned from a lifetime’s work into a luminous reading experience.
The Wisdom of The Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple (But Not Easy)
by Admiral William H. Mcraven
The title “Bullfrog” is given to the Navy SEAL who has served the longest on active duty. Admiral McRaven received this honor in 2011 when he took charge of the US Special Operations Command. When McRaven retired in 2014, he had 37 years as a Navy SEAL under his belt. The book draws on the experiences from his incredible life, including crisis situations, management debates, organizational transitions, and ethical dilemmas.
Poverty, by America
By Matthew Desmond
The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why? Elegantly written and fiercely argued, this compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond builds an original and ambitious case for ending poverty. He calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity.
The Earth Transformed: An Untold History
by Peter Frankopan
Global warming is one of the greatest dangers mankind faces. Even as temperatures increase, sea levels rise, and natural disasters escalate, our environmental crisis feels difficult to predict and understand. Again and again, Frankopan shows that when past empires have failed to act sustainably, they have met with catastrophe. Blending brilliant historical writing and scientific research, “The Earth Transformed” will reframe the way we look at our future.
Quantum Supremacy: How the Quantum Computer Revolution Will Change Everything
by Michio Kaku
The runaway success of the microchip processor may be reaching its end. Running up against the physical constraints of shrinking sizes, silicon chips are not likely to prove useful in solving humanity’s greatest challenges, from global starvation to incurable diseases. But the quantum computer, which harnesses the power of the atomic realm, promises to be as revolutionary as the transistor and microchip once were.
Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock
by Jenny Odell
In her first book, “How to Do Nothing,” Jenny Odell wrote about the importance of disconnecting from the “attention economy” to spend time in quiet contemplation. But what if you don’t have time to spend? To answer this seemingly simple question, Odell took a deep dive into the fundamental structure of our society and found that the clock we live by was built for profit, not people. Here is her solution.