Cover your head, wear sunblock, and buy these books

By Mark Harris
Updated August 22, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Credit: Book Illustration by Melinda Beck

Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission

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  • Book
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The best summer reading

So, Independence Day has come and gone, and that reading list you made two months ago remains untouched; in fact, you’re beginning to wonder if that 8-pound issue of In Style you just paged through counts as a book. Don’t be ashamed — it’s never too late to enter Reading Rehab. Here are 10 terrific books to keep you well nourished through Labor Day and beyond.

Every season brings one big book that everyone buys and nobody reads, but David McCullough’s monumental biography ”John Adams” (Simon & Schuster, $35) is too good to gather dust next to ”From Dawn to Decadence.” McCullough is, like all great historians, meticulous and thorough; unlike many of them, he’s also a master of narrative. Don’t wait for the end-of-year prizes this volume will surely harvest; if nothing else, you’ll look like the smartest person at the beach.

For World War II buffs left slack-jawed by ”Pearl Harbor,” we recommend Hampton Sides’ ”Ghost Soldiers” (Doubleday, $24.95), the history of a 1945 rescue mission in which a U.S. Army battalion went behind enemy lines in the Philippines to rescue more than 500 POWs that comes vibrantly, powerfully alive on the page. For considerably more ancient history, try Heather Pringle’s ”The Mummy Congress” (Theia, $23.95), the weirdest terrific book of the summer. The title is literal — Pringle begins her account in Chile, at a convention of specialists on the long dead — but the book’s reach is gratifyingly vast, and Pringle’s curiosity is, in every sense, global. (Sixteen pages of color gross- out pictures are, we feel, a plus.)

Sports-event books usually bore us — most big games, matches, or showdowns can’t sustain a full-length narrative. But the background of the 1975 face-off between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali is a thrilling exception in the hands of journalist Mark Kram, whose ”Ghosts of Manila” (HarperCollins, $25) brings the fight back to life in prose that detonates like a firestorm of flashbulbs. Ace reporting also fuels Mark Bowden’s ”Killing Pablo” (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25); his account of the rise and fall of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar is the season’s best thriller, fiction or non-. Alongside those volumes, Michael Pollan’s ”The Botany of Desire” (Random House, $24.95), a book about apples, tulips, marijuana plants, and potatoes, may sound as peaceful as your own (illegally planted) backyard. But we can give no higher praise to the work of this superb science writer/reporter than to say that his new book is as exciting as any you’ll read this summer.

Now, on to fiction: Mystery writer Jeffery Deaver is best known to readers as the creator of the Lincoln Rhyme series (the basis for the movie ”The Bone Collector”), but fellow writers view him as one of the genre’s best plotters. ”The Blue Nowhere” (Simon & Schuster, $26), a suspense novel set largely in front of a computer screen, is that rare cyberthriller that doesn’t make us want to log off in the middle. For something more serious — a tearearner (not -jerker) for both genders and all literary tastes — try Dennis McFarland’s ”Singing Boy” (Holt, $25), an exquisitely written account of a family tragedy and the shock waves it sends through three lives. And if your warm-weather attention span just can’t manage an entire novel, start small with the seven resonant stories of West Coast lives in David Ebershoff’s masterful and touching ”The Rose City” (Viking, $23.95).

We said it’s never too late, and we meant it. Charles Baxter’s novel ”The Feast of Love” (Vintage, $13) was published in 2000 to warm reviews. Then it won a National Book Award nomination. Now that it’s in paperback, we finally got a chance to see what we were missing — a beautifully rendered, funny, touching tale of hearts and their passions with a structure that feels both improvisational and superbly preordained. In any season, it belongs on your list.

Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission

type
  • Book
genre
author
  • Hampton Sides
publisher
  • Doubleday

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