First of all, I’d like to go on the record as saying that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good beach book. If you want curl up with the latest by John Grisham or Danielle Steel or Paula Hawkins, by all means go for it! Everyone should feel free to read what makes them happy.
But tastes vary, and the things that make you happy may not be the things that make me happy. And the things that make me happy are kinda different. So if you’d like to try reading something different this summer, here are a few nonfiction books that are Serious Business.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore
Around the time of World War I, scads of young women were hired to paint luminous numbers on watch dials with radium-based paints. They kept the points of their brushes sharp by twirling them between their lips – and ingested quite a bit of radium in the process. And well, it turns out that radium isn’t nearly as harmless (or beneficial) as the watch dial companies claimed.
Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, by Steve Olson
After two months of grumbling, Mount St. Helens in Washington state exploded sideways on May 18, 1980, killing fifty-seven people and destroying hundreds of square miles of the surrounding forests. You already know what the high point of the book is going to be, but there’s a lot of information about the timber industry, the nature and history of volcanoes and the conflict over private vs. public lands.
Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital, by David Oshinsky
No one is ever turned away from Bellevue Hospital in New York City — from people crushed in horse cart accidents in the 1800s to victims of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Things were a little rough in the early days, but after the concept of sterilization caught on (yes, you have to sterilize the instrument AND the patient AND the doctor’s hands) everyone’s chances of survival improved greatly. Not for the squeamish.
(Now that I think of it, none of the books in this list are for the squeamish.)
Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, by Piers Paul Read
When your friends ask you, “What are you reading?” you could reply with “This month’s newest James Patterson book,” or you could say “The story of the Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972. Only 16 of the original 45 passengers survived after they were stranded in the mountains for two months and had to resort to cannibalism to survive.” Guess which one will be more interesting at parties? It’s the second, definitely.
So remember, if you’re tired of Elin Hildebrand and Brad Thor, well, we’ve got other options for you — serious options. Happy summer reading!
Amy E. is a Senior Librarian in the Music, Film & Audio department. She has a fondness for obscure Japanese mystery novels and true tales of the Gilded Age, though neither one really relates to film or audio.