School is fast approaching (and for some of you, it’s already started), so it feels like the right time to do a reading recap and list some of the best books I’ve read this summer. I read nowhere near the fifty I did last year, but I did read some tougher, longer, better quality books. This week I’ll focus on the best three non-fiction books I read this summer, and next week, I’ll talk about the top three fiction.
My Favorite Non-Fiction Books
- Seabiscuit ~ Laura Hillenbrand
Summary: The story of a little racehorse with an unpromising future in the mid-1900s, the innumerable obstacles that faced him, and the men who believe in him.
What I liked about it: Who doesn’t love the story of an underdog winning? Plus, there were fascinating horse facts, a colorful picture of America during the Great Depression and World War II, and masterful storytelling (for those who don’t know, Laura Hillenbrand also wrote Unbroken). This book reminds me of Tolkien’s word “eucatastrophe,” or the point in a story where it suddenly and surprisingly turns around for the better.
What I didn’t like: It left me a little empty, because, although winning is wonderful, in the end, it’s nothing if that’s all your living for. Never does it offer any kind of meaning in life beyond the thrill of success and dreams coming true. Those are all well and good, but not by themselves.
Quote: This is his story in a nutshell, and if it doesn’t entice you, well, something must be wrong. 😉
From 1936 to 1940, Seabiscuit endured a remarkable run of bad fortune, conspiracy, and injury to establish himself as one of history’s most extraordinary athletes. Graced with blistering speed, tactical versatility, and indomitable will, he shipped more than fifty thousand exhausting miles, carried staggering weight to victory against the best horses in the country, and shattered more than a dozen track records. His controversial rivalry with Triple Crown winner War Admiral culminated in a spectacular match that is still widely regarded as the greatest horse race ever run. His epic, trouble-plauged four-year quest to conquer the world’s richest race became one of the most celebrated and widely followed struggles in sports. And in 1940 after suffering severe injuries that were thought to have ended their careers, the aging horse and his jockey returned to the track together in an attempt to claim the one prize that had escaped them.
Along the way, the little horse and the men who rehabilitated him captured the American imagination. It wasn’t just greatness that drew the people to them. It was their story.
2. Making of the Atomic Bomb ~ Richard Rhodes
Summary: The history, politics, and science behind the making of the first atomic bomb.
What I liked about it: It was just plain fascinating. This book took me through a thousand different worlds—chemistry, physics, American politics, European politics, war, science history, biographies of numerous geniuses, the ethics of war and bombs—and wove them together into a comprehensive picture of one of the greatest scientific feats of our time—and also one of the most controversial. However, it did it in a way that most people can understand, and it certainly was never boring.
What I didn’t like: There wasn’t much not to like about it. The scope was awe-inspiring, the story well-paced and enthralling, the research meticulous. At times, I had to stop and try to figure out the scientific concepts, which was hard but rewarding.
Quote: By Arthur Compton, one of the scientists who worked on the bomb, as he explained why he was abandoning his old pacifism to work on the bomb:
As long as I am convinced, as I am, that there are values worth more to me than my own life, I cannot in sincerity argue that it is wrong to run the risk of death or to inflict death if necessary in the defense of those values.
3. John Adams ~ David McCullough
Summary: The biography of John Adams, America’s second president.
What I liked about it: John Adams is often overlooked when we study the Revolutionary War or American history in general. However, as this book showed in rich and intriguing detail, he was instrumental in defeating Britain and establishing a strong country. Not only did I come away with a renewed appreciation for his part in creating this country, but I found a role model as I read about his personal life. He and his wife, Abigail, had a beautiful, rich relationship that I can only hope to emulate someday, and his passion for books, quality education, and family were inspiring.
What I didn’t like: Again, there wasn’t much to not like. It was slightly hard to get into, but once I braved the first chapter, I was swept away by his fascinating life.
Quote: This quote embodies his vibrant spirit and love of life.
“Griefs upon griefs! Disappointments upon disappointments! What then? This is a gay, merry world notwithstanding.”
As always, I’d love to hear from you! What are some of the best non-fiction books you read this summer—or ever?