August is a strange and sometimes contentious month. It can signal the beginning of the end of summer; it can also be home to some of the most sweltering heat of the year. Whether you’re reading on the beach or cranking up the air conditioning for a more temperate reading environment, we have a few suggestions for your next read. Some of our recommendations take readers inside the lives of fascinating and influential artists and thinkers; others offer sprawling fictional takes on the world we live in today. Here are 10 windows on the world that go below the surface of things — sometimes literally.
Elizabeth Rush, The Quickening: Creation and Community at the Ends of the Earth (Aug. 15)
Elizabeth Rush has written memorably about the effects of climate change before. Her book Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, about the uncertain future of coastal communities, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. With The Quickening — no connection to the Highlander sequel, for better or for worse —Rush explores a very different coastal community: that of a group of scientists investigating the past, present and future of an Antarctic glacier.
Billy Walters, Gambler: Scenes From a Life at Risk (Aug. 22)
We live in a world in which sports betting has become increasingly normalized — and something that was once the province of casinos is now available in arenas and on phones. Billy Walters became famous (or, depending on who you ask, infamous) for his status as an especially high-profile gambler on all things sporting. In this new memoir, he recounts his personal history, shares his approach to gambling and offers candid thoughts on Phil Mickelson — among other moments from his life.
John Szwed, Cosmic Scholar: The Life and Times of Harry Smith (Aug. 22)
Without Harry Smith’s high-profile advocacy for America’s musical traditions, the current shape of music — both pop and obscure — would look very different. John Szwed’s new biography of Smith explores the breadth of Smith’s work — both researching music and making art of his own — and traces Smith’s connections to some other high-profile writers and artists like Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg.
Lydia Kiesling, Mobility (Aug. 1)
In Lydia Kiesling’s debut novel Golden State, she recounted the story of a woman living on the margins of society in a desert town. With her new book Mobility, she opts for a very different narrative — one about personal connections in the halls of power. Mobility follows a young woman coming of age in the aftermath of the Cold War, and tracks her shifting fortunes with those of the United States in the years to come. The result is an incisive look at politics and power dynamics alike.
Yunte Huang, Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History (Aug. 22)
Over the course of her career in Hollywood, Anna May Wong established herself as one of the first Asian American movie stars — while becoming a style icon along the way. (She was literally named the “World’s Best-Dressed Woman” at one point in her career.) This new biography explores Wong’s long and complex career, and how she navigated the complexities of the first half of the 20th century.
Michael Tedder, Top Eight: How Myspace Changed Music (Aug. 15)
Depending on when you first embraced social media, the phrase “top eight” might ring a bell for you. There was a point once where — before Spotify, before Bandcamp, before large swaths of recorded music were easily accessible — where the easiest place to listen to music online was also the country’s most popular social network. Tedder has ventured into this world before; now, with his new book, he explores the way technology and culture converged in a single site.
Yepoka Yeebo, Anansi’s Gold: The Man Who Looted the West, Outfoxed Washington, and Swindled the World (Aug. 1)
There’s something inherently compelling about the story of a con that plays out over years or even decades. Throw the history of colonialism and the presence of the CIA into the mix and you have an even more gripping narrative — in this case, Yepoka Yeebo’s Anansi’s Gold. Yeebo’s book tells the true story of a man who lured in an array of international VIPs with the promise of access to an ex-president’s trust fund — a fund that didn’t actually exist.
Sean Howe, Agents of Chaos: Thomas King Forçade, High Times, and the Paranoid End of the 1970s (Aug. 29)
For decades, the magazine High Times covered the world of weed from a host of angles, helping pave the way for cannabis’s growing ubiquity. But the story behind its founding — specifically, the story of founder Thomas King Forçade — is even more complex and dramatic than you might expect. With his new book Agents of Chaos, Sean Howe explores the paradoxes at the heart of Forçade — and the conflicts they led him into.
The Czech Town That Produced Hockey Legends: An Excerpt From Ethan Scheiner’s “Freedom to Win”This new book revisits a tense political moment — and the hockey players at its center
Susan Casey, The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean (Aug. 1)
If the mysteries of planet Earth are high on the list of things you find beguiling, you may want to turn your attention to the underwater realm. There, you’ll find plenty of surreal terrain and bizarre flora and fauna — and a host of scientists seeking to better understand them all. That’s at the heart of Susan Casey’s new book The Underworld, which takes readers on a tour of the planet’s oceans, and introduces them to the explorers and scientists hoping to better understand the secrets they contain.
David James Duncan, Sun House (Aug. 8)
If you’ve been waiting for David James Duncan to follow up his acclaimed novels The River Why and The Brothers K, you’ve probably been waiting for a while. (As in: decades.) Literary Hub noted that his fiction has a tendency for “mixing stories of the natural world with a search for spiritual transcendence,” and Duncan’s sprawling new novel Sun House blends frustration with the divine, strange moments of random chance and the search for community. It’s an epic read to tackle as the summer starts to wind down.
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