Top Reads for August

Are you prepared for the impending solar eclipse? Wondering how attitudes and actions towards climate change have, well, changed since the original publication of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth? Curious about the books longlisted for the Man Booker Prize? Suffering from the summer heat and American Gods withdraw? No matter what, we’ve got you covered with these reads.

An Inconvenient Sequel

Alex P.: I was surprised to realize it had been over 10 years since An Inconvenient Truth came out. Al Gore’s seminal work on the climate crisis shifted the narrative around global warming, and changed more than a few minds. It’s hard to believe how much has changed since 2006 — climate change went from being an issue only the most environmentally conscious were concerned with, to something the vast majority of people — and nations — have agreed is a crisis that must be addressed. This is reason for hope; as is the historic Paris Accord, in which nearly every nation on earth agreed to aggressively curb emissions. But, as An Inconvenient Sequel details, there are plenty of setbacks to be concerned with, as well. President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, for one. 

Still, it’s comforting to know that the man who brought climate science to the masses is hopeful about our capacity to change. And so while An Inconvenient Sequel is certainly advocating greater action to ward off the most dangerous side effects of our warming planet, it’s not a death knell. As Gore puts it: “Despair, after all, is simply another form of denial, and can serve to paralyze the will we need to fight our way out of this crisis.”

The Glass Universe

Katie: On August 21, parts of the United States will be plunged into darkness midday, during the first total solar eclipse in almost 100 years. People are amped.

I’m currently obsessed with astronomy reads in order to prepare for the big, exciting, dark day. One book shines brightly above the rest: Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe. Named one of the best books of 2016 by NPR, The Economist, Smithsonian, and Nature, this dazzling account reveals how women who worked as “human computers” at Harvard College Observatory in the mid-nineteenth century paved the way for modern astrophysics. These trailblazing women calculated and interpreted astronomical data from glass plate photographs of the stars, opening up our understanding of the universe.

Sobel deftly illuminates the lives and work of the women, including Williamina Fleming, initially hired as a maid before going on to make numerous important discoveries, and Cecilia Helena Payne, Harvard’s first ever female astronomy professor. 

An inspiring story of the women who broke through astronomy’s glass ceiling, this is a must-read for anyone who loved Hidden Figures

Want to give it a shot yourself and learn how to photograph the night sky or the upcoming eclipse? Whether you’re a weekend warrior photographer or just want to shine on Instagram, check out this Popular Science article for tips on how to photograph the night sky like a pro.

History of Wolves

Ashley: The Man Booker Prize longlist came out recently, and as soon as I saw History of Wolves on the list, it pushed me to finally pick up Emily Fridlund’s debut, which has intrigued me with its title and positive buzz for months.

From the start, you get this sinking feeling that something is deeply, disturbingly off about this Minnesota community portrayed in the book, though it’s impossible to pinpoint the secrets that have been hidden in its frozen landscape. We’re told early on that death awaits one character, and a teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, but these obvious signs of foreboding are just the first taste of a crushing winter chill. It’s hard to call History of Wolves a thriller, because it doesn’t follow the conventions of that genre. The book plays mind games with you as you try to figure out what type of book it is and what’s going to happen and how such a haunting narrative can be so effortlessly beautiful. After all the praise, Fridlund’s novel still wasn’t what I expected — it’s been strangely better.

Norse Mythology

Andrew: You probably know Thor and Loki from the Marvel movies, or Mr. Wednesday from American Gods, or maybe you have a friend with a tattoo of a serpent eating its own tail. All of these come to us courtesy of thousand-year-old Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology adds flavor and flair to classic characters. Reading Gaiman's spin on these stories, I could imagine hearing them told around a crackling fire on a long, dark winter night. 

The audiobook is particularly enjoyable. Gaiman reads it himself, and he clearly relishes the opportunity to provide his treatment on these stories, weaving them with both humor and dignity. His voice pitches up and down, he sneers and cajoles, growls and laughs.

Norse Mythology covers the beginning, when Odin and the gods kill the giant Ymir to create the world; to the end, when the world dies in Ragnarok, flood and ice. It’s oddly fearsome to hear Gaiman speak of Odin and Thor battling Fenris Wolf and the Midgard Serpent at the end of the world.

If you enjoy classic mythology, or if you simply need a fix of Odin while waiting for the next season of American Gods, I totally recommend Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.


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