Reporters often ask politicians and other people they are speaking to, “What are you reading?”
It is a question that often will provide insight into the life of the person being interviewed. President Clinton not only would say what he was reading but would recommend books. He told reporters that an influential book was “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies,” by Jared Diamond. I read it immediately and not only got insight into what the president was reading but also to a whole new way of thinking about the development of civilization.
President George W. Bush was said to have been reading “The Stranger” by Albert Camus. In 2010, President Obama announced that he was going to read “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, but it took my friend, Dr. Melvin Pohl, to recommend it before I read it.
I certainly am not the caliber of a president, but like most Americans, I read. Those books that we read can be or enjoyment or because we are interested in a special topic or simply because someone says, “This book is great, and I think you would like it.”
Summer is a time when we are less busy, often on vacation with our families and have time to ponder, think and read. It is in this light that I have decided to share with you some of the books I am reading and why I would recommend them.
I will start out with the novel President Obama read in the summer of 2011, “Cutting for Stone.” Novels are normally not on my reading list, but this one stays with you. The character development is very real. Although the book is fiction, if you work in Africa, as I do, you can feel the reality of the situation, the cars on the street in Addis and personalities interacting as if it is taking place in front of you. Not only is there a large dose of reality, but the interactions of the people make the reader reflect on human emotions and motivations. It is an excellent read.
This summer, I have also been reading Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “A Fighting Chance.” It is easy for conservatives to dismiss the senator as a left-winger from Massachusetts and never get any further. However, picking up the book explains why she has the views she holds and the fire she has in her belly. Elizabeth Warren comes from a family that lived on the edge of losing their home, with a father who lost his income after a heart attack and a failed first marriage. Despite the urge of some conservatives to push away liberal ideology as “godless,” Elizabeth Warren taught Sunday school and was clearly active with her children in her church. Bankruptcy became her passion as she connected with students and others whose families were facing losing all due to the economic system that is controlled by banks and not the people. Statistics she uses in the book are sobering, and she reminds us of her speech at the Democratic convention when she said the “system is rigged.” We follow her from her childhood and her first job to Harvard, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Senate. It gives great insight not only into the senator but also into why Americans are facing such financial hardships.
I personally read a lot of cosmology, and this summer, “Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars” by Lee Billings has been at the top of the list. With more stars in our known universe than is conceivable to most of us, it is not only possible that that life exists outside of Earth but highly probable. With somewhere between 100 and 200 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy and with a good estimate of 5,500 known and somewhat visible galaxies, the number of stars is tremendous. Lee Billings makes an excellent case as to why we should continue to look for other life in our known universe and sadly chronicles the end of SETI and other programs that are not receiving funding to continue this research. For anyone who looks up in the sky with wonder, this is a great read.
While, looking into the stars, we use our mind. There is also an inconceivable amount of connections in our brains, just as there are stars in the sky. Physicist Michio Kaku brings his background into understanding the workings of the human brain with “The Future of the Mind: Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind.” What makes Kaku’s book so great is how easy it is to understand and read. For anyone who spends times thinking about how we think, this is a wonderful and easy way to understand our minds.
Reading a very personal experience and as my friend, Carole Marks, says, “If you have a good book to read, you always have a friend.” So get some new friends this summer and read a great book.
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.