Boomer Highway’s Summer Nonfiction Reading Picks

Nonfiction readers cannot go wrong with the following choices:

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake  by Anna Quindlen 

One of my favorite fiction authors (Every Last One, Black and Blue, One True Thing) Anna Quindlen writes razor sharp nonfiction—her New York Times and Newsweek columns won her a Pulitzer.  And when she takes on aging, readers will continually say, yes, that’s how it is!  Excerpt from Cake: “It’s nothing short of astonishing, all that we learn between the time we are born and the time we die.  Of course most of the learning takes place not in the classroom or a library, but in the laboratory of our own lives.  We can look back and identify moments—the friend’s betrayal, the work advancement or failure, the wrong turn or the romantic misstep, the careless comment.  But it’s all a continuum that is clearly only in hindsight, frequently when some of its lessons may not even be useful anymore.  Maybe that’s why we give advice, when we’re older, mostly to people who don’t want to hear it.”

Unbroken  by Laura Hillenbrand 

Author of Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand continues to amaze readers with her well researched and beautifully written works.  Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, a bombardier during World War II who pulled himself out of the Pacific Ocean to a life raft, only to begin a harrowing struggle to survive.  Hillenbrand suffers from a very debilitating form of chronic fatigue syndrome, and acknowledges the irony of her situation—writing about larger-than-life heroes while she is mostly confined to her home.  “I’m looking for a way out of here. I can’t have it physically, so I’m going to have it intellectually. It was a beautiful thing to ride Seabiscuit in my imagination. And it’s just fantastic to be there alongside Louie as he’s breaking the NCAA mile record. People at these vigorous moments in their lives – it’s my way of living vicariously.”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman, a Southern tobacco farmer who died in the “colored” ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s.  Without her knowledge, her cells were put in a culture dish and amazingly did not die.  These cells known now to scientists as HeLa cells are considered one of the most important research tools in medicine.  They are still alive today though Lacks has been dead for more than sixty years.  Skloot worked ten years to uncover her story.  Lacks’ children had no idea that their mother’s cells were immortal until scientists began using her husband and children for research without informed consent. “As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell 

This is Gladwell’s newest book that asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?  Working with the premise that where they come from provides the key, Gladwell delves into the culture, family, generation and idiosyncratic experiences of those who have become a success or achieved much in their lives.  Would you like to know the secrets of software billionaires, why Asians and math go hand in hand, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band?  Read Outliers. Or introduce yourself to the gifts of Gladwell by picking up one of his other works:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference (2000), Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005), What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009), a collection of his journalism. All four books were New York Times Bestsellers.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch 

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, truly gave a last lecture—not because he was retiring, but because he was dying.  He titled the lecture: “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” and with humor, intelligence and inspiration talked about true living!  “Time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think,” Pausch said, going on to encourage overcoming obstacles, helping others fulfill their dreams, and seizing every moment.  Pausch’s words might echo in your head on days when complaints cloud thinking.  He knew that time and life is a gift.












6 thoughts on “Boomer Highway’s Summer Nonfiction Reading Picks

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, what a fascinating concept. I had no knowledge of this amazing story. This will become the next book I read, as it seems to explore our own life forces, which we are still in the dark about. THANKS Boomer Highway!!!!!!

    • It truly is an amazing story and Rebecca Skloot devoted 10 years of her life to it, losing her fiance along the way. She spent hours and hours of time with Henrietta’s children, helping them come to grips with the
      entire story. Thanks so much for your comment. Beth

  2. I have read all but the Quindlen one, and completely agree with your summaries and praise. Another that I found presented an amazingly strong statement declaring that a life lived choosing love over hatred supersedes tragedy. Thanks for the reviews. BC

    • Thanks, BC. Which book did you refer to in your comment ie choosing love over hatred supersedes tragedy. I know you live your life following that mantra. We all should work toward that goal every day. Beth

  3. What a wonderful collection of non-fiction books to choose from. The subjects are fascinating in themselves, however being that they are non-fiction and come from real life makes them all that more powerful.
    The story of Henrietta Lacks sounds incredible. I cannot wait to read it. Medical research is a hotly debated topic and there are so many opinions and strong feelings on the subject. My life would not have been possible without medical research and the discovery of insulin in the 1920’s. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that if I’d been born a mere 75 years earlier, I’d never have made it past age 6… Obviously, in my mind medical research is something that is necessary and important to human life. The interesting facet of this woman’s life is that the research was conducted after she died without consent of her family, which turns it into ethical debate… Ethics aside, the longevity of life which we all aspire to have is possible because of medical technology and research.
    The story behind so much of the research is often never told though and this non fiction work sounds like an interesting combination of technology and humanity.

    • Natalie, you have zeroed in on the dilemma–how far do we go to help others while at the same time taking advantage of someone else. What Henrietta Lacks experienced in the “colored ward” at Johns Hopkins was inhuman, but her sacrifice has helped many others–maybe even you. Her family should have been informed and compensated in some way, I feel. But after you read the book, let me know your thoughts and thanks so much for your comment. Beth

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