The summer vacation season is in full swing, and many of us will take a little time to enjoy the nation’s coasts, spend a few days at the lake or just enjoy the great outdoors.
But which book to fall asleep to while enjoying your time off, you ask. Fear not, the upstanding wonks at ITEP and CTJ have you covered! Check out our list of suggestions below, and you’ll amaze your coworkers with your erudition upon your return. They’ll be as in awe of your depth of knowledge as they are of your rad tan.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration ($12 on Powell’s): This National Book Award winner by Isabel Wilkerson is a gripping read about the voyage of millions of African Americans from the South to the North, Midwest and West from 1915 to 1970. Wonks will appreciate the data included and the debunking of several myths about the migration, while lovers of nonfiction that reads like fiction will savor every word. – Kelly Davis
The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power ($20 on Powell’s): Where’s the collective outrage? In this book, Steve Fraser argues that Americans are missing the impetus the nation had during the long period from the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement to collectively organize and bring about change. This book isn’t about tax policy, but it sure explains a lot about why we’re continually fighting uphill battles. – Jenice Robinson
The Control of Nature ($8 on Powell’s): John Mcphee’s 25-year-old bestseller surveys the titanic, quixotic efforts of humanity to bend the natural world to its will. McPhee documents the Army Corp of Engineers’ 180-year battle to tame the Mississippi River and the absurd engineering strategies used to prevent the hilltop homes of suburban Los Angeles from sliding into the sea, beautifully conveying both the hopelessness of these battles against unstoppable natural forces and the quiet, sometimes admirable resolution with which the residents of these threatened places persist in surviving. And what better time to read this masterpiece than while lounging on the most temporary geological feature on the planet, the sandbar known as North Carolina’s Outer Banks? – Matt Gardner
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing ($17 on Powell’s): Marie Kondo’s book is taking the world (and my home and office) by storm. Do you know if your throw pillows spark joy? Have you thanked your holey socks before throwing them away? More than a simple advice book on how to declutter and organize your home, as this Atlantic article notes, it will appeal to wonks who are interested in the effects of emotional and cognitive factors on economic decisions. – Meg Wiehe
Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens ($18 on Powell’s): “While the original Treasure Island told the sordid tale of Long John Silver and his scurvy crew, this book from Nicholas Shaxson spins a yarn about the modern-day pirates of our international financial system. Shaxson unveils the world of tax havens in a way that is both enthralling and informative. This book is an especially good read for a Caribbean cruise, as you will likely be stopping at many of the very same tax haven islands that Shaxson describes. – Richard Phillips
Steve Nelson, American Radical ($5 on Amazon): James Barrett tells the story of Steve Nelson, who came to the United States after World War I. The teenage son of a Croatian immigrant, Nelson faced unemployment, dangerous conditions, low pay and racism upon his arrival. He eventually joined the Communist Party because of his experiences, a choice made by many immigrant workers in the early part of the 20th century. Nelson became a full-time organizer major leader, but resigned in 1957 when his attempts to make the American Communist Party more open and democratic failed. Fun fact: my grandfather, Gus Taylor, is mentioned in the book! – Jessica Taylor
The Pale King ($17 on Powell’s): “David Foster Wallace’s posthumous and unfinished novel is the book for all who’ve ever wondered what would happen if someone disguised fiction as a nonfictional account of the daily lives of IRS workers in Peoria, Illinois. Okay, it may sound quite dull, but Wallace’s combination of brilliant and offbeat writing, existential angst, and humor manage to bring alive a story about tedium. (It may not be for everyone, but even non-wonks can appreciate it – I read it and loved it before I had any knowledge of tax policy.) – Kayla Kitson
The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1) ($14 on Powell’s): Robert Caro’s introductory volume of his series of LBJ biographies chronicles the early history and rise of our 36th president in the grandiose narrative style the author is known for. This richly researched and detailed book will satisfy historians and political junkies alike, and Caro does a masterful job tracing the origins of our modern big money political system in the 1930s and 1940s. This unwieldy tome also doubles as a weight to keep your towel from blowing away in the breeze. – Sebastian Johnson