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Your 2023 Summer Reading List

2023 Summer Reading


As a team of analysts, writers, and global citizens, we’re always looking for ways to expand our minds. So whether you’re hitting the beach this summer or just winnowing down some books at the bedside, here are a few worthy reads the Better World Campaign staff are enjoying right now.

An Immense World
Ed Yong 

“It is all that we know, and so we easily mistake it for all there is to know. This is an illusion, and one that every animal shares.” 

If you read nothing else on this list, read this book. Brilliant, surprising, and insightful, An Immense World forces us into the skeins of scent, waves of electromagnetism, and pulses of pressure that surround us. This is an incredible account of the hidden realms of animal senses – beetles drawn to fires, turtles that can track the Earth’s magnetic fields, and fish that fill rivers with electrical messages. You won’t put this one down. 

Assignment China: An Oral History of American Journalists in the People’s Republic
Mike Chinoy

Reporting on China has long been one of the most challenging and crucial of journalistic assignments – and profoundly influences U.S. government policy toward the country. This book tells the story of how American journalists have covered China – from the civil war of the 1940s through the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinoy assembles a collection of personal accounts from journalists like Stanley Karnow, Barbara Walters, Dan Rather, Nicholas Kristof, and dozens of others.

The Covenant of Water
Abraham Verghese

Set in the southern Indian state of Kerala, follow three generations of a family that suffers a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning. At the turn of the century, a twelve-year-old girl from Kerala’s Christian community, grieving the death of her father, is sent by boat to meet her forty-year-old husband for the first time. From this unforgettable new beginning, the young woman witnesses unthinkable changes over the span of her life. The Covenant of Water is a hymn to progress in medicine and to human understanding.

The Fortunes of Africa
Martin Meredith 

An exhaustive history of the fortune seekers, adventurers, despots, and thieves who have ruthlessly endeavored to extract treasures from Africa and its people. The continent has been coveted for its rich natural resources ever since the era of the pharaohs – gold, ivory, oil, diamonds, and most atrociously, slaves. In this vast panorama of history, Meredith follows the fortunes of Africa over a period of 5,000 years, from the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms to the present-day impact of European colonization.  

Demon Copperhead
Barbara Kingsolver 

“The wonder is that you could start life with nothing, end with nothing, and lose so much in between.”

Set in the mountains of Appalachia, Demon Copperhead is the story of a boy born to a single teen mother in a single-wide trailer. Demon braves the perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. A modern-day David Copperfield, in which Dickens wrote of institutional poverty and its damages, this novel of the contemporary American South speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can’t imagine leaving behind. 

South to America
Imani Perry 

And speaking of the American South, this is the story of a Black woman and native Alabaman returning to the region she always called home. Perry shows that the meaning of America is inextricably linked with the South, and that our understanding of its history and culture is key to understanding the nation as a whole. Weaving together stories of immigrant communities, contemporary artists, exploitative opportunists, enslaved peoples, unsung heroes, her own ancestors, and her lived experiences, South to America asserts that if we want to build a more humane future for the U.S., we must center our concern below the Mason-Dixon Line. 

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Gabrielle Zevin 

“Sam’s doctor said to him, ‘The good news is that the pain is in your head.’ But I am in my head, Sam thought.”

Surprisingly addictive. Childhood friends unite to create a blockbuster video game. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts. Zevin’s work is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing 

A thrilling account of the five-month voyage of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team who survived a 1,000-mile journey across the South Atlantic. In August 1914, the British ship Endurance set sail for the South Atlantic. In October 1915, their ship Endurance was trapped and crushed in ice. The team then undertook a 1,000-mile voyage in an open boat across the stormiest ocean on the globe, followed by an overland trek through forbidding glaciers and mountains.

The Mercenary
Jeff Stern

Another nail-biter, this is the story of bonds forged in war and good intentions gone wrong. In the early days of the Afghanistan war, Stern scoured the streets of Kabul for a big story. He was accompanied by a driver, Aimal, who had ambitions of his own: to get rich off the sudden infusion of foreign attention and cash. In this gripping story, Stern writes of how he and Aimal navigated an environment of guns, danger, and opportunity. It is a Rashomon-like story about how politics and violence warp our humanity, and keep the most important truths hidden. 

Memory Keeper of Kyiv
Erin Litteken 

In the 1930s, Stalin’s activists marched through the Soviet Union, espousing the greatness of collective farming. It was the first step in creating a manmade famine that, in Ukraine, stole almost 4 million lives. Inspired by the history the world forgot and the Russian government denies, Litteken reimagines their stories.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo
Christy Lefteri  

“The sound of birdsong never changes.” 

When all Nuri and Afra know is destroyed by war, they have no choice except to leave their home. But escaping Syria will be no easy task: Afra has lost her sight, leaving Nuri to navigate her grief as well as a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece toward an uncertain future in Britain. Nuri is sustained only by the knowledge that waiting for them is his cousin Mustafa, who has started an apiary in Yorkshire and is teaching fellow refugees beekeeping. As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they confront the pain of their own unspeakable loss but dangers that would overwhelm even the bravest souls.

The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure Hardcover
Yascha Mounk

Never in history has a democracy succeeded in being both diverse and equal, treating members of many different ethnic or religious groups fairly. And yet, achieving that goal is now central to the democratic project in countries around the world. Drawing on history, social psychology, and comparative politics, Mounk examines how diverse societies have long suffered from the ills of domination, fragmentation, or structured anarchy. There’s also hope. To make diverse democracies thrive, we can create a world in which our ascriptive identities come to matter less – not because we ignore the injustices that still characterize us, but because we address them.